Tag Archives: Leaders’ Questions

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

This afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions which were answered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar…

Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin raised the nurses’ strike and claimed there was “absence of substantive and meaningful engagement from the Government’s side” in terms of resolving the issues.

It followed the issuing of a press release by the Government last night in which Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said they were willing to engage in talks “on the range of workplace-related issues other than pay to try to resolve the dispute”.

Mr Martin added:

“I put it to you Taoiseach that last night’s initiative, at the 11th hour, of the proposals that emanated from Minister [Paschal] Donohoe and Minister [Simon] Harris have only served to compound the problem, make it worse and escalate it.

“Because it concerns staff shortages, undergrad education, future nursing needs and so on. But it was sent out via press release, without any engagement with the INMO or the other unions.

The INMO has said and director described it as ‘the most cynical move I’ve seen in a long time’ and the unions have rejected it as Government spin. And that it was massively disrespectful to the nurses and to patients.

“Now, Taoiseach, I would put it to you that we cannot solve, you  cannot solve industrial relation disputes by such cynical PR manoeuvres. That kind of ‘optics are more important that substance’ approach won’t cut it when it comes to an industrial dispute of this gravity and scale.

“What is required Taoiseach are meaningful steps to be taken. Substance must replace spin in relation to the resolution of this dispute.”

Mr Martin went on to suggest that well-known mediator Kieran Mulvey should be engaged to help with resolving the matters.

During his response, Mr Varadkar said:

I appreciate that the nursing union felt that the offer to engage in further talks at the WRC was discourteous as they heard it through a press release rather than through a letter or direct contact.

“And we’ll make sure that doesn’t recur.

At the same time though, we shouldn’t forget that tens of thousands of people found out through the media that their respite was being cancelled this week too. That their day care was being cancelled too. So I think we need to bear that in mind as well.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

From top: Minister for Children Katherine Zappone; Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly; Ms Daly speaking in the Dáil earlier today

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly voiced her frustration over the manner in which scandals are handled in Ireland.

Ms Daly was speaking in light of the Cabinet yesterday approving a request from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation for an extension of a year before publishing its final report.

Yesterday: ‘Geophysical Survey’ Of Burial Ground At Sean Ross Abbey To Begin Tomorrow

From top: Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin raised the recent death of Orla Church – who was the 21st women to die in relation to the CervicalCheck smear test scandal.

Mr Martin said, it was his understanding that, some free repeat smear tests conducted in the wake of the scandal have been rendered invalid because the tests expired due to delays caused by a backlog.

The provision of these free repeat smear tests ended on December 31, 2018.

Mr Varadkar confirmed some tests have expired.

Mr Martin raised an article in The Journal on January 9 which showed that the Minister for Health Simon Harris had been advised against providing free repeat smear tests, as it would cause delays and damage the “efficacy of the programme”.

Mr Martin also pressed Mr Varadkar to explain when the Minister for Health Simon Harris informed Mr Varadkar of this situation.

From their exchange in the Dáil…

Micheál Martin: “On average, CervicalCheck tests about 230,000 smears annually. The Minister’s decision last April added an extra 90,000 to 100,000 to that volume. The Minister was warned repeatedly over a long period that this was wrong yet he proceeded without any additional resources being provided. The additional volume of tests as a result of the decision has created an unacceptable and enormous backlogs and women have been waiting for up to six months for the results of their tests.

“There is a further problem. I understand that the delay has impacted on the quality and efficacy of the tests and has rendered a significant number invalid.”

“… I asked the Minister, Deputy Harris, a specific question on this issue on 15 January. I asked for the rationale of announcing the repeat cervical smears against expert advice and why he did not make that public at the time. He avoided answering that part of the question and I have officially complained about this under Standing Orders. The Minister has withheld information from the Dáil and the public on developments in the CervicalCheck programme that are clearly in the public interest.”

“….Was the Taoiseach made aware of the serious developments by the Minister, particularly regarding the validity of a significant number of tests that had been rendered null and void because of the delay? Normally, the virus would be tested for within ten days, yet people are facing six-month delays. This was discovered last year but not revealed by the Minister or anyone. In essence, that information has been withheld. That is why the service was discontinued, Taoiseach. The minister’s decision was against expert advice that warned him, repeatedly, that this would damage the entire programme.

“It is my understanding and it is my information that the programme is in jeopardy because of all of this. And further there’s significant decisions and communications would have to occur because of this. I asked were you made aware of this by the minister?

“Would you please answer that question.

“I asked as to the rational behind the minister’s decision – against repeated expert advice and that this was not clinically warranted and it would damage the efficacy of the entire programme.

“Taoiseach if we’ve learned any lessons about this, the withholding of information, the secrecy and denial that was part of the first phase of this scandal is being repeated yet again.

“In terms of the lack of upfront, honest responses to parliamentary questions and the ducking and the diving and the papering over the cracks and the covering up that goes on then subsequently.

“So we’re now all led to believe that it just evolved that the decision was closed down in December. It didn’t just evolve. It was a discovery made, Taoiseach – that tests were invalid because the expiry date ran out because of the backlog and the delay. That has consequences Taoiseach in terms of many women involved.

“And we need, I would ask you Taoiseach will you ensure that the minster comes before this House and makes a comprehensive and transparent statement in relation to what I have asked today?”

Leo Varadkar: “Thanks Deputy. The rationale behind the decision by Minister [for Health Simon] Harris to offer free out-of-cycle smear tests back in May or June was to respond back to the anxiety by many women that their smear test may have been misread and it was done in good faith, in good faith, for good reasons.

It was never intended to be a permanent offering, it was only ever intended to last for a few months and those free tests cease to be available at the end of December this year [sic].

I was made aware of a backlog a few weeks ago and Minister Harris informed me a few weeks ago. I’ll answer your question if you’ll allow me to.

I was made aware by Minister Harris a few weeks ago that there was a backlog and this was creating problems and, as a result of that, some tests had expired and would have to be repeated. And the minister, for that reason, worked with, is working with the HSE to deal with that and to make sure that additional capacity is found in order to catch up on the backlog.

“I’m sure the minister will be happy to come before the House and make a statement on it.”

When Mr Martin pressed Mr Varadkar to state when he was specifically informed of the matter by Mr Harris, Mr Varadkar repeated it was “a couple of weeks ago, I don’t remember the exact date”.

Mr Varadkar said he didn’t want to mislead the Dáil and repeated that he couldn’t remember the exact date he was informed.

Previously: “I Don’t Believe I’m Being Told The Truth”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

UPDATE:

This afternoon.

In the Dáil, during Leaders’ Questions.

Following on from MPs in London voting down the UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal 432 to 202…

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said:

“This is a problem that began in Westminster, with the referendum on Brexit. We found a solution – the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated over months and months, agreed by 28 governments.

“And now Westminster has rejected that solution. So the problem lies in Westminster. And I welcome the fact the Prime Minister has said that she’s now going to engage with senior politicians from all parties to see if they can come together with a way forward, with a Brexit that commands a majority in the House of Commons.

“But whatever they come up with must be acceptable to us in Ireland the European Union as a whole.”

Watch Dáil proceedings live here

Earlier: Standstill

UPDATE:

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

This afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions.

In the Dáil.

In reply to a question from Independent TD Tommy Broughan about this morning’s protest and collective call for inquests into those who died in the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin on Valentine’s Day, 1981, to be reopened…

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said KRW Law solicitors, acting for the Stardust relatives and victims, wrote to the Attorney General on April 12, saying that they were putting the AG on notice of their intention to make a formal request of him to grant new inquests, within a matter of weeks.

Mr Varadkar said the AG had acknowledged this letter but that, to date, KRW Law has yet to make the formal inquest.

He also claimed the AG office twice wrote to KRW Law, in July and this month, noting that the AG awaited the formal request.

Mr Varadkar added:

Once it is received, and I did speak to the Attorney General this morning, he will give it full consideration and will look at it afresh with an open mind.

Anyone?

Earlier: Bringing The Truth Home

From top: Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Brid Smyth

This afternoon.

In the Dáil.

The CervicalCheck smear test scandal was raised again during Leaders’ Questions which were taken by Tánaiste Simon Coveney who told the Dáil that, this morning, he spoke to the husband of one of the 17 women who died.

Solidarity-People Before Profit Brid Smyth held up a diagram showing who is accountable to whom within the HSE and called for “heads to roll”.

Addressing the Minister for Health Simon Harris, she said she knows of a young health worker who was suspended from her job for two months for criticising HSE spending and the trolley crisis on Facebook.

The following are some points which were raised…

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary told the Dáil:

“For many woman, their first point of contact to get the information was their GP. If they got an appointment with their GP, they found that CervicalCheck only actually formally contacted GPs this morning – eight days later [since Vicky Phelan’s case in the High Court] and they provided a completely innocuous update which provided no new information to the thousands of GPs around the country who are struggling to deal with this. Again, Tánaiste, I ask, why the delay?”

“…Tánaiste, when will the 38 remaining women who have yet to be informed of their audit be informed. Secondly, will all of these women receive medical supports and full medical supports. I’m aware of at least one of these women whose medical card was withdrawn over the past number of weeks, by HSE medical cards, and who is being put through the ringer to provide information. Yet, she was able to get a phone call recently to tell her about her false positive.”

“…The Taoiseach announced that women can have new smear tests undertaken, that is a welcome development. Will these smear tests be audited in a different laboratory from those that are currently being used to audit smear tests?”

“…Vicky Phelan this morning has called for a scoping inquiry, agreed last evening, to be held in public. Will the Government agree to her call?”

“…I want to ask you about comments made by the Secretary General of the Government this morning in the Public Accounts Committee to deputy Marc MacSharry in relation to sensitive cases. Were the Government alerted some months ago about this case in the context of the sensitive cases update?

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said:

In relation to Tony O’Brien, my understanding from speaking to the health Minister, and I also think it seems to be breaking in the media, he is, he has confirmed to the Health Minister that he will be taking a leave of absence from any involvement outside the HSE between now and when he steps down from the HSE to focus on contributing in a positive manner to the work that needs to be done…”

“In relation to the list of sensitive cases that does get presented to Cabinet from time to time, we have asked the Cabinet Secretary to look at the lists of sensitive cases that had been on that, on that list. And Vicky Phelan’s case was not on the sensitive cases list.That’s my understanding. It is information I’ve been given literally on the way in to the House this evening. But that is my understanding in terms of the confirmation that the Secretary to the Government has provided.”

Irish Solidarity–People Before Profit TD Brid Smyth said:

“I’m not playing politics when I make this point. But we found out yesterday that the State Claims Agency received a request in January for her [Vicky Phelan] files, they then knew in March, the head of the National Screening Programme knew in March that there was a claim going to court.

“He kicked it up the line to the head of National Screening and they kicked it up the line to the department who knew in March. The minister didn’t know.

“Right. I’ll just make it simple for everybody who’s here. That is a diagram of the transitional organisation structure of the HSE. I’ve coloured you in, in blue, to match the colour of your shirt, Minister.

“But this here is the risk committee, answerable to you. This is here is the director general [of HSE] answerable to you. None of them told you but you are the boss. You’re at the head of all of this.

None of them told you but none of them are fired, none of them are suspended. Go right down the line to where the information first came in. Nobody is in trouble for this.

I know a young worker, a young hospital worker who was suspended for two months because she criticised HSE spending and the trolley crisis on a Facebook post.

“You have to make heads roll in that department for failing to tell you, for failing to be accountable. If you don’t, you should go minister.

“Because somebody has to go here.

“And I don’t believe you that you didn’t know, I don’t believe Tony O’Brien and I don’t believe that your department isn’t full of people who are trying to cover up and if you believe that they aren’t trying to cover up, that they’re all innocent and they’re all OK, then you are failing to do your job.

That’s you at the head of the organisation, a fish rots from the head minister and you need to deal with it, or else you need to resign.”

Previously: Uncanny

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar taking Leaders’ Questions earlier today

Earlier this afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked about the Garda College in Templemore, Co Tipperary.

Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald reminded Mr Varadkar of several items that emerged in the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, including:

Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan claims she first learned of the concerns about the Garda College on July 27, 2015 when head of HR John Barrett briefed her and others about the matters.

Mr Barrett claims he was told by College Administrator Sgt Pat McCabe that Ms O’Sullivan knew as early as June 23, 2015, while Mr Barrett claims former Chief Administrative Officer Cyril Dunne told him Ms O’Sullivan knew on June 30, 2015.

Either way, on July 31, 2015 four days after the briefing from Mr Barrett – Ms O’Sullivan wrote a letter to the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy stating: “I have disclosed to you all the instances of loss, fraud or irregularity are known to have occurred or have been reported”.

But she didn’t disclose the matters concerning the Garda College to Mr McCarthy.

And the C&AG was only eventually made aware on May 31, 2016, by the head of internal audit Niall Kelly – who has previously cla

Readers may wish to recall that at a previous PAC meeting, on June 14, 2017, the current Chief Administration Officer at the College Dónall Ó Cualáin said:

At that point [October 2015], the advice was that the legal advice had to be sought and obtained before Mr [Niall] Kelly could commence his work [audit], all the bank accounts had to be closed, and all the moneys and investments had to be brought into one account. All that work was ongoing.”

It’s understood this advice was not from Head of Legal Affairs Ken Ruane but from Cyril Dunne.

Further to this, Ms McDonald asked Mr Varadkar if he has confidence in Noirin O’Sullivan, who became interim Garda Commissioner in 2014.

Further to this…

Mr Varadkar replied:

“Yes, I do have confidence in the Garda Commissioner and the Government does, too. The problems that are besetting the gardai are long-standing.  Many, most, if not all of the problems that beset the gardai predate her becoming Garda Commissioner. And I believe that she is somebody who is fighting many battles on many fronts in an effort to put things right.”

Hmmm.

Previously: A Templemore Timeline

Meanwhile…

In The Irish Times

Political reporter Sarah Bardon writes:

The [PAC] session was mammoth and the line of questioning was robust. But at times it seemed unfair to the witness.

O’Sullivan faced committee members that have already decided she is unfit for office. Can she expect a fair hearing when at least 10 of the 13 members have stated publicly they believe she should be removed as commissioner?

Questioning of Nóirín O’Sullivan was intense and sometimes unfair (The Irish Times)

Right now.

In the Dáil.

In his first Leaders’ Questions.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responds to questions about the appointment of former Attorney General Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.

Watch live here

Previously: Faster!

UPDATE:

During Leaders’ Questions.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin claimed a payment made to Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty was in breach of legislation.

Brendan Howlin said:

“Taoiseach, last week, you unveiled your new Cabinet. It included  an unprecedented number of ministers of state with the right to attend at Cabinet. Within 24 hours, it emerged that one of these four ministers could not receive the corresponding allowance without a change in the law….

“Over the weekend, the situation got worse. It has now emerged that a payment of a a third such allowance to the Government chief whip [Regina Doherty] from last year was also unlawful.

The whip was paid an allowance of €15,829 for her role as Government whip. No such position exists under law. It is clear from documents released under Freedom of Information that the allowance was paid to the Government whip on the understanding that the Government whip was actually being paid for her responsibilities as Fine Gael whip. This might seem like a technical and minor matter however,r under the law, no allowance can be paid to a party whip, if that person is a minister or a minister for state.

“This means that you cannot pay such an allowance to the new Government chief whip. It also means that an illegal overpayment has been made to Minster Doherty.

Related: Doherty faces repaying €16k to the State (Irish Independent)

From top: Solidarity TD Mick Barry; Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Earlier.

During Leaders’ Questions.

Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised the matter of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s missing phone.

He said:

“Former Garda Press Officer Superintendent Dave Taylor claims that he sent a text to Noirin O’Sullivan, some years ago, in which he told her that a journalist had interviewed a person making allegations against Maurice McCabe. Taylor claims O’Sullivan sent a one-word reply, ‘perfect’.

“We are told now that Noirin O’Sullivan’s phone from that time has gone missing and cannot be provided to the Charleton Tribunal. Perfect.

“Dave Taylor’s phone hasn’t been provided to Charleton either. It was taken from him, as part of an internal Garda investigation, led by Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband and has not been returned to him.

“So. Noirin O’Sullivan’s husband has Dave Taylor’s phone. And Noirin O’Sullivan can’t find her own phone. Perfect again.

“A senior Garda source told The Irish Times ‘a search of Garda HQ has taken place in recent weeks to try and find the missing phones’. It goes on to say, ‘but there’s little hope of the material being found at this stage’. I’d say there isn’t all right, Taoiseach.

“Was that phone officially reported missing? If so, when exactly? Was [former Garda Commissioner] Martin Callinan’s phone officially reported missing? When exactly?

“By the way, I’m given to understand that Noirin O’Sullivan used a second phone, a personal phone, known as the off-site phone for some Garda business. Has this phone been sought? Has she lost this phone too?”

In his reply, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said:

“You come in here with a report, which is a report from a journalist I understand, that a phone is missing from the, that was in the possession of the Garda Commissioner. I don’t have the, I don’t know whether that’s a true statement or whether it’s not. Whether it’s an allegation that stands up or not.”

“But I expect that Justice [Peter] Charleton will find out the truth of that.”

Previously: ‘Perfect’

The Smoking Phone

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From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams

This afternoon.

During Leaders’ Questions.

The leader of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams told the Dáil new documentation has been provided to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by the executive director of human resources and people development at An Garda Síochána John Barrett.

Readers may recall how Mr Barrett last week told PAC, in the presence of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, that he held a meeting with Ms O’Sullivan for “over two hours” in which he raised issues about the Garda College in Templemore, while Ms O’Sullivan, in contrast, said it was “brief” while she has “having tea”.

Mr Adams said the new documentation provided to PAC shows further contradictions.

During his exchange with Mr Kenny.

Gerry Adams: “Taoiseach, I understand that documentation has been given to the Public Accounts Committee by John Barrett, which completely contradicts and undermines the account given by the [Garda] Commissioner OSullivan last Thursday about her conversations with Mr Barrett over financial irregularities at Templemore. And this latest development today comes after contradictory statements from the Commissioner O’Sullivan and the executive director of human resources, the aforementioned Mr Barrett. So I want to ask you: why you would then end the never-ending crisis and scandal surrounding the senior management of An Garda Siochana.”

Later

Adams: “Taoiseach, the Commissioner’s position is untenable but it’s not easy to understand why you will not remove her from office. There’s no rational explanation. The majority of parties here in Leinster House now want the Commissioner to go and you need to act in the best interests of An Garda Siochana, for the sake of the people of this state, the Commissioner needs to go and go now. So, will you finally accept this reality and relieve Noirin O’Sullivan from her duties as Commissioner, if she refuses to resign.”

Kenny:  “The Public Accounts Committee and this house, as deputy Adams well knows, is removed from influence of the Oireachtas. And I’m not aware of the papers you refer to being given to the Public Accounts Committee. They have certainly not come into my possession nor should they if they’re given to the chairman or a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I have confidence in the Garda Commissioner to do her job.”

This morning, the Cabinet approved the nomination of Kathleen O’Toole, who is the chief of police in Seattle, to chair the review body dealing with the, with An Garda Síochána. She is an outstanding person of very great experience, both in the legal terms, in policing terms, with a deep understanding of the position that applies here in Ireland. I would expect that nomination to be ratified by Cabinet next week.”

“In addition, the Cabinet also approved this morning the terms of reference for Project Eagle which was a matter that was raised by people here on a number of occasions and, following receipt of further observations, from the Fianna Fail party, and Deputy Wallace, I took those account and had approval given for the terms of reference for that. These are actions that are being taken by Government in respect of matters of public concern.”

Previously: Why The Long Face?

Watch Dáil proceedings live here