Tuesday, 7 July 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 23, Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Committee and Remaining Stages and No. 24, Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than midnight; Second and Remaining Stages of No. 23 shall adjourn at 10.30 p.m. tonight if not previously concluded; Report and Final Stages of No. 24 shall be taken tonight and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at midnight 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 Transport; in the event a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 37, Institutional Child Abuse Bill 2009 — Second Stage, Standing Order 117 (3) shall not apply and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall be adjourned after 90 minutes tonight and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 8 July.
An Ceann Comhairle: There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 24 agreed to?
Deputy Enda Kenny: It is not agreed. On previous occasions, we have objected to the principle of guillotines. I understand this is the first of nine guillotines to be imposed this week. There are 40 amendments tabled on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill; they will not all be reached and it will be rammed through in the way that other Bills have been. I heard numerous Deputies on the Government side state that the Dáil should sit during the month of July and deal with legislation properly and comprehensively. Now is their opportunity to do so.
Deputy Enda Kenny: We should not have a situation whereby they preach to the nation and state we should sit during the month of July and then state that we will guillotine everything. For that reason I object to this proposal. There are 40 amendments which cannot and will not be reached. This is not the way to legislate.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: We have had a number of weeks during which the Government has used a guillotine to pass legislation. As Deputy Kenny stated, there are nine guillotines on the schedule this week with which we were presented and in addition I understand another four guillotines are on the way in respect of one piece of legislation due to be taken this week. This would bring us to 13 guillotines this week.
The Government is going about ordering the business of the House in a very illogical way. The Ceann Comhairle will recall that last Thursday I objected to the Order of Business on the grounds that the Government had ordered the Bills the wrong way round. I pointed out that there was a guillotine on the first item at 2 p.m. and that I believed the two remaining items would not run their full course and that if we had ordered them the other way round that the full day would have been sufficient to deal with the business. Of course, what happened was exactly that; we ended up with a vote at 2 p.m. on the guillotine on the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill with a number of amendments undiscussed and then moved on to the other business.
The House was scheduled to sit until 10 p.m. and it finished at 6 p.m. because, as I predicted, there was not the level of debate that the Government anticipated on the salaries and allowances to be paid to Members of the European Parliament for which it allowed four and three quarter hours on Thursday’s business even though it was not going to take that amount of time. The same situation will arise this Thursday where I understand the Government has allocated five hours to all Stages of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill 2009. I do not anticipate that there will be sufficient Deputies offering to require five hours of debate. Even if the Government is trying to order business within the timeframe between now and Friday evening it could do so in a more sensible way than it is doing at present.
I agree with Deputy Kenny in that I do not see any reason the House cannot continue sitting for the rest of the month; if there is legislative business we will deal with it and we will be better dealing with it in a reasoned way, taking the amount of time required rather than having it rushed through in guillotines and having these long sittings that probably do not lend themselves to the type of parliamentary scrutiny that legislation should receive.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I could be contradicted but my sense is that there has never been as many guillotines employed in the lead up to the summer recess, certainly in my years of experience here. As Opposition Deputies have repeatedly cautioned, it has already been proven that many guillotines were unnecessary. I believe they should only be applied in the most exceptional of circumstances. They were not applied to many of the propositions put before us over recent weeks. With whom does the Chief Whip tic-tac-toe on the hours necessary to address these Bills? It is not mirrored in any of the Opposition voices or by our respective Whips. I do not know and fail to understand the configuration repeatedly presented. The same mistakes are signalled to recur again this week. I oppose the imposition of the guillotine on the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 after one and a half hours with more than 40 amendments to be addressed and the business to conclude at midnight.
The Taoiseach: I understand the Harbours (Amendment) Bill has been extensively debated in the Seanad and here over a long period and that many amendments which have already been extensively debated are being re-entered. It is a prerogative of Deputies to re-enter amendments if they so wish. It is not correct to suggest that many of these amendments have not already been debated. They have, but are being resubmitted for further discussion, the issues having already been given a full explanation. However, resubmitting of amendments is a procedural matter. There has been extensive debate on the legislation.
In the case of the criminal justice legislation planned for this week, further time has been provided by the Chief Whip in an effort to accommodate the requirements and demands of the House on the matter. Many of the guillotines ordered for the House on the Order of Business have not had to be utilised because of fewer speakers presenting or the shorter length of time required to deal with a Bill when it comes to the crunch. Deputy Gilmore may be able to point up a particular instance, but the Chief Whip has sought, working with the other Whips concerned, to accommodate Deputies to the best extent he can and predict as well as he can the interest in and level of debate and the time required to be allocated for Bills. One does not always get it exactly right, but he has got it right more often than not in the past.
I take the point made. The issue always arises with regard to end of session issues. The guillotine may not need to be used, but it must be provided for in the ordering of business to ensure the Government gets through the agenda it sets.
|Ahern, Dermot.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Andrews, Chris.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Aylward, Bobby.||Blaney, Niall.|
|Brady, Áine.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Browne, John.|
|Byrne, Thomas.||Carey, Pat.|
|Collins, Niall.||Conlon, Margaret.|
|Connick, Seán.||Coughlan, Mary.|
|Cowen, Brian.||Cregan, John.|
|Cuffe, Ciarán.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Dempsey, Noel.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Fahey, Frank.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Flynn, Beverley.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Haughey, Seán.||Healy-Rae, Jackie.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Kirk, Seamus.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McGuinness, John.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Nolan, M.J.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Dea, Willie.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Seán.|
|Roche, Dick.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Sargent, Trevor.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Treacy, Noel.|
|Wallace, Mary.||White, Mary Alexandra.|
|Bannon, James.||Barrett, Seán.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Coonan, Noel J.|
|Costello, Joe.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||D’Arcy, Michael.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lee, George.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McHugh, Joe.||McManus, Liz.|
|Mitchell, Olivia.||Morgan, Arthur.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Donnell, Kieran.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Reilly, James.||Shatter, Alan.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sheehan, P.J.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Upton, Mary.||Varadkar, Leo.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: I express the concern of everybody in the House on the abduction of Sharon Commins from Clontarf. I offer support to the Government in its efforts to secure her safe release and return her to her work and to her family. In that respect, I express our concern to her parents Mark and Agatha. We wish to be supportive of the Government in its efforts to have Ms Commins and her Ugandan colleague returned safely.
Does the Taoiseach intend to name the date for the Lisbon referendum when the Bill is taken tomorrow? Is there a clearer fix on when the Dáil will be recalled in September to deal with the legislation covering the National Asset Management Agency?
The Taoiseach: I join with Deputy Kenny on the first point. As I have already stated, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Government and I have indicated that the safeguarding of the welfare of our citizens abroad at all times must be a particular priority of any Government. We attach the highest importance to securing the safe and timely release of Sharon Commins and her Ugandan colleague, Hilda Kawuki. The House will be aware that, on being made aware of this abduction, the Government began a concerted and focused response, co-ordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and involving several Government Departments and agencies, and a multidisciplinary team of experienced experts, who were rapidly dispatched to Sudan to manage the situation on the ground and to seek an early resolution to what is a very difficult situation.
The Government of Sudan has assured us that the abduction is being treated very seriously and that everything possible is being done to secure the release of the two aid workers. I want to put on the record our appreciation for the efforts and assistance of the authorities which we are obtaining. I met the UN Secretary General today for a working lunch. The UN personnel on the ground have been very helpful in terms of providing logistics and help to ensure we get around to those people we need to get around to in order to find out what is happening and identify possible abductors.
The Government remains in close contact with the family. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has spoken to members of the family to emphasise we are doing everything in our power to ensure the safe release of Ms Commins and her colleague. We have also been liaising closely with the British, French and Canadian Governments, which have previous experience of similar abductions involving aid workers, including in Darfur itself.
Everything that can be done at this stage is being done. I am fully cognisant of the need to keep the public informed of developments but I am also aware of the need for discretion in what we say in public. The Irish team in Sudan is working diligently and should be allowed to get on with its work. I am sure it has the support of the House in so doing. I want to assure the House the full range of expertise and contacts at the disposal of the Irish Government and the NGO system in Sudan is being mobilised to assist with this operation.
With regard to the other issues raised by the Deputy, it is expected that we will announce the date for the referendum, which I had indicated would be in early October, on the discussion of the referendum Bill in the House this week. We are still working to bring forward the other legislation for publication this month with a view to returning in September but no decision has been taken yet.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I appreciate and understand the requirement for discretion in regard to the two GOAL workers who have been abducted. The Labour Party supports the efforts the Government is making to secure their early release. I know Deputy Michael D. Higgins has been in contact with the Minister, Deputy Martin, in connection with this issue. It is obviously a very troubling time for their families and friends.
The Taoiseach: No. The receipt of the report is awaited by the Minister for Finance this week and will be considered by Government in due course. As everyone is aware the setting up of the report is part of the preparations for the budgetary process for 2010.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I join the other party leaders in expressing the hope that we will shortly hear good news concerning Ms Commins and her Goal co-worker. I send our best wishes to all working towards their safe release.
We are in the final week of the Dáil session before the summer recess. The Government has already set in train arrangements for the National Asset Management Agency without any legislative basis or any substantive debate in real terms. We must take on board that billions of euro of taxpayers’ money and untold sums of public moneys are committed to facilitating the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency. It was promised not only that we would have the legislation by this week but that it would have been published long ago, that there would have been a full debate and that it would have gone through its final passage, in whatever form it was to take ultimately, having been discussed and debated here intently. We have yet to see the published legislation on NAMA. What is the situation at present? Are the heads of the Bill agreed at this point? Is there any prospect we will see the publication of the Bill this week? Will we have sight of it before the Dáil rises at the end of the week? What will the status be if we do not have the opportunity of substantive debate of the necessary legislation? What is the Government’s intention for the National Asset Management Agency for the period of the summer recess? Will it call back the Dáil early to facilitate address of the legislation that is long promised?
The Taoiseach: The position of the Minister for Finance was at all times that this was a priority for his Department. As the Deputy will be aware it is a very arduous and complex task in terms of bringing forward the structure for the implementation of the decision and also the legislative basis underpinning it. He has indicated that a target of July has been set for the bringing forward of the legislation and he has indicated a preparedness to have the House return in September for a special sitting to discuss the legislation, enact it and bring it forward. That is the consistent position he has outlined and I simply reiterate it. That is what he is working towards.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: In light of the continuing problems of youth alcoholism, when will the sale of alcohol Bill be introduced to try to control the problem? In recent weeks many Bills have been guillotined in the House but we still have not addressed the health information Bill. That Bill must be brought in to get true information about the situation in the health area.
I am pleased to see the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, in the House. In light of the report yesterday on the collapse in farm income the situation must be dealt with and discussed in the House. Will the Taoiseach arrange a debate on agriculture as a matter of urgency as soon as the Dáil resumes?
The Taoiseach: The sale of alcohol Bill will be introduced later this year. As I informed the Deputy last week the heads of the health information Bill were approved by Cabinet recently and we are proceeding with further detailed preparation of the legislation.
Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Taoiseach indicate if he would make available to the Opposition a timetable in respect of NAMA by the time the Dáil rises? At the North-South meeting certain briefings were given concerning NAMA suggesting it would be done over a very lengthy period, perhaps ten years or more. It seems odd to brief people in detail from the Northern Ireland Executive but not to be in a position to brief the Dáil. There is also a suggestion that one of the factors that will now influence the approach is the impact of NAMA on property prices in the North.
Deputy Joan Burton: Can we get a timeline and a diary for what will take place in respect of NAMA? It is the biggest financial decision and commitment the State will undertake. Can the Taoiseach provide this?
The Taoiseach: I have already outlined that it is expected that we will have the Bill published in July with a view to coming back to enact it in September. That remains the target of the Minister and that is the information I can bring to the House. I am surprised to hear the argumentation continuing from Deputy Burton who raised the matter on Leaders’ Questions. I thought I explained clearly that the valuation methodology would be consistent and on the basis of commercial criteria applied to all assets regardless of where they are located. What took place yesterday in terms of the political dialogue between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government was an agreement to brief the Finance Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive regarding the policy position of the Government such that they can understand and know where it fits into whatever policy initiatives they have. I made the point earlier, and it is well known, the NAMA legislation is not about organising fire sales everywhere but about trying to get a longer time horizon in which to recover value to these assets such that taxpayers’ exposure can be reduced apart from ensuring the reductions are taken by the people who have the debts and the banks in the first instance. I made all of this clear less than one hour ago.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I refer to the issue raised by Deputies Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore earlier in respect of the legislation and No. 3 on the pink paper, the industrial relations (protection of employment) (amendment) Bill. What is the status of that Bill especially in the context of recent developments in labour relations?
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: We will not talk about it at the moment and we will not consider the matter of the guillotine either because there is one week to go before Bastille Day and the use of the guillotine on the other side of the House should be treated with great caution. The Whips should bear that in mind.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: European issues are of great importance at present especially in the run up to the second referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The Joint Committee on European Affairs has produced five reports which are on the Order Paper for notice and discussion. Under the chairmanship of Deputy John Perry the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny has produced two other reports. Is it possible to facilitate a debate in the House between now and the Lisbon treaty referendum to clear these reports off because a request has been submitted for a debate in the House?
The Taoiseach: That is a matter for the Whips. I point out to the Deputy there will be an opportunity to debate European Union matters this week as part of the referendum Bill. The referendum will seek to ask the people to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon, which has increased scrutiny powers for national parliaments. The Bill could facilitate the Deputy’s wish to raise the views of the committees on those scrutiny matters which form part of the reports to which he has referred. There will be an opportunity to debate the substance and content of at least part of those reports’ recommendations on foot of the legislation before the House this week.
Deputy Leo Varadkar: The consumer and competition Bill is particularly relevant in the context of two issues, the first being that the IMO has been given a commitment that changes will be made to competition legislation to allow it to negotiate with the Government on services, having co-operated with the Government’s changes to the over 70s medical card. The second issue is the ongoing pharmacy dispute. Whatever one’s view is of that dispute, sooner or later the Government will have to talk to pharmacists about the services they provide, and by talk I mean negotiation. It states in the Government’s legislative programme that the heads of the Bill are yet to be agreed. Will the Taoiseach accept the urgency of this matter? When will the heads of the Bill be agreed by Cabinet so that legislation can be published?
The Taoiseach: It is hoped to have the legislation for the next session and this work is being undertaken. The question of talking to people and listening to their views and negotiating are two separate matters.
Deputy Joe Costello: Tomorrow the House will discuss the Lisbon treaty. There will not be much time, about five hours in all, devoted to its discussion. It is obvious, therefore, that we will not be dealing in detail with the items listed on the Order Paper. I ask about the number of pieces of legislation promised under Towards 2016 relating to protection of workers from exploitation in the workplace and the closing of loopholes. This was a significant issue in the reasons given by those who voted against the Lisbon treaty the last time around. Will the Taoiseach give the House a timetable for the introduction of such legislation?
The Taoiseach: On the industrial relations (amendment) Bill, we have a commitment to try to have it available before the end of July and we are seeking to meet that timetable. The question on the other legislation, the agency Bill, needs to be put to the line Minister.
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: I refer to the point raised by Deputy Varadkar about the promised consumer and competition Bill. The fact that six credit card companies hiked their charges last night is another example of banks taking advantage of consumers and fleecing vulnerable people who are struggling to pay bills. Would this be an opportunity to look at that issue and to put some restrictions on these banks, particularly in light of the fact that two of these banks, Bank of Ireland and AIB, both——
Deputy Liz McManus: Newspaper reports state that the Cabinet has agreed to proceed with the communications regulation Bill to deal with regulating premium rates services. Concerns have been expressed to me about the inadequacy of this Bill. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it will be published? It is very important to deal with scamming in the area of premium rate operators who are taking advantage of the looseness and current lack of regulation. There is not much point in bringing in a Bill if it will not reach the mark.
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