Wednesday, 22 January 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take the Report from the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs on the European Parliament Elections Bill, 1996; No. 16 — European Parliament Elections Bill, 1996 — Order for Report and Report Stage; and No. 17 — Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance, which shall be taken on the conclusion of Questions to members of the Government. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the sitting shall not be suspended at 1.30 p.m. today; the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. today and the motion for the General Financial Resolution shall be moved not later than 12 midnight whereon business shall then be interrupted and the Dáil shall adjourn forthwith; the Report Stage of No. 16 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be adjourned at 2 p.m.; following the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance and the statements by the main spokespersons of the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats Party, the sitting shall be suspended for 30 minutes; and there will be no Private Members' Business this week.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are five matters to put before the House. Is the proposal that the sitting shall not be suspended at 1.30 p.m. today satisfactory? Agreed. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Are the arrangements for dealing with No. 16 satisfactory? Agreed. Is the proposal for the suspension of the sitting following the Budget Statement satisfactory? Agreed. Is the proposal that there will be no Private Members' Business this week agreed? Agreed.
Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach outline the legislation the Government intends to bring forward  as a matter of priority between now and the time he declares a general election? On this first day of the new session is the Taoiseach in a position to give an absolute guarantee that whatever priorities he sets will be passed into legislation this session? As a matter of interest, perhaps the Taoiseach will tell the House the number of days in this particular session.
The Taoiseach: The Government legislative programme has been or is in the process of being circulated to Deputies. It sets out the legislation we intend to advance in this session, the next session, the session thereafter and so forth.
Miss Harney: Given that the investigation into the Dunnes Stores payments affair has made such little progress, will the Government consider bringing forward a motion to establish a tribunal of inquiry?
The Taoiseach: That inquiry is ongoing at this stage. It is not the case that any Member has sufficient information to make a statement of the type made by the Deputy. When the report from Mr. Justice Buchanan is available it will be furnished to the appropriate committee of the House which will then institute inquiries into the matter.
The Taoiseach: Obviously I cannot do so because only Mr. Justice Buchanan can determine the length of time he requires for the task he has been given. The committee will in turn determine the length of time it requires to perform its functions. Neither will be acting at the direction of the Executive.
Mr. D. Ahern: A proposal will be made to the House tomorrow in relation to the setting up of the Lowry/Dunnes Stores committee. For example, it is proposed that the quorum will be three of five members. Has the Government examined this proposal? Will it be proposed tomorrow? There is some doubt whether it is a  good idea to have only three people attending a meeting or if it would be preferable if all members were present during all the committee's deliberations. If some members are missing from time to time, it could be open to subsequent legal challenge.
The Taoiseach: I appreciate the Deputy's points. I understand the proposal has been put forward by official sources in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The most appropriate course of action for the Government to take is a discussion between the Whips, and I understand the Government Whip will initiate a discussion on the matter. The Deputy will have an opportunity to raise his concerns at that level. When the matter returns to the House there can be public discussion if it is required.
Mr. D. Ahern: A High Court ruling yesterday will have severe implications for sports clubs throughout the country. Does the Government intend to introduce legislation to improve the position for sports clubs which has been worsened by the High Court decision yesterday?
The Taoiseach: It is too early to state whether legislation is necessary to remedy problems which may have arisen for clubs as a result of the  judgment, which must be studied. However, it may be that non-statutory solutions are the best.
Dr. Woods: When does the Taoiseach plan to bring forward legislation to overcome the administrative errors which have occurred regarding the three months notice period under the Family Law Act? Approximately 50 marriages are in limbo. Will the legislation be introduced as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Shatter: In the context of that promised legislation, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Equality and Law Reform are aware that, for nine months, I had reservations about the difficulties which would arise in this area. I ask the Minister for Equality and Law Reform to ensure all the difficulties which could arise under the legislation are addressed. I draw the Minister's attention to the point that if the legislation is not enacted before 5 April, many couples who married since 1 August may find they are not entitled to the normal married persons' tax allowances and benefits.
The Taoiseach: The points raised by Deputy Shatter are of such a detailed nature that they would probably best be pursued by means of a parliamentary question. As I said, it is the Government's intention to remedy the problems which have been identified.
Miss de Valera: Can the Taoiseach state whether the Government intends to introduce legislation regarding special areas of conservation before the habitats directive is signed in February by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht? It is important that both Houses have an opportunity to discuss the implications of the directive before it is signed.
Mr. Cullen: The Minister for Education announced the upgrading of Waterford Regional Technical College to institute of technology status, a decision of which everybody in Waterford is proud, but legislation is required to implement this decision. Does the Government intend to introduce a separate Bill to deal with the matter or will the Dublin Institute of Technology Bill be amended? When can such legislation be expected?
The Taoiseach: I assure Deputy Cullen that all the requisite procedures will be put in place, whether by statute or otherwise, to give effect to  this decision for which I again congratulate the Minister for Education.
The Taoiseach: I wonder if Deputy Ó Cuív is indicating that his party will be opposing the abolition of service charges by the Government. He would be most welcome to take that course of action, if that is what he wants. I assure him that the legislation in question will be carried into law by this Government. We expect to have the legislation published before Easter. I look forward to Deputy Ó Cuív's contribution and that of his party on that legislation.
Mr. O'Dea: Does the Taoiseach, in accordance with his usual practice, intend to institute an inquiry into a very serious leak from the Government last week regarding differences between the Minister for Finance and the Tánaiste on the question of public sector pay? Has the Taoiseach a list of suspects?
Mr. O'Donoghue: Is it intended to introduce legislation to regularise the holding of District Court sittings at non-courthouse venues, or is the Government embarked on a course of surreptitiously closing down courthouses?
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: I am glad the Taoiseach has given permission to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to travel to various capitals to sell our cattle when the stable door is already open. Will he be back in time for the general election?
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