Thursday, 19 October 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 22, motion re Freedom of Information Act, 1997 (Prescribed Bodies) (No. 3) Regulations; No. 2, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage; No. 10, Teaching Council Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 44, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, resumed; and No. 45, statements on the situation in the Middle East, to be taken not later than immediately following the announcement of matters on the Adjournment under Standing Order 21, and the order shall not resume thereafter.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) No. 22 shall be decided without debate; and (2) the proceedings on No.  45, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 4.45 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply; (i) the statements of a Minister and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes; and (iii) Members may share time.
Mr. Quinn: Since this issue relates to the Freedom of Information legislation, will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, deny the story in today's newspapers concerning the refusal of his Department to release a letter indicating—
Mr. Quinn: A Cheann Comhairle, we do not wish to call a division on this issue. I am using this opportunity to ask the Minister if he will release the text of a letter which cannot in any way be construed to be a matter of State security. There is no point in us extending the terms of the freedom of information legislation if it is being frustrated for political reasons by this Administration.
Mr. Quinn: Then I am opposed to it. It is a farce that we are going to extend the freedom of information legislation when its present provisions are not being adhered to by the Government for spurious reasons.
de Valera, Síle.
| Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Wright, G. V.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Mrs. Owen: I have a very serious matter to raise on the Order of Business but before I do, I am sure you will allow this House to send its good wishes to Deputy Jim Mitchell who, as many of us will have heard this morning, is making a splendid  recovery from a very serious illness. I am sure we all wish him well and hope he will rejoin us as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Owen: I wish to raise another matter of great seriousness. In an unprecedented move yesterday, Justice Peter Kelly of the High Court, threatened three Ministers in this Government with contempt of court. He has accused them of appalling incompetence.
Mrs. Owen: A Cheann Comhairle, it is normal practice that you would allow the person leading off to speak. The judge has accused the three Ministers and the relevant health board of appalling incompetence. I want the Tánaiste to tell us exactly the action the Government will take to ensure that this particular young woman gets the care and attention she needs from the State and the actions it will take immediately to ensure that Justice Peter Kelly does not have to hold these three Ministers in contempt of court and perhaps jail them. It would be a sweet irony, quite frankly, if these three Ministers ended up in one of the jails. There probably would be no places for them.
I want the Tánaiste to tell the House exactly what action will be taken today to deal with this young woman's case and to ensure services are provided for the other young people who are in need of care from the State which is failing in its duty to provide such care and attention.
The Tánaiste: I join with Deputy Owen in wishing Deputy Jim Mitchell a speedy recovery. Everyone is delighted he has come through the operation so well. I did not hear him on radio this morning but he has shown great courage in confronting a very serious operation. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope he is back in the House soon.
The case to which Deputy Owen referred is clearly a very sad and sensitive one and everything the health board asked for in this case was granted. Accommodation was provided at a cost of £250,000 and eight staff were recruited for that house. Notwithstanding that, this young woman has escaped from the support unit and clearly every effort is being made to find her. Anything that is required in this case will be granted by the Government, and we are anxious that that be the case. Everything that was asked for by the health board was granted by the Government.
Mrs. Owen: Is the problem that Justice Kelly does not seem to believe the Government's resolve to provide what is necessary for this girl and for the many other cases? Will the Tánaiste tell the House how the Government will resolve  the problem of the lack of staff needed for these secure care places because that is what is at the heart of this matter? The Government does not seem to have made any decision on or taken action to solve this problem. Justice Kelly will find the three Ministers in contempt of court if they do not take more action than that which they are taking today.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy knows, this young woman escaped from hospital but staff were recruited and, unfortunately, left for particular reasons. Every effort will be made to recruit more staff to ensure that the needs of this young woman and others like her are met. She escaped from hospital, notwithstanding the best efforts of the staff involved with her. Unfortunately, from time to time this happens and I regret it very much. I hope she is found soon and that all the facilities required are put in place.
Mr. Quinn: Yesterday the Taoiseach informed the House that at a recent Government meeting the amendments to the Children Bill had been passed but, as I speak, they have not been circulated. I presume they are in the process of being circulated. Will the Tánaiste indicate if the Government is now prepared to request the chairman of the relevant committee, Deputy Ardagh, to take the amendments as a matter of extreme urgency so that we can move from the particularities of this case that has just been cited to putting in place the necessary legislative provisions that are clearly required? Will the Tánaiste indicate when the amendments will be circulated, if they have not been circulated already? For these amendments to be taken requires that the Department supply the staff to do the work. Perhaps the Tánaiste will reply to that matter.
Mr. Quinn: With all due respect, a Cheann Comhairle, as you are aware, the committee cannot initiate this proceeding under this practice until it receives indication from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that it is ready. Although you have interpreted the matter as you see and understand it, the political reality is that the Government chairman of that committee will not move that business until such time, as is normal and reasonable, that the Department is ready to co-operate. It is not, technically speaking, a matter for the committee.
The Tánaiste: I confirm that the Government is very anxious that the committee will meet quickly and the amendments, which were approved by the Cabinet this week, will be made available as soon as possible.
The Tánaiste: They were approved yesterday so I presume they will be circulated later this week or early next week – as soon as it is physically possible to do so. It is the Government's intention, and the Government is anxious, that the committee deals with this matter very quickly.
Mr. Quinn: I appreciate that. I ask the Tánaiste if the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in a position to facilitate, at the earliest possible opportunity next week, a meeting of that committee to discuss the amendments.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is challenging the ruling of the Chair. He should resume his seat. The Deputy should not challenge the ruling of the Chair. If he reads Standing Order 26, he will understand what this is about.
Mr. G. Mitchell: I am in my 20th year in this House and I do not need a lecture on reading Standing Orders. I want to ask the Tánaiste a question on promised legislation, which is in order. When will we have the promised Bill on the ombudsman for children so that once and for all we can debate these matters in this House and put an end to this contempt for Parliament, tribunals and courts?
Mr. O'Kennedy: In view of the ongoing political and constitutional developments taking place throughout Europe and the consistent raising of matters in every other parliament in Europe, will the Government arrange through the Whips to enter into consultations with a view to having an ongoing discussion in this Parliament on the huge developments taking place in Europe and the role we should play in those developments?
Mrs. Owen: What progress has been made regarding the Work Permits Bill, particularly in view of the fact that unregistered employment agencies are exacting huge charges from Filipino workers, and perhaps workers of other nationalities, entering this country? When will the Work Permits Bill be debated in this House so that we can obtain an assurance from the Tánaiste that these unregistered employment agencies will be shut down?
The Tánaiste: First, in response to Deputy O'Kennedy, it would be a very good idea for this House to debate the developments in Europe. That is a view which, I am sure, is shared by Members on all sides of the House. Perhaps the Whips could discuss that matter.
The Tánaiste: I did not make a statement in America, although one is entitled to make statements. Freedom of speech is a good thing. On Deputy Owen's point, the concerns that have been expressed do not relate to the work permit legislation. They relate to the registration of employment agencies and it is an offence under the licensing regime for an employment agency to charge a fee. If an employment agency charged the fees suggested, which in the Philippines would be about three years' salary, the licence will be revoked, which can be done under the existing legislation.
Ms Fitzgerald: I am sure the Tánaiste is concerned about the disturbing reports which have been emerging about low standards in nursing homes for the elderly and the increasing instances of abuse of the elderly. Is the Government considering the introduction of an inspectorate for nursing homes and is legislation planned in this regard? Deputy Ring has been calling for an inspectorate for nursing homes and it is necessary that it is put on a statutory basis.
The Tánaiste: A nursing Bill is due but that does not concern establishing an inspectorate for nursing homes. No legislation has been promised in this area but the points made by the Deputy will be considered by the Minister for Health and Children.
Mr. Sargent: The Green Party would like to wish Deputy Jim Mitchell well. On promised legislation, given that the courts, I presume, will deal swiftly with the three Ministers found in contempt, will the Tánaiste ensure that she is not found in contempt by introducing the carer's leave Bill which it was promised would be introduced before Christmas but it has yet to be seen. Will she tell us when the carer's leave Bill will be enacted?
Mr. Naughten: On promised legislation, I raised in the House last Thursday the issue of the abuse of Filipino workers and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, gave a commitment that there would be amending legislation relating to the Employment Agency Act, 1971, to close some of the loopholes which have been  pointed out in recent days. There is a need to strengthen that legislation to ensure that Filipino workers are not abused. When will this legislation be published?
The Tánaiste: I want to make it clear that amending the existing legislation is not necessary if an employment agency is charging a fee – that is an offence under the existing legislation. That is not to say there is not a need to review that legislation because it may be that the company was acting with a company abroad and the legislation does not cover that situation. This needs to be examined and that is being done currently.
Mr. Howlin: On legislation relating to an area under the direct responsibility of the Tánaiste, in relation to work permits I raised some time ago the issue of the recruitment of non-EEA nationals to work in our health services in particular who have not been allowed bring their spouses with them although they are on contract. Such cases are repeatedly being brought to my attention. When will there be a statutory right for workers on long-term contracts here to bring their families with them? Has the Tánaiste had discussions with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make arrangements in the short-term so that families of doctors or medics working in our system will not be separated from their spouses?
The Tánaiste: This is not a matter for new legislation but it is desirable that if people are coming to Ireland to work, at the very minimum their families should be allowed to accompany them. I hope those matters can be resolved and are being resolved in advance of the legislation which will be introduced next year.
Mr. Finucane: Perhaps the Tánaiste might comment on behalf of the Minister for Defence who has destroyed morale in the army, Air Corps and Naval Service, on the status of the Defence Forces hearing loss compensation Bill? Will such legislation be put in place?
Mr. McDowell: The legislation which established the national lottery some years ago requires that the contract to run the lottery should be awarded on a periodic basis. The Department of Finance started the process nearly a year ago. Will the Tánaiste indicate why it has run into the ground and when she expects the contract to be awarded?
Mr. Barrett: On 9 February this House supported a Government motion to proceed with the planning and development of Sports Campus Ireland and Stadium Ireland. In the closing debate the Minister gave an assurance that points raised would be taken into account. In view of the confusion regarding costs and so on, will the Tánaiste allow some time for statements to clarify the costings for this proposal which I support? Could we be given an opportunity to get the facts on the record so that a proper and constructive debate can take place?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Should the three Ministers be held in contempt I have a spare pair of handcuffs to assist in the process of bringing them to justice and making them carry out their duties.
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): As regards the ESRI report on hospitals and health insurance, will new legislation be introduced that will give a health service that provides adequate care as a right for all patients and ends the shambles and suffering of the waiting list?
Ms Shortall: Legislation to reform vocational education committees to provide for parent representation has been promised for this session. What is the status of that Bill? Have the Heads been agreed? Is the Bill on schedule for publication this session?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I hope he is not privy to some information that I do not have. There was a serious rail crash in Britain this week. Four people died and many were seriously injured. There were two similar crashes here in the recent past.
An Ceann Comhairle: This matter will be dealt with on Question Time. I cannot allow it to be raised now. It would be out of order to allow a matter to be raised that will be dealt with on Question Time today.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Might I remind the Chair of what is in order? It is in order to raise a question on promised legislation. I am putting it to the Chair that if there were nothing else on the Order Paper—
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I am asking about promised legislation and am entitled to a reply on it. It is a valid question in accordance with Standing Orders. Am I permitted to ask, and extract an answer to, the valid question on promised legislation: what is the position on the rail safety Bill and is it possible to expedite it given that there is urgent need for an independent monitoring authority?
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