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Cabinet Confidentiality (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] Have all those pledges been torn up?

The Economic Management Council put together the budget. Four men put together an anti-woman, anti-family, anti-children budget. There is less scrutiny of all of these decisions in this Chamber, where we are supposed to debate them, than is the case in other parliaments. We only hear about them through the media, accurately or otherwise, or from the Bundestag. We do not hear about them in here in the way we should. There is no proper scrutiny because we are not given the information to do the job we were sent here to do.

To be clear about this, is the Taoiseach saying he is not moving on the commitment in the programme for Government to legislate on Cabinet confidentiality? Is he going to move on the commitment to shift power from the State to citizens? Will he move on the commitment to making the Dáil more open to public scrutiny, and if so, when? What status has any pending legislation?

What steps does the Taoiseach intend to take around the budget? Once again today, budget measures will be rushed through. How will the budget process be opened up to public scrutiny, particularly here in Dáil Éireann?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy will be aware Article 28.4.3° of the Constitution 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.

In that sense, confidentiality is paramount in the Constitution and should never be abused by any Cabinet.

  The Deputy mentioned information being made available by the Bundestag. I admit there was an indiscreet leak from the European Commission in respect of the requirement that when the general proposals for the budget are put together, they must be presented to lender countries as a requirement of the funding mechanism. We have changed the situation so that when that information is presented, it is laid in the Oireachtas Library at the same time in order that there is no confusion.

  Ministers hope the presentation of the budget will take place in November next year. We have published the review of expenditure, setting out the ceilings for each of the next three years. We have asked every Department and Minister to examine those limits and present their views. We have restored the Freedom of Information Act, the whistleblowers' legislation is in train, the register of lobbyists legislation is being prepared and we have expanded the role of the Ombudsman. In a short time, given the extent of legislation that must go through, a great deal has been done.

  Given all of the information that was made available to Deputy Adams and his colleagues, it was strange that Sinn Féin did not show any seriousness about making really tough choices. The party did not submit its own proposals for the budget for independent costing and analysis by the independent unit of the Department of Finance. All of the information is available for the Deputy, and that will be supplemented during 2013 when we also hope to have an earlier budget process. Deputy Adams should make sure his people are prepared.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Did the Taoiseach have advice from the Attorney General on the proposed legislation on Cabinet confidentiality? In light of the many commitments made by Government about reform of politics, it would appear we are seeing the actual reform. At Cabinet level, it involves a small cohort of four people making the principal decisions and bringing those decisions to the full Cabinet at the last minute. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has complained about this and I suspect some of the decisions made about not proceeding with the additional 3% universal social charge on people earning over €100,000 might not have been agreed if the entire Cabinet had been involved. We might not have seen carers being abandoned in the way they have been.

Here in the House, the new politics is to guillotine critical legislation, such as the Social Welfare Bill, which will be guillotined in the Seanad this afternoon, and we see the appalling procedure being adopted for the property tax proposal. We know it will not come into play until July and there is time for detailed discussion. At least there should be time for a fair debate on the 88 amendments tabled to the Bill because, when enacted, this legislation will place an intolerable burden on the shoulders of many people in the State who are unable to carry their current burdens.

Does the Taoiseach accept we are now seeing real reforms but not the reforms people thought they would see, not the positive initiatives the public, when it placed its faith in the Government parties in substantial numbers in 2011, thought it would get and that it had a right to get?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Economic Management Council is a useful method of dealing with a range of issues and proposals before they are sent to Government for final decision by the Cabinet. Every member of the Government accepts the decision of the Cabinet on the budget. It has been streamlined like this to save time as much as anything else. Ministers had to have bilateral meetings with the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform in respect of the ceilings for their Departments and how they would meet their individual targets. The Minister for Finance set out tax proposals at the other end.

The Committee of Public Accounts report on the possibility of a banking inquiry recognised that the constitutional principle of Cabinet confidentiality must be respected. Obviously, I also believe that.

The Deputy mentioned the Social Welfare Bill. Just two years ago the Deputy was on this side of the House and the Fianna Fáil-led Government took 8% off a swathe of social welfare recipients but did not even let the Deputies go home to engage with their constituents first. It did it before the Dáil broke up.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That budget was considered fair and progressive, unlike the current Government's budgets.

Deputy James Reilly: Information on Dr. James Reilly Zoom on Dr. James Reilly It brought the country to its knees.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The pension for the blind was cut twice just a couple of years ago; we do not want to go back there. We are heading into 2013 and the process for the budget for next year will be even more open that it is now. The expenditure review plans have been published, the ceilings for each Department for the next three years are available and we have asked every spokesman to look at those figures. We hope to have a vigorous, open and comprehensive series of discussions during 2013 on the budget for 2014.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I am asking these questions because the initial question asked about the Taoiseach's plans to introduce legislation to deal with the issue of Cabinet confidentiality.

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