Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 9a, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 16, Disability Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 18, Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed); No. 17, Land Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 19, statements on European Council in Brussels, to be taken immediately following the announcement of matters on the Adjournment under Standing Order 21 and the order shall resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 9a shall be decided without debate and the proceedings on No. 19 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and subject to the statements being confined to the Taoiseach and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case and Members may share time, immediately following the statements, the Minister for Foreign Affairs shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 45, motion re cancer screening programmes (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Mr. Kenny: I wish to raise two matters with the Taoiseach on the Order of Business. I have listened to some of the radio transcripts from the Morris tribunal dealing with events in County Donegal. It seems extraordinary that the McBrearty family has not been given legal representation.
Mr. Kenny: While I understand that, I wish to raise it as a matter of importance. Given the circumstances that apply in this case and the wish of everybody to bring the matter to conclusion, consideration should be given to amending the tribunal’s terms.
Deputy Neville has been a consistent advocate for taking some real action in respect of implementing the recommendations of the task force on suicide, which reported in 1998. I recently attended the funeral of a young man who hanged himself. A serious societal change is occurring. It is impossible for Deputies from all sides who have attended funerals all over the country in these circumstances to understand the depth of grief of parents and loved ones. In some cases, it is impossible to find the reason these events happened.
Mr. Kenny: This is another Leaders’ Question which I know the Taoiseach will answer. Will the House discuss the implementation of the task force report on suicide which included 86 recommendations that would go some way towards dealing with a serious societal problem?
The Taoiseach: Yes. Suicide is a serious matter with which I know Deputy Neville has been involved for years. I would be happy if we could arrange a time, perhaps late in the session. I will briefly answer on the other issue raised.
An Ceann Comhairle: I will hear Deputy Costello briefly because he was unable to move a request to adjourn the Dáil under Standing Order 31 which he submitted to my office. He may read his request to the House.
Mr. Costello: I thank the Ceann Comhairle and apologise for being late as I was bringing Frank McBrearty and his wife and sister to the Dáil Gallery. My request was to seek the adjournment of the Dáil to discuss the following specific and important matter of public interest requiring urgent attention, namely, the need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make provision for legal representation for members of the McBrearty family at the Morris tribunal. In view of the importance of this issue, I hope the Ceann Comhairle will agree to this request.
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not wish the decision to allow the Deputy to read out his request to be regarded as a precedent. However, the House concluded Question Time a little earlier than usual which probably caught the Deputy unawares.
Mr. Sargent: I wish to raise directly related legislation, namely, the tribunals of inquiry (evidence) (amendment) Bill. Will the legislation be brought forward with greater urgency to allow the House to address the injustice of not having costs allowed for the McBrearty family?
The Taoiseach: We will bring it forward. I wish to answer the questions put by Deputies Kenny and Costello and give the legal advice I have received from both the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Office of the Attorney General. I am not giving any of my own views on this matter in which I have not been involved. It is important and I have read the report which has come up before. This is the position and I hope it is helpful to the McBrearty family and the public at large in understanding the issue.
The position in regard to the family in question has been raised previously in the House. I understand the current position is that Mr. Frank McBrearty senior gave evidence to the tribunal last week but is now no longer taking part in the process because his legal costs are not guaranteed. The facts of the matter are quite clear. The family concerned applied for and was granted a right of legal representation at the outset of the tribunal’s business in the summer of 2002. Under the terms of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921 to 2002, the question of costs is solely a matter for the tribunal. This is not only the legal position but it also has important practical implications for tribunals in the search for the truth.
The Acts allow that where a tribunal, having regard to its findings and all other relevant matters, is of the opinion that there are sufficient reasons rendering it equitable to do so, it may order the whole or part of the costs of representation to a person appearing before it to be paid at the end of each module. A tribunal, when determining whether costs should be paid, may take into account failure to co-operate or provide assistance to or knowingly give false or misleading information to the tribunal. In this regard, it is worth noting that in the Chairman’s judgment in relation to the costs associated with the first module he regards co-operation with the tribunal and truthfulness in giving evidence as matters of paramount importance. In deciding the costs he made reductions in some cases and totally rejected other applications where he was of the opinion that persons deliberately lied or otherwise hindered him in his efforts to get to the truth.
I have a longer legal note which I can give to Deputy Kenny if necessary. The issue is that the tribunal awards costs at the end of each module so that nobody has to wait for a period of years to be awarded costs. It is vital for the proper operation of the tribunal that the Chairman does not have his powers on costs pre-empted. The tribunal is dealing with all witnesses with scrupulous impartiality.
The only words I add on this matter from my own work, in having dealt with this issue many times, is that if one gives a guarantee before a module, one cannot have circumstances in which the Chairman can make a judgment on whether a person co-operated. It is not possible and that is the advice I have received from the Attorney General.
Mr. Rabbitte: While I understand that is the legal advice available to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice of the day was enabled to make special arrangements in the case of the Stardust tribunal. There is a precedent without abrogating the rights of the Chairman of the tribunal in this particular case.
Mr. Rabbitte: On a slightly different aspect of the same issue, what is the Government’s response to criticism outside the House that the first report of the Morris tribunal is available but the House has not so far debated it? What is the attitude of the Government on the matter? Would it be appropriate at this stage of the Morris tribunal for the House to debate the first report?
Mr. Sargent: I know the Taoiseach was replying generally to several questions but, intending to be helpful, I asked whether the tribunals of inquiry (evidence) (amendment) Bill would be brought forward with greater urgency and whether it would envisage——
A second promised Bill, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Bill, is pertinent to the discussion on Leaders’ Questions. I understand a review of the reasons giving rise to the treaty will be reviewed in May. If Ireland, a signatory of the treaty, has not enacted the legislation, it will place the country in a bad light. It is a small technical Bill and no indication has been given that it will be published. Will the Taoiseach have it published?
The Taoiseach: The latest position is that the draft heads of the Bill are being prepared in the Department. It has 20 heads and I do not know if it can be done any quicker, but I will ask. The listed date is 2006.
Mr. Broughan: I note the harbours Bill has reappeared in section C of the list of proposed legislation. Will a separate Bill be introduced for fishery harbours given the considerable dissatisfaction in national fishery ports such as Killybegs, Howth and Dunmore about the bureaucratic hand of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources?
Mr. Broughan: I have a second brief question. Yesterday, the Taoiseach exuded an air of helplessness regarding the terrible situation in accident and emergency departments. It appears Mr. Joe Duffy, for example, has a clearer idea about what to do than the Taoiseach.
Mr. Broughan: We listen daily to descriptions of disgraceful scenes in accident and emergency departments in Beaumont Hospital and elsewhere. The Taoiseach is from north Dublin but is doing nothing about it.
Mr. Ferris: In 2002, the Adoption Bill was promised for 2003. According to the list published yesterday, it is not due until 2006. Can the Taoiseach tell the House what is happening to this Bill and why there is a delay?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is referring to the Adoption Information (Post Adoption Contact and Associated Issues) Bill. The heads of the Bill have been approved and will be incorporated into a general adoption Bill which is due in mid-2006. The heads of the Bill have been approved by the Government and the Bill is currently being drafted. It is a fairly large Bill and its purpose is to ratify the convention on the protection of children to promote the creation of an adoption authority. It will not be ready until next year.
The Taoiseach: The Bill is due next year. The heads of the Bill have not yet been prepared. The legislation is intended to make provision for adjustments in the context of separation agreements and certain other reforms of family law. It will not be ready until next year.
Mr. Durkan: In the context of promised legislation, what is the Government’s intentions concerning the National Oil Reserves Agency Bill, which is a moot point, especially when one considers the escalating oil prices at filling stations and of diesel prices in particular, which now exceed petrol prices? In addition, I notice a number of Bills which were previously proposed for 2005 have been delayed until 2006, including the Broadcasting Authority Bill. A number of Bills have disappeared altogether. Did something fall from the screen on the Government side of the House? The Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill has disappeared altogether. The Taoiseach might enlighten us as to whether there is a governmental crisis about which we have not been informed.
The Taoiseach: The National Oil Reserves Agency Bill is due in late 2005. At the start of every session, there is an examination of the prioritisation of Bills for the next session, in this case the summer session. We try to get a realistic assessment of the Bills’ status by considering whether the heads have been drafted, if any work has been done on the heads and whether any legal work must be taken into account. In this way, we are giving factual information. Most Departments like to give the impression that their Bills are almost ready. However, I have been trying to impose a rule that we give a realistic assessment. This is the reason for the change. Some people might claim that a Bill would be ready for a particular session, but when I check I discover that even the heads of the Bill have not been prepared.
Ms O’Sullivan: I am delighted by the Taoiseach’s statement and that the Government examines Bills on the list. As far as the register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children Bill is concerned, the list still states that it is not possible to indicate at this stage when it might be introduced. The position is the same as last September when we received the previous list of proposed legislation. Has the Government given any consideration to establishing a register of persons considered unsafe to work with children? It is an important issue, but the Taoiseach is stating the same thing about it as he did last September.
The Taoiseach: This Bill is not only an interdepartmental issue but is also a North-South issue. This is what is delaying it. The Minister has appointed an implementation group to advise on the implementation of the necessary legislation. The Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children are in discussions about the establishment of a pre-employment consultancy service. Its intended purpose is to give effect to the recommendations of the child protection joint working group. The legislation arises from the North-South Ministerial Council. I know the Deputy has raised the issue a number of times. However, as I have stated before, I have asked that the committee complete its work, even if we cannot make further progress on a North-South basis. I understand this work is still under way.
Mr. Boyle: We are fast approaching the first anniversary of the publication of the report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution on property rights. There has also been a subsequent report by the National Economic and Social Council on housing policy. Today, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a——
Mr. Boyle: I am rephrasing it for the Ceann Comhairle’s benefit. Today we have the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government making a policy statement regarding housing that should be made in this House
Ms O. Mitchell: I have raised the matter of the ratification of the Cape Town Convention, which would legitimise the setting up of an aircraft registry in Ireland. The contract is in danger of being lost to this country unless the legislation is passed very quickly. It has not been introduced yet. Is there a proposed date for the legislation?
The Taoiseach: The text of the Bill is to enable Ireland to ratify the convention which facilitates the international financing of aircraft. The heads of the Bill have been completed. They were finished at the end of March. The Bill has gone for drafting. I do not have a date for it. This was the old air navigation Bill.
Ms Burton: Yes. The Taoiseach has promised the Abbotstown Sports Campus Development Authority Bill to manage the Abbotstown centre. The roof is still off the pool. Irish swimming has practically been destroyed. The Government is doing nothing about it. I ask the Taoiseach when will the Abbotstown Sports Campus Development Authority Bill be published so we will know the fate of the pool?
Mr. Timmins: In the region of 500,000 tonnes of waste has been illegally dumped in County Wicklow over the last number of years. Three and a half years later, not an ounce of it has been removed. Will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to issue a policy directive, as he is empowered to do under the Waste Management Act, to have this waste removed? Some 150,000 tonnes——
Mr. Timmins: Some 150,000 tonnes of it is beside a new housing estate. It is an absolute disgrace. It is an embarrassment for me and for other public representatives that the waste is just lying there.
An Ceann Comhairle: I want to make it clear to the Deputy that I did not take the question under Standing Order 31 because proceedings had already moved on. However, because the issue had been raised, the Chair in its generosity allowed the Deputy to read his matter.
Mr. Costello: Will the Taoiseach make provision for a debate in the House on the McBrearty issue? It seems we will not have a debate today on it, but it is being debated everywhere else, including in the media.
The Ground Rents Bill is not included in the programme of legislation published yesterday. What justification can the Taoiseach offer for taking this Bill off the list because there is an impending case before the courts? I have received some letters and I would like to know whether it is intended to introduce the
The Taoiseach: The Ground Rents Bill is not proceeding at present because the Supreme Court decision may have implications for it. Regarding Deputy Mitchell’s question, I understand the Cape Town Convention Bill will be published today.
Mr. Howlin: After years of pressure, the Health and Safety (Amendment) Bill was introduced into this House and passed at Second Stage and Committee Stage because of the urgency of the situation. A variety of groups outside the House, including trade unions, had lobbied for a measure to increase workplace safety. We are now waiting for approximately three hours of Report Stage time to complete the Bill so it can become part of our law. When will Report Stage be taken?
Ms Cooper-Flynn: In the light of recent controversy over alternative medicine practitioners and the inadequate penalties for their non-attendance at inquests, could the Taoiseach indicate if it would be possible to fast-track the publication of the Coroners Bill, which was promised for 2006?
Regarding No. 57 on the Order Paper, which relates to the western rail corridor, could the Taoiseach give consideration to the opening of the rail corridor in full rather than on a phased basis when announcing shortly the ten-year capital envelope for transport?
The Taoiseach: The heads of the Coroners Bill are expected by mid-2005, while the Bill is due by 2006. I recognise the Bill’s importance and I will raise the possibility of fast-tracking it with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
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