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 Header Item Office of the Attorney General (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Death of Garda Adrian Donohoe: Expressions of Sympathy

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 790 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] There is a requirement to deal with necessary changes to the Constitution, whether these arise from changes in competence in Europe, with regard to other issues such as a requirement for a simple referendum on universal patents, or with whatever the Government may decide following recommendations from the constitutional convention. We have already decided to have a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad. In all such cases a process must take place and the Government must reflect on how to get this process working effectively so citizens are properly and fully informed and can make their decision in the knowledge they are the ultimate arbiters and owners of Bunreacht na hÉireann, on which they alone will make decisions. It is important that the Government, which produces Bills that propose changes to the Constitution, should have a process by which all these matters can be explained properly and comprehensively to the citizens.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The McKenna judgment on referendums does not limit the capacity of Government to explain an issue; it limits its capacity to use taxpayers' money to advocate on one side or the other. There is a crucial difference. The Supreme Court made a definitive judgment regarding the Government's mishandling of the children's referendum and many questions remain to be answered in that regard. The House has not had an opportunity to hold the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, accountable in regard to what went on.

I refer to the last question which, again, required freedom of information requests and information gleaned thereby in order to discover that the Attorney General had corrected aspects of the Government material which subsequently was changed again, but we do not know how. Two Ministers, Deputies Varadkar and Fitzgerald, suggested the Attorney General had got it wrong - they dumped on her. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, commented at the time that legal advice can be wrong. It was wrong but we found out through the freedom of information process that in at least one instance the Attorney General had given the correct advice, which was not followed.

In the context of future referendums, and in reviewing the Office of the Attorney General, would the Taoiseach consider that advice of the Attorney General, or any material produced by that office, should be published and made transparent? We could then see whether such material has been over-politicised by Ministers of the day, contrary to advice received from the Attorney General's office. Traditionally the Attorney General does not articulate publicly on matters of this kind. Today there is silence from the Office of the Attorney General in regard to the entire process leading up to the publication of material on the Government website. This is very unsatisfactory. Given this silence confidence in the Office has been undermined, inadvertently or otherwise, by two Ministers, which is not a good thing. We need to find out what happened in the lead-up to that referendum and why the issue was over-politicised and over-sold, unnecessarily.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I do not agree that all or any advice from the Office of the Attorney General should be published.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I refer just to referendums.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This has been the procedure in the House for a very long time and for very good reason. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was very upfront in dealing with the children's referendum, all the preparations and the way in which information was dispensed. When this process was challenged, legitimately, in the High Court that court gave its view. This was appealed to the Supreme Court which also gave its view, namely, that the Government was not fully in accordance with the Constitution. The Government accepted that and immediately acted accordingly.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins We have spent 55 minutes on four questions tabled by two Deputies, which leaves five minutes. If this session finishes peremptorily the next tranche of 38 questions on the North, concerning extremely important issues, will be dealt with in five minutes. Something must be done to rationalise this situation. If we go to the next tranche the Taoiseach's reply will take up all the time available and there will be no time left for supplementary material in regard to the many important Northern Ireland issues. I will ensure that does not happen.

I have some relevant questions on Question No. 4 regarding the review and capacity of the Office of the Attorney General. The Taoiseach spoke on the McKenna judgment and his desire to row back on it. Is he not being opportunistic in the extreme in regard to this? As has been noted, members of the Government can argue anything they want, 24 hours a day. Nobody is stopping them, they can take to the hustings and put forward every argument in the book. However, is it not the case that what the Taoiseach wants is public funds to finance such Government spin rather than have members of Government do the same as members of the Opposition, or as citizens have the right to do - go out and argue their case?

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed The Deputy himself is one for spin.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins How can the Taoiseach justify such a situation? I put it to him there would be great anger and resistance among civil society if he tried to do so.

Is it the case that staffing limits are having a severe effect in many areas of Government, including in the Office of the Attorney General? For example, why is it taking so long to have concrete proposals on the Taoiseach's pledge to abolish the Seanad? There should at least be an outline draft of the legislation that would be needed in this regard. Does this reflect capacity problems in the Office of the Attorney General, or is the Senators' rearguard action to try to protect that institution, which has no use or purpose, winning the day with the Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I never said anything about rowing back on any judgment but stated the Supreme Court would make its decision and that it is the ultimate determining body in respect of the Constitution. I accept that, as both Head of Government and as a citizen. In the case of the children's referendum, the Government immediately accepted the decision of the Supreme Court and set about implementing it. I stated it was my view that elements of the Supreme Court decision on the McKenna judgment case, which was a perfectly legitimate case to take, are very narrow and that in the case of future referenda we need to be clear that when Government proposes the holding of a referendum the process of preparing the Bill required and of conveying the information to citizens is as clear, thorough and as comprehensive as can be.

What was the last point raised by the Deputy?

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins The Seanad.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I have answered Deputy Martin's questions on this matter. This legislation will be published in the next session. It is practically complete and we will have a good debate on it when it comes to the House. I hope that is not too much of a rearguard action.

  Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Business of Dáil

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is proposed that expressions of sympathy on the death of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe be taken now, from the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and leaders of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, a representative of the Technical Group, the Minister for Justice and Equality, a spokesperson from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, and Deputies from the Louth constituency, in that order; and that proposals on the Order of Business be taken on the completion of the expressions of sympathy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is that agreed? Agreed.

Death of Garda Adrian Donohoe: Expressions of Sympathy

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Today I know I speak for everybody in this country and in this House because today our nation speaks as one. We speak of a man murdered in the service of his community and his country. We speak of a precious husband taken from his wife, of an adored father taken from his children. We speak of a dearly loved son reared by his mother and father to be courageous, upright and honest. They reared him to be loyal to his community, his people and his country.

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