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Economic Management Council Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 861 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny]   I am not going to inform the Deputy about the issues discussed at meetings of the EMC. As the latter is a Cabinet committee, the matters its discusses and deals with are protected under the Constitution. However, the EMC does not replace the Cabinet, to which collective responsibility applies, in the context of making decisions. As I pointed out to Deputy Martin, what is involved is having an understanding of the scale of particular economic or budgetary issues and that this be reflected in the discussion between the Ministers and leaders involved with the EMC. When the council refers a matter to Cabinet, it is not a case of it being a fait accompli . Rather, the council's members will outline the situation and the options involved and then the Cabinet will make a decision.

  The Tánaiste is a very thorough and fulsome contributor to the EMC. She makes very valuable contributions at its meetings-----

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin So when one becomes Tánaiste, one becomes supportive of it.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----and she has done so on a number of occasions in respect of important issues. In all honesty, it is not a case of four people entering a room, making a decision and then stating that the Cabinet will accept it. We discuss matters of economic planning or, in some instances, budgetary issues to see if it might be possible to adopt a particular approach in respect of them and then ask the Cabinet, in turn, to discuss and make decisions in respect of them. I reiterate that the Tánaiste is a very worthwhile and fulsome contributor to the discussions the EMC has on such matters. The EMC does not replace the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and never will, nor was it ever intended to do so.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins In the context of Jean-Claude Trichet, did the Taoiseach revert to the Cabinet before announcing in the Dáil that the bondholders would not be burned?

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I do not know whether the Taoiseach's concluding remark to the effect that the EMC is not a replacement for the Cabinet in terms of its collective responsibility is true. Personally, I do not believe it to be true. When the Government first entered office, it was obliged to deal with the economic crisis and the troika and the Taoiseach obviously felt that the best, most cohesive and most coherent way to proceed was by establishing the EMC. As the Taoiseach stated, this probably had much to do with ensuring the flow of information in order that everyone would be aware of the exact nature of the challenges involved and decide how best to try to deal with them. If that was the case, that was the Taoiseach's prerogative. However, accusations have been made with regard to the nature of the EMC and the role it plays. Those accusations need to be answered.

  If it is the case that the discussions which take place at Economic Management Council level involve putting a number of options on the table and then bringing them to Cabinet for decision, that is fine. However, an accusation has been made to the effect that a number of key decisions have been made by the EMC and then brought to the Cabinet to be rubber-stamped. As I am sure the Taoiseach is aware, I am one of the new cohort of Deputies and I have never been in government. I am not familiar, therefore, with the complexities relating to how the Cabinet works. I understand, however, that only two individuals who are not members of the Cabinet are permitted to attend its meetings, namely, the Attorney General and - I may be wrong in this regard - a secretary to the Taoiseach, whereas a number of senior civil servants and political advisers attend meetings of the EMC. If that is the position, is there not a risk that such civil servants and advisers are having an influence on the matters which can be decided upon by the council and passed on to the Cabinet for final decision?

  The Taoiseach indicated that the EMC does not replace the Cabinet in the context of its decision-making powers. However, a former journalist who worked as a special adviser to Deputy Quinn when he served as Minister for Education and Skills recently authored a book, An Education - How An Outsider Became an Insider and Learned What Really Goes on in Irish Government, in which he stated that one of the decisions made at EMC level and brought to the Cabinet to be rubber-stamped was that relating to changes to the pupil-teacher ratio announced in budget 2012. The individual in question stated that the matter was presented to Cabinet as a fait accompli and that the EMC had decided that to meet the particular challenges facing the Department of Education and Skills, changing the PTR was the way to proceed. The Taoiseach may be able to confirm whether that was the case or whether the EMC gives individual Ministers a particular pot of money and grants them complete discretion regarding how it is spent. Is it the case that decisions relating to changing the PTR are the responsibility of the Minister for Education and Skills or are these signed off at Economic Management Council level? It is critical that an answer be provided in this regard because we need to know whether decisions are being made at EMC level or by the Cabinet.

  I do not really want to go into great detail in respect of water services. However, there is also an issue in this regard in the context of where the responsibility for making decisions lies. Deputy Martin referred to an amount of €500 million and other Deputies mentioned the water metering programme. I am of the view that what is happening is a fiasco. The Taoiseach states that water meters are required outside every individual home and that such meters serve a purpose in the context of conservation. I represent the same constituency as the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, with whom the Taoiseach is having a conversation at present. The Minister of State may be aware that water meters were recently installed in a particular estate in the constituency. There are no footpaths in the estate - which encompasses Roches Buildings - and when people exit through their front doors, they come straight out onto the road. The meters which were installed have been rendered useless because they were destroyed when bin trucks drove over them. That is the type of planning which marks the process to install water meters. There is an argument to be made regarding the value of this process.

  Will the Taoiseach indicate whether it is the case that decisions on policies relating to Departments are made at EMC level or are a number of options presented to the various Ministers, who then have autonomy to make their own decisions?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Will the Taoiseach also investigate the possibility of installing the district meters to which I refer?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I put three questions to the Taoiseach in respect of the Economic Management Council. He dismissed any concerns relating to the EMC. However, it was the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, who first articulated major concerns about the council. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, have done likewise. As Deputy O'Brien indicated, a former special adviser to the previous Minister for Education and Skills has confirmed that the Cabinet simply rubber-stamps decisions such as that relating to the cut in the pupil-teacher ratio and that those decisions are actually taken by the EMC. The bottom line is that there are some serious constitutional implications regarding the EMC as an entity. The council makes the major decisions in respect of the budget.

The Taoiseach might say that there are 19 or 20 items on the agenda at any Cabinet meeting. Many of these might relate to appointments to State boards or the adoption of the reports of semi-State bodies for publication. However, there is no doubt that the core decisions relating to budgetary matters have been taken by the EMC. The remaining members of the Cabinet have been made to look like puppets on a string. For them, it is a case of "do what you are told". The Taoiseach stated that the reason for establishing the EMC was to facilitate the flow of information. That is not the reason. He also engaged in his usual cheap political commentary regarding the previous Government, etc. Two thirds of decisions relating to the fiscal correction this country has endured were taken by the previous Cabinet in its entirety. We did not need to establish an entity such as the Economic Management Council to do what was necessary or to identify where cuts should be made. The cuts and decisions which, unfortunately, had to be made and were discussed by all Ministers collectively.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy Did the members of that Cabinet discuss the fact that the economy was spiralling out of control and that jobs were being lost?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and many of the other Deputies opposite voted against the measures introduced by the previous Government but they are now claiming credit for them. They are also claiming credit for the work the late Brian Lenihan did as Minister for Finance. However, that is politics.

The rationale put forward by the Taoiseach in respect of the establishment of the Economic Management Council does not hold water. Deputy Higgins made an extremely important point to which the Taoiseach, quite deliberately, failed to respond. Almost all of those in Cabinet were sitting over there on the fateful day to which the Deputy referred and we were all sitting here. There was a delay of over half an hour because the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was not present. Why was that? It took a long time for us to learn - the Government was not forthcoming with the relevant information - that the Governor of the Central Bank had contacted the Minister for Finance by telephone.

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