Order of Business.

Thursday, 6 May 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 504 No. 3

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Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  There are no proposals under the Order of Business.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The merits or demerits of the contents of the legislation cannot be discussed on the Order of Business.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I was not discussing the merits, just the contents and the precedence thereof.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  This matter is being considered and I believe it will be decided on fairly soon. [450]

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I call Deputy Bruton on the same subject.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John 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: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I must point out again that we cannot discuss the contents or proposals contained in any legislation on the Order of Business. We can only discuss the timing of legislation.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  This is very serious.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Any Bill that comes before the House will have the benefit of the Attorney Gen[451] 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: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We cannot discuss the nature of the legislation.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan 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: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is illegal to summon a former judge under the compellability Act. Does the Government intend to amend this Act?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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.

The Government has always stood behind the separation of powers and the independence of the Judiciary. We are in uncharted waters. The committee is examining the matter and will report to the House.

Mr. Yates: Information on Ivan Yates  Zoom on Ivan Yates  The committee has run into the sand and the Minister is happy to see it do so.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Above all people, the Deputy should be clear that the separation of powers is one of the fundamental principles on which the [452] State has developed. It has been upheld by successive Governments.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Government will be out to grass shortly.

Mr. Belton: Information on Louis J. Belton  Zoom on Louis J. Belton  The Minister always had great respect for judges – especially in the middle of the night.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  There are not any proposals at present and the matter will be considered when the committee reports.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We cannot debate this matter any further. The matter is extremely complicated and will not become less complicated by being discussed on the Order of Business.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Would the Minister and the Government accept that the Constitution envisages the overview—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy is pursuing a debate on this matter. We are on the Order of Business. It is not appropriate to discuss this matter now. It is quite disorderly.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan 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.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We must bring this matter to a close.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John 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.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I have already answered this question. The Government is considering the matter and will bring forward proposals in due course.

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  The Minister said that the pensions were due from 20 April.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  This is a matter for a Parliamentary Question.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Legislation is not involved in this matter. That was a good arrangement which provided funds for mental handicap and psychiatric [453] 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. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Was it put to tender? Was it sanctioned by the Minister for Finance? Was it directed by the then Taoiseach?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It arranged for the production of funds—

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Answer the question.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Why was the file sent to the Attorney General if everything was fine?

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Noonan has other ways to pursue this matter. I have asked him to consider the correct way of raising this matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Who benefited? Why was the file sent to the Attorney General? Is Deputy Cowen engaging in something to the Minister's disadvantage?

(Interruptions).

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy throws this out with the usual innuendo.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Minister should resume his seat. I have ruled that Deputy Noonan has other ways of raising this matter.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  On a point of order, I asked the Minister if he will make a personal statement about this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  It is in order. That is all I asked and the Minister got up and waffled in some kind of spurious defence.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The only defence I will make is that it was my idea. It helped the mental handicap and psychiatric services and it built Beaumont Hospital.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It helped Charlie Haughey.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I have ruled that this matter is out of order. It should not be pursued.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor 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? [454] Will the Bill be altered to take the Government's changes into account?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We cannot discuss alterations to a Bill. We can only discuss the timing of the legislation.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I am asking if the Bill will be brought forward.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. 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.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill was published a few days ago.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. 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.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The heads of the Bill were approved by the Government and it is expected to be published in late May or early June.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  On the agreement made with the judges as regards their pensions, was a commitment given by the Government—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I ruled on that matter. We cannot discuss the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  It is a very important matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I ruled it out of order.

Mr. M. Kitt: Information on Michael P. Kitt  Zoom on Michael P. Kitt  Last week the Western Development Commission published a development plan. Will there be an opportunity to discuss its report?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That is a matter for the Whips.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances 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.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That matter is being considered by the Commission and we await the outcome.

[455]Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The only relevant matter is promised legislation.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The matter is before the courts and I assure the Deputy the Department is considering the implications.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan 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?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  This matter is before the Government and the legislation is expected later this year, as promised.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan 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?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We cannot debate the matter. A number of Deputies are offering and I am trying to accommodate them.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Given the delay in setting up the seaweed industry forum, when will the alginate industries Bill be introduced?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister is not very knowledgeable.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  It is his brief.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  As the Deputy will appreciate, the timing was intended to be subject to the report of the forum. It will be later this year.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  The Minister has delayed the composition of the forum for 12 months.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan 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 [456] people with disabilities, besides re-enacting Bills already produced by the previous Government?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy cannot make a statement on the matter.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  When will the disability Bill be published and introduced?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is because the Government abolished the Department.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  It has been two or three years—

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  In addition, both Departments are dealing with the National Disability Authority Bill.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  When is it intended to introduce legislation to give effect to the Government's proposals to join Partnership for Peace?

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is certainly promised, or threatened.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Not before 11 June.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  As promised, that will have to come before the House before a decision is made.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard 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: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. 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: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John 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?

[457]Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Work on this Bill is at a preliminary stage in the Department so it is not possible to say when it will come before the House. As regards PfP, the matter is being examined.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  By whom?

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora 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.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  In case the Deputy is stuck in a lift, which is a very uncomfortable position to be in—

Mrs. Owen: Information on Nora Owen  Zoom on Nora Owen  It depends on whom one is with.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  —the Whip will put the matter on next week's agenda.


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