Thursday, 8 February 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 16a, motion re membership of committees; No. 1, European Communities Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage; and No. 24, Health Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 16a shall be decided without debate.
Will the Government agree to a debate on the annual report of the National Competitiveness Council, which was published yesterday? I understand that Pfizer, one of the flagship companies in Ireland's pharmaceutical sector, which has never seen any job losses, is about to announce significant job losses in Cork. There have been similar job losses in Motorola, Vodafone and Xerox.
I would like to raise a second matter. We have spent the week trying to clarify what will be done about the gaping hole in the regulatory structure that the Government put together for health insurance. Will emergency legislation be introduced to deal with that lacuna? Will it be handled in a leisurely fashion over the coming weeks and months? There seems to be an extraordinary lack of clarity in respect of these serious issues. The Government seems to have been caught flat-footed. We need clarity. I read in today's newspapers that the Government intends to establish a forum to deal with pay issues. Is this being done within the terms of social partnership?
The possibility of having a debate on the National Competitiveness Council's annual report can be considered by the Whips. If it is thought proper that there should be a debate on the matter, I am sure it can be arranged. As I said last week, the Government will consider two reports on health insurance — the Competition Authority's report on the market and the expected report from the Barrington group on risk equalisation and community rating — when they are to hand.
What emergency legislation, if any, is planned to deal with the steady deterioration in the health service? There is a real danger that all the key workers in the service — nurses, administrative staff and even hospital consultants — will be in dispute with the Government in the next couple of months. What will the Government do to ensure that patients can access the care they need?
With regard to promised legislation, the dismal record of the Government is only matched by our dismal performance in the football match yesterday. A series of legislative measures was promised by the Government and it is the Government who sets the timetable for legislation. There are less than 20 days left until the Dáil rises for Easter. According to the legislative programme published in 2003, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill was to be published in late 2003, the Animal Health Bill in early 2004 and the Minerals Development Bill in 2004. The Pharmacy Bill, to protect patients, was due to be published in 2004, the National Monuments Bill in late 2003, the Charities Regulation Bill in 2005, the Nurses and Midwives Bill, which should have been considered an urgent priority, was due to be introduced in 2004 and the esteemed Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, promised that the Dublin Transport Authority would be put on a statutory footing by way of legislation before last Christmas. Will the Tánaiste explain why the Government cannot even score within its own timetable?
The Charities Bill, the Dublin Transport Authority Bill and the Pharmacy (No. 1) Bill will be published this session. The Nurses and Midwives Bill will be published this year.
Given that the Tánaiste represents the San Marino of Irish politics, he is not in any position to judge anybody's performance. On today's Order Paper there is a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council amending a directive on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use. Will the Government provide time, under a new Order of Business, to use that proposal to discuss the situation at Pfizer in Cork? It has just been announced that the Ringaskiddy plant is to close and the Little Island and Loughbeg plants——
Yes, but IDA Ireland has a tremendous record and the Minister, Deputy Martin, has a great record in Cork for delivering jobs. I was in Amgen's headquarters in Thousand Oaks in California recently——
——and there is a US$1.1 billion investment in Carrigtwohill in Cork, of which the Deputy is well aware. I do not wish to talk down the Cork region or its economy. IDA Ireland has such a good record with regard to pharmaceutical capacity, which is always sought after, that I believe there will be alternative purchasers for those plants.
I have inquired a number of times about the current whereabouts of promised legislation, that is, the Postal Services Bill, which the Taoiseach admitted fell off the wagon. It was deemed to be important legislation two years ago but for some mysterious reason it disappeared. Is it intended to restore that proposal to the Order Paper or does disagreement exist within the Government as to whether it should have been there in the first place? Is that the reason it fell off the wagon?
Two years ago it was taken off the list of proposed legislation but that fact does not appear to have impinged on the Deputy, who regularly asks about its whereabouts. It is gone.
I wish to raise two issues. In the interests of clarity, given that many organisations are anxious to know the Government's intentions with regard to the proposed referendum on children, has a wording been agreed and, if so, when will it be circulated to Members of the Opposition so we can analyse it? Is it the Government's intention to hold the referendum before Easter? The second issue relates to legislation for which the Tánaiste is responsible, that is, the Judicial Council Bill. This has been promised since 2004. Has the retirement request from Judge Brian Curtin been agreed by the Government? When will the legislative framework be provided that will enable such contentious issues in the future to be dealt with in a structured manner?
The Taoiseach clearly stated to the House this week the position regarding the referendum, and it has not changed since then. We are in a process of study and consultation and the Deputy has been consulted about the matter. The situation has not changed dramatically since the Taoiseach spoke on it.
The second matter is the Judicial Council Bill. It is now three years since I consulted the Judiciary about this matter and I am still awaiting a response about certain points.
Yes, it is appropriate. There was no proposition before the House as to whether the European Communities Bill 2006 was something this House should address today. The elements in that and the powers the Tánaiste would like to see vested in his office as a result are obnoxious.
——but hopefully he will not get the opportunity in that regard.
The Ombudsman amendment Bill is promised for 2007. Will that legislation be brought before the House before the dissolution of the Dáil or is it, again, dependent on a new Government taking office after the general election?
In light of the impossible situation in St. James's Hospital and other hospitals where beds are not available for seriously ill people, when will the nursing homes support Bill be coming before the House so additional beds can be provided?
I wish to ask about legislation. Thousands of people are waiting to buy what were commonly known as local authority flats and legislation was promised to deal with this issue. The social housing miscellaneous Bill is to be introduced. Will it be introduced before the election to ensure the value which these people have added to their homes will not be further eroded by inflation?
During the week the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Rabbitte, raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the threatened or promised — depending on which way one looks at it — increase of 30% in fees for auctioneers because they have not enough work to make themselves rich without working. In any event, the Taoiseach indicated the property services regulatory authority Bill would give powers to the Minister to control the prices paid. He indicated the Bill was a matter of urgency and was likely to be before the Dáil before Easter.
It states in the list of Bills that publication is expected in 2007. I am used to reading these lists and I know this means there is not a snowball's chance in hell of this legislation coming before the House before the general election. Does this mean nothing will be done about this 30% increase?
My colleague, Deputy Shortall, indicated to the Ceann Comhairle yesterday that she wished to raise an issue. She cannot be here this morning and I ask to be permitted to raise the matter on her behalf. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, promised some time before Christmas that he would introduce a short Bill to deal with a number of miscellaneous issues in the transport area, including the right of local authorities to have resident-only parking in various parts of towns and cities. This is a particular issue around Croke Park. I do not see that Bill on the list. I understand significant work has been completed on this short Bill and if it were to be brought to the House I imagine the Opposition would co-operate in passing it.
I will return to the Deputy on the latter point. The Bill is not on the list. As the Deputy stated a number of issues are currently being worked on. The legislation dealing with auctioneers is being worked on in my Department. It will be published this year but not before Easter.
Is the Minister considering raising the derisory €2 fine applying to public urination? When will he impose on-the-spot fines as requested by the Garda Síochána for some time? As it is not an arrestable offence, does the Minister propose to make it an arrestable offence and impose on-the-spot fines?
With regard to the level of fines the Deputy will be aware that the recently published Fines Bill will increase the general level of fines across a range of offences.
Members of the Garda Síochána use the Public Order Act to deal with offensive behaviour, such as that described by the Deputy.
The Criminal Justice Act provides, not for on-the-spot fines, but for a letter to issue to people who have been arrested for those offences. In those circumstances they are given the option of paying a fixed penalty or facing prosecution.
Some time ago the Taoiseach sent me a list of the international conventions that are outstanding as not having been ratified by Ireland. He indicated that most of them are delayed in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has replied to questions in the same vein. Ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption was promised during discussion on the White Paper on Irish Aid. Will this happen in the lifetime of the Government?
The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources arranged a wide-ranging consultation on the Broadcasting Bill and on webcasting. What is the progress on the broadcasting Bill to set up the broadcasting authority? Will anything happen in the lifetime of this Government?
The former Minister promised me about four years ago that we might have a Green Paper on the postal services, given the ongoing decimation of the post office network and the fact that quite a few postmasters and postmistresses earn less than the minimum wage.
When will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform give a reply to the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee on the substantive issue?