Dáil Eireann

01/Jul/2005

Prelude

Order of Business.

Treaty of Amsterdam: Motions.

UN Reform: Statements.

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Land Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Land Bill 2004 [Seanad]: Referral to Select Committee.

Tributes to Head Usher of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar10.30 a.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen):  It is proposed to take No. 20, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a decision of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the European return fund for the period 2008 to 2013, back from committee; No. 21, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a decision of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the European refugee fund for the period 2008 to 2013, back from committee; No. 22, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision establishing the European fund for the integration of third-country nationals for the period 2007 to 2013, back from committee; No. 23, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for an EU Council Framework Decision to strengthen the criminal law framework for the enforcement of the law against ship-source pollution, back from committee; No. 32, statements on UN reform; No. 4b Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 [Seanad] — Second and Remaining Stages; and No. 31, Land Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 20 to 23, inclusive, shall be decided without debate; the proceedings in relation to No. 32 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 minutes 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 15 minutes in each case, Members may share time, and the Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 4b: the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3 p.m. today, the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael [2038]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, the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages 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, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.

The Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 September 2005.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are four proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 20 to 23, inclusive, motions re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann, agreed to?

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not. Such is the importance of the three funds incorporated in these propositions that it merits full scrutiny and debate in the House. It is not appropriate, given the importance of what is at stake, that we go ahead on a nod without debate. Particular attention must be paid to the European returns fund for which there must be real concern. I note from the circulated report from committee, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell stated:

All actions under the three specific objectives are to take account of the specific situation of vulnerable people such as . . . people who have been subject to torture or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual abuse.

I contend that these are reasons for not returning people. If those are the facts in any case, not only this fund but no fund should be employed for a person’s return.

This as an example of the importance of the House addressing the detail entailed in the propositions. I appeal that these measures, particularly No. 20, do not proceed without debate. With respect, it is an abuse of the committee system that we kick to touch in committee and then it is returned to the Dáil. There is insufficient address of these measures by Members and there is little if any public scrutiny of what is entailed. I am concerned this is the Government’s approach. There would be great public concern and alarm at some of the detail involved in these propositions if they were properly highlighted in the public arena. The House must not proceed without debate but take the opportunity to ensure they are fully debated.

Mr. M. Higgins:  I agree with the thoughts expressed regarding the implementation of Nos. 20 to 22, inclusive. This is an area into which, [2039]through practice, an enormous amount of uncertainty has been imported. In the establishment of a regime, it would make sense if precise principles were laid down. However, they cannot be laid down unless debated in the House. One of my reasons for not just nodding these three motions through is based on the appalling and unacceptable remarks by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on the question of refugees, without straying off the specific purpose of these resolutions from the European Parliament. If we were in the happy case of having impeccable practice, sound regimes, certainty in the process and openness in the decision making, we might be in a position to give them a cursory treatment. In the absence of this, it makes sense to have them debated properly in the House.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 20 to 23, inclusive, be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 32, statements on UN reform agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4b, conclusion of Second and Subsequent Stages of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005 [Seanad] agreed?

Ms McManus:  This demonstrates the bad habits of a Government that has been in power for too long.

Mr. Glennon:  That is something from which the Deputy never suffered.

Ms McManus:  This Bill was only published yesterday. It is a Bill to amend an Act passed by this House in 2004, which has yet to be commenced. The Ceann Comhairle has asked the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to rule that amendments to Bills be submitted four full days before a Bill is debated. I ask him to consider the actual bad practice of this Government. It is impossible for the House to comply with his wishes when it does not see a Bill until the day before it is debated.

The practice has been — with the Ceann Comhairle’s encouragement — that there should be a period of ten working days between the publication of a Bill and the Second Stage debate in this House. If Members are to do their work properly, I ask the Ceann Comhairle to ensure that the Government abides by good practice in this House. Otherwise, we will find, time and time again, that Bills are rushed through the House and amendments are not debated. All too often, we have seen legislation end up in the courts. We had the absolute shambles of the Garda Síochána Bill. The Bill to be debated today is not particularly significant or complicated. However, it certainly deserves proper scrutiny and proper prep[2040]aration and we are not getting that. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to deal with this problem.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Ceann Comhairle has no role in the matter, other than to adjudicate on amendments. There is no difficulty with amendments that come within Standing Orders. The Ceann Comhairle adjudicates on amendments outside of Standing Orders as has always been the practice. The Ceann Comhairle has no function regarding the conduct of business in the House by the Government.

Mr. Quinn:  The Ceann Comhairle could ask the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair does not intend to get into a discussion on the Chair’s function. I have clarified the position for Deputy McManus and I have ruled on the matter. Only one Deputy from a party should speak on each issue. The House is debating the proposal dealing with No. 32 and Deputy McManus has already spoken on the matter. Does anyone else wish to speak?

Mr. Rabbitte:  The question put to the Ceann Comhairle was how does he recommend, as the chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, that Members give four days’ notice of amendments when they receive a Bill on the day before it is taken. That is the question. I do not propose to have a discussion with him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, the question put to me pertained to how the Government conducts its business in this House.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  No it was not.

Mr. Durkan:  It is bad policy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The question of amendments and what I brought to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges followed a discussion with a number of interested parties in this House about amendments and having a proposal——

Mr. Rabbitte:  How does he propose to have a four-day rule when Members only get one day’s notice of a Bill?

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is not a four day rule at present.

A Deputy:  The Chair is trying to introduce it.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Members receive one day’s notice of a Bill, which was the point originally put to the Chair.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will not become involved in a discussion on the role of the Ceann Comhairle or of his office. I will put the question.

Mr. Allen:  That is not what the Deputy stated.

[2041]Ms McManus:  On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on the Minister. Deputy McManus should resume her seat. There is no discussion.

Ms McManus:  I wish to raise a point of order. The Ceann Comhairle stated that interested parties raised this with him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is correct.

Ms McManus:  Who are those interested parties?

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy wishes to come to my office, I will discuss the entire matter with her. I call on the Minister for Finance.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will not discuss the business of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or the office of the Ceann Comhairle on the floor of the House.

Ms McManus:  The Ceann Comhairle raised the issue of interested parties and as a consequence of him raising the matter, it is proper for me to ask him to state who these interested parties are.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, Deputy, I would ask you to resume your seat. The Minister for Finance.

Ms McManus:  Is it the Minister for Finance?

An Ceann Comhairle:  If the Deputy wishes to be informed she may come to my office to discuss the entire matter.

Ms McManus:  I see that the Minister for Finance is the interested party.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Stagg:  It is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy may discuss this in my office. I call on the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Cowen:  I will respond to the point that has been made for the information of the House. As has been stated, the need to commence the 2004 Act is the subject of numerous questions and representations. This amendment Bill is to be brought forward because when the 2004 Act was enacted, it was considered that payments of allowances and fees to registrars could be made on an administrative basis. However, when the commencement and revised fees order under the 2004 Act was drafted, the Department’s legal advisers advised that legislative provision would be required to continue to make these payments [2042]and that the existing legislative basis for the payments would cease on commencement of the Act and consequential repeal of existing Acts.

Ms Burton:  The Government did not do its homework again.

Mr. Cowen:  The Attorney General confirmed this advice. The failure to make provision for continued payments of allowances and fees to private registrars would have serious consequences for those registrars, for the system of civil registration in the communities served by them and for the Exchequer. This amendment is to enable what was previously regarded an administrative provision——

Ms Burton:  The Government did not do its homework.

Mr. Cowen:  What was previously regarded as an administrative provision will now be part of the legislation. People have criticised the fact that the commencement order has not been put into effect. The Government wants to do so and needs this amendment Bill. It is a practical simple measure to which I do not believe any amendment will be required.

Ms McManus:  Can I ask the Minister for Finance——

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  This is a careless, incompetent Government.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 4b be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with the Adjournment of the Dáil until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 September 2005 agreed?

Mr. Kenny:  I have been in the House for a slightly longer period than the Ceann Comhairle and I have rarely seen a Government of any party with such a desire to get out of the House for the summer break.

Mr. Roche:  At least Deputy Kenny is smiling.

Mr. Kenny:  This battered and bruised outfit is staggering towards the line and cannot wait to turn their backs on Leinster House and get away from being exposed and opposed. Deputy Glennon wants to be able to commentate on the next Lions test match. Deputy Carty is the sole representative for Fianna Fáil in County Mayo. Deputy Cassidy has announced his intention to canvass Athlone.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Durkan:  He is probably there already.

Mr. Kenny:  Deputy O’Connor has the doubtful privilege of being the first Fianna Fáil back[2043]bencher to be nominated to contest the next general election. He will need to be out early, because Senator Hayes is on his trail in that constituency.

Mr. G. Murphy:  The Deputy should bring his guillotine.

Mr. Kenny:  The behaviour of this Government leaves much to be desired. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, is relaxed in his chair this morning because he will not be obliged to be in the House next week. He has received the figures.

Mr. Cullen:  I am happy to face the Deputy any time.

Mr. Kenny:  School class sizes have become a noble aspiration——

Mr. Cullen:  I will take the new M50 to get there.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should not revisit that issue.

Mr. Kenny:  I am unsure whether the Minister will have the opportunity to travel in a vintage car through Ballina the next time he goes there, but he will be welcome if he does. Classes sizes have become a noble aspiration——

Ms Hanafin:  There are 660 extra resource teachers.

Mr. Kenny:  ——and a broken promise.

Mr. Allen:  What about the disabled?

Mr. Kenny:  Yesterday, a total of 270 people were on trolleys in hospitals with 150 in Dublin alone, in the middle of summer when things should be at their most quiet. Crime rates in our capital city are rising. The roof has blown off a building that cost €62 million and underneath it, 5 million litres of water are leaking away every month, but we are told it represents good value for money. We have had 13 Bills produced on the basis that they would be taken before the House rose for the summer recess. Nine of them were not published at all and emergency legislation has been rushed through the House, including more than 100 amendments on the Garda Síochána Bill passed by guillotine. The Taoiseach refuses to come into the House on Thursdays. Now he intends that during the summer period, his fine representative, the Government Whip will propose that in future, Leaders’ Questions should be hived off to Ministers who may know more about the issues than the Taoiseach. This has been an appalling period for this Government. It is an indication of just how the public view the Government. It is an indication that Government Members understand that and want to get away [2044]to their respective constituencies to prepare for battle. In this context I propose an amendment to No. 4, that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 September. I hope that when the Government Members return refreshed from acquaintance anew with their constituents in their respective counties they will come back with a clear resolve to work harder in the public interest and with a greater degree of competence than they have shown to date. They will need to do so because in the hills and the valleys and in the villages, towns and cities, the people are just waiting for them.

Mr. Rabbitte:  I second the amendment that the Dáil should resume on 13 September. It is very difficult to justify anything else to the public. It is impossible to justify three months’ absence from plenary session of the Dáil. Outside it is not understood that it is the Government and not the Dáil or the Oireachtas that makes the decision to put the House into recess for three months. It is impossible to justify other than the compulsion on the Government to stay out and escape from the House to avoid accountability and engage in what will be a futile attempt to refurbish its battered and bedraggled image in the three months ahead. It is unlikely that a cynical Fr. Healy-type stroke can be repeated this summer; that conversion has worn off.

Mr. Durkan:  They were in the pool in Inchydoney.

Mr. J. O’Keeffe:  At least the pool at Inchydoney was working.

Mr. Roche:  It was not actually.

Mr. Rabbitte:  Even by the standards of this Government, the recess is coming at least a week earlier than in recent years. There is no justification for the House not to sit next week. I am happy to second Deputy Kenny’s proposal that the House return on 13 September.

Mr. Sargent:  The Green Party has no problem with the proposal to return on 13 September. While a reasonable break is expected, I cannot justify taking off July on top of that. The Dáil has sat for 93 days since last September.

Mr. Roche:  The Deputy already has his holidays booked.

Mr. Treacy:  The Deputy lives too close to the sea.

Mr. Sargent:  The House of Commons in London sits for 155 days a year on average. A normal week in the Dáil is 22 hours. A normal week in the House of Commons is 32 hours.

Mr. Roche:  They have a different system.

[2045]Éamon Ó Cuív:  Does the Deputy want their electoral system?

Mr. Sargent:  I am not sure whether the Members on the Government side are trying to shout me down or whether they know it all and do not need to listen.

Mr. M. Ahern:  The Deputy should not rise me.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Sargent to speak without interruption.

Mr. Sargent:  As the House of Commons puts in 70% more hours than the Dáil, if the Oireachtas is to have any respect and if we are to have parity of esteem regarding the Good Friday Agreement we should also have parity of hours in terms of the cross-Border institutions and dealing with the UK Government.

Mr. Gogarty:  We should have the Northern work ethic.

Mr. Sargent:  If we are trying to bring about reconciliation between different traditions, the two Parliaments in question should also maintain a parity, which in this case would have the Oireachtas sitting into July.

Mr. Gogarty:  The turkeys should go ahead and vote for Christmas for a change.

Mr. Sargent:  While I know Government Members are very excitable and they have a majority to do exactly what they want, when they do so and vote themselves an unreasonably long break they should take into account during the recess that they will not be accountable to the Dáil. Ministers need to be careful to tell the truth, as they will not be able to be held to account here.

When it comes to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, accusing people of robbery of the taxpayer——

Mr. Cullen:  After the democratic process was followed.

Mr. Sargent:  ——as if the cost of the M50 was all about Carrickmines——

Mr. Cullen:  The Deputy should get on his bicycle for the summer and go and create more trouble around the country. That is what he can do.

Mr. Roche:  The Deputy should explain his behaviour in the Glen of the Downs.

Mr. Treacy:  Rent an objector.

Mr. Sargent:  Why does the Minister for Transport not examine the figures? He knows that [2046]0.03% of the cost of the project was attributable to Carrickmines.

Mr. Cullen:  The Green Party would have us back in the 1940s.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should look at the facts.

Mr. Sargent:  The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, was the man who wasted taxpayers’ money on electronic voting and flights of fancy to Kuala Lumpur and everywhere else.

A Deputy:  Deputy Sargent should go back to the bog and bring——

Mr. Sargent:  He is trying to accuse honest people, who are trying to protect heritage, of robbery. He has a brass neck. He will now vote himself a holiday and continue to lie to the people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is moving away from the proposal before the House.

Mr. Sargent:  The Minister should return to the House and be accountable for his words and he will discover he is telling absolute untruths.

Mr. Cullen:  I cannot help it if the Green Party is technologically illiterate and cannot cope with modern technology. He should go away out of that.

Mr. Sargent:  The Minister needs to get a hold of the facts and stop trying to mislead the people and create propaganda.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Sargent is contributing to disorder in the House by addressing his remarks across the floor.

Mr. Sargent:  I am trying to correct the record. When Ministers go on holidays they should keep an eye to the truth.

Mr. Treacy:  Some Green Party Deputies have their holidays booked.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Sargent should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Mr. Sargent:  This matter requires the Government to acknowledge that we need parity of hours with the House of Commons if we are genuinely interested in a peace process.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. Rabbitte:  The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, has said that Deputy Sargent is technologically inadequate.

Mr. Durkan:  The Minister should know what he is talking about: he of the swinging ballot boxes.

[2047]Mr. Cullen:  The Opposition cannot cope with it.

(Interruptions).

Mr. Roche:  The Green Party cost the taxpayer €40 million.

Mr. F. McGrath:  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, should not be bullying.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is very hard to follow Deputy Sargent this morning; it was one of his finest moments.

Mr. Roche:  That does not say much.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Deputy Ó Caoláin clearly does not think much of Deputy Sargent.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I have no difficulty in supporting Deputy Kenny’s amendment that the Dáil should return earlier, provided it is to address specific areas of legislation yet to be presented by Government. We all recognise that key areas need to be addressed. I will not repeat much of what has already been said. With the indulgence of the House, I say that I am concerned that Members contribute to the fallacy that elected Members of this House do not put in the hours that we all know we do.

Mr. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We do this House and democracy a disservice when we misrepresent a view that people are working the type of hours cited. Members of this House of all opinion put in phenomenal hours and I do not believe many [2048]in other sectors would put in the same hours as Members. Those are important points to be made and we all have a responsibility to say it.

Mr. Kelleher:  That was the Deputy’s finest moment.

  11 o’clock

Mr. Cowen:  The work of committees will continue this month and in September and the work of the Cabinet will continue until August. Last year, there were 22 committee meetings in July after the plenary sessions was completed. Since September 2004, we have published 30 Bills and enacted 22 Bills, while ten Bills are awaiting the signature of the President. In legislative terms, this indicates that the work of the House, while not meeting unanimous approval, as is the nature of any democratic assembly, has been done during this period.

The predictable attempt by the Opposition to suggest that this country is not doing well is best counteracted by the ESRI report published this morning, which confirms that we have the fastest growing economy in Europe.

Mr. Gogarty:  What about quality of life issues?

Mr. Cowen:  People in this country are being educated to the highest standards and are getting jobs commensurate with their abilities. We have an economy that is outperforming all our competitors in Europe and that is significant enough to defend the record of the Government. We have achieved unprecedented success and we look forward to continuing this work in committees during July and September and returning to the fray as soon as the Connacht final is over.

Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand.”

[2047]The Dáil divided: Tá, 59; Níl, 51.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Callanan, Joe.  Callely, Ivor.
 Carey, Pat.  Carty, John.
 Cassidy, Donie.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Tom.  McDowell, Michael.
 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’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Keeffe, Ned.  O’Malley, Tim.
 [2049]Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Walsh, Joe.
 Woods, Michael.  


[2049]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Breen, James.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Crowe, Seán.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Deasy, John.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gormley, John.
 Healy, Seamus.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Hogan, Phil.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Paul.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Gay.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Seamus.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  

[2049]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.

[2049]Question declared carried.

[2050]Question put: “That the Dáil on rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 September 2005.”

[2049]The Dáil divided: Tá, 59; Níl, 49.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Ardagh, Seán.  Brady, Johnny.
 Brady, Martin.  Brennan, Seamus.
 Callanan, Joe.  Callely, Ivor.
 Carey, Pat.  Carty, John.
 Cassidy, Donie.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cullen, Martin.  Curran, John.
 Dennehy, John.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Ellis, John.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
 Glennon, Jim.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Keaveney, Cecilia.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Tom.  McDowell, Michael.
 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’Donovan, Denis.
 O’Keeffe, Ned.  O’Malley, Tim.
 Parlon, Tom.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Sexton, Mae.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Walsh, Joe.
 Woods, Michael.  


[2051]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Breen, James.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burton, Joan.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Crawford, Seymour.  Crowe, Seán.
 Deasy, John.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Healy, Seamus.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Paul.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Gay.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Murphy, Gerard.  Neville, Dan.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Pattison, Seamus.
 Penrose, Willie.  Perry, John.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Ryan, Seán.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Sherlock, Joe.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Twomey, Liam.  Upton, Mary.
 Wall, Jack.  

[2051]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.

[2051]Question declared carried.

Mr. Stagg:  Standing Orders of the House allow for votes by other than electronic means. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is new to the democratic process but he appears to have an aversion to votes in this House.

Mr. Roche:  Not as new as you are.

Mr. Stagg:  He also appears to object to us using the democratic process in the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a proposal to make to the House?

Mr. Callely:  He is getting there.

Mr. Roche:  He is winding himself up.

Mr. Stagg:  We will use the other system of voting when we think it is appropriate. The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, can like it or lump it. While I will miss meeting my Fianna Fáil friends going through the lobby, on this occasion we do not think it is appropriate.

Mr. Roche:  That was definitely your finest hour.

Mr. Kenny:  One can always be assured of surprises in this House. I wish to raise two matters with the Minister for Finance. You were kind enough yesterday, a Cheann Comhairle, to allow a private notice question in respect of the imprisonment of five people from County Mayo deemed by the High Court to be in contempt of court. The Minister, in his response to questions yesterday, said he would consider in some circumstances the appointment of a mediator. He still [2052]has the authority to do that. Has the Minister for Finance had any communication from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources about that matter, as three of the five men are up in court again this morning for a further decision in respect of obstruction and contempt of court?

The Minister for Finance is aware that this is a complex and serious matter and while we cannot interfere in any way with the High Court decision, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is in a position to appoint a mediator who might be able to bring about a resolution to this. Perhaps the Minister for Finance would inform the House as to whether he has any news on that.

My colleague, Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, has been highlighting what appears to be a sweetheart deal involving the Dublin Port Company and a consortium bidding for the national conference centre. Under the harbours Bill, can I take it from the Minister for Finance that the public procurement rules and the code of practice for governance of State bodies will be seen to be fully complied with in this matter? It is referred to in some media reports today and I would like an assurance that he will see to it that these rules, regulations and procedures are properly and fully complied with.

Mr. Cowen:  I have not had any direct communication from the Minister since the debate on yesterday’s private notice question. If Deputy Kenny wishes to pursue the matter, I advise him to take it up directly with the Department and the Minister’s office.

Regarding the second matter, the House can be assured that the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is conducting the tendering process [2053]for such a facility in compliance with all the necessary practices and procedures.

Mr. Allen:  Since 1997.

Mr. Rabbitte:  As the acting head of Government, I ask the Minister, Deputy Cowen, to give a more positive indication than that on the matter raised by Deputy Kenny. It appears the proposal he has put is reasonable. Anybody who looks closely at the deal Shell Oil got in Mayo would reach the conclusion that the least it can do having got one hell of a deal from the Irish taxpayer is to make itself amenable to mediation with a view to resolving this dispute before the weekend.

Has the Government rethought its position on the whistleblowers Bill? The Tánaiste answered yesterday to the effect that the advice we had been given on these benches in recent years was wrong, that there was no legal advice to the effect that the Bill ought not to proceed, that it was purely official advice. Given recent events, will the Minister reconsider it?

Will the Minister confirm if it is the case that the National Roads Authority is to announce today the award of a €50 million contract for the Castleblaney bypass to Gama Construction? Having regard to recent events, if that is the case — unbelievable and all as it might appear — will the State on this occasion ensure there is full compliance with all regulations, conventions and the law in this country?

Mr. Cowen:  I cannot comment further on the matter raised by Deputy Kenny. I am not in a position to do so. Arrangements were made here yesterday at short notice to take a private notice question. The matter was fully aired in the House and the Minister set out the position. As Deputy Kenny said, a separation of powers principle is involved here. Anything further that can be done by the Minister in regard to any indications he has given as to how he can assist in this matter in a way that respects that separation of powers principle is something that should be taken up directly with his office. I do not have any further information than that which he gave to the House yesterday.

Regarding the whistleblowers Bill, this is a matter Deputy Rabbitte previously raised when I took the Order of Business. I cannot add to the points I have given to the House when I made the fullest possible explanation. As I understand it, it is a Labour Party Bill that was introduced in Private Members’ time. The Government is of the view that it can deal with some of what is contemplated by that Bill in various legislation sectorally rather than in one Bill covering all areas of activity. I am not aware that there has been any change in that situation and, certainly, nothing has come before Government that indicates a change in that situation at this time. I cannot say what is being contemplated or considered for the future. The question is probably best addressed [2054]to the line Minister who took the Bill in the first place.

I am not aware of the operational arrangements being made regarding the giving out of tenders by the National Roads Authority. Regardless of whether companies mentioned by Deputy Rabbitte or anyone else are involved, occurrences in recent months are such that the Government has taken considerable steps, through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to enhance the inspection and monitoring of the contractual obligations of contractors. Every Member would support this and would want our laws on these matters and workers’ rights to be respected.

Mr. Sargent:  Newswires are suggesting today that the men jailed for obstructing work on the Shell pipeline will face a very long prison sentence if they refuse to purge their contempt of court. I ask the Government not to act like
Pontius Pilate and to ensure that a mediation process is put in place. One will remember what happened on foot of the imprisonments and executions after Easter 1916.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on the matter.

Mr. Sargent:  I envisage public opinion turning very quickly. The Government needs to be mindful of this.

Given that the length of the recess has been established, will the Government bear in mind our request from earlier this week that the House be recalled prior to the UN summit to permit an announcement on meeting our target of 0.7% of gross national product? It might be appropriate for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to indicate when such an announcement will be made given the tens of thousands of people who were on the streets yesterday. He will know the strength of feeling on the matter.

Since April, when we received the list of promised legislation, 13 Bills were accorded priority, four of which have been published. The interesting point worth noting is that we have had more Bills published that were not promised than those that were promised. Given that we have a list to which we are rightly restricted from referring by the Ceann Comhairle, is there any way in which we can have an indication regarding the legislation that is promised but not seen until published but which obviously exists and is not made public? Would it be fair to say we are not being presented with the whole picture and that in the next Dáil term we should receive a more comprehensive list of legislation rather than being surprised by the Bills that are published without notice?

Mr. Cowen:  On the first matter the Deputy raised, he and other Members will always insist that the House respect court orders regarding other matters.

[2055]Mr. Sargent:  What about a mediator?

Mr. Cowen:  It is in the context of respecting this principle that the Minister is trying to determine how he can assist in the matter. Court orders must be respected. At least Deputy Kenny acknowledged the complexity of the matter and the sensitivities involved in the Executive taking action on foot of a court order that has come from the bench. There is no point in trying to describe a Pontius Pilate-type approach on the part of the House.

Mr. Kenny:  A mediator could be appointed outside that system.

Mr. Cowen:  This House is not in a position to supersede a court order.

On Deputy Sargent’s surprise over Bills published without notice, parliamentary Question Time is for the purpose of asking the line Ministers the legislation being contemplated by each Department. It is open to the Deputy to find out this information at any time by phone or by tabling a formal question.

The efficiency and effectiveness of this House should not be dictated by the quantity of legislation that passes. Perhaps the quality of the legislation is important.

Mr. Allen:  In that case, why are there guillotines?

Mr. Cowen:  There are many other debates that need to be held in this House on the economy and other matters, which I would welcome but which we do not seem to hear as much about from the Opposition as——

Mr. Sargent:  Standing Orders restrict us to asking about promised legislation.

Mr. Cowen:  I presume the Deputy believes they are on weaker ground.

Mr. Sargent:  We are restricted.

Mr. Cowen:  The point I am making to the Deputy is that the lists provided by the Government are formulated on the advice of Departments. This is why we publish them. I hope, for the sake of everybody who participates in the legislative process, both in committee and plenary session, that much more attention is paid to their work and that it receives much more coverage. Thus, more Members will feel they can make a worthwhile contribution in the Oireachtas.

Mr. Sargent:  The question I raised about the United Nations millennium summit——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That matter was dealt with already under proposal No. 4. The House decided on it by a vote. I call on Deputy Ó Caoláin.

[2056]Mr. Sargent:  The Minister should reply.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have already decided on when the House is coming back.

Mr. Sargent:  We have not decided on the matter I raised.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On Deputy Kenny’s point on the County Mayo farmers, I add my support to the appeal for immediate mediation if it can be organised. It is imperative that it be organised and that a resolution be arrived at that is satisfactory to the families concerned. We would all agree that this is required. The judicial process does not in any way impinge on its moving forward.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on it. This issue was discussed by way of a Private Notice Question. A brief comment has been made this morning by the Leader and we are moving on to the next item of business.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I have just made a further brief comment. The next point to which I want to refer concerns the tender process pertaining to national roads projects. Gama has been mentioned this morning. It has not——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Again, that does not arise at this stage. I ask the Deputy to refer to an appropriate matter.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It has been alluded to and the company has not been awarded the works in respect of the Castleblayney bypass although I believe it has submitted the lowest tender. It is hardly any wonder that its tender would be the lowest given the practices it employs regarding its staff. I hope the Minister will note that this matter requires redress.

On promised legislation, the International Criminal Court Bill 2003 was referred, in July last year, exactly 12 months ago this week, to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights subsequent to the taking of Second Stage. It has yet to be scheduled for Committee Stage.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a matter for the House and not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Minister raise the matter with the Chairman of the committee, his party colleague, so the Bill will be scheduled for address by the committee and we will have the chance to address the matters that concern Members in respect thereof?

Mr. Cowen:  The organisation of the committee’s work is a matter for the committee. It has been referred from the House to the committee and it is a matter for the latter to order its own business. While I will certainly pass on the [2057]Deputy’s comments to the Chairman of the committee concerned, Deputy Ardagh, the fact remains that it is for the committee to arrange its business and take the Bill if that is what it wishes to do. That is why it has been referred to it.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion, provided by Article 3 of the fourth Protocol set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, to notify the President of the Council that it wishes to take part in the adoption and of the following proposed measure:

a proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the European Return Fund for the period 2008 to 2013 as part of the general programme ‘Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows’,

a copy of which proposed measure was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 2005.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion, provided by Article 3 of the fourth Protocol set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, to notify the President of the Council that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

a proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the European Refugee Fund for the period 2008 to 2013 as part of the general programme ‘Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows’,

a copy of which proposed measure was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 2005.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion, provided by Article 3 of the fourth Protocol set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam, to notify the President of the Council that it wishes to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure:

a proposal for a Council Decision establishing the European Fund for the Integration of Third-country nationals for the period 2007 to 2013 as part of the general [2058]programme ‘Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows’,

a copy of which proposed measure was laid before Dáil Éireann on 3 June 2005.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion provided by Article 1.11 of the Treaty of Amsterdam to take part in the adoption of a proposal for an EU Council Framework Decision to strengthen the criminal law framework for the enforcement of the law against ship-source pollution, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 22 June 2005.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  This follows on from a discussion that we had in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs with regard to UN reform. This is the 60th anniversary of the United Nations and the 50th year since Ireland joined the organisation. The United Nations has since occupied a central place in Ireland’s foreign policy. A rules-based international order and strong multilateral institutions are essential for international peace and prosperity and are especially necessary to smaller states in the protection of their interests. Moreover, Ireland contributes to human security largely through the United Nations, particularly in the areas of peacekeeping and human rights and through its participation in the UN funds and programmes. It is therefore central to Ireland’s interests that the United Nations functions efficiently and effectively.

With the end of the Cold War, there were strong hopes that the United Nations would finally be able to function fully as envisaged in its charter. The organisation, however, faced many severe challenges during the 1990s and the secretariat had to strive to adapt itself to the new conditions. It met some challenges adequately and some, as we know, very inadequately. However, the main problem lay not in the UN secretariat, although there were weaknesses there, but rather in the manner in which the members of the United Nations acted or failed to act through the organisation. It is the members who must act to better equip it to meet the challenges of today.

Making the United Nations a more effective instrument of the international community was one of the aspirations contained in the millennium summit declaration. It had become evident that there was a need for substantial change in the way the UN addresses the purposes for which it was established, namely, the maintenance of [2059]international peace and security, the promotion of human rights and the promotion of economic and social progress. The need for improvement in the management of the UN organisation was also evident.

In the five years since, public perception of the capacity of the United Nations to act effectively in fulfilment of the purposes has been further affected by events and circumstances, including the failure of the Security Council in early 2003 to agree on its approach to Iraq and the allegations surrounding the Iraq sanctions regime and the oil for food programme, although the UN secretariat itself bore only a limited share of the responsibility.

In addition, the relapse of a number of states and societies into conflict showed the need for a new approach to states with fragile institutions. The repeated election to the Commission on Human Rights of states whose authorities were responsible for gross abuses of human rights and which made it very difficult for the CHR to censure such regimes demonstrated the need for a new approach to human rights overview at the UN. It also became clear that progress towards the achievement of the development goals was very uneven and that Africa, in particular, was falling behind.

In a statement to the General Assembly in September 2003, Secretary General Annan announced that the United Nations had reached a “fork in the road”. He established a high level panel charged with examining current and future threats to peace and security and how collective threats can best address them. The panel reported last year and advocated a new security consensus involving the mutual recognition of threats, including those presented by poverty, under-development and disease as well as by conflict, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The millennium development project, established by the Secretary General under Professor Jeffrey Sachs, reported last February on means to restore momentum to the achievement of the millennium development goals. While some developing countries have made good progress towards the achievement of the MDGs, others have not, especially in Africa where institutional weakness and civil and international conflict together with funding shortfalls have led many to fall behind.

The Sachs report concludes that the MDGs, including such headline goals as halving of the numbers of those living in poverty and ensuring access to primary education for all, can be achieved by 2015. However, it also points out that this cannot be done on a business as usual basis and sets out a roadmap detailing the investments that will be required in health, education, rural development, road building, housing and scientific research.

Drawing on both these reports, the Secretary General issued his own views in his report, In Larger Freedom, issued last March and contain[2060]ing detailed recommendations for decisions at next September’s summit. The summit, therefore, presents an opportunity to restore momentum towards the achievement of the MDGs as well as to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations.

The UN Secretary General has identified as a central theme for the summit the rule of law, human rights and democracy. The essential logic running through his recommendations is contained in his proposition that without development there can be no security, without security there can be no development, and without respect for human rights there can be neither.

The Secretary General set out his recommendations in four clusters: development, or freedom from want; security, or freedom from fear; human rights, or freedom to live in dignity; and strengthening the institutions of the United Nations so that they can act effectively in pursuit of these freedoms. The fact that the Government was in a position to support the Secretary General’s recommendations in their entirety was one of the reasons that he asked me to become one of five envoys to act on his behalf in the preparation of the September summit. I am the only one who is a serving Government member.

Under the development cluster, developed and developing countries are asked to implement existing commitments to providing the finance necessary for development and good governance to ensure that the aid is effectively used. The European Council has now committed the EU as a whole to reaching the recommended overseas development aid target of 0.7% by 2015, a commitment that Kofi Annan described as putting wind in our sails.

A special focus on Africa and the fight against the HIV-AIDS pandemic is recommended. Other key issues are the early completion of the Doha round of trade negotiations, action on climate change, debt relief and a means of meeting a shortfall in development funding in the years immediately ahead.

Under the security heading states are called upon to renew their commitment to nuclear disarmament and a strengthened non-proliferation regime, and to the control and elimination of other weapons of mass destruction. They are called upon to strengthen the fight against terrorism and reach agreement on a definition of terrorism, the absence of which is delaying the conclusion of a comprehensive convention on terrorism. The Secretary General called for the conclusion of a binding international agreement on the marking, tracing and illicit brokering of small arms and light weapons. He asked for the establishment of strategic reserves for peacekeeping and put forward principles to guide the Security Council when deciding on the use of military force in the maintenance of peace and security.

One particularly important proposal, for a peace-building commission to mobilise resources for peace-building measures to complement [2061]peacekeeping efforts and to co-ordinate their application to prevent fragile states from falling back into conflict, has already met with wide approval. The proposal for the creation of such an organ was a central feature of the EU’s contribution to the work of the high-level panel prepared by and agreed under the Irish Presidency in the first half of 2004.

Under the human rights heading, governments are asked to acknowledge the principle of responsibility to protect. Some member states regard this as opening the way to interference in their sovereign prerogatives and express concern that it may be used as an excuse for intervention in pursuit of other agendas, which is in contravention of Article 2.7 of the UN Charter. However, it is clear that the international community can no longer stand by when events such as those in Rwanda and Srebrenica and those that recently unfolded in Darfur take place.

Under this principle, individual sovereign states would remain responsible for the protection of their citizens but when a state is unable or unwilling to carry out this responsibility, the international community would have a duty to become engaged, although the use of force would be a last resort. In fact the need for this principle is now well understood by African governments. In essence, it is contained in the founding document of the African Union, and provides the basis for that body’s current intervention in Darfur.

The Secretary General has also proposed the establishment of a permanent human rights council to replace the Commission on Human Rights. The new body would function at a higher level within the UN structure, would be directly elected by a two thirds majority of the General Assembly and sit permanently rather than for six weeks each year as the Commission on Human Rights does currently. It would also conduct peer reviews and deal with human rights crises as they arise. It would, however, preserve the best features of the CHR, including non-governmental organisation, NGO, participation. It is also proposed to strengthen of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to allow it to carry out more effectively the task of helping countries to develop their institutions and to implement reforms in the human rights area.

The revitalisation of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council is also very important. The Secretary General laid particular stress on implementing improvements in the management structures of the UN secretariat to allow him to act as a chief executive officer without undue and unnecessary interference from the members while maintaining at the same time a sufficient degree of transparency and accountability.

Following wide-ranging consultations in the General Assembly on the Secretary General’s proposals, the president of the General Assembly, my colleague, Jean Ping, the Foreign Minister of Gabon, has drawn up a draft outcome [2062]document containing the elements for decision by Heads of State and Government at the September summit. These follow the broad lines of the Secretary General’s recommendations. There is some way to go before they receive the assent of the membership in general and success will require significant change in positions traditionally taken by many delegations at the United Nations.

This is why the Secretary General appointed envoys to encourage governments to take the necessary decisions in capitals. As envoy I have met on an individual basis 36 foreign ministers, both European and non-European, and plan to visit a further nine capitals before the end of this month.

The efforts of Ireland and its EU partners will now be directed towards improving the draft outcome document to ensure that it has the elements necessary to restore confidence in the United Nations as a body fit to face the challenges of the 21st century and to restore momentum to the achievement of the millennium development goals.

One matter that is not covered in the draft outcome document is reform of the Security Council. This is a particularly difficult issue and the one that receives an inordinate amount of public attention. The Secretary General has made it clear that it is for the UN members to resolve this matter. He has, however, made clear his view that a decision is necessary this year for the sake of the credibility and legitimacy of the Security Council.

As envoy, I have worked to ensure that the political and public preoccupation with this issue does not divert attention from the critical reform and development agenda that will have a much greater impact on the lives of the world’s citizens. I am encouraged by progress so far and I believe that a successful outcome is possible in September. The support of its members is essential for the success of the United Nations which remains central to building a prosperous and peaceful world for future generations.

Mr. Allen:  Through the second half of the 20th century a new global organisation grew in stature and respect throughout the world. This organisation is the United Nations, established on 24 October 1945 by 51 countries. Today, United Nations membership totals 191 countries throughout the world.

The use of the term Untied Nations predates the actual establishment of the UN. In fact, the term was used during the Second World War in 1942, when 26 nations made a “Declaration by United Nations” that they would continue to fight against the axis powers.

The global political situation of the time was clearly reflected in the foundation of the United Nations in 1945. China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union were all accorded positions of permanent membership of the Security Council, with a further ten [2063]countries to be elected for two-year terms by the UN General Assembly. However, it is apparent to us all that the world has changed enormously since the UN was first established. The debate on reform of the UN, ongoing in the international community, recognises this fact. We have a responsibility to take account of these changes to ensure that the UN can meet the challenges of the present day and of the future. This is what must be achieved and it falls to nations friendly to the UN, such as Ireland, to work on its behalf and to make this happen.

The current reform agenda for the United Nations has its roots in the recent report, In Larger Freedom, published by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. This was published with an eye to the upcoming September summit to be convened to take account of progress made since the millennium declaration. If we are true supporters of the UN, it falls to us to consider each of the aspects of this report and not just those parts with which we are comfortable. While the Government may be happy to speak in general terms about the need to reform the United Nations, the Annan report should also cause it to reassess its commitment to meeting international obligations, such as the UN target for overseas development aid.

The report, In Larger Freedom, reminds us of the major challenges facing the world today. Preventing terrorism, progressing moves towards nuclear, chemical and biological disarmament and reducing the prevalence of war are tasks that the international community must undertake. As 3 million people die from HIV and AIDS every year, with countless more lost to disease, poverty and starvation, we have an obligation to see that the millennium development goals are achieved.

This brings us to the question of commitment to overseas development aid. Kofi Annan has stated clearly that the millennium development goals can only be achieved by 2015 if all involved dramatically accelerate action regarding ODA. However, in stark contrast to the wishes of the UN Secretary General, our Government has chosen to decelerate action on overseas development aid dramatically. By abandoning a commitment made before the UN almost five years ago, the Government has walked away from a principled decision made on behalf of all Irish people and before the international community.

This promise was not made lightly and this was confirmed recently by the then Minister of State with responsibility for overseas aid, Deputy O’Donnell, but it has been shrugged off without excuse by the Government. While it is right to discuss UN reform, we also need to get our own house in order. Where is our renewed commitment to aid? By what date will Ireland achieve the UN target for ODA? This is something that the Minister should address in his response. Will the target be achieved by 2010, 2012, 2015 or at a later date? These are questions that the Government must answer through a definitive statement [2064]on overseas development aid. I would prefer that it be made in this House rather than through press releases in early September.

The report, In Larger Freedom, also outlines a reform agenda to strengthen the role of the United Nations. This includes streamlining the deliberative process of the General Assembly, reforming the Security Council so that its composition is broadly representative of the realities of power in today’s world, reforming the Economic and Social Council and replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a Human Rights Council.

Moves to speed up the deliberative process of the UN General Assembly and to reform the membership of the UN Security Council are welcome and overdue. It is vital that the UN has both the capacity to focus on important issues and the ability to react quickly to changing situations. Broadening the membership of the UN Security Council should reflect the realities of global governance today because a model that was relevant in 1945 cannot be relied upon to be truly representative more than 60 years later.

I have first-hand experience of the need for reform of the way in which the UN operates. I recently attended the UN General Assembly discussions on nuclear non-proliferation but during the first four days of the assembly meeting, the agenda for matters to be discussed still had not been agreed. Obviously, dealing with a large number of people and countries and achieving the greatest degree of consensus and commonality can take time. However, even with this concession, no one could argue that decision making at the UN is anything other than tortured and tortuous. We are also growing in our realisation that the United Nations needs greater input and assistance from the European Union. The concept of the EU forming small military groupings, referred to as “battle groups”, is one which has the strong support of the UN. Those groupings will be designed to be in a position to deploy rapidly to global conflict zones in the protection of human life and the prevention of war crimes such as genocide. The world needs this capability, the UN recognises and supports this development, and Ireland should play its part. We need the Government to make clear and focused decisions on this matter, rather than the delay and confusion that has characterised its response to date. At times when people are under the gravest threat to their lives should sympathetic words be all we offer them?

  12 o’clock

Reform of the UN Security Council is a contentious issue, with countries adopting quite fixed positions regarding future membership and the permanence, or otherwise, of new members. One of the proposed models envisages an increase in both the permanent and renewable members of the Security Council, while the other rejects the addition of further permanent members. A resolution proposed by Germany, India, Japan and Brazil, a group of countries known as the G4, supporting the principle of extra permanent members has [2065]been circulated. However, this proposal is opposed by the United States which is opposed to the extension of the permanent seats to these four countries, indicating that perhaps only two additional permanent seats should be assigned. The United States has also indicated that it favours Japan being assigned a permanent seat. Pakistan, Italy, Indonesia, Kenya, Argentina and South Korea are prominent members of an alternative group opposing the extension of permanent membership. What position will the Government adopt on this matter? Does it believe that permanent membership should be extended to further countries and, if so, how would those countries be selected or appointed? When we touched on this matter at a committee meeting during the week, the Minister inferred that because of his position as special envoy he did not want to spell our Ireland’s position. In other words, his position as special envoy almost compromised him acting as our Minister for Foreign Affairs on this matter. That should not be the position. We are entitled to know in a debate on UN reform in this House what Ireland’s position is on the alternative proposals put forward on Security Council reform.

In the next number of days many hundreds of thousands of people will gather for Live8 concerts in cities throughout the world. These people will be united in a common cause and they will gather to demand debt cancellation for the poorest countries and increased aid and trade with the developing world. Those concerts, and the march through Dublin last evening in which many of us participated, take place with the upcoming G8 summit in mind.

Our focus is clearly on the eradication of world poverty and suffering from illness and disease and I hope this will be seriously addressed by the G8. In recent weeks, the G8 proposal to cancel debt for 18 countries was welcomed. We should not underestimate the importance of that proposal to write off $40 billion in debt, which would save each country approximately $1.5 billion in annual repayments. However, we must also reaffirm support for the position of 100% debt cancellation for heavily indebted poor countries proposed by Ireland some time ago.

As a vital part of this agenda, we must empower people through democracy and political participation. There has never been a famine in a democracy, and where democracy flourishes there also will grow stability, peace and longer-term development.

With this in mind, the unfolding events in Ethiopia are of concern. Earlier this week, I met Dr. Berhanu Nega, an opposition leader from Ethiopia, who chronicled the situation in that country since the election there on 15 May. Opposition parties are deeply concerned at reports of electoral fraud, the imprisonment of political party members and the restrictions regarding reporting of these events by the press. The situation in Ethiopia, by any standards, is serious. Up to 36 people have lost their lives in violence which was linked [2066]to public disquiet regarding the manner in which these elections were conducted. The government there has recently charged four newspaper editors for slurring the good name of the security forces after they criticised the police for shooting these people. This has been called an “unwelcome development” by the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association — to say it is “unwelcome” is a gross understatement.

It falls to all of us to monitor the potential for human rights abuses in other states and to do our utmost to use our influence to ensure that administrations do not abuse their position of authority. Ireland is a large donor of overseas development aid to Ethiopia, and we should join with other donor countries such as the United States, Britain and other European Union countries in appealing for the fullest co-operation from the Ethiopian Government with the investigation into the recent election.

Investigators are preparing to begin their inquiries into voting irregularities in 135 constituencies. Ethiopia, as a recipient of up to $2 billion in aid per annum, must be clear that cases of human rights abuses and electoral fraud are not acceptable to the international community. While some donor countries have accused that government of illegal killings, arbitrary arrests and torture, I would like to know what action Ireland, as a donor of aid to Ethiopia, is taking to bring pressure to bear on that government.

We, like all countries, have a number of obligations to countries like Ethiopia and there are a number of ways in which they can be discharged. As well as meeting targets on overseas aid, we have an obligation to use our influence to build and support democracy through which a greater dividend will flow for those in the developing world.

At the end of last year, the EU was presented with a case of electoral fraud on its borders in the Ukraine. We highlighted electoral irregularities and many EU leaders raised their deep concern regarding electoral fraud in that state. At that time, the European Commission President stated that it was the duty of the EU to state clearly our dissatisfaction at the manner in which the elections were held there. Undoubtedly, the public concern and condemnation that accompanied the electoral irregularities in Ukraine were of assistance in ensuring that the elections were held again, and that the true voice of the people was heard.

The situation in Ethiopia should not be any different, and we must raise our voices in support of committed democrats in Ethiopia. This matter should be addressed by the G8 Summit, and I hope the summit countries will make a clear statement directed to the Ethiopian Government — I understand its President will be at the margins of that summit. The views of the world leaders should be expressed in a forthright and clear manner at the way in which democratic principles are being swept aside in that country.

[2067]Mr. M. Higgins:  I want to use the 15 minutes available in the most positive way possible to deal with the important meetings that will take place at the United Nations in September, to discuss the general issue of UN reform. There is a recurring theme, which is entirely misleading, in some speeches that have been circulating in the build-up to the review of the reform of the United Nations. It is that the United Nations failed in some respect at the time immediately prior to the latest invasion of Iraq. This is to confuse matters and I have not the time to delay on it this afternoon. However, the United Nations Charter was broken. There was no opportunity — and neither does it now exist — for the exercise of pre-emptive strike in the UN Charter. In addition, the process of design of resolution at the United Nations was seriously impaired by the production of a resolution that was interpreted by those who wanted it as a charter for war. However, it was described here, as elsewhere as a resolution that would avoid war. In the context of that there is an entire misrepresentation of the French position in the Security Council. Thus the “failure” as it was called of the United Nations to be of one mind to go to war became construed as a type of failure of the United Nations.

The United Nations was degraded by the production before it in the speech of Mr. Colin
Powell, of a tissue of fiction and worse, carefully constructed untruths. Some of us had access to bits and pieces of this, which was not based on primary intelligence and much of which was provided by the United Kingdom. Let us say that it was that which destroyed the United Nations in that period and an appalling consequence continues to be paid for it to this day.

I turn to the more positive side because on the subject of reform a number of fundamental issues will have to be discussed. It would be a pity if they are all distracted into a discussion on reform of the Security Council, because there are more fundamental issues to be discussed. It is a fundamental issue but it is not the sole one. Perhaps the concentration the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, has placed on the world millennium development goals is correct. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, when speaking abroad has, in fact, taken up the divisions Mr. Kofi Annan has in his presentation as a cluster of freedoms. Certainly, freedom from want and insecurity is best achieved by the meeting of the world millennium development goals.

We have been here before, however. In the 1970s there was a significant appeal to self-interest in the Brandt report. Then, in 1989 — it seems a long time ago, now — a fine report by UNICEF pointed out what it would cost simply to meet the basic needs. At that time the figure was put as between $30 billion and $50 billion, which was the equivalent of one 20th of military spending. In that year the UNICEF report estimated the cost of providing primary education as $5 per person, basic education literacy $25 per person and sanitation as $6 per person. There are [2068]times when the world has missed opportunities to make a significant intervention where it matters — where 2 billion people live in poverty, 30,000 children die every day and half a million mothers die in pregnancy.

Professor Geoffrey Sachs, when writing to the Secretary General of the UN, makes the point in his Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals. He suggests that the cost of achieving the goals are entirely affordable, well within the promises of 0.7% of GNP made at Monterrey and Johannesburg:

The required doubling of annual official development assistance to $135 billion in 2006, rising to $195 billion by 2015, pales beside the wealth of high income countries — and the world’s military budget of $900 billion a year. Indeed, the increased development assistance will make up only half a percent of rich countries’ combined income.

When Professor Sachs makes this statement in his report, I would suggest to the Minister that this could be achieved. The achievement of the World Millennium Development Goals between 2005 and 2015 would have the effect of lifting 500 million people out of extreme poverty, 300 million would no longer suffer from hunger and 350 million would have access to clean water. Taking the figures I have quoted, one could say that the 30 million children who otherwise might have died would live, and so forth. The Minister might agree with me that our approach must be an integrated one, combining debt relief with aid, trade and reform of the international financial institutions. It is important that debt relief is not taken out of the funds available for aid. Otherwise one would slide back. Additionality is a fundamental principle.

As regards the conditionalities which may cluster, we must remember that in the case of Uganda, for example, that country was not able take $65 million at one stage for AIDS/HIV because it was in breach of the budget it had agreed with the International Monetary Fund. That is the fourth component, namely, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We must take the world millennium development goals as the phenomenon to which the other initiatives must adjust themselves. It should be inconceivable that the WMDGs are regarded as anything else. I have given the example of Ghana, before. Ghana, in the original debt relief initiative, post-1999, had imposed on it through an IMF condition the privatisation of Ghana Commercial Bank, which had a number of small depositors. The cost, when the public rejected this, was the loss of $1 billion in debt relief. This type of madness must stop.

Coming to the UN reform, I hope there will be a reassessment, even if it is through the modest reform of the Economic and Social Committee. At least the twin institutions of the IMF and the World Bank must be restored to their origins, [2069]within the family of the United Nations. One of the bolder proposals for UN reform was to create a type of economic security council in which the World Millennium Development Goals might be addressed with all the authority of the United Nations.

I want to make some practical points as well, because that is my purpose, today. I hope in time those three reports that came out in the early 1990s from Mr. Erskine Childers and Mr. Brian Urquhart on administrative reform within the United Nations, will be looked at. I liked the structure of their reports. They dealt, for example, with a much stronger proposal for reform of the administration of the United Nations. If Mr. Kofi Annan is to float across the world, quite rightly, trying to build up regional structures and so forth, there is a great case to be made for an assistant General Secretary of the United Nations running the organisation. Again, what was originally envisaged for the United Nations was that it was all to be in one building, not necessarily in the location where it is now. The scattering of its offices has given rise to some inefficiency.

It is a criticism not just of this Government, but of many Governments, that the tiniest UN organisation gets the smallest funding in Ireland, namely, the United Nations Association. It should be far stronger and built into the education system at primary and secondary levels. It should be properly and better organised in terms of having someone able to speak about the work of the United Nations, because there is great public interest in that. As regards the history of the General Assembly, there was an enormous influx of countries in the 1960s. One of the powerful forums is the UN Decolonisation Committee. We now move into this new atmosphere in which we find ourselves, with an enlarged UN membership.

I want to address the important issue as regards the way the Labour Party has to review its policy on the UN and move it on. In the Minister’s speech today, there is a discussion, for example, on the right to protect. I have spoken on this before. It is the difference between humanitarian protection and intervention. Humanitarian intervention has been abused since Mussolini invaded North Africa. It is seen as the person deciding he or she has the right to intervene in a country and it has had different justifications.

Humanitarian protection is the idea that a vulnerable minority cannot be protected by those who should do so and a vulnerable minority is not being protected by those who should do so. On what basis have they been invited in? I admit it means that significant progress on the work of establishing universal rights must be achieved. Universal rights do not just mean western-sourced rights based on the individual but rights based on communities and rights drawing on fundamental principles of Islam. The failure to make progress on what was there as the dialogue between civilisations which might have yielded a [2070]rights framework is serving as a missing backdrop to that set of principles around which could be constructed what Dr. Sanoon has described as humanitarian protection.

I certainly am willing to go into that dialogue and it is something we must do. The cynics who are criticising Africa in so many different ways are not being helpful towards us. I challenge some of those who suggest that I, who support the right of school children to attend school in any country in Africa or to have clean water, do not want to put the imposition that I will not deliver aid until I am in a position to approve of the Government. That is too easy, and other ways exist. One can make the reasonable demand that the moneys given by Ireland go to help those in desperate need of health care and primary education. I assure the House the money is used in that way because I have been to Africa.

After 1999 the most heavily indebted countries received different forms of debt relief with appalling conditionalities. This has been empirically studied by Hinchcliffe in his notes on the impact of the HIPC initiative on education and health public expenditures in African countries and in Relief Works: African Proposals for Debt Cancellation and Debt Relief Works, by Romilly Greenwood and Sasha Blackmore. They examined how the money was spent and showed that in Benin, 43% of such debt relief was expended on education in 2002 and allowed for the recruitment of teachers for vacant posts in rural areas. A total of 54% of the aid went to health, of which one fifth was used to recruit health staff for rural clinics and the remainder was allocated to implementing HIV-Aids programmes.

In Mali, 5,000 community teachers were hired. In Niger the money was spent on rural education, health, food security and water systems. In Malawi, 3,600 new teachers were trained every year. In Burkina Faso, 39% of HIPC relief was spent on education, 33% on health and a further amount on rural roads.

I say to those who raise questions to look at the whole continent of Africa and the tapestry of different conditions, and read the studies before making criticisms. To strike a rhetorical stance will they say we should not spend our money until this, that and the other is perfect? This is a very serious issue. Not all countries are in favour of the integrated approach on debt, aid and reform of the international financial institutions we might wish to advance. Such countries would be very glad to seize on an excuse to suggest that governance is impossible and that corruption is endemic. This would be an appalling, cynical evasion and it must be stamped out immediately. The decade to 2015 will be a great time and a moral test in which we will see how much progress we have made.

Some issues are missing from the report which has been made available to Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations. These include the issue of bonded labour. It is very important that this House debates the issue —[2071]not on a Friday — to include changes at the level of the Department of Finance. I suggest people from Development Co-operation Ireland go to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. At trade level, anything we do in December in Hong Kong must not contradict what is being debated now. The EPAs negotiated between the European Union and Africa must be examined. For all those reasons I hope that when the House resumes it will be on a day when the Chamber will be full and many more Deputies will be interested in what will be the last great opportunity for us to do something moral, necessary and important for the world.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I am pleased to contribute to this debate on the role of the United Nations and the urgent need for its reform. I wish to share time with Deputies Gormley and Ó Caoláin.

This debate has been given more relevance by last night’s protests in Dublin when thousands of people participated in the campaign, Make Poverty History. I attended the protest and was heartened to see so many young people, people whom I did not normally see at protest meetings. Ireland has the opportunity to develop this support from the wider society.

I have always supported the United Nations even when it was not trendy to do so. I will always challenge those who seek to undermine the United Nations, whether in this House, the EU or the White House. Their agenda is to undermine the United Nations and I will defend it at all costs. However, I accept that reform is urgently required with new ideas for the development of the concept of the organisation.

I commend Irish soldiers who have served under the United Nations flag, some of whom have given their lives in the cause of international peace in conflict areas such as the Middle East. I pay tribute to them and their families for their work. Those of us who want a strong, independent, neutral foreign policy do not believe Ireland should sit on the fence and stay out of conflicts. It is rather a question of defending innocent people in different countries while retaining the integrity of being independent and respectful to those host nations. This is the value of the United Nations.

However I accept that reform is urgently required. I welcome recent developments, particularly the positive role of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for which I commend him. Ireland should aim to build on the respect in which it was held 30 years ago and which may be slipping. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has a duty to develop this independent and strong foreign policy line and I wish him well in his endeavours.

The priority issues on any agenda must be to end wars and tackle world poverty. The international community must not tolerate wars and famine. There is enough wealth in this world, particularly in the west and in Africa, to feed [2072]everybody and to provide proper education and health services. The issue now is how the broader international community distributes that wealth. It is a crime of international proportions that so much wealth is not being distributed to the most needy, be that in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. The debate about the creation of wealth is over. The wealth exists and it is a question of how it is distributed. I do not accept that money can be expended on arms, but health care and primary school education in many countries cannot be provided. It is not an option to hide behind the so-called war on terrorism and countries which do so should be regularly challenged in every national parliament. Deputies should be vigorous in sending out this message which enjoys cross-party support.

We must face up to the reality that Ireland is wealthy. It is unacceptable to cop out of our commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNP to development aid. I do not accept the concept that the world’s poor and oppressed, particularly in Africa, must wait on international action before being given their fair share. Rather than seeking a slice of the cake, the peoples of Africa should be running the bakery. They must be able to run their countries and distribute their own resources and wealth. I commend countries in Africa which have given a lead in this respect.

I welcome this debate on the United Nations, which is urgently in need of reform, and wish the Minister well in his role. He must ensure that respect for the United Nations becomes more widespread.

Mr. Gormley:  I welcome this opportunity to debate the issue of reform of the United Nations and wish the Minister for Foreign Affairs well in his position as a special envoy of the Secretary General. The Green Party has always supported the United Nations as the basis of international law. This is the reason we support the triple lock mechanism and seek to have it enshrined in the Constitution.

A United Nations mandate, so often dismissed by those who believe it is an impediment, is essential and has served Ireland well. Those who dismiss it will use the opportunity of the tenth anniversary of events in Srebrenica to attack the United Nations again. I want the Minister, in his role as special envoy, to be a vocal defender of the United Nations when such people emerge from the woodwork. It is simply untrue that the UN was responsible for the slaughter in Srebrenica. Anyone who has read David Rohde’s book, Endgame, the most comprehensive account of events in Srebrenica, would tell the Minister that this is not the case. The reason for the slaughter was the failure of Dutch troops operating under General Janvier with a full peace enforcement mandate to call in close air support. The regrettable truth is that the Dutch troops did not even like the people they were defending. Let us hear the truth as we approach the tenth anniversary of Srebrenica. It is essential that Mr. Slobodan [2073]Milosevic and Mr. Radovan Karadzic are brought to justice for this most reprehensible and tragic episode.

The House must examine many aspects of the report on reform of the United Nations, but has little time to do so. The report calls for collective responsibility to protect civilian populations from genocide and ethnic cleansing and states that the wider international community should be able to intervene but only using force as a last resort. The Green Party would support such a broadening of the UN mandate.

Deputy Michael Higgins raised pre-emptive strikes, a crucial issue in the controversy surrounding the war in Iraq. The report states that five strict criteria for acting pre-emptively must be met, as follows: the threat should be defined, the purpose of intervention should be clear, intervention should be a last resort, the means should be proportionate and the consequences should be examined. The Green Party is wary of pre-emptive actions. Why is the crucial word “evidence” not included in the criteria, given that lack of evidence was the principal problem with regard to Iraq? As we now know, there were no weapons of mass destruction.

A crucial reform would be to hold to account those who make promises before the UN General Assembly. It is unacceptable that the Taoiseach made a solemn commitment in front of the General Assembly that Ireland would increase its overseas development aid to 0.7% of GNP by 2007. However, having made a commitment to the world’s poorest people and secured sufficient votes to be elected to the Security Council, he welshed on the deal. This was shameful behaviour about which there was palpable anger among those who marched on the streets of Dublin last night. If the Minister believes in reform, he should ensure a measure is introduced to prevent others from behaving in the irresponsible manner in which his Government acted.

The Minister should also examine the growing trend to use the new threat of terrorism as an excuse to increase arms sales. Deputy Michael Higgins cited a figure on annual expenditure on arms of €900 billion, which featured in a report by Jeffrey Sachs. A more recent figure indicates that the annual value of the arms trade has increased to €1,000 billion. This is an incredible sum, a fraction of which would be sufficient to eliminate world poverty. Let us not use the new threat of terrorism as an excuse to bolster the arms industry.

Before he heads off to New York, I ask the Minister to give two commitments to the House. First, will he give us a timetable for meeting the target of 0.7% of GNP? Second, will the Government sign up to the arms trade treaty, as I have requested on many occasions, and urge others to do likewise? All I ask is that the Minister, on the last day of the session, make these two commitments in the House.

[2074]Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Sinn Féin has been calling for a Dáil debate on the United Nations reform proposals since they were first published last December. Squeezing in a token one hour debate on the final day of session on the last possible opportunity before the UN summit is a disgraceful way to treat the vital and highly complex issue of UN reform. I cannot possibly deal adequately with it in the five minutes available to my party.

Sinn Féin would support an early recall of the Dáil in advance of the September summit to debate this issue with the thoroughness and seriousness it deserves, ideally allocating a separate debate for each of the four major sections of reform proposals and an overall debate to conclude with a Dáil resolution.

My party has been calling for comprehensive and progressive reform of the United Nations for many years. We therefore welcome the new focus on this profound challenge and await the outcome of the historic September summit with great interest. While I commend the key role being played by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in promoting the Annan reform package and genuinely wish him well, I regret that the Government has not involved the people more. Essentially it has bypassed Parliament and the people.

The United Nations has made a massive contribution to catalysing a basic international consensus around decolonisation, economic development, human rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, environmental protection and social and economic rights. It has created a constructive alternative to the competing military alliances of the past. Through the UN Charter, the universal declaration of human rights and other international instruments and conventions, it has changed the international landscape for the better and set rights’ benchmarks which we use on a daily basis in our work. While it has been deliberately emaciated by opponents of the checks it imposes on absolute power, for all its flaws the UN system still offers the best possible hope of international peace and justice available to the peoples and nations of the earth. Sinn Féin is genuinely committed to UN primacy as the backbone of Ireland’s international relations policy and our own policy of positive neutrality in action.

Sinn Féin must evaluate the UN Secretary General’s proposals and the outcomes of the September summit against what we believe are priorities for reform, namely, democratisation and capacity building. Specifically, will they democratise the UN Security Council by eliminating the veto and permanent membership and establishing a regionally representative democratic executive? Will they significantly increase the UN’s ability to lead peacekeeping operations and, most importantly, to prevent genocide and stop other crimes against humanity where the individual state concerned is unable or unwilling to do this? Will they prevent abuse of state power through unilateral pre-emptive action, such as we have most recently seen in the invasion and occu[2075]pation of Iraq? Will they strengthen the ability to monitor and enforce human rights? Will they give more powers to the UN Economic and Social Council to manage global economic affairs equitably and in the interests of all? Critically, will they end the funding crisis that has plagued the UN for decades and provide more stable funding for capacity-building?

While Sinn Féin may not agree with every detail of the Annan proposals, there is much that is worthy of strong support and overall they represent a significant improvement on the status quo. Annan’s plan is a commendable effort to learn from the shortcomings of the past 60 years and establish consensus on a plan for the new millennium.

As a republican internationalist I agree with the Secretary General that we, as peoples and nations, are united by moral imperatives and by objective interests. The UN is a toolbox but it is also a process. It is a forum for global co-operation through which human beings are inching away from global conflict and towards global unity, slowly, as these processes must always be if they are to endure. Above all, the UN is only what we make of it. Let us support in every way we can this opportunity for change. I reiterate my good wishes to the Minister in his role.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern):  I thank Deputies on all sides for their comments and their support for the Government’s efforts on this important issue. The Secretary General referred to the logic of his recommendations: without development there can be no security, without security there can be no development and without respect for human rights there can be neither. Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred correctly to the integrated approach, not just on development but across the recommendations.

Opposition Deputies must criticise the Government on specific issues and make whatever political capital they can. I am not trying to score any political points——

Mr. Allen:  The Minister is trying to score points.

Mr. D. Ahern:  ——but commitments were made before on overseas development aid and, unfortunately, they were not adhered to. The Government is making a genuine effort to make a decision on the commitment of reaching 0.7% of gross national product over a set timeframe. We will make our decision before September but it will be based on presumptions because we are looking into the future, although we will indicate a clear timeframe for this issue. Irrespective of who is in office after 2007, it is incumbent on all parties to adhere to whatever commitments are made at the summit in September.

Opposition Deputies are being grossly unfair to the system of development aid we have delivered when they denigrate what this country has [2076]already done. Ireland was chosen as an envoy country because we have a record that is second to none in development and peacekeeping.

Mr. Gormley:  Absolutely.

Mr. D. Ahern:  The fact that we are a small, neutral country with no vested interests means that we have no conflicts of interest. We are strategically represented in the EU and have a voice that has been heard over the years. One of my predecessors, Frank Aiken, was the first person to propose a treaty on nuclear non-proliferation, which was called the Irish resolution in the 1960s.

Elements of the media sneer at Kofi Annan telling me that the United Nations would be a great system if every country were like Ireland. He said that because in the quality, quantity and delivery of development aid over the years, we are second to none. It is untied to trade, unlike most other countries.

Mr. Allen:  Will the Minister answer the questions he was asked?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Deputy might not want to hear what I have to say.

Mr. Allen:  We are running out of time and I would like to get answers to some of the questions posed instead of this lecture.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We hear a lot of nonsense and we denigrate ourselves. Many countries, however, making great strides in development aid to Africa are also trading in arms there, something we do not do.

Mr. Gormley:  The Minister cannot be 100% sure of that.

Mr. D. Ahern:  We can hold our heads up high on our position.

During my time as envoy, I have tried to make a contract between developed and developing countries, the core issue in the Monterey consensus. I have insisted that the EU be part of a contract with Africa when it comes to the table to discuss increased levels of ODA. The EU, which some people denigrate, has blazed a trail on ODA. As a result of the decision made at European Council level some weeks ago, the EU, between now and 2010, will increase ODA into Africa in particular by €20 billion.

We must secure a contract between the EU and the African Union to bring development to the continent. I agree with Deputy Michael D. Higgins, many African states have made dramatic changes in governance and it is wrong to criticise them. We must help them and that is why part of our aid goes to good governance and the building of capacity in these nations. I accept what Deputy Michael D. Higgins said about the Irish United Nations Association and we have dramatically increased funding to it.

[2077]Deputy Allen raised recent events in Ethiopia. We have condemned what happened both through the EU and on our own. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, called in the chargé d’affaires on 10 June and made clear our concern on the matter. We are talking to other countries that donate aid to Ethiopia to examine where we might go.

Mr. Allen:  What about reform of the UN Security Council?

Mr. D. Ahern:  The Government has not yet decided what we should do. This goes to the core of what I want to achieve. No matter what city I visit, the first item on the agenda is the Security Council. It is reprehensible that so much attention is given to bums on seats. These countries should be concentrating on bringing their development aid up to standard and stopping the arms trade into Africa. There are 600 million small arms in the continent and 300,000 people die every year because of their use. These are the issues that should be addressed, not the UN Security Council.

Mr. Allen:  India is trying to get a place on the Security Council.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 to provide for the continuation of payment of allowances and fees to private registrars of births, marriages and deaths. In addition to registrars directly employed by the Health Service Executive, approximately 50 private registrars are appointed under the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Acts to their own designated districts. The majority are private individuals and general practitioners, who provide the service from private residences and private offices. Some private registrars are Health Service Executive employees, such as community welfare officers, who perform registration functions in addition to, but separate from, their substantive appointments. All registration staff, including private registrars, will be reappointed upon commencement of the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004. This is a minor technical amendment, but is essential to facilitate the commencement of the 2004 Act.

The Civil Registration Act 2004 was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed into law in February 2004. Its main objectives are to rationalise and modernise the procedures for registering births, stillbirths and deaths; give an tArd-Chláraitheoir responsibility for the overall policy for the civil registration service, including maintaining standards of service; assign responsibility for the management of the civil registration [2078]service at local level to the Health Service Executive; streamline the procedures for the registration of adoptions; establish new registers of divorce and civil nullity; reform the procedures governing the registration of marriages; and facilitate the linking of life events.

Civil registration was first introduced in Ireland in 1845 for the registration of non-Roman Catholic marriages, and extended in 1864 to births, deaths and Roman Catholic marriages. A comprehensive registration system, therefore, has been in place since 1864. The registers form a basic, continuous source of information about the population by providing a record of vital events relating to people, and satisfying the need for evidence which has a bearing on rights, entitlements, liabilities, status and nationality. The registers were subsequently extended to adoptions and stillbirths.

Civil registration touches on each of us at important stages in our lives, beginning with the registration of our births and ending when our deaths are registered. Between those events, civil registration affects us directly, as in the case of marriage, and indirectly, when certificates are required for many services available in our society, such as enrolling a child in school, obtaining a passport, taking up employment and claiming a social welfare payment.

While there has been little change to the basic registration procedures since 1864, there have been many changes in our society, major developments in technology and increased expectations by citizens as to how public services should be delivered. Recognising the importance of civil registration and acknowledging the changing needs of our society, the Government approved a programme of work to modernise the civil registration service. The civil registration modernisation programme is a joint initiative between the Department of Health and Children, which oversees the administration of the civil registration service, and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which processed the 2004 Act. This is a major undertaking involving the introduction of modern technology providing on-line registration, electronic certificate production and the capture of digitalised signatures, redesign of business processes and procedures, capturing and storing in electronic format all paper-based records from 1845, and reform of legislation.

There will be substantial benefits, tangible and intangible, arising from the modernisation programme. These include improved service to customers, for example, extended opening times; greater efficiency in the use of resources and reduction in red tape; nationwide standards for registering life events; the registration of divorces and civil annulments on a central register; the electronic capture and transmission of all vital statistics on life events to the Central Statistics Office; the sharing of data with designated Departments and agencies; and reducing the demand for paper certificates for the purposes of Government services.

[2079]Until now, the registration and certificate production processes were manual, time-consuming and location dependent. The modernisation programme marks a fundamental change in how the civil registration service operates and is delivering significant improvements in operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. The new computer system is fully rolled out across the entire country with electronic registration and certificate production available in all registration offices. The system has been recognised nationally and internationally as an example of excellence in e-government and public service provision.

The modernisation programme aims to deliver a high quality, proactive service to customers. Since September 2003, all new birth registration data are transferred electronically to the Department of Social and Family Affairs from the civil registration computer system. This facilitates the allocation of a personal public service, PPS, number to a child at registration, establishing a child’s public service identity and the creation of family links on the national central database for all citizens. It also facilitates the client records system, administrated by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the initiation of a child benefit claim for first-born children and the automatic payment for second and subsequent children in a family.

In essence, payment of child benefit in respect of a baby born and registered by the civil registration system on a Monday is made or, alternatively, the mother contacted by the following Thursday without any manual intervention. This is a prime example of the e-government objective of Departments working together to provide more convenient access to services for citizens. The introduction of the new civil registration system is, therefore, a flagship initiative in providing life-centred services to customers. The visible improvement from the customer perspective is that a single interaction with a public service agency, for example, the registration of a birth, not only achieves its original purpose, but also triggers a series of related services by another agency, in this case, the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Customers availing of the e-enabled service no longer have to source and complete a multiple page paper application form and supply a paper birth certificate. Now, they simply have to register the baby’s birth to set the process in motion. In many cases, the birth notification is passed electronically from the hospital to the registration computer system. This facility will be implemented for all maternity hospitals in the future. In this case, the birth details are captured just once, at the earliest point in the process, with seamless electronic data transmission from hospital to registration to child benefit and back again to registration with the PPS number. In conjunction with the General Register Office, the REACH Agency electronically publishes data on [2080]deaths which are available to all Government agencies. This is of particular importance for the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Health Service Executive for the efficient and effective management of their services.

Vital statistics are transmitted electronically to the Central Statistics Office. This greatly reduces the amount of manual intervention involved in such exercises, improves the quality of data and enhances the ability of the Central Statistics Office to manage the data. The capture of historic data in electronic format has been a central element of the modernisation programme. This has been a mammoth task, involving the digitisation of over 27 million records and 5 million registration images. The technology used in the process is first rate, and I commend all the staff for their efforts over the years in what has been a difficult and painstaking task. I am especially delighted to inform the House that the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon has been successfully achieved. A new office building has been provided which accommodates a number of Departments based in Roscommon. The building includes purpose-built archival storage, with up to date technology, providing a secure facility for vital historic records.

  1 o’clock

A new staffing structure has been put in place in the registration service of the Health Service Executive and extended opening hours are in operation in most of the main registration offices. I am delighted at how the registration staff have embraced the new challenge and I am confident their continued commitment will ensure a first class registration service in the years to come.

A significant investment will be made to bring genealogical research facilities up to modern standards. Discussions are under way with the OPW with a view to procuring new premises and facilities for research. The research facility will remain in Dublin and will be supported by a dedicated staff of eight. It is also intended to introduce electronic research in the new location. Those with an interest in tracing their roots will be able to search through records much faster and will be able to view the original register entries, which have been digitally scanned onto the system. Eventually, it is hoped to introduce Internet-based research, which will be available to a worldwide audience.

With these developments now in place, the stage has been reached where it will soon be possible to begin commencing parts of the Civil Registration Act 2004. In the course of preparatory work towards commencement, legal advice was received to the effect that the 2004 Act must be amended to allow for the continuation of payment of fees and allowances to private registrars and as I stated earlier, the Bill before the House is a necessary amendment to allow this to happen. The purpose of the Bill is to insert a new section 67A into the 2004 Act, to enable fees and allowances to be paid to private registrars and to [2081]provide for the necessary administrative arrangements. During drafting of the commencement and related orders for the Civil Registration Act 2004, it had been intended to provide for these payments to be made on an administrative basis. However, when the draft orders were submitted to the legal adviser, the advice given was that a specific statutory provision would be required. This advice was confirmed by the Attorney General. Parts 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 of the 2004 Act pertain to the administration of the Civil Registration Service and to the registration of births, stillbirths and deaths. Preparatory work to commence these provisions is at an advanced stage and the passing of the Bill will allow them to be commenced within a matter of months. The new procedures for marriage are set out in Part 6 of the Act and include universal procedures for notification, solemnisation and registration of marriages, as well as a choice of venue for civil marriages. Before these provisions can be commenced, a substantial body of work must be completed, including drafting and publication of regulations, guidelines and detailed procedures; establishment of a register of solemnisers in consultation with religious bodies; establishment of a register of approved venues for civil marriages and the further development of the computer system to facilitate the administration of the new marriage procedures introduced by the Act.

Implementation of the other provisions pertaining to registration of adoptions, divorces and civil nullity will follow commencement of the marriage provisions. I commend the Bill to the House.

Dr. Twomey:  As this will be my last contribution during this session, I wish the Ceann Comhairle, the Minister and his colleagues, all other Members and staff in both Houses of the Oireachtas the best for the summer.

By the time Members return from the recess in September, a year will have passed since my appointment as Fine Gael spokesperson on health and children. Next September, when Members look back at the issues raised during the preceding 12 months, they will include the illegal nursing home charges, which has been a major issue and is still unresolved. They will include the crisis in accident and emergency services and the fact that the Tánaiste’s ten-point plan is neither resolved nor even half way to implementation. The issues will include the nursing home crisis affecting Leas Cross and other nursing homes. An independent inspectorate to monitor these homes has still not been established and no legislation to so do will be available when the House returns. Other issues will include the availability of medical cards and the cleanliness of hospitals. Another issue, which has been significant for Deputy McManus as Labour spokesperson and I, is that of ministerial responsibility as highlighted by the Travers report.

In some respects, the problems which have arisen are indicative of the fact that only one [2082]piece of primary legislation has passed through this House since I was appointed as Fine Gael’s spokesperson on health and children. That legislation concerned the establishment of the Health Service Executive. Subsequently, three amendment Bills have been presented. The Bill before the House is the third such health-related Bill although in reality, it is only the second, as one of the others was rejected by the Supreme Court, obliging the Government to re-introduce the same legislation after Christmas. In effect, this is only the third piece of health-related legislation with which this House has dealt.

In the course of his speech, the Minister of State laid out many important issues as far as this legislation is concerned. However, it is disgraceful that in legislative terms, this is all we have to show for a 12 month period, as far as the health services are concerned. I have just checked the proposed health-related legislative programme and the Government set itself low targets for this year. Its only planned legislation was the proposed Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 1984, the Irish Medicines Board Act 1995 and the Control of Clinical Trials Acts. As far as health legislation is concerned, that amendment Bill was the only target which the Government set itself for this session and it never reached the House. The purpose of the proposed Bill was to allow paramedics to administer drugs in ambulances. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, informed the House that the Hanly report is alive and well and will be implemented. I have always asserted that the Hanly report is not implementable in respect of acute services. This legislation was to allow paramedics to administer life-saving drugs in an ambulance and has not even been introduced for discussion into the House in a full year. That is a shocking indictment of this Government’s basic attitude towards the health services from a legislative perspective.

The Bill now before the House was only published yesterday. That practice is becoming quite common because if I recall correctly, the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004, which was subsequently thrown out by the Supreme Court, was also published the day before it was discussed in the House. Fortunately, the legislation being debated today is straightforward and the proposed changes are simple. The consequences may be broader, but the legislation itself is quite basic. It is unbelievable that from a legislative perspective, a debate on the establishment of the Health Service Executive has been the only substantive work done in the House. I do not recall it to have been a broad debate. Given that the debate took place as I began my role as Fine Gael spokesperson on health late last September, the legislation was introduced literally weeks before the establishment of the Health Service Executive on 1 January 2005. In other words, it was another vital piece of legislation that was rushed through the House.

[2083]Will it be the same next year? What legislation requires discussion in this House? One measure of which the Minister of State is aware is the proposed pharmacy Bill, which is going nowhere. The proposed medical practitioners Bill to review the Medical Practitioners Act 1978 is going nowhere. The Nurses Bill is going nowhere. There are many vital Bills relating to how the health service is run and we have not spent as much as an hour on debate. Everyone outside the House believes the health service is very important. How can they take the Government seriously regarding the concerns they raise about the health service if we spend so little time in our role as legislators debating the issues? I hope we will see a much more productive period regarding the health service in the House in the year starting in September 2005.

Much is spoken about reform and making life easier for the people with whom we deal by delivering a better service. I could talk all day about all that has happened with the HSE since its establishment on 1 January. The chief executive of that organisation has only been confirmed in recent days and so far nothing indicates that it represents a great reforming process. While that might not be a matter that exercises the minds of people outside this House, people instinctively feel nothing is happening, which is what concerns me more than anything else.

There is not much to say on this legislation, which is basic, housekeeping legislation. We discussed the original legislation only at the beginning of last year and already we are amending it. We regularly see legislation introduced not just in the health area but also across other Departments to amend mistakes made in primary legislation that had been passed in the previous two to three years. This is in part because the Government tries to ram legislation through the Oireachtas. There have been long debates on how we will reorganise the House over the summer. We need to be very careful when we see the problems with such small, almost insignificant legislation. I hate to think what the result would be if this were to happen with some of the major issues that will need to be addressed.

I hope we will see an independent inspector for nursing homes. I also hope the Government will address the serious issue of illegal nursing home charges, which will cost the taxpayer €1 billion. I have not heard much from the Department of Health and Children as to how that matter will be resolved in the next 12 months. We all know what happens when the Government drags its heels on issues like this. When the law of the land is broken, those affected go to the courts and we are left with significant legal bills to pay when the courts confirm the Government was wrong. Dragging heels on this issue will not make matters easier for anybody. This matter must be dealt with quickly.

This Bill has been introduced with great speed on the last sitting day of the Dáil before the [2084]recess. I hope that over the summer the Government will prepare the legislation that needs to be implemented, especially the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005, which the Government identified as a priority. We have approximately 36 to 48 trained paramedics in the country, yet that qualification is useless to them because they have no legal standing when it comes to administering drugs. Without enacting this legislation and as a further batch of 16 paramedics will complete training over the summer we will look like a laughing stock as far as reforms are concerned. It is very expensive to train these people. Simple legislation is required to allow them to carry out their duties as paramedics in the ambulance service.

The Government also needs to proceed with the medical practitioners Bill and to deal with good samaritan cover. Once paramedics start to administer drugs at the side of the road, when GPs and other health care workers turn up at accidents if these medications are available in the back of an ambulance, there will be an expectation that qualified and trained doctors and nurses will be able to use the drugs and equipment in ambulances. As I know from experience, many doctors can become deskilled over the years. Equally many doctors who are now qualified do not feel comfortable to act as trauma doctors on the side of a road or at a major accident. They may not be totally comfortable with using the medication and equipment in the back of an ambulance. We could well see more court cases in this regard in future.

This is the future the Government is creating for the Irish health care service. Legislation will always lag behind scientific changes and new processes in the health service. However, it would be a sad day for the House if we fall behind in backing up the so-called reforms and changes to the health service. Rather than wait to end up in the courts in the future because of mistakes that are likely, let us pre-empt what will happen and introduce the legislation in the next 12 months. I hope the Minister of State will bring this message to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and highlight the importance of what we are failing to do in this House.

Ms McManus:  Like Deputy Twomey, I wish the Ceann Comhairle, Members and staff a good summer. I promise that the Labour Party will return completely energised and ready to give the Government more grief on our return in the autumn. As I recall the Civil Registration Bill was published in 2003 and we had a full debate on it in 2004. It is hard to justify having to amend an Act that has not even commenced even though it was passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas 18 months ago. Yet again we have flawed legislation that needed to return to the House to be amended and made workable. Again the Department of Health and Children has got it wrong. The most dramatic previous example related to [2085]the nursing home charges, which was struck down by the Supreme Court.

This morning the Minister for Finance indicated, as was stated in reply to a parliamentary question, that the legal advice as agreed by the Attorney General indicated that this Bill needed to be amended. However, it is not clear when the Minister received that legal advice. As I said, regardless of how small the Bill, it is not good practice for us to have a debate within 24 hours of a Bill being published. It certainly makes it impossible for us to comply with the recommendation from the Ceann Comhairle that amendments be tabled four days in advance. When the Minister of State replies I would like him to advise exactly when that legal advice was received. Was it necessary to wait until the 11th hour on the final day of the Dáil session to deal with this matter?

The Minister of State needs to realise that this kind of ineptitude has an effect on people’s lives. It is not as if nobody is affected by this matter. I can cite one example of the distress that is caused by such a long delay. People who wish to register their children have had difficulties. In one case an unmarried woman had a child, who was registered in her name. This woman subsequently married the father of the child. At this stage, the father had divorced his first wife. The father and mother got married, but the child was still registered in the mother’s name. When they sought to re-register the child, they were told that they would not be allowed to do so until this new Act commenced. Their only option was to adopt the child. They were quite reasonable in saying that they did not want to do this and that it was a ridiculous demand, as both of them are the natural parents of the child in question.

This is very upsetting. This child will go to school on 1 September 2005 with a surname that is no longer appropriate. His parents have a different surname to him. This child is not alone as there is a queue of people waiting to regularise their situation. They have been put in a very invidious position. That is why I tabled the amendment to the Bill, which regrettably, has been ruled out of order. We are back in the House to discuss legislation that has taken 18 months to be published. I will re-iterate some of the concerns groups had with the original Act. One of these groups was Treoir, which provides services and support for unmarried parents.

There was a missed opportunity in the original Act, in that it did not allow for the setting up of a system of registering joint guardianship agreements. These are statutory agreements that unmarried couples can sign in the presence of a peace commissioner or commissioner for oaths, agreeing to joint guardianship of their child, as unmarried mothers have sole rights in law and fathers have no automatic rights. There is no obligation on the peace commissioner or commissioner of oaths to record such agreements. There is no central register for such agreements. A facility for registering such agreements should [2086]be included in the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill.

More than one third of children are born outside marriage and many of the fathers of these children rely on such agreements to acquire and prove guardianship rights of their children. In case of a dispute between parents, the only record is a copy of the document and if this is mislaid, there is no way of establishing that such an agreement was made. Therefore there is currently nowhere to register centrally the statutory agreement between guardians and that puts them in a precarious position because if it is lost, the document is essentially irreplaceable. It is a reflection of the lack of status in which fathers’ rights are held that there is no central register for these forms. The 2004 Act did not address this and in that sense was a lost opportunity.

Despite the changes in society, our laws have been slow to reflect these changes. The Irish courts interprets “the family” to be confined to families based on marriage. Although parents who are not married do not benefit from the rights enunciated in Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, it has been held that children born outside wedlock have the same natural and imprescriptable rights as children born within marriage. However, the courts have held that in a number of instances, it is permissible to treat children born outside marriage differently to those born to a married couple. The non-marital family is effectively outside of constitutional protection and an unmarried cohabiting couple cannot acquire full rights, no matter how stable or continuous their relationship.

Guardianship is the most significant right a parent can have in respect of a child. It is essential that a central register of joint guardianship agreements is initiated. I urge that this issue be considered as an amendment to the Act at some point. We must be conscious that, in light of the changes in the family in our society, there is work being done by the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution to provide safeguards for all families. Our mission should be to promote equality, acceptance and understanding, regardless of the form the family takes.

There are further ramifications due to the long awaited execution of provisions set out in the Act. For instance, there are many people who would have wanted a wider choice on where they may marry and they certainly have been let down by these long delays. Instead of the imagined romantic settings promised to them, couples who have opted out of a conventional church wedding have had to marry in the very often cramped, indifferent and distinctly unromantic surroundings of health board offices.

Regarding the much delayed implementation of the Act, it is reasonable to assume that the decentralisation of the General Register Office to Roscommon in April 2004, with the exception of its research facility, may well have added unduly to the delay. This is a further indication that the whole decentralisation programme was ill con[2087]ceived by the Government and was certainly driven by electoral consideration, although not very successfully. It is not unreasonable to question the efficiency of the hand-over and the knock on effect this had. I do not wish to disregard the immense work done by the staff and I join the Minister in paying tribute to them. However, the implementation of the Act has been delayed for so long that one must question the reasons for that.

While this Bill is short and technical, I hope that the Minister reflects on the comments made here today and I urge that this Act, in part or in whole, be implemented without delay. In answer to a recent parliamentary question on this, the Minister stated that the date for the new marriage procedures will be as late as the autumn of 2006, two years after the passing of the Act. Dates for the implementation of the other provisions, relating to the registration of adoptions, divorces and civil nullity have not been given and the Minister only gave a general commitment in his speech. It is unacceptable to have that kind of open-ended arrangement when people are being affected in very practical ways, be it with regard to the registration of a child, the guardianship of a child, adoption or marriage. It is regrettable that it has taken so long but we still cannot set a date — in accordance with my amendment, which has been disallowed — so that the child to whom I referred earlier may be secure this autumn in the knowledge that he is carrying the same name as his parents.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  In his introduction, the Minister of State indicated that there are approximately 50 registrars involved, a greater number of whom are not employees of the Health Service Executive, but all of whom act as private registrars of births, deaths and marriages. What is the breakdown of those who are also employees of the HSE?

Was there a review undertaken of the arrangement on e-registration, which led to it being changed? Is it intended that these specific positions outside of the HSE facilities will continue? Is there any ongoing review of the service providers that are currently operating the whole registration process? We all recognise the unsatisfactory provision for civil marriages in many locations throughout the country.

Is the direct registration of children from hospital to the central register, which automatically issues a personal public service number for each child, conducted exclusively through English or do parents have the option to choose not only to register the child’s name in Irish but to conduct the entire registration process in that language? Are there different arrangements for the detail being recorded or is it recorded universally in the State in the English language only?

I appreciate fully that civil registration must be addressed and have no intention of being obstructive of the Minister of State in getting the Bill [2088]through the House speedily today. It would, however, be remiss of me to allow the opportunity to go by without pointing out the unacceptable delay in moving towards the presentation of whatever legislation is required to provide for the refund of illegal charges which have been withheld from service users in institutions for the elderly over a long period. Queries continue to present from members of the families of those who have been and are in the circumstances in question but we have not been given definitive information as to when and how the programme of repayment will be processed.

Given the great onus and responsibility on the State towards a significant section of its citizenry, it is not good enough to have continual delays, especially when we can move with such speed in a scenario affecting a small number of people providing a specific service within the overall framework of the delivery of services under the aegis of the Department. While I understand that speed is necessary in this case, I take the opportunity to emphasise the need to act with the same speed to address the repayment programme for individuals and families of those who have been in institutional and nursing home care and had their pensions withheld illegally over a period of many years.

I will not labour the opportunity. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State addressed the questions I have asked to provide the House with a sense of some of the detail pertaining to the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2005.

Mr. Gormley:  I wish to share time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Gormley:  I regret that we are considering on the final day of the session legislation which, while technical in nature and not requiring a great deal of debate, demonstrates a lack of foresight. I have been very critical of the manner in which the Government processes legislation. We had an example of the Government’s approach when on one day last week, 100 amendments were introduced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as well as amendments to amend the original amendments. Such chaos is the result of arrogance and complacency by those who believe they can legislate in this manner because they know best. Unfortunately, there are repercussions in the long run.

Legislation requires lengthy consideration as one must examine it from every possible angle. As there will always be areas we overlook, we undertake what ought to be an exhaustive process of examining a Bill line by line to reduce our level and rate of fallibility. While it is a thankless task in which there are very few votes, it is what we are here to do as legislators. I regret the trend in the Government’s approach which is another example of why it must be got rid of. When a [2089]Government has been in office too long, it develops a significant comfort zone and believes it can behave in a certain way. That is the root of the current complacency.

The Government does not come up to scratch in the area of accountability either. We are here to hold the Government to account and ask questions in the House to which we expect honest answers. Last week, I asked the Minister for Health and Children a Priority Question on nursing homes which was taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power. The Minister of State promised that he would provide me at a later stage with the names of nursing homes which have been found to be deficient. He said he would give me the answers with no problem and that it was not his job to protect nursing homes. I have since had to pursue the HSE.

I was first told the executive’s computers were down, which is a matter to which I will revert when I address claims of national and international recognition for good e-Government. When the computer problem had been solved, I was told there were legal issues which it took the relevant staff two and a half days to consider. In the meantime, I made phone call after phone call but got no joy. Finally, the HSE reverted to me with the announcement that it was legally impossible to give me the information I sought, despite the assurance from the Minister of State in the House that it would prove to be no problem. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, if this constitutes accountability and an example of what it is we are here to do. Need one ask oneself why we have tribunals?

The Government lauds itself on coming up to scratch in the provision of great e-Government and the facilitation of participation by people in the roll-out of the system. We saw the fiasco which resulted when it rolled out the system for electronic voting. The website for civil registration in Britain is a useful example and the real model the Government should consider. One can use the site to have a death certificate sent out within five days, which is an example of the rapidity of the service. I am dying to see — no pun intended — how the legislation works in effect as the precedents are not encouraging.

While we endorse the amendment in the name of Deputy McManus, the Opposition supports this sensible Bill. Having said that, it is important for the Government to take greater care when legislating. We are not here to put obstacles in the Minister’s way for the sake of it, but we would like a basic standard of decency when dealing with the Opposition in terms of accountability. At the moment it is simply not there.

Mr. F. McGrath:  I welcome the debate on the Bill. It is important to address the issues in a professional and objective way. While the Bill is essentially a technical one, it is important that we deal with it.

I agree with what my colleagues said about rushed legislation. It is important that sufficient [2090]time is allocated because it is evident that rushed legislation can be flawed legislation. We must address this serious matter. As legislators we have a duty and responsibility to deal with Bills in a careful and considered way. I have concerns about this because sometimes this does not happen in the House.

When one considers the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill and looks as the detail one finds:

The Bill provides for an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004, to permit the continued payment of specified fees and allowances to registrars of births, deaths and marriages who are not employed by the Health Service Executive, and to persons employed by the Health Service Executive who are not assigned as registrars on a full-time basis to the office of a Superintendent Registrar.

Then upon commencement of any parts of the Civil Registration Act 2004:

the existing provisions for payment of fees and allowances for these registrars will be repealed. Commencement must include the relevant repeals to avoid duplication and possible conflict of legislation.

Then when one looks at the provisions of the Bill, one finds that the Bill contains one substantive provision, section 1 to amend the 2004 Act. This provision will allow for the continued payment of specified fees and allowances. Section 2 contains standard provisions in legislation, that is the short title and collective citation.

I welcome the fact, in dealing with the financial implications, that it is not expected that the Act will give rise to any additional costs. Is this the reality, or is it just a vision for the legislation? Will the legislation be implemented in a professional and objective way without additional costs? The Minister must examine this matter closely.

On the staffing implications, it says in the explanatory memorandum: “The Act will not give rise to any additional staffing requirements.” It is important that we would deal with this issue. One must ensure an adequate number of public servants to deal with the registration of births and deaths in a professional manner. More importantly, one must ensure the staff working in this area act in a caring manner. Serious complaints were recently made about the provision of services. In some cases people with disabilities do not get the services they require and their families are not treated in a very professional or caring way.

I was horrified to get a phone call last week from a victim of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings who was seriously injured and whose father was killed by a bomb on Parnell Street, who submitted a bill from a consultant for in the region of €800. There was a problem in getting it through the system and a big deal was made of it. We must ensure that those directly involved with [2091]people in public services treat people with respect and dignity. It is not acceptable for people to be treated badly by any public servant. However, last week I heard of the opposite experience where a staff member in the Department of Social and Family Affairs treated an elderly, disabled woman in a nursing home in a very caring, professional way.

In regard to this and other legislation, we should tap into examples of good practice in the public service and try to ensure that all those dealing with the public, especially the disadvantaged, people with disabilities, victims of violence and so on, are treated in a caring and professional way. It is important that I refer to these issues in this debate. Even though the Bill is a technical one, it is important that we touch on these topics. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion on the Bill.

Mr. Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. We were surprised to see this Bill before us because we had a long and comprehensive debate on the 2004 Act, especially on Committee Stage. One would have expected this issue to arise in the course of that debate. This shows that even when legislation is well debated issues can subsequently arise, which leads to concern about what can occur when legislation is not sufficiently debated.

The Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, spoke of the significant investment to be made in bringing genealogical research facilities up to modern standards and said discussions were under way with the OPW with a view to procuring premises in this regard. I am surprised matters are not more advanced because during the course of the 2004 debate a great deal of interest was expressed in having a facility available for research. Interest in this area has grown throughout the world. Perhaps the Minister of State would give an indication in his reply as to when it is expected to have this service available. The impression I got from what he said earlier is that it would not be available before the end of the year.

The Minister of State is probably aware that much disappointment has been expressed over the closure of the research facility in the Granary in Limerick. I am aware that discussions are currently taking place in connection with the move of that facility to the Irish Palatine Centre in Rathkeale. The Irish Palatine Association is very happy to assist this move in every way and to recommence that service, which is now a computerised information service. The information is readily available and has been well researched by the people in Shannon Development. It is unfortunate that the facility has not been available in the past 12 months, despite all the work that went into researching the information and putting it together over many years with significant State investment.

[2092]If the Minister has an opportunity, I would urge him to raise the matter with the relevant bodies in Shannon Development to support the discussions taking place between the Irish Palatine Association in Rathkeale and Shannon Development with a view to re-opening that facility. I recently spoke to one of the new Members, Deputy Catherine Murphy, who was very disappointed that the service was not available to her because her grandmother was from Limerick and she wanted to trace the family. The service was highly valued by many people. From time to time, public representatives were delighted to refer visitors to the centre who had family going back generations in the area.

In a similar vein to Deputy Gormley, I wish to outline my disappointment in regard to the Health Service Executive. I tabled a parliamentary question on 10 May requesting information on moneys being spent on suicide prevention. As the Minister of State is probably aware, I do this every year and he always replies to me within four days. I was informed on 10 May that the information would now be supplied by the HSE, that it was no longer in the domain of the Minister, and that the Minister would ask the HSE to convey that information to me but I have not yet received it. I raised the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, who agreed to raise the matter with the HSE but I still have not received any information. I do not understand this because since I came to the Dáil, the Minister for Health and Children or, since his appointment, the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, gave me that information in four days.

Why, seven weeks after I tabled the question, have I not received a reply? If I receive it now I will not have an opportunity to address it, by way of an Adjournment matter or otherwise, in the House because it is going into recess today. Would I be unfair in suspecting that the information I seek will become available once the House adjourns for the summer? Given the failure of the Opposition today to secure the reconvening of the Dáil on 13 September, it will not now reconvene until the end of September.

Every May we receive statistics on suicide for the previous year. In May 2004, for example, we received the information pertaining to 2003. Last week, I again tabled a question seeking suicide statistics for 2004, but they are still not available to me. Perhaps this is an issue for the Central Statistics Office but it is obvious that the Minister of State has a great interest in this area as well, as the person responsible for mental health and the psychiatric services. Will the Minister of State tell us why these circumstances have arisen? Given the importance of the information required, I am sure he is asking the Central Statistics Office for statistics on 2004, not only in respect of the national suicide level but also levels of suicide by county, Health Service Executive region, gender and age. This information is vital to informing national discussion on the relevant issues between the five or six bodies involved in [2093]this area, including the Irish Association of Suicidology, the National Suicide Review Group and Turning the Tide of Suicide. I will await the Minister of State’s reply rather than speculate on why the information would be withheld.

The Opposition is disappointed that the Department of Health and Children, or the Department of Finance, is providing only €15 million for the development of the psychiatric services.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should not forget the Bill before the House.

Mr. Neville:  The Leas-Cheann Comhairle did not say that to other Deputies.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have given the Deputy more latitude——

Mr. Neville:  That is fair enough. I will speak to the Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Speak to the Bill.

Mr. Neville:  The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has cut me off again. I can recall at least half a dozen occasions since Christmas on which such an input was made by the Chair. In fairness to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, it was usually not by him but by the Ceann Comhairle.

If I am not allowed develop discussion on the area to which I referred——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a Bill before the House.

Mr. Neville:  I have discussed the Bill, which is technical. One could talk about the Bill forever, but one would not be making any progress. I was using an opportunity to obtain information from the Minister of State, which is very difficult to do.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The day that was in it——

Mr. Neville:  It is very difficult to do.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Chair is quite generous on such matters.

Mr. Neville:  If I cannot follow through on questions and engage in discussion on psychiatric services, I will just have to sit down.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley):  I thank the Members for their interest in this legislation and for the co-operation of the House authorities and Whips in agreeing to have it introduced at short notice.

The swift passage of this legislation is important for a number of reasons, some of which I will outline. The commencement of the 2004 Act cannot be done without the proposed amendment. The introduction of the marriage pro[2094]visions, including choice of marriage venues, will be further delayed without it. Currently, surnames of children born to parents who are not married to each other, but who subsequently marry, cannot be changed. This can often result in children of the same family having different surnames, which causes distress for the families involved, especially regarding schooling and contact with public agencies.

The delay in commencing the Act is causing continuing operational difficulties for the General Register Office and the civil registration services generally. The continued reliance on old and fragmented legislation, much of it dating back to the 19th century, poses ongoing problems for the General Register Office and the public because it is not geared to the needs of a modern society.

It is obvious from the debate that Members recognise the vital importance of civil registration legislation and the effect is has on us as individuals and on society. I assure Members that their comments are noted and will make a valuable contribution to the future development of civil registration policy. It is unfortunate that, owing to time pressures, it is not possible to respond to all of the points raised, but I will try to respond to some. Deputies will recall that there was a lengthy and thorough debate on registration issues raised during the passage of the Civil Registration Act in January and February 2004.

Deputy McManus asked when the legal advice was received. It was received during February and March of this year. Currently, in cases involving an application to change an existing surname, where a surname has been registered on foot of a joint registration or a statutory declaration from the father, it is not possible for an tArd-Chláraitheoir to make any amendment unless it is on foot of a court order.

The Civil Registration Act 2004, when commenced, will allow for the re-registration of births of “legitimated” children, where paternal details have been entered in the original entry. In other words, couples who marry after the child’s birth will be able to change the surname if they wish. Following the re-registration of a surname under the new provisions, it will not be possible to make any further alterations to the surname details. As there is no presumption in law that a man, other than the husband of a married woman, is the father of her child, there are practical and legal difficulties for a registrar in requiring a man to register the birth of a child without a conclusive establishment of paternity. For example, it would not be desirable if it were possible for a man to claim paternity in a case where the mother rebuts this claim or were it possible for a mother to name any man as the father of her child.

In cases where the parents are not married to each other, it is possible to have the father’s details re-registered with the agreement of both parents or on application by either parent supported by a court order. Any application for addition or alteration of paternity details or surname details, involving a woman who was in a [2095]substantive marriage during the ten-month period up to and including the date of the child’s birth, must be accompanied by a declaration of rebuttal of paternity from the husband.

Some Members referred to venues for the solemnisation of marriages. This issue does not apply to Roman Catholic marriages, which can be solemnised in any venue. The choice of venue is a matter for the parties to the marriage and the solemniser. Catholic marriages account for almost 80% of all marriages in the State per annum. Restrictions apply currently only to non-Catholic religious marriages, which must be solemnised in a registered building, and civil marriages, which can be solemnised only in the office of a civil registrar of marriages. A working group has been set up within the Department to examine the issue of places, other than the office of a registrar, where a civil marriage may take place. It is intended that a register of approved places will be established. It will be a matter for non-Catholic clergy to agree upon a venue for solemnisation with the participants. Guidelines on suitable venues, other than existing churches and places of religious worship, will be available to all religious denominations upon commencement of the marriage provisions of the 2004 Act.

Unfortunately I do not have a breakdown of the statistics Deputy Ó Caoláin requires on employees, but the majority are not employees of the HSE. On the question of registration in different languages, tá rogha ag na tuismitheoirí cén teanga a úsáid, más Gaeilge í nó aon teanga eile. Tá súil agam go n-aontaíonn an Teachta leis an bhfreagra sin.

The management of registration is reviewed regularly by an tArd-Chláraitheoir, who has regular meetings with the superintendent registrar. He or she is required under the Act to produce an annual report, to be brought to the attention of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Finian McGrath asked a question on costs. Costs are associated with the modernisation programme and the 2004 Act, and more so with regard to the present Bill and staffing levels.

I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath that members of the public must be treated with courtesy at all times, and the civil registration service is acutely aware of the needs of the public in this regard.

  2 o’clock

Regarding Deputy Neville’s question, talks are ongoing with the OPW but are at an early stage and no dates have been agreed. However, existing genealogical services continue to be available in Joyce House and additional staff will be assigned in the coming weeks. I regret that the Deputy has not received the information he sought from the HSE and will arrange to have the matter urgently followed up. He asked whether it would be unfair to think that the information would be withheld until the recess, and it would.

[2096]Mr. Neville:  I thought that might be the Minister of State’s answer.

Mr. T. O’Malley:  I have no control over the Deputy’s thought processes. I have answered most questions raised by Members.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Mr. T. O’Malley:  Now.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Section 1 agreed to.

SECTION 2.

Question proposed: “That section 2 stand part of the Bill.”

Ms McManus:  I appreciate my amendment was ruled out of order but I have a right to comment. I tabled the amendment in a great hurry and in circumstances which are now shown to have been unnecessary. The Minister of State said that the legal advice came in February or March. It is now the beginning of July and we only received the Bill yesterday. That shows the disregard and contempt this Government has for the working of the House. There was no reason the Bill could not have been circulated within a recognised period of ten working days, which is the established principle. I raised issues with regard to guardianship to which the Minister of State did not refer. I would have liked to come back with some sort of an amendment on that, but it was completely unrealistic to do so.

I want to put down a marker to the effect that this sort of practice shows contempt towards the House. Legal advice was received in February or March. Delays were caused by the Minister of State’s inability to get his act together, publish the Bill and bring it to the House. It is a short technical Bill but we have not given due regard to the issue.

The spirit of my amendment was to speed up matters somewhat. I have spoken at length about the re-registration of children. Getting married is a life event and, for most people, a moment of great optimism. It should be a day of good memories. However, it is hard to imagine a place less suited to being a marriage venue than a health board office. There is no less inspired, more unromantic and less genial a place for the celebration of marriage, for which people plan and by which they set such store. Everything possible should be done to ensure that the facility provided for in the original 2003 Bill can be offered to those who want to avail of it.

Question put and agreed to.

[2097]Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question, “That the Bill do now pass”, put and declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it of this accordingly.

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Deenihan:  I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution. I remember making a fairly detailed contribution in 1989 when the Land Commission Dissolution Bill was before the House. We were not restricted to 20 minutes then and I may have spoken for a somewhat longer time.

I did an in-depth study at that time on the Land Commission and what it meant to this country, how important it was to a large number of farming families and the very significant work it achieved from its establishment to its dissolution. The Land Commission had not acquired any land since 1983, but it served its purpose and then outlived it. When I was in the Department, I examined land policy of the time and produced a document, Towards a Sustainable Land Policy, which is probably somewhere in the archives. We considered the dissolution of the Land Commission, its replacement, whether there was a need for a land authority, as suggested at the time, and other initiatives which might be introduced to encourage the mobility of land, passing it from one generation to the next. We also investigated whether there were other initiatives which could be put in place to encourage the consolidation of land and enlarge holdings. Schemes such as early farm retirement and farm insulation served to encourage consolidation, enlargement and the transfer of land from one generation to the next. They have been very effective.

The Opposition at that time felt the Land Commission should be revived and restored, a view that was coming through across the country. I visited different parts of the country and people said that if Fianna Fáil was returned to power in 1997, one of its objectives would be to restore the Land Commission. However, that never happened. Dan McCarthy was a great campaigner in County Westmeath for the retention of the Land Commission. People will possibly call for its revival in this current debate. It served its purpose and was very effective but now we must examine other ways of encouraging land mobility.

I welcome the Bill because it provides an incentive to people to own their land, which is everyone’s ambition. In some cases, people may find it difficult to buy out the land at this stage but the [2098]incentive in the legislation is very good. It is a pity, however, that it is not a 50% buy-out, to provide even more of an incentive but I am sure that even as it stand, there is a lot of interest in it. People seem to have more money these days, although that might not apply to the farming community as much as to those involved in building, industry and other areas of the economy.

At one time land was very important from a farming point of view. If a farmer got extra land from the Land Commission, it meant that he or she could increase the number of cattle on the farm and the capacity to grow crops. Now land is very important from a development point of view. Many farmers are making their living, sending their children to college and buying property elsewhere through the sale of land. They are selling off sites in rural areas and, even more so, sites close to urban areas. There is a new focus on land and its use.

As the Minister of State knows, the dairy industry is going through a very bad period and is not likely to recover to the level at which it operated in the past. Dairy farms will have to get bigger if they are to survive. At present, most dairy farmers operating under a 50,000 gallon quota are making just enough to pay for the running of the farm, not to glean an income or support a family. Therefore, farmers have to work part time and often their partners have to have permanent jobs.

The farming sector has changed totally. The level of income from farming has dropped drastically in recent years. The price of a gallon of milk, for example, is the same now as it was in 1978, while farm inflation has increased by approximately 500% in the same period. This is a very difficult time for farming and farmers. While the price of beef has improved to some extent, the outlook for beef farming is not good either. Survival will be challenging and difficult because after the next round of WTO talks there will be more beef from countries like Brazil, Argentina and third world countries on the Irish market, creating competition. Approximately nine out of every ten animals produced in this country are exported. Competition will increase in the market, particularly when Poland gets its act together because it has the capacity to produce considerably more dairy, livestock and grain products.

The farming market will become far more competitive in the future and it is important to refer to this in light of the Bill. When the Land Commission was established in 1881, the scenario was totally different. At that time, land was everything. It provided food and the only means for a family to make money, by selling produce. The situation today is different. Land is important now in terms of its value for development, through the selling of sites and so on.

The last buy-out deal in 1992 was at 50% and perhaps the Minister of State would consider increasing the buy-out terms in this Bill from 25% to 50%. That would provide more of an incentive [2099]to people. If the higher buy-out rate was offered, the uptake of the scheme would increase. The timescale for buy-out availability, at only six months from the enactment of the legislation, should be extended to a year. There should also be a comprehensive public information campaign launched to ensure that those people who are still paying annuities are aware of the buy-out scheme. I know of a person living in San Francisco who owned a farm near my home. That individual was not aware of the last buy-out scheme in 1992. He has bought out his annuity since then, but because he was living in the United States and letters did not reach him, he did not know about the scheme and as a result, could not avail of it. That is just one example and there may be many others. For that reason it is important that the Department tries to reach as many people as possible.

I welcome the proposal in the Bill that all low land annuities should be written off. However, Fine Gael had a briefing meeting with the IFA some time ago and that organisation suggested that the level of annuity to be written off should be increased from €200 to €400. I would suggest that an increase to €500 is appropriate and would benefit approximately 5,500 farmers. Given that there is a cost for collecting annuities, where they are very low a write-off makes sense as it will result in savings in administration, follow-up and so forth. Perhaps the Minister will refer to this issue in his reply, given that it was also raised by several other Deputies.

The IFA, in its discussions with my party, expressed concern that the Bill gives stronger rights to the Department of Agriculture and Food to withhold payments due to its members in lieu of land annuities owed. In other words, payments that would be due through the single payment scheme or REPS could be offset against land annuities or arrears. I ask the Minister of State to clarify this in his reply because the IFA argued that such action could create hardship in some cases, particularly for farmers in financial difficulties. Another suggestion from the IFA is that safeguards should be put in place to ensure that farmers who cannot avail of this buy-out scheme are given the opportunity to restructure their repayments so that they are in a better position to make annuity payments in the future.

The division of commonage is an important issue which poses some difficulties. I realise that the Land Commission was involved in facilitating the division of commonage, though I understand that only one or two of its officials are engaged in such activity at present. However, when the Land Commission is completely disbanded, there will be no other agency to facilitate such divisions and because of the celebrated Mayo High Court case, unless there is total agreement between all shareholders, then the commonage cannot be divided. If 15 people have rights on the commonage and one person objected to that, it could not be div[2100]ided. Perhaps the Minister of State, when replying, will refer to this issue.

What will happen to lands that came under the responsibility of the Land Commission? Will they now come under the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Food? What body will have responsibility for managing turbary rights to land that will not be claimed by anyone? There is a major tidying up job to be done. What body will do that? There are also fishing and other rights. What process would be involved in tidying up the management of such rights? This Bill will go some way towards tidying up the annuity issue. What will happen to land that is not covered by land annuities, no man’s land? Will the Minister of State refer to that?

The Land Commission built embankments along the coastline to protect some of the land it acquired. I am aware of a few in north Kerry where the Land Commission maintained the embankments. In some cases trusts were set up to maintain the embankments while in other cases they were not, but the Land Commission always maintained them. Now that the Land Commission has been dissolved there is no body responsible for what were its functions in this regard. I recall moving an amendment on Committee Stage of a Bill when the Minister, Deputy Cullen, had responsibility for the OPW. I asked him would the OPW take over responsibility for these embankments and he gave a commitment that it would, but that has not happened in many cases.

I could give the Minister of State details of some of the embankments of which I am aware. There is one on Carrig Island in Ballylongford where the sea has covered a huge area of land and there is another adjacent to it close to Mortara in Ballylongford. A landbank was acquired by IDA Ireland and land was acquired by the Land Commission at that location, but that is being eroded because no authority is maintaining that embankment, the work on which was of a high quality. Those are a few issues to which I would like the Minister of State to refer.

I welcome the fact that the Bill will facilitate the transfer of land used by sports clubs and community groups which currently operate Land Commission trust properties at the request of the trustees. It is proposed to simplify conveyancing procedures of trust properties to ease transfer of ownership by removing the legal and financial burdens from trustees. Approximately 500 of these local trusts are in existence, almost half of which are used by local GAA and other sports clubs. There are about 12 of them in north Kerry alone. I acknowledge the work of the Minister in ensuring that process will be regularised, and that is only right.

Apart from GAA clubs, the balance of trusts would be mainly turbary and cow park trusts established to provide some communal land for the keeping of animals by those in rural communities who did not own their own agricultural holdings. Deputy Johnny Brady referred to cow [2101]parks in particular. He has more experience of these in Meath than we have in Kerry. In Listowel there is the cows lawn where the people of the town could keep a cow long ago. This is still an open area. I am sure that probably the town park in Listowel is still governed under this scheme. There are open areas and cow parks, and, as Deputy Johnny Brady said, it is important that these are not sold off for building or other purposes by local authorities as they are a source of revenue. They should be kept as much as possible for the benefit of the people.

In the case of sporting trusts, because sporting organisations do not own the properties, they are reluctant to commit to significant development of their investments in trust properties. As a result many properties are not maximising their potential benefit to the community in which they are situated. These trusts have given rise to problems to some extent. They have helped to get around the issue of national lottery funding. These trusts have not created much difficulty but in some instances it has been awkward for clubs to draw down national lottery funding because of their existence and in some cases because the clubs did not have a record of the trust and the original members of it who may have since died. This has created difficulties for some clubs.

I welcome the Bill. I hope that there will be a significant take-up of this offer. The Minister of State on Committee Stage should consider increasing the percentage from 25% to 50%, if possible, which would create a greater incentive to take up the offer. It would be preferable for the Minister of State to get rid of these annuities, if possible, once and for all and to clean up this area. I thank him for his attention.

Mr. O’Dowd:  I have downloaded many speeches on this issue and the Minister of State will be pleased to note that I read them all fully. Coming from the east coast, we do not have a particular knowledge of the Land Commission. Much of its work was historical and was well done. In its day it was an important agent for social change and it met the needs of a land-hungry community. It met the needs of a poor peasantry who in many cases could not maintain their families on the landholding that they may temporarily have held. They always cast their eyes on the land beside them which was owned by the big landlord who was not to be found and spent his time in other places and other climates. The Land Commission, historically, did an important job in breaking up those large estates and giving to the farmers and the people of that area land they needed and that they had utilised well.

I do not know if there is a social history of the Land Commission and, if so, if it has been published. However, if this is the final act of the Land Commission, which I believe it is, we should mark it with publication of research and documents associated with it. I am interested in history and when reading about it one notes that some Departments have produced a set of historical [2102]documents which could be used in the junior certificate history curriculum, for general knowledge or in the curriculum for transition year students. Perhaps the Minister of State’s Department will consider compiling historical documents in the Department’s archives that might be of interest to students, particularly some of the more controversial parts of the Land Commission’s activities. While those battles happened long ago they would give an important understanding of the history of the period, particularly how communities dealt with these issues in the past.

I would like to refer to another matter of which I know a little, namely, the policy of the Land Commission, particularly in counties like Meath, where people were resettled from the west and the Kerry Gaeltacht, and established new Gaeltachtaí in Rathcairn, Gibbstown and so on. As an exercise in social engineering, it has been particularly successful. Many families moved from west Kerry, from where some of my ancestors came, and settled in Meath, and are very happy there. That represented an important development of Gaeltacht communities and the Land Commission played an important part in that.

Another issue concerns something that may be better understood by the Minister of State, as someone who comes from a rural community. In parts of the country, for example, west Kerry where I spend my holidays, this problem has arisen where farmers exchange land. It apparently dates back to the 1920s or 1930s. Let us say a farmer had a patch of land. The Land Commission looked at the layout of the land and to facilitate farmers working land adjacent to their dwellings, lands were exchanged between neighbours. I believe the practice was called patching. I am not sure whether that is a word with which the Minister of State is familiar.

Notwithstanding the fact that their legal landholdings were given to them by the Land Commission, farmers continued to farm the historical land that they always held. The result was that when somebody died, occasionally farmers found the land they thought they owned was not theirs. It could have belonged to a neighbour who now wanted it back. Such arrangements created all manner of hassle. Perhaps the Minister of State might refer to that in his final speech because I fail to understand it.

Another issue is that in some parts of the country the clarity of land ownership or land title is somewhat unclear. When someone seeks planning permission on a plot of land, it may emerge that he or she owns the plot but not the access to it. I know of one such beautiful site in Kerry which, if it were sold on the open market, would be worth at least €100,000, but because of all the legal complications nobody can go in there unless the person who wants to build the house and the other person who owns the right of way agree. Needless to say they will not agree, so nobody can go in. It means the view is retained for posterity. This is an example of what can happen.

[2103]Land has historically been close to the Irish question and how people in Ireland feel about their society. Initially, the Land Commission brought about an equalisation of opportunity. It gave people the opportunity to buy and farm land near them and it also assisted in the break-up of large estates in a fair manner. I know there were complaints at times and some strife, but on the whole it was fair. Working for the Land Commission was a good job. When I was growing up my father might indicate some individual and say that he worked for the Land Commission. It was almost as good a job as being a TD or probably better because there was more continuity. They seemed to be there forever and were powerful and influential people in their communities, to whom one might lift the hat, perhaps, if one were wearing one.

We are a long way from 1881, the year the Land Commission was set up. There is now a hunger for housing as opposed to land. Some issues about land ought to be addressed by this Government. Mention is often made of the Kenny report on building land and so on. It is a real issue that the value of land, depending on where one lives, can vary enormously. The Taoiseach has said that the constitutional review group report on land will be coming before the House in due course. I do not know whether that will be part of the Minister of State’s brief. However, it is very important.

The price of building land in particular, is a significant issue. I would like to see addressed the hunger that exists among young people who want to live in their communities adjacent to their families. Deputy O’Donovan is chairman of the relevant committee and I would like to see that report brought into the House for discussion. Perhaps the Minister of State might have the pleasure of introducing that non-controversial Bill which will allow people to buy homes in their own area.

I have read the speech. Much of it is very technical and legal. In essence the Government is tidying up the affairs of the Land Commission, as the Minister of State has indicated. Its passing, I hope, will be recorded by some publication or some function or other. The benefits from the Land Commission will be more greatly appreciated as time goes on and the commitments that civil servants gave to it in past generations become clearer. It was very controversial initially and was a core issue for the people. Its affairs have been handled very well and successfully. Communities will continue to benefit from its work, particularly the farming community. I understand that the Bill provides for the waiving of certain charges owed by farmers and landowners and a certain amount is being written off. Further options are also being offered as regards different moneys that are owed.

The issue concerning sport and community trustee land was referred to by my colleague, Deputy Deenihan, when he spoke about the [2104]transfer of land the Bill will facilitate. It will facilitate, at the request of the trustees, the transfer of lands used by sports clubs and community groups which currently operate on Land Commission trust property. The Minister of State proposes to simplify the conveyancing procedures of trust properties to ease transfer of ownership by removing the legal and financial burdens from trustees. Approximately 500 of these local trusts exist, almost half of which are used by local GAA and other sports clubs. It is important that these clubs and communities should be given security of tenure.

There is an issue in this regard to which I should like to refer. It concerns land in Drogheda owned by the local authority which was given to a sports club which continued to use it over the years. However, the ownership changed and because of development pressures, the sports club received an offer for the land from a builder. It sold the land to the developer for a certain amount of money and out of that it is buying ten or more times the size of acreage much further out from the town. Drogheda has lost a greenfield site of about two acres which has been in the centre of the town. The new sports complex, which will be much further out, will be very successful and will meet the needs of the modern growing town and society. However, the fact that the green space is lost forever is a significant issue.

Whether one is for or against sport, one wants it to develop. If the effect of this Bill is to transfer forever rights over that field as a green space, it should remain in recreational usage as at present and should not be allowed to be sold for development. There are significant pressures on those types of sites and cases for or against can be made. Ultimately, it is very important to retain our green spaces. Many of these are being used by GAA and other sports clubs and are owned by the Land Commission. The Minister of State should examine that issue seriously and some type of legal codicil should be inserted in leases to ensure that such land remain the property of such sporting bodies so long as it continues to be used for existing purposes, subject to the position being reviewed by ministerial order in particular circumstances.

I thank the Minister of State and wish him success with the legislation.

Mr. Durkan:  My family was one of the beneficiaries referred to in the Bill as they received a Land Commission land transfer to which the Bill applies. I should therefore perhaps declare an interest in this matter.

I had dealings on behalf of constituents in this area during the 1980s and 1990s when interest rates were high and some small landholders had received additional plots of land from the Land Commission. This caused them great difficulties as it entailed heavy repayments relative to the income generated from agriculture at that time. Because of some of the conditions under which [2105]the land was awarded, it was not always easy for them to realise their assets.

A previous easement scheme afforded the opportunity of buy-out but like many schemes it was a long time coming and then was rushed. This Bill has been a long time in preparation but I hope its impact will be to deal as comprehensively as possible with the entire issue.

This is the era of low interest rates which means that property values have risen. Property prices do not remain static but fluctuate like interest rates. It is better to invest in property of some description than deposit money in a financial institution to earn an interest rate of 1.5%. The future use of land and land speculation must be considered. The EU bureaucrats may ensure there will be very little productive land left in Ireland and the country will be some kind of a national park. One cannot make an economic living in a national park. I once attended a funeral where an American commented on the green scenery to a local who replied that it was a shame the scenery could not be eaten.

I agree the consumer must be serviced and that it is no longer economical to produce food. If that philosophy is followed, the inevitable will happen and people will not remain in the productive agricultural sector but will seek employment elsewhere where there are better pay and conditions. This would be a disaster for the food sector but the trend is already apparent. There has been an increase in the amount of food imported from non-EU member states, food which is often relabelled as being produced in the EU. This will have a serious impact on the agricultural sector which will become debilitated and we will become reliant on overseas produce. Problems will arise in this case when the French or Liverpool dockers go on strike, for instance. We will then regret our neglect of consideration of land use.

I suggest agricultural practices can move with the times, adopt new technology and stay competitive. However, competing with the massive factory farms in Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina is not an even match. It will be said that the European Union is a wealthy community and that it is unfair to its competitors. It would be a pity to allow ourselves be lulled into a false sense of security arising from this notion. We could discover we are no longer masters of our own destiny at a time when international interest rates might increase dramatically. We could lose control of the production of food with an inability to supply the home market or any other market. Over 90% of produce grown and produced in this country is exported.

Tony Blair has expressed his view on the future development of Europe. Ireland must strive to make its mark to influence the development of the future of Europe because the alternative is not to be recommended.

It is important to ensure agricultural land is passed on as easily as possible to the younger generation and without impediment or burdens. [2106]The numbers availing of the farm retirement scheme are currently in their thousands but to date only 600 have been processed. I asked a parliamentary question on this matter recently. I suggest the Minister investigate the situation with alacrity.

This information presumes the parliamentary question was correctly answered because the correct information is not always available to this side of the House. There was a time when if the information in a parliamentary question was not accurate, the Minister offered an immediate explanation. The Bill could affect the mobility of land transfer, depending on whether people are in a position to buy out the annuity. It is essential that this factor is accommodated as we must keep in mind the basic purpose of agricultural land.

A balance must be found between protecting the environment and ensuring the viability of enterprises on the land. The long-standing practice of removing all hedgerows providing shelter for flora and fauna was crazy and reflected the prevailing but mistaken wisdom in the Department of Agriculture at the time. Another mistaken concept, that to achieve a correct ecological balance all drainage should cease, is beginning to emerge. Drainage is an important part of the landscape but there are those who believe that allowing plains to flood will create some kind of utopia. Nature does not work this way. Plains have flooded to a greater or lesser extent from the beginning of time. Some parts of Ireland and other European countries would be permanently under water if drainage schemes had not been introduced over the years. Without dwelling on the details, some developing schools of thought take issue with the need for drainage. Their proponents have no practical experience and rely on second hand information but because the idea sounds good, they believe it should be promoted.

The landmass, like the economy, must be managed in a balanced manner. We must not allow our rivers and streams to choke up with debris because someone believes it would be a great idea to have a flood. Invariably, the result of this approach is that one becomes concerned with drainage when a real flood occurs, in other words, when it is too late.

Deputies have few opportunities to discuss the issue of agricultural land. I also wanted to discuss forestry use. Forests must be carefully managed. It is foolish to have valuable, fertile agricultural land in certain areas covered by trees when less viable land used for arable use is suitable for forestry.

I support the Bill and hope it will be of benefit to those for whom it is intended. It will tidy up a number of loose ends that have been lying around for a few years and will, I hope, facilitate those who intend to pass on their property to the next generation.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith):  I thank all Deputies who contributed on the new Land Bill. [2107]It is heartening to hear that agriculture is still of major interest and considered to be of high importance and value to the country as a whole. As Deputy Durkan stated, the measures contained in the Bill will benefit many, including farmers, sporting organisations and ultimately the taxpayer.

Almost two thirds of all land annuities, which are no longer economically viable to collect, will be written off. In 1989, the Government of the day wrote off all annuities of less than £10. In 1992, another write-off was introduced for all annuities of less than £20. This final write-off should be seen in the context of what has already been granted and balanced against the legitimate concerns of the taxpayer who would regard further concessions, as requested by a number of Deputies, as inequitable. In the €200 to €500 category some of the annuitants have not paid annuities for many years and have current arrears of up to €5,000, in addition to the outstanding capital. The cut-off point of €200 per annum for a write-off is fair and realistic.

A discount redemption of 25% will be on offer for a limited period as a further inducement to farmers to buy out their land annuities. Despite the introduction of a 50% buy-out scheme and review of repayments in 1992, significant arrears still exist. My Department has not imposed additional interest for late payment of annuities. It would be inequitable for the State and taxpayers in general to go beyond a discount buy-out offer of 25%, which would only benefit those who have failed to maintain their obligations over a long period.

The Bill will introduce a simpler means to collect arrears of land annuities. A far more simple and cost effective means for trustees of former Land Commission land will be established to enable the transfer of such property to the mainly sporting organisations which use it. The obligation to obtain sub-division consent from my Department will be removed, apart from those with annuities. Furthermore, the obligation on people from countries outside the European Union to obtain departmental approval prior to purchasing agricultural land will no longer be necessary.

I noted the remarks made by Deputies and will take a minute or two to address some of the concerns expressed. To increase the write-off to annuities under €500 per annum would cost the Exchequer a sum of €9.6 million or an additional sum of €5.7 million over the figure of €3.9 million, which relates to annuities up to €200 per annum. It would benefit an additional 1,000 farmers. This would be an unacceptable additional cost. Deputies must remember the many thousands of farmers who have paid their annuities down the years. It would be unfair to them if those who did not make any meaningful attempt to pay were now rewarded.

As Deputies have stated, the justification for writing off the annuities up to €200 per annum is [2108]mainly due to the fact that the cost of the write-off will be offset by staff savings over a number of years. I do not intend to re-examine the write-off threshold of €200 per annum, as provided for in the Bill.

The collection method utilised by collection staff in Castlebar is largely computerised and not manual, as stated by Deputies. The intended period of six months for operation of the scheme is more than adequate. The Bill was published in July 2004 and introduced in the Seanad in October 2004. Already, a period of 11 months has been available to annuitants who will qualify for the discounted buy-out to regularise their titles. These annuitants do not need to wait until the Bill is enacted to check that their title is in order or approach their financial institution about raising finance to participate in the buy-out. By the time the scheme is introduced and finalised, much more than one year will have passed since the Bill was published. All annuitants over €200 per annum should take immediate steps to organise their affairs.

Deputies have asked me to increase the discount from 25% to 50%. The 25% discount to the 2,300 annuitants affected will cost the Exchequer approximately €4.7 million. The 2,300 annuitants in question have current arrears of €4.1 million. If all arrears were paid off, it would almost cover the cost of the 25% discount. If the 25% were to be increased to 50% as requested by some Deputies, it would cost the Exchequer another £4.1 million. Those being offered the proposed 25% discount were offered a previous discount in 1993 and did not take it up. They are being offered a second bite at the cherry in the space of more than ten years. I do not intend to increase the discounted buy-out figure from the level set out in the Bill.

  3 o’clock

My Department has not used debt collectors for the purpose of collecting annuity arrears since early 2002. The collectors used generated a payment of €400,000 to the Department in respect of arrears. The fee charged by them was 8.5%, not 20% as claimed by Deputies. I decided it was better and more favourable to farmers to introduce another discounted buy-out scheme, rather than continue with debt collectors as a means of extinguishing land purchase annuities and any arrears. Deputies have stated that annuity rates of 18% are currently being charged by my Department. This is not the case and no current annuity interest rate exceeds 10.3%. In 1993, all interest rates over 10.3% were reduced to this more favourable rate for all annuity payments. Current mortgage and loan rates are favourable and it is likely annuity holders can avail of a loan rate lower than their annuity rate and thereby participate in the buy-out scheme. The scheme, however, is voluntary and some may not wish to participate or may be unable to participate in it.

I do not intend to extend the proposed discount of 25% to cover arrears and arrears will have to be paid off. Deputies have referred to the [2109]additional collection powers which will be available to me after the Bill is enacted. The powers contained in the Bill ensure that farmers who retain their annuity maintain payments thereafter. For too long annuitants at the top end have neglected to make any payments to the Department and I have an obligation to the Exchequer to ensure that ongoing financial obligations are met. I have already given a commitment in the Seanad that before set-off powers are utilised, there will be a full discussion with any annuitant in arrears to ascertain his or her exact financial position and to determine what, if anything, might be set off from payments to be received by that annuitant in respect of the discharge of arrears. Any payment due to an annuitant by my Department will be subject to the additional collection powers. If all annuitants over €200 per year took up the scheme on offer, there would be no need for collection powers to be utilised.

I do not intend to introduce specific consultation provisions into the legislation because they are not warranted. The powers set out in section 6 of the Bill do not place my Department in a better position than any other creditor. It will be necessary for an application to be made to the appropriate court of competent jurisdiction to obtain relief, for example, a garnishee order, as provided for in the section. My Department is unable to seek direct payment from third parties who might owe money to an annuitant without first making an application to a court.

As far as the sporting trusts are concerned, the current trustees will decide to pass their interest to the user clubs to maintain such sporting trusts in perpetuity. As for the other trusts, cow park and turbary, it has been the practice for the trustees who own this land, but subject to the specific trust, to transfer it to either local authorities or local development community companies. This enables a local community interest to be maintained and enjoyed into the future. It was never the intention that cow parks that were no longer being used for their intended purpose and were transferred to county councils would be sold off by councils to the highest bidder. In future, before a cow park is transferred to a county council, a specific commitment will be obtained from that council that the land will be used for sporting, recreational or other purposes for the benefit of the local community and will not be sold on to generate income for the council. In fairness to councils, in many cases the councils were themselves the trustee and maintained and protected the cow parks down the years.

The Department can apply conditions if it wishes when lands are being transferred but policing them would be difficult and we would lose our powers once the land is transferred. Embankments are not owned by the Land Commission or the Department of Agriculture and Food. Maintenance was never a duty of the Land Commission even though some of it was carried out on an ex gratia basis. Trust funds were set up for some embankments and these funds are now [2110]kept by the public trustee, an officer of the Department of Agriculture and Food. Turbary owned by the Land Commission has been owned by the Minister for Agriculture and Food since the 1992 dissolution Act.

I thank all Deputies who contributed and appreciate their support for the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith):  I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Agriculture and Food, in accordance with Standing Order 120(1) and paragraph 1(a)(i) of the Orders of Reference of that committee.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As this is the end of the session, I thank Members for their co-operation during the year. I thank the Clerk of the Dáil, the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil, the Superintendent, the Captain, the Garda, the Army, the ushers and all the staff of the Houses, those whom we see and those whom we do not see, such as the cleaners who are gone before we arrive in the morning.

I particularly want to thank Ray Hesse. Ray Hesse has been Head Usher since Paddy Behan left us. Ray came into the House in 1973 as a service officer. He became an usher in 1975 and is the first service officer to become Head Usher in the Houses. He has been a committed, dedicated member of the staff, looking after the interests of Members and other staff for all those years. I would like to record my thanks and the thanks of all Members of the Dáil to Ray for the work he has done and wish him, his wife Maura and children, Karen and Paul, many happy and successful years into the future.

Members will participate in committees throughout July and September and there are some who will take no break at all during the recess. Wearing my medical hat, I advise Members to take at least a few weeks to get away from all the activity, have a rest and enjoy themselves.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Kitt):  I thank the Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk of the Dáil and all the staff of the Houses, those on the frontline and those working in offices, who have been so co-operative over this long session. Deputies should take the advice of the Ceann Comhairle and take some time out during the summer recess. We have a busy sched[2111]ule of committee work in July and September. Last year there were 22 committee meetings in July and 32 in September so Members are continuing with their work.

I join the Ceann Comhairle in wishing Ray Hesse a happy retirement. It is great to see a person like Ray, who came here as a messenger in 1973, move up the ranks to his current position of Head Usher. He saw the many changes that have taken place in those years. He always has a friendly smile for Members as we rush around the Houses and he acts as a calming influence. It takes a special person to do that. Ray has been most professional and courteous in all his years here and I congratulate him on behalf of myself and my Government colleagues on his retirement. He will retire in August and I wish him, his wife Maura and his family many happy and enjoyable years in the years ahead.

Mr. Kehoe:  I wish the Ceann Comhairle, the Clerk of the Dáil and the staff the best of luck for the summer recess. I thank the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, the Civil Service, the ushers, porters, stationery office staff, cleaners, catering staff, and political and media staff who bring the message outside the House, good or bad. Without them the outside world would not know what happens in this House. I thank the staff of the Government Whip’s office, the staff of my office and the assistant Whip, Deputy Neville, for their work over recent months.

I wish the Head Usher, Mr. Ray Hesse, the best of luck in his retirement. It frightens me to note he began working in the House in 1973 because I was born then. Thirty two years is a very long time to put into any service. I know Ray Hesse would say it was a privilege to work in the Houses of the Oireachtas and its environs. One cannot find a better place to work or be involved in because of the commitment of all people in the Houses. When I first entered the House, I did not even know my way around. However, I will always remember Ray Hesse’s face as he was one of the first ushers I met. He has a lifetime of commitment within the Houses, and it was a long-standing commitment. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party Leader, Deputy Kenny, and the Fine Gael parliamentary party, I wish Ray, his wife, Maura, and his family the best of luck. Maura will have to find much work, such as painting, for Ray. I do not know if he plays golf but I am sure she will find plenty for him to do. I wish him a happy retirement and hope we will see him around the Houses now and again for many more years to come.

I wish the Ceann Comhairle the very best and thank him for all his service in the House.

Dr. Upton:  On behalf of the Labour Party, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his co-operation [2112]with all of us throughout the year. Even if we have differences of opinion at times, we know in the end we get a fair crack of the whip.

I thank the Clerk of the Dáil, the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard and all the staff. I particularly thank the staff, as the Ceann Comhairle said, we do not see. Things do not just happen; they get done discreetly behind the scenes because people put in a great effort. We should appreciate the good work that goes on without any fuss.

I wish Mr. Ray Hesse a very happy retirement and wish his wife, Maura, and his family well. When I was first elected, Ray was one of the people who was always very welcoming and good-humoured, as well as the staff he looked after so well. I hope the Ceann Comhairle has a pleasant summer break.

Mr. Sargent:  On behalf of the Green Party, An Comhaontas Glas, guím gach rath ar Ray Hesse, ar a bhean chéile, Maura, agus ar a chlann ar fad ar an ócáid i mí Lúnasa nuair a éiríonn sé as a phost. I thank Ray, the man who is at the centre of our thoughts, for all his work down the years, his courtesy, helpfulness and the way he has helped make the Oireachtas work more efficiently, even though we should be here longer. I recognise the humid weather has increased the temperature in the House. While a break is certainly needed in the summer to recharge batteries, I hope the House can come back before the UN millennium summit to hear the Government’s proposal for a renewed commitment on the target of 0.7% of gross national product.

This is a day for thanking the Ceann Comhairle and the staff of the Houses who have helped us to do the work as best we can and without whose help it would be much more difficult. I recognise that because what is done is done so well, it does not come to the prominence in which those of us in public life very often find ourselves involved. This is a reflection of the professional job done in providing an efficient service. It is only at a time like this that we get the opportunity to reflect on how important and effective it is.

I wish Ray Hesse, all the ushers, the staff, the press corps, which does an important job, and the Government well. Although we have our differences with the Government, I appreciate the challenges that lie ahead. They are even bigger than it sometimes appreciates. I hope we all have a good break and come back refreshed, renewed and determined to make the place better in the future.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On behalf of myself, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pattison, and the staff of the House, I thank the Deputies for their comments.

The Dáil adjourned at 3.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 September 2005.