Thursday, 5 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 11, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services, [Votes 7 and 12], back from committee; and No. 24, the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009, Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. today and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of Question Time tonight, which shall be taken on the conclusion of No. 24 for 75 minutes, and in the event of a private notice question being allowed, it shall be taken after 45 minutes, and the order shall not resume thereafter; the sitting shall be suspended from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. today; No. 11 [Votes 7 and 12] which shall be decided without debate, shall be moved together and decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; and the resumed Report Stage and Final Stage of No. 24 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8 p.m. tonight by one question, which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.
Deputy Alan Shatter: That is agreed, Sir, but before we travel beyond that point, the Order of Business allows the Dáil to sit beyond 4.45 p.m. but we are to conclude the debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill at 8 p.m. Essentially, the Government wishes to guillotine this legislation in circumstances in which, in the context of Report Stage, we have concluded debate and discussion on four out of 135 proposed amendments.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Many of the amendments are of substantial importance. The one thing we have discovered with this legislation as we have gone through from Second Stage to Committee Stage to Report Stage is that the Government has recognised the need for substantial amendments.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The point I make, Sir, is that in principle this party has no objection to us sitting late, but I oppose and Fine Gael opposes, the Order of Business in full because the debate on Report Stage of the National Asset Management Agency Bill should be open ended. It should not be guillotined. This is one of the most important financial measures——
An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal on the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11, Supplementary Estimates for the Public Services, [Votes 7 and 12], without debate, agreed to? Agreed.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I will not unduly delay the House. For the reasons I gave previously, Sir, that this is a measure of fundamental importance to the future financial stability of the State, this House should have the opportunity to fully consider and debate it. It is a measure that, as we have gone through from Second Stage to Report Stage, has resulted in substantial amendments being brought forward, even by the Government, as it realised the defects and omissions contained in the Bill.
I ask the Tánaiste not to divide the House on this issue. It is absolutely scandalous that it could be suggested that having spent yesterday dealing with four amendments, the remaining 131 could be adequately debated and considered between now and 8 p.m. I ask the Government and the Tánaiste to agree to an open-ended discussion until such time as we complete Report Stage.
Deputy Alan Shatter: If need be, Members on this side of the House are quite prepared to sit into the small hours of the morning. We did so this day last week and, as a consequence of that discussion, the Minister, who was denying the need to make amendments on a number of issues, including with regard to special purpose vehicles, has now agreed that there is a need to address some of the issues raised on that occasion. We have not yet got into any detailed debate on those vehicles and the controls necessary to ensure probity.
Deputy Joan Burton: As a woman Deputy, perhaps I take a slightly different line from Deputy Shatter. I understand that many Deputies wish to go home to their families and children at some time between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. tonight. That is perfectly valid. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with this House doing a day’s work tomorrow, starting at 9 a.m., as most people who are lucky enough to have a job will do.
Deputy Joan Burton: I have no problem with staying here through the night. We did it last week and it is not difficult. However, it is not necessarily the most family friendly way of doing business. Many of the amendments that are critically important——
Deputy Joan Burton: ——to do with Fianna Fáil’s friends in the property business in camera. We object to a guillotine at 8 p.m. We can sit through the night or there is a more civilised way of doing this, which is to return here at 9 a.m. tomorrow and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, if necessary.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There is an infinitely better solution. Simply put, it is that the Deputies on the Government benches who privately share the concerns expressed by Opposition voices about NAMA, and privately share that opinion, take the courage to oppose the passage of the legislation when it is put to the House today or any other day.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: NAMA should be opposed because it is a fundamentally flawed formula to address the difficulties that currently bedevil this economy. It was galling yesterday to witness the Minister for Finance sitting beside an OECD representative and calling for the slashing of child benefit, the minimum wage and social welfare payments across the board.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——and then for the Minister to come to this House and expect Deputies to give approval to his proposition to bail out banks and developers with tens of billions of Irish taxpayers’ money-----
The Tánaiste: I agree with Deputy Shatter that this is important legislation. All Members of this House have participated fully in the deliberations on it. There were 29.5 hours of discussion on Second Stage, 42 hours of discussion on Committee Stage and on Report Stage, including today, there will be 14.25 hours. That is almost 86 hours of deliberation on this legislation. It must then go to the Seanad and be returned to this House next week.
Deputy Alan Shatter: This House is not a rubber stamp for the Government. We are elected to this House to take responsibility by the electorate. The Government is guillotining a measure that is seriously defective. It has had to be amended on every Stage of its passage.
|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.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Carey, Pat.||Collins, Niall.|
|Conlon, Margaret.||Connick, Seán.|
|Coughlan, Mary.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Curran, John.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Devins, Jimmy.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Fahey, Frank.||Finneran, Michael.|
|Fitzpatrick, Michael.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Flynn, Beverley.||Gogarty, Paul.|
|Gormley, John.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Healy-Rae, Jackie.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Kenneally, Brendan.||Kennedy, Michael.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||Lowry, Michael.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGuinness, John.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Moloney, John.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M. J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||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.|
|O’Sullivan, Christy.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Mary.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Behan, Joe.|
|Breen, Pat.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Carey, Joe.|
|Clune, Deirdre.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel J.||Costello, Joe.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Higgins, Michael D.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lynch, Kathleen.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Reilly, James.||Ring, Michael.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Upton, Mary.||Wall, Jack.|
Deputy Alan Shatter: On promised legislation and in particular the forthcoming budget and promised finance and social welfare Bills that will follow, does the Tánaiste agree that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, had an unusual hang-dog expression on his face on the televised portion of the press conference of the Secretary General of the OECD, who launched its report on Ireland yesterday? Does she acknowledge that the report, which the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, praised as “an excellent analysis of our disastrous economic plight” is nothing other than a devastating indictment of the total incompetence of this and previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments?
Does the Tánaiste accept the report which the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, describes as “a good, realistic, sober document” depicts the abject failure of the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance and of this Government to take the necessary remedial action in each of the budgets since May 2007 to tackle the economic plight of this country? Will the Tánaiste acknowledge——
Deputy Alan Shatter: I am coming to it. Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that her Government is not only surrendering the independence of this Republic to outside agencies like the OECD, but has abdicated leadership to them so that when, and if, hard measures are introduced in the forthcoming budget, instead of accepting responsibility for what it is doing, it will blame agencies and bodies outside this State? Will the Tánaiste tell us, how soon after 9 December, when the budget will be announced, the finance and social welfare Bills will be published? Does she know on what date the Government will——
Deputy Alan Shatter: My questions relate to forthcoming legislation. We are entitled to know when the legislation will be published. Will it be published in January or February and when can we expect that the predicted harsh measures that the OECD have told the Government this State requires will be implemented? I will conclude by asking the Tánaiste——
Deputy Alan Shatter: ——if she will explain to the House why the job creation task force has met only once in nine months in circumstances in which we have 420,000 unemployed people in this State? Will that task force submit a report to this House for debate?
The Tánaiste: The remarks of the Secretary General of the OECD are a matter for the OECD. The Secretary General took the opportunity to meet a number of Government representatives in the context of a number of documents launched by him, including one on activation measures about which I had some serious discussions with him. All Members of the House would be of the view that the OECD provides robust analysis not only of our economy, but of many other economies in the world. The views expressed are those of the OECD and not the Government.
The Tánaiste: Regarding the finance Bill, a statutory period applies in respect of its publication following the announcement of the budget. Regarding the social welfare Bill, its publication will depend on whether matters are required to be provided for in a legislative framework prior to 1 January 2010. A decision in this regard has not yet been made by the Government.
The Tánaiste: ——with the high level group and at ministerial level in the context of the Cabinet committee on the economy. While much of the work is done by the group, the main work is done by the Cabinet sub-committee.
Deputy Joan Burton: I wish to raise two issues with the Tánaiste. In September 2008, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children issued, on behalf of that committee, an agreed statement on the need for the introduction of legislation to deal with the issue of soft information in regard to allegations of child sexual abuse. The chairperson, Deputy Mary O’Rourke, stated that such legislation could be easily and readily implemented and did not require a constitutional amendment. This matter has slipped back on the Government’s legislative programme to some time in 2010 or later. What is the Government’s intention in regard to this important legislation? There are times when this House has no business. As this matter has been agreed by the all-party committee, why can this legislation, which is important in terms of protecting children, not be brought forward as a matter of urgency?
An announcement was made yesterday by Government about a pre-budget outlook statement and, possibly, a debate in this regard in the House. Pre-budget outlook statements were first introduced in 2007——
Deputy Joan Burton: I remind the Tánaiste that the first pre-budget outlook statement was introduced on 18 October 2007. When will we receive this statement which we will need time to debate in this House? Given this year’s budget decisions are of life and death importance to people throughout the country, it is poor, in terms of this House, that the Government appears to be long-fingering this important debate and the production of Estimates.
The Tánaiste: On the first question, the heads of that Bill are being worked on. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is anxious to have the legislation brought before Cabinet as quickly as possible. On the pre-budget outlook statement, it will be published on 12 November 2009.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There is. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle will allow me to finish the sentence. It has been reported this week that at least one person has been imprisoned by the courts for failure to pay debts in respect of either a credit card or financial institution loan. This is happening to at least one person every day since the introduction by Government of the bailout for the banking institutions.
The renewed programme for Government, with which the Ceann Comhairle will be familiar, was agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and gives a commitment to ensuring that the imprisonment of debtors and fine defaulters is used only as a penalty of last resort and will, in general, attempt to ensure that prison is the option of last resort for non-serious crime. What further legislative action will the Government take in respect of this commitment in the renewed programme for Government? Has the Government noted that the Law Reform Commission has urged it to introduce legislation to end imprisonment for the non-payment of debt? What steps are being taken to address this serious and scandalous situation?
The Tánaiste: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has advised me that as of Tuesday, no one is in prison in this country for debt. As the Deputy knows, the court enforcement legislation was brought forward in the House and the Law Reform Commission has undertaken consultation in the context of providing more legislative measures to ensure incarceration of people for debt will only be a last resort. Work is ongoing with the Minister in this regard.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: People are waiting in hospital beds and cannot get their forms dealt with. This issue is covered under the area of eligibility for health and personal services. The issue must be clarified and the rights of people must be acknowledged.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: No. 58 on the legislative programme, reform of financial regulatory structures Bill, will deal with replacing the existing structures of the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority of Ireland with a new Central Bank commission. It is stated on the Order Paper that it is not possible to indicate a date for this. I would have thought this was urgent legislation that should be prioritised and introduced immediately. It was because we had light touch regulation and the Financial Regulator was asleep that our banks are almost bankrupt and the country is in such a bad state. I hope the Tánaiste can provide a date for the introduction of this critical legislation.
Deputy David Stanton: The only hope the town has is the greyhound industry, which is dependent on the greyhound track in Youghal — which is falling down — getting some sort of a grant. I would like to see the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill brought forward so that we can discuss the matter. It is the only hope the town has now. Once the town had 2,000 jobs, but now it has virtually none.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill which was passed by the House in July contained a specific measure to do with upward-only rent reviews. This amendment was unusual in that it was grafted onto the Bill. When will the Bill be commenced and will all sections, including the section dealing with upward-only rent reviews, be part of the commencement?
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: To clarify, I understand that the Minister’s position is that the Bill will be commenced on 1 December. However, there is some ambiguity with regard to the specific section dealing with upward-only rent reviews. Can the Tánaiste clarify the situation with regard to that section? Will it be commenced along with the other sections of the Bill?
The Tánaiste: I am aware a parliamentary reply was given on this legislation. I have had discussions with the Minister on the issue. He has a number of matters to consider and, as indicated, he will not be in a position to sign it for a short period. There has been no final determination, but I will ask the Minister to speak directly to the Deputy.
Deputy Phil Hogan: I have a number of questions with regard to when legislation relating to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be published. Legislation allowing for elections for the promised directly elected mayor of Dublin to be held in 2010 was expected this session. When will that legislation be published? Also, when will we have the noise pollution Bill and the control of dogs Bill?
Deputy Michael Creed: The Tánaiste protests her commitment to job creation, notwithstanding the fact the Cabinet sub-committee only met once in 2009. On the other hand, in order to appease Fianna Fáil’s partners in Government, the Tánaiste proposes to eliminate some 80 jobs in the fur farming industry, some of which are in her own constituency in Donegal.
Deputy Michael Creed: When will the Government bring forward legislation to put those 80 people employed in the fur farming industry out of business? Given that the industry is compliant with all licence and regulation provisions, both national and EU regulations, has the Government taken advice from the Attorney General on the proposal? I draw the Tánaiste’s attention to her comments on this matter on a debate in the House in 2005.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Would it be possible to generate some enthusiasm with regard to introducing legislation to provide for the protection and exchange of information related to the endangerment, sexual exploitation or abuse or risk to children? Publication of legislation is expected in 2010. However, this is a matter of urgency and would it be possible to introduce it sooner?
The Taoiseach indicated previously that work was in hand on the company law consolidation and reform Bill. What progress has been made on this and can the Tánaiste indicate when it may come to the House? The information we have so far is that publication is expected but that it is not possible to indicate when we can expect it.
The Tánaiste: Considerable progress has been made and we have had to introduce a number of amendments following submissions made by interested parties, including Members of the Oireachtas. With regard to the legislation relating to risk to children, the heads of the Bill are being worked on with a view to getting the legislation to the House as quickly as possible.
Deputy Seán Barrett: Is the Tánaiste aware there are three Bills in the course of preparation which, if we are serious about dealing with the current financial crisis, should be given priority? These are the financial services regulation Bill, the reform of financial regulatory structures Bill and the financial services Bill. The white sheet that was circulated states that it is not possible to indicate when publication of those Bill is expected. Are we serious about getting our house in order? We are dealing with legislation for NAMA at present, a result of financial institutions not carrying out their business in a proper fashion but here we have Bills that are not priorities. I understood reform of the regulatory system was a priority yet there is no sign of it here. It is not possible to indicate at this stage when these Bills will even be published. Are we serious about reform of the regulatory system? Does the Tánaiste have any intention of putting the skids under the Minister for Finance to get him to publish these Bills as soon as possible?
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I understand it is the intention to bring the Adoption Bill to this House on 18 November. The interpretation in the Bill as agreed in the Seanad is more restrictive than the Hague Convention. It does not provide for transitional arrangements for people who are advanced in the adoption process with countries that have not ratified the Hague Convention and it does not provide for bilateral agreements with a country such as Ethiopia, which may not be able to ratify the convention because it cannot afford it.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: It has finished in the Seanad, it is coming to us and I would like to clarify when it will come before the House and if the Government intends to broaden the legislation. It would be useful if we could have a briefing to know if the Minister intends to address those issues that are of huge concern to many people who are contacting Members on all sides.
Deputy Joe Costello: Has the Government responded to the complaint made by the Equality and Rights Alliance to the European Commission on the 43% budget cut for the Equality Authority on the basis of a breach of the European race equality directive? Any issue raised with the Commission must get a response from the Government. It appears that it is now impossible for the Equality Authority to conduct its business and, therefore, it is no longer a functioning agency under the terms of the race directive.
Deputy Tom Sheahan: I will ask the Tánaiste an easy one, or one she should have the answer to anyway. The terms of the European fishery fund are from 2007 to 2013. What obstacles are preventing the implementation of the operational programme for fisheries? Co-funding is there to be drawn down. It is November 2009 but we still have not implemented the operational programme for fisheries.
The Tánaiste: No, work is ongoing between the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the European Commission. The Commission has expressed serious concerns about the operational programme. It is working through those on the basis of having mapping completed of Natura 2000 sites and it is hoped that on that basis, the Commission will allow the operational programme to be sanctioned. I empathise with the absolute necessity to expedite this, which the Minister is hoping to do.
Deputy Alan Shatter: On promised legislation, there was one thing the Tánaiste said in reply to me that should be clarified. In the context of the promised social welfare Bill that will emerge from the budget, that Bill is usually not published until the following February. Is the Tánaiste indicating to the House that there is a possibility the Bill will be published immediately after the budget and guillotined in the House before Christmas?
If that is the case, having guillotined the NAMA Bill today, could the Tánaiste indicate to us if the second programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party has been abandoned in the context of any promised Dáil reform? Guillotining the NAMA Bill today flies in the face of any commitment to such reform.
The Minister of State with responsibility for children has promised to publish a Bill to give statutory effect to the Children First child protection guidelines that have been in place since 1999 but which have no statutory footing. The HSE published a report yesterday to show that even in 2008, with all we have learned about children at risk and child abuse, there has been an abject failure by the HSE to ensure its employees comply with the Children First guidelines. A total of 24,668 children were reported in 2008 to be at risk but only 15,364 had their circumstances assessed, leaving more than 9,000 reported to be at risk ignored by the HSE. It is urgent that the child protection guidelines are given statutory effect. Could the Tánaiste ask the Minister of State to prioritise this and not leave it until the end of 2010 or 2011, and that this Bill be published as soon as possible?
The Tánaiste: He is working through a considerable number of commitments he has given in the context of new child care policy and the appointment of additional social workers to the service. I am not sure of a date but I will revert to the Deputy.
Deputy Alan Shatter: What about the social welfare Bill? Also, it is scandalous that the HSE, the primary body involved in child protection in the country, is continuing to fail to comply with the Government’s child protection guidelines. It would not be tolerated in any other country in the European Union.
The Tánaiste: Of course. If we must introduce measures that have an impact from 1 January, a social welfare Bill must be introduced prior to Christmas. It all depends on the decisions the Government will make and we must wait until the day of the budget to find them out.
Deputy Alan Shatter: This is an important issue. It has never happened before that a social welfare Bill has been published within a week of a budget. Is this the Government agenda? Will the social welfare Bill be put through the House before Christmas so cutbacks the Government intends to implement come into operation on 1 January?
Deputy Seán Sherlock: ——that we have to use the greyhound legislation to raise an issue related to our local constituencies, when the only other two avenues open to us to raise it are an Adjournment debate or under Standing Order 32.
The Tánaiste: There is no date for that Bill, as the Deputy is aware. I can ask the Minister to provide an updated briefing on what this Bill entails with the relevant people in the Department. As a former Minister for Agriculture and Food, I know this will have a significant impact on the way we deal with veterinary medicine and animal husbandry. Consultation is taking place on that basis, working through best practice. It might be prudent for the Minister to facilitate a briefing on the progress of this Bill.
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