Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.
Requests for use of the ministerial air transport service are made by Ministers' private secretaries to my office and are dealt with in the first instance by the staff of my private office. Requests are examined by my staff with regard to the need for and purpose of travel, destination, availability and suitability of other travel arrangements, and other logistical details. Any necessary clarification or further information is sought at this point. All operational matters are settled directly between the office of the Minister in question and the Department of Defence or the Air Corps.
It is blindingly obvious that the bilateral meetings that took place in Zagreb, outside of the venue for the meeting of Fine Gael's European political party were brief, formal and a cover for those, such as the Taoiseach, who used official transport to claim that it was official business. Croatia, however, is a partner and ally of Ireland's in the European Union, and the fact that the Taoiseach met its President and Prime Minister formally is reasonable.
The more important question is what official resources the Taoiseach used at the meeting of his political party in Zagreb and whether he always fully respected the non-political nature of public servants by not involving them in meetings held at his party political conference. Will the Taoiseach assure us that all costs relating to those parts of the trip that involved being at the party conference, including personal transport, were paid for by Fine Gael? Equally, will he assure us that no public servants were brought to the party conference?
In a related matter, it was for this party that the former Deputy, Dara Murphy, was given leave to work for by the Taoiseach, because of which he was absent from his Dáil work. Perhaps Dara Murphy's good fortune was that, unlike Deputy Bailey, no opinion poll was done showing him to be a liability to Fine Gael. Will the Taoiseach tell us whether he has asked Fine Gael how much money it received to support Dara Murphy in his Dáil work? Every party gets political funding related to the number of Deputies it has. Does he think he will ask the party to return the money? This would be for the period that the former Deputy was working in Europe.
The Taoiseach's attempt to defend himself by going on a personal attack on others impresses nobody. These are legitimate questions that deserve legitimate answers.
On the Croatian meeting of the European People's Party, EPP, of which Fine Gael is a member, will the Taoiseach indicate the arrangements made by the leaders of the European People's Party in respect of appointments, given that the European People's Party, like the other party groups in the European Parliament, is fairly extensively funded by the European institutions and that it would be very strange for national appointments to the international desks of the party groups not to be known about and agreed to at the highest levels in national parties?
Will the Taoiseach enlighten us as to how the appointment of Mr. Murphy, while he was a Deputy, came about? Did the EPP advise Fine Gael, perhaps through the party secretariat, that the appointment would be made? Why did nobody raise a query as to how somebody could have two full-time jobs, one in this House and the other with the EPP? the latter is not an honorary job such as being a vice president or president of a party group. It is a full-time, active job.
Will the Taoiseach state whether carbon credits are used to offset his travel on the Government jet?
The rationale put forward by the Taoiseach is clearly not appropriate. Using the Government jet to attend an EPP meeting does not stand up to scrutiny and nor does it wash with anyone. Even the most independent observer of the Taoiseach's decision to use the Government jet for this purpose would admit that it reeks of entitlement, which goes to the core of the matter. I understand from media reports that when the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was in office, he did not use the Government jet and always used commercial airlines to attend such meetings. Perhaps the Taoiseach will explain his decision to use the Government jet in this instance and in others. While I am sure he, like many of us, is fully aware of the sensitives regarding the use of the Government jet, he seems to have ploughed ahead regardless, which seems to be the attitude of the Government in respect of many issues. It goes ahead and says, "Divil may care what the people will think." That attitude will come back to bite the Government, and hopefully soon. Will the Taoiseach confirm what role the former Deputy, Dara Murphy, had in organising the event? Was he central to it? Did he organise the attendance list for it?
I reiterate that the Government jet is used in accordance with a protocol set out in the Cabinet handbook, which has been extant for a long time. It is used within those rules and I assure Deputies that civil servants would not allow it to be used outside of them.
I visited Zagreb on 20 and 21 November. The programme for my visit included an official meeting with the Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković. The meeting took place for more than a hour, included a press conference and was held in the Prime Minister's office. I also attended a reception hosted by our ambassador, attended by members of the business community and of the Irish community in Croatia, which took place at the ambassador's residence. Unfortunately, due to a technical issue that delayed my arrival in Zagreb, it was not possible for me to meet President Grabar-Kitarović, which had been planned, although I look forward to meeting her on another occasion if she is re-elected. My meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Plenković, was especially timely as Croatia will assume the Presidency of the European Union for the first time in January. During its term of office, it will manage a number of files of importance to Ireland, including Brexit, the Union's budget for 2021 to 2027, inclusive, and the multi-annual financial framework. We also discussed enlargement, on which Croatia, as a Balkan country, has important insights.
While in Zagreb on 20 and 21 November, I also had the opportunity for an extensive range of valuable meetings and discussions with other European leaders, principally concerning the next steps on Brexit and the future relationship with the UK. My visit to Zagreb included meetings with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk; the incoming President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; President Anastasiades of Cyprus; President Iohannis of Romania; Prime Minister Ludovic Orban of Romania - not Hungary; Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of Bulgaria; Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš of Latvia; Chancellor Merkel of Germany; the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, of Greece; Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway; and the former Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz.
As a small member state with a similarly small administration, Ireland understands well the scale of the task involved in undertaking the Presidency. I offer the Prime Minister, Mr. Plenković, my full support and co-operation in that regard. For my meeting with him, I was accompanied by the ambassador and a small team of officials and advisers from my Department. No civil servants attended the EPP congress but security, of course, did.
On the former Deputy, Dara Murphy, I said yesterday what I was going to say about an inquiry, and I hope that inquiry can happen, as it should. The impression has been created that he was totally absent from the Dáil for two years, but that is not true. In fact, he was present for more votes in this calendar year than Deputy Micheál Martin was-----
If the Deputy is willing to be critical of former members of my parliamentary party, he should at least be willing to account for existing members of his parliamentary party who are under investigation. It is reasonable to ask him whether they will be ratified as candidates for Fianna Fáil in the forthcoming election, and whether he will rule out considering appointing them as Ministers should Fianna Fáil participate in the next Government. The people would like to know, if they vote for Fianna Fáil, whether some of the Deputies under investigation will be rewarded for their conduct by being made Ministers under Fianna Fáil. It is reasonable for the public to ask that question and to want to know the answer.
Currently, there is no offsetting, but the climate action plan commits the Government to consider offsetting emissions from the use of flights. We are also aware that many people see offsetting as greenwashing, rather than a good step to take, but it will be considered.