Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 13, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2011 — Committee and Remaining Stages. 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.; and Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 29, motion re water and sewerage services, shall not be taken today and shall be taken tomorrow on the conclusion of No. 13, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after three hours.
Deputy Micheál Martin: On the Order of Business, yesterday the Government announced three referendums to be held in October. So far the Government has broken with previous practice and failed to consult with the Opposition on anything to do with these referendums. Can the Taoiseach explain how he intends to get the three referendum Bills through the Oireachtas in time for October? Can he explain also the reason the referendum to ban corporate donations, which he promised three months ago, will not now be taken? The only published amendment is our amendment on corporate donations. Should the Taoiseach not agree now to send that amendment to the relevant committee and hold a referendum on the banning of corporate political donations along with the presidential election and the other referendums?
The Taoiseach: As the Deputy is aware, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is preparing legislation to deal with corporate donations and that will come before the House in the not too distant future.
The Taoiseach: We propose to have three referenda on Abbeylara, whistleblowers and judicial payments on the day of the presidential election. The work in respect of the preparation of the legislation for those is under way. They are being treated as a priority. This is part of the programme for Government as endorsed by the people.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I welcome the announcement by Government of the setting up of an interdepartmental committee to deal with the issue of the Magdalene laundries. I also understand the Cabinet is to consider the United Nations report in respect of the victims of those institutions. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Cabinet review will be made public and brought before the House? I also seek an assurance from him that the interdepartmental review is not a mechanism to avoid a full statutory inquiry, as recommended by the UN. The women still await an apology from him on behalf of the State for the huge violation of their rights over many years.
The Taoiseach: This matter is being treated very seriously by the Government. It is difficult to put in words the scale of the emotional impact for many of those women who worked in the Magdalene laundries. However, we need to find out the facts here, what happened, how many were involved, and what was the State’s involvement. That is the reason the Government has decided to have an interdepartmental committee to deal with this. A great deal has been written and said about it, but when it is apparent that a number of women who worked in the Magdalene laundries who are currently being looked after by religious congregations, it behoves us all to find out the nature and the scale of what happened. The interdepartmental committee will report within three months. That is based on a potential achievement and it is in everybody’s interests that we contribute to that.
Deputy Dara Calleary: The Taoiseach committed to giving Oireachtas committees powers to vet all State appointments in advance. Will every appointment to State boards be included? He used to criticise the previous Government regularly for appointing friends and colleagues to boards. How does he define the appointment of a €1,000 donor to a State position?
The Taoiseach: The Government has committed to having those appointed to the chairs of State bodies to come before Dáil committees. As the committees have now been set up, that will begin to happen. The Minister for public reform may want to make further adjustments later.
Deputy Brian Stanley: I would like to ask a question about promised legislation in respect of the dormant accounts fund. There was €158 million in that fund in 2010, €62 million of which was available for disbursement. The fund is bringing in between €40 million and €45 million per annum. The community sector has been targeted disproportionately by Government cuts and I have the figures for that. Groups in the community sector are concerned——
The Taoiseach: Responsibility for the first aspect of the Deputy’s question was transferred to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. He is looking at it now. I expect that the Bill will be published in this session, so that means in the next few weeks.
Deputy Robert Dowds: When will the Construction Contracts Bill 2010, which has gone through the Seanad, come before the Dáil? This is an urgent Bill because businesses are not being paid by senior contractors.
The Taoiseach: The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, is holding consultations about that at the moment. He will report his progress at regular intervals. I hope this will be finalised before the end of the year.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I heard the Taoiseach indicate earlier that there will be three referenda on the day of the presidential election. This is the first time that we have heard about the particular focus of each of those and none of them referred to children’s rights. Can he advise us of the status of the proposed referendum on children’s rights to enshrine those protections within the Constitution? Can he clarify why it now appears that the Government will not proceed this year with that referendum?
The Taoiseach: I stated before that my view was that it would not be possible to finalise all the elements of the children’s rights referendum by the date of the presidential election later this year. The Government has stated its priorities in respect of the Abbeylara case and whistleblower rights and we made the decision yesterday to have a third referendum dealing with the matter of judicial pay. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is pursuing the issue of the completeness of all requirements for the children’s referendum. The commitment will be honoured, but it will not be held on the day of the presidential election.
Deputy Michael McGrath: In view of the Taoiseach’s comments last Monday that NAMA was selling properties back to debtors at low prices, has the Government any legislative plans in this area? That practice is already prohibited. Perhaps he might like to clarify the matter.
Deputy Dessie Ellis: A commitment was made in the programme for Government to maintain and extend the current rural transport network. Will there be any legislation on this? Can the Taoiseach clarify the funding position of this service? Many providers have expressed concern that there are cuts coming down the line. This service is essential for older, vulnerable people and people with disabilities——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: In view of the concerns expressed by the Director of Corporate Enforcement in respect of accountability in certain quarters, would it be possible to bring forward the companies consolidation and reform Bill, in order to give more teeth to the existing legislation?
The Taoiseach: This is a massive legislative requirement. Two thirds of the Bill have been drafted, but there are approximately 1,300 heads in that Bill and it will not be published until late spring next year.
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