Thursday, 1 February 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 49, Youth Work Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (Resumed); No. 1 – Containment of Nuclear Weapons Bill, 2000 [Seanad]– Second Stage; and No. 7 – Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are no proposals to put to the House. I will now take Leaders' questions but before doing so I find it necessary to remind the Leaders that on the Order of Business a relevant but brief question on a topical matter may be asked. There should be no statements on any matter that would give rise to a debate. It is not an occasion for a mini-debate on any issue with only a brief question and reply permitted.
Mrs. Owen: The rules keep changing, a Cheann Comhairle. I wish to ask the Tánaiste two brief questions. Will there be an opportunity for the Taoiseach to report to the House on his meeting with Prime Minister Blair yesterday on the outcome of their talks?
What is the Government's current policy on waste management given the Minister for the Environment and Local Government's announcement that he is giving powers to county managers to adopt and put in place waste management plans in countries where such plans have not been adopted? The announcement was made outside the House and there has been no further explanation. It is giving rise to a great deal of confusion among councillors and the public.
The Tánaiste: I hope during Question Time next week the Taoiseach will be able to respond in relation to Northern Ireland. It was a good meeting last night but some work still has to be done to have a comprehensive package that will allow the current difficulties in the peace process to be resolved. I hope the work today and for the remainder of this week will lead to a comprehen sive package on decommissioning, policing and demilitarisation.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has put proposals before the Cabinet. I am not at liberty to discuss them but as soon as the issue is decided I am sure the Minister will make an announcement. However, it is important that we have an appropriate waste strategy that can be implemented and acted upon at local level. It is essential for our environment, industry and the country that we have the necessary powers to implement a modern and appropriate waste strategy plan.
Mrs. Owen: Newspapers have already published the proposals. Was this a judicious leak so that the Minister would get credit or was it a way of warning councillors that they would lose powers? What is the truth in regard to waste management? It is one of the major issues facing local authorities, householders and industry.
Mr. Quinn: Is the Tánaiste aware that I wrote to the Taoiseach on 4 January drawing to his attention a conflict of interest involving the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in his role as joint treasurer of Fianna Fáil on the one hand and as Minister responsible for raising limits by 50% on the moneys that can be spent on elections, changing the rules that have served us well over the past five by-elections? Is she, as Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats, in favour of this conflict of interest? Has she raised the matter with the Taoiseach?
The Tánaiste: I am aware the Deputy wrote to the Taoiseach because he has raised the issue on the Order of Business over the past two days and I have read about it in the press. I do not accept there is a conflict of interest in regard to this matter. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has been open in relation to his proposals.
Mr. Quinn: Do I take it that the 50% increase in expenditure that will be authorised by the Fianna Fáil Party and the joint treasurer of the Fianna Fáil Party to enable them to buy the results of the next election is acceptable to the Progressive Democrats?
Mr. Quinn: Is the Tánaiste, in her capacity as a member of Government and as leader of the Progressive Democrats, in favour of this continued conflict of interest between the Minister responsible for putting the legislation through the House and for arbitrarily and unilaterally altering these figures as far back as February 2000? Is that the Progressive Democrats' position?
Mr. Gormley: Is the Tánaiste aware that on Tuesday's Order of Business the Taoiseach informed me that there were no legislative proposals to enforce incineration on communities? He made that quite clear. The Tánaiste has told us the complete opposite.
The Tánaiste: The matter is before the Cabinet and as soon as the Cabinet concludes its deliberations the proposals will be published. That Deputy Shatter is a lawyer does not mean there is a conflict of interest between being a lawyer and being a spokesperson on justice. He should be careful in what he is saying.
Mr. R. Bruton: As regards No. 5 on today's Order Paper, the Ombudsman's report on nursing home subventions that has been laid before the House, has the Government made a decision to produce amending legislation, or clarify existing legislation, as to whether medical card holders  are entitled to have nursing home care provided by the State? This report contains a litany of scandalous treatment of people. What decisions has the Government made on foot of the report?
Ms McManus: The report has been with the Minister for quite some time, so I would have expected a more forthright answer concerning action on this issue. Is the Tánaiste aware that last night on RTE's “Prime Time” programme there was an exposé of serious problems in the health service, including the fact that people are literally dying as they await operations because they cannot afford private treatment? In recent days the Government received a policy document on how the Labour Party intends to deal with this matter. Can we now have a statement from the Government, that can be debated in the House, about how it intends to end the two-tier hospital system that is not delivering services to those most in need? It is continuing the suffering and pain of thousands of people who are waiting for necessary operations.
As regards the issue that has been raised by Deputy McManus, the Minister for Health and Children has indicated that he will bring forward a major document in response to the Fine Gael and Labour Parties' documents on health. I understand that it will be a White Paper. If I have interpreted the Minister for Health and Children correctly, will the Tánaiste say if it is intended to introduce a White Paper on health? If that is not the case, can we find time to debate the contents  of the programme on RTE last night which was very upsetting and very accurate?
The Tánaiste: I join Deputy Gay Mitchell in paying tribute to Deputy John Bruton. I do not want to interfere in the affairs of another party, but Deputy Bruton is one of the original thinkers in this House of which he has been a Member since 1969. He has been Taoiseach, Minister for Finance twice, Minister for Industry and Commerce, Minister for Industry and Energy, and also held a number of junior ministerial posts. I think I can speak for everybody in the House when I say that we wish him well. He is an honest, decent person of the highest integrity.
The Tánaiste: I remember that on the day the Good Friday Agreement was successfully negotiated, I heard Deputy Bruton on the radio and he was wholesome in his praise of the Taoiseach. He certainly put the national interest first while, perhaps, other Opposition leaders might have chosen to find holes in the agreement. I wish him and his family well.
The Minister for Health and Children has proposals to radically reform the health service. An internal audit of the health service is currently under way. As Deputies know, spending in this area has almost doubled over the past three years, so it is not just an issue of resources.
Mr. Howlin: As both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform are present, can either of them say when we will see the Immigration Bill? Will measures be included in that Bill to allow for the exclusion of non-nationals from entry to the State? That was the information given to me by way of a reply yesterday. More than 100 people were excluded from embarking—
Mr. Howlin: Are the actions of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in excluding people from the right to embark on vessels, or disembark from vessels, in accordance with international law and our United Nations treaties?
Mr. Shatter: Is legislation to be introduced in the House to give lawful authority to the Minister for Health and Children to sponsor the Irish Masters snooker tournament in the sum of £600,000,  as is reported in today's papers? Can the Tánaiste justify the Department of Health and Children spending £600,000 on this when people on hospital waiting lists are dying, and we have the sort of exposure on “Prime Time” last night of the difficulties in the health service?
Mr. Gilmore: Just before the Christmas recess the House decided to refer to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill entitled the Electoral Amendment (Donations to Parties and Candidates) Bill, 2000.
Mr. Gilmore: No, I understand that. I am just following the procedure. It was referred to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government, and I have two questions relating to it. First, why was the Bill omitted from the list of legislation released by the Government on 25 January? Second, in respect of my efforts to have a meeting of the Select Committee convened to consider Committee Stage of that Bill, I ask the Tánaiste about a letter that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government sent to the chairperson of the Select Committee, in which he effectively states—
Mr. Gilmore: The House referred the Bill to the committee. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government is now effectively refusing to attend the committee to deal with the committee's stated view.
An Ceann Comhairle: We must return to the Order of Business. I call Deputy Jim Higgins. Deputy Howlin must pursue the matter in another way. He cannot pursue it on the Order of Business. Deputies must have some regard for the Chair. When the Chair is on its feet I would ask Deputies to allow the Order of Business to proceed in an orderly way. I have called Deputy Jim Higgins.
Mr. Quinn: As the Ceann Comhairle, you are the protector and defender of the interests of every Member of this House. This House passed Second Stage of a Bill which was then referred to a committee. In what part of Standing Orders, over which you preside and interpret on our behalf, is there the right of a Minister to deny and censor a committee to which this House has referred a Bill from hearing that Bill? Perhaps you might help us—
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): The Aer Lingus Bill, 2000, was passed by the Seanad almost eight months ago and since then it has been grounded. As the Tánaiste is aware, 20,000 passengers will be grounded because of a strike by all Aer Lingus cabin crew? Has the Bill, the purpose of which is to privatise Aer Lingus, been abandoned? Is there any proposal to bring the Bill before the House in the foreseeable future?
The Tánaiste: I understand the Bill is awaiting scheduling in the Dáil but the industrial relations problems have nothing to do with legislation. They are clearly separate matters that can, hopefully, be resolved in a different forum.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Tánaiste approve of the continuing delay in producing the legislation to ratify the treaty to establish the international criminal court? Is she aware that it has been put back for a further six months and does she approve of that? Does she not accept that we should be giving a lead, particularly now in view of our membership of the UN Security Council, in having this treaty ratified so that we can be one of the group in the world which will allow it to be set up? Will the Tánaiste give a commitment to ensure that this proposed delay in the Government's legislative programme will not be adhered to and that we will have this Bill in the coming weeks if possible?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Is the Minister not aware that, although it is the intention to have a referendum in May, under the Government's legislative programme, publication of the Bill is not expected until the middle of the year? How then can we have a referendum in May?
Ms O'Sullivan: I would like to ask about legislation which has been on the list of promised legislation for about two and a half years, that is, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and International Co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption Bill. This has been on the list for two and a half years and it has been highlighted again and again, most recently in the context of two children who were bought on the Internet by two different couples on two different continents. It has been promised for late 2001 and it ratifies an international convention to protect children. Does the Government have a greater sense of urgency about this issue now and can the Bill be brought forward before the promised date?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): Will the Government urgently bring forward legislation to address the grotesque incompetence of the Government where one Minister, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, travels the globe to get immigrant workers to come here and agents of another Minister, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, imprisons, shackles and attempts to deport them?
Mr. Higgins: (Dublin West): —of the shameful episode of the Moldovan 19, which shamed this Government, will the Tánaiste bring forward the work permit Bill and the immigration resident Bill as a matter of urgency? That is a very legitimate request because the country was outraged by the treatment of immigrant workers.
An Ceann Comhairle: The matter was raised on the Adjournment and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform made a ten minute statement. We are on the Order of Business. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform came into the House and gave a ten minute reply to queries on this matter, and it cannot be raised again. Deputy Higgins should resume his seat as he has made his point which was not orderly.
The Tánaiste: Unfortunately, I am not certain that legislation would have prevented what happened. I hope the new arrangements that are now in place between the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the immigration authorities will lead to a more satisfactory situation in the future. We hope to bring the work permit legislation forward later this year.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Tánaiste has on a number of occasions expressed her alarm at the findings of various major investigations she has under way. Given that knowledge, does she think it is proper for her party to support a 50% increase in electoral spending?
An Ceann Comhairle: That is a question on the provisions of the Bill, and that is not in order on the Order of Business. When the Bill comes before the House, the Deputy will have ample opportunity to discuss the provisions, but he cannot do so on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Sargent.
Mr. Sargent: I am beginning to identify with the Hindu pilgrim at the Ganges who has had his hand up for the past 22 years. In fairness to my colleague, Deputy Gormley, I would like to ask whether a date will be given for the publication of the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill given that the US, Canada, New Zealand and the other EU members are turning their backs on incineration and are not building new incinerators? When will we have that Bill and will it be up to date with modern research?
On promised legislation from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, I see that only one short Bill will be taken before Easter. I would like to ask about the introduction of the Organic Targets Bill, already published by the Green Party. Given the advice from the head of Teagasc that farmers should consider growing organic products and that the House of Commons will introduce such a Bill next week, will the Tánaiste say whether the Government will take the initiative and produce a Bill of that sort because the Green Party does not have Private Members' time?
The Tánaiste: The waste management Bill is expected towards the middle of this year. I do not believe legislation is promised in relation to the other matter, but I am sure Deputy Sargent will be able to get agreement from his colleagues in opposition to move that Bill.
Mr. M. Higgins: When the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs last attended the meeting of the United Nations, the Secretary General of the UN requested all delegations to ratify outstanding conventions. I understand 25 have not been ratified by Ireland. Which ones will be ratified in the lifetime of this Government? Does the Tánaiste agree that it would be easier to have a separate legislative drafting mechanism so that conventions would not be outstanding? It is a disgrace that we may have signed but not ratified conventions.
The Tánaiste: I do not have the information the Deputy seeks to hand. Perhaps I can communicate with him. There is merit in what he suggested  so that we can expedite the ratification process for these international agreements to which we sign up.
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