Thursday, 9 March 2006
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 11, motion re proposed approval by DÃ¡il Ãireann for a Council decision on the accession of the European Community to the Hague Conference on Private International Law â back from committee; No.27a, Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Bill 2006 â Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, National Sports Campus Development Authority Bill 2006 â Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 11 shall be decided without debate; that Report and Final Stages of No. 27a shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m by one question, which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those amendments set down or accepted by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs; and that on rising today, DÃ¡il Ãireann shall adjourn until2.30 p.m on Tuesday, 21 March 2006.
No, it is not agreed. On behalf of the Sinn FÃ©in Deputies, I object to the adoption of this motion without debate. Ireland is already a member of the Hague Conference and, as such, has one autonomous vote in the course of all the conference's proceedings. My colleagues and I are concerned that under this motion, the European Community may usurp this independence on the part of all member states and seek to apply a single European Community vote, thereby undermining the autonomy of the member states of the European Parliament.
My colleague, Deputy Ã Snodaigh, expressed concerns about this proposal when it was considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. He asked a number of pertinent questions about it, none of which was answered by the Minister. As a result of this, there are key questions which have yet to be addressed but which must be teased out. This can only happen in this House, where the questions will receive full and appropriate scrutiny.
Our concern is that this is the second motion relating to the Hague Convention in recent weeks. The Government is adopting a piecemeal approach to adoption issues instead of bringing forward large-scale legislative reform in an area that has been left unchanged for several years. There is an onus on the Government to explain to the House why it is not tabling amendments to the adoption Acts which many people anticipate and only moving as little as possible in obligations under this international treaty.
It is not agreed. I already made the point on more than one occasion that we should not be in the business of guillotining legislation. Rushed law is bad law. There are a whole range of issues to be debated under the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pensions Bill. I am not happy that the Bill will be guillotined by vote at 1.30 p.m. It appears in recent weeks that, on the one hand, the Government wants to remain here until 11 p.m. to make some semblance of progress before there is a mass exodus next week to places all over the world to represent the country and on the other, it wants to bulldoze through this legislation. I object to that.
The Government Whip appeared to have introduced a new regime of not guillotining legislation, which we welcomed. However, he recently appears to be reverting to type and guillotines are now a regular feature.
This Bill did not comply with the normal accepted regulations concerning the introduction of Bills. It was published just one day before going through Second Stage, which is not acceptable. Committee Stage just finished on Tuesday and the spokespersons are being asked to deal with 42 amendments in two hours. This amounts to approximately a minute and a half per amendment, which is not adequate. As it is an important Bill which affects the quality of life of a large number of people, we are asking that it be debated fully until the amendments are dealt with in the normal way. We do not accept the guillotine.
Like other Deputies, the Green Party opposes the guillotining of this Bill, particularly as it is fundamental legislation, with 42 amendments. The amendments were tabled in a considered fashion in the hope that time would be allowed for a debate. By guillotining it and hoping to have the matter dealt with without any fuss, essentially, the Government is making a mockery of Report Stage and the idea of improving the legislation. It results in the Opposition going into a default mode. Only one or two amendments will be dealt with, which does not make the best use of parliamentary time. The Government should ask for Opposition co-operation without a guillotine, which would encourage Members to get through the business and be more productive. This would make better use of parliamentary time. The Government should remove the guillotine.
Following on what can only be described as the debacle of the passage of the Finance Bill through the House earlier in the week, with the guillotine at 11 p.m. and the curtailment of examination and debate, one would have hoped that the appeals of Opposition voices to the Government would have been heard and heeded by those on the Government benches. However, there is repetition once again on a crucial area of legislation, which will have a huge impact on the daily lives of ordinary people. It is very important that the Bill gets the scrutiny it deserves and that it gets the full debate and voice the legislation demands. Therefore, I oppose the imposition of a guillotine which allows very limited opportunity to debate the Bill.
Clearly there are timeframes for both the Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill. As many of the issues were debated widely during the budget debate, it is unfortunate that the Government must proceed by way of a guillotine to get the legislation through the House.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 59 (Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Davern, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Seán Power, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 43 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, Seán Crowe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Eamon Gilmore, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Trevor Sargent, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Liam Twomey, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Browne and Curran; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I do not agree to the proposal that the DÃ¡il adjourn today until Tuesday, 21 March 2006. As I said yesterday, Donna Cleary was murdered in the suburbs of Dublin city. Anarchy rules in parts of the city and its suburbs. Clearly, there is a need for strong, deterring legislation in respect of the gun culture properly identified by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Emergency legislation was introduced in this House on immigration, ground rents and payments in respect of long-stay patients in public hospital beds. Some 20 to 25 sections of the Criminal Justice Bill deal with gun culture. I object to this on the basis the DÃ¡il should meet on next Tuesday and Wednesday. Those Members who will be away all over the world will be very far removed from the anarchy on the streets of this city when they are representing their country.
It might pay the Government far better, and we will facilitate it on this side of the House, if it wants to bring in emergency legislation to deal with this issue.
We have had drunkenness and disorder on the streets of Dublin on St. Patrick's Day in the last number of years. We had riots in this city just a fortnight ago and the danger in communities is palpable. The Government has failed to protect people in the streets and now in their homes. I want the Government to bring in a special 20 section Bill dealing with gun legislation. We will put it through this House next week and send out a very clear message to all of those whoââ
Deputy Kenny is convincing nobody and he is making a fool of himself. I suggest he sits down. When the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, brought them in the Deputy opposed them. You are a shower of hypocrites.
ââof the person alleged to have murdered her. You are the Minister but with your academic snobbery and intelligence you do not know what is happening on the streets.
I propose, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that we all meet here next Tuesday and Wednesday and deal with the legislation the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has failed to bring through this House.
We are being asked to turn St. Patrick's Day into St. Patrick's week, which is unique for most people in this country who expect next Friday to be the only day that is a holiday. This DÃ¡il should start to recognise that outside this House this is completely unacceptable, regardless of the explanations being put out that some Members are going to be on the other side of the world and therefore we all have to mark time.
The reality is that many issues face this country. We heard about the 495 people on trolleys and record levels of problems in the health service. I am sure the TÃ¡naiste and Minister for Health and Children would appreciate if we were here next week. I ask her to review the situation that is being proposed. With the levels of amnesia on Government benchesââ
We should open up the DÃ¡il. That is what we were elected for. We should forget about Cheltenham and America. Does Deputy Carey remember what he told them in the High Court? I will get it for him. I will tell him exactly what he told them in the High Court.
I said to Deputy Kenny yesterday the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be bringing forward legislation in the next two weeks or so in regard to the issues he raised.
As many Ministers are going to Cheltenham next week, I would like them to undertake some exercise by walking up the steps. As a teller, therefore, under Standing Order 69 I propose that the vote be taken by other than electronic means.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 61 (Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, James Breen, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Davern, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, Paddy McHugh, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 39 (Bernard Allen, Dan Boyle, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Olivia Mitchell, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Dan Neville, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Browne and Curran; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I ask the TÃ¡naiste to comment on and clarify a matter. It is deplorable that more than 500 people were on trolleys and chairs yesterday due to overcrowding in hospitals. When the TÃ¡naiste became Minister for Health and Children she made a commitment to deal with overcrowding within months and published a ten-point plan, which is now in tatters. Is it not the case that in October 2004, when 180 people were on trolleys, the establishment of a similar task force, including a plan to deal with accident and emergency departments over an 18-month period, was proposed to the interim Health Service Executive? If the proposal had been accepted, we would be 18 months further on than the task force the TÃ¡naiste now proposes to establish.
In respect of No. 56 on the legislative programme, what definite objectives and targets will the Government achieve in the foreseeable future to deal with the scandalous and appalling situation of 500 people being left on trolleys and chairs in hospitals throughout the country? It is scandalous that nurses, patients and doctors face the kinds of pressures reported in today's newspapers.
On the same issue, I ask the TÃ¡naiste if she recognises these words:
People will judge our health services by accident and emergency services... I expect real and measurable improvements to take place in the coming months in the delivery of accident and emergency services... Accident and emergency departments form a litmus test for me, the Government and the people...
They were spoken by the TÃ¡naiste on 26 January 2005 when the problem, bad as it was, had not reached anything like the level to which it has since sunk. The TÃ¡naiste will have seen figures in this morning's newspapers which show we have reached the worst position ever. Overcrowding is no longer concentrated in a small number of hospitals but scattered throughout the country's hospitals, with just short of 500 people on trolleys. Patients are being fed at the entrance to toilets and accommodated in a fashion which is not acceptable in a civilised society.
The picture is worse now than when the TÃ¡naiste launched her ten-point plan in November 2004. It is a crisis and while I am not predisposed to doing so, I would be minded to ask for her resignation were she not the pick of the clapped out group of burnt out Ministers who accompany her on the Government side. This matter must be addressed. Setting up another task force and using more verbiage and rhetoric when people are being accommodated without dignity in uncivilised circumstances and staff are unable to provide the kind of care they would like to give is unacceptable. This is the lowest point we have reached in nine terrible years of the Government's management of the health service.
Almost 500 people are lying on trolleys in appalling conditions in what is, according to the Government, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. On taking office as Minister for Health and Children, the TÃ¡naiste told us she would deal with the crisis in accident and emergency services and, as the previous speaker noted, stated this would be the litmus test of her tenure in office. She established the Health Service Executive to deal with the accident and emergency crisis but it has worsened. She also stated she wanted to deliver a world-class health system. The position in hospitals throughout the country shows that the health system, far from being world-class, is worse than that of a Third World country. It is appalling.
When will the TÃ¡naiste recognise that the problem is one of capacity? The experts have told us that more acute and community care beds are needed but the TÃ¡naiste has not delivered on her promises in this regard. It is time she delivered although I do not believe she will be able to do so before the next general election. The electorate will have to judge her on her handling of the accident and emergency crisis, an issue on which she has lost the plot and is out of her depth. I hope that instead of establishing another task force she will inform the House of her proposals to deliver extra beds.
The TÃ¡naiste is presiding over an escalating crisis in our hospitals. The Irish Nurses Organisation has called on the Cabinet sub-committee on health to meet to address this crisis. Has the TÃ¡naiste arranged for such a meeting to take place? It is the least that should happen. With a Cabinet sub-committee in place, we do not need further task forces or what can only amount to a token effort and charade but real action to address the current crisis. In November 2004, when launching her ten-point plan, the TÃ¡naiste stated: "Our ten accident and emergency actions will help patients and their families well beyond the accident and emergency departments". The reality of the past week was that people were unable even to access some accident and emergency departments. It was not only an issue of beds but of people who could not even get trolleys. It is absurd in this Ireland of plenty people are suffering within the health system.
Now is the time to concretely address this issue. Additional capacity of in excess of 2,500 beds is needed to resolve the problem but nobody should say that is not achievable. In my community, a situation arose recently in which 26 beds were removed and photographs in my local newspaper revealed they were dumped at the side of the hospital building. That is incredible but it is the reality. It is time for the TÃ¡naiste to take back the reins of responsibility because she cannot continue to wash her hands of blame like Macbeth. She is the Minister and the people expect her to take responsibility and to act accordingly.
The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, who is sitting behind the TÃ¡naiste, is aware of the issue because we met with hospital staff last week and jointly promised to raise to raise the issue here. I keep my promises to the people of County Wexford.
ââa man has been waiting for a bed in Mayo General Hospital since last Thursday. His consultant in Castlebar thinks he should be in hospital in Galway for a consultant haematology bed. The consultant haematologist in Galway, Dr. Dwyer, wants to accept him but no beds have been available since Thursday. This man is 77 years of age and is now dying of advanced anemia. Even if a bed is provided for him today, he will not be able to take advantage of it because hospital staff believe he has become unfit for travel. These are real problemsââ
ââand real people. I am sorry for speaking on this matter but parliamentary questions should be asked throughout the summer so that we can deal with these ongoing problems because shortages of beds do not simply go away during DÃ¡il recesses. Yesterday, there were 17 beds in UCHG and 12 in the urgent hospitalââ
I promise to be brief. I do not want to be specific, although 49 people remain on trolleys in Cork. Does the TÃ¡naiste believe the crisis has reached such a stage that it is now imperative for her to introduce a Supplementary Estimate to deal with it? I accept we should travel abroad on St. Patrick's Day but, given that desperately ill people are being cared for on trolleys and chairs, the last thing the TÃ¡naiste should do this week is leave the country. Does she seriously intend to depart the country despite the crises in the health service? Will she deal with this appalling situation now rather than leave it to Professor Drumm, who clearly does not accept the argument that capacity is at the heart of the matter?
On the same issue, the hospital in Naas has 24 patients on trolleys, which represents the lowest number there for a considerable time. The hospital is in a state of chaos, even though two wards are idle and await the TÃ¡naiste's sanction to tender for work on them. The plans are in place and I appeal to her to intervene directly in this matter.
Right across the board, the privatisation of cleaning services in hospitals has resulted in dirty hospitals. That also needs to be addressed.
Will the TÃ¡naiste tell us whether the people who are waiting to be put on waiting lists will form part of the statistics being compiled by the Health Services Executive? When will we see the official waiting lists which seem to have been buried behind a wall of secrecy? There should be three categories, the first two comprising those waiting for surgery and outpatient appointments. The third list, which is as long as my arm, should consist of people awaiting outpatient appointments.
Can the TÃ¡naiste properly explain why people in Counties Longford and Westmeath had to wait nine and a half years for 103 additional beds in Mullingar General Hospital? Is not the root cause of the problem the failure to provide beds?
That is why people are in corridors and on trolleys. It is a disgrace. Members of the Government arrive for photograph opportunities, then disappear like snuff at a wake. Staff, including nurses, attendants and ambulance drivers, are left to carry the can for this Government. It is time for it to stop engaging in its hypocritical cant.
I was asked by Deputy Kenny about legislation to establish the Health Information and Quality Authority. On Tuesday, the Government approved the heads of that Bill and it is being published for an eight week period of consultation, which will lead to better debate in this House. It is hoped we will have the full Bill by the summer recess.
Accident and emergency is a priority. Proportionately speaking, we have the same number of beds as the UK, even though our population of over 65s is 11% as against 17%.
I am more than happy to take responsibility and ensure that problems are addressed. We have trebled the number of accident and emergency consultants, employed 7,500 more nurses in hospitals, opened 1,100 additional beds in four yearsââ
The situation is changing. At present, more than 100 beds are closed in our acute system because of the vomiting bug. That represents a considerable loss of capacity.
More than 100 beds across the country are closed. If we want to hear from an expert, let us listen to Dr. Lane, an accident and emergency consultant in Letterkenny hospital, who agreed there are pressures but believes there is light at the end of the tunnel and that change is taking place.
However, change will only take place when we deal with issues in each hospital. Tallaght Hospital, which I know well as does Deputy Rabbitte, had a 1.9% increase for the accident and emergency department, and some weeks ago it had a 300% increase in the numbers of people on trolleys. When representatives from the National Hospitals Office went into that hospital and worked with people there, they were able to make dramatic improvements.
Discharge policies vary significantly from hospital to hospital. Unless we use the capacity provided by the taxpayer as effectively as possible, no amount of new beds will ever solve the problem.
The programme for Government agreed by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna FÃ¡il indicated we would have a legal ombudsman. When will legislation be produced and when will the position be established? Two solicitors sitting beside the TÃ¡naiste may not want it, but the public does. When cases are referred to the Law Society, the public does not want it to be a case of solicitors looking after solicitors. We want a legal ombudsman, an independent person to deal with these cases.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs is here this morning. The Taoiseach and many Ministers will go to America next week, and I ask that they meet a delegation from our Irish citizens abroad who are fighting for a way to allow Irish citizens who are currently illegally in America to remain there. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will meet a delegation from these groups. They are Irish citizens who just want to speak to the Minister and explain their plight.
I would hope the Minister will do this. The least we can do is meet our citizens abroad, even if we cannot do anything else. I ask that the Minister, with the Taoiseach, would make the case on St. Patrick's Day for Irish people who are illegally in America. Australia was treated as a special case, and that country received 10,500 visas last year. We want 30,000 or 40,000 for our Irish illegals.
On the same subject, thousands of Irish people demonstrated in Washington DC yesterday, and their illegal status is the cause of massive trauma in their lives because of the uncertainty of their awful situation. I ask the TÃ¡naiste if the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs will bring any fresh proposals to Washington DC in order to have a right for tens of thousands of our people in difficult circumstances to remain and make their lives in the United States, where they have been living for many years.
Considering we are trying to look after our own diaspora, with regard to the relatively few here from the diaspora of other countriesââ
In the forthcoming week, there will be women from the likes of Somalia and Nigeria seeking permission to make lives here for themselves and their children. Will the TÃ¡naiste give some signal to those people, who have been enduring great trauma like our own people in the United States, that they will be allowed to make a future for themselves?
With regard to the legal ombudsman, we will have the legislation this session, and the heads of the Bill were approved by Government some time ago. With regard to undocumented Irish at the rally in Washington DC yesterday, I understand Niall O'Dowd acknowledged the work of the Irish Government in this regard. The Taoiseach and all the Ministers going to America will continue to lobby as forcefully as possible on the matter.
There is now a substantial number of foreigners living in Ireland and having good opportunities.
He speaks of being the meat in the sandwich, but the meat is cut from a very hard neck. I wish to ask the TÃ¡naiste about the product from some of this meat.
Looking at the programme for Government produced in 2002 by the Progressive Democrats, we were to have major reform of criminal law laying down uniform guidelines and principles with regard to punishment of offenders. We were to have a law that would radically overhaul fines, and a nationwide indictable crimes court which would reduce the delay between charging and trial. We were to have new legislative provisions to deal adequately with crimes committed by juveniles, including provisions to update sentencing, rehabilitation and training. We were to have powers for the DPP to appeal against lenient sentences in the District Court. These are just a few of the commitments made in the PD manifesto and reflected in the programme for Government which I noted while sitting here listening to the debate about which we have seen nothing in this House in four years.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has come in and abused other Members but he will not deliver on the issues he has committed to. Instead he goes to his office and issues a press statement. There is an issue of accountability. Today, somebody being investigated with regard to a very serious crime in my constituency has walked away from the investigation because of a technicality. This is not acceptable. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot lecture all those around him, speak of a watershed in the approach to crime, and yet produce a dismal record on relevant commitments made four years ago to tackle some of these issues.
The Deputy has the list of promised legislation and referred to many Bills. There has been much legislation relating to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
There will be substantial legislation over the remaining life of this Government, including the issue mentioned earlier regarding the legal ombudsman and the firearms legislation, which we will have in two weeks. There will be more matters like this. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a large volume of legislation, as the Deputy knows.
Among other things, he is consolidating the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 and other matters that have not been previously considered. He has a major programme of reform under way.
On the subject of the rabid rant of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, can the TÃ¡naiste explain if the defamation Bill will come before the House before the end of this session, as promised? Will the Bill contain references regarding defamation made under DÃ¡il privilege? Has the TÃ¡naiste taken the opportunity to talk to her colleague about correcting the Official Report with regard to the statement made by the Minister on 12 December in the House, which subsequently has been shown to have misled the House?
The European Commission published its Green Paper on energy, and the OECD has commented similarly. The Deloitte & Touche report has been presented to the relevant Minister. So far, no response on the matter has come from Government. Will the TÃ¡naiste indicate if the Deloitte & Touche report will be published, and if the relevant legislation, the single electricity market Bill, will be brought into the House as early as possible to generate the necessary debate?
It has come to my attention and that of numerous people the number of occasions that Ministers cosy themselves into chat shows in the national broadcasting service. As this is in breach of broadcasting Acts, I wish to inquireââ
Somebody from the Government is clearly making constant contact with the authorities in RTE to impress upon them the need to have Ministers accommodated on soft cosy chat shows to promote Government policy. This is in breach of legislation. The public broadcasting service is not the preserve of Government but of the people. Everybody is entitled to equal treatment. Who has been in touch with RTE?
Other legislation we await is the Water Services Bill, which has been with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a year but has not yet come before the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government. What responsibility does the Chief Whip's office have for ensuring that legislation passed on Second Stage in the House is vigorously progressed to Committee Stage? We could deal with it next week.
Normally the line Minister and the committee try to arrange time. I will ask the Minister responsible and the Chief Whip about the Bills in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
In reference to the TÃ¡naiste's authoritative performance yesterday on the location of the children's hospital, am I correct that approximately â¬41 million has already been spent by Temple Street hospital on the site of the Mater Hospital, which may now be abandoned?
I do not have the figure off the top of my head but I assure the Deputy it is nothing of that order because the work being done there has, in any event, to be done for the new Mater Hospital.
It is my and the Government's strong view that the three airports should have the commercial freedom to operate in competition with each other and should have a fair wind to their back. That is what I said in Cork. Consultants have been appointed, I am not sure if by the Minister, to examine the break-up of the company and how its assets and liabilities are to be assigned. I understand Mr. Hugh Cooney is in charge and will report shortly.
I raise this matter because the Minister for Foreign Affairs is present. Last year the Government rightly facilitated the family of the late Detective Garda McCabe to lobby for its case in the White House. Last night the Minister for Foreign Affairs pointed out that the Government is assisting the family of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane to arrange meetings in America. Last year Joseph Rafferty was murdered in this city. Will the TÃ¡naiste confirm that his family, in particular his sister, Mrs. Esther Uzell, has been put forward on a list from the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Irish Embassy in Washington for an invitation to the White Houseââ
ââso that truth and justice can be delivered over the death of her brother? A list is forwarded to the Irish ambassador. Will the TÃ¡naiste, in the presence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, confirm that every assistance will be given by the Irish Government to bring justice and closure in respect of this murder also?
We will be as helpful as we can to any family in that situation. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is not aware of the matter as nobody has brought it to his attention.