Thursday, 28 June 2012
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 6, Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 6 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2.30 p.m.; and (2) the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 1 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.42 p.m.
There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 6, resumed Second Stage of the Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill 2012, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1, resumed Second Stage of the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 [Seanad], agreed to? Agreed.
I am sure the Minister will accept that small businesses the length and breadth of this country are finding it increasingly difficult to survive. However, despite commercial rates being one of their largest overheads, the Government has reneged on its commitment to abolish upward-only rent reviews. When will an amendment to the Valuation Act be brought forward to provide for more realistic valuations and commercial rates in order to sustain and support the small business sector?
I am very aware of the pressure on small and medium-sized enterprises. Together with my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, I conducted a seminar last Monday in my home town at which we met with small business owners and heard precisely what difficulties they face. The Valuation Act 2001(amendment) Bill falls within my remit and I intend to bring it to a conclusion as quickly as I can. It includes a number of innovative proposals in regard to self-assessment, the provision of support by external bodies and so on, which are absolutely essential to the revaluation project. I hope the Bill will be published this year.
The Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Bill 2012, brought forward by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has been referred to select committee. My colleagues and I intend to put forward amendments to the Bill in order to address several stark omissions therein, including the omission from its terms of reference of the women and children of the Magdalene laundries and Bethany Home. I do not have any sense that the Government is minded to amend the Bill to give to those particular categories of victims the recognition, support and compensation that is their legitimate due. Will the Minister indicate whether, when and in what legislative format the Government proposes to afford full recognition to the women and children of Bethany Home and the Magdalene laundries?
Some weeks ago the Minister for Social Protection indicated to the House that she had received the report she commissioned on the operation and financing of community employment schemes. Is it proposed to lay that report, which has huge implications for the 23,000 people employed in the 1,400 or so community employment schemes operating throughout the State, before the House? If it is not to be discussed in this Chamber, will it at least be discussed in the relevant committee so that the implications for these employees, many of whom are in fear of their schemes closing down, are examined?
Last week's report by the independent review panel highlighted the deaths of 112 children by unnatural causes while in the care of the State between 2000 and 2010. It is one of the most significant reports into our child protection system for many years. As such, it is entirely appropriate that time be set aside for a debate in this House on how the State proposes to respond to it.
I understand there has been no request to the Whips for a debate. I agree that the report is a matter of great significance and I am sure any such request will be met with a ready ear.
The Minister indicated this morning that a national co-ordinating group is reviewing unusual meteorological events in recent years. Last night saw more heavy rain which will confirm this month as the wettest June since records began. Is there any possibility the review group would examine the impact of such weather events on agriculture and the ability of agricultural contractors to harvest crops in the months ahead?
When will legislation come before the House to effect the changes arising out of the report of the boundary commission? Will it be possible to propose changes in that regard? I am not suggesting that we should seek to compromise the independence of the report, but there are issues to consider. For example, my own constituency has gained a part of Count Mayo and concerns have been expressed that the proposed title does not adequately reflect the geographical territory.
Legislation will be introduced, as is absolutely traditional and routine. The matter has not yet been considered by Government, but it is traditional that the report would not be amended.
I have questions in regard to three items of legislation. What is the current status and likely progress of the criminal justice (victims' rights) Bill, the provisions of which will impact on many people in this country? Second, when will the National Lottery Act 1986 (amendment) Bill be brought forward? Third, what is the status of the inspection of places of detention Bill for the maintenance of places of detention in accordance with nationally set standards?
I am sorry to inform the Deputy that there is no date fixed for the publication of the criminal justice (victims' rights) Bill and inspection of places of detention Bill. In both cases, the heads of Bill have not yet come to Government. In regard to the National Lottery Act 1986 (amendment) Bill, which comes under the remit of my Department, the current licence for the national lottery expires in the middle of next year. It is envisaged that the legislation will be enacted this year in order to have a proper lead-in time for the transition.
The Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions signed off on its Standing Orders last January. I acknowledge the great commitment the Minister has shown to getting the committee up and running. As such, I am sure he understands why there is great frustration that the motion has not yet come before the Dáil to give those Standing Orders a legal framework. If that motion is not presented before the end of session, it will be September or October before the committee can be established. This matter has been raised with the Whips on three occasions, but I have not had a specific answer as to when it will be progressed.
This touches on the very fine line between the Executive and the Legislature and I am minded not to trespass on the House's territory. As the Deputy acknowledged, I am very supportive of this innovative committee. However, I shall go no further than to say that I understand these matters are being considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I respect the Minister's comment about the separation of powers. The problem, however, is that nothing can happen until a motion is put forward by the Government. Only the Executive can present that motion.
This is a serious matter and while I do not want to be flippant about it, people might be driven to sunbeds. It is important to protect children in this regard and I understand the legislation will be introduced this year.
For the information of the House, the Taoiseach said yesterday that the legislation would be brought in towards the end of this year.
A proposal for free GP care is contained in the programme for Government, so when can we expect to see legislation on that matter?
I understand that legislation will be considered very shortly by the Cabinet. Assuming the Cabinet approves of it, it is expected to be published before the end of this session.
The personal insolvency legislation is being laid before the House tomorrow. From the time the Cabinet voted on it earlier this week and when Dáil Éireann sees it tomorrow, have the banks been briefed on what the Cabinet has in mind?
In response to Deputy Troy, the Minister mentioned that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would be giving an update following the meeting of the national emergency response co-ordinating committee. Will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government attend the House to make a statement and take questions from Deputies representing areas that have been affected by the devastation, including in Douglas in Cork city where homes and businesses have been destroyed?
As I indicated in my reply to Deputy Troy, this is a most serious matter. People have been very seriously affected by the rains overnight. The national emergency response co-ordinating committee is meeting and all relevant Departments are represented on that body. A statement will be made after that meeting. I will convey the Deputy's views to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, although I do not know if he is available to attend the House.