Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 13, motion re: referral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Convention on the European Forest Institute; No. 2, National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 13 shall be decided without debate; Private Members' Business shall be No. 33, Public Appointments Transparency Bill 2009 – Second Stage, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 September, 2009.
It is not agreed. The Order Paper contains two proposals, but it further facilitates the continuing debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009. The Sinn Féin Deputies are not prepared to support the adoption of the Order Paper today. We have obtained, even since last week, information about the suggested cost to the public purse that was not before us then, such as information on contracts that have been concluded with Arthur Cox Solicitors, who are to give advice on NAMA for the future. This is a firm that has already been paid €3.7 million on advice to the Government about the banks. Consultants are also involved at a cost of €2,000 per day. This is a continuation of the very culture that has given rise to what has gone wrong with the economy of this State over the past few years.
We have not been advised on the many more millions of euro that Arthur Cox Solicitors have been granted for the tender to give legal advice on NAMA in the future. These are very important questions that need to be addressed in this House. The information needs to be transparent before the Members in this Chamber. As it is not so, we cannot agree to the Order Paper, which facilitates a continuing Second Stage debate on NAMA. This legislation should be withdrawn because it is fundamentally flawed and will not address the issues with which we must immediately and urgently grapple.
The proposal has nothing to do with NAMA. In normal circumstances, the House is not required to approve the Order of Business because it is the Taoiseach's prerogative to announce Government business and make proposals as to arrangements for taking that business. Only those proposals which require the approval of the House are put to the House. Do I take it that Deputy Ó Caoláin is objecting to proposal No. 1?
Can the Tánaiste confirm that there will be no guillotine on Second Stage and Committee Stage of the NAMA Bill? Can she confirm that Committee Stage of the Bill will be taken in the House?
Has the Government fixed a date for the budget? If so, what is that date?
I have travelled around the country in the past number of weeks seeking a "Yes" vote in the Lisbon referendum. We have produced almost a million pieces of literature for this campaign and I expect to cover more than 3,000 km. Some sectors are very concerned at the way we have transposed European directives into Irish law. Currently, the Joint Committee on EU Scrutiny, under the chairmanship of Deputy John Perry, does not have the authority to look at the way we have transposed a number of those directives. I am not talking about losing the impact of a directive but about the degree of flexibility and common sense that applies in a number of these cases. For example, the Tánaiste is well aware of the nitrates directive from her period as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It directed that the last date for spreading slurry was 31 August but because of our weather conditions, the Minister has extended that period to 15 October. I could say the Tánaiste got inside that deadline herself the other day when talking about Lisbon, but I will not say it.
Is the Government considering allowing the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny to look at a number of directives, which I could point out to the Tánaiste, where there is clearly a degree of frustration in different sectors, whether business, the agri-economy or other areas, because of the extent of administrative bureaucracy and red tape that we ourselves have applied to the transposition of directives into Irish law? This would be in the interest of different sectors which would at least know the Government was listening to their complaints. This issue should be referred to the Joint Committee on EU Scrutiny. When the Lisbon treaty is, hopefully, approved there will be far greater access and opportunity for committees to look at proposals which come from the Commission.
For now, a number of directives which have already been transposed into Irish law are causing frustration and anxiety. This could be eased by a common sense approach by Government. I ask the Tánaiste to do that.
I have some experience of the nitrates directive, which took ten years. We had a considerable time for scrutiny and discussion. I appreciate what Deputy Kenny is saying. As a former Minister, he knows that when a political decision is made by the Council of Ministers the legal interpretation of that decision is the first hurdle, not to mention the transposition of a directive in each member state and the various interpretations of it.
I do not see an issue with Deputy Kenny's proposal. Directives and their transposition can take considerable time. A number of EU directives remain to be finalised. I do not see why Deputy Kenny's proposal could not be facilitated.
I have a few of my own which he would be welcome to.
The Whips will determine how the Committee Stage of the NAMA Bill will be dealt with. No date has been set for the budget.
I am surprised to hear the Tánaiste say that no date has been set for the budget. This time last year when, arguably, the economy was not in extremis to the extent that it is now, the Government thought it necessary to bring forward the date of the budget with a big announcement. We are almost at the end of September and most people anticipate that the budget will be presented at the end of November or beginning of December. There are not many options regarding dates. Can the Tánaiste confirm that the budget will be presented this side of Christmas? If so, can we expect it on approximately the same date as previously, which is the first week in December?
Deputy Kenny sought the Tánaiste's commitment on two matters regarding the NAMA legislation. First, that Second Stage will not be guillotined. That is a not a decision for the Whips but for Government. I would like an assurance that the debate will not be guillotined. Second, Deputy Kenny sought, as I did last week, a commitment that Committee Stage of the Bill will be taken on the floor of the House, given its importance. I asked the Taoiseach about this last week. Has the Government considered that suggestion and what is its response to it?
The labour services (amendment) Bill, which is in the Tánaiste's own portfolio, is promised to restructure the board of FÁS and, as stated in the document circulated by the Chief Whip, "to strengthen the accountability of the director general of FÁS". When will that Bill be published?
The decision as to the date of the budget has not been made. With regard to Committee Stage, I have a personal view that one does better work if a Bill is scrutinised, line by line, by a select committee. Nevertheless, there has been no determination as to which process will be used for Committee Stage of the NAMA Bill. There is no proposal to guillotine or prevent discussion on Second Stage of the Bill.
It is not the intention of the Government to curtail the Second Stage debate.
The new legislation on FÁS was accepted by the Government today. There are a number of technical amendments which I must complete with the Attorney General. It is my intention to publish the Bill at the beginning of next week, at the latest, and possibly at the end of this week. I hope the House can facilitate the passage of the legislation as quickly as possible. It will allow for the new format in which the board will be appointed, the accountability of the director general and a number of recommendations put forward by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts.
I am surprised to hear the Tánaiste's reply about the date of the budget. Given the report of the Commission on Taxation, the McCarthy report and other issues that have stacked up in terms of decisions that must be made on public finances, it is extraordinary that the Government has not yet decided a date for the budget, a deadline that Departments and everyone involved must meet. Is there a problem in setting the date?
I heard the Tánaiste state that Second Stage would not be guillotined. This is important legislation and many Deputies would like to participate in the debate on Committee Stage. There is a world of difference between Committee Stage held in a committee room in the bowels of the building and Committee Stage held in the House. I would like the Government to agree to holding Committee Stage of the NAMA Bill on the floor of this House.
It will be in or around the Christmas period, the end of November or the beginning of December. The process was initiated in August. We are back earlier than we would have been heretofore and, therefore, the decision on a date has not been made, particularly given the NAMA and Lisbon treaty issues.
Committee Stage will be a matter for discussion among the Whips. If held in plenary session, the debate could be shortened because other legislation must also pass through the House as quickly as possible.
Many years ago, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced that he would deal with legal costs once and for all. The Taoiseach has discussed what must be done in terms of civil servants and so on. When will the legal costs Bill be before the House? It is in section C of the agenda. Can the Bill be introduced or are we afraid to touch that group?
For years, a health information Bill has been promised to show us the truth of what is occurring in that area, but nothing has been introduced.
Many nurses and midwives in Monaghan General Hospital and elsewhere who are normally busy no longer know what their futures hold. When can the nurses and midwives Bill be introduced to allow us to encourage the Minister for Health and Children to talk to those people and treat them as human beings?
Legislation that has been wandering around the Houses for some time and deemed to be important is before the Seanad, namely, the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009. When is it expected to be passed into law? Perhaps the Tánaiste can give us an idea of the precise deadline.
In terms of Bills in respect of which heads are yet to be approved by the Government, the financial services provisions Bill is intended "to transfer Ministerial responsibility for building societies from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Finance and to provide for various other urgent miscellaneous amendments to financial services law". As far as I can see, the Bill has been around the Houses for the past two or three years. Will the Tánaiste indicate how the Bill intends to respond urgently, whether it has been discussed by the Cabinet and to what extent is it being progressed?
The Bill is awaiting Committee Stage in the Seanad. Once it is passed by the Seanad, I assume it will be before this House as quickly as possible.
Whenever we can order the business. I cannot determine what the Seanad will do. Regarding the other legislation, draft heads are expected at the end of the year.
Has the Government decided against implementing any of the recommendations of the McCarthy report and the Commission on Taxation as they pertain to social welfare? Has it decided not to implement any social welfare cuts or will there be two Social Welfare Bills? The one on the Order Paper only provides for the implementation of budget 2010 increases.
I wish to raise two matters. It is reported that the Government does not propose to sign the optional protocol of the United Nations convention on economic, social and cultural rights that is opening for signature this week. Will the Tánaiste indicate whether the Government proposes to publish its reasons for not signing? Ireland was expected to sign this international instrument.
Has the Government considered the request it has received from a number of couples and agencies to introduce an interim agreement to handle the issue of Vietnamese adoptions?
I must revert to the Deputy regarding the other legislation directly, but the Minister of State with responsibility for children has indicated that he is awaiting the publication of two reports before further progress can be made in the context of the adoption agreement between Ireland and Vietnam.
I will conclude with the Ceann Comhairle's permission. Will the reports lead to a lengthy process for a new agreement? Is it proposed that an interim agreement be prepared to enable those caught in the process to resolve their situations?
Before the local elections, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government promised a directly elected mayor for Dublin in 2010. This legislation is found in section C, Bills in respect of which heads are yet to be approved by the Government, and will not be published until 2010. This will not give much time in the run up to the legislation. Is there a timescale for the Bill's publication?
The Minister also spoke at length about the various changes required in planning law, but none of them is evident on any list of planning Bills. Does this matter have greater priority than the control of dogs (amendment) Bill, which is on the section A list?
The planning Bill has not been brought to the Government yet. We must await it. The legislation on a directly elected mayor is expected to be before us quickly.
When will the Government publish the new programme for Government currently under review and will it be introduced in the House for full debate, recognising that whatever will be in it will have a significant impact in terms of the Government's legislative programme and policy objectives? At what point is the review and when will that process conclude?
Yesterday, the Law Reform Commission recommended amendments to the law to prevent people from being imprisoned as a result of their inability to repay loans to financial institutions. As a Dáil representative who has witnessed this dreadful measure employed against a number of my constituents who, through no fault of their own, were unable to meet the demands placed upon them, I ask, given that we will undoubtedly face a significant increase in such measures through the courts on foot of the economic difficulties ahead of us-----
I want to ask the Tánaiste about two matters. On the day the NAMA details were announced, we also received details of a proposed extension of the bank guarantee scheme for five-year periods indefinitely. This scheme, which the Minister for Finance has put before the House, is momentous. Does the Government intend to allow for a separate debate on the proposed extension of the scheme, particularly on the inclusion in the proposed scheme of the guarantee for the dated subordinated debt. I was astonished to find the scheme-----
That is fine. The second question concerns the fact that the Government introduced powers to provide for the downward review of rents. It now appears that it is not to exercise those powers. The effect of this is to provide for the artificial uplift and maintenance of property values.
The Deputy must ask a question that is in order, just like every other Deputy. Deputy Burton is as subject to the Standing Orders of the House as I am and everybody else, and I cannot go into that now. I must move along.
I tabled a parliamentary question on the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act for the line Minister, the Minister for Health and Children, but I received an ambiguous answer. I therefore wonder whether the Tánaiste can answer my question. The Act has been passed but not commenced. When will the scheme be implemented?
I want to ask the Tánaiste about the format of this year's Estimates. I understand last Friday was the deadline for Ministers to have arranged their proposals on spending cuts. Will those be presented to an Oireachtas committee for consideration ahead of the budget or will all Government decisions be released to the Dáil on budget day without any opportunity to assess whether the choices being made by the Government are the correct ones?
At present it might be more appropriate for the entire Cabinet to have the opportunity to deliberate on the Estimates before a final decision is made. It is not anticipated that the initial proposals by the Ministers and their Departments will be made available.