Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

12:00 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Order of Business shall be No. 7, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2007 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 8, Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.; (2) the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 7 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6 p.m. tonight; (3) the Second and Subsequent Stages of No. 8 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9.30 p.m. tonight; the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon not to exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (ii) the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Private Members' Business is No. 38, Civil Unions Bill 2006 — Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7 agreed?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Staunton is my party's spokesperson on this area. He has made the point that this is an extensive Bill and that members of the Opposition only had one day to consider the implications of the range of proposals made in the Bill. I do not know whether the Minister, Deputy Brennan, would agree. It is a very short time within which to consider such a range of proposals. I do not intend to vote against it but wish to make that point.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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The Labour Party agrees with the Leader of Fine Gael on this matter, that it is a very short time to consider such a detailed Bill. Many Members wanted to speak but they simply will not have the opportunity now. We are opposed to the proposal.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I concur with what has been said. The Bill is of considerable interest to Members, including those in my party. Not all those who wish to speak will be accommodated. I do not see the reason the debate should be curtailed in this way. The Bill contains a range of measures which need to be dealt with.

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I agree with the three previous speakers. I ask the Taoiseach to facilitate provision on the Order of Business to allow the Minister for Health and Children to answer questions on the growing crisis in accident and emergency departments right across the land. Yesterday in Tallaght Hospital more people than ever were lying on chairs and trolleys.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not in order, Deputy.

Question: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 7 be agreed to," put and declared carried.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8 agreed?

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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There is no need for a guillotine on this measure, on which there is general agreement. It is a short, enabling measure to appoint additional judges. The Government has got into guillotine mode and seems to be guillotining everything in sight. We are opposed.

Question: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 8 be agreed to," put and declared carried.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call on Deputy Kenny for a brief question on the Order of Business.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does the Ceann Comhairle think I might go on for a long time?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, but we lost 25 minutes on Leaders' Questions.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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That was not my fault. I wish to ask two questions.

I refer to a report made available to the Department of Education and Science about the alleged serious drop in standards of young teachers and the difficulties this causes for the maintenance of teaching standards which is so important to the country. Will the Government make time available for a debate on this matter or does the Minister propose to hold a debate on the implications of the report in order that Deputies can express their concern?

Regarding the referendum on children, yesterday Deputy Rabbitte raised an issue about the separation of the protection of as against the welfare and rights of children. I commented on the matter yesterday evening. Is the Government opposed to holding a referendum now on the question of the zone of absolute protection and the question of soft information? This was considered in great detail by the committee and in respect of which there is no difficulty or opposition from any party in the House. Is the Government opposed to holding a referendum on those two issues now? I am not a constitutional lawyer but the other five issues may cause some difficulty and need to be fully debated. I committed my party to dealing with the matter before the end of the year, irrespective of what happens in the general election. Everybody should have the opportunity to tease out the issues and fully understand them, the balance of rights and so on.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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On the first issue, that is a fairly old and limited report. It is three years old and was conducted on 140 students. I understand the matter is being addressed to the colleges. I do not think it is necessary for the House to debate a report of that nature.

On the question about the referendum, I stated my view yesterday and on Monday. We have listened to the views of the Opposition parties. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the people engaged in this matter are of the view that the issues should be taken together. There might be an argument in favour of two questions being put and we are open to considering it. I am not taken with the idea that we should hold two referendums on child protection in one year because the rights and protections issues are intertwined. It would be a case of holding one referendum now on the issue arising from the CC case, that of soft information, and then waiting until later in the year to take the others.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am not opposed to that.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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We would prefer if they were taken together, whenever that is. If there was an argument about the two questions and if two referendums were held in the one year, it might be questionable whether young people could be expected to become actively engaged. I invite the Deputy to make his views known in a referendum debate in order that there will be interest in the issue and a good turnout. Holding two referendums within a period of seven or eight months does not sound like a great idea but I will listen to the arguments.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I cannot agree that the issues concerning the protection of children and the issues relating to the rights and welfare of children are intertwined in the sense the Taoiseach suggests.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Has the Deputy a question? We are on the Order of Business.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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When I put this question to him yesterday, I did not understand him to rule it out or to say it was without merit.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not ruling it out now either.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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However, having read the newspapers this morning, it seems the Government has since then decided to rule it out, as that seems to be the sentiment attributed to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

Given the growing opinion that it is not feasible or wise to have this omnibus referendum this side of the general election, and given the weight of comment from expert opinion in the newspapers again today that the matter requires further discussion and teasing out, is it not too long to delay the issue relating to the protection of children? Why could we not run with that issue, for example, contemporaneous with the general election, and run with the other issue as soon as a reasonable debate can take place? Would that not be a more appropriate way to proceed?

Everybody in the House wants the amendment with regard to the protection of children from sexual predators enacted, and wants that protection afforded to children. The experts say they need more time to tease through the other propositions to permit us to get it right rather than rush it.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I want to get it right rather than rush it. However, while I do not know about growing opinion in the newspapers, I know of growing opinion among people who were quite agitated last night and this morning. They have waited for us to deal with some of the issues that were comprehensively dealt with in the Constitution review report, following the Mrs. Justice McGuinness report of 1993. It then went for nine years into the all-party committee——

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The wording was only published yesterday.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Please, Deputy. It came out of the all-party committee yet ten years on we want more time and some are even suggesting we should have another committee. Some of the groups are very agitated as a result.

I am trying to be helpful. The parties have had the substance of our proposals for several weeks and have had the proposals since Monday. I understand they must have some time but I would prefer if they could give me their written views on how they see the matter moving forward. Many of the groups, including adoption groups, believe these are urgent matters which should be dealt with immediately. These issues are creating much difficulty in many cases. That is view of the groups. They do not share the opinion that there should be a delay and that the questions should be intertwined.

I must consider all of the angles. If the Opposition parties could give me their considered opinion, we could try to take a path forward.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Does the Taoiseach intend to move ahead in the way the Government can move in areas that may be related to but not dependent on the referendum? Just to indicate, at the very least, that there is bona fide sincerity about delivering protection for children, and not engaging in anything that could be seen as political——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot have a debate on the issue. It has already been raised twice.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I want to ask about the legislation. We are on the Order of Business to deal with promised legislation. That is what I am asking about.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is past 12.30 p.m. The House should move to the next business.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is perfectly in order.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, it is not. It is entirely at the discretion of the Chair whether the Deputy asks a question.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I am working within Standing Orders.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is the Standing Order, if the Deputy reads it. It is entirely at the discretion of the Chair.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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I wish to ask with regard to the register of persons who are unsafe to work with children. Given the call from the British and Northern Irish authorities that we would put in place measures to deal with soft information without the need for a referendum, can that be done?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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It was pointed out that to do that, we would need the protection of the Constitution. That is why there has been a long delay on this issue. There has been a long-term mission to outline documents to see whether we can establish a designated statutory body with overall responsibility for collecting and sharing information with other agencies about the risk or occurrence of child sexual abuse or other forms of abuse. We have engaged in discussions with Northern Ireland to ascertain whether such a body would be established. I understand it would be easier to achieve this if we had the consolidation of our constitutional cover on it. That is part of the delay.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Arising from the Privacy Bill, I want to raise the arrest this morning of the journalist, Mick McCaffrey, formerly of the Evening Herald and now of The Sunday Tribune.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise on the Order of Business. The Deputy will have to find another way of raising it. I call Deputy Coveney.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle. With regard to the Privacy Bill, I am entitled to raise an issue of this kind. It is a Bill designed to stifle investigative journalism.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is not entitled to raise the content of what might be in the Bill.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Why not?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy wants me to take up the time of the House, I will read the Standing Order.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Why am I not entitled to raise the Privacy Bill?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is entitled to raise it but not in regard to its content.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I want to know whether the Privacy Bill will be withdrawn. It is a Bill designed to stifle investigative journalism. I also want to know whether the master ministerial leaker himself, Deputy McDowell——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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On promised legislation, I call the Taoiseach.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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——will make a statement in regard to the arrest of this journalist, who apparently got a leaked report and published it in his newspaper.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise. There are other ways the Deputy can raise the matter in the House. The Chair will facilitate him.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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It is in the public interest.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Can I have an answer from the Taoiseach?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy wants to raise the matter, the Chair will facilitate him. I call the Taoiseach.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Bill is in the Seanad.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Minister came out against it in Wexford.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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What is happening in regard to it? Will it be withdrawn?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is a matter for the other House. If it is in the other House, we do not discuss it in this House. I call Deputy Coveney.

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister make a statement?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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On promised legislation, I will shortly attend the launch of another report on trafficking in Ireland. Before Christmas, the Taoiseach gave a promise during the Order of Business that anti-trafficking legislation would be introduced as one of the top two priorities for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Will we see that promised legislation before the election? If so, when?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I answered on this yesterday. It is due in early summer.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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It will not happen in our lifetime.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Has the Taoiseach been made aware by the parliamentary delegation that attended the National Forum on Europe yesterday of the homophobic remarks made there by the guest speaker?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Howlin.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the nine discriminatory grounds in the equal status legislation, one of which refers to discrimination——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That does not arise. There will be an opportunity to discuss it at 7 p.m. I call Deputy Howlin.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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It does arise. One of the grounds——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy does not want to let Deputy Howlin speak, I will move to No. 7, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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My question to the Taoiseach is whether the equal status legislation applies in situations of that nature.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Interpretation of the law is not a matter for the Order of Business. I call Deputy Howlin.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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My question is directed to the Ceann Comhairle. Yesterday, the Tánaiste tabled an amendment——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will deal with that matter at 7 p.m. I received the Deputy's correspondence. My opinion has not changed but I will deal with it in more detail at 7 p.m.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I would like to ask a different question, if I may. Perhaps the Clerk would wait until the question is put before the briefing.

The Tánaiste's amendment postpones the Second Reading of the Civil Unions Bill for six months, knowing the Dáil will not have six months to do so. Therefore, it will be effectively defeated as——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I wish to refer to the Salient Rulings of the Chair, in particular Salient Ruling 302, which states: "It is not for the Chair or the House to decide whether a Bill, a section of a Bill or an amendment is or is not in conflict with the Constitution". The reasoning in the Minister's amendment is that he notes that the Bill as presented appears to be inconsistent with the Constitution. I regard that as out of order, in conformity with the Ceann Comhairle's ruling, and I ask that——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will deal with the matter at 7 p.m. We now move on to No. 7, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2007, Second Stage.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me finish my sentence.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We have dealt with the matter; we will deal with the issue at 7 p.m.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I ask the Chair to show courtesy and hear the end of my sentence. He should be cognisant of the second issue in coming to a conclusion which he will, no doubt, give to the House, and the reasons behind it at 7 p.m.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, Deputy, at 7 p.m. I call Deputy Deenihan.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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On a point of order, I indicated earlier that I wished to raise an item on promised legislation.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, but it is 12.40 p.m. and we must move on.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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This is a point of order. There is a growing practice whereby we can raise the issue on the following day — on Thursday. However, the Taoiseach is unlikely to be here on a Thursday and from past experience the Tánaiste is unlikely to be here. I register my strong protest at this growing practice. There has been a tradition in this House that members of the Opposition could on a daily basis, regardless of the day, raise an item pertaining to promised legislation. I intend to try to ensure they are able to do this for as long as I am in the House.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy checks the record of the House, back to the establishment of the State, he will find more issues have been raised on the Order of Business in my time in the Chair than ever in the past. The Deputy already had a question today at Leaders' Questions, to which the Taoiseach referred, so he is on the record——

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I did not have a question.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy asked questions across the floor during Leaders' Questions.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Chair has decided to rule retrospectively and I strongly object to that practice on his part.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move on now to No. 7.