Thursday, 26 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 8a, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Regulation and for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a procedure for the negotiation and conclusion of bilateral agreements between member states and third countries; No. 8b, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Council Decision concerning the signing of the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway and for a Council Framework Decision on the application, between member states of the European Union, of the principle of mutual recognition to decisions on supervision measures as an alternative to provisional detention; No. 1, the Industrial Development Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Second Stage; and No. 13, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 8a and 8b shall be decided without debate.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: These are reasonably complex measures that the Minister is requiring us to refer to committee on Wednesday next and return to the House the following day. The Government is in possession of some of these tor three months. If we take, for example, the first one, the note says that the three-month period in respect of these proposals will expire on 12 April. Therefore, the Minister has been sitting on it for three months, yet now seeks to have it referred to committee next Wednesday and expects it back in the House the following day. This is part of a pattern in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and is not acceptable. It is not the way we should treat instruments such as this which have to be approved by the House.
The Tánaiste: I am sorry, if it is a matter of timing in terms of the committee not having sufficient time on Wednesday, I am sure the committee Chairman can facilitate further discussion and analysis if needs be.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: I wish to raise a point of order, Ceann Comhairle. The Tánaiste has misled the House about the content of the matter we have just dealt with in so far as she believes the committee could value our opinion in this regard. It is not a question of our opinion but rather the fact that this House has to pass it.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: It is not correct for the Tánaiste to put on the record of the House that this has been discussed for three months. It was concluded three months ago and is only being brought to the House, now. That is my point, so she is entirely wrong.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I should like to ask the Tánaiste a number of questions on the Order of Business. Will she say why the Defamation Bill has been lodged for ten months with the committee dealing with justice and related matters? The Bill was the result of agreement between the previous Taoiseach and the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and was initiated in the Seanad. It was passed by the Seanad and was introduced in the Dáil by the Minister’s predecessor. It passed Second Stage and has been in the committee without movement for the last ten months. Deputy Charles Flanagan raised this matter yesterday and I stress its importance because we do not want to see it being let drift again, when the Press Council report comes out next week. There is concern it might unravel completely and that there is now no cover for the publication of judgments given by the Press Council.
If she can, will the Tánaiste indicate that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will urge the Chairman of the committee to deal expeditiously with Committee Stage of the Defamation Bill? I hope it might be concluded by the summer. The agreement worked out in good faith should be followed through in good faith. For its part, the newspaper industry has abided by its end of the bargain but the Government has not yet followed through. Will the Tánaiste respond to that?
The Tánaiste: On the Defamation Bill, as the Ceann Comhairle knows, the Minister is bringing forward amendments in consultation with the Attorney General and they will be brought to committee in due course.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Kenny will have to resume his seat because I am not going into that nonsense at all. The Deputy should stop it. That is for The Dandy or such like. I call the Tánaiste on the Defamation Bill.
Deputy Joan Burton: That is all I will say on that. Yesterday we welcomed the opening of the talks with the trade unions. I do not know if the Tánaiste is aware but there are proposals for a serious bus strike in Dublin starting on Monday.
Deputy Joan Burton: On St. Patrick’s Day the Minister for Finance did an interview with the Financial Times in which he promised to restrict crony directorship practices through the immediate introduction of legislation. He referred to the many incestuous relationships in Irish banking and how it had brought down the banks in this country. He said the matter would be before the Cabinet as a matter of urgency. Will the Tánaiste advise the House when this legislation dealing with crony capitalism in Ireland and incestuous relationships, as the Minister described them, in Irish business circles will be addressed in legislation?
The Tánaiste: The regulation of financial institutions legislation will be brought before Cabinet very soon. Once it is signed off by the Cabinet, it will be brought to the House. On the bus strike, CIE is available to enter negotiations and the industrial relations mechanisms are always available.
Deputy Liz McManus: I have a question on legislation. We are coming up to 1 April and no doubt a few practical jokes will be played. Since they normally add to the gaiety of the nation, which we need, I hope the media might take the opportunity to tell us about them. The national broadcaster had to grovel——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In light of the fact the Government has acceded to the request of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, will it now suspend the implementation of the sections of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 which imposed the so-called public service pension levy? Does the Tánaiste not accept that the engagements currently underway will be meaningless unless that step is taken, that it is critical that the public service pension levy is addressed at the negotiations and that the Government suspends those measures of that Act? Will she advise if those steps will be taken and if new legislation will be required and will she indicate where the Government now stands in light of this engagement on this matter?
Deputy Seymour Crawford: When will the mental incapacity Bill and the mental health (amendment) Bill be brought before the House? In light of the mismanagement of financial services, when will the financial services regulation Bill come before the House?
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government promised he would introduce significant planning legislation before the local elections to deal with issues such as urban sprawl and unsustainable planning. There are only about nine weeks left before the local elections. When will the Bill be published?
Deputy Róisín Shortall: I would like to ask the Tánaiste about two matters. The Tánaiste said she is committed to introducing legislation to address the request from the Director of Corporate Enforcement for amendments to existing legislation to strengthen his powers. What is the current status of that legislation and when can we expect to see it in the House?
What is the status of the covered institutions oversight committee report from the committee to inquire into remuneration in financial institutions? Does the Government accept its findings? If so, does it intend to legislate to close the loophole which is allowing for abuses of pension regulations, as have been uncovered in financial institutions? When can we expect to see such legislation?
The Tánaiste: The first piece of legislation is from my own Department and I will bring it to Government next week, with a view to having it on the floor of the House as quickly as possible. Regarding the second matter, the Government made its decision and has instructed the financial institutions to abide by it.
Deputy Róisín Shortall: That is not what I asked. My question is whether the Government accepts the CIROC report. If so, does it intend to legislate to close the loophole which has been identified which allows abuses of pension regulations?
The Tánaiste: The Government did not accept all the recommendations and made its own determination as to what it thought was fitting and appropriate. That view has been expressed and given to all of the members of the financial institutions and they have been requested to abide by the Government decision.
Deputy Róisín Shortall: The committee report recommended that pension regulations in the financial institutions be reviewed because of the abuses it uncovered. Does the Tánaiste intend to tackle that issue?
The Tánaiste: I was asked if the Government accepted all of the recommendations of the report. The answer is “No”. The Government made its own decisions as to what remuneration it thought was appropriate. Investigations will be carried out on other issues and if it is necessary to introduce new legislation, that will be forthcoming.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The Taoiseach appeared to be somewhat hurt yesterday when I raised the question of various items of proposed legislation under the Office of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. In view of the fact that there is such a plethora of legislation promised, when is it intended to process the legislation through the House? Crime is a serious issue in this country at the current time. It has not gone away and it is a serious matter which needs attention. Is it intended to extract any one of the proposed pieces of legislation and bring it before the House, as a matter of urgency, with a view to combatting the ongoing serious levels of crime, particularly organised crime, in this country?
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: That is not adequate. I will ask the question again. Might it be possible for the Government, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to set out a priority list? The current list has been published for the last three or four years. The issue has been anticipated for three or four years, and some for a longer period. Crime continues.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The question concerns the Tánaiste’s own Department. Legislation is promised by her Department as well. The collective investment schemes (consolidation) Bill, which I presume is urgent given the present climate, is expected to be published in 2010. That is not urgent. It is stated that it is not possible to indicate when the consumer and competition Bill, a very important Bill, will be published. The transfer of undertakings (pensions) Bill, a very sensitive and pertinent issue at the present time, is to provide a statutory basis for the transposition of the operational pensions provision of the transfer of undertakings EU directive. It is stated that it is not possible to indicate at this stage when publication is expected.
The Tánaiste: The Deputy has answered the question himself. I have prioritised legislation within my own Department. One Bill, the Industrial Development Bill 2008, will come before the House today. We also have the compliance Bill, where I have asked all Members of the House to give of their views. There is also legislation on agency, which must be passed. I have prioritised those as the three most important Bills within my own Department. A consolidation Bill on company law, which will take a considerable period of time, is the other priority.
The collective investment schemes (consolidation) Bill will be addressed next year. The consumer and competition Bill will be drafted when I have brought to finality my views as to what legislation measures need to be completed to amalgamate the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority. I have not yet decided when the transfer of undertakings (pensions) Bill will be addressed, on the basis of other priorities within my own Department.
Deputy James Reilly: ——today states that €1.4 million was paid to two HSE advisors since 2005. At a time when children are being deprived of cervical cancer vaccines and the elderly are having their medical cards taken from them, it appears there is one rule for the upper echelons of this society——
Deputy James Reilly: This matter concerns transport. SR Technics goes to the wall tomorrow and its equipment will be auctioned. Will IDA Ireland take any action under the issue of the air navigation transport pre-clearance Bill? I am sorry the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey has left the Chamber because he knew about this last November and has left 1,100 workers high and dry.
The Tánaiste: There was a considerable amount of public consultation on the health information Bill. The Department is working towards finalising the heads of the Bill and it is expected in April. On the criminal justice legislation, there are three amendment Bills and I am not sure to which one the Deputy is referring.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: We have been promised secondary legislation for some years in regard to wards of courts. Is there any proposal to bring forward that legislation? The current system is antiquated and people are facing great difficulty in accessing the courts in view of the downturn in the value of shares and so on. It is time for a review of the system.
Deputy James Bannon: When can we expect the national monuments Bill to be brought before the House? Many of our national monuments, which are of great interest to tourists, are falling into dreadful disrepair. The legislation has not been updated or amended since the 1930s.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: A report was brought before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government this week which shows that in excess of 3,000 affordable homes are currently vacant and unsold. Committee members were told that this figure is expected to increase to more than 4,000 by the end of the year. There are many reasons for this, one of which is the downturn in the housing market. However, a particular aspect of the problem is that the banks are sending out valuers to these properties whose valuations are——
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: The valuers are putting the value of these properties at less than the prices sought by local authorities. In the context of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008, which is currently on Second Stage in this House, does the Minister intend to bring forward amendments that will facilitate a situation whereby local authorities can go back to developers and renegotiate costs in order to ensure that these homes can be sold to those seeking to purchase them at an affordable cost?
Deputy Emmet Stagg: My colleague, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, referred to the wards of court system. The banks have effectively been gambling with the money given to them on behalf of the wards of courts, and that money has been lost through an agency in the Bank of Ireland. Will the State introduce legislation to ensure the money that is there for the survival of these people is restored by the State given that the courts have gambled the money away through investing it or giving it to an agency to invest?
Most management companies are owned by builders and developers, some of whom are now broke as a consequence of their excessive greed. These management companies were like milch cows for developers, offering an additional source of profits. They seem to have been invented by a small group of developers and they caught on like mushrooms growing in the dark. People are now in a situation where they cannot sell their houses even if they can find a buyer because there is a lien on the title deed which requires them to make payments to a management company that no longer exists. The urgency of this situation is greater than ever. We have been pestering the Government for the past four or five years to introduce legislation. Will some effort be made to bring forward that promised legislation in the next session?
Deputy Joe Costello: It was reported yesterday that the three main Irish banks have negotiated an allocation of €300 million from the European Investment Bank for the purpose of providing credit to small and medium-sized enterprises and that this money is likely to be introduced into the system over the next 18 months. This allocation merely represents the tip of the iceberg. Some €30 billion is available but it has taken the banks six months to get €300 million.
An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on this issue on the Order of Business. The Deputy should have raised this matter during yesterday’s pre-budget statements. Has he a question that is in order?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister for Finance will answer parliamentary questions in the House this afternoon. I strongly suggest that rather than labouring the point now, the Deputy should ask the Minister about it later.
Deputy Enda Kenny: With all the turbulence surrounding my first question to the Tánaiste, I did not hear her reply as to when Committee Stage of the Defamation Bill 2006 will begin. Is it likely that the Government will have to introduce legislation in view of the report received from Mr. Peter Bacon regarding proposals to establish a bank to deal with toxic assets?
The Tánaiste: I tried to answer the Deputy’s question twice. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in consultation with the Attorney General on the preparation of further amendments to that legislation. He hopes to have dealt with it as quickly as possible so that it can proceed to Committee Stage. There is no legislation promised on the second matter.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I will take up the Ceann Comhairle’s offer to ask the Minister for Finance later today about a small company who sought to raise €30,000 from the Bank of Ireland for four weeks in order to undertake two blue chip contracts and was refused. The money to which Deputy Costello referred is, among other moneys, supposed to be available for lending to business. However, I will observe the Ceann Comhairle’s strictures on this matter.
A third Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has taken office since a definite commitment was given in this House that legislation on management companies would be introduced. The current Minister is supposed to bring forward the legislation. There is an added urgency to this because, as Deputy Stagg observed, some of these companies are going bankrupt. Did I hear the Tánaiste say that the Minister will bring the legislation before the House in the next term?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: When will the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008, which has made its way through the Seanad, come into the House? Port and harbour authorities are waiting for that legislation to be brought forward and discussed thoroughly in this House.
When will the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment be in a position to make an announcement about the future of SR Technics? Last night, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern, misled the House and came close to——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I am saying that the Minister of State substantially misled this House. Given that the Minister for Transport definitely knew in early November of the impending closure of the company——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has been allowed to raise this matter twice on the Adjournment. He cannot raise it on the Order of Business. He and the Tánaiste had five months to do something about this.
The Tánaiste: The harbours legislation was passed by the Seanad and is awaiting Second Stage in the House. It will be a matter for discussion among the Whips. The other issue has been discussed on a number of occasions and I have briefed members of both my own party and the Opposition. There is still much ongoing work and the premise of the discussion is to secure as many jobs as possible.
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