Thursday, 10 November 2005
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 15, the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, to adjourn at 1.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 17, the Employment Permits Bill 2005 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 18, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed).
In view of the reports of the appalling conditions being experienced in the mountains of Pakistan and the fact the Government considered sending personnel to tsunami stricken countries, will the Ministers for Finance and Foreign Affairs raise this matter with their European counterparts? With the approach of an apparently severe winter and truly appalling conditions, more needs to be done as a matter of urgency. Perhaps the Government will take that on board.
Is it possible to indicate the commencement date of the western rail line from Ennis?
We all recognise the very serious situation in Pakistan as a result of the earthquake. I understand Ireland was the highest per capita contributor in the world in terms of financial assistance, of which we should all be proud. Obviously, the magnitude of the problems are such that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will send people to Pakistan to see how we can further assist the non-government organisations which are doing all they can to continue with a co-ordinated effort. I know time is running out and I share the concern of the leader of the Opposition in terms of doing all we can for a very stricken people who require the world's attention and assistance.
The detailed implementation of Transport 21 is a matter to be put to the Minister for Transport on Question Time.
Yesterday the Northern Secretary, with what some would think a bizarre sense of timing, published legislation in the House of Commons concerning "on the runs". The numbers seem to have exploded from the anticipated couple of dozen to a few hundred. Is the Minister satisfied that no legislation is required in this jurisdiction? Given the statutory independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the operational autonomy of the Garda Síochána, is the Minister satisfied there is no constitutional infirmity in not introducing primary legislation in the House?
The advice available to the Government is that there is no constitutional infirmity attaching to the proposal to set up an eligibility board which will subsequently determine for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform what cases will be submitted for pardon from the President under Article 13 of the Constitution.
Yesterday a member of one of the Government parties spoke about ending the special relationship with the Catholic Church. Does the Minister for Finance believe the Government has a special relationship with the Catholic Church?
On another occasion, we will come back to the need for legislation to deal with the "on the runs". However, the continuing delay on the part of the Government in dealing with the coroner's legislation, which has been in place for more than 40 years, is a more urgent matter. Reform in this area was recommended in a report five years ago. Legislation has been promised every year since the Government took up office but we still have not had sight of it. Yesterday, another problem arose in the Coroner's Court regarding attendance of medical witnesses at an inquest. Will the coroner's legislation be introduced as a matter of urgency instead of making another promise?
I am aware of the issues raised by the Deputy and this is a long-standing matter. Reform is required in updating the coroner's legislation. A Bill is in preparation to provide for reform of the coroners service and to replace the Coroner's Act 1962.
Will the extension of the higher level of fee payment from January until June to counsel involved in the tribunals affect the publication of the tribunals of inquiry Bill? Does the Minister expect it to be published before the end of this session?
Does the Government intend to propose to deal with the unsavoury practice of Ministers advertising their wares in the media generally and upsetting the public on two levels, first, by invading their privacy and, second, by using public funds?
The shortage is at an all-time high of 1,100 nurses, despite various initiatives. We have been waiting for the nurses Bill for quite some time. Will the Minister take the issue seriously enough to ensure sufficient nurses are in place and the legislation is introduced?
That will be published next year. I am aware, that since my time in the Department, every effort has been made by An Bord Altranais and the Health Service Executive to provide adequate numbers of nurses. The number has increased since my time in the Department.
Under the draft constitutional treaty produced during our Presidency, it is the intention of all Governments in the European Union to continue legitimate dialogue with faith communities in their societies on the basis of a mature relationship, which we seek with all faiths in this pluralist society. It would be thoroughly illiberal if such a dialogue were not to take place.
As the Ceann Comhairle probably knows, section 2 of the code of conduct for officeholders states, "Holders of public office enjoy an enhanced public profile and should be mindful of the need to avoid the use of public resources in a way that could reasonably be construed as an inappropriate raising of profile in the context of a general election".
Two documents laid before the Dáil on today's Order Paper relate to proposals regarding the 7th Framework Programme 2007-2011 of the EURATOM Treaty. There is ongoing debate on a sunset clause in the European constitution so the EURATOM Treaty would go out of existence. Is there an opportunity to debate the need for this organisation and this country's involvement in a treaty that compromises our participation in debates on nuclear safety in other countries?
It is a matter for the Whips to arrange a debate on that or any other issue and if the Green Party wishes to promote this matter as a priority it can raise the matter on Private Members' business if Government time is not available.
Next week we will debate the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, presented three weeks ago. Following the comments of Deputy Noel O'Flynn in Brussels, will new legislation be introduced?
Concerning the central plank of the e-Government programme, does the Minister intend to make proposals on the waste and incompetence in the roll-out of the REACH programme? The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Chief Whip are ultimately responsible for REACH. Will the Minister make time available on the excellent report——
I have not yet asked the question. Will the Minister make time available for the excellent report of the Committee of Public Accounts, drafted by Deputy Rabbitte, on a new system of Estimates, whereby Deputies could have an input into budgetary considerations? I ask in view of the fact the Minister did not answer some recent questions.
I am available to answer questions at any time. The report of the Committee of Public Accounts is quite short, with an addendum including work by Deputy Rabbitte. I have read the report and it will be taken into account in the context of budgetary reform, to which I referred in my last budget speech. Yesterday, I discussed some aspects of this with Deputy Bruton. The principle of accountability refers to action taken by Government and accounted for to the Houses of the Oireachtas and its committees. It must remain the duty of the Government to propose the budgetary process and be held accountable thereafter.
The e-Government programme is making progress, under the auspices of the Department of the Taoiseach.
The Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill will be debated as published.