Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 15, motion re Standing Order 38; No. 16, motion re Standing Order 114; No. 17, motion re appointment of members to the subcommittee on Members' services of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges; and No. 27, statements on Northern Ireland.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 15, 16 and 17 shall be decided without debate; and (2) the proceedings on No. 27 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements of the Taoiseach and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Technical Group and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; (ii) the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) the Minister for Foreign Affairs shall be called upon to make a statement in reply, which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 38, motion re insurance costs.
Mr. Kenny: This is a critical week for the country and we have facilitated the Government in releasing Members to deal with official matters concerning the Nice treaty referendum. This side of the House will not be calling any votes on today's Order of Business.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I refer again to the amendment to Standing Order 114, which I and other Deputies have strenuously pursued since the result of the general election in May and which the Government has so far refused to accept. Despite the formation of the Technical Group, which has been formed out of necessity, I again urge the Government to amend Standing Order 114 to recognise the—
Since the designated Leader of the Technical Group is now included, before we take leaders' questions I thought it would be an appropriate time to remind Members of the procedure under Standing Order 26(3), which provides for these questions. A leaders' question must be brief and about a topical matter of public importance, and the one supplementary question allowed by the other leaders must be relevant to that question. Leaders' questions are confined to the leader of the Fine Gael Party, to the designated leader of the Technical Group and to the leader of the Labour Party or, in their absence, to the respective deputy leaders.
An Ceann Comhairle: Members will appreciate – this is the important part – that in order for the leaders' question procedure to be effective, as intended by the Dáil in introducing this facility last year, both the leader asking the question and the Taoiseach or member of the Government replying should be allowed do so without interruption. I ask for the continued co-operation of Members in this regard to ensure that the leaders' question procedure reflects well on the proceedings of this House.
Mr. Kenny: I understand that the Captain of the Guard, Paul Conway, has been promoted to the rank of Superintendent of the Houses. I wish him well in his duties. I expect that he will uphold the dignity of this House, as his predecessor, Éamon O'Donoghue, did for many years.
On leaders' question, this House and the people will have been shocked by the tragic death of young Alan Higgins in Coolock this week. We extend our sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to his family.
The sad reality is that vicious and unprovoked attacks are becoming the norm on the streets of the towns and cities. The crime figures for 2001, which were suppressed until after the general election, confirm that the incidents of vicious assaults on our streets soared by 93% last year, in other words, they have almost doubled. The Government appears to be out of touch with what is happening on the streets, and with the concerns and frustrations of parents. What plans has the Government to deal with this serious escalation in violent crime and unprovoked assaults on the streets?
Mr. Howlin: Does the Taoiseach accept that street violence is now the most urgent issue on the criminal justice agenda? What specific legislative measures are being looked at to deal with street crime? Is a review of the Intoxicating Liquor Act being conducted? Is a review of the Planning Acts, in so far as they relate to late-night fast food outlets, being conducted? Are there any other legislative measures being looked at currently by his Administration to deal with this matter?
The Taoiseach: On behalf of the Government, I express our grief and sadness at the terrible tragedy of the death of Alan Higgins. We sympathise with his family, his immediate friends and his community. Everybody has been deeply moved by the tragedy. Having overcome so many difficulties in his life, to have been stabbed in such a way makes it all the more appalling. Added to that is the other stabbing tragedy in the city over the weekend and all the other violent crimes.
I accept what Deputy Kenny and Deputy Howlin have said, that attacks of this nature have become more prevalent in recent years. There is no denying that. Unfortunately, unprovoked attacks are not confined to late at night or the early hours of the morning. Although such attacks more frequently occur at those times, there have been vicious attacks in the late afternoon after school and college. There have been such attacks in the early evening and in this city they have occurred not only at weekends, as used be the case, but on every night of the week.
In reply to Deputy Howlin's question, many new legislative measures have been introduced. Innovative public order legislation has been introduced, there have been targeted Garda operations, there has been a strict enforcement of the liquor licensing laws, there has been an extension of the use of closed circuit television, and there has been a increase in the number of garda in the areas where they are most required. The National Crime Council has commissioned independent research on this very issue of public order and its findings are due out at Christmas. There have been many more legislative provisions and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill has been enacted. There have been Garda operations such as Operation Encounter and Garda activities as a result of the CCTV system.
The Taoiseach: This tragic incident took place at 11.10 p.m. and it is not a question related to liquor licensing. The implementation of the outstanding relevant provisions of the Children Act has to be completed. We continue to support and strengthen the network of gardaí involved in youth diversion, which has expanded from 12 areas into 64 areas. The gardaí support the enforcement of the liquor licensing laws with particular reference to provisions relating to the mandatory temporary closure of pubs and off-licences. The rules are there. If they are abused, the powers provided by this House should be used.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has informed me that three youths have appeared in the Dublin District Children's Court in relation to the death of Alan Higgins. One youth has been charged with manslaughter, as per the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Two youths have been charged with theft under section 14 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act. All three have been released on their own bail into the custody of their parents.
In reply to the Deputies, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will do all he can with the Garda to address this issue. The prevalence of these acts of violence by youths is unfortunate, and it is a serious cause for concern. I am not too sure legislation is the only way of dealing with it. I hope the National Crime Council, in the independent research it has commissioned, might throw some light on measures other than legislation, CCTV, and extra gardaí. It is sad that very young people who should be involved in normal activities now feel they must go armed on to the streets, even into quiet areas, to engage in this type of activity.
Mr. Kenny: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. However, is this not an indication of total failure? The statistics we are now hearing show that the initiatives to which the Taoiseach refers have failed. The extent of crime increased by 18% between 2000 and 2001, the numbers of sexual offences are up by 83% and the number of murders by 33%. Anyone involved in participative democracy in the community knows about the invasion of young lives by drink and substance abuse. Is it not now clear that, in this case, some young people were given drink by an adult and is this not an indication that, sad though this case is, it is not isolated? We may find more such incidents on streets in other towns throughout the country? Does this not mean the Government should review, not just the legislative programme, but also the existing facilities and resources and the implementation of existing initiatives to make as many people as possible understand just how fragile our democracy now is? Have we reached a critical point where young people are afraid to walk the streets of our towns in pursuit of normal activities and their parents are frustrated, concerned and deeply fearful of the abiding image of a late night telephone call or of a garda or ambulance calling to the door? The initiatives mentioned by the Taoiseach have failed and it is time he reviewed them and provided extra resources involving community and other agencies to rectify this problem.
The Taoiseach: The review of procedures and current legislation, which the Deputy suggests, is ongoing. A terrible tragedy such as this one brings those issues to the fore. Initiatives such as CCTV cameras, and a review of the Firearms Acts, which cover the possession of knives, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act and the Children Act are ongoing. Legislative measures are being amended, powers are being strengthened and laws updated. A host of such legislation is before the House. However, more must be done.
Operation Encounter focused on public order difficulties occurring in the community and paid particular attention to night clubs, fast food outlets and other venues at which large numbers of people congregate and where there is potential for disorder. The target hours of the operation are determined locally based on the circumstances of the particular town or city and attention is paid to ensuring the owners and managers of the relevant premises are fully aware of their responsibility. The Garda call with owners, speak to them and give them instruction as to how measures should be enforced. Additional resources have been made available to do this and each regional commander has been asked to draw up his or her own plans to prioritise the deployment of these resources.
There appears, nevertheless, to be an unfortunate level of aggression in a certain number of young people. These problems do not happen all the time but happen too frequently. The closing of licensed premises does not stop young people going to other venues or using older people to buy drink on their behalf in off-licences. The Minister, with the Garda authorities, will review procedures and tighten them, where possible.
Operation Encounter is having an effect in some areas, but this effect must be widespread. When we discussed the extension of public house opening hours, the point was made that limiting the opening hours of licensed premises does not stop the availability of drink or drugs, as Deputy Kenny said. The Government will again look at the circumstances to see if more can be done, while implementing the measures already in place.
In the Dáil last week the Tánaiste poured cold water on suggestions made by European Commission officials that the Dáil could pass a motion in support of enlargement. She said it would be wrong for the Dáil to do so after the referendum, as it would flout the will of the people. Leaving aside my natural reaction that this is a bit rich coming from a Government which has already flouted the people's will on this issue as declared last year, it raised a question I wish to put to the Taoiseach.
Why not adopt such a motion before the referendum? Every party and Deputy in this House and both sides in the referendum campaign support enlargement. Therefore, it seems logical that this should be made clear before next Saturday and before we secure a second “No” vote, which will be either misinterpreted or, worse, misrepresented.
Mr. Kenny: It may well be that Deputy Ó Caoláin is having a change of heart and now supports the Nice treaty. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the Constitution would supersede any declaration that might come from Dáil Éireann and that the Supreme Court would have difficulty in extrapolating from a sovereign decision of the people on the Nice treaty, be it for or against, what elements of the treaty the people favoured or opposed? Would the Supreme Court not have extreme difficulty in adjudicating on such a matter?
Mr. Howlin: Does the Taoiseach agree that the entire thrust of the Nice treaty referendum is to ensure enlargement can take place and that the ten applicant countries that have spent five years preparing their economies, legal systems and environmental laws in order to meet the criteria we have laid down can be allowed to accede to the European Union in January 2004? Does he agree that there would be astonishment in those ten states and elsewhere in the world if we were seen to reject their chance of fulfilling an undertaking we have made with them?
The Taoiseach: I am delighted to hear the leader of the Technical Group, who now has the power to talk for all of the other Members of that group in a united way, joins the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party in confirming that every Member is in favour of enlargement.
The Green Party is now subsumed into Sinn Féin under subsidiarity rules. Deputy Ó Caoláin's resolution proposes that we accept the concept of enlargement on the basis that the applicant states first hold votes among their people and that we then ratify those decisions in this House. I accept his word that this is, in fact, what he is trying to achieve. The position is that the applicant states have only now received clearance from the European Commision to join the Union and when the Nice treaty is ratified, they can then proceed to the treaties of accession and the votes in their own countries.
The Taoiseach: The applicant states have just got clearance from the European Commission to join, as Deputies Kenny and Howlin have said. Those states need to have the Nice treaty ratified. When it is ratified, they will move on to the treaties of accession and the votes in their respective countries. They have set that down. Deputy Ó Caoláin can imagine the reaction if the Parliaments of any of the eastern European countries started deciding our procedures. The Deputy would be the first person on his feet to complain about that.
The Taoiseach: If the Deputy accepts that valid point, it means that he is effectively in favour of enlargement and must accept the bona fides of those countries. I invite Deputy Ó Caoláin to declare his support for enlargement and for a “Yes” vote.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —unlike other parties in this House whose leaders in the first Nice debate articulated one view while their parties campaigned in the opposite direction. Consistency is a very important element in this. Does the Taoiseach agree that the Dáil fully supports the enlargement of the European Union? He has not said so. Does he welcome the forthcoming accession of new states to the Union? The motion before the Dáil clearly states that Dáil Éireann fully supports the enlargement of the European Union and welcomes the forthcoming accession of new states to the Union, provided it is the express will of their peoples in referenda in each applicant state and provided they fulfil the democratic and human rights criteria—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Does that motion reflect the Taoiseach's position? The Taoiseach and others in this debate would have us believe that enlargement is their critical focus. They are now being afforded the opportunity to—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am asking, as I have asked a couple of times, whether the Taoiseach will embrace this motion that bears my name and those of my colleagues from the Sinn Féin Party. We willingly offer it to the Taoiseach. He can put it forward in the names of the leaders of all parties or of all Deputies.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am putting forward questions and this is the first opportunity that I have had to exercise that right in the course of leaders questions. I would appreciate the opportunity to take this chance. Does the Taoiseach agree that the Dáil declaration we have presented would make it crystal clear to the European Union member states and the applicant states—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Without interruption, if it could be achieved. The Irish people support enlargement and if the treaty is rejected by referendum a second time it will not be on the basis of opposition to enlargement.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I articulate the views of the other Deputies in the Technical Group, including the Green Party and progressive Independent Deputies in relation to this matter. I am very happy to reaffirm—
The Taoiseach: Deputy Kenny was correct when he said that we are involved in a constitutional referendum. The people hold the sovereign view on this issue as has been decided many times in the Supreme Court. A Dáil motion will not resolve that. However, it is useful to have on the record from Deputy Ó Caoláin, as newly elected leader of the Technical Group, that all Members of the House support enlargement. It is clear that the best way of ensuring that enlargement is implemented for the applicant countries – the ten that are ready plus the others – is to ratify the Nice treaty. The only legal and administrative way to bring about enlargement of the European Union is for the people to ratify that in a referendum. We are all agreed on that and we should not try to invent new mechanisms. There is only one mechanism and that is a referendum to ratify the treaty in a legal fashion by voting “Yes”.
The Taoiseach: The difficulty is that the Nice treaty has to be ratified before the applicant countries can complete their treaties of accession and have their vote. The Sinn Féin motion is totally disingenuous and it is impossible for the applicant states to comply with it. It cannot be done. I realise the Deputy is in a position of power and authority as the leader of the Technical Group, but he cannot tell ten countries to change their systems. That is a stupid idea.
Mr. Howlin: In the immediate aftermath of the general election, after a campaign in which we heard that no cuts in public expenditure were planned or envisaged, we learned from a leaked memo that €900 million worth of cuts were to be implemented for next year. We learned this weekend that this amount has now increased to €1.7 billion. Will the Taoiseach confirm that it is now an agreed target to reduce public expenditure next year by €1.7 billion? Does he agree with the statement made by the Tánaiste on Friday last that what are now required are more aggressive cuts? Does he agree with yesterday's statement by the Minister for Finance that the budgetary situation is much worse than was understood when the €900 million in cuts were deemed necessary and that, therefore, more significant cuts are now envisaged? Where will the axe fall and when will we know?
Mr. Kenny: Is there any truth in a report today that the Minister for Finance intends to raid the external reserves to paper over the yawning abyss that has now emerged in the public finances? Is it likely that the national development plan will be revised in view of the fact that the document contains only a list of aspirations without costings or timescales?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: How and when was such an underestimate arrived at by the respective Departments in this area? Do we know where the line will be drawn on the cutbacks that have been signalled in a range of areas, including health and education—
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: —specifically in the area of health care where we have listened to the Minister for Health and Children respond with vague commitments and unfulfilled promises in the months since the general election?
The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, we will stick with the growth and stability pact to remain close to balance or in balance for the coming years and at the end of a five-year period we will be back in balance. That is the stated position and what the Government will try to achieve. The reality of the income decline in recent months is that statistics for the nine months to the end of September, in areas such as corporation tax, show a reduction of about 28%. Such a major shortfall in income is creating difficulties. Expenditure is continuing to grow at between 14% and 17%. The commitments outlined by the Minister for Finance in the Revised Book of Estimates in February will be met in full. Additional areas, such as demand-led schemes, will also be paid for.
I can inform Deputy Kenny that there are no proposals to raid external reserves or anything else. The Book of Estimates for this year will be produced sometime in mid-November and the budget will be outlined in the first week of December. All the matters I have mentioned will be dealt with then. I am confident that the figures for next year will show increases in public expenditure, just as there were enormous increases this year.
Mr. Howlin: The Taoiseach has not answered my question in a clear manner. We know from the original leaked memo that cuts of €900 million are planned for next year. Another memo, leaked this weekend, indicates that there will be a further €800 million of cutbacks. This means that there will be total cuts of €1.7 billion. I ask the Taoiseach to inform the House whether the Minister for Finance is looking for a ballpark figure of €1.7 billion in public expenditure cutbacks in 2003? If the figure is not €1.7 billion, what is it? Where are the priorities in terms of the axe? Does the Taoiseach accept that if cuts of about €1.7 billion are being sought, it will represent a cut of 7.3% of all current expenditure? This would have an enormously depressive effect on the economy.
The Taoiseach: We have to wait and see. As regards the Deputy's figures, I remind the House, including those Deputies who have been talking about cutbacks, that there will be additional expenditure of €3.6 billion this year.
The Taoiseach: Some 25% of this increase, or €1 billion, will be spent by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, 18% will be spent by the Department of Health and Children and about €500 million extra will be spent on infrastructural projects. The Book of Estimates for next year will have to reflect the likely outturn at the end of December.
Mr. Timmins: When can Deputies expect a Bill to protect employees on fixed term contracts to come before the House? While the Taoiseach is on his feet, will he outline the current situation regarding IFI, as jobs in Arklow and Cobh are at risk?
Mr. Boyle: When will legislation establishing a police inspectorate come before the House? I am especially interested in the Taoiseach's reply, in light of an incident that occurred at the weekend, when three Members—
Ms McManus: Does the Taoiseach accept that it is a matter of grave concern that although this House has debated the second interim report of the Flood tribunal, it has not yet debated the Lindsay tribunal report? The latter report deals with a terrible wrong that was inflicted on haemophiliacs. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that the report will be debated in this House next week?
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Has there been any progress on legal advice in respect of the decision of the Supreme Court that procedures which allow a spouse to get an interim barring order are unconstitutional? Does the Government propose to introduce legislation to deal with this matter?
Mr. Broughan: The Taoiseach did not think legislation was necessary as a result of the terrible crimes in Coolock and other parts of the city on Saturday night. Given that the Taoiseach's constituency and the north side region—
Mr. G. Mitchell: The Committee on European Affairs listened today to the Minister for Foreign Affairs speak about the tragedy in Bali and the crisis in Iraq. Can I ask the Taoiseach if an opportunity can be found at an early date to discuss the situation in Iraq in the House? Perhaps this can be done as part of the discussion on the Euro-Mediterranean agreements listed as Nos. 19 and 21 on the Order Paper. I know the Minister will be at the GAC meeting next week and the Taoiseach will be at a meeting of the European Council, but the House should be given an opportunity to speak about these matters as soon as possible.
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