Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Order of Business
If I might just say at the start of the Order of Business, I would like the House to know that I have informed the Opposition leaders, Deputy Martin and Deputy Adams, that I intend to make an announcement later today, along with the Tánaiste, on the appointment of Mr. Tom Arnold to chair the constitutional convention.
It is proposed to take No. 18, statements on European Council, Brussels; No. 19, statements on the economy; and No. 13, motion re Tribunal of Inquiry into the Fatal Shootings of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan, to be taken at 7.05 p.m. tonight.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn not later than 10 p.m.; and the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place at 1.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of the opening statements of No. 19, whichever is the later, until 2.30 pm; (2) the proceedings on No. 18 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply; (i) the statements shall be made by the Taoiseach 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 their time, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (3) the following arrangements shall apply to No. 19: (i) the opening statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; (ii) the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes; and such Members may share their time; (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes; (4) the proceedings on No. 13 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 25 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, and who may share their time, shall not exceed five minutes in each case; (ii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (5) Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 69 – motion re statutory sick pay (resumed) shall be taken at 7.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 13, whichever is the later and shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes.
There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposals that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 18, statements on the Brussels European Council agreed to?
It is not agreed. My party Whip spoke to the Chief Whip on the issue yesterday. Unusually, because of the issues around the Council meeting there is a need for questions. Is the Taoiseach prepared to answer questions on the issues that emerged from the meeting at the conclusion of the debate? Given the seriousness of the issues, perhaps such an opportunity should be available. My party Whip spoke to the Chief Whip yesterday evening to ask that questions would be facilitated.
It is not agreed. This is a welcome opportunity to debate the state of the economy. I welcome the fact that the Minister for Finance will make the opening statement and thereafter spokespersons will have an opportunity to contribute. However, the intention is that other Ministers will then take part in the debate, which will be disjointed because there will not be an opportunity for spokespersons to respond to each Minister. The debate will be back and forth. No timetable has been supplied for when the other Ministers will contribute so it is difficult for the Opposition to line up spokespersons to reply in turn. I raised the issue last week at the Whips meeting. It would be a better use of the time and would allow for a better and more focused debate on the economy. At the very least it would be reasonable for us to be given an approximate time for when the other Ministers will address the Chamber in order for the debate to be more structured.
We do not like debates to be disjointed. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh is aware, the Chief Whip made it perfectly clear last week that given the schedule of events in Ministers' diaries that if Opposition spokespersons contact the Chief Whip's office they will receive the best estimate of when each Minister will make a contribution on the economic debate. That will give Sinn Féin and the other parties opposite time to adjust the speaking time of spokespersons in order that they can respond to individual Ministers. The speaking times will be available from the Chief Whip's office.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 13, motion re tribunal of Inquiry into the Fatal Shootings of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.
The digital Taoiseach is as unable to answer questions as the analogue Taoiseach was. He should reflect on his answers this morning. There is never anything wrong with saying, "I got it wrong yesterday. I didn't answer a question I was asked." I asked about an independent-----
We are not having a conversation across the floor. As this is parliamentary business, please adhere to the rules. This is the Order of Business. If the Deputy wants to ask a question about promised legislation, let him, please, do so.
Today families have read reports that they face another major hike in their health insurance premiums. This will lead to more of them leaving insurance companies and plans because of an inability to pay. The Government made a commitment to the introduction of universal health insurance, but what is happening is contrary to the development of such a proposition, even if one did not like it. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the White Paper on health insurance is to be published and when the legislation required to progress the universal health insurance agenda, as contained in the programme for Government, will be pursued?
I cannot give the Deputy an accurate date. I read that story today, but at this stage it is purely speculative. The Minister for Health has not been informed and has no knowledge of any such hike in premium rates. The Minister has consistently raised the issue of costs with health insurers-----
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an nuacht faoi Tom Arnold a bheith tofa mar Chathaoirleach ar an consitutional convention. Tá mé buíoch go háirithe don Taoiseach mar gur thug sé an scéal sin dúinn sa Teach seo. Cén uair an mbeidh an convention ag bualadh le chéile agus an féidir leis imeacht ón chathair seo? Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil an Rialtas ag smaoineamh ar seisiún don convention i gCorcaigh, ach an mbeidh sé ábalta dul go áiteanna eile ar fud an Stáit. Go háirithe, an mbeidh sé ábalta dul go dtí an Tuaisceart?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an ráitis sin. Sílim go mbeidh an chéad cruinniú ar an Satharn deireannach de mhí na Samhna nó ar an chéad Satharn de mhí na Nollag. Is don Chathaoirleach nua agus don chomhairle an cinneadh a dhéanamh maidir le sin. Ní bheidh cosc orthu dul thar fud na tíre nó, go deimhin, dul suas go dtí Tuaisceart na hÉireann ach an oiread.
Yesterday the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, stated in the Dáil that no details of the property tax would be forthcoming until the budget. However, the first or second item on RTE's "Six One News" was another Government leak indicating that the tax would be deducted at source from workers' wages.
That at least explodes the myth that it is a broadening of the tax base. I have asked the Taoiseach many times, in regard to the Thornhill report, if working people and pensioners are to be troubled every week with new leaks about this new economic attack on them. Will the Government publish the Thornhill report and in the coming two weeks will the Taoiseach make time available in the Dáil for a debate on it and for the Minister to state precisely the Government's plans for the property tax, rather than have people subjected to these cynical leaks?
I have heard much speculation about this matter. The Government will make its decision on the property tax. It is a budgetary matter and will be mentioned on the day of the budget. The Thornhill report will be published subsequently and we will all have an opportunity to debate it comprehensively.
Anything the Deputy attributes to spokespersons or any other allegation is nothing more than that. The Government will make a decision and everybody will be perfectly clear on the matter.
The decision was that property tax would apply from July next year. The Revenue Commissioners were asked to put in place the mechanics for it to work. The Thornhill report will be published when the Government makes its decision.
When does the Taoiseach expect the Book of Estimates for 2013 to be published? As the Taoiseach knows, many have suggestions about a budget for next year that might banish austerity.
I refer to the pyrite panel. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has given another deadline to the builders, developers and insurance companies. Is this the final deadline? I read that the Minister had given a different ten-day deadline.
If the Deputy tables the last question as the subject of a Topical Issues debate, the Ceann Comhairle may allow it to be discussed, that being his responsibility. The Minister for Justice and Equality would be happy to respond to it.
The pyrite issue is of extreme concern to those who live in the houses in question. We have been raising the issue for many years. I can confirm that there has been a great deal of activity in the recent past and hope serious progress can be made. It is never the final question, if the Deputy understands me.
The Minister is serious about what he said and I do not expect that he will extend the deadline which I expect will be adhered to. The Minister and his Minister of State are focusing on the matter.
The Estimates will be published in advance of the budget. I will ask the Minister for Finance and his Department to confirm to the Deputy when they expect to publish them. I imagine it will be towards the end of November in good time for the budget.
I was unaware of that. I will refer to another item of legislation. The Taoiseach has often threatened to introduce legislation to allow the regulator to ensure additional charges or increased interest could not be imposed on persons struggling with their mortgages, yet since he made that claim, on two occasions AIB has increased its variable interest rate which exerts hard pressure. Does the Government have plans to introduce legislation to give power to the Central Bank to deal with this matter?
My second question relates to the budget which will be announced in December. We see from the report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that many families are planning their finances for next year accordingly. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether this will be the last budget to be announced in the month of December? Is it the understanding that next year's budget will be announced earlier, both as a result of European rules and in consideration of the level of spending in the domestic economy in the month of December?
No decision has been made about the budget for 2013. The Government will decide the matter in due course.
Last year I wrote to the regulator on behalf of the Government about the banks. I made it perfectly clear that if the regulator required further powers or authority, the Government would be willing to grant them. The regulator responded to the effect that he did not consider it necessary at the time to look for increased powers from the Government. That is the current position. If we receive a request from the regulator for further powers in his dealings with the banks, the Government will respond positively.
Continuing the theme of deadlines, the relevant advisory group was instructed to submit a report on the A, B and C case by 31 June last. This deadline was extended to 31 September, but we are still awaiting the report. Has the Taoiseach checked the position with the advisory group on when it proposes to bring forward the report?
Last week the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, published a report, Putting People First - Action Programme for Effective Local Government. In the context of the local government reform Bill, I wish to-----
The Ceann Comhairle has ruled out of order the first matter about which I wished to pose a question, namely, when the White Paper on universal health insurance would be brought forward. People were already crippled by the amounts they were obliged to pay for private health insurance before this morning's announcement. However, I cannot speak on this matter-----
The second issue to which I wish to refer is very important. It was raised last week and I would like the Taoiseach to provide an answer on it. I refer to the climate Bill and the fact that the weather has improved a little in recent weeks, which means farmers might be able to spread slurry.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine raised this matter at a Council meeting in Luxembourg yesterday. As the Deputy is aware, he and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government have already approved an extension in respect of slurry spreading.
This is an issue of which the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will take account. In recent days I met members of the IFA in Paris at the SIAL food exhibition - one of the largest events of its kind in the world. This matter was also raised at the exhibition. I have passed the information on this matter to the two Departments involved.
This morning 24 patients are on trolleys in South Tipperary General Hospital. Other patients are awaiting admission, a number of whom are in the accident and emergency department. When will the health (amendment) Bill be brought before the House? Will it provide for the reopening of the 31 closed beds in the hospital to which I refer?
The Department of Social Protection published a report yesterday. Is it intended to make time available to debate this report in the House, particularly the large-scale rip-off it has exposed? Is it envisaged that legislation will be introduced to better regulate the private pensions industry, particularly the fees and charges it imposes, unbeknownst to people and also the trustees of many pension funds?
This is a major report and I commend the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, for bringing it forward. There will be a debate on the report which contains a range of matters with which the Government will be obliged to deal. This area is a maze of confusion for thousands. Successive Governments have stated the administrative charges applied by pension funds are excessive. There will be an opportunity for the House to engage in a full debate on the report.
On the same topic, I suggest the forthcoming consumer and competition Bill might, perhaps, be an appropriate vehicle to deal with this issue. Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate when the Bill will be published?