Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 39, Comhairle Bill, 1999 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 4, Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Private Members' Business shall be No. 90, motion re confidence in the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, it shall be taken at 5.30 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 8.30 p.m.

Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed? Agreed.

The Taoiseach made an important announcement outside the House concerning the Government's policy regarding a sports stadium. Will the Taoiseach arrange to have a substantive motion tabled in the House so that the Dáil can debate the matter, given the significant long-term financial commitments implicit in the announcement he made and given that the House would obviously wish to debate and be involved with it having regard to its responsibility for public finances?

I will consider that matter and communicate with Deputies Bruton and Quinn.

I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle the best for the season. Has the Government any plans to make announcements next Tuesday regarding developments in Northern Ireland, given that General de Chastelain's report is due either later this week or, as we now understand, on Monday? Will the Whips be advised on whether we will have a debate in the House on Tuesday in the event of the developments that may arise from that report?

It has not been confirmed to me yet when General John de Chastelain will make that statement. I have seen some reports that it will be Monday. We can discuss it then. I understand all the early questions for Question Time next Tuesday will be on this matter anyway.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the content of that report is central to the continuation of the Executive in Northern Ireland and the other institutions? Will he bear in mind that it may be necessary for us to have a substantial debate in the House on Tuesday since the Good Friday Agreement belongs to all the people on the island?

I note what Deputy Quinn said. Obviously the presentation and content of the report are of enormous importance. As soon as I am aware of it, we can communicate with the Whips.

Has the Taoiseach had any contact with General de Chastelain on this matter?

I have not.

Will the Taoiseach arrange at an early stage to have a resumption of the debate on No. 49 on the Order Paper, which concerns the EU monitoring of drugs, in light of the evidence that the number of heroin addicts in Ireland has increased by 1,000 in the past 12 months and that there was, in the space of one weekend, three murders, some of which may have been associated with the abuse of drugs?

I agree to that.

I am not sure if I am in order in asking this question so I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to bear with me. Is the Taoiseach or the Leas-Cheann Comhairle aware that a Private Members' Bill submitted by the Labour Party to provide for the establishment of a Shannon river authority was ruled out of order on the grounds that it may constitute additional expenditure? This seems to be a new departure and we regard it as such. How might we redress that matter?

The Ceann Comhairle considered the matter and he ruled it out of order. If the Deputy has a query about it, he can call to the Ceann Comhairle's office. I call Deputy Owen.

I accept that, but if it has been ruled out on that basis—

There is a long-standing tradition in the House that if a Member has a query about any particular item, he or she may call to the Ceann Comhairle who made the decision.

It suggests that every Private Members' Bill—

We will not debate it in the House. I call Deputy Owen.

Among all his other woes, did the Minister for Finance have an opportunity during the Christmas break to discuss with the Minister, Deputy Harney, the establishment of the single financial regulator? Has peace broken out between the two Departments and, if so, when will we see the legislation?

That matter is still under consideration between the two Ministers.

No agreement yet.

When will the Aviation Regulation Bill, which is included on the list of Bills, be published? Is the Taoiseach aware of the ridiculous situation that the regulator, who has been recruited and is operating, has no powers? Will the Taoiseach see that the Bill is brought forward as a matter of urgency to deal with these aviation issues?

The regulator is doing a great deal.

He has no power.

He is sizing up everything.

The text of the Bill is expected in February.

February? There are many nervous Ministers on the Government benches. Will we witness another St. Valentine's Day massacre?

On 19 March 1997 the House unanimously agreed to Second Stage of a Private Members' Bill in the name of Deputy Woods to abolish ground rents and the Bill was referred to a committee.

That is a hoary old chestnut.

Does the Government intend to reintroduce the Bill and have it processed by a committee of the House since it has already passed Second Stage?

If it were reintroduced, it could be considered. As I said before, it has been examined in detail by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in conjunction with the Attorney General and the Registrar of Titles to see how best to advance it.

The Taoiseach has no more intention of introducing the Bill than flying to the moon.

Does the Government intend to reintroduce Deputy Woods's Bill?

(Dublin West): Regarding No. 59 on the Government's legislative programme, undergraduate nurses are severely discriminated against by being forced to pay fees and many face dismissal as a result of the fact they cannot pay the fees. When will the nursing Bill be brought forward? Will the Taoiseach bang together the heads of the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children to sort out this gross inequality against student nurses?

Is such legislation promised?

The heads of the Bill to amend the Nurses Act, 1985, are expected early this year. There is a written reply to that matter today from the Minister for Health and Children.

On a number of occasions in the Dáil the Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources said the White Paper on Defence would be published in December. It was not published then and it is a cause of concern in the Defence Forces. Does this imply the Departments of Defence and Finance are continuing their arguments about the number of personnel in the Defence Forces? When does the Taoiseach expect the White Paper to be published?

I apologise to the Deputy; I informed her that it would be published before Christmas. It is in circulation within Departments. Time was lost but I hope it will not be too long more.

Every time we receive a list of proposed legislation the disabilities Bill appears to be put off further into the future. It is now indicated that it will be published in 2001. Are people with disabilities ever going to get to the top of the Government's agenda? Is this is an indication of where its priorities lie?

It is a complicated and large Bill on which work is in progress in the Department and the heads of which are expected later this year as soon as the Equal Status Bill which was published last year and had to be dealt with first, is out of the way. There is an enormous amount of work being done in the disabilities area.

(Mayo): There was a record number of suicides in prison in 1999. Why do two important Bills not feature on either the A list or B list of proposed legislation for this term – the alternatives to prison Bill or attachment of earnings Bill and the Prison Service Bill? They have been relegated to the C list, the “also ran” list.

Work is at a preliminary stage on the attachment of earnings Bill. The issues arising are being addressed in consultation with the new Courts Service in the context of the tech nological programme under way. Although the heads are expected this year, the Bill will not be published until next year. Work is proceeding in the Department on the preparation of the heads of the Prison Service Bill which will be published later this year.

When will the Finance Bill be published? Will the Taoiseach arrange to have the Minister for Finance make a statement to the House on the withdrawal from sale by the Government of the ACC and the TSB and the arrangements he intends to make to secure the future of these two respected institutions?

The Finance Bill will be published on 10 February. The other matter should be dealt with in the normal way.

On the minimum pay Bill, the trade unions and I appreciate the Taoiseach stopping the Tánaiste announcing a rate and thus derailing the pay talks but does he accept that the recommended rate was two thirds of median earnings which two years ago was £4.40? It is manifestly more than that now. Will the plight of the low paid following the budget be accommodated in the Finance Bill?

It is not appropriate to discuss the content of a Bill.

Will the Taoiseach speak to RTE about the closure of RTE Cork after 25 years of excellent public service broadcasting? Is the station to close without any initiative being taken by the Government?

That matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

The Government has paid its visit to Cork.

Having visited Cork yesterday the Government should now try to save RTE Cork.

The Minister addressed the issue in Cork yesterday.

In 1998 and 1999 the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised to introduce a Bill dealing with the private security industry. I note from the list of proposed legislation that work is at an advanced stage and that the Bill will be introduced at the end of this year. Will the Taoiseach expedite the Bill given that it was widely reported during the Christmas period that members of the INLA were acting as bouncers in half the night clubs in Dublin—

The Deputy has asked a question about promised legislation; he should allow the Taoiseach to reply.

—where young people are being introduced to drugs. The Government is doing nothing to solve this serious problem.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

I am glad to inform the Deputy who has raised this matter on a number of occasions that the heads of the private security industry Bill were approved by the Government yesterday. Detailed drafting is now proceeding.

Notwithstanding the Ceann Comhairle's direction, will the Taoiseach accept the Shannon River Authority Bill for the purposes of debate given that there is cross-party agreement on the necessity for such an authority? The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, would definitely agree to this.

The matter is to be raised on the Adjournment. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

It is a waste of time coming in to the House if the Ceann Comhairle or some other official can make a decision which impacts on thousands of people and 250,000 acres of land—

The Deputy will have to find another way of raising the matter in the House.

The Chair is supposed to help us. In what other way can I raise it?

The matter will be raised and debated on the Adjournment.

It is an absolute scandal. Somebody is hiding behind somebody else.

In the House recently the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, promised to support legislation providing for the introduction of grants to houses and schools to remedy the radon gas problem. On the same day the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, indicated that she would support the Minister of State. Given recent reports of excessive and dangerous levels of radon gas in schools in a number of counties does the Government intend to deliver on the promise given by the Minister and Minister of State?

The funding is in place.

My colleague from County Kildare took it away.

The Radiological Protection Bill has been published.

The matter is not dealt with in that Bill. We are seeking the introduction of a scheme providing for remedial action in houses and schools, as promised by the Minister and Minister of State.

On a point of order, the Minister for Education and Science said that funding for this measure which was promised in the House by the Minister and Minister of State has been provided in the capital programme.

For schools.

The Taoiseach appears to be under the impression that legislation has not been promised. Legislation was promised in the House.

Legislation is not required.

A grants scheme requires legislation.

What is being raised is promised legislation, not funding.

Statutory provision is not required.

It is a grants scheme.

It is for schools.

There is a great deal of gas in Hawkins House.

Does the Taoiseach accept that the Government has an appalling record on environmental protection as evidenced by the fact—

That matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

—that the European Commission has recently taken legal proceedings against us? What is the reason for the inordinate delay in introducing the Environmental Protection Agency Bill?

The heads are expected next month and the Bill will be published later this year. It will update the legislation dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources has indicated that planning permission will have to be obtained before 52 acres of Dublin Bay will be permitted to be infilled and signalled that this will require legislation. When will that legislation be introduced in the House?

The Minister has informed me that it does not require legislation. He has already issued a letter outlining proposals on how the matter could be dealt with.

A local authority cannot give planning permission for land which does not exist.

That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

An agent of Dublin Corporation has stated it is impossible for the Port and Docks Board – now Dublin Port – to give planning permission to Dublin Port for land which does not exist, yet this Minister—

It is a condition which the Minister puts on the lease.

We cannot debate the substance of what Deputies might like to see in the Bill.

We have had a mini Cabinet meeting here. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources today issued me with a circular, which has gone out to numerous Deputies in the Dublin area, stating he is requiring Dublin Port to apply for planning permission. Both he and the Secretary General of his Department have been informed that Dublin Corporation cannot give planning permission for land which does not exist. Is there a Minister for Justice in the House? Can we get some resolution on this matter?

To avoid confusion—


A Deputy:

The Minister's last stand.

—for major projects such as those envisaged by Dublin Port and in other areas of the country, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources normally requires planning permission—

For existing facilities.

because he will not agree to an infill without knowing, in the first instance, what is to be put in it.

The idea is that the land is not part of the corporation's remit.

We are not debating this matter, Deputy Bruton. We are coming to the conclusion of the Order of Business. Will Deputy Bruton please resume his seat? His colleague, Deputy Ahearn, is offering.

The Minister is misleading his constituents.

Why has the publication of the disability Bill been postponed? I understand it is not now expected to be published until at least 2001 and that that date is not even guaranteed? Will the Taoiseach confirm that in debates in this House and in the programme for Government, he stated that priority was being accorded to this Bill? It now seems the Bill will not even be introduced in the lifetime of this Government.

When it was set up, the disability authority stated it would work for a period to see how it would operate and that the legislation would be prepared subsequently. The board was set up on an interim authority basis to see how it would operate in practice. That is the stage we are currently at. The process did not commence as it involved the same staff who worked on the Equal Status Bill.

On the important matter of free speech, is the Taoiseach aware that the newspaper, The Irish Catholic, which was banned from advertising on radio in the Republic, is now advertising on UTV in Northern Ireland which people in the Republic can watch. The principle here is an important one which, if extended to any other newspaper or magazine, would be the subject of uproar in this House. Will the Taoiseach now accept a Private Members' Bill in my name and that of Deputy Kenny or will he consider asking the Minister to amend the legislation to allow newspapers such as The Irish Catholic to advertise in the same terms as those in which they can advertise in Northern Ireland?

This matter arose a year ago at which stage the Minister examined it. I will ask the Minister to provide Deputy Mitchell with details of that review. This is a complex matter which has several other implications.

It is not complex in Northern Ireland.

Different laws govern this matter in Northern Ireland.

Is the Taoiseach aware that recently a seriously ill pregnant woman was denied chemotherapy treatment? She was unable to access chemotherapy, which she desperately needed, for almost a week. In regard to legislation, I understand there has been a move within the Department of Health and Children to protect the right of patients to access treatment when they require it. As the medical practitioners Bill will not be published until the end of this year, will the Taoiseach consider introducing legislation to protect female patients, in this instance, who may be at risk of losing their lives if they cannot access treatment quickly and who, at the moment, do not have any statutory protection? I urge the Taoiseach to respond positively to protecting women who are desperately ill and who are entitled to treatment.

I am not sure whether the medical practitioners (amendment) Bill is the relevant legislation in cases such as that to which the Deputy referred. The Bill will be published later in the year. If the Deputy has a particular case or proposal in mind, I suggest she tables a parliamentary question or raises the matter directly with the Minister for Health and Children.

We have gone well beyond the time for the Order of Business but, as this is the first day back, I will call on Deputies Michael D. Higgins and Jim O'Keeffe before the conclusion of the Order of Business.

The vocational education (amendment) Bill would give statutory representation to parents and teachers, as promised previously on the occasion of the passing of an education Bill, but the net effect of its being postponed yet again is that parents and teachers will be deprived of representation on vocational education committees. It is a matter of urgency that we would know when the Bill will come before the House in order that people could be removed from the vocational education committees to make room for the new representatives. Were the housing Gaeltacht (amendment) Bill to have an Irish title, it would probably be Bille um thithíocht Gaeltacht (leasú). It would give legislative effect to changes in the housing grants administered by the Department under the Gaeltacht Acts, 1929-79. This Bill has been promised since a court case in 1997. We were originally told that it would be published in 1998 but it has survived into the new millennium as "promised legislation".

It may even make it into the next millennium.

Is there any prospect of the Bill coming before us in our own lifetimes?

The Government authorised the drafting of the vocational education (amendment) Bill last July and it is expected to be published in the middle of this year. The drafting of the housing Gaeltacht (amendment) Bill was approved by Government on 3 September and the Bill is currently with the parliamentary draftsman. The latest date for publication is the middle of this year.

The first Bill was described as a short little Bill to provide representation to the partners in education. How short is short? What is the difficulty with the Bill? The second Bill was also described as a simple little Bill. When the Aire Stáit was on this side of the House giving lectures, he said it would only take him five minutes to draft the Bill. He has obviously become so leadránach that the time has extended to two and a half years.

We will need a social welfare Bill to cover the rather modest increases announced in the budget.

They are a good deal more than the £1.80 provided when the Deputy's party was in Government.

When will the social welfare Bill be circulated?

I do not have the date but the Deputy is aware that the increases this year in social welfare payments were extremely beneficial for many categories of recipients.

I tabled an Adjournment matter for this evening on behalf of 300 people in Ardee, County Louth – a town with which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be familiar – who have lost their employment through the closure of the Hawkesbay plant. Surely the loss of 300 jobs in any county merits a few minutes' discussion? Can the Taoiseach provide me with a rational explanation of why my reasonable request has been overlooked?

The Deputy should submit his request again tomorrow. Thirteen Deputies submitted matters under Standing Order 21. Four were selected.

None related to factory closures.

Three hundred jobs have been thrown on the scrap-heap.

Are there any requests that relate to the loss of 300 jobs?

We cannot debate it now.