Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

5:00 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is proposed to take No. 10, motion re membership of committees; No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the revised agreement on social security between the Government of Ireland and the Government of Australia (back from committee); No. 12, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the double taxation relief orders 2005, Republic of Chile, Portuguese Republic and accession states; No. 13, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Tampere Convention on the provision of telecommunications resources for disaster mitigation and relief operations; No. 14, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Regional Fisheries Boards (Postponement of Elections) and Fisheries (Miscellaneous Commercial Licences) (Alteration of Duties) Orders 2005; and No. 15, motion re Book of Estimates 2006.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 9.30 p.m; (2) Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 shall be decided without debate; (3) the proceedings on No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn at 9.30 p.m. tonight and shall resume not later than 5 p.m. tomorrow and shall, if not previously concluded be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. on that night and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of the Minister for Finance and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 10 minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, without debate agreed?

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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On No. 14, the motion re the fisheries boards, I am very disappointed. That report was compiled over two years by consultants but there was little or no consultation on it. It concerns the amalgamation of the seven central fishery boards and the removal of the research facility to the Marine Institute. It is very disappointing that this is happening. This runs contrary to the ethos of decentralisation and there is significant unrest over it. The Taoiseach intends to refer this issue to the committee, but I would expect to discuss the proposal in the House. The proposal has far reaching impact for the development of central fishery boards. In light of the announcement last week with regard to marine responsibilities being taken from the Minister of State on several issues, and in light of the lack of funding for the central fishery boards, this proposal is a retrograde step. I am very disappointed that it is being rammed through the select committee.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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I endorse the comments of Deputy Perry. Although the Taoiseach did not seem to be aware of it, this important report was produced and announced on the nine o'clock news and not to this House. The report has far-reaching ramifications for our inland waterways and fisheries in that it effectively abolishes the regional fisheries boards and the central fisheries board which has played an important research role over the years and which has co-ordinated our inland fisheries. It was discourteous to the House and the Ceann Comhairle that this report did not appear before the House before being announced on the news. This is another example of the ongoing war between the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, and his Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher. The Minister of State was trying to keep the marine and fisheries responsibilities together, but was prevented from doing so by the Minister.

The report is important. It seems to fly in the face of the Taoiseach's decentralisation policy by recentralising the fisheries supervision process. Above all, it abandons the research function inland fisheries had. It is discourteous to the House and we do not accept it.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot discuss the contents of the report.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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The points made should be heeded. A debate in the House is the least we can expect, arising from the clear unacceptability of proceeding with this motion without debate. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to take account of the sentiments expressed. He should also take into account that internationally this country is out of step with best practice in fishery conservation. As a result we face serious danger for wild Irish salmon. This country has international friends who would help us, but the Government will not accept that help for some reason. I ask for debate on this matter. This is an issue that will not wait, the fish will be gone and it will be too late then to talk about it.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The proposal to take No. 14 without debate has far-reaching consequences for inland fisheries. The Farrell Grant Sparks report clearly indicates the demise of the regional fisheries boards as we have known them and the establishment of a national fisheries authority. While there is a genuflection with regard to local input in terms of the proposals within the current proposition, the absence of executive authority from the local boards will leave them as relatively toothless bodies. It is imperative——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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As I said to Deputy Broughan, we cannot discuss the contents of the report.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I indicate the import of what is proposed in the report. The issue needs to be addressed in the House. It is simply unacceptable that the House will consider the motion without debate. I absolutely reject that and will oppose it.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I understand the motion proposes to refer the matter to a committee, which will discuss it. If the members of the committee cannot resolve the matter, it is open to the House to take the matter back from the committee. All we are being asked to do, in the first instance, is to decide whether it should be referred to the committee. It is obvious there are many objections. I am not aware of all the details. After the matter has been examined by the committee, if people seriously believe it should be debated in the House, the Whips can consider it at that stage. I ask that it go to the committee first. We can decide whether it requires time in this Chamber after that debate has finished.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 be agreed to."

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 60 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Tony Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Frank Fahey, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Michael Smith, Dan Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)

Against the motion: 50 (James Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Olwyn Enright, John Gormley, Marian Harkin, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Gay Mitchell, Olivia Mitchell, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Denis Naughten, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Emmet Stagg, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, motion re Book of Estimates 2006 agreed?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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We have lost an hour and five minutes because of other important matters.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is proposal No. 3 agreed?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Proposal No. 3?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, we are dealing with the proposal for dealing with the motion re Book of Estimates. Is that agreed?

6:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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No, it is not agreed. Last year the Minister for Finance said he would take into account any ideas or proposals Members had to improve this situation. We are now half way through the charade of approaching the budget and we are about to embark on a three hour Estimates debate involving the expenditure of almost €50 billion.

Deputy Bruton has put forward a number of ideas which would make the process far more meaningful for members of all parties and none in the House in terms of the method of discussing these Estimates and recommending possible transfers of money from one Vote to another in order that when the Minister for Finance introduces the budget he would at least have the reflected views of the elected members of the people as distinct from the Department of Finance personnel who will put their stamp on this.

From that point of view, despite the important discussions today on the oncology unit in Cork, there will be insufficient time to discuss these Estimates. On that basis, I am opposed to the proposal for their discussion.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I agree with those sentiments. Prior to summer the Committee of Public Accounts asked me to prepare a report on this issue. I did so and all parties represented on the committee approved that report, which provided for better parliamentary oversight of the Estimates process and made specific recommendations which, with one or two minor changes, the committee as a whole was happy to endorse. I would like to think the Taoiseach would give some indication before budget day that he is prepared to examine the way we do business because we end up in this House approving Estimates after the money is spent. The report of the Committee of Public Accounts sets out a format whereby one can collapse the publication of the Book of Estimates and budget into a single event and provide for better parliamentary scrutiny of Estimates that currently are entirely opaque and impenetrable.

There is one table in the report that traces the amount of time given in the current calendar year to scrutiny of the Estimates for each of the 15 Departments. It amounts to approximately one hour and three quarters to approve approximately €44 billion for the 15 Departments. That is the total amount of time given to examining the Estimates and elements of them. It is about time we examined this process.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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We, too, object to the way it is proposed to deal with this debate. The time allowed for it needs to be extended. That would be only fair if we are to reflect any justice in regard to the Estimates. I understand undertakings were given previously that there would be a reform of the way in which the Estimates are presented. I recall the Taoiseach said that people approached him in the corridor and made a case for one matter or another. There is no doubt that there needs to be a more methodical way of assessing and compiling the Estimates. Perhaps there will be an opportunity during the debate to refer to that point, but if the debate is not sufficiently long, it will not do justice to such consideration. I ask that the debate be longer to take into account the time we have lost.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The view expressed is not only the view of the Opposition. It is important to reflect that the sentiments expressed by the Deputies who have spoken and to which I add my support, were also reflected by members of the Taoiseach's party. Everyone recognises that this is a flawed way of doing business. As a member of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, time and again we have underlined how unsatisfactory it is to deal with the Estimates months into the New Year which makes the process nothing more than a charade.

It is important that this issue is finally addressed. I encourage the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to take the issue to heart and address it and to reflect the expression of views from their party and all the Opposition parties over several years of which I am aware from my experience here. It is time to change the process. As a former Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach might ensure this will happen.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, raised this issue in last year's budget. He has listened to the submissions and presentations made by others and he will return to this issue. It is not every year we have a debate on the Book of Estimates. Last week I was asked if I would allow time for a debate on the Book of Estimates this year. We made provision for that and for them to be dealt with in the committees. The Minister will return to this issue in due course.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15 agreed?

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 15 be agreed to."

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 60 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Tony Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Frank Fahey, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Michael Smith, Dan Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)

Against the motion: 46 (James Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Olwyn Enright, Marian Harkin, Séamus Healy, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Paul McGrath, Liz McManus, Gay Mitchell, Olivia Mitchell, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Denis Naughten, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Emmet Stagg, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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When is it expected a Government approved report on the safety issues surrounding the Corrib gas line will be produced? The Taoiseach will be aware that the Natural Gas Regulation Bill is promised for 2006. He will also be aware of a report published today by a group called CPI, in respect of which I would have serious concerns about the ethics of some members associated with it. It might be appropriate if the Taoiseach would indicate when the Government approved report will be produced and published.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The draft report from the consultants who undertook the safety review for the Department arrived to the Minister's technical advisory group yesterday. The group has to do some work but the intention is to publish the report in County Mayo before general release. Following this, there will be a two week period in which to make submissions and observations. I am not too sure how soon the Minister will publish the report but, obviously, he now has the draft report and I do not believe he intends to unduly delay its publication.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Will it be published before the end of the year?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I assume so. From what I read in a note I was given earlier, I assume it will be published almost immediately. I will confirm this for the Deputy.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Taoiseach will understand if I say that after my clinic on Saturday, I had a couple of pints. I tuned in to RTE in the hope it would be a "Michael McDowell-free zone". I turned on the "Tubridy Tonight" show and there he was again.

As a result of the reheated anti-crime package the Minister has launched this evening, will the Taoiseach give an undertaking to this House that we will have an opportunity to examine the elements of the package because it has been the Minister's practice to have amendments printed while the debate is ongoing? We have to take amendments off the top of his head, despite the fact that our citizens are extremely concerned, not just about violent crime among gangland thugs but about anti-social behaviour and violence against the person on our streets. In the past the Minister has not given Members an opportunity to scrutinise amendments when they were brought before the House. He makes them up as the debate continues. Whatever he has announced this evening, what he announced in The Irish Times this morning has been published 12 times already. An opportunity must be given to the House to examine the proposals in the depth they ought to warrant.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach will answer on the legislation.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister's proposal contains a number of important elements. It is some time since the Bill was published. I hope the new elements can be included in the discussion. I am sure they will.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I am deadly serious about this. Do I interpret the Taoiseach as stating that normal parliamentary procedure will be observed and we will have an opportunity to examine whatever the Minister has now come up with? Is that what the Taoiseach stated? We have not had that opportunity with most of the legislation that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has put through.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has made his point.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Whips must organise the time.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Report Stage amendments.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It involves significant amendments that will have to be debated in the House.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I understand legislation is promised on the establishment of a road safety authority or for the measures required on other road safety matters following the ten deaths on the roads last weekend, which make a total of 352 so far this year. Will the Taoiseach tell the House what promised legislation is necessary in this area? He was quoted as stating that we must keep trying to enforce the law on road safety as best we can. Obviously the law is not adequate so I expect there is promised legislation to assist.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The list contains one Bill, which is due next year.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Which Bill is that? Is legislation required for the road safety authority?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is to amend the legislation on roads, the national roads authority and traffic.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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So law is not required for the national safety authority.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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A Bill was promised to amend the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 and 2002 to establish an insurance scheme for persons infected with hepatitis C or HIV as a result of the State's role in the provision of blood or blood products. Only three weeks remain before Christmas. This was committed to be taken in this session in the most recent legislative programme. Will the Taoiseach confirm we will have the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Bill prior to Christmas?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Bill is due this session. That means we will be ready to take it in the next session.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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A number of Deputies are offering. I have taken their names and will call them first tomorrow after Leaders' Questions.