Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 9, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No 10, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL; and No. 17, statements on the Green Paper on Energy.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 9 and 10 shall be decided without debate and the following arrangements shall apply in respect of No. 17 — the statements of the 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 on in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes and the statements of other Members shall not exceed ten minutes and Members may share time. A Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to reply in a statement not exceeding five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 52, motion re drugs crisis.
In respect of No. 10, when the Minister for Defence last spoke on this matter, he indicated there would be time for a short debate when it next arose. I have spoken to Deputy Timmins, a former member of the Defence Forces who has served overseas. It may be appropriate, given what may come down the line regarding North Korea, the Irish experience in Liberia and possibly elsewhere, to provide for a short debate on this important issue. While the Fine Gael Party and I support the measure, given the Minister's comments it may be appropriate to allocate 30 minutes to this subject.
As for No. 10, it is proposed to refer this motion without debate to the committee. The proposal to send Irish troops to Lebanon is such an important issue that as part of the triple lock, this House should debate it for some time. Moreover, the situation is compounded because not alone is the motion being referred to the committee without debate, it is proposed to return the motion to the House on Thursday without the possibility of debate at that time either. The Chief Whip has ordained that there can be no debate when the matter comes back from the committee to the House. In many ways, this pre-empts a possible decision of the committee and it would be better to clarify the matter now. Perhaps the Taoiseach will give some indication of a period of time for debate in this House.
The Green Party cannot agree to this proposal, as any motion to send troops abroad should be debated in this House. This mission to Lebanon is not without risk and could be one of our more dangerous missions. While the Taoiseach might argue that it is not a chapter 7 mission, Condoleezza Rice noted that Resolution 1701 has chapter 7 powers in all but name. Consequently, this matter should be debated in this House.
The proposition before the House will directly affect the lives of approximately 150 Irish men and women and their families. Any proposition pertaining to service overseas of the Irish Defence Forces should be debated in the full Chamber, not referred to committee without debate in the first instance. The import of Irish troops serving overseas is such that it deserves such attention in this House. In this specific instance, in which service in the Lebanon is under consideration once again, particularly against the backdrop of Israeli actions during the summer in which UN personnel suffered losses, Members must see the gravity of the situation to which Defence Force members are being sent. It is important and I concur with previous speakers that time should be afforded for a proper debate in this Chamber on all that is entailed in this proposition. I join with other Members in urging the Taoiseach to accede to this request.
I accept the point made by Deputy Kenny. If the Whips can consider the matter, we can have the debate first or afterwards — I do not mind. I will give a commitment to have a debate. The Government Whip should talk to the Minister for Defence. The debate can be held before the motion goes to committee or we can allow it go to the committee and have the debate on its return, depending on what is agreed to by the Whips. I agree with the principle of a debate.
On a point of order, I wish to clarify what the Taoiseach has agreed to. Has the Order of Business been amended in order that there will be a debate in the House on No. 10, subject to the agreement of the Whips, either this evening or, in all probability, after the committee has debated the matter?
Members have asked for a debate in the House, one way or another. I have agreed that there will be such a debate. While I do not believe it will take place tomorrow, it will be held either tomorrow or after the committee meeting, depending on what the Whips work out.
It is not agreed. For such an important issue, the Green Party has been allocated five minutes to make a contribution on a Green Paper which will have an impact, good or bad or most likely indifferent, as it does not rise to the challenges we face. It is completely unrealistic to try to pass it off with a five minute contribution and does not take into account the seriousness of the issue. This is an issue that must engage all of society at every level, as well as every single person, particularly the Government, which has a leadership role to play. It does not deal, for example, with the transport issue, the biggest challenge we have, or the planning issue which is giving rise to that challenge. If we are to take this issue seriously, we need much more time than that allotted by the Government.
I wish to speak briefly about the same issue. A great deal of work has been done by the Government in the preparation of the Green Paper. Comments made on the floor of the House carry more weight than the issuing of press releases or participation in seminars, etc. Can I suggest, without disrupting the Order of Business, that the House leave the proposed energy debate open? Members should be able to return to the debate on another occasion after today's debate adjourns. I suspect that many Deputies on all sides of the House want to participate in it. Can it be left open? After all, it is on a Green Paper rather than on a legislative measure. I sincerely ask——
That is not my understanding, Sir. The Labour Party would be happy if an explicit commitment were to be made that introductory comments could be made today and that the matter could be revisited on a subsequent occasion, subject to the agreement of the Whips.
I am not sure whether the Taoiseach will be here tomorrow morning. We have had some political rows about political issues in recent weeks. As the Head of Government, the Taoiseach will join the Tánaiste in travelling to Scotland tomorrow to attend an important series of meetings aimed at bringing the parties together to reach agreement on the restoration of the Stormont Assembly and the fulfilment of the Good Friday Agreement. We support strongly the efforts which the Taoiseach will make at the meetings in Scotland. Our good wishes are not only with him, as the Irish Prime Minister, but also with the British Prime Minister during what will be his last major attempt to sort this out. I hope the parties will understand the importance of the occasion and act accordingly. I hope further conclusions will be reached by Friday in order that the Assembly can restart. I wanted to say that now because the Taoiseach will not be here tomorrow morning.
I would like to comment on the extraordinary circumstances which have followed the Government's decision to float Aer Lingus. I refer to the serious bid made for the acquisition of the airline. Will time be allocated next week for a discussion in the House? Will Members be able to express their views on the situation as it has evolved to date and will evolve over the weekend?
I thank the Deputy for his comments on Northern Ireland. I would like to give some thought to the other issue because a number of legal and stock market considerations arise from it. We will examine the suggestion made. The Minister is severely constrained in what he can say. We will try to construct a debate or discussion that does not create any difficulty.
I wish the Taoiseach, his Ministers and advisers well tomorrow. This is an especially critical week in the search for an accord in Northern Ireland. As I understand it, the two Governments are determined to adhere to the stated deadline of 24 November. The discussions in Scotland between now and Friday afternoon which are taking place in a good environment are absolutely critical. All that can be done by Members on this side of the House is to offer the Taoiseach and his colleagues our full support and best wishes for success in their endeavours on this important issue.
Let me ask about the legislation announced by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste today. What will it be called? When will we see it? Who is sponsoring it? Will it deal with the issue I raised during Leaders' Questions? The Standards in Public Office Commission recommended two years ago that it should have the power to initiate investigations into matters of this nature. Will the Bill announced today come before the House before the general election? I presume it will.
The Government will give priority to the legislation in question which will amend the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. The Minister for Finance and his officials will have responsibility for the legislation which will deal with the question of significant loans or gifts from friends which do not have to be recorded at present. That is the key issue on which the Tánaiste and I have agreed. If the Department of Finance wants to include any other matters in the legislation, it can do so. We have agreed to provide for that measure and no other.
I join the other party leaders in wishing the Taoiseach and the rest of the Irish Government's delegation well in Scotland. Given that the Ombudsman for Children is about to speak and take questions at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Child Protection, I would like to know whether progress can be made with the legislation putting in place a register of persons who are considered to be unsafe to work with children. I realise that many issues will arise in Scotland, but apparently this is one of the ones that has led to the impasse which has been a feature of Northern politics for so long. Regardless of whatever else is achieved by the Taoiseach during the forthcoming talks, I expect he will be able to bring home some good news on that front. I am certain the Ombudsman for Children wants progress to be made with the legislation in question.
I would like to ask about legislation that my colleague, Deputy Gormley, the Green Party's spokesman on health, has called for in this House on many occasions. When one hears someone like Dr. Jean Moriarty, a consultant——
The register of persons considered unsafe to work with children is an issue being considered by the North-South Ministerial Council. The development of the register will depend on what happens with the Council in the forthcoming period. The work has concentrated on developing procedures whereby convictions can be vetted through the vetting unit. The development of the register will give rise to a range of legal, policy, practical and implementation issues. We are not yet in a position to proceed with the North-South aspect of the register.
When I was asked last week about the alcohol products Bill, I said voluntary agreements had been reached with the alcohol and advertising industries. I informed the House that the Department of Health and Children had chosen to postpone the introduction of the legislation pending the outcome of the voluntary agreements.
——Electronic Communications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is on the Order Paper, will the Taoiseach consider the withdrawal or amendment of that legislation? Will he introduce a new Bill with more teeth to prevent a recurrence of last week's difficulties?
Each session we receive a legislative programme and I have been examining the current one with some concern because there seems to be a problem regarding health legislation. There are a number of Bills outstanding if one considers the legislative programme set out in 2003. I will cite only two. Both were promised for publication in 2004 yet the legislative programme we have just received shows the same Bills scheduled for 2007. I am curious whether these Bills will see the light of day before the general election. Is this something that will keep being set back on the programme?
I seek the opportunity to name the Bills. To be fair to the Taoiseach, he will want to know what I am talking about.
I would not dream of staying here until 7 p.m. I will name two of the Bills, for the moment, but there are others. One is the nurses and midwives Bill which was expected in 2004 and the other is the Voluntary Health Insurance Board (corporate status) Bill, also promised in 2004. Now we are promised they will be introduced in 2007. I ask the Taoiseach if this is really the case or will they be postponed again
The heads have not yet been cleared for the nurses and midwives Bill and it is listed for next year. The heads are approved for the Voluntary Health Insurance Board (corporate status) Bill, the legislation was sent for drafting some time ago and is expected early next year.
I urged the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, at a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to seriously consider publishing the Leas Cross report under Dáil privilege. Will the report be placed before the Dáil in this manner?
I understand that this has been flagged. I wish to know if it will be placed before the Dáil in this way and if it will be referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in order that it can be published under privilege in the same way as the reports from Mr. Justice Barron were accommodated.
I am not debating it; I have another question to put to the Taoiseach. I do not wish to seek a second opportunity to speak as it is hard enough to get one opportunity in this House sometimes. Will the same approach be adopted to the Leas Cross report as was taken to the Dunne inquiry?
I am asking if this can be arranged or facilitated. Will the detail of the Dunne report be brought before the House through this same vehicle?
On the same issue, will there be legislation on human tissue ensuring full information and full consent for all next-of-kin regarding the registered use of organs from deceased children and adults?
The Minister for Health and Children is anxious to publish the report on the Leas Cross nursing home as soon as possible. She wishes to see any obstacles to its publication removed as a matter of urgency. The Attorney General's advice was sought regarding the publication of the report under Dáil privilege. This advice has been received and is being considered in consultation with the Health Service Executive.