Thursday, 26 May 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 3, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2011 - Second Stage (resumed) and No. 8, statements on Progress on the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in respect of No. 8: the statements of a Minister or Minister or State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8, statements on progress on the 20-year strategy for the Irish language, agreed to? Agreed. Matters which are deemed to be in order on the Order of Business may be raised. I call Deputy Ó Cuív.
It is on a matter of promised legislation. Yesterday evening, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, promised legislation on employment orders that will have a serious and detrimental effect on employers' rights. Has the Minister consulted the Labour Party on this matter? I note that he has gone beyond the terms of the recently published report and that he proposed to bring-----
Matters that can be raised on the Order of Business include: the taking of business that has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the Dáil; the making of secondary legislation; arrangements for sittings; and when Bills or other documents on the Order Paper needed in the House will be circulated. This is what we can deal with on the Order of Business. We have Private Notice Questions, the Adjournment debate and other ways of dealing with these issues as well. I will co-operate fully to try to make certain that Deputies in the House have an opportunity to raise matters that are serious and need attention but please stick to the Order of Business. I take no pleasure in interrupting.
Will the Minister facilitate a debate next week on the report of the independent review of employment regulation orders, registered employment agreements and wage setting mechanisms since the Minister has stated in the press that his proposals will be completed by 10 June? This is a matter of great urgency.
The Taoiseach stated in the House yesterday that fair deal applications were being processed but they are being refused by the HSE.
I sincerely thank Deputy Ó Cuív for his deep concern about my ability to answer questions. I strongly welcome his support and I look forward to his participation in the debate on the legislation to facilitate that next Tuesday.
The Government has authorised the publication of the Duffy Walsh report. The Minister with responsibility has his own proposals. There are no predetermined outcomes for the discussions that will be undertaken in the coming weeks with the social partners. The matter will come back to Government for a decision. There are no predetermined decisions.
The issues around joint labour committees, JLCs, and employment regulation orders are contained in words in the programme for Government and the EU-IMF programme. Is it the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation in the House as was announced? Let us be clear about it. There is now a public controversy that goes deep into the hearts and households of thousands of families. Based on what the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, stated yesterday there is a real fear that he is about to cut the incomes of the lowest paid, including hundreds of thousands of people who depend on these types of unsociable hours and the Sunday hourly rate, arrangements which have been in place and which are legally binding.
Deputy Doherty previously raised concerns for workers in respect of the minimum wage which proved to be unfounded. To allay his fears again, let me be clear: there is a commitment in the programme for Government to review the JLC structure. A comprehensive report, which was authorised by the previous Government, was conducted by Mr. Duffy and Dr. Walsh and has been published by the Government. It will form the basis for the discussions that will take place between the Department and the social partners and the Minister will have his own views. Whatever emerges from this will revert to the Government and at that stage, it will be appropriate to have a full debate in this House on what is proposed, rather than to have speculative debate on what might or might not be involved.
On the scheduling of business, does the Minister not believe it should be appropriate for Members to debate the findings of this report? It finds clearly, as Sinn Féin has advocated, that the cutting of joint labour committee, JLC, rates-----
Is it is envisaged the Minister's Department is to engage in discussions with the Department of Finance with regard to any supplementary budgetary initiative that would be required in light of the proposals emerging from the office of the Minister, Deputy Bruton regarding the JLCs and registered employment agreements, REAs? I refer to the implication-----
In response to the Deputy and others who are genuinely concerned about an important issue, the Government has authorised the publication of a highly detailed report and the first thing all Members should do is to read a nuanced and balanced report.
That will be the basis on which discussions will take place with the social partners. I have no doubt that the trade union and employer sides will have strong views on this matter that may go beyond the scope of the report. The Minister will have his own views and all this eventually will revert in the short term to the Government and there will be a whole of Government decision, which, if it requires legislation, will be brought back to this House for full debate at that point.
Does the Government plan to publish or initiate legislation that would result in revisiting the Freedom of Information Act to widen public access to information? This would be a direct follow-on from the manner in which the former Minister, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, filleted the Freedom of Information Act introduced by the last rainbow Government.
Yes. The programme for Government includes a proposal to restore the scope and depth of the Freedom of Information Act and it will be brought before the House as soon as possible.
In the context of the fourth report of the child rapporteur, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, I refer to the first report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, in which Deputy Howlin was a participating member, which was published in September 2008 and which included a proposal to give legal authority for the collection and the exchange of information concerning the risk or occurrence of endangerment, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse of children. What is the present position regarding the national vetting bureau Bill, about which it has been indicated repeatedly that a date of publication is not possible to indicate? The most recent statement from the Government has been that the heads of the Bill have not yet been approved. Will the Minister advise the House, in the context of all the valid criticisms Mr. Shannon has presented to politicians and Members of this House, whether certainty can be provided that this Bill will be fast-tracked? Moreover, will he advise at the earliest opportunity when Members will see the final verification of the establishment of the Department of children under the aegis of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald?
I join the Deputy in welcoming the report of the special rapporteur on children, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. The Deputy and I had much interaction with Mr. Shannon and he certainly is an authority on this issue. Unfortunately, this report yet again makes for stark reading and demonstrates the depth of the problems that still face the child protection area. It was for this reason the present Government established a Minister for children at Cabinet rank. The Bill to which the Deputy refers has been advanced to heads of Bill stage and will be treated as a priority by the Minister for children.
In respect of the joint labour committees and registered employment agreements, if I understood him correctly, the Minister indicated there would be a period of consultation and debate and then legislation arising therefrom. However, if this is the case, does he not consider it to be an outrageous pre-emption of the consultative process-----
On the subject of future legislation, I wish to follow up on a question asked on the Order of Business yesterday by Deputy Martin regarding whistleblowers' legislation. The Taoiseach replied that such legislation was forthcoming because it is included in the programme for Government. However, he then stated that a referendum would be necessary in this regard. I am puzzled as to the reason a referendum is necessary because, as the Minister will be aware, several Bills on whistleblowers have been introduced into this House, including one by his colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, without any need for a referendum. I am alarmed that it is necessary and will delay the procedure.
As it distresses me to see the Deputy alarmed, I will try to calm him. There are two different sets of proposals. Whistleblowers' legislation does not require any constitutional amendment and is being advanced. As for the Taoiseach's reference to a referendum, it refers to a different proposal that sometimes is referred to as the undoing of the Howlin judgment, if I may be so bold as to refer to it. That was to allow citizens to impart information to Members of the Oireachtas without having themselves disclosed. It arose from legal proceedings subsequent to the Morris tribunal and the programme for Government includes an undertaking to seek to restore the rights of citizens to impart in a bona fide fashion information to Members of the Oireachtas without putting themselves in hazard. This legislation also will be advanced.
Yesterday, I asked a question on legislation promised in respect of a proposed household utility charge but the answer I was given related to proposed water charges. Can the Minister enlighten Members on the timeline for legislation in respect of the proposed household utility charge? When will it be published and to what will it relate?
I believe the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government answered that question yesterday. There is a commitment in the EU-IMF programme of support and in the programme for Government in respect of water charges. As for any other matter, no decision of Government has been made and the Deputy can be informed as soon as such a decision is made.
In view of the media reports and the "Prime Time Investigates" programme about the very bad housing conditions in some parts of the country I would hope the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill could be brought forward as soon as possible.
No debate is required as this is a matter for the IMF. The Minister for Finance indicated that he has a very close working relationship with the Minister, Madame Lagarde, who has a detailed knowledge of the Irish situation and the Irish problems. Both the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach indicated that she would be an excellent candidate for the position.
I refer to the statement by the Minister for Health and Children that there had been a misappropriation by the HSE of the Fair Deal nursing home funding. Does the Minister intend bringing forward a revised health Estimate to address the shortfall in that funding as a result of the misappropriation of same?
Will the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 now be withdrawn for consideration of the criticisms levelled at it in the hearings of the UN committee against torture held earlier this week and also the comments of the president of the Law Reform Commission earlier this year?
As regards debate in the House, the Minister indicated that the Government intends consulting with the social partners and others regarding the JLC structure. Is it the intention to have a debate before the relevant Minister completes his proposals on this report which, as Deputy Howlin said, is of major national importance? Will that debate take place next week as I asked because if it does not take place, the Minister has indicated the date of 10 June as his decision day in this matter?
I believe it would be preferable to have a set of proposals before the House which it can deal with in detail rather than having an abstract debate about what might be. I know some Members would prefer that but if the Deputy and his party wish to have a debate I am sure that is a matter his party's Whip can raise.
It is amazing that the Government does not have to make proposals for the social partners to have a discussion with them but as regards this House, which he said would be brought back into the centre of public life, the Minister is saying that we have to wait for the proposals. We are not being treated equally to the social partners. It is a disgrace.
As regards the scheduling of the business of the House, I have two questions. We dealt yesterday with the fact there are no questions to the Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht. The Taoiseach when asked why this was the case replied that only one question had been submitted-----
When is it intended that the finance (No. 3) Bill will be brought before the House? When will the heads of the Bill be published? Will it only deal with the civil partnership legislation and the changes that need to be made as a result of that Act being passed into law last year or will there be other measures, included? When is it intended that the Bill will have passed both Houses of the Oireachtas?
I refer to residual commitments that were to have been included in last year's Finance Bill regarding the enactment of the civil partnership legislation and its implications for finance. It was debated whether those provisions should be included in the Finance (No. 2) Bill. It was determined by the Government that the Finance (No. 2) Bill should deal exclusively with the jobs initiative proposals and those residual matters will be dealt with in a finance (No. 3) Bill. I do not have a date for it but it is a priority for the Government.