Thursday, 15 June 2006
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council decision concerning the signing of the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway on the surrender procedure between the member states of the European Union and Iceland and Norway; No. 21, Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage, resumed; No. 24, Health (Nursing Homes) (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 2, National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 13 shall be decided without debate and that parliamentary questions scheduled for Wednesday, 21 June 2006, on the EU Council meeting in Brussels shall not be disallowed as being anticipatory of statements on such Council meeting scheduled to be taken on that day, and shall be moved to be taken first as ordinary oral questions to the Taoiseach on that day.
I welcome the agreement on the social partnership. It would be churlish not to recognise the considerable work that has gone into negotiating an agreement. However, why has the Government not made an effort to address the democratic deficit in the way this agreement is put in place? It contains numerous promises of legislation for the future. Is it not time we had a more transparent and open system for deciding our priorities for ten years into the future? Is it not extraordinary that the Oireachtas has never been consulted about this agreement and was never consulted about or debated the last agreement?
An agreement has been put in place which purports to set out a framework for legislation over the next ten years and the Oireachtas has no say in it. We are being seriously by-passed. This is not a new topic. The Government was well aware of the concern in the House about this issue before it commenced the process of negotiating the partnership agreement. We are not the only ones who are left out; the views of the public service, consumers, parents——
On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the conclusion of an agreement. However, it is astonishing that an agreement that extends over ten years and covers a swathe of public policy has not at any point been subject to public scrutiny. We still have not seen the agreement. It appears that the media received this information ahead of the public representatives in this House who have been excluded from the process. Is that acceptable to the Tánaiste? Does she believe it produces political accountability? Will she outline what time has been provided to consider the terms of the agreement and how soon we can have this debate? What does she intend to do to remedy this gross deficit in democratic accountability?
Your contribution, a Cheann Comhairle, in which you asked what legislation this is related to makes the point very well. This House has been excluded from the process of negotiating the partnership agreement. If there is a debate on this matter, will we also be allowed to vote on it? Could an Oireachtas committee have a role in engaging with the partnership process so there is democratic accountability? The process has a laudable objective but it lacks the democratic mandate that this House brings to the proceedings. The process is not yet finished as there is no agreement on the agriculture pillar. For the remainder of the process we must ensure we go forward recognising, as is recognised in Sweden, that this partnership agreement does not take account of the elephant in the room, that is, the energy crisis this country is facing, more than any other European country. Will the Tánaiste allow an Oireachtas committee to complete the process which would be helpful in ensuring the plan, if it is for ten years, thinks about aspects that are not apparent in 2006? I do not see the process as having done that. While it is important there is agreement it is equally important that we have sufficient planning to meet the needs of ten years hence rather than the needs of the day.
I welcome the successful conclusion to the social partnership negotiations which have been ongoing for a considerable period. Initially it was hoped to have concluded those negotiations before St. Patrick's Day. Three months post St. Patrick's Day they have been concluded with the exception, as Deputy Sargent has acknowledged, of the farming pillar. The agreement has been concluded with three of the four pillars. There are issues around democratic accountability and I have acknowledged that in the House previously. It would be a good thing if the House was to debate, subject to the agreement of the Whips, the agreement which has yet to be ratified by the various pillars. In any negotiations the Government clearly has a majority and, therefore, it negotiates on behalf of the country. On behalf of the majority in the House, I cannot see how one could have negotiations with a whole host of parties seeking to negotiate with the different pillars. It would be a good thing if we were to have a debate in the House before the summer recess on the partnership agreement. It is a ten-year agreement. The pay element is for 27 months but many other aspects of the agreement are for a period of ten years. That is a good thing. We have to think in terms of that period to get perspectives on many issues particularly on many social policy issues.
The Government promised as part of its legislative programme, reflecting commitments in the Progressive Democrats and the Fianna Fáil manifestos, that as part of a general reform of the court systems there would be reform of the various court elements through new legislation to reduce the delay between charging and trial. Today we read there are up to 5,000 drink driving cases at risk of being dismissed because of delays in the court system and delays in bringing forward those cases for trial. Surely this indicates an extraordinary lack of urgency in delivering what was promised five years ago in respect of reforming the way the courts address the delay between charging and trial.
Obviously this matter will be adjudicated on in the courts and I, therefore, do not wish to comment on the specific issue. The Transport Bill is coming before the House next week and a courts Bill is promised. My note says it is not possible to indicate at this stage when it will come before the House and I do not know whether it will deal with the specific issue.
I wish to raise two items. There are three weeks remaining in the session. According to the legislative programme, 16 Bills were promised for publication during the session. Four have been published. Does the Tánaiste feel like old mother Hubbard and that there is nothing in the legislative cupboard? Is that the problem? Certainly committees are idle. Legislation that is urgently needed includes the hepatitis C compensation scheme Bill, which the Taoiseach promised every effort would be made to deliver during this session. I cannot think of any issue more important than the effect contaminated blood products had on people's health.
The second point I wish to raise concerns the Barr tribunal report which was promised in March. The unfortunate John Carty was killed in 2000. The tribunal finished its hearings in 2004. Will the Tánaiste explain, since the tribunal was set up by the House, the reason for the delay? It is a mystery to everybody, certainly to those on this side of the House, as to what is causing the delay. Is it a matter of resources?
In regard to the 16 pieces of legislation, the commitment is to publish those pieces of legislation before the start of the next session. Specifically in regard to the hepatitis C Bill, I hope to publish it next week. I am not briefed on the Barr report. It is not a legislative matter and I do not know the reason for the delay.
In light of reports this morning that schoolchildren are being used for tasting and evaluating food products without, in some cases, the consent of schools or parents and in light of the battle in the Tánaiste's Department in regard to vaccine trials, without the consent of guardians or parents of children, where is the foster care guardianship Bill? Will she ensure this type of abuse will be addressed in legislation?
May I ask the Tánaiste about two items of promised legislation? Today we were supposed to debate the Defence (Amendment) Bill but it has not been published. I understand it has not been brought to Cabinet. Can the Tánaiste give us any idea as to when we can expect it?
I wish to ask about two conflicting responses on promised legislation. Last week the Tánaiste told me here that we would have a Bill to facilitate the new children's hospital. I am glad the Cabinet has made a decision on that. The Taoiseach told me yesterday no legislation was needed. The Tánaiste might clarify if new legislation is going to be necessary to implement the new dispensation, or whether the Taoiseach has been telling the truth.
With regard to the Defence (Amendment) Bill, I understand the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, is in Kosovo this week, so he will bring the Bill to the Cabinet next week.
Yes. The legislation relates merely to the governing structure we will put in place when the hospital is in existence. My Department will start drafting that legislation so the project can proceed without it. I do not know how quickly we can get the legislation prepared, but it will only be necessary for the governance of the hospital when it is in place.
The cancer control strategy recently published as part of the framework for quality cancer control looks for mandatory notification of cancer to be put in place through appropriate legislation. Is it envisaged that legislation will be in place in the lifetime of this Government?
Some of the issues dealt with in the cancer forum report will be dealt with in the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, legislation, which relates to standards, quality assurance and information. The heads of the Bill were published for consultation, and the consultation process concluded at the end of May. I hope to have the legislation later this year.
When the Tánaiste was on this side of the House she was, correctly, a strong advocate for accountability and transparency. Now that she is on the other side of the House, for however long, how does she address questions put down for her for answer in the House being transferred to an outside agency?
At the time of the budget, the Minister for Finance promised us a social investment fund to which the banks promised €25 million in lieu of the €100 million annual levy. The Minister indicated this would require legislation. Can the Tánaiste say if the Attorney General examined this issue? This fund is badly needed. Many community groups do not qualify for commercial lending from banks because the risk profile is too high. Apparently the banks have given their miserable €25 million contribution in return for dropping the €100 million levy——
It was finally acknowledged yesterday that the north-eastern part of the country has the worst health services. It was also announced that a hospital centre of excellence will be built in the area, which I and Fine Gael have welcomed. However, it was also put clearly to us yesterday by the chief executive of the HSE that it will be on other people's heads if we do not accept their recommendations. Will the Tánaiste and Minister for Health say if during the nine years during which the hospital will be built, the hospitals already in Meath, Louth, Monaghan and Cavan will continue to be improved and have a standard as high as others in the country?
It is in light of an issue I raised last week regarding the protection of children from sexual predators and the Education Act 1998. Is legislation promised to amend this Act to stop commercialisation in our schools? Schools are being used for propaganda.
The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has not got much on the legislative programme. It only has one Bill, the Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill. Instead of answering my questions in the Dáil, the Department refers me to the website. Is this a new practice in the Department?
I want to raise the issue of the number of persons arrested, charged or awaiting trial under sections 1 or 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935. On Wednesday of last week in the Dáil, the Taoiseach indicated he thought the figure was 20, and said he would write to Deputy Kenny to give him the exact figure. The issue was again raised with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, when he was taking the Order of Business. He confirmed it was his understanding that the Taoiseach would write to Deputy Kenny.
Yesterday, in the House, I had a question on that issue for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and even at that stage, his response was that the information requested was not available. When in the name of goodness are we to have the answer?
Last month the Taoiseach said that this month we would have the electronic communications Bill. Yesterday, at the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, we were far from idle and spent about 12 hours talking to the broadband industry representatives, who remain desperately unhappy.
I did not ask to come in twice. The Ceann Comhairle offered me the opportunity. I appreciate the Tánaiste was not able to answer the question this morning about the report of the Barr tribunal. Would she please furnish the Opposition parties with the information?