Thursday, 18 June 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. a11, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, to be decided without debate; No. 24, the Broadcasting Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stages, which shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. by one question, which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; No 1, the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad] — Second Stage, which shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 5.30 p.m; Question Time shall be taken at 5.30 p.m. for 75 minutes and in the event of a Private Notice Question being allowed, it shall be taken after 45 minutes; and the order shall not resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 6.45 p.m.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are five proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil should sit later than 4.45 p.m. agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions agreed?
Deputy Richard Bruton: On that issue, I should like to ask whether this is designed to give the Department of Education and Science more time to explain how after decades of saying literacy was its priority, we find that a third of children in disadvantaged schools have severe reading problems. Despite that, we have no literacy strategy in the Department and it does not even include literacy as an output to be achieved.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I do not believe it would be possible. The Department of Education and Science is one of the Departments whose Question Time is being moved in this motion and I believe it is significant that this is happening on a day when this appalling report comes to our attention.
Deputy Joan Burton: On that, we have had five guillotines this week. I want to lay down a marker as regards the seven proposed guillotines in next week’s business, in particular in relation to the Financial Services (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, for which the Government has provided at the most three hours for the entire Bill, including Second Stage, Committee and Report Stages. This includes the right of the Minister for Finance to extend by ministerial order the bank guarantee and there will be no time to debate or examine this properly in the House. There is no Green Paper or White Paper, no financial information accompanying the Bill which——
Deputy Joan Burton: Is the Government now determined to effectively rule by guillotine, which is the same as ruling by decree? We are changing now into a Dáil which is ruled by decree and in this case, legislation which is of historic importance and which will double the country’s national debt, will be subject to a guillotine and a debate in a total of three hours. That is not good enough in terms of ordinary taxpayers’ interests.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: With regard to the Broadcasting Bill, it has now become almost a matter of course that guillotines are part of the Order Paper proposal. While it has traditionally been the penchant of Governments to employ guillotines in the closing weeks before a summer or Christmas recess, it is now a matter of course. It must be objected to. It is not required. As we demonstrated yesterday, and made reference to the previous week’s work, it cannot be accepted. The Government should accept that Bills should be debated and the sections of Bills, be it Report and Final Stages or Second Stage, as the next proposition on No. 1 will highlight again. It is unacceptable and should not be proceeded with.
Deputy Richard Bruton: While the House can tolerate the occasional use of a guillotine, we have reached a stage where even matters of major importance are not presented with the necessary sort of information to underpin them and there is not the sort of debate required. The guillotine is undermining proper legislation. In the United States today a White Paper on the regulation of the financial sector is being published. The US Legislature will have a long time to consider the options.
Here it is likely that the very meagre proposals on financial regulation will come in with no White Paper, will be debated in a curtailed debate and will be rammed through with a guillotine. We must draw a sharp contrast between the legislative approach of other responsible governments and the one this Government is inclined to pursue far too frequently.
The Tánaiste: To be in order, this relates to the Broadcasting Bill, which is to provide for new governance for the broadcasting industry. There have been extensive discussions on this and I cannot understand why there would be objections to it.
The Tánaiste: A considerable amount of legislation has yet to be finalised here and perhaps if we give ourselves more time, in the context of the Order of Business, we could get more work done and have more debate.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: It is not agreed to. This is the same issue again. The Executive is using the guillotine as a routine management tool to manage the legislative programme, thereby bypassing this legislative assembly whose constitutional role it is to examine and pass legislation. It cannot fulfil that role if legislation is routinely guillotined before it is debated fully.  There was no need for the particular guillotine we have just dealt with because the Bill is practically completed. A guillotine was applied yesterday to a Bill and there was no need for it; the Bill would have been passed readily without the guillotine.
The guillotine is being used as a routine tool and we object to that. I ask the Government to apply the guillotine only if it is absolutely required, in an emergency. That is when it is intended to be used. There were periods of this Dáil during which we debated everything and anything because no legislation was coming forward from the Government. If it organised its programme properly it would not have this bottleneck at the end of every session.
The Tánaiste: It is a technical Bill which the Minister of State will take on my behalf. There was a considerable amount of debate in the Seanad on this. Deputy Stagg’s colleague, the Chairman of the relevant committee, is very anxious to facilitate an in-depth discussion on Committee Stage on the basis that we are all very anxious to have this legislation enacted before the House rises. Committee Stage, which will be facilitated by the Chairman and members of the committee, would be a more appropriate opportunity to tease out some of the issues. However we refer now to Second Stage.
Deputy Richard Bruton: In the past couple of days we saw a report that the details of 75,000 individual personal bank accounts were stolen in a computer held by Bord Gáis. These were not encrypted and it will be two weeks before the company will have contacted the individuals concerned. There are legal weaknesses here. Will the Government consider enacting Deputy Coveney’s Private Members’ legislation published last year on this subject?
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Government has indicated it is supportive of legislative measures in this area. In light of the risk to 75,000 people that has been exposed, the Tánaiste should be examining this seriously. Fine Gael anticipated the problem well over a year ago.
Deputy Richard Bruton: Perhaps Deputy Coveney will return to this issue. Is the Government preparing legislation on a bank levy to accompany the National Asset Management Agency Bill? We are informed that any deficit will be made up by way of a bank levy. Is that legislation being prepared?
Deputy Joan Burton: I wish the Taoiseach well today in his negotiations in Brussels aimed at obtaining clarification on a number of issues that were of concern to Irish people during the Lisbon treaty referendum. What is the situation on the guarantees of workers’ rights, which was one of the matters of particular concern? This is a matter at EU level but it is also a matter for domestic legislation. In the review of Towards 2016, which was concluded last September, a number of initiatives were agreed between the Government parties and trade unions on workers’ rights legislation.
Two Bills have been on the list of promised legislation for some time, the employment agency regulation Bill and the industrial relations (amendment) Bill. The employment agency regulation Bill was on the list to be published before summer 2008. What has happened to it? When will we see these pieces of legislation? Does the Tánaiste accept that in the context of another Lisbon treaty referendum they would be very helpful to voters, who are deeply concerned about the implications for workers’ rights in the context of EU legislation and frameworks?
It is over a year since agreement was reached on the agency workers directives. There were marches to this House and the Government parties stepped out to reassure workers and their representatives that this would be legislated for, and we have heard nothing about it. I have another issue to raise.
The Tánaiste: Three pieces of legislation were agreed with the social partners, which my colleague, the Minister of State, brought forward. One is the Employment Law Compliance Bill, which has been read a Second Time and will be facilitated on Committee Stage by the committee.
The industrial relations Bill is with the social partners for consideration and once that has been completed, which I hope will be next week, we will be in a position to publish the Bill. There are two agency Bills. The agency regulation Bill is ready for publication. As has been indicated and agreed when the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, negotiated the agency workers directive on behalf of the Government, it will take at least two years for its enactment on the basis that very careful consideration, discussion and deliberation need to take place with the unions on the matter.
Deputy Joan Burton: The Tánaiste may be aware of the unprecedented spate of murders on the fringes of the west and north sides of Dublin resulting in a significant loss of human life. People are being gunned down in ways that are reminiscent of Al Capone’s days in Chicago. The public living in these areas, including in my constituency feel helpless.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: When will the criminal justice (money laundering) Bill to give effect to an EU directive on the matter come before the House? The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill passed Committee Stage last week and Report and Final Stages will be taken next week. I am informed that more than 30 amendments have been tabled and four hours’ debating time has been allocated to it next week. Given that the Bill has been before the House since 2006 and given that on Committee Stage last week entire sections were inserted into the Bill——
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: Opposition spokespersons are entitled to be informed and to be given time to digest this type of information before a Bill, which has been around the House since 2006, gets moved into almost a crisis-driven situation. Given the Bill’s complexities, the Tánaiste should consider two matters. Can the Report Stage of the Bill be postponed by a week so that Opposition spokespersons can consider the Government amendments and submit their own? Can more time be given to Report Stage so that the complexities of the Bill can be discussed at length?
The Tánaiste: The money laundering Bill will be taken this session. The Minister has made a memorandum available to the Opposition spokespersons on the complexity of this issue. I am sure we can facilitate some discussions if there are particular issues between the Minister and the officials.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I was involved in a meeting with Co-operation Ireland regarding the withdrawal of the €3 million capital funding from the Middletown Centre for Autism, which was part of the Good Friday Agreement. When can we have discussion on North-South co-operation in the Dáil? Could we at least have a discussion on the amendment Bill to the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 1998 to allow us to discuss that?
Deputy Pat Breen: This relates to a forthcoming Bill. A very serious situation is emerging in the aviation sector given the news over the weekend that services are being withdrawn from Shannon Airport and Ryanair’s announcement yesterday of a reduction of 36 flights a week and one fewer aircraft. I am pleased to see the Ministers for Transport, and Arts, Sport and Tourism present. Will the Government call Michael O’Leary’s bluff and abandon the €10 travel tax——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Can the Tánaiste confirm that as has been reported, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, intends introducing an amendment of the Constitution Bill to facilitate a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty and that Bill is to be addressed in the House in the coming week? Will it at least be published next week? What is the timeframe for the legislation? Does the Government intend to press it through before the summer recess? Will the Bill facilitate putting to the electorate the exact same Lisbon treaty on which we have already passed judgment? I understand the text will not be altered in any way either by so-called legal guarantees or by declarations.
We have debated the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the House passed a unanimous motion, which was very welcome. Everyone is to be commended on the approach to that matter. On the publication of the report of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation into clerical sexual abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese, will that report also be debated on the Floor of the House?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have one last item to ask about, with your patience a Leas Cheann Comhairle. However, on the matter of the report into clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, will the Government facilitate address of that report here?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: My final question is about an internal HSE report leaked last week that exposed the totally inadequate system of child protection in the State. It refers specifically to the infrastructure in terms of social workers, emergency accommodation and out of hours services——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Government introduce the child care Bill in order that the House can address in a real and earnest way the continuing threat to children in Irish society today and tomorrow?
The Tánaiste: The Government met and approved the wording of the Twenty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. As the Deputy knows we would like to get the matter initiated within the House as quickly as possible. Of course that is on the basis of a satisfactory outcome of the deliberations today and tomorrow. It is the intention that this legislation would go before the House and be complete before we rise.
The Government has not received the report into clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, but it will consider it and make a decision afterwards. The child care Bill will be taken in this session.
Deputy Denis Naughten: Until the end of last year the Government planned to publish the education (Ireland) Bill to establish a body to register the provision of education services including the teaching of English to foreign students. The Bill was to be published in 2009 but the Minister for Education and Science decided to shelve it. The Europol report last summer stated that educational establishments have gained importance in facilitating illegal immigration into the country and Members heard yesterday that language schools in Dublin are now breeding grounds for prostitution. I understand the Minister has an alternative Bill, No. 60, the Qualifications, (Education and Training) Bill. When will that be published? In light of the comments yesterday will it be expedited to deal with what is now major exploitation using a loophole in our immigration law affecting the language schools in Dublin?
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Will the Tánaiste confirm a report in The Irish Times yesterday that the Government has drafted legislation to be enacted in advance of the next Lisbon referendum ensuring that participation in European Defence Agency operations is subject to a Cabinet decision and Dáil approval? When will this legislation come before the Dáil?
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: This is totally different, it concerns the European Defence Agency. A Cabinet report was obviously leaked to The Irish Times stating that in future our participation in the European Defence Agency would have to be subject to Dáil and Government approval. Has that been drafted? Is that accurate?
The Tánaiste: The legislation is being drafted. The intention is to finalise the Lisbon treaty legislation before the House rises. The other Bill is being drafted but I cannot give a commitment on when it will be available.
Last February, the Committee on Public Accounts, PAC, issued an interim report on the irregularities, to put it mildly, in FÁS. We issued several key recommendations and sent them to the Tánaiste but to my knowledge no action has been taken on any of those recommendations. According to some media outlet, the Tánaiste is preparing legislation on the reconstitution of the FÁS board and the reduction of numbers on the board. When can we expect to see that legislation and when will there be action on some of the other recommendations? The public, the taxpayers, were aghast at some of the disclosures and at the fact that no action has been taken yet.
Deputy Bernard Allen: I want to raise another issue. PAC also wrote to the Minister for Finance to ask that the roles of the Comptroller and Auditor General and PAC be taken into consideration in the drafting of the National Assets Management Agency, NAMA, legislation to protect the taxpayers’ interest in this potentially massive cost to them.
Can I have an answer to both questions, and in respect of the second will the Government accept the recommendations of PAC that it and the Comptroller and Auditor General would have a key role in monitoring the activities of NAMA?
The Tánaiste: I indicated to the Deputy privately last week that I intend to introduce a new legislative framework for FÁS. Many of the PAC recommendations have been enacted and dealt with. We have to finalise consideration of further reports.
Deputy Simon Coveney: It is. It arises from the sloppy treatment of sensitive personal data by Bord Gáis and the Health Service Executive, HSE, in the past two days which has resulted in bank account details of 75,000 people and the personal details of nine families being compromised.
In response to that Bill the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform set up a data protection review group and promised it would result in a legislative response from Government to cover data disclosure——
Deputy Simon Coveney: The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should let me finish. It deals with data protection, disclosure and, potentially, encryption obligations, the absence of which has caused the latest data protection breach. A legislative response was promised and I want to know where it is now.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have another question, in support of Deputy Breen. The Tánaiste is the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment with by far the worst record in respect of jobs in the history of the State. Given that we are now losing another 600 jobs in aviation and related areas, would the Tánaiste consider asking the Minister for Finance to urgently——
Deputy Noel J. Coonan: The IDA’s response to the manufacturing company was that the stabilisation fund was being reduced by the Department, was over-restrictive and was unworkable. Has the Tánaiste plans to introduce emergency legislation before the recess, so that small manufacturing companies in this country will not be closed when we return?
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Okay. Under the industrial relations (protection of employment) (amendment) Bill, which is promised legislation, there are 100 jobs in Cork that have not been lost yet in Corden Pharmachem. With intervention, these jobs could be saved. Downstream, there are 600 jobs involved, so I ask the Tánaiste in her capacity as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to intervene as quickly as possible.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: There is a Bill promised on entitlement to health care. I raise this as some of the sickest children in the country have had their treatment delayed because of a 3% cutback in the children’s hospital in Crumlin. Many of us have raised this in the past week to deaf ears from the Government. I know that entitlement does not automatically bring treatment, but will the Government not do something to provide the funding for these very sick children?
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