Tuesday, 2 November 2004
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 12, Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 13, Water Services Bill 2003 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 3, Grangegorman Development Agency Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 32, motion re child care.
Arising from the consistent number of Standing Order 31 notices put in the House, when is it proposed that the Chief Whip will bring in his proposals for Dáil reform so that Deputies on all sides can raise matters of current importance?
Given that just eight weeks are left for the Government to make arrangements for the transfer of authority from health boards and their chief executive officers to county managers for health and directors for health, when is it likely that the health Bill will be published? Are interviews taking place, in advance of the legislation being produced, to give effect to this transfer and transition of authority? Will the Taoiseach confirm that under the health Bill there will be no diminution in status and that we are not likely to be flooded with legal cases arising from the statutory authority that the chief executive officers currently hold, which they will lose on 1 January next?
On the first issue, the Government, through the Chief Whip, will be glad to deal with the issue of urgent matters. The Government and the Opposition have proposals and we would be glad to discuss these with the Opposition.
On the second matter, I hope the health Bill will be available shortly. The Tánaiste was last week involved in discussions on this. It is hoped to have everything in place by 1 January, at the least to set up the health services executive and recruit the staff. Enormous attention has been paid to industrial relations issues to make sure that staff are facilitated and transfers are organised. An entire group has been working on this for several months.
The last time I reported on this, the work had been undertaken in the Department. We accepted the Bill and it is being retained. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide protection from civil liability to employees who make certain disclosures reasonably and in good faith in regard to the conduct of the business affairs of employers. The Bill is on the Order Paper but, while considerable drafting work has been done with a view to progressing the legislation, it is considered that the provision of statutory protection for whistleblowers on a sectoral basis might provide a better and more focused approach to dealing with the issue. For example, the protection of persons reporting child abuse might be dealt with under different legislation.
In such circumstances, proceeding with the 1999 Bill, as it is five years old, is not viewed as a priority. It may be addressed at some future time when the priorities of the legislative programme will be implemented. For the information of the Deputy, the two countries which introduced whistleblowers Bills have altered the legislation because it is not workable.
Given newspaper reports, what is the responsibility of the Chief Whip in regard to IT matters? The Minister for Education and Science is known as the e-Minister. While she did not announce it in the Dáil, is the Chief Whip doing this job? I want to clarify this because the information is in the newspapers but has not been announced in the House.
On promised legislation, the Foyle and Carlingford fisheries Bill, which deals with areas north and south of the Border, a date is not indicated. I asked about this matter during questions to the Taoiseach but did not receive a reply. The register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children also arises in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council. Until the institutions are up and running again, will this kind of important legislation also be moribund or marking time? Given the importance of the matter, is there any way it can be progressed without waiting for the tortuous reinstatement of the institutions?
Yes. We can of course go ahead with the drafting and preparation of the legislation and not lose time. Publication must coincide with publication by the Northern Ireland Assembly and, therefore, without the Assembly, it is not possible to move on this. However, as I understand it, while the heads of the Bill have been drafted for a considerable time, all the preparatory work can be done. The answer to the question is yes.
Last week I raised on the Order of Business a matter arising from the enactment of the Nice treaty, namely, our correct decision not to have a restriction on citizens of the new member states coming to work in this country. When I raised it, the Minister for Finance indicated that the issue of the undermining of wage rates and so on would be best addressed by referring this matter to the central review committee. Will the Government, specifically the Taoiseach, as is his right, cause this matter to be considered by the central review committee because of its implications not only for seafarers in the context of the Irish Ferries matter but, ultimately, for all employees in the State?
The Disability Bill is due to come before the House on Thursday next. Is the Taoiseach aware that the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights has scheduled hearings with representatives of various disability groups and that they have called on the Government to defer--——
My question relates to the scheduling of the Bill. The disability groups have called for a deferral of Second Stage until after the hearings so that all Members of the House would be fully appraised of the concerns they have expressed regarding the Bill. Will the Taoiseach consider the request of those groups?
As there is much interest in the Bill, I presume Second Stage will continue for some time. As the Deputy knows, I have often answered questions in the House on the consultation process. We have been through this. While I do not know whether the Deputy is aware, everyone else seems well aware of the issues.
As the Bill goes through Second Stage, amendments are put down for Committee Stage. It will go on for a considerable time.
Nearly two years ago the Taoiseach asked the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to examine the cost of building land and its implication for house prices. The committee reported last April and for a number of weeks I have asked for a debate on the report in the House. Will the Taoiseach inform the House when the debate on the report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution will take place?
In light of the ongoing crisis in the health service, will the Taoiseach inform the House when the health complaints Bill will be introduced? With ongoing problems concerning post mortems, when will the coroners Bill be introduced so they can be debated? When will the Bill allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal unduly lenient sentences in serious cases before the District Court be introduced? Some unacceptable sentences are being handed out.
The health complaints Bill is part of the health Bill, which it is hoped the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children will deal with shortly. The coroners Bill will be published in 2005. Regarding the DPP provision, I am not sure if there is legislation on that matter. It would have to be examined in the context of legislation but I do not believe there is a Bill.
Shell International hopes to harvest the Corrib gas field by 2007, one of the largest proposals for offshore exploration in over 25 years. The gas regulation Bill dealing with the restructuring of the gas industry is No. 40 on the Government legislation programme. When will that Bill be published as it is important to have it finalised by the House before the gas field starts to flow?
I suppose the Taoiseach does not want to comment on the disappearance of certain matters relating to horses. I am not speaking of Shergar.
This time last year I asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, to address the 1875 legislation on fireworks and the associated mayhem that took place this time last year. The Taoiseach will be well aware that it took place again last Sunday night. Will he assist the Minister over the coming months——
On a point of order, the legislation on fireworks was widely promised in the media by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the run-up to Hallowe'en. It seems to have evaporated since then. The issue should be answered by the Taoiseach as it has been promised in public.
It is indicative of the synchronisation of minds on this side of the House. When will the petroleum Bill, which has been around for some time, be published? I note 2006 has been mooted as a possible time. In view of increasing petrol prices, it might be advisable to bring it before the House before then.
The Taoiseach has clarified the additional functions of the Government Chief Whip. However, does the Minister of State with special responsibility for overseas development and human rights, Deputy Conor Lenihan, have a role in the peace process?