Thursday, 26 November 2009
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Framework Decision on accreditation of forensic service providers carrying out laboratory activities, back from committee; No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Framework Decision on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, and protecting victims, repealing Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA, back from committee; No. 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision concerning the signing of an agreement between the European Union and Japan on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, back from committee; No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision concerning the signing of an agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data from the European Union to the United States for purposes of the terrorist finance tracking programme, back from committee; No. 15a, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision on the use of information technology for customs purposes; No. 47, the Adoption Bill 2009 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 3, the Inland Fisheries Bill 2009 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 15 shall be decided without debate; (2) the proceedings on No. 15a shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) a Minister or Minister of State may make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 15, motions re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for Council framework decisions and Council decisions without debate agreed to? Agreed.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15a, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council decision on the use of information technology for customs purposes agreed to?
It is not agreed. The guillotine is being used in respect of this proposal. Fine Gael has a serious problem with regard to any matter coming before the House that is not allowed proper scrutiny. Therefore, Fine Gael opposes the use of the guillotine mechanism.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 64 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Fitzpatrick, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael McGrath, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Ned O'Keeffe, Christy O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary White)
Against the motion: 56 (James Bannon, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Michael D'Arcy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, George Lee, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I understand the report into the activities of the Dublin diocese will be published this afternoon. Dr. Diarmuid Martin has said this report will shock everybody. It will be launched by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State with responsibility for children. Will the Tánaiste make arrangements at a suitable time in order that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the report? Will she ensure, together with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that on this occasion victims of abuse will not be locked out of the proceedings as they were on the last occasion when the Ryan report was published and that victims will be treated with absolute respect if they turn up later? I assume that will be the case and I would like the Tánaiste to confirm that.
The Taoiseach has admitted the allocation of €10 million in respect of immediate assistance for humanitarian and farming causes is not sufficient. I understand the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are visiting areas again today that are severely affected by flooding. The reports coming in are shocking in terms of the destruction of dwelling houses and loss of income in respect of all farming activity. Is the Cabinet emergency committee examining the question of a more accurate assessment of what is needed as a response from Government? When will we know that?
The discussion on the National Asset Management Agency Bill in the House lasted 86 hours and we were told on umpteen occasions by the members of the Government that the impact of NAMA would be to free up credit and have credit flow at competitive rates for business. The chief executive officer of Allied Irish Banks yesterday confirmed to Deputy Richard Bruton that when the NAMA bonds are received by his bank, the money will not be allowed to flow for credit. The Minister for Finance who rightly said we are not deeply embedded in the banking sector, as we own 26% of AIB, also said he is entitled under the law to force banks to allow credit to flow at competitive rates. In view of the statements by bank representatives to an Oireachtas committee yesterday, what does the Government propose to do under the legislation we passed during the debate on which the Minister for Finance told the House repeatedly that when it was passed more credit would flow at cheaper rates? What is happening? I met people yesterday who went to their bank managers with a view to putting up their own money in seeking loans to develop businesses and they were told bluntly by them that they would not even lodge the application for them. This is scandalous.
We passed the Bill and the Government needs to do something about this. Businesses are starved of credit and I was told by businessmen face to face that bank managers have said to them, "I will not even lodge the application for you". That is absolutely scandalous at a time they want to put their money where their mouths are in the middle of a recession, follow through on their initiatives, retain jobs and create new ones. The Tánaiste's portfolio is critical. What does the Government intend to do about yesterday's admission at the committee?
With regard to the report on the Dublin diocese, victims are being advised of, and will be given, the report prior to its publication at 2.15 p.m. An electronic copy will be made available to Members with a hard copy available later. It runs to 750 pages.
If they choose to go. The most important thing is that they are being spoken to at the moment prior to the report's publication at 2.15 p.m.
The assessment of the impact of flooding is ongoing. Two insurance companies have decided to provide some funding prior to the full assessment being made. One of my Ministers of State has been in touch regarding that initiative. With regard to the moneys being made available, as has been reiterated on a number of occasions, this initial sum is being made available on the basis of extreme hardship over and above the existing support measures. Further assessments will take place, arising from what has happened and what, unfortunately, may happen in the next number of days.
I have read the report of the chief executive of Allied Irish Banks to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. The preferred option is to go initially to the international markets and, following the enactment of the NAMA legislation which removes uncertainty in the banking sector, state where we want to be, which is in the international markets and lending to business. That is the chief executive's initial reaction, and rightly so. Only as a second measure would we go to the ECB to deal with the bond situation.
Yesterday, the Minister of State and I had an opportunity to meet the small business forum, where the issue of access to capital has been raised. The NAMA legislation gives the Minister for Finance powers to issue guidelines on lending and to set up an arbitration mechanism to deal with disputes regarding the availability of credit.
This is a matter for ongoing discussion by my Ministers of State, the banking sector and myself to ensure that, following from the NAMA legislation, we get money back into business. That is an ongoing difficulty and struggle.
I wish to raise four matters. First, the Murphy report will be published today. The Tánaiste said an electronic copy of the report will be provided to Members. Is that being done now or will it be done before the release of the report at 2.15 p.m? Second, the Taoiseach undertook to provide a hard copy of the report to the spokespeople on justice.
I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. What arrangements will be made to debate the report in the House?
Issues relating to the recent floods were raised by Deputy Kenny. In the House yesterday, the Taoiseach declined to acknowledge the inadequacy of the €12 million relief fund. When I put it to him that the Government needs to talk to insurance companies, he seemed reluctant to consider that suggestion. I am glad he held a press conference yesterday at which he acknowledged the fund's inadequacy and said that insurance companies are being talked to. I raised a number of issues related to the flooding and the difficulties people are experiencing in coping with it. Will time be made available next week for Ministers to give the House an up-to-date report and for a discussion of the situation?
Five of the seven items on today's Order Paper relate to Europe. The Lisbon treaty will come into effect next Tuesday, 1 December, introducing a number of reforms in the way in which European legislation is dealt with. From that date, all proposals for European legislation must come to the national parliaments in addition to the European Parliament and the European Council. To my knowledge, the House has not made arrangements to deal with this reform, although I know the committees with responsibility for European affairs have discussed it. What proposals has the Government made to enable the Dáil to deal with these significant new powers and functions? European legislation may be referred back to the Commission and if nine parliaments do this the legislation in question will be, effectively, blocked. National parliaments have been given significant new powers under the Lisbon treaty and they come into effect on Tuesday next. What arrangements is the Government making to deal with this?
Yesterday, the Taoiseach informed the House that talks are resuming between Government and the public service unions on the public service pay bill. I hope they succeed because another strike is threatened for this day week. Yesterday, IBEC announced it is pulling out of the national pay agreement. This action and its timing is provocative and unhelpful. The Tánaiste is the Minister with responsibility in this area. Did IBEC inform her of its intention to open up a pay free-for-all? Where does this leave those public service bodies which are members of IBEC and are, apparently, parties to the talks between the public service unions and the Government?
A hard copy of the report on the Dublin Archdiocese will be made available to spokespeople on justice and health. I would like to facilitate a debate on this matter but the time available to the House is short. However, I am sure the Whips will rise to the occasion and arrange to make time available.
The Government clearly indicated that the relief fund was an initial response. It was put in place on the basis of making further assessments of the damage and of what further remedial actions may have to be taken.
At present, people are dealing with severe personal and business hardships. When the floods recede we will assess other damage. That will be done in the context of local actions which have taken place and will continue to take place. Unfortunately, this matter will take a considerable time. There will be further assessment of future work needed to address issues which arise from the flooding. This is an initial and immediate response. There are mechanisms for the provision of supports and they will be provided following further assessment by the group and further advice to the Cabinet. The Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with the local committees, are assessing the situation today.
With regard to the new legislative measures following from the Lisbon treaty, the Chief Whip is meeting the Attorney General and I believe a meeting will take place with the Minister, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and your own Office, a Cheann Comhairle, to address the issue. I will revert to the Deputy later today on this matter.
We should have had further discussions on the matter of social partnership today. Although I was not informed personally, I was advised of IBEC's decision yesterday evening through the Taoiseach's office. With regard to the pay terms of the transitional agreement, the Minister for Finance made it clear, on 4 February last, what the issues are with regard to the private sector. The action of IBEC is disappointing. The agreement contained robust inability to pay mechanisms, specifically designed to address the current economic realities. It is disappointing that this has happened and I am sure we will have further discussions about this issue in due course.
On an issue also raised by Deputy Gilmore, the Joint Committee on European Affairs has produced an interim report which will be submitted to the Oireachtas within the next 48 hours and which, it is to be hoped, will be of some help.
Given the current climate, would it be possible for the Tánaiste to give some indication as to when the three proposed Bills relating to the operation of the financial services and banking systems will be published? Is there is any urgency regarding the drafting and introduction of the Bills to the House?
Yes, I never refer to anything but promised legislation. The Ceann Comhairle should know that.
One of the Bills to which I referred has an expected publication date for 2010. It is not possible to indicate a date for the publication of the two other Bills. The issues are apropos of those raised by Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business and relate to the manner and operation of the financial and banking services in this country. If the matter is not urgent-----
-----and the legislation is not urgently required, when will it become urgent? Can the Tánaiste give an indication to the House as to when items Nos. 56, 57 and 58 are likely to come before the House, if such an urgency exists? Could she also indicate when item No. 59, a Bill to modernise the VAT legislation, including making the layout and structure of the legislation more in line with that of the re-cast EU VAT directive, given the particular trading difficulties currently affecting this country will be published? Such difficulties affect the Ceann Comhairle's area. Would the Tánaiste like to shed some light on when or if the Bills to which I referred will come before the House?
I mo thuairim, níl ciall ar bith leis an cheist seo a chur os mo chomhair, mar tá na freagraí éagsúla ag an Teachta féin.
The Deputy has the answers so there is not much sense in asking me questions. This matter has been raised ad infinitum over the past number of weeks. These are particularly important pieces of legislation. The Taoiseach and I indicated work is ongoing in the relevant Department to bring these Bills before the House as quickly as possible. The majority of the Bills referred to will come before the House next year.
On the issue of the VAT Bill, there is no date for its publication. However, to be innovative in this House-----
To be innovative and so we can provide additional time for the relevant spokespersons to address their concerns in this House, I will ask the Department of Finance to provide an update on each piece of its legislation for the benefit of the Deputy.
When will the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009, for the provision and care and the protection of children, come before the Dáil? The first Bill to which I referred was published in 2007 and has not yet come before the Dáil. It is a very urgent matter in the current climate.
As the Deputy knows, the Committee on Health and Children indicated some legislative measures needed to be introduced. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is introducing them-----
-----and the Bill should come before the Cabinet soon. On the issue of a referendum, the committee has been given until the middle of December to bring forward proposals for consideration. We will not have a date until such time as the committee-----
Yes, I will come to it in a moment. Has the Government put any provisions in place in regard to mobilising the Civil Defence, in particular to areas in need which have been drastically affected over the past number of weeks? Given the fact that many peoples' homes haves been destroyed, farmers have lost-----
-----livestock, feed and so forth, is it intended to introduce legislation to put in place a national insurance fund to protect people who have been affected and will continue to be affected in the future by what has happened over the past week? Insurance companies have made it clear that these people are not covered by insurance.
In light of the ongoing activities of dissidents in Border areas and north of the Border, when will a Bill dealing with explosives come before the House so the issue can be discussed? More than 430,000 people are currently unemployed. Is there any legislation to insist the 70 jobs being created in Grove Turkeys in Monaghan be advertised and given to locally-skilled people rather than bringing in non-nationals to fill the posts?
The first Bill to which the Deputy referred will come before the House in the middle of next year. The issue of the social welfare Bill has been dealt with for some time. If there is a necessity for such a Bill, it will come before the House after the budget.
Under the Commissioners of Public Works (Functions and Powers) Act 1996, the Office of Public Works has the power to make schemes or other arrangements for the provision of assistance in the form of money, land or whatever to people who have suffered loss or injury due to flooding.
It is secondary legislation. Will the Government consider setting up a scheme, which could be administered through the OPW and the Red Cross where, in addition to Government funding, people could make donations to a supplementary hardship fund? Irish people are very generous. We have such schemes for overseas aid-----
It would be one way for the Government to provide for people suffering hardship in a more discretionary way than as happens with the current community welfare officer system. I am not suggesting it overtake Government aid, rather, it would supplement it.
To preface my remarks, the commentary in the headlines in the newspapers concern the lack of political will to tackle the issue of binge drinking. Against that background, when can we expect the sale of alcohol Bill and the public health (alcohol labelling provisions) Bill to come before the House?
As we are now approaching 2010, which has for some time been the promised date of publication for the monuments Bill, can the Tánaiste be more specific regarding the date of its publication?
On another item of promised legislation, a former Minister, who is now a vocal Member of the House, promised the people of the midlands for a long time that she would bring forward a River Shannon authority Bill on the management of the River Shannon, but that legislation has not come to fruition.
Many Members who have been elected to this House for many years would remember the late Seán Doherty who always thought there should be a scheme to drain the River Shannon.
Maybe he was not far wrong, God rest him.
On the issue of the monuments legislation, the heads of that legislation have been sent to the relevant Departments for observations, but we would not be in a position to say it would be available any sooner than next year.
The Tánaiste indicated that the funds being made available for flood relief were on an interim basis. It has been brought to my attention that an insurance company, namely the FBD Insurance, has broken with traditional established practices and has refused to make interim payments-----
I know but this is a particularly serious matter. When interim and agreed payments were being made, emergency works could be carried out to the many private residences, businesses and farm buildings throughout the country. However, this company has broken the established precedent and will not make any payment until all matters have been finalised.
In this instance, given the urgency of the matter, I ask the Tánaiste to speak to those insurance companies and ask them to continue to follow the established practices whereby adjustments could be agreed later in order that vital emergency works can be carried out.
We all know the great work that has been done throughout the length and breadth of the country by the community service sector. The fact that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is effectively dismantling that sector through savage cutbacks and the elimination of its independence, and that the Tánaiste-----
My second question is directly related to legislation. If the independence of the community service sector and the community development programmes are to be removed and responsibility for that sector is to be transferred and it is to have a new role, what legislation will be put in place to effect that and to implement the Department's proposals?
Under promised legislation, when will the Tánaiste introduce the legislation on capacity and ratification of the disability convention? I understand the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the draft legislation in September 2008. The legislation was due to be published in early 2009, but that has not happened. When will it be introduced? It is long over due and this issue is an old chestnut now.
All politics is local. On the issue of the Dell funding, we have got clearance from the European Union following ongoing discussions between my Department and the European Commission. The money, as I indicated, will be for the benefit of the individual and not for anyone else's benefit. To reiterate and clarify the position, the money will not go to the individual but it will be for the benefit of the individual and to augment his or her capacity for training or to provide seed capital for a person to set up his or her own business. In bringing together everyone who will be involved in the distribution of that money, it is my clear intention that there will be one line person who will be accountable to me and my Department for the disbursement of those moneys.
When will the finance appropriation Bill come before the House? The issue of the number of cheques returned by the banks in the past six months must be examined. I sought this information by way of a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance, but he did not have the information I required. Furthermore, he did not believe there was anything unusual about this situation. This is a serious matter. He is either living in denial or living in a cave.
The Minister who takes an Adjournment matter has a prepared speech. Can I ask the Chair a further question? If this matter is not the subject of promised legislation, and clearly it is not, and those of us on the Opposition benches do not have sufficient time to draft the necessary legislation-----
-----how can we manage to address this? Apart from inquiries and everything else which I believe can wait, people in dire circumstances and community welfare officers are already overloaded with work because of the downturn in the economy. Has the Tánaiste additional plans to put in place a mechanism to spend the money that will be allocated for this? This is my question and it is a straightforward one.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs will disburse the emergency funding and other funding mechanisms will be managed through the relevant line Departments in due course. It will be done through the Department of Social and Family Affairs locally.
I remind the Tánaiste and the Government that at the time of the flooding of the Tolka in my constituency the Red Cross was heavily involved at the invitation of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern. That worked very successfully and I would recommend it to the Government in regard to relief in terms of the current floods. Many people are not used to going to community welfare officers. The Red Cross was very flexible and fast in its response on that occasion. The Minister of State, Deputy Carey, would also know that.
Has the Minister any proposals to review the arrangements in respect of the aviation regulator? There are approximately 700 Irish people abroad at the moment with Budget Travel. The people in Egypt are having a great difficulty-----
Let me continue for a moment. Although there is a very large and substantial bond, there appears to be a collapse in the market because of the decline in business. The regulator is upholding the regulations and there is very little scope for the travel businesses to go to the courts for protection.
There is some indication the Government will abolish or merge the county enterprise boards with Enterprise Ireland. Will the Government introduce legislation under the Employment Agency Regulation Bill to achieve that objective?
It may not be in order to ask the question but this morning the people of Arklow, the constituency of Wicklow and the whole country are coming to terms with the shocking and tragic murder last night of a shopkeeper who was defending his premises. Has the Government any plans to address the issue of knife crime? Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances although some details are in the media today. It is a shocking event which has left people reeling not only in Arklow, but generally in the constituency and the country. Does the Tánaiste agree it is important that this issue is addressed generally by legislation and that we should have an opportunity to discuss the issue in the House at some stage in future?
I can speak for all Members on this matter. I condemn the killing in Arklow yesterday. I convey my sympathies to the family of the deceased and the people of Arklow. It is a traumatic time for the people who live there. We introduced new legislation to the House which increased the penalty for the use of knives. There are heavy penalties for offences involving weapons under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009. As well as taking rigorous action against such criminal activity, the Garda is involved in a campaign specifically dealing with the use of such weapons. I recognise the Garda is investigating the situation and all the available resources of the force will, hopefully, address the serious issues. The legislative framework has been changed. It is terribly unfortunate that such an incident has taken place in Arklow town.