Tuesday, 30 January 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 21, motion re Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 (Amendment of Schedule 4) Order, 2000 – draft; No. 22, motion re establishment of Joint Committee on the Strategic Management Initiative; No. 23, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 24, motion re membership of committees; and No. 25, motion re co-operation with tribunal. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the adjournment of Private Members' Business;  (2) Nos. 21, 22, 23 and 24, shall be decided without debate; (3) the proceedings on No. 25, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply; (i) the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 30 minutes; (iii) Members may share time; (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes; and (4) Private Members' Business, which shall be No. 107, motion re National Stadium, shall be taken upon the conclusion of No. 25, and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be adjourned after 90 minutes.
Mr. Sargent: Níl sé aontaithe. Ar Uimh. 22, an rún faoin tionscnamh um bhainistíocht straitéiseach, ní bheidh ról ag an gComhaontas Glas sa choiste seo de réir dealraimh agus níl sé soiléir ón méid atá feicthe agamsa an mbeidh ról ann don dátheangachas sa Stát Seirbhís sna hathruithe atá le teacht. Ba mhaith liom a fháil amach ón Taoiseach an mbeidh an coiste seo ag diriú ar cheist an dátheangachais sa Stát Seirbhís.
Mr. J. Bruton: Before raising a question on the Order of Business, I wish to raise a matter which affects very closely a Member of the House. I would like to express the sympathy of the Fine Gael Party to the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, and indeed all her colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party on the death of her husband. I had the privilege of listening to the Minister talking on the radio a few weeks ago about her husband, events in her life which occurred after the birth of one of her children and the difficult experience she had at that time. It was probably one of the most eloquent statements I ever heard from any politician about their personal lives. It was really inspiring. I am aware, therefore, of the great pain and inestimable loss she feels. As this is a House of contention most of the time, it is important that we pause for a second to extend a word of sympathy to the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, at this exceptionally difficult moment in her life.
Mr. Quinn: On behalf of the Labour Party, I join Deputy Bruton in extending to the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, a colleague and Deputy in this House, our heartfelt sympathy. Deputy Bruton has accurately portrayed the sense in which she conveyed her relationship with her husband on a recent radio programme. We knew that Enda had not been well for some time, but his death came as a shock. On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend sympathy also to the Minister's two nephews in the House. It is a sad day for the Lenihan-O'Rourke family and it is also, by extension, a sad day for the Fianna Fáil family.
Mr. Sargent: Working closely with the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, one would have some indication of the deep sadness she feels on this occasion. Like Deputy Bruton, I too heard that interview. All of us will remember it with great sadness in the context of the death of her husband. I extend the sympathy of the Green Party to her and her family, which includes other Members of this House, the Lenihan family.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Ms Harney): I, too, extend my sympathy to the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, on the death of her husband, Enda. I know how close she was to Enda, how much she spoke about him and how much she suffered in recent times when he was not well. Although she is a hard-working Minister, she always looked forward to Sundays, in particular, at home with Enda and she spoke very fondly of going for walks etc. with  him. I extend my sympathy to her and her two sons, Aongus and Fergal.
Enda O'Rourke's death comes very soon after the death of the Minister's brother, Brian. She has had to endure dreadful tragedy in a few short years. I extend my sympathy, as a colleague in Cabinet and in this House for many years, to Mary, her family and the Fianna Fáil Party.
The Taoiseach: I thank Deputies Bruton, Sargent, Quinn and the Tánaiste for their kind remarks. Everybody who knows Deputy O'Rourke will know that Enda was really special. All she said in that radio programme was so true. She was well able to handle herself in political matters. She is a robust political person and always has been. Enda and she were married in their early twenties and were very close. Down through the years they have always spent together all the spare time they could.
I was with the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, last night and again early this morning in the Mater Private Hospital. She felt, in the end at least, lucky that she was with Enda as he watched the six o'clock evening news on Sunday evening when he had a massive brain haemorrhage, which did fatal damage. He nearly died in her arms. He underwent major surgery and then was rushed to the Mater Hospital where he died in the early hours of this morning.
I thank everybody in the House for expressing their sympathy. The Minister will find heart and spirit from the fact that everybody here was kind enough to mention Enda's death, and I thank Deputy Bruton for raising it.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend sympathy to our Deputy Leader. I join with everybody else in the House in extending condolences to our colleague, Mary, to Fergal and Aongus, and of course to Deputies Brian and Conor Lenihan who are Members of the House.
Mr. J. Bruton: On the Order of Business, is the Taoiseach concerned that, coming in the wake of Mr. Justice Kelly finding the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other Departments at fault in not being able to find a place for children who are troubled, that same judge has now found that he cannot deal with judicial reviews of deportation orders because the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is failing to supply the necessary documentation and has had to adjourn these cases up to eight times because of the inefficiencies in the Department?
Does the Taoiseach agree that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must accept responsibility for failures of this nature and that it brings public administration and the Minister into disrepute if judges make comments of the kind Mr. Justice Kelly recently had to make?
The Taoiseach: This issue concerns the length of time it has taken to process the appeals. The Minister has succeeded in getting vast resources  and in recruiting almost 300 staff into that section of the Department to deal with the backlog. There are still delays but the Minister is endeavouring to have appeals turned round in a far shorter period. The Civil Service Commission is endeavouring to recruit more staff so as to avoid delays. The delays are regrettable but we are endeavouring to eliminate them.
Mr. J. Bruton: This is about judicial review of deportations, not about the normal reception arrangements for asylum seekers. People are not getting answers from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform where there is an appeal against a deportation order and that is not what the Taoiseach has answered about.
The Taoiseach: The people who deal with reception and those who deal with appeals are usually the same people. That section has been over-burdened and has been seeking more staff. The Government has sanctioned more staff. Somewhere in the region of 400 staff have been approved, but the Civil Service Commission has not been able to recruit sufficient staff for the section and that is undeniably leading to delays.
Mr. Quinn: Why did the Taoiseach allow two Opposition parties in this House to be blatantly misled last year when, in good faith, the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party, at the invitation of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, met as recently as the last day in October to discuss possible changes in the legislation which will govern the next general election?
We were not told of a decision already made by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government as far back as February of that year. Does the Taoiseach recall that, subsequently, a one and a half page briefing from the Minister for the Environment and Local Government did not refer to the fact that the Government had decided, as far back as the previous February, to arbitrarily raise the expenditure limits and that an elaborate system of deception and misleading engagement and negotiations took place?
A freedom of information request from a journalist to the Department of the Environment and Local Government, published in today's Magill magazine, shows that, as far back as February last year, the Minister for Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, wrote the arbitrary increases in expenditure that will enable  Fianna Fáil to spend, not £2 million in the forthcoming general election, but £3 million. Were you aware of that deception? Did you give your assent to the deception and the charade in which you were obliged to engage in your office as the Chairman of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, along with other representatives, when the Minister, as far back as February, had already made the decision?
Mr. Quinn: On the same matter, I wrote to the Taoiseach on 4 January, bringing to his attention that the Minister responsible for increasing expenditure limits in the forthcoming general election is also a joint honorary treasurer of the Fianna Fáil Party with responsibility for raising money.
Mr. Quinn: Is there anything we have learned from the tribunals? Why was this deception allowed to continue for a year and why were you allowed to be made part of it? Were you informed, in your capacity as Chairman of the Fianna Fáil Party, that this decision had already been made?
The Taoiseach: The Electoral Bill was published on 15 December. There were numerous discussions and numerous deliberations during the course of the preparation of that Bill. I refute any suggestion about trying to mislead people on this. The discussion went on for many months without an increase in limits.
Mr. Yates: Absolutely. Can the Taoiseach explain and justify how the legislative priorities of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government were the Road Traffic Bill, for the penalty points system, and the Local Government Bill, published last May? Both those Bills have now been by-passed to provide rules for Fianna Fáil to buy the next election with donation and spending limits. How can he justify these other Bills having been side-tracked?
Mr. Yates: What is the position with those other real issues of the Road Traffic Bill and the Local Government Bill? Does the Minister for the Environment and Local Government intend to take them at all? He is trying to pull a stroke.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: On a different issue, I refer to the greatest catastrophe that has so far occurred in this millennium with more than 100,000 dead in the Indian earthquake. Does the Taoiseach accept that there is a need for an adequate response from Ireland beyond the rather miserable £1 million we have offered so far? Would he agree that there is a need to galvanise a European response in terms of moneys and technical assistance to a Government and a people who are in such dreadful need at the moment?
The Taoiseach: The sum of £1 million has been allocated already, part of it to the Red Cross. It will require across Europe a galvanising of effort and technical assistance. We will play whatever part we can in our role within the EU to give assistance and back-up to the Red Cross and to give any technical expertise we have. We will certainly assist the people affected as we always do in these circumstances.
Mr. G. Mitchell: We were promised legislation on the Nice Treaty. When will that come before the House? Will that legislation help to empower the European Union to react to crises of this type? There are more potential crises of this nature in the offing and it is terrible that while RTE can be there in a matter of a few hours, the EU simply sends cheques. We must get our act together to assist people in these circumstances.
Mr. Howlin: A Garda Síochána Bill is promised. In that context, will reforming measures be brought forward to allow the House to know how stand the inquiries? Contradictory statements have been made by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this matter in the past ten days. Can we have clarity on that?
Mrs. Owen: Where stands the work permit legislation and why has the Government not treated it with the required urgency, given the saga of the Moldovans and also that Ministers speak in every speech of the number of workers who must come to this country? Despite this, the work permits section in the Tánaiste's Department is not able to cope and no policy is in place. Why can that legislation not be brought forward now rather than at the end of the year as was previously promised?
Mr. Rabbitte: In respect of the delay of two years at this stage in the promised legislation to regulate the financial services sector caused by the dispute between the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Finance, when will this long-running ridiculous dispute be terminated and the legislation published?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): I understand that the sale of the Whitegate oil refinery is a done deal and that the successful bidder is the American multinational, Tosco. At No. 105 in the list of promised legislation published today is Irish National Petroleum Corporation Limited Bill which provides for the sale of certain assets and liabilities of the Irish National Petroleum Corporation Limited and related matters. The heads of the Bill are only being prepared and publication is not expected until 2001. Can the deal go ahead in the absence of legislation? Are the two inextricably linked?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy had to put down a question on the ongoing negotiations. The Irish National Petroleum Corporation Bill is due later this year. The heads of the Bill are expected to be resolved shortly and the legislation will be published towards the end of the year.
Mr. Penrose: Will the Taoiseach consider an amendment to the Prompt Payment of Accounts Act to deal with farmers who are being treated disgracefully by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development? Where a farmer has an animal in his or her herd diagnosed as being infected with BSE, he or she is left five or six weeks without compensation.
Mr. Stanton: I was also going to ask about the Irish National Petroleum Corporation Limited Bill. Will the Taoiseach be more specific as to the precise date, given that workers in Whitegate are very anxious about their future?
Mr. Gilmore: Why, when I asked the Taoiseach about the Electoral Bill on 5 October last, was he able to tell me it was about electronic voting, photographs and party logos while he made no mention of increasing funding? Why did he mislead the House on that date and each subsequent date I asked him about this legislation? Why were we not told that a decision taken in February to increase the spending limits for political parties was not contained-—
The Taoiseach: If I referred to any aspects of the Bill, it was out of order because I did not mean to refer to the contents. One does not do that and I did not give the contents in the previous question asked on this matter.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I also draw Deputy Gilmore's attention to a charge of misleading the House. It is not in order to accuse a member of the Government of deliberately misleading the House, whether by allegedly concealing information or otherwise.
Mr. S. Ryan: When will legislation giving effect to the extension of the maternity leave, as announced in the budget, be brought before the House? Will it provide cover for women on maternity leave on 2 June next? Will the Taoiseach try to incorporate that in the legislation to provide for such women?
The Taoiseach: As the Deputy said, it was announced in the budget that the period of maternity and adoptive leave with and without payment would increase by four weeks from early April 2002. I am told that the stamped order from the Attorney General's office is expected today so the preliminary draft of the order is being  cleared. There will then be some consultation with the ICTU, IBEC and the Equality Authority after which it will be acted upon.
Ms McManus: Not one health Bill is included in the legislative programme published for this session. The Chief Whip grossly misled the public this morning and perhaps he did so because of the lack of a health policy on the part of the Government. He said the Labour Party did not have a policy on health.
Ms McManus: It appears the Government does not have a policy on health. To ensure the Chief Whip does not mislead the public any longer, I wish to set the record straight by presenting him with a copy of the health policy.
Mr. Quinn: Given the reports of a collapse in consumer confidence in beef and the importance of the beef industry to Ireland as against any other country in the European Union, does the Government have proposals to bring forward emergency legislation to deal with the issue? Will it be introduced by the Minister of State with responsibility for food, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe?
Mr. McDowell: I wish to pursue further the issue raised by my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, the single regulatory authority Bill. The Taoiseach will remember that he assured the House last October that work was nearing completion. What I wish to explore is the inconsistency between what the Taoiseach said—
Mr. McDowell: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, this is outrageous. It is specific to the legislation and what the Taoiseach said a few moments ago. He informed the House that he expected the Bill to be introduced in the House before the summer, but according to the list circulated by the Minister of State, Deputy Brennan, a couple of days ago, publication is expected late in 2001. I am simply inviting the Taoiseach to explain that obvious inconsistency. We have had promise after promise in relation to this legislation.
The Taoiseach: As I stated in the House before, for several months the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance and their officials have been trying to resolve the issues involved to allow us deal with this matter satisfactorily. It represents a major change in respect of the Central Bank and other issues such as the involvement of consumers. We hope to have it completed as soon as possible. The legislation will have to be drafted. We are aware it is important and we are anxious  to bring it forward. If it can be drafted in time, it will be introduced before the summer. That is our intention.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has been considering all the available options to bring the process to an early and satisfactory conclusion. He will make a statement at the appropriate time.
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