Thursday, 16 June 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen): It is proposed to take No. 13a, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Risk Equalisation (Amendment) Scheme 2005, the Health Insurance Act 1994 (Minimum Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 2005 and the Health Insurance Act 2001 (Open Enrolment) Regulations 2005; No. 13b, motion re membership of committee; No. 14, motion re Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998; No. 23, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, to adjourn at 1.30 p.m. today, if not previously concluded; and No. 2, Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 13a and 13b shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 14 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 70 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply, the 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 and Members may share time. A Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
The Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m. and shall adjourn not later than 2.30 p.m. There shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 26 and the taking of any divisions shall be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 21 June 2005 and, accordingly, the following business shall be transacted: No. 24, statements on the Morris tribunal. The statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2.30 p.m. on that day and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements 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 30 minutes in each case. The statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and Members may share time. A Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.
Parliamentary questions on Tuesday next, 21 June 2005, on the EU Council Meeting in Brussels shall not be disallowed as being anticipatory of statements on such Council meeting scheduled to be taken on that day, and shall be moved to be taken first as ordinary oral questions to the Taoiseach on Tuesday next.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Once again and annually I regretfully object to the renewal of the suspension of rights and freedoms under emergency legislation. We object to the proposition on two bases. The first is on principle.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Leaving the time as the central focus, this is not a proposition that should be addressed here at this point. Under the Good Friday Agreement the Government has a commitment for progressive security normalisation. The Offences against the State (Amendment) Act clearly does not fit into that commitment. The Government continues to renew repressive legislation, which has no basis or sound argument. This includes section 18, which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform laid before the House only three days ago——
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——within which there is no basis for this proposition. I object in the strongest possible terms. Bearing in mind the previous ministerial responsibility of the Minister for Finance, I ask him to be cognisant of the responsibility on Government——
Mr. Costello: I do not dispute the matter being before us today as that is provided for and prescribed in the legislation. However, the legislation requires that a report on the previous year’s activities under this legislation be laid before the House 21 days before it is debated. The Oireachtas Library received this annual report on 15 June 2005 and today is 16 June. We will have no opportunity to discuss the report, which is supposed to be key to our decision as to whether to renew the legislation. Why are we to discuss the matter the day after it has been presented to the Oireachtas? I know the legislation is to be renewed by 30 June. However, the report should have been presented to the House long before now.
Mr. Cowen: It is a matter that should be addressed by parliamentary question to the Minister concerned. If the substance of the issue is that the Deputy seeks a discussion on the report placed in the Library, that is a matter for the Whips to consider.
Mr. Bruton: I object to this procedure. Mr. Justice Morris has published a serious report, the headline of which was that: “The combination of gross negligence at senior level, amounting to criminal negligence, and the lack of objectivity and corruption at levels lower than that, caused the scandalous situation to arise.” Nothing could be graver than the report we have seen. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has said that the Dáil is the authority that will hold the Garda accountable. However, we are proposing to have a debate on this most important report that will merely take the form of statements. We will have no opportunity to question the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or his predecessor, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue. The Dáil will not have an opportunity to adopt a resolution on foot of the Morris tribunal.
We are told that next week the Government will guillotine the Garda Síochána Bill so that debate on it will be circumscribed and brought to an abrupt end. Clearly Mr. Justice Morris has criticised the way in which the Dáil has handled the issue and has asked us to look very carefully at the Garda Síochána Bill in the light of his report. The sort of debate proposed, which will merely comprise statements read into the record without conclusion or question followed by a guillotined Garda Síochána Bill next week, is not adequate for what is demanded of the Oireachtas on this occasion. The Minister will need to think again in respect of the arrangements for tomorrow’s sitting and in respect of the proposal to guillotine the Garda Síochána Bill and push ahead with Garda reforms in the teeth of serious concerns on the Opposition benches.
Mr. Rabbitte: I also oppose the restricted format proposed for tomorrow’s sitting. The Government ignored the first report of the Morris tribunal and now the more serious second report is apparently to be relegated to what is in parliamentary terms the graveyard slot on Friday in the restrictive format of statements only. This adds insult to the earlier injury.
As Deputy Bruton said, the House has scarcely before received such an important report from the point of view of our democracy, society, confidence in the efficacy of policing etc. The response of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been to misrepresent it. Along with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, who has been so untypically silent, he contrived not to hold the tribunal in the first place. He now claims ownership of it and says——
Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, says that as a result of the report it is now incumbent on the parties on this side of the House to facilitate the early enactment of the Garda Síochána Bill. However, Mr. Justice Morris has said the opposite and suggested we should review the Garda Síochána Bill. He explained in Delphic terms why this is necessary in his view.
It is entirely to diminish both Mr. Justice Morris and this House for the Government merely to allow statements in an abridged debate without the possibility of tabling a motion that commits the Government to implementing the recommendations in the report. We are also opposed to the proposal and ask the Minister for Finance to commit to a proper debate on a matter about which we all ought to be concerned.
We need to revisit the excision of the terms of reference by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, and the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, when it was proposed to include the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Ministers for Justice and Attorneys General concerned. However, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue, with the able support of the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell——
Mr. Rabbitte: ——had that excised. It is quite clear that the Morris report refers to this matter. To conclude the work Mr. Justice Morris has started, he needs the House to revisit those terms of reference so that we can get to the bottom of what was involved in this extraordinary circumstance.
Mr. Sargent: While the Order Paper calls for statements on the Morris tribunal, I ask the Government to reconsider and take into account the gravity of the matter about which we are being asked to make statements. The Government should take into account the ten months during which the first report met with a wall of silence and the need to make up some ground for that insult to the work of the Morris tribunal.
Will the Government to table a motion showing a determination not to allow again the injustice, incompetence and abuse of power highlighted by the Morris tribunal? It seems that the Government is not serious about addressing the recommendations of the tribunal. The only way to remedy that impression is for the Government to table a serious motion on which the House can vote. What is proposed is the parliamentary equivalent of chewing the cud or having a chat about a matter that is of such gravity for the wider public.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Perhaps in his response to Members the Minister might indicate whether he has received a copy of the report of the Morris tribunal. Has any Member of the House received a copy of the report? We received a copy of the first report a fortnight after the initial publication. Now we are about to enter a flawed approach to its content as only statements on the report are allowed. Although it was set up to be accountable to this House, the Morris tribunal has not reported to it. The only way to access the report is through the Internet or by depending on our friends in the media. The reality is that it is not reported back to this House in a proper and meaningful way. The point needs to be emphasised that there is a responsibility on the Morris tribunal to recognise that it was this institution that established it in the first place and that the report should be sent to each Member that was a party to setting it up.
The proposal to have statements only is an outrageous response to a serious issue. It is imperative that we have a full debate, a clear proposition and an outline of action to be taken. Everyone in this House, irrespective of political persuasion, expects actions to be taken on foot of the recommendations in the report of the Morris tribunal. The wider public expects the same. I urge that the proposal to have statements only be withdrawn, that a full debate be scheduled, that the Government outline its intent for action following the publication of the second report of the Morris tribunal and that we have the opportunity to debate that substantive proposition rather than this charade which amounts to absolutely nothing.
Mr. Cowen: Tomorrow’s statements represent the beginning of the response to the Morris tribunal and the systemic problems that have been identified by the report. Tomorrow is not the beginning and the end of the story, but simply a series of formal statements that have been used before for such matters. Were nothing else to happen, then that would clearly be inadequate. However, the statements will give the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the opportunity to deal with some of the misrepresentations of our position propagated by the Opposition.
Mr. Cowen: It will allow us to continue a process of operational and policy reform which it is hoped will ensure that the great majority of gardaí who are dedicated to their job and wish to do it properly are enabled to do so. Everyone in this House will have a contribution to make in that respect. The political parties will have an opportunity to give their points of view tomorrow and the Government looks forward to giving its full position on the report and on the process of reform it intends to pursue.
With regard to the Minister being accountable to the House for questions, those matters are available on a continuing basis for a range of processes and procedures in this House and are not required just because the Deputy seeks them tomorrow.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brady, Martin.||Browne, John.|
|Callanan, Joe.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carey, Pat.||Carty, John.|
|Coughlan, Mary.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Davern, Noel.|
|de Valera, Síle.||Dempsey, Tony.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Fitzpatrick, Dermot.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Fox, Mildred.||Glennon, Jim.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGuinness, John.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donnell, Liz.||O’Donoghue, John.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Keeffe, Batt.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|Parlon, Tom.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Sexton, Mae.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Smith, Michael.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Dan.||Wilkinson, Ollie.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Breen, James.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Costello, Joe.||Cowley, Jerry.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McHugh, Paddy.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.|
|Murphy, Catherine.||Murphy, Gerard.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Seamus.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Seán.|
|Sargent, Trevor.||Sherlock, Joe.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Timmins, Billy.|
Mr. Rabbitte: While I do not want to delay the House, one could not help but notice that we facilitated the Taoiseach’s absence from Leaders’ Questions and Question Time yesterday only to open this morning’s newspapers to find he was opening Ireland’s latest Monopoly game.
Mr. Rabbitte: That is not treating the House, especially this side of the House, with the respect due. If the Taoiseach has time to come back to open a Monopoly game he has time to facilitate Question Time in the House.
Mr. Bruton: Recently we had a report from the Irish Research Council stating that the Irish children’s justice system is failing young people and causing many to enter into an endless cycle of offending often resulting in inappropriate custodial sentences. We read in today’s newspapers that the Minister is going to the UN to trumpet the Irish system of dealing with children in the justice system as exemplary. What he is proposing is to dilute——
Mr. Bruton: Yes. What is happening to the Children Act passed by this House four years ago? It provided for raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 — which has not been implemented. It also provided for parental supervision orders — which have not been implemented, and it further provided for alternatives to detention for young offenders — which have not been implemented——
Mr. Costello: Will we now have an amendment to the Children Act which specifies that the age of criminal responsibility is 12? This would be in operation if the Government had bothered to roll out that section over the past four years, which it has not done. Is it now the case that the age will be reduced from what was specified and prescribed in the Children Act to ten years, as the Minister of State has announced to the media? Will there be an amendment to the Children Act to reduce the age to ten rather than to roll out the prescribed age of 12?
Mr. Cowen: I am sure Members of the House and, in particular, spokespersons, will be aware that a cross-departmental working party is engaged on a youth justice review and is due to report shortly. The reports that appeared in the media today are in anticipation of some recommendations that may be forthcoming from the working party. As soon as they come to Government they will be dealt with.
Mr. Cowen: A substantial amount of that legislation is being implemented. As the Deputy is aware, that legislation was agreed after a long period of consideration by successive Governments and committees. What is happening——
Mr. Ring: The Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, has graced us with his presence in the Dáil. The Minister for Travel and Joy. I am delighted to see him. I see him more in the constituency than in the Dáil.
Mr. Cowen: The answer I was about to give before Deputy Costello decided to give his views on the adequacy or otherwise of my reply, which he had not heard, is that a review is ongoing at present which will make recommendations to Government which will lead to a reform of the present situation, which is something for which the Deputy has probably called. As soon as the Government considers and makes decisions on them we will discuss them in this House.
Mr. Rabbitte: With regard to Deputy Cowen’s constituency colleague and chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, who according to this morning’s newspaper said the whistleblower’s Bill will be ready by next year, yesterday the Tánaiste told me that there will not be a whistleblower’s Bill. Will the Minister indicate which is it?
The second matter I wish to raise is the package on Dáil reform where I see that among other things the Minister or the Government is trying to diminish Leaders’ Questions, to change the rules and have Ministers answer instead of the Taoiseach, and a number of other changes detrimental both to this House and targeted at the Opposition. I take this opportunity to inform the Minister that my party will not engage in any negotiations on these proposals with the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, much as I have regard for him, because they are designed to further disadvantage the Opposition in terms of the operation of this House and to diminish the stature of the House.
Mr. Cowen: The Tánaiste gave the accurate Government position on the whistleblower’s Bill. I understand my constituency colleague gave a view which was considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, of which he is chairman.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy. The Minister was called and he is entitled to be heard without interruption just as when Deputy Burton is called she will be entitled to be heard without interruption.
Mr. Cowen: Considerable drafting work has been done with a view to progressing the legislation. It is now considered that the provision of statutory protection for whistleblowers on a sectoral basis might provide a better and more focused approach to dealing with this issue, as in section 4 of the Act relating to protections for persons reporting child abuse and section 50 of the Competition Act. That is the Government position as things stand.
Regarding the second matter, the Government Chief Whip has brought forward proposals in good faith. Obviously he would like to deal with them on an all-party basis but if the Labour Party is not interested in discussing them, that is its view.
Mr. Rabbitte: I make a point to the Minister which he clearly does not know. In terms of bringing forward sectoral protection in the fashion he described, the day before yesterday the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, refused such an amendment from this side of the House in respect of the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill because he said the whistleblower’s Bill was forthcoming.
Mr. Cowen: I do not know how relevant they are but the animal health Bill is to consolidate and update the diseases of animals legislation. It is not possible to indicate when it will be introduced, nor is it possible to make such an indication regarding the crimes Bill.
Mr. Durkan: If the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources were present, I would ask him. Will the Minister for Finance indicate when or if it is intended to introduce the Bord Gáis Éireann Bill? Its publication is expected in 2006, which is approaching fast.
Ms McManus: The Tánaiste stated the State was losing up to €12 million per month because of a failure to charge people in nursing homes. Legislation was rushed through this House, to be followed by regulations. It was reported only in the past few days that——
Ms McManus: Secondary legislation. It was stated in the media that the secondary legislation, the regulations to permit the charges to be levied, was signed by the Minister. There is no sign of its being laid before the House. Will the Minister indicate what is happening?
Mr. Cowen: There is no point in being facetious. The documentation has been signed and the matter has been dealt with. The regulations have been completed and drafted and they are being signed. That is the issue.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Given the judgment in the High Court yesterday, which has caused consternation among parents of children with autism, will the Government withdraw the Disability Bill and introduce rights-based legislation? This is an absolute imperative given the very worrying development yesterday.
Mr. Cowen: It will be part of a modern framework. The process will not be lawyer-driven, as the Deputy sought, but as we have outlined. It has been approved in this House and I anticipate it will be approved in the Upper House. Upon its signature, we will proceed to continue with the unprecedented investment we are making in this area. I am aware of the specific case to which the Deputy has referred. It is obviously a very difficult issue for individual families. It is a matter with which we dealt in our budgetary statements last year and we will continue to do all we can in a specific way and more generally to provide a service to families who find themselves in this very difficult position. I do not wish to comment on the specific court judgment.
Mr. Cowen: I am not aware that legislation has been promised but we have provided unprecedented additional resources. As I stated, a modern statutory framework is in place in respect of disability which compares very favourably to those established by many previous Governments and certainly affords the opportunity to make progress in conjunction with the representative groups.
Mr. Timmins: There are many stretches of the N81 on which trucks regularly clip one another’s mirrors when the meet. When will the national roads infrastructure Bill be before the House so we can deal with the matter in detail?
Mr. Howlin: Ireland was legally obliged to transpose Directive 2002/14/EC of the European Parliament and Council into law no later than 23 March of this year. Ireland is the only member state that has not done so. The directive concerns the general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Union. When will we see the relevant legislation? Has the Commission been in touch with Irish officials in regard to proceedings on foot of the default of this country in respect of this matter?
Dr. Cowley: Is there legislation promised to change the ridiculous €20 fine applying to someone who has profited so much in this regard? My point relates to a decision on exempted development by An Bord Pleanála.
Ms O’Sullivan: I have regularly raised the question of the register of persons considered unsafe to work with children Bill and have received the same answer every time. It seems that no progress is being made. The legislation is important to protect children. What is the position thereon?
Mr. Bruton: I have two brief questions. I note the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, promised that the Government will fund remortgaging for older people. Is this part of the Government’s programme——
Mr. Bruton: It concerns the Health Service Executive. The CSO indicates that the employment level in the Health Service Executive has increased by 8,300 in the past 12 months. I did not see any legal approval to breach the cap that the Government had set on recruitment.
Ms Burton: I want to ask the Minister about detailed proposals on tax credits for child care and family support that were published in The Irish Times yesterday, under a picture of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. Will the Minister for Finance say whether it is possible for Deputies in this House to ask questions regarding the costings ascribed to the story in The Irish Times? If these matters published relate to the tax strategy group, could the Minister agree to publish them? With the loss of freedom of information——
An Ceann Comhairle: I suggest the Deputy submit the question to the Minister and it will be ruled on accordingly. We are moving on to No. 13a, referral to joint committee of proposal approved by Dáil Éireann of the Risk Equalisation (Amendment) Scheme 2005.
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