Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 13, motion regarding Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Russian Federation on co-operation in combating illicit trafficking; No. 14 – motion regarding Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Russian Federation on co-operation in fighting crime; No. 15 – motion regarding referral to joint committee of proposals to approve Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Hungary; No. 35 – Children Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 13, 14 and 15 shall be decided without debate and Private Members' business shall be No. 56, Road Traffic (Joyriding) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 April 2000.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): No. 14 should not be agreed without debate. It relates to the agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Russian Federation on co-operation on fighting crime. In view of the appalling record of the Russian Federation on civil rights matters in Chechnya in recent months, under cover of fighting so-called terrorism, there should be a discussion on any co-operation between this State and the Russian Federation. No such agreement should be signed until abuses of civil rights cease forthwith. Will the Tánaiste put the matter back for discussion?
Mr. G. Mitchell: The point made by Deputy Higgins would find resonance in the Fine Gael Party. The matter should be discussed in the House and I will continue to raise it until there is a satisfactory explanation. When one contrasts the way the Russians have been treated with how the Austrians have been treated, it is evident that we are not being consistent. It should be discussed. I do not wish to prevent the motion going forward but I am anxious for an explanation of what we are doing about this through this country's chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The Deputy raises a good point which should be aired.
Mr. Howlin: On a point of order, Sir, this issue was debated in the justice committee at which I raised the points mentioned by the Deputy. It is open to any Member to attend that committee's meetings. These matters have been debated.
Mrs. Owen: I am pleased the Tánaiste is taking the Order of Business. Is she aware of the extreme concern expressed throughout the country by small shopkeepers and food stores regarding the proposal to abolish the Groceries Order, 1987? Has she considered the matter and will she confirm retention of the order, given the effect of the abolition of the below cost ban on small businesses?
Mr. Quinn: We express our condolences to the Ceann Comhairle who cannot be with us today because of the death of his mother. The House should note that. Section A of the list of Bills expected to be published from the start of this session up to the Easter recess contains 19 Bills. Those yet to be published include the Teaching Council Bill, the Youth Work (Amendment) Bill, the Nitrigin Éireann Teoranta Bill, the Local Government Bill, dealing with local government reform, the Customs and Excise (Mutual Assistance) Bill, the Health (Amendment) Bill, the Health Insurance Bill, the Courts and Court Officers Bill, the Criminal Justice (Fraud Offences) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic by Sea) Bill, the Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) Civil Liability and Compensation Bill, the Aviation Regulation Bill, the Electronic Commerce Bill and the Gas Capacity Allocation Bill.
All these Bills are promised for publication between now and the Easter recess. At the outset of the session 19 Bills were promised but only five have been published, one as recently as today. Will the Tánaiste indicate when the others will be published?
The Tánaiste: I join with Deputy Quinn in extending my sympathies and that of the Government to the Ceann Comhairle on the death of his mother. Deputy Quinn has read out a long list. Most of the Bills will be published. Today the Cabinet cleared the Electronic Commerce Bill and the Nuclear Weapons Bill. The Chief Whip advised me that of the 19 Bills promised 14 are on target.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to answer questions raised which are out of order on the Order of Business. The matter raised by Deputy Owen is more appropriate to a parliamentary question. I call Deputy Quinn.
Mr. Quinn: This Government list is a long one. In view of what the Tánaiste has said; is it the case that all 14 of the outstanding Bills to which I referred, promised for publication between now and the Easter recess, will be published?
Mrs. Owen: Item 22 on the Government's legislative programme set out on list B refers to the Company Law Enforcement Bill. Does the Tánaiste propose to retain the groceries order, in place since 1987, under this Bill?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not approve of Ministers answering questions that are not in keeping with the Order of Business, nor do I approve of any Member raising questions that are not appropriate to the Order of Business.
Mr. Howlin: On promised legislation, last week the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced that he proposes to exempt the Office of Public Works from planning permission to provide accommodation for asylum seekers. When will we see the legislation covering this?
Mrs. Owen: I have looked at section 2 of the 1993 Act and it is clear it relates to the building of prisons, Army installations and courthouses. They were the exemptions envisaged under the section. Is the Tánaiste aware that the section requires that legislation be introduced to deal with the exemption of any development and that it requires the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to introduce regulations to allow mobile homes and prefabricated buildings to be erected without planning permission? While primary legislation may not be required, regulations are.
Mr. Barrett: There is a Standing Order which prohibits the announcement of details on proposed legislation outside the House. The ongoing announcement of legislation outside the House leads to arguments on the Order of Business. If people are going to announce details of orders or legislation outside the House contrary to Standing Orders, surely we are entitled to ask questions on the Order of Business?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair has no control over statements made outside the House. With regard to questions that may be raised at the discretion of the Chair, Standing Order 26(3) provides that following the announcement of proposals under paragraphs (2), the Chair may permit, at his or her discretion, questions about business on the Order Paper, the taking of business which has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the Dáil, the making of secondary legislation, arrangements for sittings when Bills or other documents on the Order Paper needed in the House will be circulated, and subject to the provision that the Taoiseach may defer replying to a question relating to the making of secondary legislation to another day.
Mrs. Owen: Thank you, Sir, for clarifying that.  I was probably in order to ask about secondary legislation on the Groceries Order, 1987. Will the Tánaiste tell the House if she intends to abolish or retain the order, which all the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business endorse, including the Members behind her? I hope the Tánaiste will listen to that committee and to small grocers throughout the country and retain the groceries order, which is secondary legislation.
The Tánaiste: As Deputy Owen said, the groceries orders covers many matters, including below cost selling and hello money. A number of concerns are involved – those of consumers, of competition in the economy, and of small suppliers who tend to get a raw deal from large multiples. All these concerns must be taken into account. The mergers and review group established by my predecessor, Deputy Richard Bruton, three and a half years ago has now reported. I had hoped to have the report published by now but there was a major logistical delay. Nonetheless, I hope to have it published quickly. We should then reflect on what it says. There are no plans to make any changes in this area at present.
Mr. Kenny: Is it intended to introduce an amendment to the architectural heritage Bill which would allow the State to take action where the roof of Mountjoy House in the Phoenix Park has collapsed in which the Commission for Placenames is located and where State material of archival importance is in danger of being lost? Why have we arrived at such a stage?
Mr. Penrose: Will the Tánaiste clarify for the benefit of the House and, more importantly, the residents of the Shannon catchment area how the Government intends to deal with the various Bills which have been introduced in this House and the Seanad for the establishment of a single statutory authority for the Shannon river, which have cross-party agreement and for which a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport has been established? The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, promised that the issue would be referred to this sub-committee. The Government is in disarray. Will someone please clarify what is happening?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Given that the High Court yesterday suspended 50 deportation orders against asylum seekers, underlining once again the shambles of our immigration policy, what is the up to date situation regarding the immigration and residence Bill?
Mr. Sargent: I, too, would like clarification on the status of the sub-committee on the Shannon flooding as it has not met for some considerable time. I wish to raise a grave matter regarding the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill which is still awaited by the House. Two environmentalists are on their sixth day of a hunger strike in Cloverhill over the delay of that Bill and a decision on free legal aid. If the Bill is not to come before the House, will this matter be dealt with singly as lives are being put at risk?
Mr. G. Mitchell: Given the ongoing situation in the Horn of Africa and the potential disaster which could befall 10 million people in Ethiopia, could time be found this week or early next week for a short debate in the House on this important matter?
Mr. Gilmore: Arising from the Tánaiste's earlier reply to Deputy Quinn in which she indicated that 14 of the 19 promised pieces of legislation are on target and that five are off target, into which of these categories does the local government reform Bill fall? Will it be published before Easter?
Ms McManus: Regarding the working of the Committee on Health and Children, will the Tánaiste clarify the position regarding the inquiry into the disposal and retention of organs of babies because it is not clear how the inquiry will be conducted? Is the Tánaiste aware and have the parents been informed that the committee is already embarking on a major inquiry into the activities of tobacco companies, which is likely to take some time?
The Tánaiste: The Government considered these matters this morning and it was decided to set up on a non-statutory basis a committee to report within six months which would investigate the situation and which would be chaired by Ann Dunne, SC. When she completes her report in six months, that report will go to a Dáil committee similar to that which was established to examine the DIRT issue and which was very effective.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): On the Order of Business on 22 March the Taoiseach told me there were no proposals or legislation envisaged to bring a significant section of the Dublin Bus service into the hands of private operators. Over the weekend, the Tánaiste flatly contradicted the Taoiseach. In the words of Percy French, it appears that, on this issue, the Minister for Public Enterprise does not know if she is at a ball or a bath.
The Tánaiste: I am sure we are all delighted that the dispute was resolved and I pay tribute in particular to the Labour Relations Commission for the excellent work it did in conjunction with the Minister and others. The Minister is reviewing the 1932 Act. What I said is that I would like to see competition. Ownership is not that important, rather it is competition.
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