The Order of Business today shall be No. 37, the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Bill, 1999 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 38, the Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 2, the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 95, motion re appointment of Mr. Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank, resumed, to conclude at 8.30 p.m.
Order of Business.
There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy John Bruton on the Order of Business.
With regard to the preparation of the promised Postal and Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill for ESOP and An Post and the Telecommunications Regulation Bill, is the Government in agreement with the chief executive of Eircom that the people who bought shares were duped and that the Government overpriced the shares in a fashion that has done damage to the prospect of future sales of shares to the public of assets that were previously State owned?
The amendment to the Postal and Telecommunications Act, 1983, will make provision for ESOP and An Post. The heads of the Bill are in preparation and the legislation is expected next month.
Will the Taoiseach answer the substantial point of my question? All the people are talking today about the fact that the chief executive of Eircom said the Government overpriced the shares. As he was one of those responsible for this decision and given that he has a financial background, is the Taoiseach contradicting what Mr. Alfie Kane said?
The prospectus and the price range set prior to the flotation were agreed by the Government and the company. Mr. Alfie Kane is the chief executive of that company. The final price of 3.07 was within this price range and just above the mid-point of the range. The balance sheet of the company at the time of the flotation was very strong. The price set by the Government for Eircom at the flotation was set on the basis of what the market was prepared to pay. The strategic partners in Eircom were prevented from selling their shares in the company for up to six months. The position was made clear in both the main prospectus and the mini prospectus.
The pricing of the shares in July 1999 was a delicate one, balancing the need for a fair price for the taxpayers and a fair return for retail and institutional investors. The Government could have chosen to float the company at a higher price than it did but chose not to do so. The joint global co-ordinators at the time wanted us to float it at 3.27.
Did the Taoiseach know that the shares were overvalued by 30%?
In the immediate aftermath of the flotation the shares rose by 20%. The share price has been below the issue price on 35 of the 230 days since their launch and the potential return for Eircom investors—
The chief executive said the shares were overvalued by 30%.
Deputy Yates should resume his seat.
Did the Minister know that?
The Deputy is being disorderly.
The balloons and champagne have gone very flat.
The average price since the IPO launch has been 3.32 and the share price has been below the issue price on 35 days out of the 230 days since the launch. Bonus shares of one for every 25 shares held will be issued to people who retain their shares after July. That is equivalent to 4% interest.
This is a mess.
We cannot debate this matter further now. This is the Order of Business, it is not a debate. I call Deputy Quinn on the Order of Business.
I am sure that when it next goes to the polls the electorate will bear in mind the lecture by the Taoiseach on the vagaries of capitalism. Last week the House debated the issue of donations to political parties. On schedule A of the list of promised legislation is a Standards in Public Office Bill – No. 8 under the Minister for Finance. This Bill has been in formulation in committee prior to its publication. I understand that committee work has been completed and the Bill is due to be completed between now and the end of this session, which is four weeks away. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Bill will be published?
The Government's intention was to publish the Bill this session but Deputy Quinn will recall that two weeks ago because suggestions were made regarding many other issues that would not perhaps have been comprehensively dealt with in that legislation, I offered some new ideas and suggested we would cover some of those items in that Bill and discuss them in an all-party committee of the House. I still think that is the best way forward. If that offer is not taken up, then the Government will publish the legislation.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the work of the committee has already been done in respect of this legislation and it is incumbent on the Government to publish that legislation if it is ready to be published? The offer to which he has just referred was only made last week. This legislation was scheduled for publication this session, of which there are only four weeks left. Will the Taoiseach publish it?
On a matter I have raised already, does the Taoiseach agree that we should have a debate in the House on the pricing of the Eircom shares given that we need to have people willing to invest in shares as part of the preparation for their own retirement and the accumulation of savings in productive business? Would the Taoiseach agree that this mess has done a great deal of damage which could best be allayed by an open debate in the House rather than by the ex parte statement he has just made, to which the Opposition does not have the capacity to respond?
If it is an appropriate matter for debate then it can be looked at. If we are to get into a position where we debate the ups and downs every time there is movement in the shares of companies that have been floated—
The issue is one of information. The chief executive officer said the public did not know. The Minister will go on the "Today with Pat Kenny" show but she cannot make a statement.
The Taoiseach without interruption.
We cannot have a debate in the House every time share prices go up and down. I advise Deputy Yates when he is talking about public flotations and flotations of this type, there are prudential rules that have to be followed. In this case, the company had both international and domestic advisers. The decision was based on advice which cost about £28 million to secure.
What Mr. Kane said this morning was not known by the public when they bought the shares.
What information was known to the Government?
I heard what Mr. Kane said this morning but he was chief executive of a company that agreed at the time.
On promised legislation, will the Garda Síochána Bill, No. 69 on the published list, encompass issues touched on last night relating to concern about the Garda Síochána complaints procedure?
The contents of proposed or promised legislation are not a matter for the Order of Business.
It is normal when the schedule is published for a resumé of the contents of the Bill to be included. Will they include any amendments to the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act and if not, is there other legislation that will update that legislation in the light of public disquiet?
The heads of the Garda Síochána Bill are to be circulated to the Departments for observations. It is unlikely that Bill will be circulated until next year. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is completing a review of the operation of the Garda Síochána (Complaints) Act, 1986, to which the Deputy referred. It is doing that on the basis of recommendations for change made by the complaints board. I do not have the details of that. I understand the Minister hopes to be able to bring to Government over the summer proposals for improvements to the Act .
(Mayo): On promised legislation, eight young heroin addicts died in Dublin hospitals over the past two weeks and three in the past 48 hours from suspected doctored or contaminated heroin. When will we come to grips with the growing drugs epidemic and when we will see the long-promised legislation concerning the drugs courts which will recommend a humane treatment regime rather than the existing regime of throwing drug addicts into prison where they do not receive any treatment?
The Garda is investigating the case mentioned by Deputy Higgins so I will not comment on it. Proposals for legislation to set up the drugs court should arise from the Government decision agreeing to the establishment of the planning committee which has made proposals which the Minister is considering.
Will any promised legislation deal pro-actively with the runaway growth in greenhouse gas emissions? The Irish energy centre Bill seems to refer to the issue. Is that to be brought forward and is any similar legislation to follow? Is the Taoiseach aware of the flaw in the Waste Management Act which has failed to obtain any prosecutions in the courts? Is there any legislation promised in that area which would try to close off that legal loophole?
That is not in order on the Order of Business.
Work is in progress in the Department on the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. The heads are expected in July and the legislation will be here in the autumn.
I did not ask about that. I asked about the Irish energy centre Bill.
The heads of that Bill are expected in June.
Does the Government intend to introduce legislation to control the price of petrol and diesel? There is a discrepancy of 35p to 40p pence a gallon countrywide.
Questions of that nature are not in order. They must be on promised legislation.
Does the Taoiseach intend to bring in legislation? Perhaps the Minister for Public Enterprise might give us an answer.
That is not in order. It must be clearly promised legislation.
There are two outstanding Bills which have been promised. The first is the national pension reserve fund, No. 6 on the list, and the second one is the National Treasury Management Agency Bill, which has been promised now for just over three years in one guise or another. Can the Taoiseach confirm that both of those Bills will be published within the next four weeks?
Yes, the national pension fund reserve Bill to establish the national pension reserve fund to help finance the cost of social welfare and public pensions should be published shortly. I am not sure when but it will be this session. The National Treasury Management Agency Bill will also be published this session.
Before Easter I raised with the Taoiseach the question of the judges inquiry Bill that arose last year in the context of the possible implementation of a threat to impeach judges under the Constitution. At the time it was pointed out that we did not have a judges inquiry Bill setting out the legislative steps that should be taken and how the impeachment process would be handled in this House. Since then, we have had a recommendation from the all-party committee for a judges inquiry Bill. We now have another inquiry under way into a judge and the question may have to be faced fairly quickly as to how we would handle an impeachment process in the House. Does the Taoiseach accept the need for a judges inquiry Bill to deal with the impeachment process and can he tell the House at this stage whether he will take steps to introduce such a measure?
Is this promised legislation?
Will he introduce it quickly because it may be needed quickly?
I accept there is a need to deal with this matter. There is a judges inquiry commission under the Chief Justice examining this area. We may have to deal with it by reference to the Constitution. Whatever we do in legislation will be on the basis of the report of the committee currently working on this, which was set up this time last year. I do not know what stage its work is at, but we await its report.
Will the Taoiseach accept that there is or may be a certain urgency for such legislation in the light of a report which is imminent on a certain investigation? When will we see legislation before the House on the basis that it might be needed very quickly?
As I said previously it is a matter which has to be dealt with given the gaps found last year. As soon as the committee completes its work legislation will be needed.
Sooner rather than later.
Will the Government make provision in the proposed company law consolidation Bill to ensure that in future share issues on behalf of State companies the chief executive will be required to state his opinion as to the value of the share at the time rather than a situation arising where the Government states—
The Deputy is inquiring about the content of legislation; he should approach the matter in a different way.
The Taoiseach has accused him of agreeing. On radio this morning he said he did not. There is a direct conflict of evidence between the Taoiseach and Alfie Kane.
I have ruled on the matter on which I have allowed much latitude. I remind the Deputy that we are on the Order of Business.
There is a direct conflict of evidence between the Taoiseach and the chief executive of our major telecom company. Does the Taoiseach agree this is serious and should be provided for in the company law consolidation Bill so that it never happens again? It has done great damage to people's willingness to buy shares.
Does the Taoiseach wish to comment?
A number of company law Bills will come through. Unfortunately, because of the noise, Deputy Bruton did not hear what I said. I said the prospectus and price range set prior to flotation were agreed by the Government and the company. To the best of my knowledge Alfie Kane was chief executive of the company at the time.
The price range but not the price. The Government chose within the range and it chose wrongly.
The Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill – amendments from the Seanad – which deals with child abuse was listed for last week and then withdrawn. It is not on the list for this week. All the amendments were drafted by the Department. The reason I was given was that it was not ready to proceed. Is this a mistake? Surely it must be ready to proceed with its own amendments. When will the Bill be taken in the House? Why is it not listed for this week?
The Deputy has given the answer; as soon as the amendments are ready the Bill will proceed.
The amendments are drafted. That is not an adequate explanation. They were drafted and circulated by the Department. There must be another explanation. I would like to hear it.
We cannot debate the matter now on the Order of Business. I call Deputy McGahon.
It is parliamentary business.
It is extremely important.
We have been waiting for years for the Bill.
I have called Deputy McGahon.
It is a fair point. The Bill has passed through the other House. Is it the case that departmental officials are not available as distinct from not being ready? It appears there is a conflict. We seek to have the matter clarified, no more. One must presume the officials who drafted the amendments are ready to proceed with them. They may not be available for other reasons but we need to know.
As the Deputy will recall the Government accepted the Labour Party Bill on the matter and has been trying to expedite it as best it can. It is my information that there is further work to be done in the Department. As soon as this is completed the Bill will proceed.
That is not acceptable.
That is not an adequate explanation.
It does not matter who the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is, the legislative workload of the Department is enormous. This is a House of legislation—
We cannot have arguments on the Order of Business.
If there is additional work to be done it should be done on the floor of the House to take the load off those who think they have a monopoly of legislative wisdom which nobody has. The Bill is already late. People are debarred from taking actions which they should be able to take largely because of inertia in the Civil Service. I urge the Taoiseach to reconsider the matter and bring the Bill forward in its current form.
The Deputy is making a statement; this is not in order on the Order of Business.
That we accepted the Bill is proof that we did not think we had a monopoly of wisdom on the issue. When work is completed in the Department the Bill will be brought forward by the Minister.
Can we now hear Deputy McGahon?
I had to give way to my cousin.
The Deputy's rich cousin.
Is the Taoiseach aware that there were two savage punishment beatings in Dundalk last week—
The Deputy should raise that matter in another way.
—leaving two people grievously injured? Is he aware there was a similar attack in south Armagh three weeks ago in which a young man received five bullet wounds? Will he condemn these atrocious attacks and take up the matter with his pals in IRA-Sinn Féin or is this part of the appeasement of the IRA adopted by the British and Irish Governments?
I have allowed the Deputy to make his point, even though he should have sought other ways to do so.
It is a very fair point, a necessary one.
I condemn punishment beatings and acts of violence anywhere and will continue to do so.