Tuesday, 19 January 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 10, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 11 — motion re referral to joint committee of a proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2010; and No. 23 — statements on banking.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 10 and 11 will be decided without debate. Standing Order 56(3) shall not apply regarding No. 23 and the proceedings thereon will, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply. The statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons from Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, who will be called upon in that order, will not exceed ten minutes in each case. The statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case. Members may share time and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply, which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 80, motion re banking crisis.
One of the first acts of the so-called rainbow Government of 1994-97 was to make an exceptional fund available for the repair of county roads. What we witnessed on yesterday’s “Six One” news and the reports from all over the country require that some emergency Government funding be made available to local authorities. The current estimate is €150 million. Did the Government consider this matter at its meeting this morning and is there to be a response from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government?
I gave the Taoiseach notice of my next questions, as I have raised them previously. Upon the closure of the Dell complex in County Limerick, the Government set up a task force to deal with the consequences and opportunities for the mid-western region. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Denis Brosnan, that task force produced an interim report that was to be debated in the Dáil, but no such debate has occurred. Will the Taoiseach instruct the Chief Whip to make Government time available at an appropriate time so that the House can debate the recommendations in the task force’s report?
May I make a similar request in respect of the publication of the scheme dealing with the lost at sea situation, namely, that time be allocated for a debate in the House prior to the scheme being sent to a committee?
The Taoiseach: On the situation that has arisen as a result of the recent very severe weather, I first want to thank and congratulate everyone who has been involved at local authority level and in the provision of local services on their efforts throughout that difficult period in keeping our road network going and helping communities at risk or vulnerable people who had to be looked after.
Obviously, there is an assessment taking place of the damage done to, as all of us will be aware, the national and regional roads. It would be important that local authorities would give priority to the surface dressing of the parts of the roads affected. Not all roads were affected, but this situation must take priority in the context of their existing allocations rather than looking to restoration or new road developments. Looking to this as a priority is something that local authorities will now need to consider.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Everyone in the House and the general public are horrified by the scenes of Haiti on our television screens and in newspapers. Will time be provided this week for a report from the Minister? I saw the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, at yesterday’s European meeting in connection with this matter, but some time should be provided this week for a statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister of State on what is occurring in terms of Ireland’s contribution to the aid and rescue efforts, as it would allow the House some short time to offer comments and to discuss how an Irish effort might be mobilised, improved or increased to assist in that significant humanitarian horror.
Before Christmas, I asked the Taoiseach about the Government’s proposal to have an election in June for a directly elected mayor of Dublin. I pointed out that our difficulty with the proposal was that we did not know what it was we were supposed to be electing. No legislation has been published or details announced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding what the office will entail and how it will relate to the rest of the local government system in Dublin.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I was somewhat surprised not to see the Bill in the Government’s list of legislation to be published this session. It is still in section C of the legislative list, namely, a Bill for which the Government has not yet approved heads. Are there heads for the Bill? Does anyone know what the directly elected mayor of Dublin will do, what type of office it will be and what types of power it will have? Will the Taoiseach encourage the Minister who is not the “Minister for Snow” to tell the rest of the House what this office entails and to supply the House with the heads of the Bill if he has prepared them?
Does the Taoiseach have any indication as to when the heads of the Bill might be before the Government? Apart from the fact that we do not know what the office will entail and even if the Government’s proposal is a serious one with which the Government intends to go ahead, we have reached a stage involving a degree of electoral sharp practice. Were we to have an election in June for something as important as this, we would at least need a better state of knowledge about it than we currently possess. Once and for all, will the Taoiseach clarify whether there will be an office of a directly elected lord mayor of Dublin; will the election be in June; when will we see what the office entails; and can the House see the Bill’s heads, assuming they have been prepared?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Listed No. 51 under section C of the Government’s legislative programme is the local government (office of the Dublin mayor and regional authority of Dublin) Bill. This is promised legislation, for which the heads of the Bill has not yet been approved by Government. Yet the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is telling us that an election for this office will be held in June. Such an office does not exist at this point, yet we have been told by the Minister that an election will happen on an undefined date, as of now, but a date in June.
I remind the Taoiseach that the position is that a vacant seat exists in this House. This seat has been vacant for the past seven months plus, but the Government has yet to indicate its intention to call a by-election in Donegal South-West. While the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government enthusiastically rants on about an election in June for a position that does not exist——
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has drifted from the point he raised. He was speaking about the Lord Mayor of Dublin position but then went on to speak about a by-election; I ask him to return to his original point.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Deputy Carey has told us that the Government is too preoccupied to even set a date for a by-election in Donegal South-West. I do not know with what it is preoccupied but it is not with addressing the unemployment reality facing County Donegal where 15,000 people were unemployed in December 2008 and that number rose to more than 20,000 in December 2009. Will the Taoiseach move the writ for the by-election in Donegal South-West? Will he further take notice that if he is not prepared to do so within a reasonable period, I have no doubt the Opposition certainly will do so?
The Taoiseach: Heads of that Bill are currently being circulated. It will be brought to Government for approval and thereafter published and debated in the House. As the Deputy said, there is a commitment in the programme for Government that an election on that matter will be held during 2010.
The Taoiseach: I join others in the House in speaking of the terrible situation that has developed in Haiti. It is clear extreme hardship and great pain and suffering is being endured by that nation after the terrible earthquake that occurred there last week. The international community is seeking to mobilise itself to meet the scale of a problem that is regarded as unprecedented in emergency aid terms in modern memory. It is appropriate that we take some time in this House during the course of this week to have statements on the situation there, to express our solidarity with the Haitian people and to indicate to our own people the level of assistance and help, in terms of material help, financial help and personnel assistance, that we will try to bring to bear on that situation in an effort to assist these beleaguered people at this time.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There is silence on this matter but it is a pressing one for the people of Donegal South-West in the first instance and also for the Members of this House. It cannot fail to have been noticed by many people that there is no appetite on the part of this Government to face the electorate of Donegal South-West——
Deputy Michael Creed: When does the Government expect to publish the animal health and welfare Bill, as agreed in the revised programme for Government? This proposed instrument will abolish and close fur farms and prohibit stag hunting in the future. Will the Taoiseach clarify his response to the Deputy Kenny on the loss at sea scheme report?
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: In view of the serious allegations recently that a FÁS manager tried to force a member of his staff to approve dodgy exam results, thus breaking examine verification rules and bringing FÁS nationally into disrepute in terms of the way that some of the results are produced, will the Taoiseach order an immediate investigation into this matter?
Deputy James Bannon: I opened the Government’s new legislation programme for spring 2010 with a degree of anticipation only to note that the national monuments Bill is still languishing in section C of it. Can the Taoiseach indicate if the words “publication expected in 2010” will carry more weight than the words “publication expected in 2009”? This Bill was due to be published in 2003. Can the Taoiseach give a guarantee that it will come before the House during this year or at least during the latter half of it?
The Taoiseach: Draft heads of that Bill have been circulated. If the Deputy is awaiting that legislation, I advise him that to avoid disappointment in terms of making a contribution to that legislation, perhaps he would cast his eye over some other legislation as well.
Deputy Brian Hayes: The House agreed the Second Stage reading of the Student Support Bill more than 22 months ago and the Taoiseach wrote to me about this prior to the Christmas period. The Minister for Education and Science said over Christmas that he supports the principle of one body giving grants to students rather than the 33 proposed in the Bill. Is it the intention of the Government to withdraw the Student Support Bill or what is the Government’s intention in this respect?
Deputy Brian Hayes: The point is that the Minister for Education and Science has said that he now supports the principle of one agency doing this. Does that not require this Bill to be thrown out and a new Bill enacted? Has this matter come before Government?
Deputy Michael Ring: I have asked the Minister for Health and Children about a matter and I now want the Taoiseach’s help on it. I cannot find the Minister for Health and Children, nor can I get her to take responsibility for anything. This matter relates to the prescription charges Bill. As the Taoiseach is aware, the administration of medical cards for those aged over 70 has been removed from the regions and centralised in Dublin. There is an ongoing dispute about this. People cannot get through to the office by telephone. Those over the age of 70 are worried about their medical cards and they are waiting for months to be notified about them.
Deputy Michael Ring: Yes, there is the prescription charges Bill. Those with medical cards are to be charged for prescriptions, even though they are entitled to a medical card but they cannot get it because nobody in the office in Dublin will answer the telephone and nobody will take responsibility for this matter. I have written to the Minister and to Professor Drumm and the only reply I got from the Minister is to the effect that she has no responsibility for this. I have not even got a reply from the Professor Drumm, the real Minister for Health. Will the Taoiseach intervene and not have this abuse of the elderly who are worried about their medical cards and whether their nursing home care is being paid? Their chemists and doctors tell them that there medical cards have not been renewed and they do not have medical cards even though they qualify for them. It is an abuse of the elderly and I want something done about it.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Notwithstanding the absence of a certain Minister with responsibility for the environment and his continued absence in this House on the Order of Business, I respectfully suggest that somebody might send the relevant Minister a note to the effect that issues that occupied the minds of members of the public during the past six to eight weeks are sufficiently serious to warrant his appearance in the House on the Order of Business on the first day of this session in 2010.
During the last session I and other Members raised questions about the company law consolidation and reform Bill and we were told it was not possible to indicate when the Bill would be published. As this legislation is urgently required and has been for some time, would it be possible for the Taoiseach to indicate when it might be likely to come before the House?
I and other Members also asked about the collective investment schemes consolidation Bill. The Bill was No. 46 on the Government legislation programme in the last session; it is now No. 45. We were told that publication was expected in 2010; now it is expected in 2011. What happened in the meantime? What frightened the Minister and those drafting the Bill to cause them to defer it in that fashion?
My last question pertains to the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009, which was supposed to progress in tandem with the landlord and tenant Bill. The former has been already abandoned in the Seanad, awaiting Committee Stage. Discussions are taking place between the various stakeholders, as the Taoiseach previously informed the House, but we do not see any evidence of progress. Since many of the——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: No; I am talking about the Bill that is on the Order Paper. When is it likely that the Bill will come before the House in a realistic fashion, given that many of the residents of such multi-unit developments have found themselves up to their necks in water in the past six weeks?
The Taoiseach: We are still preparing amendments to the Multi-Unit Developments Bill based on submissions and on the Second Stage debate. The company law consolidation and reform bill will be published later this year at the earliest. I understand it is a massive Bill. The collective investment schemes consolidation Bill will be published next year rather than this year because consultations are taking place with the Department of Finance, and the Minister has other legislative priorities in the immediate future. There is no date for the landlord and tenant Bill.
The Taoiseach: I am sorry. Amendments to the Multi-Unit Developments Bill are being prepared in the Department based on consultations which have taken place and on the Second Stage debate in the Seanad.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Following the closure of Dell this time last year, the Tánaiste set up a task force under the chairmanship of Dennis Brosnan, which reported last September. We have asked on numerous occasions in the House that this interim report be debated. Is it possible to allow time to discuss the report? The task force will meet with local representatives next Friday and I believe its members are becoming disillusioned because their proposals have not been considered by Government. Is it possible for us to have a debate in the House on the report?
Deputy Olwyn Enright: The Taoiseach will be aware that as far back as 2003, Fine Gael published detailed proposals for the vetting of those working with children, both in a paid capacity and as volunteers. In light of reports today that only one third of our teachers have been vetted, will any urgency be given to the national vetting bureau Bill, which is currently in section C of the Government legislation programme?
The Taoiseach: I understand that is being dealt with by the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews. There are complexities in the Bill, but it is receiving priority in the Departments concerned.
Deputy Joe McHugh: As the Taoiseach is aware, the Adoption Bill 2009 will go through the House on Thursday. With the passage of this Bill, the Hague Convention will be ratified. Up to 80 couples who are attempting to adopt from Ethiopia and Russia are currently in a transition phase, but after the ratification of the Hague Convention both of these countries will be excluded. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene and implement a transition arrangement to accommodate and facilitate these couples, many of whom have been already disappointed by the breakdown of the bilateral agreement with Vietnam.
With regard to the Adoption Bill, I am aware of the situation to which he refers, as is the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews. The Minister of State has been in touch with various groups to discuss this matter. We will use our best endeavours but I do not wish to raise expectations or suggest that a serious problem does not arise. I am acutely aware that many people have invested much time and hope in the adoption process only to find their adoptions may be more difficult to finalise because of the legal situation. The Minister of State is acutely aware of this, as are other members of the Government and all of us in the House. We must try to assist as best we can and in a humane way, given the limitations of what can be done.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: As the Taoiseach is aware, the year has opened with a series of appalling assassinations in my constituency. Is the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform planning any further measures or resources for the Garda Síochána to allow it to combat drug-fuelled crime? In the recent budget, the allocations of many anti-drug groups were slashed——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: This is the only time I see the Taoiseach. These groups work to combat drug use, but the Government has slashed their budgets by a third and they will be cut to zero next year.
The Taoiseach: I commiserate with the families of the victims in recent instances in which there has been a callous disregard for human life. The Garda is carrying out rigorous investigations of the killings and persons have been charged with murder in respect of two of them. I do not want to go into detail about those instances, but the Garda Commissioner has kept the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform briefed on events. With regard to the recent tragic stabbings, the Minister has been advised that Garda investigations are well advanced.
The Garda faces severe challenges in dealing with gangland murders. Often, it receives no co-operation from the associates of those affected. In some cases, persons who have been identified by the Garda as being at risk, rather than co-operating with it, seek to thwart the Garda so they can get on with their gangland activities.
The Taoiseach: The Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act facilitates the use as evidence in trials of material gained by secret surveillance. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act provides for trying certain crimes involving criminal gangs in the Special Criminal Court unless the Director of Public Prosecutions directs otherwise. It introduces several new organised crime offences with maximum prison sentences of 15 years to life, such as involvement in organised crime and directing or controlling a criminal organisation. It simplifies the procedures relating to extension of time for questioning of suspects and increases the penalties for intimidation of a witness or a juror. The Minister is publishing a DNA Bill today, which also will prove invaluable in the fight against serious crime. Legislation on the use of knives and similar weapons is extremely robust and heavy penalties are already in place. Last year, the Minister piloted through the Oireachtas the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which introduced a maximum penalty for possessing a knife in a public place from one to five years and gave the Garda extended power of search without warrant in respect of knives and offensive weapons. Quite apart from the legislative response, the Garda has the resources available to it when dealing with this serious issue.
I acknowledge to the Deputy that this is an issue about which there is universal concern throughout our society and not only, as he will be acutely aware because of recent activities, in his own constituency. I assure him that everything possible can and will be done to bring those who have been involved in such heinous murders to justice.
Deputy Billy Timmins: While the Taoiseach expressed sympathy to the residents of Haiti earlier, I wish to ask him a couple of questions. First, will he join with me in extending sympathy to the relatives and friends of Andrew Grene, an Irishman who holds Irish citizenship and whose body was recovered this afternoon in that country? Second, will he ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to urge his colleagues at European Union level to make available the European Union battle group, which has a humanitarian role, to go to assist in the area if necessary? The United Nations General Secretary has sought assistance in the form of additional troops and personnel and the European Union has a ready-made body to do that.
The Taoiseach: First, I join Deputy Timmins in again sympathising with the Grene family. I understand that the body of Mr. Grene has been recovered today in the United Nations headquarters building. He was a person who was committed to public service and to helping the poor and deprived and was well regarded in the United Nations. The Government sends its deepest sympathy to his family. Other Irish citizens who are there at present have been involved in much good work in recent years, one of whom I know personally. I wish them well and hope they are able to contribute positively in the present as they have done in the past. I make the point that the Government established the rapid response corps in the aftermath of the tsunami and some personnel from that corps have gone to Haiti in recent days. While it is a small number, the people concerned are committed and have expertise in areas that would be of assistance in the emergency which has enveloped that country.
Third, I will not repeat my earlier comments to Deputy Kenny regarding the response of local authority personnel when dealing with what was an extremely difficult situation over Christmas. The emergency co-ordination unit, despite criticism from the Opposition, worked hard, co-ordinated well and ameliorated what could have been an even worse situation.
Deputy Tom Sheahan: When will legislation be brought before the House to give a legal footing to the plebiscite that was held in Dingle-An Daingean more than three years ago? The plebiscite was held more than three years ago and resulted in a 98% majority in favour of giving back——
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