Thursday, 11 November 2010
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. a5 - Motion re: membership of committees; No. b5 motion re proposal that Dáil Éireann notes the report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service entitled Report on Macroeconomic Policy and Effective Fiscal and Economic Governance; No. 14 -Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed) to adjourn at 1 p.m. today, if not previously concluded; No. 5 - motion re: proposal that Dáil Éireann notes the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled Second Report on Climate Change Law; No. 13 - Education (Amendment) Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: Nos. a5 and b5 shall be decided without debate; that the proceedings in relation to No. 5 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches of the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security or a person nominated in his stead and of the main spokespersons for the Government, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; and Members may share time.
I want to advise the House that two proposals are to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a5 - motion re: membership of committees; No. b5 Motion re: proposal that Dáil Éireann notes the report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service entitled Report on Macroeconomic Policy and Effective Fiscal and Economic Governance, without debate, agreed?
No. Can I explain why, which is normal practice? No. b5 concerns the Report on Macroeconomic Policy and Effective Fiscal and Economic Governance, which is a key part of what Deputy Bruton has been talking about for several years and is part of our document Reinventing Government, the thesis and essence of which we support. Part of the document relates to transparency and accountability in government. Today we have seen more of the same of what the Government demonstrated for many years, that is, a lack of transparency and accountability, an unwillingness to discuss and debate an issue which caused the demise of an important industry in this country and affects the livelihoods of many farmers and workers.
There are 450,000 people out of work, people are facing economic uncertainty and are threatened with many other kites being flown by the Government on the budget, an area into which I will not stray. As the Tánaiste would not agree to a meeting between the Whips to set aside time for a debate of such importance, we oppose the Order of Business.
The Labour Party opposes the Order of Business because of the failure of the Tánaiste and Government to address the closure of the Mallow sugar factory. Yesterday the report from the Court of Auditors was published which states this was one of Europe's most efficient producers and closed down its large, modern and potentially efficient sugar factory. In plain English, this factory did not have to close. A profitable factory and industry was closed with the loss of 300 jobs and the knock-on consequences for local businesses in Mallow and north Cork and farmers which were supplying it across a large area of Munster and Leinster.
We have attempted to have this matter addressed properly in a number of ways. There is no point in having an Adjournment debate where a Minister of State will come in and read a script. Private notice questions will be answered by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, who he was not the relevant Minister at the time. The Tánaiste was the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when this happened, and attended the Council of Ministers and has responsibility for this decision. We need to have accountability in this House for how she carried out her role at the time and why a factory was closed with the subsequent consequences.
There was a perfectly profitable industry which was scuttled with the loss of jobs, business and the farmers who supplied it. The Tánaiste spoke as if the discussion earlier had not taken place and bizarrely read out the Order of Business as if this was not an issue. It is an issue and it will have to be addressed.
I suggest, as I did earlier, that we amend the Order of Business. I oppose the proposal in order that No. 14 is adjourned at noon and that another section be inserted, No. 15, which would be statements on the Greencore factory in Mallow and that the Ceann Comhairle allows the proper procedure of statements of 15 minutes each and a question and answer session at the end of the debate. That would facilitate the House in debating this urgent matter. This is the correct place to argue this because it is an amendment to the Order of Business which the Ceann Comhairle has put to the House. I ask that it be adjourned-----
First, as all Members know full well, it is not my job or that of the Government to adjudicate on Standing Orders or on the independent decision-making of the Ceann Comhairle's office.
The logic of Deputy Gilmore's argument is that if issues arise now in the context of health when Deputy Howlin was Minister or in finance when Deputy Quinn was there,-----
As the person who is most familiar with this issue and the person who gave a considerable amount of time to it, I will give it in the context of what has happened. First, the Court of Auditors has reflected on the Commission's, not the Irish Government's, decision. Second, this was part-----
Dick Roche (Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs; Minister of State, Department of An Taoiseach; Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Is it right of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to shout a Minister down when she is in possession? I am very surprised at him.
It is important that I make my point of order before the Tánaiste continues. If the Ceann Comhairle does not interrupt me I will be very brief. Earlier, the Ceann Comhairle prevented, perhaps rightly, other Members from making statements on the substantive issue which we are discussing. However, he is allowing the Tánaiste make a long statement defending her position.
I was trying to articulate the position with regard to the issues raised by Members of the House. As I indicated, this is a criticism of the Commission. It was in the context of the WTO. We led the group of 14 at that time-----
My response to it is that it is not satisfactory because the issue at stake here is the Tánaiste's handling of this matter when she was Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I will give one example from the statement she made. She says that the Court of Auditors laid the blame at the feet of the European Commission. The Court of Auditors blamed the European Commission for working off old figures and that it did not take into account Greencore's consolidation as a result of the closing of the Carlow plant.
Who was responsible for the Commission working off old figures? Who was responsible for it having the old figures and who was responsible for it not knowing what consolidation took place between Carlow and Mallow? Was it the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the time, whose job it was to tell the Commission?
On the same point, the blame cannot be laid at the Commission if the Commission was working off information that was inadequate, out of date and inaccurate. If we are going to have a discussion we need to have the person responsible. The Government at the time held a golden share in Greencore-----
Will the Tánaiste be there to answer them? On a point of order, the Tánaiste has been kind enough to tell the House we will have a debate. Will she say when that debate will be held, its duration and who will represent the Government?
The Members opposite did not have the manners to afford me that opportunity. I said that on this basis I was prepared to amend the Order of Business, in consultation with the Whips, to provide for a debate today in which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be present.
It is a matter for the Whips. I have offered to afford the opportunity for a debate today and I am prepared to amend the Order of Business to facilitate this.
-----in Mallow. The Commission did not know what had happened. We are told by the Court of Auditors that the Commission did not know what happened and it did not have the up to date figures and that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the time was the Minister responsible for making sure the Commission had the figures.
Question put: "That No. a5, motion re membership of committees, and No. b5, motion re proposal that Dáil Éireann notes the report of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service entitled "Report on Macroeconomic Policy and Effective Fiscal and Economic Governance", be decided without debate."
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 70 (Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, 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, Conor Lenihan, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, John O'Donoghue, 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: 64 (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, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, 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 John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe
Question declared carried
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 5, motion re the proposal that Dáil Éireann notes the fifth report of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security entitled "Second Report on Climate Change Law", agreed? Agreed.
We move on to the motion re membership of committees and I call the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Curran.
Can the Tánaiste offer clarity on the upcoming Finance Bill? This morning's Irish Independent reported that thousands of households in mortgage arrears may be facing a property tax. The last thing people who are caught in the high debt, no job trap need is to read such a report.
It is a matter for the Order of Business because it will be in the Finance Bill. Will provision be made in that Bill for a property tax and, if so, will the Government outline how it intends to introduce it in a context of 100,000 mortgage holders in negative equity?
I wish to ask about the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill. In light of the furore that resulted when families and their loved ones were forced to pay for private residential nursing home care because of collusion between the Department of Health and Children and the HSE to deprive them of their rights, can the Tánaiste confirm that the cap on the current fair deal scheme will not put people into similar circumstances once again?
Today's Financial Times contains three articles on Ireland's economic difficulties, including a front page report on yesterday's increase in Ireland's cost of borrowing. I understand our cost of borrowing has risen still further this morning. I ask the Tánaiste whether the Minister for Finance plans to make a statement before the weekend either in the House or outside it to address the issues being raised in the international financial press about Ireland's cost of borrowing.
It was announced yesterday that the Social Welfare Bill will be published next week and debated during the following week. Is it intended to immediately publish the heads of the Bill, which have been agreed yesterday, to allow proper preparation given that it will amend the social welfare code to reflect the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the transfer of certain functions of FÁS to the Department of Social Protection, changes to the rent supplement and the computerisation of social welfare payments? Even though we have not seen the heads, we will be expected to pass the Bill in advance of the budget.
Legislation is promised in this regard. The matter will go before the Government next week and it is the intention to publish the Bill at the end of that week.
Yesterday morning, Deputy Broughan and I raised with the Taoiseach the deontas of €43,000 paid to Independent Deputies, for which they do not have to account. The Taoiseach stated it was a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. On 11 February 2009, the Commission decided that the payment would have to be made accountable in accordance with the law and that it should be equivalent to the party leaders' allowance.
The decision required payments to Independent Deputies to be audited in the same way, and only spent on the same items, as the party leaders' allowance. Currently, they are paid €43,000 into their pockets, tax free and to be used on whatever they like.
The working group on mortgage arrears published its preliminary report on the same day that the Dáil went into recess for the summer. I understand the group's final report is due to be completed in the next three to four days. Can the Tánaiste confirm when the Cabinet will receive the report? Will the matters set out in it be discussed in the House?
I will be brief and in order. Two years ago I was on RTE with a European Union official who would not debate with me on air, which meant we had to be interviewed separately. Has the Government removed from its website the names, addresses and payments made to farmers in light of the EU ruling that the information does not need to be published?
Can I ask the Tánaiste about the commitment the Taoiseach gave me ten days ago concerning the appointment of the NAMA oversight committee? I have yet to receive a letter on the matter. Does the Tánaiste know when the Government will bring this proposal to the House?
The issue of mortgage arrears has been raised by Deputies Reilly and Ciarán Lynch. It was raised yesterday by my party leader, Deputy Kenny. The House has been given a commitment that legislation will be introduced to deal with the problem. Such an undertaking was given to the House during the debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009. The Opposition parties tabled amendments in an attempt to accommodate people with mortgage arrears. The Minister said at the time that he would take the "legislative route". He said he would tell the House when he proposed to introduce such legislation. I had a meeting yesterday-----
The Government has been in discussions with the lending agencies. I discussed these matters with one of the agencies yesterday. I am sure other Members have had similar discussions. A huge committee is not needed to develop the issue that is arising. It requires a commitment in relation to compound-----
Attention needs to be paid to the issue of compound interest, which is making it impossible for people who have arrears to recover. Will the Tánaiste give the House an undertaking that legislation will be introduced in the House as a matter of urgency to deal with the issue of compound interest, which is a burden on many of those who have mortgages?
On Tuesday evening, the Taoiseach advised the House of a number of measures that have been undertaken by this Government. Further measures will be taken after we have received the final report. As I indicated previously, the report will be available at the end of the month. It will have to be considered by the Government. Actions that arise from those considerations can be then progressed.
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, has increased by 300% the rate of taxation that applies to vans and similar vehicles. He has also classified privately owned vans as private vehicles. Why is he continuing to insist that such vehicles be classified as commercial vehicles for test purposes?
A number of months ago, during the debate on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, the Minister for Social Protection announced that a new community employment initiative would be launched by the Government. He promised in July that it would happen in September, but September and October have come and gone and we are now in the middle of November. Can the Tánaiste tell the House where this new jobs initiative stands now?