It is proposed to take No. 26, the Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) Bill, 1998, Second Stage (resumed); and No. 5, the Health (Eastern Regional Health Authority) Bill, 1998, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Order of Business.
There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Owen on the Order of Business.
In view of the failure of the measures taken by the Government arising from the Bacon housing report, what proposals will the Taoiseach and the Government bring to the House to ensure that couples can buy a house, given the allegation that they need £200,000 a year to be able to do so? What has happened to the 100,000 sites the Government promised would be available last year and this year for young couples to build their homes?
Is there legislation promised on this issue?
There is no legislation promised. This matter was debated last week. It is of some satisfaction that we have moved from building 10,000 houses a few years ago to building more than 40,000 this year. We have the Serviced Land Initiative and other measures which were outlined by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government.
It is not working. People, including gard, teachers and journalists, cannot buy houses.
I appreciate the Government has attempted to take some measures to deal with the housing crisis, which is not of any one party's making. However, in light of Dr. Bacon's comments this morning and the studies which have recently been published, will the Government consider introducing legislation to ensure that 20 per cent of all land to be rezoned will be reserved for affordable social housing, given that somebody on £20,000 a year cannot afford to buy a house? Unless a specific legislative measure, along the lines the Labour Party has proposed, is introduced, the 100,000 sites will not go to the people who need them most.
As Deputy Quinn knows, that matter is already being looked at by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Deputy Owen's facts are wrong. Published and unpublished data show that the rate of increase in new house prices in the Dublin area fell in the September quarter of 1998 to 2.2 per cent from 10.6 per cent in the June quarter. These figures were published by the Department of the Environment and Local Government some months ago.
The people will be reassured by that.
We cannot have a debate on this matter.
The Taoiseach said the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, who has responsibility for housing, is looking at the issue of additional supply, which we all accept is necessary. Can he indicate to the House that the Minister of State will introduce legislation as a matter of urgency to ensure that local authorities, which are currently rezoning land by public decision, will be empowered to make 20 per cent of that land available for affordable housing? This issue needs legislation now.
We cannot discuss the contents of legislation.
The Government is living on a different planet.
These matters are being looked at in terms of the review of the Planning Acts.
The Government has been looking at them for a long time.
Is the Taoiseach in touch with reality? Does he realise that agricultural workers, teachers, manufacturing industry workers, nurses and skilled workers cannot afford to buy houses? He still believes he is doing enough to solve this problem.
Has the Deputy a question about promised legislation?
Will the Taoiseach introduce measures in the Finance Bill to ensure that young couples will be able to buy houses?
The Deputy cannot anticipate what will be in the Finance Bill at this stage.
It is difficult for anyone to anticipate what will be in the Finance Bill.
Will the Taoiseach tackle this issue through legislation, such as the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill?
I have already indicated that this matter cannot be discussed further as the Taoiseach has replied. If the Deputy does not have a question which is in order on the Order of Business, he should resume his seat.
I was asking a question about promised legislation.
On what subject?
I already mentioned the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill.
That matter is out of order as the Taoiseach has answered the question. The Deputy must resume his seat as he is out of order.
This issue is of vital importance.
I have allowed questions on that issue and the Taoiseach has replied.
I did not hear when legislation would be forthcoming.
That is not the Chair's fault. The Deputy should resume his seat. I call Deputy Owen on a new matter.
We have had unsatisfactory answers to the first matter. Are there any proposals to amend the health and safety Acts, in view of the almost disastrous fire in the mine in County Meath last night where a number of people were trapped underground? Will the Government commission a report on this issue to ensure it does not happen again?
There is no promised legislation but, from the report of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, it appears the safety statement under the Health and Safety Act worked extremely well last evening. I congratulate all those involved in drafting it and in implementing it last night. We could have had a very difficult situation. That legislation and the work that went into implementing it in Tara Mines proved very successful. Of course Tara Mines are investigating the problems with a view to making improvements and they will report in due course.
Will the Department be involved?
The Department has already been in touch with the people on the ground and I am sure they will be consulted.
Have the heads of the Bill entitled Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Election Expenses), the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, been presented to and cleared by the Government?
They have and the Bill is expected very early in this session.
Since this is a topic of considerable public concern and in the light of the shared interest that all political parties have, would the Taoiseach consider enabling the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to brief environmental spokespersons to get constructive agreement on this measure which affects us all?
The Deputy should pursue that in another way.
I think the Taoiseach would like to respond.
It is not in order on the Order of Business to raise such questions.
This is an important matter and the Minister is endeavouring to make sure he has the entire Bill as quickly as possible. The Deputy can take up the matter with the Minister.
On the question of the establishment of a children's ombudsman, the Taoiseach stated on 24 November 1998 that the heads of the Bill and the memorandum had been finalised for clearance and the heads would be submitted in the middle of December. Did this happen? When will the legislation be published?
This is a UN Convention and the Department is looking at the matter.
Did the Department meet the deadline?
Does the Taoiseach propose to make time available to discuss duty free sales?
The matter can be raised by way of parliamentary question. It is not in order on the Order of Business.
In light of the recent report, jobs in duty free sales are at risk.
The Deputy has other ways to raise this matter. It is not in order on the Order of Business.
On reflection, does the Taoiseach regret that he did not use his veto?
I have pointed out to the Deputy that this is not in order.
(Dublin West): Will the Taoiseach reassure Members about the well-being of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs? The Minister disappeared upon the publication of the Social Welfare Bill.
Has the Deputy a question on the Order of Business?
(Dublin West): Has there been a coup in the Department because a senior civil servant—
If the Deputy has such a point to make he should seek another opportunity to do so.
The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs has been away on official business for the past few days.
He is not involved in a pilot project for stopping cars.
Will the Environmental Protection Agency (Amendment) Bill deal with the results of the advisory group on genetically modified organisms, given that the EU is about to release—
It is not in order to ask questions about the content of legislation. If it is important the Deputy should proceed in an orderly way to raise it.
I am making the point that it is urgent.
When will the promised legislation to update the licensing laws be introduced? Given that this is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Council of Europe, will the Taoiseach make time available this term for a debate on the functions of that organisation?
I do not have a date for the Intoxicating Liquor Bill which amends the intoxicating liquor Acts and registration of clubs, but the heads of the Bill are being prepared in the Department.
Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food why the Department misled Scanmaster, Kilfinane, County Lim erick which was given a contract which was then withdrawn and given to a company in County Cork, putting people out of jobs? Will the Taoiseach clarify the matter?
The matter is not in order and the Deputy should seek another way of raising it.
It is in order for the people of Kilfinane.
The Education Welfare Bill was approved by Government in September of last year and had been approved by the previous Government and was ready to run. However, the Minister says the Bill will not be ready until summer which means that another school year will start without the Education Welfare Bill in place. The Taoiseach declared on numerous occasions in the House that it was one of his personal priorities but it seems to be long fingered to save money on the cost of implementing a decent welfare programme for children at risk in our schools.
The Equal Status Bill was transferred from the 1998 list to the l999 list which indicates where equality issues come on the agenda of the merged Departments of Justice and Equality and Law Reform. When is it intended to publish the Equal Status Bill? When is it intended to implement the Employment Equality Act which was passed by both Houses nine months ago?
The earlier Equal Status Bill is being revised and it will be ready this session, hopefully before Easter. I hope the Employment Equality Act will be implemented this summer.
On the last occasion when I asked the Taoiseach about the Local Government Bill he told us it would not be published until after the local elections. In view of the recent announcement about new regions, will he consider bringing forward the Local Government Bill encompassing the proposed regional structures and publishing it in advance of the local elections?
The Local Government Bill, which is to modernise local Government and implement a range of legislation, is due in the middle of this year.
The local elections will take place in June and were postponed to allow for the reform of local government but we now have the absurd situation that local government reform, for which the local elections were postponed, will not take place until after the elections.
The matter cannot be debated now.
Reform of Government.
With regard to the British-Irish Agreement, when will the legislation known as the North South Co-operation Bill to give effect to cross-Border bodies come before the House?
I hope this session but we have not yet concluded the detailed discussions with the parties. We have completed drafts on all the matters but they have not been signed off by the individuals concerned and that is still ongoing. We are trying to get agreement and we have to get agreement because it involves legislation in Westminster as well as this House.
Is the Taoiseach saying that while the bodies and their activities have been identified, the detail and the application of those bodies has to be finalised?
Exactly, and that is still the subject of daily discussions since 1 January.
That concludes the Order of Business.