Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 7, motion re referral to joint committee on proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Regional Fisheries Boards (Postponement of Elections) Order 2008; No. 2, Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 20, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 — Second Stage (Resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 7 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' business shall be No. 51, motion re agriculture.
No. It is important that it be debated. The fact that the motion proposes to postpone elections is an indication that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, seems to be turning into a serial postponer. The elections have been postponed each year since 2005 when they were supposed to have been held. We are being asked now to postpone them until 2009.
This statutory instrument has the Minister's official seal on it. The postponement order was presented to the House approximately one year ago. In reintroducing it today, "2007" has probably been Tipp-Exed and replaced by "2008"; and we are expected to rubber stamp it. This is so unacceptable that, when the Fianna Fáil Minister made the same order in 2006, the current Minister described it as "a shocking indictment of the Government's inability to prioritise the environment".
He then called the postponement a cowardly act. This serious accusation was made following a postponement of two years, but we are again being asked to prevent elections being called for a fourth year. It is not just cowardice; it is incompetence. The promised reform package has not been introduced, nor have the heads of a Bill or other legislation. The Minister is responsible for the fisheries boards and the management of same and has overseen a decentralisation process that has been most incompetent. In fact, that decentralisation did not happen but the process cost a huge amount. The money relating to decentralisation was taken from a fisheries budget that was quite small from the outset.
I request a full debate on this matter so that the House does not merely rubber stamp this incompetence. There is a great deal of discussion from those on the Government side about reducing waste. However, when options are provided and opportunities are presented, we are again asked to defer matters and to play the patsies. That is unacceptable. On behalf of the Labour Party, I request that we engage in a debate on this matter so that we can deal with it once and for all.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 71 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, Thomas Byrne, 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, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Pat Gallagher, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White)
Against the motion: 59 (James Bannon, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Alan Shatter, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I did not catch the end of what the Taoiseach said in response to the last question in regard to the Finance Bill. What is the projected deficit and projected level of borrowing for next year?
The Taoiseach might be good enough to answer the question. There are only nine sitting days left before Christmas. Perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate when the legislation dealing with the medical card issue will come before the House. The Taoiseach will be aware it has been promised on a number of occasions.
Does the Government intend to introduce regulations in the area of stem cell research, a completely unregulated area in this country? The Taoiseach will next week attend a European Council meeting in Brussels at which he will have to outline what he refers to as "elements of a solution" to Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon treaty. The Taoiseach will be aware that the meeting is no ordinary meeting. I believe the House should discuss this matter——
——might at least inform the other Whips if there is a possibility such debate could take place next Tuesday. I believe it is important we debate this issue of national interest. Ireland is now suffering from an element of anti-Europeanism in certain quarters, which is not good for the future of the economy.
As I understand it, the issue of stem cell research was discussed recently in the Seanad during Private Members' time. No legislation in this area is promised on the Government side.
On the legislation dealing with medical cards, the Bill concerned was brought before Government this morning and approved and can be dealt with subject to agreement by the Whips. On Deputy Kenny's call for a debate on the Lisbon treaty issue, I understand that the excellent report published last week by the Sub-Committee on Ireland's Future in the European Union in regard to the issues that have arisen out of the referendum could form the basis of a debate in the House next week.
Last night, a shocking "Prime Time Investigates" programme showed a huge level of exploitation of workers in this country. One of the most worrying aspects of this was that of road haulage drivers driving without brakes, which apart from being an exploitation of workers, also exposes other road users to considerable risk. Legislation in respect of tightening up the rights of employees and to deal with problems of exploitation in the workplace has been promised for some time. When will the Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008, published in March, nine months ago, and not yet dealt with, be debated in the House? When will the Employment Agencies Regulation Bill 2007, which has been listed for publication, be published?
I agree with Deputy Gilmore that the revelations made last night on the "Prime Time Investigates" programme were shocking. The problem spans many sectors. Part of the difficulty is that employers apply for and hold work permits. If employees applied for and held work permits, this would allow them much more latitude and would ensure this scandal is less likely to occur.
When will the Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008 come before this House and will it deal with the critical matter of workers holding work permits?
The consultation process with the social partners is ongoing and it is unlikely the legislation will come before the House until early next year. While I did not see the programme concerned, its contents were reported to me. Any exploitation taking place in this area must be very much condemned and needs to be dealt with. It should perhaps bring some urgency to the consultations currently taking place.
As the Ceann Comhairle will know, since my election to this House I have taken an interest in the large number of State agencies operating in this country and, in particular, the actions of some of them. It was announced in the budget that approximately 40 agencies would be merged, requiring some 20 items of legislation. I have been in touch with all the Departments about this and of those 20 mergers, Bills are only anticipated in respect of five of them. I do not want to go through all of them, but I would be interested to know if it is the intention of the Taoiseach and the Government to bring before the House, in this session or next year, the necessary legislation to bring about all the amalgamations and abolitions outlined in the Budget Statement? In respect of the 20 proposed mergers, there are only five Bills to amend legislation. Legislation exists to allow for one other merger by way of ministerial order, but there is no legislation to allow for the other proposed 14 mergers. I would interested to know if there is a commitment from Government to publish 14 Bills in respect of those mergers and, if so, when that will be done?
Different issues apply in regard to all these matters. The fact that there are a number of agencies to be rationalised and merged does not equate to the number of Bills that would be required to effect that. The state of readiness of the legislation, where it is applicable in various Departments, would vary from place to place. The important point is that a decision has been taken to proceed along the lines announced in the budget in respect of the agencies mentioned. It is for Ministers now to proceed with that with all due haste in consultation with the management and unions of those agencies.
The Taoiseach may be aware that a major planning application for a €2 billion development has been submitted to deal with a large section of O'Connell Street and the surrounding streets. Two national monuments, namely, the GPO and 14-17 Moore Street, are in the heart of this proposed development. In the context of legislation that has been proposed to consolidate and modernise the existing national monument legislation, when will the national monument Bill come before the House?
Is there a Government proposal to introduce legislation to make this possible because many people who have private pension funds do not have an entitlement in that respect? The Minister also indicated that people in private pensions funds are to be allowed to postpone purchasing an annuity.
Maybe the Chair has a point.
I wrote to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform a few months ago urging him to bring the defamation Bill to Committee. Will the Taoiseach cause this Bill to be progressed, as the work of the press ombudsman may be at risk if it is not enacted? I do not know why it has slipped down the list of priorities since the Deputy Brian Lenihan left that Department.
I have a brief question for the Ceann Comhairle concerning a raft of questions he ruled out of order today and despite his well-known Kerry wisdom, I believe he got it wrong. They related to bus and DART fares and to who is the regulator in that respect. As the Ceann Comhairle might be aware, the Minister is still the regulator of fares applying to public transport. I cannot understand the reason he did not allow those questions to go forward. They related in particular to the swingeing increases in commuter fares planned for early 2009.
Yesterday, the Licensed Vintners Association announced a proposal to freeze the cost of drink, which will be welcomed in certain quarters as we approach Christmas. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the sale of alcohol Bill will not be published or taken this session, contrary to what was promised on numerous occasions throughout the year, particularly during the debate on the interim measure, the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill earlier this year?
I am asking this question under No. 56 on the legislative programme. Given that this situation pertains, and given that HIQA has told us that it is putting in place new standards, but that they have to go to Government and be approved by it and that there are cost implications, will the Taoiseach advise if legislation is required to do this, if a supplementary budget will be required to do it and, if not, will the Government expedite this matter and provide for children with disabilities, who are three to seven times more likely to be abused than their counterparts?