Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 8, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the development of a prison in the District Electoral Division of Kilsallaghan in the County of Fingal. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 8 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: item 16 and any amendments thereto, shall be moved and discussed with item 8 and shall stand adjourned at 7 p.m.; the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speeches 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 speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 40, motion re education: class sizes.
There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the development of a prison in the County of Fingal, agreed?
The discussion that will take place here today is on the motion to refer this matter to the joint committee. Deputy Flanagan has put forward a number of issues relevant to this proposal that merit discussion. Can I take it that it is at the committee that any amendment he tables on behalf of the Fine Gael Party will be fully and properly discussed before coming back to the Dáil?
I seek clarification because the proposal being put to the House today is new and is a little complicated. I seek the Taoiseach's assurance that the motion on the building of the prison in Thornton Hall will come back to the House to be voted on in plenary session. I ask this mindful of the commitment in the Green Party manifesto which states that the Green Party will abolish plans to relocate Mountjoy to Thornton Hall and instead review options to refurbish and extend the present buildings. The Minister of State, Deputy Sargent will recall this issue.
I ask the Taoiseach to allow for an extension of time after 7 p.m. The order as presented only allows for Fine Gael and the Labour Party to directly speak in the initial reaction to the Government's proposal. This differs from the manner in which statements are ordered in the House where Sinn Féin has the opportunity to participate. My party's dependence on an extension of time to have an opportunity to make a contribution on this important issue is a direct result of the acceptance of the Private Notice Question. I appeal to the Taoiseach and Chief Whip to allow for additional time to guarantee the participation of all opinion represented in the House on this very important issue. I am disappointed the other allied issue of the proposed co-location of the Central Mental Hospital is not part of what the House will address. I would like to reflect on that. My appeal is that there should be an extension of time to allow for all opinion to participate. The net effect of the acceptance of the Private Notice Question is that Sinn Féin will not have that chance.
The proposal relates to the prison only and is about the referral of the proposed approval to committee for more detailed discussion. It is proposed that the detailed discussion will take place in committee and, to answer Deputy Gilmore's point, it will come back to the House for a decision in plenary session.
When the matter comes back to the House will Members have a right to table amendments? While these matters are generally of importance, they do not often receive coverage in committee.
No, a Deputy may only make one intervention. The position is straightforward. The main motion on Thornton Hall and the amendment can be moved and discussed today on the motion referring the matter to committee. As matters stand, the discussion will stand adjourned at 7 p.m. and the motion can be voted on when it comes back from the committee. That is my understanding of the position.
I ask for clarification. My colleagues and I have tabled an amendment to this substantive motion. If the opportunity is not provided to directly participate in what is now being proposed, it will be as a direct result of the acceptance of a Private Notice Question on what I do not deny is also a very important issue.
The discussion will be suspended rather than terminated at 7 p.m. I am glad the Ceann Comhairle allowed Deputy Stanton's special notice question.
On the Order of Business, I will stick within the rules today. The Dáil will only sit for two days next week and will not sit in the week of the referendum. This means the House will only sit for four weeks in the period until 4 July. Members have still not had sight of the long-stay institutions Bill. May I assume the Minister for Health and Children will publish the Bill in good time before 3 July and the Dáil will have an opportunity to discuss and debate it?
In respect of Nos. 37 and 38, the restructuring of the inland fisheries sector is causing some trouble around the country and this is an important time of year for those involved in the sector. The fisheries amendment Bill is expected some time in 2008, while a timescale for the fisheries consolidation Bill has not yet been provided. Will the Taoiseach provide further information on the legislation?
The nursing homes Bill is almost finalised and it is hoped it will be published in the next few weeks. Whether the legislation will be completed in this term is a matter for the House when the Bill is published.
I will raise only one matter on the Order of Business. In the previous Dáil the Labour Party, through Deputy Howlin, introduced a Bill to provide for civil unions or civil partnerships. The Bill was deemed to have passed Second Stage but the six month run on it elapsed during the general election period. A motion tabled by my party in the House last October to have the Bill referred to committee was voted down by the Government with the promise that it would have the heads of its own Bill published by the end of March. While I am fairly reasonable and do not mind if things run on a couple of weeks, I note from reports in The Irish Times this morning that there are differences in Government over this Bill and it may be delayed. Are there differences between the Government parties about bringing a civil partnership or civil unions Bill before the House? Where stands the commitment, given to the House when the Labour Party brought its Bill to the House, that the heads of the Government's Bill would be published by the end of March?
A draft scheme of the civil partnership Bill was circulated to Government Departments and the Attorney General for their observations in March, as per a commitment given by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Bill is being finalised in light of the responses which have been received and will be brought to Government shortly for consideration. As the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated, it is better to do something right than to do it quickly and we hope to proceed on that basis.
The indication given by the Government when my party's Bill was voted down last year was that the heads of a Bill would be published by the end of March. While they appear to have been circulated to Government, we are entitled to hear what type of timescale the Government has for the production of the Bill. The Labour Party can reintroduce its Bill if the Taoiseach wishes. The Government gave a commitment to introduce a Bill and I would like some indication as to when it is likely to appear.
The difference between the Taoiseach and leader of the Labour Party is that the Taoiseach says the commitment was fulfilled by the circulation of a document from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to Government colleagues, whereas it is my clear recollection, as I believe the record will show, that the commitment was to publish the heads of a Bill, which is somewhat different from the circulation of a document to Cabinet.
I am bringing the factual position to the attention of the House based on a question which was put to me. The draft scheme is being finalised in light of responses received as a result of the circulation of the Bill to Departments and the Attorney General for their observations. It will be brought before the Government shortly, where it will be discussed. If it is approved, it will be published. I cannot anticipate that until it actually happens.
The Taoiseach will be aware of the blockade in French ports that has been organised primarily by the French fishing industry. In the international press, we read of details of a deal between the French President and French fishermen on tax breaks and fuel subsidies.
Will the Taoiseach agree to a debate on this matter at an early date?
While I have the floor, can I ask whether he will organise a debate on the recently published health check proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy?
Will the Government allow time to address the report by the health protection surveillance centre on the increased spread of Clostridium difficile? This is a major health emergency and it merits a debate in this House as the Minister and the HSE have not responded to this crisis properly.
Two other items on the list of proposed items for legislation relate to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. One of them is to give effect to the EU framework decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition of confiscation orders. It is not possible to indicate the date of publication, but when will the date arrive by which it is possible to indicate when it might be published?
The Taoiseach will be aware that there is an international conference currently taking place on banning cluster munitions. The Government has given a commitment to bring forward legislation in the next nine months that bans the use of cluster munitions. Could the Taoiseach arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come into the House tonight or tomorrow to outline the Government's proposals on the treaty? There could be very serious implications in the area of inter-operability.
A report from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny is due to be debated in the House next week. The report deals with the impact of the Lisbon treaty on the role of national parliaments in the scrutiny of legislation. This is a particularly important debate and I am concerned that the House is only sitting for two days next week. I have never fully understood why a bank holiday must extend until Wednesday afternoon. How long will this debate last in the House? It is a particularly important issue, given the untruths and myths being propagated by the "No" side.
I refer to the recent decision of the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, not to commence section 80 and section 81 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007, which make illegal rip-off credit card and debit card surcharges. That decision was made on the basis that it was in conflict with European law. I have information from the European Commission and from the Minister for Finance that this advice is not correct. The payments services directive allows for the prohibition of those surcharges.