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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 8a, motion re. leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate [Vote 34]; No. 1, the Children Bill, 1997, amendments from the Seanad; No. 15, the Turf Development Bill, 1997, Second Stage (resumed) and No. 8b, financial motions by the Minister for Finance shall be taken on the conclusion of questions to members of the Government.

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. today and the motion for the General Financial Resolution shall be moved not later than 12 midnight whereon business shall then be interrupted and the Dáil shall adjourn forthwith; No. 8a shall be decided without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; the proceedings on Nos. 1 and 15, if not previously concluded, shall be adjourned at 1.30 p.m. today; and following the Budget Statement of the Minister for Finance and the statements by the main spokespersons of the parties in Opposition, the sitting shall be suspended for 30 minutes.

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with item No. 8a agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with Nos. 1 and 15 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8b agreed? Agreed.

I hope, Sir, you will not rule me out of order if I extend warm wishes to the Tánaiste for a speedy recovery. I gather there was a good deal of arm twisting about the Government's position on the electoral Bill. Will the Taoiseach indicate when we may expect to see the Bill that will be required to hold a referendum on the Amsterdam Treaty? Will he give a timetable for the introduction of the White Paper and the Bill so that we may begin to organise ourselves?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will launch the White Paper early in the new year and we hope the referendum Bill will be available around that time. I gave a commitment that on the resumption of the Dáil at the end of January we will debate the White Paper and we can deal with the Bill at that stage. It is still hoped the referendum will be held in March.

Is it the Taoiseach's intention to hold the two by-elections on the same day as the referendum?

What does the Deputy think?

One never knows.

I am not sure the Taoiseach knows what he thinks. He seems to be confused about electoral matters. Will he agree to such a proposal from this side of the House?

That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

As today is European Day of Disabled Persons, will the Taoiseach indicate if the Government has plans to introduce, with the consent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, legislation to provide for a disability Act and, if so, will he indicate when those legislative proposals will be published?

The Minister is making certain non-statutory decisions on that but it will be some time before the Bill will be ready. We hope to reintroduce and enact some of the Bills that fell with the dissolution of the last Dáil. I join with Deputy Quinn, and others, in acknowledging that today is European Day of Disabled Persons. Irish groups and organisations have played a major part in European work to make sure today will be a great success, and I wish them well.

I thank the Taoiseach for arranging to have my office informed this morning that he was not yet in a position to tell me when the Flood Tribunal into the planning process in Dublin will be up and running. I understand from press reports the delay is due apparently to a failure to reach agreement with barristers on their fees. Will the Taoiseach indicate when he expects to be able to tell us that the tribunal will be up and running?

As I stated yesterday, all the operational issues have been put in place. As I told Deputy De Rossa, I will check what is happening. There seems to be some negotiation on the arrangements and the fees to be paid to the individuals concerned. The Minister for Finance and the Attorney General are trying to sort that out this week.

On promised legislation, will the Taoiseach indicate where stands the Electoral (Amendment) Bill? Is it still intended to introduce amendments that would further limit spending on elections or is that Bill dead?

The Deputy is a day late in asking that question.

I answered that question yesterday.

It was not answered clearly.

(Mayo): The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has abandoned plans to set up an independent body to handle applications as set down in the Refugee Act, 1996. Therefore, Ireland will be the only EU country without a statutory basis for dealing with refugees and an adjudication is to be made by a group of officials within the Department. Is that a short-term arrangement or has the Government abandoned any aspiration to introduce a new refugee Bill or to amend the existing Act?

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform replied to this question at length in the House yesterday. The arrangement is short-term because, as the Deputy is aware the implementation of sections of this Act have been held up pending the outcome of a High Court case. Some weeks ago we were asked to try to expedite it, which we are doing as far as we can. In the meantime, the Minister said what he will do in the interim.

In view of the critical importance of this legislation and the common consent, with perhaps the exception of Deputy Callely, on its significance, have any attempts been made to negotiate a settlement in this dispute which concerns the age of the commissioner and has nothing to do with the core of the legislation? Does the Government intend to allow this legal action to frustrate the clear legislative intent of the Oireachtas?

We cannot go into detail on the legislation.

With due respect, if the Taoiseach shares the concern of this side of House about this matter, he could introduce legislation to remove the offending part, which has given rise to the legal dispute, or settle that dispute.

I cannot interfere with a High Court case. The Deputy will recall that during the life of the last Government attempts were made to settle the case but they were unsuccessful. I made clear the Government's wish that these matters be dealt with expeditiously in the High Court so that we can get on with matters.

Does the Taoiseach agree that, in legislative terms, the net point is an age restriction? It is possible the High Court will rule that it is repugnant to the Constitution and that within four to five months the Government will have to consider an appeal to the Supreme Court and introducing legislation. In the meantime, the operation of this legislation is frustrated. Will the Taoiseach take account of this problem and bring forward legislation to resolve the matter, otherwise this issue, which is of concern to the House and the public, will be totally frustrated?

The case is before the High Court and I cannot comment on it. The House and the last Government included the age restriction and I cannot comment on whether that was a good or bad idea or on the case before the court.

Of course, the Taoiseach can.

I would like this case to be dealt with speedily by the court so we can implement the sections passed by the House some time ago.

What steps is the Government taking to deal with the continuing blockade of Irish meat entering Wales?

We had a full discussion on that matter yesterday and it does not arise on the Order of Business.

When did the Government decide to change its views on the export of live cattle to Egypt?

Again, that matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

Will the Taoiseach make a statement on the matter I raised?


There may be opportunities to raise that issue during a later debate today.

On promised legislation, will the Taoiseach inform the House if an electoral amendment Bill will be published? Contrary to reports in this morning's papers, soundings were not taken from this Deputy on the issue. If the Government does not propose to amend the party funding aspect of the Electoral Act, will it address other aspects, such as the need for an amendment to rectify the totally unjust and anomalous situation——

It is not in order to go into the details of proposed legislation.

At present the compilation of the postal voter register discriminates against students in the Border counties attending third level colleges in the North of Ireland.

We cannot debate the issues involved in the legislation.

It is a very important point.

It may well be important but it is not in order to discuss it at this stage.

Many students are being disenfranchised and discriminated against this week. Will the Taoiseach agree to rectify this situation by amending the Electoral Act?

It is not in order to discuss what might or might not be included in legislation, only its timing.

The Government has not proposed amendments to the Electoral Act so it will take effect from the date set out in it.

Will the Taoiseach clarify his earlier remarks on the refugee legislation? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform answered questions yesterday but he did not deal with the scrapping of the independent body. Will the Taoiseach clarify for the House whether it is intended to scrap this independent body?

It is inappropriate and not in order to discuss the content of legislation on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach has already replied and is adding to the confusion. Will he clarify whether this is a temporary arrangement——

It is not appropriate on the Order of Business to clarify anything except when legislation might be taken.

Has the Government approved the Education Bill which is to be published this session? Will it be published this week or next week?

The Bill will go to Government next week so I hope it will be published immediately after that.

Is it the Taoiseach's intention to publish legislation on mobile phone masts which would compel companies to share masts, given that the guidelines have not worked and that a third licence has been issued?

Is legislation promised on this?

The answer is yes and I hope it will be published some time in the middle of next year.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Given the consternation in Carlow, which is also of concern to the Ceann Comhairle, has the Taoiseach spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy to explain his outrageous decision to rescind the permission given for 26 houses in Carlow by the previous Minister last June?

The matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. Perhaps the Deputy would raise that important matter at the appropriate time.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Perhaps the Tánaiste might like to make a statement as to why the Progressive Democrats have a problem with this.

As regards the Taoiseach's earlier reply regarding the planning tribunal, will he indicate when he expects to be able to inform the House that this tribunal will begin functioning? Does the issue of fees for barristers relate to barristers seeking more money or the Minister for Finance seeking to pay less?

There are two aspects to this. As I understand it, Mr. Justice Flood's interim report, which I presume will not be very bulky, must be presented to the Clerk of the Dáil in the next few days. The second part of the Deputy's question was whether it was an issue of the legal profession seeking more money. The answer to that is yes.

Will the Taoiseach say when the Wildlife Bill will be printed and circulated? I believe it was promised for 1 February 1998. I understand the legislation on architectural heritage is almost ready and that the legislation on national parks is also promised for a February date. Will the Taoiseach indicate how those three Bills stand?

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill will be published in March 1998, the architectural heritage Bill will be published in February, and the third Bill will be published later next year, but I do not have a date for it.

I thank the Taoiseach for his helpful reply. Has the matter of the legal constitutional difficulty, which was the impediment to the publication of the national parks legislation, been resolved and have the heads of the Bill been agreed?

The National Parks and Heritage Areas Bill is due to be published in the middle of next year. I do not know the remaining outstanding difficulties but the Bill is being drafted and should be ready by summer.

The Taoiseach took a personal interest in this legislation when people on this side were in Government. The drafting of the legislation was not the issue, it was the constitutional impediment which it was suggested was blocking it and this may be overcome. Will the legislation be ready after Easter?

The matters to which the Deputy refers are still under discussion but hopefully the Bill will be ready as there is no impediment to stop it totally.

Will the Taoiseach confirm if, following the very strong representations made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform which led to the appointment of Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae as a committee chairman, we can no longer deduce that he is an independent Deputy?

I fail to see how that arises on the Order of Business.

Eat your heart out, Deputy.

Deputy Healy-Rae would not be that foolish.