Thursday, 13 May 2010
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. a9, Intoxicating Liquor (National Conference Centre) Bill 2010 â Financial Resolution; No. a5, Intoxicating Liquor (National Conference Centre) Bill 2010 - Order for Second Stage, Second and Remaining Stages; and No. 18, Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a9 shall be decided without debate; and that the Second and Remaining Stages of a5 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply - the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12.35 p.m. today, the opening speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Members may share time, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes, and the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.05 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
As a general rule I dislike a situation where Bills are expected to be passed in one session. However, I have spoken to our justice spokesman, Deputy Charles Flanagan, who has spoken to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is a single issue Bill that includes a financial provision to permit the national conference centre to have a liquor licence. On that basis, there is no objection on this side of the House to taking all Stages of this Bill today.
Similarly, we have no difficulty with this Bill being taken today. However, it is astonishing that the Minister or some senior official forgot to make provision for a licensing arrangement for the national conference centre, which would mean it could not hold late night functions and so forth. I believe we are owed an explanation given that a vast amount of justice and finance legislation has been before the House over the past two years. The Minister was busy dealing with blasphemy and other issues, so I am amazed that nobody brought it to his attention that our shiny beautiful new conference centre did not have a licence. What way is that to run a business economy?
Sinn FÃ©in has no objection to taking this Bill today. Indeed, we look forward to the national conference centre proving to be the success we all wish it to be at the heart of the city. However, before agreeing to the Order of Business, will the Government accommodate an opportunity for statements and a question and answer session with the Minister for Finance with regard to the European Commission decision announced yesterday on the submission of draft national budgets for scrutiny and peer review by other member states? This is a hugely important issue that could very well threaten the sovereignty of member states with regard to their fiscal policies and budgetary decisions. It is critical that the import of this announcement is given full voice and that there is an opportunity for full scrutiny in this House. I echo the concerns already expressed by Deputy Bruton and I noted his comments this morning on "Morning Ireland". Why are some people taken aback by this announcement? Many of us were forecasting that this was coming down the tracks in any event-----
I have four questions for the TÃ¡naiste. First, can I take it that the legislation giving effect to Ireland's participation in the decision of the European Council last Friday will come before the House next week and that there will be adequate time to debate it and tease out the terms, conditions and implications in respect of repayment for this country? Second, is there confirmation of reported claims that the Government will have to put another â¬1 billion into Irish Nationwide Building Society? In the context of the European Commission having to give its imprimatur to this and the Anglo Irish Bank deal, can the TÃ¡naiste confirm that more taxpayers' money might be required for Irish Nationwide Building Society and, if so, to what extent? Third, if there is confirmation of the announcement today that 2,000 extra teachers will be employed in September, will the money to pay their salaries be found by savings within the Department of Education and Skills or will it be new money from the Exchequer?
Fourth, the Committee of Public Accounts is in public session as we speak dealing with the issue of Quinn Insurance Limited in so far as the Financial Regulator is concerned and the legislation covering that. While respecting the independence of the Financial Regulator, has the Government had any discussions with regard to removing the situation whereby insurance is being delivered under administration to a situation where it will be freed from administration? Have there been discussions with the Financial Regulator about that? More importantly, is there a response from the Government in respect of the economic consequences for the Quinn Group in the Border region? Is there a plan to meet with the newly appointed UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paterson, to discuss INTERREG, peace and reconciliation and Ireland funding on a range of cross-Border activities which could have a beneficial impact on the Border economy, North and South? Does the Government intend to announce a plan to deal with that, arising from the consequences of the Quinn Group collapse?
It is intended to deal with the legislation on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. It is our intention to allocate adequate time for discussion on the bilateral loans and the conditions attached. The Whips will agree the requisite timeframe to allow that discussion to take place.
With regard to Irish Nationwide Building Society, the chairman of the society indicated yesterday that the society's capital position is comfortable. He also indicated that the transfer of assets to the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, is proceeding but it was not possible at the time to forecast the discounts to be applied as this was to be done on a loan by loan basis. However, a capital need is not seen to arise at present. The society is preparing a restructuring plan for the future which will be submitted to the European Commission in June. The society will examine different options and take on board the Commission's guidance in that regard.
On the issue of teachers, an allocation was made by my predecessor in the context of last year's budget to allow for the appointment of 930 teachers and there are adequate resources within the Department's budget at present to appoint those teachers on the basis of the agreed programme for Government and on the basis the need for the demographics to be addressed. There is no need to look for additional savings in this year's budget. That money has been allocated.
On the issue of Quinn, as Deputy Kenny will be aware, Mr. Dan Flinter has been appointed to deal with the issues in a co-ordinated manner. My Department is involved with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation in looking at a number of initiatives, be they INTERREG under SEUPB or additional training opportunities that need to be advanced in consultations with the institutes of technology and other institutes, for example, the Cavan Institute and the institutes in Dublin, to deal with the issues appertaining to the staff in Blanchardstown and Navan. Work is ongoing in terms of dealing with the needs of those who, unfortunately, find themselves without employment for the next while through voluntary redundancies. It is clearly the mandate of the administrator to stabilise and secure the current jobs under the auspices and guidance of the courts. We are working towards that.
On the final issue of interaction with our new colleagues, both in London and in Northern Ireland, as is required in the normal context following a British general election, all Ministers met yesterday to put forward our plans in the context of meeting our counterparts as a matter of urgency. As Deputy Kenny will be aware, the Taoiseach has spoken to the new British Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs has spoken to the Northern Ireland Secretary. We all will be meeting and discussing issues with our counterparts in the UK. As Deputy Kenny can appreciate, we will continue to work on a North-South basis, particularly in the context of Quinn Insurance and its implications.
Regarding the Commission document on the budget that was announced, the fact that Europe reached some kind of agreement last weekend, which, in effect, prevented speculators destroying a number of European economies through movements on the money market, is to be welcomed. However, it is important to know if the Government proposes to lay the document from the Commission before the DÃ¡il and to provide time to discuss it. It would be unfortunate if we were to have a phoney war in this country over the position on discussions and arrangements with the European Union which are important in terms our national interest.
If the Commission is proposing, and our representatives, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, have agreed before discussing in this DÃ¡il-----
I allowed Deputy Burton to raise it as well. I am drawing her attention to the fact that I will not allow a detailed contribution at this point in time. There will be other opportunities, as the TÃ¡naiste has indicated.
There will not be. I want to know if the Government will lay the document before the House for discussion and when it will provide time for the debate.
I also want to know whether the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have made a prior agreement in Brussels, before coming to this House, to yield to proposals from the Commission about the future direction and management of Irish budgets. That is the sovereign issue in this Parliament. Does this Parliament decide our budget or is the budget agreed privately in Brussels beforehand?
The Deputy will have to resume her seat if she persists with that line of argument. It is entirely inappropriate. If she has a direct question on promised legislation, I will allow it. It is completely out of order to have a detailed contribution on what is a very serious issue in a time-limited Order of Business and I will not allow it.
----as she did not give me an answer in the course of my questioning the Order of Business, if the Government will accommodate an opportunity to debate properly the announcement yesterday from the European Commission on national draft budgets being submitted to Brussels for scrutiny and so-called peer-group evaluation by other member states. It is important that we recognise that this is a serious matter that can threaten the sovereignty of national budgets and, indeed, the independence of fiscal direction within this economy in taxation and other measures.
Some of us have argued for and others have given lip service to the notion of maintaining our independent taxation policy position. It is critically important-----
There is enough VAT paid on it. Next week the House will discuss the bilateral loans to Greece. On the issue of the special purpose vehicle agreed in Brussels last weekend, further clarification on technical issues is currently being discussed with the European Commission. Arising from those clarifications, we may have to introduce legislation although we are not in a position to completely verify its necessity. If that is necessary, naturally this matter will be brought to the House.
Three issues have been raised. First, the issue of Ireland's sovereignty is not an issue in the context of what is being discussed in the European Union at this moment. That is a populist remark which is clearly inappropriate.
-----there has been a number of speculative attacks on member states within the eurozone. Therefore, a shared interest in an enhanced economic co-ordination throughout that zone is appropriate. Greater co-ordination on economic policy is also legislated for in the treaty. It is therefore, inappropriate to have anti-European sentiments at this time-----
-----when there is an absolute necessity for strength within the eurozone. Third, a populist view that our sovereignty is at issue is completely incorrect. We must work within the parameters as set down and agreed with the European Commission.
It is clearly in our interest and in the interests of all members of the eurozone that this would happen. It is not exclusive to Ireland, as has been purported here-----
-----but rather it is inclusive of all members of the eurozone. This is appropriate. By tradition, any serious decisions made in Europe are discussed in the House. There will be a number of opportunities to discuss these matters next week in the House.
-----is headed, Reinforcing Economic Policy Co-operation. I asked the TÃ¡naiste two simple questions. Will this document be laid before the House? Will the Government provide time to debate this document so that the House has the opportunity to discuss it? Those are the questions I asked the TÃ¡naiste and I would like a reply.
The TÃ¡naiste has not given us the answers that she must consider. She must answer the question as to whether the Government will accommodate an opportunity to address this matter in the coming week. Has this been agreed with the other member states? What is the level of the commitment this Government has given, behind the scenes and without openness and transparency?
We learnt of this yesterday. What is the level of the Government's extended commitment to the implementation of what is involved in all of this? The TÃ¡naiste does not even know whether legislation will be required. Not only might legislation be required but also a new treaty.
The TÃ¡naiste has agreed previously to have legislation in the House with regard to the bilateral loan to Greece. She also says that the further support may also be bilateral and she has to find out whether this requires legislation. However, my question was whether this document from the Commission about reinforcing budgetary co-ordination will be laid before the House and will her Government provide time to have a debate in the House? That is what the Lisbon treaty which we all worked to pass, agreed; that national parliaments would debate these issues before Prime Ministers, TÃ¡naiste and Ministers for Finance, went off and made decisions. That is the net point. I want an answer. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me time to say that.
The order of the House has yet to be decided for next week but the Whips will have discussions on this matter. We are proceeding with the bilateral loans legislation and will provide adequate time for that. This course is appropriate and was requested two weeks ago. If there are other issues requiring further discussion, they can be facilitated in due course. However, I am not in a position to give a definitive answer with regard to the discussions that took place last week, as to whether legislation will be required. If it is required, it will be brought to the House. The issue of co-ordination can be discussed if we can agree time.