It is proposed to take item No. 10. Private Members' Business shall be No. 28.
Order of Business.
Did the Government decide over the weekend to accept our Misuse of Drugs Bill tonight?
As I said last week we examined the Bill and found a number of positive elements in it. However, I also said that the Government is at a very advanced stage in the preparation of comprehensive legislation. In drafting the legislation the Government had available to it the benefit of the security advice of the Garda Síochána and the constitutional advice of the Attorney General. The Minister for Justice will make known this evening the Government's view of Fianna Fáil's contribution on this subject, which is welcome.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. No amendments have been tabled so we will wait until 7 o'clock to see what the Taoiseach intends to do. Perhaps he will make whatever other announcements there are on the crime package. The Government's proposals are in the public domain but we do not have any knowledge of them.
I understand the decisions taken by the Government this morning on crime issues are being communicated to all Members. It is appropriate that the Government has taken a number of important decisions on this matter of great public concern today.
It is about time.
I compliment the Opposition on its contribution and the Government is anxious to take some of its proposals into consideration.
As we are discussing this Bill and crime matters, will the Taoiseach do our spokesperson the curtesy of giving him a copy of the data that is in the public domain?
That is in train.
It was intended that the information, which we are communicating as widely as posible, would reach the Deputy and I am sorry if it has not done so. Obviously we wish to fully inform the Opposition of the steps being taken by the Government.
Charlie Bird received it first.
Thanks to a well placed leak I was informed of the Government's package, which I welcomed, earlier this afternoon. It is a timely response to the current crime wave. It is important that all parties co-operate in the fight against crime. Is it intended to bring forward legislation to increase the length of time gardaí can detain suspects for questioning? The Minister announced proposals in this regard before the summer. When might we expect this legislation?
As the House is aware and as I said in reply to questions from the party directly opposite me——
Do not utter the dreaded words.
——the Government has in preparation legislation dealing with drug trafficking which,inter alia, covers the question of detention and extended periods of detention. When the legislation is produced the Deputy will see that it is confined to particular categories of suspected offence and does not involve a generalised extension of the power of detention.
The Taoiseach said the legislation applied to drug trafficking. The Offences Against the State Act is widely used but I understand from Garda sources that if a firearm is not used the period of detention cannot be extended under that Act. That appears to be a loophole and perhaps the Government will examine the matter in the proposed legislation.
The House will not have to wait long to see the Government's proposals on this matter. Any offence involving the use of a firearm or the threat of the use of a firearm is far more serious than offences which do not do so. It is entirely justified, as a general principle, to take severe measures in respect of any offence involving the use of a firearm.
While I would agree generally with the Taoiseach, a firearm was not used in the three murders last week, as far as I know. I am asking the Government to look at the matter.
We will do so.
Will the Taoiseach make time available to discuss the measures announced by the Minister for Justice today? Does he accept that it was inappropriate that the Minister did not come before the House with the measures? Do the measures include holding a referendum on bail and will we now see cohesion among the parties on this important matter?
The issue of bail laws is at an advanced stage of consideration by the Government but it is not part of the measures decided on today. When the Government made those decisions today it was anxious to communicate them to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
It is exactly a week since the presentation of the budget, which is before the House. Three days later the Minister for Social Welfare set up a task force to consider aspects of the budget regarding security for the elderly. Why was it deemed necessary to set up such a task force? Could the Minister for Finance not discuss the matter with the Minister for Social Welfare before the budget and is that the reason the Minister for Social Welfare had to insert an advertisement in the newspapers to seek an examination of this matter?
The Deputy should put down a question on the matter.
Will the Minister answer the question?
The Minister for Social Welfare dealt very comprehensively with that matter on a radio programme yesterday morning.
It should be dealt with in the Dáil.
There is a need to co-ordinate action in regartd to protection of the elderly. While the Government announced some measures in the budget it is entirely appropriate that further measures should be announced by the Minister for Social Welfare, bearing in mind that the majority of elderly people receive the predominant share of their income from the budget of that Minister who has a general responsibility, which he takes very seriously, for the elderly.
Is the Taoiseach aware that this measure will benefit less than half of 1 per cent of the total number of people over 65?
We may not debate that matter at this time.
The Deputy did nothing about it when in office.
Is it good utilisation of resources to set up a task force to find out how to give tax relief to old age pensioners, who are not in the tax net, to buy a burglar alarm?
The Deputy should read the advertisement.
The Deputy's party did nothing about the matter for seven years.
The pensioners do not say that.
What did the Deputy do about alarms?
We are trying to clear up the mess left by the last Government.
I wish to raise a matter which has very serious implications for democracy. In reply to a priority question put down by me last Tuesday I was given false and misleading information. I inquired about the system of recruitment of five staff to the Department of Social Welfare and was told there was no advertisement for these posts. I asked if it was fair and correct that the advertisement appeared only in the Democratic Left newsletter which is free to members and supporters of Democratic Left. The advertisement states that wage scales will very but they will be related to Civil Service scales and that persons interested should submit their CV for the personal attention of John Gallagher, Democratic Left, 69 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1.
Perhaps the Deputy will find another way to raise that matter.
As the upholder of the standards in this House you should allow me, as an elected Member, to raise this question. In reply to a priority question on this matter I received false and misleading information. Applicants for vacancies in Government Departments have never been requested to send their application to the secretary of a political party.
The Order of Business is not the appropriate place to raise this matter.
Is the Taoiseach acquiescing in Democratic Left's misleading of this House?
The Deputy will have to cease and find another way of dealing with that matter.
This is a very important issue.
According to today's newspapers the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, on foot of a report from the review group, PIANO, is considering the introduction of legislation to amend the Broadcasting Authority Act. The group recommended removal of the National Symphony Orchestra from RTE and said that it should be a statutory body, which may not be in the interests of the orchestra. Will the Taoiseach give an undertaking that a full-scale debate will take place in this House before legislation in this regard is brought forward?
That is not appropriate at this time.
It is more appropriate to hear about legislation in this House than to read about it in newspapers or hear about it through the broadcast media.
As Deputy Walsh has stated, a false statement was made to this House by the Minister for Social Welfare last week. As the upholder of the rules of this House the Chair has a duty to call on that Member to withdraw the statement.
That is the second Deputy who has referred to the Chair in this manner. There are two avenues whereby the matter may be dealt with — it may be raised by way of substantive motion or it may be referred in the normal way to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Chair has no further function in the matter.
Am I to take it the Taoiseach is standing over an incorrect statement by a Minister? An advertisement was placed in a magazine. The Minister misled the House last Tuesday and he should now give an explanation of the matter. How can the Taoiseach stand over that statement?
In the Programme for Government there is a clear commitment to accountability and transparency. Is the Taoiseach prepared to give an explanation to the House of the action of the Minister for Social Welfare in appointing these individuals in the first instance and in misleading the House on an issue that is of fundamental concern not only to Members but to the taxpayers whose money was used to fund these positions? The House has been misled and in the interests of accountability and transparency the Taoiseach should give an explanation on the matter.
We cannot debate this issue now. The Chair has given guidance on the matter.
The Civil Service Appointments Commission has always had responsibility for job placements in the Civil Service. Is that system being changed so that future civil servants will have to apply to Democratic Left? We have seen many scandals here but this is the worst I have ever witnessed.
It is an abuse of taxpayers' money.
Last Wednesday on the Order of Business I proposed an amendment relating to the budget debate. I asked the Taoiseach if he would allow Ministers to answer questions immediately after their speech in view of the fact that the anticipatory rule for parliamentary questions on the budget rules out a number of questions that will be put down on that matter in the next three weeks. After some very honeyed noises by the Taoiseach I agreed to withdraw the amendment on the basis, I understood, that he would instruct the Chief Whip to allow latitude in this regard. Unfortunately, when I raised the matter subsequently at a Whips meeting I came up against a blank wall. Will the Taoiseach do what he said he would like done, to allow questions be answered by Ministers either during Question Time or immediately following speeches and not pass this matter back, as his official said, for inclusion in a Dáil reform package due to be introduced at some future date? Will the Taoiseach ask Minister De Rossa to put members of the Fianna Fáil Party, the public, the Taoiseach's party and the Labour Party on the mailing list for this document so that they may also apply for some of those jobs?
The Deputy is on the mailing list.
Has he paid his subscription?
What procedures governing debates did the Deputy follow when in Government?
I hope there is not an undue amount of sugar in my tone of voice and that it does not have a soporific effect on the Deputy.
It did last week.
As I said here many times, one of the proposals being considered under the Dáil reform package is the possibility of what one might describe as an orderly interruption of a speech to allow a Member put a point or a question to the Member in possession. However, allowing a question and answer session at the end of every Member's speech is not being considered. If we were to introduce such a process in this House, debates would not have any order or coherence.
It would make them more interesting.
A restriction of approximately three weeks is allowed on questions arising from the budget while the budget debate is continuing. Once that period has expired normal questions about matters covered in the budget can and will be answered at Question Time, and that is already provided for. That is the position as I outlined it last week.
There is no change.
It has not changed.
Those are the words of the great reformer.
I am sorry the Deputy was seduced from the path of opposition in this instance.
At the end of the last session the Tánaiste stated that a White Paper on Foreign Policy would be available before the end of January; will the Tánaiste confirm if it will be published tomorrow?
The White Paper on Foreign Policy is at an advanced stage of preparation, but it is not possible at this juncture to say exactly when it will be published.
I understand that, but will the Taoiseach acknowledge that before the summer recess we were told it would be available after that recess, in September we were told it would be available in the autumn, in the autumn we were told it would be available before Christmas and at Christmas we were told it would be available before the end of January? That is not the way to do business. The Taoiseach should give the House more details about the White Paper and if it will not be available until, say, November, he should state that.
A very extensive draft of the White Paper prepared by the Tánaiste is available and its contents are being discussed. It should be published as soon as the necessary considerations in regard to it are complete, not a day earlier or a day later.
I understand the delay if a process is taking place, but the throwing out of dates for everything and not keeping to any of them is unsatisfactory.
The Deputy is right. We should not give a date for the publication of a document until we are ready to publish it. Frequently Members want information on the Government's best estimate of when a document will be completed and from time to time we give such information. I assure the House that this White Paper, when published, will be comprehensive, worthwhile and a useful document for all Members in terms of providing guidance as to the relevance and complexity of all the issues in foreign policy with which the Tánaiste, the Department of Foreign Affairs and our embassies deal. It is important that it should be prepared with the utmost care and attention to detail. That is exactly what is happening and it will be made available as soon as it is ready. It is at an advanced stage, but I am not prepared to compound the problem by giving a precise date as to when it will be available because I do not know that date.
I do not want to prolong discussion on this point, but I ask the Tánaiste to let us know at his leisure when he considers the White Paper will be available.
I wish to raise a matter related to an objective in the Programme for Government.
I will hear a relevant question.
It is relevant to the order of Business. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the Government is still committed to the establishment of a welfare service for teachers as outlined in the Programme for Government given that the working party in question completed its work in April and the report has been with the Minister since July?
The Deputy has not adverted to legislation.
It is an objective stated in the Programme for Government. Under Standing Orders I am entitled to raise this question.