Thursday, 30 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton): It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the report by the Minister for Defence regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2010, back from committee; No. 12a, motion re appointment of ordinary Members to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission; No. a2, Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011, amendments from the Seanad; No. 2, Biological Weapons Bill 2010, amendments from the Seanad; and No. 6, Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 12 and 12a be decided without debate.
An Ceann Comhairle: It concerns the motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the report by the Minister for Defence regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2010 and the motion re appointment of ordinary Members to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
With regard to No. 12a, the motion re appointment of ordinary Members to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, it is proposed to nominate four Members of the Dáil, including three Fine Gael Members and one Fianna Fáil Member. A similar motion in the Seanad, if accepted, would result in the nomination of two Fine Gael Members and one Fianna Fáil Member. The sole Labour Party Member will be the Minister’s nominee. This is totally against the spirit of the Houses of the Oireachtas and contrary to precedent based on proportional representation.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I raised this with the Whip over a month ago and put forward a proposal, which was endorsed in a report by the committee secretariat. The proposal, based on proportional representation, is that all parties be represented on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. This would still allow a Government majority, a substantial one. The commission deals with the funding and running of this House. Every party has its own view and should have its own input into the running of the Houses and into how to save money, particularly in this era. The standards, practices and working conditions of the substantial number of staff in the Houses should also be reflected. If the voices of parties such as Sinn Féin and all the Independents, not just those in the Technical Group, are not represented on the commission, it will be difficult to ensure their points of views are represented. The positive role we can play should be borne in mind.
In the previous Dáil we were excluded and did not receive a report from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which meant a substantial number of Members were in the dark regarding its decisions and the subjects it discussed. We believe that in this era of openness, this should not occur in the current Dáil, especially given the increased size of my party and the increased number of Independents. The practice of proportional representation should have been reflected in the motion and we oppose it because it is not.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Murphy, I have a difficulty in that, in accordance with Standing Orders on this issue — not this issue in particular but where there is a disagreement — only a representative of the parties in the House may speak.
Deputy Joe Higgins: To be helpful to both the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Catherine Murphy, during my first five years as a Member I had occasion to study thoroughly the relevant chapter of Standing Orders. I noted the Ceann Comhairle is not precluded from calling other Members, although preference is given to parties. It is at the Ceann Comhairle’s discretion, which he may exercise occasionally.
An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy not to question. I am not trying to preclude anybody. I am just pointing out what is the position. If Deputy Higgins wishes to make a point on behalf of the Socialist Party he may do so.
Deputy Joe Higgins: I do wish to make a point in support, which is essentially the same point made by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, that it is incredible the Government which came in promising all kinds of Dáil reform and new ways of doing business is now trying to ram through the management structures of the Houses of the Oireachtas and exclude 57% of the Opposition. It is wrong and disproportionate and it does not recognise the changed composition of the Opposition in the Dáil. I ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, who is taking the Order of Business in place of the Taoiseach not to press this issue but to engage in further discussion.
Opposition Deputies, apart from those in Fianna Fáil, who have been in discussions on this matter with the Government Whip have made it clear it is a question of fair representation and that there is no question of finance involved. There may be an allowance for participation in this but they have no interest whatsoever in it. With regard to basic fairness, all we are asking is that this is not pressed today and the Government engages in further discussions and returns with a new proposal.
In view of controversies in recent days, the commission should be extended to include a genuine representative of the taxpayers of the country who would have, I suggest, good advice for Members of the Oireachtas considering the way in which funds have been frittered away in recent times.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I understand this matter has been discussed at length at Whips’ meetings and that the proposal is in accord with the guidelines of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The proposal stands.
|Bannon, James.||Breen, Pat.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Browne, John.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Butler, Ray.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Byrne, Eric.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Cannon, Ciarán.||Carey, Joe.|
|Collins, Áine.||Collins, Niall.|
|Conaghan, Michael.||Conlan, Seán.|
|Connaughton, Paul J.||Conway, Ciara.|
|Coonan, Noel.||Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.|
|Cowen, Barry.||Creed, Michael.|
|Creighton, Lucinda.||Daly, Jim.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Deering, Pat.|
|Doherty, Regina.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Dowds, Robert.||Doyle, Andrew.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||Farrell, Alan.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Fitzpatrick, Peter.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Fleming, Sean.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Harrington, Noel.|
|Harris, Simon.||Hayes, Tom.|
|Heydon, Martin.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Humphreys, Heather.|
|Humphreys, Kevin.||Keating, Derek.|
|Keaveney, Colm.||Kehoe, Paul.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Kyne, Seán.||Lawlor, Anthony.|
|Lynch, Ciarán.||Lyons, John.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McGuinness, John.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||McNamara, Michael.|
|Mathews, Peter.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Mahony, John.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Phelan, Ann.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Sherlock, Sean.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Troy, Robert.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Twomey, Liam.||Walsh, Brian.|
|Boyd Barrett, Richard.||Collins, Joan.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Crowe, Seán.|
|Daly, Clare.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donnelly, Stephen.||Ellis, Dessie.|
|Ferris, Martin.||Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.|
|Fleming, Tom.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.||McDonald, Mary Lou.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||Pringle, Thomas.|
|Ross, Shane.||Stanley, Brian.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Wallace, Mick.|
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I beg the indulgence of the Ceann Comhairle to raise a matter affecting citizens up and down the country, namely, the rapid deterioration in the service provided by the Passport Office in the past two months and the difficulties citizens are experiencing in exercising their constitutional right to travel as a result of delays in the office. I hear stories of passports which are ready for dispatch being left for days on end. Will the Minister make a statement outlining what immediate steps he will take to ensure people who need passports obtain them without delay?
Deputy Pearse Doherty: In light of the Minister’s comments on the “Tonight with Vincent Browne” programme last night, will he confirm that the legislation to undermine the joint labour committees will end Sunday premiums and, in his own words, significantly reduce the take home pay of new entrants in the relevant sectors? Will he indicate what legislation is promised to protect existing workers from being fired and rehired under the new, lower Sunday premium rates? Will he indicate when the relevant legislation will be published given the recent arguments he has had with the Labour Parliamentary Party? Is he in a position to state whether the legislation will reflect Burton’s way or Bruton’s way?
Deputy Richard Bruton: Legislation is promised in this area and will be introduced as soon as possible. Given the Dáil schedule, it is likely to be after the summer recess. Government policy is to retain the joint labour committee, JLC, system while reforming it as has been recommended. The enforcement of the JLCs, which protect vulnerable workers, will continue.
It is also important to point out many of the misunderstandings about this. In the case of proposals relating to Sunday working, for example, people are already protected and Sunday working is recognised for all workers. Any change will continue that. That is the current position.
It is important to point out that where reforms such as this have been undertaken elsewhere there has been a significant employment bonus. That happened in the UK. Existing workers are protected by their existing contracts. This legislation was flagged in the programme for Government. It is part of a suite of measures that restores the minimum wage and reforms but retains the JLC system. It is the Government’s intention to achieve a balanced solution to this problem that will promote employment for many thousands of young and lower skilled people who, as the Taoiseach said yesterday, are locked out of the jobs market.
Deputy Joe Higgins: There is a huge difference between the JLC protection and ordinary legislation, and the Minister knows it. It is not the same protection by any means. The idea that driving down the wages of low-paid workers——
Deputy Joe Higgins: I wish to ask a question, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister be more precise about the timing of this legislation? He has been shouting about it from the rooftops for some time and apparently considers it very urgent. Let us have a firm timescale for it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: There are a number of issues involved. There is a court case pending and we await its decision. There will then be a Government decision. I will proceed to prepare heads of a Bill on that basis and we will make rapid progress in introducing a Bill to the Oireachtas.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: This morning the Government published the Electoral (Amendment) Bill which contains a provision that allows the total number of Members of the Dáil to be reduced to 152. That is the lower figure in the range the Bill will provide for at the next election. I took out my calculator——
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: Will the legislation now be withdrawn in light of the preliminary census results, which might mean that the Bill will become unconstitutional? It comes very close to the maximum ratio of people to Deputies that is provided for in the Constitution.
Deputy Finian McGrath: Will the Minister consider amending the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act to respect the mandate of Members of this House who are Independents and members of smaller parties? It is a sham and a national disgrace that we are being excluded from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission——
An Ceann Comhairle: It is not good enough. There is no point in laughing about it. The rule that Members should talk through the Chair applies to Ministers and backbenchers and Members on both sides of the House. Deputy Finian McGrath, you were totally out of order and refused to resume your seat. I will not tolerate it.
An Ceann Comhairle: You did not. Deputies should stick to the Order of Business. There is a Committee on Procedure and Privileges and if you wish to have Standing Orders amended, submit proposals. In the meantime, I will apply the Standing Orders as they stand at present. That applies to every Deputy on both sides of the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am warning Deputies again that I will ask them to leave this House if they continuously refuse to obey the Chair, which you elected. That applies to every Deputy. This is becoming a farce every morning. I call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: It is a simple question relating to Dáil reform and whether there is promised legislation to remove the €120,000 which is granted to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to give to its Members.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I can ask about this. A huge promise has been made by this Government relating to Dáil reform and transparency. I am asking if this is included in it. Is a change to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission——
Deputy Michael Colreavy: Given that the preliminary census figures were published today and the electoral constituency commission Bill is due to be published, will the Government consider the creation of more six-seat constituencies——
An Ceann Comhairle: Put down a parliamentary question and you will get a reply to it. This is not Question Time and there are no Leaders’ Questions today. We have business to do so please let us get on with it. Resume your seat, Deputy.
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: The all-Ireland economy is growing and businesses on both sides of the Border are increasing their business levels. It is the opinion of a number of business people that the previous and current Governments are behind the curve with regard to infrastructure——
Deputy Robert Troy: Amendment of the existing European treaties is required to establish the European stability mechanism which is likely to be needed by Greece in September. It is complex legislation but the Taoiseach said he expects it to be published, debated and enacted within the next fortnight. Will the Minister explain how this will happen?
Deputy Michael McGrath: In light of the disclosure of salary and bonus arrangements at the NTMA and the Minister, Deputy Howlin’s comments last week about the element of secrecy in that area, does the Government have plans to bring forward proposals to ensure greater transparency and accountability with regard to paying bonuses at the agency?
Deputy Richard Bruton: It is not intended to deal with this matter by legislation. As the Deputy knows, the Minister for public expenditure and reform has been pressing for transparency and to reform a system the Government inherited, where bonuses paid were not related to genuine performance. There is now greater transparency. For the first time, details have been published of earnings in the NTMA and NAMA. That is a significant step forward. The Government is keen to curb bonuses and to introduce a scheme where bonuses would only be paid for genuine performance.
Deputy Michael P. Kitt: When is it proposed to publish the planning and development (foreshores) Bill, in view of the fact that many water and sewerage schemes are held up because licences have not been granted? I am sure rural Deputies could tell the Minister of these delays, particularly in coastal communities.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I wish to raise the fiscal responsibility Bill. This week, a report indicated that the formation of a fiscal council is imminent. It was my understanding that the Bill was needed to allow that body to be formed. Can the Minister indicate when the legislation will come before the House?
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I ask for your assistance, a Cheann Comhairle, with regard to Standing Orders. Last week on the Order of Business, you ruled me out of order when I raised a matter. I pointed out that legislation promised outside the House was within Standing Orders, specifically Standing Order 26(3).
Deputy Billy Kelleher: I am speaking about any legislation promised outside the House. You said legislation could be raised on the Order of Business only if it had been promised within the House.
An Ceann Comhairle: Legislation may be promised in or outside the House. Last week, I said matters contained in the programme for Government may not be raised on the Order of Business. If legislation is required——
An Ceann Comhairle: If something is in the programme for Government, it does not necessarily mean legislation is required. With regard to matters in the programme for Government, Deputies should submit a parliamentary question. If he or she is told legislation is required, the matter can be pursued on the Order of Business.
Deputy James Bannon: We need quick and drastic action against cronyism and opportunism, and not against the health service. When will legislation be brought before the House to bring the salaries of top earners back to levels the country can afford?
Deputy Richard Bruton: There is not promised legislation but the Minister for public expenditure and reform has already taken steps to reduce salaries. Within the public service that has been done on a voluntary basis for all senior appointments. That is part of the Government’s programme.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: A Cheann Comhairle, I wish to raise two items of promised legislation and one in respect of which you might be able to offer assistance. The first is the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill. What steps have been taken to bring it before the House? Have the heads of the Bill been discussed or is it prepared and ready for publication? Second, the legal services Bill is to provide for the regulation of the legal professions and give effect to the reports of the Competition Authority and the legal costs working group. This is an issue that affects the entire economy. To what extent has the preparation of this Bill been progressed? Can the Minister give the House some indication of its progress and the date of its introduction in the House?
Deputy Richard Bruton: In the case of the first Bill, the heads have not yet come to Government. The second matter is a priority of Government and there is a commitment in the memorandum of understanding to publish that legislation at an early date. Intense work is ongoing on it. The intention is to meet that schedule.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: There were two on promised legislation and a third on which I said I would require your assistance, a Cheann Comhairle. I raised the same question when I was on the other side of the House.
Deputy Niall Collins: We had an interesting exchange this morning on the payment of party leaders’ allowances. Is there promised legislation to require Independent Members to account for their party leaders’ allowances?
Deputy Eric Byrne: In view of the serious financial implication for various local authorities, can the Minister tell us the stage of planned legislation to reform local government and appoint, by plebiscite or referendum, directly elected mayors for certain cities?
Deputy Richard Bruton: There is work in the office of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on this issue but it has not yet come to Government. As there are no heads of Bills, I cannot give the Deputy an accurate date.
Deputy Barry Cowen: Is legislation promised to support the commitment in the programme for Government to establish a commission on taxation and welfare to adjudicate on the issue of welfare rates? If so, how does that sit with the Taoiseach saying outside the House that there would be no increase or decrease in rates?
Deputy Mick Wallace: Does the Government intend to introduce this? The main banks are unlikely to lend to business this year and the strategic investment bank has been promised. When will the legislation be introduced?
Deputy Richard Bruton: Legislation will be needed and the Minister for Finance is working on this issue. The priority was the restructuring of the existing banks and the creation of two pillar banks. There is a greatly strengthened unit within the Department of Finance which is riding shotgun on those pillar banks to see that they meet the criteria set. Work is ongoing on the strategic investment bank in the Minister’s Department but I cannot at this stage give a precise date for the legislation.
Deputy Dessie Ellis: When will the promised legislation on noise pollution be published? Will it cover issues such as dogs barking and noisy neighbours? Nothing is in place to address these issues, which are becoming a major problem.
Deputy Pearse Doherty: My question relates to the sittings of the House, not promised legislation. The ministerial rota has been circulated and it is clear that the Minister for public expenditure and reform will not be accountable to Members until at least September. With regard to the sittings of the House, when is it intended that the House will rise for the summer recess? When is it intended that Deputies will be back in the Chamber doing their business following the recess?
Deputy Richard Bruton: The House will rise on 21 July and it will return on 14 September. The rota for parliamentary questions will be amended as soon as the House approves the legislation currently before it. There will be an opportunity for parliamentary questions to the Minister for public expenditure and reform.
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