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 Header Item Cabinet Confidentiality (Continued)
 Header Item Cabinet Committee Meetings

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] I asked that question because the programme for Government contains that commitment. Cad a tharla leis? What happened to that commitment? If it is not appropriate - the Taoiseach read an extract from the Constitution - why was it in the programme for Government in the first instance?

All Sinn Féin proposals for an alternative budget were sent to the Department of Finance, which costed all of them bar one. The only one it did not cost was the wealth tax - it refused to cost the wealth tax. We offered the wealth tax as an alternative to the family home tax, which the Government is rushing through this Chamber.

There is one big thing to which I have been unable to get an answer. I do not believe the Taoiseach can dodge behind the issue of Cabinet confidentiality on this one because it considered taking away the respite care grant, cutting child benefit, making maternity benefit taxable and so on. Was the budget equality-proofed? When the four just men sat in their little Cabinet sub-committee meeting and took all these decisions, and it was brought to the Cabinet, did some of the Ministers not ask whether it had been equality-proofed? Somebody is bound to know. Was the budget equality proofed? The Taoiseach knows the litany of people who are burdened by what his Government is doing. Were these most vulnerable people, who are affected by these scathing cuts, part of the deliberations and was the budget equality-proofed?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy has not defined what he means by equality-proofed. In so far as the consideration of the Government was concerned, all of the issues in the budget were considered in the sense of being balanced given the circumstances in which the Government finds itself and we acknowledge the challenge that many people face here. I will not legislate for Cabinet confidentiality. I have looked at this and it is clearly in the Constitution. I have referred to the Howlin judgment about the confidentiality of material transmitted to Members of the House, the consequence of which will be contained in the whistleblower legislation which is under way. The Attorney General was not consulted here. In that sense if I recall from comments made by some of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I believe its costing was done by submission of parliamentary questions as distinct from a formal set of proposals to be costed one after the other by the relevant section of the Department of Finance.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams We needed to get the costing first before making the proposal.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny For years Opposition parties have prepared their alternative budgets and have sent them in their entirety to the section in the Department of Finance which assesses them. Fine Gael did so for years as did the Labour Party. Sinn Féin chose to ask a series of parliamentary questions and then make wild and fanciful comments about everything being rosy in the garden under Sinn Féin, that nobody would have to pay anything because some mythical myriad of millionaires would trump up everything under the Sinn Féin propositions.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The poor would not have to pay for it.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin What about in Northern Ireland?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Sinn Féin never faced the difficult choices that are the reality of what Government decisions have to deal with. Nobody likes to announce reductions in benefits. We need to deal with the problem of our national finances and we have tried to do that in as fair and balanced a way as we can.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

 4. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the number of Cabinet committee meetings held so far this year; if there is any committee that has not met yet. [49721/12]

 5. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the supports provided by his Department to the Cabinet sub committee on mortgage arrears. [50878/12]

 6. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny if the Cabinet committee on children's rights referendum has met recently.  [50918/12]

 7. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny  the number of meetings of the Economic Management Council held this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56512/12]

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.

All Cabinet committees, including the Economic Management Council which has the status of a Cabinet committee, have met this year and a total of 91 meetings have been held. My Department provides all necessary secretariat support for the Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears. The Cabinet committee on the children's rights referendum met on two occasions, on 23 and 31 August, and its work is now concluded.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I refer first to the Cabinet committee on the children's rights referendum on which a few questions need to be addressed. It is sad that in the aftermath of the very significant High Court ruling on the information leaflets the Government circulated in the course of the campaign, that we only had an opportunity earlier today to address this matter when Deputy Troy questioned the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on it. As it is something about which the public is concerned, I ask the Taoiseach to give us some information on the workings and meetings of the Cabinet committee on the children's rights referendum.

Did that committee approve the wording of the material that appeared on the website and was circulated in the leaflets that were distributed across the country? With the benefit of hindsight, is the Taoiseach satisfied that the very strong similarity between the party-political leaflets that Fine Gael and the Labour Party produced was reflected in the material that was produced by Government, which in itself is clearly contrary to the terms of the McKenna judgment? Does the Taoiseach accept that because all parties in this House were in support of the amendment the Government was complacent in its approach to the referendum? When I had the opportunity to speak here on the Thirty-first Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill, I said it was incumbent on all of us to go out, be enthusiastic and positive, and explain the merits of this proposed amendment to the public. While we welcome that the referendum was won, we were all disappointed that the level of participation was far less than most of us, including, I am sure, the Taoiseach, would have liked.

I ask the Taoiseach to outline the workings of the Cabinet committee on the children's rights referendum. Can the Taoiseach finally give us information on the role of the Attorney General regarding the wording used? In the aftermath of the ruling, leaks from the Government indicated that some people were seeking to lay the blame for the difficulties in which the Government finds itself at the door of the Attorney General. Would the Taoiseach care to exonerate the Attorney General from any involvement in this process? Did she see the wording?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am constrained in what I can say because there is a High Court challenge under the provisions of the Referendum Act 1994 and therefore I do not want to say anything in the House that would in any way prejudice that challenge before the High Court. The referendum took place against the background whereby for 20 years it had never reached the point of the question being asked of the people. It was a significant development by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs working with the Attorney General and the Government to bring it to a point where the people were asked that question. As the Deputy is aware, we have now had four referenda in 18 months. The Constitutional Convention has been established. I accept completely and I respect the decision of the Supreme Court in this matter and the Government will reflect on the issues raised by the Supreme Court in its judgment. Clearly the Supreme Court is the ultimate legal arbiter in terms of the Constitution and the way our legislation is to be interpreted. As there is a High Court challenge under the 1994 Act, I do not want to say anything in regard to the referendum that might in any way be deemed to be or perceived to be prejudicial to the case before the High Court. I would be happy to talk about it afterwards.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams My question is on the Cabinet committee on mortgage arrears. However, before I come to that, if I may, I wish to say that it is clear the budget was not equality-proofed. There is a practice in the North, which is part of the statutory obligation - I believe it is section 75 - making it necessary for departments to equality-proof any decisions they take.


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