Thursday, 23 November 2006
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 21, Citizens Information Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 1, Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage.
I wish to raise a number of issues. I understand that another man was shot dead in Drogheda this morning, which is another appalling incidence of crime.
It is appropriate that the Citizens Information Bill should be on the Order Paper today. The Tánaiste should apologise on behalf of the Government to the 500,000 people inconvenienced yesterday by an appalling lapse in traffic management because of a hole in a road.
Wait until a truck breaks down in the tunnel.
On 27 June, the Tánaiste told the Seanad it was his view that "the law as it currently stands is sufficient and has served us well". In his humble way, he cast aspersions on the issues raised by Fine Gael about home defence. However, the Law Society has made recommendations in that regard which the Tánaiste has accepted. Will he advise the House when he intends to introduce that legislation, which will be supported?
Can the Tánaiste comment on the latest fiasco in Waterford, where a District Court judge struck out 17 motoring offences because of an inability to supply copies of the original charges? Is this another example of mismanagement in the system of dealing with motoring offences on the part of the Department of Transport and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform?
Today's Irish Examiner carries an appalling version of events relating to domestic violence. Six Departments are involved and it appears that the reporting of domestic violence by the Garda Síochána has declined.
Does the Tánaiste have any legislative proposals to draw together the six agencies and Departments dealing with domestic violence, both against men and women? There are many examples of both and the issue needs to be given much greater priority than it has.
The Deputy raised an occupier's right to defend his own home. It is the intention of the Government to deal with that in the forthcoming criminal law miscellaneous provisions Bill. I have indicated to the House my views on that issue and have pointed out that the difficulties that we face arise, as the Law Reform Commission pointed out, from legislation tendered to this House in 1997 which cast upon people the obligation to retreat. The Deputy was more familiar with that legislation than I was, as it was put through on his watch.
No legislation is promised to take away functions from the Departments dealing with the various aspects of domestic violence and centralise them in one Department. Domestic violence covers many issues. It is not proposed, for example, that the funding and provision of hostels for victims of domestic violence be transferred to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
There are, however, clear justice angles to domestic violence and a family law Bill is proposed for next year.
A preliminary examination of the case in Waterford suggests legislative change is not required but that the matter is one of procedure.
I thank the Chair for his assistance.
Was the Minister consulted by the Taoiseach before he made his announcement at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis about the constitutional amendment relating to children's rights?
The weekend newspapers carried stories to the effect that the Taoiseach intends to exhume the Manchester martyrs. Was the Tánaiste consulted on that?
I cannot make any comment on an ongoing Garda investigation. The legislation to hold a referendum has not yet been promised because we have not yet completed the consultation phase on what would or would not constitute the elements of a referendum on the rights of children.
I was in conversation with the Taoiseach before the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis and he did not make the announcement without consulting me. I know nothing about exhuming the Manchester martyrs.
I want to ask about a piece of legislation but I will not ask about a Garda investigation. I understand the Tánaiste would not give me details if I did. I will ask, however, about the deployment of gardaí and his role as Minister in that regard. An area such as Swords, the same size as Waterford city——
A control of exports Bill is promised for this session. Is the Bill forthcoming, given the amount of armaments and weaponry, including grenades, coming into the country? Secondary school students, including some in the constituency of the Minister for Finance, could do a deal with an Israeli arms dealer because of the lack of controls on imports.
Is the Tánaiste aware that last Sunday night, when a doctor reported for duty at the SATU unit in the Rotunda Hospital, five women who had been sexually assaulted at various times over the weekend were still waiting for treatment? Will the €2.8 million funding recommended in a recent report for these units, and for a new unit in the midlands, be provided?
Does the Government intend to pass the criminal justice corruption Bill before the end of the term of this Government? I will ask a question as an addendum to the earlier question on the case of Baiba Saulite. Is the Minister sure that households, particularly those headed by women which are under constant, vicious anti-social pressure involving attacks which endanger the lives of the householders, are safe?
I will ask questions on two items of promised legislation. No. 65 is the enforcement of fines Bill, to end the inappropriate and arguably unjust practice of imprisoning people for non-payment of fines. Has the Government approved the heads of that Bill and when will it be published?
The second issue is No. 71, a Bill to provide powers to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding sentences imposed by the District Courts, an issue that has been in the news recently. Has the Government agreed the heads of that Bill and when will it be published?
The drafting of the fines legislation is at an advanced stage in the Attorney General's office. One issue was holding it up but I believe that has now been disposed of. Is the Deputy referring to the legislation empowering the Director of Public Prosecutions to appeal lenient sentences in the District Court?
The Deputy may not be aware that I asked the Law Reform Commission to examine that issue. Its report, published some days ago, suggests that it might not be wise to provide for that power after all. We are considering that report before proceeding with the legislation.
In light of the fact that the Garda has not been recording domestic violence incidents for the past two years, have the heads of the family law Bill been approved yet by the Government? This Bill has been promised for seven years. Did the Minister give his approval to the Garda to stop recording incidents of domestic violence? Ireland has the lowest conviction rate in Europe in this area. It is a serious issue.
The Minister for Finance has promised a review of the activities of customs officers but we still have not heard anything about it. Has the Tánaiste spoken to his colleague, the Minister for Finance, about this issue? Has he done anything about it?
I have other questions, a Cheann Comhairle. The Minister for Education and Science is seated beside the Tánaiste. She is responsible for two Bills in the list of legislation to be published in this session. I asked yesterday about the student support Bill but the Taoiseach could not tell me when it will be published. Perhaps the Minister could advise the Tánaiste on it. Second, when will the education miscellaneous provisions Bill be published? Both Bills were expected to be published this session but there is no sign of action on them.
Under Standing Order 31, I raised the issue of the trafficking of persons. This is now the third biggest illegal trading activity in the EU. When will No. 36, the criminal justice (trafficking in persons and sexual offences) Bill, be published?
That measure is on the list for discussion in the House. The proposal for the Second Stage debate was withdrawn at the request of the Deputy's party.
I wish to raise three issues. The first relates to the continued use of the Internet by those with paedophilic tendencies and those who promote and glamorise other illegal acts. Does the Tánaiste accept there is a need to withdraw the electronic communications Bill and replace it with a Bill that will deal seriously with the issues in that regard?
The issue of grooming is being dealt with in the criminal justice trafficking Bill which will be introduced soon. The other legislation is expected in this session.
The European Commission has indicated that action should be taken at the communications level, apart from in other areas. Electronic means can be used to eliminate that type of material from a website at the initial stages——
I have a question for the Ceann Comhairle. Last Tuesday, I examined the lottery of parliamentary questions. The Fine Gael and Labour parties tabled 120 questions but only managed to get four or five in the first ten Ordinary Questions. Miraculously, we had ten out of ten in the last ten questions. How did that happen? I put you on notice, a Cheann Comhairle, that I am dissatisfied with the lottery system. It is flawed. It is like the electronic voting system, about which the Tánaiste might have something to say in a minute. I want to officially request that the system be changed so the Ceann Comhairle will first adjudicate on the eligibility of the questions and that the lottery takes place afterwards. The current system whereby the Ceann Comhairle adjudicates on the eligibility of the questions after the lottery makes a mockery of the lottery system. I am asking that he does that without——
——and I want to inform the Ceann Comhairle that it is the custom in this House that staff be courteous to Members — and that applies to all staff. If the Ceann Comhairle wants to go that way again, we shall do that.
The last question I wanted to ask the Tánaiste was in regard to the fact he has expressed a view on most issues with the exception of electronic voting. Has he expressed any preference as regards what to do with the now obsolete electronic voting system?
As the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is very positive in his replies, has he heard from the Attorney General, as the Supreme Court has decided on the ground rent issue? Is it proposed to restore the ground rent issue to the Order of Business?
The position on that issue is that a case is still pending before the Supreme Court. I am unaware of any decision by the Supreme Court as regards that matter.