Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the establishment of “Eurodac” for the comparison of fingerprints (back from committee); No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the member state responsible for examining an application for international protection (back from committee); No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision on the establishment of the European Criminal Records Information System, ECRIS, (back from committee); and No. 23, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m; Nos. 11, 12 and 13 shall be decided without debate; and the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 23 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight 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 Finance. Private Members’ business shall be No. 60, motion re banking system (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
Deputy Enda Kenny: It is not that I want to disagree but this proposal seeks approval by the Dáil of these three motions back from committee. Will there be an opportunity for the House at some stage to discuss these motions because they are important? I am aware they are agreed by the committee but will they be discussed in this House?
The Taoiseach: The purpose of having the committee system is that issues such as these, which are quite specialised and specific, are discussed in committee. The urgency is for them to be agreed before the justice and home affairs committee meeting scheduled for the end of the month. We are looking for them to be referred back from committee for today and therefore we need to adopt them formally in plenary session.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: On a point of order, it is important that when matters like this are being discussed at the committees, there should be a mechanism for notice to be given at the discussion in committee that the matter may require a plenary scrutiny. I believe that would help. I have no difficulty with these ones but we should facilitate it if the matter goes beyond what is a technical issue.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Labour Party does not agree to this proposal, which is that all of the remaining Stages of the Bill dealing with the so-called pension levy in the public service should be guillotined at 10.30 p.m. tonight. There are a number of reasons we are opposing the guillotine. First, there are 51 amendments that have to be considered and there will not be sufficient time to consider them in the time that has been allowed.
Second, the Government, and the Minister for Finance in particular, has indicated on a number of occasions that there would be some tweaking of the pension levy. None of the amendments tabled by the Minister for Finance provide for any such tweaking. The amendments tabled by the Minister are purely of a technical and drafting nature. I know that many Members on the Government benches who would have been seeking to give some comfort to their constituents in the past few weeks would seek to get at least some minor changes made in the levy. That is not provided for in these amendments and if the Bill passes, as is the Government’s intention, at 10.30 p.m. tonight, any changes which would have to be made subsequently to the pension levy, that is, either changes sought by members of the Government side or changes which might be negotiated afterwards with trade unions, would have to be the subject of separate legislation brought before the House.
This proposal is providing for a situation where the passing of the legislation will make the pension levy a done deal which would then not be amenable to amendment and will be presented, presumably, by the Government as something that has been enacted by the House. In those circumstances, the Labour Party cannot agree to a guillotine of this debate at 10.30 p.m. tonight.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I, too, wish to object to the taking of this legislation by guillotining all remaining Stages by 10.30 p.m. tonight. The Bill, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill, is misnamed. It proposes to introduce a public services pension levy. It is not a levy in respect of public service pensions but a tax on public service, which is totally objectionable.
What the Taoiseach is proposing to do is further close down one of the critical areas that must be addressed if we are to see true national partnership in operation once again. The Taoiseach said earlier this morning that everything must be on the table. Everything must be on the table regarding this proposition by the Government and the devastating consequences it spells out for people in public service across all areas, from nurses to gardaí, teachers and all of the various sectors——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——including people in service within this institution. This is completely wrong. The Government is driving legislation through the House that will spell serious outcomes for families who are already stretched beyond belief. It should be withdrawn immediately.
The Taoiseach: First, this is an urgent matter. The Bill needs to be enacted so that it can be brought into effect from 1 March. Second, we have indicated the reasoning behind it and the options that were available to Government. Third, the suggestion that all this should be withdrawn and held back would serve to indicate both at home and abroad that we were not prepared to make the necessary adjustments which clearly are the minimum in present circumstances that are required. Fourth, with regard to the suggestion of tweaking or whatever in regard to the levy itself, when asked that question at the time of its announcement I said we were not closing our minds to looking at things, but on the basis of the €1.4 billion being provided for within the context of the levy. No such proposal has been forthcoming in that respect.
It has also been made clear that it is not possible to deal with this issue, nor would it be possible for people to deal with this issue in isolation from the wider framework which could provide for a basis for an agreement were negotiations to be resumed or were a basis to be found upon which negotiations could be resumed, and I have already spoken on that matter earlier.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|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.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Flynn, Beverley.|
|Gallagher, Pat The Cope.||Gogarty, Paul.|
|Gormley, John.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Hanafin, Mary.||Harney, Mary.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Kitt, Tom.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Lenihan, Conor.|
|Lowry, Michael.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||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’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Mary.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Behan, Joe.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Coonan, Noel J.|
|Costello, Joe.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||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.|
|McHugh, Joe.||McManus, Liz.|
|Mitchell, Olivia.||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.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sheehan, P. J.||Sherlock, Seán.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Upton, Mary.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: I have two questions for the Taoiseach. I suggested this morning that the Taoiseach might ask the NTMA to call the banks together to put in place a strategy to deal with the current situation. That might be something he should consider in view of ongoing concerns.
In view of the fact that the HSE is attempting to cut €1 billion off its budget for this year, I give the Taoiseach notice that I have asked my party’s Whip to seek at the Whips meeting this evening that the Government provide adequate time next week for a debate on the human consequences of the scale of what is involved.
The Taoiseach: On the first matter, the National Treasury Management Agency has a continuing responsibility and is in constant contact with all the relevant institutions, including the Department of Finance, on these matters and the Minister of Finance is directing work in that area on an ongoing basis.
The second matter is being considered by the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children. It is important to point out that over €14.7 billion is being spent on health services this year, an increase, taking account of the nursing homes repayment scheme, of €580 million compared to last year.
It is a question of seeing what way budgets can be continued with on the basis of pressures relating to a reduced health levy, higher unemployment, the higher number of medical cards that will emerge as a result of the worsening economic situation and the other issues that obviously bring pressures to bear on budgets, in addition to other matters. The full gamut of pressures that are arising must be addressed by the HSE.
Deputy Kenny speaks about the consequences, but the consequences of not maintaining budgets is another issue that we must take into account also. Considerable savings in terms of value for money were found last year, totalling €280 million, which continue into this year. In its service plan, the HSE is seeking a further €250 million. It requires co-operation and assistance from everybody in the health service to meet this challenge. I ask in that context that we see the Health Service Executive supported in trying to maintain health services within the allocations we provided, given the deteriorating financial situation in which we find ourselves.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I support Deputy Kenny’s request for a debate in the House next week on the implications of the cut in the health service budget for next year. It has already been stated that this will affect front line services. We need to debate that in the House and I hope the Government would agree to the request from the Opposition parties for a debate next week.
Several Ministers have stated in recent days that it is their wish and intention that people who have been involved in wrongdoing in the banks be identified, punished, etc. However, the Government seems to be moving very slowly on a number of items of legislation dealing with white collar crime. There was a European Union agreement in 2003 on combating corruption, particularly in the private sector, while the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 has been moving slowly through the House — it is on Committee Stage. What is the Government’s intention regarding progressing that Bill?
The 2005 money laundering directive, which was agreed by the European Union, has not yet been transposed into Irish law. I understand it is now the subject of an approach by the Commission to the European courts because of the Government’s failure to bring in the legislation to give effect to it. When will that legislation be introduced?
The Taoiseach: I understand that legislation on the money laundering directive is due during the course of the next session and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 has been referred to committee for further discussion and progression.
On the issues under investigation, the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2004, which amended previous Acts of 1942 and subsequently, and the companies legislation, comprehensively set out those areas for which there would be legal sanction in the event of that being deemed appropriate by the independent investigative authorities, which are proceeding with that process.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I wish to ask about the legislation to amend the NORA Act 2007 to provide for the establishment of a national bio-fuels obligation scheme and also to provide for amendments to the Act in light of the developments to facilitate NORA’s ongoing activities. This relates to the energy area. I saw the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources there a few moments ago, but he must have disappeared again.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Will the Taoiseach inform the House if it is possible to introduce the Bill as a matter of urgency in order that we can discuss high fuel prices? Prices at the pumps and for home heating oil are still almost as high as when oil was more than $100 a barrel, even though it now costs $38 per barrel.
Deputy Paul Connaughton: Will the Taoiseach tell the House if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has brought the file on the European Union habitats directive on the 32 raised bogs to the Cabinet? We sincerely hope it will not lead to thousands of turf cutters being driven off the bogs of Ireland. Has a decision been made? The Taoiseach represents a constituency with a large number of bogs, as I do, which perhaps qualifies us as two bog men.
The Taoiseach: I am just about to bring it to the Deputy’s attention; I was giving some background information because there are others who are not as acquainted with the habitats directive as the Deputy and me. Correspondence has been forwarded to Deputies in the House who have raised the matter by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, stating the Department, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is considering the appropriate legislative and procedural response to a judgment of the European Court of Justice on the implementation of the directive on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment with respect to certain classes of agricultural development. There are no proposals to bring forward further legislation regarding the designation of bogs and the banning of turf cutting on them.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: A day is a long time in politics. Yesterday on the Order of Business I sought to raise the need to address the HSE’s signalled €1 billion in cuts in health spending in the current year.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Ceann Comhairle threatened me with the door then but he had no such difficulty with Fine Gael and the Labour Party making the point on the Order of Business this morning.
In the context of the signalled further contraction of funding for the provision of health delivery systems in the State, when is it intended to bring forward the long awaited eligibility for health and personal services Bill? There has been no explanation from the Department or the Taoiseach for its continued deferral.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I listened to the Tánaiste this morning speaking about the desire for light regulation in recent years whereas now we are looking for enforced regulation. She was perhaps inadvertently referring exclusively to financial regulation. The matter about which many complain is the incomprehensibility of labour law legislation on the Statute Book. The Government promised to bring forward a consolidation Bill to remove the inherent contradictions in labour law. What progress has been made with that Bill?
A factor in the defeat of the first Lisbon treaty referendum was the perception that there had been an erosion of workers’ rights, particularly the right to negotiate through a trade union. This was not imposed from Brussels, but it is a matter of domestic concern following a court judgment. We have six months before the probable date of a referendum; therefore, the Government cannot blame anyone but itself if it cannot clear up this mess. When will we see the legislation arising from these judgments and when will it be enacted? Can I receive an assurance that if it is not done before Easter, it will certainly be done before June?
The Taoiseach: That is what the Tánaiste would like to achieve in terms of the legislative timeframe she has in mind for the legislation. I am not aware of the stage the purported consolidation of labour law Bill has reached.
Deputy Joe Costello: On the temporary agency workers directive from Brussels that the Government opposed for many years, now that it has gone through and we must implement it within three years, will the Taoiseach and Tánaiste ensure it is brought forward in order that it will be in place before the referendum?
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that matter; it must be dealt with by another method. The Taoiseach can answer on the first issue. The Deputy knows the second is not in order and that he must find another way to raise it.
The Taoiseach: It would not be realistic to expect legislation on the first issue to be enacted before the referendum. A consultation process with the social partners is necessary. We have a voluntary industrial relations policy in the State and trying to secure agreement between the partners on the issue would be an important consideration.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I welcome the indication from the Government that we may be given time to discuss service cutbacks promised by the HSE because of the cutback in its budget. I tried to raise the issue with Deputy Ó Caoláin yesterday.
The House established the Health Information and Quality Authority with support from all sides. It is now drawing up standards for homes for the elderly and people with disabilities. These standards are not yet ready but already the HSE is using them to close homes for the elderly around the country and people with disabilities in the Dublin area. In counties Carlow, Waterford, Wicklow, Cork and other areas elderly people are being put out of their homes because these standards are coming down the line.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Does the Government stand over the fact that the HSE, instead of upgrading these facilities, is using the forthcoming standards literally in order to put elderly people and people with disabilities out of their homes?
The Taoiseach: There were standards sought in this House for the purpose of ensuring that we had adequate provision for people who are held under care or supervision. We have to apply those, obviously.
The Taoiseach: There are issues arising in relation to the deteriorating economic situation and its effect on funding the health service, including these health levies and the increased cost of providing medical cards and drugs in demand-led schemes. This has to be managed. Is it the contention of the Labour Party spokesperson that all health services should simply be demand-led and that we should just proceed and pay whatever it is?
The Taoiseach: ——and agreed unanimously by everybody in this House at the time, that the service plan provision was the best way in which we could try to build year-on-year a health service that was sustainable in terms of its budgets. Every time an issue arises, however, people wish to oppose that which is the fundamental basis of the legislation that was introduced in the first place.
Deputy James Bannon: In so far as any assurances can be believed by this Government, the legislative programme assures us that the qualifications, education and training Bill will be published in 2010. In light of the growing unrest in the third level sector, can the Bill be brought forward and published this year?
Deputy Simon Coveney: Three weeks ago the Taoiseach and his Minister promised an energy price review as a priority measure in Government. Last week, I tried to ask the Tánaiste about the status of that review and whether there was to be regulation or secondary legislation on that. The Irish regulator must be the only one in Europe who is keeping prices artificially high.
Deputy Simon Coveney: If the Ceann Comhairle will let me finish, both the ESB and Bord Gáis are seeking to reduce their prices but are not being allowed to do it, by regulation. There is a problem because we have a Minister who seems to think there is an advantage in keeping prices artificially high. I believe the Government genuinely wants to try to reduce domestic and industrial energy prices. Will the Taoiseach please ensure that the energy price review happens quickly? We could make a decision tomorrow that would allow the ESB to compete aggressively with Bord Gáis in the electricity sector, as well as Bord Gáis doing the same in the gas sector.
The Taoiseach: The competitiveness issue is an important one. We have indicated to the regulator the need to conduct a review, which is taking place with all parties in this sector with a view to seeing in what way we can ensure that energy prices will be more competitive than is currently the case, vis-à-vis those with whom we are trading. That must be done in the context of the existing regulatory framework. It is being conducted as a matter of urgency.
Deputy Liz McManus: The question was when it will be completed. Perhaps the Taoiseach can answer that. I have questions on two pieces of legislation. Yesterday, I asked the Taoiseach not to proceed with the Broadcasting Bill. He suggested that I should table an amendment which, with all due respect to the Taoiseach, is not an adequate response to what is needed, particularly in the current economic situation. In light of the communications (regulation) Bill, will the Taoiseach ensure that we do not establish another quango, but that we will have one regulator for the telecommunications and broadcasting sector?
Deputy Liz McManus: That is one question. The other question concerns postal services. This morning the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources had a meeting with An Post. The EU directive that requires liberalisation of the market has serious implications for such services, particularly in rural Ireland. It would clearly require legislation, which is long overdue. I do not think we have had proper postal legislation since independence. Are we to have legislation on our postal services that meets the needs of the 21st century?
The Taoiseach: I do not believe any of that has been promised as yet, as far as I am aware. As regards the other matter, before the second piece of communications legislation comes before the House for consideration, there will be many opportunities for the Deputy to bring her views to the Minister’s attention through parliamentary questions and otherwise.
Deputy Joan Burton: What progress, if any, has been made to bring forward legislation on management companies? The situation is deteriorating rapidly. There are apartment blocks where only three or four apartments have been sold.
Deputy Joan Burton: Does the Taoiseach have any idea when this legislation is coming in? Will the Taoiseach clarify the amending Bill for the national pension reserve fund and the €7 billion for Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland? Is that legislation being published today and when does he expect it to come before the House?
Deputy Michael Creed: Last but not least, the legislation before the House today provides a legal framework for the State unilaterally to tear up a contract with farmers under the farm waste management scheme. In a reply to a parliamentary question yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food confirmed that 40% of the moneys would be paid in 2009. My question to the Taoiseach is in respect of the Estimate for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which provides only €125 million for farm waste management.
Deputy Michael Creed: With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I will ask a question that is relevant to the Order of Business. The Estimate provides for only €125 million under farm waste management. It requires in the region of €230 million to facilitate a payment of 40%. I think the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would confirm that that figure is about correct. Will there be a Supplementary Estimate to deal with this matter in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
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