Thursday, 12 March 2009
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 9b, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 3, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 13, Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 9b shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 3 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 March 2009.
I do not want to divide the House over the guillotine on this Bill, but the Labour Party Members are anxious that the House debate amendment No. 3 in the names of Deputies Ciarán Lynch and Joanna Tuffy. The purpose of the amendment is to give effect to the promises made by the Taoiseach at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who is taking this Bill, at the Green Party conference last weekend that the maximum amount that can be donated to a political party will be reduced and that there will also be a reduction in the level at which contributions must be publicly declared. The Labour Party is anxious that the House has the opportunity to debate this amendment so we can put into law the commitments given by the Taoiseach and the Minister and which the Labour Party supports. Perhaps the Tánaiste will be able to give the House some comfort by assuring it there will be time to debate this amendment.
If we can get our business completed as soon as possible we will have adequate time. It should not be beyond our ability to get to amendment No. 3.
I do not wish to be disruptive. I am not sure how long it takes to fly back from Dallas but there is no reason that the Dáil should not sit next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I acknowledge that our national festivities are important. This is one of the few countries that have national days and I recognise that some Ministers have important responsibilities in international affairs, but the people want this House to be seen to be working effectively. There is no reason that the Dáil should not meet next Wednesday and Thursday and, accordingly, I disagree with the proposal.
I object to the proposed recess. The proposal is that the Dáil will not meet again until 24 March, which is in 12 days time. St. Patrick's Day comprises one day, not 12. There is no justification for putting the Dáil into recess for 12 days. I am aware that historically it was difficult to arrange Government business during that week because virtually the entire Cabinet and every Minister of State went abroad on St. Patrick's Day. However, we are led to believe that such is not the case this year and that a considerably reduced number of Ministers is travelling to St. Patrick's Day events abroad. It should be possible, therefore, to organise the business of the House around the Ministers who will be in the country.
The Government's proposal on the recess is not unrelated to the fact that it is coming up appallingly short in terms of bringing legislation before the House. The number of Bills enacted by this House last year was the smallest in a decade.
I am setting out my reasons for objecting to the recess. Business remains to be done. Only four items of legislation have been enacted thus far this year. Of the 18 Bills promised by the Government in this session, only one has been produced.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is in the Chamber, promised five Bills last session but none was produced. Six Bills have been on the Government legislative programme since 2003. With the limited resources available to us, the Labour Party has published 16 Private Members' Bills whereas the Government, despite all the State resources on which it can draw, cannot produce the legislation it has promised. If the Government has no business for next week, we can deal with some of the 16 Bills the Labour Party has produced.
In regard to legislation, eight Bills have been enacted thus far this year. We are all aware that we are in unprecedented times and we have to deal with difficult and complex legislation. Spokespersons on finance will be particularly familiar with the work involved in that regard.
The Leader of the Opposition has noted that we are unique in having a particular day on which we can access several people of repute. The Taoiseach will have an opportunity to meet the President of the United States following which he will attend the spring Council meeting. If ever we had the need to deal with our international reputation and trade, it is certainly this year.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 67 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Timmy Dooley, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Beverley Flynn, Pat Gallagher, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 53 (Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, James Reilly, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I was going to ask the Tánaiste to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to send out an all points bulletin for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but I see he appeared for the vote. I am glad he has graced us with his presence.
Two weeks ago, the Tánaiste said the public finances were under control. Yesterday, the Taoiseach told us the budget would be introduced on 7 April. What date does the Minister propose for the introduction of the Finance Bill that will give legal effect to the changes in the budget on 7 April? Does the Tánaiste agree the reason for having a budget and a finance Bill is that the public finances are not under control?
I welcome yesterday's interesting announcement of an amalgamation between TCD and UCD in the area of innovation. It is a futuristic step and one we must certainly examine. Arising from that, both university authorities have said they will be looking to the Government for changes in tax legislation dealing with relief for private equity to be put into research at third level, and in respect of adjustments for PhD personnel who remain in Ireland after graduating. Has the Government contemplated what such legislation would mean? Does the Tánaiste have any idea when it might come before the House?
There will be financial resolutions on budget day. The finance Bill will be introduced in keeping with the traditions of this House. I will not revert to an interview I did on RTE, but if the Deputy listened to the entire interview he might come to a different conclusion.
As regards the issue concerning Trinity College and UCD, it is not an amalgamation, it is an alliance. That alliance is based on the smart economy vision which was launched before Christmas to look at new opportunities for the economy and how this alliance has been formed through research and development co-operation. A number of initiatives have been proposed by the university sector, which can be considered in the context of any budgetary decisions to be made. I am sure the Minister for Finance will be more than happy to consider the Deputy's own budgetary proposals in due course.
I asked the Tánaiste if she knew the date of the introduction of the finance Bill. Obviously, if the budget is on 7 April, I assume there will be two or three days of discussion in the House. The Minister for Finance will then have to introduce a Finance Bill at the end of April or in May. The year is moving on and every hour that is wasted makes the situation more difficult, so when does the Government propose to introduce the Finance Bill?
Last night the Government voted down, by a margin of three votes, a Labour Party motion setting out eight specific proposals for dealing with the problems of people who are currently unemployed, with particular emphasis on the need for education and training services to be enhanced. When the Government met the social partners in January, it promised that a jobs and skills summit would be convened in March. Since the Tánaiste has line responsibility for this matter, may I ask her when——
The Deputy could do so if this was Question Time, but it is not. We have the same problem every week. We cannot have Leaders' Questions on Thursday mornings for the simple reason that there is no provision in Standing Orders for them. Questions must comply with Standing Orders. I have to implement them because the Members made them.
Now that the House has decided that it will only sit from 24 March, which leaves only one sitting week for the remainder of this month, I want to know when the summit will be held. Such a summit is obviously important, but when will it be convened? How will the House be involved?
There was a good debate last night and the night before, and some good ideas were put forward by Members. The jobs and skills summit arose on the basis of the framework document, which did not progress unfortunately.
The NESC has indicated that it wishes to have a jobs and skills summit. The Government is working with the NESC to seek the best opportunity without having any overlap.
Is the Tánaiste aware of a joint operational plan between 9 and 20 February, regarding HMS Severn and the LE Aoife? On 17 February, HMS Severn conducted patrols in Irish territorial waters, made inspections on board Irish-registered vessels — the Catherine Alice, EA47 and Argo K, SO897 — and continued to stay in territorial waters during that period.
Having a drink with the royal marines is not in order on the Order of Business, as the Deputy well knows. We must move on. The Deputy is out of order and must find another way of raising that matter, unfortunately.
He is an experienced navigator.
Publication has been expected, and is eagerly anticipated, of legislation to amend the National Oil Reserves Agency Act 2007 to provide for the establishment of a national bio-fuels obligation scheme. It is also to provide for amendments to the Act in light of developments to facilitate NORA's ongoing activities. If the Minister were in the House I am sure he would be willing to enlighten us further. In the absence of the Minister, however, can the Tánaiste indicate when NORA might appear in the House? Has the necessary preparatory work been done? This is important legislation which is part and parcel of the programme for Government. I am seeking some clarification on that matter.
I also wish to raise the estate management company legislation, about which there has been much confusion. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have previously given information to the House in this regard, but I am as confused now as before on where the legislation now stands. Have the heads of the Bill been approved? Will one Minister take total responsibility for it, or will a number of Ministers be involved?
The last matter I wish to raise relates to the transposition into Irish law of the third money laundering directive. Some considerable concerns have been expressed about money laundering recently. It might be a good idea if the Tánaiste could give the House an indication when this will be finalised.
May I remind the Tánaiste that the recession has caused grievous problems for the financial situation of a sizeable group of vulnerable people whose funds are lodged in court and they can neither access nor manage them. Following a Law Reform Commission report on vulnerable adults, legislation was promised in this area. Will the Tánaiste address this matter urgently with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to bring forward this legislation? Hundreds of people, perhaps more, are in a financial situation where they have lost all their money in investments due to the current financial crisis. In response to a parliamentary question on the matter, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed me he has no function in the matter, which is most regrettable. The courts are independent in the performance of their duties but this is a financial——
The mental capacity Bill will be published this year. As I understand, the matter to which the Deputy referred will not come under the Bill's remit. If it is a matter of concern, perhaps the Deputy could discuss it with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
This Bill should not be delayed for another year. The legislation has already been drafted by the Law Reform Commission. It is no big deal for the legislative process but a huge one for those involved who have no control over their funds which have been dissipated due to the manner of their investments.
Given that many on low incomes are paying levies and will have to pay extra tax soon, promises were made that the legal costs in tribunals of inquiry and elsewhere will be dealt with. When will the legal costs Bill be brought before the House? Has the €200 charge on a second homes to be introduced in the local government Bill been dropped? The Tánaiste is well aware that many UK suppliers charge much more for produce and products south of the Border than north of it. When will the consumer and competition Bill be introduced?
The legal costs Bill will be published this year while the legislation covering the €200 charge on second homes will be introduced in the next several weeks. Work on the consumer and competition legislation has not yet been completed. I have asked the Competition Authority to investigate the matter anyway.
The Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, made a formal request to the Government for additional powers to assist him in his investigation of Anglo Irish Bank. Has the Government decided to accede to the request? In view of the important and urgent nature of the investigation, when will legislation covering this request be introduced?
I intend to amend the Companies Act and will be bringing proposals in this regard to the Government shortly. The director has indicated he has adequate resources, both legislative and otherwise, in his office to deal with the present investigations.
Tá ceist agam maidir le reachtaíocht atá geallta le fada an lá. Tá suim phearsanta ag an Tánaiste féin sa reachtaíocht seo agus ó tharla go mbeidh sí i gceannas an Rialtais agus na tíre an tseachtain seo chugainn, b'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sí í a chur chun tosaigh — reachtaíocht a bhaineann le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta.
Ceist eile agam ar an Tánaiste ná cén áit a mbeidh sí féin ag ceiliúradh Lá Fhéile Pádraig?
Beidh mé in éineacht leis an Teachta McGinley. Níl dáta againn don Bhille maidir le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta. Pléadh an cheist sin ag an Teachta, ag Páirtí an Lucht Oibre agus ag an Aire ach níl sé socraithe go fóill cathain a bheidh sé os ár gcomhair.
On two occasions Fianna Fáil-led Governments voted down a Labour Party Bill to allow for civil unions with the promise of its own civil partnership legislation. Heads of a Bill were published last summer and the Bill has been on the legislative list since. When will the civil partnership Bill be published and introduced into the House?
The Taoiseach very graciously gave the Opposition an invitation to submit questions on material for the forthcoming budget to the Department of Finance. We submitted our questions last Friday but have heard nothing since and the Government is going away for ten days. Is the information in the post? Is there any timeline on when we might get it?
The information concerns fundamental issues such as the capital programme. In discussions with the Department of Finance, the Opposition was informed that of the €8 billion in the capital programme for this year——
The Taoiseach indicated there would be discussions and availability of Department of Finance officials for the Opposition spokespersons. The Taoiseach received a welcome letter from the Labour Party leader today which will be responded to today. The necessary and prerequisite information that can be made available will be made available to the Deputy and her colleagues in the preparation of the budget.
On promised legislation, the Minister for Finance informed me the other day that legislation on the banking commission is expected shortly. The Tánaiste said earlier she expects the finance (No. 2) Bill to be introduced some time in April or early May. When will the banking commission legislation be expected to come before the House?
When does the Tánaiste expect the landlord and tenant Bill and the sale of alcohol Bill to come before the House? Regarding SR Technics and employment law, why are the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and IDA Ireland referring prospective buyers to the company's headquarters in Zurich rather than to local management and union officials. They want to protect these jobs and should not be excluded from the discussions taking place.
——the Tánaiste indicated that she might, at some point, be in a position to make a statement on the future of SR Technics. Some 30 expressions of interest have been made to her and IDA Ireland in respect of this company. In light of the problem correctly identified by Deputy Terence Flanagan, will the Tánaiste be in a position to make a statement on the future of SR Technics and saving the jobs of its 1,200 employees on Tuesday, 24 March, when the Dáil returns?
The sale of alcohol Bill will be published later in the year. A date is not available with regard to the publication of the landlord and tenant Bill. The other issue to which the Deputies refer was raised in the House last night. I have been more than facilitating in the context of briefing everyone on the matter. As I have stated previously, the agencies involved are supporting people and trying to address their concerns.
The HSE is meeting today in order to discuss detailed plans for significant cuts to health services. Will the Tánaiste indicate if the Government will make time available for the House to scrutinise any revised budget or service plan relating to the HSE, particularly in view of the fact that public moneys are involved and that Members are responsible for the voting of those moneys to that organisation? There must be direct accountability with regard to the delivery of health care in this State. In light of the importance of this issue, will the Tánaiste confirm that Members will be given the opportunity to debate any revised budget or service plan for the HSE?
In light of the disastrous experience we had with the digital hub, is it proposed to amend the legislation that governs the universities, the Higher Education Authority or Science Foundation Ireland in order to make provision for the funding of scientific research across the broad spectrum of third level institutions? Reports appear to indicate that the mistake that was made in respect of the digital hub — when significant scientific funding for the third level sector was removed — is possibly about to be repeated. Is it planned to introduce legislation in respect of universities, the Higher Education Authority or Science Foundation Ireland?
There is no proposed legislation in respect of any of these matters. The only forthcoming legislation on third level education relates to qualifications.
The funding is provided by my Department and by the Department of Education and Science under an agreed framework. The system for allocating such funding is completely transparent, is peer reviewed in an international context and is competitive.
The Government promised, on a number of occasions, to hold a referendum on children's rights. Will that referendum be held this year or is the Government about to go back on its commitment?