It is proposed to take Nos. 3, 7, 8, 9 and 1. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 3 shall be decided without debate.
Order of Business.
Is the proposal that No. 3 shall be decided without debate agreed? Agreed.
The Transfer of Sentenced Persons Bill to give effect to the European Convention was completed by the previous Government and ready to be circulated. When I raised this issue around Christmas time I was informed that it would be circulated "shortly". What is its present status and when will it be circulated? We note that legislation which we thought we would not see until after Easter has appeared overnight.Perhaps this important legislation could also appear.
On assuming office I made it clear that I regarded this legislation as a priority in the interests of the peace process. I am happy to tell the House that it is at an advanced stage of preparation.
May I take it that it will be circulated next week?
The Deputy may take it that it will be circulated this session.
Will the Taoiseach give us an assurance that reasonable time will be made available to consider the forthcoming legislation relating to information on abortion, that there will be a reasonable gap between Second and Committee Stages and that the Council for the Status of Women and the Irish Family Planning Association will be consulted to ensure that we have legislation which is both realistic and compassionate?
The timing for taking the different Stages of legislation is best discussed between the Whips. I suggest the Deputy invite her party's Whip to contact the Minister of State, Deputy Barrett, with a view to discussing that issue.
Having consulted with my colleague, Deputy Foxe, it appears that no one in the Technical Group was consulted about item No. 3, the motion regarding the parliamentary questions rota. I ask you, a Cheann Comhairle, to address this issue which is one of many on which the Technical Group is being frozen out and kept in the dark, where possible.
I think the Deputy and the Deputies concerned will appreciate that the position has altered somewhat in respect of the matter of group status.
Should that prevent Members obtaining information that other Members have?
Information is contained in the Order Paper. I shall meet representatives of the Independents to discuss certain matters early next week. Perhaps we could discuss the matter then.
Will the Taoiseach indicate if time will be made available to discuss the Arts Council's three year plan?
That matter is not relevant.
I wrote to the Whips about three weeks ago but have received no reply. This is an important matter.
The matter should be left there.
When does the Taoiseach expect the Foyle Fisheries Commission Bill to be published? Are negotiations taking place with the Northern Ireland authorities in that regard?
I expect the text to be available for consideration by the Cabinet in mid-year, perhaps June.
Will the Taoiseach indicate when the national education and training certification board Bill will be introduced to provide for statutory certification for vocational programmes?
As I have no doubt the Deputy can be told by his colleagues who were formerly in Government, this Bill is at a very early stage of preparation.I expect it to be presented late this year at the earliest.
Will the Taoiseach consult with the Irish Family Planning Association about the legislation dealing with freedom of information? Does he agree that it would be fitting for him or the Minister to consult the agency currently providing the service and that other groups should be fully consulted on such a delicate matter?
The Deputy is raising a matter which is more appropriate to Question Time.
With respect, this legislation has been promised.
It has, but the Deputy is going into much detail and it would be more appropriate to pursue the matter by way of question at Question Time.
I invite the Taoiseach to indicate that he is willing to consult with the agency providing the service.
It is not in order now; the Deputy should proceed in the ordinary way in accordance with the procedures of this House.
May I ask the Taoiseach about the progress of the credit union Bill?
As the Deputy no doubt knows, this Bill is at a very early stage of preparation.
I am merely asking the Taoiseach.
The Deputy is asking me something she probably knows already.
The Taoiseach is doing fine.
Let us hear the Taoiseach's reply. The question has been asked.
The use of the time of the House for that purpose is no doubt appropriate.
Will the Taoiseach define the term "early"?
These interruptions should cease. The Taoiseach has been asked a question. Let us give him the courtesy of hearing his reply.
The position is that the legislation is at an early stage of preparation and it is not likely to be presented until the end of this year.
What does "at an early stage" mean?
The Taoiseach does not know.
When does the Government intend to introduce its promised charter for the victims of crime and will that charter contain provision for compensation for pain and suffering?
I understand that matter, in all its respects, does not necessarily require legislation.
It probably will.
It therefore would not come within the category of issues to be covered on the Order of Business. My understanding is that within the meaning of the Standing Orders, no legislation has been promised on that topic. However, as I am always anxious to replenish Deputy O'Dea's files on all these matters, I would be happy to make inquiries and send him a letter which he can put on file. He can then determine whether he will ask the same question again next week, the week after and the following week. He seems to have a single transferable question which applies to all situations.
That would be a good idea.
The Taoiseach has a lot of questions that are transferable.
This is the second time in two days the Taoiseach has had to write to me in connection with a topic I raised here. I am happy to update the Taoiseach's knowledge and force him to carry out research on what has been promised by his own Government.
On Report Stage of the Family Law Bill, the Minister withdrew, by some 79 amendments, all aspects of nullity in the Bill and promised to bring forward separate legislation covering matters relating to nullity. When will this legislation come before the House and will it be in advance of the divorce referendum?
It has nothing to do with divorce.
As the House is aware, that legislation is in another House and it would be more appropriate that questions in regard to its progress be raised there. I understand the matter referred to is receiving active consideration on the part of the Minister and in case the Deputy has any difficulty making contact with his party in the Seanad, I will ask the Minister to communicate with him in detail on the subject.
The Deputy is referring to the sections taken out of the Bill.
This should not give rise to argument now. The Deputy has asked his question.
I asked a question in relation to the sections which have been removed from the Bill and are not before the Seanad.
We cannot debate that matter now.
Separate legislation is promised on the serious matter of nullity.Is that in the course of preparation and will it be published in advance of the divorce referendum? It is a very straightforward question.
My understanding from the Minister is that that legislation will be published but not in advance of the divorce referendum.
Normally at this time of the year we would be dealing with the Social Welfare Bill but I want to ask the Taoiseach about the Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill which must be passed before we have a divorce referendum. In the normal course of events the Social Welfare Bill takes the best part of a month — usually March — to deal with, which means that the Social Welfare (No.2) Bill will not be dealt with until April. Does that indicate that the Taoiseach intends to deal with that Bill in April which is also the period of the Easter recess? If that is the case, and with the mounting legislation that must be passed before the divorce referendum, does the Taoiseach intend changing the tentative date of the last Wednesday in May?
It is the Deputy's tentative date.
It is only fair to say that the date in May was set by the previous Government which, subsequent to setting that date, got itself into some difficulties which led to the termination of its existence. The new Government is now in a position where it has to review what is possible in light of the situation here. Obviously, the forwarding of this legislation is important. It will be brought forward quickly and has been discussed several times at Cabinet. It is important also to draw attention to the fact that there are certain Supreme Court hearings in regard to the constitutionality of the family law legislation which, I understand, will not be heard until late in the first half of this year. Court listings and matters of this nature are entirely beyond the control of the Government under the separation of powers. There is little point in saying we will have a referendum on a particular date only to find that the case has not been clarified. The lesson of the previous referendum was, undoubtedly, that the more issues left unclarified, the greater the tendency of people not to support the proposals. We will bring forward legislation on the divorce issue as soon as the issues that need to be clarified in advance have been clarified, some of which are beyond our control such as those before the courts.
I thank the Taoiseach for the straight answer he has given, which obviously means that the divorce referendum will not be held until later in the year, if not next year.
It will be held this year.
To correct the record of the House, the date decided upon was put forward by the Minister for Equality and Law Reform.
I want to move on to the Order of Business proper.
He was operating in collective responsibility with other people at the time.
I accept that.
Obviously all work was interrupted as a result of the crisis that occurred in Government over several weeks. We want to introduce this legislation to provide for divorce at a time when the public have the most information available to them on the matter and can consider it carefully. That is as far as we are prepared to go. I expect it will be held this year.
We agree with that but the Taoiseach must move on with the legislative programme.
In view of the fact that in the Seanad yesterday the Government accepted Senator Daly's Bill, will the Taoiseach tell us when he will allow the legislation into this House? Also, will the Minister for Finance bring in a Supplementary Estimate to allow for the proposed work to be done during the current year?
What Bill is the Deputy referring to?
The Arterial Drainage Bill.
That matter has been debated in this House quite extensively in recent times.
On a point of order, it is legislation which the Taoiseach has promised in this House and it concerns a problem which is affecting thousands of people throughout the country.
This question has been raised many times on the Order of Business.
Will the Taoiseach address the concerns of those people instead of merely making promises to them?
Does the Taoiseach intend returning to the public coffers the money which his party accepted from a State company?
I am sorry, Deputy Molloy, not now. A final question from Deputy O'Donoghue.
Has the Taoiseach no comment to make about this matter?
The matter is not in order now and the Deputy knows that.
Does the Taoiseach's silence mean that the standards his party are applying——
Deputy Molloy, please resume your seat.
Does the Taoiseach not recognise the seriousness of the matter?
The Deputy should resume his seat forthwith or I must ask him to leave the House.
The Taoiseach's party is in Government——
There are other ways of raising these matters.
Will the Taoiseach accept it is imperative that the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Bill should come before the House at an early date in view of the peace process? What stage is the Bill at?
I answered that question this morning.
I did not hear the Taoiseach answer it.