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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 18 May 1993

Vol. 430 No. 8

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Consumers' Charter.

Eamon Gilmore


19 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Enterprise and Employment when it is intended to introduce the Consumers Charter which was promised in the Programme for a Partnership Government 1993-1997; if this will have statutory support; if he intends to consult with consumer organisations prior to its introduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Work has already commenced in my Department on the formulation of proposals for a consumer charter and on an examination of which parts thereof should have a statutory or voluntary basis.

I intend to consult a wide range of consumer interests and organisations about the scope and objectives of the charter prior to its introduction. I already have had discussions and received submissions from some of the interested parties.

I assure the Deputy that the charter will add to the extensive existing and planned legislative measures of consumer protection. The timetable for introducing the charter will be influenced by my concern for a worthwhile document and papers on the consultations which I have mentioned.

I am not sure if the Minister's reply adds greatly to the volume of public information on this subject. Will the Minister be more specific as to when this charter will be introduced? Will it be this year?

I was quite explicit. Some Deputies opposite appear to find things hard to understand today.

They are giving you bad replies, Minister.

I said I had already started a range of discussions and consultations with consumer interests, with trade unions and industry on the whole idea of the consumers' charter. The Government is committed to it. When all the interests have been heard, when I have consulted people in the UK, and in Northern Ireland and when my officials have discussed it, I will put proposals to Government on the consumers' charter. I do not know precisely when that will be. Obviously it will take some time to work out the proposals. I intend to have the framework of the charter announced during 1993.

Will it be before the telephone charges increase?

That is a separate question on which the Deputy has a question on the Order Paper.

Will the Minister also consult consumer groups about Telecom charges? As the only representative of consumers, was the Minister consulted in advance of this Government decision?

Government proposals and decisions on such issues are, of course, with Ministers and relevant Departments and we discuss where relevant departmental responsibilities lie. I have spoken to representatives of the consumers' association and they are seeking a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Cowen, on the matter. I hope they can be facilitated.

Were these consultations in advance of the decision or when the charges were announced?

Will legislation be required? There is a reference in the Programme for Government to part of the consumers' charter being enshrined in legislation. From the dizzying round of consultations which the Minister has had on it to date and the consideration she has given to it, can she say whether legislation might be required to support a consumers' charter?

How condescending of the Deputy.

Answer the question and do not be so touchy.

The consultations have not been dizzying to me. They may be to you. The Deputy may find it difficult to understand them, but I do not.

I do not see that there is so much to consult about anyway.

The Deputy asked if legislation will be introduced. The reference to legislation in the Programme for Government relates to the legislative measures which will have to be introduced on foot of directives in pursuance of consumer interests. In framing the charter and as the talks proceed the need for further legislative measures will become clear.

Will the Minister of State accept that we now know what these consultations mean? In regard to the new Telecom Éireann charges, at the time the Minister of State was preparing a charter for consumer rights for the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Cowen, drove a coach and four through the practical benefits the Minister of State was trying to achieve for consumers——

Questions, please; not speeches.

Will the Minister of State accept that there was a breakdown in liaison between her Department and the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications? What action does she intend to take to ensure that this will mean something in all other Departments given that in practical terms it has failed to date?

That is an appropriate question. It is clear, as we consider what is happening in other European countries in particular Britain and Northern Ireland in regard to the consumer issues that consumer interests and rights cut across a number of Departments. When we have acquired all the necessary information it will be a question of what the Government wishes to include in the consumer's charter. If it is to live up to its name various Departments will have to make an input.

The Minister of State has been asked a number of questions about the pro-consumer charges announced by the Minister, Deputy Cowen. Was she not embarrassed by this announcement? Furthermore, was she not embarrassed by the fact that the Director of Consumer Affairs had to go so far as to threaten court action in dealing with a Department of State which should have communicated with the Minister of State before the new charges were announced?

The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs was set up on a statutory basis. By taking such measures the Director of Consumer Affairs is showing clearly that he is independent and acting as a watchdog. It is my understanding that he had consultations and made statements on the question of misleading advertising. He was quite right to do so. We should be glad that there is an independent watchdog and while I know that the Deputy does not seek to denigrate it everyone, on all sides of the House, is glad that there is a person with such a responsibility and who has been given such a remit. To answer the first part of the Deputy's question, as I said to Deputy Rabbitte, there is a separate question on the Order Paper dealing with consumer interests in regard to Telecom Éireann. We are all consumers in the home or in business. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, and I have promised that this matter will be the subject of an ongoing review.