Thursday, 28 January 2010
Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2010: First Stage
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.
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.
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-----
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-----
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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-----