Thursday, 15 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 3a, Appropriation Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages; No. 13a, Employment Permits Bill 2005 — Financial Resolution; No. 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria on co-operation in combating organised crime and other serious crime, back from committee; No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus on co-operation in combating organised crime and other serious crime, back from committee; No. 16, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Poland on co-operation in combating organised crime and other serious crime, back from committee; No. 17, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council decision on the establishment of a mutual information procedure concerning member states’ measures in the area of asylum and immigration, back from committee; No. 18, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the despatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the United Nations mission in Liberia, back from committee; No. 4, Development Banks Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages; No. 1, Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 [Seanad] — Second Stage; and No. 18a, Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 [Seanad] — Financial Resolution.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 3a, 13a, 14, 15, 16 and 17 shall be decided without debate; in the event of the proceedings on No. 1 concluding, No. 18a shall be taken immediately thereafter and shall be decided without debate; and in the case of No. 3a, the Second and Subsequent Stages shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; (2) the proceedings on No. 18 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 25 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) subject to (ii), the speeches 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 five minutes in each case; (ii) Members may share time; (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (3) the following arrangements shall apply in respect of No. 4: (i) the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 minutes today; the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; (ii) the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; (4) the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 January 2006.
Mr. Bruton: It is agreed but our passing of the Appropriation Bill for the fifth year in a row without debate shows the poverty of the standards of scrutiny of public spending that have been established within this House. The reforms pressed by the Committee of Public Accounts should be taken on board by the Government. The process has become meaningless because the Bill is never debated in any shape or form. We need more meaningful systems in the House for achieving good value from public spending.
Mr. Stagg: On a point of order, Deputies who raise issues on the Order of Business are entitled to individual answers. The Ceann Comhairle is not entitled to lump them all together and get one answer with half of the questions forgotten about. They are entitled to individual answers.
An Ceann Comhairle: I did not lump them all together. For the benefit of the Deputy, there is a proposal before the House dealing with Nos. 1, 3a, 13a, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18a. In accordance with the practice for as long as I can remember in this House, one member of each party is entitled to make a brief comment and we then hear a response from the member of the Government. There is no change. I call Deputy Sargent.
Mr. Sargent: Whatever about getting individual answers, the idea of lumping together all of these proposals gives a new meaning to the phrase: “Like it or lump it.” The House is getting into a habit, which I believe is unprecedented, of passing financial resolutions before legislation has been passed. To put the cart before the horse in this way makes a mockery of the legislation. I ask that the practice be stopped, whatever about the other precedents being set here.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: To echo the point on the Appropriation Bill, the approach adopted is not satisfactory and does not allow for adequate scrutiny. The practice, as happened yesterday and as reflected again today in the Order Paper, of a financial resolution in regard to a Bill following the passage of Second Stage alone is an inappropriate way to do business. It should have been held until all of the Stages of the Bill were taken rather than pre-empting the views of the House. Although in this case it is safe to do so, I object to it because I think it wrong in practice.
The Tánaiste: With regard to the Appropriation Bill, the recommendation of the Committee of Public Accounts has been referred to the Attorney General for his advice. As the House knows, the Minister for Finance announced in his budget speech that he is fundamentally changing the manner in which Estimates and the budgetary process will be conducted in future. This will have a major impact.
With regard to the financial resolutions, the intention is that the Employment Permits Bill, which has passed Second Stage, will be taken in committee in January. The committees do not have power to consider any legislation that has financial implications without this House first passing a financial resolution. The financial resolution in regard to the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will not be moved until Second Stage is concluded.
Mr. Quinn: On a point of order, the Ceann Comhairle may not be aware as his back is to it, but the Press Gallery has been emptied and nobody from the press is present. Can I take it that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has succeeded in intimidating the rest of the press corps?
Mr. Stagg: The fact that no members of the press are present in the House to report proceedings essentially arises from a decision of the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, as the chairman of this assembly, where the dress code being imposed without rules on members of the Press Gallery is such that members of the press were ordered from the gallery yesterday by the Ceann Comhairle’s staff.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 4, conclusion of Second and Remaining Stages of the Development Banks Bill agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the Adjournment of the Dáil until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 agreed?
Mr. Sargent: It is not acceptable. We have reached the end of the Dáil term with more statements made than legislation passed. I ask that the Government be required, with all of us, to come back two weeks earlier, on 11 January. There is a general mood in the public mind that the Dáil is not delivering and not succeeding in responding to the issues that affect people in their day-to-day lives. I propose by way of amendment that we return on 11 January rather than on the date specified.
Mr. Bruton: The turkeys have not been saved by the Dáil. The House will welcome the fact that negotiations are about to begin on another round of social partnership deals. Is it satisfactory that the Dáil had no role in setting the agenda of the last negotiations, debating the agreement, approving it or monitoring any of the progress under it? Is it appropriate that the Dáil should be excluded to such an extent from this process? Are there proposals from Government to change this going forward?
In this season of goodwill, I do not like to strike a discordant note. However, looking back on the past 12 months, it is a major disappointment that in the Tánaiste’s brief, we have not seen the independent inspectorate Bill in respect of nursing, which the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach promised we would have before the end of the year. It is also disappointing that we have not seen the nursing home charges Bill which was to deal with the illegal deduction of charges. Moreover, while I welcome the recent announcement that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is taking charge of the introduction of the implementation of the Children’s Bill, it is hardly satisfactory that eight years after the introduction of that Bill to the House, we are still discussing its implementation. We have not decided to implement those provisions but instead are setting up a group to talk about implementing them. How many countless hundreds of young people have not been deflected from crime because we have not acted more promptly? It is a serious issue.
With regard to the Government decision on allowing the vote for people in prison, will the Government take on Deputy Gay Mitchell’s Bill in this regard? I note from the documentation that there is now a decision by the Government to support that approach.
The Tánaiste: With regard to the social partnership process, it would be good to discuss the format of the discussion — if there is a new agreement — which would take place in this House. There is much emphasis on democratic deficits but it is clearly a negotiation between Government, employers, trade unions and other organisations, such as farmers and voluntary groups. I would personally like to see a greater role for the Oireachtas in the process, and it is a matter which could be discussed.
Legislation to make provision for the repayment of charges will come about next year. There is a unit in the Department of Health and Children working on this legislation, and it is not as simple as many people think. There are significant issues relating to wards of court and making provision for them. The matter has involved a considerable amount of work and is a much larger piece of legislation than anybody has anticipated.
The Government has cleared the legislation to provide for prisoners’ voting by way of postal ballot in their own constituencies. I apologise to Deputy Gay Mitchell as I am not familiar with his legislation on the matter. The Government cleared a Bill at the Cabinet meeting last week.
As the closing date is tonight for survivors of abuse in residential institutions to register claims, I ask the Tánaiste whether she intends any action to be taken in the case of Marie Therese O’Loughlin, who is currently outside the gate of Leinster House. She has been there for some weeks now.
Mr. Rabbitte: The Taoiseach yesterday suggested that since she has a connection with another institution, it may be possible to bring her within the rubric of the scheme. If the woman were to apply today, will the Government allow her to come within the terms of the scheme, perhaps by reference to another institution, as the Taoiseach suggested? Is there some way her plight can be alleviated?
Mr. Rabbitte: The Ceann Comhairle persists in referring to my colleague, Deputy O’Sullivan, but she has done everything she can possibly do within the rules of the House. It has not got Ms O’Loughlin anywhere.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, the legislation gave a three-year cut-off point, which in all circumstances was reasonable. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, has met with Marie Therese O’Loughlin. The other institution which the woman spent time in is included. She is free to apply on the basis of this other institution, which she should perhaps be encouraged to do.
An Ceann Comhairle: If we allow the Deputy to have a debate on some issue that he wants to raise which does not relate to Standing Order 26A, we cannot prevent any other Deputy on either side of the House doing the same.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Tánaiste believe this woman can be included? The problem is her injuries were not experienced in the institution encompassed by the legislation. The only point I wish to make is whether we are going to leave this woman outside Leinster House over Christmas.
The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, the first institution was not owned by the State and the State had no inspectorate role. Any injuries inflicted in that institution are not covered by the Residential Institutions Redress Board.
The Tánaiste: If any damage was caused to Marie Therese O’Loughlin in the other institution she would qualify. We cannot make exceptions for individuals, difficult as this may be. If the State had no role, it should not be expected to——
Mr. Sargent: Before the Dáil rises for the Christmas recess, will there be any announcement from the Government on the appointment of a Minister of State at the Department of Transport? Will there be any opportunity to discuss the matter? Whether Operation Freeflow is working well or not, it is currently a headless operation.
I wish to ask about promised legislation, although legislation will unfortunately not help Marie Therese O’Loughlin. She has become a symbol for the reality of homelessness as well as abuse in institutions. I ask the Tánaiste, on the basis of there being no room at the inn, to intervene——
Mr. Sargent: On legislation, seven of the 14 Bills promised in September for this session have been published to date. Two of these are the Appropriation Bill 2005 and the Social Welfare Bill 2005, which are routine anyway. Fourteen Bills promised in the January 2003 programme for publication for 2003 have still not appeared. There appears to be a reluctance to forge ahead with the legislation, when one considers the number of statements we have had in this term alone. Nine different issues have been subjects of statements. We had just one in the same term last year.
Is there a trend where time is being filled by statements where legislation is not being prepared? Is this not a cause for review by the Government to ensure legislation is produced, so we can be more productive? As important as statements are, they do not concern the changing of decisions and the work in which we are primarily involved.
The Tánaiste: The appointment of a Minister of State to the Department of Transport is a matter for the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach will make a recommendation to the Government. I understand the Taoiseach has stated his intent to do so in January.
On a point of order, with regard to Marie Therese O’Loughlin, will a Private Notice Question be allowed today on the issue? At this time it would be entirely appropriate to make that particular exception to the rules and allow the matter to be dealt with in some
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy knows how those matters are dealt with. If he wishes to submit a question the Chair will consider it. The Chair cannot give a guarantee as it must have regard to the number of times the matter has been raised already.
Mr. Durkan: The Ceann Comhairle should not be like that. It is Christmas time. However, this is a serious issue which has aspects of compassion and caring. The Ceann Comhairle should be prepared to listen to it.
Ms McManus: In the past few days a major survey was published on the concerns of patients, which many people found disturbing. We were promised that when the Health Service Executive was established a parallel organisation called the health information and quality authority, HIQA, would be established for patients. That promise has not been delivered on. The body has not been established under statute.
The Tánaiste: Either the Deputy did not read the recent survey or she is more biased than I anticipated. An independent group surveyed 42% of patients who visited hospitals last year, of whom 91% were satisfied and would return to the same hospital. By any standards that is a very satisfactory rating.
The legislation is a major Bill. HIQA has been established and is recruiting a chief executive officer and some of the other staff. The legislation to give effect to that will be in the House before Christmas.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Tánaiste said earlier to Deputy Bruton that because of the complexities encountered in preparing the repayment scheme for charges for publicly funded residential long stay care Bill, the legislation is not expected before some time in 2006. In the list of this term’s promised legislation, dated 27 September, this legislation was anticipated before the end of this year. When did these complexities present themselves such that there is a further unacceptable delay in ensuring the repayment of moneys due to people who were illegally charged in long-stay institutions?
The Tánaiste: I made it clear to the House in October that the repayment scheme for charges for publicly funded long-stay residential care Bill would not be ready until next year. I recall saying that one morning on the Order of Business. The complexity mainly revolves around the issue of the wards of court which the Law Reform Commission has been considering for some time. The heads of the Bill are about to go to Government and the legislation will be published early next year and hopefully go through the House then.
Mr. Stagg: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the Christmas card he sent me which bears an image of the bell on his desk. My wife, greatly respecting the Ceann Comhairle’s office, insists on putting the card in the centre of the mantelpiece. I must look at the bell for the whole yuletide fireside season.
Mr. Stagg: The Money Advice and Budgeting Service Bill 2002 and the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 are still on the clár for some reason but the Government has not moved them. This year our sitting time was three weeks shorter than last year. Maybe that is because the Government Chief Whip is so efficient he can get the business done in three weeks less than his predecessor but these Bills are outstanding.
An Ceann Comhairle: I assure the Deputy there was no intention to upset his Christmas. Now that he mentions the image on the card, it is an opportunity to reflect on how we should do business in the House.
Ms O’Sullivan: If Marie Therese O’Loughlin, or anybody else, applies to the Residential Institutions Redress Board before the deadline, in respect of an institution that is not included on the schedules, and should subsequent information become available that a public body had an inspection function, would the Minister or the Government add that institution to the schedule by order? This is possible.
The Tánaiste: In the unlikely event of that happening there will have to be a thorough investigation of all these matters, which the Government is willing to conduct. This is not the only such case. I am aware of other cases in private institutions and unfortunately we cannot open up every private institution in this situation.
Mr. Gilmore: There is a report in the newspapers this morning that there was an earthquake off the coast of Bray the night before last. Which Minister is responsible for emergency planning, earthquakes and matters of that kind?
Mr. M. Higgins: When will the necessary lodgements be made to ensure Ireland’s compliance with the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice? Has there been any further development on the signing and ratification of the optional protocol against torture?
Mr. Broughan: Over the past three or four months when I have sent the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children a letter on a policy matter I have received a response from Professor Drumm and the Health Service Executive. In the interest of efficiency and so on do we need a Minister for Health and Children?
The Tánaiste: Professor Drumm is accountable to the House under the legislation passed last year. If the Labour Party wishes to propose the abolition of the role of Minister for Health and Children in its next election manifesto we can have a good debate at that point.
An Ceann Comhairle: I would like to make a brief reference to comments made yesterday concerning alleged omissions from the Official Report of Dáil debates. I wish to reiterate a ruling of the Chair on 11 May 1999:
It is well-established that the Official Report is the authoritative record of what is said. Members who raised the matter yesterday in a jocose way during Christmas greetings were not casting any reflection on the Chair or the professionalism of our editorial staff who do tremendous work, often very late at night, to produce the report of the debates in a very short turnaround time.
Mr. Bruton: On behalf of my party, I share the Ceann Comhairle’s view that the House is very well served by the editorial staff. Nothing we said was intended to reflect adversely on them. We wish to join them in our season’s greetings.
Mr. Rabbitte: I heard you. Now let me make my comments if you do not mind. Nobody on any side of this House cast any aspersion on the professionalism and extraordinary diligence of the editorial staff.
Mr. Rabbitte: A jocose point was being made to which might be added that some changes indeed have been made down the years. It has gone beyond finessing of English. That is because we have experienced, as I said yesterday, a new form of linguistics being tried out in this House in recent years that is not known to other parliaments. It would be better for archivists and historians if they actually got the raw material as spoken in the House. I think the point is unnecessarily precious.
The Tánaiste: I wish to take the opportunity to wish the Ceann Comhairle, Members and the staff a happy Christmas. As this is our last sitting day before Christmas, on my and the Government’s behalf, I thank all the staff who serve the Members with great integrity, enthusiasm and dedication.
Mr. Quinn: Since I made my first observation about the Press Gallery, an allegation has been made that I wish the Ceann Comhairle to investigate. I am not sure if it is proven but it would be disturbing if so. The allegation is that a member of the press was ordered from the Press Gallery because he was deemed to be wearing inappropriate attire, namely jeans. Will the Ceann Comhairle investigate this incident? It is obvious they have chosen not to come in here for some deliberate reason. We would like to be informed if that is the case. We want to know who did it and was it done on the Ceann Comhairle’s authority.
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