Wednesday, 2 December 1998
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. a9, Motion re: Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 30, 31, 35, and 42]; No. b9, Motion re: Referral of Supplementary Estimates [Votes 30, 31, 35, and 42] to Select Committees; No. 3, George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Bill, 1998 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages; No. c9, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance  shall be taken on the conclusion of Questions to members of the Government.
(1) 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 12.00 midnight whereupon business shall then be interrupted and the Dáil shall adjourn forthwith;
(ii) The proceedings on the Committee  and Remaining Stages, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 12.00 noon today by one Question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Education and Science; and
An Ceann Comhairle: There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a9 and b9 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 3 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for the suspension of the sitting agreed? Agreed.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Government has two Bills concerning the electricity industry — the Electricity Regulation Bill and the Electricity Supply and Reorganisation of the ESB Bill. Is this legislation affected by reports of substantial claims for disease, related to the presence of asbestos in ESB plants? Is the Government aware of potential problems with regard to liability there, which might affect the accounts of the ESB and, indeed, of other companies the Government might at some point wish to divest its interests in?
The Taoiseach: I have noted the reports concerning the issues the Deputy mentioned. They will not affect the Electricity Regulation Bill, which will be published on Friday, and I do not believe amendments to that legislation will be required. These reports are being considered by the Government.
Mr. Quinn: Yesterday, the Minister for Health and Children announced changes in the drug refund schemes. Did the Cabinet agree such changes? Will the regulations to give effect to these changes — which basically involve an increase in the cost of drugs for people — be laid before the House in the normal way? Is it possible for the Government to make time available for a debate on them?
Proinsias De Rossa: The expert group on changes in criminal law published a report last week. Will the Taoiseach provide time for a debate on that report, given the fundamental changes in criminal law procedures which are recommended in it?
The Taoiseach: As I stated last week, these matters have not yet been agreed by the Government. However, if the House requires a debate on the report which is now being laid before the House, I will ask the Whip to see whether it can be fitted in.
Mr. Finucane: On 2 December 1977 we discussed the deferment of the regional fishery board appointments for a year to allow for a comprehensive review of the Central Fisheries Board. I note there is no timescale with regard to the extension. Could the Taoiseach clarify whether there is any deadline now as we have already allowed a year for the review?
Mr. Sargent: When in 1999 does the Taoiseach expect the School Attendance (Bill) will be published? Will it apply to pupils in Steiner schools and to severely and profoundly mentally handicapped children?
Mr. Allen: Last week on radio the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív advocated the introduction of a tourist tax. A week previously, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, said he rejected the principle of a tourist tax. Could the Taoiseach clarify the situation? Does he intend to introduce legislation or regulations to bring in this type of tax——
Mr. Howlin: Since the local elections are scheduled for next June, can the Taoiseach confirm that it is the Government's intention to have the Local Government (No. 2) Bill on restructuring local Government fully in place and enacted well in advance of that date so that people standing for the local elections will know to what structures they are seeking election?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): What is the position on the Prison Service Bill, given that we have constant chaos and overcrowding in prisons, that ten prisoners escaped last year and that in recent weeks a mobile phone was found in Portlaoise prison, and a second mobile phone——
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach say when legislation providing for part privatisation of Telecom Éireann will be brought before the Dáil and whether the liberalisation of the telecommunications industry is a licence to bully the villagers of Kerrykeel, County Donegal——
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West):——for resisting a potential health hazard in the form of an Esat mast on a local Garda station? Will the Taoiseach comment on the bullying of villagers for fighting against a health hazard in this way?
The Taoiseach: The Posts and Telecommunications Service (Amendment) Bill will amend the posts and telecommunications legislation to enable the State to reduce its interest in Telecom Éireann to a minority shareholding, and will deal with other related matters to facilitate the initial public offering in June 1999. The Bill will be ready in the early months of next year. The Deputy will be aware that the staff in Telecom Éireann have agreed totally with those proposals.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Arising from the Commission on Taxis report to the Taoiseach and legislation which arises therefrom, the House will be aware of a proposal to have taxi-sharing in Dublin over the Christmas period. It seems that this is not lawful. Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce legislation before Christmas allowing for pooling of taxi services in Dublin?
The Taoiseach: There is no legislation to bring forward the date from that originally agreed. Legislation is being prepared — the National Minimum Wage Bill — which is scheduled for May or June next year.
Mr. Quinn: On the Irish Nationality and Citizens (Amendment) Bill, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated that this Bill may be published before Christmas this year. Can the Taoiseach indicate to the House whether that target will be met?
Mr. M. Higgins: When will time be made available to discuss the report on reform of the Constitution, and will the debate on rejoining the Commonwealth run with it given that both are proposing honours lists and some people may want to wait for the Queen's list in the new year?
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