Thursday, 6 March 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 6, motion re the proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a proposal that section 17A of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 shall continue in force for the period ending on 8 March 2009 — back from committee; No. 6a, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate — Vote 28; No. 6b, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimate — Vote 28 — to select committee; No. 12, Finance Bill 2008 — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 13, Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill 2007 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages — to adjourn at 1 p.m. today, if not previously concluded; No. 13a, statements on World Trade Organisation.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 6 and 6a and, subject to the agreement of No. 6a, No. 6b shall be decided without debate and any divisions demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; (2) the proceedings on Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage of No. 12 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1 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 Finance; (3) the proceedings on No. 13a shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin who shall be called upon in that order shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement 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 statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Nos. 6a and 6b are motions relating to the EU reform treaty. Is the Tánaiste happy that €5.8 million will be sufficient for the business of the referendum commission? On publication of the Bill, is it intended to establish the commission and announce the date for the referendum today?
The Tánaiste: On the matter before the House, the Department of Foreign Affairs is seeking Dáil approval for a technical Supplementary Estimate to allow expenditure under subhead O of Vote 28, that is, in respect of the EU reform treaty, as Deputy Kenny said. Subhead O involves a new service under Vote 28 and, as such, Dáil approval is required before expenditure is incurred. A sum of €5.8 million will be sufficient. The stablishment of the referendum commission is dependent on hearing from the Judiciary regarding the name of the proposed chairman. The date of the referendum is not being announced today.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Deputy Timmins has made the point on a number of occasions that the information the commission presents should be as simple, relevant and understandable as possible in order that members of the public can be well informed before making a decision. Will the information given by the commission to the public consist solely of facts, or will it give a direction on whether to vote yes or no?
The Tánaiste: My understanding of the role of the commission is, as on previous occasions, to give an objective assessment of the arguments for and against in order that the people will understand the content of the treaty and the arguments in favour of adopting it. In compliance with court judgments, it will give a balanced view.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I object to the debate on the Bill being guillotined. I understand 15 amendments have been reached, while more than 40 have been submitted, some of which are very important. Given the importance of the Bill and the issues to be discussed, the debate should not be guillotined. I object to the proposal on that basis.
Deputy Joan Burton: I object to the debate on the Bill being guillotined at 1 p.m. Yesterday we debated a number of very important amendments. However, the Minister introduced an amendment at the last minute on Monday to allow for the provision of tax breaks for investors in hospice care. Hospice care in Ireland has traditionally been not-for-profit, voluntary and based on fund-raising and bequests. This is a major change. It may be an opportunity for the Government to complete its privatisation and two-tier health system agenda. The guillotine allows no Opposition amendment to the Minister’s late amendment, as there may not be an opportunity to debate it today. This measure is a repeat of what the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, did five years ago on 5 March 2003 when, he later admitted, he had been lobbied by a doctor in his own constituency in respect of private day hospitals. Every party and Member in this House wants to see the provision of more hospice care but it should not be to further the agenda of developing a two-tier health service. We are seeing what has happened to women in Portlaoise as a consequence of the development of the two-tier service and we saw what happened to Susie Long. Now people will not get the care and attention that may help them to survive, or even when they come for palliative care and pain relief or terminal care——
Deputy Arthur Morgan: I object to the guillotine on the Finance Bill. It is an interesting debate but at our current rate of progress we will not even get to the crucial amendment referred to by the previous speaker. On the roll-out of this, just yesterday it was disclosed that land at Beaumont Hospital was gifted to private developers as well. This was instead of developing a necessary psychiatric unit for people in this city and State. I hope the Tánaiste will provide extra time for this important debate.
The Tánaiste: We wish to conclude Report Stage today at 1 p.m. and we will put that to the House. It is unfortunate the issue referred to by Deputy Burton is being portrayed in the way it is. This is very much supportive of the hospice movement and it is a proposal supported by the voluntary hospice managers’ association, which is involved in the hospice movement.
|Ahern, Michael.||Ahern, Noel.|
|Andrews, Barry.||Andrews, Chris.|
|Aylward, Bobby.||Behan, Joe.|
|Blaney, Niall.||Brady, Áine.|
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Carey, Pat.|
|Collins, Niall.||Conlon, Margaret.|
|Connick, Seán.||Coughlan, Mary.|
|Cowen, Brian.||Cregan, John.|
|Cuffe, Ciarán.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fitzpatrick, Michael.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Healy-Rae, Jackie.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Kitt, Tom.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGuinness, John.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M.J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Brien, Darragh.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Mary.||White, Mary Alexandra.|
|Bannon, James.||Barrett, Seán.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Coonan, Noel J.|
|Costello, Joe.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Creed, Michael.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McManus, Liz.||Morgan, Arthur.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|O’Donnell, Kieran.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Reilly, James.||Ring, Michael.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sheehan, P.J..|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Upton, Mary.||Varadkar, Leo.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: I will not have the opportunity to speak on Report Stage of the Finance Bill 2008 but wish to refer to amendment No. 24. We should not divide the country into regions according to death rates. In respect of hospice provisions, the amendment states “not less than 20 in-patient beds”. There are hospices throughout the country with fewer than 20 inpatient beds. We do not want a situation where a hospice in County Wexford or County Cork is approved but one in County Louth or County Offaly is not. If the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance amended the amendment to state “more than 12 or 14 in-patient beds”, it would be very beneficial and there would be equality across the board. It would also give a sense of dignity and respect to those who are terminally ill and who must go into hospices.
I understand that at the meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children a few moments ago, it emerged, and was confirmed by the HSE, that a letter was written by Mr. Peter Naughton to the Tánaiste’s successor in the Department, the Minister, Deputy Michéal Martin, in 2002. The Irish Times sought evidence of such a letter under the Freedom of Information Act but it did not emerge. Deputy Reilly asked the Minister for Health and Children in the Dáil if there was such a letter but she said not according to her information. By confirming that such a letter existed and by making it public, it now appears that somebody tampered with this file which is evidence of an attempt to cover up a request for information made to the Tánaiste’s successor about a very serious matter in Portlaoise hospital.
Political accountability should take place in this Chamber and I will request that time is allocated next week for a full discussion on this issue and the way it was handled. This is too important for nobody to be blamed, for it to be considered a systems failure and for the buck to be passed again. I will make a request, through our Whip, for a full scale debate on this issue because if somebody removed, covered up or altered that file or dictated that the evidence therein not be presented in the face of a freedom of information request by Deputy Reilly, it is scandalous and disgraceful and we need to find out the truth. Political accountability should occur in this Chamber.
I welcome the fact the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, or his office, has given an instruction to the Minister for Education and Science to sort out the problem in regard to autism. If she agrees to sort it out, any announcement about a change in Government policy in regard to facilities for autistic children should be made in the House. On three occasions in the past week, I have asked the Taoiseach to give me a report on the opening of the autistic unit at Castleknock Educate Together school. The Tánaiste will be aware that this situation has arisen on foot of a difficulty that exists between the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children. The child at the centre of this matter has been offered a place at a facility which is located two hours’ journey from the family home. That is an appalling response, particularly when one considers that said journey would have to be made through Dublin traffic.
Deputy Enda Kenny: There is one further matter I wish to raise. In the murder case that came to a conclusion before the courts yesterday, the presiding judge was constrained with regard to allowing the family involved to make a victim impact statement. Is it the Government’s intention to bring forward a legislative measure to ensure that victim impact statements could be made in cases of this nature?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Kenny raised a number of issues. Perhaps Deputy Burton will allow the Tánaiste to reply before she poses her questions. As already stated, I do not want us to engage in a debate on the Finance Bill. Deputy Kenny requested a debate on issues that have arisen before the Joint Committee on Health and Children this morning and inquired about promised legislation in the form of an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act. Perhaps the Tánaiste will comment on the latter two matters.
The Tánaiste: When the Report Stage debate on the Finance Bill adjourned, we were on amendment No. 14. There is no reason that we will not reach and debate amendment No. 24. The issue is that there is a requirement to work in accordance with existing policy. Pre-approval would be required from the HSE. However, I will go into that in detail when Report Stage resumes. This matter has been portrayed in an incorrect way and I do not know whether this was by mistake or on purpose. I would welcome the opportunity to deal with it comprehensively on Report Stage.
I am not aware of what is happening at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children. Deputy Kenny has drawn a rather extreme conclusion with regard to whatever has arisen at the meeting in respect of an item of correspondence. I would not necessarily accept that what he said is the case. It is rather premature to come to the conclusion reached by the Deputy. The question of the business that will be taken in the House next week is a matter for the Whips.
On the subject of autism, the Minister for Education and Science has done a great deal of work in respect of that issue and she continues to be committed to its development as part of the improved provision for special needs within the mainstream educational system. The specific matter relating to Castleknock will have to be taken up with the line Department because I am not au fait with it.
Deputy Joan Burton: On the various reports into breast cancer services at Portlaoise, Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk which said “The buck stops here”. It appears that for the Government the buck stops anywhere other than on the desks of those who occupy the Front Bench. Will the Government facilitate a debate on a motion by means of which we might seek to identify who was responsible in respect of this matter? We encourage teenagers getting ready for later life to take responsibility. Are those in Government just a bunch of teenagers who could do with some parental advice on taking responsibility for some of the messes over which they have presided?
Saturday next is International Women’s Day. This is a sombre time. What happened to the women at Portlaoise is upsetting for every female, particularly in the context of what it implies in the context of being tested and then receiving false positive or false negative results. This is a difficult time for families throughout the country. The idea that the Government is trying to skirt around this issue makes matters doubly difficult.
Given the advent of International Women’s Day, it is important to note that 138 women have been murdered — most of them, apparently, by their partners and husbands — since 1996. Is the Government giving consideration to introducing legislation to allow the presentation of victim impact statements in cases where people have died——
The Tánaiste: I am not aware of any such promised legislation. I cannot comment on the case with which the courts dealt yesterday. It is important that we should tackle these matters in the cold light of day and not in the context of the specific tragic cases being dealt with by the courts. We should not say anything here which might impinge upon the independence of the courts’ adjudication on these matters. I am not aware of any specific legislation in this area.
As stated earlier, I do not accept the precipitative and serious conclusion drawn by Deputy Kenny. Such conclusions should not be bandied about in the House, particularly when one considers that discussions are ongoing. It is, therefore, a matter for the Whips to decide what business will be taken next week.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I welcome the publication of the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, the purpose of which is to enable the State to ratify the Lisbon reform treaty. The convention is that there would usually be a two-week period of reflection for the Opposition. However, in view of the widespread concern that the House has not discussed this matter since the treaty was signed in Lisbon on 13 December, would it be possible to introduce the Bill on Wednesday or Thursday next in order that the debate on it might commence prior to the two-week Easter recess?
The Tánaiste: I welcome the support of some parties — particularly Labour and Fine Gael — in respect of the general thrust of the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. The work done by those parties’ spokespersons with the relevant Ministers on the legislation is appreciated by the Government.
On the urgent need for the debate to commence, I agree with Deputy Quinn that this is an important matter which requires, as soon as is practicable, the full attention and consideration of the House. Having an unrestricted Second Stage debate in order that as many Members as possible might place their views on the record would be of great assistance to the wider public in the context not only of awareness, but also in respect of the general issues involved. The expertise that resides on all sides of this House should be put to good use in such a debate.
As already stated, the legislation should be dealt with as soon as is practicable. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be attending the spring European Council meeting next week. It may, therefore, be difficult to arrange to commence the debate then. I accept the motivation behind the Deputy’s question, namely, to have the debate on the legislation begin within the Dáil as soon as possible. It may well be that this matter will take centre stage in our deliberations in plenary session immediately after the recess. The White Paper should be published by the end of the month and this will also help to inform the debate.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I apologise. We were promised some time ago that the attachment of fines Bill, which would allow gardaí to be deployed on the beat as opposed to being obliged to collect fines, would be introduced. Is it possible that this legislation, the intoxicating liquor Bill and the sale of alcohol Bill will be introduced in order that we might discuss that major issue?
The Tánaiste: The Fines Bill is before the Seanad at present. There is also the enforcement of fines Bill, for which there is, as yet, no publication date. The intoxicating liquor Bill and the sale of alcohol Bill are expected to be taken during the course of this year. I understand that no legislation is promised in respect of the other matter.
Deputy Pat Breen: This is about forthcoming legislation, to which I will get to in a second. There are strong rumours this morning in the constituency that when the strategic review of health services in County Clare is published soon, there will be recommendations on the downgrading of Ennis General Hospital.
Deputy Pat Breen: Despite promises from Ministers that the €39 million promised for Ennis General Hospital would be forthcoming — I even have a letter from the Health Service Executive to the same effect — we hear that this is not happening.
Deputy Pat Breen: The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should hold on for a second. This is a very serious matter. I do not stand in the House very often, unless I have a very serious matter to raise. This is a serious issue.
In reference to the important matter raised by Deputy Kenny and in view of the Tánaiste’s reply that the ordering of business is exclusively and entirely a matter for the Whips, the Tánaiste, as a constituency Deputy like me, must have some interest in the Portlaoise cancer issue. The importance of having a debate on it is underlined by the fact that notwithstanding the three reports published yesterday, there is a black hole in this procedure——
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I accept what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle says but notwithstanding what the Tánaiste said about the ordering of business, he might recommend to the Government Whip that he consider setting aside time for a debate on this issue next week.
In reply to another Deputy the Tánaiste referred to legislation dealing with victims. A victims of crime Bill was promised some time ago which must be on a B or C list. Will the Tánaiste talk to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform about bringing it from the C list to the A list because of its importance?
The Tánaiste: The Minister will note the request made in the House regarding that matter. The Bill is at an early stage of preparation. I did not say it was up to the Whips to organise business; it is up to the Government to do so but we seek the co-operation of the Whips in bringing forward business in line with the Government programme.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: As my constituency colleagues will readily testify, drive-by shootings have recently been introduced to the constituency. In line with the issue I raised in the past couple of weeks, with the obvious increase in organised crime such that crime barons seem to walk about the country with impunity——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I have raised the issue repeatedly in the past couple of weeks. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has evaporated from the House. He was here but now he is gone. I want somebody to address this issue as a matter of urgency and the Tánaiste is the most likely person to do it. These are the Bills if the Tánaiste wants to know what they are: the criminal justice (confiscation of orders) Bill——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The list includes the criminal justice (cybercrime and attacks against information systems) Bill and the criminal justice (European evidence warrant) Bill which is urgent and about which something should be done. The Tánaiste is about to tell me it is not possible to indicate at this stage when it will be brought forward. The list also includes the criminal justice (money laundering) Bill and the criminal justice (mutual recognition of financial penalties) Bill.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Tá a fhios agam gur í seo Seachtain na Gaeilge, ach ní raibh morán díospóireachta as Gaeilge anseo sa Teach. Deputy Timmins has just handed me the referendum Bill, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2007. It costs €50 billion on the current side to run the country. Pages 6 and 7 of the Bill are entirely as Gaeilge, while pages 8 and 9 are entirely in English. It is mixed up. The Government will have to withdraw the Bill because nobody will read it or be able to understand it.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Part 2 on page 8 is in English; Cuid a dó on page 9 is also in English. The Tánaiste has a responsibility to withdraw the Bill and have it put in proper sequence because it is not correct.
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, tells me that it is, in fact, correct. When one brings forward a referendum Bill, one is required to translate exactly the English words into Irish and in an Irish version to translate the Irish into English.
Deputy Liz McManus: Several members of the public have contacted me about the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill which was published in 2006. I understand it went through Second Stage in 2007 but seems to have stalled since. I tabled a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but the Ceann Comhairle disallowed it. What is happening? When will the Bill be taken?
Deputy Brian Hayes: If the Government changes its position on this issue in the immediate future, will the Tánaiste give a commitment that the change in policy by the Government will be announced in the House?
Deputy Leo Varadkar: I want to ask about two matters. The first is the employment rights compliance Bill, which will establish NERA on a statutory footing. A commitment was made by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Taoiseach that this Bill would be published by the end of February. It is now mid-March, and we are a week away from dissolution. Why has the Bill not been published and when will it be?
Following on from Deputy Hayes’s question, can the Tánaiste give a commitment that the announcement of any change in autism policy will be made in the House, as appropriate, and not at a press conference——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have a brief question for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The Labour Party’s priority question on transport was ruled out once again. The Ceann Comhairle said in an article in The Irish Times last week that he intends to reform the House’s operations. When is he going to start? It is a basic question of public interest.
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