Tuesday, 16 December 2008
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 8, motion re joint sitting to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann; No. 9, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the three interim economic partnership agreements; No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council framework decision on the European evidence warrant; No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council framework decision amending framework decisions; No. 23, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) (No. 2) Bill 2008 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 24, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2008 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of No. 23 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes 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 Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; in the event that a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 61, motion re housing, the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted after Private Members’ time, which shall be taken for 90 minutes tonight, and Standing Order 117(3) shall not apply; and parliamentary questions next for answer by the Taoiseach on EU matters shall be taken on the same day as the statements on EU Council meeting, Brussels, scheduled to be taken on Wednesday, 17 December 2008, and shall be moved to be taken first as ordinary oral questions to the Taoiseach on that day.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I do not want to fall into the annual practice of saying: “Do not go on holidays for a certain period.” The proposal from the Government is that the Dáil will return at the end of January. The most important concerns in the country at present are protecting jobs and creating and sustaining employment. We need to consider the statements by the Government on the recapitalisation of the banks and its economic plan. I do not expect the Taoiseach to make time for these matters today but I suggest that the House should sit either this Friday or next Tuesday to deal with them.
A sizeable chunk of the money invested by taxpayers in the National Pensions Reserve Fund will be made available to the banking system. I am not sure whether it is in the Taoiseach’s head to come back with a plan and seek legal authority from the Dáil or if he would prefer to put through legislation and then apply conditions when the Government and the banks are in agreement on the system of recapitalisation to be implemented. While I do not wish to object to the Order of Business, I would like the Taoiseach to indicate whether we can have a substantive discussion on this matter on Friday or next Tuesday.
It is wrong to adjourn the House on Thursday and not return until the closing days of January. In the meantime, the Government will have made its decision after consulting the banks on how it should proceed with recapitalisation. The matter is very serious and real concerns are being expressed by employers and employees. Local economies throughout the country have been affected. It would be wrong of Dáil Éireann to retire for six weeks rather than deal with a matter as consequential as this. I make these observations in respect of the first proposal put by the Ceann Comhairle and ask the Taoiseach to respond.
Deputy Joan Burton: I find the earlier comments made by the Taoiseach to be incomplete. I want to know whether the Government plans to provide time for a debate between now and the Dáil’s adjournment on Thursday if the Government decides not to introduce the necessary legislation in respect of the National Pensions Reserve Fund.
Despite everything he has said about the banks, he failed to mention the elephant in the room, namely, the issue of the bad debts carried by the banks. It is not that the banks lack capital but that when they write off those bad debts the hole in their capital will be as big as the hole that sunk the Titanic. That is the essence of the matter. It may only affect some banks in terms of the covered institutions but how can the Taoiseach propose to send the Dáil on a recess for six weeks and not allow a debate when matters will be addressed which deal with the lifeblood of this economy, the jobs of tens of thousands of people and the survival of thousands of businesses in the difficult period after Christmas?
It is simply unbelievable that the Taoiseach would send a statement to the newspapers which would do justice to the Sphinx it is so vague. He spoke about preference shares, ordinary shares and underwriting.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We are not prepared to accept the Order of Business as presented. We are following on from ministerial questions to the Minister for Health and Children, during which she indicated the service plan for 2009 for the HSE had been laid before the House and was on the green Order Paper for today’s business. It is on the green Order Paper but up to a short time before the commencement of this Order of Business and following the Minister having indicated to the House that the service plan had been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, it was not available in the Oireachtas Library to Members.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: This is pertinent to the very question the Ceann Comhairle is asking us to accept. No. 8 is a motion on the sitting to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann. Nobody here should forget that in the Democratic Programme for the First Dáil, the commitment was there to safeguard the health of the people.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Yet we have a position where we are being asked to accept an Order Paper that does not even accommodate or address in excess of €500 million in proposed cuts in health services over the coming 12 months. It is simply and absolutely unacceptable on top of all of the other cuts and continuous haemorrhage of services that we have witnessed——
The Taoiseach: The committees will return to the House on 7 January and be ongoing with their work. International trade missions will also be conducted by Ministers in an effort to secure and maintain jobs and keep markets open for products and services which are fundamental to the State.
A special sitting of the House is being suggested to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the First Dáil which will be in the Mansion House on 20 January. I look forward to it as it is an historic occasion.
I do not wish to reopen issues that have been dealt with already in Leaders’ Questions but on the whole question of underwriting, EGMs, share issues or prospectuses having to be drawn up, there is a range of issues that must be dealt with under company law before that comes about. The idea that it will all happen over Christmas is not the full picture of the procedures in the event of a recapitalisation taking place in the banks and how State participation in such an event would proceed.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Andrews, Chris.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Aylward, Bobby.||Blaney, Niall.|
|Brady, Áine.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Browne, John.|
|Byrne, Thomas.||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.|
|Fahey, Frank.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Flynn, Beverley.||Gallagher, Pat The Cope.|
|Gormley, John.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Kirk, Seamus.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McGuinness, John.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Nolan, M. J.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Brien, Darragh.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Hanlon, Rory.|
|O’Keeffe, Batt.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Treacy, Noel.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Bannon, James.||Barrett, Seán.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Clune, Deirdre.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Costello, Joe.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Creed, Michael.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Higgins, Michael D.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Perry, John.||Quinn, Ruairí.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Shatter, Alan.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sheehan, P. J.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: I would like the Government to respond by arranging a motion, statements or questions about the bank recapitalisation programme for this week or next Tuesday. I say this in all sincerity. It is necessary that the House has an opportunity to tease out the implications of the statements by the Minister for Finance and where the Government intends to go with the matter. Is it the Government’s intention to wait until the House returns in January to deal with legislation in terms of Dáil authorisation for the Government to use moneys from the pensions reserve fund for any capitalisation programme?
When is it proposed to give the House an opportunity to discuss the revised health programme as outlined and approved by the Minister for Health and Children, which was seen and announced to the nation by the national broadcaster?
The Taoiseach: Regarding the Deputy’s question on the recapitalisation issue, it is a matter for the Whips to discuss if people want statements. To hear the views of the House would be no harm and might be helpful. Some statements at some time during the week could be considered, but it is important to point out that timetables are involved. Depending on what type of recapitalisation were to emerge, various timetables apply in terms of rights issues. They are far longer than the House’s break for the Christmas period. I want to emphasise that the Government is in a negotiating position. Therefore, the question of statements might be helpful in that context, but we should not go beyond it at this point.
The HSE service plan is for 2009 and can be discussed at any time by the House in the course of 2009. There are statutory requirements for the laying of the plan before the Houses of the Oireachtas, which I understand were complied with by the Minister for Health and Children. Therefore, the agreement of a service plan does not of itself require a legislative change. Under existing legislation, it can be laid before the Houses and discussed during the course of the next session.
Deputy Joan Burton: I welcome the Taoiseach’s statement to the effect that time may be allowed for a discussion of the bank capitalisation proposal. It will send a solid signal to markets, namely, that the Government has some sense of what it wants to do. To wait until the end of January would be unbelievable.
Concerning promised legislation, the Tánaiste stated on 20 November that health insurance legislation would be introduced in the Dáil before the recess. When will we see the legislation? She stated that it would be published before Christmas, but we have not seen it. Will we see it in the coming days?
On the Order Paper, No. 8 is intended to commemorate the first sitting of the first Dáil. The Labour Party will be delighted to participate. In terms of the development of our democracy, was the Taoiseach not saddened by the forced resignation of Mr. Niall Crowley as the chief executive of the Equality Authority?
Deputy Joan Burton: As we are properly commemorating the development of our democracy and our first democratic day, it seems wrong that the Government is simultaneously forcing the resignation of the head of the Equality Authority, a person of integrity.
The Taoiseach: That matter requires the approval of the European Commission as well. We are in discussions at EU level on the proposals that we have so that we can introduce legislation. We were hopeful that we would have it before the end of this term, but it looks more likely that it will be early next year.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell: On today’s Order Paper, No. 18 refers to the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny’s report on the recovery of cod stocks. This morning, it was announced on RTE that there was an EU proposal to introduce fish quotas for anglers. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether the Government was aware of and will support this proposal?
Deputy Richard Bruton: I have read persistent rumours that the Government is planning additional tax proposals, notably in respect of research and development. We are proposing to debate the Finance Bill today and tomorrow. Will those proposals be introduced as part of it or are we to expect a second Bill in the new year, at which time they will be debated?
The Taoiseach: That would be a matter for the Minister for Finance to decide in due course. I have not been following the Finance Bill this year as closely I did in previous years, but I understand that it is a matter that can be discussed on Report Stage.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: This day last week in response to the 43rd brutal murder in the State since the beginning of the year, the Ceann Comhairle facilitated the asking of questions to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the House as to initiatives the Government might introduce to stop the spiral of killing and stem the tide of crime. Since then, there have been two further brutal murders and a hapless Minister of State——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must find another way to raise the matter. I allowed the question last week so that the matter could be discussed in the House within Standing Orders. For this reason, I cannot allow the issue this morning.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: On promised legislation, there have been two further brutal murders, one in this city and another in County Galway, since last week. In an unprecedented development, a hapless Minister of State——
Deputy Charles Flanagan: ——published the list of legislation to be published and enacted before the end of the session. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform’s section includes the criminal justice (forensic sampling evidence) Bill, the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, the criminal justice (money laundering) Bill and the sale of alcohol Bill. Why has none of this legislation been enacted and why has not a single one of these Bills been debated in the House since 23 September? None of them has been published.
By way of a further initiative, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised that a covert surveillance Bill would be published and debated before the end of this session, but there has been no sign of it. The Minister’s action in respect of it has certainly been more covert than anything else. It is important that we debate this matter before the end of the session. The Minister’s only response to the crime and murder taking place in the State has been to announce the general scheme of the criminal justice (public order)(amendment) Bill, which relates to vagrancy and is designed to prevent people begging on the streets in the run-up to Christmas. Will the Taoiseach indicate the proposals of the Government in respect of these Bills, which were promised last September?
The Taoiseach: I will go through the Bills to which the Deputy refers in detail. Dealing with violent crime and murder is an operational matter for the Garda Síochána. The force is devoting many of its resources to dealing with these matters and is enjoying much success in many respects. I do not wish to take away from the seriousness of the ongoing problem but it is not just a question of enacting legislation. A great deal of appropriate legislation has been enacted in recent years and has been of major assistance to the Garda Síochána in dealing with the matters to which I refer. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is committed to bringing forward further legislation.
Drafting is progressing in respect of the criminal justice (forensic sampling and evidence) Bill. In light of the need for further consultations on procedural and technical aspects, as well as the need to study the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights on 4 December last in the case of S and Marper v. UK on the retention, etc., of samples and profiles, it now seems unlikely that the Bill will be ready for publication before the end of January next. The reason for this is that we must ensure that we make provision in respect of the issue to which I refer. The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights is being examined by the Department and the Office of the Attorney General. Publication will take place sometime after the conclusion of this examination.
Drafting on the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It has been necessary to include some additional amendments to existing firearms provisions. However, it is expected that the Bill will be submitted to the Government for approval to publish in January.
Drafting is ongoing in respect of the criminal justice (money laundering) Bill. A number of legal and technical issues have arisen and these have delayed progress on completing the Bill. It is unlikely that the Bill will be available this session.
The text of the property services (regulatory) Bill is being finalised, subject to clearance by the Attorney General on some technical and legal aspects. Drafting of the text of the sale of alcohol Bill has been delayed because the Parliamentary Counsel charged with responsibility in this regard is also drafting the property services (regulatory) Bill. There are doubts that the text of the sale of alcohol Bill can be ready for publication this session. However, it should be ready for publication early in the next session.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I am seeking clarification from the Ceann Comhairle. The House may have been misinformed earlier today by the Minister for Health and Children, who stated that she laid the HSE’s national service plan before the Dáil on Wednesday last, 10 December. However, the plan is listed on today’s Order Paper and has only just become available from the Oireachtas Library. It was not available earlier this afternoon. Will the Ceann Comhairle indicate whether the Minister may have inadvertently misled the House in respect of the plan, which contains proposals for over €500 million in cuts to the health service? This is an extremely serious matter. If the plan was laid before the House on Wednesday last, it should have been available to Members before the Minister for Health and Children answered parliamentary questions in the House today.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I thank Deputy Jan O’Sullivan for highlighting the fact that the plan is now actually available to Members, which was not the case earlier today. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government will accommodate a debate on the contents of the service plan before the Christmas recess? Will he set aside time this week or make time available next week in order that we might discuss the €500 billion in cuts to the budget of the HSE for 2009? What is proposed will mean calamity for innocent individuals and already hard-pressed communities——
The Taoiseach: The service plan can be debated in the House at any time after the Christmas recess. More than €14.7 billion is being allocated in respect of the provision of health services next year. Engagement involving management and unions is taking place on the question of how greater flexibility might be obtained in respect of work practices. Such flexibility would avoid the necessity of introducing the sort of front line cuts that are being suggested. If one takes the position relating to nursing home payments into account, the underlying increase in next year’s budget for the health service will be approximately €580 million. It is not correct to state that €500 million less is being provided. The increase in next year’s budget is 3.2%.
The Taoiseach: I am also anxious to protect patients and to ensure that the necessary reforms, flexibilities and efficiencies in work practices will be forthcoming which will ensure that front line services are not affected to the extent indicated by the Deputies — who both assume there will be a “no change” situation.
Deputy James Bannon: It is over two weeks since the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill, which is an urgent measure, was debated in the House. Why was the Bill not placed on the Order Paper for this week or last week? When will the Second Stage debate on the Bill be resumed?
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: On the first issue to which Deputy Bannon referred, there is every possibility the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill — or, as the Minister for Health and Children refers to it, the fair deal scheme — will be challenged in the Supreme Court because it may be considered to be in conflict with our equality legislation on the basis that it is ageist. Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce a supplementary budget to ensure that people who have been put to the pin of their collars will obtain some relief——
Deputy Terence Flanagan: The Taoiseach referred briefly to No. 16 on the Government’s legislative programme. Will separate Bills be introduced in respect of the auctioneering profession and the regulation of property management companies? The Taoiseach stated that the legislation has almost been finalised. When will it be introduced? This matter has been the subject of some discussion for many years.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On the issue of property management companies, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment previously indicated to the House that the relevant legislation would be ready before Christmas. Given that there are only a couple of sitting days remaining in this session, will the Taoiseach provide an update in respect of the Bill?
The Taoiseach: We are progressing with drafting the legislation. As the Deputies are aware, various Departments are involved. Deputy Terence Flanagan also referred to the auctioneering profession. I understand it is the Minister’s intention to incorporate provisions relating to that matter in the property services regulatory authority Bill.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: When will the defence (amendment) Bill be ready for publication? When will the Government decide on whether the Defence Forces’ mission in Chad will be extended from April? Will it become a UNFOR or UNIFIL mission at that stage? I understand a decision in this regard must be made in the near future.
The Taoiseach: It is expected that the defence (amendment) Bill will be published in the middle of next year. The Minister for Defence will advise the Government in due course as to what our position should be in respect of the Chad mission.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The Taoiseach was much more specific in respect of the legislation relating to estate management when he last referred to it in the House. Will he indicate whether progress has been made on the Bill in the interim? Constituents of all Members are deeply concerned at the lack of action in this area and the number of Bills mounting up. Perhaps the Taoiseach will respond at this stage to that question.
The Taoiseach: Drafting in respect of various aspects of this legislation is continuing. The Deputy will be aware various Departments are involved. The priority is to get the drafting complete and having done so to make a decision as to whether it would be best to incorporate all the issues, which are interconnected, into one Bill. We must get on with the drafting in respect of the various aspects of this issue as it applies to various Departments. Once that has been done we can engage with the Attorney General in respect of whether it would be more expeditious to incorporate all the issues in an omnibus Bill or to proceed separately with the issues through the various departmental priorities.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I wish to ask about an issue already raised, although in a slightly different context. In view of the proposals announced by the Minister for Health and Children and released to the media in advance, will the Taoiseach say, if in view of the magnitude of the slash and burn cuts right across the board, the Government intends——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The legislation concerned is a Bill dealing with health and personal social services. Obviously, this will not be brought forward and will be abolished because there will be no services available. The health information Bill seeks to provide a legislative framework for the governance of information in the health sector. We do not even get such information in this House.
The Taoiseach: Other legislative proposals, including the nursing homes Bill and the legislation dealing with health insurance, which is an important matter, have had to be prioritised. Work on some of these Bills is continuing. The Minister for Health and Children has, in fairness, brought in more legislation to ensure uniform standards and eligibility rules in the aftermath of a variation of interpretations during the old health board era and must be given credit for doing so.
I do not accept the Deputy’s contention. I reiterate what I said earlier in response to other Deputies that the service plan includes €14.7 billion for the provision of health services in this country next year, a substantial amount of money. This sum is €580 million greater than that provided this year, taking into account the nursing home subvention provision. That is a substantial amount of money. It is being contended that without further work practice changes it will be difficult to maintain the type of service levels currently being provided. I believe, given the current economic situation facing this country, there is a duty on all of us to ensure we agree whatever must be agreed in this respect so that we do not affect front line services and patients’ access to such services.
A contribution of €14.7 billion by taxpayers is a considerable commitment and one that warrants that type of co-operation at hospital and service level. In fairness to those who represent workers in this area, I believe that co-operation will be forthcoming because of their commitment to the provision of a health service in line with current realities.
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