Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. a12, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; and No. 20, National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; No. a12 shall be decided without debate; and (3) Private Members' business shall be No. 33 – Medical Practitioners (Professional Indemnity)(Amendment) 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, 14 October 2009.
There are three proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight agreed to? Agreed.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. a12, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business tomorrow agreed to? Agreed.
I call Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business.
I wish to raise three items on the Order of Business. First, the House will agree with me that we should formally express our sympathy on the death of two Air Corps pilots, Captain Derek Furniss from Ballinteer and Cadet David Jevens from Wexford. I know the location where the Pilatus aircraft came down and it is very rugged country. This is a tragedy for their families. It remains to be seen how the investigative teams will attempt to discover what happened in this case. It is a tragedy for two young men who were training and being trained in the line of duty for the State. I sympathise with their families and friends on their loss. It is a tragic accident that nobody wished to see and I am sure the House will join with me in that respect.
Second, I ask the Taoiseach to arrange for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to provide the House with an update on the situation concerning attempts to obtain the release in the Philippines of Fr. Michael Sinnott from Wexford. This man was carrying out his priestly duties and has a medical history that is of some concern. I know the Taoiseach will be anxious that Fr. Sinnott is released safely as quickly as possible through the efforts of our ambassador and whatever other contacts the Government may have in the region. I say that in the context of another Irish person, Sharon Commins, who was abducted along with her co-worker in Africa.
Third, in respect of the National Asset Management Agency Bill, I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that no guillotine will apply to the discussion of amendments on Committee Stage. It is complicated legislation and Members, in addition to those on the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service, will wish to contribute to the debate on Committee Stage. I hope the Taoiseach will advise the chairman of the select committee that there should not be a guillotine on that Stage of the Bill.
As regards the tragedy yesterday evening, at its meeting this morning the Government, through the Minister for Defence, conveyed its sincere sympathy to the bereaved families. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time. The necessary investigations are being proceeded with and the results will be brought forward in due course. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, our thoughts are with the families of the deceased.
As regards the abduction of Fr. Sinnott, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is travelling to the United States today. He was unable to undertake the visit in September during the course of the referendum campaign, but he is now doing so. Regardless of that, however, I assure the House that the Department and the Minister are doing all they can, working through the experienced diplomatic personnel who are dealing with that case, in order to see how we can assist in bringing about the safe return of Fr. Sinnott. The other case in Darfur, concerning Ms Sharon Commins, is also a matter of top priority.
The Deputy will be aware that the NAMA legislation will be dealt with in a similar fashion to the Finance Bill. Various sections are taken together so that all aspects of the Bill are examined over a period. I understand the Government Chief Whip will be bringing a motion before the House on that issue imminently.
I join the Taoiseach and Deputy Kenny in expressing the Labour Party's sympathy to the families and colleagues of both Air Corps pilots involved in the tragedy yesterday evening. I also wish to express our hope for the early release of Fr. Sinnott.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the date of the budget. The House has not yet been told the date of the budget.
I gathered as much from the reports over the weekend. The well-informed sources reported in the newspapers were obviously better informed than the House. There is one normal sitting day after Wednesday, 9 December, which is usually taken up by speeches from the Taoiseach and other party leaders in response to the budget. That leaves one week before Christmas to debate the budget. This is a very short period of time in which a budget can be debated. It is particularly short given the advance billing this particular budget is getting. The current date for the House to rise is 17 December. Are there plans to change the number of days we sit before Christmas in order that the House would at least have a reasonable opportunity to debate the budget? This has all the hallmarks of getting the budget done as close as possible to Christmas and out of here as fast as possible in order that people will forget what is in it.
That is not the situation. First, I understand the Minister for Finance has to attend an ECOFIN meeting on 1 and 2 December. As the Deputy will be aware, many important issues are taking place at European level. The following week is the best time to take the budget and it is the right time to take it. Second, the debate in the House will not end before or immediately after Christmas. It is a matter for the House to decide the detail in that regard. Third, it is important that there would be a good debate in the House in advance of the budget to address the issues and serious challenges that confront us as a country. For example, the publication of the pre-budget outlook could provide an opportunity for a full debate in the House in early November.
With regard to the NAMA Bill, did the Taoiseach suggest that the arrangements for the basement debate on Committee Stage as opposed to a debate on the floor of the House on probably the most significant financial measure, where his Government proposes to overpay for assets by at least €7 billion, will follow those in place for the Finance Bill whereby blocks of time are devoted to groupings of sections? That is different from not imposing a guillotine because, for example, the critical part of the Bill dealing with long-term economic value comprises a number of sections around section 70. If the debate is broken into blocks of time, it could mean there will be no opportunity to debate the mechanism by which we overpay for long-term economic value, depending on where sections in the late 60s and the 70s come.
With regard to having the debate on the floor of the House, has the Government decided that this important debate will be held in a basement committee room?
What about Members who wish to contribute to the debate on Committee Stage? Most committee rooms would not hold the 21 members of the Labour Party who would like to contribute on Committee Stage and who should have a right to contribute, given the absolute importance of this Bill.
The purpose of using arrangements similar to the Finance Bill is to assist debate and to make sure we move well beyond the interpretation sections of the Bill and deal with the substance. The Minister is anxious to facilitate debate within the confines of the need to proceed with the Bill as a matter of great national urgency.
I understand the urgency but, whatever arrangements are put in place, we must have an opportunity to discuss the important sections and I urge the Taoiseach to ensure that this happens. We cannot have an allocation of time motion that results in a debate on the first two items in the allocation while everything else is lost. There needs to be consensus across the floor to provide an opportunity to debate this legislation fairly and properly.
I welcome the opportunity to have a pre-budget debate but on what basis will we have such a debate? Ministers had to list by 11 September the items in the McCarthy report they would implement. Will that list be available for the pre-budget debate signalled by the Taoiseach in order that we can have a genuine debate about the choices proposed by Ministers and other choices that could be proposed? Will the Government provide the so-called no policy change Estimates, which are meaningless in the current climate? They are useless and meaningless as a tool to assist debate. If the Taoiseach wants a sensible debate, it cannot be on the tried and tested method.
The committee can discuss how it wishes to deal with the debate on the NAMA Bill in the context of the time available and it can make sure the important sections are debated. The purpose of trying to do it that way is to facilitate that.
With regard to the pre-budget outlook, a report that examined every area of expenditure was available to the Opposition at the same time it was available to us. We are in a process of preparing budgets and Estimates and that is proceeding in the aftermath of the referendum and everything else. The NAMA legislation is another issue that has to be dealt with. In the coming weeks, we must do all that work within that timeframe.
A debate on the pre-budget outlook can be had on the basis of the McCarthy and Commission on Taxation reports and other ideas, proposals and policy initiatives Members wish to discuss.
As a former member of Government, the Deputy will be aware that until the deliberative process is completed regarding a budget, the Government has to deal with that itself in its own time. What is different in respect of the question raised by the Deputy is we have had an extensive examination of every area of expenditure and very significant proposals have been suggested as part of the response to meeting the budgetary deficit. That is available to us and a great deal of work has been done on that. The contention is there is a dearth of information regarding what choices we can make but the contrary is the case this year and there will be very few places for any of us to hide.
I refer to two proposed Bills, the first of which is the mental capacity Bill. There are rumours it will be shelved. I would like the Taoiseach to confirm that is not true and the Bill will proceed as soon as possible. Will he expedite the legislation because there are significant pressures in that area and it is badly needed? The legislation is also required to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an area in which the Taoiseach has an interest.
There is a long-standing promise to introduce the social welfare lone parent and other low income families reform Bill and I have also heard this may not proceed. Given many low income families are under pressure, perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate whether this legislation is a priority and when it might be published.
Legislation is promised in 2010 to provide for the collection and exchange of information relating to the endangerment, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of children. It is No. 60 on the legislative programme. What discussions have taken place at Cabinet? Is the legislation nearing completion to be ready for introduction to the House? Will it be before us early in 2010?
My colleague, Deputy Seymour Crawford, regularly asks about the legal costs Bill. Will the Taoiseach reassure everybody the Government is still interested in that? Perhaps the Taoiseach will let the House know whether discussions have taken place that might lead to its early introduction.