Thursday, 5 February 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be No. 2, the Immigration Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Order for Committee, Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 1, Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad] — Second Stage. It is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 2 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall only include the amendments set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Mr. R. Bruton: I thank the Government for extending the time allocated to Committee Stage to allow a more detailed debate on this important issue. I continue to raise my doubts to roll Committee and Report Stages together for a Bill of such importance. Normally, there would be time for reflection between Committee and Report Stages. The Bill was struck down by the High Court on the grounds of insufficient consideration of the issues involved. I question the Government on whether it is wise to adopt this approach of guillotining the Stages.
Mr. Rabbitte: While I welcome the additional two hours for debate, it is inadequate to deal with a measure of this significance. There are 113 amendments on the green list and the Minister has introduced a further three this morning. If we have dealt with the Order of Business by 11 a.m. — I know that is the Chair's desire — we will have 270 minutes to deal with 116 amendments, or 2.3 minutes per amendment, provided there are no divisions. We cannot deal with a matter of this importance in this fashion.
The Minister is rapidly earning the title of the rubber stamp Minister. He sought to put this Bill through the House last Thursday. He has tabled three amendments today on top of the 20 he tabled yesterday to a Bill he would have enacted if he had his way last Thursday. This is not the way to do business.
Mr. Gormley: While I welcome the additional time, this is rushed legislation. This is not the way to process legislation. My constituency colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has taken grave umbrage at the description in the Seanad of the Bill as Nazism at its worst. While it may be inaccurate to describe the Government as fascists, it is becoming more apparent each day that normal democratic principles are being abandoned in this House. The normal courtesy extended to the Opposition is being arrogantly done away with.
The Government must listen to the Opposition. This is an important Bill that will have a profound influence on the way people lead their lives, particularly those coming to this country. I ask that the Tánaiste reconsider the arrangements for taking this Bill. The Minister has submitted 20 amendments after he wanted to rush it through last Thursday. It is not the way to conduct business in this House. My colleague, Deputy Cuffe, has tabled a number of amendments and has expressed real concern about aspects of this Bill. The main problem is how business is conducted in this House. Things will have to change. We need Dáil reform and more respect for the House.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I appeal to the Tánaiste not to impose a guillotine on Committee and Remaining Stages of the Immigration Bill. Bad law is bad enough, but rushed bad law is a mark of gross irresponsibility. What we are seeing is gross irresponsibility, because unquestionably this matter will be revisited. This law will be challenged and elements of it will, without question, be brought through the courts. This is altogether apart from the draconian effect it will have on individuals who hope to find a future on our shores.
As the Taoiseach yesterday indicated a willingness to change the hours scheduled for the Second Stage debate, I ask again that a guillotine would not be imposed and that time would be allowed for a full and detailed debate on all the amendments. Members have worked hard and considered the amendments carefully in a very short period. It is an effort to ensure that this Bill is not a follow-on to the mess that has already been created by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is not too late; I urge the Minister to reconsider the matter.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputies are aware, we are in a very unsatisfactory position as a result of the High Court decision in that there are huge doubts about the conditions under which non-nationals remain in the State and there are difficulties with entry controls to the State. In such situations in the past, the Oireachtas has always shown its capacity to introduce legislation quickly and efficiently and we want to do so in this case. We need the legislation urgently, so unfortunately I am not in a position to accede to the requests of the Opposition.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Aylward, Liam.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Brady, Martin.|
|Brennan, Séamus.||Browne, John.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carey, Pat.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Collins, Michael.||Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.|
|Coughlan, Mary.||Cregan, John.|
|Curran, John.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Ellis, John.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fitzpatrick, Dermot.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Gallagher, Pat The Cope.||Glennon, Jim.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kirk, Séamus.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|McDaid, James.||McDowell, Michael.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O'Connor, Charlie.||O'Dea, Willie.|
|O'Donnell, Liz.||O'Donoghue, John.|
|O'Flynn, Noel.||O'Keeffe, Batt.|
|O'Malley, Fiona.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eoin.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Smith, Michael.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Walsh, Joe.|
|Wilkinson, Ollie.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Crowe, Seán.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Healy, Séamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Paul.|
|McHugh, Paddy.||McManus, Liz.|
|Mitchell, Gay.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.|
|Murphy, Gerard.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O'Dowd, Fergus.||O'Keeffe, Jim.|
|O'Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Séamus.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Quinn, Ruairi.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sherlock, Joe.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Upton, Mary.|
Mr. R. Bruton: Before asking a question on the Order of Business, I take this opportunity to wish John Hume well on his recently announced retirement. John Hume has been at the heart of change on these islands for a generation. His dedication to pursuing peaceful forms of reconciliation has been exemplary. He is probably the most popular politician in the Republic, as well as in the North, although he never had the opportunity of putting that to the test in the South. I wish him well.
Will the Tánaiste clarify the position on electronic voting in the European and local elections? Yesterday, the Taoiseach indicated that it was not clear whether an order or regulation was required. It seems that under the legislation there is a requirement to have a change in the European Parliament Acts to introduce electronic voting. Will this be done by way of primary legislation or regulation? If it is not to be done by primary legislation, does the Tánaiste believe that secondary legislation will be sufficiently robust, given that the High Court recently struck down as unconstitutional an attempt to amend an Act by ministerial order?
Mr. Rabbitte: I received a letter this morning from the Taoiseach in respect of the exchanges that took place here yesterday, pointing out that he was incorrect and that an order is, indeed, required. I want to raise the point, as did Deputy Richard Bruton, about the impact, if any, of the Carrickmines decision on this matter. Apparently, it is not possible to alter primary legislation by ministerial order. Does the Tánaiste have any advice that this may now proceed?
Mr. Gormley: I wish to be associated with the remarks that have been made about John Hume. Mr. Hume has been a great servant of this country. He is a man of peace and has taken risks for peace. I wish him and his wife, Pat, well in the future. I had the privilege of meeting him when I was Lord Mayor of Dublin, and we travelled together on an official visit to the United States. All of us in the House recognise the contribution he has made to the peace process. He has been the pivotal figure in that process.
Mr. Gormley: We want to make it clear that we are opposed to electronic voting without a proper paper trail. We think the system is flawed and the Opposition deserves an opportunity to make its views known on this matter.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I join my colleagues in expressing good wishes to John Hume on his retirement from politics. I acknowledge his very important and major contribution to Irish political life. My colleagues, North and South, have registered their appreciation and respect for his contribution on many occasions and I am happy to re-echo their remarks.
It is important to recognise that this Chamber has not had an opportunity to debate, in a substantive way, the detail of what is entailed in the introduction of electronic voting for the local and European elections. The absence of a verifiable record of the votes cast makes the system most unsatisfactory. Sinn Féin is not opposed to the introduction of electronic voting but to the system that will be employed. It is imperative, in the interests of public confidence and that of all participants, both parties and independent candidates, that we have a transparent scrutiny procedure inbuilt in the system, particularly in the initial stages and electoral endeavours. I hope the Tánaiste will accommodate this and recognise the reasonableness of the arguments presented by the Opposition.
The Tánaiste: I join the Opposition Deputies in paying tribute to John Hume. He has genuinely been acknowledged as the architect of the peace process. If it was not for his courage and vision in defence of constitutional politics on this island for so many years, and that of his party, many more people would have been victims of violence. Everybody wishes him and his wife Pat well in his retirement from politics.
It is correct to say that an order under section 48 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 will be required to provide for electronic voting. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government already made such an order in October 2002, in respect of seven constituencies, for the second Nice referendum campaign and he intends to do the same again. The constitutional status of such an order will be subject to the advice of the Attorney General. Therefore, I am not in a position to respond today to Deputy Rabbitte's suggestion.
Clearly, before the Minister would make such an order, and in light of the recent High Court decision, we would have to consult the Attorney General to ensure it has the required constitutional status. Like all orders, the order can be debated in the House and a motion annulling it could be put before the House. If Deputies want a debate on it, I will discuss the matter with the Whip and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Mr. Rabbitte: I rose only on the point of the electronic voting system. I want to be associated with the remarks made by the Tánaiste, Deputy Bruton and other colleagues in respect of the retirement from politics of John Hume. He has been a singular and consistent voice in Irish politics since the civil rights movement, of which he was one of the leaders. It is probably one of the great tragedies of Irish history that a movement that had the capacity to deliver equality for citizens in Northern Ireland, as a condition precedent to any political settlement, was hijacked at the time by the men of violence. John Hume's outstanding contribution has been as a consistent voice in opposition to violence and in favour of constitutional politics over the intervening 35 years. I regret to see him leaving the political stage. He has done the State much service.
Mr. Allen: With regard to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, will the Government, even at this late stage, refer all aspects of the electronic voting system to the Electoral Commission because of the serious division on the matter at the present time?
Mr. Allen: Will the Tánaiste instruct the PR company to withdraw the leaflets and the website which are so misleading and highly political? The company was set up by buddies of Fianna Fáil who are State funded and misleading the people.
Mr. Gilmore: I am raising a question about secondary legislation. It has now been established, contrary to what we were told last week, that orders are required to be laid before the House to enable the European and local elections next June to be conducted by way of electronic voting. The present position, therefore, is that there is no statutory basis ——
Mr. Gilmore: Yes. As there is no statutory basis, as yet, for those elections to be conducted by electronic voting, on what authority is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spending public money advertising electronic voting for those elections?
Mr. Sherlock: What is the position with regard to the Prison Service Bill and the temporary closure of Fort Mitchell education centre in Cobh? What is the meaning of the temporary closure of the Fort Mitchell centre?
Mr. G. Mitchell: There is a difficulty with racism in Irish society. Now we also have a difficulty in connection with the enlargement of the European Union. Ireland remains the only country without a policy with regard to restrictions on the movement of persons. However, I understand this may be under examination. Will the Tánaiste make time available for a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs so the question of immigration and the need for a proactive policy dealing with immigration issues will be addressed properly in the House rather than in the manner in which it is currently being addressed?
The Tánaiste: A Bill was passed in the House last year on this matter. Therefore, it is incorrect to say we do not have a policy. We will give consideration to the Deputy's suggestion and I will revert to him on it.
Ms O'Sullivan: The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill is on the B list of legislation. In view of the conflict of interests identified by the outgoing chairperson of the commission and the failure to adequately respond to the commission's queries and its request for discovery, chronicled in Ms Justice Laffoy's report, will the Government consider transferring the legislation to the Department of the Taoiseach or some other appropriate Department?
Mr. Timmins: When can we expect to see the companies Bill? Can the Tánaiste give any indication of when the IFI creditors will receive payment? This issue has been ongoing for 15 months. Has she any information regarding the liquidator of IFI and payment to creditors in Arklow?
An Ceann Comhairle: I would point out to Members that questions appropriate to line Ministers should not be asked on the Order of Business. Deputy Rabbitte rightly pointed out this morning that it was important to get on to the legislation and the 100 amendments and that the time ——
On 9 January, a spokesman for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform told us the Garda Síochána Bill would be published within three weeks. I know the Minister is very busy, but he announced inadvertently in a radio interview that he had brought forward the Bill. He had not. He had brought forward heads of the Bill. Can the Tánaiste say when the Bill will be published?
Mr. R. Bruton: I see the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has 30 Bills on the Order Paper and that a criminal justice Bill is shortly to be published. What progress has been made on these Bills? Was the Minister a little confused when he claimed crime figures were coming down as a result of his intervention in other legislation when we see now that very few actions were taken under any of the legislative measures he claimed resolved crime issues?
Mr. M. Higgins: What is the reason for the late publication date of the diplomatic relations and immunities Bill, which will amend legislation so old that it dates from 1967 and 1976? When will that Bill be published?
Mr. Costello: We are dealing with the legislation of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform which the Tánaiste has said it is difficult to get on to the Order Paper. The Private Security Services Bill has been on the Order Paper for two years. The Minister has told us on numerous occasions that it is a priority to put this Bill through.
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