Dáil Éireann - Volume 340 - 03 March, 1983

Statement by Minister for Finance.

Mr. B. Ahern: As you know I have been here almost through the full period of Question Time and I have just received a note that the Minister for Finance wishes to make a statement about the circulation of the Public Capital Programme. I have just got this note and I have not had any opportunity to communicate with our spokesman on Finance. It would be more suitable if the statement was made next Tuesday because I could not agree with it being taken now.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair was notified a short time ago and he understands that such requests are acceded to. I am calling on the Minister for Finance.

Mr. B. Ahern: I am sure the Minister will appreciate that if I had the message in time I would have contacted our spokesman on Finance. I cannot do that at 3.30 p.m. when the Minister is about to stand up and make a statement. It is insufficient notice.

[1802] Minister for Finance (Mr. Dukes): The Deputy was present this morning.

Mr. B. Ahern: If our spokesman knew this was being raised he would be present now.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has no discretion in the matter. The Minister for Finance.

Mr. Haughey: I will ask you to exercise some discretion.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have none.

Mr. Haughey: You are in charge of order and we rely on you to protect our interests and ensure fair play. It is a bit much that the Minister for Finance expects to come in here and make a statement about which we have no notice and about which we did not have any indication as to the subject matter.

Mr. Dukes: The matter was raised this morning.

Mr. Haughey: It was, but the fact that the Minister was going to make a statement has only been intimated to us a few moments ago. If the Minister adverted to the courtesy of the House, he has had since this morning to let us know that he proposed to make this statement. I want to protest and I want to support our Chief Whip when he suggested that this statement should now be left over to next week when we will have an oportunity of being prepared for it.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the Minister. I neither agree nor disagree. The chair is bound by Standing Order No. 38.

Mr. Haughey: Are you suggesting to me that any Minister can come in here and make any statement any time he wishes without regard to your wishes or my wishes?

An Ceann Comhairle: Precisely — in accordance with Standing Order No 38.

[1803] Mr. Haughey: That is a startling revelation to me. It may be strictly in accordance with the rules and regulations but it is certainly not in accordance with the traditions and the precedent of this House. We have put up with some pretty cavalier treatment from the Taoiseach in these matters but I have never yet had an occasion where this side of the House are told that there will be a statement by a Government Minister whether we like it or not. That is a completely new departure. I want to tell you that it is not one for which we will stand.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will read Standing Order No. 38 which states:

A Member of the Government who has given prior notice to the Ceann Comhairle may make a statement in the House on any matter.

Mr. Haughey: The important words there are “who has given prior notice to the Ceann Comhairle”.

An Ceann Comhairle: He did.

Mr. Haughey: When?

An Ceann Comhairle: During Question Time.

Mr. Haughey: First of all, it is your obligation if you receive such prior notice to let us know about it. Secondly, it is extremely discourteous to you, apart from the cavalier treatment of the Opposition, for the Minister to give you notice of a matter of this sort when you are sitting in that Chair conducting questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: The message came to me from my office while I was in the Chair. I am calling on the Minister for Finance.

Mr. B. Ahern: On a number of occasions this week — the Government Chief Whip will back me up on this — I have allowed main Estimates into the House, Bills to be moved and committees to be [1804] set up. How can I, as Chief Whip of our party, organise our spokesmen if I do not get any notice? How can I be expected to co-operate with the Government if I get no notice?

An Ceann Comhairle: All the Chair is saying is that the Chair cannot help the Deputy.

Mr. B. Ahern: Can I appeal through you to the Minister not to go ahead with this at this stage as I had no notice and our spokesman is not here? We are not ready for it at this stage because our spokesman is not here and it can be left over until Tuesday.

Mr. Dukes: I very much regret that the Opposition have made such a meal out of this.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: On a point of order, if the Minister is making a statement——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chief Whip of the Deputy's party put a question to the Minister. The Minister rose to answer it and it is in order that he should be allowed to do so.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: Can I be assured he is not making a statement?

Mr. Dukes: I regret the Opposition have made such a meal out of a simple matter like this when I wanted to respond to a question that was very reasonably raised on the Order of Business this morning by the Leader of the Opposition who asked me for some very specific information which I am now in a position to give him. As the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip will appreciate, you have to get the information before you can give it. I wanted to be in a position, as I said this morning, to give the information to the Leader of the Opposition about the matter he raised. I have been at a meeting all morning and I have been involved in some other things. It was not until a short time ago that I had confirmation of the information I required. The nature of that [1805] information is such that I wish to give it at the earliest possible moment, which is why I gave notice to the Chair——

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair is now ruling that he has received notice from the Minister for Finance in accordance with Standing Order No. 38 that he wishes to make a statement. The Chair is not bound by any length of notice. The Chair is ruling that the notice is in order and that the Minister is in order in making that statement now if he wishes to do so. That is the ruling of the Chair.

Mr. Haughey: On a point of order, I want to make this point. I am prepared to accept that the Minister may at this stage be seeking to be helpful and reply to questions we raised this morning. I want to say that, as the Opposition, we cannot agree to this process because of the precedent it will create. It may not be of any significance in relation to this particular information. We do not know. I do not think you can ask us as an Oposition to subject ourselves to a process wherby a Minister can come in here at literally a moments notice and make a statement. Another Minister another time may wish to make a statement on something of pretty fudamental and far-reaching importance. If we are to accept the precedent which the Minister for Finance is now setting, then we will have no control over such a situation. I ask you to take that into consideration. I want to reinforce our Chief Whip's request to the Minister for Finance, since he is coming in here, as he said, to oblige us and facilitate us, that he would do that much better by leaving this matter over now until next Tuesday.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has ruled that the other matters are ones between the Opposition and the Government.

Mr. Tunney: On a point of order, if the Chair continues reading the rule to which he has referred he will find that [1806] there is entitlement for spokesman for the Opposition parties to speak.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am aware of that and I propose to give that opportunity to the Opposition.

Mr. Tunney: Would the Chair not accept that the spirit of what he is saying requires the courtesy of their having notice of the statement? The Minister has said that he has spent all day preparing the statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: In the opinion of the Chair, Standing Order No. 38 has been complied with.

Mr. Tunney: It has never happened this way before.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Barret, Dún Laoghaire): In reply to the point of order, I would remind the Opposition that twice last week I was asked to make time available for them to make statements and that we agreed on both occasions. Yesterday I was in the House when a member of the Opposition was speaking on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on this.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): It is very important.

An Ceann Comhairle: It may be important but it is not helpful. I suggest that the Whips iron this out among themselves.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): I am anxious to clarify the position. Yesterday I was criticised here for allegedly stalling the debate on the Eight Amendment to the Constitution.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order. The Chair must be impartial. If the Minister for Finance wishes to make a statement he may make it now.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): The [1807] point is that I tried to contact the Opposition Chief Whip.

The Taoiseach: The Government Whip ought to be entitled to explain that he endeavoured to contact the Opposition Chief Whip but was unable to find him.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: He was here in the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Going back over what may have happened yesterday or last week is not helpful.

Mr. De Rossa: On a point of order, I understand that the rule you have quoted provides for the making of statements but since coming here I have found the practice to be that if the Government intend making a statement the Opposition parties are so informed beforehand. In this instance this practice has not been complied with because as far as I am aware there was no effort made by the Government side to contact our party.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a function of the Chair. I am calling on the Minister for Finance.

Mr. B. Ahern: Deputy De Rossa has raised a very important point. During my time as Government Chief Whip I always went through the process of contacting the other parties and the Independents to notify them in advance that a statement was to be made. Are you ruling that it is no longer necessary to follow that procedure?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am ruling in accordance with Standing Order No. 38. I am not either elaborating on or taking from that Standing Order.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: The Chair needs protection from the Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Minister of State wishes now to make the net point he may do so.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): The net [1808] point is that as Chief Whip I will endeavour at all times to co-operate entirely with the Opposition and to ensure that they have the right to reply in any instance.

Mr. Lenihan: We are not doubting the Minister of State.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): In this instance an effort was made through the office to make contact but I was unaware that the Opposition Chief Whip was then in the House. However, if time is needed by the Opposition in order to allow them to reply to the statement of the Minister, I will get together with the Whips for the purpose of making time available. That will overcome the difficulty and retain good relationships in the House.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: That is the way to do it.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): Following a question that was put by the Leader of the Opposition this morning, the Minister is endeavouring to give a reply; but if the Opposition need time to reply, I am prepared to make that time available later today after their spokesman has been informed fully.

Mr. Haughey: For the sake of peace all round we are prepared to wait until Tuesday next for the information.

The Taoiseach: On a point of order, if an allegation is made and if time is required to reply to that allegation, there must be the right to make the reply as soon as the information is available. I do not accept that the Opposition can make allegations and then endeavour to supress the reply.

Mr. Haughey: The Taoiseach has always been a bully.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the House will leave this matter to the Chair, the Chair will dispose of it in accordance with Standing Orders, but Standing Orders are being mixed with something else. Is it the position that the Minister will make [1809] a statement now and that if the Opposition parties indicate they require time to reply the matter will stand adjourned for a specified time and will be taken then again so as to hear the replies from the Opposition.

Mr. Haughey: That is not the position. Because of the intervention of the Taoiseach we are more determined than ever to pursue this matter. He would have done every one a favour if he had remained as quiet about this as he was about other matters. We are not particularly concerned about the piece of information that the Minister for Finance, out of the goodness of his heart, wishes to give us but we are concerned about a precedent being established.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy was concerned about the information this morning.

Mr. Haughey: The information in question is not of the utmost urgency so the Minister for Finance would do his own reputation as well as the order of the House a favour, in view of our opposition, by holding the matter over to Tuesday next. He can then make a short statement and we can reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am repeating the ruling I have made. I have received notice from the Minister for Finance, pursuant to Standing Order No. 38, that he wishes to make a statement in the House and I am ruling that the notice I received is in accordance with that Standing Order. Therefore, if the Minister wishes to make a statement he is in order in doing so and I am calling on him now to indicate whether he wishes to make the statement.

Mr. Dukes: On the Order of Business this morning——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. De Rossa: On a point of order, Deputy Barrett has told us that he endeavoured to contact Deputy Ahern but why [1810] was no effort made to contact Deputy Mac Giolla, Deputy Gregory-Independent or myself?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a matter for the Chair. It is not provided for in Standing Orders.

Mr. De Rossa: It is very important in relation to how business is conducted in the House.

Mr. Reynolds: This situation has never arisen before.

Mr. Dukes: On the Order of Business this morning, the Leader of the Opposition asked where certain information that appears in newspapers today about the Public Capital Programme had come from. In replying, I made the point that so far as I was then aware the Public Capital Programme was published yesterday and I undertook to give further information as to the details when these became available. The situation is that the Public Capital Programme was published on Tuesday. In fact it was published in the document, “Budget 1983”——

Mr. Haughey: On a point of order, is this the Minister's statement we are listening to?

Mr. Dukes: Yes.

Mr. Haughey: May we have a copy, please.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the Minister reading from a script?

Mr. Dukes: I am not reading but I am sure that members of the Opposition will be able to retain the full import of the statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is long standing practice in the House that if a member of the Government is reading from a script he usually makes copies available to the Opposition but that does not apply if the Minister is not reading.

[1811] Mr. Haughey: On a point of order, and in the interest of some further elucidation of your understanding of the position, would you agree also that when a Minister makes a statement to the House as envisaged in the Standing Order you have read to us, such a statement is normally in writing?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not necessary.

Mr. Haughey: That is the position. It is always in writing and copies are always furnished to the Opposition.

An Ceann Comhairle: First of all, I have been advised, but without being advised it is obvious from reading Standing Order No. 38, that there is nothing about the way he makes a statement. It is not a document.

Mr. Haughey: I am afraid that the Ceann Comhairle is in grave danger of making a complete farce of this business.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy is making a farce of it. He does not want to hear the answers.

Mr. Haughey: I am making this point of order. I submit to the Chair that it is clearly envisaged in that Standing Order to which he refers that a statement by the Minister coming within the terms of that Standing Order should be in writing.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not so.

Mr. Haughey: I submit that it is impossible for us. That Standing Order and precedent envisage a Minister making his statement and the Leaders of the other parties on this side of the House replying instantly to that statement. All my experience here and every rule of common sense would indicate that the statement the Minister makes should be in writing, so that we may have copies of it which will enable us to reply instantly to it when the Minister has sat down. That is the way it has always been and the Chair should insist that it be continued that way.

[1812] An Ceann Comhairle: I have heard Deputy Haughey's point of order and I am ruling that it is not necessary for the statement to be in writing.

Dr. Woods: On a point of order——

Mr. Dukes: To complete the statement——

Dr. Woods: Would the Minister resume his seat while I am speaking?

Mr. Dukes: It is up to the Chair to say that.

Dr. Woods: The Minister did not sit down while the Chair was speaking. Does the Chair not recognise that a very unhappy precedent is being created in this House?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.

Dr. Woods: If a Minister can, as the Minister is doing here, come in and make any political point without providing to Members of the House——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is not making a point of order.

Dr. Woods: I am trying to elicit clarification of the order.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will resume his seat.

Dr. Woods: A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle: Would the Deputy please resume his seat?

Dr. Woods: I am very anxious to see——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will resume his seat.

Dr. Woods: I am very anxious that freedom of speech will prevail in this House.

[1813] The Taoiseach: It has prevailed for the last 20 minutes.

Dr. Woods: On this tactic of bargaining——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am ruling that Deputy Woods is out of order and I am asking him to resume his seat.

Dr. Woods: I have made my point.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy does not resume his seat, he will leave the House.

Dr. Woods: I will accept the Chair's point.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: Might I ask the Chair to give us a precedent of when this course was adopted by any one of his predecessors in this House with regard to a statement? Give us just one precedent. I suggest that there has not been one precedent. This is without precedent and I want to say that I am protecting the Chair——

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, Deputy.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: ——from what the Taoiseach is capable of doing in this House——

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please, order.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: ——and from what is being done in this House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. A precedent is not necessary when the matter is clearly governed by Standing Orders. The Minister for Finance, please.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: Is the Chair telling me that in the 60-odd years of this House——

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

[1814] Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: ——there has never been a precedent?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister for Finance.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: May I take it, Sir——

An Ceann Comhairle: Minister for Finance, please.

Mr. Briscoe: On a point of order, why did the Taoiseach this morning state that this £300,000 cut——

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. This is not a point of order. The Deputy knows that perfectly well.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. N. Andrews: Are we to take it, on the basis of the Chair's reply to Deputy Woods, that all precedents have now gone by the board?

An Ceann Comhairle: No, no.

Dr. Woods: It looks that way.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister for Finance, please.

Mr. N. Andrews: Could I have an assurance that the Chair is not setting aside all precedents, but is simply setting aside this precedent?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am acting in accordance with Standing Order No. 38. The Minister for Finance, please.

Mr. Dukes: The Leader of the Opposition asked this morning, and I repeated for his benefit, where the information had come from which was published this morning in a certain newspaper about the public capital programme, to which I replied that as far as I was aware the revised public capital programme had been published yesterday. I find that it was published, not yesterday but the previous day and that between 2.45 p.m. and 3 o'clock on Tuesday a copy of this document [1815] which contains the revised public capital programme, beginning on page 135, was left in the cubbyhole of every Member of this House. Therefore, the document is available and has been available to every Member of the House since last Tuesday. That was the statement that I wished to make for the information of the House and to cover the point of the fear which one or two Members seemed to have that information had been made available to the press before it was made available to Members of the House. That is not the case. It has been available to Members of this House since last Tuesday.

The Taoiseach: If they had read it.

Mr. Haughey: The Minister for Finance has a document in his hand to which he is now referring. Would it be possible for me to have a copy of that?

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy received a copy last Tuesday.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Leader of the Opposition is making a statement on a Standing Order.

Mr. Haughey: That is my intention, unless the Chair wants to deny me every right.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in question.

Mr. Haughey: I am glad to see the Taoiseach fitting into his proper role.

Dr. FitzGerald: A typical answer from the Deputy.

Mr. G. Birmingham: Jealousy will get you nowhere.

Mr. Haughey: I have now been handed by the Taoiseach a copy of the document to which apparently the Minister for Finance is referring and I see that——

Mr. Dukes: To which I have referred and a copy of which the Deputy has already been given.

[1816] Mr. Haughey: I see that on the title page it is described as “Budget 1983 presented to Dáil Éireann by Mr. Alan M. Dukes, TD, Minister for Finance, 9 February 1983.” The Minister for Finance has just now informed us that it was published——

An Ceann Comhairle: Might I clarify the position?

Mr. Haughey: I am sorry, Sir, I beg your pardon but——

Mr. G. Birmingham: Let them have a meal.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair does not interrupt anybody, but the Chair is in control. Unless the Deputy tells me otherwise, I am taking it that he is now exercising his right under Standing Order No. 38 to make a statement in reply to the statement made by the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Haughey: That is what I am doing. The Chair asked me that already and I said I was. I am now adverting to this document which the Minister for Finance has referred to in his verbal statement. It now appears that this document is dated 9 February 1983. Where has the document been since? Was this document, in fact, presented to Dáil Éireann on 9 February 1983, or was it not? Today is Thursday, 3 March, and Wednesday, 2 March——

Mr. Dukes: And Tuesday was 1 March.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey: Tuesday was 1 March.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: The Minister should take his medicine.

Mr. Dukes: The children in the gallery appreciated it.

Mr. Haughey: We have a document here which, apparently, on the face of it [1817] is stated to have been presented to Dáil Éireann on 9 February 1983. The Minister for Finance now tells us that it was apparently given to Deputies on Tuesday, 1 March. I would be very grateful if the Minister for Finance, by way of reply, interjection, or otherwise, would explain to me that extraordinary procedure. We know that this Government are confused enough——

Mr. Dukes: That is the procedure which has always been followed, every single year.

Mr. Haughey: ——and the budget was a sufficiently confused document, but the fact that they kept it under wraps from 9 February to 1 March is something unprecedented in the history of this House, I believe.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. Haughey: I want to come back to——

Mr. Dukes: On a point of order, for clarification, the document was published in accordance with the normal procedures.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister has already made his statement.

Mr. Dukes: I beg the Chair's pardon.

Mr. Haughey: I name the Minister for Finance for disorderly behaviour.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy asked him to answer and that is what he is doing.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: The Deputy might even have named the Taoiseach.

Mr. Dukes: I gave Deputy Molloy that information in reply to a question he asked.

Mr. Haughey: The Taoiseach would do everyone a great favour if he would keep the low profile he has been keeping for the last while. He really does not add to [1818] the proceedings of this House in any way. I want to confirm my protest about the behaviour of the Government and the Minister for Finance in regard to this matter. I want to confirm that they have behaved in an unprecedented fashion first of all in, not giving the Opposition notice of their intention to make a statement and, furthermore, by making a statement as an oral statement and not doing the traditional courtesy to the House of preparing a written statement which could be read by the Minister and at the same time presented to Deputies on all sides of the House, so that they would be in a position to study the statement and reply to it. He has permitted a very unhappy and unsatisfactory precedent to be created this afternoon and I want to protest about it in the strongest possible terms. I ask the Chair, as custodian of order in this House and as protector of the rights of Deputies on all sides, to curb this Government because, either through incapacity or inability to conduct their affairs properly, or else through some latent wish to override the wishes of this House, they are walking from one contretemps to another.

I want to suggest to you, Sir, that if we are going to have good, orderly conduct of business in this House, and if the Government want the co-operation of the Opposition in getting through business, they will have to mend their hand because we are not going to put up with or tolerate this sort of treatment.

I want to say, finally, that whatever way the Minister for Finance seeks to wriggle out of this matter, the simple facts are that he has treated this House with less than dignity in this matter. At the very least, in my office as Leader of the Opposition I have always been given the courtesy of receiving documents personally in my office, documents of any significance, from Ministers, from the Taoiseach's Office or from the Government Chief Whip. That practice is not being adhered to consistently these days. This is a particular example of it, because this is the first time I have received a copy of this document from any Government source of any kind.

[1819] We have a lot of business to do in this House. We have a lot of problems to deal with. I do not think any of us really wants to be wasting our time over procedural wrangles of this sort. We can avoid them if this Government, Ministers, and the Taoiseach in particular, would understand the role the Opposition has to discharge, recognise that the Opposition has that role to discharge, give us the facilities we need to discharge that role and not be seeking to treat this House with contempt and ride roughshod over everybody who is not on the Government benches.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): On a point of order, I reject out of hand what——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order. Deputy De Rossa——

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): I had an appointment with the Opposition Whip at 2.30 p.m. and he did not turn up.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): I have co-operated in every way. I gave the Opposition time last week on two occasions and now they come in and criticise me.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order——

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): It is a point of order——

Mr. Haughey: I have no complaint against the Government Chief Whip.

Mr. Barrett (Dún Laoghaire): The Leader of the Opposition had better ask his own Whip.

Mr. De Rossa: I do not intend to delay this House much longer on this matter. Certainly the content of the Minister's statement was not worth the time it took to get it through. But I am concerned that small parties, The Workers' Party and presumably also Deputy Gregory, [1820] were not informed of the fact that the Minister was to make a statement. The first we heard of it was on the intercom when the Minister stood up to make the statement. No doubt Deputies and the Chief Whip of the Government parties are aware of the disadvantages from which small groups in this House suffer already. It would be worthwhile if every effort were made to ensure that all Deputies on the Opposition benches were informed of what was taking place in order to avoid the wastage of time which has taken place over the last half hour or so.

An Ceann Comhairle: Item No. 4, Budget debate, the Tánaiste——

Mr. B. Ahern: A Cheann Comhairle, the Government Chief Whip——

An Ceann Comhairle: No, it is not in accordance with——

Mr. B. Ahern: —— asked me to answer something.

An Ceann Comhairle: No, I am not going to allow it, this is ended. There has been no provision made for it.