Thursday, 14 April 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 9, statements on suicide prevention (resumed), to adjourn at 12.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: The programme for Government promises speedy action to regulate lobbying, but the legislative programme is silent on the issue and states it is unlikely to be addressed soon. In the light of today’s controversy, I am wondering whether there are any initiatives to bring forward speedy proposals to deal with the issue. The Tánaiste would be shouting very loudly about it if he was on this side of the House. What proposals does he have to deal with it as a matter of urgency?
The Tánaiste: Legislation to provide for a register of lobbyists is the subject of a commitment in the programme for Government and will be proceeded with. Not all of the commitments made in the programme are provided for in the current legislative list which was published at a much earlier stage than usual. It is a list of legislation that can be delivered in the foreseeable future, but the Government’s commitment to provide for a register of lobbyists remains.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I thank the Tánaiste for his reply, but he is being less than specific about what is intended to be done. A parliamentary question was tabled to the Taoiseach, but it was transferred to another Department and we are still waiting for a reply on the issue. I would like to see a timescale in which it will be dealt with in order that we can ensure there will be transparency. That is something for which the Tánaiste called when in opposition, but he seems reluctant to give a definite date now that he is in government. It is important to avoid these issues coming into the public domain because they give a wrong impression.
The Tánaiste: I welcome the Deputy’s renewed enthusiasm for legislation to deal with lobbyists which is in marked contrast with his position on two occasions during the lifetime of the previous Government when he voted down Private Members’ legislation to provide for the registration of lobbyists.
The Tánaiste: I also thank Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív for his support and confidence in the Government, as he thinks we can do in 14 weeks what the Government of which he was a member could not do in 14 years. Let me be absolutely clear. The legislation dealing with lobbyists will be introduced by the Government and I hope the Deputy will support it.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I welcome yesterday’s announcement on the minimum wage and I am glad to see that on this matter, at least, the Government’s U-turn has come the full 360 degrees. I understand the matter will be addressed in the revised bailout agreement between the Government and the IMF. However, the proposal on the minimum wage was joined by one to cut the wages and conditions of almost 240,000 workers currently protected under the JLC system such as cleaners, workers in the security industry, agriculture and so on. It seems obvious that this was the price demanded by the IMF to reverse the cut in the minimum wage.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I am. For a long time Sinn Féin has argued for pay cuts at the top of the public sector and the Civil Service. I notice the sabre rattling by the Tánaiste’s ministerial colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who is coming at the issue of public sector wages in an indiscriminate way, in tandem with the IMF.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Will these matters be addressed in the Government’s new bailout deal with the IMF? Will the Government bring the deal before the House, not for discussion by way of statements but by way of a debate and a vote? Will the so-called jobs budget actually be about job creation, or will it prove to be a charter to slash wages?
The Tánaiste: As far as I can see, the only 360 degree revolution has been that taken by the Deputy. When she asked me this day last week about the national minimum wage, she seemed to be incredulous that the Government was serious about proceeding with the reversal of the cut in the national minimum wage. I told her that the Government had determined that it was going to reverse the cut which we considered to be wrong and inflicting pain on the lowest paid. The Government is proceeding to reverse it. When I was asked about the issue last week by the Deputy, I told her the Attorney General was being consulted as to whether it could be done by way of an order or legislation. I can tell her today that it will be done by way of primary legislation. To that end, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation will be publishing the heads of a Bill to give effect to the commitment made before 31 May. It is the Government’s intention to reverse the cut in the national minimum wage and it will proceed.
An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy, respect the Chair. I am not here to judge whether your question was answered. This is not about how many questions are allowed. We are on the Order of Business. I ask the Deputy to respect the Chair, who is acting independently. She should, please, not pass that kind of remark again. I have called Deputy Higgins. I will call the Deputy later.
Deputy Joe Higgins: I want to ask about the Education (Amendment) Bill 2010 which seeks to amend the Education Act 1998 which provides for children with special needs, among other things. We hear there are to be no more teachers for special needs children because the European Union and the IMF demand it. We hear this morning from the enterprise Minister, promising in the legislation we have just heard about, to restore the minimum wage, a poverty wage, for 60,000 workers but now making that legislation conditional on 250,000 extremely low-paid other workers being hammered by having their anti-social allowances taken from them, for example, because the EU-IMF demands it.
Deputy Joe Higgins: That makes dummies out of all of you as well, by the way. All I hear is “his master’s voice”, and the EU-IMF dictates it. Is the legislation to restore the minimum wage, which the Government promised to introduce shortly, conditional on new attacks on low-paid workers to pay off more bad gambling debts for European banks?
The Tánaiste: As Deputy Higgins says, there is not much point in asking questions about legislation when the questioner has already presumed the answer. The answer to the Deputy’s question is “No”. The reversal of the cut in the national minimum wage is not conditional on anything. It is a commitment that was given in the programme for Government and it is being delivered in the manner I have described.
There is a separate issue, the review of the joint labour committee system. A commitment was given in the programme for Government, too, that there would be a review of the joint labour committee system and the employment regulation order system that applies to it. An independent review of the system has been under way for some time, headed by Mr. Kevin Duffy, chairman of the Labour Court. That review is due to report in the next couple of weeks and when it does the outcome will be considered by the Government.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Tá dhá cheist agam ar an gclár riaracháin, an chéad cheann maidir le huimhir a 50, the Gaeltacht Bill, to establish Údarás na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta and repeal the existing Údarás na Gaeltachta legislation, defining the status of Gaeltacht areas based on linguistic criteria.
‘Sí an cheist anseo ná: an bhfuil seans ar bith go dtiocfaidh an reachtaíocht os comhair na Dála i mbliana seachas fanacht bliain breise, mar tá siad ins an Gaeltacht ag iarraidh fios a bheith acu cathain a bheidh an toghchán do Údarás na Gaeltachta nó na Gaeilge, amach anseo, agus cén feidhm a bheidh ag an údarás sin.'
My second question is on other legislation, No. 77 on the legislative programme. This is a very important Bill for those looking for Garda vetting clearance, namely, the national vetting bureau Bill. The programme says that at this stage it is not possible to indicate when it will be published. Many people are looking for Garda vetting clearance to work with children for summer projects and youth clubs. Many people who are unemployed want to dedicate some of their time to helping community groups and so on. Is there any possibility of ensuring that this vital legislation is introduced quickly, and will the new agency or bureau come under the auspices of the Garda Síochána as a civilian function, or will it be a separate State agency or quango?
The Tánaiste: Ar dtús, mar gheall ar an mBille i dtaobh Údarás na Gaeltachta, bhí cruinniú de fhochoiste an Rialtais a n-oibríonn i dtaobh na Gaeilge agus cúrsaí Gaeltachta ar maidin agus do bhí an Bille sin idir lámha ag an bhfocoiste. Tá sé ar intinn ag an bhfochoiste agus an Aire dul ar aghaidh leis an mBile sin chomh luath agus is féidir.
On the national vetting Bill, there is no date for its publication as yet, but I will communicate the Deputy’s concerns and anxieties to the Minister for Justice and Equality so that the legislation may be proceeded with as quickly as possible.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: On the forthcoming minimum wage legislation to which the Tánaiste referred, would he agree that while the introduction of that legislation is something many workers would have looked forward to as——-
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: While it might have been something they were looking forward to, will the Tánaiste not comment on the shocking comments made by the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation on the minimum wage legislation?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: This is not something workers should look forward to, but rather something 260,000 workers should fear because low-paid workers, precisely those who thought they would be protected, in hair-dressing, contract cleaning and agriculture will now have their wages and conditions attacked by this Government when they might have thought they would be protected.
The Tánaiste: There are occasions when the word “welcome” is appropriate to be used in this House and this is one of them. If the Deputy had a tither of genuine concern for people on the minimum wage he would have welcomed this morning the clear commitment by the Government to reverse the cut in the minimum wage.
Deputy Michael McCarthy: The programme for Government refers to the deposit retention scheme. This is very important legislation dealing with the unfair retention of deposits. Obviously, it affects thousands of vulnerable students who find it difficult enough to finance their third level education. Will the Tánaiste say when it is expected this vital legislation will be brought before the House?
Deputy Dara Calleary: On No. 13, the ministers and secretaries (amendment) Bill, the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin said this morning that the Civil Service was generally not fit for purpose. What proposals will be in that Bill to correct that assertion and what are the Tánaiste’s thoughts on the performance of the Irish Civil Service?
The Tánaiste: Let us be clear, what is under way is the quarterly review of the memorandum of understanding. This is part of the deal entered into last autumn. There is provision for a quarterly review of those arrangements.
The first quarterly review was due to take place somewhat earlier this year, but due to the general election and so on it was put back until now. The discussions on that review are continuing and I understand they are due to be completed tomorrow. We will have to await the outcome of those discussions.
Deputy Ciarán Lynch: When will legislation regarding the abolition of upward only rent reviews for existing leases come before the House? This issue is mentioned in the programme for Government and I understand that discussions are under way between the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General. Will the Tánaiste indicate when we will see legislation on this matter in the House?
The Tánaiste: Discussions are taking place between the Minister and Attorney General on this matter. The intention is that the legislative provisions dealing with upward only rent reviews will be dealt with as part of an existing Bill before the House, the Property Services (Regulation) Bill.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I wish to inquire about the Education (Amendment) Bill. However, may I first remind the Tánaiste regarding his comments about Deputy Boyd Barrett that the Deputy has a strong track record in defending workers’ rights?
Deputy Martin Ferris: I am coming to the point. Is there any legislation promised to protect the rights of workers or does the Government have any intention of trying to compel the company to meet the demands and entitlements of the workers at this premises who will almost certainly lose their jobs in the next two weeks?
The Tánaiste: I am not familiar with the issue of the breakdown in discussions, but I hope discussions can either be resumed or that the industrial relations machinery of the State can be used to deal with the issue.
An Ceann Comhairle: These are matters appropriate to the Adjournment debate or, hopefully, when Dáil reform provides for it we will be able to raise topical issues. We are on the Order of Business now which deals with promised legislation and when it will be introduced. I ask Deputies not to abuse the hospitality of the House by constantly trying to raise issues that can be dealt with either by parliamentary question or the Adjournment. We have four Deputies to call yet and it is almost 11 a.m.
Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: The programme for Government makes a commitment to remove the criminal sanctions that have so aggrieved fishing communities around our coast and to replace them with new administrative sanctions. When will the Government introduce legislation to make that happen?
The Tánaiste: I will raise that issue with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. No legislation on the issue is expected in this session. It is in the programme for Government and as with all the matters therein, progress will be made on them by the Ministers concerned.
Deputy Thomas Pringle: With regard to the legislation promised on upward only rent reviews, will that legislation cover leaseholders from the State who are subject to such reviews on a constant basis? Will the legislation cover people who have leased property from the State?
The Tánaiste: As already indicated, the legislation is being discussed by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General. It is intended to use the opportunity of another piece of legislation to bring the legislative proposals before the House. Obviously, I cannot comment on the detail of what will be in the legislation until the discussions are completed.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: With regard to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, work had been going on in the Department with regard to reform of the mortgage interest supplement to make it more accessible to people and to eliminate the 30-hour rule which meant that those who worked more than 30 hours a week, no matter what their income, were not entitled to a mortgage interest supplement. Will that Bill include amendments to the mortgage interest supplement provision to help those with mortgage arrears?
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Yes, but the brief we got on the content of the Bill is very vague. On the week of St. Patrick’s Day, a debate was promised on the Irish language. When will that debate take place?
The Tánaiste: As the Ceann Comhairle is aware, I cannot comment on the content of the legislation. That is a matter the Deputy can pursue with the Minister directly. With regard to the debate on the Irish language, the arrangements for that can be made by the Whips.
Deputy Arthur Spring: Mention is made in the programme for Government with regard to innovation and commercialisation of the need for a national intellectual property protocol. Will this need legislation and, if so, what timeframe will be allowed for it? This is essential for the pharmaceutical industry and the development of jobs in the digital industry. With regard to what is relevant to the Order of Business, I will wait for the Adjournment debate to deal with the issue of the workers in Castleisland.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: The jobs budget has now become a jobs initiative. Will the initiative be subject to a statement in the House? A budget would require a statement, but will the initiative be subject to a statement? Second, when will the fiscal responsibility Bill be published? The Government has promised a comprehensive public expenditure review in September. How does that relate to the fiscal responsibility Bill? Is it a stand alone item, a sort of McCarthy for slow learners?
The Tánaiste: The jobs budget will involve a statement to the House. The Government is giving priority to jobs and to getting people back to work. No matter the semantics of what it is called, let us be clear that the Government is determined to deal with the issue of jobs as part of the process of economic recovery we want to bring about given the mess we have inherited. The fiscal responsibility Bill is to be published this session and will be dealt with by the House in due course.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: My second question is on the Order of Business. I ask the Tánaiste to comment on the second document mentioned on the Order Paper on a Council decision to conclude an agreement between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: It is included in the Order Paper. I ask the Tánaiste to say a word about exactly what the agreement is and whether the liberalisation of trade with the West Bank and Gaza regarding the Palestinian Authority——
The Tánaiste: Let me give the Deputy the answer. It is a proposal for an agreement between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority, providing for the liberalisation of trade between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority. I would have thought this is something he would have warmly welcomed.
Deputy Tom Hayes: ——who do not understand the rules and regulations of the House? Based on what we have been listening to this morning, it is very poor procedure to run the national Parliament. It is high time people——
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