Wednesday, 4 April 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the access to the Convention on the International Hydrographic Organisation, back from committee; No. 25, Criminal Justice Bill 2007 — Report Stage; and No. 26, Pharmacy Bill 2007 [Seanad] — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; (2) No. 15 shall be decided without debate; (3) the following shall apply with regard to amendments and sections which may be recommitted at the commencement of Report Stage of No. 25 today: (i) the recommitted amendments and sections shall be taken first today; (ii) the ruling of the Chair that Report Stage amendments, when recommitted, do not have to have a separate Report Stage, shall not apply; and (iii) the proceedings on the recommittal shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, with regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; (4) Report and Final Stages of No. 26 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 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 Minister for Health and Children; and (5) Private Members' Business, No. 71, motion re Kyoto Protocol, Ireland's energy supply and green procurement, resumed, shall be taken at 7 p.m. tonight or on the conclusion of No. 25, whichever is the later, and shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes.
There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15 without debate, motion re the Convention on the International Hydrographic Organisation, agreed?
Normally we get a note indicating what was agreed by the committee, but I did not receive any extra information about the International Hydrographic Organisation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the country is literally flooded at some times of the year. With all the water problems we have, there may have been something of relevance in the convention. The Whip should send a note the next time.
I support Deputy Kenny's request for more information. A debate on the issue in the House, of whatever duration that can be managed, would be appropriate. The matter I raised under Standing Order 31 referred to the problem in Galway. There is a need for an update on the situation and for us to learn from the mistakes of the past. The opportunity should not be missed to have that debate because there are current issues that were probably not dealt with at the committee as a result of the daily change in the situation.
First, I pay tribute to the Chair and those in the Bills Office who have worked under extraordinary pressure since last week, in particular yesterday, to deal with this matter. I welcome the recommittal of the untouched sections, but there was consensus at the end of our debate last week, when we dealt with 11 sections in as much detail as we could, that a good job was being done. There should be no guillotine on the remaining 41 sections. We will work diligently to make a better Bill if we are allowed and I ask, in that context, that there be no guillotine at 7 p.m. today.
This has been a very difficult situation, even for Opposition spokespersons. We now have two versions of the Bill, that as amended in committee before the House proper and that we are about to recommit. Most of us have done our work on one Bill, but we have a different Bill to cross-reference now. There are amendments which we saw for the first time yesterday. I have submitted amendments to the Minister's amendments and will have to find out how they fit into the discussion as we move through the Bill. There is enormous pressure on the Members of the House to do a proper job of parliamentary scrutiny and on the officers of the House to keep us in order in doing the job. I welcome the Tánaiste's reversal at the end of Committee Stage last week when, probably prompted by external pressures, he determined that we should have a proper Committee Stage debate on this Bill. Articles in today's national newspapers suggest that at least some sections of the proposal are unconstitutional. I wish to be assured that we can debate those matters so that we can be sure of the constitutional basis of our criminal law.
External comment that the Opposition is somehow responsible for not stopping this bulldozer is difficult to swallow when we oppose and vote against it but the guillotine is decided by the majority in this House which is determined that we do not have adequate debate on these serious and important provisions.
I welcome the Tánaiste'sU-turn and the fact he has bowed to pressure from within and outside the House to have some extra hours of debate on this Bill. He is only agreeing, however, to make a very bad situation somewhat less bad. Everybody accepts that parliamentary democracy requires that Bills receive proper scrutiny. That is how it has worked for centuries. When dealing with serious issues proper debate is all the more necessary.
Our debate on 11 sections of the Bill and the amendments thereto last week was good and constructive. The Government side has admitted this in discussion. The right approach would be to continue that debate without a guillotine, or the sword of Damocles, hanging over our heads. I am pressing this because we have made clear that our approach has been to offer constructive comments on the Tánaiste's approach and amendments to some of which the Tánaiste agreed, although he said there would not be an opportunity to incorporate them into the Bill. Let us continue that constructive debate. The Taoiseach assured us yesterday that the Dáil will resume after Easter, so what is the rush? Let us do the job properly.
The Criminal Justice Bill is being cited outside the House as important for various reasons, beyond its substance, including how it bears on our democracy and how that must be taken into account. I have come from a conference in the National Library organised by TASC, entitled Power to the People — Assessing Democracy in Ireland. This Bill was cited as an example of whether it is progressive or regressive.
I join my colleagues in opposing the imposition of the guillotine in this case. I understand from Deputy Ó Snodaigh that the recommittal process will not allow Deputies the opportunity to table amendments on Report Stage tomorrow. The closing time is 11 a.m. today. It is very unsatisfactory. The Tánaiste was putting down amendments up to yesterday evening. Where and how can Opposition voices respond to those with appropriate amendments? It is a closed operation.
The Tánaiste is being congratulated on the recommittal process and the opening of other sections but that is stunted by the imposition of the guillotine again which is unnecessary, unhelpful and will lead not to best practice but to flawed legislation. We oppose the guillotine and ask the Tánaiste to reconsider it.
In case there is any misapprehension, I was willing to sit all day last Friday but people apparently objected to Friday sittings. I do not mind that.
This is a democratic Chamber and people are entitled to be heard. The Tánaiste is entitled to be heard. The Standing Order allows Deputy Howlin in this instance to speak on one occasion on behalf of the party. It is not possible for everybody to make a contribution. If that is what Deputies want to do I will put the question and get on with the business.
We will take the recommitted amendments today and Report Stage tomorrow. There is plenty of time to debate the substance of the Bill in that context.
At least I got an honest answer for the second time today from Sinn Féin, whose Deputies believe that they can shout whenever they want to. That is good.
I appeal to the Deputies opposite to concentrate on what is in the Bill and not to bring in new extraneous matter because there was an interesting debate——
I am asking people to concentrate on what is in the Bill. We had an interesting discussion, and I am not criticising it, on a new proposition that we should treat unconstitutionally obtained evidence in a new way. I am happy to discuss that type of issue but the Bill before us does not contain that proposal. I ask the Deputies opposite to concentrate on what concerns them in the Bill, rather than bring in new material which on any analysis has not been the subject of lengthy public debate. If we concentrate equally on material in or not in the Bill our time will be limited.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 63 (Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, Joe Callanan, Pat Carey, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Beverley Flynn, John Cregan, John Curran, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Pat Gallagher, Jim Glennon, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Micheál Martin, Michael McDowell, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Dan Wallace, Mary Wallace, Joe Walsh, Ollie Wilkinson, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 48 (Bernard Allen, James Breen, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Paul Connaughton, Joe Costello, Seymour Crawford, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, Joe Higgins, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Enda Kenny, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Catherine Murphy, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Neville and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
This is the 11th piece of legislation to be guillotined this week. A dog's dinner has been made of the Criminal Justice Bill 2007 and three separate Bills are now to be passed almost at once, which is something I have not seen in all my time in the House. Bills are now being chopped, one after the other, without taking into account the requirement of the House to hold the Executive to account by scrutinising legislation. We oppose this guillotine as we do all others.
This is a very important piece of legislation and has been long expected. It is unacceptable that it is to be truncated by guillotine. There are many interested parties to the amendments and they must be debated. I urge that the guillotine be lifted.
Can the Tánaiste give a more precise date for the introduction of the new ethics legislation in the Dáil? Am I to understand from his comments this morning that the legislation will be passed by the Dáil before it is dissolved?
Has the Government fixed a date for the resumption of the Dáil after Easter?
In view of comment in the public arena, has the Government sought advice from the Attorney General on the legality of holding a general election subsequent to the date of the final presentation of the census figures? If so, what is that advice?
Does the Tánaiste wish to comment on statements from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors to the effect that he has interfered directly in the running of the Garda Síochána on a daily basis?
It is an important issue and the Tánaiste is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has criticised him for interfering directly in the running of the Garda Síochána.
Backbenchers in this House cannot get to ask a question on the Order of Business because of the amount of time taken up on this type of question. In fairness to them, I ask Deputy Kenny to stay within the terms of the Order of Business.
The ethics Bill will be initiated in the Seanad. The Government has approved its text and it will be put before the Seanad at the earliest available opportunity, although I do not know the exact timing.
There has been no broken promise.
I understand from the Chief Whip that the House will reconvene on 24 April. The Government has considered the issue relating to the census, raised by Deputy Kenny. There is no question of invalidity in holding an election in those circumstances.
If Deputy Kenny had raised the matter relating to the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors with me during Question Time today I would have given him a very long and detailed answer, to prove that there was no substance in those remarks.
I will ask a question on the commitment given by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment — with special responsibility for trade and commerce, Deputy Michael Ahern, to introduce a statutory restriction on the use of the term "accountant". Apparently people are misrepresenting themselves as accountants and causing damage. Will the relevant legislation be introduced during the lifetime of this Dáil?
I will also ask a question on the commitment of the Government to repay approximately €1 billion collected illegally from nursing homes and similar institutions.
The Government has no proposals to introduce legislation relating to the term "accountant" as the term is rather generic. For example, there are turf accountants, as well as chartered and certified accountants, just as there are lawyers who are not barristers or solicitors.
There is promised legislation in an area which may be pertinent to the meeting between the Taoiseach and Northern colleagues today. It relates to paedophiles or suspected paedophiles coming here from abroad who have no legal obligation to inform the Garda when applying for a job that puts them in contact with children and with no mechanism to monitor this. The promised legislation on the register of persons considered unsafe to work with children may have an impact on this.
I believe I have answered that question three or four times in the past month. Serious consideration needs to be given to the issue of legislation to give effect to the protection of children by preventing unsafe people from working with them. One of the problems relates to the issue of soft information and hard information. One of the points that arises in that contexts is what we propose to put into a constitutional amendment. We have not achieved consensus on the latter issue. How we deal with this legislation is contingent on reaching some view on whether we need a constitutional amendment in place before introducing the legislation.
I will need to communicate with the Deputy on those matters. I do not know when the uncommenced sections of those Acts will commence. The Deputy will need to ask the Minister in question.
If the Ceann Comhairle would stop interrupting me I would have the question asked by now. Is the Tánaiste aware that under the Act, people with mental handicap are now left with €35 per week and have received bills for back money——
I am asking a question on secondary legislation, as I am entitled to do. I asked the question last week and was promised an answer in a day. However, I did not get an answer. The Ceann Comhairle is supposed to ensure that I do get one.