Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 18, Finance Bill 2010 — Report and Final Stages (Resumed); and No. 19, Road Traffic Bill 2009 — 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 10.30 p.m. The resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 18 shall be taken today and, notwithstanding the proceedings yesterday, shall resume on amendment No. 3 and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.
Private Members’ business shall be No. 36, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Review of Rent in Certain Cases) (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage (Resumed) — to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Taoiseach indicate if there will be an opportunity for the House to address the scandalous situation vis-à-vis the 57,000 X-rays at Tallaght hospital? When will the Minister for Health and Children present before this Chamber, or a Minister of State in her Department in her absence, and take the opportunity to address this issue substantively in this House? There are many serious questions to be addressed. Contradictory information has been provided in various commentaries regarding this scandalous situation in terms of awareness, knowledge of and action regarding same and that must be addressed in the House. We need to know with certainty that what has been exposed in respect of Tallaght hospital, where a consultant radiologist did not have or did not avail of the opportunity to scrutinise some 57,000 X-rays, does not pertain at other hospital sites throughout the jurisdiction as well. This is a very important matter and I call on the Taoiseach to clarify at this point when the Minister, or a Minister of State on her behalf, will present in the Chamber, preferably today.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Taoiseach intervene? It is well within his gift, given the importance and seriousness of the matter, to intervene to accommodate an opportunity for it. I do not know when the Minister is due to return to Ireland. I realise she is currently out of the country but that should not prevent the House addressing this matter from an informed and definitely focused basis. Will the Taoiseach ensure at least, in the absence of the Minister, that a Minister of State from her Department would come before the House with the full information and take questions of members of the Opposition?
Deputy James Reilly: I wish to address the issue raised by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. It was clear this morning when the Minister spoke from New Zealand that she is muddled and mixed up. This is a Minister who does not know the difference between meddling and management. She should come home immediately.
Deputy James Reilly: The Taoiseach needs to address this. He is the leader of the country. This morning, he stated he has absolute confidence in the Minister. He must be one of the few left who does. In my view, this Minister should resign.
The Taoiseach: As I have indicated, this is a matter for the procedure of the House. As I understand it, the Ceann Comhairle is on notice of any private notice questions that may have been submitted. The Report and Final Stages of the Finance Bill are to be completed today. That is a very important matter that must be dealt with as well.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach may state continuously that this is a matter to be sorted out by the Whips but the Government orders the business here. Some 65 amendments to the Finance Bill remain; four have been dealt with. These range from issues related to NAMA, to the consolidation of taxes, head shops and a whole range of other issues. The time allocated for today will not allow Members to get into any constructive or detailed discussion about a number of these very important amendments. There is no reason that the Dáil could not sit for a longer period tomorrow to deal with the details of the amendments to the Finance Bill tabled by Deputies. I object to the Bill being guillotined today. It is not good enough.
I take the point made by Deputy Reilly in respect of the catastrophe that has befallen certain people and the concern that exists for those whose X-rays have not been read. They have not been informed about whether they are at a high risk. This is unsatisfactory and I object to it. I will vote against the Order of Business unless the Government Whip indicates to me that extra time will be given to these amendments to the Finance Bill tomorrow.
Deputy Joan Burton: There is a perfectly agreeable way of addressing this issue. The Finance Bill is probably one of the most important tranches of legislation that comes before the House each year. Attempting to guillotine the Bill is an insult to the work of the House. We could find two hours tomorrow easily without seriously discommoding anyone. As has been done on several occasions in recent times, question time could be pushed back until later in the afternoon tomorrow and we could hold a sufficiency of debate. Several serious matters arise here and we must hold a discussion with the Minister for Finance on what he proposes. Happily, he accepted a Labour Party amendment to the Finance Bill last night in respect of an evaluation of the cost of tax expenditures and tax breaks. That was helpful and it may indicate a new spirit of bipartisanship in this House.
Deputy Joan Burton: Given that spirit of bipartisanship, it is important to allow sufficient time and respect for the House rather than simply having a guillotine and a jack boot approach to finishing off the legislation in the manner proposed.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Sinn Féin Deputies reject absolutely the proposition that a guillotine should be applied to the Finance Bill at any stage, let alone on Report and Final Stages. The situation is that only four amendments from approximately 70 tabled were addressed in yesterday’s discussions in the Chamber. There is inadequate time to address the import of all the amendments tabled. I recognise that this Bill accommodates the removal of the VAT exemption from local authorities that will result in a 13.5% increase in respect of charges covering a whole raft of services at that level.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: This is not a Bill that should be passed through on any nod. This requires full address in this Chamber and that is not being accommodated by the Government’s ordering of today’s work.
|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.|
|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.||Fitzpatrick, Michael.|
|Fleming, Seán.||Flynn, Beverley.|
|Gogarty, Paul.||Gormley, John.|
|Grealish, Noel.||Hanafin, 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.||McDaid, James.|
|McEllistrim, Thomas.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|Mansergh, Martin.||Moloney, John.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulcahy, Michael.|
|Nolan, M. J.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Brien, Darragh.||O’Connor, Charlie.|
|O’Donoghue, John.||O’Flynn, Noel.|
|O’Hanlon, Rory.||O’Keeffe, Batt.|
|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.|
|Barrett, Seán.||Behan, Joe.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Burton, Joan.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Carey, Joe.||Clune, Deirdre.|
|Connaughton, Paul.||Coonan, Noel J.|
|Costello, Joe.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Creed, Michael.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||D’Arcy, Michael.|
|Deasy, John.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kenny, Enda.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|McCormack, Pádraic.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McGrath, Finian.||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’Mahony, John.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Quinn, Ruairí.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Reilly, James.|
|Ring, Michael.||Sheahan, Tom.|
|Sheehan, P. J.||Sherlock, Seán.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Upton, Mary.|
|Varadkar, Leo.||Wall, Jack.|
Deputy Enda Kenny: Will the Taoiseach consider again the statement made by the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, that the lost at sea scheme began as maladministration and ended up as bad governance? The Ombudsman, appointed by the Government, has said it is not tolerable that the objective and independent report she produced will not be allowed to be discussed at the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
Deputy Enda Kenny: ——that they should have the opportunity to answer questions at the relevant committee. All I want from the Taoiseach is that he has no objection to a committee dealing with this. The other day when answering a parliamentary question, the Minister for Transport said the Government will not give any more time in the Chamber to this report. That was a clear statement from the Minister. I want an equally clear statement from the Taoiseach saying that on account of what the Ombudsman has said officially in public that the appropriate Oireachtas committee, comprising Members from all parties, should be entitled to consider her report on the Lost at Sea scheme. Deputy Fahey, who is present in the Chamber, has been mentioned in the report. He should be entitled to give his say in detail at the committee.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I can see no reason why the Government will not allow this to happen. It is clearly a case of where, on the one hand, the Government considered the Ombudsman’s report and, on the other, that one of its Members was mentioned in it. The Government has come down in favour of a Government Deputy.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I have not accused Deputy Fahey of anything. Instead, I am giving him the opportunity to go to the appropriate committee and deal with questions that need to be answered in respect of the Ombudsman’s report. It is not a report from a political party.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It is unusual for a Department to reject a finding of the Ombudsman. It is also unusual for the Ombudsman to refer the matter to the Oireachtas for it to decide upon. The arrangement made for statements on it did not satisfy that requirement. The Labour Party spokesperson, Deputy Sherlock, has tabled a motion to have the issue referred to the appropriate Dáil committee. That is the only way to deal with this. The longer this matter continues, the more politicised and more partisan it will become.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I do not believe the Ombudsman should be put in the position to have to make public comments on her reports. She referred the matter to the Oireachtas and it should be dealt with here.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: That is the whole point. The Department rejected the recommendation. There is a precedent for dealing with this matter, as there was a previous occasion where something similar arose and it was dealt with by the appropriate Oireachtas committee.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: As I said yesterday, the sooner it is referred to the committee and dealt with on an all-party basis the better. I do not understand why the Government will not agree to have this dealt with by the appropriate committee. That is all we are asking for.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We must recognise the Ombudsman is a politically independent officer of the State. We must treat seriously matters she refers to the Dáil and Seanad as she has done in this instance. It is only the second time a report of the Ombudsman’s office has been rejected by a Department. It is very important that we do not find ourselves in the situation she described in her remarks yesterday, with the Dáil having been sidelined and the Opposition failing to hold the Executive to account.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——and obligation and we are pressing that this matter be addressed. I agree with Deputy Gilmore that it is beyond understanding why there is such a concerted resistance to having——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have done no such thing. I am asking the Taoiseach to take this issue seriously immediately. There can be no question but that the Government has blocked address of this issue in this Chamber, in the Seanad and in the committee. It is beyond the understanding of any reasonable opinion and should be addressed immediately. What else will put the matter to bed? What else will address the concerns expressed by the Ombudsman? There can be no other way of dealing with this and I urge the Taoiseach and the Government to accede to the collective request of the Opposition to have this matter addressed as a substantive issue by the committee.
Deputy Michael Creed: The Ceann Comhairle repeatedly requests the Opposition to have the matter dealt with in Private Members’ time. That is not the appropriate way to deal with it because we need a forensic investigation and interviews with various parties, including Deputy Fahey whom the Taoiseach is intent on protecting and around whom he is circling the Government wagons. We are offering Deputy Fahey, the Ombudsman and the complainant an opportunity to come before the committee. That is what true and effective parliamentary democracy is about, not a charade and a whitewash, which is what the Ceann Comhairle is asking the Opposition to participate in.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: One of the issues raised by the Ombudsman is the ability of the Oireachtas to hold the Government to account. The Order of Business is exactly where one should discuss whether a report is debated or not.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: Can I just finish my sentence? I believe we hold the Government to account in the Oireachtas but we are being put in a straitjacket in terms of what we can raise on the Order of Business. We should be able to raise whether a report should be debated on the Order of Business.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: With all due respect, I indicated on this issue. There is a motion before the House and all the Labour Party wants is to provide the Ombudsman with an opportunity to present the findings of her report before a designated committee, preferably the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is on the Order Paper and we are asking that there be some degree of common sense in terms of how this is approached. We do not want further statements in the Dáil on this matter and, as Deputy Gilmore said, it can be done without debate if we facilitate the person in question. That is all we are asking.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On the point of order, I and other Members have raised repeatedly the question of accountability to the House. The Ceann Comhairle finds himself in a difficult position and I am not being critical of him. The Ceann Comhairle says there are ways and means of dealing with this issue without any change to protocol. It is a fact of life. Does the Opposition have to bring the business of the House to a halt in order to get the Government to accept the principle of accountability to Parliament?
Deputy Emmet Stagg: On a point of order, when we are discussing the ordering of Government business, the Ceann Comhairle has got into the habit of giving us helpful advice to kick it to touch into Private Members’ time. That is not what we are talking about.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: That is not the business we are dealing with on the Order of Business, which concerns Government time and how it should be allocated. There is a proposal from the Government and we are entitled to raise questions.
The Taoiseach: A number of misrepresentations have been made by the Opposition and I want to clear up the factual situation. The Ombudsman Act is entirely silent on how the Houses of the Oireachtas should deal with a special report laid before each House. The Ombudsman presented a special report to each House of the Oireachtas at which time she invited them to consider the report and “take whatever action they deem appropriate”. It is a matter for the Oireachtas to order its business. The Dáil and Seanad have dealt with the Ombudsman’s report by way of statements on 4 February and 18 February respectively.
The Taoiseach: I just heard from Deputy Gilmore about the need to avoid partisanship in respect of this matter. He wanted to have this matter dealt with by the committee to avoid all partisanship. Deputy Creed has been involved in a game of partisanship for months.
The Taoiseach: Every time I get to speak on this, Deputy Creed keeps interrupting me. I read his statement yesterday. He has a statement on this every day. Again, it is Deputy Creed seeking to introduce a degree of partisanship into this matter.
The Taoiseach: As the Ombudsman accepts, any Department is free in law to decide whether it will accept the recommendation. In many cases they are accepted but there have been occasions on which they had not been accepted. It is out of respect for the Ombudsman’s office that we do not reject every recommendation.
The Taoiseach: The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, outlined the Government’s position in respect of this matter in the House. I do not accept some of the suggestions made about this. The Department’s reason for taking that position is on the record of the House. It is entitled in law to take that position.
The Taoiseach: The Ombudsman Act is silent on how that can be dealt with. We dealt with it by way of statements in the House. It has been dealt with as far as the Government is concerned. The Department is entitled in law to take a position and this is accepted by the Ombudsman.
Deputy Michael Creed: I asked the Taoiseach to address the precedent that exists in this House. On the one previous occasion in 25 years when the Ombudsman laid a report before the Houses of the Oireachtas, it was referred to the Oireachtas committee on finance for investigation. That is all the Houses ask, that the matter be investigated by a committee of the House.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: I note what the Taoiseach has said about the Ombudsman’s Act being silent on the matter. Again, we respectfully ask that the Taoiseach allow the Ombudsman an opportunity to present her findings. I believe that is a reasonable approach. This can be done in a non-partisan way. I am sure this House could facilitate such a process.
The Taoiseach: The Ombudsman has presented her special report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas how it wishes to deal with it. We have had statements in both Houses on the matter.
Deputy Phil Hogan: The following may not be silent in law. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority Bill is listed on the Order Paper. We have all read in recent times of the massive splurge of expenditure on travel and entertainment. There is precedent in this regard.  The Ceann Comhairle’s office has been the subject of precedent in respect of this matter. The director general of FÁS, an agency of the Tánaiste’s Department, has been the subject of adjudication on these matters. When will the Taoiseach bring forth an amendment to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General to deal with these matters as per the Bill on the Order Paper?
Deputy Phil Hogan: The Taoiseach’s Green Party colleagues in government thought the matters relating to the former Ceann Comhairle and Mr. Molloy were serious. Is the Taoiseach suggesting these issues are not serious enough to be discussed or to warrant a change in the legislation?
The Taoiseach: There has been no comment by me suggesting matters are not serious or otherwise. I am merely making the point that the report should be considered by the Minister taking the advice he is taking and will be published in due course.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have four brief questions for the Taoiseach. I understand the competition Bill includes a section to deal with the situation whereby a company can effectively own a large shareholding in its direct competitor, as is happening in aviation. When will that Bill come before the House?
I understand the globalisation fund extra information for the SRT workers was on the desk of Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, last week. Has that information been sent back to Brussels? There was massive disruption yesterday by the taxi industry. The Taoiseach will be aware the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport——
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I understand the taxi workers want to discuss with the Minister the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport on taxis. Perhaps a meeting in this regard could be arranged as soon as possible.
The Taoiseach: The Tánaiste will meet with the chief executive of Kraft in due course. On the question in respect of the competition Bill, it is proposed to introduce it by the end of this year. The information in relation to SRT has been returned to Brussels.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: I wish to raise three issues with the Taoiseach. Members continue to receive from the HSE correspondence and information on health issues that is not up to date or relevant. When will——
Deputy Seymour Crawford: We are continually advised of the great work being done by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. We are told that big is great and big is perfect. Members will be aware of the current situation at Tallaght Hospital. When will the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill be brought before the House to allow us an opportunity to discuss the complete utter chaos of our health system?
Deputy Terence Flanagan: The multi-unit developments Bill is long overdue legislation. I accept an update on the matters has been received from the Whips’ office. While the multi-unit developments Bill is complex legislation its introduction has been dragging on now for eight years. Meanwhile there is no redress for the 400,000 apartment owners. These people have nobody to turn to in respect of disputes and problems that arise. Perhaps the Taoiseach will expedite this legislation and provide the House with an update in this regard.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: Deputy Broughan mentioned the Taoiseach will next week be in Chicago where the headquarters of Kraft management is based. Perhaps he will make it his business to ensure the 1,200 jobs at Cadburys in Dublin are retained. The last thing we need in this country is more people joining the dole queues.
Deputy Joe Carey: Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House if the mid-west task force is working towards producing its final report and, if so, when is it expected the chairman will report on the matter? Also, will the Taoiseach facilitate a debate on the report when concluded?
Deputy James Reilly: Given the Taoiseach has stated he has confidence in the Minister for Health and Children, perhaps he will tell us the reason the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, did not inform her in June of the situation at Tallaght Hospital. How is it possible that the word of the CEO that there were only 4,000 cases involved when it transpires that there are 58,000 cases involved, was accepted? This is the worst scandal yet we have had in this country.
Deputy James Reilly: When will the whistleblowers charter be introduced? When will the legislation promised in the programme for Government, which the Taoiseach and Minister for Health and Children appear to be putting on the long finger, be brought before this House? Will the Taoiseach, Minister and HIQA assure this House that this situation does not pertain in other hospitals around the country?
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I was going to raise the following matter when dealing with the relevant legislation but it is appropriate that I raise it now. It is simply not credible that when the Minister was told about this in December by the CEO of Tallaght Hospital, she was not told the extent of it.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: This is much broader than the immediate issue. It is a matter of the Minister’s competence. The Minister handed over complete responsibility for the health service to the HSE, and because of that, she is now hiding behind the fact——
Deputy Deirdre Clune: It is reported in the newspapers that the Taoiseach is launching the innovation task force report tomorrow. This report claims that 120,000 jobs can be created. Does the Taoiseach have any plans to bring the report to the House? We can then have a full debate on it and hear the Government’s detailed response to the recommendations of the report.
The Taoiseach: I was going to reply. This report will be launched tomorrow by the task force that wrote it and it will be considered by the Government. It is a matter for the Whips to decide when this or any other report will be debated.
Deputy Michael Ring: The Taoiseach will be in the arms of President Obama next week. Will he raise the issue of the undocumented Irish? It is very important. Many of our Irish illegals are caught in limbo over there, and I hope the Taoiseach will raise it with the President next week. We were promised legislation on the issue by the US Government.
Deputy Billy Timmins: Ireland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which recognises the right to free movement of people. There is an explicit right in our Constitution to free travel. That explicit right has been denied to people due to the actions of staff at the passport office. Will the Taoiseach get the Minister for Foreign Affairs to do something about it? It is disgraceful that people all over the country are arriving at the office but cannot get their passport. Perhaps the Taoiseach has his own passport in order for next week, but it is unacceptable that people cannot travel abroad. We are a laughing stock abroad and the CPSU is running rings around the Government.
Deputy Jack Wall: I asked the staff of the Oireachtas Library to do some research on local authority loans. They informed me that 43% of such loans across the country were in arrears. When I asked officials at Kildare County Council what could be done about this, they told me that their hands were tied and they could do nothing about it. They said that if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government gave a ministerial order under section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, it would allow them to negotiate with people who had loans to ensure that proper facilities were put in place to deal with arrears.
Deputy Jack Wall: I am going to ask the question. When will the ministerial order for section 34 of the Act take place to allow local authorities deal with people who have taken out local authority loans and who are in arrears?
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