Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 16, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 — Order for Committee, Committee and Remaining Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and shall adjourn not later than 10p.m. Private Members’ business shall be No. 32, Motorist Emergency Relief Bill 2012 — Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 9p.m. if not previously concluded.
Deputy Micheál Martin: It is not agreed. Yesterday we raised the issue of the guillotining of Second Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. What is proposed today is to take Committee and Remaining Stages of the Bill today and tomorrow. No separate time has been allocated between Committee Stage and Report Stage and 23 pages of amendments were presented to the parties in the House this morning. Yesterday we passed a special motion to deal with a series of amendments which represent almost a new Bill in so far as they were not considered by the original Bill.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Spokespeople deserve adequate treatment and time to consider amendments to the Bill between today and tomorrow. It is being rushed through and guillotined. How it has been handled to date is a disgrace and it makes a complete mockery of so-called Dáil reform procedures.
An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry Deputy, perhaps I did not make myself clear. The proposal is that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. but there is no guillotine. The debate will run on and will not finish this evening.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I want to continue the point I am making on the Bill. It is unacceptable that 23 pages of amendments were tabled this morning. At the very minimum there must be a separation between Committee Stage and Report Stage——
Deputy Micheál Martin: Section 4 remains in the Bill and no attempt whatsoever has been made to amend it. It is more like a neglect of children provision than a labour activation measure which is the basis on which the proposal has been made. How the House is being treated is a disgrace with regard to this substantial Bill which raises substantive issues for a range of social welfare recipients.
The Taoiseach: In this case the question put by the Ceann Comhairle is that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. which gives all day today and tomorrow to deal with Committee and Remaining Stages of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill which will go to the Seanad on Friday. Yesterday we debated a motion which will allow the amendments to be taken and for everybody to contribute to them all day today and tomorrow. From this point of view we should get on with it because it is an important Bill. People will have adequate time to make their points in respect of the amendments tabled.
Deputy Micheál Martin: What is going on is unacceptable and the Ceann Comhairle knows it. We received 23 pages of amendments and it is an absolute disgrace. Does the Ceann Comhairle think it is enough time?
|Bannon, James.||Barry, Tom.|
|Boyd Barrett, Richard.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Butler, Ray.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Byrne, Eric.|
|Carey, Joe.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Collins, Áine.||Collins, Joan.|
|Colreavy, Michael.||Conaghan, Michael.|
|Connaughton, Paul J.||Conway, Ciara.|
|Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Creed, Michael.|
|Crowe, Seán.||Daly, Clare.|
|Daly, Jim.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Deering, Pat.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Dowds, Robert.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Ellis, Dessie.||English, Damien.|
|Farrell, Alan.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Charles.||Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Fleming, Tom.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Halligan, John.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Harrington, Noel.||Harris, Simon.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Healy, Seamus.|
|Heydon, Martin.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Humphreys, Heather.||Humphreys, Kevin.|
|Keating, Derek.||Keaveney, Colm.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Kenny, Enda.||Lawlor, Anthony.|
|Lynch, Ciarán||Lynch, Kathleen.|
|Lyons, John.||Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McEntee, Shane.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McHugh, Joe.||McLellan, Sandra.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||Maloney, Eamonn.|
|Mathews, Peter.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Catherine.||Murphy, Dara.|
|Murphy, Eoghan.||Nash, Gerald.|
|Neville, Dan.||Nolan, Derek.|
|Nulty, Patrick.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Mahony, John.|
|Perry, John.||Phelan, Ann.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Spring, Arthur.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Stanley, Brian.|
|Stanton, David.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Tuffy, Joanna.|
|Twomey, Liam.||Wall, Jack.|
|Wallace, Mick.||Walsh, Brian.|
|Browne, John.||Calleary, Dara.|
|Collins, Niall.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Fleming, Sean.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Healy-Rae, Michael.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|McConalogue, Charlie.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGuinness, John.|
|Martin, Micheál.||Moynihan, Michael.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Dea, Willie.||Smith, Brendan.|
Deputy Micheál Martin: I want to ask about the timelines for two important Bills, the first of which is the personal insolvency Bill. The Taoiseach will agree that thousands of people are in significant mortgage arrears or have significant household debt. This situation has been dragging on for a long time. There has been a lot of inaction. Can the Taoiseach outline to the House when the full draft of the personal insolvency Bill will be published by the Government? It is crucial and important for the thousands of people in this country who are under huge pressure with their mortgages.
Can the Taoiseach state when the public service management Bill will be published? Will it contain the measures that have been proposed by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to cut or remove allowances from public servants across the board? There seems to be a particular focus on allowances like increments that are salaries, in essence. Any change in the allowances paid to teachers and nurses, etc., would have significant repercussions for the Croke Park agreement. It would be interesting to get an indication of when the public service management Bill will be published. It is designed to remove barriers to redeployment and provide for greater flexibility across the public service. Can the Taoiseach give the House a sense of what the Government is now proposing and what the contents of the Bill will be?
The Taoiseach: I can confirm that the heads of the second Bill referred to by the Deputy have been finalised for later in the year. He will be aware that the question of allowances is the subject of an ongoing review in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I understand the Department has received over 800 business cases with regard to allowances.  The review is being conducted at the moment. The heads will be finalised. It will be later in the year.
The personal insolvency Bill is very complex. A Cabinet sub-committee was dealing with this yesterday. I cannot be definite but we hope and would like to get the Bill through Second Stage before the summer recess. It is very complex. We do not want a situation where the door is opened to thousands of cases blocking up the courts. There is a way of trying to negotiate this. The Office of the Attorney General is in direct contact with the Department. I assure Deputy Martin that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance are working very actively on this.
The Taoiseach: The Minister of State with responsibility for housing is dealing with the mortgage-to-lease and mortgage-to-rent schemes. We have had discussions with the banks about their capacity to deal with the scale of the cases of mortgages in distress or arrears. They will report to the regulator by 4 May next. They will set out their perspective on whether parts of the borrowing sector fit into any of the categories for dealing with the mortgage distress involved. In other words, should the mortgage-to-lease or mortgage-to-rent schemes be used, or should other changes be involved? When they report to the regulator by 4 May next, we will get a much clearer perspective on the range and categories of the mortgages that are involved here. I note that one of the banks has put together a team of a couple of hundred personnel to deal with the range and scale of distress and arrears. It is a question of having people who are competent to sit down and deal with these matters. We are very cognisant of this issue. That is why I intend to drive it through the Cabinet sub-committee. I would like to think——
The Taoiseach: It is not as simple as the Deputy might imagine. There is a solution in all of these cases. There is a need to have competent personnel to sit down and deal with them. In many cases, it has been quite difficult to get the knowledge in respect of borrowers.
The Taoiseach: We will keep the House informed of developments in the discussions between the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance and the Office of the Attorney General in regard to personal insolvency and in the report that will eventually come to the Financial Regulator after 4 May.
An Ceann Comhairle: I remind Deputies that as a result of the votes that took place in the House earlier, there are just four minutes remaining on the Order of Business before we move on to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I would like to ask the Taoiseach about two Bills. Before I do so, I would like to set out the logic of Sinn Féin’s position. We genuinely want more time to discuss the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012. That is why we voted in favour of the proposal to provide for an additional hour this evening. We would like the Government to provide for more time to debate the Bill tomorrow and thereafter. I appeal to the Taoiseach to reconsider the proposition that the Government will apply a guillotine to the debate tomorrow. If that is what the Government intends to do, we will have to oppose it.
The first Bill I would like to ask about is that providing for the phased extension of the publicly funded general practitioner service without fees. The legislation in question was signalled for publication this year. It was indicated that it would be published in March. Since that failed to happen last month, we have not been given an indication of the timeframe for its introduction. Patients with long-term illnesses will be the first to be included in the phased extension of free general practitioner care for all. When can we expect the health (extension of eligibility for a GP service) Bill to be published?
The second Bill I would like to ask about is that providing for the abolition of the HSE board and the introduction of a replacement governance structure. It was to have been published in the spring session. We are now into the summer session. When will the HSE governance Bill be published?
The Taoiseach: The second Bill mentioned by the Deputy will be published in this session. It was expected that it might have been dealt with in the last session, but that was not possible. It will be dealt with in this session.
I can confirm that the Minister has received approval to draft the heads of the GP services Bill. The heads have not come back to the Government yet. The Minister is anxious to move on with the legislation as quickly as possible. I expect to see that Bill in this session too.
Deputy John McGuinness: The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, indicated in February that he would introduce legislation on whistleblowers in the public and private sectors. I understand he made a presentation to a committee on the matter. I would like to get details of the timeframe in this regard. When will the Bill come before the House? I would like to place on the record my support for what Deputy Ross said and the Taoiseach’s response to it.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: When will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government publish the wastewater standards? Will the Taoiseach do so? Details of the number of people who contacted the Department during the consultation process, which ended on 31 March last, also need to be published.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: He will not talk to him at all. In recognition of the fact that a new association, Farm Contractors Ireland, is meeting public representatives today, I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the long-awaited Construction Contracts Bill 2010. This is an important issue because the contractors of Ireland are on their knees, particularly as a result of the high cost of fuel.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On promised legislation, I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the progress that has been made to date with the companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, the aim of which is to strengthen and streamline the functions of certain company law enforcement agencies and to make other necessary amendments to the Companies Acts. Given that there have been clear weaknesses in company law and its observance over the past ten or 12 years, would it be possible for the Taoiseach to indicate whether the heads have been discussed by the Cabinet?
The Taoiseach: The housing Bill will be dealt with later this year. The heads of the companies Bill were cleared in 2007. There are 1,400 sections therein. The vast majority of the Bill has been drafted and it will be dealt with later this year.
An Ceann Comhairle: That is all we have time for. The Deputies who have not been called may indicate tomorrow and I will try to facilitate them. I apologise to them. We must move on to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. Time is scarce.
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