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 Header Item Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil
 Header Item Freedom of Information (Oversight of the Office of the President) (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage
 Header Item Dublin Transport Authority (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 7

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The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I will refer the Deputy's question to the Minister concerned. I agree that section 39 organisations are doing an extraordinarily good job in many areas. The Minister for Finance is looking at a whole series of issues on section 39 bodies. I will raise the matter of insurance and see if I can come back to the Deputy with an answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation with eight Deputies not reached on the list. I point out to Members that, in future, I will not call those who abuse the time limit allowed.

Deputy Tony McLoughlin: Information on Tony McLoughlin Zoom on Tony McLoughlin Hear, hear.

Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that if proceedings on Second Stage of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 conclude today, any division demanded shall be taken after the Order of Business on Tuesday next, 23 October 2018.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is that agreed? Agreed.

Freedom of Information (Oversight of the Office of the President) (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to allow for the Office of the President of Ireland to be subject to freedom of information requests; and to provide for related matters.

This Bill proposes to amend the Freedom of Information Act 2014 to make the Office of the President of Ireland subject to freedom of information requests. In 2014, the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, amended our freedom of information legislation in ways which have helped to shine a light on the operation of politics and the spending of public money in the State. Sinn Féin welcomed that legislation which was a positive move in circumstances in which we need to see the highest levels of accountability and transparency. However, the then Minister exempted the Office of the President from such requests. Constitutionally, the President is not answerable to the Houses of the Oireachtas or the courts, although this right is not absolute as the President can be investigated and impeached by the Oireachtas if need be. Having said that, the President is answerable to the public and there is no reason the President should not make public what he or she does with public funds. Sinn Féin does not believe there is any constitutional impediment to subjecting the Office of the President to freedom of information. In reality, it would be an Accounting Officer or management in Áras an Uachtaráin who would respond to freedom of information request, not the person holding presidential office. Having information made publicly available about the expenses of the Office of the President and the President being answerable to the Oireachtas for what that information reveals are two different things.

  The Freedom of Information Act is about transparency and that should exist in relation to the spending of all taxpayers' money. The public has a right to know and, along with journalists and other organisations, to ask questions and get responses. Since the Act has been in force, there have been numerous requests from journalists for information on spending by the Office of the President. On each occasion a request has been made, it has been denied on foot of the exemption in the Act. This is not about the incumbent or the person who currently holds the office. It is about whether this should be the case. This matter has arisen because of the work of the Committee of Public Accounts which examined recently the spend relating to the Office of the President's account. One of the issues which arose was that the office was not subject to freedom of information. That is not right. The idea that millions of euro in public money received by the President is somehow exempt from public scrutiny is a throwback to the days in which public accountability was not seen in the right way. There is a fundamental philosophical principle that the public has a right to information. It is the people who put us into these positions and elect Presidents. No information should be secret or kept from the public. No information should be outside the purview of journalists, politicians and those whose responsibility it is to hold people to account. That may be the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Committee of Public Accounts, the Dáil, committees of the Houses, the courts or members of the public.

  We all accept that there is a clear separation of powers between the President and the Oireachtas in respect of the President's role and duties. However, there is no impediment to making the Office of the President and its spending subject to the Freedom of Information Act. I do not know why Deputy Howlin exempted the Office of the President when he was Minister. It may have been due to advice from the Office of the Attorney General. In any event, it was wrong and it should be corrected. This Bill is an opportunity to do that. I appeal to parties across the House to support the Bill. It is important. There has been an issue of public scrutiny and people believe this should be subject to freedom of information.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill being opposed?

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Dublin Transport Authority (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to provide that no direct award public service contracts of public transport passenger services in excess of ten per cent of said service contracts currently entered into with a public transport operator, (and other than with Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann) shall take place until such time as a period of five years has elapsed from the date of commencement of said contracts and a full review of same has been carried out and to provide for related matters.

I welcome the opportunity to present the Dublin Transport Authority (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the House. The Bill is designed to prevent any additional privatisation of Dublin Bus routes pending a comprehensive review of the routes which have been privatised to date. This is a prudent measure to prevent further privatisation in advance of a full determination of the impact of privatisation on service levels and public transport more generally. Fianna Fáil recognises the crucial role public transport plays in Irish life and that it must be promoted strongly. Unfortunately, the Government has fallen well short over the last number of years with the result that there is now chronic overcrowding on all forms of public transport, including DART, Luas and Dublin Bus services. If we are serious about getting people to move from the private car, we must be in a position to offer them an efficient, reliable and affordable service.

  As matters stand, there are a number of public service obligation routes in Ireland. These are routes which it is considered socially necessary to operate but which are not economically viable. One contract is drawn up for the operation of all such routes within the greater Dublin area while another is drawn up for the operation of all such routes outside Dublin. Currently, 90% of routes outside the greater Dublin area are automatically assigned to Bus Éireann with a competitive tender for the remaining 10%. Earlier this year, Go-Ahead won a proportion of these competitively tendered routes. It must be acknowledged also that Bus Éireann managed to hold onto some of the competitively tendered routes in this process. Similarly, 90% of these routes in Dublin are assigned to Dublin Bus with a further 10% going to tender. Go-Ahead won this 10% tender and commenced to operate a number of routes a few short weeks ago. However, the National Transport Authority, or NTA, has the power to change this unilaterally whenever a contract falls to be renewed. That stands at every five years currently.

  The original decision to put 10% of routes out to public tender was taken to provide a comparative basis on which to ensure that we were getting value for money for the taxpayer and to determine whether the public transport was effective and efficient. Fianna Fáil does not believe the NTA should have unchecked powers to privatise any further bus routes. As such, the Bill seeks to provide that no further privatisation should occur until a minimum of five years has elapsed since the original contracts were awarded. At that point, a full review of these contracts should be presented to the Dáil, which should then decide whether further routes should be contracted out.


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