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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Feb 2000

Vol. 514 No. 3

Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 19, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Financial Resolution; No. 45, Statements on Northern Ireland; No. 46, Planning and Development Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 19 shall be decided without debate; and the pro ceedings on No. 45, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes and the statements which shall be confined to the Taoiseach and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case. Private Members' business shall be No. 99 – Motion re. Credit Unions.

On behalf of the Government, I convey heartfelt condolences to the families, relatives, comrades and friends of the four young Irish soldiers who were working for peace in Lebanon and who died yesterday in a tragic road traffic accident. Our thoughts are also with the families of the five soldiers injured in the same incident. I am glad all five are out of danger. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, is visiting the families of the deceased soldiers this afternoon to pass on the Government's condolences on their sad loss.

On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I join the Taoiseach in expressing our sympathy to the families of Declan Deere, John Murphy, Brendan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Lawlor who died in a tragic accident in Lebanon. These men came from a part of the country which has a strong military tradition. Athy, in particular, has given many people to the armed forces, many of whom lost their lives in this and previous centuries. It is a matter of grief to all of us in this House that these young men, who served their country and the cause of peace world-wide, should lose their lives in this terrible circumstance.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the deaths of four young members of the Defence Forces in a tragic accident in Lebanon. The families of the four deceased reside within a 12 mile radius of my home and three of them reside in my parish of Athy, so I know them well. This has been a major tragedy for the Defence Forces and for the parish of Athy. As the Labour Party's spokesperson on defence, I express my sympathy and that of my party to the Lawlor, Deere, Fitzpatrick and Murphy families, their wide circle of friends and members of the Defence Forces for the loss they suffered yesterday.

On behalf of the Green Party, I offer my condolences and sympathy to the families of Declan Deere, Brendan Fitzpatrick, John Murphy and Matthew Lawlor who served with the UNIFIL forces. Our loss is all the more deep given that their work was essential in preventing others from losing their lives and being injured in conflict. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families and to the UNIFIL forces on this tragic turn of events.

It was with great sadness that we learned of the tragedy in Lebanon yesterday which claimed the lives of four members of the Defence Forces and injured five more. Ireland has paid a huge price in its efforts to establish peace throughout the world. It is only when bodies come home that we realise the enormous sacrifice members of the Defence Forces make when they go overseas to serve in peacekeeping roles. On behalf of the people of Kildare, I extend my sympathy to the families and colleagues of Declan Deere, John Murphy, Brendan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Lawlor.

Members rose.

On the Order of Business, there are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 19 agreed?

Prior to agreeing No. 19, will this Bill be passed before passing the Planning and Development Bill in light of the importance of both and the fact the Government has dragged its feet for 20 years which could result in legal action being taken by the European Court for not complying with directives in this Bill?

It has been referred to a committee. It is a financial resolution. If we pass this, that is what will happen.

It has not yet been referred to a committee. It is only on Second Stage.

Is the Deputy opposing the question?

Question "That the proposal for dealing with No. 19 be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 45 agreed?

I am concerned about the effect of this proposal. The Ceann Comhairle told me that questions on Northern Ireland today would have been ruled out of order in anticipation of this order being made in the House at the request of the Government. That is not a good approach. We need to be able to ask questions about this matter. A series of statements, while welcome and useful to the Government in putting its views on the record, does not make up for Question Time. I make that point, although I am not expecting any result from it.

As the Deputy is aware, the Ceann Comhairle ruled questions out of order in accordance with the longstanding tradition in the House.

I fail to see how questions can be disallowed when the Order of Business follows Question Time.

We cannot debate this now. It is a longstanding tradition. If Members wish to change Standing Orders there is a way for them to do that.

No one knows the Order of Business until the Taoiseach stands up and announces it. For the sake of order in the House, I would like to bring it to the attention of all Members that, under this Standing Order, if a Minister does not like a question, all that Minister has to do is announce that he or she will make a statement and all questions will fall. That is not parliamentary democracy. It was not intended in the Standing Order that that should happen. It is an impossible position.

(Dublin West): When statements are made in the Dáil on important issues of the day, after the spokespersons of the main parties, there is usually a facility of ten minute slots for other Members who are called upon. This order is confined to the Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party only. The small parties which come to the House with the votes of the people, the Socialist Party, the Green Party, Sinn Féin and the Independents, are ruled out. I want the Taoiseach to make time available for us as well.

My point is similar. I ask the Taoiseach to take into account that in trying to find a solution to Northern Ireland, the voices of minorities are an essential part of the realisation that everyone has a place in a peaceful society. Will the Taoiseach bear that in mind? The example of this House is that we preach democracy but practice majoritarianism and stamp on smaller parties and voices.

The arrangements are in keeping with the Standing Order. It depends on the size of the party.

I rest my case.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 45 be agreed to" put and declared carried.

Has the Government decided when time will be made available next week to discuss the new social partnership programme, Programme for Prosperity and Fairness? Is the Taoiseach or the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in a position to indicate when a motion under section 25 of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Bill, 1996, will be brought before this House to enable a local development project to commence?

The Whips are trying to schedule a debate on social partnership next week. The other matter can be discussed with the Whips.

Has EU permission been granted to the Western Development Com mission to deal with the 200 applicants waiting for nearly 18 months for news—

That does not arise on the Order of Business.

It should, because it makes a mockery of the Western Development Commission.

Perhaps it should but it does not arise under the Standing Order.

We have dealt with component parts of an immigration strategy, all of which have been negative. When will we see the long promised immigration and residence Bill to provide a legislative basis for immigration in this State?

It is expected that the heads of the Bill will be published in the middle of the year and it is intended that legislation will be passed this year.

Is it intended to bring forward a separate Bill to accommodate the credit unions' demands on DIRT?

If there is not promised legislation, that is not in order.

Deputy Healy-Rae made an announcement at lunch time that he had set up a meeting between the Taoiseach and the credit unions.

The Deputy will have an opportunity to debate the matter in Private Members' business.

The marine emergency service Bill is set for 2001 but it is likely that it will be needed long before that given that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources has required 50 foot boats to go 25 miles out to sea to make a living. He is putting the lives of fishermen in peril.

The Bill is being prepared by the Department and is expected later this year.

(Mayo): The Government has been in office for two years and eight months. One of the clearest pledges made in the programme for Government was that it would set up special drugs courts. Is legislation required to do this and, if not, what is the problem?

It will happen shortly. The question of legislation may arise depending on the recommendations of a drugs courts planning committee. It has not been decided yet if legislation is required.

The Minister for the Envir onment and Local Government has announced that the next general election will employ electronic voting in a number of constituencies. When will legislation to allow for that be published?

Wait until the hackers get in. The Yahoo party is sitting opposite.

The legislation is being prepared.