Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the amendments to the Convention establishing the European Telecommunications Satellite Organisation (back from committee); No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the amendments to the Convention for the establishment of the European Radiocommunications Office and the ratification of the instrument amending the ERO Convention (back from committee); No. 20, Council of Europe Development Bank Bill 2004 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 3, Health Bill 2004 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m.; and (2) Nos. 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 43, motion re roads infrastructure
Mr. Rabbitte: I must oppose the late sitting because it is the only mechanism available to me to ask the Taoiseach to explain why he switched the Health Bill and the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill. The Government has been promising the Health Bill for 18 months. It is supposed to provide for major reform of the health service. The Bill was published on Friday, most Deputies will have received it in their pigeon holes yesterday and it has been brought forward from Wednesday to Tuesday. Why is that happening?
The Minister for Health and Children, when she was on this side of the House, would have worked herself up into incredible lucidity if this kind of thing had happened. She is now bringing forward yellow pack medical cards. Patients will soon be expected to make do with half a bed; or will the Minister put two patients into one bed? This Bill is her major effort. She is the one who pledged that there should be two weeks between publication of a Bill and its being debated in the House. Why the change?
The first schedule for this week had the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill for debate today, on which there would have been a number of votes. That schedule was agreed by the Whips at the Whips’ meeting. Then, without any notice, the Government changed the schedule to bring forward the Health Bill, on which there will not be any vote. The least the House is entitled to know is why the Government made that change and why one of the most major pieces of legislation being advanced by the Government, on its own claim, is to be guillotined on Friday.
Mr. Sargent: It is alarming to hear the Health Bill is to be guillotined. The late sitting notwithstanding, this decision must be reversed. The Bill, apart from being brought quite suddenly to our attention for debate with limited time to prepare, is an issue which reaches far beyond the Minister for Health and Children. It relates to the way the Government has forced an economic policy which has disimproved the health of the people of the country. God help those who need hospital attention on the back of that. There is a need to address the Government’s responsibility for so much of the deteriorating health of the country and the way that deterioration is compounded by the Government’s failure to provide the facilities to address the health problems when they arise. The debate will not be given the breadth and length it needs. The Government is trying to close down the debate because it would be damning for it to hear the facts of this matter. Recent research shows ever more clearly how the Government has disimproved the health of the country. This matter needs further debate and action.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I object to the guillotining of the Second Stage of the Health Bill on Friday. I do not know whether it is an accident or can be attributed to the change in Chief Whip, but there have been very few votes on the Order of Business in this sitting. This is because there has been an acceptance by the Government that guillotines are not appropriate and are not acceptable to the House, particularly of substantial and substantive legislation such as the Health Bill. The Bill is the wrong remedy for the wrong problem because it seeks merely to make bureaucratic changes to the health service and does not deal with the real reforms the public need and for which they are crying out.
Over the past 18 months, however, the Government has indicated that it is a major priority to implement the health service reform programme. Therefore, it intends that, on 1 January 2005, the Health Service Executive will take over the management of the health service from the health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The Government discussed this legislation last week and I understand that Deputy McManus received a copy of it after the Government meeting last week.
Ms McManus: I ask the Taoiseach to recognise what is happening here. Members of the House other than Opposition spokespeople did not receive the Bill until yesterday. I only got a copy of the full Bill yesterday. Before that I got a draft, a photocopy
The Taoiseach: I am not much in possession as this is the third time Deputy McManus has interrupted me. However, at least it is giving me an opportunity to state that the Deputy has had the Bill for over a week and she has had the proposals for 18 months. If Deputies are asking me to withdraw the Bill today and to take it only tomorrow and Friday, we can look at that.
The Taoiseach: If, however, Deputies want to have it debated today, tomorrow and Friday, we will go on to Committee Stage next week and Report and Final Stages the following week, and it will be in the Seanad right up to the Christmas recess. I have repeatedly explained to the House that this is an urgent Bill and, so that it would not be complex, we took out the entire section on the information and quality issues. We undertook to take those in a separate Bill in the spring session. How many concessions on a Bill do I have to make?
|Ahern, Bertie.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Blaney, Niall.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Brady, Martin.|
|Brennan, Seamus.||Browne, John.|
|Callanan, Joe.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carey, Pat.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Collins, Michael.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Davern, Noel.|
|de Valera, Síle.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Dempsey, Tony.||Dennehy, John.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Ellis, John.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fox, Mildred.|
|Hanafin, Mary.||Harney, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Nolan, M.J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghail, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Keeffe, Batt.||O’Keeffe, Ned.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Malley, Tim.|
|Parlon, Tom.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Smith, Michael.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Walsh, Joe.|
|Woods, Michael.||Wright, G.V.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Bruton, Richard.|
|Burton, Joan.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Costello, Joe.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gormley, John.||Gregory, Tony.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Healy, Seamus.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Higgins, Michael D.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Paul.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Penrose, Willie.|
|Perry, John.||Quinn, Ruairi.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Sherlock, Joe.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
Mr. Kenny: I hope the Taoiseach and his fellow Ministers will achieve further progress in tomorrow’s discussions with the leader of the DUP, the Reverend Ian Paisley, and the British Prime Minister in London. While I am somewhat disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to have a debate on the matter beforehand, I can understand its sensitivity. I hope all goes well at that meeting.
I take the words of the Minister for Transport to heart, when he said yesterday that, following the meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with the Aer Lingus issue, he wished everybody here would become involved in as inclusive a debate as possible. In that sense the representatives of the rest of the House, including those from the Fianna Fáil Party, do not have sight of the Goldman Sachs report with its ten recommendations. If we are to have an inclusive debate, in which all stakeholders in this business are to involve themselves, could the report not be published or at least its recommendations made available to us? This will allow everybody with an interest in the matter to understand the options being discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee.
In respect of the announcement being made today by the absent Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about the new traffic corps, can we take it that adequate facilities will be made available to train these people and that they will be sufficiently resourced both in communications equipment and high visibility vehicles to allow them to do their jobs? Will this require legislation and if so when will we see it?
The Taoiseach: I thank the Deputy for his comments on the talks. I still cannot be certain how this will move into a debate. As the Deputy has said, our difficulty is that we are in different levels of the debate. However, I have tried to brief all the parties over the weekend. I had a long meeting yesterday with the SDLP and we have also talked to the other parties. While we have not given them the documents we have tried to brief them as much as we can. There is not much to say beyond what I said here during Question Time. Depending on what happens in coming days, I will keep the issue of the debate under review. I again confirm I will meet Dr. Paisley, the DUP and Sinn Féin before we have the meeting and then we will see where we move, but I do not expect tomorrow to bring a conclusion to this issue. It will move on from there.
The Taoiseach: We will put it on the website as soon as possible and then issue the documents, if we have any documents on the matter. We made a commitment on the traffic corps in An Agreed Programme for Government. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform set out the time-table from the strategic review today, pointing out the changes that will lead to the enforcement of traffic law. The number of gardaí dedicated to this task will rise from 500 today to 1,200, more than doubling the number enforcing road traffic law in every possible way. I will raise the other issues about training with the Minister.
Will primary legislation be necessary to implement the yellow pack medical cards? If so, when will that legislation be brought before the House? Is the interpretation placed at the weekend on the Taoiseach’s denunciation of the Aer Lingus management correct, that the Government has reversed direction and will retain Aer Lingus in public ownership?
Mr. Sargent: The Taoiseach might meet the former management of Aer Lingus since it has arisen that there was not even a meeting between them. That is a strange way to show appreciation for work done. Once the Government has discussed the Goldman Sachs report, will it let us know when we can debate this issue?
I wish the Taoiseach well in his discussions with the parties and the British Prime Minister in Downing Street. On promised legislation and a matter involving the Department of Foreign Affairs, President Lukashenko of Belarus has stated that he will not allow children who have radiation sickness and who have been affected by the Chernobyl disaster to travel to Ireland for the medical treatment and clean food they need. Is the Taoiseach taking any steps to address this matter? It is straightforward from a humanitarian point of view. He could allay the fears of the President of Belarus and ensure these children do not suffer further as a result of that tragedy in 1986. The subject could be discussed under the diplomatic relations and immunities (amendment) Bill but addressing this should not require legislation.
Mr. Durkan: Will the Bord Gáis Éireann Bill and the electricity Bill be brought before the House or published and circulated as soon as possible, given the recent references to price hikes in energy, to give Members an idea of the Government’s thinking in the area?
Has the Government had a chance to consider the timing of the referendum to ratify the European constitution? The British Government is likely to have that referendum in spring 2006 and it is desirable that we have our referendum before that. There are limited numbers of windows for running it so will the Taoiseach indicate his thoughts on the matter?
On the referendum, a spring 2006 referendum is the probable preference of the British Government, although it is not final. There will probably be an election before then. It is advisable for us to hold our referendum before then, although we have not decided on a date. We are, however, looking at the steps we must take to ensure everything moves in time. We want to spend as much time as we can ensuring the preparatory work is done
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I join other Members in wishing well all who wish to see a satisfactory and sustainable resolution of the current talks engagement. If agreement is reached, does the Taoiseach envisage a peace dividend for the southern Border counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, given that over the period since the Good Friday Agreement, the expected peace dividend has not materialised and many of the services and public supports people had have been taken away? Does the Taoiseach envisage a serious package of supports and a keen bent towards those counties in light of any advance in the near future?
The Taoiseach: There is no legislation planned for this area and we must wait to see if we can conclude the comprehensive settlement to look at issues that surround it. There are no proposals in the area but the Government continues to put significant resources into the Border, midland and west, BMW, region to help economic development in those regions. In our multi-annual and capital programmes, large amounts of resources are dedicated to assisting in that region.
The Criminal Justice (Inter-
national Co-operation) Bill will be taken in this session. The heads of the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill are expected before Christmas and the Bill will be introduced in the new year. We are also working on a criminal justice (protection of confidential information) Bill for next year but the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will be the first before the House.
Mr. Howlin: On the Council of Europe Development Bank Bill, which supports Belarus, has there been any communication with the President of Belarus? There is concern at the assertion that children who have come here for treatment will no longer be allowed to do it. Before we debate the Bill, will the Taoiseach indicate the Government view and if it has been made known through the European Union or directly to the Government of Belarus?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Foreign Affairs was not involved in this issue today but the Department has made contact. I will ask for a note to let Deputies Howlin and Sargent know what progress has been made.
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