Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 20, statements on European Council, Brussels; No. a11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of an agreement between the European Union and Australia on the processing and transfer of EU-sourced passenger name records data; No. 19, Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 4, Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 — Second Stage (Resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 20 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes; the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes and shall be confined to the Taoiseach and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time and which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; immediately following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place at 1.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 20, whichever is the later, until 2.30 p.m.; the proceedings on No. a11 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply, which shall not exceed ten minutes.
Private Members' business shall be No. 5 – Victims' Rights Bill 2008 – Second Stage (Resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20, statements on European Council, Brussels, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal regarding the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Eireann of an agreement between the European Union and Australia regarding passenger name records, agreed?
No. This is a proposal on an agreement between the EU and Australia on the storage of passenger information. Opposition Whips were informed at 6.30 p.m. yesterday that important business would need to be taken today immediately after statements on the EU summit. A briefing document outlining the background was later circulated.
While we are not opposed in principle to the proposed agreement, we have not been able to research and examine its terms in the time available. I strongly oppose the way in which the Dáil is being asked to handle this business. It is not acceptable that Whips and spokespersons should be given little more than 12 hours notification. Unfortunately, it is not the first instance of such an occurrence. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is one of the worst offenders in this regard. The Labour Party will no longer accept a situation in which a parliamentary gun is put to its head and we are told we must agree to something like this without proper notice.
I listened to the Taoiseach's comments on making EU matters more relevant and further involving the House in EU relations, but this approach suggests that nothing has been learned from the referendum of two weeks ago. This type of approach has caused concern among the public as to whether the Dáil's role in these matters is being reduced to that of a rubber stamp. Labour Party Deputies are not prepared to agree to something of which we were notified at 6.30 p.m. yesterday and in respect of which we have not had time to consider and seek opinions and advice, but that is expected to be passed by the House in less than one hour.
This is a sensitive issue for the public. There is an understanding among the public of what must be done to ensure safety against terrorism while travelling and so on, but people are sensitive when it comes to their personal data being handed from one state to another and subsequently being stored. It is not acceptable that such a sensitive issue should be rushed through the House shortly after its notification. The Labour Party will not agree the proposal before the House.
I hold the same opinion as Deputy Gilmore and had indicated to speak on the matter. The motion was added to the schedule late yesterday evening. It has implications not only for data retention, but data protection and must, therefore, be of considerable concern to citizens and Deputies.
This is not the way to do business. We have not had an opportunity to discuss, examine and inform ourselves of the ramifications of the motion's adoption. The more correct approach would have been to refer this matter to a committee for substantive address and debate, following which the committee would inform the House accordingly. There is no explanation for rushing the motion. When the Taoiseach responds to Deputy Gilmore and me, will he advise us of the reason for the irresponsible rush? We would be irresponsible were we to glibly nod our heads and allow the motion to proceed unchallenged.
Let me be candid. I take the point that the approach is not ideal, but this matter appeared before and was approved by the Cabinet yesterday. In our briefing document, we indicated that the Slovenian Presidency of the Union is keen to finalise the agreement before its presidency concludes. That is not a determining factor for this Parliament, but it is the context in which we ask the matter to be taken.
The approach is not meant to set a precedent, but relates to the manner in which the matter came through our system and was approved yesterday. We are the only outstanding country from which approval is required if the agreement is to be signed under the Slovenian Presidency, which has given the matter some prominence and effort during its six-month term. It has been understanding of our recent situation. We should proceed on this basis. I take the Deputies' points, but the approach taken was unavoidable in this case.
I must put the question again. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of an agreement between the European Union and Australia regarding passenger name records, agreed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 70 (Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary White, Mary White)
Against the motion: 59 (James Bannon, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Will the Taoiseach tell the House whether reports in today's newspapers that the Cabinet yesterday considered and gave approval to the recommendations of the commission dealing with the boundaries of Dáil constituencies for general elections are accurate and that there will be no change in what is proposed within the remit of that commission? Some time ago, before the Taoiseach was confirmed in his new office, he said he had given south Offaly a declaration. Is it true, as reported in the newspapers, that he has accepted the commission's recommendations as they are?
Second, when is the pharmacy (No. 2) Bill likely to be published and what is the current status of the ongoing negotiations with pharmacists in respect of Government proposals to reduce their bottom line by €100 million, which caused a row earlier this year?
There is no date for the pharmacy (No. 2) Bill. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill came before the Cabinet yesterday and was accepted. I stated earlier that one would love to have seen a unanimous decision to amend. Unfortunately, that was not possible arising out of the debate. Deputy Enright and I may have to make a unilateral declaration of independence for south Offaly.
It is relevant to the Order of Business that I ask the Taoiseach whether he will offer the House an assurance that, some time between now and the summer recess, there will be a full statement either by him or by the Minister for Finance on what measures the Government intends to take in respect of the economy and the public finances.
A debate is promised for the week beginning 7 July when Members will have an opportunity to discuss the matter. I cannot pre-empt or anticipate Government decisions. I have outlined generally the strategy by which we abide.
I asked the Taoiseach on the Order of Business yesterday whether we will be given some information on the updates to the national development plan so that this promised debate can be meaningful. If the Taoiseach expects us to debate the Exchequer returns as well, we must have a guarantee that the Minister for Finance or the Taoiseach himself, or both, will participate in the debate. It is a two-handed partnership, with one having just moved from the post of Minister for Finance and the other having reluctantly taken it up.
The Taoiseach may respond to say whether some material will be made available to Opposition spokespersons in order to facilitate the debate. That is the only part of the Deputy's question that is in order.
The mid-year returns will be published next week. We will also have the Central Statistics Office figures for the first quarter. There will be plenty of documentation available to which Members can refer for the purposes of debating these issues in the House.
The Law Reform Commission report on management companies was published yesterday. I welcome this report in so far as it goes. It includes draft legislation for the regulation, organisation and operation of management companies where they are required. In addition, we have been told that a high level committee comprising three Departments and including the relevant Ministers and their officials has examined the other aspects of this issue, including the situation of housing estates where management companies are incorrectly or unnecessarily put in place. Will the legislation that is being prepared by the Law Reform Commission be taken quickly? When can we expect to see the other legislation that was promised to deal with this overhang of housing estates with unnecessary and expensive management companies?
As the Deputy observed, discussions are taking place on an interdepartmental basis as to how this issue can be progressed. The Deputy pointed out that a legislative response has been published in respect of one aspect of the issue. We will now proceed to consider how the Law Reform Commission recommendations can be addressed by legislation or otherwise.
"Publication expected" will go down in the history of this ever floundering Government as the catchphrase of broken promises. We are continually disappointed by promises of legislation that will come before this House, but I assure the Taoiseach that we will persist in our queries.
In view of the changing circumstances in the housing market and given that the lending institutions are entering into arrangements to repossess houses and are taking a loss and blacking the credit rating of the individuals concerned — I accept there is a Bill on this issue before the House——
It is like everything else, it is promised. I ask that it be introduced as a matter of urgency because the banks and other financial institutions have a responsibility in this regard. Householders will be driven into the area of sub-prime lending.
I am not finished. This country has taken on a resemblance to Dodge City or Tombstone in the old days of the Wild West, with shootings taking place on a regular basis and gun fights on the street. Everybody seems to be concerned about this except the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Will the crimes Bill and the criminal justice (exchange of information) Bill be brought before the House as a matter of urgency?
I have a further question on promised legislation. Unfortunately, one is spoiled for choice in that respect.
In view of the impending closure of the Circle Line transport company and given the views expressed by the party concerned is it possible to bring about an early appraisal through the medium of the public transport Bill, which is No. 92?
I raised a matter yesterday and also last week and do not wish to detain the House but it is an important issue in regard to the manner in which we engage in the process of business here. I speak about the Intoxicating Liquor Bill which is before the House. We raised the matter last night at the outset of the debate. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not indicated a favourable response to requests from this side of the House that sufficient time be made available to discuss Committee Stage of this legislation. I express my disappointment with the office of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach because I have had to raise this matter again. What are the arrangements? Yesterday, the only response I received from the office of the Government Whip when I asked the arrangements for Committee Stage, given the guillotine has been sharpened for this and, indeed, other legislation, was that Report Stage would be taken next week. How could Report Stage be listed for this Chamber for next week when the First Stage had not been moved when I got the message? This is a serious question. I regret the fact the Ceann Comhairle is being dismissive of what I say.
It appears that the written Whips' message we receive daily is being changed every day. We had it earlier this morning in connection with another issue of importance Deputy Gilmore brought before the House. Each change to the Whips' message on a daily basis is for the convenience of Government not for the convenience of the House. If Ministers want co-operation, particularly in the last few weeks when there may well be a need for legislation to be processed, it will only be forthcoming if it is a two-way street and we know what is going on. There will be no co-operation in facilitating Committee Stage or the completion of the Intoxication Liquor Bill unless and until sufficient time is made available on Committee Stage to allow the detailed aspects of the legislation to be dealt with fully. We owe it to the people.
I wish to raise two matters, one of which relates to the point raised by Deputy Flanagan. My distributed schedule of business states: "Report Stage business planned for schedule next Dáil week, beginning 30 June — Intoxicating Liquor Bill." The Bill only originated in the House after Private Members' business last night. The Bill started life last night and it is suggested in the schedule of business that we take Report Stage next week. The normal unwritten protocol is that we would have a couple of weeks to prepare amendments. I hope the Taoiseach will be able to reassure the House that will apply here.
The second matter relates to the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998: Motion, that the House took in some tempestuous circumstances last week when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform felt that he had other business to do outside of the House and sent in a Minister of State who has no delegated order to take this issue. It has, apparently, transpired that section 5 of that legislation was repealed by section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007, yet we went ahead and reaffirmed it in a 50 minute debate last week. I ask the Taoiseach, I do not expect him to know off the top of his head, whether there is a question about the legal validity of the motion that was passed, since we could not reaffirm a section that is no longer in the legislation.
I will check it — I do not know if there is substance to that point. The fact is that it has been repealed by legislation. If it is included in the reaffirmation of the Offences Against the State Act, if I understand the point, that would suggest, which the original legislation continues to include that section, it has been repealed by other legislation. There are many issues of law where we still have on the Statute Book, prior to consolidation or prior to modernisation or codification of law, provisions which are repealed by other legislation, which do not come into effect simply by their existence, since the repealing provision supersedes the original.
We expressly included it in the motion. The motion reaffirmed sections 2 to 12 and section 5 of the Offences Against the State Act which related to certain inferences that might be drawn. Section 5 of the legislation relates to inferences from failure of accused to mention particular facts. In the 2007 legislation that was repealed by section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act. We went ahead and reaffirmed it in the motion. I ask the Taoiseach to take advice as to whether there is any question about the legal validity of the motion we passed.
I will take advice obviously and come back to the Deputy and clarify the matter.
In regard to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, my understanding is that there is an intention to try to enact this legislation before the House rises for the recess on the basis that there are some very important public order offences being provided for in that legislation which would win the widespread support of everyone in the House in terms of the benefit that might derive from the early enactment of the Bill. The Whips will meet this evening to settle on next week's business in whatever way that can the accommodated. The Government would appreciate it because all Members would regard those public offences provisions, particularly, but not exclusively, as timely.
I wish to raise three issues. In light of the extraordinary legal charges solicitors are imposing on people who have debt problems, especially in regard to mortgages, when will the legal costs Bill come before the House? Given the failure of the HSE to provide true facts in regard to frontline staff, when will the health information Bill come before the House? Given that the Taoiseach has clearly stated in the House that the fair deal Bill will not come before the House this session, how will he put in place a structure that will allow families——
I can only deal with legislation. Bills are due next year on the two matters Deputy Crawford raised. As I indicated to the Leader of the Opposition, we do not expect to be able to take the other legislation before the Dáil rises.
It is three or four years since the Minister for Social and Family Affairs promised to reform the one-parent family payment. The Taoiseach and all Members of the House will be aware of the urgent need to remove the poverty traps for lone parents——
——and to remove the obstacles to low-income parents living together or getting married. Why is there such a delay in bringing forward the legislation? Will the Taoiseach indicate what work is being done and when we can expect to see the legislation?
Given that no legislation is in place on the fair deal, the Taoiseach said legislation would have to be introduced to change matters. My understanding is that a ministerial order can increase the subvention and give people some relief——
I wish to raise two matters that relate to the brief of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. It is unfortunate that he has just left the Chamber because he could have advised the Taoiseach on his reply.
The first question relates to the social housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. I believe the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is meeting tenants in Cork tomorrow who wish to purchase their homes. When will the legislation come before the House? It was included in the programme for Government and it was indicated that it would come to the House before the summer.
Does the Taoiseach have a date for when the legislation will come before us? The second matter relates to the planning and development regulations, which is secondary legislation that will come before the House tomorrow without debate. I wish to raise a number of matters in connection with the issue. The Labour Party is fully supportive of increasing renewable energy capacities but this——
——should not be at the expense of transparency and due process. A number of issues are involved. Given that we are identifying a specific type of industry that would be exempt from planning permission, has the Minister sought legal advice on the matter?
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about promised legislation and when he responds perhaps he would address why the three beds that cost €2 million are vacant in the special care baby unit of Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, because of the lack of staff and resources.
Following the Government's recent decision to withdraw its opposition to the EU directive to protect the rights of agency workers and agreement at the Council of Ministers, it is now the Government's responsibility to introduce domestic legislation to give effect to the decision. However, there is a two-year period of time within which this should be done. As there are clearly very serious implications for agency workers who are employed within this jurisdiction and the spin-off adverse effects on those who are directly employed that we have heard about in this House many times, will the Taoiseach bring forward the introduction of the legislation in line with the decision made at the Council of Ministers?
The case related to a woman with an intellectual disability. The mental capacity Bill is vitally important in this area and it needs to be brought forward as a matter of urgency. I would like to know when it will be before the House?
I have three matters to raise. I wish to ask the Taoiseach about plans at EU level for the small business Act for the European Union that will be implemented in directive form. Does the Government have a particular position on it and will any such position be published in advance of negotiations on the directive? This is a particularly important directive in terms of targeting red tape and reducing bureaucracy for small and medium sized businesses across the EU and also in the light of the vote on the Lisbon treaty.
Second, is the Taoiseach aware that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and his advisers have been making commitments to residents and the media on the amendment of the planning legislation regarding CPO procedures? It is particularly relevant because it has been in the newspapers in recent days. It is especially relevant to my constituency given that we have had a maverick——
I understand the first issue is a policy framework decision at EU level, not a directive. I advise the Deputy to table a parliamentary question to the line Minister seeking detailed information on what is the policy position on it.
I will have to check about the second matter. I am not aware of what amending planning legislation the Deputy referred to. I will have to check that for her.
I admire your consistency, a Cheann Comhairle, because you always interrupt me after 1.25 seconds every day I speak on the Order of Business. Vulnerable children who suffer from brittle asthma, ADHD, autism to spina bifida——
When will the education Ireland Bill be published? There is provision for recourse, which is not possible at the moment, for boards of management, principals or parents to get their cases reviewed. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act needs to be fully implemented. When will this happen? Will it be included with the education Ireland Bill?