Tuesday, 21 May 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 14, Health (Amendment) Bill, 1995, Order for Report, No. 5, motion re. Agreement Amending the Fourth ACPEC Convention of Lomé, 1995, and No. 15, Criminal Law Bill, 1996, Second Stage (Resumed). It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 5 shall be brought to a conclusion within one hour and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fianna Fáil Party and Progressive Democrats Party shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 37, motion 11, concerning the Defence Forces.
Mr. B. Ahern: May I ask the Taoiseach, due to the grave difficulties in agriculture and particularly in the beef sector from the BSE crisis, if the Government has any legislative measures or other procedures to promote the sale of Irish beef to outside markets and, if so, will he make them known to the House?
The Taoiseach: This is designed to restore consumer confidence in the area generally. I do not believe legislative measures are what is necessary. What is necessary are scientific statements that will be of assistance in restoring consumer confidence in continental markets. Confidence has been substantially restored in the Irish market, which is the area where the Irish Government can take action. The matter concerning confidence on continental markets has to be dealt with.
Mr. B. Ahern: What action is the Government involved in to try to restore that confidence by ministerial visits and the visits of people from the Department of Foreign Affairs? It is some weeks since this matter arose and we are heading into a deeper crisis every day. Despite our efforts to raise this issue in the House we have got nowhere.
The Taoiseach: If the Deputy wants information of this nature it would be better if he would give notice of his  intention to raise the matter. This matter has been raised without any notice whatsoever. Second, it would be more appropriate if the matter were the subject of a parliamentary question to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. However, in deference to the fact that the Deputy has raised the matter I will obtain information for him on the matter generally that may be of assistance to him. It is better, given that it is important that statements made here should be authoritative, that notice should be given. No notice whatsoever was given of this line of questioning.
Miss Harney: I note from media reports that the Minister for Justice has circulated her proposals in relation to bail to her Cabinet colleagues. Has the Government finalised its views on this issue and can we take it we will have a referendum later this year on the issue of bail?
The Taoiseach: This question is in order. That matter is under consideration by the Government, as the Deputy has been told on a number of occasions. As soon as a conclusion is reached on the matter an announcement will be made.
Miss Harney: Since I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week I saw extensive media reports at the weekend that the Minister for Justice had now finalised her view and had circulated that view to the Tánaiste and to the Minister for Social Welfare and perhaps to other Cabinet colleagues. Given that the Taoiseach gave a commitment here three months ago that the Government would finalise its view in six weeks, when can we expect the Government to make up its mind on this important issue?
The Taoiseach: I have already acknowledged that the Deputy raised this matter last week. There has been some slippage in terms of time in regard to my anticipated time frame which was, as the Deputy said, six weeks. That six week period has more than elapsed at this stage. The matter is currently under consideration and I have nothing to add to my earlier reply.
Mr. B. Ahern: I am sorry for interrupting again. Since last week, this side of the House is ready to make an agreement on raising issues on the Order of Business but unfortunately the Taoiseach has turned that down.
Mr. Cowen: In view of the reply by the Taoiseach to the leader of the Opposition regarding the need to table parliamentary questions, will the Taoiseach agree that the interests of everybody in this House would be best served by a debate in this House on the present state of affairs in Irish agriculture? We had a debate on the BSE crisis, following the announcement in the House of Commons on 20 March, and we got some semblance of activity from the Government benches as a result. I ask the Taoiseach, given the deteriorating situation for beef farmers, of which he is aware in his constituency and right across the country——
Mr. Cowen: ——if he will allow Government time for a debate on matter which concern the livelihoods of thousands of beef farmers? Cattle prices have been falling by between £50 and £100 per head in the past two weeks. Will the Taoiseach——
The Taoiseach: ——and have chosen not to use it this week for this topic. I have already indicated to Deputy Ahern that I will obtain a comprehensive statement in regard to the matter which I will forward to him. If questions are posed without notice it is not possible to give comprehensive replies.
Mr. Cowen: On a point of order, does the Taoiseach regard a motion on the Agreement Amending the Fourth ACPEC Convention of Lomé 1995 as more urgent for Government consideration than the thousands of farmers——
The Taoiseach: ——if it wishes to seek a debate on a subject and that is to communicate through the Whips with the Government Whip. Deputies Ahern and Cowen have demonstrated a lack of seriousness by raising this matter without giving notice——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A number of Deputies are offering whom I wish to facilitate. I will accept only an orderly debate, otherwise I will proceed to other business. Deputies should raise relevant matters or I will move on.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: I welcome the consumer representation proposed for An Bord Bia. Will amending legislation be necessary in that regard? Why did the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry not travel to Libya? Is there truth in the rumour that he failed to get a visa after waiting four months and that preference was given to the Tánaiste?
Mr. O'Malley: Is the Taoiseach aware that the period of assistance for the rendering industry will expire today, for which £2.5 million was provided by a Supplementary Estimate recently passed by the House? What steps does the Government propose to take after midnight tonight? If the rendering industry——
Mr. O'Dea: I am surprised the Taoiseach does not know of the crisis in the beef industry. I want to ask him about a promise the Government made today  by way of a press release from the Minister for Justice to set up by statute an independent agency to manage the courts. When will the appropriate legislation be introduced? Will the Government move with the speed and decisiveness with which it dealt with the bail issue?
The Taoiseach: Raising matters without notice and seeking a debate without going through the normal channels in order to stage a manifestation in the House is not a serious way to deal with a serious problem.
The Taoiseach: Provisions are not being made for a Supplementary Estimate at this stage, but the position is under review. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry is aware of the matter and is in frequent contact with An Bord Bia regarding its plans on the matter. Deputy Hilliard need not be concerned in that regard. Whenever it is necessary for the Minister to brief me on a matter regarding An Bord Bia'a plans for the beef industry, of course he will do so.
In regard to Deputy O'Dea's question, the Government decided this morning to accept in principle the recommendations that have been made. As the report was accepted in principle only this morning, work has not yet started on drafting the necessary legislation and I cannot give a timeframe for its introduction at this juncture.
Miss de Valera: Does the Government intend to introduce amending legislation to deal with the crisis in the TB scheme which has been outlined by the ICMSA and other farming groups? Will the Taoiseach at least enlighten us as to whether the Government intends to take action on the matter?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will allow a final question from Deputy Connolly but then I will move on as I cannot facilitate the number of Deputies who are questioning and I may not go on indefinitely.
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