Thursday, 6 November 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 24, Statements on Tobacco Regulations; No. 25, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003 – Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 24 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1 p.m., and that the following arrangement shall apply: the statements of the Minister for Health and Children and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and Members may share time; the Minister for Health and Children shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
Mr. Kenny: I do not want to object to this, except to say to the Tánaiste that she might remind the Taoiseach that he should perhaps clarify his comment that the introduction of these regulations would allow for decent people to return to public houses. The implication is that those who attend public houses are not decent.
Mr. Rabbitte: This is an important matter on which unfortunately the House is not permitted to vote after the debate. That is a great pity, given the unity and determination on the Government benches, driven only by considerations of health. It is important that the House be given an opportunity to positively vote on this statutory instrument. Unless the Tánaiste is minded at this stage to concede a vote, I would have to reluctantly oppose the measure.
Mr. Gormley: I support Deputy Rabbitte. It is very important that we have a vote. I very much welcome this measure but I understand that there are some recalcitrant backbenchers in the Government parties who may not be supportive of this. We would like to see the colour of their money.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I wish to highlight the ludicrousness of our having the opportunity at this point to have statements on a measure that has already been signed by the Minister. This is not a debate. All we are being offered here is statements, while the real debate has been going on outside this House over the past several months. We have never been afforded that opportunity. It is like so much that happens in this House, being too little and too late. I concur with the other Deputies. We should have the right to exercise a vote on this matter.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Mr. Kenny: I wish to raise two matters with the Tánaiste on the Order of Business. The Taoiseach told the Dáil on 7 October regarding the disruptive DART works that CIE had not made it clear until recent days that the work would start now. On 8 October he said that the chairmen of CIE and Iarnród Éireann had arranged on the evening of 6 October to meet the Minister to brief him. According to documentation received by Deputy Denis Naughten under the Freedom of Information Act—
Mr. Kenny: Thank you, though the Taoiseach should be here to answer the first. On a previous Order of Business, I raised with the Tánaiste that she was unable to attend a meeting in Brussels at which 27 Ministers were present, while Ireland was represented by a deputy ambassador. None of the Tánaiste's Ministers of State was able to attend either. One matter on the agenda was embryonic stem cell research. The next meeting is to be held shortly and I understand that the Tánaiste will attend. In view of the fact that the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business yesterday unanimously recommended that the proposal from the European Commission be rejected and that the moratorium on embryonic stem cell research not be lifted, can the Tánaiste explain what action she proposes to take when she attends the next meeting in view of the fact that the Government has indicated support for the motion?
Mr. Kenny: As a medical doctor, the Ceann Comhairle will understand that Dáil Éireann has never discussed the matter, which is very important to a great number of people. I would like the Tánaiste to explain what she will do in view of the committee's unanimous proposal yesterday.
The Tánaiste: To clarify the matter for Deputy Kenny, the moratorium runs out at the end of December. If no decision is taken by the Council of Ministers on 27 November, the research can proceed without any controls. The issue for the Ministers on 27 November is, in the context of the moratorium ceasing at the end of this year, whether they wish the research to be carried out in those countries which believe that it is ethically possible.
The Tánaiste: Yes, exactly. It is European funding. The question is whether the Ministers want such research to be carried out in those countries that do not have ethical problems with it under some control regime or without such controls. The next meeting of the Council of Ministers, which I will attend, is next Monday. As I explained to Deputy Kenny previously, I was unable to attend the last meeting for private family reasons, and I think he understood that. The matter was discussed informally at that meeting. It was not tabled for formal discussion, but it will be down for that on 27 November. My officials and I will be at that meeting.
Mr. Durkan: On a point of order, Deputy Kenny asked a supplementary question, part of which involved the reply to his first. He is entitled to an answer to the second part of the question if he was entitled to an answer to the first part. The Tánaiste has already volunteered the information.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Taoiseach had to correct the record yesterday morning about exaggerating the number of gardaí on our streets. Notwithstanding that, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform asserts that the 2,000 gardaí promised at the last election may still materialise in part. I would like to ask the Tánaiste about the statement by the Minister for Finance this morning on Today FM, when he said that there is no necessity for additional gardaí on the streets.
Mr. Rabbitte: Perhaps I might raise a second matter while the Tánaiste considers which side she wishes to take on the first. I draw her attention to the landmark case taken by a young person against a residential institution in Sligo. A case initiated in 1999 found that the State had to be called in under Deputy Michael Woods's indemnity deal last Friday and a settlement made for €50,000, highlighting what a newspaper calls a new flaw in the controversial indemnity deal. Regarding the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill, will the Government deal with any of the flaws in that remarkable deal?
Mr. Gormley: Does the Tánaiste agree that yesterday's Supreme Court decision is yet more evidence of our two-tier health system? Does the Government now intend to introduce legislation to amend section 62 of the Health Act 1970 to ensure that women, regardless of their financial circumstances, have the right to a home birth?
The Tánaiste: Various pieces of legislation in the health area are promised, as the Deputy is aware, particularly to implement the reform programme outlined by the Minister for Health and Children on behalf of the Government.
Mr. R. Bruton: I would like to ask the Tánaiste about her comments on the need for consumers to shop around. Is it not difficult for consumers to shop around when 90% of the cost increases are coming from the Government in the form of ESB bills, motor tax, health charges, local charges and student charges?
Mr. R. Bruton: Yes. The Tánaiste has indicated that she intends to produce legislation that will require doctors and dentists to display their charges. Will she indicate when this matter will come before the House?
The Tánaiste: I will discuss that matter with the Director of Consumer Affairs this week. The regulations will be put in place as quickly as we can make that happen. I will bring them before the House.
Mr. M. Higgins: Earlier this week, I raised the issue of legislation dealing with An Blascaod Mór, which was promised during the lifetime of the last Government. This legislation is needed as a result of a Supreme Court decision. The House was assured that the legislation is being prepared. The Taoiseach undertook to communicate with me in respect of the delays that might exist in that regard, but he has not done so.
I would also like to ask about the road traffic Bill, which has been promised. When will it be brought forward? I am raising this matter because of the misuse of sections 70 and 71 of the Roads Act 1993 in the case of a person who was distributing literature from Oxfam in the pedestrianised area of Galway city last week. The person was surrounded by four gardaí and two traffic wardens.
Mr. M. Higgins: On a point of order – I do not want the Tánaiste to mislead the House – the Taoiseach said in the House earlier this week that he understands that the constitutional difficulties with the legislation remain. The House has been informed that legislation is necessary as a result of the Supreme Court decision.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Given that it is broadly accepted that the remit of the Ombudsman's office should be extended, when will we see the publication of the Ombudsman (amendment) Bill? I would like to ask about a second Bill which deals with an important area. Can the Tánaiste give a specific date for the adoptive leave (amendment) Bill, which will introduce significant changes to maternity legislation?
Mr. Durkan: I asked the Taoiseach yesterday, without success, whether the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's legislation that is before the House at present will address the issue of the intimidation of witnesses. I did not receive an answer to the question. As the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to have gone into hiding this morning, I wonder if the Tánaiste can give the House some information about whether further legislation is likely to be introduced. Will one of the Bills before the House be expanded or amended to deal with this urgent issue?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is at a meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council and the Taoiseach is in Cyprus to meet his counterpart. I mention this to remove any doubt and to answer a question that was asked earlier.
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform spoke earlier this week about the protection of witnesses. He suggested that a system of accepting statements in court, such as that used in Canada, could be adopted. The matter is under examination.
Mr. Kenny: I hope the Tánaiste can respond to my concerns. Many small businesses in the Arklow area are owed money as a result of the closure of IFI last year, with the loss of many jobs. Can the Tánaiste indicate when this matter will be sorted out? Will the businesses in question receive any compensation?
Ms Burton: Will the Government agree to set aside time for a debate on the ESRI's mid-term review of the National Development Plan 2001-2006? Such a debate is particularly needed in the context of this week's news that we have dropped seven places in the international competitiveness league despite spending a great deal of money on infrastructure.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Acting Head of Government this morning is the Tánaiste. Deputy Burton wishes to ask her whether Government time will be provided to debate the mid-term review of the national development plan. Does the Tánaiste have a view on the matter? The question of whether the matter will be debated in the House will be decided by the Government and not by the Whips.
Mr. Rabbitte: —a party in Opposition to ask if a major report will be debated in the House. Only the Head of Government, or the Acting Head as is the case today, can make a comment on such a decision. It is unreasonable, a Cheann Comhairle, for you to take up this position.
Mr. Stagg: A Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order, there is no precedent for you as Chair to refer anything to the Whips. It is a matter for the Leader of the Government on the day to say that an issue can be referred to the Whips. We will then have some authority at the Whips' meeting. You have no authority to refer anything to the Whips.
The Tánaiste: In case there is any doubt about it, the Whips have authority to act on behalf of the Government at the Whips' meetings, which are the appropriate fora for certain discussions. The Government does not have any problem with discussing this important report.
The Tánaiste: The Estimates will be important next week. The Hanly report and many other matters have been discussed. There are several important reports to be discussed in the House or in committees.
Ms Lynch: On 31 September last, 3,000 files were handed over by St. Anne's Adoption Society to the Southern Health Board. When the society was dealing with the 3,000 clients – parents who had given their children up for adoption and children who had been adopted – it had six part-time counsellors and two full-time social workers. The Southern Health Board has not received any additional funding to employ anyone other than an administrator. Can the Tánaiste tell me about the adoption information, post adoption contact and associated issues Bill? Will the funding be allocated to the Southern Health Board to make sure the people who need a service will get it?
Mr. Stanton: Reports are in circulation that suggest the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is possibly preparing ministerial regulations to require septic tanks to be cleaned out on a regular basis, which could result in major costs for householders. Will the Tánaiste state if this is the case? If so, what is the timescale?
Mr. Ring: Now that rates are being introduced through the backdoor, when will the local government (rates) Bill be introduced? The other rumour is that we will have rates on private houses but I suppose the relevant Bill will not be introduced until after June 2004.
Mr. Boyle: Given that the House is currently considering the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill and the Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, neither of which cover the threat posed by the flotilla of ships passing near our waters, and that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has stated he intends to see that the EU deal with this threat, is the Government making any proposals to have this threat dealt with in the near future, if not immediately?
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