Thursday, 9 December 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. a1, Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second and Subsequent Stages; No. 21, Health Bill 2004 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of oral questions to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which shall be taken immediately on the conclusion of No. 21; the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. a1: (i) the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours, the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State 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 speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Members may share time, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (ii) the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and Report and Final Stages of No. 21 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 4.30 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a1, conclusion of Second and Subsequent Stages of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments Bill 2004, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21, conclusion of Report and Final Stages of the Health Bill 2004, agreed?
Mr. Kenny: This is the third day in a row we have had a proposal for a guillotine. I understand from Deputy Twomey that Committee Stage of the Bill was not satisfactory and there was inadequate time to debate at least 50 amendments. This is fundamental legislation. In the context of my warnings to the Chief Whip in the past two days and because of the importance of the Bill, I oppose the guillotine motion.
Mr. Rabbitte: I agree. Two and a half hours is the suggested time to debate a Bill to which there are 151 amendments, most of which come from the Minister and will diminish accountability, which is the issue at the centre of the Bill.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Bill will increase the number of bureaucrats in the service rather than the number at the coalface. However, that is a policy issue. It is unacceptable that such major legislation, for which we have waited 18 months, is brought forward in the dying days of this session and pushed through in an afternoon while amendments are not subjected to scrutiny of any value. This is not the way to do business. I am very surprised the Tánaiste is promoting this approach to enacting legislation.
Mr. Sargent: It was striking as Committee Stage proceeded how many amendments came from the Government. I ask that an Bille Sláinte 2004 be reassessed. Second Stage may have to be rerun before it can proceed to Committee Stage because the Bill has been fundamentally changed. Accountability is being reduced. The Dáil is, effectively, putting itself out of business in regard to accountability for health policy. Will the Tánaiste take account of the reality that the Bill has not been thought through by Government and that it is being changed on the hoof, which is not the way to enact good legislation?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I oppose the imposition of a guillotine in regard to Report and Final Stages of the Health Bill. This Bill does not represent reform, let alone the radical overhaul the health services require. It tampers with bureaucracy rather than deal with the real problem which is at the coalface of the delivery of health services, most particularly, acute hospital services throughout this jurisdiction. The time offered is inadequate.
The number of amendments tabled by Government demonstrates that the presentation of the Bill by it was poorly thought out because a significant change is being made as a result of the amendments now presented. The volume of amendments and what they represent fundamentally alters the proposition first put forward, one which was already flawed and which now further removes democratic accountability in regard to the health services from the accountable elected voices in this State.
The Tánaiste: There seems to be much misunderstanding in regard to this matter. Many of the amendments are on foot of the accountability issue which I took on board on Committee Stage and which, I think, Deputies opposite will acknowledge. There was no guillotine on Committee Stage and many of the amendments tabled are as a result of those tabled by Deputies Twomey, McManus and others.
The Tánaiste: It is precisely because we are enhancing the accountability of the new executive that many of the amendments are necessary. After the 1996 Act, which parties opposite brought forward when in office, many of the powers of health board members went to the executive. There was no accountability. This new executive will be accountable to the Dáil, not to the Department of Health and Children. That is a fact.
The Tánaiste: It is important the new administrative management model for the health services, which is all about improving patient care, can come on stream on a statutory basis on 1 January. That is why we are taking the legislation through so rapidly. I apologised before to the House for the speed with which we are taking this Bill. However, there has been no secret about the Government’s plan in this area for 18 months.
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Brady, Martin.|
|Browne, John.||Callanan, Joe.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carey, Pat.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Collins, Michael.||Cregan, John.|
|Cullen, Martin.||Curran, John.|
|Dempsey, Tony.||Dennehy, John.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Ellis, John.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Fox, Mildred.||Glennon, Jim.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Harney, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Keaveney, Cecilia.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Malley, Tim.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Roche, Dick.||Smith, Michael.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Wallace, Mary.|
|Walsh, Joe.||Wilkinson, Ollie.|
|Breen, James.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Costello, Joe.|
|Cowley, Jerry.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Cuffe, Ciarán.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gormley, John.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Padraic.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGrath, Paul.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|McManus, Liz.||Morgan, Arthur.|
|Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.||Murphy, Gerard.|
|Neville, Dan.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Pattison, Seamus.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Sherlock, Joe.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Twomey, Liam.||Upton, Mary.|
Mr. Kenny: Yesterday marked the third occasion on which a carefully choreographed set of circumstances did not lead to a final agreement in respect of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is a cause of regret. Credit must be given both to the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister for the extensive time they have devoted in attempting to resolve this matter in recent years. It is a disappointment to everybody that it has not been possible to conclude it successfully.
Will the Tánaiste confirm that there will be a debate on Northern Ireland next week? The Whips raised the matter and I understand that two hours are to be allocated for the debate. That may not be sufficient time, however, as many Deputies from all parties and none may wish to make contributions.
Mr. Kenny: In advance of that debate, will the Tánaiste indicate if it is intended to publish the bilateral arrangements between the Government and Sinn Féin, which were not directly related to the matters under discussion yesterday by both Governments and both parties?
Will there be an attempt by the Government in the coming days to arrange for the DUP and Sinn Féin to sit down together, face to face? Proximity talks brought a great measure of progress on some very sensitive issues but the issue to which the Tánaiste referred yesterday — the modality of decommissioning and its verification — remains the problem. Is it the Government’s intention, therefore, to work with the parties and perhaps have them both sit down, face to face, with a view to reaching a conclusion as to how that might be achieved?
Mr. Rabbitte: Like Deputy Kenny, I greatly regret that the consistent efforts of both Governments in recent months have failed to revive devolution in Northern Ireland and to arrive at the comprehensive settlement that seemed to be in prospect. Most people on the island will find it incomprehensible that a comprehensive agreement was, or is being put at risk by the demand for a photograph, and that the other side was prepared to put it at risk by the refusal of such a photograph. Before we have the debate next Wednesday, I hope the Government will publish the remaining documents associated with those which some of us could only access early yesterday by downloading them from the Downing Street website. Other documents relating, for example, to the killers of Detective Garda McCabe, to the issue of the right of audience in the Oireachtas for elected representatives in Northern Ireland, and to any other bilateral side agreements the details of which have not been contained in the papers, should be made available to the Opposition before the discussion on Wednesday next.
Mr. Sargent: The Green party is gravely disappointed but not entirely surprised that there has been a stalling in the process. We assume it is only a stalling. Will the Tánaiste indicate the Government’s assessment of where lies the particular challenge at this time? The Tánaiste mentioned that it was not merely a question of a photograph but the Minister for Foreign Affairs seemed to narrow it down specifically to that issue. In the interests of informing the House and allowing us to see some light at the end of the tunnel, can the Government give some clarity to this matter?
In advance of the debate, it would be useful if the Government might indicate its assessment as to what items under discussion are effectively outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. These may include such issues as the fate of the killers of Detective Garda McCabe or the demand for a photograph. There is a clear idea that the Good Friday Agreement is being stretched on both sides and that items are being brought to the table from outside. Wherein lies the current difficulty? There seems to be a difference of opinion between Government spokespersons, including the Tánaiste, as to what the issue is. This should be clarified before next week’s debate, which we welcome.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I wish to record my disappointment and that of my colleagues at the failure so far to achieve the goal of a full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, a goal to which our party is absolutely committed. I join other voices in the House in commending the efforts of both Governments and of the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister.
I also strongly commend the courageous efforts of the Sinn Féin leadership and negotiating team who have demonstrated an absolute commitment to the address of all the difficulties that have bedevilled this island and the neighbouring island and our relationship for generations. They have shown themselves to be courageous leaders. I wish also to commend the leadership of the Irish Republican Army which has clearly demonstrated its preparedness to take historic and unprecedented steps.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It would serve much better the goal to which, I hope, all voices in this House are committed, although at times it is difficult to recognise that commitment, if utterances were measured because this is unfinished business and a work in train that must be pursued to achieve a satisfactory result acceptable to all sides in the conflict. I urge colleague Deputies to be measured.
The Tánaiste: As I said yesterday, the difficulties that arose relate to more than just a photograph. There are a number of issues, as the Taoiseach has confirmed. Clearly, what we want to see is an end to paramilitarism and criminality in all its forms.
The Tánaiste: We want to proceed to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects, which the majority of the people on this island have supported enthusiastically, is implemented in full.
In response to Deputies Rabbitte, Kenny and Sargent and others, I will try to ensure that the Opposition parties are briefed in advance of the debate on the latest position. It is an evolving situation and we are dealing with delicate and sensitive matters. We must all be responsible. The debate next week will be a full one.
I wish to refer to an issue that has been mentioned on the Order of Business on a number of occasions, including yesterday. This is the matter of the charging by health boards of elderly people in public institutions. I inform Deputy Kenny that I have arranged today to write to the health boards and ask them to stop charging people in public institutions or in contract beds forthwith. The Attorney General’s advice indicates that issues may arise since the health boards became aware that this was not legally safe. I wish to put that on the record of the House because Deputy Kenny has raised it on a number of occasions and I received new advice on the matter from the Attorney General yesterday evening.
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