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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 14 Oct 1998

Vol. 495 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 15, Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997 — Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages. Private Members' Business shall be No. 49, motion re. Health (Resumed).

There are no proposals to be put before the House.

I wish to raise two matters. Does the Taoiseach agree the situation faced by the farming community is an urgent matter of public importance? In view of statements made yesterday by the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners to the Committee of Public Accounts, which suggested that there was, at policy level, a measure of comprehension of the problems of the banks in respect of possible capital flight and, therefore, a comprehending view being taken of depositors who are allegedly non-resident, does the Taoiseach agree it is important the Minister for Finance or one of his officials should explain to the committee what was the stated knowledge, if any, in the Department of Finance of the policy considerations pursued by it in 1990 and 1991 regarding tax settlements from the point of view of bank solvency?

Questions to the Minister for Finance regarding this matter have been tabled for Question Time this afternoon.

The first question with which the Minister for Finance will deal this afternoon covers that matter. However, as stated yesterday, the Government will provide any assistance or co-operation required by the Committee of Public Accounts. The Government will also try to co-operate with any requests received from the chairman of the committee.

I accept that difficult circumstances obtain at present in the agriculture industry. This matter was debated in the House last week, the Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food spent a considerable amount of time discussing it yesterday and we are attempting, on a daily basis, to assist in alleviating the problems faced by those involved in agriculture.

There is no point discussing the matter. What is the plan?

Has the Taoiseach had time to consider the motion put down in my name and those of my party colleagues in respect of requesting the Committee of Public accounts to investigate the matters which are currently the subject of its deliberations?

Deputy Quinn raised that matter yesterday and we have given it consideration overnight. The Government has no difficulty with the intent of the motion. However, we wish to consider the legal ramifications involved to ensure that whatever assistance we can provide to the committee is assistance it requires which is legally correct. As far as the intent of the motion is concerned, the Government has no difficulty with it.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. We accept that an amendment to section 5(1)(f) of the Compellability of Witnesses Act, 1997, is probably required to investigate taxation matters. Do I understand from the Taoiseach's reply that the Government, through the Whips, is prepared to discuss a motion acceptable to all sides of the House so that the committee can do the work the public wants it to do?

First, I acknowledge the work being done by the committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Jim Mitchell. The committee has taken the initiative and has already interviewed the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. I understand senior AIB executives will appear before the committee tomorrow. I appreciate that somewhere along the line the committee's powers will prove inadequate because section 5(1)(f) of the Compellability of Witnesses Act, which involves the exemption of certain evidence, excludes the taxation issue and relates to information kept for the purposes of assessing the liability of a person in respect of a tax, duty or other payment. It is patently obvious that the committee could encounter difficulties somewhere along the line. I would like to take action on this matter in conjunction with the committee in the first instance. However, I take the point that its work may be hampered and we will be obliged to address that issue.

In respect of yesterday's evidence from the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners where he attributed responsibility to this House for the inability of the commissioners to cope with tax evasion transactions which occurred in 1991 and 1992, were specific policy matters in that regard brought to the attention of the Taoiseach who was then Minister for Finance? Was he asked for policy directions on these matters or was he involved in any way?

It is not appropriate to ask questions relating to policy at this stage.

We would love to hear the Taoiseach's answer and he appears eager to reply.

I have been interested in this morning's exchanges regarding the hearings with which the Committee of Public Accounts is currently engaged. The committee has prepared carefully for this issue and has taken advice on it. I would be glad to consult the various parties regarding of the best course of action to pursue. The committee has almost reached an opinion in that regard.

I wish to raise two matters on promised legislation. Is the wildlife Bill, which we were promised would be introduced in the autumn, still on track and when will it be published? With regard to the fundraising for charitable and other purposes Bill, which was the subject of an Adjournment debate last evening, will the Taoiseach state if, to assist the debate in advance of the Bill's publication, a compendium of the organisations which benefit from charitable status will be published? The previous Government published such a compendium in respect of organisations which benefitted from lottery grants. Would it be possible to publish the compendium before publishing the Bill? When will the Bill be published and will it be of assistance that the Costello report in 1990 provided a draft of such a Bill?

It is possible that the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill will be taken during the current session. If not, I hope to take it in the session after Christmas. In terms of whether a list of organisations which benefit from charitable status will be published, I will investigate the situation and communicate with the Deputy.

(Mayo): During the summer the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform engaged in a great deal of sabre-rattling regarding the need for legislation to deal with white collar crime. We were repeatedly informed that the criminal justice Bill on fraud offences would be brought forward as a matter of priority this term. The Bill does not appear on the schedule for this term and we have been informed it will not be published before mid-1999, which means it could appear at any time during the next millennium. In view of the major scandals at NIB and AIB — two of the biggest banks in the country — involving bogus accounts, tax evasion and tax avoidance, why has the legislation not been given priority?

The general scheme of the Bill was approved by the Government in March and progress was being made on the preliminary draft at the end of August. It is hoped the Bill will be introduced early in the next session.

(Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach believe that legislation to deal with the banks and taxation should also cover the monumental injustice whereby a heroin addict who stole——

We cannot deal with the content of legislation, we can deal only with the timing of the proposals for legislation on the Order of Business.

(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach indicate when legislation will be introduced to resolve the hypocrisy whereby a heroin addict who snatched a handbag received a six year prison sentence while bankers who snatch millions of pounds obtain bonuses?

The Deputy should confine his comments to inquiring when the legislation will be introduced.

(Dublin West): When will legislation to resolve this sort of injustice be brought forward?

Is legislation promised in this area.

I am not sure of the legislation to which the Deputy is referring.

I call Deputy Kenny.

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach stated he was not sure of the legislation involved. I should be given a chance to clarify the position.

Will the Deputy put his question clearly?

(Dublin West): I am sure the Taoiseach reads the newspapers, as I do.

Not quite like you.

(Dublin West): The question was when will we have legislation to end the monumental hypocrisy in sentencing policy whereby a sick heroin addict gets six years in prison for snatching a handbag while bankers who snatch millions from the taxpayers get a bonus.

It is not promised legislation.

My question relates to the broadcasting Bill. Yesterday the Ceann Comhairle's office informed me that the Minister has no responsibility for pirate radio stations and that she has no responsibility for the fact that TV3 will not carry one word of the Irish language. The appointment of the membership of the Independent Radio and Television Commission yesterday appears to be quite contentious. Will the broadcasting Bill reflect Government policy in these areas?

We cannot discuss the content. We can only discuss the timing of the legislation.

The broadcasting Bill will be a comprehensive Bill and I hope it will address all the issues in broadcasting. The Bill will be taken in this House during this session.

Will the Taoiseach's favoured regionalisation structure require legislation and will Deputy Healy-Rea be invited to the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party to defend south Kerry before the decision is made?

That does not require legislation.

That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

We would be delighted to have him.

He is having them.

How can the Government justify paying £1,400 per day to private——

That is not a matter for the Order of Business. The Deputy has other ways of pursuing that question.

In pursuit of the response which I think I heard from the Taoiseach a few moments ago suggesting that the sub-regionalisation of the country does not require legislation, can we take it therefore that there will be no additional structures requiring legislation to dispense funds?

It will be dealt with by order.

As I said at Question Time both yesterday and last week, these matters can be dealt with by order.

Does the Taoiseach still have confidence in the Minister for Agriculture and Food to adequately represent——

The matter does not arise. This is the Order of Business. The Deputy should resume his seat. The Deputy knows he is out of order.

Is the Taoiseach planning any legislation to clarify the situation and to make it clear to the general public that if a Minister misleads this House regarding boats sailing to Libya——

This is not promised legislation.

It should be.

The matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. The Deputy should pursue it in another way.

It would appear that yesterday the Government made a welcome decision in relation to the establishment of a national stadium. Will legislation be required to give effect to this proposal and, if so, which Department will be charged with its sponsorship?

The work which has just commenced will be available next year when the steering committee makes the recommendations. We will see then whether legislation is required. Of course any legislation will be under the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Minister, Deputy McDaid, but we must wait until we see the precise recommendations of the steering committee.

As a document was presumably brought to Cabinet yesterday, is there an allocation or a budget estimate as to the probable cost of this stadium? Was that set out in the document yesterday?

No. The cost set out in the document was the cost of the feasibility study. The recommendations of the committee will set out the costs of it.

To follow up an earlier question by Deputy McDowell, under what legislation are additional powers to be given to the regional authorities? Can the Taoiseach confirm that the additional powers will be given to all the regional authorities, not just the ones in the 13 proposed Objective One permanent counties?

This question refers to the content of legislation.

This is an attempt to make a substantial change in the way the country is governed by delegated legislation. I do not think that when the delegation was agreed by the House it was contemplated as being used in this particular way. The House is entitled to some information about it. The Taoiseach confirmed this morning that it will be done by delegated and not primary legislation. The House will therefore not be debating the matter and the House is entitled to as much information as possible now before the delegated authority is used.

As I stated yesterday, when the Government comes to its final considerations on these matters the precise way in which we decide to proceed will be set out. However, as I said earlier, in these matters in so far as giving the regional areas additional powers or restructuring is concerned, it can be done by order. We will set out precisely how it can be done when we make our final decisions.

We cannot have a debate on the matter at this stage. We must proceed with the business of the day.

Will the orders delegating these additional functions be made in advance of the March decision and will they be unconditional or will they be conditional on a favourable decision at EU level on the Government's proposals?

I do not think the orders would have to be made prior to March. The decision in March is for the completion of the negotiations. It will be nine months before the whole process is put in place.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): In view of the drop in income of a certain group of people, does the Taoiseach have any serious plans to come to their rescue?

The matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): I did not explain who these people are, a Cheann Comhairle.

Does it refer to promised legislation?

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Has the Taoiseach any promised legislation to deal with people whose income has been slashed severely and who are forced to occupy the Minister's office at present? They are the farmers.

That concludes the Order of Business.