Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be No. 4, Finance Bill 2010 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m. The resumed Second Stage of No. 4 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. Private Members’ business shall be No. 76, motion re remuneration of public servants (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I refer to what is being accommodated by the extension of time for the Finance Bill 2010. The Sinn Féin party will not agree to the Order of Business offered by the Government today unless we get an indication or commitment that there will be an opportunity to properly address the disgraceful decision of the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) in respect of the Halifax network of branches and their presence throughout the economy. Some 750 workers are being thrown on the dole queue, something about which the Government has known and that had been signalled for upwards of 12 months. We seek an opportunity to have the matter substantively addressed in this Chamber.
The Ministers for Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment should come in and give us an account of their stewardship, what efforts, engagement and action they propose — even in a last ditch effort — to try to stymy the full effects of this very serious announcement. Will this be committed to here this week? This is what we are calling for. It is a matter of such importance. We were told there would be a new, almost social, conscience on the part of financial institutions in the advent of the bank rescue scheme and NAMA, albeit this particular institution is not covered by either of these. Nevertheless, we cannot endure a situation where 750 workers will be just dumped on the pavement as a result of a decision taken outside this jurisdiction and imposed here. There are political aspects of this matter which must be engaged directly with the British Government and Exchequer and the whole situation in respect of Bank of Scotland (Ireland) and the Halifax presence here over several years. I am sure it would be a very useful engagement with the Minister.
Deputy Joan Burton: We do not have a problem with No. 1 and the Dáil sitting until 10 p.m. However, we have a problem with a guillotine on the Finance Bill. Since the debate on the Finance Bill was arranged, circumstances have changed dramatically.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I call on the Taoiseach to respond to the inquiry I have made and the objection I have recorded in respect of the Order Paper as presented. It is a courtesy to which we are entitled.
The Taoiseach: I have put the Order of Business to the House to be accepted. The Deputy has indicated he wants to raise issues. During Second Stage of the Finance Bill, he will have plenty of opportunity to raise them or any other matters. The Whips are to meet this evening to order business later this week or the following week. I cannot be any more helpful than that.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach could schedule or indicate his intention to consider scheduling a special opportunity to address this very serious matter in the House, with both relevant Ministers present to take questions from Members.
Deputy Enda Kenny: It is not agreed to, not only because there is a guillotine involved, as the Taoiseach and Chief Whip well know. There are so many Members who want to speak on the Bill that it is unrealistic to propose closing the debate at 10 p.m. This is a time of great economic difficulty for many people. We need to focus on the possibilities and proposals in the Finance Bill that can help the Government to put forward strategies, ideas, incentives and opportunities for job creation and make it easier for employers to retain staff, change direction and have new lines. We need to discuss a range of other options in the Bill that are so important to bolstering a very fragile and fractured economy. For that reason, it is completely inappropriate to end Second Stage of the Finance Bill at 10 p.m. Many speakers want to contribute and the very least the Taoiseach could do is lift the guillotine and allow for another day, at least, of Second Stage debate.
Deputy Joan Burton: We object to a guillotine being imposed on this legislation, which is probably the most important Bill to be considered by the Dáil so far this year. The Bill has a number of features about which Deputies on all sides of the House want to talk, including the fact that the Minister is imposing VAT of 13.5% on service charges. This will affect many people. The Minister is doing the same with regard to tolls and his decision will affect people who go for a swim in a council-owned swimming pool.
There is a need for detailed discussion on the change in the employment situation in Bank of Scotland (Ireland). There are proposals in the Finance Bill on NAMA and banking and the Minister for Finance, in his statement, made a number of assertive claims about how he is to sort out the bank situation at a time when there is no credit for small and medium business. Members on all sides of the House are entitled to talk about the needs of their constituents and about small and big businesses in every town and village that need to obtain credit, retain employment and generate new employment, yet the Government wants to shut down debate.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Sinn Féin Deputies also object to the second proposition on the Order of Business, namely, to guillotine Second Stage of the Finance Bill. It is absolutely unacceptable that such a proposition is put before us in the context of the current grave economic climate and with the measures contained in the Bill in the offing. Bearing in mind that the Ceann Comhairle did not accommodate my objection to the first item on the Order Paper in the context of bank bailouts, it is imperative that there not be a guillotine. We are witnessing yet another aspect of the Government’s failure to have a strategy for job retention and creation in that a further 750 jobs are being dumped on the dole heap as a result of a decision by a banking institution, which institution should at least be reflecting some of the alleged changed environment that is supposed to exist. This bank is showing the same attitude that has applied heretofore. It is riding roughshod over, having no regard for and showing no concern for ordinary employees.
The Taoiseach: I understand the spokespersons have scheduled arrangements for Committee Stage and we are to proceed along those lines. We are proceeding with Second Stage tonight and calling it to a halt. There will be plenty of opportunity for Members to contribute to the various Stages of this Bill during its enactment, as is always the case during the consideration of the Finance Bill. For that reason, it is important that the Order of Business be as it is.
|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.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, Mary.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Healy-Rae, Jackie.||Hoctor, Máire.|
|Kelly, Peter.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kennedy, Michael.||Killeen, Tony.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Kitt, Tom.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Martin, Micheál.|
|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’Donoghue, John.|
|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.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Bannon, James.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Crawford, Seymour.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||D’Arcy, Michael.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Enright, Olwyn.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Higgins, Michael D.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McManus, Liz.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Morgan, Arthur.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Donnell, Kieran.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Shea, Brian.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|O’Sullivan, Maureen.||Penrose, Willie.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Shatter, Alan.|
|Sheahan, Tom.||Sherlock, Seán.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Upton, Mary.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: Will the Taoiseach indicate the status of the Government statement circulated last night in respect of waste management policy and incineration? It is not on headed paper or signed; it is just a Government statement.
The Taoiseach: It simply outlines what the programme for Government provides for, that we are involved in a consultative process through a strategic environmental assessment, that we have an international review report which makes some important recommendations and that we are examining resource management and how it can play into general waste management policy. It also outlines how we are committed to that approach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is proceeding on that basis.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: This Government statement, an unusual one at that, was issued arising from a statement made by the Dublin City Manager to an Oireachtas committee last week. At the committee he stated the contract signed by Dublin City Council for the construction of the incinerator in Ringsend was in compliance with Government policy. The statement issued yesterday by the Government was to clarify this. As I read the statement, it does no such thing. First, it has no reference to the incinerator——
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: There is no mention of Poolbeg in this statement. It states Government policy on waste management is in the programme for Government and that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, has the Government’s full support in implementing it. It also states there will be a levy on incineration in legislation to appear in the future. What is not clarified — what I understand was the purpose of this statement and what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, was seeking to have established —is the status of Government policy at the time the contract was signed by Dublin City Council for the incinerator at Poolbeg.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Is the contract signed by Dublin City Council in compliance with Government policy or not? This statement tells us about what will happen in the future with waste management policy. It also tells us a few actions the Minister, Deputy Gormley, could perhaps have taken in his first two years in office which could have prevented his current difficulties in Ringsend. What is the status of the Ringsend contract?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: What about the lost at sea report raised by Deputy Creed yesterday? There were statements about the report in the House last Thursday. The Ombudsman has asked the Oireachtas to reach a conclusion on the matter, which is why she referred the report to it. I wrote to the Taoiseach on Friday suggesting the report should be referred to the appropriate Oireachtas committee. Has he considered my letter yet and, if so, what is his response to it?
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: It is on Government policy and is the exact same issue raised by my party’s leader and Deputy Gilmore. The Government has a responsibility to clarify to the House whether there has been an official change——
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: ——in Government policy. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, claimed the other night that he wrote letters to the Dublin City Manager which constituted a change to Government policy. Will the Taoiseach clarify to the House whether writing letters to a city manager is the equivalent of changing Government policy?
The Taoiseach: The lost at sea report is being considered by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This consideration should be completed by next week after the Seanad has discussed it and its recommendations.
The Taoiseach: The Government statement sets out the position that resource management is being examined, that we are involved in a consultative process and that the proposed section 60 cap on incineration requires a consultative process under EU directives, etc. That is what has happened.
The Taoiseach: The situation regarding whatever contractual arrangements Dublin City Council have will be considered and an investigating officer will be appointed by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to examine that matter.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In light of the recent British decision, which was reflected in the Northern Assembly only this week, regarding additional compensation for victims of thalidomide, is the Government considering any such measures for the small number of victims in this jurisdiction? Has the Taoiseach received a request to meet with the survivors of thalidomide in the Twenty-six Counties?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will he accede to the request at the earliest opportunity given the serious needs of the people concerned and that we are not in sync with the supports and measures introduced in the other jurisdiction on the island and in the neighbouring island?
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Noting the presence of the Minister for Health and Children in the Chamber, I take it she has been briefed a representative of the Irish Thalidomide Association was interviewed on the radio this morning. That association has been in dialogue with the Department of Health and Children and the State Claims Agency for over two years. As there are fewer than 40 survivors, will the Minister ensure the matter is brought to a conclusion in the interest of ordinary decency? These people, to whom the State owes a degree of responsibility, should be treated with respect and promptness. They have been left for far too long without a decent response from the Government.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On the same issue, and very much in support of the two previous speakers, the Taoiseach can do a great service to the House and its institutions by responding in the fashion suggested by my colleagues on this side of the House. In view of the well-documented evidence that has existed for several years on this sensitive subject and the relatively small number of people whose situation must be addressed, it is even more poignant——
The Taoiseach: Obviously, we are all aware of this particular situation. The original settlement regarding these matters was made back in the 1970s. The Minister is awaiting a report from the State Claims Agency, which is expected this month. The Minister has asked the State Claims Agency to examine the Irish Thalidomide Association’s claims and to assess them in the context of Irish and international provisions for victims of thalidomide and Irish case law and precedent, and to advise her. Any proposal which comes out of that process will be considered by Government at that point.
The Taoiseach: The fact of the matter is that the tax-free allowance in Ireland, quite rightly, is €26,000 whereas it is £18,000 in Britain. While it is a serious disability, we have ensured that, in comparable terms, Ireland has not been at the back of the queue in that respect. However, the claims being made by the thalidomide association now include an additional lump sum and increased monthly payments, retrospection and additional supports. It is in that context that the Minister is expecting a report from the State Claims Agency, based on the criteria I have set out. They are important criteria in terms of making a proper assessment in the matter.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Would the Taoiseach commit not only on behalf of the Government, but on behalf of the House, as there is a small number of people involved, to meet directly with their representatives following a request they made? It certainly would be appropriate and much appreciated.
Deputy Joe Costello: In view of the fact that yesterday MEPs voted for a new Commission, there are 27 new Commissioners about to begin their five-year stint and Ireland’s Commissioner is in the important portfolio of innovation and research, will the Taoiseach consider inviting the new Commissioner to the House to outline her proposals? Innovation and research are supposed to be central to the national——
The Taoiseach: I am guided by the Ceann Comhairle. The fact of the matter is I hope to meet the Commissioner tomorrow on other business. I am sure she will be only too pleased to visit this country, as she will be visiting others, to listen and to indicate what her policy positions will be on these matters going forward.
Deputy Pádraic McCormack: My question is relevant to the Order of Business. When will the health information Bill to allow people access to their records come before the Dáil? I am glad the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, has waited for the reply to the question.
When will the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 be implemented to allow tenants in local authority flat complexes and maisonettes to purchase their own properties. We passed the Bill, but it has not yet been implemented by the local authorities. When will that be implemented and when will the health information Bill come before the Dáil?
The Taoiseach: I will have to come back to the Deputy as to what the position is. I can only deal with legislation that is yet to be enacted. If there is legislation enacted and there is a problem, a parliamentary question is probably the best way of getting accurate information. On the other matter the Deputy raised, it will be the end of the year.
Deputy Richard Bruton: As the Taoiseach will be aware, the Government has a legislative group working on new legislation to protect people in debt difficulties. Would the Taoiseach consider extending a moratorium while this policy work is ongoing on repossessions and, specifically, whether that would apply to Halifax Bank of Scotland, HBOS, mortgage holders who are particularly exposed in the current situation?
While I am at it, credit card holders have been abruptly told by HBOS that they must clear their accounts by May. Here again, some provision to provide reasonable consumer protection in this transition would be appropriate.
The Taoiseach: I understand there has been a statement from the Financial Regulator today that Bank of Scotland has informed the Financial Regulator of its commercial intention to close the Halifax retail banking business and the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) intermediary business in the Republic of Ireland, commencing at the end of May. The Financial Regulator is working with Bank of Scotland (Ireland) to ensure that customers’ interests are protected in accordance with the consumer protection code and as required by the code, all customers will be given three months notice of branch closures. Mortgages, personal loans and fixed-rate savings with the bank will operate to maturity. Bank of Scotland (Ireland) has advised that customers do not need to do anything at this stage, the bank’s commercial banking and corporate banking operations are unaffected by the development, and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) will begin writing to all customers by the end of February to set out how the changes will affect them and to explain the next steps that they may need to take.
The implications will vary depending on the type of account or product consumers may hold and we recommend that consumers read what the Financial Regulator states, that they look at those details very carefully. The Bank of Scotland has also established various customer contact points which are listed at branches. The Financial Regulator is taking up his responsibility in ensuring that consumers’ interests are protected in the context of the announcement made yesterday.
Deputy James Bannon: Given the high incidence of skin cancer in this country, which was referred to by the Minister for Health and Children who I am glad is in the House, I cannot believe the Government has not set a date for the publication of the public health (sunbeds) Bill. Will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Health and Children give me and concerned parents a date for the publication of this very important Bill? The Minister acknowledged more than 12 months ago that legislation would be forthcoming in 2009. It has not come to hand yet.
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: I wish to ask about the heads of a Bill, which were agreed, in regard to a directly elected mayor of Dublin. Will the Taoiseach share with the House some further information on this legislation? It is reported extensively in the newspapers today that the new directly elected mayor of Dublin will receive a salary of €200,000 per annum. Will the Taoiseach confirm that? Presumably, extensive expenses will be incurred in addition to that. That seems somewhat offensive in the current climate.
Deputy Lucinda Creighton: When is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government likely to publish a White Paper on this in order that we, on the Opposition benches, will have an opportunity to scrutinise it? Is it envisaged at any point in the future, or via this legislation, that the Government will introduce directly elected mayors for other cities?
The Taoiseach: I refer to the programme for Government which makes reference to enacting legislation for a directly elected mayor of Dublin in 2010. As I said in response to Deputy Gilmore when he asked about it yesterday, heads of a Bill were approved by Government yesterday. No decisions on remuneration have been made at this point. When the Bill is prepared, it will be published and debated. In the meantime, Deputy Gilmore and others will I am sure be able to consult with people about what stage the Bill is at.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: I wish to ask about two related Bills. The first concerns the Cabinet sub-committee, which I understand has met twice, most recently in 2009, and which is considering issues around reform of human rights and the Air Navigation Acts 1978 and 1988. Legislation was promised.
Related to that is the biological weapons Bill, which will prohibit the use, development, production, manufacture, possession, stockpiling and so forth of biological weapons. I mention this because the biological weapons Bill, as described, would not prohibit the transmission of biological weapons through Irish airspace. It would be confined in its prohibition to companies registered in Ireland, members of the Defence Forces and so on.
Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Recent reports from Iraq show that babies are being born with immense genetic deformities. There is evidence of the use of biological weapons in practically every other major conflict, so this legislation is urgent. It is very important that we not only prohibit any work in this regard but also, as a country interested in international law, that we bring forward the legislation dealing with Shannon and ensure such weapons are prohibited there as well. When will we see the legislation from the Cabinet sub-committee and the biological weapons Bill?
The Taoiseach: Work will proceed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on bringing forward the Bill in full. The issues the Deputy raised are probably best left for discussion with the Minister as he prepares the scope of the Bill, or for Second Stage when it is published. I understand the other one will be later this year.
Deputy Joan Burton: What is the current situation in regard to the long-promised legislation dealing with management companies? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform circulated a two page letter which highlighted all the difficulties he has identified and all the different parties he has consulted, including builders and developers. It looks as if the prospect of getting this legislation in the lifetime of this Dáil is fading away.
Deputy Joan Burton: Their apartments can get flooded and their roofs can get destroyed and they have no recourse. Has the Government a revised timeframe for introducing this legislation before this Dáil runs its course because very many people are very badly affected by its absence?
Deputy Joan Burton: It is really difficult. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform circulated a two page letter but it is a letter of despair because it seems to indicate that no resolution of this really pressing issue will be forthcoming while he is Minister.
The Taoiseach: Given the amount of interest articulated in the House on a constant basis in regard to this matter, the purpose of the correspondence was to bring people up to date as to what issues are being addressed. The purpose of the correspondence was to update Deputies in far greater detail than I would be able to give on the Order of Business on what exactly are the issues being addressed and considered.
I would like to see the legislation published and enacted as quickly as possible but it is being dealt with by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and it is a matter of priority. Unfortunately, because there are so many issues involved in terms of getting a coherent legislative outcome, it is complex and difficult to finalise. It is not a question of the Government being indifferent on the matter. We are proceeding with this issue as quickly as is possible.
Deputy Joan Burton: Does the Taoiseach have a timeframe for the legislation? We regularly deal with hundreds of thousands of people affected by the absence of legislation in this area, young homeowners in negative equity who are finding it extremely tough.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Second Stage of that legislation went through the Seanad. Suddenly, there was a new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, all hell broke loose and the Bill was no good anymore.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: On the new Central Bank Bill, are there plans to publish it in draft format, similar to the NAMA Bill, so there can be full and proper public consultation and so the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service will have an opportunity to hear presentations from interested parties? It would be in line with the Government’s White Paper on better regulation to publish the Bill in draft format.
The Taoiseach: I am not aware that is the case. I understand the first Bill would be introduced in the normal way. There are two Bills being brought forward to deal with the proposed regulatory changes which the Minister for Finance has in mind. The work has been divided in that way in order that we can progress with the first Bill at, I understand, Easter. The Minister has indicated the timeframe and thereafter the second Bill will come forward. If the Deputy wants to make suggestions to the Minister regarding how it is to be presented, he could table a parliamentary question or a direct discussion with the Minister might bear fruit.
Deputy Joe McHugh: I would be tempted to table a parliamentary question but due to the work to rule we are not sure if it would be answered. We could save €200. My point concerns the consultant haematology service of which the Tánaiste will be aware. We need to impress on the Department of Health and Children the need to use whatever pressure it can to try to get funding. Too many new patients who require chemotherapy and need haematology services are being referred to Sligo and Galway. Letterkenny General Hospital and its staff are doing all they can but I ask the Tánaiste to impress on her colleague, the Minister for Health and Children——
Deputy Ulick Burke: Many people are suffering. Their medical cards have been cancelled by their general practitioners because of a payment issue. It is of the utmost importance that somebody with consideration for elderly people’s health would extend the expiry date for medical cards. It is important.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I have a question on promised legislation, the purpose of which is to transpose EU Directive 2008/6/EC which provides for the completion of the liberalisation of the postal sector, in line with 1 January 2011. Given the lack of speed with which legislation tended to go through this House over the past number of years, is it intended to bring the Bill before the House before the end of the year, as the date for transposition of the directive is 1 January 2011? If so, when will the heads of the Bill be approved? Has it been discussed by Cabinet? Have drafts been drawn up? What is the situation regarding the legislation?
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