The Order of Business will be No. 7, the National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill, 2000, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 45, the Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000 [Seanad], Second Stage (resumed) and Private Members' Business, No. 102, motion re inflation.
Order of Business.
There are no proposals on the Order of Business.
On a point of order, earlier today I brought a matter to your attention and you said you would allow me to raise it. I would like the Taoiseach to arrange for a statement to be made to this House and to all of the staff who have to work in it as to why solemn undertakings in relation to the completion of works were not upheld and why misinformation was given on two separate occasions today by the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan, this morning, and by the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, at midday – absolute mistruths as to what was happening. The staff of Leinster House working with the parliamentary parties, including the Minister of State's, Deputy Cullen's, were instructed by their union to leave the building earlier today for reasons of safety.
I do not want to sound churlish. We have wonderful new facilities but they are not yet ready for us to occupy. It is not possible for us, as an Opposition, to do the work we are expected to do over the next 48 hours while the Government and the Ministers retain to their advantage all the support systems we have been denied since last Thursday.
It is as difficult for us.
Earlier we sought an adjournment, Sir, but I am now seeking a clear and full statement by the relevant Minister. While the facilities are very welcome, a most misleading statement has been uttered and we cannot do our work.
Before the Dáil went into recess I pressed the Taoiseach for an assurance that the House would come back on the agreed date, that there would not be a slippage in the work and that the House would be ready for us when we came back. The Taoiseach has kept the first promise and we are back on the appointed day but things are not ready.
In the 1920s and 1930s Deputies operated without secretaries, with perhaps one telephone for the entire parliamentary party to use and wrote all their letters by hand, but we are not in that age any more. We are in an age when this is supposed to be a modern institution using modern communications. It is not possible for the Opposition to do its job when there is no typewriter operating, no Internet access and when most of the telephones are down and people cannot ring outside the House for information.
It is not right that Ministers have gone on radio today and yesterday saying that everything was ready when it was not. I cannot understand how the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, is still in office—
He was in Sydney for two weeks.
—after accepting responsibility for this project and not delivering. He was not here on the job. I understand he was abroad for a large part of the final period leading into the completion of this work. There should be accountability. How can this Government have credibility in talking about spending £14 billion on transport and doing all that on time when it cannot even get the refurbishment of this House completed on time? It has no credibility in so far as managing any major construction project is concerned. It cannot manage its own house, so how could it manage other people's houses?
We cannot have a full debate on this matter.
Before the Taoiseach comes in, there is a related matter, that is, the unequal treatment of some staff as compared to other staff. It is important that you ensure the arrangements entered into with staff of the House should apply to secretaries of TDs across the board because they are the people who did most of the work involved.
There is one other point of which the House should be aware. No later than last Thursday we sought assurances that the building would be ready today and we were assured it would be. Looking at it we thought it would not be ready and offered to stay in our old accommodation. We were told by the Minister of State's Department that was not necessary. The Minister of State stated several times today that the building is completed, ready and working. Will he withdraw that statement? He must withdraw that statement.
I call Deputy Flanagan.
The building is ready.
One cannot make a telephone call from the building. It is a disgrace.
The Minister of State is arrogant.
Why did the Minister of State not come over and see the building?
Goebbels had nothing on the Minister of State.
No wonder he is smiling. His office is perfect.
Earlier this afternoon—
At least the Minister of State believes his own propaganda.
The Government has Departments.
A Cheann Comhairle, earlier this afternoon I submitted a special notice question to your office on this matter. It was returned as unacceptable by you on the grounds that the matter was not urgent.
We cannot discuss a special notice question.
Could I put it to you, a Cheann Comhairle, that the matter is urgent?
Parliament has to function.
Could I put to you, a Cheann Comhairle, as chairman of the House and, as such, protector of the interests of individual Deputies, that you might take an interest in this matter? Clearly, the Ministers of State, Deputies Cullen and Brennan, do not appreciate the urgency of this matter and have gone further and misled the public and us, as parliamentarians, on this issue. As we speak, the offices in Leinster House 2000 are clearly not ready for occupation.
Needless to say most Members on all sides are suffering some inconvenience with computers and faxes today.
The Taoiseach has a typed sheet in front of him. No one on this side can get anything typed.
It is the Office of Public Works sheet.
The secretaries have not come in.
In fairness to the people involved, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the 300 workers who have worked at night for three weeks on this project. They worked through the night for two full weekends. They worked 16 hours a day to try to finish the project.
They did a good job but they were badly managed.
This is a £25 million project completed in three months. For the first time, it will provide offices for every Member. It will provide four state-of-the-art committee rooms and party assembly rooms linked with the old Leinster House.
It will provide them but they are all unfinished.
The building is available and ready for occupation but, unfortunately, every last detail is not finished.
It is not ready for occupation.
The staff are doing their utmost to complete the work.
Some offices have no floorboards.
Please allow the Taoiseach to finish.
We do not dispute the merits of the building. However, what the Taoiseach has read into the record is not true. He is not responsible for typing it but the building is not ready for occupation.
Please allow the Taoiseach to complete his statement.
People should show a little patience. This does not involve major hardship but people are working hard to finalise the building. I know it is inconvenient with telephones and faxes.
The Taoiseach should send us some pigeons.
I had to use a mobile telephone today to find the Whip because his office is not ready. We are trying to achieve it and it is better that we are back with a little inconvenience and people are doing their best.
There are no telephones, faxes, staff or computers.
They will work all night again tonight to try to deal with this. Deputy Rabbitte mentioned SIPTU. I asked about that issue. The information I received from the senior commissioner who has been overlooking this work all summer was that the union representing a number of Members' secretaries undertook an inspection of the new building in the company of Office of Public Works officials earlier today. The union commented favourably on the quality of the facilities and confirmed it was generally satisfied with the working environment for staff. However, the union indicated it would require enhanced ground surfaces outside the three fire exits. The Office of Public Works undertook to address this issue and work is in hand and will be completed later tonight. On this basis the union recommended that staff occupy offices in the new block from tomorrow morning.
And twiddle their thumbs.
Like any new building there will be minor snags for which I apologise if they are creating the significant difficulties people are suggesting. This will be programmed to avoid any disruption to the work of staff.
In addition to the new building, Members will be aware that a significant refurbishment of the five storey block is finished. Work on the 1932 annex in the engineering block was also undertaken. All this work has been successfully completed without any complaints today. Outstanding work on telephones, faxes, monitors and computers is being addressed as a matter of priority and all staff involved will work throughout the night.
Overall it is important to acknowledge what has been achieved in an extremely tight timescale. It is a £25 million project. This is the first time we have received such facilities and I apologise for the fact that everything is not perfect. We will try to achieve that as soon as possible.
To assist Members whose telephones remain out of service and to ensure that callers to Members' offices in Leinster House do not hear an out of order signal, the office can offer a facility to divert voice calls to other numbers.
Will Deputy Conor Lenihan take my calls?
Members who wish to avail of this facility should contact Charles Hearne at extension 3570.
This is farcical.
We cannot continue with a long discussion on this matter. I will allow Deputy Quinn to speak very briefly.
The point of my complaint on behalf of the staff of the parliamentary Labour Party and other Deputies in my party is that we were misled. Having offered to stay put last week we were told facilities would be ready but that has not proved to be the case. That is confirmed by the announcement you have just put on the record of the House, a Cheann Comhairle. We now need to recognise that the Government was not able to manage this project properly, get it finished as quickly as possible, after which the Government should get out of office.
The telephones are working on the Labour and Fine Gael floors. I do not know what the Deputy is talking about.
They were not working earlier.
The Deputy should go back to his office.
The Minister of State has not been on our floor all day.
I have been on the Deputy's floor since 6 a.m. I was with the Deputy's party leader on that floor last night.
This is a disgrace.
The Deputy is playing petty politics.
Order. I call Deputy Stagg.
This is quite extraordinary. Opposition parties co-operated fully in the development of this project through the Whip's office. I join with the Taoiseach in complimenting those who have brought it to this stage. If we were told that it would not be ready last Thursday we would have continued to co-operate. However, we were misled then and we are being misled now. I invited the Minister of State to come to the building today but I did not see him.
His health and safety people probably thought better of it.
I wonder why he cannot walk across and see it for himself.
I was there early this morning and this afternoon.
The most important point we should make is that the staff of the House have done extra work since last July which should be recognised equally by this House among various grades of staff.
If it helps the Deputy I will ask the Minister of State to go over and see what he is talking about.
I call Deputy John Bruton on the Order of Business.
I wish to make a clarification.
I have allowed too much latitude on this matter. Deputy Rabbitte very briefly.
The Taoiseach knows that when we raise the question of unequal treatment of staff we were not talking about wires hanging loose or outside doors being packed with crates. Some staff were properly given an emolument because of all the disruption but other staff were not given such a payment. There is an obligation on the Taoiseach to ensure that Members' secretaries are treated equally.
We must move on. I call Deputy John Bruton on the Order of Business.
Does the Taoiseach agree it would be useful to have a debate at this stage on the implementation of the national plan in view of the significant slippage in the achievement of its investment targets? If we are to qualify for full EU aid it is important that investments take place on time and not outside the period of the plan. Does the Taoiseach agree we should have a debate in which the Government would indicate the level of slippage, item by item, on the various investment projects involving roads, rail and so forth?
I see no difficulty with it.
Does the Taoiseach accept there has been slippage?
I accept there is an enormous amount going on.
We should wait for the debate.
When will we see sight of the Human Rights Bill? We were promised that it would be implemented coterminous with that in Northern Ireland. We are lagging behind again in one of our commitments under the Good Friday Agreement. I understand from newspaper articles published during the summer that there are internal disputes between Departments on this matter. When will the Bill be published?
During this session, a Cheann Comhairle.
When will the Medical Practitioners (No. 2) Bill be published? Will it take into account that some medical practitioners are now unilaterally doing away with evening surgeries for medical patients who are now being sent from Balbriggan to Drogheda where they have to diagnose themselves—
The contents of a Bill do not arise on the Order of Business.
I want to know whether there has been a change in the General Medical Service. Will this legislation bring about any change?
The Taoiseach, on the timing of the Bill. The Deputy is not in order in querying the contents of any Bill.
It is the only way I have. I tried to raise on the Adjournment the lack of services in Balbriggan.
It is out of order. This is not the right way to raise it. Deputy Yates.
What about the Bill? I did ask about that.
Work is in progress to update the Medical Practitioners Act. It will not be ready before next year.
I want to ask about the Road Traffic Bill. In 1998 the Minister for the Environment and Local Government promised, as part of a five year road safety strategy, that this would be given urgent priority. More than two years later we have not seen publication of the Bill, which was promised last year. When will it be published? Will it be taken during this session? Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, given his expertise in the area of speeding, penalty points and so on, or the Minister for the Environment and Local Government be taking this?
This Bill has been overdue now for two years. There has been much carnage on our roads since this House last met. Will the Taoiseach give an exact date for the publication of this long overdue Bill? In the preparation of the Bill, has the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has political responsibility for the implementation of road safety measures and will have political responsibility for the implementation of this Act, expressed any views on the content of the Bill? Will the Taoiseach make those views available to the House?
The contents of the Bill are not a matter for the House. Deputy Gormley, on the same subject.
Will the Taoiseach assure the House that Ministers' drivers will not be exempt from the provisions of the Bills, given the carnage on the roads and what we have just witnessed? Is it not clear that there is one law for the well connected and another for ordinary people?
That is not in order.
The Government gave approval to the drafting of the Road Traffic Bill on 26 July. The purpose of the Bill, as has been stated, is to provide for the introduction of a penalty points system. The penalty points system will track minor breaches of driving regulations with a view to improving the behaviour of those who recurrently commit such breaches. The design of the system, as stated in the Government's roads strategy, will require careful consideration because of the exclusive constitutional role of the Irish courts in the administration of justice. This required protracted examination of the legal position. The drafting of the Bill is now proceeding as a matter of urgency with a view to publication before the end of this year.
I would like the Taoiseach to arrange for a debate on the report into the tragedy of the four Air Corps helicopter pilots.
That is a matter for the Whips. It is not in order now.
It has serious implications for both the Minister for Defence and the Minister for the Marine. I want it discussed in this House.
It is not a matter for the Order of Business.
It is a very serious report and I would like the Whips to discuss putting it before this House.
(Dublin West): The report of the Commission on the Private Residential Sector was published in July 2000. The Taoiseach said previously in the Dáil that that would have to precede any legislation. Is the Taoiseach as incredulous as I am that in the entire legislative programme of the Government there is not a single word about legislation to deal with the awful plight of those dependent on private rented accommodation? Has the desperate plight of tenants at the mercy of merciless, rackrenting, robbing landlords escaped the Government? When will promised legislation to protect those living in private rented accommodation be brought before this Dáil? It is quite unacceptable that not for this year, nor for next year, is there any reference to it.
Is there any promised legislation?
There is no promised legislation, but the report is before the Housing Forum at present. As soon as its deliberations are finalised, if legislation is promised, it will be listed, but there is none at this stage.
(Dublin West): On that matter, we were held up for years waiting for this report.
The Deputy can table a parliamentary question.
(Dublin West): When will that last forum the Taoiseach mentioned report?
The Deputy can follow up that with a parliamentary question.
At the end of the last session this House appointed a commission of inquiry. Last week we read that the chairperson of that committee of inquiry told the public that the Government had obstructed the work of the inquiry by failing to develop a basis on which children who were abused in institutions would have legal representation and by failing to provide a system of compensation. It is a very serious matter when a tribunal—
Does the Deputy have a question on promised legislation?
Does the Government intend bringing forward legislation to deal with the issue of compensation for victims of child abuse in institutions? Does the Taoiseach agree that to have the chairperson of that commission telling the Government that it is obstructing its work is a serious reflection on this House? We should treat people who have been victims of abuse properly.
The Deputy must resume his seat. This is the Order of Business.
It is a deplorable reflection on the Government.
Is there promised legislation?
No. The Deputy knows it is not an issue of promised legislation and that he is out of order. For his information, the matters which were creating difficulties are the subject of direct consultation with the Minister, and they will be resolved.
On a point of order—
The Deputy is out of order. The Taoiseach has said there is no promised legislation.
I am not out of order. There is legislation. The Taoiseach is not reflecting the true position in relation to this matter. He has not given an adequate answer.
It is now two years since the Government decided to set up a single authority to regulate essential services. I note that it does not appear on the Government's A list. Perhaps the Taoiseach could tell us whether he has now given up any hope of consensus between the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance? Can we expect this will be published during the term of this Government?
The matter is still under discussion. Nobody has given up on trying to find a resolution. It is hoped that we can do that shortly.
The Taoiseach has said on many occasions in the Financial Services Centre, and I have heard him say it, that this is an extremely important issue. He has now told the House on a dozen occasions that he is trying to get agreement between two of his own Ministers on implementing a decision of Government already taken. The one sentence reply he has given here today is wholly inadequate.
The matter cannot be discussed.
I note from the Government's legislative programme that the Ground Rent Bill, which was promised to abolish ground rents, is now down at No. 72. While we are told that work is in progress in the Department, the heads of that Bill have yet to be approved. That is some progress. Can we expect that Bill to come before the House before the lease expires on this Government?
I have outlined many times the difficulties of finalising this legislation. I have given details of what a number of Attorneys General have said about it. That still remains the position.
Two years ago we were given a commitment that private security legislation would be brought before the House. When will a Bill be published? When does the Taoiseach envisage a debate on it? Will the Taoiseach also confirm that there is no one in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform driving this legislation?
I am glad to tell Deputy Farrelly that it will be taken this session. It is now almost ready.
In view of the fact that approximately 30% of children are now born to single parents and that some of them are vulnerable, particularly in certain part of the country, will the Taoiseach consider expediting the legislation on the appointment of a children's ombudsman? In some areas there has been a fourfold increase in the number of children being admitted to hospital following physical abuse. I ask that it be given urgent consideration.
I will endeavour to do that. The heads of the Bill were approved earlier this year and I know that there is quite an amount of work involved. It is a question of priority. It is just that it is not finished, but I will ask about it.
It is more than three years since it was initiated.
Taking into consideration that Second Stage of the Broadcasting Bill, 1999, was completed some months ago, does the Government intend bringing that Bill before the Dáil again in this session? If the Minister is publishing amendments, when can we expect them? Does the Taoiseach realise that this undue delay is jeopardising the successful introduction of digital terrestrial television?
I understand that Bill is with a committee.
Yes, but the Minister has indicated that there will be significant amendments to the Bill. Could the Taoiseach let the House know what is happening because this is a serious matter for the national broadcaster?
Fairly major changes are to be brought forward on Committee Stage. The Minister is trying to finalise them. I will ask the Minister to indicate a date to the Deputy.
Why has the Bill to ratify the establishment of the International Criminal Court been deferred until next year? That was to be published this year. We should be giving a lead on the International Criminal Court and I want an explanation. Why has that Bill, which will require a referendum, been put off until next year in the current schedule? Surely the Government should be in a position to give the lead and produce the legislation at this stage?
He should ask the Americans.
We signed that convention two years ago. What is the reason for the delay?
The work on the issue is in progress in the Department. They are saying that it will be early next year before the Bill will be brought before the House. There will be a referendum to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. I would say it is just a question of drafting it and publishing.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur maidir le Bille na Gaeilge. Tá an Bille seo curtha siar go dtí uimhir 41 faoi láthair. Tá sé ar an tríú liosta cé go bhfuil sé geallta le píosa fada ag an Aire Stáit. Tá an cosúlacht ar an scéal anois nach dtarlóidh sé taobh istigh de réimse an Rialtais seo. While the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands is struggling with her amendments to the Broadcasting Bill, 1999, her other three pieces of legislation are scheduled for mid to late 2001, which is, I suppose, an aspiration for a future life. In the meantime might I ask about Bille na Gaeilge, which was committed with great huff and puff in all the Gaeltachtaí by her cousin, the Minister of State? Is the official language equality Bill as dead as a dodo, as it appears, and have all the promises given to people, who wanted to transact their business on an equal basis through the Irish language, just gone?
The Bill to provide a framework for the delivery of State services bilingually or through the medium of the Irish language will be ready next summer.
Next summer, summer 2001?
According to the Aire Stáit.
It will come with the cuckoo.