Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 8, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 20, Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 21, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 8 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 74, motion re strategic investment bank.
That creates a difficulty for Members who tabled related written questions for answer on the same day as oral questions. I understand that written questions will not be dealt with because of this late change. Since I have never known of a switch in this fashion, would it be possible to make some effort to reply to written questions on the same day to facilitate Members who utilise them to track the oral questions, which are more likely to be answered, particularly those selected as Priority Questions?
Has the Government considered the agreed wording of the all-party committee in respect of the proposal to hold a referendum on children's rights? Does the Government agree with that wording? Has it considered when it would be appropriate to hold the referendum? Will it be in October or November? Can the Taoiseach give an indication about when that decision will be made?
It is not possible to anticipate that at this stage. The Minister of State with responsibility for children is working with various Departments arising out of the report, the proposed wording that emanated from it and the good work done by all concerned. Considerable work and consideration must be given to that now to make sure issues are covered and handled properly and also dealt with by the Attorney General. The Government will have to await the outcome.
I accept that considerable work was done by the members of the committee. Has the agreed wording of the committee gone before the Government yet or is the Taoiseach waiting for work to be done on that by the Minister of State with responsibility for children? When does he expect the Government might be able to consider the date for a referendum on children's rights?
The Central Bank and the Financial Regulator today published a consultation paper on corporate governance in which they propose a number of reforms in the ways in which companies are governed through boards of directors and chief executive officers, chairmen and so on. I recall that the Minister for Finance promised on St. Patrick's Day 2009 in an interview he gave to the Financial Times that he would introduce legislation to clean up what he called "crony capitalism" and in the course of the interview he indicated he would bring proposals to Government the following week in respect of such legislation. I have asked on a number of occasions about when we might see the legislation because, on the basis of what the Taoiseach said in the interview, it would appear that some of the areas that are the subject of the report by the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator will be covered by it.
Perhaps the Taoiseach might tell us where is the legislation. As the Government has not published it, will he agree to give Government time to take the Labour Party Bill on the Order Paper - the Corporate Governance (Codes of Practice) Bill - which we published a year ago and which covers most of the areas that were the subject of the report by the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator today? It would be a means by which we would get the important recommendations made by the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator in respect of corporate governance enacted.
The Minister for Finance has outlined on a number of occasions that a few Central Bank Bills will be brought forward this year. We are currently dealing with the first of them. The next Bill, the No. 2 Bill, relates to many of the matters being raised by the Deputy. The consultation paper drawn up by the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator will be an excellent input into that and further consultation and any comments people have will be taken into account as well. Work is ongoing on the second Bill the Minister has indicated will form part of his Central Bank reforms, the first of which we are dealing with at the moment. I have not studied the Bill to which the Deputy referred but the ongoing work in the Department of Finance will enable the Minister to come forward with a Government Bill in due course. He has indicated it will be some time during the year.
In light of the recent revelations that a FÁS-funded jobs centre in Limerick was advertising recruitment to the British army and given that the Defence Act 1954 makes it a criminal offence to recruit Irish citizens to a foreign army-----
-----is the Government considering strengthening the legislation in order to ensure that it is adhered to and is properly enforced? What steps will the Government now take to ensure that FÁS and any other agency will not act in contravention of the 1954 Act?
On a separate matter-----
I expect the Taoiseach will answer appropriately.
I have a second matter to raise with him which is equally as serious. The monuments Bill is No. 52 on the list of promised legislation. Is the Taoiseach aware that only the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, can save Nos. 14 to 17 Moore St. and its streetscape and walkways from a decision of An Bord Pleanála to reject the appeal against the granting of permission to proceed with a major retail development that will irreparably damage this-----
Of course it is. There is promised legislation, if the Ceann Comhairle would listen to the Deputy. I am speaking about the monuments Bill, No. 52. I would like to know what the Taoiseach proposes to do given the fact that Nos. 14 to 17 Moore St. and its environs is a declared national monument that will be irreparably damaged by the decision to grant permission to proceed with the development as presented some time ago both to Dublin City Council and subsequently to An Bord Pleanála. It is critically important that it is not left only to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley-----
No. There is a national monuments Bill, the heads of which were approved recently, but it requires a lot of work. It is a huge Bill and it will probably be next year before it is brought forward for enactment. I am aware of the issue that has been raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin and I will take it up with the Minister.
I was not aware of the import of the other matter raised by the Deputy but I will have it checked out.
Could the Taoiseach clarify the situation on the climate change Bill? When the Minister produced his framework document he indicated that he expected the Bill would be published by June. Environmental groups were given to understand that the heads of the Bill are coming towards completion but in the legislative programme it says that no date, nor even year, can be indicated as to its publication, which seems to be anomalous. What is the situation as regards the Bill?
I congratulate the Fianna Fáil Party, as I understand from the media that there will be a debate this evening at its parliamentary party meeting on survivors of thalidomide. There are a number of elements to it including an apology and a full and fairly negotiated settlement but also legislation on the health needs of survivors of thalidomide. As legislation is involved I thought you, a Cheann Comhairle, might allow me to ask the Taoiseach if the Cabinet has discussed the possibility of legislation. A small number of people , 34 in all, had horrific problems imposed on them by the State many years ago through the use of the drug, thalidomide. It is a group of people who deserve a properly negotiated compensation settlement as well as to have their health needs looked after and an apology. Will the Taoiseach comment?
I wish to contribute on the same issue. I support my colleague. Those people have suffered terrible affliction through no fault of their own. In the past their parents were faced with what may be termed a "take it or leave it" solution. I hope the Government will take the opportunity on this occasion to negotiate a settlement with the remaining survivors rather than impose a settlement, as was done in the past.
No legislation is promised on this matter but the Government has sought to be fair and compassionate to thalidomide survivors, to assist with their current and future medical and social needs and with reference to provisions made in other countries for survivors of thalidomide. The State Claims Agency has brought forward a report on the matter at the request of the Minister. I understand she will meet the thalidomide survivor groups today.
All of us in this House have had occasion in recent times and in the past to intercede on behalf of people who cannot get access to various hospital procedures. I raised the issue of eligibility to health and various other services with the Taoiseach last week, as did a number of others. Could I ask again if perhaps-----
The legislation has been promised for a long time. We are still awaiting it. While we wait patients throughout the country are suffering severe pain as they wait for serious medical procedures. They cannot get access to hospital for those procedures. What is wrong? You, a Cheann Comhairle, should be familiar with the situation having observed all the hospital activities in your own region. The public is asking why ill people who are urgently in need of various procedures cannot get into hospital. For God's sake, will the Taoiseach bring into the House the two relevant Bills, the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill and the health information Bill so that at least we would have an opportunity to discuss the issue? Nobody in the Health Service Executive is interested. The Minister is not present and I have not had an answer, nor has anyone else.
I know the Taoiseach is concerned about the matter. Will he please intercede with the Minister for Health and Children with a view to attaching some importance to bringing in this legislation which I hope, ultimately, will address the underlying issues. I assume the nod from the Taoiseach means "Yes".
I am talking about promised legislation. The Taoiseach did not seem to be aware of the fact that in his Budget Statement the Minister for Finance promised that a new scheme would be introduced to off-set the cost of the carbon levy on low income families. That promise was reiterated in February by the Minister, Deputy Hanafin.
This was promised by the Minister for Finance and the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs. The promise was reiterated last week by the current Minister who told us a working group was examining the matter. I accept that the Taoiseach was not briefed on the matter today. I ask whether he will find out so that he can provide the information for us tomorrow on what plans-----
The matter relates to promised legislation. If the Taoiseach cannot answer the question today would he at least undertake to answer it tomorrow?
My second question is about comments made by the Taoiseach last week when he was asked about the €1.49 million paid into the Bank of Ireland pension fund. On that occasion, the Taoiseach indicated that the purpose of that payment was to benefit other members of the fund.
We now know the sole purpose of that payment was to benefit Mr. Boucher and allow him to retire at the age of 55. In view of that, does the Taoiseach now accept he grossly misled the House last week? Is he prepared to take this opportunity to correct the record of the House regarding the payment, the sole purpose of which was to benefit Mr. Boucher? Will he do so and no longer mislead the public in that regard?
I do not believe I misled the public in any way. The intention was not to mislead but to provide as much supplementary information as I possibly could. I do not accept the Deputy's contention that there was intent to mislead on my part.
I stated it was important that it be pre-funded, as with all private sector pensions. The issue that arose on this matter was not as contended. The payment was being portrayed as a top-up but it was to meet the statutory requirements given that the annual report was at the end of March, and to indicate the payments that had to be made into the scheme in order to ensure the usual provisions that applied to CEOs in the Bank of Ireland would be applicable to Mr. Boucher.
The problem is that Deputy Shortall continues to interrupt when people reply. I am outlining the situation as it is and, therefore, there is no question of there being any intent to mislead. As we know, since the time in question, Mr. Boucher will not be taking up the option to retire at 55, which means the payment does not have to be made into the pension fund at this time. That is the position.
Deputy Shortall likes to have a debate rather than ask a question. I have made the point that the payment was into a general scheme. Obviously, it was about making sure there was a sufficient pre-funded pension for Mr. Boucher, who is one of many beneficiaries of the scheme. That is the point I was making.
Can we allow Deputy Quinn to contribute without interruption? Deputy Shortall cannot pursue this matter in such a manner on the Order of Business. I ask her to resume her seat. If she asks a question on promised legislation, she will receive an answer but not on the other matter.
I did not realise the Labour Party had such sophisticated machinery that it does not believe in trucks anymore. I suppose it has big high ladders and steps. Of course, if one cannot get a crowd, there is no point in getting a truck.
On the point raised, in answer to Deputy Gilmore, I have already set out our opposition. I understand a statement has been issued on the matter today by the Minister.
On section B of the legislation programme, No. 20 refers to the qualifications (education and training) Bill, which proposes to merge the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council and also to provide for the dissolution of the National University of Ireland. Will the Taoiseach indicate when we are likely to see this legislation, if ever?
My question is on gambling legislation that might be required or on its way. Will the legislation, when it is forthcoming, be the responsibility of the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? If so, will it be appropriate given his vested interest in making representations on casinos? The Ceann Comhairle will be very interested in this given the connection with County Louth.
It is important that, if there is forthcoming legislation on gambling, we know which Minister will introduce it. Is it appropriate that the Minister who is currently carrying out a review will possibly be introducing it? Will the Taoiseach consider the ethics of a Minister lobbying in this format to the planning authorities given that he is overseeing a review of gambling legislation? He is lobbying on behalf of Fianna Fáil members for a casino to be built in County Louth.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the longest-promised Bill in the programme for Government, namely, the local government (Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill. It was to be presented to us at some time over the past two and a half years. It is listed as a Bill to be published in the summer session but it has not appeared so far. When will it be produced? I understand it represents a core principle of the Members of the Green Party, Fianna Fáil's colleagues in Government, none of whom is present. Is it that Fianna Fáil is dragging its feet on this matter or have the Greens lost their energy and all interest in progressing it?
At a joint community policing meeting last night in Clones, grave anxiety was expressed about the availability of alcohol to young people, especially those who are under age. When will the sale of alcohol Bill be brought before the House so that we can have a proper and full discussion on that matter? It is causing grave anxiety.
There is also a companies consolidation and reform Bill on the pending legislation list. When will that be discussed because, in the light of the Quinn issue, if many of those reforms and structures could be put in place, many jobs would be saved? I am interested to hear the Taoiseach's view on what efforts are being made in that regard to save 3,000 jobs.
The companies consolidation and reform Bill is a large item of legislation. There is no date for that; it is a consolidated Bill. Regarding the sale of alcohol, I understand this area will be legislated for later this year.
Will the Taoiseach give special attention to the financial services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which transfers responsibility for building societies from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Finance? In view of the state of our building societies, I imagine this is more important legislation than the local government (Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill, which will waste taxpayers' money. Those of us in receipt of ministerial pensions will see our money being spent-----
------on a new mayoralty instead of proper services. When does the Government intend to publish this important legislation in view of the state of our building societies? Why, in God's name, are we treating the local government (Dublin mayor and regional authority) Bill as if it were terribly urgent? It is an absolute joke that we are to spend money on another regional authority for Dublin when we have four already and four mayors while we are awaiting legislation to transfer responsibility for building societies to the Department of Finance. Where are the Government's priorities in all of this, if we are talking about saving the State money?
An tseachtain seo caite bhí mé ag iarraidh faoi reachtaíocht atá in iomaíocht don gradam reachtaíochta fadtéarmach, 'sé sin, an Bille leasú Údarás na Gaeltachta agus 'sé an freagra a fuair mé ach go mbeadh an tAire i dteangmháil liom. An ceist a bhí agam ná go bhfuil an reachtaíocht seo, Údarás na Gaeltachta (feidhmeanna agus cumhachtaí) ar an liosta C, ach tá sé imithe ón gcéad liosta. Ag an am chéana tá deacracht ann maidir le rud a luaigh mé. Luaigh mé an cás faoi An Ceathrú Rua agus an chead ag Údarás na Gaeltachta agus an saindune atá bainte le cultúr agus mar sin de, ach ní raibh aon teangmháil liom ón seachtain seo caite. An féidir liom an cheist a chur díreach ar an Taoiseach: an mbeidh reachtaíocht ann chun leasú a dhéanamh má tá sé ag taisteál ar Údarás na Gaeltachta, agus cathain a mbeidh an reachtaíocht fáilte agus seans againn í a phlé anseo?
Maidir le na liostanna atá againn mar gheall ar reachtaíochta atá le phlé againn san seisiún seo, mar is eól don Teachta muna bhfuil sí reidh nil sí ar an liosta. Beidh mé ag iarraidh ar an Aire glaoch a chur ar an Teachta mar gheall ar an reachtáiocht cruinn.
I wish to ask about three items of legislation. When will the nurses and midwives Bill on section A of the first list be taken? The prescription charges Bill is the next one on the clár after that, at No. 9, yet the drugs reference pricing Bill is way back at No. 71. When I last asked the Taoiseach about this, I said one Bill, which would inflict charges on those least able to pay, including the sick, the chronically ill and those on medical cards, and which might save €20 million plus had been considered very expeditiously. However, the drugs reference pricing Bill, which would save hundreds of millions, is being put on the long finger. The Taoiseach's response was to the effect that they were both on the same finger. I hope that is not the middle finger he is giving to the public because No. 71 seems to relate to Bills in respect of which heads have yet to be approved by Government, while the other Bill is to be published during this session. Will the Taoiseach please enlighten the House on those three Bills?