Thursday, 15 October 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. b12, motion re orders of reference of committee; No. 5, Labour Services (Amendment) Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 6 — Defence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. b12, motion re orders of reference of committee on children, without debate agreed to? Agreed.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I compliment the Ceann Comhairle on his productivity. He is only in the job a day and he has already ruled out four matters under Standing Order 32. That is a record in its own way and perhaps he will allow one of those sometime during his tenure.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Yesterday, Deputy O’Dowd, from the same constituency as the Ceann Comhairle, exposed another scandal within FÁS whereby course results were doctored and manipulated so that students in County Louth, County Meath and north County Dublin were able to pass exams that they had failed. This took place in 2007 when Deputy Martin was the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The company involved continued to receive contracts worth tens of thousands of euro to run FÁS courses after a series of discrepancies were first discovered in 2007. This appears to be another example in a long litany of scandals that have afflicted the organisation.
Was the Tánaiste briefed on this when she was appointed? Did her predecessor call her aside and tell her that there was evidence of discrepancies in the way courses were examined, that material was altered and manipulated so that students could get certification? Was she aware of this when she defended the former director general of FÁS, who walked away from the organisation with an enhanced pension worth over €1 million? Was she aware that this latest scandal was seething within the ranks of FÁS? What does the Tánaiste propose to do about this situation? Is the tutor still employed by FÁS and is the company still contracted by FÁS? Does the Tánaiste intend to seek the return of the money from the company due to falsification of records? Will the Tánaiste ensure the company does not receive money from FÁS in any shape or form if that is what it was doing? Will the Tánaiste respond to the exposure by Deputy O’Dowd? May I also ask the Tánaiste——
Deputy Enda Kenny: This concerns the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill. Yesterday I raised the question of the award to the former director general being outside the guidelines and the Taoiseach referred to the Labour Services Act 1987. I refer to the Labour Services (Amendment) Bill, which the Tánaiste brought before the House. This matter is central to the organisation for which she has responsibility. I am commenting on the exposure by Deputy O’Dowd of another scandal within FÁS that gives everyone associated with the organisation a bad name. There is evidence across the country of brilliant work carried out with the assistance of FÁS in every town.
This morning I listened to Deputy Fahey, who is not in the Chamber, a representative of the Government. I assume he was speaking on behalf of the Government. He made the comment that Anglo Irish Bank will return to solvency and will be in a position to lend money again. I know this is mathematics week——
Deputy Enda Kenny: —— but I would like to know what computer system, binary system or abacus is used when the spokesman for the Government says Anglo Irish Bank will return to solvency and will be in a position to lend money. When does the Government envisage this happening?
Regarding the appointment of the deputy chairman of the Labour Court, the Department of Finance stated that this should be subject to open competition. I have no knowledge of the qualifications of the person who has been mentioned but I am sure they are extensive. In the interests of that person, would it not be better that he be allowed to present his credentials at interview so that everyone could understand these appointments are made on merit?
On the issue of NAMA, the legislation is before the House and a considerable number of amendments will be considered. Regarding Anglo Irish Bank I will not go into the idiosyncrasies of all that is happening in the NAMA legislation. The draft business plan has been put forward on the basis of the information available to the interim board——
The Tánaiste: On the issue raised in FÁS, my Minister of State will be addressing this matter in the context of the legislation in the concluding remarks of the debate on Second Stage. The internal audit unit of FÁS carried out an investigation. FÁS provides a considerable amount of training, in-house and through private training providers, and this is an important role. The internal audit was carried out following concerns raised at the time on the basis of the quality of the training provided. Arising from this, and from checks and balances within the FÁS audit unit, these matters were investigated and the situation has been rectified. The employee involved has been removed from office.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I wish to raise two matters with the Tánaiste. Yesterday, the Minister for Health and Children said that the decision to grant the chief executive of the HSE a bonus was a matter for the HSE board. This is not strictly correct because the Minister has the power under section 10 of the Health Act 2004 to give direction to the HSE in respect of any matter. Any such direction is then laid before the House. Does the Minister for Health and Children have plans to issue a direction to the HSE on whether the bonus should be paid to the chief executive and when will it be laid before the House?
On 11 June, the House agreed an all-party motion arising from the Ryan commission report into child abuse. Two matters arise from this motion that require legislation. The first concerns the establishment of an independent trust into which further substantial contributions can be made by the congregations concerned. These could be used to provide support, general education and welfare to the survivors of the abuse. The second matter that requires legislation is the examination of the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act in respect of the confidentiality attached to the awards and the application period. When will these two pieces of legislation, which were agreed unanimously by the House, be prepared?
The Tánaiste: On the first issue raised by the Deputy, as has been indicated by the Minister for Health and Children, this matter refers to a 2007 bonus. The Government stated clearly that no bonuses would be paid in 2008 and 2009 and it is a matter for the board.
On the issues arising from the Ryan report, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, published the Government’s plans at the end of July. A number of people have been appointed to the panel and their work is ongoing. As the Government indicated, work is ongoing on legislation that may be necessary. I do not have a date for when those pieces of legislation will come to Government but I can get a further update for the Deputy.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I wish to raise two matters, the first of which relates to the issue raised by Deputy Gilmore. Are there any proposals to introduce amending legislation to end the practice of self-assessed performance-related bonuses not only for the CEO, but also for hospital managers given their abysmal failure in recent years?
The second matter also relates to promised legislation. Will the legislative programme published at the beginning of the session be revised in light of the revised programme for Government announced last weekend? In particular, will legislation promised in the revised programme for Government be brought forward? This includes legislation to reform residency rules to ensure that those who benefit from living in Ireland are subject to taxation in Ireland; legislation on a new system for financing local government; legislation on water charges; legislation to merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency; and the FÁS legislation to ensure greater accountability to the taxpayer.
The Tánaiste: The relevant Departments will be working on all of these items. With regard to my Department, legislation on FÁS is being discussed in the House and we are working to bring legislation on the amalgamation of the National Consumer Authority and the Competition Authority to the House as quickly as possibly. It is hoped to do so at the beginning of next year.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: In light of the visit from the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, will we have movement on the amending legislation to the George Mitchell Scholarship Fund Act 1998? When will it come before the House? We need to try to encourage the peace process.
No. 81 in section D of the legislative programme is the Civil Partnership Bill 2009. Its history began some time ago when prior to the 2007 general election a Bill was voted down by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell. The Government gave an undertaking that it would bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency. There are many same-sex unions in the country and many of those in them are approaching an age in their life when they need to be able to put their affairs in order with regard to inheritance, property and visiting rights in hospitals. The Government has failed to accelerate the Bill, on which there is broad agreement. Why is it in section D? Does the Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition see this as a matter of urgency?
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I thank the Tánaiste and I take it that she will reinforce that commitment with her colleague who has just left the House because he does not seem to have the same sense of urgency that she just articulated.
Deputy Richard Bruton: We will shortly move on to Committee Stage of the NAMA Bill and the Government has stated that it will willingly listen to constructive suggestions from the Opposition. Is the Tánaiste agreeable to having the Comptroller and Auditor General assess the NAMA business plan on behalf of the Oireachtas so that we could have such a report when we are considering the issues concerned on Committee Stage? Rightly, there is much concern about the assumptions underpinning it. The Comptroller and Auditor General, as an independent constitutional officer, could advise us on the soundness of the business plan, help us in our assessment of the proposal and to develop appropriate amendments.
Deputy Joan Burton: On the same issue, we received the document immediately prior to the vote last night and we had no opportunity to assess it. If the document was issued in the private sector to the Stock Exchange it would carry, as an IPO document, very heavy legal and contractual obligations for its authors, who could be sued by disaffected shareholders if the information in the document was false.
Deputy Joan Burton: There is no indication of who is the author of the document, what legal or professional responsibility he or she is taking for it, or whether it is the Minister’s personal document. I support what Deputy Bruton stated about the Comptroller and Auditor General or another qualified person examining the document. However, it needs to be debated prior to Committee Stage because it is not a subject which will be directly debatable on Committee Stage because neither the amendments nor the Bill refer to the document or its status. If this was a public offering on the Stock Exchange in the Minister’s portfolio, it would be subject to the most detailed legal regulation.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I asked a specific question on whether the Government would allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to assess the report on behalf of the Oireachtas so that we could have an informed debate and develop appropriate amendments. Will the Tánaiste answer this question with a “Yes” or a “No”?
Deputy Richard Bruton: We should hear the Tánaiste’s reply. This is relevant and about business pending before the House. It is a reasonable request about a report that the Minister published last night. We need to have an independent assessment of it and the Tánaiste should reply one way or the other to my question.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I do not intend to delay the House but I am here a long time and the Tánaiste referred to the document as a business plan. She did not refer to it as a draft business plan and there is a crucial difference. With respect to the Ceann Comhairle and his comment, as ordinary Members of the House we need to know the status of the document. On its first page, it states——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I want to finish my point. I challenge the status of this document. In its first lines it states the Government will “not be in a position to verify the integrity of the data until it carries out its own due diligence on each of the loans”. Is this a reference or draft document for the information and assistance of all Deputies and to be placed in the Library? It is not a finished document that will go into the Committee Stage process of the legislation.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I would also like to have seen a declaration on conflicts of interest, particularly for the people who have put together the tentative valuations in this document. All of this is not something that can be raised——-
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: We should not be waving the document on to the finance committee. It is just a speculative piece in which the people who have put it together have not declared their interests such as firms of solicitors, auditors, auctioneers, valuers and so on.
Deputy Dinny McGinley: There is a continuing crisis in Letterkenny General Hospital, where elective surgery lists have been cancelled twice this week already and up to 15 patients are on trolleys while six beds lie empty in one of the wards. Will the Tánaiste inform us the position concerning two Bills that may have an influence in solving the problems in Letterkenny, the health information Bill and the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill? If they were enacted they might improve the situation at Letterkenny General Hospital where week after week——-
Deputy Emmet Stagg: I want to bring one matter to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle. The document from the Department of Finance referred to earlier is not listed among the documents that have been laid before the House on the Order Paper. It has, therefore, no status at all. This needs to be clarified.
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: Every backbencher was led to believe Committee Stage of the NAMA legislation would be taken in the Chamber. It is only last night that the word trickled out that it is not to be taken here. This is an absolute travesty. This is the most important legislation in the history of the State with far-reaching consequences that none of us can quantify. We have a right to speak on Committee Stage. The reality is we will not fit in the committee rooms below in the bunker of Leinster House 2000. This is disgraceful. The Tánaiste should account to the House on this matter.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: On a point of order, when we completed Second Stage of the NAMA legislation yesterday evening, Deputy Burton raised the issue about the lack of time for the preparation of Committee Stage amendments. This Department of Finance document regarding the NAMA business plan has no author or status attached to it. It was circulated by the Minister for Finance at 6.55 p.m. last night, five minutes before the vote on Second Stage after 29 hours of debate in the House. The document has not been laid before the House and it is not listed on the Order Paper.
The difficulty is there is a requirement that when amendments are proposed to a Bill, they may not impose a charge on the State. It is difficult for any of the Opposition spokespersons to craft amendments to the NAMA legislation and have them debated on Committee Stage when this document of uncertain origin and which has not been laid before the House may be used as a justification for ruling them out of order on the grounds they may impose a charge on the State. We need clarification on this matter before Members prepare their amendments. What is the status of this document? Who is its author? Has it been laid before the House? Will it be used as a basis for determining whether Opposition amendments are considered to be a charge on the State?
Deputy Joan Burton: While we all wish Deputy Kirk the best in his new role, the NAMA legislation is the most important financial decision in the history of the State with an obligation of €54 billion to be imposed on taxpayers. Opposition Members would be failing in their duty if we did not ask who the author of this business plan is and what is its provenance. If this document were issued by a private company and it turned out its information were incorrect, heavy fines would be imposed on its promoters and authors.
I agree with Deputy Bruton that an independent auditor, such as the Comptroller and Auditor General, should examine and evaluate the document’s data. Our banking system is in crisis because the regulatory system failed. The Tánaiste must respond on the status of this document. There is a squiggly looking harp symbol on its cover. Does that mean it is owned by the State? It is not the usual State harp. Is this to what €54 billion will be committed? It is not adequate.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: In respect of the referral by this House of the NAMA legislation to the finance committee, certain Members are charged with the responsibility of being members of that committee. Other Members, on all sides, who do not have membership of the committee, have expressed an interest in the detailed consequences of the legislation. Will the Ceann Comhairle brief Members as to what precise provision has been made to facilitate non-members of the finance committee to put down amendments and engage in debate and questions on the NAMA legislation on Committee Stage? However, this will not happen if any precedents are brought to bear. Will the Ceann Comhairle ensure the legislation is not dealt with in the finance committee but in this House so every Member has an opportunity to participate in full?
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Charles Flanagan will be aware we have a committee structure in the House. There is a chairperson and a secretariat in each committee and they will make the arrangements for the Committee Stage debate. There is clear provision for all Members of the House to attend.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: On a point of order, I requested at Whips meetings on numerous occasions, as did Deputy Stagg, that Committee Stage of the NAMA legislation would be taken in the Dáil Chamber. Our request was rejected. Members of my party, and my party leader, asked me to make this request because numerous members of the party who would have very good contributions to make wished to participate on Committee Stage. We warned the Chief Whip that there would be a space problem if Committee Stage was taken in the dungeons of LH2000. The committee room there holds only 15 or 20 Members. That is totally unsatisfactory. The Government should revisit this issue as soon as possible.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Will the Ceann Comhairle clarify his statement that the Chairman of the committee can make arrangements for alternative accommodation? The Chairman of the committee cannot decide to use the Dáil Chamber. That is the job of the Ceann Comhairle. We are asking him to ensure that the Members have space and time to deal effectively with this legislation.
Deputy John Perry: On a point of order, it is scandalous that there is a draft business plan for €54,000 million. For every action there will be a massive reaction to the debate but this will be debated in a small committee room. Every Member has an interest in the survival of small businesses around the country. One bank is getting €28 billion and will not give €1 back to the economy.
Deputy Arthur Morgan: I agree with the previous speakers. What is the status of this document that was handed into the House yesterday afternoon? Notwithstanding that the figures in it could have been plucked out of the sky there is a symbol on the cover that looks more like a party political emblem for Fianna Fáil than anything to do with the Oireachtas. Is this a Fianna Fáil document? Is it a Department of Finance document? Is it a document from the Government?
Deputy Arthur Morgan: We need proper accreditation on documents coming from the Department of Finance, which they normally have. This is a significant departure from what the Department would normally produce. Is the Department now adopting the Fianna Fáil logo?
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: There is a great deal of confusion about this document this morning. I understand that, ironically, the Minister for Finance is meeting the Construction Industry Federation at present. I suggest that he come into the House at some stage today to clarify the standing of this document.
Deputy Tom Hayes: I want to be helpful. I am watching the body language of the people in Government and I understand that they want to facilitate us. I propose that the Dáil adjourn for half an hour to try to solve this problem because it concerns everybody. We were all led to believe that we would be given the opportunity to discuss it so I propose that we adjourn the Dáil for half an hour.
The Tánaiste: Two weeks ago I advised this House that Committee Stage of the Bill would proceed in the normal way. We voted last night on a decision to send the Bill to the select committee. It will proceed to select committee. Deputy Charles Flanagan is a man of considerable experience in this House and he knows well that he or any Member can attend any of the committee meetings in this House.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: It is not the responsibility of the Ceann Comhairle to make sure that there is adequate space. It is the Government’s problem. We have warned the Government that if every Deputy turns up on Committee Stage of NAMA next week——
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Minister and the officials from the Department will take up a lot of space. This problem must be sorted out today. We cannot sweep it under the carpet until next week. Will the Government reflect on what can be done about this today?
Deputy Paul Kehoe: I am not accepting this. We will face a problem next week. Deputy Stagg and I have raised this on numerous occasions at the Whips’ meetings and we have warned the Government. There is no use saying that it should go back to the Whips to sort it out. I do not accept that. It must go further than the Whips because this has been rejected at Whips’ meetings. We have been told Committee Stage will be taken in a committee room, not in the Dáil Chamber. We want this sorted out now, today.
Deputy Tom Hayes: I insist that I get a chance to push my point. The only way to resolve this is to adjourn the Dáil for five or ten minutes because everybody on all sides of the House, including the backbenchers wants a chance to speak. This is the most serious legislation that has ever come before this House so we need a sos of ten minutes to try to come to a resolution.  There is huge anger among the public. People do not understand the legislation and they want to make their point. I am asking that we give democracy a chance and that we try to resolve this matter by adjourning the Dáil for ten minutes.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: On the Order of Business, in response to what the Tánaiste said about the course in Dundalk, that was a major scandal. For a full year one individual corrupted the results of a course but no reference was made to the real scandal. That company got further contracts and manipulated the material and the results and brought the course and external bodies such as City & Guilds into disrepute. Has the Tánaiste carried out, or will she carry out, an audit to ensure that this has not happened anywhere else in FÁS? Is she concerned enough to clarify this for the House next week?
Deputy Liz McManus: I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle’s position is difficult but Deputy Jan O’Sullivan and I indicated at the beginning of the Order of Business that we wished to raise two points. I ask that there be acknowledgement when a Deputy notifies the Ceann Comhairle early on.
Deputy Liz McManus: I thank the Ceann Comhairle, and I appreciate that. On 30 October 2009 Independent Network News, INN, staff will lose their jobs. Initially INN tried to consider that, because fewer than 20 people were employed, it did not have to notify the Tánaiste, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Of course, that was untrue. Under the Redundancy Acts it must notify the Minister. First, has she received that notification? Second, regarding promised legislation, in February, in a reply to a parliamentary question by me, the Tánaiste stated that this year she would introduce legislation to reform competition law, particularly in the area of media mergers. A report on media mergers and the risks in respect of ownership was slipped out by the Tánaiste’s Department. We need to have legislation now, arising from the concerns in that report. Third, will the Tánaiste work with INN to ensure the matters relating to the redundancies are referred to the Labour Relations Court?
Deputy Seán Barrett: On the same matter, before the Tánaiste replies, my understanding is that when legislation was passed setting up independent radio there was an obligation for independent news to be part and parcel of the licence. Can the Tánaiste explain how this fits into the proposal by INN to close business? What steps are being taken to substitute for it?
The Tánaiste: Perhaps I will have an opportunity to speak to the Deputies in private about this issue. It was raised with me by the National Union of Journalists, it has been examined by my Department and a response is being forwarded to the union. I can speak to the Deputies individually on the issue.
Media mergers will be included in the new legislation. In normal circumstances we would have been in a position to have this legislation before the House as part of the review of the Competition Act but we are now adding on the mergers of both organisations. It is my intention to include the recommendations on media mergers in the new Bill, arising from the review that took place.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I appreciate the time the Ceann Comhairle gave for issues on NAMA raised by colleagues. I assure the Tánaiste that I, on behalf of the taxpayers in my constituency, will want to fit into whatever room is set aside——
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I am sure I speak for the entire 166 Members in this Chamber in that regard. I return to the issue raised by my party leader, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. Yesterday, speaking to the media, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, stated that the matter of Professor Brendan Drumm’s bonus was a matter for the board of the HSE. I was surprised to hear her say that because in a parliamentary reply to me on Tuesday this week——
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I am talking about parliamentary business. I asked whether bonuses had been paid to staff under the aegis of her Department. In her reply, the Minister said her Department wrote to the board of the HSE on 15 May 2009, stating that bonus payments should be suspended pending the issue of further guidelines from central Government. My understanding is that the bonus——
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: This is a very important public matter because there is absolute outrage in regard to it. Some €1.2 billion is being taken out of the health services budget this year. My understanding is that the decision was made after that letter was written on 15 May 2009. I ask the Tánaiste, on behalf of the Government——
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Will the Government issue an order to the HSE board stating that the bonus should not be paid? It is against a decision of Government and a letter written by the Department of Health and Children.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I do not wish to delay the proceedings of the House but the Ceann Comhairle stated that the Adjournment debate was an option. He knows, I know and we all know that when one tables a matter for the Adjournment, more often than not, the competent Minister does not attend in the House. More often than not, one Minister of State is there to answer four Adjournment debates.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Yesterday I raised the issue of the competence and willingness of Ministers to answer questions in the House that are relevant to their Departments. What is going on at present is a disgrace. I expect the Ceann Comhairle, as a recent occupant of these benches, to defend the interests of the Members of the House. Nobody else can do so. I offer a classic example. In the past two days, I received three ridiculous answers to questions in which it is clear that individual Ministers are treating the House with contempt.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I remind the Tánaiste, in the middle of her conversation, that if questions tabled by Members of the House that were relevant to her Department had been answered in the House, we would not have had the embarrassing situation we had in recent weeks.
I will give the Ceann Comhairle the following example. It was a question to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, yesterday, asking about the number of home choice loans made to or through applications to the various local authorities in the past 12 months. It received the following answer, which sums up my point. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government replied that more 1,400 prospective purchasers——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: This is my question. When will the Tánaiste, acting on this morning’s Order of Business, address her colleagues in Cabinet and ask them, for God’s sake, to give serious consideration to the legislation they are putting through the House now and to the legislation for which they are responsible, but for which they refuse to accept responsibility by way of normal parliamentary procedure in this House?
The Tánaiste: The Taoiseach indicated in a response yesterday that any organisation set up arising from legislation passed in this House should have due regard to the elected people of this House and respond to them.
The Tánaiste: That should be the situation. If there is a parliamentary request for information from an organisation, the expectation is that the organisation will give a proper response to the person.
An Ceann Comhairle: A number of Deputies wish to speak. I ask them to come back to me on Tuesday and I shall take their queries at that stage. We must move on to the motion on the audited reference of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. I call on——
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