Wednesday, 14 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business shall be No. 49, Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Question Time tomorrow shall be taken at 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and in the event of a private notice question being allowed it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m. and the order shall not resume thereafter. Private Members' Business shall be No. 114, motion re housing (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.
Mr. Noonan: The Taoiseach will probably recall the last general election campaign when his party gave a commitment to zero tolerance and when the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform travelled the land like a latter day angel of death. Arising from this and, in particular, the crime survey carried out at the direction of the Minister by the National Crime Council of Ireland, is the Taoiseach aware that only one crime in four committed in Ireland is recorded as being reported? The other three are not recorded as being reported and do not appear in official statistics. Will the Taoiseach take measures to ensure all crimes are reported and that victims of crime are supported?
Mr. Howlin: There has been more than a 200% increase since the 1950s in reported crimes. Will the Taoiseach disown the silly remark of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who indicated with pleasure that crime was now at 1950s levels?
The Taoiseach: I note the crime levels in the recent report, but also note the official figures which show that crime is down by 21% in the last reported year. Crime was down 25% last year on the projected figures. There were around 81,250 indictable offences in 1999, the lowest in over 20 years. Of course, we will continue to make sure that crime is reported, in so far as this is not being done.
Mr. Noonan: That view is certainly held by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but is not universal. The report establishes that the principal reason crime is so under-reported is the fear of victims to report crime and their belief that if they report crime, nothing will happen or be done to assist them. Does the Taoiseach agree that this is an appalling indictment of the criminal justice system in terms of those most hurt by crime? What will he do to ensure official crime statistics reflect reality? Second, what will he do to remove the fear of victims afraid to report crime to the Garda Síochána and their belief that if they report crime, it will be totally ineffective because nothing will happen as a result of the report?
The Taoiseach: There is an excellent criminal justice system and a very good independent courts system. We have increased the numbers of gardaí and resources. I do not accept that anyone would be fearful or concerned about reporting crime. People are satisfied to report crime, even in areas with the highest crime levels. We must continue to encourage them to report crime. We have a good Garda Síochána and criminal justice system and people should report crime. It is a question of the reason they do not do so.
The Taoiseach: From my experience in so-called disadvantaged areas, areas more marginalised than most, the reality is that people have faith in the Garda Síochána and the courts system and use it fully. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been extremely helpful in regard to victims of crime. A network is now set up throughout the country whereby resources are made available to try to engage with the victims of crime. There are victims of crime who are severely traumatised. We saw such a case last night in regard to a young girl. There are systems and schemes in place which should be supported. The Minister is providing the resources to support them.
Mr. Howlin: Does the Taoiseach accept that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform's proposals in the House yesterday to deal with the huge public alarm concerning allegations of Garda misconduct in County Donegal are wholly inadequate? Does he accept that there have been three private internal inquiries lasting for a considerable time which neither resolved these matters nor even allowed them to be fully ventilated in the public domain? Does he accept that yet another behind closed doors inquiry by an individual with no statutory authority can achieve nothing other than to bury this issue, as the Minister intends, until after the next general election?
Mr. Noonan: My party has on several occasions expressed its fullest confidence in the Garda Síochána, a force founded by the founders of this State in 1922. I put it to the Taoiseach that nothing undermines public confidence in the Garda Síochána more than a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who refuses to take action when it is quite obvious that action should be taken. Rather than appointing an eminent legal person to examine the situation in County Donegal, in circumstances where he has had all the files available to him for the past three years, is it not time for the Cabinet to consider a full tribunal of inquiry into the matter?
The Taoiseach: The Minister dealt with this issue in the House. In reply to Deputy Noonan, the House will be aware of what the Minister stated. He said the legal advice from the Attorney General was to look at what options are available and carry out an appropriate examination into these matters. He has already indicated that these issues create an enormous level of concern and has been more forthright than anyone on the issue. The advice he received pointed to the serious difficulties that would arise while civil and criminal proceedings are still pending and that these proceedings should be allowed to run their course. That is the legal advice which must be followed.
Taking into account the difficulties identified by the Attorney General and addressing what Deputies Noonan and Howlin have said in regard to public concern about these matters – no one denies there is public concern – the Minister has decided that the best way to proceed is to ask an eminent legal person to examine all the papers available, including the progress on the investigations generally. Given that expert independent advice, he will then consider what measures he might take to bring matters to finality sooner rather than later. He hopes to be in a position to appoint the person concerned shortly and will inform the House of the circumstances of those conclusions.
I remind the House that, based on the same advice, we have taken that view in regard to many other issues in recent years. We did so some years ago when in the process of sifting. We did so in regard to Mr. Justice Buchanan and Mr. Justice McCracken, which later led to tribunals. We received the same appropriate legal advice in regard to those issues. The Minister has served the public well.
Mr. Howlin: The Taoiseach indicated, as did the Minister yesterday, that the Government wishes to bring these issues to a conclusion and get at the truth. Does he know that the inaction of the Minister has resulted in one of the civil cases being delayed for more than six months? Given the myriad of inquiries, one after another, in secret, with no information coming into the public domain, does he accept that the public would quite properly come to the conclusion that the Minister is engaged in ensuring the matter is buried until beyond the next general election?
The Taoiseach: The conclusions will be made public in the House just as the Minister made a statement in the House yesterday. The House and the general public need an authoritative independent assurance that everything possible is being done to bring these unsatisfactory matters to a conclusion. That is what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is doing. The action now proposed will achieve this without running the risk of jeopardising the civil and criminal proceedings.
Mr. McGinley: I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of the deep concerns and anxiety among archaeologists and other conservationists at the neglected state of many of our national monuments and heritage sites. When will the promised consolidated national monuments Bill be published?
An Ceann Comhairle: This is the Order of Business. It is not in order at this stage to raise that matter. The Deputy may have other opportunities to do so, but he is not in order. He should resume his seat.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The Irish Medical Council has admitted it was aware that a doctor who applied for a job in the south east was under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct in Britain, but did not notify the authorities—
Mr. G. Mitchell: To enable this matter to be discussed in the House will the Taoiseach arrange to have the Estimates for the Department of Health and Children brought forward? This is a matter of great concern which the House needs to address. We can no longer leave it to the Medical Council.
Mr. Gilmore: On previous occasions the Taoiseach informed the House that the heads of the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill would be approved by Government before Christmas. I understand the Minister responsible has not yet circulated a memorandum to Government on the Bill and, in view of the short time remaining before the end of the year, is the Taoiseach still confident that the heads will be approved by Government before Christmas?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Now that we are flying high, may I ask the Taoiseach a question on aviation? Has a decision been taken to allow Ryanair to build a second terminal at Dublin Airport? If so, will it be necessary to amend the existing legislation in relation to Aer Rianta in order to give effect to that decision?
Mr. M. Higgins: Will the Government make time available this week to discuss the world trade talks in Doha, Quatar? My second question is related, to some extent. You, Sir, will have received notification from the Interparliamentary Union asking for parliamentary time to be made available to discuss the preparations for the international conference on financing for development. Have the Whips agreed to make time available, in the short-term, for that matter?
The Taoiseach: In response to Deputy Noonan's request yesterday, there is a debate tomorrow on Afghanistan. It will not be possible, therefore, to have a debate on Doha this week. I suggest to Deputy Higgins that it might be more appropriate next week because the Irish Ministers attending, Deputies Joe Walsh and Tom Kitt, expect the session to conclude tonight or tomorrow. They will then return home. Perhaps we can look at it for next week. The other issue can be discussed with the Whips.
Mr. Deasy: The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, has indicated that she is anxious to have Afghan refugees accepted by Ireland. What refugees is she considering, since those who were heading for Australia are no longer—
Mr. Gormley: Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I have a very relevant question on promised legislation. Given that the Director of Traffic in Dublin has described the situation in relation to road works as a “State sponsored free for all,”will the Government speed up the introduction of the control of road openings Bill?
An Ceann Comhairle: That matter is not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputy can raise it under leaders' questions. I have already ruled on the matter and cannot allow the Deputy break the rules.
Mr. Noonan: It is in relation to the Order of Business in the House. I am asking the Taoiseach, due to the fact that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is out of the country and that there is a crisis in the beet harvest, if he will take responsibility for the matter and ask the Whips to make arrangements to have statements in the House, either later today or tomorrow, on this crisis?
The Taoiseach: Yes, if that is in order, a Cheann Comhairle. Since early this morning, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Davern, and officials of that Department have been meeting Dr. Seán Brady and John Broderick of Irish Sugar, plc. That meeting should be completed about now and will be followed by a meeting with Tom Parlon, Michael Berkery, Willie French and Elaine Farrell of the IFA. I hope these developments will be successful and I am sure the Minister of State would be glad to report, whenever those deliberations are concluded. In accordance with normal procedure in industrial relations matters, I do not consider it would be useful to report to the House while the talks are in progress.
Ms McManus: The Taoiseach will be aware of concern in relation to the cost of litigation and its impact on the delivery of health care. A Bill is promised to provide hospitals and their clinical staff with indemnity against the cost of settling claims for personal injury arising from clinical negligence. The Health (Medical Indemnity) Bill was promised for some time in 2002 and I have already expressed concern at the delays in publication of legislation from the Department of Health and Children, resulting from the long awaited health strategy work. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that this Bill will be published before the Government goes out of office?
The Taoiseach: The Health (Medical Indemnity) Bill, which is to establish new arrangements to provide hospitals and their clinical staff with indemnity against the cost of settling claims for personal injury arising from clinical negligence, is at a preliminary stage in the Department and it will be some time before it comes before the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies cannot raise disallowed questions on the Order of Business. The Deputy knows there is a procedure whereby he can seek an explanation from my office, but he cannot seek an explanation on the Order of Business.
Mr. Flanagan: I wish to ask the Taoiseach, through you, a Cheann Comhairle, on the Order of Business in this House, to confirm that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the Taoiseach and his Government have no role or function—
Mr. Noonan: On a point of order, Sir, yesterday the Taoiseach addressed this issue on the Order of Business. It is a matter of some controversy and the Taoiseach explained his position. On a point of order, and in the interests of an orderly House, Deputy Flanagan should be entitled to raise the same issue and conclude this matter satisfactorily.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot refer to the Taoiseach's explanation. Any personal explanation is without question or comment. That has been the rule of this House and will continue to be the rule until the Members change it.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): I ask the Taoiseach to treat with the utmost urgency the Industrial and Provident Societies Bill, which aims to modernise legislation in the food industry, in view of what is happening in Carlow and the serious implications for the farmers and the beet industry.
The Taoiseach: The Industrial and Provident Societies Bill is to facilitate structured change in the food co-operative sector and modernise the legislation. The authority to draft the heads of the Bill was given on 13 July. The legislation is still with the Attorney General for drafting.
Mr. Broughan: On the Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill, as the Taoiseach is aware approximately 700,000 social welfare recipients will receive their benefits in euro almost two months late. Can he confirm that they will receive interest on those arrears?
The Taoiseach: The Social Welfare Bill will be published in the next session and Deputy Broughan has slightly misread the issue. Instead of the pensions being paid in July as they used to be, this year they will be brought forward by four months.
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