Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
It is proposed to take No. 21, Courts and Court Officers Bill 2009 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 5, Labour Services (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, No. 20, National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed) to be taken at 5 p.m. today and the order shall resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 33 – Medical Practitioners (Professional Indemnity) (Amendment) Bill 2009 – Second Stage (resumed), which shall be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m., or on the conclusion of No. 20, whichever is the later. Proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 20 shall be taken at 5 p.m. and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: That is correct and I will be brief. Is it the Government’s intention to accommodate a debate in the House this week or next week on the so-called new programme for Government negotiated between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party? Will the Dáil have the opportunity to properly address the content of the programme, which has been debated by only one of the political parties in a conference at the weekend? Will the Houses of the Oireachtas have the opportunity to debate this? Will the Government seek to secure the support of a majority of Members of the House, if it can?
The Taoiseach: The programme has been adopted by both parties formally and has the support of the Government and those who support the Government. There will be many opportunities for economic debates in the coming weeks and months. Various aspects of the issues can be considered. We have an important series of legislative arrangements in the coming weeks as a matter of priority.
Deputy Joan Burton: I oppose the imposition of a guillotine on the NAMA legislation. When the Bill was introduced in the House, the Minister gave an undertaking that there would be no guillotine and that all Members who wished to contribute to the debate would be able to do so. At €54 billion and counting, this is probably the most expensive legislation that has ever come before the House. To suggest that it would be the subject of a guillotine prior to Members having an opportunity to make their contributions is wrong practice and procedure. Not only that, but during the weeks of the debate there has been an opportunity for people as renowned as Professor Joseph Stiglitz to come to Ireland and speak at length about the craziness — from an economic point of view — of an Irish Government paying at least €7 billion over the odds for the distressed loans.
During the period of the debate the Minister admitted that Anglo Irish Bank, a failed financial entity, requires approximately a further €6 billion over and beyond NAMA in funding from the State. That is to be diverted from items we all know are essential, not least getting credit to business flowing again. It is essential that the Government reconsiders the wisdom of imposing a guillotine and leaving us with a NAMA which is not just inadequate but which will be a millstone around the taxpayers of this generation and the next.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Guillotine or no guillotine and irrespective of whether a raft of Deputies is left to speak is not the issue with regard to NAMA. While on principle we oppose the imposition of guillotines, the issue for us in opposing this is simply that we oppose NAMA, end of story and full stop. We do not want to see it progress to a further Stage here. We are opposed to the ordering of the conclusion of Second Stage and it moving on to Committee and further Stages. That is our position and will be our position throughout because this is a flawed proposition that will have dire consequences for people today, tomorrow and for some considerable time to come.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I wish to make an observation. I believe Second Stage of the Bill was to conclude last night. The debate was extended until 10.30 p.m. and I understand from the Fine Gael Whip that this was to accommodate Fine Gael speakers. The majority of our speakers have spoken on it. I have stated in the past that I am opposed to the principle of guillotines. However, we are faced with the political reality that the Bill is before us and is being discussed. We have opposed NAMA previously and we will do so again.
Arising from the political reality, I am more concerned that we do not have guillotines imposed on the debate on sections of the NAMA Bill on Committee Stage. That is where we will deal with the points being made by Deputy Burton and everybody else. While the intention is to group relevant headings, I would be utterly opposed to the imposition of guillotines by timescale on those groups because the critical issues must be dealt with on Committee Stage.
The Taoiseach: We have had 27 hours of debate on Second Stage of this important legislation and another two hours of debate will take place today. We need to move on to Committee Stage to deal with the detail of the Bill and it is only fair and right that we do so. It is important to point out that, while people discuss the legislation and have their views on it, it is far more expensive to contemplate what would happen if we did not proceed with the Bill. We would put at risk all that we have achieved so far.
When EU Commissioner Almunia was here he made the point very clearly about the need for the country to move forward with the national asset management agency solution. It also has continuing support from the European Central Bank and the IMF. There are far more than certain individuals, however eminent, speaking about this matter. The concepts of fair economic value and long-term economic value are accommodated for in the EU guidelines on distressed assets. It is a fair contention that the outline the Minister has put on these aspects of the legislation would be regarded by most people as reasonable.
We must move forward with the Bill. Second Stage is due to conclude at 7 p.m. and I anticipate that Committee Stage will be taken on the weeks beginning 21 and 27 October, pending the agreement of arrangements with the Chairman of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. It is important that we move forward on this basis.
|Ahern, Bertie.||Ahern, Michael.|
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Andrews, Chris.||Ardagh, Seán.|
|Aylward, Bobby.||Blaney, Niall.|
|Brady, Áine.||Brady, Cyprian.|
|Brady, Johnny.||Browne, John.|
|Byrne, Thomas.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Carey, Pat.||Collins, Niall.|
|Conlon, Margaret.||Connick, Seán.|
|Coughlan, Mary.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Cullen, Martin.||Curran, John.|
|Dempsey, Noel.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Fahey, Frank.|
|Finneran, Michael.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Flynn, Beverley.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Kenneally, Brendan.||Kennedy, Michael.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|McDaid, James.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McGuinness, John.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M.J.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Brien, Darragh.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Hanlon, Rory.|
|O’Keeffe, Batt.||O’Keeffe, Edward.|
|O’Rourke, Mary.||Power, Peter.|
|Roche, Dick.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Mary.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Breen, Pat.|
|Bruton, Richard.||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.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McHugh, Joe.||McManus, Liz.|
|Mitchell, Olivia.||Morgan, Arthur.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Keeffe, Jim.|
|O’Mahony, John.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Penrose, Willie.|
|Perry, John.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Reilly, James.||Ring, Michael.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sheehan, P.J.||Sherlock, Seán.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Upton, Mary.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Washington to discuss comprehensive immigration legislation to be passed in the United States or is he basing his talks on a selective or individual arrangement for Ireland? I recognise the complications this involves and the difficulties facing American legislators. I understand the Obama Administration wants to bring in comprehensive immigration legislation this year which will deal with the undocumented Irish and other immigrants.
The interim report of the mid-west task force chaired by Denis Brosnan has been around for some time. He predicts that unemployment could rise to 20% in the mid-west if no action is taken regarding the report’s recommendations. I suggest that the Chief Whip arrange an appropriate time to discuss that report in the House.
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Foreign Affairs normally meets Irish groups in New York and Washington, and goes to the hill to meet people to discuss issues of interest to us. However, it was not possible for him to go in September because of the Lisbon treaty referendum campaign. He has taken the opportunity to do so this week. I am sure that he will meet some of the immigration reform groups because this is a perennial issue with which the embassy deals.
The US Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, mentioned it when she was here. She said in a public comment that the Obama Administration is addressing this matter and that it needs to be done comprehensively because it is a difficult and sensitive issue in the United States and in Congress. There is a continuing effort to build a consensus on how to deal with it. We have met people who have come here to discuss that issue. The Minister will see how we can constructively assist the debate so that we can try to deal with the matter as it affects us and our people.
It is a matter for the Whips to decide if the interim report of the task force can be fitted in for discussion at some point in our debates. The Minister and the Tánaiste are taking up recommendations in the interim report. We will continue to work on those.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is a large number of people offering with questions. It is important that these relate to promised legislation because, otherwise, the Order of Business will be all over the place.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a commitment, which the Taoiseach repeated, to hold an election next summer for a mayor of Dublin. We do not yet know what will be the functions of that office or how it will relate to the existing local authorities. Legislation is required. When is it intended to publish it and is it planned to enact it before the end of 2009?
The parties in government have approved the legislative programme for Government. There will be plenty of opportunities for debate on the issues arising from the programme in Question Time and in economic debates. In the weeks immediately ahead the Government is anxious to proceed with its heavy legislative programme and schedule.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: We wake up daily to hear news reports of the most vicious and depraved assaults on elderly people, particularly in rural areas in every part of the country. What package of measures is available in the programme for Government initiated two years ago to deal with the increase in crime? Experts say that there is a direct link between an economic downturn and an increase in burglaries and other crime.
The Government recently rejected a Fine Gael Bill on home defence on the basis that it was bringing forward its own legislation, particulars of which we have not seen. It has indicated that it will continue to downgrade Garda stations around the country. If the recommendations of the McCarthy report are implemented, most rural Garda stations will close. Many Garda stations are open for only one hour in the morning, a token presence. The Government has discontinued the subvention for an alarm and safety system for older people. What package of measures does the Government plan to address the problem of communities living in fear for their personal safety and that of their property, and their loved ones and family members? How long more must we tolerate a situation in which lawlessness seems to be the order of the day?
The Taoiseach: Questions about particular policy areas are best addressed to the line Ministers. The Government is committed to providing the maximum resources possible to the Garda in the current circumstances. There have been many successes in targeting anti-social behaviour and protecting people in their homes. There have also been some serious incidents which have unfortunately resulted in deaths. This reinforces the continuing efforts of the gardaí to identify those groups or gangs who target or seek to victimise the elderly whether in urban settings or in rural areas. The Garda regards this as a matter of high priority and conducts continuous surveillance to identify and apprehend the people involved in this appalling cowardly and despicable behaviour.
A report on cystic fibrosis was published yesterday by the HSE which confirms the scandalous failure of the Government and the HSE to provide the essential facilities necessary for those who suffer from CF. Will that report be debated in the House? Will the Taoiseach confirm or clarify whether it is correct that the report was commissioned in 2005, concluded in 2006 and suppressed by the HSE until yesterday? On what basis can the cover up of a report of this nature, prepared with public money, which exposes the gross neglect of services be justified? Does the Taoiseach agree his Government and the Minister for Health and Children are responsible for a series of promises made to provide proper services in this area? They have not been fulfilled, have directly resulted in the premature death of patients suffering from cystic fibrosis and have placed other patients at very serious risk.
The Taoiseach: Again, these are policy queries and best addressed to the line Ministers concerned. Without notice I certainly would not have all the detail. Obviously, seeking to assist people who suffer from cystic fibrosis must be a continuing effort by those charged with the responsibility for providing services. There have been——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I, too, congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his first day in office and I assure him that we humble backbenchers will do our best to make it as interesting as possible for him during his sojourn in the Chair.
Will the Ceann Comhairle, and perhaps through him, the Taoiseach, address a very serious issue that has developed over recent years, namely, that, on an increasingly prevalent basis, Ministers refuse to answer questions on the basis that they are not accountable to the House? I ask the Ceann Comhairle to bear with me for 30 seconds. The Departments to which this applies most particularly are the Department of Health and Children——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: This concerns promised legislation and the business of the House. The Departments of Health and Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment and, more recently, Transport, have crept into the area of repeated refusals to answer questions. A problem that has emerged in recent weeks is that, because of a lack of accountability to this House, certain embarrassing issues have arisen, precisely because there was no plan or attempt by different Ministers to answer the question. There was, in fact, a complete refusal.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: We must remember — as a long-serving Member of this House the Ceann Comhairle will know this better than anybody — that for every penny approved by a Department to a subsidiary body of any kind, the Minister concerned is responsible to this House.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Yes, we have. I ask the Taoiseach, through the Ceann Comhairle, to address this issue before these problems become much more serious than they are now. They could not be more serious. Will legislation be introduced or will the Taoiseach incorporate these proposals into legislation already on the Order Paper with a view to ensuring that from now Ministers will answer the questions they are asked? For example, the chief executive of the HSE——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: In the same way, the chief executive of FÁS should have been here to answer questions in the past four or five years. We would have received answers to questions and would not have had these problems. I ask the Taoiseach if something can be done about this.
The Taoiseach: There is no promised legislation in this area. It is possible for the committee system to bring any people charged with public bodies to come to the House and be cross-examined on a range of issues. That is ongoing. Where there are issues of policy, obviously a Minister is responsible. In operational matters, agencies are established by this House and given that statutory responsibility. It is of course incumbent on all such bodies to provide effective response to representations from Deputies and to assist them in every way so that they and we can discharge our democratic duties. That issue has been commented upon by Members of this House and I would like to see it rectified to their satisfaction. Ultimately, the situation is that we have a committee system through which people are brought forward and cross-examined on various operational matters and this is being done effectively by Deputies. However, to bring people into the Chamber on the Order of Business concerning promised legislation is not the way forward.
Deputy Joan Burton: I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Will the Taoiseach tell the House when the Government proposes to commence Committee Stage of the NAMA legislation? Second, I ask the Taoiseach and his Government to give serious consideration to having this most important legislation dealt with in this Chamber. The committee rooms are small and there are many Members of all parties who wish to contribute on Committee Stage. It is almost impossible to do that in the basement rooms available.
The Taoiseach spoke yesterday about Committee Stage of this Bill being structured like a Finance Bill, in which an hour or two will be devoted to ten or 15 sections. That means that if the Bill runs, as it will do by the time the Minister’s amendments come in, probably to more than 100 sections, each section of five or six will have a mini-guillotine. What does this mean in respect of the Government’s commitment that every aspect of this Bill will be debated?
When will Members see the amendments of the Minister for Finance? I am told these may run to hundreds of pages and it is extremely difficult for the Opposition to operate in an environment where we have no prior notification from the Minister for Finance on legislation that will cost all of us €54 billion and rising.
The Taoiseach: Again, I make the point that the cost to our financial system of not dealing with this issue is far greater. To suggest we are not making arrangements to ensure that the interests of the taxpayer are being protected in this matter is a gross distortion of the situation. Second, regarding the actual arrangements, it is anticipated that Committee Stage will be taken in the weeks beginning 21 and 27 October, pending the agreement I arranged with the Chairman of the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. It will be a matter for that committee to order its business and decide how to accommodate the point made yesterday, namely, that where specific stages are relevant and possible amendments on specific sections that would be of particular importance, there would be a fair bit of debate. As I understand it, that is what is envisaged and it is the way to proceed.
We have to get on with this legislation. It is difficult and complex and provides a heavy workload for everybody but it must be proceeded with. We will do that and accommodate everything in the very best way we can in the interests of trying to debate those sections of the Bill that are of major concern to people and seeing that amendments are put forward and debated. We do not have unlimited time because of the urgency of the situation.
Deputy Joan Burton: The Taoiseach has been very helpful and the matter of how this will work is very important. Did the Taoiseach say that Committee Stage would commence on 21 October? If that is the case, we must have our amendments in by 10 a.m. Second Stage of the Bill is being voted on only tonight. It would be impossible. We would not even have a chance to hear what the Minister for Finance proposes. Can I get clarification from the Whip about the proposed date?
Deputy Brian O’Shea: Tá reachtaíocht geallta i leith teorainneacha na Gaeltachta, an sainmhíniú nua ar cad is Gaeltacht ann agus Údarás na Gaeltachta. An mbeidh an straitéis 20 bliain foilsithe roimh 9 Nollaig, lá na cáinaisnéise?
Deputy Billy Timmins: The Taoiseach will be aware that an Irish citizen, Mr. Michael Dwyer was shot in unusual circumstances in Santa Cruz in Bolivia in April. Does the Taoiseach agree that the family is at least entitled to the truth surrounding the circumstances of Mr. Dwyer’s death? Will he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs use their influence with a view to establishing an independent international inquiry into those circumstances, given the conflicting evidence between the Bolivian authorities and our State pathologist?
The Taoiseach: Everyone would share Deputy Timmins’s hopes for the family that it would find out exactly what happened in this tragic situation. I know that the Department of Foreign Affairs, its personnel and the Minister have been anxious since the incident occurred to obtain the fullest possible accurate information as to what exactly happened. I will convey the Deputy’s comments this morning to the Department and ask it perhaps to update him as to where things are at.
Deputy Paul Connaughton: Is the Taoiseach aware of Coca-Cola’s shameful disregard for a Labour Court recommendation in respect of redundancy levels? Some 27 workers have been picketing in Tuam for the past six weeks, although there are also workers picketing in Dublin and Cork.
The Taoiseach: I believe that once we have a voluntary mechanism of industrial relations in this country, the industrial relations machinery should be used to the full. There is a best practice tradition in this country to the effect that the Labour Court’s recommendations be respected, worked through and implemented. Whatever issues that might be arising that require further consideration should be dealt with in that context, so I would ask that best practice in industrial relations behaviour apply in this as in other cases.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: I wish to ask about 772 people who are living in what are de-designated psychiatric units and 300 people with intellectual disabilities who are still in psychiatric hospitals. In respect of the 772, the units are not subject to inspections because they have been de-designated and, therefore, no one knows their condition or how the situation should proceed. Will the Taoiseach ensure that not only will the HIQA standards of inspection be implemented, but that inspections be extended to these units?
Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure that the €40 million obtained by selling psychiatric hospital lands that is now in the Department of Finance be given to the HSE to provide proper services for those people, as was intended under the legislation? The money derived from the sale of lands was to be used for the benefit of people already in psychiatric hospitals.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: I did. I know this is the Ceann Comhairle’s first day and we are all anxious that everything should go well, but I tabled questions on all of these issues and was told that the HSE not the Minister for Health and Children had responsibility. However, the HSE tells me that it is the responsibility of the Department of Finance. In the meantime, 772 unfortunate people are living in appalling conditions when they could be in the community and 300 people with intellectual disabilities are in wards mixing with people unsuited to their needs. When will we do something about this situation?
The Taoiseach: I think that the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, has been very active in this area and is obviously anxious and is in the process, in the context of budgets and Estimates, to see in what way he can advance the issue of mental health services generally. I will have confidence that the budgetary and Estimates process will find some way forward that will improve the present situation.
Deputy James Bannon: The health service is crumbling, but the author of the collapse is being rewarded with a bonus of €70,000. Elderly patients in my constituency are being turned away from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Longford——
Deputy James Bannon: ——despite there being empty beds because of the HSE’s moratorium on recruiting staff. My question is to the Taoiseach. When can we expect the publication of the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill? “Eligibility” implies provision.
Deputy Mary Upton: Recently, I have received numerous serious complaints from the neighbours of householders who are creating persistent noise and disturbances. I want to ask about two Bills, particularly where landlords fail to take effective action, namely, the noise nuisance Bill and the landlord and tenant Bill.
Deputy Joe McHugh: I wish to raise an issue under the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill, given the presence of the Minister of State with responsibility for labour, Deputy Calleary, and the Tánaiste. When we are discussing the effectiveness of the board, we must also discuss a radical overhaul of courses. I am encountering many constituents, sparkies and plumbers, who have done one, two or three years of their apprenticeships but who find themselves in limbo. Their expectations were for 26-week courses, which puts them further into limbo.
Deputy Joe McHugh: While we are considering a radical overhaul of the board, we also need to consider a radical overhaul of the courses that we deliver. We have only to look at our neighbours in America where Cormac McCarthy wrote a book entitled, “No Country for Old Men”. We are in the process of——
Deputy Joe McHugh: Ireland is becoming no country for young men. We need to address this serious situation. Some 104,000 people in the unemployed labour force are aged under 25 years. Young people are getting on boats and aeroplanes. We cannot record——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: In the first instance, I join with others in wishing the Ceann Comhairle well in his office. I hope I do not test his patience on his first day. I am not anxious to delay the business of the House but I want to make one remark about something the Taoiseach said earlier. He mentioned the Government’s heavy legislative workload. By way of being positive, I ask if the Taoiseach would consider the outsourcing of the preparation of legislation. A number of Bills on the proposed legislative list have been put back. I say this because there has been——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Not so. I can assure the Ceann Comhairle that people may not even agree with what I have to say. If the Government wanted to eliminate the legislative backlog the Taoiseach could announce that he was willing to give up the Government monopoly on the initiation of legislation and allow legislation to be initiated by the Opposition and in committees. I am not going to develop this point because instead of going down that road we have a rather ill-informed rush to change the electoral system. What is the reasoning behind this? It is not to change the legislative process. I am just noting this point.
I refer to a seminal paper prepared by former Attorney General, Mr. David Byrne, which ruled that Ministers in delegating functions to bodies such as the HSE or any other body, did so in an explicit policy envelope and could not legally, under the Constitution, devolve any function they held as Minister other than that which was specified in the Act appointing the particular body to which delegation was made. This should inform the notion——
I will finish with an explicit question about promised legislation. Ireland has not ratified theHague Convention on the protection of the child. We have not done so because we have not passed the adoption Bill which is on the list of promised legislation. Our failure to ratify the adoption Bill is accompanied by the failure of Vietnam to accept the Hague Convention. Vietnam aspires to accept the Hague Convention in 2010. It is most likely to be 2011——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I am finishing now. My question is when will we have the adoption Bill and related legislation before the House? When I have listened to all the huff and puff about electoral reform from people who do not want to change the legislative process I will find another way of stating those other more general views. However, it is a pity that we would not be committed to wanting to improve the flow of legislation through the House.
On the other points raised by the Deputy, the issue from the Government’s point of view is always to bring forward legislation that is consistent with Government policy. Much legislation is brought forward under the aegis of Private Members’ time and this is the entitlement of any party or individual Member but such legislation may not be consistent with the Government position and therefore does not go beyond Second Stage.
The Taoiseach: It is part of our heritage with which we have to contend. However, it is open to try and develop the committee system. Where there are broad areas of agreement in the House on issues that may require legislative enactment, then it is open to Members to try and work constructively together. Too often, however, partisanship dominates and it seems people would be fearful that we would be in agreement on certain things. In fact we probably agree on far more than we let on. It would be helpful if Dáil reform could develop a committee system to do that.
There is an arrangement whereby outside drafting personnel are provided but in any case such work must be finally approved by the officials in the Office of the Attorney General. Having taken a question from the Deputy’s party leader this morning and with reference to February 2008 when this question was asked, there are now more drafting personnel in the Office of the Attorney General. It is the policy to move away over time from contract to permanent staff. This has been achieved even in the context of a moratorium and by means of the office not employing certain staff in other areas of activity. The point is made that we need to be efficient and effective in everything we do. I agree the legislative work load is high. We could do a lot more by working together but we need eminent Members of the House on all sides to come together and try and make this happen.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the animal health and welfare Bill which is listed in section C of promised legislation, the heads of Bills yet to be approved by Government. I ask about some of the so-called concessions agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party last week with regard to animal welfare. These are included in what is termed the programme for Government but I would refer to it as an aspirational policy document. What does the Taoiseach intend will be included in this Bill? That document sets out the prospect of a ban on the culling of badgers, the phasing out of fur hunting and a reference to ending stag hunting. We are not quite clear on the time line for this. Will it be included in the Bill which is set out in promised legislation? Does the Taoiseach believe this is a serious series of measures for improving animal welfare or will it be just more window dressing which will not deal with real animal welfare issues? For example, my colleague, Deputy Andrew Doyle, today raised the issue of puppy farming which takes place in horrendous conditions and all around the country but which does not seem to have been included in the aspirational document last week.
These proposals have been much vaunted by the Green Party as one of the biggest achievements in the so-called programme for Government yet the document does not go any way towards addressing the real and serious issues of animal welfare. It also probably suggests that the Greens in Government, far from being the meat in the sandwich are probably a little more like the hummus within the toasted ciabatta.
The Taoiseach: To answer the serious point, consultation has been completed on an animal welfare Bill. There is no date for bringing forward the legislation but work will be ongoing on the Bill, quite apart from further issues that are addressed in the programme for Government.
Regarding the forthcoming budget and finance Bill, there is no reference to the Limerick regeneration project in the so-called new programme for Government whereas the original programme for Government made specific mention of regeneration projects. Also, there is no mention of it in the report of the jobs task force established by the Tánaiste. Is the Minister still committed to Limerick regeneration? Why was it not included in the new programme for Government? When will it be approved at Cabinet? I understand there is a commitment that it will happen towards the end of this month. The regeneration programme for Limerick is still not formal Government policy——
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: —— and I ask the Taoiseach if he can give a commitment that the Government will be funding it. It is unacceptable that it is not mentioned in the new programme for Government. It is important for the Taoiseach to make reference to it in the House today.
The Taoiseach: I have outlined to the Deputy that the existing programmes and policies extant under the aegis of Government will, of course, continue. The revised programme sets out some of the priority areas and some of the issues that came up for discussion on which further agreement was required. The whole range of Government activity is not encapsulated in any one programme for Government and that applies to any Government.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I join with my colleagues in wishing the Ceann Comhairle well. Did the Taoiseach see last night’s harrowing television programme about the personal odyssey of a Green Party Member? One could have cut the tension with a knife.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: The merit of it was that one did not know which way things were going to go until right up to the end. I had to have a cold cloth applied to my forehead because I was so worn out simply watching it. At 1 o’clock an additional 300 teachers was agreed to but he got it ramped up to 500 by tea time and we are all very grateful for that. I wish to avail of this opportunity to ask the Taoiseach to respond to queries we have received. Will any of those teachers be recruited during the present academic year?
The Taoiseach: It is over a three year programme. As the Deputy is aware the question of the detailed implementation of the programme is a matter for the Minister for Education and Science. As a general point, the question of allocation of teachers in any year is based on the intake of the previous September, as the Deputy is aware. The question is to establish in what way we can deal with any specific issues that arise based on criteria which are to be worked out by the Department. That will inform how those extra teachers will be provided for and it is quite apart from the extra teachers that will be provided because of demographic change. It is a commitment for a further improvement in the situation based on the changes that took place in 2007.
Deputy Tom Hayes: I join with my colleagues in wishing the Ceann Comhairle well in his new post. I refer to the commitment about third level fees in the programme for Government. Will a cap be put on the registration fee? There is great concern among people who must pay a €1,500 registration fee. Will that figure rise? The Taoiseach represents a rural constituency, as do I. People from rural areas have very significant registration fees to pay plus accommodation costs and such people are under desperate pressure. There are many families with children in college throughout the country. Is it possible that at some stage in the future people will get tax concessions or that they would be able to write costs off against tax? It is very unfair, especially for rural people. Is there a commitment that the Taoiseach will cap the fee after €1,500 and will it be possible to get tax concessions?
The Taoiseach: I refer the Deputy to the programme for Government which confirms the situation in respect of fees. The question of registration fees relates to specific areas of expense that must be accommodated. That situation is outlined in the programme.
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