Order of Business.

Thursday, 15 November 2001

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 544 No. 2

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Order of Business today shall be No. 23a, Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Financial Resolution; No. 24, motion re Electricity Regulation Act, 1999 (Eligible Customer) Order, 2001, returned from committee; No. 50, Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 51, Residential Institutions Redress Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed) and No. 51a, Statements on Afghanistan, to be taken not later than 2 p.m. and the Order shall not resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 23a and 24, shall be decided without debate and the Report and Final Stages of No. 50 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12 noon by one question, which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources; the proceedings on No. 51a, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes; and Members may share time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  There are three proposals to be put to the House. The first is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 23a and 24 without debate.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  That is not agreed to. I oppose this because the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999 (Eligible Customer) Order, 2001, is to be taken. Before that is done we should hear from the Ministers for Public Enterprise and the Environment and Local Government about their cloak [263] and dagger move to exempt mobile telephone masts from planning regulations.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is not appropriate to this proposal.

Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  It is subject to the same regulations.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 23a and 24 without debate, agreed to? Agreed. The second proposal is the proposal for dealing with No. 50, Report and Final Stages of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad]. Is it agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 51a, statements on Afghanistan, agreed to? Agreed.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  I would like to wish every success to the Irish soccer team in Tehran this afternoon. They have been unlucky on a number of previous occasions and I hope they are successful this time. While speaking about sporting matters, will the Taoiseach comment on the assertion by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation that the Sports Campus Ireland project will go ahead as planned despite the fact that his colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, cannot provide money for 365 primary schools any more, that there are no sports halls in 65% of primary schools and 50% of secondary schools and that the Minister for Finance announced last Sunday that projects in the national development plan would not go ahead? Is Sports Campus Ireland going ahead as planned?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Will the Taoiseach illuminate the position of the Government following the replies given yesterday by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, and in particular his reply of 4 October, which said the report of the so-called independent consultants on the viability and acceptability of the project would be published before any decision is made? A decision has been made in advance of the publication of the report. Can he ensure the report will be published in conjunction with the Estimates later?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I join Deputy Noonan in wishing our national team well. It is a pity we do not have a stadium that would hold half the number of supporters the stadium in Tehran holds.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  We would have had a stadium if the Government had not withdrawn the money.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  If we had a couple of mullahs, we would have one.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Unfortunately, the capacity will have been reduced to 22,000, 100,000 less than the number of people supporting our opposition later, before anything is built. I still wish the team well. I have nothing to add to what the Minister [264] for Tourism, Sport and Recreation said yesterday during Question Time. As the House will be aware, Stadium Campus Ireland must go through the planning process and so on and it will probably be 2004 before any significant expenditure is required.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  How much has been spent already?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please. We are taking Leaders' Questions.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  In the meantime the Minister for Education and Science has spent four times that which the previous Government spent on schools while the Minister for Health and Children has doubled expenditure and, I hope that will continue.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  Hear, hear.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  What about public transport?

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  How much money will the Government have to spend next year? The Taoiseach should ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, because he wants everyone to leave the country.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Thankfully, while we are not bound to significant investment for a number of years, in general in regard to sport we have moved from a position where we spent less than £13 million annually to acceptable levels of funding for sport and community organisations. We still have a good deal to do in this area and I hope that continues throughout this decade.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  What is the total estimated cost of the Stadium Campus Ireland project?

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  The Deputy will know in 2002.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Will the Taoiseach outline the phasing of the project?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  When the project is finally approved by the Government, the expert report will have to be taken into account. They are seeking an analysis of a number of things that we should wisely do. The Government will have to do those things. The phasing of the project is based on whether there is a campus and other facilities. There is plenty of room for manoeuvre in phasing it. It is sad that it will take some years to provide these facilities. It is an awful pity that we do not have them. Even in an enlarged EU Ireland will still be the country at the end of the decade with probably the worst sporting facilities, which is an indictment of all of us.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  And the worst health service.

[265]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  No, we have the best health service.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I hope the Taoiseach will not get sick.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Is the Taoiseach aware of the contents of the report published by the Refugee Council yesterday? Its main points are: “Expectant mothers living in hostels under the direct provision of the Government policy are malnourished, babies suffer ill-health—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  It is not in order to quote during any question time.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  This is not Question Time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy is asking a question. It is not in order to quote.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Can I refer to the report?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Yes, but the Deputy must refer to it by way of question.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I refer to the second point that babies suffer from ill-health.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  Did Fergus Finlay write the report?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I know Deputy Matt Brennan does not want to hear the facts and that he wants to retire from the House as quickly as possible. If I was a Government backbencher I would feel the same.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan  Zoom on Matt Brennan  If I was in Deputy Quinn's shoes, I would sit down.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please. Deputy Quinn should proceed with his question.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The report states:

Adults go hungry to feed their children out of a welfare allowance of £15 a week. Different dietary needs of people of different nationalities are largely ignored in hostels. Hostels are chronically overcrowded with entire families living in one room. Teenage boys and girls have no privacy and usually have to share rooms with their parents. Children lose respect for parents who are allowed little influence over their own or their children's day to day lives and needless repression and intimidation by staff is a feature of some life in our hostels.

This is the direct result of a Government policy which the Taoiseach admired when he was in Australia. Will the Government continue with this shameful system of treating human beings? If not, what course of action will be taken in its stead?

[266]Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Does the Taoiseach agree the rights provided to all citizens under the Constitution also apply to everybody who is resident in Ireland, including asylum seekers? What steps will he take to vindicate these rights on behalf of this much set upon minority in our community?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I agree we should be very mindful of people's constitutional rights and human rights, if they are not citizens. This country arguably has the most liberal immigration and asylum regime. I heard about the report overnight and I asked the relevant sections for their views this morning. They refute claims made by the Irish Refugee Council in the latest document, “Beyond the Pale”, regarding asylum seeking children and social exclusion in the State. I am informed that the sample that forms the basis for the report is 43 families in Limerick, Cork and Ennis, of which 30% were living under direct provision. Therefore, it was a very small sample.

However, accommodation providers and other companies engaged by the State are required to ensure that all accommodation centres comply with and operate in accordance with all statutory requirements of local authorities and other agencies in regard to planning, building by-laws, bedroom capacity, food, food hygiene, water supply, sewage disposal, fire precautions and general safety. All the planning requirements and statutory regulations are observed and in circumstances where asylum seeking parents and children are accommodated in centres operated by the agency, RIA, particular emphasis is placed on meeting their needs.

When I contacted the relevant section earlier I was told the costs are provided in each reception and accommodation centre where infants are accommodated and toilet and bathroom facilities are provided in accordance with whatever are the relevant statutory requirements. The memorandum agreement stipulates that as a minimum cots, which were mentioned in the report, infant formula, infant food, access to fresh water for the preparation of infant formula, sterilisers sufficient for a number of infant children, water boiling facilities, refrigerators, microwaves and bottle warmers must be provided.

The inspectorate unit within the RIA conducts regular detailed inspections of each location where asylum seekers are accommodated. Any diminution in standards which comes to light as a result of such inspections is treated very seriously and can lead to termination of contracts where that is deemed to be warranted. There are also safety nets in place where for medical or social reasons asylum seekers have been taken out of direct provision by community welfare officers. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs pays benefits when that happens.

One can always take samples and come up with figures but the State spends in excess of £150 million on these provisions.

[267]Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  And writes long rambling reports that mean nothing

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  That is why people are starving.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Office of Public Works is trying to improve and acquire better accommodation all the time. There are difficulties sometimes. Many Members know what happens. People in their constituencies take legal action to prevent accommodation centres being established and many cases are before the courts currently. However, that view is not taken in other constituencies. That is a difficulty but accommodation is available and significant moneys are being invested in this area and in controls. The view of the people who are doing their best in this area is that the report is entirely unfair and unjustifiable.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  It is a very fair report.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Do I take it the Taoiseach's view is that the independent report compiled by three academics, Dr. Brian Fanning, Dr. Angela Veale and Ms Dawn O'Connor, has been rejected by Government sources and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as being biased and unscientific? Does he feel ashamed that a respected, independent journalist could begin a report in the following way: “If a parent did to any other child what the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform does to the children of asylum seekers, the social workers would be called in“?

All if not most of the problems identified in this report could be solved if asylum seekers were allowed to work in this country. This is the view of the Catholic bishops, it is the view of my own party, it is the view of the Taoiseach's partners in Government and I suspect it is the view of many of the Taoiseach's backbenchers. It is vigorously opposed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and by the particular Minister who heads up that Department. Surely the Taoiseach with his wide itinerary which enables him to visit anywhere in the country could visit some of these asylum seekers and verify for himself whether his version or this version of the truth is the correct one? Will the Taoiseach at last recognise that the fundamental human right of any person is the right to work? Many of the problems identified would be resolved if asylum seekers were given the right to work and the consequent dignity that comes with that. They would then have the independent resources to feed their own children – children who are identified as being malnourished under the provision of the State in the year 2001.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  An Taoiseach for the final reply.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I could recite a litany of statistics of the numbers of staff who are working—

[268]Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Taoiseach could answer the question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I will. I could give details of the numbers of staff who have been assigned under the Refugee Act to process the applications for asylum in order to bring the work down to manageable proportions. I believe that by the end of this year they will be down to a six month period and they have been struggling to achieve that over the last few years. There are now over 610 staff if I recall correctly compared to the 20 who were there four years ago. When asylum seekers have gone through the internationally recognised process they can then be treated. We have the most liberal immigration policy in the entire world and that is something to be proud of. No other country allows that a child born in the country to somebody who arrived that day is regarded as a citizen. Nowhere else has even thought of that.

I have visited the hotels in my constituency that have been purchased by the State to accommodate asylum seekers. I believe there is more accommodation provided in my constituency than elsewhere because my constituency does not take the attitude of people in other constituencies who run to seek a judicial review and legal action in order to stop them because they think there is something wrong with them. Sin ceist eile.

If there are problems and difficulties then, as Deputy Noonan said, we should ensure their constitutional and legal rights. We are spending £150 million and we will spend more next year. We will continue to provide resources for asylum seekers. We should be proud of the liberal attitude taken by this country rather—

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  What about the right to work?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  —than be running around trying to highlight cases in order to show up a different position.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That concludes Leaders' questions. We now come to the relevant questions on the Order of Business.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  I am appalled at the Taoiseach's response to the report in today's paper. He may say we have the most liberal regime—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is not a question. The Deputy cannot comment on what the leaders raised. That is confined to the leaders. It should be a question on promised legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Mothers cannot breastfeed their children. It is worth making that point.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy should not be disorderly. The Deputy should ask her question in accordance with Standing Orders.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  I want to ask the Taoiseach about the ombudsman for children. It is very [269] clear from the report in today's Irish Times that some children's human rights—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is a statement. The Deputy should ask a question on legislation. The Deputy is being disorderly and must resume her seat. I will call the Deputy again but the Deputy is disorderly on this occasion and must resume her seat.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The list of legislation includes a communications regulations Bill which is to update the regulatory framework in light of full liberalisation of the telecommunications sector. It is expected to be published next year. May I ask the Taoiseach if he would persuade the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to withdraw the regulations he has prepared which will allow telecommunications companies erect telephone masts without planning permission? This matter was discussed at the—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy should ask a question.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  My question is about legislation which is due to be published, we are told in 2002, yet the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is introducing by ministerial order through the back door a regulation which will allow telecommunications companies to erect masts without planning permission. I ask him to withdraw that and include it in the legislation—

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  I am restating what the Labour Party did.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister had no right to do it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Order, please. I call An Taoiseach.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Bill for communications regulations is to provide for the extension of certain powers of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. It will provide an update in light of the forthcoming full liberalisation of the sector. The regulations referred to are a restatement of the current regulations in relation to telecommunications and other regulations necessitated by the provisions of the Planning and Development Act.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  They are new regulations.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Minister is putting these draft regulations before the committee for discussion.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): Ceann Comhairle, I know you share my concern for our constituents in Carlow-Kilkenny. Will the Taoiseach give a progress report on the dispute in the Sugar [270] Company? His Minister of State made great efforts yesterday—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  There are other ways in which matters can be raised. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne   (Carlow-Kilkenny): Perhaps the Taoiseach would report progress.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): In the last 24 hours the country has been absolutely scandalised as it has come to light that rampant land speculation in south Dublin has resulted in a demand of up to £90 million to the local authority—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Has the Deputy a question on the Order of Business?

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): Yes, I do.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Then the Deputy should not make statements. He should ask the question.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): It is just a brief preamble. Other speakers had much longer preambles. I was just drawing breath and you are down my throat. The question relates to promised legislation. The Fianna Fáil Party rezoned this land that is now the subject of this profiteering. Will the Taoiseach introduce as a matter of urgency the Greater Dublin Area Land Use and Transport Authority Bill in order to curb this type of profiteering and to take this outrageous speculation out of the picture and off the back of the taxpayers?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  I call the Taoiseach on the promised legislation.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The heads of that Bill are almost ready. It will be taken in the early part of next year.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  What about speculation?

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  Does the Taoiseach or the Government intend to introduce new legislation or amend existing legislation in relation to the construction industry where 30,000 people face losing their jobs by Christmas?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is there promised legislation?

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  There is. It was promised last night.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Today is the last day for holders of bogus non-resident accounts to settle their affairs with the Revenue Commissioners under the Statement of Practice. Will the Taoiseach agree to have the Minister for Finance make a statement in the House and allow for questions [271] on the matter and where an assessment can be made?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Arrangements for statements are a matter for the Whips. It is not a matter in the Order of Business.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I am merely asking the Taoiseach if he will indicate to the Government Whip that he will facilitate such a debate as soon as we know the extent of success—

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I have raised the matter with the Minister for Finance. It will take about a week before the situation becomes clear.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Deputy Fitzgerald may ask a question on proposed legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  Will the children of asylum seekers be included in the legislation dealing with the ombudsman for children and what is the timetable for this legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  What will be covered by the legislation is not in order.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Bill will be published shortly and definitely in this session.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I am minded to ask about the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty Bill in light of the High Court decision in London this morning. This decision is disappointing from Ireland's point of view in relation to the MOX plant case.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  A question please, Deputy.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Does the Taoiseach have any response to that court judgment? Will he bring forward the legislation on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty more quickly than originally proposed? I understand it is a short Bill and it would help Ireland's cases against the Sellafield plant if it was enacted. The treaty on non-proliferation could be used as another basis for a legal challenge. Will the Taoiseach speed up the introduction of that Bill?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Bill contains 20 heads and work is progressing. The heads are expected to be finalised in January or February and although that is a few months away, work is progressing quickly.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  What about the MOX plant? The Government does not care about Sellafield.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  The VHI was given approval in February for an increase of 6.25% and a further 9% in July. During the passage of the Bill relating to health insurance, the Minister prom[272] ised to introduce health insurance regulations to give effect to equalisation, which affects both BUPA and the VHI. Given that there will be a 15% increase today in costs—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy must ask about the legislation.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  I am referring to the legislation. The increase may result in a further 4% increase in VHI and BUPA costs.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy is making comments.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  Will the Taoiseach ensure the regulations are introduced next week so that the House will have an opportunity to highlight this issue because a 20% increase in health insurance premia is unacceptable?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I am not aware of whether the Minister made that commitment. However, I assume the Deputy is correct and I will raise the matter with the Minister for Health and Children.

Ms Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  In view of public concern about the increasingly thuggish behaviour of many bouncers working in nightclubs and pubs around the city and the complete lack of regulation in this area, will the Taoiseach explain the reason for the delay in introducing the Bill relating to private security services? When can we expect Second Stage to be taken?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I answered a question on that matter a few weeks ago when I understood the Bill was to be taken in November. The Bill has been circulated and is ready. I will raise the matter with the Whip but the Bill was due to be dealt with in November.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Regarding the abortion referendum Bill, which is still on Second Stage in the House, will the Taoiseach confirm reports in today's newspapers about the conduct of the business relating to it? It has been reported that Second Stage will be guillotined next Tuesday and that, contrary to a commitment given, Committee Stage will not now take place in the Chamber and the Bill will be assigned to a committee of the House.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  We were given to understand that Committee Stage of the Bill would be taken in the Chamber and that there would be plenty of time to discuss Second Stage. Will the Taoiseach confirm that extra time will be provided for Second Stage, if necessary, and that Committee Stage will be taken in the House as promised?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  When Second Stage is concluded next Tuesday night, we will have spent [273] much more time on it than is usual on the Second Reading of a Bill.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  It is a very important issue.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Yes, and that is why we gave it much more time. Over twice the average time, even for a complex Second Stage debate, has been given to the Bill. It is correct that this time was given to it and we promised that would be done, but it will conclude next Tuesday night. In relation to how Committee Stage is dealt with, as Members are aware, this issue has been around for the past four and a half years in one form or another. I stated that I wanted the Bill concluded by Christmas and I will speak to the Whip about how it will be taken. However, I want the Bill completed in the Oireachtas by Christmas. I gave that commitment and I want to stick to it.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  This matter has been the subject of a special Dáil committee and plenary hearings with interested parties. The Bill contains a unique provision whereby the primary legislation will be locked into the Constitution. Once it is enacted, and if it is ratified by the citizens of the Republic, it can never come back to the House. For those reasons, this is not ordinary legislation. It is appropriate in legal and legislative terms that this matter, which is unique in terms of the way it proposes to provide for legislation as distinct from amending the Constitution, is taken in the Chamber. This would enable every Deputy to participate in the debate and also ensure that the media give it the correct level of attention which, due to a lack of resources, it cannot give to the committees.

The Taoiseach is reneging on a fundamental commitment given to all Deputies and parties in the House that there would be an opportunity to tease out and debate the detail of the legislation, as distinct from the proposed amendment of the Constitution, on Committee Stage. I ask the Taoiseach to rethink his reply. My party will sit late if necessary to facilitate the rest of the Government's legislative programme. If time is a factor, we should order extra time to facilitate the type of debate in the Chamber that is required because the matter will never come back to the House.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  It will.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  It will not come back.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  There will be a Report Stage debate.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  I ask the Taoiseach to consider that point. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Constitution. The House rarely deals with such Bills and if the legislation is sent to a select committee, all Members will not have an opportunity to attend the proceedings, table amendments and debate the Bill in the same way as they would if Committee Stage was taken in the Chamber. In addition, the media do not have [274] the ability to cover all the committees of the House. I ask the Taoiseach to comply with the undertaking that was given and to ensure that the Committee Stage is taken in the Chamber.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I have listened to the Deputies' points, but they heard what I said. I want the Bill through before Christmas. Some 35 amendments have been tabled already by the Fine Gael Party and they will take a considerable amount of time to process. The possibility of referring the Bill to a committee is being considered to ensure sufficient time is available for it. Our view is that approximately eight full days could be provided for the Bill if it was dealt with by a committee. I do not see how the same amount of time could be worked into the House's schedule. The media have no problem covering committees and I thank them for that.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  We are talking about the lives of Irish women.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The media cover committees extensively. They cover all major Bills to the best possible extent and they will certainly cover this Bill. I will talk to the Whip but it is a question of time.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Order extra time.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Bill must be completed by Christmas and we can work out the time for the Committee Stage debate. Occasionally Members argue that Bills should be considered by committees so that more time can be given to discussing issues in the House. We are also having difficulty scheduling Friday sittings.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Not from this side of the House.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I will speak to the Whip and work out what can be done. However, my position is that I want the Bill passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas by Christmas. I do not care where the Committee Stage debate is taken if adequate time can be provided for it.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  On the same issue—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  We have dealt with it.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  It is a relevant question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a matter for the Whips.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins  Zoom on Jim Higgins   (Mayo): At a time when jobs in the IT sector are being shed at an alarming rate and young highly qualified and motivated graduates are being let go on a daily basis, many of whom must emigrate again, what is the reason for the delay in introducing the Bill to provide for the establishment of a digital hub agency? This agency is urgently needed and long promised.

[275]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I understand the Bill is almost complete and is due to be circulated this session. The heads of the Bill were completed approximately four months ago. It is awaiting a drafting session but it should be introduced this session.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  What legislation is anticipated during the lifetime of the Government in the area of broadcasting, particularly in relation to digitalisation, which we were initially promised would be addressed in the Broadcasting Bill? Will there be separate legislation to deal with broadcasting in the Irish language?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The major Bill on that issue has been passed.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  It did not include what the Government said it would include.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I do not think there is another Bill. If there is one, I do not have it listed.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  There will be no action on broadcasting. Is Bille na Gaeilge for real? Will it be printed in the lifetime of the Government or in anybody's lifetime?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The heads of Bille na Gaeilge were approved in June and it was sent for drafting. It will not be ready before Christmas but it should be ready early in the new year.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  That is the end of that.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  In an earlier period in his career, the Taoiseach was the leader of Dublin City Council. It is again facing extinction due to the actions of the city manager.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  The Deputy should put a question to the Taoiseach.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Is the Taoiseach aware that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government abolished whole tranches of the 1955 city and county managers Act and failed to introduce regulations under the Local Government Act, 2001 which completely hold up Deputies like Deputy Pat Carey and myself on the city council?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Local Government Bill, 2001 has been enacted.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell  Zoom on Michael Bell  At Tuesday's meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, Members questioned the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment and Local Government on the results of the Supreme Court judgment on refuse collection and asked when legislation would be introduced in this regard. He replied that this was a matter for the Minister. Is it intended to introduce legislation to deal with this matter?

[276]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The available options are being carefully examined following the Supreme Court decision but no decision has yet been made. People are still liable to charges.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  Following on an earlier question, if the Taoiseach insists on sending the constitutional amendment Bill into committee, will all Members be entitled to attend that committee and, if so, will that not be the same as debating the Bill in the House?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  That is not a matter for the Order of Business.


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