Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 17, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 18, Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Private Members' business shall be No. 33, Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction (Fixed Penalty Notice) (Amendment) Bill 2009 - Second Stage, and the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 12 May 2010.
I require a clarification from the Taoiseach. In view of the report just published by the Ombudsman for Children about the systemic failures within the HSE to provide for the protection and welfare of children under "Children First", the national guidelines for child protection and welfare, will the Taoiseach accommodate a proper opportunity for statements and questions to the Minister of State with responsibility for children? The report just published underscores serious failures within the delivery systems-----
Indeed it is. This is not a matter of promised legislation; I am asking about the ordering of business. Given the seriousness of the report now published, which is the first overarching report published by the Ombudsman for Children - previous reports were all specific to individual complaints - this is important and must be addressed on the floor of the House. Will the Taoiseach provide time this week to discuss this serious matter? We must get the necessary assurances that the deficiencies highlighted by Ms Logan are being addressed.
I mean no disrespect to the movers of the Private Members' Bill, who will fully understand that I am seeking a response from the Taoiseach on a serious and damning report in which the Taoiseach should take a personal interest.
Before we agree to this proposal - I am not seeking a vote against it - I ask the Taoiseach to note that the legislation entitled Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 has now been altered quite dramatically by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has tacked on an entire section dealing with the completely unrelated matter of carbon windfall taxes for electricity generators. Although it now seems to be common for Ministers to add at a late stage in the debate sections which have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the Bill, I do not think it is good practice. It is quite dangerous in terms of ensuring proper scrutiny of legislation. The same thing happened during the passage of the Communications Regulation (Premium Rate Services and Electronic Communications Infrastructure) Bill 2009, to which a totally unrelated part was added at the last minute.
I ask the Taoiseach to rein in his Minister a little. Nobody objects to the particular provision, but it should not be done in this way. The legislation dealing with bio-fuels has now morphed into something completely different because of amendments introduced at the eleventh hour.
To be helpful on the issue raised by Deputy McManus, I point out that there will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to deal with policy and other issues that arise with regard to any additions to the Bill. These are introduced because they are urgent; in fact, they may be in response to demands by the House for legislative provisions in respect of certain matters. When a Bill is used to facilitate this, it seems it can inspire a negative reaction as well as a positive one. The intention is-----
-----on Committee Stage of the Bill. For the remaining speakers on Second Stage, which is to resume today, it is an opportunity for their parties to put forward their points of view on any aspect of the Bill.
The report of the Ombudsman for Children, which was mentioned by Deputy Ó Caoláin, mirrors a previous report produced by the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, about the need to provide facilities for child protection. We have seen since then the placing of the codes of conduct on a statutory basis, and the health service is in the process of employing a further 200 social workers to assist in ensuring the "Children First" regulations are properly implemented. It will be a matter for the Whips to decide when they would like a debate on this matter. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, is open to this.
The Taoiseach has just grossly misrepresented the report of the Ombudsman for Children. The report is a damning indictment of the political failure of this Government, successive Ministers for Health and Children and the Minister of State with responsibility for children to properly ensure that the child protection guidelines are applied.
The Government and the Department are accused of unsound administration under section 8 of the legislation that created the Office of the Ombudsman for Children. That is a very unusual decision by an ombudsman, and by the Ombudsman for Children.
Will the Taoiseach consider providing an opportunity some time next week for a discussion on the €750 billion fund agreed last week by the Ministers of the eurozone countries, and Ireland's proposal to add to this by dealing with competitiveness, investment and growth, so that we can present a clear picture of what we are doing to other countries?
Last Thursday, I raised certain questions with the Tánaiste. Either she was being an obstinate pupil or she was in the Department of skills because she refused to answer any question asked of her. These questions were clear. First, are we to have a referendum on children's rights this year? The all-party Oireachtas committee agreed after much deliberation on a wording for the referendum, which has been received by the Minister of State with responsibility for children.
Second, I asked the Tánaiste when the legislation providing for a directly elected mayor of Dublin would be produced, and if it is proposed to hold that election in isolation or on the same day as the children's referendum. I also asked about the people in Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford who are disenfranchised. The Government is hanging on by a thread and knows it cannot win any of those three seats unless there is another miracle in Fatima or Knock. It is unfair that these people have been disenfranchised to such an extent and for such a long time. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm whether the Government has any intention of holding the three by-elections that are now due. If it does intend to hold a referendum on children's rights at the same time as the election for Lord Mayor in Dublin, is it proposed to have these by-elections on the same day? In this way the people who are now disenfranchised can at least have a say on the Government's mismanagement of the country.
I note one of the Green Party Ministers is in the House. His leader and counterpart has an interest in the water services Bill. When is that Bill expected? It is stated that it is not possible to indicate at this stage when it can be expected. However, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government seems to have a different view. Will the Taoiseach enlighten us on that?
The Deputy should try to ensure they sign up for a bit longer than the last one.
With regard to the referendum on children, I have stated on numerous occasions that this matter is being considered by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. He is engaged with the Attorney General on that matter. The report came to us after much good cross-party work a month or two ago and is being considered. As soon as the matter is ready for consideration by Government, it will be considered.
On the water services Bill, I am not in a position to inform the Deputy of any date for it yet. The legislation on the mayoral elections is in preparation.
I understand that legislation will be required to enable Ireland to participate in the package agreed at the weekend for the stabilisation of the euro. When will that legislation be prepared and brought before the House? Is it intended to have two separate pieces of legislation now, one dealing with the agreement at the weekend and another dealing with the assistance to Greece?
What is the position with regard to the reports on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority? In mid-February, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government told us the reports would be published by him within a matter of weeks. We have seen neither the Minister nor the reports since then. Whatever about the Minister, will the Taoiseach tell us the whereabouts of the reports and when they might be published?
With regard to the announcement made today by the Minister for Health and Children banning a list of head shop products - which I welcome - will the Government now consider dealing with the other half of that problem, namely, the regulation of the head shops. Deputy Joe Costello will introduce a Labour Party Private Members' Bill to address this issue. Will the Government consider adopting that Bill and dealing with the other half of the problem, which involves the planning side and the regulation of shops and use of premises?
The objective of the regulation we have in mind is not simply to regulate the shops, but, hopefully, to see them go out of business altogether. The details of that legislation are being brought forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The legislation will involve both criminal and civil sanction in respect of an onus of proof being placed on the owners of such establishments as to the legality of the products they are selling. The legislation is in hand. The order signed with effect from midnight last night has the effect of rendering illegal what has been regarded up to now as legal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This has a good practical outcome in terms of what has been happening today as a result of the legislation being brought to the notice of those who own these shops. They are being closed, and, hopefully, will remain closed. We must wait and see how that works out, but we will certainly bring forward legislation in this area in an effort to provide a comprehensive response on this issue.
I apologise to Deputy Kenny who also raised the question of an opportunity to discuss the issues that arose last weekend. I understand the Bill relating to the pooled bilateral loans to Greece is due to be debated in the House next week and the timing for it has already been given to the Whips. Deputies will be able to discuss all the issues under that heading. The establishment of the special purpose vehicle aspect of the €440 billion decision for a contingency fund that would arise in the event it is required may require separate legislation. However, we want to proceed with the legislation in respect of the Greek situation as quickly as possible so that we can show our bona fides and solidarity to Greece. As Deputies are aware, the first tranche will be provided within the next couple of weeks. It is not imperative that we are part of the first tranche, since it can be provided by other states that do not have the same requirement of legislative approval as us. We would like to proceed with the legislation in any event and show our good faith by doing that so that we are ready and able to assist when required. The other matter probably will require legislation. That issue is being checked out currently.
On the other aspect, the use of the Commission's own resources for the €60 billion fund which is being established, which comes from the excess or margins of the budget which is now being given first call for this purpose, this will not require legislation as it will probably be done by a Council regulation.
In response to questions regarding the proposed children's rights referendum, the Taoiseach stated that the Minister and Attorney General were considering the matter. Will the Taoiseach please clarify what it is they are considering? Will he relieve the concern of people about whether they are considering the issue for referendum at all? Surely it is accepted this is a referendum - an all-party agreement already existing in committee - that must proceed. Will the Taoiseach clarify that the only consideration the Minister and Attorney General are giving relates to a possible date and the appointment of a referendum commission? It is important that a distinction is made and that there is clarity on what is being considered, because there is growing concern, not only within this Chamber, but externally among a raft of people in non-governmental organisations who are keenly interested in the children's rights referendum proceeding. The answers the Taoiseach gives do not in any way assuage that growing fear, so I urge him to take this opportunity to make the situation absolutely clear.
On promised legislation, the Ceann Comhairle would not allow me press the situation vis-À-vis time being afforded to address the report just published by the Ombudsman for Children on the implementation of Children First, the national guidelines on the protection and welfare of children.
At times I wonder why I bothered voting for the Ceann Comhairle, no harm to him.
The Child Care (Amendment) Bill has passed all Stages in the Seanad. When will it come before this House so that we will have an opportunity to debate it? I would like a definite answer with regard to the projected date for the address of that legislation on the floor of this Chamber. In the absence of the co-operation or agreement of the Government Whip on that, perhaps we will be able to address the report published by Emily Logan.
I suggest that is a matter for discussion between the Whips. It is being published today and will have to be studied, examined and debated in the House in due course, if that is the wish of the House.
Second, with regard to the report, the Oireachtas committee produced a report which met with cross-party approval at that level. The Government must now assess the situation, consult the Attorney General to ensure that whatever emerges deals with all the legal issues and examine what has been brought forward with everybody's agreement. Just as the Executive does not abdicate the issue to the Legislature, the issue cannot be abdicated by us in terms of what we must do now in examining that question. It is for the purpose of trying to accommodate all the issues and listening to what has been said by that committee that we must consider what way we can move forward. However, we must work through those issues interdepartmentally and with the Attorney General and see if questions arise as far as they are concerned that must be considered by the Government and addressed. That is a work in progress at present. We are aware it is a cross-party proposal that came forward from the members of that committee. It is being considered.
The Child Care (Amendment) Bill has completed all Stages in the Seanad. It is due to come to this House on Second Stage.
Last Thursday, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills expressed the view that a full Dáil debate on the issue of school patronage would be a good idea. I welcome her comments. Can the Taoiseach allocate time for that in advance-----
In the interest of getting business done on the Order of Business, I wish to bring the case of a man in my constituency to the Taoiseach's attention. He is a husband and father who was made unemployed last June. He applied for social welfare, was refused-----
Yes. He was refused and appealed to the chief appeals officer. The latest communication the family received today, following the man being made redundant last June, was that they should have a reply within the next three weeks. Is that good enough? In the interest of getting business done-----
Deputy Sheahan should ask a parliamentary question or raise it in an Adjournment debate. There are many other ways to raise it rather than take up time on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Olivia Mitchell.
I have before me a sheaf of papers consisting of parliamentary questions over recent months but I could not do the responses of the Minister for Health and Children justice by calling them "answers". How long will this situation continue? Each reply contains the phrase: "If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course." What is meant by that?
The Minister for Health and Children continues to use an industrial dispute to treat Members of this House, and particularly Members of the Opposition, with total contempt. She is hiding behind an industrial relations matter. How long will this continue?
If you, a Cheann Comhairle, do not allow me to address this matter to the Taoiseach in his capacity as Leader of the House who introduces the business of the House each day - in fact, there is a conflict of interest in that position in any event but, unfortunately, this is the way we do our business - can I ask you in your capacity as Chairman to address this charade?
I always seek to accommodate Deputy Flanagan in any possible way, as the Deputy would confirm. I understand there is much frustration in the House with the impact of this dispute, and it is not a question of using it as an excuse. There is an issue arising because of the continuing industrial relations issues which are not yet resolved, even in terms of ballots being organised and prepared. The work to rule and industrial relations issues continue to affect the business of the House in terms of getting information in a timely manner for Deputies. It has compromised the ability of Deputies on all sides of the House to work as effectively as they would wish on behalf of their constituents. I will continue to try to find a way to improve the matter.
With regard to the Taoiseach's comments about the legislation dealing with the bilateral arrangements for moneys for Greece, can he say if there have been any changes in the proposals as a consequence of the decision at the weekend? One of the difficulties for the Opposition, and it is another reason that we sought a detailed discussion on what happened at the weekend, is that it is unclear at this point from media reports what Ireland's obligations will be under the total package. On a related matter, Herr Regling and Mr. Watson, the two people carrying out the scoping exercise on the banking inquiry, appeared before the finance committee last week and said they are on schedule with their report but that it must first go to the Cabinet and then to the Attorney General. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to publish their report in full and present it to the House, or will it be like the Docklands report and rest with a Minister who might or might not decide to publish it? They also indicated that they would not be in a position to advise on terms of reference. Is it the case that the Government alone will draw up the terms of reference of the banking inquiry?
Also, in the context of what has happened-----
A Cheann Comhairle, I have raised only one issue, the vast commitment and loss of money for Irish taxpayers involved in the actions of the Government with regard to banking. It is the only issue I have raised. I am not aware I have raised any other.
Will the report of the gentlemen, one from Germany and the other from the IMF, carrying out the scoping exercise for the banking inquiry be published in full or does this fresh news that it will first go to the Government and then to the Attorney General mean that, like the Docklands report mentioned by the Leader of the Labour Party earlier, it will be a case of we have heard about it, but not seen it?
Obviously, the intention is to publish reports. The Docklands report is being considered at present but, as I said earlier, there are legal issues involved and we must respect that. The only reason that such consideration must be given is to ensure that whatever action is taken is effective and that whatever further issues arise can be dealt with. Similarly, the report of those carrying out the scoping exercise will be a matter for debate in the House when it issues. Again, it is a question of ensuring that where legal issues arise nothing would be done to prejudice the further consideration of these matters by the House or others subsequently.
On another issue relating to legislation, the development of a modern forestry sector combined with environmental protection should be a matter of extreme importance. When can we expect the forestry Bill to be finally brought before this House?
It sounds like there are green shoots in the forestry area.
Apropos of the issue raised repeatedly in the House, there is a Bill proposed before the House. The Ceann Comhairle knows as well as anybody else in this House knows that there are countless people all over this country who are concerned about whether or not they qualify for a payment or a service provided by the health and social services sector. There are people who have had hip operations two or three years ago awaiting a second operation. The procedure-----
If the Ceann Comhairle waits for me to finish the sentence, I will tell him. There are countless people awaiting services. For instance, as the Ceann Comhairle will also be aware, with the centralisation of rent support applications people in my region apply to a box number anymore. We have seen a breakdown in the provision of health and social services to such an extent that we have never seen previously. Would it be possible to expedite the process of the Eligibility for Health and Personal Social Services Bill so that the Members of this House, for once and for all, can have some indication from the Minister? The Minister was here in the House and disappeared again, almost like a Green Minister.
It could be 2014. The national vetting bureau Bill is another urgently required piece of legislation. It has been promised in the House on several occasions. It is a matter that requires immediate attention. I wonder where it is now. What is happening?
I was looking up some figures recently and I discovered that there were more drug offences within the prisons, approximately 900 offences in a single year. It is probably worse inside than it is outside. In that regard, the bail (amendment) Bill was deemed to be important from the point of view of ensuring that people did not get into the business of reoffending while on bail. The Taoiseach promised it on 21 April but I note it is still not possible to indicate a date for it. Is it now possible to indicate?
On promised legislation of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, when will the criminal justice (psychotropic substances) Bill be published so that we all can see what the measures included in it are, and when will it come into effect? The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has stated that the Garda will play an important role in ensuring that head shops are compliant with this new law. Will the Minister, therefore, increase Garda manpower in communities to enforce this legislation and can the Minister assure us that when new legal highs come on the market they will be dealt with sufficiently and swiftly without further delay in banning them?
Does Vote 32 now imply that there is a major cutting back in capital expenditure on transport, given the bad news received that the interconnector has been put back until 2018 at the earliest, the Metro might be put back to 2016, the western rail corridor, etc.?
I am asking the Taoiseach whether he could throw some light on it. Every since we got a Green Minister of State in the Department of Transport, all the projects seem to be getting scrapped one after another. Would the Taoiseach comment on it?