Tuesday, 14 May 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 27 — Health (Amendment) Bill, 1996 — Second Stage (Resumed); No. 28 — Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 1996 — Second Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages, and No. 29 — Statements on the Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community (Resumed).
Mr. B. Ahern: On the matter of Dáil reform, the Taoiseach informed me almost a year ago he would examine the possibility of allowing the Opposition to table parliamentary questions in the months of July and September when committees of the House sit, but said later he could not facilitate us last summer because the notice was too short. Having raised the issue again in October last, today I received proposals for discussion between the Whips to examine the possibility of allowing such questions in the forthcoming summer. Since I understand it is envisaged that committees will meet in the months of July and September, what is the Taoiseach's response to my reasonable proposal that written questions be tabled to Ministers on the days such committees meet. Failure to allow such a facility would make a mockery of the committee system and render it unworkable for the Opposition. Will the Taoiseach say whether that suggestion has been omitted from the list or whether he is refusing to allow parliamentary questions be tabled in the months of July and September?
Mr. B. Ahern: According to my information, there will be plenary sessions on two days only, one in July and another in September. If we are to have any openness or accountability in respect of anything when committees are sitting, Ministers should answer relevant questions during that summer period. Either the Taoiseach and Government are serious about the work of the 25 committees or we are wasting our time. My party will not sit around here, without any information, in the months of July  and September endeavouring to facilitate Ministers to process various Bills. Will the Taoiseach consider my proposal?
The Taoiseach: The Government has made its decision on this matter. We will provide for answering parliamentary questions on days when there are plenary sessions of the House and written questions during the recess if and when plenary sessions take place.
The Taoiseach: We have decided we will not provide for any parliamentary questions, oral or written, on days when there are committee sessions exclusively. There never has been and there will not be such a provision.
Miss Harney: On 31 January last the Taoiseach informed the House that he expected the Cabinet to finalise its consideration of the bail issue within six weeks, which would have expired on 11 March last. Will the Taoiseach say now whether the Government will put a referendum to the electorate to reform the bail laws?
The Taoiseach: I acknowledge what Deputy Harney said in regard to what I said on the matter previously. At this point the Government has not completed its consideration of the matter. Therefore, I cannot answer the specific question she has posed but I can assure her that it is at an advanced stage of consideration.
Miss Harney: That is what the Taoiseach told me on the last occasion. I put it to him that the Government has decided to long-finger this issue, and  that a decision will not be taken. Would it not be better to so inform the public rather than continue to pretend that there will be a constitutional referendum on the matter?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Harney's assumption is false. The Government will take a decision on this matter. It has not yet done so and I acknowledge there has been some slippage in regard to my anticipated timescale in terms of taking such a decision. A decision on this will be taken; it is not being long-fingered. Rather it is a question of ensuring the correct decision is taken on the basis of all the necessary information being available.
Mr. Martin: Will the Taoiseach consider allowing Government time to debate a motion of mine on the Order Paper in regard to the operation of the public examinations system, given today's discovery of a parcel of work by engineering students in the forthcoming leaving certificate examination in a bog in County Roscommon? Does he agree that that, coupled with the fiasco of the arts examination last year, warrants the Minister for Education accounting to the House for both incidents? Given the gravity of the position and the proximity of the forthcoming national examinations, will he agree to my suggestion?
Mr. O'Dea: Since the Government  accepted the recommendations of the Hamilton report on crowd control and safety at public events, does the Taoiseach accept they will require some legislative change and, if so, when does he envisage them being introduced?
The Taoiseach: That matter is also, in part at least, the subject of an Adjournment Debate this evening, when there will be a discussion on safety at events, with reference to the recent tragedy at the Point Depot. I have no doubt the most up-to-date information will be provided to the Deputy on the procedures that need to be adopted to improve the position.
Mr. S. Brennan: Will the Taoiseach say whether the promised Electricity Bill will be introduced on schedule, bearing in mind that the EU Council of Ministers has effectively overruled Cabinet announcements of June 1995 in regard to competition vis-à-vis electricity supply? Does he still foresee its introduction in the lifetime of this Government?
The Taoiseach: Yes, that legislation will be produced. The Deputy is wrong in saying the European Commission has overruled the decision of the Irish Government on this matter. The proposed legislation contains a wide range of proposals virtually all of which are unaffected by the EU decision. In regard to one aspect only, some changes will be necessary to take account of the EU decision but the legislation is proceeding in the normal way and will not be delayed by that European decision. I expect it will be introduced here in the first half of next year.
The Taoiseach: I am not aware of any legislation having been promised on this matter. As no doubt the Deputy is aware, our firearms legislation is particularly strict, a good deal more strict than that applicable in the Australian province of Tasmania.
Mr. Dempsey: Given that the Taoiseach does not intend to do anything to amend the Firearms Act, will he ensure at least that the Government ceases to act illegally in granting firearms licences to tourists without going through the normal procedures. People such as the persons who were involved in the shootings in Dunblane and Tasmania can get licences to shoot here and I am asking the Taoiseach to do something about it.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: I seek permission to raise on the Adjournment the tragic death of Bernadette O'Brian, a young person from my constituency. In view of the unfortunate events in the Point Depot, are there plans to introduce new legislation on hosting rock concerts in indoor venues or will there be a review of the existing legislation? By their nature, there will always be difficulties at rock concerts, but we must try to make them safe.
Mr. Cowen: In view of the Taoiseach's reply last week and the effects the continuing strike by CPSU members is continuing to have on thousands of farmers, has he considered calling a meeting of the Central Review Committee to allow the people who represent farming interests to put the seriousness of the position to him or does he view social partnership as a meeting of one element of the social partnership on issues that affect all?
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