Thursday, 1 July 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No 17a, motion re Referral to Select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (Prescribed Research and Development Activities) Regulations 2004; No. 19, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Directive on a specific procedure for admitting third country nationals for purposes of scientific research, back from committee; No. 28, Equality Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 27, Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 — Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage; No. 29, statements on the Report of the Committee for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the Barron Report.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 7 p.m; (2) Nos. 17a and 19 shall be decided without debate; (3) Report and Final Stages of No. 28 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1 p.m by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall with regard to amendments include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; (4) the proceedings on Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage of No. 27 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall with regard to amendments include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; (5) the proceedings on No. 29 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform 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; (ii) the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
Mr. Rabbitte: I regret that I must oppose this proposal. I will also oppose each of the other four proposals unless the Tánaiste can give an undertaking to the House, following the outrageous misrepresentation on radio this morning by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, that the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service will have the support of the Government parties to scrutinise and examine the proposals on decentralisation.
Deputy Parlon told the nation this morning that the proposal put to the committee would have involved politics before the local and European elections. However, the motion put to the committee was to allow for a two-day examination after the elections, sometime in June or July. The Minister of State’s comment is a gross misrepresentation of what happened.
This is a major decision. Given that the Government took up a position and put its Deputies through the division lobbies to oppose the committee scrutinising, monitoring and examining the proposals for decentralisation, given the extent of disquiet throughout the public service about the damage being done to governance, the implications for civil servants and their families and the need for a rational, voluntary application of a sensible proposal on decentralisation in line with balanced regional development, and given the seriousness of this, I greatly regret that the Labour Party will call a division on each proposal before the House this morning, unless the Tánaiste makes clear that such scrutiny by the committee will be facilitated by the majority of Government members of that committee.
Yesterday a report commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and SIPTU was received by every Deputy and Senator. That report exposes the utter folly of the Government’s determination to break up Aer Rianta. The Government’s plan set out in the State Airports Bill is not a plan but a wreckers charter. That is what it amounts to. The public and the workforce will be the real losers. Committee Stage of this Bill is to be taken at noon today and the taking of Report and Final Stages is scheduled for next week. In light of the report from SIPTU and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, will the Tánaiste withdraw this Bill and indicate clearly that the proposition within it will be abandoned by Government? Unless that is done very clearly and absolutely, we will oppose the Order of Business.
Mr. R. Bruton: It was enough to make a cat laugh to hear the Minister of State describe the committee’s attempt to have hearings as an attempt to politicise the issue of decentralisation. This is the man who brought decentralisation into the political arena in a way that is almost unprecedented.
Mr. R. Bruton: It was cowboy politics to which we were treated. Decentralisation was introduced in this House under cover of the budget. There has been no strategic plan, human resource plan, regional context or spatial plan context within which this is being developed. When senior civil servants, rightly, through their union, brought the matter to our attention, the Minister for Finance accused them of manipulating the media to try to block the measure. This is a political project, which has been driven through the Dáil without scrutiny. The Tánaiste and those who back her on the Government benches have contrived to obstruct a sensible assessment by the Oireachtas of these proposals. This approach of “act now and think later” will damage the State. We will damage our public service through the decentralisation model.
In respect of Aer Rianta, we are being asked to trust that the Minister responsible will break up the company and then decide whether there was a reason to do so. That approach to politics and to Government is out of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
The same type of approach was taken by the Minister responsible when he said there was no overrun on the port tunnel works. It was to cost €220 million and when the cost came in at €715 million the Minister says there is no overrun. This is not an acceptable way to do business. It is time we respected the House, the citizens of this State and the public service, and that we do business under the scrutiny we should have in this House.
Mr. Sargent: We are dealing with the proposal on the late sitting of the Dáil. It appears the Government has heard the points made at the doors during the elections. If the Government is serious about allowing this issue to be debated and, as Deputy Richard Bruton said, it is one the Government brought into the public arena, it should allow it to be debated in this House. It is appropriate to oppose the late sitting in the hope that the Tánaiste will come back, as she did on a previous occasion, and inform us that she will allow a debate in this House on decentralisation and extend the time allocated with that in mind.
This is a matter that is being debated outside this House at length. It has an impact on people, who are not getting an answer in the public service to what will happen when they volunteer to remain where they are, as it is claimed they will be able to do? The answer has not been forthcoming as to what will happen to them. It is appropriate that this issue is debated in the House, as is it is being debated widely throughout the country.
The Tánaiste: In regard to decentralisation, I said in this House — I think it was last week or perhaps the week before — that I favour the committee examining this matter. There was no instruction from the Government to the committee, to the best of my knowledge——
In regard to the other items, the Equality Bill, the Residential Tenancies Bill and the Barron report, on which the House was anxious to have a discussion, they are important Bills which we want to get through before the summer recess. That is why it is necessary for the House to sit until 7 p.m. this evening.
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Brady, Martin.|
|Browne, John.||Callanan, Joe.|
|Carty, John.||Collins, Michael.|
|Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.||Cregan, John.|
|Curran, John.||de Valera, Síle.|
|Dempsey, Noel.||Dempsey, Tony.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Ellis, John.||Fitzpatrick, Dermot.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Gallagher, Pat The Cope.|
|Glennon, Jim.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Hanafin, Mary.||Harney, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||McCreevy, Charlie.|
|McDaid, James.||McDowell, Michael.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donoghue, John.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Ned.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Malley, Tim.||Parlon, Tom.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Sexton, Mae.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Dan.|
|Walsh, Joe.||Woods, Michael.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Breen, Pat.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Bruton, Richard.|
|Burton, Joan.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Costello, Joe.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Healy, Seamus.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Padraic.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGrath, Paul.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|Mitchell, Gay.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.|
|Murphy, Gerard.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||Penrose, Willie.|
|Perry, John.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Upton, Mary.|
Mr. R. Bruton: I do not know if the regulations relating to the Taxes Consolidation Act have been circulated. I have not seen them. It is strange that we are being asked to approve the referral of the regulations to the select committee without having seen them. I am not profoundly objecting but this is bad procedure.
Mr. Rabbitte: Is the Tánaiste now telling the House that the Government parties will facilitate the examination of the decentralisation programme by the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, about which we spoke earlier?
The Tánaiste: With regard to Deputy Bruton’s query, this matter was discussed in the context of the Finance Bill. We do have a copy of the regulations for him. It is to provide for a tax credit for research and development.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I object to the taking of Nos. 17a and 19 without debate. While supportive of research and development, we have not been circularised with the details. It is claimed on the Order Paper that these were laid before the House yesterday but I have not received a copy. There are no costings or indications of cost. We know already from the Minister for Finance that neither the Department of Finance nor the Revenue Commissioners were able to cost a number of other tax breaks for those investing in a number of other areas, such as multi-storey car parks and holiday homes. Costings are critically important. It is important to spell out what constitutes real research and development. I would like to have seen such detail.
Have the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the proposal regarding third country nationals and the issue of scientific research been circularised? I do not have a copy of the report from the committee on its deliberations. We are now being asked to adopt this proposition without debate and without sight of the committee’s deliberations. This is unacceptable.
The Tánaiste: In 1997 the standard rate of corporation tax was 40% and we collected €1.8 billion. We are now collecting more than €5 billion, having reduced the rate to 12.5%. Capital gains tax was 40% in 1997 and——
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We are being asked to accept a guillotine on this Bill. The lead-in to the summer recess is dotted with guillotine after guillotine on Second, Report and Final Stages of several Bills. This is unacceptable. On principle, I object to the passage of the Equality Bill 2004 by means of guillotining the debate on Report and Final Stages. I ask the Tánaiste to revisit that proposition.
Mr. Gilmore: I am among those Members who are most anxious to see this Bill enacted. I had been asking for it for four years before the Government published it, I asked for it to be brought to Second Stage and I have been asking for the Report Stage debate since last February when Committee Stage was concluded. The guillotine is being applied because the Government delayed in bringing the Bill to the House for Report Stage. The Labour Party opposes the use of the guillotine on this Bill on principle. It is being used because of the Government’s delay in bringing the Bill to Report Stage.
Mr. Sargent: This Bill is becoming more important as the years go by and more and more people depend on rented accommodation. I ask the Government to think long and hard about the guillotine. It does not allow enough debate to get to the bottom of the question of when a fair rent is being charged. The Government seems to equate market rent with fair rent and that can be wide of the mark. It is important that we not pass a Bill by using a guillotine, which will result in significant hardship for many people.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I wish to object to it. I am doing so now. That was the Equality Bill. We are now dealing with the Residential Tenancies Bill. I object to the guillotine being applied. I participated briefly in the course of the debate on Report and Final Stages last evening. The remaining amendments may be addressed within the timeframe provided but the issue is the principle of the application of the guillotine. The debate should be left open to accommodate full participation. That is the issue. It may be that, with the co-operation of the House, the Bill will be proceeded with expeditiously but the imposition of the guillotine is objectionable in principle.
Mr. Boyle: I am objecting to it in principle. The two and a quarter hours which have been put aside allows only one speaking slot for the Technical Group. The time slots will finish before a second Technical Group speaker will be reached. I ask that a second slot be accommodated.
The Tánaiste: The House would have to sit beyond 7 p.m. if that were to be case, but if contributions are short there may be time for an additional speaker. The opening slot is 15 minutes in length. That is a fair amount of time.
Mr. R. Bruton: Would the Tánaiste confirm the position on the requests by the Public Offices Commission to have additional powers to investigate the tax affairs of Deputies? It was reported in today’s newspapers that the Government has decided not to accede to a request for additional powers.
It is clear that Fianna Fáil backbenchers would like to see the rationale of the State Airports Bill published before we finalise it. Will the Government agree to that sensible approach on behalf of these Fianna Fáil backbenchers to ensure this Bill is based on a sensible foundation?
On the Government’s recent commitment to introduce another round of benchmarking, will this be the subject of discussion in the House or will the Government again proceed without any scrutiny or assessment of the measure?
The Tánaiste: On the request from the Public Offices Commission, the first time I became aware of this was when I read about it in my newspaper this morning so I am not aware of the nature of the request. There was certainly no discussion of it at Government level.
The rationale behind the State Airports Bill is to introduce competition. We should look at some of the remarkable things that have been done in the new EU member states in the last 12 years. They are an example of the vigorous introduction of competition to ensure growth in their economies. We seem to face significant resistance here every time——
The Tánaiste: The plan is to attract more people to travel through our airports, particularly Shannon. We can have all the plans in the world but if we do not have more passengers and services from Shannon Airport to Europe in particular, no plan will save it because it faces serious difficulties. Will the Deputy remind me of his last question?
Mr. R. Bruton: The Government recently indicated it would introduce another round of benchmarking between 2005 and 2007. The ESRI has indicated there are serious question marks about the way in which this was conducted on the last occasion. It is appropriate that the House would scrutinise this before the Government takes this course again.
The Tánaiste: That would be a good idea before the benchmarking group is put together. The Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, of which the Deputy is a member, might have an input into that.
Mr. Howlin: The Tánaiste is aware of the publication this morning of the non-life profits of insurance companies of €747 million, with profits of €385 million in the area of motor insurance. These profits come before the operation of the PIAB legislation and the legislation from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that is going through the Houses. We can expect the profit margins, therefore, to be considerably higher this year. What legislative proposals will the Tánaiste bring before the House as a matter of urgency to ensure such enormous profits are distributed properly to premium holders so that young motorists in particular can have affordable motor insurance to allow them to get to work and to allow rural areas to continue to function?
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, motor insurance premiums have fallen by an average of 22%. The most effective way of driving them down further, given that the Civil Liability and Courts Bill will be enacted before the recess and will have a major impact, is through greater competition in the market. A number of players have applied to IFSRA for a licence. Even if I wanted to, I am prohibited under EU Single Market legislation from introducing any price control in insurance.
The Tánaiste: It is working, prices are coming down. There has been a fall of 22% in one year and we have not yet completed legislative reform. There will be further substantial decreases in the next 12 months.
Mr. Sargent: I do not know if the Tánaiste heard the report on “Tonight with Vincent Browne” last night on people entering the prison system as alcoholics and leaving it as drug addicts. Obviously, greater attention should be paid to the reform of the service but no publication date has been given for the Prison Service Bill. Is there any suggestion of a publication date?
On the State Airports Bill, what hold does the Tánaiste have over Fianna Fáil backbenchers that allows them to oppose it when they are speaking in the House and then to vote for it? Does she have a particular trick?
The Tánaiste: I did not listen to “Tonight with Vincent Browne” last night and I do not think we should take our policies from any journalist, no matter how good he might be. I presume the programme was about conditions in prisons which I am not sure will be affected by the legislation which is designed to put the Prison Service on an independent, statutory footing.
Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Tánaiste clarify the remarks made by the Taoiseach yesterday that the Government has decided against the metro and the remarks made by the Minister for Transport that he intends to go ahead with it? We are now deporting 300 or 400 workers who have acquired valuable skills and, despite the fact that we need further rail track and infrastructure, we are sending them back from whence they came. Routes like the Kildare service desperately need additional railway track. What is the Government’s policy and is legislation being introduced?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Transport intends to bring proposals on a metro to Cabinet soon, probably after August. The views of the Taoiseach and the Minister are compatible. The Taoiseach was talking about the grand plan for the metro which cannot happen quickly for logistical and financial reasons. The Minister for Transport’s proposal is to start on a metro for the greater Dublin area but that has not yet been agreed by the Government and no funding has been identified for it.
Mr. Crawford: It was announced this morning that assets will be counted as income for the self-employed applying for education grants. When will the Higher Education Authority (amendment) Bill be introduced so we can discuss this issue?
I appreciate the Tánaiste has made it clear she would like to get away from the employment investment area of her portfolio. When one looks at the figures for job creation in Monaghan in the last seven years, there is not much joy to be derived from them. Are there any plans for legislation dealing with investment funds or any other area regarding employment so we can discuss how the county with the longest border with Northern Ireland has not had a single job created as a result of the peace initiative?
The Tánaiste: It is not possible to say when the education legislation will be before the House. On employment, every county in Ireland has substantially more people working according to the 2002 census as opposed to the 1996 census. There are more than 1,000 foreign workers on work permits working in County Monaghan. The Deputy must be talking about agency-led activity because there are many people at work in Monaghan.
Mr. Stagg: At the start of this session, the Government promised to publish 19 Bills. To date, it has published six of them. What are the expected publication dates of the following Bills: the land Bill; the Abbotstown sports centre authority Bill, an interesting one; the maritime safety Bill; the education and science Bill; the employment permits Bill; the building societies Bill; the Civil Service regulation (amendment) Bill; the health and social care professionals Bill; the criminal justice Bill; the disability Bill;——
Mr. Stagg: ——the prisons Bill; the Comhairle (amendment) Bill; and the driver testing and standards authority Bill? We were promised that all of these Bills would be published during this session. However, the only Bills published are six other Bills which were not on the list I have read out. When will the Bills on that list be published?
The Tánaiste: The Deputy will be happy to hear that this morning I finalised some amendments to the employment permits Bill. It will be published in September. More drafting is awaited from the office of the Attorney General. I assure the Deputies opposite that they will all like the Bill, particularly Deputy Howlin. I have taken on board many of his suggestions. Eleven Bills were published and advised by our very efficient Whip. There are five other Bills.
The Tánaiste: The comhairle and disability Bills will both be published together very shortly. The building societies Bill has been cleared by the Government and I believe it will be published shortly. I am sure the Deputies opposite have all the answers. I dealt with the prison services Bill and the House knows the position on the Abbotstown Bill.
Mr. McCormack: When will the Road Traffic Bill, as published, come before the Dáil? When will the Minister for Education and Science bring before the Dáil the additional lists of schools to be included in the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002? This has been promised a long time. I put down parliamentary questions on this subject early this year and I was assured the list of additional schools would be brought before the House before the summer recess. Many people who were abused are waiting to have their cases heard because the schools in question are not on the list.
The Tánaiste: The Road Traffic Bill will be dealt with in the autumn session. The other matter is on the Cabinet agenda and was discussed last week. One slight change is required to be made. It will probably be finalised next week. Subject to correction, I did not realise it was the subject of legislation; I thought it could be done by regulation. If I am mistaken, I apologise.
Ms Lynch: In light of the Tánaiste’s answers to earlier questions about the fact that her stated policy is that people would pay less tax and the Progressive Democrats taxation policy is the cause of all our joy and the reason the economy is in such a boom will she say how she can stand over a further price increase being applied for by the ESB?
Ms Lynch: If the ESB had not had to pay €100 million to the Exchequer in the past two years and had been allowed keep this money, then it would not now be looking for a further increase. How can the Tánaiste stand over that?
The Tánaiste: The promised legislation will be published later this year. As the Deputy is well aware, it does not affect that about which she is talking. On the question of tax, the average industrial worker is taking home 80% more than was the case seven years ago. Even discounting what the Deputy calls stealth taxes, workers are still 60% better off. Lower taxes is but one of the factors that helped our economic success. Education is another factor and there are many other factors. It is a good Government of which the Deputy’s party was once a member.
Mr. Durkan: Since the legislative programme was published at the end of April, beginning of May, a list of approximately ten Bills awaiting Committee Stage have been joined by a number of others in the meantime. What plans does the Government have to progress them? Top of the list is the Bill with musical connotations and one which might resonate with the Government parties after the people have made the decision in the local elections, the whistleblowers’ Bill. I will not list all the other Bills on the list but I can if required.
Mr. Costello: I refer to the defamation Bill which was promised last year and the year before. It is listed in the joint manifesto. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to change his mind about the press council and whether it should be on a statutory basis or otherwise at every conference he attends. When is the defamation Bill due? There have been reports from the Law Reform Commission and from the newspaper industry on the matter. There are conferences every second week on the subject. Is it proposed to establish a statutory press council?
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The railway safety Bill seems to be stalled in the House for quite a number of years and does not seem to be making any progress. What is the reason for the delay in progressing this Bill? It is an important Bill.
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