Dáil Éireann - Volume 412 - 12 November, 1991

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Powers of Oireachtas Committees.

14. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance if the Government have any plans to upgrade the powers of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies to allow it to demand the presence of witnesses; and whether such witnesses will be granted full parliamentary privilege.

The Taoiseach: The question of [1011] empowering committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas to compel the presence of witnesses and the extent of privilege which might be granted to such witnesses is at present under examination in the context of the proposals for Oireachtas reform contained in the recently published Programme for Government. Any legislation which might prove necessary in the light of the outcome of this examination will be introduced as soon as possible.

Mr. Deasy: Does the Taoiseach favour the granting of privilege to witnesses?

The Taoiseach: Witnesses at the moment have qualified privilege in regard to private sessions of these committees. It is a question of seeing whether or not that qualified privilege should be extended.

Mr. Deasy: Is not the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies rather ineffective in that it does not allow or permit these witnesses to have parliamentary privilege? Would the Taoiseach not agree that many of the inquiries and tribunals which have been set up by the Government could have been avoided and we might know the answers to many of the questions which are being raised if this committee had been allowed to carry out their work with the aid of parliamentary privilege for the people who are at present under investigation?

The Taoiseach: I could not necessarily go along with that. It is a question of judgment as to whether or not they would have been able to do a more expeditious job than the inspectors appointed by the High Court if they had additional powers. The position is at present, that although they do not have the power to compel witnesses to attend they have never had any problem in having witnesses attend but, as I said, the matter is at present under active consideration by the Goverment.

Mr. Rabbitte: May I ask the Taoiseach [1012] how he reconciles that statement with his own instruction recently to the Minister for Agriculture and Food not to appear before this body in respect of Greencore?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate matter, Deputy.

Mr. Quinn: It is very pertinent.

The Taoiseach: It is a totally separate matter. The position of——

Mr. Deasy: Did the Taoiseach instruct him not to attend?

The Taoiseach: May I finish? The position of Ministers or Secretaries of Departments appearing before these committees has long been settled by precedent. If there was to be any change in that position, it would require considerable discussion and examination before such a major fundamental change was made.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Would the Taoiseach not accept that our committee system will be a bit of a toothless tiger until it is possible to compel witnesses to attend and to produce documents which are required by the committee, and that until these two things are put into place we will not have a properly developed committee system in this Parliament as is the case in most other developed democracies?

The Taoiseach: I cannot totally disagree with the Deputy. As I say, it is a question for judgment and consideration; it is a matter of how the public interest is to be best served. I do not think any of us want to have Star Chambers set up by the House. On the other hand, we want to have effective committees. I think it is something on which we can all participate in a reasonable discussion.

An Ceann Comhairle: A final question from Deputy Deasy.

Mr. Deasy: It was widely understood that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, was anxious [1013] to appear before the committee. Did the Taoiseach give the Minister instructions not to appear before the committee?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question altogether, Deputy, and you know it.

Mr. Deasy: It is a very interesting question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us come to deal with Question No. 16.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick East): He is not volunteering an answer.

Mr. Carey: Silence.

Mr. Deasy: So he was instructed not to attend? Can we assume that?

The Taoiseach: No. The Deputy has made a couple of reckless statements already in this House in recent weeks. The Deputy made one about me personally which I would like to discuss with him some time.

Mr. Deasy: Any time you wish.

The Taoiseach: I do not want to rehash it in the House——

Mr. Deasy: We will discuss it on level terms as long as the Taoiseach does not speak down to me which is what he does to his own Deputies.

The Taoiseach: ——but the Deputy made a statement about me which is not correct. I know the Deputy would not wish to do that.

Mr. Deasy: I was given to believe by a close associate of yours that it was correct.

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us not continue to indulge in personalities. Let us have a reply to Question No. 16, please.