Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 7, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Regional Planning Guidelines) Regulations 2009 — back from committee; No. 8, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the partnership and co-operation agreement between the European Communities and Turkmenistan — back from committee; No. 9, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; and No. 12, statements on the challenges facing the health services. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 7, 8 and 9 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 12 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of 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 immediately following the statements a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 49, motion re unemployment.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 7, 8 and 9 without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12 agreed? Agreed.
The Taoiseach: The Cabinet will meet again in the morning to finalise the arrangements for the budget, including the date. It could be in early April, as I said. A finance Bill will probably be required as well.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It has been mentioned in despatches that 2 April is the date of the budget. If it takes place in early April, there are not many options for dates. I can understand why the Taoiseach would not want to introduce the budget on 1 April. If it does not take place on 2 April, then it will take place the week before Christmas.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I mean Easter. This economic recession is having an awful effect. I get confused with the equinox. When will the Dáil debate on the budget take place if it is presented to us in Easter week?
At the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis on Friday night last, the Taoiseach announced a reduction in the maximum amounts that could be contributed to political parties and in the amounts which were to be declared. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government reannounced the same proposals last weekend. There is an electoral Bill before the House that is due for debate tomorrow and Thursday. However, the proposals for that debate are being restricted by guillotines and so on. The Labour Party intends to submit an amendment to that Bill to give effect to the announcement that the Taoiseach made at his Ard-Fheis. We are doing this in order to be helpful and to get the legislative process moving. There is clearly agreement from the Government on this, so I do not see how it can be contentious. During the debate on that Bill, will the Taoiseach ensure sufficient time will be allowed for taking and hopefully agreeing that amendment?
The Taoiseach: That matter will have to be considered by the Minister in the normal course in respect of any Opposition amendments brought forward, or whether he can bring forward any Government amendment in time for the enactment of the Bill. It should be brought forward and enacted in a timely manner before any elections or referenda, which is the objective of the exercise.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I am glad to hear the Taoiseach say that. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is in agreement with this anyway. There should be no problem, so we will see how it goes.
The Taoiseach: I indicated last week, when the Exchequer returns were published, that we would take whatever decisions necessary this month and that we would have a budget during the first week of April. I indicated that this was our reaction to the deterioration that had occurred. The Minister for Finance will now come to the Cabinet. Budget issues will be discussed tomorrow morning, as we were dealing with other matters in the Cabinet today, and the Minister for Finance will set out his timeline. We will agree to it then and will announce it afterwards.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: A second budget in the year is not normal. This is a serious matter. We all accept that the public finances are in a serious state. The timeframe is fairly short. The options for the budget date are very limited, as it will either be on 2 April, 8 April or 9 April. Which is it? This is not an academic question. Given the fact that Easter is falling around this time, there are implications for the budget date and on our debate on it. We normally have a week’s debate or more after a budget is announced. If the budget takes place on 2 April, we presumably will have a budget debate going right up to the Easter break. If it is left until Easter week, that raises questions about the arrangements made for a debate in the House on the budgetary measures.
I do not think it would be acceptable to the public that the Government would introduce a budget a couple of days before Easter, following which the House would go into recess, with no debate on the budget.
The Taoiseach: Of course there will be a debate on the budget. There is no big issue about this. The Cabinet will meet in the morning and fix the date for the budget. I indicated that it will be the first week of April. The Minister for Finance will bring the proposal before the Cabinet in the normal way. It will be adopted by the Cabinet and notification will take place accordingly. We will obviously have a debate after the budget is announced.
Deputy Denis Naughten: I raised with the Taoiseach last week the new Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act which has become law in the US and which has major implications for Ireland. The Taoiseach had information last week about a previous Bill, but given that this means that US corporations here will be taxed twice, could the Taoiseach ensure that our concerns are brought to the attention of the US authorities when he meets them next week?
Deputy Joe Costello: This means that he is moving the national drugs strategy into the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and abolishing the entire multi-agency, community based structure that has been put in place over a dozen years. This is radical change. Will legislation be introduced to enable that to happen?
Deputy Liz McManus: As in preceding weeks, Report Stage of the Broadcasting Bill 2008 has not been included on this week’s schedule. Is this an indication that the Government will do the right thing and adopt a policy where there will be one regulator in the area of communications? It would be preferable to having two parallel organisations which is not only going to be costly but which will create inefficiencies at a time when there is a convergence of technologies which requires only one regulator.
Deputy Brian O’Shea: Tá an toghchán le haghaidh bord Údarás na Gaeltachta le tionóladh i mí Aibreán 2010. Tá reachtaíocht geallta chun teorainneacha na Gaeltachta a athrú agus chun sain mhíniú nua a dhéanamh ar cad is Gaeltacht ann. Tá Bille Údarás na Gaeltachta geallta freisin. An mbeidh an Bille sin foilsithe in am chun toghchán don bhord, bunaithe ar na teorainneacha agus an sain mhíniú nua, a éascú?
The Taoiseach: D’éist mé an tseachtain seo caite le díospóireacht, le linn ceisteanna parlaiminte, idir an Teachta agus an tAire ar na hábhair seo. Cheap mé go raibh sé soiléir, má tá gá le reachtaíocht nua chun na hathruithe a chur i bhfeidhm, go bhfuil go leor ama againn chun é sin a dhéanamh.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Ar an ábhar céanna, tá sé ar an liosta go dtógfar isteach Bille Údarás na Gaeltachta chun cúraimí agus feidhmeanna an udaráis a athrú agus a leathnú. An bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas aon rud a dhéanamh faoi sin i saol an Rialtais seo?
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: An athróidh feidhmeanna agus cumhachtaíÚdarás na Gaeltachta, taobh amuigh des na teorainneacha a n-úsáidfí sna toghcháin? Tá an Bille úd ar an liosta. Bíonn sé ann i gcónaí. It is like an old kernel there. Labhrann an tAire faoi. An bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas aon rud a dhéanamh faoi feidhmeanna agus cúraimíÚdarás na Gaeltachta, i gcomhréir leis an liosta reachtaíochta, i saol an Rialtais seo, nó an sórt cur i gcéill atá i gceist?
The Taoiseach: Tuigim go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Aire an Bille a úsáid chun na cumhachtaí agus na feidhmeanna atá ag an Údarás a athrú, mar a dúirt an Teachta, i gcomhthéacs an staidéar teangeolaíochta atáá dhéanamh ar an nGaeltacht agus an obair atá ar bun ag grúpa d’oifigigh sinsearach agus an coiste Rialtais ar an nGaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. Tá an Bille ag fanacht ar thorthaí na hoibre atá ar bun ag an gcoiste Rialtais. Bhí díospóireacht den tsórt sin ag na hurlabhraí sa Roinn an tseachtain seo caite.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: An ever increasing number of people are becoming unemployed, some for the first time, and facing difficulties that they had not anticipated. This includes some who have been self-employed. Such people have concerns regarding qualification for a social welfare payment. Is it possible to introduce the relevant legislation to the House in order to debate the areas relevant to means testing? A Bill is proposed, but it is not possible to indicate when it will be published at this stage. Given the present climate, it is important to introduce the Bill to the House at the earliest date with a view to easing the burden on those people. I refer to the social welfare lone parent and other low income families reform Bill.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: In that context it is fitting to consider the very good news in our constituency today from Hewlett Packard and I congratulate all concerned, including the Tánaiste, for the announcement of 1,000 new jobs in Leixlip.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Unfortunately, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the opposite, that is, the loss of 1,100 jobs. When will it be possible for the Tánaiste to report to the Dáil on her rescue plan or efforts to get a rescue plan for the SR Technics facility? It is of great interest to many Deputies in the House. There are four northside Ministers of State——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Ceann Comhairle will facilitate me, but the Tánaiste must come before the House. Some very bad redundancy terms were announced today. It appears the pension scheme is in danger.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Given the presence in the House of the Minister for Health and Children, is the Government contemplating legislation that would provide for the transfer or redeployment of the surplus management staff in the HSE to other sectors of the public service, such as education, rather than the present alternative mooted, which is a fairly expensive up-front redundancy package?
The Taoiseach: The question of examining the possibility of redeployment as distinct from voluntary redundancy or voluntary early retirement is being examined by the committee set up to consider public service numbers. The Minister for Finance has instructed the committee to work on this matter. It has been dealing with approximately eight Departments to date. It is an issue that we could investigate when the times comes to deal with the agency concerned.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I thought the Ceann Comhairle looked down benignly at me, but he was obviously looking through me. I refer to the forthcoming budget. Normally at this time of year we would have access to detailed tax forecasts from the Department showing what is likely to be raised under different tax heads. This has not yet been furnished to the House. Normally, we would also have the Revised Estimates volume. Given the Budget Statement was two months early last year one would have expected this document to be published in February. Although the Budget Statement was published in October we have not yet seen the document for this year. Will we see these documents ahead of the budget, in order that the House can make an informed opinion on the direction of the public finances?
The Taoiseach: Deputy Bruton will be aware that a good deal of emergency legislation has been introduced to the House in the new year. This has been important work and has been done in many cases with the constructive assistance of the Deputy. The Minister for Finance indicated some time ago that the Revised Estimates volume, in the absence of another budget which must now be considered, would be issued in mid-March. My understanding is that will not now occur in the context of the supplementary budget he is now preparing and that he will work off the abridged Estimates for the moment.
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