Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2010: First Stage

 

11:00 am

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide protection from civil liability or penalisation to employees who make certain protected disclosures in relation to the affairs of their employers and to provide for related matters.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the Bill opposed?

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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No.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Last year broadcasting legislation was passed by the two Houses and the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was charged with carrying out a selection process for appointments to the boards of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and RTE. That process was completed before Christmas. We all know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has an eccentric view regarding appointments to the public services. He seems to think a telephone call and a chat is enough.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does the Deputy have a question on promised legislation?

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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We now have a situation where, I understand, four Cabinet meetings have been held and yet these appointments have not been made. I have no idea what is going on, but the committee on which I sit carried out its duty in an exemplary fashion. We made our recommendations to the Minister, Deputy Ryan. He does not have to accept them, but we have no word-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot have Question Time on the Order of Business. The Deputy can table a parliamentary question.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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The people who went through that process are now being treated with great discourtesy because the decision has not been made at Cabinet level to accept them or not.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy McManus, you are abusing the Order of Business. It is never intended to be utilised as Question Time.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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What is going on? Maybe the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, could let us in on the secret.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The question is not in order.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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On the last subject, I tabled a question and the answer was "None". It tells one nothing; it is the usual story.

On promised legislation, what is the current status of legislation to amend the social welfare code? Have the heads of a Bill been agreed? What discussion has taken place? It would appear there is a major reform of the social welfare code, which will result in a diminution in entitlements and mean-testing, etc., which we have not seen heretofore.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I understand a social welfare Bill is promised for this session.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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It is item No. 50.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We have an answer on that, Deputy.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We do not have an answer. The question I asked-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The question was on promised legislation.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am entitled to ask the degree to which preparation of the Bill has been undertaken, what stage it is at and when we expect it to come before the House.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The extent of the question allowed concerns when the Bill is being taken.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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A Member is entitled to ask when a Bill will be introduced into the House and its degree of preparation to date so we can come to our own conclusions as to when it will come before the House.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps I can give a slightly fuller answer. The Bill is described as the social welfare (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. It provides for amendments to the social welfare code. It will be published this session. It is the only Bill which is specifically a social welfare Bill before the Minister. There are two other items of legislation of a different description.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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My point concerns spouses engaged in a commercial partnerships, the response I received to a parliamentary question and the legislative clarity which is needed. The Department of Social and Family Affairs is asking a number of people, many of whom are married women on farms who are authorised for the payment of a State pension and who are now being asked to give the money back.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is not an extension of Question Time.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I will get to the point. The Department has issued an apology in this case but we need legislative clarity, possibly in the Finance Bill. One has to wonder if anybody read the legislation before the scheme was announced. The Department constructed and designed the scheme on the premise that the returns were being solely made by husbands, and now it is disallowing successful applicants from qualifying, based on the fact that the wives made no contributions independent of their husbands.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, on promised legislation.

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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The scheme was advertised on the basis of that phenomenon. Now the State wants its money back because of what the Department identified as the reason for introducing the scheme in place in the first place. The Minister needs to clarify to the Dáil-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, can you raise this matter on the Adjournment?

Photo of John DeasyJohn Deasy (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I will ask the Minister about the finance Bill and whether this scheme can be included in it to give the people concerned clarity. It is a very petty was of dealing with people, and the State, the Government, the Department and Minister need to deal with the issue.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will allow the Minister to come in as a number of other Deputies wish to speak.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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It is not a matter for the finance Bill. There is a difficulty of which I am aware. The initial advice of the Minister is that the difficulty did not require legislative resolution. However, she is examining the matter further and if legislation is required she will bring it forward.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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On the drug prescription Bill, we raised the issue of head shops. Would the Minister be prepared to include in it provisions for the quarantining of all substances until they have been passed by the Food Safety Authority or the Irish Medicines Board? I am trying to be helpful because children and young people are being put at risk.

Another area which I would like to address is the forestry Bill. It has come to my attention that it is intended to close Teagasc in Kinsealy with the loss of more than 100 jobs. This area is particularly important for horticulture, which is carried out in north Dublin. I am trying to be helpful.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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There is no legislation involved.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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There is, the forestry Bill.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are stretching things.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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There might be opportunities there instead of selling off land when it is at its lowest value. The Minister, Deputy Lenihan, might be linked to this issue. Why would one sell property at this point in time when it is on its knees? The land comprises 80 acres which would be valuable for the future.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, refers to resourcing horticulture with one hand while he removes the research facility with the other. There were 21 personnel involved in research in horticulture several years ago; now there are 2.5.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The issue of head shops is very important. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, was present earlier and I hoped she would be here when I raised this issue. It is concerning a lot of parents. Families are very upset about it. There is a loophole in the law which needs to be closed immediately, not in two years' time when young people in this country will have died as a result of taking these drugs. I ask the Government to introduce emergency legislation to the Dáil to deal with head shops.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is secondary legislation promised?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Secondary legislation is promised in the this matter which will address the issue. I understand, in light of the ongoing health risks associated with some of the products, the Department of Health and Children is preparing regulations which will control these substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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As the Minister is aware, there are two main criteria involved in the public procurement process for major capital projects, namely, turnover and the capacity of the company. This is putting certain companies at a competitive advantage.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Through the Chair, Deputy.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister examine the possibly of introducing a measure under the Competition Act or the financial regulation Bill, which is item No. 60 on the Order Paper?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is there promised legislation in this area?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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No.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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This is putting smaller companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no promised legislation in this area. The Deputy cannot make a speech and he certainly cannot ignore the Chair.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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My last point-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no last point.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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Ten companies in this country get all the large contracts, namely, McNamara brothers. Small companies with a turnover of €8 million to €9 million cannot------

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Deputy McHugh, you will resume your seat or leave the House.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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It is something which should be addressed. There is a cartel system which should be addressed as a matter of urgency. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no go raibh maith agat regarding ignoring the Chair.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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I am being nice.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I want to be very clear on the normal Standing Orders of the House. When the Chair stands and addresses a Deputy, the Deputy, under the Orders of the House, must resume his or her seat. We will have latitude regarding debate but the Chair will not be completely ignored.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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On a-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Please, this is not a debate.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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On a point of information-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no such thing in the Standing Orders. I will send you a copy.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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There was a great degree of latitude here prior to the arrival of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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It is important that we have order in the House. I will give absolute latitude as far as the rules allow to every Deputy, but the Chair will not be simply ignored.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
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It is also important that we do not have a cartel system in the country.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I have a question on a Bill in respect of which heads have been agreed and texts are being drafted. The Government's legislative programme indicates that publication of No. 25 in section B, the qualifications (education and training) Bill, is expected in late 2010. The purpose of the legislation is described as to amalgamate HETAC and FETAC in a new organisation which "will also take responsibility for the external quality assurance review of the universities". In so far as publication is expected in late 2010, and it is not clear when the report of the working group on the future of third level education is likely to be published, was it somewhat premature of the Minister for Education and Science to announce that he will abolish the National University of Ireland?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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As the Deputy will be aware, he may not ask questions on the contents or specifics of legislation.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I may ask about precipitative action by the Minister.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The heads of the Bill were approved in principle by the Government on 13 January. The publication of the actual text will be in late 2010. There is a Government decision about the matters referred to.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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On that matter-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy must refer to the same legislation.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware, I am usually very orderly. The Minister stated there is a Government decision in the matter. In that case, may I assume the Minister for Education obtained Cabinet permission to abolish the National University of Ireland? Is that the decision?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Earlier this week, the Tánaiste informed the leader of my party, Deputy Gilmore, that a letter from the Health Service Executive to the community and voluntary agencies it funds was issued in error. The letter referred to cutting the pay of employees in the organisations in question. Will the Minister comment on concerns that the Health Service Executive will reduce funding to these organisations to force them to implement pay cuts? Will he state clearly that it is not the Government's intention that the HSE do this?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy's questions are not in order.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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It is important that the Minister clarify what he intended when he introduced the budget.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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All the matters raised are important. There are, however, ways and means to raise them properly which underscore their importance.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Will the Minister clarify exactly what are his intentions in the Finance Bill?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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He cannot not do so, although he may indicate when the Finance Bill will be introduced.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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The matter does not arise in the Finance Bill.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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It arose in the budget. There is deep concern that the Health Service Executive will misinterpret the Minister's intentions. Does the matter arise in the Estimates?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is legislation or secondary legislation involved in implementing the relevant budget proposal?

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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There is no proposal.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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While I do not know if I am entitled to ask about the Estimates, do they feature a requirement to cut the pay of voluntary and community organisations?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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It is in order on the Order of Business to raise proposals for legislation and their timing as well as secondary legislation. It is not in order to engage in a general debate on budgetary matters. Other means of raising such matters, including the Adjournment, are available to Deputies.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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If legislation has indirect or unintentional consequences, clarification must be provided in the House.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am afraid that is not the case.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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The matter certainly needs to be clarified for the workers involved.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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When the Labour Party introduced a Private Members' motion on a banking inquiry the Minister at that point and in earlier statements advised the House that he would shortly appoint an expert wise man or woman who would be a national or international figure. He gave the impression that this would occur late last week. A further week has passed and the Tánaiste-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The matter is not in order as it does not relate to promised legislation.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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It is related to the banking inquiry which the Government has indicated may have to be the subject of legislation. The Minister informed the House he would return-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy may not make a speech.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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As the Minister is present and this is an important point related to a fundamental inquiry in the banks, will the Minister indicate whether he has identified-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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While all the points raised are important, they are not in order.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The Tánaiste indicated on the Order of Business that the Minister was talking to someone. Has the Minister brought an appointment to the Cabinet? Will he announce it to the House? Two weeks have passed.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy has made her point. The question is not in order.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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There is no promised legislation but contact has been made with a particular person and discussions are ongoing with a view to making a rapid appointment.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Two weeks have passed and the inquiry is supposed to be concluded by the end of May.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy had a good innings on a number of issues. We must move on.