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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 31 Oct 1996

Vol. 470 No. 8

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 2, Irish Takeover Panel Bill, 1996, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, and No. 10, statements on the First Report of the Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 10: (i) the opening statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats Party shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; (ii) the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time, and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 34, motion No. 14, motion concerning toll roads (resumed).

There is but one matter to put to the House. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 10 satisfactory? Agreed.

Does the Taoiseach wholeheartedly endorse what the Tánaiste said last night about not blocking a renewed IRA ceasefire and, if so, why does he not take the opportunity, which he again refused to do yesterday, to say this loudly and clearly either inside or outside the House? Will he agree it is not so much a case of the British Government moving the goalposts on Sinn Féin's participation but that it has not decided where to put them?

I am concerned about these questions. There are questions on the Order Paper to the Tánaiste in respect of these matters. Can we not wait?

There is no conflict between the comments.

It is clear we need an IRA ceasefire. The conditions to be fulfilled for Sinn Féin's entry to the talks are set down in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the ground rules document. What the Tánaiste said was entirely consistent.

Paragraphs 8 and 9 of that document are totally ambiguous.

Let us not anticipate the questions on the Order Paper.

As the Taoiseach knows, they caused the problem in the first place. I am glad the Tánaiste has corrected the position.

I asked the Taoiseach yesterday about the proposed legislation to establish a food inspectorate. Given that the Government cancelled its press conference yesterday, when will we see the legislation? Is it the case that this will be a toothless quango which will not take over any of the regulatory functions from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry? If so, it will be seen simply as a PR gimmick.

The legislation will be published as soon as it is ready. When I answered the question yesterday I indicated to the Deputy that it is being prepared as a matter of priority but I cannot give a time at this stage. It will confer on the new board substantial powers to ensure food standards are maintained and enhanced in every case and that there is an effective inspection system to ensure that assurances of food quality can be stood over and constantly maintained and updated.

Will the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry maintain its existing regulatory functions?

The position in regard to the relevant responsibilities for the enforcement of individual items of legislation is under constant review and will be kept under examination at all times. Any changes necessary will be made to ensure we can guarantee in every case that there are effective food quality regulations. The problems in the food area have confronted us for some considerable time. I am glad the Government is acting on the matter to enhance the existing regulatory arrangements over and above those we inherited.

I welcome the action being taken in this matter. When will we see the legislation? Fianna Fáil will co-operate in the speedy handling of the legislation which everybody in the country agrees we should have. We can argue about the detail but I ask the Office of the Attorney General to give it priority so that it can be dealt with in the House before Christmas. Is that possible?

I indicated to Deputy Harney yesterday and again today that the legislation will be produced as soon as possible and that it is being treated as a priority matter both in the determination of the heads and its drafting. I am not in a position to go any further to indicate a time but it will be produced as soon as possible.

As we all know, in recent months the Government could bring forward crime legislation within a matter of three weeks. Will the Taoiseach be more precise? Is it likely, with the co-operation of every Member of the House, that the legislation will be passed before Christmas? That is a fair question.

We will give a similar degree of priority to the food safety legislation as was given to the crime legislation but I will not say that it will be produced within a given number of weeks as I do not know whether it will be. I am not in a position to answer the question and I will not answer it before I am in a position to do so. We will produce it as quickly as possible. It is being treated as a matter of high priority and will involve a substantial enhancement in the oversight of the enforcement of food quality regulations through the food chain, it is important legislation for which there is a considerable and understandable public demand. The Government will respond to that demand with great speed. It is important — I said this in regard to the crime legislation when Deputies were pressing me for time limits and so forth — that legislation of this nature works. For legislation to work it has to be properly drafted. I will not set any artificial time limits which might inhibit the drafting of this legislation. Unfortunately, the legislation the Government is now introducing was not introduced earlier by this or any other previous Government. It is now being treated as a matter of priority.

I agree the legislation should be properly drafted and it is nice to hear the Taoiseach say he is giving the matter priority. Three weeks ago, when the legislative plans for the remainder of this Dáil were issued, this legislation was not on any of the three schedules. We will co-operate in order to have this legislation brought forward as quickly as possible.

The Deputy is absolutely right and I make no apology for that.

I did not ask the Taoiseach to apologise.

There is clearly substantial public demand for this legislation. It is necessary in the light of experience and public concern and that is the reason we are introducing it. It is appropriate that the Government is seen to respond when an issue like this arises that requires legislative action. We are acting on that priority which is felt by the public.

Next year will not be any use to us.

I agree with the Taoiseach that the legislation is urgently required and it is important that it works, but if it is not intended to take over existing functions from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry it will not work. That Department has shown clearly over some considerable time that it is incapable of doing the job required of it. Even if it takes more time the Taoiseach should examine this matter again because from what I read today it will not be adequate to do the job that is required.

There is a tendency to debate the matter. It is not in order now. Let us proceed to another relevant matter.

Will the Taoiseach agree that the public fears expressed when the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government fell on 16 November have now become a reality? Is it not obvious that there is a difference between the office of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs on Northern Ireland?

Deputy McDaid will have to express his views on that matter at another time. It is not relevant now.

Those fears have now become a reality. Will the Taoiseach clarify——

No, he may not. I am in charge here, Deputy.

Is there a difference between the Taoiseach's Department and Foreign Affairs?

Deputy McDaid will resume his seat.

On "Morning Ireland" this morning the Tánaiste——

The Deputy is showing defiance of the Chair.

He is right, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Deputy must resume his seat forthwith.

In the context of the historic Courts and Court Officers Act will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to appoint an additional judge to the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in view of serious delays in that court?

I am sorry, Deputy, that matter is not in order now.

It is in the context of the historic Courts and Court Officers Act.

Will the Taoiseach indicate to the House if the Government intends to introduce a comprehensive legislative package to deal with bullying in schools? This morning we learned of a worrying case where a school principal was sued.

Ar an lá speisialta atá ann — an lá ina bhfuil polasaí gach páirtí sa Dáil á chur i gcríoch ó thaobh Theilifís na Gaeilge de ba mhaith liom thar ceann mo pháirtí fáilte chroíúil a chur roimh an mbealach teilifíse nua agus guím rath ar an obair agus, buíochas don Rialtas as ucht an pholasaí atá ag gach páirtí a chur i gcrích. Tá súil againn go dtiocfaidh fás ar úsáid agus meas phobal na hÉireann ar ár dteanga náisiúnta dá bharr.

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Theachta.

Aontaím leis an Teachta agus leis an Taoiseach.

Tá dualgas orainn go léir ár ndícheall a dhéanamh chun cultúr na tíre seo a chur ar ais in Éirinn san áit a ba chóir di a bheith.

That shut up the Taoiseach.

He is an outstanding man.

Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce legislation to address the appalling circumstances of people with a mental handicap who have been denied a service?

The Deputy should put down an appropriate question on that matter.

Will the Government issue a directive in this area as thousands of people do not have a service?

My office will facilitate the Deputy in this matter.

Can the Taoiseach report any progress to the House on the administrative procedures Bill, a major commitment in the programme for Government dealing with citizens' rights in relation to all legislation from 1980 onwards? It was to be sited in the Ombudsman's office under the jurisdiction of that office. I asked about this matter a year ago and the Taoiseach said substantial progress had been made. Why have we not seen this legislation?

This legislation is at an early stage of preparation.

May I ask the reason such a major part of the programme for Government is only at an early stage of preparation two years on?

Other issues have taken higher priority, one of which the Deputy has been referring to, namely, the crime package. Provisions in regard to other legislation are getting priority because of the importance of the issues concerned. Given the limited drafting resources available, and we have increased them substantially on what existed when the previous Government was in office, it is impossible to proceed at the same pace with all legislation. Some Bills have higher priority than others. For every priority there is obviously a posteriority.

Ba mhaith liomsa chomh maith thar cheann an Pháirtí Glas gach rath a ghuí ar Theilifís na Gaeilge. On promised legislation, will the Taoiseach explain to the House the ongoing delay in bringing forward the Credit Union Bill which has had several promised dates of publication? We were told it would be published before Christmas. Is that the final date? Will consideration be given at the appropriate time to debate the legislation on the new Food Advisory Board as amendments are necessary to what is proposed?

The food safety legislation has yet to be produced. We will obviously take into account all points of view on the detail of it. It is important that those who are inclined to be critical should await the proposals before they voice their criticisms because those who voice criticisms of legislation they have not yet seen are liable to be seen as being prejudiced and not people who have an open mind on the matter. It is important that the legislation should be seen first before people decide it is deficient in a particular regard, and this legislation has not yet been produced. I would advise Deputies who are prone to criticise to wait until they see the legislation before they do so.

We now come to deal with item No. 2.

I asked about the Credit Union Bill and I did not get an answer.

I am proceeding now to the business of the House.

I did not get an answer to my question on the Credit Union Bill.

The Deputy should obey the Chair. I am not responsible for the Taoiseach's replies.

May I repeat the question asked by the previous speaker, namely, what progress——

I thought the Deputy has a pertinent question to put to the Taoiseach. Repetition is not in order.

It is promised legislation.

I have answered questions about the Credit Union Bill every week in this House. Deputy Lenihan may not have been here on every occasion but I assure him I have answered questions day in and day out about this matter. We are hoping to produce this major legislation before Christmas. I did not answer Deputy Sargent because if he had been here he would have heard the same answer being given last week and the week before.

Ba mhaith liomsa chomh maith comhgháirdeas a dhéanamh le Teilifís na Gaeilge thar cheann mo pháirtí agus comhgháirdeas a dhéanamh go háirithe leis an Aire, leis an Teachta Máire Geoghegan-Quinn agus le gach éinne a bhí páirteach i mbunú an stáisiún nua. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go geal le Teilifís na Gaeilge.