Wednesday, 21 February 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 5, Social Welfare Bill, 2001 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 48, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage.
It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m. Private Members' business shall be No. 108, motion re Road Safety (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Mr. Noonan: I will not agree to the Order of Business unless I receive an undertaking from the Tánaiste that the Taoiseach will make a formal statement in the House on the Deputy Ned O'Keeffe affair and answer questions from the Opposition. In replying to my request, will the Tánaiste clarify something? Deputy O'Keeffe indicated last Friday that he would resign at 4 o'clock. At 5.30 p.m., someone on behalf of the Taoiseach briefed that the Taoiseach would take action on a case that had already been decided. The Tánaiste intervened in the late afternoon. At what point was she informed by the Taoiseach that Deputy O'Keeffe was resigning his position? We need to know that piece of information to establish whether the Tánaiste was misled or whether it was just the public who was misled.
Mr. Quinn: We would be more than happy to sit not just until 10 o'clock but until 12 o'clock to have this matter dealt with. Was the Tánaiste consulted on this decision to put pressure on the former Minister of State to resign after he had indicated on Friday that he would do so? Does she not regard her position as Tánaiste as one for which she has collective responsibility in Govern ment and that she cannot therefore wash her hands of this matter as she tried to do on Friday?
The Tánaiste: I am more than happy to speak as Deputies opposite know. I did not make any statement about this matter on Friday. Deputy O'Keeffe made the right decision to resign and I have already said that. Clearly the resignation of any individual from office is a difficult time for them and their families and we should respect that. I discussed this matter with the Taoiseach some time ago. I was not misled. The logistics of how the resignation came about are a matter for the Taoiseach and Deputy O'Keeffe and not for me.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Yes, but as part of the point raised by the Leader of Fine Gael and supported by the Leader of the Labour Party, the Tánaiste has been asked to clarify a point of information. She has deliberately—
Mr. Stagg: This is the first test of the straitjacket. The Ceann Comhairle appears to have ruled that the leaders of the two main parties in Opposition can raise issues that are before the House. Any Deputy can raise issues on a question to be put to the House, not just the party leaders.
Mr. Sargent: I refer to Standing Order 84(2). I understand that I am recognised as a member of a party under that Standing Order which allows me to question the proposal of a late sitting. I  understand that is in order and the Ceann Comhairle is ruling me out of order. I want to clarify that matter.
Mr. Sargent: That is a point of order and I want it clarified because I believe my rights in the House are being denied. Can the Ceann Comhairle clarify that for me because I wanted to speak on the late sitting proposal?
Mr. Sargent: If it is necessary to sit later than 10 o'clock to allow for the matter of the resig nation of Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, I am willing to accede to that. However, 10 o'clock is obviously not late enough if the Government feels there is not time to deal with this matter. I object to the late sitting on the basis that it is not late enough.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Mitchell, Olivia. Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
| Reynolds, Gerard.
Mr. Flanagan: On a point of order, I hope the Chair will forgive me for intervening but in the course of the crossfire before the division he made a statement that, in my view, would have serious consequences for the manner in which Deputies may raise points on the Order of Business, with particular reference to the late sitting. It would be most helpful if the Ceann Comhairle was to clarify matters because he made reference to a change in Standing Orders which, as I understand it, has no bearing on the point at issue. It is important that this matter be clarified by the Ceann Comhairle or his office at the earliest opportunity.
An Ceann Comhairle: The first point I would make is that we were not dealing with the Order of Business, we were dealing with the proposal for the late sitting. We are only now coming to the Order of Business. I refer the Deputy to Standing Order 26(2) which should clarify matters.
Mr. Flanagan: On the question of the late sitting, the Ceann Comhairle referred me to Standing Order 26(2). I refer him to Standing Order 26(2)(b) which meets the point I am making and I ask him to reflect on it.
An Ceann Comhairle: We now come to the Order of Business. I wish to clarify the sequence as provided for under the relevant Standing Order. Provision is made, under the Standing Order, for a brief question on a matter of topical public importance from the Leaders of Fine Gael and Labour. The sequence is that first there is a question from the Leader of Fine Gael, next there is a supplementary question on the same subject by the Leader of the Labour Party and there then follows a reply from the Taoiseach. Following this, there is a supplementary question by the Leader of Fine Gael and a final reply by the Taoiseach. That is then followed by a question from the Leader of the Labour Party, a supplementary question on that subject by the Leader of Fine Gael, a reply by the Taoiseach, a supplementary question from the Leader of the Labour Party and a final reply by the Taoiseach.
Mr. Noonan: What is the Minister for Education and Science doing to solve the teachers' strike? The Tánaiste will be aware that a new schedule of strike action was published this morning, including a threat to the summer examinations and an immediate threat to the oral and aural examinations. The Tánaiste is aware of the grave concern among teachers that they cannot get back to teaching in their classrooms, the concern among parents and, in particular, among students, especially leaving certificate students who see the examinations looming and are extremely concerned and stressed. It seems to us on this side of the House that there is no sense of urgency in the manner in which the Government is dealing with this issue. In particular, there is no sense of urgency in the manner in which the Minister is dealing with this issue. Can the Tánaiste clarify the Government's position and give some comfort to those students all around the country who are particularly stressed out as a result of the publication this morning of a schedule of further strike action?
Mr. Quinn: To add to what Deputy Noonan has said, would the Tánaiste address the issue of concern that parents have with respect to the probability that the examinations will not now take place and what action can the Government take  at this stage to ensure that there is a satisfactory resolution of this problem?
The Tánaiste: I share the concern of both Deputies in relation to the ongoing teachers' dispute. This matter is before the Labour Court and we should await its deliberations. I strongly recommend that everybody should seriously consider its recommendations. We have put in place in this State machinery to deal with industrial relations problems, and there is an onus on all of us to use and respect that machinery. I also know that nothing motivates parents more than the education of their children. The Minister for Education and Science said in this House on 1 February that the examinations will go ahead and that contingency arrangements are being made to ensure that the integrity of the examinations will not be interfered with. That remains a priority for the Government.
Mr. Noonan: I put it to the Tánaiste that it appears to the general public that the Minister for Education and Science has handled this in a most lethargic fashion. Were it not for his lassitude, this could have been solved prior to Christmas. Is the Government committed to accepting the Labour Court recommendation on this matter? Could the Tánaiste indicate when the Labour Court recommendation is expected?
The Tánaiste: I do not accept that there has been inertia on the part of the Minister in relation to this matter but, as Deputy Noonan knows, having meddlesome Ministers in industrial relations disputes is never the answer either.
The Tánaiste: I do not know when the Labour Court will make its recommendation but I hope it will be soon. The Government would give very serious consideration to a Labour Court recommendation. If a dispute is referred to that machinery of the State, that impartial forum, there is an onus on us all to take seriously any recommendations it makes.
Mr. Quinn: The Tánaiste will be aware that I wrote to the Taoiseach on 4 January expressing my concern over a conflict of interest in relation to a member of the Cabinet which has collective responsibility. I refer to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government bringing in legislation which is starting its passage in the other House this morning and which proposes to increase the amount of money that can be spent while, at the same time, as joint treasurer of Fianna Fáil, he has responsibility for collecting or counting money. I wrote to the Taoiseach on 4  January bringing to his attention this conflict of interests which affects Cabinet collective responsibility. I have been assured by the Taoiseach on a number of occasions that I would get a reply from him. It is now 21 February and I have not received such a reply. Would the Tánaiste share my concern that the shyness of the Taoiseach indicates some unhappiness and discomfort on his part, that perhaps he does not have the degree of confidence in the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that he should, like his failure to express confidence in the Minister of State, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, on three separate occasions? Does she think it acceptable that the Taoiseach would not reply to a letter from the leader of a political party in Opposition in this House.
Mr. Noonan: Has this conflict of interest been discussed in Cabinet? Has the Government decided how this should be dealt with when the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, proceeds in the Seanad with the legislation in question?
The Tánaiste: I do not believe there is a conflict of interest. The expenditure on elections that is being proposed by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is not confined to any one party, either inside or outside this House.
The Tánaiste: One thing I have learned is that there is a difference between political corruption and fund raising. That, we all know. It is a pity some people are seeking to confuse both issues. They do a great disservice to the majority in this House.
Mr. Quinn: On 1 December last year this House voted in principle to limit donations to political parties in this State to people who are registered to vote in this State. We are against the proposal to which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government wants to give authority in his amending legislation to the 1997 Act whereby corporate donations of up to £20,000 per annum from individual corporate bodies could be legally accepted by political parties. Will the Tánaiste state very clearly, on behalf of all Progressive Democrats both inside this House and outside, that, notwithstanding any of the revelations in Dublin Castle or any of the facts—
Mr. Quinn: —that have now become public in response to a tribunal that was established in this House with the support of the Progressive Democrats, she sees absolutely no conflict of interest in the fact that the Minister responsible for introducing this legislation and for the planning regulations is also the joint treasurer of Fianna Fáil?
The Tánaiste: I see no conflict in people holding positions in political parties and having a ministerial office. That includes leaders of parties who probably engaged in the past in more fund raising than anyone else. What is important is the integrity of the individual and the process.
The Tánaiste: I do not see the difference between corporations and wealthy individuals. Seven wealthy individuals who happen to have a corporation can individually give money, or people in partnerships who are not incorporated, but a corporation cannot give even a third of what they can give. I do not see why there should be a distinction between the two. There are many issues here that need to be teased out. That is why we would like an all-party committee so that we could come to an agreement on these matters.
Mr. R. Bruton: In relation to the shambles of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, when will we see secondary legislation establishing a statutory authority to deal with education welfare? We read in the newspapers that 45% of children in disadvantaged areas in Limerick are regularly non-attenders at school, and there is still no action on this legislation even though it was passed 12 months or more ago.
Mr. M. Higgins: I wish to ask about two matters. On yesterday's Order Paper, item 72 referred to a motion in the name of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, asking the Dáil to note UN human rights year, which extended from December 1997 to December 1998. Is it proposed to complete the discussion on that motion, which would enable the House to discuss the ratification of outstanding UN conventions, or is it proposed to withdraw the item from the Order Paper? Yesterday, the Taoiseach gave an undertaking that he would contact the Government Whip with regard to arranging time for a discussion on recent events in Iraq. Given that the Security Council is meeting today, will we have an opportunity tomorrow to discuss Ireland's attitude to the bombing of Iraq by the US and Britain—
Mr. M. Higgins: I am aware of that and I read the report. However, that is historical at this stage. There is a Security Council meeting today which follows the Minister, Deputy Cowen's, international meetings in Moscow and New York to discuss a new initiative.
Ms Fitzgerald: The Tánaiste will be aware that a High Court judge described the services for children as descending into farce. Is the Government serious about introducing an ombudsman for children and, if so, why has there been a delay of several years in this regard? It is clear from what is happening to children that the residential care services are in chaos. A social services inspectorate has been established but does the Government intend to put it on a statutory basis to co-ordinate what is happening with residential services for children and to increase the supports  for staff? Clearly, the staff believe they are not being sufficiently supported. Otherwise, children would not have to be put in hotels, bed and breakfasts and garda stations.
Mr. Creed: —that the Minister for Education and Science has been displaying classic symptoms of foot in mouth in his handling of the teachers' strike? What steps does the Government intend to take to ensure this issue is resolved as quickly as possible? Will the Minister return from China immediately to give it his attention?
Mr. Sargent: With regard to promised legislation, it is a sad reflection on the Government that I can ask only about the Irish energy centre Bill to draw attention to the devastating reports from the intergovernmental panel on climate change in Geneva on the effects this change will have on this and many other countries in terms of water shortages and other devastating consequences. Will the Irish energy centre Bill be supplemented or surpassed by any meaningful legislation which will show the Government is serious about dealing with our obligations under the Kyoto protocol and various other conventions dealing with climate change?
The Tánaiste: Twenty nine mothers and their young infants have been contacted by the hospital with a view to being screened. Twenty one have been screened and arrangements are being made to screen the remainder. No case of TB has been detected to date among those screened.
Mr. Howlin: With regard to the promised immigration legislation and the legislation on work permits for which the Tánaiste is responsible, does she share the concern and frustration expressed by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, yesterday—
Mr. Howlin: —at the slow pace of change on these matters? Will she introduce the legislation sponsored by her Department and when will the two Bills be enacted to bring a change in the shambles described by her colleague, the Minister of State, last year?
The Tánaiste: The immigration and residence Bill will be published later this year. Work is proceeding rapidly on the work permits legislation. An unprecedented number of work permits have been issued. I have taken the most liberal approach to work permits of any Minister in my Department.
The Tánaiste: I always share a concern that it takes so long in this House and in the country generally for reform to take root, as we saw yesterday when there were three hours of debate on various matters.
Mrs. Owen: I wish to correct something the Tánaiste said about the tests to check if mothers and babies have contracted TB. It will take at least three months for the tests on infants to be completed and for results to be given to the mothers. One can imagine the anxiety they will live under during those months.
Mrs. Owen: Who will be responsible for the immigration and residence Bill, which was flagged by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the newspapers last week? Is it different from the work permits Bill? Will there be another long row, like that which occurred between the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in trying to decide who is responsible for sorting out the mess of allocating work permits, making arrangements for people to come to work in this country, sorting out their housing and so forth? Will there be a two year gap while the two Ministers row about who is responsible? It took two years to get the financial regulator sorted out and that was not done very well either.
The Tánaiste: That is true. That is because of our buoyant economy. We need thousands of  workers to come here. Half of the people arriving are returning Irish emigrants. The immigration Bill is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Mr. Crawford: In light of the statement by the Minister for Health and Children that it now costs £300,000 to provide insurance for a consultant and that he, the Attorney General and others are examining this issue, is legislation promised to introduce State insurance to cover consultants working in hospitals? I am referring in particular to the consultants in the Monaghan maternity unit where the situation is extremely urgent. Is legislation promised or can it be brought forward to deal with this acute and desperate situation?
Mr. Rabbitte: When will the legislation come before the House for the Government's proposed new bureaucracy to regulate the financial services sector? Would the Tánaiste not have been better advised to concede to the Minister for Finance on this issue two years ago, rather than creating the present uncertainty over the unworkable bureaucracy which is now proposed?
The Tánaiste: The regulatory authority has its own independent chairman. The Government followed the same model which Deputy Quinn used for the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás when he was Minister for Finance. The legislation will be introduced later this year.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Last week, the House dealt with allegations that members of the Gárda Síochána had accepted hospitality from the tyre company, Advance Pitstop. Now a senior executive in Iarnród Éireann has been suspended because he accepted—
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Yes, it is very relevant. An Post is also investigating another senior executive in its procurement section. What is the  situation with regard to the Transport (Rail Infrastructure) Bill, which is to establish the rail procurement agency? When can we expect a definite code of ethics for people in State and semi-State companies who are involved in the procurement of goods and services?
Mr. McDowell: There is growing public concern that the introduction of euro notes and coins at the beginning of next year may be used by some businesses to rip off consumers. The Minister for Finance said yesterday that the Government would consider giving the Director of Consumer Affairs additional powers to ensure that this does not happen and that this was within the Tánaiste's area of ministerial responsibility. Will the Tánaiste confirm that she is considering such powers and will she introduce the relevant legislation this year?
The Tánaiste: If it is found necessary to give the Director of Consumer Affairs additional powers, the Government will do so. The Director is already very active in this whole area and has a number of initiatives under way.
Mr. Flanagan: In her statement regarding new structures for the regulation of financial services, the Tánaiste avoided Deputy Rabbitte's question on the time frame for the new legislation. What is her intention in that regard? I understand that, in the interim, the Government intends to appoint a non statutory authority. Will the Tánaiste ensure that this House will have adequate opportunity to debate that proposal prior to the non statutory appointments being made?
The Tánaiste: We hope to have the legislation in place before the end of this year but in the meantime we wish to move ahead with the implementation process. An interim board will be appointed and will proceed to recruit a chief executive and a director of customer protection. We hope that will happen very quickly.
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