Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. a9, Finance Bill 2009 — Financial Resolutions; No. b9, Finance Bill 2009 — Allocation of Time Motion for Select Committee; No. 3, Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 21, Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Report and Final Stages (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. a9 and b9 shall be decided without debate and that in the case of No. a9, Financial Resolutions Nos. 1 — 8 shall be moved together and decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 35, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Protection of Debtors) Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a9 and b9 — Financial Resolutions and Allocation of Time Motion regarding the Finance Bill 2009 — agreed?
Deputy Enda Kenny: May I ask the Taoiseach a question on that? The Government intends to introduce a new Part 3 to the Finance Bill on VAT dealing with property and avoidance provisions. When did it come to light that it would be necessary to introduce this section, Part 3, between sections 18 and 19, to the Finance Bill? How did it come to light so suddenly that the Taoiseach should announce this morning that the Bill is to come before the House?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: As regards the proposition before us, before we make a determination on the number of financial resolutions presented, will the Taoiseach indicate if the Government is considering or proposing a measure to address the terrible situation faced by countless families across the State because of fixed interest mortgages, and the consequences for them in ever more straitened economic circumstances? There clearly is a need for the Government to take action in this respect. It is not only about dealing with the financial institutions, but also about dealing with the reality that is affecting ordinary people in their daily lives. Until this issue is tackled there will be a continuing serious deterioration in people’s confidence that politics can address their core difficulties. I urge the Taoiseach to offer some hope in this respect and I would appreciate his reply.
The Taoiseach: I can deal only with the matters before us. If there are other matters for debate they should be raised with the Minister and obviously the next Stage of the Bill would be the appropriate time to do that.
As regards the specific question from the Leader of the Opposition, there is no section of the Finance Bill, as published, relating to VAT. Three ministerial amendments relating to one item on VAT are now being introduced. This requires a new Part 3 on VAT to be introduced between sections 18 and 19 of the Bill as published. The part on VAT normally follows that on excise in the Finance Acts. The amendments relate to a VAT on property anti-avoidance provisions and insert a new part into the Finance Bill containing three sections. These form a package of measures which amend sections 7 and 7B of the VAT Act to close off a loophole in the VAT on property legislation, which has been used to avoid paying VAT in certain circumstances. The avoidance mechanism relied on misinterpreting a particular provision in the VAT Act, which was designed to prevent double taxation.
Deputy Enda Kenny: In the context of the Broadcasting Bill, I noted a comment by the Taoiseach on Sunday when he said, “I think it’s a matter for RTE to reflect as to whether its perceived impartiality as the national broadcaster was brought into question given the circumstances in which a prominent broadcaster has been commenting on Government policy——
Deputy Enda Kenny: As regards the Broadcasting Bill, does the Taoiseach intend to comment on that or to withdraw his attack on the national broadcaster, which is being funded by the Government, in the context of somebody who happens to be a candidate for this party in a by-election?
An Ceann Comhairle: I do not know anything about attacks on broadcasters or whatever, but I can tell the Deputy that his question is not in order. He will have to find another way of broadcasting that one because it cannot be broadcast on the Order of Business.
Deputy Enda Kenny: ——because objective comment was being made by a person who decided to join a major political party to actually do something about the state of the public finances and move our country forward?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I have the record here. He said that Senator Alex White suggested that the temporary nationalisation of the banks would last for 20 years. In fact, it was not Senator Alex White who stated that. It was the Taoiseach’s own candidate in the by-election.
Deputy P. J. Sheehan: With regard to the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, I wish to raise the issue of the publication today of the report by the Dublin office of Teamwork Management Services, which recommends having only regional acute care hospital based in Cork city at Cork University Hospital and five other hospitals——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: When is it proposed that the Government will ratify the United Nations convention against all corruption? On a related matter, has the Minister for Foreign Affairs sought permission to have Irish diplomatic representation at the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi? Will he make a statement today on the Irish part of the European Union concern about this trial?
The Taoiseach: The UN convention to which Deputy Higgins referred was signed by Ireland at a conference in Mexico in 2003. In consultation with the Attorney General’s office and other Departments, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has examined the convention and identified what legislation in the criminal law area is required to give effect to its provisions. The Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Act 2008 provides for certain necessary measures. The remaining legislative requirements concerning bribery of foreign public officials and protection for whistleblowers will be dealt with in the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2008 which completed Second Stage in the Dáil on 30 October 2008 and is due to commence Committee Stage shortly. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform expects that once the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill is enacted it should be possible to proceed to ratify the convention.
Deputy Dan Neville: With regard to the mental capacity Bill, will the Taoiseach advise us on the implications of the decision to postpone the construction of the prison at Thornton Hall on the construction of the central mental hospital on the same site?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The final report of what began as the Laffoy commission on institutional child abuse will be published today and I have no doubt that it will highlight a terrible litany of abuse of children by church and State over a number of decades. Will the Taoiseach schedule a debate on the commission’s report and will he consider facilitating the same in the coming week so that the House can properly address the very serious expected content of the report and tease out its recommendations?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——without proper human rights standards or frequent inspections. That matter requires urgent address in the House. Will the Taoiseach schedule address of the Mental Health Commission report in the context of the very serious content of that report? Allied to this, will the Taoiseach consider bringing forward the mental health (amendment) Bill that has been long scheduled but has yet to be addressed on the floor of the House?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: On this matter, I understand the report is to be published later today. I have seen a copy of it and it makes shocking reading; it refers to more than 1,000 cases in 216 institutions and reports severe physical and sexual abuse of children such as children being flogged and severely beaten——
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: There are issues that the House will need to debate, particularly on the role of the Department of Education and Science in respect of its responsibilities then and the agreement made more recently with the congregations on redress and its cost to the taxpayer. I would like an opportunity provided at an early stage for a debate on this report, which will shock many people when it is published today.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The report that will be officially published at 2.30 p.m. by the Ryan commission, which started as the Laffoy commission, will pierce through the culture of secrecy which for decades has covered up the extent of abuse, both physical and sexual, of young people in institutions throughout the State. In this context, I join with other Deputies in asking for time to be set aside next week to debate these reports and the recommendations emerging from them.
The commission has been sitting for nine years and what we will read in today’s reports depicts events that happened in the past. What is relevant to today’s Order Paper is that the culture of secrecy in this area continues at the behest of the State and its failures to provide transparency and illuminate the light of what is happening in our child care services. I will ask the Taoiseach to address a number of matters, all of which are proper to the Order of Business.
No. 72a on today’s Dáil Order Paper proposes that the Monageer report, which has been censored to such a degree that even recommendations are censored, be forthwith referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children in full and uncensored so the committee can consider its publication and consider received submissions on recommendations. Will the Taoiseach take this motion tomorrow morning in Government time without debate? The Minister for Health and Children, subsequent to my raising this, has publicly gone on the record outside the House to indicate that she may consider such procedure, giving the Government an opportunity to lift the veil of secrecy from that report.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Hundreds of children are reported to be at risk whose cases have not been assigned to social workers and files are gathering dust on shelves in offices throughout the HSE about which nothing has been done for three years. What is the Government doing to obtain from the HSE the reports on our child protection services covering the years 2007 and 2008? The reports should have been published by now; the 2007 report is a year and a half late. Since 1991, there is a statutory obligation under the relevant legislation on children to publish these reports. They should have been laid before the House by now. The culture of secrecy continues and the HSE is part of the problem,——
The Taoiseach: The report being published today is to be welcomed. It fulfils the Government’s intention in setting up the commission that the story of the residents was told. Inevitably, the report will show up failings of the State and others in providing care and protection to these children. The then Taoiseach’s apology in 1999 was an admission of failings on the part of the State, and the report now tells that story.
I acknowledge the work done by the members of the commission and the members of the confidential committee and particularly that of the chairperson, Judge Sean Ryan, and his predecessor, Judge Mary Laffoy. I acknowledge the co-operation of many with the work of the commission, particularly the former residents for whom it must have been a difficult and traumatic experience. The commission was one of range of measures put in place by the Government to address the effects of abuse. These included the Residential Institutions Redress Board, the Education Finance Board, the national counselling service, the funding of survivor groups and funding of an information and tracing service.
The State has already indicated at the public hearings of the commission its regret for certain inadequacies in discharging its function relating to the industrial and reformatory school system. Areas identified were funding, inspections, handling of complaints and education and training. Apart from the findings, the report might contain recommendations to alleviate or address the effects of the abuse suffered by those attending the commission and to prevent any further incidents of institutional abuse. Such recommendations will have to be taken on board by the State, particularly with regard to procedures and guidelines for child protection.
I understand the report comprises 3,500 pages. Relevant Departments will require time to consider the contents and the recommendations. The Government will carefully study the findings and recommendations to ensure they are fully considered in light of current practices and to ensure our children enjoy the highest standards of care and protection. It is also important to mention that while the Government can put in place procedures and measures for the protection of our children, we all as a society must be alert to the dangers that exist, be vigilant as to what is happening in our communities and have the courage to intervene when the well-being of a child is at risk.
The Whips can discuss this matter. Everybody will have an opportunity to consider this thorough and comprehensive report. I thank everybody who was involved in producing it. It will show what lessons must be learned and acknowledge the great failings of the State and many others in the care of children who were held in a custodial manner for many years at a time when the criminal justice system was totally different, thankfully, from the one I hope we have now.
With regard to the matters raised by Deputy Shatter, efforts are being made by the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, to find out if there is a way the legal advice issues can be dealt with so an Oireachtas committee can continue to consider the report. That process is ongoing between the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the chairman of the committee.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Monageer report was with the Government for six months before it was published. It should have been possible to go back and check procedures. The procedure now proposed by Fine Gael is the procedure used in 1996 to publish the report into the tragic death of Kelly Fitzgerald. The legal advice obtained never addresses this issue. On the very day we are piercing the veil of secrecy over the abuse of children in institutions in this State we should not be maintaining secrecy over a report published about the tragic death of a family and particularly the deaths of two children who died at the hands of at least one of their parents. Could the Government regard this as a priority?
With regard to the HSE, I have raised the two reports in this House in the past and afforded time for them to be published. Our current child protection services are broken. The apology given by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, is meaningless in the context of children currently at risk——
Deputy Alan Shatter: The Minister of State with responsibility for children knows nothing about the child protection services beyond 2006. He is relying on information that is two and a half years out of date.
The Taoiseach: I must reply to Deputy Shatter. I listened intently to what he had to say but, unfortunately, he went on to make a political charge that is totally unfounded. What he is seeking to portray as a veil of secrecy is not a veil of secrecy. He tries to conjunct an issue which we all agree was appalling — the vista that will emerge with respect to a bygone time which is, thankfully, no longer with us — and which relates to institutional facilitation of abuse with another tragedy which took place in recent times. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, has been anxious to put the facts of that case to the fullest extent possible in the public domain for discussion. There is no veil of secrecy involved. It is a question of the protection of rights, something the Deputy would be very quick to defend in his own profession,——
The Taoiseach: ——if a person was not being given an opportunity to defend them, where a reputation was being adversely affected on the basis of a non-statutory inquiry in which all the people who were asked contributed and participated fully. I do not believe it is right——
The Taoiseach: I am sorry, Deputy Shatter, but it is not right to portray it in that way. Legal advice was given. We did not write the report. The report had to be tested against those criteria and it was unfortunate that this level of redaction took place. The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, are working on a way to improve that situation without being oblivious to the protection of the rights of other people who participated and contributed to the inquiry. When making a point the Deputy should try not to go over the top as usual, misrepresent the position and be unfair to people and their motives. The motivation of the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is as good as Deputy Shatter’s on these matters.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Could the Chief Whip indicate if he shares my interpretation of the Taoiseach’s response to my request earlier, which was supported by Deputy Gilmore, to have the Laffoy commission report debated in the House? I hope he has the same positive interpretation of the Taoiseach’s reply as I hope I can accord to it. The content of the report is of such importance that we must have certainty. Can this be clarified?
I also asked the Taoiseach questions on two other related matters, to which he did not reply. One related to the Mental Health Commission report published last week. Can we have a debate in the House on that most important report? Finally, with regard to the mental health (amendment) Bill and in light of all the information that has been exposed in the Mental Health Commission report, can the necessary steps be taken to have that legislation brought forward with the speed it certainly deserves?
The Taoiseach: The question of debates on reports, produced by the Mental Health Commission or otherwise, is a matter for the Whips. I do not have an adverse view on these matters if an appropriate occasion can be agreed between the Whips. I do not believe the mental health (amendment) Bill will be available this year. That is my latest information. With regard to a debate on the report that is to be published today, it is a 3,500 page report. It must be considered and studied and a debate brought forward in an appropriate and timely way. It is important that all parties, including Departments, be given an opportunity to consider the report. It is an important report which deserves consideration by the House in due course. That must be done in a calm and collected way upon full and proper scrutiny of the report and all its implications.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Was the proposed legislation by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on management companies brought before the Cabinet yesterday, as the Taoiseach indicated last week? If so, when will the legislation come before the House? I know the Taoiseach appreciates the urgency of this matter. I may be crossing the line into the content of the Bill with my next question. Will the legislation include the provision of powers to abolish or wind up management companies which should never have been set up in the first place?
The Taoiseach: The management of multi-unit developments Bill will be published in the next couple of days and the detail will be outlined then. It is very detailed legislation. I understand it will be taken in the Seanad in the first instance.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Now that the super-prison on the Thornton Hall site is not going ahead, is it intended to introduce legislation repealing the Prison Development (Confirmation of Resolutions) Act 2008 to allow the site to return to agricultural use and perhaps to allow Government Members to retire and graze on it?
The Taoiseach: I am not sure how fond Deputy Ó Snodaigh is of grass. The Deputy may not have been in the Chamber for the beginning of the Order of Business. To clarify, a prison will be built on the Thornton Hall site. An amended proposal will be brought forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, if necessary, legislation will be introduced in the House and enacted to ensure there is a place to put all those who break the law and require a custodial sentence.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: For all the wrong reasons, I welcome the issues raised today by my colleagues from Cork and Kerry. They seem to have been given information that is less than correct. When will the health information Bill be brought before the House? Will it be done as quickly as possible? Second, every junior civil servant to whom one speaks is under severe financial pressure as a result of the various levies that have been imposed. When will the legal costs Bill be introduced to curtail the extraordinary costs charged by the legal profession? Third, when will the animal health and welfare Bill be brought forward so that we can discuss the welfare of the farmers themselves who are being destroyed with the income they are getting for dairy produce and so on?
The Taoiseach: I understand there is no date for the publication of the other two Bills. If the Deputy is meeting public servants who are complaining about the pension levy, he might remind them that his own party wishes to stop their increments.
Deputy Joe Costello: The Criminal Justice Act 2007, one of the last items of legislation introduced by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who brought us Thornton Hall, included a measure to provide for a register of convicted drug offenders. Last week saw the conviction of several men for the importation into the State of drugs worth €500 million. The judge in this case referred the convicted persons to the Garda to be included on this register. However, three years after the legislation was introduced, there is no such register. My constituency of Dublin Central is home to a significant number of drug barons who flit around the country and flit between Ireland and Spain or The Netherlands——
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I seek the wisdom and advice of the Ceann Comhairle in regard to the management of parliamentary questions. I submitted a question to the Department of Health and Children on 10 March 2009 but, 12 weeks later, have not received a response. One would almost need to put a satellite navigation system and tracker device on a parliamentary question to find out when the reply will come back. Will the Ceann Comhairle issue guidelines or direction to the Department of Health and Children as to the timelines within which responses to parliamentary questions should come back from the Health Service Executive?
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Section 836 of the 2008 edition of the Taxes Consolidation Act provides for tax deductions under section 144 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 in respect of the cost of maintaining a second residence where, arising out of the performance of his or her duties, a Minister or Minister of State is obliged to maintain a second residence in addition to his or her main residence. Given what is currently happening in the United Kingdom and the fact that this tax relief relates not to mortgage interest but to maintenance——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies can only raise on the Order of Business legislation that has been promised either inside or outside the Dáil, the making of secondary legislation and arrangements in regard to sittings. Deputies cannot raise legislation that is already on the Statute Book. It is as simple as that.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Under promised road safety legislation, will the Taoiseach confirm that it is no longer the intention of the Government to proceed with the roll-out of speed safety cameras throughout the State?
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the scheme is postponed or abandoned? The people who are being appointed are from my own town and they have been left in limbo in regard to this scheme.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: My question relates to the road traffic Bill. Earlier in the year, the number of road deaths was down 20% on the corresponding period last year. Now, however, road deaths are at the same level as 2008. In view of the lack of Garda enforcement as a result of cutbacks in overtime in the traffic corps——
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: When will there be reform of the Road Transport Act 1932, as promised by the Minister for Transport, in view of the serious cutbacks in Bus Éireann services throughout the State, including commuter and rural transport services?
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I concur with Deputy Deenihan on the important issue of speed cameras and with my colleague, Deputy O’Dowd’s views on road safety. One of the problems with this and other enforcement issues is that they are passed between the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Transport, as the Ceann Comhairle will be well aware.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have another question on the various transport and traffic Bills which have not yet been brought before the House. The services of Bus Éireann, a company recognised in a recent Deloitte report as highly efficient, have been decimated. The parties in government have indicated they will renegotiate the programme for Government and place a strong emphasis on public transport. Two years into the term of the Government, this commitment is laughable.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On Thursday last, I raised under promised primary and secondary legislation conservation measures proposed by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the area of eel fisheries in accordance with an EU directive that such legislation be enacted. I also raised the concerns of the Joint Committee on European Affairs about the severity of the Minister’s proposals and referred to the legislation in question. By coincidence, over the weekend the Minister enacted the first element of his legislative proposals, namely, a three year total ban on eel fisheries. This was done as part of a proposed 90 year ban on eel fisheries. As a sportsman, the Ceann Comhairle will be aware that eel fishery interests in this country are very concerned about the ban. Yesterday, the joint committee expressed concern at the failure of the Minister to give any indication——
An Ceann Comhairle: While I am sure the Minister’s innermost thoughts on the question of eels are interesting, the matter cannot be raised on the Order of Business. The Deputy will have to have a chat with somebody else about it.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: It has not been five minutes. Last week, I referred to the fisheries (consolidation) Bill and secondary legislation. When will the Minister come before the House to address these issues?
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I was given a very short answer to a very complicated question. That is the problem in this House; Members are given short answers to everything. The font of wisdom and knowledge is not necessarily located on that side of the House.
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