Thursday, 9 April 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2009; and No. 12, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance, 2008, motion 11 (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on No. 9 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after one hour and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; the speech 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 speech in reply, which shall not exceed five minutes; and (2) the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 April 2009. Private Members’ business shall be No. 54, motion re cystic fibrosis, to be taken after the Order of Business and to conclude after three hours, if not previously concluded.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2009, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 April 2009, agreed? Agreed.
Deputy Alan Shatter: When will the Bill establishing the proposed national asset management agency be published? How far in advance of the Second Stage debate on that legislation will it be made available to Members of this House? Within what timeframe does the Government envisage the legislation will be enacted? In the interim, will the Government publish a briefing paper for the benefit of Deputies, detailing the mechanism it intends to use to determine the values of the asset-backed loans that will be the subject of this Bill? We need to ensure the taxpayer will be protected. We need to factor into those values the risk that is to be borne by the taxpayer.
Will the Bill, or other legislation, be enacted to ensure the agency is accountable to a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas? Will there be a degree of transparency in its workings so that Members of the House and the public alike might be made aware of the value of the loan book they have acquired when it is taken from the banks? We must know what steps will be taken to recover borrowings from debtors and realise assets and to ensure that the agency is immune from any influence that any person might attempt to impose on it in order to do favours for the friends of Fianna Fáil and to release them from borrowings that should never have been made available to them in the first place.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Government is responsible for the mess we are in and should take that responsibility. It is time it apologised for what it has inflicted on the country, before the House goes into recess.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I do not wish to discuss the contents but with regard to the Bill, and to having Members of the House fully informed on issues of importance in its regard, will the Minister make available to Members on this side of the House any legal advice available to the Government concerning the approximate €30 billion borrowings in respect of assets outside the State? Will we be informed about any difficulty this agency might encounter in taking ownership or possession of the assets that are secured against these borrowings and realising those assets? That is a particularly important issue.
With regard to bailing out the banks, which is what this legislation is intended to do, does the Government intend, either within it, or in a separate Bill, to introduce legislation to compel the banks to facilitate the many thousands of people who acquired property in this State at the height of the property boom between 2004 and 2007? They are now imprisoned on fixed interest mortgages and the banks will not allow them switch to variable rates without paying exorbitant penalties.
The Tánaiste: Concerning the legislation, the approach adopted by the Government is in the best interests of the Irish economy and the financial system in the long run. Contrary to what Deputy Shatter said, it is not a bail out of the banks.
The Tánaiste: The legislation will be drawn up in the coming weeks. We will provide as much time as is humanly possible in order that people may participate in the debate. Our expectation is that it will be passed by the end of the summer session.
Concerning the estimated costs and evaluations, this will be a function of the national asset management agency, NAMA, not of the House. Moreover, as Deputy Shatter will be acutely aware, as an eminent legal practitioner, the legal advice available to the Government is privileged to the Government.
Deputy Alan Shatter: In advance of the publication of the legislation, will the Minister make available to this House information about the mechanisms that will be deployed to ensure taxpayers in this country are not ripped off by the arrangements implemented with the banks? In circumstances in which the banks are resistant to implementing these arrangements, what mechanisms will the Government use to implement what is intended, other than nationalising the banks or taking a controlling interest in them?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Finance will, as always, take the opportunity to brief the Opposition spokespersons on this matter and I am sure clarity can be given to them concerning the legislation that will come before the House.
Deputy Joan Burton: I have queries concerning the timetable for the Finance Bill and the proposal to have legislation to establish a banking commission. This was proposed in the first place by the Labour Party and we are glad Fianna Fáil took it up. I am not clear what the timetable is for the NAMA legislation. Many people are calling the NAMA proposal, the “banana” proposal.
Deputy Joan Burton: It seems to involve such a grave hit to the taxpayer. Stockbrokers around Dublin currently use a very quaint phrase, which, as a woman Deputy, I find appealing. When there is a write-down by a developer or a bank on a loan they describe this as taking a haircut. The Tánaiste and I know all about the cost of this because it is a really important issue for many women.
Deputy Joan Burton: Is the Government now putting all its eggs in the Bacon basket? That is another issue. Is Dr. Bacon calling the shots? We had breakfast roll man at the last election. Now we have a Bacon roll served up to the electorate.
The Tánaiste: The Finance Bill will be introduced on 7 May. The banking commission legislation will come after Easter. The Attorney General is working to finalise that matter. The timetable for the NAMA legislation will be ongoing. The Attorney General and the Department of Finance and the relevant advisory people are putting this together at present. As I indicated in my previous response, we hope to bring this as quickly as possible before the House. Time will be made available for its consideration in the House with the expectation that the legislation will be passed by the end of the summer season.
Deputy Joan Burton: I have a follow-up question. We were given several pages of information about NAMA in respect of the supplementary budget. I do not know the provenance of that information because the National Treasury Management Agency does not appear to know about it. Annex H, which deals with institutions covered — this is a really important question for taxpayers — refers to those who are regarded by the Government as appropriate for inclusion. It does not confine it to the covered institutions. I understand why that may be. Many developers have complex financing deals involving seven or eight banks, including overseas banks——
The Tánaiste: Instead of speculating it is appropriate that time is given to the Attorney General, the NTMA, the advisers to the Government, the Department of Finance and the Government to make a final determination on this matter.
Deputy Pádraic McCormack: A Cheann Comhairle, I need your assistance and guidance. I had tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the non-renewal of REPS planners’ contracts. I got a nice letter from you this morning stating that it was not a matter for the Minister but a matter for Teagasc. I rang Teagasc and was told that it got its instructions from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food not to renew the contracts in June. What do I do now, a Cheann Comhairle? You will not answer me. The Minister will not answer me. Teagasc will not answer me. It is letting go 100 REPS planners who are making a profit of €3 million a year for Teagasc and doing very useful work. Now these young agricultural graduates will be put on the dole and nobody will answer my question on their behalf. What do I do?
Deputy Pádraic McCormack: Perhaps the Minister might tell the Tánaiste how he is going to answer the question. Are we getting to the stage where a legitimate question to the Minister is not being answered? I am getting fancy letters from you, a Cheann Comhairle, that are not worth the paper they are written on.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I was going to say they could meet in the bar, but Deputy McCormack does not drink and the Ceann Comhairle is not allowed into the bar. Would the Ceann Comhairle consider an Adjournment Debate on that issue——
Deputy Paul Kehoe: ——because the issue of Teagasc letting REPS planners go concerns many rural Deputies? I have also written to the Minister who wrote back stating he is happy to receive my letter, but I have not received a proper reply from him. Would the Ceann Comhairle consider allowing it to be discussed in the Adjournment Debate later on?
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The House seems to be in skittish mood this morning. I am not so sure I know why. Perhaps it is nervousness because Government Members do not know what will happen next. I ask about the much promised and oft raised in the House legislation relating to estate management companies. Has any progress taken place since it was raised by Labour Party, Fine Gael and other Members of the House in recent weeks?
The Tánaiste’s Department has proposed legislation to consolidate and update collective investment schemes. It would be very appropriate to rush that legislation into the House. How urgent is the legislation and when does the Tánaiste expect to bring it into the House, in order to give an indication to the public as to the seriousness of the Government’s intention in this area?
Sadly and tragically, as has often happened in the past, criminality seems to grow. The matter has been raised on all sides of the House in recent years without any response from Government. Tragically, in recent days a young garda died as a result of activity that was obviously of an illegal or criminal nature. There is a plethora of legislation that has been promised for some considerable time. Threats have been made as to when this legislation is likely to be introduced. As a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a Cheann Comhairle, you know that public confidence in the system is waning at an alarming rate. I ask once again when it is intended to introduce into the House one single piece of legislation. It would be possible to put all this promised legislation together in a consolidated Bill to allow us to put the criminals behind bars. Everybody in the country knows about it and wants something to be done. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been sitting on his hands since he came into office.
Deputy Joe Costello: I ask the Tánaiste about the statutory instrument that the Minister for Health and Children introduced last week to ban “happy” pills. How will that be enforced?  What was formerly a legal substance will now become an illegal substance. Will the Garda raid shops scattered around the country seizing a substance which two weeks ago was a legal substance on sale and may now still be on the shelves as an illegal substance? How will this been enforced? Has the Minister for Health and Children circulated to shops around the country details of the new statutory instrument, which she has placed in the Oireachtas Library?
Deputy Joe Costello: A statutory instrument is secondary legislation. It is obviously legislation. What was formerly legal is now illegal. This statutory instrument has determined that. The Minister for Health and Children has now created an illegal substance of what was formerly a legal substance. The premises that have been selling that substance are now in possession of an illegal substance. The Garda is entitled to come into those shops, confiscate the substance and prosecute the owners of the shops. Following the signing of the statutory instrument, what steps are being taken to ensure that innocent people do not find themselves being prosecuted under the new law?
The Tánaiste: The legislation has been signed. The enforcement of it will be done under the auspices of the Irish Medicines Board. The disposal of the “happy” pills will be done in the context of the regulations set down by the IMB.
The Tánaiste: It is a very dangerous substance and it is on that basis the Minister has signed the statutory instrument. There has been considerable publicity surrounding this with a view to its disposal under the IMB regulations.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: In a reply to a question tabled by Deputy Mary Alexandra White, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said it would cost a further €25 million to recalibrate these machines if they are ever going to be used.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Parents this week have lost €1,000 for every child under five years of age. Why in the name of God are we continuing to store machines that cost €60 million and will cost another €25 million if they are ever going to be used?
Deputy James Bannon: Contractors around the country have taken a major hit and are being driven out of business. Three have folded up in my constituency in the past week. In times of crisis there is an obligation on us to protect our own, particularly contractors.
Deputy James Bannon: When can we expect the publication of the urgently needed consumer and competition Bill and will it include protection for contractors, or will other legislation be published to do so? They employ many people around the country and what is happening to them is very unfair.
The Tánaiste: That Bill is intended to deal with the amalgamation of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority and to take into consideration the review of the Competition Act. I and my officials in the Department are working to get that ready for the next session if at all possible.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The earlier questions about the national asset management agency, NAMA, and the legislation to facilitate it did not address whether the heads of the Bill have been agreed. One has to presume they are as the body was launched yesterday having been announced in the Supplementary Budget Statement the day before. If so, will the heads of the Bill be circulated to Members? This was a long-stated aspiration of the former Taoiseach but there has been very little evidence of co-operation in that regard. Will the Tánaiste organise to circulate the heads of the Bill immediately on their agreement? Have they been agreed and if so can they be circulated today?
The supplementary budget also indicated a new scheme for early child care support in respect of the year before a child starts primary education. Will there be legislation to facilitate the introduction of this new scheme which will come into effect in January 2010, eight months from now? Has work commenced on the preparation of the scheme which follows the abolition of the existing scheme for child care supports? Will the Tánaiste update us on the position of that legislation?
I tabled a question to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment seeking the identity and remit of the aviation expert she appointed to assess the situation at S. R. Technics. In her response she refused to identify that expert.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Tánaiste explain why she refused to impart that information and can she indicate how many of the jobs there will be saved as a result of any effort on her part or by the Government?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Finance outlined a policy decision in respect of the NAMA in his Supplementary Budget Statement. The heads of the Bill are being worked on and that legislation will progress over the coming weeks.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The meanest cut in the supplementary budget is the suspension of the community scheme for older people which allowed community groups to put alarms into elderly people’s houses to protect them. It is incredible that something like that would be suspended.
Deputy Andrew Doyle: Is the Industrial Relations (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Bill the same as No. 2, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, or is it the one that was laid before the House only two weeks ago?
Deputy Andrew Doyle: Are there any plans to introduce it because many people in the catering and hotel industry are having a serious problem paying under the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, agreement systems and the joint labour committee rules? There are two different regimes in place, for Dublin and outside which is crippling the restaurant and hotel industry.
The Tánaiste: There are two Bills, the Compliance Bill, which is before the House, and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill which is to amend the effects of the JLCs and the registered employment agreements. The Attorney General has raised some issues about these and we are working through them following which I hope to have it before the House as quickly as possible.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: While the Minister and the officials in the Department of Finance will be busy over Easter drafting legislation that will force the taxpayer to buy tracts of desert in Dubai, pubs in Britain and vacant building sites in Chicago, will the Tánaiste explain how the paralysis in the drafting of legislation has permeated all aspects of Government policy recently? I refer in particular to the legislative programme published on 26 January that lists six Bills to be published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in this session. Will the Tánaiste confirm when during this session the following Bills were published: No. 9 the civil partnership Bill; No. 10 the covert surveillance Bill; No. 11 the criminal justice (forensic sampling and evidence) Bill; No. 12 the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill; No. 13 the criminal justice (money laundering) Bill, to transpose the third money laundering directive into national law — this is the last country in the EU to effect this transposition; No. 14 the criminal procedure Bill and No. 15 the property services (regulatory) Bill? Will the Tánaiste confirm on this, the last day of yet another session, that the Government is paralysed not only in respect of the economy and financial matters but in the justice area where nothing is happening?
Deputy Emmet Stagg: There are seven listed under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform only one of which has been published. The other Departments have done nothing during this session. They seem to be moribund because there is no legislative activity. This is supposed to be a legislative assembly but of 18 Bills promised only one has been published.
The Tánaiste: In normal circumstances the House would be in a position to deal with more legislation that would be on particular lists but on this occasion and in the previous session we have had to deal with a considerable number of emergency Bills which were complex and took considerable time.
The Tánaiste: We had the publication of the Anglo Irish Corporation Act, the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill and the Residential Tenancies Bill. Those were emergency pieces of legislation which were facilitated in this House. There were several debates on hugely important issues. We have a second Finance Bill to discuss, whereas in normal circumstances we would have only one.
The Tánaiste: A considerable number of pieces of legislation on the specific issues raised are almost completed. At the last Cabinet meeting we signed off on the covert surveillance Bill. This session does not complete its work today but will continue until 22 April and further publications of legislation will take place.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: The dearth of legislation started just after the 2007 general election. In 2007 the number of Bills passed was the lowest since 1922. This is nothing new. One Bill mentioned was the property services regulatory authority Bill. That agency has been open since November 2007 and is twiddling its thumbs. It will cost €300,000 to run this year but has no legal powers to do the work it is supposed to do. The issue of exorbitant management fees and bad maintenance services by management companies is serious, and that Bill would give that agency powers to deal with those issues. The Government has been promising that legislation “next session” for the past few sessions. What is the delay?
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: When does the Government propose to ratify the two United Nations conventions it has promised to ratify? They are the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability. The Government is required to make a legislative response to the findings by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva regarding a number of matters. Is it the Government’s intention to publish or circulate its response or to indicate what legislation it has in mind to address the issues raised by the Commission?
Deputy Michael Ring: I have two questions, the first on the Planning and Development Bill. The Tánaiste has responsibility for employment in this country. A young lady visited my clinic on Monday. She has applied to the planning authority for a development in one unit and she got a levy of €253,000.
Deputy Michael Ring: Will the Tánaiste deal with that in the legislation I mentioned? Do we not want people to create employment in this country? This came from the Green Party. Its Minister instructed the local authorities to do this.
Deputy Michael Ring: My second question I will direct to the Tánaiste, and she might ask the Minister for Health and Children, as she cannot speak for herself because she has responsibility for nothing; it is all with the HSE. Why can my constituents, and people throughout the country, no longer get a medical card form from a doctor? Why must they write to the HSE for such forms?
Deputy Michael Ring: Is that why we are paying €500,000 to Professor Brendan Drumm? No wonder this country is the way it is. The Minister for Health and Children takes responsibility for nothing.
Deputy Alan Shatter: In the context of legislation published after Easter, I am conscious on a human level that this will be a difficult Easter for many Ministers of State who are looking forward to losing their jobs. While the Government should never have appointed 20, and we do not need them, on a human level I wish them well.
Deputy Alan Shatter: It is my recollection that we got to the grossly unnecessary figure of 20 Ministers of State as a consequence of legislation enacted in this House to facilitate the Government to appoint that number of Ministers of State.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Does the Government intend to bring forward legislation as an urgent matter after the Easter break to reduce by statute the number of Ministers of State that can be appointed to the 15 announced? How rapidly will we see that legislation? If no such legislation is intended, is this merely a temporary little arrangement to seek public applause and is there a secret intention to re-appoint the lonely five some time in 2010?
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Government will retain the position where it is open to it to appoint 20 Ministers of State. This is a public relations exercise. If the Government were serious it would introduce the legislation.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Another Bill on which the Government has been working for approximately 12 years is the bus licensing Bill. Will we have an opportunity before the session ends today to discuss the incredible Dempsey bus cutbacks which were listed this morning?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We have lost approximately 60 routes and 1,000 journeys; it is another disaster from Deputy Dempsey. People will be walking to work next week and it is not a laughing matter.
Deputy Róisín Shortall: Given the ending of the capital allowance relief on health facilities announced in Tuesday’s budget and the abandonment of the main plank of health policy regarding co-location, why is the Minister for Health and Children still in Cabinet?
Deputy Alan Shatter: On behalf of Fine Gael, I join with the Tánaiste in wishing Members of the House and the Ceann Comhairle a peaceful Easter and I tell Members on the other side of the House to expect a very turbulent period when we return.
Deputy Joan Burton: On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish the Ceann Comhairle, staff and Members a very happy Easter. Easter is a time of reflection and thought for most people and I hope people will get a chance to get a break with their families because it has been a very tough session. I thank the staff who serve the House for all the work they have done, particularly during all the late sessions.
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