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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 31 Jan 1996

Vol. 460 No. 7

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 10. Private Members' Business shall be No. 21.

I thank the Minister for Justice for immediately delivering the package I requested on the Order of Business yesterday.

It was in existence before the Deputy requested it.

This side of the House recognises and acknowledges the beginning of the U-turn by the Government on Castlerea and the bail laws. We welcome the fact that the parties in Government have at last realised the seriousness of the crime problem.

Let us not have a rehash of yesterday's proceedings. Deputies should raise matters relevant to the Order of Business.

It is very relevant that in view of public pressure and the efforts of the Opposition parties the Government was forced to do a U-turn on Castlerea and other matters. When will the Taoiseach deliver the remaining parts of the crime package? I think he will acknowledge that 25 spaces in Castlerea is a hopeless effort in dealing with crime.

Perhaps the Deputy will refer to specific legislation on the matter.

Will the Taoiseach say when the Government will move on the remaining parts of the package?

Thanks to the initiative of the Minister for Justice, the package will deliver prison spaces immediately whereas the original project, which has been reviewed and is going ahead at a lower cost as a result of the review, would not deliver prison spaces immediately.

Yesterday I welcomed the Government package, which is a step in the right direction, and I thank the Minister for giving me details of it. Will the Government give details of six proposed Bills relating to the package, including when they will be published? I notice the issue of bail was absent from the announcement made by the Minister yesterday. The Taoiseach said in the House last year that when the Law Reform Commission reported the Government would make an early decision on the issue, but it is now four months since that report was published. Will the Government proceed with the bail issue this year? Can we expect a referendum on bail and is there agreement within the Government on that issue?

The Minister will bring proposals on that matter before the Cabinet in the reasonably near future. It would be premature to make an announcement of the Government's decision until it has considered those proposals.

I asked the Taoiseach about this issue last September and he said that as soon as the Law Reform Commission reported the Government would make a decision on the matter. That report is now four months old. When can we expect a decision from the Government on this issue?

When the matter is presented to the Cabinet, which I expect will be within the next six weeks. I recollect that the Deputy's party was opposed to change in this area in the past. I am glad it has changed its view.

That is not true.

The Taoiseach stated yesterday that the Minister would give an outline of how the Misuse of Drugs Bill would be proceeded with in Committee. Since that was unclear from the Minister's statement last night, will the Taoiseach outline, during the debate on that Bill this week or next week, how the Government intends to proceed with the Bill. I welcome Government support for the Bill on Second Stage and I congratulate Deputy O'Donoghue on the Bill but we would like to know what the procedure will be in Committee. On the question of prison spaces, I remind the Taoiseach that if the Castlerea prison project had gone ahead when originally proposed it would be almost complete now.

It would not.

The Deputy's remarks on the latter issue are inaccurate. His party's record on the bail issue is not very good. When in Government rather than deal with the matter they sent it to the Law Reform Commission, probably as a delaying tactic. This Government will come to a decision on the bail issue and will announce its decision. It will not seek to refer the matter elsewhere, as Fianna Fáil did, or change its mind, as the Progressive Democrats did. I remember eloquent speeches from Deputy McDowell opposing changes in the bail provisions.

Does the Taoiseach remember the Bill I drafted to reform the law on bail which he voted down? Does he remember I consistently stated that it makes no sense to reform the law on bail unless the Government does its duty and provides extra jail spaces? It is only when the country is in virtual revolution on that issue the Government is finally willing to meet its responsibilities.

I am very glad the Minister for Justice is providing extra jail places, which will enable us to consider whether a constitutional amendment is necessary to reform the bail laws.


That matter can now be considered because jail places will be available to accommodate people who might commit offences while on remand on bail. That was not the case in the past, but it is the position now as a result of decisions taken by the Minister for Justice and the Government.

Is the Taoiseach aware that last year the Minister announced——

I will hear only matters appropriate to the Order of Business. Deputy McDowell, please resume your seat. I will hear nothing further about crime. This House has debated that matter quite extensively in recent days; it is still before the House and is not relevant now.

The Deputy's politics are similar to a weather cock.

Is the Taoiseach questioning the right to appropriateness of a previous Government to allow the bail issue to be discussed by the Law Reform Commission? Was that not appropriate action undertaken by the previous Government?

I said I would hear nothing further on this.

No. I do not think so. The previous Government ought to have dealt with the matter. I do not regard referring it to the Law Reform Commission as an appropriate measure.

The Taoiseach disagrees with that body.

He disagrees with the Law Reform Commission.

Why did the Taoiseach not deal with it?

I do not believe that the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission are particularly realistic.

The Taoiseach should make the decision now.

I do not believe it was a worth-while exercise by the previous Government to refer the matter to the Law Reform Commission.

Why will the Taoiseach not make a decision on it?

It was a delaying tactic by the Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice in regard to the bail issue, but I am glad to be able to tell the Progressive Democrats, who have changed their minds on this subject, and Fianna Fáil who postponed the issue, that this Government will come to a decision on the bail issue——

Will the Taoiseach abolish the Law Reform Commission?

——taking into account all the necessary relevant considerations. We will announce and stand over that decision, whatever it is.

The Taoiseach must not have listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning.

Has the Taoiseach told Deputy Costello that?

Order. We are experiencing quite an amount of disorder and irrelevancy. I will not tolerate it any further. If there is not positive reference to what is appropriate to the Order of Business, I will move to the business of the House forthwith. I call Deputy O'Donoghue and I hope his point will be relevant.

Yes Sir, it will. Item No. 26 on the Order Paper is a Fianna Fáil Criminal Procedure Bill, 1995. Will the Taoiseach grant Government time to discuss it and will the Government accept it as it would eliminate delays in proceedings in criminal trials?

Order, please. The Deputy may not make a speech.

No speech, Sir. Since the Government did not lead at least it had the grace to follow in the case of the Misuse of Drugs Bill——

The Deputy is embarking upon a speech.

——and I ask it to give this Bill the same consideration.

Perhaps we could have a reply from the Taoiseach relevant to the matter raised by the Deputy concerning the Bill.

This is a Private Members' Bill. It is a matter for the party proposing it to bring it to the floor of the House in its own time. The Government will obviously consider it if it is brought forward by the Opposition.

The Taoiseach will not allow us to discuss it in Government time.

Unfortunately, the Taoiseach is playing politics with the issue of bail.


Yesterday in this House I supported the measures introduced by the Government and I did so again this morning because it is important not to play party politics with crime. The Progressive Democrats understand the difficulties involved in changing the law on bail, but notwithstanding them we have always favoured changing that law. I support the Government in bringing about that change and I am entitled to ask the Taoiseach, the Leader of the largest party in Government, if the Government intends to bring forward proposals and, if so, when. That is a reasonable question and not one with which the Taoiseach should seek to play politics.

As I said, the Government will consider this matter when the Minister brings her proposals before it. I expect those proposals will be brought forward to Cabinet in the comparatively near future.

I will not announce a Government decision until the Government has made it. Given the acknowledged difficulties and balancing of rights required in this area, it is appropriate that the Government should consider the matter carefully. It will do so and will make its own decisions.

What about the Law Reform Commission?

It will not refer the matter, as the previous Government did, to another body for consideration.

The Taoiseach is turning on its head what he said five minutes ago.

This is a matter the Government, with its legal advice, is capable of considering. The Government will deal with this matter as previous ones did not.

This is the last day of January — another month passed — and we have not seen the long promised White Paper on Foreign Policy. Will the Taoiseach indicate when he might be in a position to urge some action by the Tánaiste in relation to the much promised publication of that White Paper?

I would prefer if the Deputy were referring to legislation rather than a White Paper.

This question has been answered by the Taoiseach on a number of occasions on the Order of Business. This White Paper has been promised for nine months.

I do not know if Deputy Burke was present for the Order of Business yesterday when this matter was dealt with extensively.

The Taoiseach did not answer that question yesterday.

I understand an answer was not given yesterday. Will the Taoiseach give an approximate date as to when the White Paper will be available?