Tuesday, 6 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 20, Motion re Referral to Select Committee of proposed approval of the terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); No. 48, Heritage Fund Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 49, Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: No. 20 shall be decided without debate; and the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 48 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. Private Members' Business shall be No. 115 – Motion re Public Enterprise.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20 – Motion re Referral to Select Committee of proposed approval of the terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), without debate, agreed to?
The Taoiseach: I said I would check the record and having done so I found there had not been a debate on that basis. The week before last, I told Deputy Noonan the Whips could discuss the matter. I understand they can do so tomorrow night but there never has been a debate on the autumn summit meeting.
Mr. Noonan: Competent management usually responds promptly and appropriately to radically changed circumstances. Certainly, the circumstances have changed radically over the past ten days in respect of the economy. We have had a dramatic collapse in tax revenues which fell last month, and in the first six months of the year there was a 28% drop in inward investment. The numbers on the live register have seen the most serious increase in recent years, with almost 2,000 jobs lost last week alone. The forecast for exports from the communications and information technology sector is that they will fall by 25% in the current year. With output and employment falling at the fastest pace for over four years, would the Taoiseach agree that rather than posing for pretty pictures on non-existent rail lines, it would have been much better to call an emergency Cabinet meeting to put in train an immediate response to the radically changed economic situation of which these items of bad news are a clear symptom?
Mr. Quinn: In the approach to Christmas, is the Taoiseach aware of the widespread concern and fear many people have about their job security which has now evaporated? As recently as this afternoon, The Irish Times announced up to 250 job losses. If the Taoiseach recognises that fear does he also recognise the need for the Government to bring some degree of certainty and confidence to the market place? Will he give a commitment to having a special debate in the House? If so, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment could announce what early warning mechanism is in place in her Department – along with the seven individual task forces that are already there, as outlined on 10 October in a reply to a question from Deputy Wall – to reassure a frightened public that the Government has not entirely lost control of the economy. Every Member of the House should be enabled to participate fully in such a debate on the uncertainty facing companies such as Aer Lingus and Celestica.
The Taoiseach: I join every Member of the House in sympathising with those members of the work force who have lost or are about to lose their jobs. Such announcements made in recent weeks are deeply regrettable and represent a harsh blow to those affected. For its part, the Government has moved to bring economic  growth to high levels, averaging 9% over the past four years. Some 310,000 jobs have been created, giving a total work force of 1.8 million. The downturn has arisen from three issues: foot and mouth disease in the early part of the year; a tightening up in the international information and communication technology sector; and the events of 11 September. We now have to deal with the budgetary situation in a different context to that which we contemplated six months ago, but we will do so. We have listened to predictions made by the EU, the OECD, the ESRI, the European Central Bank, our own Central Bank and the domestic banks. We have to manage our affairs in a different way to remain competitive and sustain economic growth at as high a level as we can. We will continue to create jobs as soon as there is an upturn, which most indicators suggest is probably a year away. Whatever the position, we have to assist the private sector through State agencies and we must remain competitive through our taxation policies. I assure the House that when we present the budget in a few weeks time that will be the Government's main priority.
Mr. Noonan: The House knows that the Government's incompetence has squandered the boom. The economy has been in a downward spin since the second week of May, yet there has not been a response from the Government. It was inevitable that we would have the job losses that occurred last week. When I asked the Tánaiste about it a fortnight ago, however, she seemed to have no early warning system in place to indicate that this was coming down the tracks. About three weeks ago the Taoiseach told me he was still budgeting for a surplus. Today he says he is adopting a radically different budgetary approach. According to the October figures, expenditure is rising by 21% this year and tax revenue is rising by 2%. To maintain a surplus position will the Taoiseach raise taxes or cut expenditure? Or, will he drop the surplus commitment and budget for a deficit?
The Taoiseach: We will continue to try to work for a general Government surplus next year. That is still the position. At the weekend, Deputy Noonan called on us to spend more money and cut spending at the same time. It is a good trick but we have not yet worked it out.
The Taoiseach: It was the Deputy's sound bite. The general Government position is, still, that we will have a surplus next year. We will continue on that basis. Deputy Noonan should recall that on Sunday he called for public expenditure to be increased. That cannot be done. The general position is that the Government will still be in surplus next year.
Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree that it has been a historic week on this island particularly in Northern Ireland where we witnessed two historic events? The first was the establishment of a new police force that will be acceptable to all sections of the community, arising from the Patten Report and the Good Friday Agreement and, second, the successful election earlier today of David Trimble as First Minister and Mark Durkan as Deputy First Minister. Will the Taoiseach join me in expressing admiration for the political courage displayed by the Alliance Party and its members who chose to redesignate themselves to ensure the survival of the Executive and perhaps of the Good Friday Agreement? Their selflessness is a lesson to us all and should ensure that we all now work hard to remove whatever remaining obstacles and impediments there are to the completion and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and to its consolidation in its entirety.
Mr. Noonan: I would like to be associated with Deputy Quinn's remarks. We all hope and pray that the Good Friday Agreement will become the Good Friday settlement. Does the Taoiseach agree that the dividend for everybody is peace? If peace is not fully delivered then people's political positions will be undermined once more. Can the Taoiseach tell us if the bomb in Birmingham, attributed to the Real IRA, is a once off event or has he been briefed on the basis that there may be an ongoing campaign of violence from the Real IRA both here and in the United Kingdom?
The Taoiseach: I join Deputy Quinn in welcoming the new police service of Northern Ireland and wishing it well. I particularly wish the best to Chief constable Ronnie Flanagan who has done an enormous amount of work. He deserves credit for bringing about such changes and I hope people row in and support him. A proper policing service requires cross community support in all areas and I hope that is achieved.
I also agree with Deputy Quinn and welcome today's election of David Trimble and Mark Durkan. I wish them well and wish also for a speedy resumption of the work of the Executive and the North-South bodies, the British-Irish Council, and the other institutions of the agreement. They can now work towards May 2003, which is the mandate of the institutions, to achieve political progress and they can get on with the politics rather than all the preconditions and the difficulties they have had.
I congratulate the Alliance Party. It found itself in a difficult position. It looked at what the Women's Coalition did successfully and David Ford as a new leader moved quickly and speedily and was extremely helpful. I agree that what the Alliance Party has achieved by redesignating members is admirable. Mark Durkan, also in a new position, was brave in his decisions last weekend. As both Mark Durkan and David Trimble have said, it was not the tidiest of  arrangements but it had to be done that way. I congratulate both and hope we can get cross community support to maintain progress. I also acknowledge the support of the House for the various developments.
In reply to Deputy Noonan, I would like to think we have seen the end of terrorism but from briefings I have had it is certain there are some units of the real IRA in Britain. There is some reason to believe it is the same one or two units operating for some considerable time. They have not yet been thwarted and will not heed our efforts to stop them. I hope they will be apprehended. We have had more success here. There is a small, dangerous and violent group, determined to continue making life difficult for all. The British media has made comments that perhaps Sinn Féin could control them. That is totally wrong. I wish it could be so simple. It will take the security forces of Britain, the North and here to thwart them and we will continue to give room and resources to the Garda to do that.
Mr. Quinn: Would the Taoiseach agree that the strength of suspicion, as represented by the Unionist vote in the Assembly in Northern Ireland in the election of both the Deputy First Minister, and the First Minister himself, is an indication that there has been a loss of confidence within some sections of the Unionist community in the operation of the Good Friday Agreement? It therefore behoves the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister Mr. Blair to ensure that the other strands of the Good Friday Agreement, the East-West strand, the British and Irish Council, the North-South bodies are all brought into play as quickly as possible. The consolidation of all of the confidence building measures that are part and parcel of that agreement must be actively implemented without let or hindrance to rebuild the confidence that has been eroded because of delays with regard to decommissioning or because of delays with regard to the implementation of different aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. When does the Taoiseach anticipate that a meeting of the British-Irish Council will take place, what will be on the agenda and what steps does he hope to see it take in the near future?
The Taoiseach: I fully agree with Deputy Quinn. I have spoken to David Trimble and Mark Durkan about fixing dates for all strands of the agreement to proceed. The order in which these take place is not of great concern but we must move things forward quickly. In the hope that the events of the last few days would turn out well, we have already worked out with the secretariat in Armagh a detailed position on all of the strands in the North-South bodies and we have put forward agendas. We will have to discuss them with the new Executive but we are ready to do that. Having spoken with Deputy O'Kennedy I know that this House is ready and there is a  meeting due shortly on the parliamentary tier. The Government is ready, as soon as a date can be arranged, for a British-Irish Council meeting. It is important to use any opportunity between now and 2003 to win back the support of those people who believe the Good Friday Agreement cannot deliver what they believe is necessary.
We can move on now and establish the institutions and the agenda. We can examine the issues still causing difficulties such as the Ardoyne and we can move forward on economic issues and make progress as quickly as possible. We are ready to do that.
Ms Clune: The proposed road safety legislation is urgent and recently the National Safety Council expressed its concern at the delay in its implementation. Will the Taoiseach assure us that it will be brought before the House this term? Will he also give us an update on the computer equipment necessary to implement the penalty point system that goes hand in hand with the legislation?
Mr. Gilmore: Deputy Molloy announced publicly that this legislation would be enacted before the end of this year. My understanding is that it is timetabled for Second Stage for only one day at the end of November.
Mr. Sargent: A couple of weeks ago the Sustainable Energy Bill made a brief appearance on the Order Paper and then disappeared again. Will this Bill make a re-appearance soon, given the appalling levels of heat insulation in this country and the growing hardship faced by the many people newly affected by unemployment?
Mr. Creed: In May 1999 the Taoiseach made an important statement of apology on behalf of the State to victims of abuse, and subsequently the Government published the Residential Institutions Redress Bill, which is listed for debate  later this week. One important aspect is missing from this debate, that is the colour of the Government's money to be paid in compensation.
Mr. Creed: Is the Taoiseach willing to look at the levels of compensation? It is unfair to victims to be asked to participate in this debate, not knowing the true level of the Government's commitment.
Ms McManus: When the Dáil agreed the terms of reference for the Lindsay tribunal we all believed we were giving an undertaking to haemophiliacs that every aspect of the scandal relating to their infection with hepatitis C and HIV would be explored and that the full truth would emerge. It now appears that the Minister for Health and Children is unable or unwilling to live up to that undertaking. Legislation entitled Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act, 1997 (Amendment) Bill is promised for early 2002. Will the Taoiseach bring forward this Bill and ensure that provision is made to complete the work of the inquiry?
The Taoiseach: The Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Act, 1997 (Amendment) Bill is a short Bill and is not expected until early in the new year. However, that is not the matter to which the Deputy is referring and which she must find some other way of raising.
Mr. Shatter: Does the Government intend to bring a motion before the House to refer to a tribunal of inquiry, under the Tribunal of Inquiries Act, 1921, allegations of Garda misconduct in Donegal, in the light of revelations yesterday resulting from a pathologist's report which was widely publicised towards the end of last week?
Mr. M. Higgins: Two weeks ago the Taoiseach undertook to consider publishing a clarifying paper on several Bills which are promised before the end of November and which arise, inter alia, from the seven unsigned international conventions which arose tentatively from the meeting of the justice and home affairs Ministers of the European Council and any consequent emendations to the European Convention on Human Rights. Has the Taoiseach decided to publish this paper?
The Minister for Education and Science's officials have been using as a defence in the courts the likely publication of the Education (Children with Disabilities) Bill. This Bill is lurking among the 56 Bills, heads of which have not been agreed. Does the Taoiseach agree it is a lame defence to suggest that the Bill is about to be enacted when the heads have not even been agreed?
The Taoiseach: With regard to the Deputy's first question, that schedule has been given to the spokespersons. If Deputy Higgins wishes to see a copy of it I can arrange that for his benefit. The heads of the Education (Children with Disabilities) Bill are expected within the next week or two. It is a very short Bill and I hope it will be ready very soon thereafter.
Mr. G. Mitchell: In Pensacola, Illinois, in the United States of America, there is what was until recently a court protected reservoir of indexed information relating to the culpability of US pharmaceutical companies regarding the infection of Irish people with haemophilia and with hepatitis C and HIV. In view of the fact that the Minister has failed to persuade the Lindsay tribunal to look into this matter and given that the court protection expired on 1 November, will the Taoiseach bring forward the hepatitis C compen sation legislation to give the House an opportunity—
Mr. G. Mitchell: May I ask about a second Bill? Will the Taoiseach bring forward the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill so that an opportunity can be given to the House to raise this issue? It is of major concern to the House and some vehicle must be found to raise the matter.
The Taoiseach: A process has been negotiated to deal with these issues and I must follow that process. Before we agreed that process I could have answered these matters. If Members do not adhere to the process I cannot deal with them.
Mr. Howlin: Many months ago the Government promised a work permits Bill. Recently the Tánaiste, who has responsibility for the Bill, indicated that the issue of work permits is now part of a valve system for tightening up. When will we see this Bill or is it the intention of the Government to put work permits on a statutory basis?
Mr. Flanagan: It is now five weeks since we were told each household would receive a fact sheet of instructions for dealing with the consequences of a nuclear attack. We were promised this document would be in every house in the county within four weeks.
Mr. R. Bruton: The Joint Committee on Public Enterprise is currently engaged in the mini-CTC examination and as a result the chairman of the committee has not been able to accede to a request to have hearings on the crisis in Aer Lingus. Will the Taoiseach make facilities available to the House so that the committee can continue to function despite the inquiry and hold hearings on Aer Lingus? This is a very important  issue effecting all of us on the north-side and further afield. It is a reasonable request.
Mr. McDowell: On legislation that has apparently been agreed between the Tánaiste's Department and the Department of Finance regarding the establishment of the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, can the Taoiseach refute recent press comments that the Tánaiste has gone cold on this legislation? Will he confirm that it will be published before Christmas?
The Taoiseach: The Department of Finance is drafting this legislation, not the Tánaiste's Department. It is the Central Bank of Ireland Financial Services Authority (No. 2) Bill and it is due this session.
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