Tuesday, 29 June 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: The Tánaiste and her party’s members have consistently portrayed themselves as the defenders of the people from the wrath of Fianna Fáil in Government and the standards that party would bring about if it was on its own in Government. Her party’s members tell us constantly that the Progressive Democrats Party is in Government to keep Government clean.
The Tánaiste failed to prevent the sweetheart deal on Punchestown between two Fianna Fáil Ministers or the mismanagement of the electronic voting by the Fianna Fáil director of elections. In the past month we have seen a litany of breaches of ethics by Fianna Fáil representatives. We saw the misuse of Department facilities by the Minister for Education and Science, for which he has apologised, the misuse by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Fahey, of facilities within the Tánaiste’s Department, reports in the national press of Fianna Fáil election literature being stapled to voting cards and the misuse of the diplomatic bag to issue to foreign affairs personnel throughout the world a letter signed by the Taoiseach, a facility only made available to the Taoiseach’s party. Now we learn of approximately 2,000 letters with the forged signature of the Taoiseach, for which a Fianna Fáil councillor has accepted responsibility.
Last week the Tánaiste, when under pressure, spoke of quitting office and stated that she would not be pushed. Is there no limit to her tolerance? Is there anything her partners in Government could get up to that would force her to walk away or stand up to the Taoiseach and remove herself from the trappings of office? Does the Tánaiste not recognise that these consistent trends give a clear indication that the Progressive Democrats Party in Government has been steamrolled by Fianna Fáil and that her party is far removed from keeping the country clean, something she said she would do when she entered this coalition Government?
The Tánaiste: I am not certain what the Deputy’s question is. The forged signature used by councillor Lorcan Allen was not a Government decision. I am not here to answer for how any party deals with misdemeanours of that kind. That is a matter for the Fianna Fáil Party, not Government.
The use of Oireachtas envelopes is governed by regulation. The Committee on Members’ Interests recently issued a code of conduct on their use. Perhaps the matter should be resolved there or by the Standards in Public Office Commission. I believe Oireachtas envelopes were used widely by a number of sides in this House in the recent local elections campaign. I have in my possession some letters sent out by Deputies seeking support, not all from the Government side.
Mr. Kenny: I did not ask the Tánaiste about what was sent out to party members. I asked if she recognises the consistent trend. She said she was there to prevent Fianna Fáil from having single party Government and the kind of ethics it would bring to Government.
The decision to allocate €50 million to Punchestown was made between two Fianna Fáil Ministers in a Government of which the Tánaiste is a member. The decision to spend €40 million on electronic voting, which has turned into a complete and utter shambles, was made by the Government of which she is a member. There are other breaches of ethics by the Government of which she is a member. Does she understand her party is being steamrolled, as the smaller party in government, by the Government and that Fianna Fáil has no intention of standing clear of breaches of ethics of which there is a consistent and clear trend, for which some Ministers have been forced to come into the House to apologise? Does she regard forgery as a serious matter? It is a criminal offence——
The Tánaiste: Of course forging somebody’s signature is a serious offence and it is perhaps inevitably a matter for the Garda Síochána, but how parties are governed as political parties is not a matter for me in my capacity as Tánaiste and a member of the Government. The Deputy may not agree with some of the decisions made, for example, in regard to electronic voting, but they were honest decisions.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am authorised to tell the House that Deputy Stagg also wishes that the animal should be brought under control before, as Fluther Good would say, anything derogatory happens. I assure the Ceann Comhairle on that.
Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Government bring forward legislative proposals to implement the all-party committee on building land and, if so, when? We have had the report on this matter for a number of months but no action on foot of it has been taken by the Government despite the fact that since 1997 the price of houses has trebled from €97,000 in 1997 to €300,000 for an average new house today. As the Tánaiste is aware, the most recent figures show that 50% of all new families cannot afford a house of their own. They show that the number on the public housing waiting list has increased from 26,000 in 1996 to 60,000 now. We know that the price of a new house has increased at nine times the rate of inflation, at five times the rate of average earnings and at four times the increase in the cost of building a house. The single factor that is fuelling this spiral is the cost of building land. The contribution of the site cost to the cost of a house is between 40% and 50% while it was between 13% and 14% in the past.
For all these years the Government has prevaricated. It has not made an intervention that has not made the situation worse. The Taoiseach dawdled for three years indicating that a constitutional impediment might exist and that he might put forward a constitutional amendment. He did not do so, and the all-party committee has borne out the submission the Labour Party made to it. In other words, it is possible to intervene in the common good to control the cost of building land at current use value plus a premium.
What is delaying the Tánaiste in acting? She had no difficulty with the citizenship referendum in rushing an amendment through this House and the other House, yet no action has been taken on this, although the situation is getting worse. The all-party committee confirmed there was no constitutional impediment, notwithstanding the fact that the Government recruited further consultants, Goodbody consultants——
Mr. Rabbitte: ——who reported a number of months ago on who owns the building land around this city. I do not know why the Government would want to know that. It already knows, or if it does not, that information is available in Mount Street.
The Tánaiste: It is true that one in every seven houses in this State was built in the past six or so years. Therefore, there is a major demand issue in addition to the points raised by the Deputy. I share his view that we need to act on the all-part committee report. Windfall gains that owners of land or developers get as a result of a planning decision of a local authority should be bestowed more on the public or the community interest rather than on the personal interest of the landowner. I understand that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is reflecting on this report and he is due to bring proposals to Government. As the Deputy said, it is an all-party committee report. As he may be aware, the representative of my party on that committee supports action along the lines the Deputy suggests. I hope we will be in a position to do that relatively soon.
Mr. Rabbitte: I am grateful to the Tánaiste for saying that her party supports it because when my party advocated it, the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, described the notion of capping the price of building land as “gift wrapped in an ideology somewhere to the left of Stalin”. That was the view of the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon.
Mr. Rabbitte: Where the incidence of homelessness has doubled, the price of houses has trebled and the number on the waiting list is two and a half times the number who were on it in 1996, the only measures the Tánaiste’s party in government took was to abolish the first-time buyer’s grant, bring in tax incentives for investors, ensure rents were hiked, cut rent allowance and sabotage the affordable housing scheme. The Government was committed to the provision of 10,000 net additional new affordable and social houses under Sustaining Progress, not one of which has been built.
The Tánaiste: I am sure the Deputy is aware we made a number of interventions in the market to try to take the investors out and he knows what were the consequences of that — they drove up the price of rented property. One thing we have learnt is that there are no easy answers here and when one intervenes in the market, it does not always have the consequences one might desire.
I strongly favour the notion that windfall gains bestowed on owners of land as a result of a decision of a planning authority should not go simply to the owner of the land but rather to the public or the community interest. That is more or less along the lines of what the all-party committee suggests. We can legislate for that. For a long time there was a view that a constitutional referendum was required in regard to property rights, but that does not now seem to be the legal position. I hope we will be in a position sooner rather than later to bring in the necessary legislation in this area.
Mr. J. Higgins: After the EU-US summit in Dromoland Castle, the Taoiseach stated that questions about United States prison camps were answered to his and the Tánaiste’s satisfaction. Did Mr. Bush say that Guantanamo camp will be closed or is it to the Tánaiste’s satisfaction that psychological torture continues there on prisoners kept in cages with no charge, trial or access to relatives, friends or lawyer, although the Supreme Court decision of yesterday might change that somewhat? The Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, declared he was shocked at the torture in Guantanamo, which if he was serious about it — torture being a heinous crime — one might consider he might go and arrest the instigator rather than send 4,000 gardaí to give Mr. Bush safe passage through the Irish countryside? The truth is the Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, erected Guantanamo-style detention cages for protesters in Shannon Industrial Estate, which he tried to hide given that the Garda Commissioner refused me permission to inspect them on Saturday. One could call it the Minister’s very own “Shannonamo”. It represents a shameful episode in the security arrangements.
Was the real role of the Irish Presidency at this summit to whitewash the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq? In giving credence to the sham handover, as it is called, has it not flown in the face of the instincts of the Irish people? Does the Tánaiste believe the Irish people believe sovereignty means sticking a bunch of hand-picked bureaucrats and CIA stooges in a palace and heavily policing their ministries with colonial administrators under a foreign occupying army? That is what she gave credence to at the weekend. She has shamed the people and, unfortunately, it might be believed that we agree with her.
The Tánaiste: I certainly do not accept that. The Irish Government, on behalf of the European Union, welcomed to Ireland the President of the United States of America, who is the head of a country that has been extraordinarily friendly to this country and with which we have very close political, cultural and economic ties. There was a very frank discussion on the prisoner issues. I understand the President, at her meeting, also raised issues of concern to the Irish people in this regard, as did the Taoiseach at the bilateral meeting.
It is the intention to have direct, fair and free elections in Iraq in January 2005. The transition process is now under a UN mandate and we very much welcome that. Ireland, as a member state of the European Union, will play its part in helping to ensure the people of Iraq, who have suffered far too much, are in a position to have life return to normal as quickly as possible and, in particular, to have their own directly-elected government elected in a fair and free manner.
Mr. J. Higgins: The Tánaiste did not answer the question. It had nothing to do with the close ties between the people of Ireland and the United States or with business or investment. I asked her in the first instance about legitimising a criminal invasion and occupation in which 10,000 people were slaughtered. Is it now the case that any country can do that and afterwards state it will move on and conduct business as usual? Is that the message the Tánaiste gave the US President?
The Tánaiste did not answer my question on prisoners. What is the position on the appalling civil rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay and in other United States bases? The Taoiseach said the Tánaiste was satisfied with the answers given by President Bush. What answers did he give? Will Guantanamo Bay and the other prisoner camps be closed? Are people to be given lawyers and put on trial? If we do not receive answers, we will draw the inference that the Tánaiste is satisfied that torture continues to be practised in prison bases by alleged western democracies.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy knows, we now have a UN mandate in Iraq. The Irish Government regretted all along that the United States intervened when it did without a UN mandate. We made that very clear, as the Deputy is aware.
On the prisoner issue, the President expressed his horror and disgust, as he did in public, at what happened in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. He said those responsible would be held responsible in an open and transparent fashion.
The Tánaiste: The Deputy may have seen that himself at the press conference. The US Supreme Court made a decision yesterday on Guantanamo Bay. Obviously, the rule of law will take its course. We have a different approach to some issues and I made that clear last week. However, that does not take from the fact that this country should always welcome the democratically-elected head of another friendly democracy. That is what we did, just as President Bush was recently welcomed to Italy and France, to Turkey this weekend and to many other places. We engaged in dialogue with the President on points on which we agreed and on points on which there is disagreement. That is the way it should be.
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