Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Order of Business.
The Order of Business shall be No. 10, motion re European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2006; No. 11, proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council framework decision on simplifying the exchange of information and intelligence between law enforcement authorities of the member states of the European Union, back from committee; No. 20, Institutes of Technology Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 21, Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage, resumed.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 10 shall be decided without debate; and the proceedings on No. 11 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, Labour Party and Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, may share time and which shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 32, Courts (Register of Sentences) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, and the proceedings on Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 31 May 2006.
There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 10 without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed? Agreed.
I note from a reply given to me by the Minister for Education and Science that the final date for receipt of third level grant applications is 31 August. The Minister promised to introduce new legislation which would streamline payments and make them expeditious. When can we expect the legislation to be published? Will it be implemented in order that it will take effect this September and apply to payment of grants which have been approved?
Why does the Ceann Comhairle not allow the Taoiseach to answer for himself for a change? As he is aware, the decision on whether the House sits is a matter for the Government and he should not engage in games as though it is for the House to decide.
Let us not play games. I am merely asking the Taoiseach, having regard to the gravity of the situation that has arisen concerning the protection of our children, whether it is proposed by the Government that we sit next week.
As I have said numerous times, in order to protect and safeguard our children, if the Government can complete the Bill with the legal people who are working with us on this matter, the Whip will ask the House to sit for a period next week so we can pass the Bill. That is our intention. I must again correct Deputy Rabbitte — it was not a question that the Government could not agree this morning. We must examine all aspects of this matter, as I explained earlier. We want to ensure we protect our children properly with legislation that stands the test of time. We must do it appropriately and we have to make sure we get that right.
I wish to set down a marker that the Green Party will be supporting a sitting of the Dáil next week to close that legal loophole which currently gives an absurd defence for child abuse in legislation. I wish to ask a question on promised, related legislation, namely the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, which was previously the Foster Care Guardianship Bill. Will the Government respect the European ruling that requires the Government to take action before July on outlawing the hitting of children? It is another issue but one that, nonetheless, is governed by European legislation. Will the Government comply with that ruling by July?
I wish to ask another question on promised legislation, which has been asked repeatedly in the House. In the circumstances we have been debating, the public will want to know why the register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children still languishes with no indication of publication. Surely at this point, there is a need to expedite that legislation, given the immense public concern.
The Taoiseach said he is satisfied the law is wide-ranging and protects children. The reality is that if Mr. A was released from prison next week, he would be able to get a job working with children in a voluntary or paid capacity.
Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that there is a breakdown of confidence among parents as to the protection available to their children because of the Government's incompetence? Will the Taoiseach consider examining this particular legislation to ensure that, at the very least, we can deal with the matter? Clearly, there is all-party support for it, yet it has been long-fingered for quite some time.
The Child Care (Amendment) Bill is for this session. The legislation for a register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children will concentrate on developing procedures for vetting convictions through the vetting unit. The development of such a register gives rise to a range of legal, policy and practical implementation issues. The Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children are in discussions on dealing with that issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is handling it.
I will try to be helpful. There are two issues. There is a range of sexual offences legislation, and I mentioned the several Acts earlier. The new Bill is about one issue arising from the Supreme Court's judgment. If a sex offender was out tonight, which is the question the Deputy was asking——