It is proposed to take No. 4a, Criminal Justice (No. 2) Bill, 1997 [Seanad] — Instruction to Committee; No. 4b, Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Bill, 1998 — Financial Resolution; No. 1, Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 1998 — Second Stage (resumed) and No. 16, Statements on Kosovo. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 4a and 4b shall be decided without debate; any division demanded today on No. 1 shall be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 20 October 1998 and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 16: the opening statement of the Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; Members may share time and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.
Order of Business.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 4a and 4b agreed?
Yesterday I requested the Taoi-seach to provide Government time for a debate on the critical situation facing the farming community where incomes have fallen substantially. Before agreeing to take any matter without debate I would like an assurance from the Taoi-seach that Government time will be provided.
I understand the Whips met last night and agreed to hold a debate next week on this matter.
Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 4a and 4b agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the postponement of the division agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16 agreed? Agreed.
Yesterday in response to the leader of the Labour Party, the Taoiseach indicated Government and cross party support for a full investigation of the matters brought to light with regard to non-resident account holders. Not-withstanding a comment in a national newspaper today that there is a reluctance to do this, will the Taoiseach again reassure the House that what-ever powers are required to fully ventilate this issue will be given to the Committee of Public Accounts? Is it the Government's intention to bring a motion before the House under section 5 of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act, 1995, and section 23 of the Comptroller and Auditor General Act, 1923, to ensure that there is a full independent investigation of all these matters?
As I stated yesterday when we discussed the motion on the Order Paper in the name of Labour Party Members — it is still on the Order Paper — or when we discussed the suggestions put by Deputy John Bruton on Tuesday on the legislation for the Comptroller and Auditor General, I am in favour of the intent behind this investigation.
I understand the Committee of Public Accounts has commenced work on the matter and that its investigation is proceeding satisfactorily. I also understand the committee has no difficulty in getting personnel from the banks or the Revenue Commissioners or anybody else to cooperate. We will allow that course to proceed. If the members of the committee have a difficulty they have stated that the chairman will explain their requirements to the Government. At that stage the Government will consider what is necessary and the matter can be debated in the House.
It is important it is clearly understood by all, that there is a will in this House across all parties to have this matter fully investigated and that whatever powers are required by the Committee of Public Accounts to have a full investigation will be willingly approved by all sides of the House.
When the Taoiseach first commented on this matter last Sunday and Monday he suggested a strongly interventionist role where any tax due would be paid. The Minister for Finance yesterday said he effectively had no function in the matter. Which is the Government's position?
I first spoke on these recent revelations when they came to light a week ago. I spoke in the same terms last April. Yesterday the Minister for Finance said it was not open to a Minister for Finance to query individual cases with the Revenue Commissioners. The Deputy would know that to be the case; certainly his party leader, who was a Minister for Finance, would know it to be the case. A Minister for Finance does not engage and has never engaged in individual cases with the Revenue Commissioners. I do not believe a Minister for Finance has queried the Revenue Commissioners about an individual case since the foundation of the State. In so far as there are outstanding liabilities to the State, Deputy Noonan was correct in what he said. I said last week that outstanding liabilities to the State must be collected and there are adequate powers to do that. If the Revenue Commissioners consider they do not have adequate powers, there is a standard check between officials of the Department and Finance and the Revenue Commissioners every year when the Finance Bill is prepared to ascertain if additional powers are required and, if that is the case, they will be given to them.
I must advise Members we cannot debate this matter now. I will hear questions relevant to proposals being brought forward.
I wish to ask about a separate matter concerning the Taoiseach's replies to questions yesterday. Deputy Bruton may have a question on the matter before the House.
Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that, to the extent that policy considerations concerning capital flight might have influenced the approach taken by the Revenue Commissioners on the collection of taxes in these cases, any governmental advice to the Revenue Commissioners on such a policy consideration will also be open to question by the committee that considers the matter?
To what is the Deputy referring?
For example, the Government might not have wanted money to leave Irish banks in 1990 or 1991 and, therefore, went easy on the tax collection aspect.
It is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners as to what powers they may seek. As the Deputy will know, there is always a concern that policy changes may create difficulties concerning capital flight. That has always been a concern of the Central Bank and the Revenue Commissioners.
Policy would be a matter for the Minister, not the Revenue Commissioners. If, therefore, policy considerations were involved, would the Minister in question be willing to give evidence on that?
The Deputy's questions are hypothetical. I am sure if the Committee of Public Accounts has reasons to request somebody to appear before it, it should make that request.
A Cheann Comhairle——
Is the Deputy's question relevant to this matter?
My question relates to a separate matter.
(Dublin West): In regard to the Taoiseach's stated intention that taxes evaded by Allied Irish Banks must be collected, does he consider the £100,000 the two Government parties got from Allied Irish Banks in the early 1990s should be paid as a downpayment to the Revenue Commissioners on the £80 million owing?
The Deputy's question is not relevant to the Order of Business. I call Deputy De Rossa.
(Dublin West): My question is very relevant. The Taoiseach should be allowed to answer it. The Government parties got £100,000 from an institution——
The Deputy must find another way to raise that matter.
(Dublin West): The Chair is sheltering the Government parties.
That is unworthy of the Deputy. He knows his question is not relevant to the Order of Business.
Where are the militants?
(Dublin West): What militants?
There was militancy on the part of the Minister for Finance with regard to the needs of the health services.
During yesterday's Question Time the Taoiseach referred to the Government's intention to introduce legislation to reform local government and stated that it would include a provision for regional government. Will he indicate when that legislation will be introduced? Does he intend to publish the Government thinking on regional government, which seems to be a new aspect of local government, that will introduced? Will he permit a debate on Structural Funding next week rather than in two weeks' time?
That matter has been dealt with this week. Does the Taoiseach wish to comment further?
We had a debate on that Bill for almost half an hour yesterday. I told the Deputy the Bill would be ready in early 1999 and the position did not change overnight. It will still be available in early 1999.
The Taoiseach said yesterday that no legislation was required.
Question Time is not a debate. It is a time when we can ask questions and, hopefully, get accurate answers, although the evidence does not always show that we get accurate information from the Government side when we ask questions.
It depends on whether a Deputy asks a direct question.
The Minister has found his voice. He is bringing sunshine back into our lives.
We need a debate on Structural Funds next week before the Government makes a decision on this matter. Will the Taoiseach allow Government time to debate that matter next week?
I answered the Deputy's question about proposed legislation. Requests about debates should be made through his party's Whip.
The Taoiseach indicated on yesterday's Order of Business that no legislation would be required on the new round of Structural Funds and that they would be provided for by administrative order. Is that still the case or are we talking about legislation to regionalise the country?
We are talking about two separate matters. What I said yesterday was correct. Deputy De Rossa was trying to find another way to raise the issue and he asked about the proposed legislation.
The Taoiseach said yesterday, in response to a question from Deputy Bruton, that local government included regional government and that the proposed legislation would cover both. Is the Taoiseach prepared to allow a debate next week on Structural Funding and the question of regionalising the country and, if not, why? What is he afraid of?
I understand the Deputy's party Whip was not available to attend the Whips' meeting yesterday. The debate was agreed for the week after next.
Our Whip was not able to attend the meeting because he attended a meeting which tried to clean up the mess left after Fianna Fáil.
I did not call the Deputy. He should resume his seat. I call Deputy Richard Bruton.
Yesterday a court found there was no place to detain a juvenile who required placement in custodial care. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the education welfare Bill will ensure children in need of custodial care and education are assured a place on an adequate basis and that we will not have a continuous row of children coming before our courts when there are no places for them?
I assume the Deputy is referring to the school attendance Bill?
I gather the Government has renamed it.
Yes. It will be ready in early 1999, if not before Christmas.
Have the heads of the Bill being agreed by Government?
The Green Party was the only party that refused money from the banks.
We have an incorrigible incorruptible in our midst.
A sea-green green.
On promised legislation, when does the Government intend to ratify the Aarhus Convention?
I will have to come back to the Deputy on that because I do not have the information to hand.
(Mayo): I hope I will not be interrupted by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, now that he is off the drip.
Was that an attempt at humour?
(Mayo): In view of the fact that a judge ruled yesterday to rescind a six months jail sentence imposed by the District Court on a member of the Garda Síochána for a drunk driving hit and run offence as a result of which a young man was left to die on the side of the road, does the Government intend to introduce statutory or, hopefully, non-statutory guidelines on sentencing policy, given that public confidence in the judicial system has been undermined by a series of inconsistent court decisions?
The Taoiseach does not comment on court decisions. Is amending legislation promised in this area?
We heard much talk of zero tolerance from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he was in Opposition.
To give the time honoured response whenever this matter is raised, the courts are independent. That is the cornerstone of our democracy. The Law Reform Commission has given this matter some consideration recently. There has been some debate on it between the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Attorney General has considered the matter over a number of months. He will continue to pursue it, but it is at a very preliminary stage.
What is the position on the Coastal Management Bill? Perhaps the Taoiseach will explain why it is described in the programme for legislation as not being capable of being produced before the year 2000?
This Bill is down the line. It will be two years before the legislation is introduced.
It is sinking out of sight.
I am aware the legislation is down the line. However, why can it not be addressed before 2000? It is an amendment to the Foreshore Acts and the preparations have been going on for about 30 years. Why is no date specified, even for the preparation of the heads?
The reason stated by the Department is that the legislation is to establish a new legal framework for the management of the coastal zone and to replace all the Offshore Acts, which the Department says is an extremely complex area. It will take at least a year for it to devise a general scheme, which will be the end of 1999. The heads will take at least another year to prepare.
Has the Government any plans to bring forward patent legislation as regards biotechnology, including terminator gene technology? The Taoiseach may not be able to reply today but perhaps he can come back to me on it. When does the Government propose to publish the Green Paper on adult education?
That question is more appropriate to the Minister for Education and Science but we can get the information for the Deputy. The Patents (Amendment) Bill which will implement the agreement on trade related aspects of the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be available next year. The heads of the Bill have been drafted in the Department. I am informed by one of my colleagues that it is hoped the Green Paper will be ready in November.
Will the Taoiseach clarify his answer to Deputy Joe Higgins' question? Is he stating the Government does not intend to introduce non-statutory guidelines on sentencing? The Taoiseach must be aware of the shock and outrage about this in the community.
The Deputy should not comment on that question.
I am asking for clarification.
The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to reply.
I stated that the Attorney General, based on work done by the Law Reform Commission, has been examining this matter for some time. It is at a preliminary stage so it is too early for me to say what direction it will take.
It was stated in a reply I received from the Minister for Health and Children, that there was an 80 per cent increase in the levels of suicide in the first quarter of this year, rising from 71 to 129.
The Deputy should ask a question.
Will the Taoiseach ensure the recommendations of the National Task Force on Suicide are implemented immediately?
I will examine the matter. The Deputy is not asking about specific legislation.