Dáil Éireann - Volume 348 - 29 February, 1984

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - New Ireland Forum.

1. Mr. Mac Giolla asked the Taoiseach if, in view of his statements in the Dáil on 19 October 1983, he will now say when the New Ireland Forum is likely to report; if he believes that an agreed report will be produced; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

2. Mr. Mac Giolla asked the Taoiseach the total cost to date incurred by the Exchequer arising from the establishment of the New Ireland Forum.

3. Mr. Mac Giolla asked the Taoiseach the total number of persons paid by the Exchequer, employed by the New Ireland Forum; and the numbers (a) on secondment from Government Departments or agencies, and (b) the numbers appointed by each of the political parties participating in the Forum.

[984] The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

I do not wish to speculate as to the form or contents of this report, which I would hope will be ready within the next six weeks approximately.

The total cost to date incurred by the Exchequer arising from the establishment of the Forum is £300,000 approximately, of which £225,000 is charged to my Department's Vote and covers the expenditure incurred directly by the Forum. The balance of the cost was incurred by other Government Departments or agencies on behalf of the Forum and covers items such as printing of reports and salaries of replacement staff.

The total number of persons working in the Forum is 20. Of these, 17 are paid by the Exchequer and three by their parent organisations. Seventeen are on loan from Government Departments or agencies. Some of these continue to perform duties in these organisations. None of the persons working in the Forum was appointed by the individual political parties but each of these four parties avails itself of the services of an aide paid for by the Exchequer.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Does the Taoiseach agree that in reply to me on 19 October last year he was fairly confident that the report would be issued by the end of the year? He said that if there was any over-run it would be of short duration. In view of the fact that he has now said it will be a further six weeks before the report is issued which will bring us into April, does he consider that that is not an over-run of short duration?

The Taoiseach: First of all, I said I hoped it would be produced within six weeks. It may very well be shorter than that. There is a problem posed by the fact that I and another party Leader will be absent in the United States in the period around St. Patrick's Day. This will obviously hold up the proceedings temporarily. The fact that the work has not been completed before the original target date is entirely due to the extent of the ground which had to be covered, the [985] subject matter dealt with and the wide degree of public interest and participation in the work. We have received 278 submissions, some of which were elaborated on in the 12 public sessions held. We have held 21 private sessions as well as organising visits to Northern Ireland and Britain. Obviously I would prefer if the work had been completed shortly after the end of the year, but the important thing is that it should be completed well. All concerned are working hard to ensure that a report is completed before very long.

Mr. Mac Giolla: There was some speculation recently that there was acrimony within the Forum which was the cause of the postponement and that the report was expected early in March but due to some controversy arising in the Forum it had to be postponed. Is there any truth in that? Does the Taoiseach expect that there will be an agreed report?

The Taoiseach: The meetings of the Forum are continuing regularly. There has been no interruption of its work as the Deputy would seem to suggest. I cannot recall anything which could reasonably be described as acrimony, certainly not by the standards of this House.

Mr. Mac Giolla: The Taoiseach referred to St. Patrick's Day. What importance will the attitude of the US Government have in the aftermath for the implementation or further development of whatever may arise from the Forum? Does he feel that the attitude of the United States Government will be important?

An Ceann Comhairle: That seems to be anticipating the report.

The Taoiseach: It is a bit.

Mr. Mac Giolla: It may be a factor in deciding when the report will issue. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that the delay in issuing the Forum's report indicates a lack of purpose or determination as well as a lack of urgency and, therefore, [986] it is vitally important that a date should be set for the issue of the report.

The Taoiseach: There is no lack of purpose or determination by any of the parties involved. My reference to St. Patrick's Day was to the fact that there will be a period of a week or ten days during which I will be absent and the Leader of another party will be absent in the United States, and in my case also at the European Council in Brussels. That means there will be a temporary slowing down at that point. I was explaining a practical reason why, even though work is well advanced, there will be difficulty in completing it quite as rapidly as one might otherwise have hoped to be the case simply because of this hiatus arising from these visits.