Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 8, Chemicals Bill 2008 — financial resolution; and No. 14, statements on the OECD Report on Integrated Public Service Reform. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 8 shall be decided without debate; and that the following arrangements shall apply in respect of to No. 14 — 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; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 32, motion re cancer services.
I raised a number of questions with the Taoiseach earlier today regarding freedom of information and the supply of files to tribunals. I wish to clarify the position for him in that regard. The Taoiseach's predecessor answered a question——
I am merely bringing some information to the attention of the Taoiseach. His predecessor stated on 16 October 2007: "To the best of my knowledge all the files and records relating to the Battle of the Boyne were handed over to the tribunal in 1998 or 1999."
I wish to give credit to the new Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Pat Carey, who has arranged to extend the time allocated — from 50 minutes to two hours — in respect of Thursday's debate on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. The Minister of State has got over the first hurdle and I thank him for arranging to extend the debate. Matters might not always be as easy for him.
Is it a matter of Government policy that Ministers of State are permitted to let fly in respect of the Garda Síochána and indicate that they have no confidence in the force in the context of its members doing their duty?
When will the Bill relating to long-stay institutions be forthcoming? Is it still on track for production in the near future? If I recall correctly the comments of the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the sale of alcohol Bill, which has been promised for some time, was to have been introduced by the end of March. When is the Bill likely to be published?
The sale of alcohol Bill is due later this year. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that he expected the intoxicating liquor Bill, which is a shorter item of legislation, to appear before the end of the summer. The Bill relating to long-stay institutions is still expected to be published this session.
The shorter Bill to which the Taoiseach refers is that which the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, stated would be introduced by the end of March. Is the Taoiseach stating that it will be introduced before the end of the summer?
The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated he was to receive a report from the relevant committee, which is chaired by Mr. Holmes, by the end of March. The report was duly received. The former Minister then indicated that rather than incorporating it into the longer Bill he would perhaps devise a shorter one.
The Order of Business announced by the Taoiseach represents the fourth draft of the business which was to be conducted today. Since Thursday last, we have been supplied with four different schedules of business for this week. It is extremely difficult to keep up with the Government, which appears to be changing its mind to such an extent regarding the business to be conducted in the House. This type of behaviour is unfair to Opposition spokespersons who are not quite as well resourced as Ministers.
A motion regarding the prison at Thornton Hall was due to be taken tomorrow. I understand it was withdrawn because it was realised, belatedly, that Opposition justice spokespersons and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform were to be engaged in other business at the relevant committee. When will the motion to which I refer be brought before the House?
The second schedule of business with which we were supplied indicated that the Second Stage debate on the Ethics in Public Office Bill was to resume. This legislation caused some difficulties to the Green Party previously as a result of the its containing provision to increase the thresholds for disclosure by Members of the Oireachtas for gifts they receive and the shares etc. they hold. Is the Government proceeding with the Ethics in Public Office Bill? If so, when will it come before the House?
When will the civil partnership Bill be introduced? The heads of the Bill were to have been received by the end of March. However, the Bill has not appeared. Will the Taoiseach indicate which Minister will be introducing the Bill when it is eventually brought forward?
In light of the Taoiseach's own decisions, much money has not been available to taxpayers because it is resting in contract with stamp duty forgone to the State. That money could well have been used for the provision for much social and affordable housing.
In light of the importance of public knowledge to increase understanding of the deadly hepatitis C strain, which may affect 20,000 people unknowingly, when can we expect the health information Bill to come before the House? We were promised legislation in the form of the noise Bill in the near future. When will it come before the House?
When is it likely the issue will be dealt with?
Mr. George Mitchell is to come to Belfast with regard to the Good Friday Agreement etc. We had a major announcement at the time of the St. Andrews Agreement that a four-lane road would go from Derry to Dublin. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey——
Legislation is promised to provide a legislative framework for the governance of information in the health sector. The health information Bill is promised for next year. In light of all concerns expressed in this Chamber this afternoon, when will the heads of the Bill be brought forward and will the Taoiseach make an intervention in the Department of Health and Children to ensure the backlog of legislation is addressed as a matter of absolute urgency?
In that regard, urgent legislation other than that Bill is coming from the Department of Health and Children for this session. The health information Bill is to provide a legislative framework for the governance of information in the health sector and there is a public consultation process involved in it. It is planned to commence in the coming months. Arising from that we will proceed with the preparation of the legislation.
On the day the Taoiseach took office, he stated he would have discussions on the legislative programme and he seemed to indicate he was not satisfied with the pace of legislation coming forward. Has he had the discussions and is he planning to make any changes to the timetable of the legislative programme, given that in section C alone, there are 37 Bills out of approximately 60 where it is not possible to indicate a publication date?
When will the public health miscellaneous provisions Bill be published, as it deals with the use of sunbeds by children under 16 and their possible prohibition?
There is no date for the specific Bill inquired about by Deputy Stanton. On his general issue, the legislation committee is meeting this week and the Chief Whip will attend. He will report to me once he has had the meeting with relevant personnel.
As I stated last week to the Deputy's leader on the matter, they are not suitable in every case. They are suitable and appropriate in some cases. With the level of direct Exchequer provision being finite by definition, however great it is, the public private partnership provides another prospect of increasing the level of activity and work than would otherwise be the case if we constrained ourselves to direct Exchequer provision. That is also a fact.
I agree the right projects and circumstances should be found.
The Commission on Taxation, which the Taoiseach launched when Minister for Finance, was to produce a report by the autumn on proposals for carbon taxation, as per the Programme for Government and the agreement with the Green Party. Have the terms of reference been varied, or is the report on carbon taxation being dropped or delayed until next year? Will the Taoiseach communicate with us the implications of that for the commission's work?
The commission is made up mostly of vested interests from accounting and tax advisers. The Green Party is having a hard week. The ethics legislation and Thornton Hall are difficulties. I remember——
As the Deputy is aware, the Commission on Taxation terms of reference deal with the publication of a report by autumn 2009. It is left open to the commission to decide, at its own discretion, whether it will come forward with an interim report. Those are the terms of reference and that is the Programme for Government.
The Taoiseach's predecessor told me the opposite. He told me it was dependent on the discussions. I would like clarification on that.
On another issue, I have looked around for some suitable legislation and the Taoiseach should promise some as a matter of urgency. Diesel prices seem to be escalating on a daily basis.
I always seem to follow Deputy Durkan, for some reason. I would like to raise again the issue of the 15 Bills before the House which intend to establish new State agencies, or extend the powers of existing State agencies. I am particularly concerned about the different messages we are getting from the Government on this matter. When I raised this issue with the Taoiseach recently, he told me he did not think it was a question of having fewer agencies. However, the Minister for Finance told us many things in an interview with my local newspaper the other day, one of which was——
Is a road traffic Bill necessary to amend the drink driving limits? Will such a Bill be introduced in advance of next year's local elections? Does the Government intend to retain the current limit for the next year, at least? I would also like to speak about public private partnerships and affordability. There are approximately 10,000 families and individuals on Dublin's affordable housing list.
I will outline the position in respect of the legislation. The Road Safety Authority has given its view on the limits issue. It is silent on the issue of what the penalties should be, which also needs to be considered. We need to get a comprehensive view of all of that before we make any decisions on how to proceed. Such decisions should not be based on Deputy Broughan's rather cynical view of the matter. We need to make sure it is done properly.
No. The Deputy should not give me that nonsense about the other people who are talking to him. He has suggested that we are not serious about this issue. This Administration has introduced more reforms, as part of an effort to make our roads safe, than any of its predecessors. We do not share the rather cynical approach that is taken by Deputy Broughan.
The Taoiseach told me a week or so ago that three Bills are promised to deal with management companies. The previous Taoiseach told me the same thing six months or so ago. They pointed out that a high level group and a ministerial group have been established to examine this matter. Have the examinations produced any results? Perhaps they have — a piece of paper is being passed to the Taoiseach. Has progress been made? When can we expect to see the three Bills which are needed to control management companies?