9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the functions that have been delegated to Ministers of State assigned to his Department. (Question 41720/17 asked on 04 Oct 2017)
The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 9 together.
On 14 June 2017 the Government appointed Deputy Joe Mcl-lugh as Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at my Department and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with special responsibility for Gaeilge, the Gaeltacht and the islands and Deputy Paul Kehoe as Minister of State at my Department and the Department of Defence with special responsibility for defence. On 20 June the Government appointed Deputy Pat Breen as Minister of State at my Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for trade, employment, business, the EU digital Single Market and data protection and Deputy Helen McEntee as Minister of State at my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for European affairs.
At my request, on 5 July, the Government made an order delegating my statutory functions relating to the Central Statistics Office under the Statistics Act 1993, the Civil Service Regulation Acts 1956 to 2005 and the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 to the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Joe McHugh.
Deputy Gerry Adams: The Taoiseach has made many commitments on the issue of political reform. When I look at the delegation of responsibilities to various Ministers, it seems very light. There is also a commitment to examine the creation of unpaid roles of parliamentary private secretaries, as well an examination of the balance of power and responsibilities between the Government and the Civil Service. As far as I can ascertain, that has yet to happen.
I would like to give the Taoiseach some friendly advice about Northern Ireland. I was going to do it privately, but I will do so now. Nobody in Northern Ireland is impressed when he refers to Northern issues, as he did recently in response to a question from Deputy Mary Lou McDonald which was not about Northern Ireland. He asked, “Is it any small wonder the people of Northern Ireland do not have an Executive or an Assembly? It is because this is the attitude of Sinn Féin.” On mature reflection, I am sure he knows that this is an untruthful claim. Similarly, this morning, when I referred to the sad story of the little boys who had been denied Translarna in this state, the Taoiseach referred to the non-availability of Orkambi in Northern Ireland. I campaigned for the making available of Orkambi here and in Northern Ireland. I have not spoken to the parents of the little boys, but I am sure they are not impressed. I think the Taoiseach has fallen into the Deputy Enda Kenny trap which involves, as others here know, casting up issues in Northern Ireland that have nothing to do with the issues I raise. The Taoiseach must rise above this instinct and I wish him well. There are big challenges in dealing with all of these matters. If the Taoiseach is genuinely going to be reforming as he has said, then we need to see Ministers of State playing a more substantive role in policy formation and we need to see continuation of reform of departmental structures and Cabinet Ministers.
Whatever the Taoiseach says about the North does not take a whiz out of me, nor does whatever the leader of Fianna Fáil says about the North. I am trying to provide good, honest advice as someone who spends at least one or two days in the North each week and who was there last week, at the same time the Taoiseach made these remarks to Teachta McDonald, assisting Michelle O’Neill trying to get the process back on track. It is no matter to me personally but I think it is just good advice to the Taoiseach, who I wish well.
Deputy Micheál Martin: The very clear evidence produced in the media through freedom of information is that there was an effort to delay implementation of the request of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that overpayments be returned by Ministers of State, particularly those at the Cabinet. Why did this delay happen and why was there an attempt to mislead a journalist about the state of the issue? The legislation clearly limits the Government to two Ministers of State receiving the extra allowance but it is silent about how to decide which Minister of State gets the allowance. Traditionally, the Chief Whip would be seen as a senior Minister of State at Cabinet. How was it decided that the Chief Whip, rather than either of the Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath or Paul Kehoe, would be the one not to receive the allowance? Now that the Taoiseach has expanded the number attending Cabinet to an unprecedented four - we will go through the specifics on delegation orders later - to sort out internal Fine Gael problems, will he explain what process he undertook to decide who would receive the allowance and who would not? Will he confirm whether the Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath and Paul Kehoe, refused to forgo the allowance?
The Taoiseach: There is a number of questions and I did not get a chance to write them all down.
I always appreciate Deputy Adams’ advice on the North. My point on Orkambi is that it is available in this jurisdiction but not in Northern Ireland and by forming an Executive and by participating in government in Northern Ireland rather than just campaigning for it, Sinn Féin can actually have a position of responsibility and make it happen. As I mentioned earlier, the decision about Translarna was made under law by the HSE, not by the Government, but I have asked for more information about it because I am conscious that it is available in 20 or 22 other countries and not in this jurisdiction, which is unusual.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Including the North.
The Taoiseach: Given that the company that manufactures it is taking the Government to court it does not make it easy to resolve that issue.
I do not know everything about allowances paid to Ministers of State attending Cabinet because some of it happened before I was Taoiseach and the matter has largely been dealt with by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The position is that only two Ministers of State serving at Cabinet can be paid this allowance. A view was taken previously that it would be possible to pay a separate Chief Whip’s allowance in the same way that party Whips receive allowances, including Fianna Fáil’s party Whip. The former Chief Whip, Deputy Regina Doherty, was paid on that basis. It subsequently transpired that was not lawful and the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has agreed to pay back the overpayment that occurred. It is important to say that she was in no way responsible for that. It was an overpayment, not something that she claimed, and she bears no responsibility for it whatsoever. Two people will continue to be paid the allowance and were already in receipt of it. They are the Ministers of State, Deputies Finian McGrath and Paul Kehoe. I did not ask them to give it up so it never arose that they would have to because they were in receipt of it. The other two, the Ministers of State, Deputies Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Joe McHugh, were not in receipt of the allowance and so will not be able to receive it unless this House changes the law.