Thursday, 7 February 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, statements on killing of Paul Quinn; and No. 16, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12.30 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: (ii) the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) the statements of each other member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (2) the proceedings on No. 16, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today 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 Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, statements on the killing of Paul Quinn, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16, Order for Report, Report and Final Stages of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, agreed? Agreed.
First, the country is in safe hands today. All the boys and girls are up in Dundalk. I remember with great clarity the day the former Progressive Democrats candidate handed in his letter of acceptance to Fianna Fáil and said "This is the happiest day of my life". Here he is in charge of the nation.
While I have been giving out about his boss, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Cullen, today on having the reins of power in the House of Parliament. We all know the country is in safe hands. As a former Minister for Transport, will he give the House an update on the position in so far as the roll-out of speed cameras is concerned under the appropriate legislation? I understand that the chairman of the national Road Safety Authority is most upset about this. He accepted that job on the basis that the Government would provide the money and would deliver.
In respect of his Department, the social welfare lone parent and other low income families reform Bill is necessary legislation. As there is no publication date will the Minister indicate when it might emerge into the light? In his capacity as Minister for Social and Family Affairs and knowing that payments are important to people, the national rehabilitation board was dissolved in 2000 by the Minister for Health and Children. The persons employed there under the local government superannuation scheme paid into a fund from which they were entitled to draw entitlements. Those entitlements were denied them. One member of staff brought the matter to the High Court and the determination was that his position was abolished and a redundancy was caused. Approximately 200 others are involved.
This has been on the stocks for the past seven or eight years. It is a matter of principle and of political morality in that people are entitled to draw from the superannuation fund into which they paid. In his capacity as head of Government in the House today, will the Minister, Deputy Cullen, ensure this is examined? Despite employment inquiries and a High Court decision, only one member of the former staff has received his due entitlements.
As the Minister is aware, the board was abolished by the Minister for Health and Children, having been set up by that Minister. Nobody will accept responsibility for this mess. The Minister knows that people are entitled to draw from funds into which they pay, in this case the local government superannuation fund. Perhaps through his good offices and in his capacity as Minister for Social and Family Affairs, he will ensure that this matter, which has been raised by Deputy Doyle and others, is followed through so these people get the entitlements which they are due.
The Social Welfare Bill is to give effect to the proposals arising from the Government's discussion on measures to support lone parents. It will provide for the introduction of a new means-tested payment for lone-parent and other families on low incomes and will replace the one-parent family payment. Much discussion is under way on this at present and I am not in a position to indicate exactly when I will come before the House with that Bill.
With regard to the Deputy's first question and for the information of the House, that legislation was passed by this House and has been put in place. It is a matter of law.
I am glad the Minister is looking well after what was, I believe, a ferocious run-in with his colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, who has been sitting on proposals for reform in regard to granting university status to institutions such as Waterford Institute of Technology.
Jimmy Devins (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Sligo-North Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Is this the start of a new relationship?
In November 2006, the Minister, as the then Minister for Transport, made a very fine speech in which he announced the setting up of the Dublin transportation authority. He stated he was consulting a couple of people and bodies and that the Bill would be ready before Christmas 2006, but Christmas 2007 has come and gone. What has happened to the Dublin transportation authority Bill? Is the Minister aware that because of the works on the M50, all the roundabouts into Dublin from areas such as Lucan, Blanchardstown, Finglas and Ballymun are increasingly gridlocked? This means the buses from all these huge areas, where CIE caters for tens of thousands of commuters every day, are completely gridlocked. Has the Minister any influence on when the Dublin transportation authority Bill will be published?
There is commuter misery. As the Minister knows, the M50 is a disaster — it is a paying car park that one parks on for a couple of hours a day.
Because of the work on the M50, the buses cannot get through. Many areas such as Finglas and Ballymun are not yet served by either the Luas or trains, despite ten years of promises. Public transport commuters must use buses but they cannot get through.
The second issue I wish to raise——
——concerns the newspaper reports of the case of a migrant worker in a restaurant who was awarded €116,000 for gross abuse by his employers. The worker had almost no time off and had no terms and conditions of employment. The employment law compliance Bill on the Government's priority list is meant to establish a new statutory national employment rights authority, the associated board and related matters. I hope the Minister knows it is of serious concern to the trade unions in social partnership and to workers throughout the country that this case is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to the exploitation of migrant workers. When will the Government produce this Bill and the other legislation it has promised? If it is not produced, the whole structure of social partnership may well be endangered.
Extensive consultation has taken place with the Attorney General on various issues to do with the Dublin transport authority Bill. I am happy to inform the Deputy these issues have been resolved and the Bill is in its final stage of drafting. It will be introduced this session.
Drafting of the employment law compliance Bill, as the Deputy knows, has proven to be much more complex than was originally anticipated due notably to the need to dovetail properly with provisions of existing law spread over more than 30 enactments dating back to 1946 and formulation of extensive essential amendments to the Employment Permits Acts of 2003 and 2006 to strengthen them and provide for enforcement of provisions by labour inspectors for the first time. The Bill, however, will be introduced this session.
The family of a 12 year old girl with Rett syndrome and severe curvature of the spine, who has been waiting for a critical operative procedure at Crumlin children's hospital, has had to take to the airwaves to force the HSE to secure a procedure in Britain. I have asked repeatedly why the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill has not been scheduled for publication this year in the new legislative programme. It is critical to affirm the rights of citizens who are suffering as Ann-Marie and her family clearly are. Will the Minister say why the Bill is not for publication this year, as was promised last year? What is the explanation for this further deferral?
Work has commenced on drafting a discussion document in preparation of a regulatory impact analysis and public consultation on this process. It is not possible to indicate at this stage when it will be published.
When in this year is it expected to publish the civil partnership Bill, which has been long promised? Is it possible at this stage to indicate when the mental health amendment Bill, which is to provide for a number of minor amendments to the Mental Health Act, will be published given there are plans to move the Central Mental Hospital to the site at Thornton Hall? With regard to that aspect, will the prison development approval confirmation Bill also deal with approval to move the Central Mental Hospital to that site, as predicted, despite it being an unsuitable site for either the prison or the Central Mental Hospital?
The draft heads of the civil partnership Bill are in preparation in the Department and the Bill is expected next year. It is not possible to indicate a date for the mental health amendment Bill at this point. The prison development Bill is being drafted and is expected in mid-year.
Is it true that all old age pensioners will be issued with swipe cards by the end of this year instead of the normal pension books? If so, how will it affect people in areas that do not have automated post offices, which is virtually the whole of rural Ireland? I see from the Finance Bill that funding for house alarms, which used to come from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, has vanished. Will these two issues be dealt with in the Social Welfare Bill?
I am sure everybody is amazed at the degree of freedom now available to Irish criminals located in various safe havens overseas. It appears from recent media reports that there is more than one such place of safety to which these people have recourse. I have already put this question to the Taoiseach but will now do so to the Minister. As this is an urgent matter that requires attention and appears to be in breach of European home affairs legislation, when does the Minister expect it will be possible to introduce the Bill to provide for miscellaneous changes to the criminal law and give effect to a number of international instruments? One such instrument would deal with criminals living in luxury overseas who are making millions while laughing at this State and the European Union. When will that legislation be introduced?
I wish to raise the matter of the announcement by Professor Drumm of the HSE that 50,000 tests carried out annually at Beaumont Hospital could be carried out at local post offices. I am not sure whether this is a desperate move by a crumbling health service or a step to bolster rural post offices.
Yesterday, my party leader, Deputy Gilmore, raised the question of the publication of the Ann O'Doherty report, which was originally promised by the Taoiseach for the end of November 2007 and is now promised for February 2008. I am raising this matter because today's Irish Medical Times is reporting that some of the women who were misdiagnosed have contracted MRSA. They were harmed initially by being misdiagnosed but they have now been doubly harmed by the health service through contracting MRSA. We urgently need the Ann O'Doherty report to be published. Does the Minister have any update in terms of whether the report will definitely be published by the end of the month?
Is there any promised legislation that will address the issue of MRSA, which appears to be unstoppable in hospitals? There seems to be no formula in place that can adequately deal with the spread of MRSA in our hospitals.
Word has it that on Tuesday night the Minister got a serious dressing down from the Minister for Education and Science at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. We feel his pain on this side of the House so is there anything we can do to help him? Given the Minister's own position concerning a university for the south east, which would require new legislation, can the Minister inform the House when it is proposed to introduce such legislation? When will the Government publish the Port report that has been in the Department of Education and Science for the past 12 months?
On more than one occasion I have asked about the Government's intentions towards ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. It would appear that the ratification process is not progressing. Previous answers have suggested that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as the lead Department, is reviewing the situation. The countries that have ratified the convention held a conference recently in which Ireland was not free to participate and could only stay on the margins. A commitment to ratify the convention is contained in the Government's White Paper on development. The Government should make a clear statement as to whether it will ratify the convention in the lifetime of this Dáil. It has been asked to do so by all the NGOs involved in the development area, yet it seems that no progress is being made in this respect. Until the ratification process takes place, Ireland will be excluded from the debate on corruption and overseas aid projects in which Ireland regularly seeks to intervene.
I am happy to inform the Deputy that legislation is well on the way to enable us to ratify the convention. In consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and other Government Departments, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has examined the convention and has identified what legislation is required to give effect to its provisions. In fact, two Bills are involved. The Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill, which completed Committee Stage in the Dáil on 21 January, will enact certain of these necessary measures. The remaining requirements will be dealt with in the prevention of corruption (amendment) Bill, which is at an advanced stage of preparation. Once both of these Bills have been enacted, Ireland will be in a position to ratify the convention.
This House has passed the so-called prompt payments legislation. In that context, is the Minister concerned at the failure of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to honour its contractual commitments to farmers entered into under the REPS programme to make appropriate payments on the due anniversary date? Is that not a clear abdication of the Department's responsibilities under that legislation? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that the commitments are honoured in full and not breached?
It is a matter for the Government. If the Government wishes to organise such a debate, we will have it. The poultry industry is completely collapsing so it is important for this House to debate the matter.
I have constantly raised the nursing homes subvention Bill, which was supposed to be in place for 1 January 2008, yet there is chaos in that area. Elderly people deserve better.
When is it proposed to take the merchant shipping (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? The Minister will be familiar with this legislation from his previous ministerial role. I have raised this matter — which is also relevant to you, a Cheann Comhairle — because at the moment there is a complete embargo on investment in the Valentia and Malin Head coastguard stations. In light of deliberations, decisions have still to be made as to whether the coastguard stations will continue, be discontinued or moved elsewhere. There is complete confusion over whether further investment will be made in these stations. When will the maritime safety Bill be enacted? If the Department does not spend on the appropriate infrastructure and telecommunications in both these stations, lives will be put at risk at sea.
The provisions intended under the maritime safety Bill require, as the Deputy will be aware, detailed legal examination, which will take some time and, therefore, it is not possible to indicate when it will be brought forward.
Yesterday evening during Private Members' business, Deputy O'Mahony read an e-mail into the record while Deputy O'Dowd read a letter into the record. The Ceann Comhairle asked both who the letter and e-mail were from. During my time in the House, I have never heard any of his predecessors ask a Member who a letter he or she was referring to was from. Is this a new precedent?