Thursday, 12 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. a1, National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 — amendments from the Seanad; and No.1, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]— Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. a1 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m. and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in respect of amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.
Deputy Phil Hogan: Fine Gael will continue to oppose the NAMA legislation. It is not built on concepts that will get credit moving again or that will retain or create new employment opportunities. Before the House divides on this matter, has the Tánaiste received EU approval for the plan proposed through NAMA? If not, when is that approval likely to be given? Will further legislation be required?
Deputy Phil Hogan: To establish our position on the proposal put to the House, we need answers to these questions. Has EU approval been granted for the plan? If not, when will it be given? If changes or conditions are proposed by the EU Commission, will further legislation be required? Will the Bill be sent to the President for signature before EU approval is granted? Has the Tánaiste had any contact with the European Commission, particularly Commissioner Kroes, about the changes in the structure of the banking sector that may arise from NAMA being construed as a state aid?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Labour Party wishes to oppose the Government’s proposal for taking the NAMA legislation today. It is somewhat unusual to have amendments from the Seanad although we get the odd amendment from time to time. In this case, 37 amendments were made to the Bill, most of which were proposed by the Minister. The Government wishes to guillotine discussion on this at 3:30 p.m. It is not just for procedural reasons that the Labour Party is opposing this proposal; it is because of the scale. This is the biggest corporate welfare cheque ever written. We are told every day that there is no money. There is no money for the Christmas bonus——
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——no money for child benefit, no money for paying wages, no money to help people in trouble with their mortgages and no money to take initiatives to get people back to work, but there is no shortage of money for the banks. Let us bear in mind what has been already done. Some €4 billion has been put into a delinquent bank called Anglo Irish Bank and €7 billion has been provided for Bank of Ireland and AIB. According to the Government’s business plan for NAMA, this exercise will involve overpayment for assets by another €7 billion. That amounts to €18 billion, which would pay the Christmas bonus for 90 years. It is equivalent to five times the adjustment in the public finances about which the Minister will talk in the budget, which will cause everyone a great deal of grief for the next number of years. It is almost as if this is not real money. It is €18 billion of real money without getting into whether more money will be needed for further recapitalisation of the banks or the interest being added to the cost of the State’s borrowing. The Government wants to get all of this done and dusted by 3.30 p.m., yet it will turn around to people in bad circumstances and tell them that there is no money. All of this is because of Fianna Fáil’s mismanagement of the economy.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: This problem happened because of Fianna Fáil’s policies of encouraging property speculation down the years which created the property bubble, because it made the wrong call on the bank guarantee scheme and because it made a second wrong call on NAMA when there was the alternative of nationalising the banks——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Sinn Féin Deputies do not agree to the Order Paper as presented by the Tánaiste this morning. Very simply, we oppose the NAMA proposition absolutely and the guillotine to be applied. Make no mistake about it, 37 amendments coming back from the Seanad is tantamount to an acknowledgement — an admission on the part of the Government because they are Government amendments — that what was discussed and processed through this House was flawed and that many elements needed further address, as they still do if this is the approach to be taken.
The 37 amendments make a significant body of work to be addressed here over a very limited number of hours. Let me remind the House that only 17 of the approximately 200 amendments presented on Report Stage were dealt with substantively during the passage of NAMA through this House and that was over a number of days. Here, we are being asked to address 37 amendments referred back to this House from the Upper House in a matter of a few hours. This is indicative of the Government’s attitude to this, which is to railroad, steam-roll and have its way no matter what. Very simply, if it is voted on to proceed in a matter of hours to address what is involved in this body of amendments, it will be clear that there is no regard whatsoever for real and responsible address of what is at the core of NAMA. We cannot accept it under any circumstances.
The Tánaiste: We have had a considerable period of time to debate the legislation. In this House we had 86 hours of debate and in the Seanad we had 36 hours of debate. In the context of what we would like to achieve, which is the completion of this legislation as a matter of urgency, which was urged by the Commissioner when he was here recently, I propose the motion.
|Ahern, Bertie.||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.|
|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.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|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.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moloney, John.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Nolan, M. J.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||O’Brien, Darragh.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|O’Donoghue, John.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|O’Keeffe, Edward.||O’Sullivan, Christy.|
|O’Sullivan, Maureen.||Power, Peter.|
|Power, Seán.||Roche, Dick.|
|Ryan, Eamon.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Scanlon, Eamon.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Mary.|
|White, Mary Alexandra.||Woods, Michael.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Burke, Ulick.||Burton, Joan.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Carey, Joe.|
|Clune, Deirdre.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Coonan, Noel J.||Costello, Joe.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|D’Arcy, Michael.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Higgins, Michael D.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McManus, Liz.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Dowd, Fergus.||O’Keeffe, Jim.|
|O’Mahony, John.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Reilly, James.||Ring, Michael.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sheehan, P. J.|
|Sherlock, Seán.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Upton, Mary.|
Deputy Phil Hogan: I welcome the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott and congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his officials on a satisfactory conclusion to this unfortunate event. I am sure Fr. Sinnott’s family and friends are more than pleased with the co-operation they received and the eventual outcome.
The Tánaiste: I share Deputy Hogan’s delight in the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott. I thank those who have helped to ensure his release, including in particular my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our ambassadors. Fr. Sinnott’s family is certainly relieved that he is free and it was wonderful to see him in such good fettle despite his captivity. Our officials are liaising with his family to ensure a safe reunion.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I join Deputy Hogan and the Tánaiste in welcoming the release of Fr. Michael Sinnott, which is a great relief to his family and colleagues in the Columban Fathers. I also join the tributes being paid to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and, through him, to Ambassador O’Brien and his colleagues, for the outstanding work they did in securing the release of Fr. Sinnott.
On legislation, the Defamation Act was passed in the House on 8 July last. Introduced in July 2006, the legislation had a long gestation in the Houses. Having taken three years to be passed, the Act has not yet come into effect, apparently because the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not yet made the commencement order. What is delaying the making of the commencement order? When will it be made and laid before the House?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We have a crisis in the largest hospital in the north east, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Four deaths have been associated with an outbreak of C. difficile, three wards have been closed and absolute chaos has resulted from the spin-off situation. Will the Tánaiste indicate to the House if the Minister for Health and Children will accommodate——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In relation to the arrangement of the ordering of business of the House, will the Tánaiste indicate whether the Minister for Health and Children will accommodate an opportunity to address this very serious situation and outline what additional measures she is introducing to ensure patients are not playing a game of Russian roulette with MRSA or C. difficile in taking up opportunities in hospital sites?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: As the Ceann Comhairle is well aware, this is an extremely important matter. I have made a reasonable request to ascertain whether address of the issue can be accommodated on the floor of the House.
Deputy Brian Hayes: As the Tánaiste may be aware, many students in higher education have dropped out of college because they have not obtained a maintenance grant from a local authority or vocational educational committee. Eighteen months ago, the Government——
Deputy Brian Hayes: Yes, I refer to legislation which has completed Second Stage. We have been waiting for 18 months for it to come before a committee of the House. On what date will the Committee Stage debate take place on the Student Support Bill, the purpose of which is to bring within one agency the four higher education grant schemes?
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: In view of the fact that some Aer Lingus aeroplanes are leaving this country crewed by non-Aer Lingus staff, will the Tánaiste ensure that the company law consolidation and reform Bill requires equality and fairness in companies such as Aer Lingus? In light of the necessity to retain our national carrier and its employees, will the Government require that directors of the board of Aer Lingus appointed by the Minister insist that the company employ Aer Lingus crews to fly its aeroplanes?
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: It is disgraceful and shameful that Aer Lingus crews are sitting in airports while contract companies are being used to fly Aer Lingus aeroplanes. This practice is unacceptable and breaches legislation on——
Deputy Shane McEntee: I note the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has departed. Changes are to be made in the area of speed cameras. Money has been allocated and speed cameras ordered but the equipment is not in place.
Deputy Tom Sheahan: I am coming to the point. The operator in question, who must purchase a television licence for each of his holiday homes, is competing with 100 bedroomed hotels which have one television licence. Is that fair and equitable?
Deputy Seymour Crawford: Social welfare has been widely discussed in the House in recent weeks. Will the Government rectify the record of the House which states that in the emergency legislation increases will be introduced in the Social Welfare Bill 2010? Is this still the case and, if not, when will the error be rectified?
Deputy Seymour Crawford: It was agreed to have statements on agriculture but they were postponed. When will they be taken? When will the animal health and welfare Bill be taken? The welfare of animals and humans in the farming sector is extremely important at present.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: I refer to the environment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which will, among other things, increase penalties under the Air Pollution Act 1997, and the sale of alcohol Bill, long overdue legislation to update and consolidate the liquor licensing laws. When will these Bills come before the House?
Deputy Willie Penrose: On promised legislation, and in particular the Health Information Bill, is the Tánaiste or any member of the Government aware of how the bureaucratic monster, namely, the HSE is surreptitiously pursuing a campaign to downgrade the status of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar? At 5 p.m. today 41 acute beds will be taken out of the most efficient hospitals in the country. No discussions took place with consultants, nurses or patients. Beds for acute patients who present to the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year will be removed. Is there any control over this monster? Why did the HSE steal money which was due to the hospital? Some €1.5 million was to be provided to it but only €0.5 million was received. The monster must be emasculated because it is destroying the health service and the people of Longford-Westmeath will not stand for it. Hundreds of patients are now very worried. This is a matter of life and death. Acute beds are being replaced with day beds. I cannot understand it.
Deputy Willie Penrose: We might as well not come in here. It is not the Ceann Comhairle’s fault, but we would be better off closing this place because the media have a field day telling people we are only open 91 days. The 91 days we are here are a waste of time.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: On the Student Support Bill, all Stages should be completed as a matter of urgency, particularly as some 12 vocational education committees have told students they are short staffed and cannot issue grants. It is important that the Tánaiste give an indication as to when the House will pass all Stages of the Bill.
On the C list of proposed legislation, three Bills, namely Nos. 56, 57 and 58, deal with changes in regard to regulation. In no case is there any indication when they will be brought before the House. For example——
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Yes, I have. The new proposed regulatory regime for the Central Bank will create a Central Bank of Ireland commission. The list states it is not possible to indicate at this stage when the Bill will be published. In view of the widespread public outrage at the complete failure of regulation or supervision by the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, as we discuss the final Stages of the NAMA Bill today it is irresponsible not to be in a position to give a date for the publication of the legislation——
The Tánaiste: ——-which has taken a long time, and consequently only a certain amount of resources are available to the Government and parliamentary draftsmen to bring forward legislation. I will indicate the Deputy’s vociferousness to the Minister in providing that legislation as a matter of urgency.
The Tánaiste: The Minister indicated to the Labour Party spokesperson last week the issues arising from Committee Stage and I will have the details of the matter circulated to the two Deputies who raised the issue.
Deputy Joe Carey: On the finance Bill and the comments of the Tánaiste in Limerick last week on the abolition of the €10 travel tax, today offers her an opportunity to clarify her position. Can she make a statement on the mid-west task force——
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I share Deputy Carey’s concern about the two issues he tried to raise. On secondary legislation, the Limerick north side and south side regeneration agencies were established by legislation passed by this House. Their masterplans have been ready for more than a year but have not yet been brought to the Cabinet. When does the Tánaiste expect them to come before the Cabinet for consideration?
Deputy Pat Breen: ——in Ryanair stating no discussions were taking place. The Department of Finance stated it was surprised at the Tánaiste’s comments. Now that the Minister for Transport is sitting close to the Tánaiste perhaps——
Deputy Pat Breen: I put down a parliamentary question and the Minister for Transport said he had no talks, but the Tánaiste said they were in discussions and the Department of Finance is denying it. I want to know——
Deputy Pat Breen: Can the Tánaiste clarify the situation regarding talks with Ryanair? It is having a devastating affect on the region and is part of the reason a deal is not being done with the Shannon Airport Authority.
Deputy James Reilly: The Minister for depression is more likely. The Student Support Bill has been discussed here and the Tánaiste’s response is very poor. The Bill has been waiting for 18 months to enter Committee Stage. Some students are unable to go to college and their grants have been delayed. The Tánaiste needs to give a far better response than she has given.
Deputy James Reilly: ——to England. There is legislation involved. Will provisions be made in the finance Bill to stop this loophole where companies in this country flying an Irish flag will be able to outsource all their labour, pilots and cabin crew to a foreign clime? These people pay taxes in that foreign clime and contribute nothing to our Exchequer.
Deputy Denis Naughten: I wish to ask the Tánaiste about two pieces of legislation. All Members in the House have had personal experience of the trauma people go through in dealing with the coroner service. The Coroners Bill has been in limbo in the Seanad for the past two years. Will the Seanad give us any indication of when it will move through the Seanad and come before the Dáil?
Deputy Denis Naughten: We are awaiting Committee Stage. There has been a delay in tabling amendments for two years. Deputy Stagg raised a similar issue last week which the Taoiseach responded to on Tuesday. The precedent is there.
Deputy Denis Naughten: On Tuesday the Taoiseach responded to a question put by Deputy Stagg the previous week on legislation before the Seanad. The question asked when Committee Stage amendments would be tabled and the Taoiseach responded in the House on the specific pieces of legislation. I am talking about a piece of legislation——
Deputy Denis Naughten: The Minister for Transport has trotted out figures without any basis and there is a piece of legislation that could streamline the whole process and address some of the trauma people experience in dealing with coroners around this country. All I am asking is for the Tánaiste to come back to me on that and let me know what is happening.
The second issue is No. 76, the social welfare lone parent and families reform Bill. Yesterday, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs admitted to the House that she will not reach her target by the end of the year of €600 million in savings against fraud. The savings that could be made could pay for the Christmas bonus. Instead of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs coming here and planning how she will take money from vulnerable families through reducing child benefit and the Christmas bonus——
Deputy Denis Naughten: ——and deliver on her own commitments to tackling fraud. Only half of the target for fighting fraud will be achieved by the end of the year. It is an appalling disgrace and shows the gross incompetence of the Government and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I will not ask any question about the Ministers who very carefully answer parliamentary questions — there is a minority who do so — because it would reflect on those who do not.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I am not going to ask that. Ministers should note that I will come back to the subject. Apropos the issue raised by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, there is a peculiar occurrence with promised legislation. Nos. 56 to 58, inclusive, are urgent legislation — it states as much in the legislative programme — and No. 57 is in accordance with the Government’s better regulation agenda. That is news to me and I did not know it had a better regulation agenda but we are always willing to hear new things.
No. 58 is the reform of financial regulatory services Bill, and that was raised by Deputy Michael D. Higgins. The programme states it is “to replace existing structures (the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland) with a new single unified Central Bank of Ireland Commission”.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I am quoting the legislation. I have raised this on several occasions and everybody on this side of the House has also raised it on several occasions. Will the Tánaiste give some indication to the House this morning of what is meant, in Government terms, by “urgency” and “urgent legislation”? Is it intended to in any way expedite the process through the process in line with public anxiety and requirements in the country currently?
Deputy James Bannon: Of course. I am coming to it. The Tánaiste stated that it is not possible at this stage to state when the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill will be brought before the House. This concerns all the citizens of the midlands who have been treated by phantom consultants for the past six months——
Deputy James Bannon: Very much so. I had friends from the United States visiting Ireland last week. They had much interest in our heritage and culture and visited many of our monuments throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. They said it was a sham and a shame the way our national monuments have been allowed to deteriorate in this country.
Deputy Joe Costello: This is a very straightforward question relating to children’s welfare. The Tánaiste may have seen recent reports where the Maclaren company, which produces children’s goods, has had to recall a million child buggies in the United States because of the danger and damage to children’s fingers. Some children had the tips of their fingers cut off by the buggies in the United States. When the query was put to the Maclaren company about similar products in Ireland, it first denied that there were any such products in Ireland. The statement was then corrected to indicate that there were such products in Ireland but because of the nature of the Irish safety legislation, it did not warrant a recall of the buggies.
Deputy Joe Costello: If the matter is serious enough for 1 million child buggies to be recalled in the United States, surely it is serious enough for the same items to be recalled in this country. What will the Tánaiste do about this situation? What will she do to strengthen the legislation so that the child protection principle that has pertained in the US also pertains here?
Deputy John Perry: I am sure the loss of 250 jobs at the Stiefel plant in Sligo yesterday is close to the Tánaiste’s heart. Can she tell the House whether due diligence took place before the company was sold three months ago? Stiefel has been the backbone of job creation in County Sligo since its operations commenced in 1975. It is apparent from information that has been supplied to me that it was bought by a major international company with the intention of downsizing it and eventually closing it. I am raising this matter in the context of the proposed industrial development foundation Bill. The people of Sligo would like to know what plans have been put in place by the Tánaiste in light of the massive impact of yesterday’s news.
Deputy John Perry: I am entitled to know about the industrial development foundation Bill, which is being prepared by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. As the closure will take place over a four-year period, the Tánaiste has an opportunity to intervene in some way, for example by incentivising——
Deputy Joan Burton: The Dáil has not debated the McCarthy report since it was published some months ago. The report recommended that a number of third level educational institutions should be amalgamated. For example, it proposed that a number of institutes of technology in the Dublin area should be merged with Dublin Institute of Technology. The Grangegorman Development Agency was established by the Government with the aim of developing a new headquarters for Dublin Institute of Technology.
Deputy Joan Burton: Can the Tánaiste tell the House whether the Government has made a decision on the future of certain third level institutions, such as Dublin Institute of Technology and certain authorities, such as the Grangegorman Development Agency?
Deputy Joan Burton: The McCarthy report recommended that some of these bodies should be amalgamated or abolished. What is the status of the report, which proposed the Grangegorman Development Agency for abolition? Will the Government provide time for a debate on the McCarthy report, which is a fundamental aspect of its pre-budget strategy?
Deputy Ulick Burke: A waste disposal company has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency to provide facilities for the dumping of asbestos at an existing landfill in the community of Kilconnell, which is near Ballinasloe in east Galway.
Deputy Ulick Burke: I would like to ask the Tánaiste about the matter in the context of the proposed environment (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intervene in the granting of a licence by the EPA? The disposal of asbestos in this country is one of the most serious issues with which we have to deal.
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