Thursday, 28 May 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney): It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of An Bord Bia (Transfer of Functions of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara relating to Fish Marketing) Order 2009 (back from committee); No. 12a— motion re Withdrawal of Fines Bill 2007; No. 12b— motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 12c— Health Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 — Financial Resolution; No. 12d— motion re Ryan Report on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse; No. 25 — Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009, Second Stage (resumed); No. 3 — Merchant Shipping Bill 2009, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 12, 12a, 12b, 12c and 12d shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 25 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. today; and the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 June 2009.
Deputy Phil Hogan: I welcome the opportunity to say that the all-party motion brought forward on the Ryan commission on the initiative of Deputy Kenny during the week on the Order of Business is very important as this House should send one clear message that the crimes committed, which were outlined in this report, are heinous. They must be condemned by all sides of this House. I welcome the motion and thank the Government Whip for bringing it forward in agreement with all sides of the House.
Deputy Joan Burton: No. 12d relates to the Ryan report and the Labour Party supports this motion, as do all Members of the House. It is just a preliminary step and the Dáil will have a two-day debate when many of the issues can be explored fully. In the context of the motion, I ask the Minister specifically about reports that the Ryan commission is strongly leaning towards the destruction of all the documents collated, collected and used by the commission in the course of its work.
I understand it may be necessary for the documents to be held confidentially for a protracted period but it would seem extraordinary for the records of the Ryan commission to be disposed of. There are strong indications that the commission is leaning towards the destruction of the documents but this would be an appalling insult to the people who suffered in various institutions.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Sinn Féin Deputies are in agreement with No. 12d, the motion before us regarding the child abuse commission, which I have jointly signed with the other leaders of the parties here. There is a proposal for a further substantive motion and two-day debate. Will the Minister confirm, before agreement to the Order of Business, that the all-party motion signalled will have full agreement? Will she confirm that as with the motion before us today, there will be full participation and consultation with all the parties in the drafting of same?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: No. 12d clearly indicates the substantive motion will be addressed. I am seeking clarification that not only will there be consultation with all the parties but also with the representatives of the various victims groups and the survivors to ensure their valued and essential input is also sought and involved in the construction of the motion.
Deputy Mary Harney: I want to acknowledge the all-party approach to the motion which is what the public would expect. The Ryan commission laid bare the most horrific catalogue of the abuse of children ever in this State. Besides the appalling abuse, it has done incredible damage to the reputation of this country once again. Our public would expect us all to come together on these issues. I acknowledge the support of all sides of the House on this matter. It is intended to have the same approach in two weeks to a more substantial motion. Discussions will take place between the Government and the representatives of the Opposition parties.
The documents held by the Ryan commission are a matter for Mr. Justice Ryan. Very often in these cases, information is given on a confidential basis. I know this arose in my case with the Dunne inquiry into organ retention when it was not legally possible to publish its documentation. Whether it can be retained is a different issue and I will speak to the Attorney General on that.
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12, 12a, 12b, 12c, and 12d agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 June 2009 agreed?
Deputy Joan Burton: No. While it has been traditional for the Dáil to adjourn for a period when elections are being held, given the state of the economy people are shocked at the notion of such a break. There is no way the Labour Party will support the Government’s proposal that the Dáil having resumed on Tuesday week will then adjourn on 2 July sine die for the rest of the summer.
Deputy Phil Hogan: Will the Minister, Deputy Harney, clarify if it is the Government’s policy, as enunciated by the Minister for Finance yesterday, that the social welfare budget must be cut to stay in line with various provisions announced in the Budget Statement on April 7? Will the Minister for Social and Family Affairs be bringing forward proposals for another budget in three weeks to implement the measures outlined by the Minister to reduce the social welfare budget? Perhaps she will restore the Christmas bonus that was cut in the last budget so she can be in line with some Government backbenchers who are telling their constituents that it will be restored.
Deputy Phil Hogan: Is it the Government’s intention to bring forward another budget because we have not had one for at least two months? Will the Government bring forward another budget or social welfare Bill after 9 June?
Deputy Phil Hogan: A Cheann Comhairle, I am sure you will agree that the Minister for Finance enunciates Government policy regarding the budget. Is it Government policy to reduce the social welfare budget?
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Yesterday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe had the benefit of an opening address by you, a Cheann Comhairle. This was followed by a statement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in which he said one of the key features of a social crisis with employment in an affluent country like Ireland is that large social welfare provision can be a disincentive to work which is a difficult issue to tackle. It is in the interest of all Members to know if there is a change in policy. There is no doubt whatsoever that the implications of the Minister’s statement yesterday constitute a promise to have a change in social welfare policy. The only way this can be achieved is by a supplementary social welfare Bill. It is very helpful if the Minister, Deputy Harney, says there will be no change which I welcome. However, it is of significance to us that the Minister for Finance was only three weeks ago suggesting Ireland had a magnificent social welfare system that protected the poor.
Deputy Michael Ring: One wonders if there is a Fianna Fáil Party at all when an Independent Minister is taking the Order of Business. All the Fianna Fáil candidates will not put the Fianna Fáil logo on their election posters. They are ashamed of being Fianna Fáil.
Deputy Mary Harney: First, I join with Deputy Hogan in wishing the Ceann Comhairle a happy birthday. While he is unable to socialise with his colleagues within the environs of this House, I hope he gets an opportunity to enjoy his birthday somewhere.
Deputy Mary Harney: We have one of the highest rates in Europe of social welfare benefits for old or unemployed people. Moreover, contrary to a view put forward by Fine Gael’s candidate in Dublin South this morning, an unemployed married man receives €339 per week and not €204 per week. Were Members to at least get the facts right, they might have appropriate debates in the Chamber.
Deputy James Reilly: Apropos of the question asked by my colleague, Deputy Hogan, Members have not been provided with clarity in respect of Government policy on social welfare. Furthermore, in this House before Christmas, I raised the issue of a dole office for the people of Balbriggan, a community in which 4,000 people now are unemployed. Although it is almost June, there still is no sign of any facility despite half the main street of Balbriggan lying idle——
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I support the request of my colleague, Deputy Bannon, for a full debate in this House on agriculture. At a time when agriculture is going through serious mismanagement, a full debate is required and I ask the Whips to organise it——
On other issues, is there any hope the sale of alcohol Bill will be brought forward? The present situation, whereby young people can buy drink in off-licences and so on without any control, is completely untenable. I wish to ask three questions pertaining to the Minister’s own portfolio. First, I refer to the mental health (amendment) Bill, which pertains to a crucial issue at a time when people are under much pressure and require as much support as they can get. The other items are the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill and the health information Bill. These Bills must be brought forward quickly because the current position in respect of the information that Members are receiving and the knowledge as to who is eligible for what health services is extremely serious. I received a letter from the Health Service Executive this week that completely contradicts what has been promised in the past. People had been promised that no service would be removed from them——
Deputy Mary Harney: The sale of alcohol Bill is expected later this year. The mental health (amendment) Bill is expected next year and the heads of the health information Bill will go before the Cabinet shortly. I do not have a date for the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill at present.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Despite the Ceann Comhairle’s heroic efforts to try to kick-start the Dáil reform procedure, nothing has happened in that regard and matters are regressing at a rapid rate. Since the beginning of May 2009, 34 Adjournment debates have been allowed by the Ceann Comhairle. However, on only one occasion did a senior Minister come into the House.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: A total of 15 of the Adjournment debates were taken by one very junior Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, and many of the debates did not relate to her area of responsibility. A further seven were taken by another Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. Two thirds of the debates have been taken by two of the most junior Ministers in the House.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: When this matter was raised a short time ago by my party leader, Deputy Gilmore, the Taoiseach responded positively. He stated that every Minister should seek, as a matter of courtesy, to be present in the House when a matter relevant to his or her Department is being taken. However, even though 15 Adjournment debates were on health, the Minister for Health and Children never turned up in the House at all. Fianna Fáil should get a grip on their Independent supporters in the Cabinet and tell them to do their job. They are not doing it now and are treating this House with contempt.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: When the Ceann Comhairle and others tried to kick-start Dáil reform, they were told that a special committee comprised of Fianna Fáil and Green Party Members would tell them what the Dáil reforms would be.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I welcome the publication yesterday of the Multi-Unit Developments Bill, for which Fine Gael strongly campaigned. People have been waiting for 12 years for this Bill to be published and were one a cynic, one would suggest it was being published nine days before the local elections for electioneering purposes. When does the Minister expect the Bill to come before the House and when does she expect it will become law?
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: In view of recent developments, I wish to raise two items in respect of promised legislation. What is the current status of, and intention towards, the legislation to provide for the collection and exchange of information relating to the dangers of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse or risk thereof to children? Its original status in the legislative programme was that its publication was expected but that it was not possible to indicate when. Has the position in this regard changed due to recent events?
Second, I refer to the Bill to transfer transmission assets from the ESB to EirGrid. That is an issue in which the Green Party should be taking a particular interest, if one could only see a Green Party Member.
Deputy Mary Harney: The soft information Bill is a priority for the Government and at least two senior officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are working on that legislation as a matter of urgency. I do not have a date for the second item of legislation.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On the second item of legislation, would it be possible to seek out the Minister responsible and encourage him to attend the House for the Order of Business? Although many people outside the House may be giving out or probably are being abusive at present, Members love him and wish to see him in the Chamber, as would the Ceann Comhairle. Hugging trees is one matter but coming before the House to——
Deputy Joan Burton: In the context of the all-party motion to which Members have committed themselves regarding the Ryan report and supporting the full implementation of the report’s recommendations, I refer to the case of Melissa Mahon, the 14-year old girl and the man who was convicted yesterday of her unlawful killing. Will the Minister for Health and Children provide for an independent investigation because this child was in the care of the HSE?
Deputy Joan Burton: In the week of the Ryan report’s publication, Members must be aware that abuse and the harrowing events related in that case equally require investigation. She was under the care——
Deputy Olwyn Enright: I am delighted the Minister for Health and Children is taking the Order of Business as I can question her. The Oireachtas representatives from Laois-Offaly had a meeting with the HSE approximately six weeks ago at which approximately €6 million worth of cuts in that constituency alone were outlined. We have heard nothing since. It was to include the closure of all respite beds, the removal of transport for dialysis patients and the cutting of front-line staff, including speech and language therapists and home help. Can I ask the Minister——
Deputy Tom Sheahan: Is there any intention at Cabinet level to introduce support measures for the dairy sector? The Minister’s officials attended the committee yesterday and some of the language that was being used about the soft landing in the dairy sector, where farmers are getting 20 cent a litre for their milk——
Deputy Michael Creed: I understand the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been speaking on the margins of the Council of Agriculture Ministers about the issue of the overwhelming power of the multiples in the retail market and the need to address that issue. Has this issue been addressed at Cabinet and is legislation envisaged in the area of competition law to tackle the enormous pressure that small food companies are being put under? Is there a proposal to introduce a code of conduct for the retail sector?
Deputy David Stanton: I am glad to see the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, in the House today. On the industrial relations (amendment) Bill, I want to raise the fact that 160 jobs are probably at risk at meat plants in Midleton and Youghal. Perhaps the Ministers could look into the matter to see if anything can be done.
Deputy Michael Ring: I raised the issue of the living alone allowance with the Ceann Comhairle two weeks ago and I was told by the Tánaiste at that time that I would receive a letter. When will this legislation come before the Dáil? At Christmas we were promised that it was to come to the House immediately. When will we actually have it in the Dáil?
Deputy Mary Harney: While I do not have a date, I understand the Minister for Finance is working on a number of measures in that regard. With regard to the industrial development authority legislation, it will be this session.
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