Thursday, 29 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 24, motion re approval of terms of the Treaty between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters – returned from Committee; No. 24a, Motion re Leave to Introduce Supplementary Estimate [Vote 32]; No. 24b, Motion re Referral of Supplementary Estimate [Vote 32] to Select Committee; No. 25, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services [Votes 2, 33 and 34] – returned from Committee; No. 1, European Communities and Swiss Confederation Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second and Remaining Stages; No. 26, motion re Approval of terms of Agreement between the European Community and its Member States, and the Swiss Confederation, on the free movement of persons, to be taken on the conclusion of all Stages of the European Communities and Swiss Confederation Bill, 2001; and No. 7, Road Traffic Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) Nos. 24 and 24a, and subject to the agreement of No. 24a, Nos. 24b [Vote 32] and 25, shall be decided without debate and any division demanded on Nos. 24a, 24b and 25, shall be taken forthwith; (2) the Second and Remaining Stages of No. 1 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) Second Stage to conclude at 12.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; (ii) the Remaining Stages to conclude at 1 p.m. if not previously concluded and the proceedings thereon to be brought to a conclusion by one question in each case 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 Foreign Affairs; and (iii) No. 26 shall be taken immediately upon the conclusion of No. 1 and shall be decided without debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are three proposals to be put to the House. The first is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 24, 24a and 24b. These are motions for the approval of the terms of the Treaty between the Government of Ireland and the United States of America on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and the introduction of Supplementary Estimates. Is that agreed?
Mr. Howlin: Before agreeing to curtail debate on the items listed in the first proposal put forward by the Tánaiste, what is the Tánaiste's view on the taking of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill?
Mr. Howlin: If I may put this question? It will decide whether we divide the House. I understand Report Stage is to be taken on Tuesday and Wednesday next. The debate on Report Stage can only be based on matters raised on Commitee Stage and it is unlikely that the Official Report of the Commitee Stage debate will be printed by Tuesday. Before we decide on the matter before the House, can the Tánaiste assure the House that the full transcript of Committee Stage will be available before Report Stage commences, and adequate time be available for consideration of these matters before Report Stage amendments are required to be tabled?
Mr. Howlin: Can we have an assurance that the  Official Report of matters which will continue until 6 o'clock this evening, which have divided the select committee seven members against seven, and with many important matters being decided on the casting vote of the Chairman, will be available before Report Stage begins? If we have that commitment we will not divide the House.
Mr. J. Mitchell: We do not agree to the Vote on the Health Estimate being taken without debate. We are dissatisfied and angry to learn that, as part of the Government's much vaunted health strategy, people on just over half the minimum income will not be entitled to medical cards. The House will divide on this issue. I ask the Tánaiste to allow at least one hour for a debate on the Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Health and Children.
The Tánaiste: With regard to Deputy Mitchell's request, the Ceann Comhairle has indicated that he will give favourable consideration to a Private Notice Question on the matter. Therefore I cannot agree to an hour being set aside for a debate. Everyone in the country has welcomed the health strategy except the Opposition.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Walsh, Joe. Wright, G. V.
Belton, Louis J.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
| McDowell, Derek.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1, European Communities and Swiss Confederation Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed) and Subsequent Stages agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 26, motion re Approval of terms of agreement between the European Community and its member states, and the Swiss Confederation, on the free movement of persons, agreed to? Agreed.
Mr. J. Mitchell: In the past week the Tánaiste made a statement that the Government would be unable to exempt all those on the minimum income from income tax in next week's budget. Last night we learned that the Government, despite all the wealth earned in the past few years, will be unable to give people with little more than half the minimum income a medical card. Will the Tánaiste say whether this is the sort of economics the Taoiseach learned in London?
Mr. Howlin: Will the Tánaiste accept the Government will be remembered for widening the gap between rich and poor? Why has the Government reneged on its commitment to provide medical cards for the weakest and most vulnerable group in society? Will she accept the survey results published today which show that 25% of families said they could not avail of primary health care for cost reasons, which is a scandal in a time of plenty?
The Tánaiste: I will not anticipate what may be in the budget, but there was never a minimum wage in the country until this Government took office. This is the first Government to recognise that people are entitled to a minimum return for their efforts.
The Tánaiste: After the budget that will be substantially increased. The Government will be remembered for the fact that an extra 340,000 people are at work, with 120,000 additional people at work in the Dublin area.
The Tánaiste: It is a question of priorities. The Government cannot do everything it wishes to do. Everybody over 70 years of age, the most vulnerable group from a health point of view, has been given a medical card.
The Tánaiste: This is clearly a budgetary matter. The Government has set out this week, its priorities for next year in the health area and, as Deputy Mitchell knows, a huge amount of additional money has been given to the health services for this year and next year.
Mr. J. Mitchell: It is true that a great deal of extra money is being spent on the health services, but with what results? Here are the guidelines:  People on £100 a week, if they have to go to a doctor, have to pay £25 to £30—
Mr. J. Mitchell: Why should a person on £100 a week have to pay £25 to £30 to go to the doctor? Does the Tánaiste not know that people cannot afford to go to the doctor on £100 a week? Can she tell us now that next week's budget will respond to this pressing need?
Mr. Howlin: To continue with the issue of equity and the abandonment of any pretence of establishing equity by this Government, will the Tánaiste to respond to the characterisation by the social policy officer of the St. Vincent de Paul Society as obscene, the Government's decision to abandon its commitment on medical cards? In relation to the full page advertisement from Focus Ireland, what is the Tánaiste's response, in terms of equity, to the fact that there are now 120,000 people on local authority waiting lists? That is double the figure when she came to office. How will she respond to the 5,000 people who are homeless in this city, including 1,000 children? Can she stand any argument in relation to equity or equality or will she now absolutely concede that the policy direction of this Government for four and a half years, continued by today's decision, is simply to enrich the rich and abandon the poor?
Mr. J. Mitchell: Would the Tánaiste accept that the policy of this Government is to let the poor wait, whether it is for houses, orthodontic treatment or for an increase in their widow's pensions? Would she agree that the real issue facing  the people in the next election, as in the last one, is which side of the House cares about the poor?
The Tánaiste: The tax cuts have produced unprecedented revenues. I know there are some ideologues who would like high rates and low returns. The Government has not abandoned its commitments. In relation to social and affordable housing, over the period of the national development plan the Government will spend £7 billion—
Mr. Howlin: Does the Tánaiste accept that, if there is any equity or a shred of an aspiration to equality left in this administration, the medical card commitment should be restored immediately  and the 43 million in next year's Estimates for Campus Stadium Ireland would be a good place to start to find the money to give to those who will go without basic health care while the Taoiseach provides a monument to aggrandise himself?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste, without interruption. Will Deputy Rabbitte please resume his seat. Deputy Howlin has asked his supplementary question. Will Deputies please allow the Tánaiste to reply?
Mr. Creed: Many Members will have seen the “Prime Time” documentary last night on child abuse by members of the Christian Brothers, particularly in Australia. The House is currently considering the Residential Institutions Redress Bill and some Members may have seen evidence given to the relevant committee yesterday by victims of abuse. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that the Committee Stage of that debate will not be taken until we see the colour of the Government's money in respect of the proposed compensation? This issue has been kicked to a committee, established by the Government, which will report, as envisaged now, after the Bill has completed its passage through this House. That will perpetuate abuse on victims of institutional abuse. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that we will not be asked to take the Committee Stage of the Bill until after that committee reports.
The Tánaiste: I did not see the “Prime Time” programme last night but I heard of the har rowing story that was revealed there. I know that individuals on whom abuse was inflicted in Ireland are coming to tell their own story and that is a good process. I am glad we have legislation in this area. Not all of the money has to be paid by Government – others have to make a contribution towards compensation in this regard and the Government believes that is very important.
The Tánaiste: It should and must happen. In relation to Deputy Creed's request, I am not in a position to give a commitment but I will ask the Whip to consider the matter and I will discuss it with the Minister for Education and Science.
Mr. M. Higgins: On the timing of legislation, will the Tánaiste make arrangements to bring forward the legislation on the International Criminal Court which is promised? This legislation is necessary in view of the disgraceful breach of the Geneva Convention by the slaughter of several hundred prisoners—
The Tánaiste: I am not in a position to say when the legislation will be ready. In relation to the request Deputy Higgins made earlier, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is in Rome today and tomorrow will attend a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin. However, he will be involved in consideration of the Estimates for his Department next week and the issue should be discussed in that forum.
Mr. M. Higgins: On the Order of Business, I would be ashamed to be a Member of this House if it decided it could wait for another week to ten days for the Geneva Convention to be respected in relation to the safety of prisoners. There is a clear international obligation on us—
Mr. J. Mitchell: We fully support the request  by Deputy Higgins. With regard to the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, will the Tánaiste indicate what is the timetable for the passage of that Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas and is the Government irrevocably committed to holding the referendum? If so, when is it likely to be held?
The Tánaiste: The Deputy will be aware that Report Stage has been ordered for next week. A request was made earlier about the transcript of Committee Stage. I hope it will be available. I cannot give a commitment on the Bill's passage through the Seanad, which is a matter for the Upper House. The Government has not yet set a date for the referendum.
Mr. Howlin: On the same subject, does the Tánaiste still hold to her expressed view that this matter should be dealt with by consensus? Will she accept that the Committee Stage division result of seven for and seven against and the Bill being voted through on the casting vote of the chairman shows that there is no consensus?
Mr. Gilmore: The Taoiseach told the House again this week that the heads of the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill would be agreed by Government before Christmas. Has the Minister for the Environment and Local Government circulated a memorandum in connection with the Bill to the members of Government and to Departments? If not, how does she expect the heads of the Bill to be agreed by Government before Christmas?
Mr. Deenihan: The matter I wish to raise has been raised on a few occasions in recent weeks. Due to the strike action in Letterkenny, a large number of families will not receive any child benefit payments before Christmas and they are  depending on those payments. What will the Government do about this strike?
Mr. Broughan: On the timing of the Companies Bill, in relation to the audit commission, I understand it is scheduled for early next year. The Tánaiste assured me privately a few weeks ago that there would not be job losses at General Electric. She said I was wrong and that her early warning system was correct. Does the Tánaiste have an early warning system or any method of assessing the job losses being experienced on the north side of Dublin? We got bad news again this morning from Aer Lingus—
The Tánaiste: With regard to the Companies (Amendment) (Audit) Bill, I cannot say exactly when it will be published. I hope it will be in the early part of next year. As to the early warning system in my Department, as I have said in the House on many occasions—
The Tánaiste: It is the last private conversation I will ever have with Deputy Broughan. That private conversation was misrepresented and a public statement was issued yesterday which seriously defamed me, as the Deputy knows. That is the reason it was not carried by anybody. The Deputy indicated certain matters to the Dáil in relation to a company and I told him my view at that time. I have no reason to repeat it here—
Mr. Naughten: Nine years ago the Government announced the decentralisation of the GRO to Roscommon town. As a result, the Registration of Births and Deaths Acts must be amended. In a reply I received from the Minister for Health and Children last Tuesday he stated that the first stage in amending these Acts will take effect in early 2002. When will this legislation be published? It is not on the Government's list of promised legislation. How will it be enacted early in 2002 if the heads of a Bill have not come before the Government?
Mr. Penrose: Is the Tánaiste aware that in order to comply with the mechanism agreed with the EU for public service obligations costs in  relation to the construction of the replacement power station at Lanesborough in Shannonbridge the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999 must be amended? Will that be done in the Sustainable Energy Bill, 2001 and when will that Bill come before the Dáil? If not, those two projects will be greatly delayed.
Mr. Coveney: When will the House receive the long awaited Education (Children with Disabilities) Bill? During a Private Members' debate on a Fine Gael motion recently, I was given to understand that it would be introduced before Christmas. Is that the case?
Mr. Rabbitte: Is something delaying the Competition Bill? When will it be published? Is any legislative redress planned for the manner in which the Government misled 450,000 small shareholders who lost a great part of their savings—
Mr. Rabbitte: I am sure the Tánaiste believes in a shareholding democracy. She will not get a share owning democracy after this. Can we expect measures of redress in the budget or in the Finance Bill?
The Tánaiste: The Competition Bill is imminent and I hope the Deputy will support it. When I first got to know Deputy Rabbitte politically, he was a big fan of nationalisation not privatisation. Shareholders were the last people on his mind.
The Tánaiste: I am delighted the Deputy is now  converted to the cause of shareholders, small ones in particular. The Deputy knows that there is no question of the Government being in a position to bail out people that invest in companies.
Mr. Howlin: On the Order of Business, my question is addressed to you, Ceann Comhairle. I have had direct communication with a person who made an application under Standing Order 58, Mr. Doyle, who was seriously defamed in this House last week. What measures have you taken to ensure that a private citizen can have his good character restored?
Mr. Stagg: The Government published the pink list of 16 Bills which are expected to be published from the start of the Dáil session up to the Christmas recess, 2001. As far as I understand only one of these 16 Bills has been published. What has happened the legislative programme that allowed 15 of the 16 Bills to fall through the net somewhere? When can we expect to see the Bills? I can read out the list if the Tánaiste wishes. There are two in Defence as well.
Mr. Durkan: Apropos a point raised by Deputy Rabbitte, I ask the Tánaiste if in the event of another flotation similar to the Eircom shares flotation whether a Government health warning will be attached to protect investors?
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