Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 [Seanad] - Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Private Members' business, which shall be No. 42 – motion re: European Stability Mechanism, shall also take place immediately after the Order of Business tomorrow and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes on that day.
I note that last week a commitment was made to introduce legislation to provide for a constitutional amendment for voting rights for emigrants in a presidential election. The Tánaiste was reported as saying he favoured constitutional change in order that emigrants can be enabled to vote in this country's elections, and initially in a presidential election. Is the Government in a position to provide a timeline for its constitutional reform programme as it is becoming more confusing by the week with the announcements we get? In a presentation from the Taoiseach two weeks ago, he said the Government was committed to changing from 18 to 17 the age at which people could vote and that the term of presidential office would change from seven years to five years. Those two issues - and only those issues - would be considered by the constitutional convention. To be frank, I do not see the necessity of bringing 100 people together just to consider those issues; that is why we are elected. I would have thought the convention could deal with far more substantive issues but they seem to have been put on the long finger.
The Tánaiste has introduced a new issue that was not in the submission to us from the Taoiseach. There is a forthcoming referendum on the EU fiscal compact treaty and I would appreciate the Tánaiste updating us on any Government decision on the time for that. While the Tánaiste seems to be a little more optimistic about the children's rights referendum, we do not get a sense that it will take place this year. The Seanad referendum seems to have been pushed into 2013.
I am seeking clarity on what the Government is proposing in terms of amendments to the Constitution. Ministers are announcing whatever suits the particular audience to which they are speaking in terms of amendments to the Constitution-----
I am not asking that we discuss them. It is reasonable to ask if we can have a programme. We have a programme for Government and I ask that someone please outline what the Government will do in the next 12 or 18 months instead of making a series of announcements that never see the light of day and have far less substance than when they were originally communicated by the Government.
Deputy Martin has raised many issues. My comments on the possibility of emigrants having the right to vote in presidential elections were made in the context of that matter being considered by the constitutional convention. I am a little surprised that Deputy Martin seems to be so confused about the Government's intentions in respect of the constitutional convention as I understand the Taoiseach briefed him on this matter recently. I am sorry I missed the meeting.
That explains the position. If the Deputy had been at the meeting, the Taoiseach would have explained to him that it is intended to establish the constitutional convention and give it two issues to examine immediately. In other words, the intention is to get the convention up and running, operational and so on and it will then address the other issues that will be referred to it.
It is intended that the two issues will be dealt with reasonably quickly and the constitutional convention will then get down to the rest of its work. The constitutional convention is a new and innovative approach to dealing with the discussion of constitutional issues. The Government does not want total ownership of the convention, which is the reason there is consultation on it with the Opposition if it has views on it.
On referenda this year, as the Deputy knows, the Government has announced its intention to hold a referendum on the euro stability treaty and the Government will decide shortly on the arrangements for that referendum.
I seek clarification from the Tánaiste on a similar issue. On the fiscal responsibility Bill, the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism Bill and the European Communities Act 1972 (Amendment) Bill, will the Tánaiste indicate the order in which these Bills will be introduced and whether they will be taken before or after the referendum on the austerity treaty? Will he also indicate when the Referendum Commission will be appointed and when the legislation for the holding of the referendum on the austerity treaty will be published? The Tánaiste's colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, indicated in New York that there were two possible windows for holding the referendum, namely, late May-early June and late June-early July. Will he oblige the House by indicating which of the two windows the Government will choose?
It is intended that the fiscal responsibility Bill, the legislation on the European Stability Mechanism and the European Communities Act 1972 (amendment) Bill will be published this session. No decision has been made on the order in which they will be published. As I indicated to Deputy Martin, the arrangements with regard to the holding of the referendum on the euro stability treaty will be made by the Government shortly. No decision has been made yet on the date on which the referendum will be held.
Is it the Government's intention to announce to the Dáil before the Easter recess the arrangements for the treaty in regard to fiscal responsibility, more properly known as the austerity treaty? Will the Tánaiste provide, if not the exact timetable for the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism Bill and European Communities Act 1972 (amendment) Bill, the order in which this legislation will be discussed and voted on by Dáil Éireann? In particular, will he indicate if the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism, into which the Government sneakily included a blackmail clause to deny funds to states which would not agree to the fiscal compact-----
Neither the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism Bill nor the European Communities Act 1972 (amendment) Bill has been published yet and no decision will be made as to when they will be taken in the House until they are published. As I stated, the Government will shortly make decisions on the arrangements for the euro stability treaty. When the arrangements have been decided they will be announced to the House.
I intend to bring a memorandum on the matter to Government shortly. It will then be a matter for the Government to consider the memorandum and make a decision on it.
Today's edition of the Irish Examiner carries a worrying article about the growth in illegal moneylending. It refers to exorbitant interest rates and intimidation imposed on those who avail of this service. This raises two questions which the Government needs to answer. First, does it intend to introduce legislation to strengthen its hand in dealing with this illegal practice? Second, does it intend to revisit the area of banking by introducing a legislative proposal to ensure banks start lending again? The House has discussed this issue on many occasions.
The article to which the Deputy referred is very worrying. The Minister for Finance has asked his officials to prepare necessary legislation to regulate debt management and debt advice services. Subject to Government approval, it will be brought forward as a Committee Stage amendment to the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government promised on the public record a raft of legislation to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people who have decided not to pay the household charge. He referred, for example, to the fines and data protection legislation. Will the Tánaiste outline which legislation the Minister will bring before the House to ensure people who decide not to pay the household charge will be pursued by the Government? How does this approach square with the Minister's earlier statement that hundreds of thousands of people will not be brought before the courts?
No. 115 on the Government's legislative programme, which is in the name of the Taoiseach, is a Bill in respect of which heads have yet to be approved by the Government. It deals with the abolition of the Seanad. Given that the Tánaiste has not been able to give a commitment on this matter and the Taoiseach has indicated the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad may not proceed this year, will the Government withdraw its legislative programme and correct the record? Will it clarify whether it is proceeding with this legislation?
I think the Deputy is referring to the Bill to abolish the Seanad, which is in section C of the legislative programme. That Bill is unlikely to be published for some time.
Will time be given next week to debate the report that the Minister for Justice and Equality has commissioned into the transfer of a prisoner to Loughan House prison last weekend? Can the Tánaiste confirm if that report is being carried out? Has the Government any plans to increase the protection to gardaí on duty in the service of this State?
I thought for a minute that the Deputy was asking whether we would provide time next week for the debate on another report, the publication of which is said to be imminent.
I understand that the Prison Service will provide a report on the Loughan House incident to the Minister for Justice and Equality when he returns from his St. Patrick's Day commitments. I understand that the issue is also in the courts in another jurisdiction, so we need to be careful about what we say about it.
Many businesses throughout the country are experiencing extreme financial difficulty and are fighting for survival. Many of their owners already feel let down by the Government in respect of the upward only rent reviews. When will the Government bring forward the valuation Bill? This will amend the Valuation Act 2001 and will ensure that we have a more equitable rates system in our country.
I would like to sympathise with the Minister for Justice and Equality following an intrusion into his home while he was abroad on official duty. This is happening up and down the country at an alarming rate and I had a Private Members' Bill on the issue some time ago. Does the Government have any promised legislation on this issue? Now that the chickens have come home to roost, it might have to deal with the huge distress being caused to families, as well as the damage to our archeological and precious historic sites throughout the country, following the theft of scrap metal and gold.
There is a long list of legislation promised by the Minister for Justice and Equality. I am not sure which specific Bill the Deputy is referring to. If he identifies the Bill, I will provide him with an answer.
Is there promised legislation proposed to introduce a full property tax next year, as proposed by Labour Party Ministers? I would be totally opposed to this unjust tax, but I would like to know the Government's intentions in this regard.
Is there promised legislation from the Government to amend the Fines Act 2010? I hope there is not, but again I would like to know the Government's intentions.
The property tax arises from the agreement that the previous Government made with the EU and the IMF, for which the Deputy's predecessor gave full support. I do not have a date for the publication of any fines Bill.
I would like to ask the Tánaiste the number of Bills on the A list which have been published this session, the number of Bills which are expected to be published this session, and the number of Bills which are not on the A list but will be published this session instead. Is it intended to introduce a Bill to amend the household charge Bill to ensure that Ministers are not exempt from paying this charge on their private residences?
I would like to get a reply to a simple question I asked the Taoiseach last week. When is it intended to publish draft regulations under section 70L of the Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012? Could I get a proper answer this time, rather than the rubbish I got from the Minister? He said that he did not publish the draft regulations as they may have proven to be confusing for some people.
If that is the case and you are disobeying the Chair, I have to name the Deputy. I have to say on the record that I am very disappointed that people are supporting ongoing complete disregard for the Chair. It is appalling.