Wednesday, 8 March 2006
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 10a, Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: instruction to committee; No. 15, statements on report of the Lourdes hospital inquiry; and No. 10b, all-party motion supporting a full inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and the order shall not resume thereafter.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 10a shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and 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 No. 10b shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to the following Members, who shall be called upon in the following sequence, who may share their time, and the speeches in each case shall not exceed the time indicated: Fianna Fáil, five minutes; Fine Gael, five minutes; the Labour Party, five minutes; the Progressive Democrats, five minutes; the Green Party, five minutes; and Sinn Féin, five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 47, motion re Whistleblowers Protection Bill 1999, resumed, to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
On this matter, I do not wish to object to the principle of what is involved but I note in the notice given to the Whips that the third amendment proposed by the Minister is to deal with the consequences of an administrative oversight in regard to the commencement of certain provisions of the Aer Lingus Act 2004. The last of these amendments had not been signalled to the House and the Bills Office has advised that it is necessary to table a motion in the House to allow for this amendment to be considered in committee. The point has been made that if this is not done, there might be a legal doubt as to the Aer Lingus employee share ownership trust and the shares therein.
I am not opposed to the principle but I would like to know when this was brought to the attention of the Government. Why was it only brought to the attention of the Opposition parties at 5.30 p.m. yesterday? I make the point strongly that this is not the way to do business.
This is to correct three cock-ups by the Department and it is a bit rich to expect them to be corrected without debate. The Government is pushing its luck a bit far. To land these on us in the middle of the week without prior discussion at a Whips meeting is even richer.
We are also concerned that we are being asked to correct an administrative oversight without debate. It is another occasion on which the Government's legislation has not been drafted correctly in the first instance. The House should have the opportunity to fully discuss why that happened and the consequences of it. The Government should not presume anything other than we will approve the correction of the oversight but we should not be taken for granted in the context of the Government not doing its job properly
I concur with the earlier contributors. Given the backdrop to this — we are talking about air navigation — in terms of the Government's current consideration in regard to the future of Aer Lingus, it is important that all the issues that need to be addressed are dealt with in open debate and that all the matters that impinge on air navigation in this country are reflected upon.
We are talking about three technical amendments, two of which were identified on Second Stage. I accept what has been said that the third amendment was not so identified. It relates to the Aer Lingus share ownership trust. If the Minister had been aware of it on Second Stage, he would have brought it to the attention of the House, but the committee will have an opportunity to discuss it. I do not know when the Minister became aware of the necessity for this amendment. I will ask the Chief Whip to check that and I will revert to the Deputies.
Today is International Women's Day. According to Amnesty International's Irish section, from 1996 to December 2005, 115 women have been murdered in this country. Clear commitments were given by the Government at the Beijing platform nine years ago in regard to introducing a national women's strategy. It is 11 years since that platform and nine years since the publication of the comprehensive and far-reaching 1997 task force report on violence against women. When can we expect the national women's strategy to be published by the Government?
When can we expect the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring forward the elements of the Criminal Justice Bill dealing with gun control and an amnesty in regard to handing in guns before these clear deterrents are announced?
Will the Tánaiste make arrangements for the repayment of fees to those in nursing homes before the legislation is enacted in the same way as she has promised compensation to the victims of Dr. Neary before the redress legislation is enacted?
I was happy to attend an event this morning for International Women's Day with the Deputy's party representative, Deputy Olivia Mitchell, at which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform officiated. Women in Ireland have made enormous strides over many years — certainly since I became a Member of this House — but clearly there are deficiencies and gaps in many respects. In the health area, in particular, there is a focus on many of the issues that affect women, including cervical screening. There are strategies and a council is in place to deal with specific issues of concern to women. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, has responsibility for the issue of violence against women. He recently came to see me with a number of representative organisations in regard to funding and we are examining those matters. I do not have an answer specifically on the strategy but perhaps I can revert to the Deputy on this.
The redress scheme does not require new legislation as legislation is in place to provide for the establishment of redress schemes. To pursue insurers we would need separate legislation. The intention is to have the repayments legislation through the House by the end of May and to start the repayments in June. The HSE has much of the data processing completed in regard to those patients who are alive. The sum of €400 million has been provided in 2006 to allow for repayments to be made from the start of June.
When I spoke with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform this morning he said he hoped to have the amendments before the Cabinet on Tuesday week and that they would come before the House immediately afterwards.
Between 1998 and 2004, 75 murders were committed with firearms. Twelve of these cases have been successfully prosecuted leading to convictions. The Taoiseach's response to this was that we needed a change in sentencing policy. Will the Tánaiste clarify whether the Government intends to bring forward legislation to change sentencing policy?
Since then, average sentences increased to 13 years and the current policy is 15 to 20 years. As the Deputy is aware, we have a parole system whereby somebody can apply after seven years to have his or her sentencing mapped out.
As the Tánaiste outlined, it is International Women's Day and it is appropriate that we are dealing with the inquiry into Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. While she attended the event earlier on, did the Tánaiste get any sense from what was said by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that legislation is to be introduced to deal with the issue of gender balance, for example, on State bodies or in terms of discrimination of other kinds——
——such as sectarianism or racism, given that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has asked us all to agree to sign a pledge on anti-sectarianism? Would legislation make it possible to sanction somebody in that regard?
We have good legislation on equality and as the leader of a party of which 50% of its representatives in this House are female, I feel we all can do much more.
The Tánaiste may be aware of the recent Teagasc report that showed clearly the effects of the WTO talks on farming. Will she facilitate a debate on this report in the House as a matter of urgency because the future of farming is extremely grim?
In light of the fact that 30 people or more were on trolleys in Cavan Hospital last week, and in view of the lack of leadership in the Cavan-Monaghan area as far as the hospital is concerned, when will the Health Bill come before the House so that we can at least discuss some realistic measures on how to address this problem?
The heads of the Bill to establish the Health Information and Quality Authority were cleared by Cabinet yesterday and the Bill will be published in the next couple of days. I hope to bring it through the House before the summer.
Two pharmacy Bills are on the legislative programme, each of which carry the tag, "publication expected 2006". Will the Tánaiste advise when these Bills will be brought forward and if they will allow for registration of pharmacists trained outside the EEA, Australia and New Zealand?
In acknowledgement of the day we celebrate today — International Women's Day — I am sure the Tánaiste is aware of the report published last week by the National Cancer Registry, Women and Cancer 1994-2001. Given that the report recommends that breast and cervical cancer screening programmes must be rolled out across——
I have an appropriate question for the Tánaiste if you will allow me to finish the sentence. Cancer screening programmes must be rolled out across the country providing access for all women within the appropriate age groups. Must women have to wait for the eligibility——
I will bring the heads of the first pharmacy Bill which will deal with fitness to practice and other urgent issues to Government very soon. I hope to address the matter of eligibility and entitlement later this year. A great deal of work is under way in the Department to distinguish between eligibility and entitlement. It is important that we do this in order to clarify eligibility and entitlements in the health service. The Bill will appear later this year at the earliest as it is a major work.
The second pharmacy Bill will not come to the House before the summer. It will be dealt with later in the year, if not next year.
I raised the third level student support Bill in the House on a few occasions but I read in today's newspaper that instead of the original intention to have the assessment transferred to a central Department, such as that of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, it appears that this assessment may be left with the VECs or the local authorities. The report that came out last week indicated that the PAYE sector, especially those just above the grant level, are suffering in the current situation. Has there been a change in the Government's position in regard to this legislation?
In the wake of the publication of the report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the lacklustre performance regarding broadband provision, would it be possible to introduce the relevant legislation, the electronic communications Bill, at the earliest possible date in order that the Minister could confess to the House his sins in regard to the extraordinarily poor performance in this area?
More importantly and more seriously, it has come to my notice in recent weeks the number of occasions on which Ministers appear for soft interviews on various media outlets.
I am coming to it. Two issues arise. First, it would be in breach of the Broadcasting Act if the RTE Authority gave special concessions to Government Ministers to facilitate them. If it goes on much longer, Ministers will interview each other on radio programmes.
The broadcasting authority Bill is the legislation. When it comes into the House, let it be clear that we cannot accept a situation in the run up to a general election where the Government is facilitated by the public broadcasting authority. Any attempt to do that will be stoutly resisted.
The concept of a soft interview is an oxymoron. The Deputy's remarks are a terrible reflection on the media and I disagree with him. Both Bills will be in the House this year.
Some time ago I raised the legislation that might be necessary to facilitate ratification of the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was to check with Departments and agencies to see if legislation is necessary. Can the Tánaiste state if the Minister's consultation is finished or if legislation will be necessary to ratify this protocol?
On the animal health Bill, this is the busiest time of year for the farming community and one of the main benefits for it is the export of live calves to Holland, Spain and Italy to the veal production units. Over the last month shippers have not been getting their slots on the ship to export their calves. Yesterday, representations were made to the Minister for Agriculture and Food to seek four extra slots to ensure this build up of calves does not continue. Will the Tánaiste ask the Minister to report on that?
Despite the Tánaiste's commitment last year to bring about equality in subvention rates across the country, there is still a difference of €420 between subvention rates in Mayo and those on the east coast. When will promised legislation be brought before the House to deal with this matter?
I will be publishing a nursing home Bill in the next few days. I changed the thresholds recently and have discussed the matter with the HSE to ensure consistency across the country. I hope it will happy quickly.
Less than an hour ago, our worst fears were realised. Ryanair announced the withdrawal of some of its services from Cork because of the controversy over the airport's debt and the consequent charges that will be levied on airlines and passengers.
It relates to the aviation regulation Bill. The Tánaiste said last week in Cork that Cork Airport should be debt free. The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Séamus Brennan, said in a letter that it would be debt free. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, however, said this morning that Cork Airport should be expected to bear the burden.