Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 18, Finance Bill 2010 - Report and Final Stages (Resumed); and No. 19, Road Traffic Bill 2009 - Second Stage (Resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the DÃ¡il shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m. The resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and, notwithstanding the proceedings yesterday, shall resume on amendment No. 3 and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.
Private Members' business shall be No. 36, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Review of Rent in Certain Cases) (Amendment) Bill 2010 â Second Stage (Resumed) â to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
Will the Taoiseach indicate if there will be an opportunity for the House to address the scandalous situation vis-Ã-vis the 57,000 X-rays at Tallaght hospital? When will the Minister for Health and Children present before this Chamber, or a Minister of State in her Department in her absence, take the opportunity to address this issue substantively in this House? There are many serious questions to be addressed. Contradictory information has been provided in various commentaries regarding this scandalous situation in terms of awareness, knowledge of and action regarding same and that must be addressed in the House. We need to know with certainty that what has been exposed in respect of Tallaght hospital, where a consultant radiologist did not have or did not avail of the opportunity to scrutinise some 57,000 X-rays, that a similar situation does not pertain at other hospital sites throughout the jurisdiction as well. This is a very important matter and I call on the Taoiseach to clarify at this point when the Minister, or a Minister of State on her behalf, will present in the Chamber, preferably today.
Will the Taoiseach intervene? It is well within his gift, given the importance and seriousness of the matter, to intervene to accommodate an opportunity for it. I do not know when the Minister is due to return to Ireland. I realise she is currently out of the country but that should not prevent the House addressing this matter from an informed and definitely focused basis. Will the Taoiseach ensure at least, in the absence of the Minister, that a Minister of State from her Department would come before the House with the full information and take questions of members of the Opposition?
I wish to address the issue raised by Deputy CaoimhghÃn Ã CaolÃ¡in. It was clear this morning when the Minister spoke from New Zealand that she is muddled and mixed up. This is a Minister who does not know the difference between meddling and management. She should come home immediately.
As I have indicated, this is a matter for the procedure of the House. As I understand it, the Ceann Comhairle is on notice of any private notice questions that may have been submitted. The Report and Final Stages of the Finance Bill are to be completed today. That is a very important matter that must be dealt with as well.
The Taoiseach may state continuously that this is a matter to be sorted out by the Whips but the Government orders the business here. Some 65 amendments to the Finance Bill remain; four have been dealt with. These range from issues related to NAMA, to the consolidation of taxes, head shops and a whole range of other issues. The time allocated for today will not allow Members to get into any constructive or detailed discussion about a number of these very important amendments. There is no reason that the DÃ¡il could not sit for a longer period tomorrow to deal with the details of the amendments to the Finance Bill tabled by Deputies. I object to the Bill being guillotined today. It is not good enough.
I take the point made by Deputy Reilly in respect of the catastrophe that has befallen certain people and the concern that exists for those whose X-rays have not been read. They have not been informed about whether they are at a high risk. This is unsatisfactory and I object to it. I will vote against the Order of Business unless the Government Whip indicates to me that extra time will be given to these amendments to the Finance Bill tomorrow.
There is a perfectly agreeable way of addressing this issue. The Finance Bill is probably one of the most important tranches of legislation that comes before the House each year. Attempting to guillotine the Bill is an insult to the work of the House. We could find two hours tomorrow easily without seriously discommoding anyone. As has been done on several occasions in recent times, question time could be pushed back until later in the afternoon tomorrow and we could hold a sufficiency of debate. Several serious matters arise here and we must hold a discussion with the Minister for Finance on what he proposes. Happily, he accepted a Labour Party amendment to the Finance Bill last night in respect of an evaluation of the cost of tax expenditures and tax breaks. That was helpful and it may indicate a new spirit of bipartisanship in this House.
The Sinn FÃ©in Deputies reject absolutely the proposition that a guillotine should be applied to the Finance Bill at any stage, let alone on Report and Final Stages. The situation is that only four amendments from approximately 70 tabled were addressed in yesterday's discussions in the Chamber. There is inadequate time to address the import of all the amendments tabled. I recognise that this Bill accommodates the removal of the VAT exemption from local authorities that will result in a 13.5% increase in respect of charges covering a whole raft of services at that level.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 77 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 70 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Will the Taoiseach consider again the statement made by the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, that the Lost at Sea scheme began as maladministration and ended up as bad governance? The Ombudsman, appointed by the Government, has said it is not tolerable that the objective and independent report she produced will not be allowed to be discussed at the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
-----that they should have the opportunity to answer questions at the relevant committee. All I want from the Taoiseach is that he has no objection to a committee dealing with this. The other day when answering a parliamentary question, the Minister for Transport said the Government will not give any more time in the Chamber to this report. That was a clear statement from the Minister. I want an equally clear statement from the Taoiseach saying that on account of what the Ombudsman has said officially in public that the appropriate Oireachtas committee, comprising Members from all parties, should be entitled to consider her report on the Lost at Sea scheme. Deputy Fahey, who is present in the Chamber, has been mentioned in the report. He should be entitled to give his say in detail at the committee.
The Ceann Comhairle would like me to raise it through Private Members' time and then be accused of wasting time. This is a case where the appropriate committee can deal with it.
I can see no reason why the Government will not allow this to happen. It is clearly a case of where, on the one hand, the Government considered the Ombudsman's report and, on the other, that one of its Members was mentioned in it. The Government has come down in favour of a Government Deputy.
I have not accused Deputy Fahey of anything. Instead, I am giving him the opportunity to go to the appropriate committee and deal with questions that need to be answered in respect of the Ombudsman's report. It is not a report from a political party.
You have suggested Private Members' time, a Cheann Comhairle. I am asking the Taoiseach a straight question. Will the report be considered by the appropriate committee?
It is unusual for a Department to reject a finding of the Ombudsman. It is also unusual for the Ombudsman to refer the matter to the Oireachtas for it to decide upon. The arrangement made for statements on it did not satisfy that requirement. The Labour Party spokesperson, Deputy Sherlock, has tabled a motion to have the issue referred to the appropriate DÃ¡il committee. That is the only way to deal with this. The longer this matter continues, the more politicised and more partisan it will become.
That is the whole point. The Department rejected the recommendation. There is a precedent for dealing with this matter, as there was a previous occasion where something similar arose and it was dealt with by the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
As I said yesterday, the sooner it is referred to the committee and dealt with on an all-party basis the better. I do not understand why the Government will not agree to have this dealt with by the appropriate committee. That is all we are asking for.
We must recognise the Ombudsman is a politically independent officer of the State. We must treat seriously matters she refers to the DÃ¡il and Seanad as she has done in this instance. It is only the second time a report of the Ombudsman's office has been rejected by a Department. It is very important that we do not find ourselves in the situation she described in her remarks yesterday, with the DÃ¡il having been sidelined and the Opposition failing to hold the Executive to account.
I have done no such thing. I am asking the Taoiseach to take this issue seriously immediately. There can be no question but that the Government has blocked address of this issue in this Chamber, in the Seanad and in the committee. It is beyond the understanding of any reasonable opinion and should be addressed immediately. What else will put the matter to bed? What else will address the concerns expressed by the Ombudsman? There can be no other way of dealing with this and I urge the Taoiseach and the Government to accede to the collective request of the Opposition to have this matter addressed as a substantive issue by the committee.
The Ceann Comhairle repeatedly requests the Opposition to have the matter dealt with in Private Members' time. That is not the appropriate way to deal with it because we need a forensic investigation and interviews with various parties, including Deputy Fahey whom the Taoiseach is intent on protecting and around whom he is circling the Government wagons. We are offering Deputy Fahey, the Ombudsman and the complainant an opportunity to come before the committee. That is what true and effective parliamentary democracy is about, not a charade and a whitewash, which is what the Ceann Comhairle is asking the Opposition to participate in.
Can I just finish my sentence? I believe we hold the Government to account in the Oireachtas but we are being put in a straitjacket in terms of what we can raise on the Order of Business. We should be able to raise whether a report should be debated on the Order of Business.
With all due respect, I indicated on this issue. There is a motion before the House and all the Labour Party wants is to provide the Ombudsman with an opportunity to present the findings of her report before a designated committee, preferably the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is on the Order Paper and we are asking that there be some degree of common sense in terms of how this is approached. We do not want further statements in the DÃ¡il on this matter and, as Deputy Gilmore said, it can be done without debate if we facilitate the person in question. That is all we are asking.
On the point of order, I and other Members have raised repeatedly the question of accountability to the House. The Ceann Comhairle finds himself in a difficult position and I am not being critical of him. The Ceann Comhairle says there are ways and means of dealing with this issue without any change to protocol. It is a fact of life. Does the Opposition have to bring the business of the House to a halt in order to get the Government to accept the principle of accountability to Parliament?
On a point of order, when we are discussing the ordering of Government business, the Ceann Comhairle has got into the habit of giving us helpful advice to kick it to touch into Private Members' time. That is not what we are talking about.
A number of misrepresentations have been made by the Opposition and I want to clear up the factual situation. The Ombudsman Act is entirely silent on how the Houses of the Oireachtas should deal with a special report laid before each House. The Ombudsman presented a special report to each House of the Oireachtas at which time she invited them to consider the report and "take whatever action they deem appropriate". It is a matter for the Oireachtas to order its business. The DÃ¡il and Seanad have dealt with the Ombudsman's report by way of statements on 4 February and 18 February respectively.
I just heard from Deputy Gilmore about the need to avoid partisanship in respect of this matter. He wanted to have this matter dealt with by the committee to avoid all partisanship. Deputy Creed has been involved in a game of partisanship for months.
Every time I get to speak on this, Deputy Creed keeps interrupting me. I read his statement yesterday. He has a statement on this every day. Again, it is Deputy Creed seeking to introduce a degree of partisanship into this matter.
If Deputy Creed did not interrupt me, I would have answered by now if Deputy Timmins is interested in an answer but he is not interested in an answer.
There is no prescribed issue in respect of the Ombudsman Act that the House dealt with.
As the Ombudsman accepts, any Department is free in law to decide whether it will accept the recommendation. In many cases they are accepted but there have been occasions in which they had not been accepted. It is out of respect for the Ombudsman's office that we do not reject every recommendation.
The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, outlined the Government's position in respect of this matter in the House. I do not accept some of the suggestions made about this. The Department's reason for taking that position is on the record of the House. It is entitled in law to take that position.
The Ombudsman Act is silent on how that can be dealt with. We dealt with it by way of statements in the House. It has been dealt with as far as the Government is concerned. The Department is entitled in law to take a position and this is accepted by the Ombudsman.
I asked the Taoiseach to address the precedent that exists in this House. On the one previous occasion in 25 years when the Ombudsman laid a report before the House of the Oireachtas, it was referred to the Oireachtas committee on finance for investigation. That is all the Houses ask, that the matter be investigated by a committee of the House.
As Deputy Killeen stated in his DÃ¡il statement the scheme once decided upon was properly and fairly administered by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.
I note what the Taoiseach has said about the Ombudsman's Act being silent on the matter. Again, we respectfully ask that the Taoiseach allow the Ombudsman an opportunity to present her findings. I believe that is a reasonable approach. This can be done in a non-partisan way. I am sure this House could facilitate such a process.
The Ombudsman has presented her special report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas how it wishes to deal with it. We have had statements in both Houses on the matter.
The following may not be silent in law. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority Bill is listed on the Order Paper. We have all read in recent times of the massive splurge of expenditure on travel and entertainment. There is precedence in this regard. The Ceann Comhairle's Office has been the subject of precedent in respect of this matter. The Director General of FÃS, an agency of the TÃ¡naiste's Department, has been the subject of adjudication on these matters. When will the Taoiseach bring forth an amendment to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to deal with these matters as per the Bill on the Order Paper?
There is no legislation promised by Government in that respect. Obviously, there are reports to be considered by the Minister and they will be brought forward in due course.
The Taoiseach's Green Party colleagues in government thought the matters relating to the former Ceann Comhairle and Mr. Molloy were serious. Is the Taoiseach suggesting these issues are not serious enough to be discussed or to warrant a change in the legislation?
There has been no comment by me suggesting matters are not serious or otherwise. I am merely making the point that the report should be considered by the Minister taking the advice he is taking and will be published in due course.
I have four brief questions for the Taoiseach. I understand the competition Bill includes a section to deal with the situation whereby a company can effectively own a large shareholding in its direct competitor, as is happening in aviation. When will that Bill come before the House?
I understand the globalisation fund extra information for the SRT workers was on the desk of Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, last week. Has that information been sent back to Brussels? There was massive disruption yesterday by the taxi industry. The Taoiseach will be aware the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport-----
I understand the taxi workers want to discuss with the Minister the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport on taxis. Perhaps a meeting in this regard could be arranged as soon as possible.
Perhaps the Taoiseach will when in Chicago next week visit Northfields to meet the chief executive of Kraft in respect of workers at Cadburys.
The TÃ¡naiste will meet with the chief executive of Kraft in due course. On the question in respect of the competition Bill, it is proposed to introduce it by the end of this year. The information in relation to SRT has been returned to Brussels.
We are continually advised of the great work being done by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. We are told that big is great and big is perfect. Members will be aware of the current situation at Tallaght Hospital. When will the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill be brought before the House to allow us an opportunity to discuss the complete utter chaos of our health system?
The multi-unit developments Bill is long overdue legislation. I accept an update on the matters has been received from the Whips' office. While the multi-unit developments Bill is complex legislation its introduction has been dragging on now for eight years. Meanwhile there is no redress for the 400,000 apartment owners. These people have nobody to turn to in respect of disputes and problems that arise. Perhaps the Taoiseach will expedite this legislation and provide the House with an update in this regard.
Deputy Broughan mentioned the Taoiseach will next week be in Chicago where the headquarters of Kraft management is based. Perhaps he will make it his business to ensure the 1,200 jobs at Cadburys in Dublin are retained. The last thing we need in this country is more people joining the dole queues.
Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House if the mid-west task force is working towards producing its final report and, if so, when is it expected the chairman will report on the matter? Also, will the Taoiseach facilitate a debate on the report when concluded?
Given the Taoiseach has stated he has confidence in the Minister for Health and Children, perhaps he will tell us the reason the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, did not inform her in June of the situation at Tallaght Hospital. How is it possible that the word of the CEO that there were only 4,000 cases involved when it transpires that there are 58,000 cases involved, was accepted? This is the worst scandal yet we have had in this country.
When will the whistleblowers charter be introduced? When will the legislation promised in the programme for Government, which the Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children appear to be putting on the long finger, be brought before this House? Will the Taoiseach, Minister and HIQA assure this House that this situation does not pertain in other hospitals around the country?
This is much broader than the immediate issue. It is a matter of the Minister's competence. The Minister handed over complete responsibility for the health service to the HSE, and because of that, she is now hiding behind the fact-----
It is reported in the newspapers that the Taoiseach is launching the innovation taskforce report tomorrow. This report claims that 120,000 jobs can be created. Does the Taoiseach have any plans to bring the report to the House? We can then have a full debate on it and hear the Government's detailed response to the recommendations of the report.
I was going to reply. This report will be launched tomorrow by the taskforce that wrote it and it will be considered by the Government. It is a matter for the Whips to decide when this or any other report will be debated.
The Taoiseach will be in the arms of President Obama next week. Will he raise the issue of the undocumented Irish? It is very important. Many of our Irish illegals are caught in limbo over there, and I hope the Taoiseach will raise it with the President next week. We were promised legislation on the issue by the US Government.
Ireland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which recognises the right to free movement of people. There is an explicit right in our Constitution to free travel. That explicit right has been denied to people due to the actions of staff at the passport office. Will the Taoiseach get the Minister for Foreign Affairs to do something about it? It is disgraceful that people all over the country are arriving at the office but cannot get their passport. Perhaps the Taoiseach has his own passport in order for next week, but it is unacceptable that people cannot travel abroad. We are a laughing stock abroad and the CPSU is running rings around the Government.
I asked the staff of the Oireachtas Library to do some research on local authority loans. They informed me that 43% of such loans across the country were in arrears. When I asked officials at Kildare County Council what could be done about this, they told me that their hands were tied and they could do nothing about it. They said that if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government gave a ministerial order under section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, it would allow them to negotiate with people who had loans to ensure that proper facilities were put in place to deal with arrears.
The Minister has approved ministerial orders for other sections of that Bill, but I am asking the Taoiseach-----