Kennedy’s inquiries about cabinet committee in North caused alarm

‘It is important we press to have questions disallowed wherever possible,’ official advised

Fianna Fáil Rory O’Hanlon, Progressive Democrat TD Geraldine Kennedy and Paddy O’Hanlon, founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, at an SDLP conference in Newcastle, Co Down, in  1987. Photograph: Jack McManus

Fianna Fáil Rory O’Hanlon, Progressive Democrat TD Geraldine Kennedy and Paddy O’Hanlon, founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, at an SDLP conference in Newcastle, Co Down, in 1987. Photograph: Jack McManus

 

A Dáil question from newly elected Progressive Democrat TD Geraldine Kennedy asking about the membership and functions of the cabinet committee in Northern Ireland caused a flurry in the department of the taoiseach in March 1987.

The archives from the Department of the Taoiseach show the government took a decision on March 13th to establish a cabinet committee on Northern Ireland affairs under the chairmanship of the taoiseach and including the ministers for foreign affairs, justice, defence, health, communications and the attorney general.

It was agreed the secretary to the government, Dermot Nally, should attend the meetings of the committee which would be serviced by the Department of the Taoiseach.

A few days later, Kennedy submitted a Dáil question asking taoiseach Charles Haughey the membership and functions of the committee and how it related to the Department of Foreign Affairs for answer in the Dáil on March 31st.

Brian McCarthy, an official in the department, wrote a memo suggesting that the question was probably out of order on the grounds of “the well established precedent that the taoiseach is not answerable to parliament in relation to cabinet committees/sub-committees.

Collective responsibility

“The principle is founded on the collective responsibility of the government and the fact that the internal arrangements which may be made by ministers for discussion among themselves are essentially an internal matter.

“While we have no absolute guarantee that the ceann comhairle will adhere to the practice, the Dáil office are proposing, without prompting from us, to submit the question for ruling out. I think it is important that we press to have questions disallowed wherever possible even though it might, on occasion, deprive the taoiseach of an opportunity of making a statement on particular issues – there are many opportunities besides Question Time to clarify policy etc.”

In the event the question was not put on the Dáil order paper for March 31st.

Kennedy is mentioned in another file on the British Irish conference in Cambridge in the autumn of 1987. Foreign affairs official Seán Ó hUiginn suggested that tension had been created by an intervention by Garret FitzGerald suggesting the British were not honouring a commitment made to him about the introduction of three-judge courts in the North.

Ó hUiginn wrote that the situation had worsened as a result of Cambridge and impression that British were sliding out of their commitments “to that decent chap Garret FitzGerald”.

“Others such as Geraldine Kennedy had heightened the impression that the issue was one of British perfidy.”