Thursday, 16 February 2012
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 5, Finance Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed) and No. 12 - statements on the action plan for jobs. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 5 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.15 p.m. today; and the following arrangements shall apply to No. 12: opening statements not exceeding 20 minutes in each case shall be made by a Minister or Minister of State and by the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share time; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes; 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.
It is not agreed. Again the Government is using a guillotine on very important legislation. I am sure the Tánaiste is well aware that the legislation, of which his party is fully supportive, allows for tax breaks to the super wealthy in the form of €635,000 which would be free from tax for people coming from overseas. I am sure he is also aware that the Finance Bill allows for some of the most well paid officials in the public sector to be able to dip into their private pensions in order not to pay the penalties that would be imposed on them at the time of retirement if their pension pot was more than €2.3 million. Very few people would be able to avail of that provision.
Some Ministers may be included among those who could avail of it. There is trend with the Government to impose a guillotine. We in Sinn Féin are opposed to the guillotine. We should allow people to speak on Second Stage if they so desire. I ask the Tánaiste to give a commitment to the House that there will not be a guillotine on Committee Stage or Report Stage as his party and other parties demanded when we dealt with Finance Bills previously. We should be able to discuss and debate each amendment in full and vote upon it at the end.
Once again Fine Gael and Labour are doing exactly the opposite of what they argued for during the many years they were in opposition - the arbitrary guillotining of crucial legislative measures. The Finance Bill enshrines all the disastrous austerity provided for in the budget of a few months ago - slashing services and attacking living standards with detrimental effects in general on our society - in order to bail out the bondholders and speculators. At the same time it introduces new elements such as bribes for bounty hunters who are supposed to come here with no obligation to create jobs but under the pretence they will. With a wage of up to €500,000 a year they can get massive tax breaks compared with our people on top of whom new taxes have been imposed. We need time for a proper debate to allow every Deputy who wants to contribute, which has not been the case so far.
Can the Tánaiste confirm that no guillotine will be imposed on Committee Stage to give Members a chance to go through the Bill section by section and line by line in order to deal with all the serious issues that have been raised? On Committee Stage it is often possible to do a much more forensic job on these issues than is possible on Second Stage.
The Finance Bill provides that there will be no increases in income tax for working people this year for the first time in a number of years and provides for changes in capital taxation - the kinds of changes that Sinn Féin and Deputy Higgins call for in theory and then oppose in practice.
-----has already been debated on Second Stage since Tuesday. We propose to conclude the Second Stage debate today in accordance with the arrangements I have proposed. Regarding Committee Stage, as I understand it, the committee itself normally makes arrangements for the timetabling of the handling of the Bill. I know that in the past there were arrangements where time was allocated for groups of sections, etc. The arrangements it makes for the timetabling of taking the Bill on Committee Stage are a matter for the committee. However, it is proposed that the Second Stage conclude today.
In answer to a recent parliamentary question I was given to understand that the legislation to amend the law on civil registration of deaths, births and marriages would be introduced by the end of the year - in fact it was being worked upon when I was in the Department. This deals with matters such as embassy marriages and the registration in this jurisdiction of deaths of Irish residents which occur abroad. Why is it not on the list of legislation for the Department of Social Protection? When will the legislation be published? At what stage is it? I could not find it anywhere on the list of legislation even though I am getting promises in response to parliamentary questions that we will have it by the end of the year.
Will the Tánaiste indicate when we can expect the fiscal responsibility Bill and the treaty establishing the European Financial Stability Mechanism Bill? Will the Tánaiste indicate to the House when the Attorney General will give the Government advice in respect of the fiscal compact treaty referendum or the austerity referendum? Will the Tánaiste give the House a guarantee that when the Attorney General comes forward with her advice, it will be published in the public interest?
It is expected that the fiscal responsibility Bill will be taken later this session. There are two Bills relating to the European Financial Stability Facility. I will introduce a European Communities (Amendment) Bill. The heads of this Bill have been approved by the Government and it will be introduced this session. A separate and related Bill will be introduced by the Minister for Finance.
It will be towards the end of the session. The Bill from the Department of Finance will follow it. The Attorney General has yet to present her advice on the treaty and the conclusion of the European summit in January.
The Tánaiste will be aware of a welcome development yesterday, that is, the conviction of an individual for the murder of one of my constituents, the late Shane Geoghegan. The Tánaiste may also be aware that it is likely that further proceedings may be taken against other people arising from yesterday's conviction. Is the Tánaiste satisfied that the anti-gangland legislation of 2009 is sufficiently robust to enable further prosecutions to take place?
I join Deputy O'Dea in welcoming the conviction yesterday. We all recall with horror when Shane Geoghegan was killed. I welcome the conviction yesterday. It does not bring back Shane and that is the awful sentence that families must live with after something like this occurs. The Garda Commissioner has expressed his satisfaction that the existing legislation is adequate. The adequacy of the legislation and getting convictions is something the Minister for Justice and Equality has under continuous review.
Will the Tánaiste indicate when it is intended to move Second Stage of the betting (amendment) Bill, which is on the pink sheets. It is an imminent promise. This relates to the regulation of the betting industry and it will bring about necessary changes.
Other legislation promised for some time and regarded as urgently required includes the collective investment schemes consolidation Bill. This has been referred to as necessary legislation in recent times. When is it likely to come before the House? Have the heads been discussed and to what extent?
There are two final points. Apropos of the points made by Deputy O'Dea and the Tánaiste, the criminal justice (victims rights) Bill was promised and it is in the C section. Its purpose is to strengthen the rights of victims of crime and of their families and to give effect to the proposed EU directive. As a result of recent court cases wherein victims have been prosecuted as well, this is appropriate legislation to bring forward now.
A final tranche of legislation is urgently required. I am sorry for delaying the Order of Business with this but, unfortunately, all this legislation was promised when I was sitting on the far side of the House. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill is to implement the recommendations of the second interim report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children to protect vulnerable persons against sexual exploitation and abuse.
The betting (amendment) Bill is being worked upon as a priority and we expect to publish it this session. I do not have a date for the second matter raised by Deputy Durkan. Preliminary work is under way on the Criminal Justice (Victims Rights) Bill but it is impossible to indicate a publication date at this stage. The final Bill Deputy Durkan referred to is expected later this year.
What is the position of the proposed regulations for the Water Services (Amendment) Act in light of the shocking Environmental Protection Agency report which has emerged last night and today confirming that almost half of the State's sewerage treatment plants in urban areas fail to meet EU standards?
The EPA report underscores and supports the urgency and priority that the Government is giving to issues of water pollution. Certainly, the Government will not shirk its responsibility in bringing forward legislation. When statutory instruments, to which the Deputy referred, are made they are laid before the House and it is then a matter for Members how they wish to deal with the secondary legislation.
As the Tánaiste is aware, the Financial Services Ombudsman, Bill Prasifka, has confirmed that almost 7,300 complaints were received by his office in 2011. He has called for additional powers to publish the complaints record of individual financial institutions. We have published a simple legislative amendment which would give him this power and I will move it during Private Members' time as soon as I can. Will the Government be openminded about such a change?
The report of the Financial Services Ombudsman is being considered by the Minister for Finance. If he considers that legislative change is necessary then he will bring proposals to Government in that regard.
No. Under Standing Order 40A, you have a right as a Deputy to make a written complaint to me about the inadequacy of a reply which you believe is not in order. I will consider any such request and deal with it appropriately.