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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Mar 1999

Vol. 501 No. 3

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 7, Finance Bill, 1999 – Financial Resolution; No. 8, Motion re. Membership of Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights; No. 26, Social Welfare Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed). It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, (1) that Nos. 7 and 8, shall be decided without debate; (2) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.00 p.m.; and (3) Private Members' Business shall be No. 47, Prohibition of Ticket Touts Bill, 1998 – Second Stage and the proceedings thereof, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. tomorrow.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 7 and 8 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed? Agreed.

Is legislation required to implement the proposal by the Government to deal with the crisis in housing? Will the Taoiseach explain how the new affordable housing scheme announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, will be implemented? This is the second week in a row, when the day before an issue is raised at Question Time, a Minister has held a press conference to announce proposals that should have been announced in the House in the first instance. Last week, it was the tribunal on army deafness, this week it is the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy announcing—

Is there promised legislation on housing?

Is the Taoiseach aware that no council in the Dublin area has land to implement this scheme—

That is not true.

I rang councillors and they said they have no plans.

The Deputy is completely out of order.

This excellent scheme has been devised in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and will assist many people, along with the other initiatives which do not require legislation.

May I ask the Taoiseach about the discourtesy to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and the rest of the House?

We learned that from the Deputy.

The Deputy cannot raise that matter. She must find another way to do so.

I did not even know that a question had been tabled about this last week. I have heard the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, talk about this scheme for four or five months. This is an excellent scheme which has been worked on for a considerable time.

Where we will get the land?

I want to ask the Taoiseach about a previous reply he gave on the Order of Business in connection with the establishment of regional structures. Is it still the Government's intention to establish new powers and devolve them to regional structures by way of statutory instrument or will primary legislation be introduced to do that?

It is an order under the 1991 Bill.

Can I ask in regard to that—

We cannot have a discussion on it.

I am not asking for a discussion. I want to ask a question about that legislation. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the existing Act enables the criteria laid down to be met?

We cannot have a discussion on the details of the legislation. I suggest that the Deputy table a parliamentary question to the appropriate Minister.

A question on this matter was answered previously when you were in the Chair, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

If it was answered previously, then it should not be necessary to answer it again.

A priority question on this matter has been tabled for tomorrow.

As a result of the reply I received, I am entitled to put the question again. Is it still the Government's intention to follow the line of devolving functions by way of statutory instrument and not primary legislation, which is clearly required if the criteria set down by Brussels are to be met?

There is a priority question on this tomorrow.

This is not just a matter for the Minister for the Environment and Local Government but for the Government in terms of the strategic handling of the issue of regional structures.

There will be a press release on the matter tomorrow morning.

Can I have the question disallowed?

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government will deal with the question tomorrow.

Mr. Hayes

There will be a statement on it tomorrow.

Will the Taoiseach give an explanation to the House and, more particularly, to the farming families of Ireland as to why the Agenda 2000 negotiations seem to be going so badly for Ireland?

That is not a matter for the Order of Business. There are other ways to raise this issue.

The Minister is present.

There may not be an opportunity to do so. Does the Taoiseach find it unusual that other countries seem to be getting more of their agricultural policies through? I hope the Minister gets on well but it does not look like it.

We must have order on the Order of Business.

The Deputy is of no help to farmers.

I do not mean to be disorderly but I—

But the Deputy is disorderly.

The Taoiseach may wish to comment on the Agenda 2000 discussions because they are of vital national importance.

Has the Deputy another question on the Order of Business?

Yes, but it is very difficult to phrase a question on a matter of such national importance in terms of legislation.

There are other ways to raise the issue in the House. There are Standing Orders and the Chair's function is to implement them.

You have been lenient, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on matters of grave national importance. This is the biggest issue in Europe and the Taoiseach probably wishes to give an indication of where he thinks the discussions are currently going. I hope he takes the opportunity to do so.

If I did not have to keep repeating myself for 30 minutes during Question Time earlier I would have reached the questions relating to Agenda 2000. It was a pity that I did not get to them because I would like to have dealt with them before my meetings with the European Commission tomorrow. It would have helped me, but other matters were important and it is for the Opposition to decide whether to question me. I repeated myself non-stop.

There are pressures on us to try to negotiate on the proposals. Last week the Minister for Agriculture and Food was very successful in moving them on to the stage that he did and we will continue to do so. The situation with milk quotas is difficult as the 1984 agreement has probably not been treated seriously. I do not know who was the Minister in 1984 but that agreement has not been treated very seriously by the Commission. We thought that it was a very watertight agreement, but we will continue to deal with that as best we can.

We will continue to negotiate on the other issues relating to Structural and Cohesion Funds but I am hopeful that, as in 1989 and 1992, we will get a satisfactory settlement. However, we must take non-agricultural areas into account. Deputy Connaughton referred only to agriculture but we will continue to negotiate to get the best deal we can. I appreciate that he is being constructive.

Will the Taoiseach take the opportunity to express the Government's concern at the escalation of the conflict in south Lebanon?

The Deputy knows that is not appropriate to the Order of Business. There are other ways to raise the issue.

I will link the issue to legislation. Is the Taoiseach aware that Ireland signed a convention in 1977 to which it has not yet become a party? It concerns a Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1948 relating to the protection of the victims of international armed conflicts. When will the Government introduce the necessary legislation implicit in Ireland's signing of that convention? Is Israel a party to the convention? Is it of any value in terms of the protection of UNIFIL troops in south Lebanon and the very difficult task carried out by them?

I will communicate with the Deputy regarding the convention. With regard to the other matter raised by him, it is a serious situation, which has escalated over the past weeks. The Minister for Defence has spoken to the military authorities and has also made our position known to the United Nations.

The list of proposed legislation which has been circulated includes a work permits Bill. Given what we are reading about the complete disarray that the Government is in with regard to work permits, where stands the legislation? Is the Taoiseach aware that a majority of Members are in favour of allowing work permits to be given to people while they await consideration of their asylum applications? Will the Government take that on board in order to resolve the unseemly row between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, who seem to be fighting about it?

As I stated in recent weeks, this legislation is listed for late 1999. The heads of the Bill are being prepared in the Department. Of course, the usual constructive dialogue and debate are ongoing.

What went on during the three hours of constructive dialogue?

We were trying to unravel the mess of the legislation that the Deputy introduced in 1996.

The legislation on which Deputy Owen and the former Deputy, Joan Burton, could not agree.

The disagreement seems to be between the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. How do they intend to solve it?

The Deputy is disorderly.

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the House. I am sure that the negotiating rooms must make the Castlerea detention centre look like Butlin's holiday camp. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that, in the context of the ongoing negotiations, which are of vital national importance—

Deputy Creed, we cannot have a discussion on the matter. I remind the House that it spent one hour debating the issue on Question Time last Thursday.

May I ask one question?

If it is appropriate to the Order of Business.

It is appropriate to the national interest.

We are on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Crawford.

This matter is of vital national importance.

That is why one hour was allocated to it on Thursday. I call Deputy Crawford.

Is legislation necessary for the payment of a miserly £300 to farmers under the fodder scheme? Will the Taoiseach explain the delay in that regard?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business. I call Deputy McManus.

It is very appropriate. It was promised months ago and has not been delivered.

Regarding promised legislation, we have just heard from the Minister for Health and Children that there are problems with the mental health Bill, which we understood would be published soon and for which a date in March this year was given by the Tánaiste on the Order of Business. The Minister for Health and Children indicated there were problems publishing the Bill and that the Attorney General may not be in a position to assist to ensure its speedy publication. Will the Taoiseach ensure there are no delays in dealing with an issue which relates to the treatment of psychiatric patients, which is a cause of great concern to their families?

Brevity please, Deputy McManus.

It is not a complicated Bill, particularly given the form in which the Minister proposes to publish it. Will the Taoiseach undertake to deal with the delay?

Publication of the mental health Bill to update the provisions for the detention and treatment of psychiatric patients is expected some time after Easter.

On the previous matter of State aids, State aid now requires EU approval. As soon as we get it, the aid will be paid, but we cannot do it before then.

Will it be necessary to introduce legislation – or can it be done by order of the House – to reserve the additional milk quota obtained in the negotiations in Brussels for areas with Objective One status?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business. The Deputy should submit a question on the matter. I call Deputy Howlin.

Regarding the ongoing negotiations in Brussels which are of vital national interest, will the tactics employed by the Government be the subject of debate, as is the norm in other European countries?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Will the Government provide briefing for the Opposition parties on the tactics employed for the best interests of the country on the issues of regionalisation and Agenda 2000?

We had a debate on CAP last week in this House and in the Seanad. If an Opposition spokesperson wants briefing on these issues, the relevant Ministers will be glad to assist them.

Will there be a change of tactics?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business. The Deputy should table a question on the matter.

(Mayo): Given that the Taoiseach said the mental health Bill is expected around Easter and that the Bill on the criminal law on sanity is linked to it, can we expect the latter Bill to be also published around Easter or before the summer recess?

It is linked to the mental health Bill and publication is certainly expected in the autumn.

(Mayo): Will the two be published together?

No, one will be published after Easter and the other in late summer.

Does the Government plan to introduce legislation to amend the statute of limitations to enable victims of child sexual abuse in the past to take court action which they are currently prohibited from doing because of the time restraints in the statute of limitations?

Is legislation promised in this area?

I am not aware of any legislation.

I understood from media reports it was being considered by the Government.

Perhaps it is being considered, but it is not listed in the legislative programme at this stage.

(Dublin West): The Government has promised a debate in the Dáil on the genetic engineering of crops and vegetables. Given the sharp escalation in public concern about the proliferation of genetically modified foods in the shops, will the Government bring forward that debate as a matter of urgency?

That is a matter for the Whips.

I hope the debate will be taken next week.