Thursday, 6 May 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): It is proposed to take No. 1, Architectural Heritage (National Inventory) and Historic Monuments (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1998 [Seanad] – Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 82, Motion re Transport (resumed) to be taken directly after the Order of Business and to conclude after 90 minutes.
Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Minister indicate to the House the state of preparation of the special legislation being prepared for judicial pensions for two judges recently resigned, and if the pensions legislation in this case is creating precedence for others in other parts of the public sector who leave their jobs prematurely in terms of their pension entitlements?
Mr. Howlin: On that and a related matter, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced that the pensions will be payable from the date he made his statement to the Dáil. Was he aware that legislation was required and when will we see it, or are people to be left in limbo? Is there any intention to amend the compellability of witnesses Act to ensure that judicial or former judicial personages acting in a non-judicial capacity can be asked to give evidence before a committee of this House?
Mr. J. Bruton: What are the Government's plans in regard to the indication by one judge that he does not propose to co-operate with a committee of the House in regard to establishing the reason decisions were taken by him in a matter that is obviously of public concern?
Dr. Woods: As the Minister who brought in the legislation which guarantees the entitlements of people in the private sector to their pensions, I believe it is particularly important that public servants who have earned pensions are entitled to them, but that matter will come before the House and Deputies will have the opportunity to give their views on it.
The committee is considering the question of compellability and we await its report. The committee will consider the matter today. I understand its legal adviser has been considering the position and the committee will then report back to the House. The Attorney General is anxious to give any assistance he can to the committee consistent with his function as adviser to Government on matters of law and legal opinion. I respectfully ask Members to wait until the committee considers that matter and reports back to the House.
Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Minister assure the House that in preparing the pensions legislation for these two individuals, having regard to the need, under the Constitution, to treat similar cases similarly in regard to others in the public sector who may have similar occasion to resign prematurely for various reasons, they will also benefit under whatever criteria the Minister has established for the decision he made in regard to these two pensions?
Dr. Woods: Any Bill that comes before the House will have the benefit of the Attorney Gen eral's advice and Members on the other side of the House will have an opportunity to express their views on it if it comes in that form.
Mr. J. Bruton: The Minister has already indicated to the House that he is an expert on pensions. Will he agree that in creating new pension entitlements for one category of retiring public officials, one must ensure one acts consistently vis-à-vis other retired or potentially retired public officials whose retirement is occasioned by analogous circumstances?
Mr. Howlin: I will try to frame my question within that ruling. The Minister said the committee is studying matters. That committee is subject to the law which precludes it from summoning or compelling judges or former judges to appear before it. My question asked about the Government's attitude to this legislative measure. Will it seek to amend the compellability Act to enable former judges, acting in a non-judicial fashion, to be summoned before a committee of this House to give evidence? The committee would welcome that attitude on the part of the Government before it has a chance to make a decision.
Dr. Woods: The committee has its own legal advice. The Government will give any assistance possible to the committee which will meet today to consider the matter. The Attorney General met the committee's legal adviser within the constraints under which he acts under the Constitution.
Dr. Woods: I trust the Deputy understands that any law passed in the House cannot override the Constitution. We are in uncharted waters. Unusually I agree with Deputy Rabbitte who said this morning that he understands that Hugh O'Flaherty has good grounds for refusing to appear before the committee. Deputy Rabbitte said that the former judge is using the separation of powers under Article 35.2 of the Constitution and that he would not favour introducing retrospective legislation as Mr. O'Flaherty has been a respected judge of the Supreme Court. The Deputy also said that it was anathema to him to use the pension payment.
Dr. Woods: Above all people, the Deputy should be clear that the separation of powers is one of the fundamental principles on which the  State has developed. It has been upheld by successive Governments.
Mr. Howlin: If it is possible for the House to look into an allegation of impropriety when a judge is serving, surely it is constitutional for such an investigation to take place after he has resigned.
Mr. J. Bruton: With regard to the pensions, I remind the Minister that the Government entered into these commitments and it is for the Government to explain how they can be dealt with without creating unwanted precedents. This is a Government responsibility as it made the commitments.
Mr. Noonan: Will the Minister confirm that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, sent a file to the Attorney General arising from the raising of a loan by AIB for the funding of Beaumont Hospital in 1980 when Deputy Woods was Minister for Health? Will the Minister make a statement on this matter?
Dr. Woods: Legislation is not involved in this matter. That was a good arrangement which provided funds for mental handicap and psychiatric  services. It was innovative and I have no problem discussing it. It was an excellent arrangement for the building of Beaumont Hospital of which I am very proud.
Mr. Sargent: I feel there is a need for legislation on Dáil procedure. Will the publication date of the Pensions Bill be brought forward in light of the new moves to alter the pension scheme for the former judges and the official?  Will the Bill be altered to take the Government's changes into account?
Dr. Woods: Proposals are being formulated by the Pensions Board and an interdepartmental working group and are expected to be submitted to Government later this year. It is not possible to give the exact date.
Mr. M. Higgins: Ba mhaith liom a fháil amach ón Aire cad iad na dátaí atá i gceist chun na píosaí reachtaíochta a bhaineann le Údarás na Gaeltachta a fhoilsiú. Ní Bille amháin atá geallta ach cúpla Bille.
Mr. M. Higgins: I asked the Minister if he would give the dates for the publication of the different Bills dealing with Údarás na Gaeltachta. I am aware that one Bill has been published. When will the other legislation affecting the Údarás, promised for this session, be published? I hope my translation is accurate.
Ms Fitzgerald: Some time ago we passed a Bill on parental leave. We warned that the Government would be found to be in breach of that Bill. Unions lodged a complaint with the EU and the Government has been found to be in breach of the legislation. When is the Government planning to introduce legislation to remedy this? There was an attempt to limit the number of children who could benefit.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Given that drink driving charges are being thrown out of court daily because last week the High Court upheld a District Court decision that the caps on drink driving samples were not tamper-proof, is it proposed to introduce new legislation or will the matter be referred to the Supreme Court for final determination? In the meantime, is the State seeking the adjournment of all drink driving cases pending final determination?
Mr. Howlin: Has the row between the component parties of Government been resolved and will legislation be introduced to allow the issue of work permits to refugees in this country or are the differences between the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform still delaying the bringing forward of that proposal?
Mr. Howlin: The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs promised it would be in force. Responding to an Adjournment matter, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said no such agreement was made. What are the facts?
Ms O'Sullivan: While I welcome that Ireland won the Franklin D. Roosevelt International Disability Award, I suggest it was on the basis of the work of the previous Government in setting up a Department of Equality and Law Reform and the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. What will the Government do about  people with disabilities, besides re-enacting Bills already produced by the previous Government?
Dr. Woods: I am happy the Deputy raised this matter as the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, has been doing an excellent job in this area. Work on preparation of the Bill has been delayed because of the priority being given to other areas such as the North-South bodies.
Mr. R. Bruton: As regards a matter of which the Minister is intimately aware, does the Government plan to introduce changes in fire legislation given that 18 years after the Stardust tragedy key recommendations have not been implemented? The Minister has an interest in this and I ask him to give an undertaking to the House.
Dr. Woods: As the Deputy knows, there has been major investment in this area throughout the country. Fire safety officers have made complaints and these will be fully investigated by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey. He and his predecessors have met all reasonable requests for additional staff. I understand the important nature of this. A great deal has been done and if more issues need to be tackled, the Minister will consider them further.
Mr. Gormley: When will the Environmental Protection Agency (Amendment) Bill come before the House? Will the Minister clarify whether we require legislation to join PfP or can it be done by a resolution of the House?
Mrs. Owen: All Members recently received letters informing us there would be no public liability insurance as regards the Y2K bug and that if accidents happened to anyone visiting the House, staff or press, for example, if anyone was trapped in a lift or it collapsed, they would not be covered by insurance. Is the Government examining this matter to ensure that Members, staff and visitors will be protected? Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle will also investigate the matter.
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