Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Defamation Act 2009 (Press Council) Order 2010, back from committee; No. 10, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 3, Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 9 and 10 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' business shall be No. 72, motion re energy security.
I object to the Order of Business. I do so because No. 3, which proposes to take the Central Bank Reform Bill, should be opposed on the basis that the Government does not wish to extend the inquiry beyond September 2008. I outlined during Taoiseach's Questions what should be done if the Government is serious about sorting out this matter for once and for all to restore our financial and banking sectors. I refer to having absolutely above board the institutions that deal with finance and financial lending with new regulatory regimes, as well as new oversight and regulation that works. It is imperative that the inquiry is not a whitewash or a cover up and that it is open ended to deal with the ongoing exposure of the further litany of banking scandals referred to by the Minister for Finance in his speech in the House on 30 March. He stated that senior banking officials had engaged in reckless lending for which the taxpayer would need to pay for years to come and that the banks had played fast and loose with Irish economic interests. From this perspective, I am opposed to the Order of Business, as it features something we must do.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I also want to oppose the Order of Business. These two motions are being taken together. As a general principle, that should not be done. I agree with Deputy Kenny that the core issue today is that the Government is relying on a make-believe investigation into what occurred in banking. Last session, it rejected proposals by the Labour Party that there should be a proper inquiry into what occurred, particularly the Government's role and that of the Taoiseach during his period as Minister for Finance. His replies today in response to Deputy Kenny and me are inadequate. For those reasons, the Labour Party is opposing the proposals before the House on the Order of Business.
Banking regulation legislation is vital and its absence has contributed in no small measure to the tragic situations we have witnessed. The ongoing effect will be that ordinary citizens and families will face serious consequences in the time ahead. It is imperative that there be real banking regulation in this jurisdiction.
The Sinn Féin Deputies, however, do not agree to the taking of this Bill in the absence of a draft code setting out the standards of fitness and probity that must apply. The Bill referred to by previous speakers as part of the Order Paper indicates that the code is a key requirement, yet there is no indication as to how the code will be drafted, whether Opposition voices will have any input and when such a draft will present. There is no provision for any of this. The code setting out the standards of fitness and probity is central. It is one of the cornerstones of any such legislation if the latter is to be effective.
Exactly as previous speakers did, I am explaining the reasons we oppose the proposals on the Order of Business. This Bill, as presented, is not properly prepared, nor do we as Opposition voices have an understanding, let alone the opportunity to scrutineer, what it is the Government will be imposing.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 73 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Cyprian Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 71 (James Bannon, Seán Barrett, 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, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, 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, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, 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 John Curran and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I congratulate the Government Chief Whip on winning his first vote, admittedly by a short head. Some Members opposite may have been a little concerned regarding the closeness of the result.
On the legislative programme for 2010, it seems that despite the various facilities available to it the Government has not yet been able to adjust the names of the Departments to match what the Taoiseach indicated when he announced his Cabinet reshuffle. In that context, reference is still being made to the Department of Education and Science, which should be the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which should be Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The Department of Social and Family Affairs will become the Department of Social Protection. Is there is a reason for that?
Will the local government (Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill be published, debated and finalised before the end of the summer session? Has the Government made a decision on whether the elections for a directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin will take place this year? If so, has a date been finalised?
I refer to the children's referendum, to which the Government and the all-party committee have committed. Has the Government signed off on a date on when the children's referendum will be held?
We are talking about publishing the local government (Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill during this session. We planned for that to take place during 2010. On the children's referendum, that report is to hand and is being considered by Government but no decision has been made.
If it is intended to hold the mayoral election in 2010 and if there is a possibility of holding the children's referendum on the same day, is it the Taoiseach's intention-----
Noting what the Taoiseach said that it is intended to hold the election for the Lord Mayor of Dublin some time in 2010 and given that the people of Dublin South would be going to the polls some time in 2010 anyway, does he agree the logical date to have the Dublin South by-election would be on the same day as the election for the Lord Mayor of Dublin? If he is going to have one by-election on that date, he might as well hold all three. What would be the logic of having the election for the Lord Mayor of Dublin one day and the by-elections on another day?
Since we are on the subject of the election of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, I note that is an addition to the list of Bills we are to get from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There are now three Bills on that list for this session. I notice two Bills on the list for the last session have disappeared. One is the environment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which the Minister promised would extend the scope of the landfill levy to include incineration. The Minister was relying on this Bill to do something about the incinerator in Ringsend. I am not quite clear what he was planning to do about the incinerator in Ringsend but he said he would do something about it-----
-----and it was based on this Bill.
The problem is that this Bill has disappeared from the legislative programme. Does that mean the Minister is not going to do whatever he intended to do about the incinerator in Ringsend because the Bill is gone? Will the Taoiseach tell us what has happened to the Bill?
It is on the B list. The Minister has examined a number of approaches to the application of waste facility levies and now considers it appropriate to consult key stakeholders having regard to changed circumstances in the waste management market and in the broader economy.
In regard to promised legislation from the Department of Health and Children, I note once again the current status of the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill is "not possible to indicate", as has been the case for so long. I note very worryingly that the spring programme stated publication of the promised mental health (amendment) Bill was expected to be 2010, but we have now been told publication is expected in 2011. The Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, who is responsible for mental health, is in the House.
The spring programme indicated that publication of the public health (alcohol labelling provisions) Bill and the reference pricing for drugs Bill was expected in 2010 but the current programme states that it is not possible to indicate a publication date. Time after time, as spokesperson for health and children, I, along with other Opposition voices covering this particular portfolio, have highlighted to the Taoiseach the failure of the Department of Health and Children and the Minister to ensure long promised and much needed legislation would be fast tracked. Fast tracking does not come into consideration in regard to this Minister and this Department's work rate in terms of legislation, and I have not mentioned the nurses and midwives Bill.
A very serious situation applies in this Department which merits the Taoiseach's scrutiny as well as that of other Opposition voices. Prior to the Easter recess, I wrote to the Minister for Health and Children asking specific questions in regard to her then recent meeting with Justice for Magdalenes representatives.
------she is unable to answer my parliamentary question. The Minister attended that meeting and I am not aware that she is in the middle of a work to rule or industrial action. It is well within her gift to respond to the question and she should not hide behind the cloak of the civil servants' protest currently in train in her Department and in other Departments. This is an absolute nonsense where Members of this House are not getting responses to legitimate parliamentary questions. Rather than pleading with me-----
I refer to one of the matters raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin, the nurses and midwives Bill. He is absolutely right about the spillage in time in regard to practically every Bill on the list from the Minister for Health and Children. The nurses and midwives Bill was on the A list in the last session, which meant it should have been popped into my letter box before I returned to the House, but it did not. It is on the A list again. Will the nurses and midwives Bill be published this session and not in the summer holidays?
Another Bill on that list, which Deputy Ó Caoláin did not mention, relates to sunbeds. During the slack period last summer, the Minister made great play about how she would ban or control sunbeds but we have not heard a murmur from her.
I understand the nurses and midwives Bill is due to be published next week. The Whip has been rigorous in ensuring we get the Bills on A list. A complaint of Deputies is when Bills are put on the A list but they are not published. It is better to have as good and as accurate a list as possible which is realistic and based on current drafting issues. The Office of the Attorney General and other legal draftspeople have been very busy.
To make a serious point, I understand consultations have been completed at this stage. I know this matter was raised by the Irish Cancer Society and I do not wish to belittle it in any way.
On the other matters raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin, if it is not possible to give a publication date at this stage, it is best to say so but that it is not to suggest that work is not ongoing on the matter. The legislation to which the Deputy referred, the Nurses and Midwives Bill, should be published next week.
Given the recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of a list of heritage sites proposed for world heritage status, the failure to publish a national monuments Bill is a major stumbling block to the preservation of our heritage. The Bill has again been put at the hind tit of the legislative programme. When can we expect this long overdue legislation?
The Minister is running around the country closing down bogs and banning hunting-----
The Bill in question is very detailed and comprehensive. Work on the legislation is ongoing and heads have been drafted. Detailed discussions are required between the Office of the Attorney General and Department. The Bill, about which the Deputy speaks on a weekly basis, is very large. Perhaps I will dampen the Deputy's enthusiasm a little by stating it will not come before the House too soon.
The question is whether any agency of the State takes responsibility for this issue. I raised the matter with the county manager in south Dublin some time ago. Horses are regularly being subjected to cruelty and there are, as Deputy Upton stated, two horse corpses in a field adjacent to Fonthill railway station. Somebody should intervene because everybody is dodging the issue. I do not want to make a political point.
The Taoiseach indicated to me about three weeks ago that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is bringing proposals to Cabinet for a referendum to excise the reference to blasphemy in the Constitution. I asked the Minister about this during the subsequent Question Time and while I will not say he sought to resile from that position, he certainly left the impression that rather than being a commitment to having a referendum to excise the reference to blasphemy, his statement fell more into the category of the late Seamus Brennan's dictum that whatever one does, one should put out something on a Sunday. Does the Government propose to hold such a referendum and, if so, when will it take place?
The Government has not made a decision to hold such a referendum. The issue is one of a series of issues that would require a referendum were they to be proceeded with. The issue of holding a referendum on children is also being considered.
Ministers should not toss out commitments to hold referenda if they are merely thinking aloud. Many people who are interested in this issue understood from the Minister's statement that there would be a referendum, given his view that this was a constitutional imperative and he had to enshrine it in the new Defamation Act. I do not know what to take from the Taoiseach's response as to whether there will or will not be a referendum on blasphemy.
Based on what the Minister has said, a referendum rather than legislation would be required to deal with the matter. A decision on the timing and detail of how or when that would be done has not been taken by the Government.
On promised legislation, I remind the Taoiseach that in recent weeks, notably since the House rose for the Easter recess, a number of disturbing attacks have been made on so-called head shops throughout the State. I have a record of eight such attacks involving petrol bombs, arson and explosive devices. The Minister for Health and Children has given some commitments on dealing with the issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, has expressed responsibility and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently entered the fray by promising legislation. What is the Government response to the matter of head shops, with particular reference to attacks on such premises involving criminal gangsters and dissident republicans? The Government appears to be standing by and allowing these incidents to take place all too frequently.
According to the legislative programme, the Minister for Health and Children is unable to indicate the possible date on which the legislation to license these facilities is expected. What is the story? What Departments are involved in this matter and what action, by way of legislation, will the Government take on this issue?
I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny today at which the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that legislation was being prepared on head shops. When I returned to my office, however, I noted that the legislative programme does not refer to any legislation related to head shops.
The Secretary General asked us to watch this space, as it were, but gave no indication about the timing of legislation or whether measures on head shops would be included in other legislation proposed in the legislative programme. Will stand-alone legislation be introduced to address all aspects of head shops or will measures be attached to the chemicals (amendment) Bill, Mental Capacity Bill or public health Bills?
The Children's Act 1991 banned the sale of glues and other products to children aged under 18 years. A one line amendment to that legislation would ensure that products currently being sold in head shops were banned for sale to those aged under 18 years. This, at least, should be done urgently.
The Taoiseach will recall that a few years ago Members gathered one morning to pass legislation to protect State property and did so in about one hour. I was the Labour Party spokesperson on the relevant issue at the time. Will the Taoiseach not do likewise with regard to head shops given the fear and danger they present in our communities and in light of the issues raised by the two previous speakers? Surely it would be possible to so, especially given the high standards we apply to all food products-----
On the question of banning certain products or substances, under the Misuse of Drugs Act it is proposed to introduce controls on a broad range of substances, which would make the possession and sale of these substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions. The draft regulations have been notified to the European Commission under the relevant technical standards directives. This is a requirement as controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act involve a restriction on trade.
In preparing the required regulations the Department of Health and Children consulted the relevant authorities to ensure that any legitimate uses of the substances involved are not impinged upon. Four years ago, the Minister for Health and Children banned magic mushrooms and their possession and sale are now illegal. Similar action was taken on 31 March last year to control and criminalise the possession and sale of BZP.
Banning substances is an important and necessary step and one of a range of interventions needed to tackle the issue. We are also working on a cross-departmental group with the Attorney General to ascertain how best to draw up legislation that would be watertight and not subject to constitutional challenge. We are also working in a cross-departmental group with the Attorney General to see how best to draw up watertight legislation that is not subject to constitutional challenge.
I am glad that the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills is in the House, because I would like to draw her attention to the fact that there are two groups of schools operating illegally and in probable breach of the Constitution. I am referring to the community and VEC sponsored schools. There is no legal patronage for them and they are now in probably in breach of the Constitution in respect of faith formation inside the school hours and the segregation of five and six year old children on the basis of their declared religion. When does the Government propose to bring forward the education (patronage) Bill?
What is the current position on the landlord and tenant Bill? This Bill was supposed to reform and consolidate the law on landlords and tenants. Has the Bill been drafted, or has progress at least taken place in drafting it? What is the current position on the national vetting bureau Bill? Many people consider this Bill is urgently needed. Has the drafting been completed or has it even begun? When will it go before the Cabinet?
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the climate change Bill. A proposed Bill was presented by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government last year, and it included an explanatory memorandum for legislation. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, produced a framework document soon after that which set out his intentions on a climate change Bill. The indications then were that the Bill would be debated by June 2010. I am surprised to find that in the legislative programme, we do not have any indication on when that Bill might be ready. I presume that it will not now be ready in 2010 or even in 2011. Would it be helpful if the committee produced the Bill for the Government? We are well able to do so as we have done it already in respect of the Foreshore Act. Green Party voters will be very disappointed at the fact that there is no indication for a climate change Bill. Would the Taoiseach welcome such a Bill if it was produced by the Joint Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government? Would he take it seriously and implement the targets that we must meet due to our international commitments?
The Government approved a framework for a climate change Bill which sets out its key priorities but work is still ongoing. A parliamentary question for the Minister on the attitude of the Department to the suggestion made is the best way to deal with this.
It is probably over six years since I raised in this House the issue of management companies and the difficult situation in which residents find themselves. A group of people in houses in my constituency subject to a management company saw their water and electricity supply cut off over Easter because the developer - a friend of the Taoiseach's own party - is sunning himself in Spain and has left no money in the management company. People had no water for their children. They had no-----
I want to ask about two Bills that have been sunning themselves in the Seanad, like the developer in Marbella, namely, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 and the Multi-Unit Development Bill 2009. When is it proposed to take these Bills so that my constituents will not have their water and electricity supply cut off?
When will this be completed? I have raised this issue with the former Taoiseach, with successive Ministers who were in charge of this area, both in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. My constituents are still waiting and many of them are now paying €2,500 per year in management charges. Can the Taoiseach tell me when we will have a resolution?