Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 8, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 9, Registration of Deeds and Title Bill 2004 [Seanad]— Financial Resolution; No. 10, Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Financial Resolution; No. 11, Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Instruction to Committee; No. 20, statements on public disorder in Dublin city centre on 25 February 2006; and No. 21, Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m. Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate. The proceedings on No. 20 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours and 20 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State 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 statements of each other Member, which shall be confined to the following sequence, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Government, Fine Gael, Labour and Technical Group Members may share time. A Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. A Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. The proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 21 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. Private Members' Business, which shall be No. 55, motion re school discipline issues, shall be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 20, whichever is the later.
There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11 without debate, motions re ministerial rota, financial resolutions and instructions to committees, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20, statements on public disorder in Dublin city centre, agreed?
May I make a suggestion on this matter to the Taoiseach and the House in general? I welcome the fact that we are having this intervention with questions to be answered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Perhaps we could adjust this matter to have a very simple motion at the end of the debate which would be adopted by the House to the effect that the thugs who carried out the attacks on Saturday do not represent the people, that the mutual respect and understanding we signed up to in the Good Friday Agreement is sincerely held and we want to see it implemented, and that our commitment to it is as absolute now as it was when we agreed to it. Instead of having another separate debate on that, we might be able to evolve a simple motion at the end of questions to the Minister which could be adopted by everybody and send out that clear message to the thugs, hooligans and villains who conducted the activity on Saturday.
It would be appropriate if the opportunity were given to all sides of the House to show we are agreed in terms of our opposition to the scandalous scenes that occurred on Saturday. A simple motion would give all parties and individual members an opportunity to subscribe to the terms of that motion and send out a unified message from this House on behalf of the people.
I certainly share the view that there is a need for some clear objective in terms of a motion that can be resolved by consensus of this House as I understand the issue has been raised in Westminster. It has the major potential to stall and put back much of the progress made in building tolerance and a common understanding of what the peace process needs to achieve. I ask that we focus on that for this debate.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I have no objection to the proposition to have a simple motion added on and for Members to participate in the proposed statements as outlined in the Order of Business. I understand we will all have an input into the construction of the wording of same.
I have no problem with that. I think we should get a fairly simple motion. There are certain things I would like to see included in it but perhaps it should be simpler. One of the regrets about this is that about three times in my political life when I have endeavoured to deal with marches that took place in my area, the issue of by-laws always surfaced. That is something we can cover. Every time the matter comes up, everyone is against it because they do not want restrictions or regulations. People want to be able to march whenever they like. However, as soon as there is a problem, it is always the opposite. Maybe it would only complicate matters. I would like at least if political groupings would return to Dublin City Council. If we had had the by-laws that were thrown out in 2001, they might have helped. Perhaps we will just have a simple resolution today.
Is that agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21, conclusion of Second Stage of the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Bill 2006, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed? Agreed.
When is it expected that the legislation referred to by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in respect of administrative fines be brought forward? I understand it was discussed at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last week.
When can we expect to see the legislation promised by the Minister for Education and Science in respect of early payment of grants? Now that she has returned from China, perhaps the Taoiseach can give an update on when we can expect the publication of the Harris report dealing with the decline of the language in primary schools, the Martin report on indiscipline and the report on the bullying activities at the Marino Institute? It seems the Department of Education and Science is either not willing to publish these reports or that——
The Minister has informed me, having arrived back from China where she spent two days, that the report on indiscipline will be published in March, the Harris report will be published immediately after that. The next report, the Marino Institute report——
What preparations does the Taoiseach intend to make to facilitate the House in debating the Lourdes Hospital inquiry published this afternoon and will adequate time be provided to discuss the analysis and findings that have appalled most ordinary citizens? Does the Taoiseach agree that the time has come for the House to enact legislation along the lines of the Whistleblowers Protection Bill introduced by the Labour Party which, in advance of the previous general election, was endorsed by the Government on Second Stage and was supposed to resume on Committee Stage but on which matter the Government has been sitting on its hands ever since?
I am not debating it. I am asking if there was ever a case that so starkly reminds the average citizen of the necessity for whistle-blowers' protection in this society as what is encompassed in the Lourdes Hospital inquiry report? Will the Taoiseach seriously consider reintroducing the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, which his Government opportunistically voted for when it was introduced in 1999, and letting the House deal with it?
I will ask the Chief Whip to make arrangements with the Tánaiste as to when we could have a suitable time for a debate. Perhaps the Whips could discuss the amount of time to be given to that issue. This issue was raised by a matron in the 1980s and while her position was not taken into account, I do not think it was an issue of whistle-blowers. There was a view that the legislation would be taken on a sectoral basis. It was considered that the provision of a statutory protection on a sectoral basis might provide a better and more focused approach to dealing with the issue. It is already provided for in some legislation such as the Protection for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act, the Competition Act, the Garda Síochána Act and in health and safety legislation. That was the conclusion reached.
I wish to ask, as I tried to before, if the Taoiseach can give a definite date for publication of the medical practitioners Bill given that it was promised for 2004 and again for 2005 and now is promised for late 2006 according to the Government list of promised legislation. Will the Taoiseach state whether that date is definite this time around or will it be a case of third time lucky? Will the Bill take into account the recommendations of the report, such as the recommendation that the Medical Council be put on a statutory basis? Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the protection of medical records will be given legislative status? Alternatively, will it involve an amendment to existing legislation?
As I said last year, the heads of the medical practitioners Bill had been approved but it was deemed beneficial to wait for the conclusions of the report. The heads have long been prepared and a lot of work has been done on the Bill in the past 18 months or so pending the report. The legislation is to replace the Medical Practitioners Act 1978, which established the Medical Council, and to deal with the registration of doctors and the regulation of other activities. The legislation will now be able to proceed.
On the question of medical records, it is not a case of their having been interfered with, they were stolen from the medical records department.
There seems to be some confusion about the medical practitioners Bill because the current legislative programme states the heads of the Bill have already been agreed. Given the publication today of Judge Maureen Harding Clark's report, will there be a revisitation of the heads of the Bill already agreed based on the content of the 398-page report? Will he request the Tánaiste to publish the heads of the Bill already agreed so that I and other voices in the House——
I have a second question concerning the recent statement by the Tánaiste that she has recommended to the Health Service Executive, which issued an announcement in that regard, a significant curtailment of and restrictions on visiting opportunities for relatives and friends of patients in hospitals, thus causing great concern.
I did not think I caused confusion but I will reiterate the position. The heads of the medical practitioners Bill were approved by the Government on 22 June 2004. I stated at that time and since then that the findings and recommendations of the report, which was published three hours ago, would be examined and that any additional heads or work would then be taken into account. That seemed the best and most sensible approach and I believe everybody agreed with it. What will now happen is that both the HSE and the Department will examine the findings and recommendations of the excellent report and the good work that has been done and will amend, if necessary, the heads and take account of any issues that arise. The heads will then be brought forward and drafting of the legislation will commence. It was due late this year but I cannot say, on the basis of a lengthy report published three hours ago, how long it will take to do that work. However, the officials dealing with it will now get on with it.
My colleague, Deputy Durkan, has referred to the alarming increase in the downloading of child pornography on the Internet. The Taoiseach stated last year that the register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children Bill was urgent and imminent. Will it be published before the summer recess? What is the delay? The matter is very serious.
The register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children Bill has so far concentrated on the development procedures for vetting of convictions through the vetting unit. The development of a register gives rise to a number of policy and practical implementation issues. The Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children have been discussing the matter. The Deputy should table a question to the Ministers of those Departments to obtain an update on those discussions.
Last week I asked if Government time would be made available to debate the deteriorating circumstances in the Middle East in general and in Iraq and Gaza in particular. Does the Taoiseach favour the provision of time for such a debate?
Will a Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Social and Family Affairs in respect of today's court decision on back-to-education allowances be laid before the House? Will the Minister for Social and Family Affairs make a statement to the House about the cost implications of that judgment?
Does the Taoiseach have any views on the proposed takeover, for the umpteenth time, of Eircom? Has the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey — I almost said Deputy O'Flynn — any view on it?