Thursday, 20 October 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Finance (Mr. Cowen): It is proposed to take No. 18, Social Welfare Consolidation Bill 2005 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 1, Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage; and No. 2, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage.
Mr. Kenny: I am sure Deputies will share my expression of abhorrence on behalf of the Irish people at the kidnapping of Irish journalist, Rory Carroll, in Baghdad. I commend the swift action of the Government on a political and diplomatic level to ensure Mr. Carroll’s early and safe release. As Deputies will be aware, his father, Joe Carroll, was a respected figure around the House for many years and those of us who have been in the Houses for some time will know him well. In that sense, this is a matter of grave concern to us. I assure the Minister that the Fine Gael Party will assist the Government on this matter in any way possible and will be happy to accommodate its activities to ensure Mr. Carroll’s early and safe release.
In view of the rising level of inflation, when will we see the promised national consumer agency Bill? On 3 February this year, I raised with the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children questions from Deputy Twomey about the procedures that apply to the appointment of senior management of the Health Service Executive. The Minister answered these questions but last Thursday, in respect of clarification of a matter arising from the questions of 3 February, she decided to pass on questions to the HSE. Perhaps the Minister will communicate with the Tánaiste on this matter.
Mr. Cowen: I thank Deputy Kenny for his comments and join him in expressing the common sentiment of the House that Deputies hope the kidnap of Rory Carroll will be ended immediately. The House calls on anyone who has influence with the group in question to use it. Obviously, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our diplomatic staff in the general area are doing all they can through their contacts to facilitate Mr. Carroll’s early release. The House sympathises with Mr. Carroll’s family in this difficult time and hopes he will be returned to them safely. The consumer agency Bill is not on the list. Obviously it is a priority matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and he is preparing that legislation as quickly as possible. we expect inflation this year to be about 2.4% and we have a close relationship with the EU rate of inflation since we joined the euro area eight years ago. Obviously the recent monthly figure showed the impact of rising oil prices but the overall annualised figure should be approximately 2.4% this year.
Mr. Rabbitte: The House is united in concurring with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Kenny and the Minister for the early and safe release of Mr. Rory Carroll and in expressing our solidarity with his family at this time.
Recently the Minister told my colleague, Deputy Burton, that the cost of CMOD in his Department is €7.5 million and that there are 96 people employed in it to supervise, amongst other things, e-Government initiatives and IT issues across Departments. Would it not be reasonable in those circumstances, with 96 people——
Mr. Sargent: Like the other party leaders and the Minister for Finance, I too wish to express solidarity with the family of Mr. Rory Carroll and take seriously the advice of the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the matter be dealt with in a way that the Department of Foreign Affairs can best determine for the security of Mr. Carroll. We respect that advice and hope the release will be swift.
On promised legislation, given the serious outcome of research revealed at yesterday’s seminar organised by the Irish Insurance Federation where buildings along the River Liffey, for example, are seen to be in great peril due to climate change——
Mr. Sargent: I want to ask the Minister whether the coastal zone management legislation will see the light of day again or whether there is legislation from the Government that will seriously tackle the challenges of climate change. The energy Bill, which sounds like it might be the closest, does not refer to climate change in any documentation I have seen.
Mr. Bruton: Today I have seen reports that under the Mental Health Commission — this dates back to the time the Minister for Finance was Minister for Health and Children — the appointment of members of the tribunals to look into the cases of people who are involuntarily detained still has not been made. Will the Minister bring forward the health Bill, No. 55 on the agenda, so the Dáil can debate this issue? It does not seem right that people who are involuntarily detained do not have their rights of recourse to a tribunal and——
Mr. Cowen: I understand the heads of that Bill are being prepared. If the Deputy wishes to raise the specific question on the Mental Health Commission perhaps an alternative way, rather than waiting for the Bill to be published, might be found so that the matter can be discussed.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Yesterday I received a reply to a parliamentary question from the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children confirming she had met with numerous people in the course of the past 12 months on her proposals to give away land at public hospitals to private hospital interests.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I want to ask will he refine the terms of reference that have been accorded to Mr. Carey to carry out his inquiry. Terms of reference of inquiries have been revised on the Order of Business previously.
Mr. Cowen: On that matter, legislation is not required in that instance. The situation here is to increase the capacity in the health service to deal with more cases and ensure there is public patient access, and also take the private beds out of the public hospitals so there are more public beds in public hospitals. I, therefore, really do not know the point of the Deputy’s question.
Mr. Durkan: In view of the chaotic communications in respect of the poor broadband rating, with Ireland coming in just ahead of Papua New Guinea, and in respect of the postal services, which have almost broken down completely and where it takes three weeks for a letter to travel a short distance, would it be possible for the Minister to come in and give some indication of when he will introduce the Electronic Communications Bill? As I am on my feet, maybe I could ask also if the ministerial appearance Bill is about to be introduced so that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could make an appearance in the House?
Regarding the acknowledgement by the Taoiseach yesterday that legislation is needed for housing estate management companies, is it intended to bring a Bill of that nature forward at an early date? In the absence of that, will the Government instruct local authorities on how they should proceed on this matter?
Mr. Cowen: The first Bill to which the Deputy referred is due next year. On the second matter, I understand this was raised in the House yesterday. The Law Reform Commission is currently finalising a draft report on the law on management of multi-unit developments. The Government will consider any recommendations the final report makes. Yesterday the Taoiseach indicated a need for legislation in this area and I agree with him on that.
Mr. Cowen: On the follow-up question, the facts are that any conditions attaching to planning permissions requiring the establishment of a management company do not remove the primary responsibility of developers to finish developments satisfactorily. Planning authorities have extensive powers under the Planning and Development Act 2000 to make developers finish estates in a satisfactory manner in accordance with planning permission and they all should be using them. Local authorities are now required to take estates in charge under the Planning Act. Moreover, they can be made start the procedure to take in charge the public services for residential development when requested to do so.
Management companies normally have a very different remit. They deal with the ongoing maintenance and management of the private elements of housing developments, such as looking after green areas, landscaping and maintaining community amenities etc. It is unacceptable if developers are trying to transfer the costs of finishing the services in estates to the purchasers, on top of the purchase price.
Mr. Stagg: I want the Chair’s assistance in trying to discover a method I can use, in the parliamentary sense, to establish the facts on home help cuts and the funding for them. There are two contradictory answers on the record and I cannot find a way of asking a question to establish the reality.
With regard to questions on health issues, we can no longer get an answer to our questions in the House because the answers are sent out privately by the HSE and are no longer in the public domain. This is a serious dilution of our democratic right to ask questions in the House publicly and get answers to them.
Ms McManus: On the same issue, I ask that some means be found to put answers from the HSE on public record. We have seen a stripping away of accountability that has serious implications for the management of the health service.
Ms Burton: In view of what the Minister has just said, will he agree there is a need for legislation to deal with management companies? His comments were not accurate. County councils in the Dublin area do not take estates in charge unless developers request it. Developers normally do not request it for up to a decade. As a result, people are left languishing while being charged between €600 to €1,600 per annum, a charge to which they must sign up when they buy their affordable house. The purchasers of affordable housing are being ripped off by a fatal combination of Fianna Fáil developers and builders in league with the people on the benches opposite who will do nothing about it.
Ms Burton: I have volumes of correspondence from several Ministers who have served in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who have handled this issue. Young couples, purchasers of affordable housing, are being fleeced by Fianna Fáil builders and developers.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order. In view of the Minister’s contribution, the Chair did not have much choice but to allow the Deputy make her point. Now that she has made her point, let us come back to the Order of Business. I call Deputy Ring.
Ms Burton: I have volumes of correspondence from the people sitting on the Government benches. They write letters, but they do not do anything about it. They have thousands of people to write letters for them, but they do not take any action——
Ms Burton: ——just as the Minister has 96 people running an IT outfit in the Department of Finance at a cost of €7.5 million who have no oversight of the computers. This is our problem. We are paying but we are not getting a service.
An Ceann Comhairle: On the Order of Business Deputies may not ask whether the Government is contemplating legislation. Otherwise, every Member in the House would wish to ask a question. The Standing Order is quite specific. Deputies may ask about promised legislation, whether promised inside or outside the House. I call Deputy Ring.
Mr. Cowen: I explained in my previous reply that the Law Reform Commission is finalising a draft report on the law on the management of multi-unit developments. We will consider any recommendations the commission makes in its final report.
Mr. Ring: I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for that. On the criminal injuries compensation tribunal, people have been made awards this year but no funding has been put in place since May. Does the Minister for Finance intend to bring a Supplementary Estimate to the Dáil to provide the money to the people entitled to it? The Minister for Finance is responsible. The information provided in reply to a question asked last week is that we are waiting on funding from the Department of Finance to pay these people.
Mr. Allen: I ask again for about the tenth time about a question I submitted on 29 August for reply on 29 September about accommodation and asylum seekers. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Reform has refused to answer the question. The Chair told me to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I applied for that on the Adjournment, but did not receive Adjournment time. What recourse have I now?
Mr. Allen: The Minister should at least come into the House. I do not think he has been in here for the past two weeks for the Order of Business. He will not answer questions but he is like Hopalong Cassidy around the country making promises left, right and centre. However, he will not do his fundamental——
Mr. Broughan: I have two brief questions for the Minister. The Minister’s predecessor, who is now happy in Brussels, brought in a code of practice for the governance of semi-State bodies in 2001. In view of recent events, does the Minister for Finance have any plans to make changes to that code of practice or to bring in legislation on it?
Mr. Broughan: I asked first about a code of practice and second, I ask about a statutory instrument or guidelines for the National Salmon Commission. Does the statutory instrument commit the Minister to expenditure in the forthcoming budget?
Mr. Cowen: The answer to the first question is “no”. With regard to the second point, these are matters to be dealt with on an ongoing basis. I can look at the code of practice and the question of a review of governance mechanisms and semi-State bodies. I will come back to the Deputy on it.
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