Ceisteanna – Questions. - Proposed Legislation.

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 563 No. 2

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  1.  Mr. Rabbitte  Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his Department's legislative priorities for the remainder of the 29th Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1241/03]

  2.  Mr. J. Higgins  Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his Department's legislative programme for the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1709/03]

[375]

  3.  Mr. Sargent  Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   if he will report on his Department's legislative priorities for the current Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2418/03]

  4.  Mr. Kenny  Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his legislative priorities for the remainder of the current Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2422/03]

  5.  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin   asked the Taoiseach  Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern   his legislative priorities for 2003 and for the remainder of the 29th Dáil. [6320/03]

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

My Department has two items of legislation for the 29th Dáil, the National Economic and Social Development Office Bill 2002 and the Interpretation Bill 2002. I have instructed my officials to commence work on the heads of a Bill to effect the transfer of responsibility for local State solicitors from the Office of the Attorney General to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is one of the last outstanding recommendations of the Nally report, produced by the public prosecution service study group.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  When will the Bill to establish the new economic and social development office be brought before the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I would like it to come before the House soon. The office is working on a non-statutory basis at present, but I would like it to be established on a legislative basis, especially in the interests of the staff involved. The Bill will be brought forward when the House is ready to deal with it.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Will the Taoiseach clarify a reply he gave to a question I asked during the last discussion on legislative priorities? It referred to the Government's plans on controlling the price of building land and outlawing the speculation which has taken place to such an outrageous degree and which puts in total jeopardy the right of people to purchase a home. This is because the owners of land banks decide to speculate and make a fortune.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That question might be more appropriate for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  It relates to the question on the legislative priorities for the current Dáil session. Does the Taoiseach intend to bring forward legislation to control the price of building land? I have been asking him this for the past six years. Will he stop the speculators who are making it impossible for young people to purchase a home and who are continuing to reap the outrageous profits they have been reaping?

[376]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The question refers to the legislative programme of the Department of the Taoiseach for the current Dáil session.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Taoiseach is in charge of the Government so it is a question on—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It might be appropriate for Leaders' Questions.

Mr. J. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Taoiseach is the leader of the Government and I am asking him.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Taoiseach is responsible for the legislation in his own Department. The Deputy's question refers to the legislative programme of the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The Ceann Comhairle is certainly limiting the range of supplementary questions. I wonder if it is in line with the precedent in the House because, in response to previous questions on the legislative programme, the Taoiseach certainly took the liberty of talking about the whole national question. He dealt with the North, partnership talks and some legislative programmes of other Departments. Is he allowed to extend his remit beyond his own Department although the Opposition is not?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  No, Deputy. I am referring specifically to a question in your name asking the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's legislative priorities for the current Dáil session.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I feel the Taoiseach would have legislative priorities that go beyond his Department. Given the phenomenon of climate change and that we are 80% reliant on imported fuels, the Taoiseach should be interested because this will have an impact on every Department, including his own. Is greater urgency being accorded to the type of remedial action needed? A completely different economic outlook is required given that the Kyoto Protocol will lead to enormous fines being imposed on this country.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  As I pointed out to Deputy Joe Higgins, that question is more appropriate to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  The Taoiseach cannot avoid the issue whether he is allowed to answer it or not.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Does the Taoiseach think it is appropriate that legislation should be passed through the Oireachtas when neither of its sponsoring Ministers is present? I refer to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003, which is now being taken in the Seanad.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  No form of logic would allow that supplementary question to any one of the five questions.

[377]Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The Bill is a legislative priority because it is being rammed through by the Government—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy should find other ways of raising the issue.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  —as a matter of priority.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It certainly cannot be raised on foot of a question to the Taoiseach.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  My question refers to the priorities for the remainder of the current Dáil. The Bill is a legislative priority and is being dealt with in the Seanad although neither sponsoring Minister is present.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The manner in which the legislation goes through the House—

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I am asking the Taoiseach, as somebody who has been around here for almost as long as myself, about the practicality and mechanics of dealing with legislation when neither of the sponsoring Ministers is present.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That does not arise out of this question.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It does because the Bill is a legislative priority.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  How the legislative priority is dealt with does not arise.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The Bill which restricts citizens is being taken in the Seanad and neither sponsoring Minister is here to deal with it. What is the Taoiseach's view on that?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has made comments about the establishment of committees of inquiry and about the introduction of mandatory identification cards. Neither of these two suggestions appears on the legislative programme. Have they been considered and approved by the Cabinet? If so, when will the relevant legislation be brought before the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I have heard the Chair's ruling. These matters do not pertain to my Department but there are proposals concerning them.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  What about the practicality of putting legislation through with no Minister present to deal with it?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That does not arise in relation to the Taoiseach's Department.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The Taoiseach does understand that—

[378]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  There are other ways of raising the matter.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The ruling of the Ceann Comhairle is very specific. The Bill is a legislative priority of the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy must ask something in line with the questions submitted.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  My question refers to the Taoiseach's legislative priorities for the remainder of the current Dáil.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Even taking the broadest view of that question—

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  One of the Taoiseach's legislative priorities is to change—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  It is not relevant what Minister takes the legislation.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  —the Freedom of Information Act.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That totally defies logic.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I will abide by the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle but, with respect, one of the Taoiseach's legislative priorities is to amend the Freedom of Information Act. Both Ministers sponsoring the Bill are out of the jurisdiction. Does the Taoiseach think that is appropriate?

Mr. English: Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  It is a simple question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  The Taoiseach wants to answer the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That does not arise.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It does because it is a legislative priority.

Mr. English: Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  It is not rocket science.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It is the Taoiseach's legislative priority to change the Freedom of Information Act. The two Ministers sponsoring the Bill are away. Does the Taoiseach think this is appropriate?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  If the Deputy reads his question—

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I will. It is to ask the Taoiseach his legislative priorities for the remainder of the current Dáil. One of those is the amendment of the Freedom of Information Act.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  How the Act is dealt with does not arise from the Deputy's question.

[379]Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  It does. The Taoiseach wants to give the best kind of leadership to his Government. Is it good leadership to have an Act passing through the Seanad—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy knows he is abusing-—

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  —when both sponsoring Ministers are across the water?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy knows he is being disorderly.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Does the Taoiseach think that makes for good legislation?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I want to give a good example. Will the Chair allow me to answer a few questions?

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I will not be disruptive but I think it is very bad practice.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  There is a question on the European Council meeting next week which I would like to answer today because it will be irrelevant when I next get the opportunity to answer it.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  I want to know the practicality of—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy is straying beyond the terms of his question.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  My question does not refer to the Taoiseach's Department and it was worded very carefully. It asks the Taoiseach to outline his legislative priorities for 2003 and for the remainder of the 29th Dáil. I would have raised some of the questions that have already been posed, but I wish to raise again one which was asked throughout the term of the 28th Dáil and which was, at times, greeted with mockery and derision.

I find it absolutely intolerable that the ground rent Bill is on the programme of the 29th Dáil again although the Taoiseach has absolutely no intention of bringing it forward and making it the priority that it should be for so many who are suffering the consequences of this Government's and previous Governments' failure to tackle this very important issue – I challenge the Taoiseach to clarify the position. This issue affects communities and urban areas not only in my own constituency but throughout the country. Will the Taoiseach make the ground rent Bill a priority of the Government in the course of the 29th Dáil? When exactly will he do so, rather than offering the glib, dismissive responses that we received to questions on this important legislation in the past?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Chair has made a ruling and I cannot breach it. I regularly answer the [380] Deputy's question on the Order of Business when I am asked about it.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  The Taoiseach responds but he does not answer.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I give the Deputy the reply, which he should pursue with the relevant Minister. He knows that is the procedure.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  My question is very clear. It asks the Taoiseach what his legislative priorities are not only for 2003 but for the remainder of the 29th Dáil.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A ruling has already been made.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  The earlier ruling of the Ceann Comhairle does not excuse the Taoiseach from his responsibility for the full raft of legislation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Quinn.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I am trying to ascertain the Taoiseach's position on the ground rent Bill.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Does the Taoiseach see any distinction between the role of individual Departments, such as the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Environment and Local Government, and his own Department in respect of legislative responsibilities, or are they all equal? Is he equal to every other Minister in terms of the constitutional operations of the Republic? That is at the core of what we are asking.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Taoiseach is the head of Government. According to my understanding of the rulings of the Chair, I discuss proposed legislation during parliamentary questions and I answer for the Government during the Order of Business.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Unlike the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of the Taoiseach has a co-ordination and managerial role in respect of all legislation. Notwithstanding what has been stated in the past, inquiries about legislative priorities, such as that of Deputy Joe Higgins, constitute perfectly legitimate parliamentary questions to the Taoiseach. Members of the House will be aware that the Taoiseach can establish the legislative priorities of the Cabinet and order time through his Minister of State to give legislative proposals oxygen in this Chamber. On that basis, does the Taoiseach accept he has a unique role in articulating the Government's legislative priorities, not just those which emanate from his Department?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Deputy Quinn is correct. On the last day I answered questions regarding the [381] Government's programme, I responded with regard to a range of areas. As I understand it, the Chair's ruling was made in the context of the formulation of questions. It was not my ruling.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot get into a debate on the rulings of the Chair.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  This is important. I ask the Chair to note the Taoiseach's clear indication that a question on the legislative programme of the Government phrased in a particular way must be responded to citing its rank in terms of priority. For example, the Taoiseach would be expected to articulate whether a ground rents Bill is as urgent as the abolition of freedom of information.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Deputy Quinn has attended questions to the Taoiseach long enough to know exactly how the matter is dealt with. Deputy Joe Higgins referred at the beginning to a debate we had here, but he formulated his question differently.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Is it the case that if we get the formulation right, the Taoiseach will answer the question?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  That is how we did it the last time. I do it all the time.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  The Taoiseach is not being protected by the Chair now.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  That is not a matter for the Deputy to comment on. I am not required to have all the detail a Minister would, but it is usual for me to answer questions. When discussing social partnership, I answer across a range of areas from the perspective of my co-ordinating role. A ruling of the Chair was made today and that—

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  I challenge that ruling.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Anyone would accept that in my six years as Taoiseach I have ranged all over the place to be helpful to the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I must remind the House that there is a 45 minute limit on questions to the Taoiseach.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  The ruling to which the Taoiseach referred related to questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, which relate specifically to his Department's legislative priorities. Questions Nos. 4 and 5 put by Deputy Kenny and me, respectively, make no such reference, nor did the Ceann Comhairle rule on my question. The baton was passed to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle who is in a position to make a judgment, but has not ruled. I asked the Taoiseach his legislative priorities for 2003 and the remainder of the 29th Dáil. Is a ground rent Bill a priority for the Taoiseach in this Dáil term or during the course of the 29th Dáil? The responses we received between 1997 [382] and 2002 indicate that the Taoiseach does not intend to address this important issue seriously. If his position is different, I ask him to correct the impression I have been given.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  In the context of his legislative priorities for the remainder of this Dáil, does the Taoiseach intend to promote any amendments to the Constitution? Are there any legislative proposals to assert the primacy of the public good over private property to alleviate the housing crisis and reduce the price of land?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  That is a priority area for the constitutional review group and the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I have engaged in a number of discussions with the Attorney General to discover how best to tackle this issue. I have done a certain amount of work and it is clear that much more is required. The legislation involved will not come from my Department, but it is a priority of mine.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Is it the Taoiseach's intention to bring forward measures in the lifetime of this Dáil? He seemed to say there will not be legislative measures, but I am not sure this matter can be addressed without them, whether it is by constitutional amendment or otherwise. Does the Taoiseach think the discussions to which he referred will be concluded halfway through the life of this Government at which point the issue I raised will be dealt with?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The answer to that question is “Yes”. I said legislation would not come from my Department, but it will be necessary. A constitutional amendment may also be required.


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