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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Nov 1996

Vol. 471 No. 6

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 7, Motion re. Protection of Employment Order, 1996; No. 8, Motion re. Protection of Young Persons (Employment of Close Relatives) Regulations, 1996; No. 9, Motion re. Protection of Young Persons (Employment) (Exclusion of Workers in the Fishing or Shipping Sectors) Regulations, 1996; No. 10, Motion re. Protection of Young Persons (Employment) (Prescribed Abstract) Regulations, 1996, and No. 16, Statements on NESF report on Long-term Unemployment Initiatives.

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) No. 7 shall be decided without debate; (2) Nos. 8, 9 and 10 shall be moved and debated together and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion within one hour by one question which shall be put from the Chair; (ii) the opening speech 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 15 minutes in each case; (iii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case; (iv) Members may share time and (v) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and (3) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 16: (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.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with Nos. 8, 9 and 10 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 16 agreed? Agreed.

I thought the Taoiseach would be present this morning.

I am glad to see the Deputy here, he was missing last night.

The Minister is the one who should be missing.

I voted last night.

The Minister was nearly beheaded.


Let us hear the Deputy in possession.

Will the Minister withdraw her statement that I was not present last night; the record shows I voted?

The Deputy was not sitting in the seat now occupied by him during the Tánaiste's speech.

Are we expected to be in attendance when people drop into the House before they take off again?

The Deputies opposite might think he is important but he is not that important.

The party opposite is not that important.

Let us proceed with the Order of Business proper and end this flippancy.

The Minister is in a giddy mood.

I ask Deputy Dermot Ahern to help the Chair.

He has shot himself in the foot again.

When dealing yesterday with the letters on file in regard to the current issue the Taoiseach inadvertently misled the House when he stated no former Taoiseach had ever cleared correspondence containing decisions or legal opinions from an Attorney General. He stated there was no precedent for issuing such letters but there are a number of precedents.

I wish to dissuade Members from seeking to have a rehash of yesterday's proceedings——

I have no intention of doing so.

——especially as we will deal with the matter again next week.

And the week after.

I will give the opportunity to the Taoiseach to correct the official record. I am sure he did it inadvertently. I am not making an issue of that. Does the Minister for Finance consider it a decidedly unhelpful breach of Government solidarity that 70 Labour lawyers have come out strongly against the Minister for Justice's bail referendum? Does he consider this a breach of what the Labour Party, the Government and Fianna Fáil are trying to achieve in getting this referendum passed?

It is not relevant to the Order of Business. The matter can be raised in many other ways, it is not appropriate now.

It seems to me the Minister wants it both ways. He wants to pretend in here that he supports the referendum while outside he wants to tell the liberal agenda he is against it. That is a disgrace.

Since the report of the inquiry into what happened in the Department of Justice is not scheduled for debate in the House next week, can the Minister for Finance give an undertaking that Questions to the Minister for Justice and the Taoiseach will not be ruled out on the basis of the anticipation rule. Can the Minister for Finance say when we will debate that report in the House?

The House will be aware that the inquiry was commissioned immediately by the Minister for Justice when the facts came to her attention.

She was caught out.

We expect to have the report sometime on Monday but it is not yet clear precisely when. As the Taoiseach said on a number of occasions both inside and outside the House, as soon as it is practical arrangements will be made to have a full debate on the report of the inquiry. As the Taoiseach has also said, in the course of that debate provision will be made, as has been the practice of this Government, for questions to the relevant Minister or Ministers should that arise. As to when precisely it will be ordered, that is a matter for the Whips. I will ask the Government Whip to discuss the matter with the Opposition Whips as to what is practical in ordering business in advance of a report we hope to get on Monday. However, at this stage although we have not yet received it, we cannot order Business should the report not be available. I have no reason to believe it will not be available but it is our clear intention to have a full debate as soon as it is. I expect, as has been the practice in the past, that both Opposition parties would like to have some time to read the report before a debate takes place. As soon as is practical, we will facilitate the House in having the fullest and most comprehensive debate with full questions and answer sessions as an integral part of it. We will talk to both Whips about that.

I thank the Minister for his response. I note from this morning's Irish Independent the Government has received a report on the pay and remuneration package of chief executives in the semi-State sector. It seems some of them are in breach of Government guidelines. Does the Minister intend to publish that report today?

It is not strictly relevant.

I do not intend to publish the report today. The Government has not yet considered it. We will decide in due course what action we propose to take on it but, as yet, no such decision has been taken.

Who gave it to the papers?

In the context of the Appropriation Bill, can the Minister say when the Estimates for 1997 will be published?

The Government has not yet finalised its consideration of the Estimates, which will come as no surprise to the Deputy opposite. It is my intention and that of the Government to have the Estimates published early in December to provide time for a debate before the House rises for the Christmas recess.

According to the Order of Business at the beginning of the week we were to deal with the situation in the Great Lakes area of Africa. Is it still the intention that this will be part of this week's Business? Given that the Dáil has to give approval for any involvement by the Army in UN action in Africa. It is a matter of some urgency. I am absolutely flabbergasted and ashamed that we seem to have put this on the back burner because of the domestic situation.

My understanding is that the Tánaiste and the Government Whip offered time to the Opposition parties for a debate during the course of this week. For a variety of reasons, which we can understand, that was not availed of. The Government is quite prepared at any stage, subject to agreement with the House and the Whips, to have such a debate. We share the Deputy's concern about the scale of the tragedy unfolding in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

They are here now. Can we have the debate now?

The Minister for Finance will be aware this issue was raised twice on Tuesday, and this morning was seen to be appropriate rather than last night after a no confidence debate. I understand the Tánaiste was not available for it this morning and that is why it was left until next week.

Very interesting.

It is not a question of the Opposition not availing of it, it was a question of suitability for both sides of the House. In advance of the debate, will the Minister for Finance indicate to the House the willingness of the Government to make our forces available as part of a UN contribution to a military force to assist in feeding up to a million people?

I thank the Deputy for his clarification of why we are not having a debate this week. I did not wish to mislead the House in any way. With regard to the attitude of the Government, it has not yet had a chance to discuss this. I understand there was a full debate at the Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday on the same issue. Two weeks ago the Government indicated it was making an extra £1 million available for humanitarian relief which is to be channelled through the ODA section of the Department of Foreign Affairs. We are fully aware of the widespread concern about the scale of the tragedy and of the desire of the people to respond as efficiently and effectively as possible. As soon as time is available and those with responsibility for this matter are in the House we will discuss the matter and take appropriate action. The Government has not yet discussed the matter and, therefore, I am not in a position to give an indication, as the Deputy requested, of what its attitude will be.

I raised this matter twice on Tuesday with the Taoiseach. We had the visit of the Tánaiste to Ireland yesterday and the visit of the Minister of State, Deputy Burton, to Zaire and Rwanda last week. Will the Minister for Finance take this decision today with the group of Cabinet Ministers that are around, and announce it? Even the British are contributing and the French have offered to. As President of the EU, it is important that the Government should be seen to reflect the wish of the people to contribute in a meaningful way to the military force being assembled by the United Nations to be led by the Canadians.

The Tánaiste ought to be ashamed of himself.

I understand from the Government Whip that time was offered last night between 8.30 and 10.30 to debate this.

Most inappropriate given the circumstances.

The Tánaiste was prepared to make time available but the time was not availed of. We share the concern of all Deputies and Senators about this matter. We will have a debate as soon as arrangements allow us to. The Deputy knows I am not in a position to indicate what the Government will do. It would be very unwise.

Early next week?

As soon as it is practical. It is a matter for the Whips. It is down to the availability of speakers on all sides of the House.

In the context of the programme for Government, I tabled a Question on the Higher Education Authority which the Minister for Education appointed. I accept the Ceann Comhairle's ruling that the Question is out of order on the basis that the Minister apparently has no responsibility for the Higher Education Authority. In a week when we have heard much about answerability, accountability and Ministers coming before the House——

The Deputy must raise something that is relevant to the Order of Business.

I will decide that, when I can hear the Deputy.

This is ridiculous. Will the Minister let us know when the Government intends to introduce proposals to reform Question Time so that we can get answers to questions tabled?

The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Fitzgerald, today published legislation on the EU working time directive in which she tells workers what is best for them. Will he tell us when that legislation will come before the House for debate?

I am informed that, subject to agreement of the Whips, it is the Government's intention to bring this legislation forward some time late in November.

Last week I asked the Taoiseach a question about the commitment in A Government of Renewal to assist people with disabilities and he told me to table a question on the matter. I did that, but the reply told me nothing. I am sure the Minister for Finance is well aware of the position of people with disabilities, in particular those with a mental handicap. Thousands of them are without a service.

I want to help the Deputy, but if he is dissatisfied with the Minister's reply he has a remedy. My office will be happy to assist him in the matter, but he may not proceed to raise it now.

Will the Minister for Finance make the necessary resources available to meet the demands of people with disabilities?

The Deputy should table that question in the ordinary way.

Will the Minister clarify that it is not a matter for the Government to decide to send UN troops to Africa? That is a matter for the Dáil and we need time to discuss it, irrespective of who is available. The people of Africa cannot wait.

Is it true that the Credit Union Bill will be published before Christmas, as various dates have been given for its publication?

The Deputy is correct in saying — this has already been put on the record of the House — that any decision to send troops to Africa requires a decision of the House. The time required to prepare for such a debate must be considered by the Government.

As the Taoiseach stated repeatedly, it is the Government's intention to publish the Credit Union Bill before Christmas. There are more than 200 sections in the legislation, which has been a long time in gestation. If it proves impossible to publish it before Christmas, it will be published as soon as possible afterwards but it is our intention and desire to publish it before Christmas.

I am sure the Minister for Finance is interested in the development of the Custom House Docks. When will the Custom House Docks Development Authority Bill be taken in the House?

The relevant legislation is at a very advanced stage. The legal remit for the existing Custom House Docks Development Company expires early in 1997. It is our intention to have the relevant legislation enacted to provide continuity in respect of a number of functions which will be transferred from the old body to the proposed new one. I hope the legislation will be published before Christmas to enable Members to study it.

In regard to what the Minister said to Deputy Harney concerning the debate next week on the independent inquiry, will he confirm that the Labour Party will stand over what the Tánaiste said in the last sentence of the second last paragraph of his speech?

I thought the Deputy had something relevant to raise on the Order of Business.

He stated that the ramifications and implications of that investigation will be followed wherever they lead.

The Deputy does not seem to have regard to what is appropriate now.

Will the Minister arrange to place in the Library the terms of the contract between ESAT Digifone and the Garda Síochána? Earlier this year I raised a question here about the mobile telephone licence because people outside the political domain were making allegations about that contract. To avoid confusion, it would be useful if the advantages to the Garda and the company concerned are seen to be transparent.

The matter is not strictly relevant to the Order of Business, but the Minister may intervene if he wishes.

I do not know if I am in a position to give a clear response to that question. I will examine if that is possible, and if we are not debarred by confidentiality clauses or otherwise from doing so, I will consider it favourably.

Is it possible for the Government to publish the terms of reference of the inquiry into the Judge Dominic Lynch affair? Will the Minister confirm whether all the documentation on the matter will be published?

We ought to await the outcome of the inquiry.

Lest Deputy O'Donoghue did not hear what I stated earlier, it is the norm when publishing reports, such as the one that will be published next week, to include the terms of reference as an integral part of them. Therefore, the answer to the first part of the Deputy's question is yes, the terms of reference will be published. The House will have an opportunity to debate in full the entire report and any matters relating to it. The Minister in question, and any other Minister whose presence may be required during the debate, will be available to answer questions.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Let us not proceed to deliberate on this matter now. It would be inappropriate to do so.

I am in order.

I will decide that.

I appreciate that, but will the Minister answer the second part of my question? Will he confirm that all the documentation on the Judge Dominic Lynch affair will be made available to the House?

I cannot possibly confirm that. The Deputy knows that until such time as we get the report——

Where there is a will, there is a way.

When Deputy Martin has the experience to which he so manifestly aspires he might be able to understand the reply.

This has nothing to do with experience, it simply requires a yes or no answer. This is hypocrisy.

The Minister had no problem with the Harry Whelehan report.

There should be no big deal about it.

Did no one ask the Minister to leak it?

The Government has refused to provide matching funds for the upgrading of Sligo Regional Technical College. A sum of £5.2 million has been approved for the project, but the Minister for Education has refused to provide matching funds.

If the Deputy consults with my office I will assist him to raise the matter in the appropriate manner.