Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 9, motion re leave to withdraw the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2001 and the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001 [Seanad]; No. 15, Health (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 16, Disability Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed). Private Members' business will be No. 35, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the adjournment of Private Members' business, which shall be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 15, whichever is the later, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 March 2005. No. 9 shall be decided without debate. Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 15 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.
I do not agree with it. The notice sent from the Government in respect of the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2001 makes a valid point about the necessity to discuss sensitive issues. Given that the issue of the postal services is before the Labour Court, I can understand the reason for the request, but will the Taoiseach instruct his Whip to make arrangements to have a full-scale debate in the House on postal services, taking into account An Post's social responsibility, its future funding arrangements and the employment potential and closure of many hundreds of rural post offices?
We were given no explanation why the withdrawal of the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001 is necessary, other than that it is because of important legal issues that emerged in the international context. What does that mean? It seems that the European committee has challenged the definition of piracy in the Bill. We discussed piracy in respect of the payments taken illegally from hundreds of thousands of patients in long-stay institutions. That is a definition of piracy. I do not agree with the proposal.
I am explaining to the Ceann Comhairle why I am opposing its being taken without debate. The considerable problem faced by postal workers is that they do not know where the Government stands on the question of an ESOP for the workers in the industry. To determine whether we should call a vote on this matter, will the Taoiseach state whether the commitment to an ESOP for the postal workers still stands? That question is in order.
Further explanation will be required if we are to accept what is proposed regarding No. 9. The withdrawal of the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2001 is certainly inexplicable given the great need to debate the post office system and the need for it to be reformed so it will not be shrinking by the week, as is now the case.
In light of an announcement by the United States that it will have more ships containing toxic material crossing the Atlantic to Europe, posing considerable environmental risks, it seems strange that we are withdrawing the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001, which could assist us in preventing possible environmental damage. I do not accept the proposal to withdraw the two Bills because we have been given no adequate explanation therefor.
Have we been given the full list of Bills to be withdrawn? Will the Disability Bill be withdrawn given the ten fundamental flaws?
I support the other Deputies in the arguments posed for not proceeding as the Taoiseach suggests. We need the opportunity to discuss the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2001 in full fora. I disagree very much in respect of the ESOP. It should not be a live option in the postal services or any other service. I make that very clear. However, I look forward to the opportunity to debate this properly on the floor of the Dáil. If the Taoiseach indicates, in response to Deputy Kenny's request, that he will facilitate same through the Whip, I would welcome it.
On the Law of the Sea (Repression of Piracy) Bill 2001, Deputy Kenny has given the reason for its withdrawal. It is because of the possibility, in the international context, of litigation against the State by other member states of the European Union which challenge the definition of piracy. Therefore, it was considered advisable to withdraw the Bill. If we do not do so, we will be challenged on that basis.
A number of questions were asked on the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2001 and I will answer that of Deputy Rabbitte first. It is the Government's preferred policy to have an ESOP in An Post. Obviously, we must take into account the position of the company. Its situation has changed fairly dramatically in the past four years. According to the last figure I have seen, it has accumulated losses of over €90 million, close to €100 million. In its published accounts for 2003, its losses for that year amounted to €43 million. Obviously, the accounts for last year are not available.
As I said before in answer to questions, the implementation of the recovery strategy is contingent on agreement with the trade unions to radical restructuring. Negotiations have been ongoing for the past year in an effort to deal with the critical aspects. As I stated on several occasions, I appreciate the effort and commitment of all sides in trying to find a solution. The critical aspects will be moved shortly to the Labour Court for final determination. In light of the industrial relations issues that arose at that delicate and critical stage, it was thought that it would be prudent to defer consideration of the issues provided for in this Bill until a resolution is found to those industrial relations issues.
While postal issues have been debated in committee, Deputy Kenny has asked that they be debated in the House. I have no problem with that, but perhaps such a debate should be held after the Labour Court deliberations.
I am opposed to it. It is proposed to conclude Committee and Remaining Stages at 7 p.m.. The Health (Amendment) Bill 2005 is an important Bill which affects a great number of people. The Tánaiste has expressed concern that the Government is losing €2.5 million per week while it is not implemented. That is the basis on which the legislation fell previously. It was rushed through the House, and rushed legislation is bad legislation. I am not saying it should be kept in the House interminably, but speakers from many parties want to have their say on it and, therefore, consideration of the Bill should be extended beyond this evening.
I agree with Deputy Kenny. Part of the reason we are in this mess is the Government's resorting to the guillotine. The same parties that comprise the Government resorted to the guillotine in 2001 when the universal card was introduced. The Government again resorted to the guillotine at Christmas of last year when the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, compounded the original insult. The Government now wants to use it again because failure to enact the legislation is costing €2.5 million per week. Since Deputy Martin knew about this in 2001 he has cost the taxpayer €600 million. That is based on the Government calculation of €2.5 million per week.
The figure is €2.5 million per week over 52 weeks for four years, which comes to €600 million. That is what Deputy Martin cost us, and that is only from the time we know the Government knew about this. I do not see how the Taoiseach can invite us again to guillotine a measure of which the Government has made such a mess on so many previous occasions.
I share Deputy Rabbitte's view that the guillotine is totally unacceptable. The Green Party opposes it on this Bill above all others. The Taoiseach said the Travers report would be available to us on Thursday. It is important that we can take that into account when deliberating on this matter, to avoid repeating by default the problem the Government created. I ask that the matter not be guillotined. We oppose a guillotine.
There will be very little time remaining between the conclusion of the Order of Business and 7 p.m. to address Committee, Report and Final Stages of this Bill. While the list of amendments, at 19, is not as long as might have been anticipated the time is inadequate to address these substantively on Committee and Report Stages.
I agree with my colleagues that the important issues at the heart of this Bill, namely, GP only medical cards and the introduction of a charge for a stay in a nursing home should not have been addressed in this way. This is particularly true given the Government's haste in regard to present and future charges for residents in nursing homes. The Government has not indicated how it will reimburse those who were illegally charged over the past three decades. Will the Taoiseach reconsider this proposal?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 59 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Martin Brady, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Donie Cassidy, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Síle de Valera, Tony Dempsey, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Dan Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 43 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, James Breen, Pat Breen, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, Seán Crowe, Olwyn Enright, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Joe Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Róisín Shortall, David Stanton, Liam Twomey, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Wall.
Question declared carried.
I am disappointed the Taoiseach has not been in a position to grant the Leaders of the Opposition parties a copy of the Travers report. He said the Cabinet would require seven hours to read the report.
First, there is no meeting scheduled tomorrow for the Joint Committee on Health and Children. It normally meets at 9.30 a.m. but is now expected to meet at 11 a.m., half an hour after Taoiseach's Question Time begins here. The Taoiseach's move to have himself removed from the House for five weeks and not to have to answer questions is, therefore, valid.
This is International Women's Day and the front pages of the national newspapers carry the story of the release on bail of a convicted rapist. The judge in this case, for his own reasons made his decision. When will a judicial conduct and ethics Bill come before the House? The Taoiseach and everyone else said this House would receive a report on Aer Lingus before Christmas. The Taoiseach has now hounded a good man, Willie Walsh, out of office. Not only has his services been lost to Ireland, but he is now the chief executive of one of the major airlines in the world. When can we expect to see the air navigation Bill and the report from Aer Lingus?
The air navigation Bill will come before the House during this session. On the Aer Lingus report, there have been detailed discussions between the unions and management and the issues discussed should be completed shortly.
Will the Taoiseach make the report available to the committee tomorrow in this House? He said one will need six and a half to seven hours to read it. The committee will receive it at 10.30 a.m. and sit at 11 a.m., conveniently just after Leaders' Questions. Notwithstanding that, will the Taoiseach commit to the committee meeting in this House where we can discuss an issue that will impose a charge on taxpayers of up to €2 billion?
That is a big enough issue for this House to discuss in plenary session. I am asking the Taoiseach one last time to commit to it being debated in this Chamber.
What is he fearful of? All his Front Bench have read it but no one on this side of the House has seen sight of it.
The report was presented to the Cabinet at the start of the meeting this morning at 10.30 a.m. There were 20 items on the agenda this morning. Other than the few people who got the report at the weekend, none of the rest of the Cabinet had read the report. The Cabinet has not yet read the report.