Tuesday, 8 February 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: Today's Order of Business is No. 16, motion re Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions; No. 42, Comhairle Bill, 1999 – Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 43, National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, No. 16 shall be decided without debate and that proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of No. 42, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by one question which will be put by the Chair and which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. Private Members' business shall be No. 96, motion re Communications between the Taoiseach and Deputy Denis Foley.
Mr. J. Bruton: I take the opportunity to wish the Taoiseach well in the continuing work he is  doing to secure a clear statement from the IRA about its intentions in regard to the bombs and guns it holds. Will the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to report to the House at the earliest possible time on the progress in these discussions?
Mr. Quinn: I wish the Taoiseach and his officials well and I acknowledge that we have been briefed on the delicate ongoing situation. However, I would like the Taoiseach to recognise that our support for the Government at this time does not mean we are without opinions of our own. I therefore join the leader of Fine Gael in wishing both Governments every success in their efforts to ensure the IRA and Sinn Féin can make the sort of movements which seem necessary to avoid a suspension of the institutions. Will the Taoiseach make arrangements for a comprehensive debate at the appropriate time next week if the IRA does not make the sort of response which now seems absolutely necessary?
Mr. Sargent: The Green Party is extremely concerned and hopes the Taoiseach will do what he can to find a lasting solution to the current impasse. The Green Party was not briefed, but we recognise this may be the result of the Taoiseach keeping a focus on the issue rather than worrying about courtesy towards the Opposition. However, in future we would appreciate the opportunity to be briefed and to contribute to the debate.
The Taoiseach: I thank the leaders of the Opposition for their support in this matter. I had hoped it would have been possible to have a debate in the House this week, but unfortunately we are not at that stage. There has been an intensity of debate all weekend, but a conclusion has not been reached which would allow me to make substantive comment. My officials have kept the Leaders of the Opposition informed.
I will restate two or three things in relation to what Deputies have raised. The House has consistently said that the Good Friday Agreement must be implemented in all aspects and that includes the issue of decommissioning. All of us have said that with one voice. I assure the House that intensive discussions are ongoing. If movement is possible, and I believe it should be, we can still resolve the issue without suspending the institutions, but that is not my call. It is the call of others and progress is required to achieve that. We will continue to do all we can.
The British and Irish Governments and everybody in the House is at one on this matter We have stated our positions. There are formulae through which it would be possible to achieve movement. We will keep trying but the time limits are tight. We have a few days effectively to make progress. I cannot change my position. I can be as helpful as possible but I can operate only on the basis of the will of the people and that is very clear.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach accept he is absolutely correct in saying he cannot change his position on the removal of bombs and guns from the equation because his position on that matter is that of the people, which was adopted in the most solemn fashion in a referendum in all 32 counties, and that it is time for all who are loyal to Ireland to act in accordance with the expressed wish of the people?
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree the only timetable of substance was set out in the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent referenda that took place on this island, which was the formal act of self-determination shared by every person in all 32 counties, and that it was explicitly stated that decommissioning was an integral part of the most elaborate and comprehensive political agreement aimed at resolving as complex a set of conflicts that Ireland or any country has witnessed? Does he further agree that those people, wherever they may be, who are preventing the implementation of the Agreement on the basis that they are not prepared to dance to somebody else's imposed timetable are missing the point? The people, in an exercise of sovereignty, declared a timetable on 22 May 1998 and any true republican should surely recognise, support and endorse such sovereignty.
The Taoiseach: I appreciate the Deputies' comments in support of my position. The Good Friday Agreement was negotiated over a long period. The multi-party talks took place between September 1997 and Good Friday, 10 April 1998. Many of those involved like to say the resulting document was the most clearly understood and debated in any plebiscite in Northern Ireland. Everyone understands what the Agreement states. I have worked with the support of the House and my Government colleagues to implement all aspects of the Agreement without fear or favour. That means we must continue to do so as there must be consistency in approach. This position is understood by all the parties in the North, the British Government and the President of the United States, who has been kept fully informed in the past few days. I hope to have an opportunity later to talk to him to brief him on where we are at. Last night I discussed the position with Prime Minister Blair for some time. It is our wish that the institutions should not be suspended and that the Good Friday Agreement should be implemented in all its aspects. If people follow what all of us have agreed, we can do that. If not, there will be difficulties but, as was requested by the leaders of the Opposition, we would then discuss the matter in the House and I would readily agree to that.
Mr. J. Bruton: In light of the recent bomb attack in County Fermanagh, does the Taoiseach agree special attention needs to be paid in the Government's White Paper on defence to the internal security needs of the State as well as its  UN and European obligations? Will he ensure the armed forces generally are happy with its contents so that all of us can walk together in the national interest?
The Taoiseach: That is what the Government and the Minister of Defence have been working towards for some considerable time. There has never been a White Paper on defence matters. I know from my discussions with the Defence Forces that equipment and facilities are central to what they have achieved. The Minister is conscious of those requirements, which were spelt out to both of us several times last year.
Given that the negotiating procedures for a fifth national programme between the social partners have been completed, when will the House have an opportunity to debate it? When will Members receive a copy of the programme? Its content is quite different from many of the reports which were assiduously leaked through various media. The small print is different in a number of significant respects.
The Taoiseach: I understand from the Government Chief Whip that a debate is scheduled in the next few weeks. The consultation process with the four pillars – employers, trade unions, farmers and the social and community sector – will continue over the next six weeks or so. There will be a debate in the House in the next few weeks.
Mr. Quinn: Will the debate take place next week or the following week? The ballot on the programme takes place on 23 March. Will we be asked to rubber-stamp it after that date or will we be part of the consultative process?
Mr. Barrett: Does the Taoiseach consider it extraordinary that in a democracy the only people who are not party to such negotiations are elected public representatives? It would be a terrible shame if we were asked to rubber-stamp an agreement before we even had a chance to debate it.
The Taoiseach: Without being too argumentative, I remind Deputy Quinn that he was responsible for the co-ordination of the last programme and he did not bring it before the House until it had been concluded. Fortunately, we believe in democracy more than he does.
Mr. Sargent: With regard to the White Paper on defence, does the Taoiseach regret not being more up-front about the implications for the Defence Forces during the Partnership for Peace debate? That may form part of the debate on the White Paper and I look forward to it.
Will the disabilities Bill be introduced given that the funding for personal assistants was taken off the agenda during the partnership talks? Does the Taoiseach accept there are many issues, such as public transport and broken lifts, outstanding for people with disabilities?
Mr. Noonan: According to the Government's published list of proposed legislation the valuation Bill will be published some time during the summer. Will the Taoiseach inform the House if the heads have been cleared and if they contain a proposal which will make small guesthouses liable for commercial rates?
The Taoiseach: The Bill will introduce a modern valuation Act consolidating and updating all the old legislation. The text of the Bill is expected, if not this session, certainly by the summer session.
Mr. R. Bruton: I read with interest the Taoiseach's comments appealing to young people to stay on at school. What has happened to the adult education White Paper? We were to have it by the middle of last year, then before the budget, but we still have not seen it. I thought the White Paper was one of the pillars of the Taoiseach's education strategy but it seems to have evaporated into thin air.
Mr. Howlin: On the promised Garda Síochána Bill, is it the Government's intention, in the light of nine murders so far this year, to make structural changes in the Garda Síochána by introducing, for example, a drug enforcement agency, or will that Bill be any broader in scope than in the published list?
Mr. Kenny: We have no legislation governing our national parks. This area was on the original list of legislation, but it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps the Taoiseach would indicate if and when it is expected to be revived. Under the Údarás Bill introduced in the House last year, there are still two vacant chairs around the table. When does the Government expect to make the two outstanding appointments? When does the Taoiseach expect money to be approved from Europe to allow the Western Development Commission to do its work?
The Taoiseach: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we discussed matters to do with Northern Ireland earlier and, lest Deputy Power's question go unanswered, perhaps you will allow me to do so now. I think I know the reason he raised it. This morning The Times in London ran a very detailed headline and an account that my officials had spent the past few days driving around Northern Ireland to the farmhouses and homes of the Provisional IRA Army Council on my behalf, that of the Irish Government and this House, convincing them to go against the leadership of Sinn Féin. It received major prominence throughout the morning in the United Kingdom. There is absolutely no truth in the story and rather than stay silent on the issue, I want to say it is unfair. This matter was raised last week by British media sources. I said then it was untrue. I went to considerable trouble over the weekend to make sure that was the case. It has never been the policy of successive Governments to meet the Provisional IRA, and it is still not the policy. It is not fair to identify officials, to show pictures of them or to refer to their names when the story is untrue.
Mr. Gilmore: I understand there is a reference in the new partnership programme to the report of the commission on the private rented residential sector, which appears to be a veiled promise of legislation to give some rights to tenants vis-à-vis their landlords. Is there now a firm Government intention to introduce legislation to protect tenants against excessive rent rises and to provide them with some security of tenure?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Last night, in revealing that all media advertising of tobacco products would be banned from July, which is to be welcomed, the Minister for Health and Children said tougher legislation would be considered to cut down on the destruction caused by nicotine addiction in the wake of a new study. Has the Government particular legislation in mind? On the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, if what is true about nicotine is doubly so about the destructive effects of alcohol, does the Taoiseach propose to introduce legislation to ban the glamorisation of alcohol in public places?
The Taoiseach: On the second matter, as the Deputy knows, legislation is promised. On the first matter, the Minister is examining that issue. It could require legislation; his examination has commenced.
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