Thursday, 13 January 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 84, motion re water utilities (resumed), to be taken after the Order of Business, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes.
To raise a brief point, while there no proposals the Tánaiste has nevertheless indicated the ordering of business for today in respect of the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010. Sinn Féin Deputies object to the facilitation of this proposal. This legislation will spell the unravelling of our postal services and An Post, threaten the existing service to rural Ireland and put jobs at risk. We strongly object to the proposition, even if I cannot-----
In respect of the communications legislation on today's Order Paper, I assume the Taoiseach has communicated to the Tánaiste the position arising from the question Deputy Ó Caoláin asked yesterday about attendance at a function in Druid's Glen. I ask her whether the Taoiseach gave her a full account of the matter and if she is happy to accept what he has said.
I listened to what the Deputy had to say on yesterday's "Six One News". The Taoiseach dealt with all these issues in the House yesterday, I fully support his version of what happened and, moreover, others outside of politics have indicated what discussions took place on that occasion. If the Deputy does not believe the truth, that is a sad reflection on a man who purports to be the next Taoiseach.
I thank the Tánaiste for her comments. We now know that she, at least, accepts what she heard in this Chamber. However, the position appears to be that Mr. Gray, who was referred to as attending that function, was invited for another reason, about which he was very clear.
-----after he read out the rules.
My point is that Mr. Alan Gray has a very different view from what was said in this House yesterday. The Taoiseach said he was shooting the breeze, having a chat with people and that it was purely a social evening. Mr. Gray was invited to what appeared to be a formal meeting to give his views on job creation, small business, the economy and incentives for employment, which would be a very worthwhile discussion in its own right. However, Mr. FitzPatrick said publicly on a number of occasions that his favourite source of investment advice was the Financial Times website and The Economist but that for the real McCoy-----
I wish to raise a number of issues relating to the Order of Business. The Order of Business before us is pathetic. What is going on in this Chamber this morning is frankly surreal. People in this country are struggling to survive, want to get back to work and have been hit with a big whack of an increase in Vhi premiums on top of the damage done to their pay packets and incomes this month. More than anything else people want to get things moving again and to see some recovery and hope.
Before Christmas the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said:
.....we have now reached a point where the Irish people needed political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months. So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.
We were told we were coming back yesterday to deal with the Finance Bill but when we came back we were told it was not only the Finance Bill but that there were four Bills. There are now 21 Bills. Even this morning the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has found another straw at which to clutch to try to prolong the life of the Government. He wants to send the leaders of the Opposition away somewhere on St. Patrick's Day - any excuse to delay the recovery this country needs.
The Taoiseach does not have credibility. He was at a dinner with people from Anglo Irish Bank and they did not discuss the bank. He played golf with the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank and they did not discuss the bank and they had dinner afterwards and discussed lending to small business.
It reminds me of what Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh said about hurling in Fermanagh and the Fiji Islands. Anglo Irish Bank was hardly noted for lending to small business. We have a Taoiseach who lacks credibility, a Government, many of whose members are not standing for re-election-----
I want to know from the Tánaiste the Government's timetable for the legislation we were told would be taken. We need to have some certainty and clarity about the timetable for the completion of the legislation that arises from the budget. We also need an assurance from the Government that it will not find one excuse after the other to delay the inevitable, that is, the fresh start, people getting back to work and getting the country working again which can happen only with the election of a new Government.
This matter was outlined by the Taoiseach yesterday. He indicated that once the Finance Bill was completed in the spring of this year, the dissolution of the House would occur.
I refer the Deputy to the EUROSTAT figures this morning which show Irish growth is the fastest among eurozone members.
Stabilising Exchequer returns, strong export performance, high levels of foreign direct investment and improving competitiveness are all helping Ireland to create high quality jobs and return to sustainable growth-----
-----with huge increases. Therefore, it is important to reiterate to the people that, as a consequence of the decisions made by this Government, the domestic economy is showing strong signs of return to growth and the four year plan is a credible way in which we can move forward.
I asked a question about the Order of Business. Yesterday the Chief Whip published a list of legislation, some of which is legislation about which the Government has been distinctly unenthusiastic for the past three years. Suddenly it is very important and must be enacted before the general election.
Will the Tánaiste answer the following question clearly? Will she list the legislation the Government intends, or wishes, to enact before the dissolution of the Dáil and set out a timetable for the handling of that legislation? It is not a difficult question and it is perfectly in order on the Order of Business. It is particularly relevant given the commitment from Government before Christmas that there would be a dissolution of the Dáil before the end of January.
Four pieces of legislation are pertinent to the budget, namely, the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) Bill, the Betting (Amendment) Bill, the Social Welfare Bill and the Finance Bill. Those pieces of legislation will give legislative effect to the budgetary decisions.
If Deputy Stagg, as a whip, wants to show disregard to the legislative process, that is a matter for him. Those are the pieces of legislation pertinent to the budget. Other pieces of legislation, which are important, will be considered by both Houses while these pieces of legislation are going through the normal process. That legislation has been outlined by the Chief Whip. It will depend on how long it takes the other pieces of legislation to be considered.
I am just looking for clarity. Am I to understand from that answer that the only legislation the Government intends to enact before the dissolution of the Dáil are the four pieces the Tánaiste outlined and that the other legislation referred to will be stuck in here, there or wherever to fill the order but that it is not necessarily the Government's intention to have them enacted before the dissolution of the Dáil?
The Deputy knows well that is not the situation. There is legislation before the House today which will be enacted before the budgetary legislation is completed. Many other pieces of legislation are on Committee and Report Stages in this House and they will be dealt with as well.
I am just looking for clarity. I will keep this simple. We were told the House would come back after Christmas to deal with the legislation which arose from the budget. We expected that to be one piece of legislation, namely, the Finance Bill. The Government has now widened that. We have been told four pieces of legislation must be enacted arising from the budget.
In terms of the commitment made before Christmas by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Taoiseach that the recall of the Dáil after Christmas would be to deal with the legislation arising from the budget, if those four pieces of legislation are enacted, is that it? I understand what the Tánaiste said, that the Government will shove in other legislation here and there, but are they the only four pieces of legislation the Government intends to enact? Can we have a timetable for those four Bills? Last week we were given a draft or indicative timetable for the Finance Bill, which showed that Bill, as I understood it, concluding in the Seanad at the end of February. What is the timetable for the other Bills? The game being played is that we are back dealing with the legislation arising from the budget. Before Christmas it was due to be done by the end of January. When we got the timetable the end of January became the end of February. Then people were told that it would be the end of March and now I understand it is April, so this is being dragged out. It is not just that the general election is being delayed by the Government; the recovery of the country is being delayed by this crowd staying in office well past its sell-by date.
I have indicated to the Deputy the facts of the situation. It is a matter for and the prerogative of the Taoiseach to decide the date of a general election. The dissolution of the House will take place on the completion of consideration by both Houses of the Oireachtas of the finance legislation that must be introduced to give legislative effect to budgetary matters. It is completely disingenuous and disrespectful not only to Members on this side of the house but to Opposition Members who are very anxious that other legislation is not just slotted in as the Deputy says,-----
I have nothing further to add to this matter. It has been outlined by the Taoiseach and by me and, I might say, done outside the parameters of what is purported to be the Order of Business.
----even her staunch adherence to and support for the Taoiseach cannot maintain. When will the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance come to the House to make final, and full and frank statements on all that was known in the months leading up to the bank guarantee in September 2008? That has never been done and we are still in an exercise of extracting in a drip-feed way-----
-----critical, salient and important information. Will the Tánaiste ensure that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance will, if not today then in the coming week, come before the Dáil and make a clean breast of all that they knew-----
-----are those who had the opportunity for formal engagement with Anglo Irish Bank and the other financial institutions and clearly had a very special opportunity in informal and social engagements with these same players-----
With respect to Deputy Kenny, I do not want to be in conflict with any other Member seeking to speak. In terms of ordering the business, I have asked when the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance will come before the House to give a clear, full, frank and final account of all they knew.
I ask the Tánaiste to report to the House on the current position regarding the sale of EBS. Does the Government intend to have an input into a report that there are to be discussions next week at the ECOFIN meeting about the possibility of a reduction in the IMF level of interest that Ireland is paying? When is a systemic plan for the Irish banking sector expected to be produced?
On the same issue, does the Government propose to set aside time for a debate on the developments in the European Union? It is clear that there is now an acceptance among many member states that the rates of interest negotiated by the Government as a sovereign regarding the IMF-EU deal are penal and that nothing in the EU treaties makes provision for a three-percentage-point facilitation fee penalty to be charged to a country like Ireland.
With respect, yesterday there was a new development. There was a very clear chink of light from the President of the Commission and from representatives of the 27 member states assembled with whom the incoming Government will negotiate a new rate. I am asking this Government while it remains in office, why it is not grasping the opportunity to reduce the cost to our citizens?
The Ceann Comhairle's advices are generally good. On the same subject, I suggest to the Tánaiste that there are very serious matters here. We need some information from the Government on the renegotiation of the excessive interest rate that is being applied to this bailout loan from the EU institutions.
What we are dealing with are issues that were raised by the media. There were media reports of which I am aware to the effect that the EU was considering the question of reduction in interest rates charged to Ireland, but this is based on speculation. At the December Council, the Finance Ministers were asked to work on a proposal to come forward by March of this year to finalise work on the intergovernmental arrangement setting up the proposed European stability mechanism. That work is ongoing, it is confidential and it would be inappropriate to speculate on it.
It is also true to say that in the negotiations between the Government, the EU and the IMF, it is manageable to deal with the interest rates that are currently available to us. However, at the same time, we would welcome any developments which would give effect to the lowering of rates to Ireland.
It is also important to say that this matter was raised by the media at a press conference yesterday where Commissioner Rehn was asked the question about interest rates being charged to Ireland. The Commissioner pointed out that the interest rates being charged to Ireland are in line with the Council decision last year on the euro area loan facility to Greece and following intensive discussions with member states. There is nothing further that the Government wants to comment on those considerations.
I want to ask the Ceann Comhairle about this. It states that the Government is now proposing - this is what one of the officials has sent to me - to have the Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill, which is one of the pieces of legislation listed, taken next week on 19 and 20 January. Can I ask the Tánaiste if by then she would find out who from Ireland attended yesterday's discussion and represented the Irish people, and can she come in-----
That query can be raised next week when we are having a debate on the Bill. We are on the Order of Business which is about queries about promised business and promised debates in the House, but we do not have promised business.
I just got a notice from the Department of Finance asking me if I agree to take the Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill next week on 19 and 20 January. I advise the Ceann Comhairle and the Tánaiste that the Labour Party agrees. However, we want whoever is coming in then to be ready to discuss the chink of light that has opened in the discussions in the European Union on renegotiating this deal.
She indicated that she agrees to the discussion of this legislation on Wednesday next, and I thank her for it. The Whips will decide what time it will be taken.
-----and try to investigate or get some information, we are advised by the Ceann Comhairle that there is another route, which is to table a parliamentary question. Often these parliamentary questions are not answered by the Minister but sent off down the line, and in my case usually to the HSE. However, today we reach a new low in the democracy and the running of this Parliament which really makes one wonder if we are in the dying days of a banana republic.
I submitted a question to the Minister for Health and Children for discussion and answer this afternoon and the General Office edited it. I have no problem with editing in consultation. However, the first line of my question relates to people waiting on trolleys in accident and emergency departments which reached an unprecedented high of 569 in January 2011. In their wisdom, they have removed those figures, which changes the nature of the question and denies the right to put that on the public record.
That is utterly unacceptable. I ask that the Ceann Comhairle insist and instruct-----
The Ceann Comhairle can instruct the General Office that there can be no editing without consultation with those who submit the question. This is utterly undemocratic and totally unacceptable and is further evidence of the Government clawing onto power-----
I note with interest that two important Bills are listed for discussion over the next week or so, which are the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2010 and the Climate Change Response Bill 2010. Can the Tánaiste explain why neither the legal costs Bill, which would save this country money, nor the health (information) Bill, which might provide us some truth about the health service, have been included in the urgent business, yet the Climate Change Response Bill, which will cost this country a fortune, is included?
There are differing views in the House now about whether legislation should be taken. We have given an indicative programme of legislation that we hope to take in the Dáil and, unfortunately, those pieces of legislation are not included.
And possibly apportion due incantations as well. One could have to add that into it as well to understand what happened.
On promised legislation and the point raised by Deputy Reilly, an ongoing and increasing practice, as the Ceann Comhairle well knows, is changing the context of Members' questions. It is totally out of order and has never been known to happen until the past year or year and a half, where Members' questions are corrected to give a different meaning to the question altogether. It is totally out of order.
The Ceann Comhairle will be glad to know I am not going to ask about what went on at Druid's Glen. I am somewhat confused about what went on, as are the Tánaiste and other members of the Government. What I am concerned about is what the Taoiseach told me in this House. I note in the list of promised legislation for this session the urgently required Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010. I do not know that it is urgent or needed at this time. I note the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2010 is there as well. The Taoiseach indicated to me before Christmas that the national vetting bureau Bill was an urgently required piece of legislation and I am surprised it has not found its way on to the Order Paper. There are less demanding and compelling of pieces of legislation on it. Will the Tánaiste intercede with the Taoiseach with a view to dropping one of the less-needed pieces of legislation now proposed, such as the Dublin lord mayor Bill or some other Bills?
The mayoral Bill is on Report Stage and will be taken in due course. The work is ongoing on the vetting legislation and I am not sure if it will be completed in time for consideration by the House.
The Tánaiste will remember that I asked her in the last session a number of times about the publication of the female genital mutilation Bill. She indicated on a number of occasions that it would be published in the last session but it has still not been published. There is a major concern in the new communities in Ireland as female genital mutilation is being practised here. I understood it was a Government priority for the Bill to be published and rapidly enacted. Where is the legislation?
I am aware of the Deputy's interest in this and he is quite right in that it is an important issue. This matter was discussed by the Cabinet, if I remember correctly, just before Christmas. One or two minor issues are to be completed but it is our intention to publish the legislation.
There are two matters I want to ask about. The first is the NAMA amendment Bill, which is to be prioritised by the Government. This important Bill would allow for debts of developer loans under €20 million to be transferred to NAMA. Given that billions of euro of taxpayers' money is involved in this Bill, is it the intention of the Government to publish any kind of White Paper or Green Paper, or even an early copy of this Bill, in order for the Opposition to examine it from a legal perspective?
In the context of this new NAMA Bill, which is for loans under €20 million, before Christmas I asked several questions of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills about subcontractors. This was in the context of the collapse of Pierse Construction, which was to build schools under public private partnerships for her Department. I am sure the Minister and every Deputy in the House is aware of different firms, individuals and families who were subcontractors and have been left in a terrible state of financial ruin. Is it proposed in the NAMA amendment Bill to deal with that issue? It is really important that we get advance information on the Bill's content so that we can assess and consider it. Its implications will run into billions of euro for taxpayers.
The second issue concerns the Climate Change Response Bill, which I understand is under consideration in the Seanad. This Bill is very important for agriculture, industry and small and medium businesses, as well as individual consumers. Normally, a Bill like this, which is so important for agriculture and industry, would involve-----
The heads of the NAMA legislation were agreed by the Cabinet at our last meeting and the legislation is being drafted. I will advise the Minister that the Deputy is anxious to get a briefing on the matter as quickly as possible. On the Pierce Construction issue, the buildings are going ahead because of a joint venture with Sisk. Senator Quinn's legislation in the Upper House has been accepted by the Government for consideration in this House. The climate change Bill has commenced consideration in the Seanad and the consultation period began in December.