Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

11:00 am

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is proposed to take No. a6, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate; No. b6, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimate to select committee; No. 15 - Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. a15 - Statements on the EU-IMF programme for Ireland and the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a6 and, subject to the agreement of No. a6, No. b6, referral to Select Committee, shall be decided without debate and any divisions demanded on Nos. a6 and b6 shall be taken forthwith; the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. today; and Private Members' Business shall be No. 81, motion re stability and the budgetary process (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a6 and b6, motions re leave to introduce and referral of Supplementary Estimates to select committee without debate agreed to?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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No, it is not agreed to. Before agreeing, I seek clarification from the Taoiseach. I refer again to the matter I raised with him yesterday regarding the constitutionality of the IMF agreement. Has the Taoiseach sought legal advice in respect of the position he has taken in this House in response to this Deputy and others? Has the Taoiseach referred the matter to the Attorney General?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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In fairness, the point the Deputy is raising has nothing to do with this proposal.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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All too sadly, it has everything to do with it. Finally, when will the memorandum of agreement, as well as any other technical data pertaining to that agreement, be published? While I will reserve my final point to the Order of Business proper in respect of promised legislation, what steps, if any, has the Taoiseach taken to establish the accuracy of the position he argues, namely, that it is within the bounds of the Constitution? I contend that it is not.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The point the Deputy is making is out of order and is not really relevant to the proposal with which Members are dealing here.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is absolutely relevant because Members have provision for the continuation of statements on this matter in this House in terms of the ordering of-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The point the Deputy is raising can be pursued through other channels. There are several other opportunities to do this.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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No, it cannot.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is the proposal before the House No. 1?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I will answer it when Members reach No. 2.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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With respect, I do not stand up here every day to have a blistering row with the Ceann Comhairle. It is in the context of the Order of Business. Today's business provides for the continuation of statements that commenced yesterday.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, it is not in order. We must deal specifically with the proposal before the House.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is in order. I am asking the Taoiseach-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----because I do not know.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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No. Deputy, we must establish some order on the Order of Business. What we are doing is becoming irresponsible.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I have asked a reasonable question. Has the Taoiseach established whether the position he has taken in response to this Deputy-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I have ruled the Deputy out of order. He will have to raise this through another channel at another time.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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To clarify, does this pertain to the proposal regarding Nos. a6 and b6?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Surely the Taoiseach can respond.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, proposal No. 1.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy has a question on the second part, I can answer it but as I understand it, it is not in order at present.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It pertains to the ordering of today's business.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, the ordering of today's business. The first proposal being taken is-----

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Is the Taoiseach in a position to answer my question?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, I am in a position to answer when it is in order, which will be when the second proposal is being dealt with. The first proposal pertains to Nos. a6 and b6.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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No, the precedent-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy----

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----is long-established, as it was yesterday-----

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is the problem.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----when Deputy Kenny rose and brought forward proposition No. 3 into proposition No. 1.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is the problem when one breaks the rules; one sets a precedent.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin, I have ruled it out of order and we will proceed. I am going to get a decision-----

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach can answer the question.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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At a later stage. We will deal with proposal No. 1 that is before the House.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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No, but the right debate depends-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the Deputy wishes to revisit the issue at a later time, he should please do so.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I protest in the strongest terms at the Ceann Comhairle's insistence in closing off a legitimate avenue of questioning for this Deputy on this matter.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sure the Deputy will have ample opportunity, during the statements and questions later this evening, to pose that question. However, this is proposal No. 1, which is not relevant to the point being raised by the Deputy on the Order of Business.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is absolutely relevant.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the House to decide on the matter.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is the Order of Business.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I understand that. But you are abusing-----

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Then why will he not insist on the Taoiseach responding?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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-----the Standing Orders that provide for and underpin the processing of the Order of Business here in the House.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The only comfort any Member has is that the Ceann Comhairle has a very short time left in that position, which all to sadly, I supported him accessing in the first place.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, please.

Question put and declared carried.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2010, agreed to?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is not agreed to. I ask my question again. In respect of the ordering of business, because no proposition in respect of No. a15 is before this House, I have no other opportunity but to ask again-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry to tell the Deputy that he is out of order.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That was ordered yesterday.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy simply is out of order.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----has the Taoiseach sought legal advice regarding the constitutionality of the agreement into which the Government has agreed with external bodies with regard to funding-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin, the question also is out of order on this occasion.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----including public funding, of this State?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will have statements later today and there is provision for a question and answer session. I am sure the question can be asked at that time.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I must hold the Order of Business until I have the question answered.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes. It is out of order on the Order of Business and I am ruling it out of order.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is not in order.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It is a reasonable question. I contend that the Taoiseach's action and that of the Government-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am ruling it out of order and we are proceeding. I am ruling it out of order.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Ceann Comhairle decides this, not the Deputy.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----is unconstitutional.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Deputy joking me?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Has the Taoiseach confirmed his certainty that I am wrong?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should resume his seat and allow me to put the question, please.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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No, he has not. Why does he not stand-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should resume his seat, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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-----and provide an answer?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Because the Deputy is out of order.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to resume his seat.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Which of us is out of order?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Ceann Comhairle determines that.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will Deputy Ó Caoláin please resume his seat?

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach is out of order.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No, the Deputy is.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Ó Caoláin should resume his seat.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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And out of place is where the Taoiseach should be.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will now put-----

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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This is not a Sinn Féin cumann meeting the Deputy is dominating now.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach should not worry.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am now putting the question-----

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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This is Parliament. It has rules.

Question put and declared carried.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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On the Order of Business, perhaps the Whips might make arrangements for a short statement from and some questions to the Minister for Transport in respect of the gridlock that has been caused nationwide because of this short cold snap? As for the meetings that have taken place between the NRA, the meteorological personnel and so on, I understand the Minister and the Cabinet have only been briefed today on what is the status.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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That is not true. I convened the first meeting last Saturday.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Very well. If it is not true, it is all the more reason for the Minister to appear in the House and at the least, explain to the nation what are their ministerial and governmental guidelines to the authorities in respect of Government policy in this regard. It is important to remember that all over the country, elderly people are trying to go about their little bits of business on footpaths that are exceptionally dangerous and very slippy.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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We have all heard reports of people with sprained ankles and broken legs, etc., which is a cause of great trauma to them. There is confusion in many people's minds with regard to the extent of their liability, if any, if they clean the footpaths in front of their premises or places of business.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are on the Order of Business.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is an important matter.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I am trying to be helpful, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I know.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I know there is a clear position on this. It is important for the Government to spell out whether shopkeepers and householders who clean the footpaths in front of their premises are liable if somebody falls. It would be appropriate for the Minister for Transport to set aside half an hour for a short statement and a couple of questions.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Half an hour.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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We might be able to do that in the interests of everybody, given that many elderly people are very concerned about the matter.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We have set out the Order of Business for the day. It was insisted on yesterday that we proceed with the proposals that are before us. If it is possible for the Whips to provide for half an hour within that timeframe, without changing it, I am sure that can be looked at in an effort to be helpful.

The interagency co-ordination group has been meeting since this spell of bad weather began. The Ministers for Transport, Defence and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government attended this morning's meeting. An emergency co-ordination mechanism is in place to deal with these sorts of situations. It has been up and running.

The Deputy sought clarification and advice with regard to liability for members of the public when clearing snow from outside residential and business premises. There is clear advice from the Attorney General. The issue of liability does not arise for snow that is cleared in a safe manner. If a pavement is cleared in a manner that disposes of snow so as not to create any obstacle or hazard, there is no issue of liability. I think common sense prevails.

We have sufficient reserves of salt. This issue arose last year when we had a very bad spell. We have over 80,000 tonnes in reserve. I think another 50,000 tonnes have been obtained by the NRA. The amount that is usually used in a typical winter period, from November to March, is 60,000 tonnes. There are stocks in place. Indeed, the main roads which take 60% of total traffic and 80% of commercial traffic are being salted on an ongoing basis. It is a priority issue. Other roads are also being dealt with as a priority issue by local authorities. Of course we would advise people to take public transport where possible. It is important that we look out for our neighbours, particularly the elderly, and make sure they are looked after.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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What about the clearing of the footpaths?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I answered that question.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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No one is doing anything about them.

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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I understand that three sets of documents need to be completed arising from the EU-IMF agreement. First, a letter and a memorandum dealing with economic and financial policy needs to be communicated to the IMF and the EU institutions. Second, a memorandum of understanding must be concluded in respect of the EU funds. Third, there are operational agreements dealing with matters, including the quarterly review, etc. When is it intended that those documents will be concluded? When will they be laid before the House? Will they be laid before the House before they are communicated to the international bodies concerned?

The Government's statement at the weekend on the joint EU-IMF programme referred to a commitment to introduce a fiscal responsibility law, including a medium-term expenditure framework with binding multi-annual ceilings on expenditure in each year. Can the Taoiseach confirm that is the case? When will such legislation be introduced in the House? What stage of preparation is it at?

What are the Taoiseach's intentions with regard to a finance Bill? Is it intended that the Dáil will reconvene after Christmas? If so, when is it intended that the Dáil will reconvene and when will a finance Bill be presented to the House?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The draft documents are being finalised, as Deputies are aware. I think they are going to ECOFIN next week. The Minister for Finance intends to circulate the up-to-date draft documents that have been referred to when he makes his contribution in the House at approximately 3.45 p.m. this afternoon. They will be available before they are finalised on 6 and 7 December next. I think those are the dates on which that will happen.

The finance Bill will be taken in the new year. It has to be prepared. First of all, we have to get our budget through. That is the first priority. That will take place next week. Legislation will have to be prepared thereafter. It will be debated and legislated for in the normal way as soon as possible. It will be in the new year. There will be a return to the Dáil. We have not yet decided what the date will be.

I will communicate with the Minister for Finance regarding the up-to-date position on how the fiscal responsibility law will be proceeded with. I will ask him to refer to it in his speech this afternoon.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I understand from the Taoiseach's response to Deputy Gilmore that these documents in draft form will be open to Members of the House some time later today. Is that what the Taoiseach is suggesting? Is he indicating that they will be merely concluded today, and will not be seen until later this week? The memorandum of understanding is a critical document, in terms of the detail applying to the arrangement. When will these documents be laid before Members of this House? When will the Opposition parties have sight of the detail contained in them?

I would like to ask again about the statements on the IMF-EU agreement. The absence of a voting opportunity for Members at the end of the debate is the subject of my objection to the Order of Business. Has the Taoiseach sought legal advice on the matter? Has he referred it to the Attorney General? Can he answer the questions that have been asked in the House about the constitutionality of the steps the Government is taking?

The finance and social welfare Bills are usually taken as part of the outworking of the budget each year. It has already been indicated that other legislation is expected this year. Does that include legislation to take €40 per week from those who depend on the minimum wage? That is what will really happen across the board, based on a 40-hour working week. Is legislation planned to give effect to the reduction in the minimum wage? Does the Government intend to introduce other legislation in the aftermath of next week's budget to give effect to the measures it is planning?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Obviously, I cannot announce the budget in advance. It will be announced next Tuesday. The legislative arrangements that will have to be put in place to give effect to the budget will take place consequent to the announcement. I presume the Deputy will accept that I cannot indicate what is in the budget at this point.

On the question of the availability of documentation in draft form, the Minister for Finance intends to circulate the documents with his speech this afternoon, as I have said, so that people can peruse them and see where they are at.

On the question of the constitutionality of our approach, the Deputy can take it that Attorneys General are in attendance and give their advice when we conduct these discussions and when the Government makes decisions. I assure the House that the clear and unambiguous advice is that it is totally within the competence of the Executive to undertake these agreements. It is in compliance with Article 29.4 of the Constitution.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Aside from the budgetary measures that have already been signalled, such as the proposal to reduce the minimum wage from €8.65 to €7.65-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, please.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Is it not the Government's intention to introduce legislation in addition to that giving effect to such budgetary measures? The Government signalled such an intention as part of its four year plan. Is there legislation in that regard pending?

12:00 pm

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The terms and conditions that apply to the drawing down of funds include structural changes such as the reduction in the minimum wage. The timeline, etc., set out in the documentation will be dealt with accordingly.

Those were the conditions on which this facility can be drawn down.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I have two matters to raise. Given the weather situation and the economic uncertainty faced by people, I ask the Taoiseach about the status of the insurance indemnity Bill and when it is expected to be brought to the House. This Bill would at least offer protection from fly-by-night operators, uninsured doctors. The second matter I wish to raise is the issue of the interest rate on the memorandum of understanding. The Taoiseach stated yesterday that Greece was looking for the same terms and conditions and has received them.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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That question could be accommodated in the question and answer session this evening.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I hope I may be allowed to finish my question. If the Ceann Comhairle will allow me explain it will be simple enough. Given the known difficulties associated with the accounting and annual reports supplied by Greece, is there any inference that the same difficulties apply to the Irish situation? Why are we being treated the same way?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is not appropriate on the Order of Business.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That is a figment of the Deputy's imagination.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Where is the Bill?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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There is no date for that Bill.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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In the current weather conditions, thousands of people on low incomes are desperately worried about whether they will be able to pay their electricity and gas bills. The carbon levy was introduced in the last budget and the Government promised there would be compensatory measures for people on low incomes. That never happened. The EU and IMF agreement will double the carbon levy.

Before the Ceann Comhairle interrupts me I am allowed to ask about the programme for Government. Under the renewed programme for Government the Taoiseach made a specific commitment that a fuel poverty strategy would be published in 2009. Other countries have fuel poverty strategies which are deliberately designed to protect people on low incomes, particularly elderly people at risk of fuel poverty.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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That question sounds very appropriate to the line Minister.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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It is appropriate to the Order of Business. I am absolutely in order. Why was that strategy not published in 2009? Why has it not been published in 2010? When will it be published?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before I call the Taoiseach to reply, I wish to make this point. The issue of the programme for Government is not a catch-all provision to allow Members to raise issues on the Order of Business. Standing Order 26 is quite specific regarding promised legislation. That is the difficulty we have. I have advised the Deputy to submit the information being sought to the line Minister and I am sure he will be more than willing to accommodate the Deputy.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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On a point of order.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I do not wish to be argumentative but I have been here quite a long time. May I say to the Ceann Comhairle that over many years, the Opposition has been able to raise issues relating to the programme for Government. If the Ceann Comhairle wishes to change the rules, I suggest that would have to go through the normal channels but the precedent is established over many years-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Questions on the Order of Business must be about promised legislation.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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-----and I can vouch for that. I intend to continue working on the basis of the precedent we have set.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am advising that the position is the programme for Government is not a catch-all provision to allow questions to be asked.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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On a point of order. The Ceann Comhairle's ruling is incorrect in this regard. It has long been established-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy Durkan.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, Ceann Comhairle, it has been long established-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Standing Order 26 is quite specific on this point.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Ceann Comhairle is changing Standing Orders by degrees and without consultation, as Deputy McManus said. In my time in this House the rule has always been that the programme for Government or any aspects of it, are eligible for raising on the Order of Business in the normal course of events.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the specific inquiry entails legislation being brought forward, then it is appropriate but it cannot be used as a catch-all issue.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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No, Ceann Comhairle, the programme for Government may have implications for legislation and that has already been established.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is holding up progress on the Order of Business.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Apropos the earlier discussion, the Ceann Comhairle is unwinding the right of the Members of the House.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is delaying the Order of Business. I am being quite specific in my interpretation of Standing Order 26.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I wish to lodge my strong objection.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I asked a perfectly valid question. This was a very clear commitment, which would require legislation, and the Taoiseach has to explain to the House how it is that people on low incomes are terrified to keep themselves warm because of the increased costs of energy. The Taoiseach gave an undertaking and it is written in the programme for Government, to protect those people. Two thousand people die every year from cold-related illnesses-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will make inquiries if there is promised legislation on foot of-----

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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The Taoiseach has to answer here.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I do not wish to cross the Ceann Comhairle at any time. An affordable energy strategy is being drawn up. In this winter season, more than €240 million will be made available by the Government under various household packages such as the national fuel allowance and free electricity and gas allowance. The household benefits package in 2009 extended the period by two weeks from 30 to 32 weeks. There have also been increases in welfare payments throughout our period in Government by over 88% at a time when the rate of inflation was 20%. The record of Government for looking after the elderly and making basic provision for them stands in stark contrast to some of the rather measly increases we saw when the Opposition was in government.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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This is my last intervention on this matter. I do not argue with the Taoiseach about the existing supports. The Taoiseach and his Government made a specific commitment to have a fuel poverty strategy in 2009. I want to know why they did not keep their promise.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach has replied.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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An affordable energy strategy is being prepared. In the meantime, this Government has made real improvements which are well above the cost of living increases at a time of severe economic and financial crisis. We have been able not only to maintain but to increase them and to extend the period in 2009 at a time when the economy was contracting by 10%.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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What about the Christmas bonus?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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This stands in stark contrast to the Labour Party's record when it had responsibility for this area.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I am loth to raise this issue but I note the Bill for the direct election of a mayor for Dublin was back on the Order Paper yet the mental capacity Bill, which is a much more important piece of legislation vital for many more people and will have a greater impact on people's lives than any directly elected mayor of any city not just Dublin, is not. When will the mental capacity Bill be brought to the House?

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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On the same matter, in answer to the point made by Deputy Kathleen Lynch, which is a very important matter, the absence of the mental capacity Bill's passage is the reason the Government is giving for the failure to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is quite scandalous that the ratification-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is embellishing the inquiry from his colleague.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I am not. In so far as the Ceann Comhairle has stated this, with regard to his interpretation and the advice he is receiving on Standing Order 26, that Standing Order is not based on the legislation as announced within this Chamber; it is legislation anticipated from public statements requiring legislation inside or outside the House-----

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is promised legislation.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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I think it is important to say this so that the wrong precedent is not established.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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That is correct.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Frankly, I have asked several times about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been signed but not ratified. It has been communicated to me in writing that the reason it is not ratified is because we are awaiting the passage of the mental capacity Bill. Deputy Kathleen Lynch has asked about the Bill and she is entirely right. She is also entirely right to draw a contrast between a Bill that is urgently needed so that we might establish some humane standards and a fit of nonsense that has been going on from someone else.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are making inquiries about the progress on the legislation.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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That Bill is due to be published this session. For the purposes of reply and to put it in my own words, having listened to the Deputy's point, the ratification of conventions can only occur when the necessary legislation is in place to implement the convention. Other countries ratify conventions and have no domestic framework for them. It is preferable that we bring forward the legislation which is being published this session. All the stakeholders have been involved in its preparation. The Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, who has responsibility for this area, is satisfied that it can be published this session. Once the Bill is implemented, we can consider ratifying the convention.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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When is it intended to introduce the collective investment schemes consolidation Bill, whose aim is to update legislation on collective investment schemes generally? Particularly in view of the events of the last week, it would be appropriate to introduce it at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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There is no date for that legislation.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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That is peculiar. There is another Bill I want to ask about. Although it must be a moot point at this stage, the purpose of the international agreements Bill is "to amend the Bretton Woods Agreement Act 1957 to provide for Ireland's membership of the IMF's new arrangements to borrow, NAB", which is very appropriate in the present context.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Deputy is getting into complex territory this morning.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I know. I feel complicated myself, actually.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We could all be nabbed.

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we keep the focus on the issue at hand?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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As Deputy Howlin said, NAB is an appropriate name for what is happening. The purpose of the Bill is also stated as being "to make available Ireland's share to NAB". Is it intended to bring that Bill before the House, in view of the vulnerable position in which we find ourselves?

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Ceann Comhairle; Louth, Ceann Comhairle)
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On promised legislation.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We will deal with that one next year.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Taoiseach might be nabbed himself next year.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I drew attention yesterday to the dropping of the Multi-Unit Developments Bill by the Taoiseach in order to placate the Green Party on the folly of another chain in Dublin for a mayor.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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We support it.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I ask the Taoiseach to give a commitment to instruct his Whip to make sure that the first available slot will be used to take Report and Final Stages of the Bill so that it may be passed before Christmas. Tens of thousands of people are affected by management company issues and have been waiting six or seven years for legislation-----

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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Living in apartment blocks on land that was rezoned by the Labour Party's councillors.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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-----but the Taoiseach has given a sweet to the Green Party in the form of another chain in Dublin, which will delay this legislation.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy should keep typing.

Photo of Paul GogartyPaul Gogarty (Dublin Mid West, Green Party)
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The truth hurts.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Keep tweeting.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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The Deputy should watch his language.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Taoiseach; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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It is intended to take that legislation before Christmas, probably the week after the budget. It is important that we get it through.