Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 2, the Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2008 â Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 16, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 â Second Stage (resumed), to adjourn not later than 7 p.m. tonight. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the DÃ¡il shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m; and the proceedings on No. 2 shall be taken today and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. Private Members' business shall be No. 29, motion re agency workers, resumed, to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
We will not oppose the proposal, but it is a bad way to do business. For the first few weeks of this session the DÃ¡il has had practically no business with which to deal. This Bill, which is before the House today and which must be voted on tonight, has been known about since the budget was introduced in the first week of December. Therefore, there was plenty of time to prepare and debate it. It is a bad way to manage the business of the House for it, first, to have no legislation with which to deal but only endless debates and not even motions and now for it to sit until 10 o'clock tonight to debate a Bill that was known about since the first week of December. That is a poor way to organise the business of the House.
I was interested in the Taoiseach's reply to Deputy Gilmore in respect of the information on the stolen laptop. Under the relevant Act, Deputy Coveney tabled a question on 30 January, to which he was given a different answer from that given to Deputy Varadkar who had a specific question on this area answered on 12 February. Does the Taoiseach know when the Minister for Health and Children was informed by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service or otherwise of this information?
The Taoiseach will answer this question. The Minister said in her response that, in respect of the other agencies directly funded through her Department, arrangements are being made to have the required details collated and the information will be forwarded toââ
I know it is and I know the Ceann Comhairle is being lenient as we approach the half-way point in this session.
I understand the foreshore (amendment) Bill, No. 35 on the list of legislation, is now under the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but it appears to be taking an unduly long time to obtain decisions on foreshore applications from the section involved. The Taoiseach might indicate when this legislation will be updated and when we can expect it to be published.
A foreshore (amendment) Bill is listed, the purpose of which is to update the provisions of all the Acts from 1933 to date, but I do not have a date for its publication and I understand the heads of it have not been drafted. Its publication will be some way off.
The judicial council Bill, No. 80 on the list of legislation, was promised originally back in 2001 when the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided not to proceed with a constitutional amendment related to the issue of judicial conduct. Looking back to the Government's legislation list published in May 2003, this Bill was then called judicial conduct and ethics Bill and was promised for 2004, but it has been pushed back further and further since then. The current legislation list states it is not possible to indicate when publication of the Bill is expected. Why is publication of the Bill being pushed back?
Does the Government not agree that the matter of judicial conduct and the regulation of judicial conduct and of judges is important? We had the case of Circuit Court Judge Brian Curtin, which involved the Oireachtas engaging in a complicated process leading to his potential impeachment. If a similar problem arose with another judge, we would be faced with the same procedure as the only way available to deal with it. We also hear eccentric and irrational comments and outbursts from a few members of the Judiciary from time to time. This Bill was meant to provide a forum in which judges' behaviour could be addressed, if necessary. What has happened to this Bill? It seems to have simply got lost.
I refer the Taoiseach to the current rather unedifying spat between the chief executive officer of the Courts Service and a member of the Judiciary, which does little in terms of exuding confidence in the system. These matters would not necessarily have to be aired in public if progress was made on the enactment of the judicial council Bill, as referred to by the previous Deputy.
I refer the Taoiseach particularly to the publication by the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, of the legislative programme in the autumn, which indicated specifically that publication of this Bill, No. 69 on that list, was expected in 2008, but the later edition of that document published for this session states that it is not possible to indicate a date for the publication of the Bill, No. 80 on the current list, at this stage. That is a message for Deputies that rather than the Bill nearing publication it is heading for relegation, off the radar entirely. The lack of regulation in this area has given rise to the types of difficulties that have arisen. Will the Taoiseach report progress on this issue so that the legislation can be introduced at an early date?
I wish to raise two issues concerning promised legislation, which I raised previously but which still require attention. One is the proposed legislation to bring about change in criminal law to give effect to a number of international instruments. I ask that the relevant legislation be introduced with a view to updating and revising the extradition laws to ensure there is not a continuation of the current position where wealthy Irish criminals can locate overseas out of reach of the State and have done so with impunity. Is it possible to bring that Bill before the House? I do not know if it needs to be revised. The Taoiseach told me previously that such a provision was not included in the Bill as yet. Will he ensure the Bill is brought before the House to enable us to debate the general issue at an early date?
The other issue is the ongoing dispute with the pharmacists, which I have also raised previously. I am glad to note the Fianna FÃ¡il backbenchers have correctlyââ
ââcome on stream in the last few days and have placed emphasis on this matter. I ask the Taoiseach to bring the promised legislation on this matter before the House to enable the issues involved to be debated in this and the other House to ensure they are fully thrashed out in plenary session. I emphasise that little progress has been made so far and request that the Taoiseach allow that Bill to be introduced as a matter of urgency, even if it has to be amended in the House. We have often made major amendments to Bills that were half way through their passage through the House.
The heads of the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill were approved some time ago but it was necessary to undertake a restructuring of the Bill to make provision for other matters and requirements that were not originally anticipated at that stage. The heads of the Bill had been approved before that decision was made. It is expected to publish the Bill in mid-summer. I do not have a date for the publication of the pharmacy Bill at this stage.
We have our leader here beside us. I want to ask the Taoiseach about an issue I raised with him before concerning self-regulation in the building industry. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in the House this morning and I alerted the Taoiseach to the major problems arising due to the failure of self-regulation. The county managers of Dublin City Council and Fingal Council have asked that the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government end that as soon as possible. Is legislation to be brought forward in this regard or will the Minister keep dodging this issue? He has been dodging it for the past eight or nine months as regards young householders who have major mortgages to repay and who find their houses cracking and breaking up around them, and companies are not taking responsibility for this. This is a serious problem and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not want to know. Does the Taoiseach want to know?
Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Minister for Health and Children is next due to take questions in the House on 5 March and that four Ministers of State are preparing to meet her in delegation to address the crisis in community pharmacy? Will he ask the Chief Whip to reschedule the ministerial order for questions in order that the Minister for Health and Children can come before the House before the 1 March deadline for the withdrawal of the drugs payment scheme facilitation of customers seeking services through pharmacies throughout the State? Does the Taoiseach not agree that is a very important issue, with a crisis looming, that requires special address, and the place to have it addressed is here on the floor of the DÃ¡il. We have facilitated time and again the reshuffling of ministerial questions. This Minister is not presenting herself for accountability. She has deferredââ
ââengagement with the HSE and the IPU. Surely this is an issue that merits such an intervention. I am asking the Taoiseach and Chief Whip to ensure that the Minister for Health and Children comes before the DÃ¡il and the committee to be accountable in relation to this issue.
TÃ¡ mÃ© ag lorg eolais faoi dhÃ¡ pÃosa reachtaÃochta. Why is it not possible to indicate when the ÃdarÃ¡s na Gaeltachta Bill will be published, despite the fact that it was scheduled for publication in every year of the last DÃ¡il? Will it be published and passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas before the next ÃdarÃ¡s na Gaeltachta elections? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the heads of the civil partnership Bill will be published later this month or early in March and that the full legislation is published before the end of the year?
I answered the second question, yesterday. The heads of the civil partnership Bill are in preparation. On the ÃdarÃ¡s na Gaeltachta Bill, the legislative proposals in regard to the powers and functions of ÃdarÃ¡s na Gaeltachta are being considered in the wider context of recommendations contained in the linguistic study of the Gaeltacht. A Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by the TÃ¡naiste, is being set up to develop an integrated plan for the Gaeltacht. It will be some time before we get the legislation.
A couple of years ago at least, there was a Fine Gael motion before the House to introduce an attachment of fines Bill and we were told at that stage that a Bill was ready for publication to deal with the matter. I believe it is now referred to as the enforcement of fines Bill, but it would save a great deal of Garda time if that were done.
I am also concerned about the intoxicating liquor Bill. I have tried to include other items of legislation, but they are not on the list. At least that one is and if it could be introduced in the DÃ¡il, we could discuss the whole issue of the sale of liquor and how to deal with it. As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is sitting beside him, it is important for the Taoiseach to be aware that some of the indirect costs being imposed on industry are affecting the viability of companies. I am referring to water charges and that type of thing. We need to watch the indirect taxesââ
The Fines Bill was published on 30 January 2007. I am not sure why it is not being taken, but I understand it has been published. The draft heads of the intoxicating liquor Bill are in preparation, as I mentioned earlier.
Will the Taoiseach update the House on the timing of the nursing home Bill, the so-called fair deal Bill, particularly in regard to having time to consult such bodies as the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, Age Action Ireland and others? Originally, we were told that these bodies would be consulted before the Bill was published and now we are told they will be consulted afterwards. I am concerned that when the Bill is published there will be enough time for consultation before we deal with it.
The Bill is due this session. I am not sure precisely what week it will be published, but it is due this session. I understand there was some consultation around Christmas with the organisations, but perhaps that is not correct.
I wish to clarify that. We were told by the Minister of State, Deputy MÃ¡ire Hoctor, there would be consultation after the Bill was published. The bodies concerned contacted us and said they had not been consulted. It is important that there is enough time for consultation after publication of the Bill because there are serious concerns about certain aspects of it.
When is it envisaged to bring the maritime safety provisions Bill to the House, in light of the indecision and recent Government policy on decentralising from major rural outposts in Valentia and Malin Head to large urban centres? I raise this in light of growing concerns at these centres that as a result of the vacuum being created, there is no plan to upgrade these stations. While there is no plan to upgrade information communication technologies at these stations, lives are being put at risk. These concerns need to be addressed.
Will the Taoiseach say whether this Bill can be expedited in light of these concerns and in view of the fact that lives at sea are put at risk? The Government may be at sea on this issue, but certainly the feeling in Valentia and Malin Head is that they want to continue at these locations.
The merchant shipping (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is to provide enabling powers for maritime safety provisions. The draft heads have just been approved by Government and the Bill has gone for full drafting.
I see the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is sitting beside the Taoiseach. When will the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill be introduced, on the basis that thousands of people wish to purchase their homes from local authorities? In some cases they have lived in their homes for 40 years.
Another matter that needs to be dealt with is the whole area of anti-social behaviour and the powers local authorities have to deal with it.