Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Enda Kenny: I wish to raise a number of matters on the Order of Business. The Taoiseach and the leaders of other parties have received a letter from the sole member of the Moriarty tribunal. This tribunal was set up by the Oireachtas for a particular purpose. The letter from the sole member indicates he is considering the drafting of an interim report dealing with what is known as the money trail, although he has not made up his mind finally in this regard. In view of the fact that this is a matter of considerable interest to the Oireachtas, could I suggest to the Taoiseach that he call a meeting of the leaders of the parties to consider a response to the letter? It might not be helpful if the leaders of the parties were to have differing responses, in view of the fact the Oireachtas agreed to set up the tribunal.
I note the House has about 18 sitting days left before it rises for the summer recess. Is it the intention of the Government to bring forward the legislation giving effect to an extension of the remit of the elected members of Údarás na Gaeltachta? Elections are due this year and if they are not going to be held, there will have to be an extension of responsibility given to the members. In that case, is it expected this legislation will be brought before the House before the summer recess?
I refer to a matter which I know is of considerable interest to that redoubtable Deputy from Tipperary, Deputy Mattie McGrath. There seems to be some confusion about the bringing forward of the wildlife Bill. The Minister, Deputy Gormley’s people seem to be very anxious to get this Bill through as quickly as possible while others do not. When is the wildlife Bill expected to stalk itself into the House or walk into the House, as the case may be?
In view of the announcement yesterday about the bringing forward of emergency legislation dealing with the number of children who have died in the care of the State, is the Taoiseach in a position to say that this legislation will be introduced during the next couple of weeks to give effect to the transmission of the documentation from the HSE to the review group?
Last week, the Tánaiste said she was of the view that a referendum on children’s rights should be a stand-alone issue. Has the Taoiseach had a report from the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs in the meantime as to the progress on producing the Bill and giving effect to a wording which would be put to the people? Is this work in progress and what progress has been made in the past fortnight?
The Taoiseach: I brought this matter to the attention of the House last week and there has been no advance on last week with regard to that matter. It is still being considered and work is continuing. On the question of legislation being brought to the House, this was discussed at Leaders’ Questions. It is now being prepared as a matter of urgency. It will be considered by the Government for approval and brought to the House as soon as possible thereafter, in a matter of weeks.
The wildlife Bill has been published. It was discussed at our parliamentary party meeting and the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, will bring back some of the views. We all know the issues in the programme for Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, has heard the views of some of our parliamentary party members and he is reverting to the Minister with regard to those views.
The purpose of the Údarás na Gaeltachta ( Amendment) Bill, which is a short Bill, will be to increase the maximum interval between the elections and this Bill will be brought forward during this term in time for the elections.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: With regard to the correspondence we have received this morning from the sole member of the Moriarty tribunal, I welcome the fact that this letter has been sent to us. It arises from the suggestion that I made here on 11 May that the House might request Mr. Justice Moriarty to make an interim report to the House. While he draws a distinction between what would constitute an interim report I think he has set out for us some explanation as to why at least some of the delays in the working of the tribunal have taken place. He reminded us of the successive legal actions which were taken, including those by the late Mr. Haughey, which have delayed the progress of the tribunal. He has said he is breaking the remaining matter into two separate reports, one dealing with the money trail and a second dealing with the other matters. He is suggesting he is considering issuing a separate earlier report on the money trail and a later report on the other matters.
A number of points in this letter will need to be considered. Deputy Kenny has suggested to the Taoiseach that there might be a meeting of party leaders to discuss the letter. This is a good suggestion and I recommend it to the Taoiseach. I also think there needs to be a means by which the House itself can consider the letter as it is a letter addressed to the House on the tribunal established by the House and we need some means of addressing it. I appreciate we have just received the letter this morning but it does have to be considered. It is not something we can just simply note and move on.
With regard to the legislation which the Government has promised to allow for the transfer of the files from the HSE to the Gibbons-Shannon investigation, the Taoiseach has said this legislation will be before the House in a matter of weeks. The problem is that the House will only sit for a matter of weeks before the summer recess. Is it the Government’s intention to have that legislation enacted so the investigation is not delayed further? If that legislation is not through before the summer recess, for example, the logic would be that these files cannot be transferred until the autumn and then there will be another delay. Or would the Taoiseach consider the suggestion that I made on Leaders’ Questions that the investigation might be established under the commission of investigations legislation, which would allow it to proceed?
May I ask the Taoiseach about the comments that were made by the Financial Services Ombudsman? The latter is seeking power to exercise discretion to identify financial institutions he is investigating where the public interest so requires. Will the Government consider agreeing to that request in the context of the Central Bank Bill, which is before the House?
The Taoiseach: As regards the tribunal issues, I have brought to his attention and have at all times kept the member informed of any developments or issues that were being suggested here. I have conveyed that to the member in writing. As regards any further contact, I can keep Deputies informed in addition to whatever consideration I wish to give to the letter before us at the moment.
It is our intention to bring forward that legislation as a matter of urgency during this session and get it enacted before we rise. That is the intention. It is important that the legislation would be brought forward in that way, so we are seeking to achieve that as a matter of urgency.
As regards the Financial Services Ombudsman stating that he should have the power to name institutions where it is in the public interest, that matter has been notified to the Minister for Finance. The Department of Finance has been in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and the Ombudsman to see in what way that issue can be progressed. The Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that primary legislation would be required if the decision was to proceed along those lines. The matter will have to be considered in more detail in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, following which the Minister can then consider the issues.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Yesterday, the Taoiseach indicated that he was willing to schedule statements and questions on the crisis in child protection. He said this would be facilitated to address the progress being made and the implementation of the recommendations in the Ryan and Monageer reports, as well as the recent report by the Ombudsman for Children. The value of the commitment was lost, however, when the Taoiseach said it would not happen next week or the week after.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: In light of the serious situation that has pertained for a considerable period, when the Taoiseach is ordering business will he allow time in the coming week to address these issues properly on the floor of the House? I ask him not to defer it all into the month of July, as seemed to be the sub-text of his answers yesterday. I am asking him to give that commitment.
On promised legislation, I note that on Monday the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, indicated that legislation was not required to compel the release of the necessary information, including reports, to the inquiry team which has now been established concerning the deaths of children in the care of the State.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I would ask the Ceann Comhairle to apply his rulings equitably. He constantly holds me to particular requirements and standards, but does not apply them to others in this House. That is in evidence every day in this Chamber. I will finish what I have started. Given the fact that the Taoiseach indicated yesterday that legislation would be required, is such legislation now being prepared? Given the seriousness of what is involved, will he ensure that this emergency legislation — as it must now be described — will be accommodated by setting aside other planned work in ordering the Dáil schedule over the coming weeks, so that the legislation can be brought before the House expeditiously and that we can deal with it effectively and speedily?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: As regards the information that gave rise to the difference of opinion between the Minister of State’s position on Monday and the Taoiseach’s views yesterday, was it the report of the Attorney General that indicated that legislation would now be necessary?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Why has it taken such a time for the Attorney General’s report to be received? If that is not the guidance and steer, will the Taoiseach explain why there is a difference of opinion?
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am trying to get an understanding of the genesis for the change in opinion and attitude by the Minister of State and the Taoiseach over a 24-hour period. Will the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to explain this to the House? Will he speed up the processing of that legislation for the reasons I have outlined? Will he accommodate an opportunity for Members of the House to address progress — although there is a question mark there — on the recommendations contained in a series of reports that I have already mentioned?
The Taoiseach: I am happy to deal with any misrepresentations of the facts through the Deputy’s assertions. I have explained all morning that the Minister was notified of the HSE’s legal concerns on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the Government made a decision as to what would be required. On Tuesday afternoon, there was a meeting between the Attorney General’s office, the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children’s legal officials to decide what could be brought forward or passed in the absence of that in the meantime. There is no question of delay. The minute the matter was brought to our attention, we dealt with the issue.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is not entitled to interrupt other Deputies when he is getting an answer. He spent ten minutes asking the question and the minute I open my mouth to give an answer he has something to say about it.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I can take it up here and that is what the Taoiseach does not like. I will continue to take it up here whether or not the Taoiseach likes it or, indeed, his front man in the Chair.
The Taoiseach: The Ceann Comhairle is a far better man in that position than the Deputy would be in any context, including football and politics. I can assure the Deputy of that. I will proceed with an answer.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: By my calculations we have about six weeks left before the House rises on 9 July. Under normal circumstances, a period of two weeks is given before a Bill is moved on Second Stage in the House. Against that background, when are we likely to see the legislation to provide a proper statutory basis for the community national school model, which is under the patronage of the Minister for Education and Skills? It has been promised for the past two years.
Deputy Joan Burton: Given the presence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the tens of thousands of people who are subject to management companies in terms of the homes they are purchasing. What is the position and does the Government have a timeline to bring the Multi-Unit Developments Bill back from the Seanad to complete it? Is there any hope for the tens of thousands of people who are mired in difficulty and must pay very high service charges? Developers are in liquidation and are living in Spain.
Deputy Joan Burton: Developers are responsible for the management companies and the poor people who bought very expensive homes that are now in negative equity, who have 35 year and 40 year mortgages, have no recourse.
Deputy Joan Burton: Could the Taoiseach please give us a timeline of when the Bill might be completed in the Seanad and brought to this House? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present. Does he have a timeline or a time plan for the legislation? People are in desperate situations. We have seen the television programmes about the ghost estates. They are all held by management companies.
The Taoiseach: I understand Report Stage of the Bill will be taken in the Seanad next week. Redrafting of the Bill in many respects has taken place on foot of the good suggestions that were made in the Seanad and elsewhere to try to ensure we get the legislation right. Having progressed in the Seanad the Bill will come into the House as soon as possible. I do not know whether it will be possible to get beyond Second Stage before the term ends. We are all anxious to move the Bill along as quickly as possible.
Deputy James Reilly: I wish to inquire about a number of pieces of legislation. The Taoiseach has clarified today that he had a meeting yesterday with the Attorney General but there appears to be confusion. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, told us there was no planned legislation but the Taoiseach told us today there would be.
Deputy James Reilly: I will. I wish to ask the Taoiseach when the legislation will come before the House. Is it really credible that the Health Service Executive, renowned for being full of bean counters, cannot tell us how many children are in its care or have died in its care?
The second question is on Loughloe House which I visited only two days ago. I met a gentleman with the same name as myself who is so stressed out through being coerced into moving out of that institution that he is now in hospital with a serious medical condition.
The Taoiseach: There is no date for the second piece of legislation on which the Deputy inquired. The first piece of legislation is being drafted as a matter of urgency and it should be in the House this session.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I will not go over the points raised previously other than to ask in the context of the issue raised by all the party leaders and by Deputy Reilly whether the Taoiseach can indicate who in the HSE raised in the first instance the question of legal difficulty in terms of the release of information.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I would have finished by now if you had not interrupted me. The next part of the question is whether the Taoiseach has been given that information. Were the deaths of the children who died while in care published in the national newspapers at the time? If so, why is there such a difficulty in releasing the information now?
Deputy James Bannon: I note that the publication of the geothermal energy Bill is expected in 2010. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether it is still on course and if it will be taken before the summer recess?
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: Ms Kathleen O’Toole, the head of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, was reported in the newspaper the other day as saying that the role of Garda Reserve members needed to be expanded. It appears that many members of the Garda Reserve are applying for jobs with the PSNI because of the recruitment embargo in the Garda Síochána. That is one of her suggestions. Does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have legislation planned in that regard?
Deputy Alan Shatter: On the issue that was previously raised and the legislation to facilitate the Health Service Executive to provide documentation to the review group, what consideration has been taken to ensure the matter is finally addressed correctly? What consideration is being given in the context of the promised legislation to giving a statutory function to the review group that has been formed to investigate the number of child deaths in care? Has consideration been given to the fact that if information is finally furnished by the Health Service Executive that requires the two individuals, Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, to conduct inquiries about it, they have no statutory powers and they cannot compel any additional information to come from the Health Service Executive? They cannot require people within a managerial position nor social workers working within the Health Service Executive to clarify anything contained in documents they receive. This inquiry is going to run into obvious difficulty.
Deputy Alan Shatter: What I am asking, Sir, is in the context of the legislation that has been promised — the Taoiseach has truthfully told the House that until Monday of this week he was given no indication, nor was the Government given any indication — that there was a difficulty on the part of the Health Service Executive in co-operating with this group. We now know that the Government will be alerting staff on Monday——
Deputy Alan Shatter: I wish to signpost the Taoiseach that other difficulties will arise. If we are going to get to the root of what occurred, which has resulted in an unspecified number of children dying in care, there will be a necessity to give Norah Gibbons and Geoffrey Shannon a statutory role to ensure that further inquiries they need to make are responded to and we get to the bottom of what has occurred, namely, the scandal within our child care system. Instead of us dealing with this on a piecemeal basis, would the Taoiseach please take this matter back to Government——
The Taoiseach: As I have said, I cannot get into the detail of the legislation now being prepared. I remind the House that the review group has been asked to examine existing information on all deaths of children in care over the past ten years. It will produce an overall report for publication which includes, on an anonymised basis, key summary information regarding each child and the circumstances leading up to his or her death. That is what the review group has been asked to do. We will ensure that amending legislation gives a legal basis to the exchange of information between the HSE and the Department, the sharing of which might otherwise be legally restricted. We will ensure that all the necessary information is available to the review group, so that those who have been asked to carry out this task can do so in a manner that is fit for purpose.
Deputy Alan Shatter: The inquiry arising from that information needs to get the co-operation of those in managerial positions in the HSE and the social workers who have been involved in individual cases.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have two brief questions for the Taoiseach. The State Airports Act 2004, which provides for the separation of Cork, Shannon and Dublin airports, has not been implemented. Is it intended that the Act will be implemented? Is new legislation needed in that regard? Will Aer Rianta, which still exists, be restored?
I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is currently beginning an investigation into the failures of the Department of Finance, the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank in the period from 2002 to 2010. I wonder if the Taoiseach would be available to attend, or interested in attending, a meeting of the committee to brief members on his period as Minister for Finance?
Deputy Joe McHugh: I thank the Taoiseach’s office for getting back to me last week on the Adoption Bill 2009. The information was appreciated. On March 22 last, the Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated that he intended to do everything possible to deal with the 40,000 unprocessed passport applications in Molesworth Street.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: There is a promise to introduce legislation to control the use of sunbeds and to ban their use by people under the age of 18. Can the Taoiseach tell the House when that legislation will be introduced? Will it be in the House before the summer? It has been proven that sunbeds can cause serious damage, including skin cancer.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Can I raise a second issue? Many other Deputies have spoken about the Government’s belief that special legislation is needed to transfer files to the relevant people, with regard to the number of children who have died in care.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The legislation to which I refer will come here from the Seanad. It might be more expeditious to amend that legislation to provide for what the Government believes is needed. The Bill in question has been passed by the Seanad and is due to come before this House. We all want this legislation to be introduced as quickly as possible. I wonder if the Bill in question could operate as a vehicle to enable the Government to do what it considers necessary, so the entire community can find out how many children died in care and why they died.
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