Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 — Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 32 — motion re cancer services (resumed) — to conclude at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Milton himself wrote, "...courage never to submit or yield".
Has the Taoiseach read reports concerning the difficulties the Irish troops are having in Chad because of the damage done to a number of their vehicles under the Defence Act? This was raised earlier in the year by Deputy Deasy when the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, said he was being irresponsible. It is a dangerous mission, as the Taoiseach is aware, in temperatures of 45° or 50° Celsius. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister of Defence to ensure that every facility is put in place so that our troops——
——are not endangered? Will the Taoiseach say when the regulatory Bill in respect of mineral exploration will be produced, as some time in 2008 had been indicated? When is the Bill due for the conferring of statutory responsibilities on the Commission for Energy Regulation to deal with mineral exploration and petroleum rights, since 2008 was indicated for this as well?
This morning we really have the tale of two turkeys. No sooner has one turkey bitten the dust in Belgrade than another rises to try to drag the President into the referendum campaign. Having noted the comments the Taoiseach made last week about discipline on the Government side——
I asked last week for a debate on the report of the Morris tribunal. The Tánaiste replied at the time that there were other reports pending and the Taoiseach indicated it would be published in mid-June. Can I have an assurance that the debate on the Morris tribunal will take place in this session of the Dáil, and not be postponed until after the summer recess?
I hope that will be possible, yes. Agreement must be reached among the Whips on those issues, but I have no principled objections to the recommendations or the outcome of that tribunal report, when it is published, being laid before the House and discussed. This is the place to discuss it.
I am not sure what the arrangements were when the Fianna Fáil-led Administration had the support of the Workers' Party, as regards whether it had total control of its deliberations at the time.
I presume the Taoiseach is aware that this is Say No to Ageism week. Will the Taoiseach say whether there is any legislation pending from the Government to terminate discrimination against older people? Also, in that context does he agree with me that the poster advertising campaign launched by the Equality Authority, the HSE and the Council for Older People, which depicts older people——
Before Christmas, amid some controversy the Government introduced the Tribunal of Inquiries (Amendment) Bill, which concluded Second Stage here before the end of the year. In view of Deputy Cowen's current status as Taoiseach, will he say whether it is the Government's intention to enact that legislation before the summer recess?
I am not so sure that it will be enacted before the summer recess, but that Bill improves on the much older legislation, which needs to be updated. We discussed, yesterday, during Question Time, what the benefits of that Bill were.
In light of what we are rightly celebrating — the ten year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement — and given that the George Mitchell conference is in Belfast this week, when will the George Mitchell scholarship fund Act 1998 (Amendment) Bill be brought before the House? Also, in light of the continuing criticism of tribunal costs and all the rest, when will the legal costs Bill be introduced in the House?
Article 26 of the Constitution, which deals with the referral of Bills from the President to the Supreme Court, expressly prohibits the referral of money Bills and Bills proposing to amend the Constitution. Deputy Finian McGrath would have known this, and it is outrageous for a Member of this House——-
May I please finish? Let us be quite clear about this now, because it is important. I would remind Deputies that it is a long-standing rule of the Dáil that the President should be outside and above debate in this House.
If I allow Members to raise matters which might be regarded as an attempt to protect the President, by the same token, the President could then be open to criticism, and I cannot allow that. There is no point of order. I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.
Why are negotiations with the US authorities taking so long as regards the provision of pre-clearance facilities at Shannon and Dublin Airports? Originally the deadline was 1 May 2008 and now we are being told by the Minister for Transport that it will be the end of the year. This relates to the air navigation and transport Bill. Is there any urgency on the talks at the moment? If not, we shall not have any pre-clearance in place until 2009——
The Ceann Comhairle will be glad to know I am not going to ask about diesel prices this morning. I am not even going to ask about the pharmacy Bill and the discussions with the pharmacists. I am not going to ask the Tánaiste to come back to me regarding the update on her discussions with Commissioner Mandelson, although she promised to do that. However, I am going to ask about the unfortunate Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. According to my calculations, it will take about 15 years to complete the legislative programme laid before him, at the present rate of progress. Not wishing to advert to ageism or anything like that, I would, nonetheless, be concerned for his welfare. Would it be possible to consolidate the 36 Bills on the Order Paper into four or five that might encompass the required legislative provisions as a matter of urgency? There is no hope whatever——
I have. The Ceann Comhairle will be glad to know I do not intend to read out the titles of the 36 Bills. I have a composite question for the Taoiseach. Will there be an evaluation of the proposed programme for justice to determine whether steps can be taken to combat crime and bring the legislation up to date?
I could not state the specifics but the Bills are on the Order Paper. If the Ceann Comhairle wants me to read them out, I will do so, but I do not want to delay the House. I am merely asking whether the Taoiseach will consider the possibility of determining the most urgent Bills and bringing them forward?
As I said, the legislation committee is meeting this week and the new Chief Whip will assess what is possible. In fairness to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it has a legislative record second to none.
Last week I called for an urgent debate on the loss of all cytology screening from Ireland to a US company. This will result in a loss of expertise and jobs. We are training young people in the Dublin Institute of Technology for jobs that will not exist — we are training them for export. Have the Whips discussed this issue and will time be allowed for a debate? The contract will be signed by the end of this month or early June. We will literally lose an entire cohort of expertise from this country. There was some debate in the House on this. We have a number of accredited laboratories in this country.
It related to the requirement on students to purchase student travel cards for identification purposes. This strikes me as another way of penalising students financially. When will the public transport regulation Bill come before the House?
There are three Bills on the legislative programme dealing with agriculture but I am concerned about the animal health and welfare Bill, which seems to be delayed. Will it be introduced? If Commissioner Mandelson gets his way, we will not have any animals left in the country. Will the Taoiseach clarify the position on this?
I have two questions. Given that this is Say no to Ageism Week, instead of spending so much money on advertising, the Government should inform us whether it intends to introduce legislation to end the prohibition on people over 70 from serving on juries, which is appalling discrimination against them.
I will promise to read about these matters more closely in future. Will the Taoiseach allow more time to discuss the Lisbon treaty given that it appears that members of his Government, particularly the Tánaiste, do not seem to be aware of its provisions?
Bearing in mind the collapse of PPP projects in Dublin on foot of the withdrawal of Mr. McNamara's company therefrom, what is the position on legislation governing PPPs? A financial services regulation Bill has been promised but there is no regulation of PPPs other than through the mechanism in the NDFA for the NTMA to help with the financial structure——
It is a matter for the Whips. On the basis of the setback that occurred during the week, we are now concentrating our efforts to determine whether it is possible for others to take the place of the developer. That is the focus of our attention and we should not assume all is lost. There are people trying to decide whether the matter can be addressed.
Can we have some indication as to the arrangement the Taoiseach referred to yesterday in this regard? What briefs apply? Deputy Rabbitte, my colleague, will be very anxious to know about this. We have already produced our guide to management companies.
Every other Deputy has issues that affect thousands of people also and I cannot allow them on the Order of Business although I wish I could. I do not draw up the Standing Orders; Members of the House do and I must abide by them, just as the Deputy must.
It was an effort to be helpful, yet there is still a problem when one is helpful. To be helpful, I suggested the three Ministers considering the matter should discuss it with Opposition spokespersons to try to determine whether progress could be made. Deputy Burton asked about the arrangements. When the three Ministers meet, they will put forward a proposal or ideas and talk to the Opposition spokespersons. The Deputy should not ask me to micro-manage the meetings.
If the Ceann Comhairle bears with me, I promise I will be in order. If a similar campaign were run with regard to a racial or religious group, or individuals of a particular sexual orientation, there would be a national outcry. Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to consider the poster campaign? If he does not realise its implications, he should request the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is responsible for the Equality Authority of Ireland, to make a statement to the House today on this issue.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for calling me. A delegation appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children yesterday to discuss acquired brain injury. The Taoiseach has taken an interest in this issue in the past. I refer to the health amendment Bill. While Members normally cannot speak on this——
As the Taoiseach is aware, one of the clearest rights given to Members of the Oireachtas in the Constitution is the right to impeach a judge on the basis of stated misbehaviour. As he also is aware, this issue came to public attention some years ago in respect of a clear case. On that occasion, however, the judge in question resigned. Following the report made by a select committee of both Houses, it was agreed the Government would introduce legislation for judicial misconduct. While I understand it is promised, where does this legislation stand at present? Were this issue to come to public attention again within six months or a year, Members could again face this situation without having legislation in place.
I understand a Bill called the judicial council Bill that would cover that scenario is in preparation. While it may not be introduced to the House until later this year or next year, I understand this is the position.