Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together.
As I have previously said in the House, Cabinet confidentiality is provided for in the Constitution and any consideration of legislation would have to take this into account.
It states that there will be new legislation on Cabinet confidentiality. That is why I was surprised by the brevity of the response. My supplementary questions were to ask about the current proposals for proposed legislation on Cabinet confidentiality. I was going to ask him to outline what the Government intended to do in line with its programme for Government commitment and whether it wished, for example, to facilitate pre-budget discussions between Ministers and the Oireachtas in a much more open format than happened in the past. That might deal with some of the difficulties we have experienced in recent times and Ministers could feel free to come out and argue their positions regarding their Departments' Estimates, for example. How does the Taoiseach believe the programme for Government commitment will be met? What will the content of the new Bill or any legislation be and when is it expected?
The reference is not specific, but it is a requirement of all Ministers that Cabinet confidentiality be maintained obviously in the interests of the work of Government and the national interest.
Were his ghost to appear, he would be reminded that Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution deals with Cabinet confidentiality and that the Taoiseach has no intention of holding a referendum on that.
The programme for Government is very clear and the Taoiseach cited it all this session and the Government's will on these issues. It contains a commitment to bring forward legislation on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality. It also says that the Government has become too centralised and unaccountable. There is lots of evidence of that, particularly around the Economic Management Council when we cannot even ask questions of the doings of that council even though it is dealing with the troika, the economy, banks and issues that are having a vital impact, particularly on citizens who are suffering under austerity policy. As I understand it, has the Taoiseach just torn up another programme for Government commitment by saying he has no intention of bringing forward legislation? This issue also affects the issue of health where members of the Cabinet sub-committee on health cannot ask questions about what is going on there either. How does this fit into the commitment to more transparent, open reform? The Taoiseach hailed the last election as the people's revolution or some such term. I am citing to the Taoiseach his programme for Government which has a commitment to bring forward legislation on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality and he also cited that the Government is too centralised and unaccountable. Has he just told us that he is not bringing forward such legislation?
The relevant Article 28.4.3° states:
The confidentiality of discussions at meetings of the Government shall be respected in all circumstances save only where the High Court determines that disclosure should be made in respect of a particular matter -
i in the interests of the administration of justice by a Court, or
ii by virtue of an overriding public interest, pursuant to an application in that behalf by a tribunal appointed by the Government or a Minister of the Government on the authority of the Houses of the Oireachtas to inquire into a matter stated by them to be of public importance.
The concern here might have arisen in that the provision that was being inserted into the Constitution covered very narrow circumstances in which Cabinet confidentiality discussions might not be respected. This has been enshrined in our Constitution for the past 14 years and that provision cannot be changed without a referendum. I do not have any intention of seeking a referendum to change it.
I understand the Taoiseach has perhaps forgotten why the commitment was made 15 months ago in the programme for Government but may I enlighten him? His partners in government and his own members criticised continuously Cabinet confidentiality for many years; they felt it was too restrictive, it did not allow enough information out, etc. I suspect that is the reason that commitment was put into the programme for Government.
-----and either feign ignorance of what is in the programme for Government or not have a clue as to why something as fundamental as Cabinet confidentiality was put into it. The Taoiseach does not have a notion as to why it was put in there-----
I ask the Taoiseach to consult the Tánaiste and find out why this is in the programme for Government and perhaps he might enlighten the Members of the House on that because he clearly does not know that now-----
-----but he might find that out and tell us what is intended by the provision in the programme for Government which commits to legislation on Cabinet confidentiality. We know all about articles in the Constitution. This is a commitment to introduce legislation on the subject of Cabinet confidentiality. The Taoiseach does not seem to have a notion why that commitment is in it.
I note that the Committee of Public Accounts in its report on the crisis in the domestic banking sector said that a preliminary analysis and a framework for a banking inquiry published on 5 July recommended a review of the Cabinet confidentiality provisions of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997 so as to give the committee the broadest possible access to papers and records relating to the bank guarantee. Obviously the Government will reflect on the issue in so far as knowing the truth about the bank guarantee-----
The Deputy should stand up and be a man and tell the people what he knew when he was called or when he attended at the meetings where the information was given by the banks about what should happen in respect of the bank guarantee. He should give us some of the rationale which is not available in the Department of the Taoiseach.
I am speaking here for Sinn Féin. Let me put my question again. It is very straightforward. We looked at the programme for Government. The Taoiseach has a commitment to legislate on the issue of Cabinet confidentiality. I asked him a very straight question about what steps has he taken to bring forward legislation on Cabinet confidentiality and if he just tore up that commitment.
-----had to apologise for information that was leaked when it was sent to the budgetary committee of the German Parliament because it is a requirement that all countries that are in a programme send their information to the paying countries.
We changed that here so that information that is being sent to those countries that contribute to Ireland is lodged in the Houses of the Oireachtas simultaneously. That does not arise anymore and I hope the Deputy understands that very clearly. Yes, it was wrong that this information was leaked in the beginning and it should not have leaked from the European Commission through the budgetary committee of the Bundestag. That matter has been changed because when that information is now presented to those countries which contribute to Ireland, which the Deputy wanted to get out of here and for them to take their money with them, it is lodged simultaneously in the Oireachtas Library for all Members and all of the public to have access to it.