Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 5, motion re Standing Orders 26 and 36; No. 7, statements on the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr; and No. 8, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 [Seanad] — Second Stage (Resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 5 shall be taken without debate; and the proceedings on No. 7 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. and that the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of the Taoiseach and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the statement of each other Member called 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 15 minutes.
Deputy Micheál Martin: On No. 5, motion re Standing Orders 26 and 36 and the proposed Government amendment, our Whip has written to the Government Whip setting out our position in relation to this matter. We wish to be constructive in terms of amending Standing Orders given the number of votes and lengthy debate which took place during the Order of Business in the last Dáil. In this regard I do not look to Deputy Durkan or any other Member of the Government side in terms of the degree to which many of them indulged in raising matters on the Order of Business during the last Dáil.
Deputy Micheál Martin: What is proposed is a unilateral change to Standing Orders and I do not believe that is the correct process in which to engage. I ask that the Whips meet to agree a comprehensive series of changes to Standing Orders. The Government’s programme and indeed the policy documents of most political parties suggested changes in terms of how we conduct our business in this House and in regard to amendment of Standing Orders. If what we seek is a consensual approach in this regard, we should then create a process for so doing. I ask, in the spirit of co-operation, that the Government withdraw this motion. Let us approach this in a consensual manner with all Whips meeting to earnestly discuss reform of how we do our business. The Taoiseach will find us forthcoming in that regard. We have no wish for disruption of the Order of Business. We believe that it is not the Executive who should dictate the pace or nature of Standing Orders of this House but rather all Members of the House and their respective Whips who represent them in discussions.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I, too, oppose this change in Standing Orders. All of us in this House wish to facilitate Dáil reform. I was a member of the sub-committee on Dáil reform for many years, the work of which was obstructed not by me or the smaller parties but by others. I believe any changes made should not be to Standing Orders alone but in the context of overall change. Many parties have proposed reasonable changes which would facilitate reform of the Dáil. I do not have a problem with facilitating a once-off change, for instance, to accommodate someone who cannot or does not wish to be present for Taoiseach’s questions tomorrow. However, there are more effective and efficient means of giving effect to such a change. One option would be to have an earlier sitting. Another proposal has been made to have topical questions. Rather than forcing the issue, I concur with Deputy Martin’s suggestion that the motion be withdrawn until such time as a full plan for Dáil reform has been brought forward. Last Thursday’s discussion on committees marked a start with regard to the agenda the Government has stated it will pursue. As we have not yet received its proposals in totality, it would not be appropriate to adopt this proposed change on its own.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Why does the Order of Business not refer to the shocking revelations in today’s edition of The Irish Times concerning gardaí abusing and threatening with rape individuals they had detained at protests in County Mayo?
Deputy Enda Kenny: I will try to help Deputy Boyd Barrett if I may. Three issues must be decided on the Order of Business. The first relates to Standing Orders 26 and 36. On the first day I took questions I indicated to Deputy Martin and others that I hoped Deputies would have a rational discussion of how we would make this Chamber more effective, vibrant and energetic. I also spoke of requiring Ministers to be responsive to issues of the day and the questions asked.
The issue before us was raised at last week’s meeting of the Whips and has been placed on the Order Paper because the flow of business in the House has not been right for some time. It is proposed that, following Leaders’ Questions, we will have the Order of Business for 30 minutes and that this will be followed by Taoiseach’s questions. The change would only apply on Wednesdays. It is not my intention to have this individual measure continue in perpetuity as I have a range of ideas which I have put to my party Whip. The Whips will discuss a series of radical changes to the way in which we do business at their meeting next week and this proposal can be thrown into the melting pot.
Whips were sent text messages and e-mails about this proposal yesterday. The change which was also discussed at last week’s meeting of the Whips would only apply on Wednesdays. In the context of discussions at next week’s meeting of the Whips on a whole series of changes to make the Dáil more relevant, effective and responsive, I ask the parties opposite to leave the proposal in place. I do not want to withdraw it because it would provide for a better flow of business. I hope we will agree on it because, as Deputy Martin will know from his years on this side of the House, the committee dealing with Dáil reform met until its members were blue in the face but nothing happened. We will see to it that something happens now.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: Deputy Martin’s first contribution was supposed to be brief, but it was not. While we welcome the Fianna Fáil Party’s new wish for consensus, having been in opposition for the past 15 years, I recall being told at Whips’ meetings to take it or leave it. Fianna Fáil will get reform, regardless of whether it likes it.
Deputy Micheál Martin: There is an important principle at stake. If the Government is genuine about all the rhetoric we have heard since its formation about the House reforming Standing Orders and so forth, let the House do so and the Fianna Fáil Party will co-operate.
Deputy Micheál Martin: All the reform documents stated the Executive should not dictate to Parliament how it did its business. All I am asking is that the proposal be withdrawn and that the Whips meet to agree a variety of reforms quickly.
Deputy Micheál Martin: We should not be selective in this regard. A comprehensive series of reforms has been proposed. What we have is selective imposition by the Executive as to how the House should do its business. That is not good enough and not in keeping with the spirit of the reform proposals included in the various policy documents of all parties.
Deputy Micheál Martin: While it is all very well for Deputy Stagg to endeavour to impose himself again and be whatever he wants to be, there is an important point of principle at stake. The Taoiseach may ignore it or put the matter to a vote if he wishes, but I respectfully ask him, in the spirit of our agreed co-operation, to withdraw the motion and approach this issue correctly. Although the matter was raised at the Whips’ meeting, the Government Whip stated he would revert to the matter at the subsequent meeting of the Whips. It was not agreed by the Whips by any means. It was raised at the end of the meeting in a sort of a sleeveen way rather than in an up-front manner.
The Taoiseach: The Fianna Fáil Party will not be denied any rights. At present, we have Leaders’ Questions followed by Taoiseach’s questions followed by the Order of Business. A number of people have suggested business would flow better if Leaders’ Questions were followed by the Order of Business to allow matters of national interest to be raised. This would then be followed by Taoiseach’s questions. As Deputy Martin will recall, on the first day I answered questions I indicated that we would perhaps change questions to the Taoiseach on one day to allow Deputies to raise topical issues and receive replies from Ministers. The proposal relates to Wednesdays only and Deputies would not be denied an opportunity to raise matters on the Order of Business. Although the time allocated to the Order of Business under the proposal is 30 minutes, this period would be extended if a vote or votes were called and Taoiseach’s questions would be pushed out further. No one would be denied the right to raise an issue on the Order of Business. The proposal would provide for a better flow of political business in the Chamber and refers only to Wednesdays.
|Bannon, James.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Burton, Joan.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Byrne, Eric.|
|Cannon, Ciarán.||Carey, Joe.|
|Coffey, Paudie.||Conaghan, Michael.|
|Conlan, Seán.||Connaughton, Paul J.|
|Conway, Ciara.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Creed, Michael.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||Daly, Jim.|
|Deasy, John.||Deenihan, Jimmy.|
|Deering, Pat.||Doherty, Regina.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Dowds, Robert.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|English, Damien.||Farrell, Alan.|
|Feighan, Frank.||Ferris, Anne.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Fitzpatrick, Peter.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Griffin, Brendan.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Harrington, Noel.||Harris, Simon.|
|Hayes, Brian.||Heydon, Martin.|
|Hogan, Phil.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Humphreys, Heather.||Humphreys, Kevin.|
|Keating, Derek.||Keaveney, Colm.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Kenny, Seán.|
|Kyne, Seán.||Lawlor, Anthony.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|Lyons, John.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McEntee, Shane.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||McNamara, Michael.|
|Maloney, Eamonn.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Murphy, Eoghan.|
|Nash, Gerald.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Nolan, Derek.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Mahony, John.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Sullivan, Jan.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Perry, John.|
|Phelan, Ann.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Shatter, Alan.||Sherlock, Sean.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Spring, Arthur.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanton, David.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Wall, Jack.||Walsh, Brian.|
|Adams, Gerry.||Boyd Barrett, Richard.|
|Browne, John.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Collins, Joan.||Collins, Niall.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Cowen, Barry.|
|Crowe, Seán.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Ellis, Dessie.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Fleming, Sean.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Kelleher, Billy.|
|Lenihan, Brian.||Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.|
|McConalogue, Charlie.||McDonald, Mary Lou.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Brien, Jonathan.|
|O’Dea, Willie.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Ross, Shane.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Stanley, Brian.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Troy, Robert.|
Deputy Gerry Adams: I raised the issue of the minimum wage with the Taoiseach last week in the context of the example of the five Davenport Hotel workers who had their wages lowered without their consent. The Labour Party and Fine Gael made commitments before the election to reverse the cut and restore the minimum wage. Does the Government remain committed to this and when will it be done? I was very perturbed that the Taoiseach said in response to me that he would need the approval of the EU and the IMF to reverse the decision by the last Government to reduce the minimum wage. At some point, the Taoiseach has to stop blaming the last Government for the actions of this Government. I am caught on what authority the Government has if it must get the permission of the EU and the IMF to rectify the reduction of the minimum wage. Does it remain a Government commitment and when will it be brought forward?
The Taoiseach: I know Deputy Adams is new to this House of Parliament. He is obviously aware a deal was done between the previous Government, on behalf of the country, and the IMF-EU. One of the commitments we gave as an incoming Government was to reverse the decision in respect of the minimum wage. It is not a budgetary matter, so it is not just a matter for the Minister for Finance, and it requires the approval of the IMF-EU. In fact, it was mentioned this morning and we have asked the Attorney General for her advice as to whether it will require legislation to do this. We will report to the Members of the House when that advice is available.
Deputy Dara Calleary: The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste both promised last week that the legislative programme would be published today. I notice it has yet to be published. Will it be published this week or will it go into another week?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I understand legislation is required to hold a referendum. Is the Taoiseach aware a debate is taking place today on a motion put forward by the Technical Group that we should have such a referendum? Whether the Taoiseach or the Government agree with that, I invite him and a few more Members of the Government side than often turn up at Private Members’ time to do us the courtesy of having a discussion on an issue that is of such grave importance, namely, the economic future of this country. This would allow for a proper debate on whether this country should be allowed to decide whether it wants to proceed with the bank bailout and the IMF deal. Will the Taoiseach instruct a few of the troops to come along, and perhaps he could also come along, and participate in a real way in that debate about——
The Taoiseach: I usually deal with promised legislation on the Order of Business. The people voted in a general election and gave the incoming Government a very strong majority. We will move on to make decisions in the country’s interests. If I am not in the Chamber, I will certainly listen to the Deputy’s contribution, split or no split.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: Having examined the legislative programme, I have three questions with regard to proposed legislation. First, I see in the pink pages that we will deal with the finance (No. 2) Bill, which will give effect to the issues in regard to civil partnership but also in regard to the mini-budget that is to be introduced. What is the date of that mini-budget? While I understand it is expected in May or June as there is talk of it being within the first 100 days, can we have some clarity as to when it will be introduced?
Second, nowhere in the legislative programme is there reference to the strategic investment bank, which is a promise made in the programme for Government. Is that binned or is it still on the agenda? When are we likely to see any relevant legislation?
Another omission in the legislative programme is a measure relating to mortgages, specifically, the difficulties being experienced by the many who are already struggling to pay their mortgages. In light of the interest rate hike by the ECB that is expected shortly, are there any proposals by the Government, as promised, to bring forward measures that will reduce the severity of such hikes, as well as in regard to restructuring mortgage debts of customers? We have dealt with the banks in terms of the stress tests. Is there legislation pending in regard to ordinary customers? Will the Taoiseach indicate when there will be a mini-budget, whether the investment bank is binned and whether the Government intends to bring forward proposals in terms of mortgages?
The Taoiseach: On the first issue, that will take place before the end of May. Second, in respect of the press release, there are a number of issues to be decided in respect of the strategic investment bank and the NewERA programme, and these are being advanced because they cover more than one Department.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The legislative programme does not mention a Bill relating to the promised referendum on children’s rights. Is that an oversight or has it dropped off the programme for Government?
In regard to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, is this the legislation that will force people to work until they are 68 and will close off job opportunities from young people while forcing older people to work? Will there be an impact assessment done before this legislation is produced? A document produced here some years ago, called “Regulating Better”, included a recommendation that prior to the publication of legislation there should always be an impact assessment. In this case it would probably be a victim impact study.
The Taoiseach: A great deal of good work was done by an all-party Oireachtas committee on a proposed wording for a children’s right referendum. The previous Attorney General gave a view on that and a different form of wording was produced. The children’s rights advocacy groups were somewhat upset about this when I met with them before the election. They were of the opinion — without being definite about a referendum — that it might be possible to arrive at an agreed position whereby a referendum on children’s rights could be held, presumably on the same day as a presidential election which will happen some time in November. That is not definite and the Minister for Children is looking at the advice given by the previous Attorney General in respect of the wording for what is a sensitive and serious issue. There was no commitment to hold a specific referendum on the date of a presidential election, but it is a matter that can be considered. If there is a referendum there will also have to be a Bill giving effect to it, which would impact on the legislative programme as published at 4 p.m.
Deputy Michael McGrath: I have been in the Chamber for several hours so I apologise if my question is answered in the legislative programme. In regard to the proposed division of responsibilities in the Department of Finance, I am sure the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is anxious to get his teeth into his new portfolio of public expenditure and public sector reform. However, he currently has no portfolio and we in opposition have no opportunity to direct questions to him in the Dáil. How quickly will that situation be dealt with?
The Taoiseach: The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is anxious to be able to answer questions as quickly as possible. The Bill giving legal effect to the setting up his Department is being pursued as a matter of urgency.
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