Wednesday, 9 April 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take the report from the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs on the Housing (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill, 1996 and No. 1 — the Finance Bill, 1997, Second Stage (Resumed). It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m. Private Members' Business shall be No. 54 — Heritage and Cultural Events (Televisual Access Protection) Bill, 1997 — Second Stage (Resumed) and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereof shall be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. tonight.
Mr. B. Ahern: I do not normally raise anything about Question Time on the Order of Business,  but every day the Taoiseach or somebody else rules out of order most of the questions we table. This is normally the function of the Ceann Comhairle's office. We examined closely the questions we tabled today, but those on the North, the McCole case and many others were ruled out of order. A question on the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Colmcille will be taken, but more urgent questions will not. Consequently, I have no option but to raise this matter now. We have given broad bipartisan support to the Government for the past two and a quarter years. Will the Taoiseach repudiate the disgraceful and unwarranted remarks of the Minister for Tourism and Trade who stated that a visit by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds — one of the architects of the peace process — to Northern Ireland to open a community centre in the Falls Road “cast doubt on Fianna Fáil's unequivocal commitment to democratic politics“? I am proud of our stand on democratic politics and on the Northern issue. Will the Taoiseach disown the Minister today?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Reynolds appeared at a photocall with one candidate, Mr. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, but did not inform the SDLP candidate, Mr. Joe Hendron. Members will be aware that if a person chooses to appear with one candidate in a constituency and not with another, he shows favouritism.
Mr. B. Ahern: We have set up a meeting with the SDLP and played fair with that party at all  stages. Will the Taoiseach condemn the remarks made by the Minister for Tourism and Trade regarding the undemocratic nature of Fianna Fáil's actions?
The Taoiseach: ——by a Deputy whom Deputy Ahern said would be his special delegate on Northern Ireland. That he should appear at a photocall with a candidate of one party in a contested election causing concern to the candidate of another party is open to misconstruction.
The Taoiseach: I believe the gesture on the part of Deputy Reynolds was ill advised and open to misconstruction. I have no doubt about Deputy Ahern's views on this matter. Indeed, I compliment him on the article he published in the Irish News. It is interesting, however, that when asked to do so, Deputy Reynolds did not support what Deputy Ahern wrote in the Irish News.
Mr. B. Ahern: All my questions today on the North have been ruled out of order. I have been deprived of an opportunity to debate this matter yesterday and today. In the interests of fair play, will the Taoiseach disown the remark his Minister made, which, I quote, “cast doubt on Fianna  Fáil's unequivocal commitment to democratic politics”. I lead that party and I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw that.
The Taoiseach: Unnecessary and unwise gestures of the kind made by Deputy Reynolds, in giving apparent support to a party which supports the armed struggle of the IRA, are unwise and open to misconstruction.
The Taoiseach: I have no doubt about the commitment of the Deputy or his party to democratic politics, but I believe that his inability to control the activities of Deputy Reynolds in this matter does create doubt, not in my mind, but in the minds of others who are not as well aware as I am of all the Deputy's statements.
Ms O'Donnell: On a separate matter, yesterday on the Order of Business the Taoiseach said it would serve no useful purpose for this Government to look into the Vincent Browne phone tapping matter. In the light of a very public conflict between the then Deputy Garda Commissioner and the then Minister for Justice on Prime Time last night, will the Taoiseach agree there is cause to look behind this matter and the subsequent settlement, with taxpayers' money, by this Government and by the Minister for Justice with the journalist concerned with a view to keeping the whole matter secret?
Ms O'Donnell: It was raised yesterday on the Order of Business when the Taoiseach responded. Will the Taoiseach agree to look into this matter? There is much public concern about it, given that the whole matter was intended to be hushed up.
Mr. S. Brennan: The Taoiseach has promised legislation on the MMDS deflector system a number of times in this House. In view of yesterday's High Court decision will he now say when legislation will come before the House? Will he  release the consultant's secret report on which his Government has been sitting for some weeks? Will he let us have the Attorney General's advice on the matter? In particular, will the Taoiseach tell us what plans he has to prevent over 100,000 people being without a multi-channel service in the next few weeks?
The Taoiseach: As the Deputy knows, this country is governed by a Constitution and where commitments have been given — and in this instance they were given to exclusivity for services to particular individuals by a previous Government — the Government obviously has to work within the constraints imposed by commitments given by its predecessor, given that we have a written Constitution. Indeed, the responsible Minister of the time is sitting beside the Deputy and could advise him on the matter.
Mr. Martin: It was not constitutional two and a half years ago. The Taoiseach did not give it much examination then. It was done on an electoral basis. The Taoiseach gave commitments to a crowded hall in Carrigaline two years ago.
The Taoiseach: ——meet the legitimate concerns and the legitimate rights of people, in the west in particular, to have access to multi-channel television on a reasonably priced basis. The Deputy can be assured that we are working intensively on that matter.
Mr. Martin: The Taoiseach is committed to a clear objective in the programme, A Government of Renewal, to provide licensing for deflector systems throughout the country. The Taoiseach gave a solemn promise and commitment to a crowded hall in Carrigaline two and a half years ago that he would give them an interim licence immediately on his return to Government.
Mr. Martin: An interim licence, mind you. He would not wait for any report or legislation; he would give an interim licence, but he reneged on that and did so on sectoral grounds. He made a promise he could not keep. It says a lot about integrity and about his commitment to the promises he gave to people two and a half years ago.
Mr. Martin: I am not particularly worried about contracts. The Taoiseach has been here a long time. He knew about the facts before he went to Carrigaline. He knew the history of this case. He gave a commitment in full knowledge of everything, yet he reneged on it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not want to suspend the proceedings but I will not preside over this level of disorder. Let us have a dignified Order of Business or we will not have any. The Taoiseach wants to intervene on this but it is not a matter for the Order of Business.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is right to say that the Government, in its programme, seeks to introduce a fair licensing system, which would allow access to some of the people who are not now licensed to provide services on a cost-effective basis and to allow a greater degree of competition. The difficulty is that in so far as the law is concerned, this Government is bound by commitments and exclusive contracts that were given by Deputy Martin's party when Fianna Fáil was in Government.
The Taoiseach: Obviously, as the Deputy knows, any Government has to work within the legal obligations which have been undertaken by its predecessor. I have no doubt that Deputy Martin, who is an increasingly experienced politician, understands this perfectly well. I assure Deputy Martin, whom I know is concerned about  this matter, that we will do everything possible to resolve this problem.
The Taoiseach: I assure the Deputy that Deputy Dukes, the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, is working very effectively to find a resolution to this problem. I really do not think that Deputy Martin should worry as much as he seems to be doing.
Mr. R. Burke: I was involved in this issue in Government. The Taoiseach should have a look at the file — as the Government is looking at old files at the moment — of Deputy Mitchell on this matter as he is so involved.
Mr. R. Burke: Everything involved with communications seems to be his area at the moment. On a separate matter relating to solemn commitments and promised legislation, my colleague Deputy Brennan yesterday raised the serious issue of the future of Aer Lingus.
Mr. R. Burke: The Taoiseach said the sale of Aer Lingus was currently under examination by the board of the company and that any legislation required to give effect to its decision will be promptly introduced. I suggest to the Taoiseach that the future participation of outside interests in Aer Lingus runs totally in the face of solemn commitments given by his Tánaiste to the workers of Aer Lingus and to people in the semi-State sector. In relation to the future of Aer Lingus——
Mr. R. Burke: Will the Taoiseach make time available for a debate on the future of Aer Lingus because this matter is too important to leave to the board of a semi-State company? We are talking about the business of a national airline.
The Taoiseach: Following the commitments made by the Tánaiste to the workers in Aer Lingus — I compliment Deputy Raphael Burke and his colleagues as well as the Tánaiste — a £175 million package was put together to redress the financial position of Aer Lingus.
The Taoiseach: Yesterday I said I wanted to see Aer Lingus survive and prosper in the future with increased employment. However, it must have increased business for that to happen. To achieve increased business, it must enter into partnership arrangements with other companies.
The Taoiseach: I said the board of Aer Lingus was working on that. I hope this Government, in supporting the board's work to find an effective partnership which will guarantee and increase employment in Aer Lingus, will have the support of the Opposition and Deputy Raphael Burke.
Mr. R. Burke: There was no comment from the Tánaiste in 1992 about any privatisation or partnership deal. What about the proposed investment in this company of which we are proud? Solemn commitments have been reneged on by Deputy Quinn.
The Taoiseach: ——Aer Lingus has announced record profits this year and its annual report, which will be published soon, will show that. That highlights the health and success of Aer Lingus upon which this Government intends to build in the years ahead.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will not have the Chair disregarded and I will suspend proceedings  if Deputy Molloy and any other Deputy who has something to say that is relevant to the Order of Business are not heard. That is a better option than allowing disorder to continue.
The Taoiseach: I am delighted that Councillor Maurice Cummins and Deputy O'Shea will be getting the credit for that because they have both worked tirelessly for the building of this bridge in Waterford.
The Taoiseach: I will now move north-west to deal with Deputy Molloy's concerns. I am glad he continues to show an interest in this matter. As the Deputy knows, the Government financed a cost-benefit study to discern whether that was the best route for the bridge in question.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask for order from both sides of the House. I will call three more Deputies and then we will move on because the Order of Business has taken an unduly long time this morning.
Mr. B. Ahern: The Taoiseach made a promise some weeks ago to introduce legislation to disband FÁS. The Minister for Enterprise and Employment met the board of FÁS and the trade union movement last week and told them he was disbanding FÁS, moving the training facility to an Forbairt and the social training facility to an unknown destination. Have the Tánaiste and the Leader of Democratic Left agreed to the proposals outlined to the trade union movement last Monday?
The Taoiseach: I did not promise to introduce legislation to disband FÁS, to use the Deputy's term. The Government is preparing proposals to enhance and strengthen the training function to ensure that training works in the most effective way possible.
The Taoiseach: The Government is determined to do this because we recognise the skills shortage in some areas as a result of the rapid growth of the economy. Because there are approximately 110,000 to 120,000 more people at work than when we entered office, there is a need to look critically at how we spend money on training to ensure it is focused on the areas where job opportunities arise and where skills shortages exist. The Government is working intensively on devising the most appropriate institutional structures to achieve that objective. I assure the Deputy we will quickly publish proposals which will not only have the support of the House but also of trade unions and employers.
Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to explain to the trade union movement and to his Cabinet colleagues where the social training facility will be located? The Taoiseach is right when he says there is a skills shortage but the Government's proposals are not for community workshops or those people who are marginalised in society. The Taoiseach is only interested in helping people who will get employment anyway. There is no support in the proposals for those less well off in society.
The Taoiseach: That commitment is enhanced by the strength of the economy which is providing employers with an incentive to search more widely for potential employees than they did in the past. Many employers are now willing to  employ people whom they would not have interviewed in the past because they realise they have talents about which they did not know. That is a direct result of the current growth of the economy.
Mr. S. Brennan: Will the Taoiseach indicate when the air navigation and transport Bill will be introduced and is it proposed to sell off shares in Aer Lingus on the cheap as happened in the case of Telecom Éireann? Where stood the solemn commitment given by Deputies Spring and De Rossa to the workers of Aer Lingus in the run up to the last election?
Ms O'Donnell: On promised legislation, recently the Government promised to establish the compensation tribunal for hepatitis C infected women on a statutory basis. Is the Taoiseach aware the women affected so distrust the Government given recent events that they have set a  deadling by which time they expect the legislation to be published and debated?
Ms O'Donnell: I have. Yesterday the Taoiseach gave a general commitment that this matter is a priority, but will he assure the women affected and the House that the legislation will be published and debated to meet the deadline of the end of this month set by the women affected?
Mr. T. Kitt: On the programme for Government, will the Taoiseach assure the House that the future of Partnership 2000 is secure in light of the comments made by Peter Cassells this morning that the whole process could collapse due to the Government's attitude?
The Taoiseach: Some minor problems have arisen. The national centre will be established and those arrangements are being made. I will be able to give assurances on that point to members of the Congress of Trade Unions when I meet them today.
Mr. B. Ahern: Meetings are being held throughout the country with the Irish Farmers Association, requesting Deputies to ask the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to meet it to discuss the crisis in the agricultural industry, particularly beef prices? Will the Taoiseach indicate if that meeting has been arranged?
Mr. Callely: Regarding the commitment in the programme, A Government of Renewal, I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the Government's failure to address the needs of people with a mental handicap. It is appalling that thousands of people with a mental handicap are being denied appropriate services. Will the Taoiseach make additional moneys available to provide appropriate services?
Mr. R. Burke: It is traditional to raise this type of matter in this way. The Taoiseach will be aware of the unfolding humanitarian tragedy of the starving millions in North Korea. The Government should show cause on behalf of our people and the European Union by making money available to help to feed those people who have suffered as a result of the inefficiencies and totally corrupt regime in North Korea. In case there is any embarrassment on the Government's side, it will have the full support of the House if it makes a reasonable contribution to the Irish Red Cross to help the people of North Korea who should not be left in this position.
The Taoiseach: The Government is participating through the European Union in efforts to assist in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. I appreciate Deputy Burke's offer of support for any further steps we might take in this matter.
Mr. H. Byrne: Now that the Taoiseach has had time to reflect on the matter will he give Government time to discuss this issue or can the farmers be assured the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, is dictating the political agenda?
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