Thursday, 23 November 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 46, National Stud (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, resumed; No. 7, Youth Work Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 47, Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage, resumed.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Tánaiste agree the way in which ordinary commuters are being treated by the providers of public transport is appalling and that public transport under the Government is a shambolic monopoly which is not working and which the Government has shown particular unwillingness to confront, especially in the delay in dealing with the taxi issue for three and a half years? Does she further agree there are some who question whether the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, who has at last on behalf of the Government taken a decision on this matter, has the support of all his senior colleagues in the ministerial hierarchy?
Mr. Quinn: On the same topic, is the Government prepared at this stage to enter into negotiations with the representatives of the taxi drivers to bring about some resolution to the blockade across Dublin? A decision has been made, which has been welcomed by all of us in terms of the increase at last in the number of taxis. but the manner in which it was made was seriously undemocratic and contrary to the spirit of social partnership that has animated all the Government's press releases. There is an urgent need to get the blockade off the streets and that will come about if negotiations are entered into by representatives of the Government and taxi drivers. I urge the Tánaiste to open those negotiations as a matter of urgency.
The Tánaiste: I share the frustration expressed by Deputies Bruton and Quinn in regard to the ongoing blockade by taxi drivers and I hope it can be brought to an end quickly because it is discommoding, inconveniencing and causing great hardship to the public. With regard to negotiations, a decision has been made. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, is happy to hold dis cussions with taxi representatives but negotiations are not in order because a decision has been made and it will be implemented.
Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Tánaiste agree that road blockades are not a legitimate form of industrial relations action, that they are illegal and impermissible and should not be the basis for negotiation or resolution, and that the House should clearly say that blockades should stop? Will she comment on suggestions by some taxi drivers, which may not have been authorised, that they will not pick up disabled people even though their taxis are adapted for disabled people as a means of protesting against the Government decision? Does the Tánaiste agree that any form of targeting of disabled people in that fashion in an industrial dispute is unacceptable and ought to be condemned with equal strength as one should condemn the blocking of roads?
Mr. Quinn: Does the Tánaiste agree that while a decision has been made in respect of this matter, much of the detail of the decision and how it will be implemented has yet to be finalised or communicated adequately to the people directly affected? No other group in this country has had its livelihood altered in such a dramatic and precipitous way. This group is at least entitled to discussions in respect of the implementation of that decision and I urge the Tánaiste to contact SIPTU, which negotiates on behalf of some taxi drivers, to begin negotiations today so that the blockade can be ended voluntarily by the people carrying it out.
The Tánaiste: I agree with Deputy Bruton that the blockades are illegal. Everybody is entitled in a democracy to protest but they are not entitled to engage in blockades such as those we have witnessed over the past two days. I have total confidence that the Garda will implement the law without fear or favour and I believe that is already under way.
The Tánaiste: I remind Deputy Quinn that no one is taking anyone's livelihood away. There is more than enough work for all existing taxi drivers and many more in Dublin, as he knows well. There is no question of livelihoods being taken away. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, has announced his intentions regarding the £15,000 licence fee that was paid. The people of Dublin  have been frustrated for many years as a result of indecision in this area. We now have a decision and the Government—
Mr. Quinn: We welcome the fact that at last a decision has been made but we deplore the manner in which it was made. It has resulted in chaos but it can be resolved very quickly by opening up discussions today with the representatives of the taxi men and women to clarify the implementation of the decision and to fill in details which are not apparent to the people directly affected by them. That is all I ask.
Mr. J. Bruton: I know the Tánaiste had a number of questions to answer, but she omitted to answer one of my questions which concerned statements by some taxi representatives that they would not take a single disabled person unless they were satisfied with the Government's decision. Does the Tánaiste agree that is not an acceptable means of promoting any cause, does  damage and should be condemned? Will she make clear on behalf of the Government and the House that that type of comment should not be made? I have no doubt it was not a representative comment but it was made publicly, could be construed as representative and should be condemned.
The Tánaiste: I deplore any threats of that nature or the private threats made to some individuals in the House. Everyone would have to deplore that type of behaviour. It is not acceptable. If the law is upheld and the blockade is called off, there will not be any difficulty in having discussions.
Mr. Rabbitte: Is the Tánaiste aware that her Department is colluding in drawing invidious distinctions between job initiative participants in terms of the Christmas bonus and will she take steps to sort that out?
Mr. Rabbitte: In respect of promised legislation, does the Tánaiste recall her undertaking in the House that the Bill dealing with part-time workers, which was designed to implement the EU directive, would be put through this year? From memory, June was the last date on which it was supposed to be transposed into Irish law. Will that legislation be enacted in this calendar year?
Mr. J. Bruton: What is the position of the disabilities Bill which sets out the rights of persons with disabilities and which I understand is to be brought before the House some time next year? Will the Tánaiste ensure it is fast tracked and that any inclusion in it to ensure disabled persons have an equal right to access to taxis is put in place so that there is a firm legislative response to the remarks to which Deputy Boylan drew the attention of the House?
Mr. J. Bruton: It would be helpful if the Tánaiste would clarify this because there appears to be in the Minister of State's proposals, a degree of tolerance of a situation which would not be in accordance with the law with regard to equal respect for the rights of people with disabilities.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy knows, existing law in the form of the equality legislation covers  this matter but the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, made it clear that all taxis would have to be wheelchair accessible by the end of December 2003, which is three years from now.
The Tánaiste: We all know the increased expense and time taken in making a car wheelchair accessible. If we want to be practical and have more taxis on the road quickly, it will not be possible to do the two together. Everyone knows that.
Mr. Quinn: In light of the discussion we have had, and I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's facilitation of it, will the Government recognise the necessity for the regulations to be published in full, that is, those which will come in under the necessary legislation under which they operate? Will the Government give an undertaking that the regulations will be debated in the House so that all the concerns surrounding the implementation of the decision can be fully discussed and debated in the House? That would serve a very useful purpose. Will the Government give positive consideration to that as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Stanton: The Minister of State with responsibility for consumer affairs, who, in case he has forgotten, is also responsible for labour affairs, promised last year to bring forward legislation to regulate advertising by airlines and tour operators. Is anything happening with that legislation?
Mr. Wall: What efforts are the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health and Children making to resolve the ongoing industrial dispute between the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the South-Western Area Health board which is causing major and grave problems for people who cannot obtain information about appointments, medical cards and so on?
The Tánaiste: I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that I will have to win more seats to  get all of my proposals implemented. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has established a commission to look at the licensing trade.
Mrs. Owen: On a number of occasions, the Minister for Public Enterprise has promised amendments to the Transport Act, 1932. Given that 200 applications have been made to her Department for private bus routes, and given the co-operation that was promised from this side of the House to bring that amendment before the House quickly, where is the amending legislation to the Transport Act, 1932, to allow competition on bus routes so that people, particularly those living in remote areas, can get a bus service?
Mr. Naughten: Yesterday, I questioned the Tánaiste on the ability of the Government to deliver on the national development plan. Given that local authority planners decided yesterday to initiate industrial action—
Mr. Naughten: Following the decision by the planners to take industrial action, and as regards No. 66 on the Order Paper, will the Tánaiste allow time to debate housing, planning and transportation, all of which will be compromised if this industrial action takes place? It will compromise the Government's ability to deliver the national development plan.
Mr. O'Shea: The Government has promised legislation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights which recognises freedom of expression, including media comment free of official censorship. Section 19 of the Refugee Act—
Mr. O'Shea: This week, section 19 of the Refugee Act was brought into operation. Effectively, that means the media cannot report on the circumstances of a refugee if that person can be identified, unless there is prior consent by the applicant concerned and—
Mr. O'Shea: Yes, I will ask the question but let me finish the point. Basically, the prior consent of the applicant and that of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is required. Bearing in mind the fact that the legislation has been overtaken by events, will the Tánaiste give the House an assurance that the Refugee Act will be reviewed in the context of this conflict?
The Tánaiste: If there are any difficulties, I am quite certain they will be addressed in forthcoming legislation. The legislation to which the  Deputy refers was brought in by his own Government.
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