Thursday, 19 October 2006
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 17, the Health (Nursing Homes) (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, to adjourn at 1 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 3, the Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 18, statements on the Green Paper on Energy, in accordance with the order of the Dáil of 10 October 2006.
I would like to raise two issues, the first being the single electricity market Bill. Yesterday we had something of a wake-up call when a major flagship company, Cadbury's, announced 450 job losses. One important factor is the cost of electricity, which is 30% more expensive here than in the UK. There is something of a pattern, since waste management costs are 100% dearer, gas 20% dearer, and IT services——
I have not been here as long as the Chair, but I have seen a great deal more flexibility than is being permitted.
Perhaps I might move on to the second matter, which concerns Professor Desmond O'Neill. When he reported on Leas Cross, he said it would be a major error to presume that the deficits in care shown there represented an isolated incident.
The Taoiseach told us yesterday that the health inspectorate Bill 2006 would put the social services inspectorate on a statutory footing. There is no such Bill included in the Government's legislative programme. The Bill that appears to provide for health inspections is the health Bill, which will not be published until 2007, no doubt after the general election. I want clarity on this issue. Will we see health inspections put on a statutory footing in the manner indicated by the Taoiseach before Christmas or will the matter be put on the long finger and not appear until some time in the distant future when we are in the throes of an election?
It is proposed to publish the single electricity market Bill this session. A joint North-South process is involved and the exact timing of the Bill depends on agreement on some of the remaining issues. It is proposed to publish the Bill this session.
The Health Bill 2006 is the title of the Bill that will put the social services inspectorate on a statutory basis.
We will see. The point is that the social services inspectorate already exists and, as the Taoiseach informed the House yesterday, considerable recruitment has taken place and significant resources have been applied to ensure the inspectorate is in a position to function adequately.
I need clarification. The only health inspectorate Bill 2006 that I could find was the Bill proposed by Deputy McManus. Perhaps the Government intends to implement her Bill and if that was the case, I would welcome it. The Tánaiste must realise there is a legal problem with regard to closing down nursing homes and legislation is needed.
I also want to ask about the single electricity market Bill as I understand it is a major factor in the large-scale loss of jobs in Cadbury's. Will the Minister reconsider the artificial model of competition we are creating when the electricity market——
Will the Minister look at the situation in the context of what has happened at Cadbury's? Also, the House has collapsed three times already this session so why is there no serious legislation on the schedule for next week? Why does the legislative channel appear to be drying up generally? For example, the ombudsman Bill was promised for late 2003, but is not due now until early 2007. The animal health Bill was promised for early 2004 and the Foyle and Carlingford fisheries Bill was due in late 2003, but it is not possible to say when they will be published now. The minerals development Bill 2004 is now promised for mid-2007. The pharmacy Bill 2004 is promised for this session. The national monuments Bill, due in late 2003, the charities regulation Bill 2005, the nurses and midwives Bill 2004 and the judicial council Bill 2004 have been changed to 2007. Is there a problem?
I am happy to permit discussion on this because we need answers. We do not have any serious legislation coming forward.
The amendment to the ethics legislation is something close to the Tánaiste's heart. When is the amendment likely to be published? I think he was in the House yesterday when the Taoiseach betrayed complete bewilderment with regard to the commission's proposition requiring——
I accept that entirely. It is nice to see the Tánaiste here on a Thursday and not impeding the Taoiseach's schedule. Will we have legislation to respond to the Public Offices Commission's request that the legislation be amended to allow it the right of inquiry and to initiate investigations as it thinks fit?
I have dealt with the single electricity market Bill. The Deputy will be in a position to explain fully where the Labour Party stands on the ESB and its reform in that context and I look forward to hearing an unequivocal explanation to the House as to what he really believes instead of his huffing and puffing here.
With regard to the contention that there is no serious business in the House next week, it was agreed between the Whips last night that the Citizens Information Bill and the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be tabled for discussion next week. These are serious pieces of legislation. The National Oil Reserves Agency Bill is also serious legislation. In addition, the House will, at the request of the Opposition parties, discuss suicide, which is important business. There are 21 Bills on the A list and the Government intends to publish all of them.
On the ethics issue, the Taoiseach explained at great length to Deputy Rabbitte yesterday what the Government had decided. The suggestion that other matters with regard to the Public Offices Commission might be dealt with is something on which the Government has made no decision. The Taoiseach indicated that if there was to be a change in the law, he would like to hear the case made for it. I see in today's newspaper that informed sources say a considerable number of the commission have other ideas on the matter.
The Government will make its mind up on legislative proposals when it sees the proposals and the arguments made in favour of them. We will not go down a road where a group of people sits in a room somewhere in Dublin and reads the newspapers and decides on the basis of what journalists publish that it will start investigations, without anybody having the courage to make a formal complaint.
The protection of employment (exceptional collective redundancies) Bill is more essential than ever. The announcement by Cadbury's is even more reason to bring it forward urgently. Is the promise of 2007 an indication it will happen before the general election? Can the Tánaiste clarify that Bills down for 2007 are now effectively not being promised because they will come after the general election? In the context of 2007, can he give an indication of the difference between pre and after the general election?
A proposal to publish legislation in 2007 means what it says on the tin — 2007 is a 12-month period. The way things are going, the general election should not be an impediment to these parties being in a position to tender all of these pieces of legislation.
I am pleased to see the Tánaiste is pre-empting the electorate.
I wish to ask the Tánaiste about a landmark decision in the High Court this week which overturned the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907. When I raised this matter five and a half years ago with his illustrious predecessor, Deputy O'Donoghue, I was told that the issues would be dealt with under the family law Bill which forms part of the Government's legislative programme, as announced by the Chief Whip on 25 January 2001. In the absence of the Government doing its job, the people concerned had to go to the High Court. What is the delay with the family law Bill and when will we see it published?
My question was for the Taoiseach because he sent me a very nice letter arising from a question stating that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, would be in contact with me about the possibility of taking out the section from the communications Bill that deals with broadcasting to the Irish in Britain. The Minister has not contacted me. Perhaps the Tánaiste will talk to the Minister and he might contact me about the matter.
Has the Attorney General reported back yet on his consideration of the use of Dáil privileges and means of publishing the full text of the report of the Leas Cross inquiry? Can the Tánaiste confirm that he is also considering the Dunne inquiry for publication in full by the same means?
As I understand it, the Leas Cross inquiry report is a matter for the Health Service Executive. It is not a matter for the Government to publish that — it is the HSE's report. It is a matter for the HSE to take legal advice and decide on publication. I am told today that the Health Service Executive hopes to publish the report — or nearly all of it — in the next couple of weeks. It is taking independent legal advice on the matter. It is not a question of the Attorney General's opinion on this matter being relevant, it is for the Health Service Executive to form its own separate conclusion on the matter.
The Tánaiste will be aware that a landmark decision was made by the Revenue Commissioners on refunding VAT to optometrists to the tune of €50 million. In light of this ruling to refund VAT on spectacles to optometrists and not to consumers, will the Tánaiste indicate when the consumer protection (National Consumer Agency) Bill will be introduced so that we can have somebody standing up for the consumer?
Last week it emerged that interest on SSIAs was being counted as means for third level grants. Today there is a report that families are having to borrow heavily to put their children through third level education. The third level student support Bill is on the A list to which the Tánaiste referred. Can he give any indication of when there will be reform of third level grants and when the Bill will be introduced?
A question does arise — if the idea has not receded into the dim distance — on delivering better government. Does the Tánaiste remember that concept? It was big on the agenda a couple of years ago. I refer to this in view of the energy costs that are now affecting us, as referred to by other speakers. In view of the urgency of the situation, something must be done about this before it is too late. Can the Tánaiste indicate what will happen in regard to the minerals development Bill? How long more must we wait for it, given that it will have an impact on the cost and regulation of energy?
I wish to ask the Tánaiste two questions, one of which relates to his area of responsibility. It has long been promised to put the parole board on a statutory basis. Is that being proceeded with and is legislation pending on it?
In regard to the considerations given by the Attorney General on the possibility of a requirement for a referendum on the St. Andrews agreement, will the Tánaiste indicate the timeframe for that decision making and what process of consultation the Government proposes to put in place with the Opposition?
The parole board is functioning satisfactorily at present on a non-statutory basis. The Deputy will appreciate we currently have other priorities.
In regard to the St. Andrews agreement, the Attorney General is considering all of the issues which arise from that agreement, including whether any changes to or developments in the Good Friday Agreement would be of such an order as to require a constitutional process in this State. That is an issue on which he will advise the Government when all of the outworkings of the St. Andrews agreement, including the legislative changes which will be coming forward at Westminster are to hand and we have a clearer picture of the extent of the developments and changes embodied in the process that was agreed between the parties.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and perhaps the Tánaiste will be aware that both France and the Netherlands voted against the proposed EU constitutional treaty but that there is provision when 20 states ratify it, for the European Council to meet and to consider the way forward. When will Ireland approach the ratification of this treaty?
As I understand it, the German Presidency proposes to bring forward the process of consultation among the member states during the period of its Presidency to see where we go now with the ratification process. The possibility referred to by the Deputy is one issue that will be on the table. It is our aim that all member states of the European Union would agree to the constitutional treaty negotiated under the Irish Presidency, which we believe is the proper way forward for the European Union.