Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Instructions to Ministers.

3. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the plans, if any, he has to revise or [1455] update the instructions issued to Ministers on taking office; if he has satisfied himself that compliance with the instructions is adequately monitored in view of the possible involvement of Ministers in private business or commercial activities; if he will arrange for a copy of the instructions to be placed in the Library of the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2643/94]

The Taoiseach: As I have informed the House on previous occasions, Ministers are informed on taking office of the general principle that they should not engage in any activities that could reasonably be regarded as interfering or being incompatable with the duties of their offices. Ministers are required to draw the attention of the Government to any matter before Government in which they or their family have a material interest and not to participate in decision-making in the matter unless the Government decides otherwise. These guidelines have been applied by successive administrations over a long number of years and continue to apply.

The Government is satisfied that between these existing guidelines and the proposals contained in the Ethics in Public Office Bill, which is currently before the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs, the provisions to prevent conflicts of interests are more than adequate.

Proinsias De Rossa: Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the current monitoring procedure is adequate? Has he asked recently his Ministers and Ministers of State to give him a list of their shareholdings in view of the fact that a number of them have refused to give information in response to inquiries from journalists in that regard? Will he indicate whether he intends to respond to the allegations contained in a book about to be published which indicates that he was in breach of Government ethical standards when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce in 1982?

[1456] The Taoiseach: The third part of the question is not relevant. I have not read and do not intend to read that book. Considering the author of the book and the people who put it together, I do not think it would make new reading. It is probably a regurgitated version of books published 25 or 30 years ago. On the second part of the question, I recently asked all Ministers to check their interests and make sure they are in accordance with Government guidelines and instructions. The answer to the first part of the question is yes.

Mr. J. Bruton: Is this the first time the privilege of the House has been used to make a disparaging remark about a member of the Press Gallery? The Taoiseach made a specific disparaging remark about an identifiable individual.

An Ceann Comhairle: We should avoid personalities.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach referred to the author of a book being published today and it is plain who that person is. He made his remarks under privilege in the House so that he may not be used. I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the disparaging remark he made about Mr. Tim Ryan.

An Ceann Comhairle: I did not hear that name mentioned.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach referred to the author of a book being published today.

The Taoiseach: I did not mention any name.

An Ceann Comhairle: The question before the House is of a general nature appertaining to all Ministers.

Mr. J. Bruton: On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Please let us not personalise matters.

[1457] Mr. J. Bruton: On a point of order, in view of the fact that on many occasions you intervened to correct Members from this side of the House for making disparaging remarks under privilege in respect of individuals outside the House, will you, Sir, ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the disparaging remark he made in respect of an identifiable member of the Press Gallery whose book is being published today? Will the Taoiseach be so kind and gracious as to withdraw that remark?

Mr. Dempsey: It was not a disparaging remark.

Mr. J. Bruton: It was. The Taoiseach said he would not buy the book because of its author, and that is a disparaging remark about the author.

An Ceann Comhairle: I did not hear the name of any person mentioned.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach can smile at the Press Gallery as much as he likes——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is quite unnecessary and is becoming disorderly.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach made a disparaging remark under privilege of the House about an identifiable individual outside the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sure if the Taoiseach inadvertently reflected on any person outside the House he will wish to correct it.

Mr. J. Bruton: If such a remark was made by this side of the House you would endeavour to stop it happening and the Taoiseach would get up on his high horse——

An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Bruton, this is out of order.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is out of order for the Taoiseach to make a remark such as he made.

[1458] An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Bruton must desist.

Mr. J. Bruton: I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw his disparaging remark in respect of an individual outside the House.

Mr. Dempsey: He said he would not read the book.

Mr. J. Bruton: On a point of order, Sir, will you ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the remark?

The Taoiseach: If Deputy Bruton thinks that to say I will not read the book, that I have no intention of reading the book and have not seen the book is disparaging, he should look up the definition of “disparaging”.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach said that in view of its author he would not read the book.

The Taoiseach: I would not read Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien's book.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach is compounding his mistake by referring to another individual outside the House.

Proinsias De Rossa: There is a serious matter involved here, apart from the point raised.

Mr. J. Bruton: This is serious too.

Proinsias De Rossa: I am not suggesting that the Deputy's point is not serious, but there is another serious aspect to this matter. Does the Taoiseach deny the allegation made in this book, which is apparently supported by documentary evidence, that he was in breach of paragraph 26 of the Government Procedure Instructions dated 1983? Was he in breach of those ethical guidelines when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy De Rossa is in breach of rules in that he [1459] is seeking to circumvent a ruling of the Chair conveyed to Deputy Rabbitte in respect of the matter to which he adverted. I ruled that matter out of order. The question tabled by the Deputy refers to past actions by the Taoiseach which have no direct bearing on the manner in which he discharges his present responsibilities and functions and takes issue with the veracity of a statement made by the Taoiseach.

Proinsias De Rossa: You are entitled to rule matters out of order as you see fit and I am entitled as a public representative to put questions to the Taoiseach on Ministers' compliance with ethical standards. Will the Taoiseach deny or confirm that he was in breach of the ethical rules? In view of recent events when a Minister admitted he was in breach of the rules, does the Taoiseach still believe that the monitoring procedures are adequate?

An Ceann Comhairle: I said repeatedly in this House——

Proinsias De Rossa: Let the Taoiseach answer the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: ——as Deputy De Rossa well knows, that if Members wish to make serious charges against the Taoiseach, Ministers, any Member of the House or individual outside it, they should not do so by way of innuendo across the floor of the House but by tabling a substantive motion on the matter. I have ruled the question out of order on the grounds I stated to the House and I ask the Deputy to desist from referring to it further.

Proinsias De Rossa: Will the Taoiseach respond to my questions, please?

The Taoiseach: I have no intention of responding to a question that has been ruled out of order by the Chair and I have nothing further to add to my remarks.

[1460] Proinsias De Rossa: On a point of order, did you rule out of order my question on the proper monitoring of the ethical guidelines by which Ministers are supposed to be bound?

An Ceann Comhairle: I ruled out of order the reference to the Taoiseach in respect to past events——

Proinsias De Rossa: Will the Taoiseach, therefore, answer the question I put to him about monitoring?

An Ceann Comhairle: ——which has no bearing on his present responsibilities and takes into issue the veracity of statements made to this House on occasions.

Proinsias De Rossa: In view of the admission by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, that he was in breach of the ethical guidelines, is the Taoiseach satisfied that the monitoring procedures are adequate?

The Taoiseach: Yes.

Miss Harney: Is the Taoiseach aware that eight Cabinet Ministers refused to disclose to a Sunday newspaper the shares they hold and said they are confident they are not in conflict with their responsibilities? Is the Taoiseach aware of the shareholdings of all Cabinet members?

The Taoiseach: I am not aware of the report in a Sunday newspaper to which the Deputy referred. In answer to Deputy De Rossa I said that I referred all Ministers to their obligations under the rules and guidelines of Government procedures.

Mr. J. Bruton: In view of the fact that it will soon be obligatory for Ministers to publish their shareholdings in the register of interests, will the Taoiseach agree it would be wise for all Ministers to voluntarily publish their shareholdings now so that no such questions would arise?

[1461] The Taoiseach: This is no more relevant to members of the present Government than it was to any other Government. Deputy Bruton, as a former Minister, is aware of the guidelines. I took the unusual step of voluntarily declaring all my interests a long time ago, and it is up to Deputy Bruton and everybody else to do likewise if they wish. The Ethics in Government Bill which is before the House at present deals in full with declaration of interests.

Mr. J. Bruton: In view of the fact that a controversy has arisen in regard to shareholdings of a Minister, which he apparently forgot he had, will the Taoiseach ask all members of the Government to do as he did and voluntarily disclose all their shareholdings? What is the problem with doing that?

An Ceann Comhairle: This is becoming repetitive and argumentative.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am asking the Taoiseach why he will not ask Ministers to do what he said he had no problem doing.

Proinsias De Rossa: In view of the Taoiseach's statement that the monitoring procedures are adequate, will he indicate what monitoring procedures are in place?

The Taoiseach: Instructions and Government guidelines on this matter are reviewed from time to time by the Taoiseach. All Ministers are fully aware of their obligations and know what is involved.

Proinsias De Rossa: That is not monitoring.

The Taoiseach: I do the monitoring.

Ms McManus: In view of the fact that the monitoring system has clearly failed — the example of the Minister, Deputy Cowen——

[1462] An Ceann Comhairle: I have asked Deputies not to personalise the matter.

Ms McManus: It is a matter of record; I am not personalising it.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am aware of that.

Ms McManus: The monitoring system has clearly failed. On what grounds is the Taoiseach stating that the system is working? What assurance can he give that the system has been put right? It has clearly failed at least once. What are the Taoiseach's reasons for arguing that the system is working?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is raising a particular matter.

Ms McManus: I am asking the Taoiseach to clarify a statement that is unjustifiable. I ask him to explain how he can justify his statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am asking Members not to personalise the matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: You did not hear it when it was being personalised on the other side of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: I did, Deputy. As a matter of fact no name was mentioned.

Mr. J. Bruton: We all know about whom he was talking.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy O'Donnell.

Ms McManus: The Taoiseach did not answer my question.

The Taoiseach: I said three times in the House today that the attention of Ministers has recently been drawn to instructions and guidelines. The aspect of the matter to which the Deputy referred was adequately dealt with in long debates in this House last week.

[1463] Ms O'Donnell: On the question of Cabinet procedure relating to the disclosure of a possible conflict of interest by Ministers and Ministers of State, what is the current sanction for noncompliance? There has to be a sanction if the procedures are to have any weight and validity.

Mr. J. Bruton: A very good question.

The Taoiseach: The instructions and Cabinet guidelines relate to the workings of Government. I make those decisions. The guidelines are dealt with in that manner and no other.

Miss Harney: Will the Taoiseach fire someone who breaches them?

Mr. J. Bruton: What does that answer mean? What is the Taoiseach saying?

The Taoiseach: If the Deputy does not understand English I cannot help him.

Mr. J. Bruton: That is not English; the Taoiseach's reply to that question should be quoted.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, I am not prepared to allow a debate on this matter now.

Miss Harney: Will the Taoiseach dismiss a Minister who breaches the guidelines? There is no sanction.