Thursday, 8 March 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a proposal that section 17A of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 shall continue in force for the period ending on 8 March 2008, back from committee; No. 20, Prisons Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 4 — Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 14 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 20 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12.30 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; and the Second Stage of No. 4 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m.
Pursuant to Standing Order 80(3), the Dáil shall waive its instruction that not more than two select committees shall meet to consider a Bill on any given day in the case of the proposed meeting of the Select Committee on Enterprise and Small Business to consider the Consumer Protection Bill 2007 [Seanad] on Tuesday, 13 March 2007. Parliamentary questions next for answer by the Taoiseach on EU matters shall be taken on the same day as the statements on the EU Council meeting in Brussels, scheduled to be taken on Wednesday, 21 March 2007, and shall be moved to be taken first as ordinary oral questions to the Taoiseach on that day. The Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 March 2007.
This Standing Order exists for a very good reason, namely to prevent the Executive forcing legislation through the committee system of the House. Committees exist to examine Bills in great detail and, as a result, the House has decided there should not be more than two Bills on any day in any committee. The proposal sets that aside so as to rush Bills, not just through Second Stage, as we see every day, but Committee Stage and that is not acceptable. We have seen the result of such decisions recently.
I agree with Deputy Stagg on this matter. One of the advantages of committees is that Deputies who are not members of a particular committee can take part. If two committees deal with two separate Bills on the same day it is nearly impossible for such Deputies to take part. There are free days next week when committees can sit and, if the Bills are urgent, they could be dealt with in the following week.
I appreciate the points Deputies Stagg and Ó Snodaigh make but we must remember that, subject to the next proposal, the Dáil will not be sitting on the day in question.
The normal procedure is for no more than two committees to function while the House is not sitting but this will allow the Deputies who are not attending plenary sessions of the Dáil to attend all the committee meetings in question.
Is proposal No. 5, dealing with the Taoiseach's questions on Wednesday, 21 March 2007, agreed to? Agreed.
Is the proposal that the Dáil, on rising today, should adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 March agreed to?
There might not be a quorum on the Government side. I will raise a serious issue. In the week we resume the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform proposes to hold a five-hour debate on Second Stage of a criminal justice Bill that is not even on the list. It is a major piece of legislation which will deal with the right to silence, detention, bail and sentencing. The Dáil has learned to its cost in recent weeks the folly of rushing through legislation and having to reconsider at length to fill loopholes created by a lack of attention to detail.
While everyone wants an effective response to the issues thrown up by a series of killings and other gangland activity, there is a huge onus on the Dáil to consider the matters in a mature way, rather than rushing into 11th hour action. This Government said two or three years ago that the killing of certain individuals was a watershed and that things would have to change. Now, at five minutes to midnight in terms of this Dáil session, the Minister comes forward with his proposals. There is no point pretending to give cover to a Minister who has been inactive in some of these areas.
A raft of legislation is being guillotined because the Government is coming to the end of its term of office. It is not allowing proper scrutiny of legislation, nor is it allowing this Parliament to function effectively. We already know to our cost what happened when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform rushed legislation through the House and had to return this week with emergency legislation, because the Labour Party pointed out the flaw in the original. There is a real danger we will end up in the same situation with regard to another area of law.
There have been seven guillotines this week. Because the Government proposes not sitting next week, eight guillotines are proposed for the week we return. It is not correct parliamentary activity to continually cut off the work in which we engage, which is to ensure legislation is robust and fair.
It does not take a week to travel anywhere in the world today. I am not aware that it takes a week for Ministers to do their packing. They are packing the timetable with legislation which deserves to be properly analysed and scrutinised. We propose we do not adjourn until 20 March but continue our business to ensure we do not end up with the unholy mess for which the Tánaiste was responsible in respect of providing safeguards for our children.
We are opposed to this proposal, as we have been in previous years. It is wrong to conduct the business of the House in this way. My colleague, Deputy Boyle, has put forward proposals for reforming the House and has pointed out on numerous occasions that, as a Parliament, we are unproductive and sit fewer days than other parliaments in Europe. That needs to be rectified.
This is, ironically, business as usual in that we do what we do every year, namely facilitate people who want to attend horse race meetings, though some do important work. It is not acceptable because we suffer a build-up of legislation. Currently we have built up a mound of it which will have to be guillotined. At this time, when people are very busy, it is impossible for Deputies to attend all the sessions. I was surprised the Taoiseach promised even more legislation yesterday because I do not know how he will get it through. The only way is by use of the guillotine so we oppose the proposal.
Along with other Deputies, I object to this proposal. There is a range of legislation which deserves and requires our full attention. Some needs to be passed prior to the election and would be welcomed by the electorate. However, its passage will be facilitated by guillotine, rather than by a proper, measured debate. There are also many reports to which this House needs to give consideration by debating them, which could happen with a full sitting next week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
We should sit next week to debate the legislation to which I referred. Following that, there could be committee meetings to deal with the relevant Bills in a proper way, but not more than two per day, as determined by the previous proposal.
As the House is aware, it has been the case for many year's that the State takes advantage of the fact that the St. Patrick's Day festival is celebrated across the globe in order to project the good aspects of Ireland, avail of goodwill towards this country——
There is an undoubted and major dividend to the economy, the State and the Irish community overseas as a result of the Government taking the St. Patrick's Day festival seriously. The Deputies opposite will appreciate that although St. Patrick's Day falls on a Saturday this year, most Ministers will be obliged to attend a number of events in the days beforehand at the locations to which they are travelling.
Deputy Gormley referred earlier to the moneys spent between elections. I understand he could not afford to pay the relevant fees in order to have Al Gore address his party's conference. I understand Mr. Gore charges $140,000.
——and discovered that in one week last July the House spent between three and four hours debating the Order of Business on various days. That was a considerable amount of time to spend——
My constituency colleague, Deputy Quinn, will feel somewhat like a baby who has thrown his or her rattle out of the pram when the Building Control Bill is finally passed.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 61 (Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, James Breen, Joe Callanan, John Carty, Michael J Collins, Paudge Connolly, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, Martin Cullen, Noel Davern, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael McDowell, John McGuinness, Paddy McHugh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Dan Wallace, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods, G V Wright)
Against the motion: 34 (Bernard Allen, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Joe Costello, Bernard Durkan, John Gormley, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Gerard Murphy, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Ruairi Quinn, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Seán Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
As today is international day of women's rights, many will be amazed to see that an advertising campaign by Trócaire highlighting problems of abuse of women in certain countries is being pulled by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. It is important that the Tánaiste comments on this. It certainly seems an extraordinary level of political correctness.
Another issue on which I ask the Tánaiste to comment is the Government's intention to sign up to the international treaties on human trafficking, another source of abuse of women's rights, a matter on which we have fallen behind and which seems to have slipped down our agenda.
The health insurance situation seems to be getting "Curiouser and curiouser!", as in Alice in Wonderland, with Mr. Quinn having offered to buy VHI before the introduction of emergency legislation. What progress has been made by the Government in resolving the twin issues, the first of which is insurance and the reserves which must be set aside by VHI, a provision which is being challenged.
Legislation has most certainly been promised. The second issue concerns the obligations of insurers to contribute through existing arrangements to the costs of VHI. There is an unsatisfactory legal position which needs to be clarified urgently.
On the VHI matter, as Deputy Bruton will be aware, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, proposes to publish health insurance legislation this session. Deputy Bruton will also be aware that there is a group, under Mr. Colm Barrington, studying some of the fundamental issues which lie at the heart of current controversies. The Government awaits its report this month.
The Criminal Justice (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill is being worked on in my Department and expected in early summer. On the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, all I can say is that it is an independent body which makes independent judgments.
I want to return to an issue in the Tánaiste's Department, as raised by Deputy Bruton. A new criminal justice Bill has been promised, the debate on which will be guillotined on Second Stage the week the Dáil resumes. As this Bill has not yet been published, I have questions for the Ceann Comhairle and the Tánaiste.
I understand the Ceann Comhairle has made a determination, if not a ruling, that complex legislation should be given space of at least two weeks between publication and the Second Stage debate. This is a fundamental question. The Tánaiste has signalled that significant issues will be captured in this legislation. When will the Bill be published? I ask that the normal protocol of allowing at least a fortnight for proper debate apply, including taking soundings from bodies outside this House which have already expressed interest in the matter. Obviously, detailed responses cannot be made until we see the legislation.
There are only weeks remaining to us, yet it took months for the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 to pass through Committee Stage. Even if we are to conclude Second Stage between now and the cessation of this Dáil, there should be no question of providing inadequate time or putting pressure on us to conclude Committee Stage until all the issues are fully and properly ventilated, given that they cut to the heart of the criminal justice system in this country.
That will allow the whole of next week and the bulk of the following week, or until Thursday, for Deputies to consider the text and contents of the legislation.
It is proposed that a two-day Second Stage debate will be held on the legislation on Thursday and Friday of the following week. With regard to Committee Stage, I have always been willing to sit lengthy hours and until midnight if necessary to complete the work of the committee.
The legislation is needed. If I did not think that was so, I would not propose it. There is a clamant public demand to make the law as it pertains to bail, detention and questioning of people accused of tiger kidnappings, firearms murders and the like effective. That has to be done. I ask Deputy Howlin to bear in mind that we should not give up our day jobs just because an election is approaching.
The people's constitutional rights are not simply those of an accused in a criminal process. The rights also exist not to be shot or to have to stand at the foot of one's son's coffin.
An individual has the right not to have his or her family kidnapped in a tiger kidnapping. These are all important constitutional rights and they should be defended with vigour by this House.
On a point of order, the Tánaiste possibly inadvertently misled the House. The schedule issued to us for the week after next indicates that two Bills will be taken on the Thursday, the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2006, which is important in the context of the discussion we just had, and the criminal justice Bill. On the following half-day, it is proposed to guillotine the pharmacy Bill and the criminal justice Bill. It is wrong, therefore, to claim we will have two days for debate.
I am sure the Tánaiste is aware that many local authority tenants would like to purchase their houses and flats. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, who is sitting opposite, has repeatedly promised the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach will travel to America next week. I would like them to raise the important issue of illegal Irish. The matter has reached a crucial stage in America and I ask the Minister and the Taoiseach to spell out to the US Government that it cannot be hypocritical——
Last October, the Tánaiste loyally decided to stand by his Taoiseach when the latter was in a spot of bother over money. I remind the Tánaiste of the public commitment he made to publish the ethics in public office Bill and bring it before the Oireachtas as a matter of urgency. Where is that Bill?
I am sure the Tánaiste is aware of the capacity crowds who attended Croke Park and the enjoyment they derived from recent matches. However, every time the capacity crowd of 82,500 fills Croke Park, life becomes a misery for local residents.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicated that he would be bringing in legislation to provide for resident-only parking in the vicinity of Croke Park on major match days. What progress has been made on both of these matters?
Public order legislation is adequate to deal with the first matter raised by Deputy Costello. Any garda who finds somebody engaged in that activity——
Under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Acts, there are plenty of large fines and other solutions. The Victorian nature of legislation is irrelevant to this issue.
I am obliged to raise a point of order if the Chair disallows a valid intervention. It has become increasingly prevalent of late for Ministers to reply to parliamentary questions by way of a non-answer. One of those Ministers is present.