Wednesday, 30 January 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 21, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval of the terms ofcertain acts of the 1994 Congress of Universal Postal Union; No. 46, statements on European Council, Laeken; No. 1 – Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 21 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 46 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 70 minutes and the statements shall be confined to the following Members who shall be called upon in the following sequence and the following arrangements shall apply – the statements by the Taoiseach and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply, which shall not exceed 10 minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 115, motion re crime, and shall also take place tomorrow directly after the Order of Business and shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes; Question Time tomorrow shall be taken from 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.
Mr. Sargent: No. The Taoiseach said the Laeken summit is to be discussed by a number of parties which does not include the Green Party. He has already ruled out of order a number of questions dealing with the same issue on the basis that there will be statements. I ask you, a Leas-Cheann Chomhairle, to let this matter be dealt with on the Order of Business. Given the amount of muzzling taking place, this House looks more like a coursing meeting than a parliament. I wish to ensure that the Green Party, which has a distinctive view on this matter, is allowed the opportunity to express it.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal regarding the taking of Question Time tomorrow agreed? Agreed. We now move to Leaders' questions.
Mr. Noonan: Deputy Lawlor's antics at the tribunal are bringing the House into disrepute. His antics are a source of embarrassment to every Deputy in this House across the parties. I ask the Taoiseach, as Leader of the House, to table a motion of censure on Deputy Lawlor so that Members can express a unanimous view condemning his behaviour.
It is time the Taoiseach acceded to Justice Flood's request to appoint judges to his tribunal, which he made last June. It looks as if he is deliberately delaying the work of the Flood tribunal because there is something he knows about that he is afraid will come out in public before the general election. I ask the Taoiseach to move immediately to make the appointments that have been sought for so long. There is no reason for further delay. He has delayed too long already.
Mr. Quinn: Earlier the High Court ruled against Deputy Lawlor's appeal in regard to his recent attempt not to co-operate with the tribunal and he has indicated that he will appeal the High Court decision to the Supreme Court, further frustrating and delaying the work of the tribunal. When the tribunal was established by the House – not by the Government as is frequently claimed outside – Deputy Lawlor did not oppose it and the Taoiseach called on all Members to co-operate fully with the tribunal. It is manifestly clear that Deputy Lawlor is in breach of his call. If his resignation from Fianna Fáil was not, as it appeared from statements last night, a resignation of convenience, I ask the Taoiseach to join Deputies Noonan, Sargent and myself in tabling a motion of censure on Deputy Lawlor for his failure to co-operate without preconditions with the Flood tribunal.
I reiterate the comments I made outside the House last year and subsequently. Why is the Government consistently refusing to appoint, as only it can, the extra members whom Justice Flood sought in the middle of June last year? He requested the House before it rose on 6 July to appoint extra members who are required to enable him to do his work. One is forced to the conclusion that the Fianna Fáil Party in general and the Taoiseach in particular are fearful of what might emerge at the tribunal.
The Taoiseach: I have not changed my view in relation to the first matter from what I said here more than 12 months ago. I co-signed a resolution then. If the Whips agree to table another one  now, I will certainly co-sign it again. When the motion was debated I stated:
The High Court judgment, however, clearly amounts to a challenge and an opportunity to Deputy Lawlor to avail of its terms to put right the wrong that was done. It is fair to say, as the Government's motion suggests, that the challenge to Deputy Lawlor contained in the High Court judgment about him is one to which he must rise and if he does not intend to comply with the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution as laid down in the judgment, he would demonstrate such defiance of constitutional values as would justify the other Members of the House publicly and solemnly expressing the opinion that his role as a public representative was not tenable.
Ultimately, a motion, such as the one proposed by the Government this evening, serves only as an expression of opinion and carries only such moral weight as the public attribute to it. In terms of fitness for office and sanctions for office holders, the people make the decision both at the beginning and in the final appeal.
The Taoiseach: I reiterate precisely what I said a year ago and I have no problem co-signing a motion. A committee of the House is examining the legalities of censure rules for Members and that is also an important matter that should be kept in mind.
On the second issue, I totally reject the inference in the comments of both party leaders. Justice Flood advised the Clerk of the Dáil on 13 June last of his intention to submit his final report to the Oireachtas in respect of certain matters – the payment of money to Raphael Burke and James Gogarty; the decisions taken by Raphael Burke in connection with Century Communications Limited; and the payments made to Raphael Burke by or on behalf of Thomas Brennan, Joseph McGowan and the companies with which they were associated. Justice Flood further indicated that he could not commence the taking of further evidence until he first rendered these reports to the Oireachtas. The reports were originally to be submitted by the end of September last. It is understood by the Office of the Attorney General that they are expected in March.
When the Dáil resolution to amend the terms of reference of the tribunal was debated on 5 July 2001 the Minister for Defence, who was standing in for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, stated: “In order to avoid any confusion between the work of the Sole Member and that of the three member tribunal, the instrument setting up the three member tribunal will be  made when the Sole Member has submitted his reports.” The House passed the resolution on that basis.
The Taoiseach: He has supplied me with details on where he is with that, but it would be wrong of me to provide such details to the House. It would be totally unfair if I was to utter the names submitted to the Attorney General by Fine Gael or the Labour Party or names whom he had sounded out, which for one reason or other were not acceptable.
The Taoiseach: Long before there is pressure on the House to supply names to Justice Flood so that he can undertake a second module, we will have done so. As soon as we have names that are acceptable to Justice Flood and which have been checked with the Opposition we will certainly appoint those people. It is not easy to get such people. I assure Deputy Quinn in the nicest way, as I have always said to him, I am not afraid of anything.
Mr. Noonan: Will the Taoiseach table a motion of censure on Deputy Lawlor and present it to the other party leaders for signature so that the House can express its opinion unanimously or otherwise regarding his behaviour in not co-operating with the tribunal? I point out to the Taoiseach again that when Justice Flood sought additional members in June, he wanted them by July and he wanted “extras”, as he put it, before his report was finished. It is the responsibility of the Government to appoint and assign judges and that has nothing to do with the Opposition parties.
The Taoiseach: I have no difficulty with the first matter. The Whips may discuss that. Deputy Noonan is incorrect on the second matter. When Justice Flood has finished with his first module and has reported, he wants to continue with the second module. Neither the Government nor the House has delayed him or in any way created an inconvenience for him. Long before he is in a position to take on the second module, the Government will, in consultation with the Opposition, appoint people. The Deputy can take it that what I am saying is factual. We have in no way created a difficulty for Justice Flood.
Mr. Quinn: Last year the House under duress debated a Bill to amend the Constitution to restrict the rights of women in this country as  adjudicated by the Supreme Court in the X case. The Bill to roll back that judgment was guillotined on the directions of the Fianna Fáil Party on 20 November last. I presume that was with the support of the Progressive Democrats. Committee Stage was guillotined on 29 November and the Report and Final Stages were pushed through, against the wishes of the Opposition, on 5 December.
Since then we have had no indication from the Government when this abortion referendum will take place. The Tánaiste and recently returned Attorney General appear to think they can find some consensus on this issue where none existed before. We are given to understand that the date of this abortion referendum is linked to other matters for bargaining in some type of horse trading in the Cabinet. Will the Taoiseach tell the House when the abortion referendum will take place?
Mr. Noonan: I understand that at today's Cabinet meeting it was decided not to nominate a date for the referendum until the High Court proceedings are completed on Friday. Is this a firm commitment by the Government to fix the date on Friday evening or will it resile once more if, as is the intention, the applicants appeal to the Supreme Court?
The Taoiseach: No date will be agreed until the judgment is given because that would be in contempt of court. I am sure Deputy Quinn is as pleased as I am that the medical protections which women are entitled to in this country will be enshrined in the first legislation to deal with this issue since the 1850s.
Mr. G. Mitchell: In recent days an 18 year old woman died on the streets of Dublin in circumstances being investigated by the Eastern Regional Health Authority. Will the Taoiseach bring forward the health and Social Care Professionals Regulatory Bill given that, in my experience last week, I never—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I would prefer if the Deputy did not discuss the matter. It is out of order and it is on the Adjournment. In fairness to the Deputies who raised the matter on the Adjournment—
Mr. G. Mitchell: A young woman died on the streets of Dublin city. It is deplorable we do not have an opportunity to raise this issue. I asked about the health and Social Care Professionals Regulatory Bill.
Mr. Howlin: On the recently published schedule of promised legislation, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has promised an amending intoxicating liquor Bill to implement the report of the review group. The Minister might not recall it. It is on schedule C circulated to all Members today. When will that legislation be before the House? Members might want to broaden its scope.
The Taoiseach: The legislation is in response to the recommendations of the Commission on Liquor Licensing concerning the off-licence sector. I do not have a date. If the Deputy wants to make a submission, he will probably have sufficient time to do so.
Mr. Currie: I note the Ombudsman for Children Bill is on the legislative programme, as it was last year. The Taoiseach promised me at least six times in the previous session that it would be introduced before Christmas.
Mr. Rabbitte: I wish to raise a matter on promised legislation. Before I do that, I gave the Ceann Comhairle notice of my intention to clarify remarks I made during what might be termed the Gildea affair.
Mr. Rabbitte: I do not want to make a song and dance about it. My remarks were apparently capable of reflecting on the parliamentary reporters. I wish to make clear that no such reflection was intended. I understand there are technical problems with the recording of perfectly audible interventions in the Chamber and that matter is being attended to.
Mr. U. Burke: Will the Taoiseach undertake to have the text of the Disabilities Bill provided in both Braille and audio format in order that those who have an interest in it can access it and assess its merits or otherwise?
Ms O'Sullivan: Can we have an explanatory memorandum for the Bill as well? I fully support  what Deputy Burke said. It is outrageous people with disabilities cannot read Bills designed directly for them.
Mr. M. Higgins: Tá ceist agam faoi reachtaíocht atá geallta arís agus arís eile, sé sin, Bille na Gaeilge, a thabharfadh an ceart do muintir na Gaeltachta agus lucht na Gaeilge gnó a dhéanamh leis an Stáit trí mheán na Gaeilge. Mar a dúirt mé, tá sé geallta ag an Taoiseach agus ag Airí Stáit, na Teachtaí Ó Cuív agus Ó Cochláin. Sa liosta tá sé scríobhtha go mbeidh sé i gcló i lár na bliana seo. Cathain a mbeidh an reachtaíocht seo ós comhair an Teach agus cathain a mbeidh sé críochnaithe?
The Taoiseach: Bille na Gaeilge is due in the next few months. I am not sure if it will be drafted during the life of this Dáil although the Minister is anxious that this will happen. The Bill is a complex one which involves a number of constitutional issues. It is still intended that the Bill will be enacted before the summer.
Mr. M. Higgins: The Taoiseach has told the House not only that the legislation would be passed but that it would be in force in the lifetime of this Government. This is a scandalous betrayal of the people who support the Irish language and want to use it.
Ms Fitzgerald: Last week a member of the Chinese community living in Ireland was murdered on the streets of Dublin. Will we see the introduction of a strong campaign to tackle racism, led by the Taoiseach?
Mr. Shatter: Item no. 10 in section A on the pink sheet suggests that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, after five years in office, has finally noticed the substantial escalation in street violence and racist attacks on individuals. When will the criminal justice (enforcement of public order) Bill be published and will the Taoiseach confirm to the House that it is nothing more than a cheap election stunt for a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who has ignored the problem of street violence for five years—
Mr. Gilmore: On a number of occasions in the last session, the Taoiseach told the House that the heads of the housing (private rented sector) Bill would be approved by Government before Christmas with a view to its being published early in the new year. The Government has returned after a long Christmas period without Dáil scrutiny and the Bill does not appear on the list of Bills to be published before Easter or on the list for which texts are being drafted. It is in the same place it was in 18 months ago when the Commission on the Private Rented Sector reported. What, if anything, is happening to the Bill?
Ms Clune: Last week the Environmental Protection Agency produced a water quality report which showed that one in three kilometres of our rivers and 38% of ground water are polluted. When will the water services Bill which will impose some control on our deteriorating water quality be published?
The Taoiseach: The water services Bill which has 180 heads is due in the next few months. The Bill will consolidate and update water services legislation and will build on the success of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and his colleagues who have overseen the first improvement in water quality in more than 30 years.
Ms O. Mitchell: When we received the legislative programme for this session, I searched eagerly for the greater Dublin area (land use and transportation) Bill and found it buried in the category: Bills in respect of which the heads have not yet been approved by Government. The Taoiseach and members of his party have dined out for the past three years on the promise of this Bill for Dublin. Does he now intend to go out of office without doing anything about this Bill? Nothing has been done, the Government shows no sense of urgency and its legislative programme is a big fat zero.
Mr. Creed: In the aftermath of the Jamie Sinnott case, the Minister for Education and Science informed the House that he had a blank cheque to deal with such matters and, in fairness, some progress was made. Funding was given to a school for autistic children in Kilbarrack in the Minister's constituency and similar progress was made in Deputy McCreevy's constituency.
Mr. Creed: Why is the Minister pursuing autistic children through the courts in Galway to deny them access to education when he has a blank cheque? Why is the Minister seeking to deny access to the courts to parents who have been  denied the right to education for their autistic children? This is a disgrace.
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