Thursday, 7 December 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 23b, motion re Referral to Joint Committee of proposed approval of United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; No. 22, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services [Votes 6,10, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35, 41, 42 and 44] returned from committee; and No. 21a, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance  (Motion 4, resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 23b and 22 shall be decided without debate  and in the case of No. 22, the Supplementary Estimates [Votes 6,10, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 35, 41, 42 and 44] shall be moved together and decided by one Question which shall be put from the Chair and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the resumed debate on No. 21a: the speech of the main spokespersons or a Member nominated in his or her stead for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 40 minutes; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 30 minutes; and Members may share time.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 23b and No. 22, Supplementary Estimates, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21a agreed?
Mr. Howlin: On the taking of all the Supplementary Estimates together without debate, perhaps the Tánaiste would obviate the need for a division on this matter. I am informed that Vote 42(e) concerns scéimeanna feabhsúcháin sa Ghaeltacht, the scheme for improving strategic roads in the Gaeltacht. Two Gaeltacht areas have been specifically excluded from this, namely the Meath Gaeltacht—
Mr. Howlin: —and the Waterford Gaeltacht. No money has been allocated for road improvement schemes in these areas. We will certainly vote against the Supplementary Estimates if these areas are excluded from the schemes.
Mr. J. Bruton: Why did the Minister for Finance omit the Government's planned increases in motor taxes from his Budget Statement? These were announced by means of a press release after the budget. Was the Minister afraid the party atmosphere would be destroyed? Is that why he allowed the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to announce these increases by press release?
The Tánaiste: This issue relates to the debate on the budget. Deputy Bruton is well aware that motor tax revenue goes directly to local authorities. The Minister for Finance dealt with many  issues in the budget which cannot all be delivered in a speech of a reasonable length.
Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Tánaiste satisfied that a financial resolution is not required for the imposition of an additional charge on the people? Is it not the case that this increase in motor taxation is being decided by the Government and not by local authorities? The Government is accountable to this House and if it wishes to impose an additional charge on the people it is obliged in this democracy, as I understand it, to put that proposition before the House. Why was the proposition of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, not put before the House last night with the financial resolutions and why was it not announced by the Tánaiste's friend, the Minister for Finance, in his Budget Statement? As the Tánaiste is, I believe, sincerely concerned to maintain the standing of this House as the place where important announcements are made and decided, can she excuse or explain the unwillingness of the Minister for Finance to make this announcement in the budget?
Mr. J. Bruton: The Tánaiste is a great person to stand up for standards when in Opposition. There are certain standards regarding the way this House should be treated in the matter of the imposition of taxes on the people. Why did the Minister for Finance not announce this tax measure in the budget yesterday? Why was it kept secret?
Mr. Howlin: That was a one sentence preamble to a question that the Chair normally allows. It is  important that the full fiscal parameters of the budget are presented to the House. Without exception, that is always done in the Minister's speech. If this is a departure, are there other fiscal measures we will hear of when other Ministers speak in this debate? We must know the full parameters of the budget before Members are asked to speak.
Mr. Howlin: If there are other fiscal measures will the Tánaiste indicate them to the House now? Does this fiscal measure, the motor tax issue, require a resolution of the House? If so, how will it be put?
The Tánaiste: All the appropriate financial resolutions that were necessary were put to the House last night and voted on. There are several features of the budget, many of them allocating substantial money for social inclusion which were—
Mr. J. Bruton: We are debating the financial statement of the Minister for Finance. This measure is not included in that so the debate is starting under a false pretence. Will the Tanáiste give an assurance that no other tax announcements will be made by the Minister for the Envir onment and Local Government, or any other Minister, that were not included in the budget?
Mr. Howlin: Yesterday I raised the resignation of an inspector investigating the Ansbacher issue and the Taoiseach responded. The Tánaiste has direct ministerial responsibility for the matter. Will she indicate the circumstances surrounding the resignation in so far as she knows them, the proposals she has to bring these matters to a conclusion and when the reports will be available for scrutiny by this House?
The Tánaiste: On 23 November, Judge Declan Costello came to see me and informed me that, on medical advice, he had to, unfortunately, stand down from the inspectorate. He very much regretted that. I am very grateful to him, as I am sure is the House, for the outstanding work he has done over the past year. He has worked seven days a week on many occasions to try to bring this inquiry to a conclusion. I have been in discussions with the Attorney General for the past two weeks seeking to have an inspector or inspectors appointed to replace Judge Costello. It is important to ensure there is no conflict of interest and that inspectors have not worked for any of the people under investigation. We are now in a position to put names to the High Court and I hope that will be done tomorrow. I stress Judge Costello stood down on medical advice and solely on that.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot continue this matter. It was raised yesterday and I allowed a question on it today. We must continue with the Order of Business proper. The Deputy should resume his seat.
The Tánaiste: It went to the inspectors in September 1999, as the Deputy knows. I expect that by next summer the inspectors will be in a posi tion to make a final report to the High Court. That will be—
Mr. Currie: What is the position on two issues of promised legislation on which there was much squealing from these benches when the parties opposite were in Opposition, the adoption contact register and mandatory reporting?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: I hope this will not take four years. Legislation has been promised to establish a compensation tribunal for the victims of abuse while in institutional care. When will that be introduced bearing in mind that many of those victims are now in advanced years?
Mr. Durkan: Will the Tánaiste intercede with the Taoiseach to arrange for a full day debate on developments in Europe arising from Nice? It is an important issue. As Chairman of the European Affairs Committee I have been asked to request this as a matter of urgency.
Ms Shortall: What is the status of the part-time workers' legislation? What is the operative date for the directive? The VEC (Amendment) Bill was promised during this session but there is no sign of it. When may we expect it?
The Tánaiste: Both are scheduled for this session. Unfortunately the legislation on part-time workers may not be until the beginning of January. It is almost completed. I cannot say if it will be published before next weekend or the one following that. However, its publication is imminent and the same applies to the VEC Bill.
Mrs. Owen: Last week in response to a parliamentary question the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised an amendment to the Solicitors (Amendment) Act to implement the EU establishment directive which refers to barristers and solicitors who have qualified in another jurisdiction practising here. He said primary legislation would have to be amended. What is the status of that legislation as it is urgently required?
Mr. Belton: The Ceann Comhairle should at least allow me to finish the sentence. Has the Government plans for a debate on the crisis in the agricultural sector? The Tánaiste was at one time very fond of the Department of Agriculture,  Food and Rural Development when she hid in it one day when the press was looking for her.
Ms O'Sullivan: The sex offenders' register legislation completed Committee Stage about two months ago and was on a preliminary list to return to the House for Report Stage, but was then taken off that list and has not reappeared. When will Report Stage of the Bill be taken?
Mr. Coveney: When will the court and court officers legislation be brought before the House? A number of weeks ago the Taoiseach promised it would be introduced this session. Will it be introduced this session to relieve the overload on the courts?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in discussion with the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government in relation to it and the intention is, if possible, to introduce it before the end of the session.
Ms McManus: I am sure the Tánaiste is aware that the group of people whose rights have been least attended to are psychiatric patients in mental hospitals. The mental health legislation was to be passed this session. It is now due for Report Stage and I wonder if there is any chance this can be taken in the coming week.
The Tánaiste: That is a matter for the Whips to discuss, but I agree that it is a priority. I am not certain if Report Stage can be taken before the end of next week. It has been ordered for Report Stage and it is a matter for the whips to decide whether to allocate time to it.
Ms Fitzgerald: Given the Tánaiste's commitment to more openness in appointments being made by Government, why did the Government go to the trouble of appointing an authority to recommend names for the human rights commission and then reject the names proposed by the group?
The Tánaiste: I grew up on a 39 acre farm and I know something about agriculture. The budget debate will provide Deputies, as the resolutions did last night, with an opportunity to discuss agriculture.
In view of the necessity to promote competition and deregulation as a means of keeping prices down, why have the proposed amendments to the competition legislation, recommended by the Collins report and recently by the Deloitte & Touche report, not been included in the Government's legislative programme, even though I understand the Competition Authority has been led to believe the legislation is a priority in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment? Why is it not in the programme and when will it be introduced?
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, the mergers review group was established by my predecessor and reported to me last May. The heads  of the Bill have already been approved by the Government and legislation is being drafted as a priority. The Deloitte & Touche report relates to resources for the authority. I know the Deputy was speaking with the chairman this morning and that Deputy Owen was speaking with him yesterday. I am sure he told the Deputies that we intend implementing the report. It is important that all the staff required by the Competition Authority are provided so that we can enforce competition in the economy.
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