Wednesday, 8 October 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business shall be: No. 21a, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights of the proposed approval of Dáil Éireann of a Council regulation (EC) on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II); No. 1 the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed); No. 5, Aer Lingus Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 2, the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003 [Seanad] – Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 21a should be decided without debate, Private Members' Business shall be No. 32, the  Planning and Development (Acquisition of Development Land) (Assessment of Compensation) Bill 2003 – Second State (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I wish to object to the way we are being asked once again to adopt a very important element of EU law, without full scrutiny of this House. The referral to committee in my view is absolutely unacceptable, given the major implications for judicial harmonisation between this State and other member states. I believe that during the course of the Nice treaty debates the Taoiseach gave a commitment in this House that such important EU matters would not be deflected into committee – where following deliberation this House gets no report back. There is no report back procedure whatsoever. It will return to the Order Paper in a number of weeks and we will be asked to rubber-stamp it without any indication to the membership of this House of the import, concern, reservations or whatever of the participating committee members. This may be a motion which, with the full detail and exposure, my colleagues and I would support. It is the procedure to which I am objecting. This point has been validly addressed here before and in line with the commitment already given, I am asking that this approach not to be adopted in this instance or in any other such instance in the future.
Mr. Stagg: I support the point made by Deputy Ó Caoláin. This has been discussed at Whips' meetings and with the agreement of the chairs of the committees we are seeking to introduce a system to ensure a report will be made to the Dáil. I ask the Taoiseach to address that point and perfect the procedure we are proposing.
Mr. Sargent: Like other speakers, I would be interested to know what we are being asked to approve. In endeavouring to find that out, what is contained in the Order Paper is mysterious. We are being asked to approve an option, provided by Article 3 of the fourth Protocol set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, to notify the President of the Council of the European Union that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application of proposed measures such as a proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations.
It could have been phrased in a way that would make sense. This is a legal paraphrase designed to be as inaccessible as possible. I ask that we be given the basic information and that the report be placed before us before we approve it rather than afterwards in the hope that it might not be as damaging as we might fear.
The Taoiseach: I agree with what Deputy Stagg has stated. It is important that we try to get the workings of the procedure right whereby we can get reports back from committees. I know the view has been held that we have conveners at these committees and these conveners should report back. I know this issue has been looked at by the Whips. While there are conveners, they do a job of trying to ensure attendance and other issues, but to get reports from conveners does not seem easy to achieve given their parliamentary position. Maybe it should be so in theory, but I do not think it is likely in practice. The Whips are pursuing that so we will continue to try to find a satisfactory outcome on that point.
In reply to Deputy Kenny and others, the objective of the regulation is to harmonise the rules on the applicable law for non-contractual obligations, both civil and commercial. The Commission argues this will ensure that courts in all member states will apply the same law to cross-border disputes involving non-contractual obligations, thereby facilitating mutual recognition of court rulings in the European Parliament. Apparently the reason for all this is the initial focus on the question of civil liability for damage caused to others by for example defective products, unfair competition, violation of privacy or violation of the environment. Member states do not at present have common rules for deciding which law should apply in cases concerning non-contractual obligations so each court applies its own national rules. This is an effort to have one ruling for all cases.
As regards dealing with issues in the full House, not just this issue but others also, they are technical issues. They are legalistic – I do not disagree with Deputy Sargent's point. At many times it is difficult reading these, but then that applies to most legal matters wherever they come from. I accept that is a difficulty. It is necessary to read them three or four times, but the idea of putting these kinds of technical issues on to the floor of the House would not do much for the House and certainly would not help attendance in the House. I do not agree with the concept that they should not go to committees. I say to Deputy Ó Caoláin that people have the right to speak on these issues at committees, but that is not the difficulty we are having. Tá
Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Higgins, Michael D.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Mr. Rabbitte: We read today that the Minister for Health and Children will next week sign the regulations to ban smoking in enclosed places. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that time will be made available to debate this issue, given the widespread support for it in the House, before it is signed?
The Taoiseach: May I remind Deputy Rabbitte that we have debated and passed the legislation? However, if time is required to discuss the regulations, we can do that also. I believe it is useful to reiterate, once again, that 8,500 people die from cancer in this country each year. We have spent considerable time discussing the fact that about 400 people per year die as a result of motor accidents, which is an enormous tragedy, but I believe we should give more focus to the fact that 8,500 people die from causes directly related to smoking.
Mr. Sargent: I agree with the Taoiseach. The Green Party would also welcome a debate, if only to help publicans avoid legal cases down the road when their employees may take them to task for non-compliance.
Mr. Sargent: On promised legislation, in relation to the Department of Education and Science, given that the Government is at sixes and sevens on the issue of indemnity for victims of abuse in institutions, when will we see the register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children? It is mentioned in the list we have that it is not possible to indicate when it will happen. Will the Taoiseach state whether there is an intention on the Government's part to bring forward this legislation and when it might be published?
The Taoiseach: The Department of Justice, Equality and Law reform has established a working group on Garda vetting of people who have significant unsupervised access to children and vulnerable persons. The work of that group is aimed at the enhancement of services provided  by the Garda central vetting unit. Accordingly, the issues being discussed have considerably wider impact than in the education sector alone and the group is representative of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Office of the Attorney General. I am not in a position to specify a date at this stage. However, the working group is operating with a view to giving effect to the recommendations of the child protection group. There is also legislation arising from issues in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council.
Mr. Crawford: I have two questions in relation to legislation. First, however, I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children on their strong stance on the smoking ban. Will they display the same grit with regard to the reopening of Monaghan General Hospital?
On legislation, what is the position with regard to the driving tests and standards authority Bill, in view of the long waiting list? Second, having regard to the difficulty in obtaining death certificates, when will the Coroners (Amendment) Bill be discussed with a view to easing that situation?
The Taoiseach: I understand the report will be published within the next few weeks, following which it will be debated here. The legislation will not be ready for a long time afterwards; there is no possibility of that.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Last week the Taoiseach stated in this House that consultation was still ongoing in relation to the disabilities Bill. However, I understand that the disability legislation consultation group has actually concluded its work and that the disability sector has clearly stated that the consultation process has concluded.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Given that this Bill is eagerly awaited, will the Taoiseach ensure that the Government's previous commitment to publish it in this session will be honoured and that we will have a full and frank debate in this House before Christmas?
The Taoiseach: That is the intention – it is on the list. However, it is an enormous Bill. Not alone do the disability groups want the legislation, they also want the frameworks. That is an enormous task on which a large number of officials are working. It is very easy to suggest what should be done but a substantial amount of time is being given to this matter by senior officials as well as those in the middle and junior ranks. I am not aware of any previous Bill on which such a large number of people have worked so hard.
Mr. Timmins: I understand that, in the week beginning 22 September, Iarnród Éireann placed an advertisement with local radio stations outlining the line closures over the next 18 months, but that, on the evening of 26 September, the advertisement was withdrawn. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Transport the reason for this?
Mr. Timmins: When will the transport reform Bill be published? Will the Taoiseach arrange for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to go to Libya, now that UN sanctions have been lifted, with a view to opening up the live cattle trade? Egypt has been reopened for the tenth time in recent weeks.
Mr. Costello: I am aware that the Cory report was raised yesterday. However, now that the Taoiseach has received the report, has he had an opportunity of reading it? Is it his intention to refer the Cory and Nally reports to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as well as publishing them? One report refers to collusion by gardaí with the IRA; the other relates to prior information the Garda would have in relation to the Omagh bombing.
The Taoiseach: I commented at length on this yesterday. I received the reports last night but have not read them. This morning, I have referred them to the Attorney General, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for their consideration. When there is a comprehensive response, we will publish the reports in so far as we can do so. As I said yesterday, having regard to security issues, it may not be possible to publish the full reports, which include many names. As I also pointed out, we only have the Buchanan and Breen reports and that in relation to Lord and Lady Gibson. The other reports were presented to the British Government and it will be some time before it examines them. I hope all of the reports, or at least as much of them as possible, will eventually reach the public domain.
Mr. Durkan: All will be revealed in due course, a Cheann Comhairle. A piece of information which was handed out to commuters on the DART this morning came as a shock to them, as the Fine Gael Party leader has already indicated. Is there a hidden message on the reverse of that information which depicts a saw? Since the Taoiseach, the Minister for Transport and the Government were unaware of the intentions of Iarnród Éireann, the message might even be hidden. Does the Ceann Comhairle think there is a hidden message there?
Mr. Quinn: The Intergovernmental Conference on the Constitution treaty commenced work last week. The Labour Party Whip had agreed in principle with the Government Whip that there would be an early debate on the matter. Will the Taoiseach indicate now when the debate will take place in this House?
Mr. Morgan: In light of the defeat of the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill 2001 in the referendum in early 2002, when will the Government legislate to deal with the X case decision?
Ms O. Mitchell: Today's Order Paper includes the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003. Without wanting to prejudice any trial that may ensue, it has been reported that one of those arrested for the shooting of a prominent publican—
Mr. Eamon Ryan: Will the Taoiseach tell the House why the greater Dublin land use and transport authority Bill is back on the legislative programme when it was proved in the last session that neither the Minister for Transport nor the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government believes in an authority to plan transport in our city?
Ms Burton: In view of the statement by Dr. Michael Somers last week that it costs the State 4.5% to borrow, as opposed to the private sector investors in PPPs seeking a 15% return, what is the Taoiseach's view of the development of the Dublin Institute of Technology at Grangegorman? In the last session the Taoiseach promised that the Bill to provide for it was almost ready but there is no sign of it yet.
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