Tuesday, 14 November 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business shall be No. 21 – motion re Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income and Capital Gains) (Republic of Bulgaria) Order, 2000 (returned from Select Committee); No. 22 – motion re Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income and Capital Gains) (People's Republic of China) Order, 2000 (returned from Select Committee); No. 23 – motion re Referral to Joint Committee of the Report on Clinical Vaccine Trials; No. 42 – ICC Bank Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 7 – National Stud (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage and No. 43 – Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 21, 22 and 23, shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 104 – motion re Milk Quotas.
Mr. J. Bruton: It is normal practice only to take without debate motions upon which there is agreement. As the Taoiseach is aware, an Opposition amendment has been tabled to No. 23. Given that an amendment has been tabled, is the Government seriously proposing to take this motion without debate?
Mr. Quinn: The Labour Party has no objection to Nos. 21 and 22 being taken without debate but I would like the Taoiseach to clarify the position in respect of No. 23. Has the Taoiseach received legal advice to the effect that the proposed referral to the Laffoy Commission, established under legislation this year, is constitutional and would not be subject to legal challenge?
The Taoiseach: We held a short debate on this matter last week. The report of the chief medical officers at the Department of Health and Children into the three clinical trials involving residents of children's homes was laid before the Houses on Thursday by the Minister for Health and Children. Questions were raised in regard to the ethical propriety of these clinical trials and whether appropriate consent had been obtained on various occasions from 1960 onwards. In order to obtain answers to the many unanswered ques tions in the report, the Minister sent a report to the Laffoy Commission established to investigate child abuse and further proposes to refer the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for its consideration.
The Government believes that the report's referral to the Laffoy Commission would be the most effective method of establishing the full truth in this matter as it has powers which enable it to comprehensively investigate all the issues involved. As to the legality of its referral, the Minister has been advised that the commission has adequate powers. Deputy Shortall asked me last week whether the commission could deal with matters out of sequence and the answer is that it can.
Mr. J. Bruton: There is still disagreement on the text of No. 23 to which an Opposition amendment has been tabled. Will the Taoiseach allow a debate on this matter rather than attempt to take a motion, on which the House is not agreed, without debate?
Ms McManus: The Labour Party wishes to facilitate this report's referral to the Laffoy Commission but we want that referral to prove effective. We are concerned about the legality of this report being dealt with by the Laffoy Commission. It would be very disturbing if a legal challenge were mounted to this referral at any stage. It appears to us that the Act's terms of reference do not permit this type of referral. Will the Taoiseach consider drafting an order which would be quite specific in regard to the House's intention? I would be happy to table an amendment in this regard, should that be necessary. It would be very simple for the Taoiseach to draft an order specifying the referral so that there would be no question of a legal challenge being made.
Mr. G. Mitchell: My concern is somewhat similar to that expressed by other Deputies. If the Laffoy Commission is to be empowered to consider the entire question of abuse, a separate question remains to be addressed. My amendment seeks to investigate whether there is any connection between a batch of vaccine used between 1968 and 1970 manufactured by the same company which caused adverse reactions, including brain damage, and the fact that tests were carried out in these institutions. This issue relates to a particular company and the Department of Health and Children. If this report is referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I would like it to be not only considered by the committee but also investigated and reported on with particular reference to the content of my amendment.
On the points raised by Deputies Quinn and McManus, we received advice from the Attorney General and the report has been sent to the Laffoy Commission. The Deputies seem to be asking that we would double check the legality of such a referral.
Mr. Quinn: The House shares a common concern that this matter would be dealt with properly and effectively and that there would be no ambiguity about it. Our legal advice is that in order to copperfasten the procedure, the following amendment should be tabled to the motion before the House. It would be a matter for the Government to accept the amendment. The amendment reads:
And that Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas for their approval a draft of an order under section 4(4) of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act, 2000, conferring on that commission (and, if appropriate, its committees) the function of receiving that report and inquiring into and reporting upon such matters raised in or in connection with that report as it may think fit, notwithstanding that the report does not deal with, or raise issues relating to, the abuse of children as defined for the purposes of that Act.
The Taoiseach: We could consider whether Deputy Quinn's amendment is necessary overnight and I would be prepared to move it on tomorrow's Order of Business, should it be deemed so. We have obtained legal advice on this matter but we will check it again.
Mr. J. Bruton: I asked the Taoiseach some time ago to agree not to take this motion without debate. In effect, we are having a debate on whether to debate the matter and that is not satisfactory. I suggest that the Taoiseach should agree to deferring No. 23 until tomorrow at which time a short debate could be held on the matter. In that way, issues of concern could be ironed out in an orderly fashion rather than Members talking  at cross purposes. The House could debate the motion and agree it or amend it.
The Taoiseach: As Deputy McManus stated earlier, we all want to get this right. I do not think we are at cross purposes on this matter. We did not close the debate the other night and I would not be opposed to holding a short debate on the matter, having checked out our legal advice. However, I am not prepared to refer the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for its investigation.
The Taoiseach: The committee can debate the report if it chooses to do so. The point of deferring No. 23 is to consider the legality of the proposal, not to discuss the possibility of its being investigated by the committee. My position on that will not change. I am prepared to defer this matter until tomorrow.
Mr. J. Bruton: On 4 November 1999 the Tánaiste announced that provision would be made for the issuance of new taxi licences in Dublin prior to Christmas of that year, but that has not happened. When can we expect to see proposals on the issuance of licences in Dublin and other major cities? If legislation is required, the Fine Gael Party is willing to facilitate its being taken in the House this week and is willing to sit as long as necessary to facilitate its passage. This is a matter of extreme urgency. Taxis have long been the subject of dispute but we have not seen a resolution for the past three years and it is important that this matter would be resolved before Christmas.
The Taoiseach: I remind the Deputy that during his period in office not one additional licence was issued in Dublin. The effort of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government to allocate an additional 3,100 licences was referred by the hackney drivers to the courts. The High Court duly struck down the regulation. The final legal opinions have just been submitted to the Minister. It will not require legislation, but rather new orders and the Minister is working on these and will, hopefully, bring them forward as soon as possible, that is, in a matter of days.
The Taoiseach: As soon as the orders take effect the procedure will have to be followed. It is unfortunate that the provision of 3,100 additional taxis which would have been on the road this Christmas was challenged and struck down.
Mr. Quinn: When will the House discuss the legislative proposals for Dáil reform to which reference was made recently in the newspapers? We understand the package of Dáil reform measures was due to be brought to the Cabinet yesterday, some of which we presume would require legislative change. When will those measures be before the House?
The Taoiseach: I hope the Government Whip will be in a position in about one week to discuss the matters with the Whips and see how they want to proceed. The convention has been that these matters are discussed in the House, as they will not be effective if all sides of the House do not agree to them.
Mrs. Owen: Over the weekend we read that the Tánaiste is in dispute with a second Minister, namely the Minister for the Environment and Local Government – she has not yet solved her problems with the Minister for Finance over the single financial regulator.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the Environmental Protection Agency (Amendment) Bill given that the Tánaiste and the Minister are in dispute over the regulation of the cement industry, which is reputed to be adding greatly to our emissions, and that we will not keep to our Kyoto commitments if this row is not solved. Is the legislation now on the back boiler because the Tánaiste and the Minister are fighting about it?
Mr. Gilmore: It is over six months since the Minister for the Environment and Local Government published the local government reform legislation. This Bill has not yet been debated on Second Stage in the House. When will Second Stage be taken? In view of recent reports about very significant changes to the Bill, does the Minister intend publishing the changes in advance of Second Stage?
Mr. Currie: I wish to raise promised legislation under the Good Friday Agreement. The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Principles, which has already come into force in Britain and the North, is apparently being held up here because of squabbling between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. When will the legislation be introduced?
The Taoiseach: The legislation is due this session. One of the protocols was included and there was some query on the second. Protocol No. 4 was included and if protocol No. 7 is passed in time it will be included.
Mr. M. Higgins: Documentation provided under the Freedom of Information Act clearly shows that the Department of Foreign Affairs recommended the inclusion of protocols Nos. 4 and 7. Objections were raised by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the inclusion of the protocols. Is the Taoiseach saying the legislation is going ahead without the inclusion of what are two fundamental protections? I appreciate that one of the protocols has survived the objections of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I take it the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be introducing the legislation and that it will include both protocols, or will he once again accept defeat at the hands of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform which is opposing it on the spurious grounds that it gives rise to—
The Taoiseach: The memorandum received under the Freedom of Information Act is six months old, so the position is not the same now as it was at that time. Protocol No. 4, if signed and ratified, would be in the incorporation Bill and protocol No. 7, if incorporated, will also be included in the incorporation Bill.
Mr. Sargent: Tá dhá cheist agam a bhaineann le Billí atá geallta. First, the Minister for Education and Science referred to a teaching profession Bill, and I wonder what stage it is at, given the current dispute in teaching. Second, given that I met a number of people who were prevented from going to work because of the rail  strike – some of whom might have travelled by bus had they not also been affected – what priority is being given to the railway safety Bill and the transport Bill, which appear not to be due until late 2001? If there was a dispute among the Garda drivers of black Mercedes, would the matter receive more urgency?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): In view of the national rail strike, the third this year, and that we have a mini CTC signalling system with an overrun of £25 million with not one of the 28 stations yet equipped, why has greater priority not been given to the national rail safety Bill? The purpose of the Bill is to establish the rail infrastructure procurement agency, which essentially involves the signalling system, to make provision for public-private partnerships and to regulate the physical environment of the rail system. Why has greater priority not been given to this?
The Taoiseach: It is the same Bill. The heads of the railway safety Bill are expected prior to Christmas. The Bill will then have to be drafted and currently that process is scheduled to take nine months.
Mr. J. Bruton: On 25 February 1998 the Taoiseach promised that a criminal law insanity Bill would be presented to the House before the end of 1998. The Bill has not yet been published and according to the latest bulletin is due to be produced in 2001. Can the Taoiseach explain the reason for the delay in producing the legislation and how promises were made here which have proved to be empty?
The Taoiseach: The Bill is due early in the next session. I do not know the reason for the delay, but I imagine it is because the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has broken all records in terms of the amount of legislation it has brought forward over the past three years.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Taoiseach anticipate that the Finance Bill will deal with the complaint made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands at the weekend that the Government is creating a new underclass?
Ms Fitzgerald: What is the up-to-date position regarding the protocol to the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women which allows women to take individual cases  which had been referred from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to the Department of Foreign Affairs?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach outline the legislative measures being brought forward to address the harsh criticism of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, when she said that society, which we can take to mean the Government, is failing children living in poverty?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Implicit in what the Minister said was that there should be legislation which would provide that the wealth of the country should be shared equally. Can we take it that this is the view of the Government, that the wealth is not shared equally and that legislative measures will be put in place?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): There was a devastating criticism on failure to share the wealth and it was implied action should be taken. Do we have legislation to cherish the children of the nation equally?
Mr. M. Higgins: Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur maidir le reachtaíocht atá geallta, sé sin Bille na Gaeilge. An féidir leis an Taoiseach a chinntiú go bhfuil cinntidil an Bhille sin glactha ag an Rialtas agus má tá an bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas na cinntidil a fhoilsiú? Agus cathain a fhoilseofar an Bille go hiomlán?
Ms Shortall: Yesterday the Government announced yet again the establishment of an ombudsman for children. The legislation to provide for this office is long overdue. Has the Cabinet approved the heads of that Bill and when is it likely to be published?
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