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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001

Vol. 542 No. 6

Order of Business.

The Order of Business will be No. 53, Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Bill, 2000 – Report and Final Stages (resumed); No. 52, Family Support Agency Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed), to be taken not later than 12.15 p.m. and the order shall resume thereafter; No. 7, Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken immediately following the announcement of matters under Standing Order 21.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 52 shall be taken not later than 12.15 p.m. and, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. and the order shall resume thereafter; and (2) Question Time tomorrow shall be taken at 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and in the event of a private notice question being allowed, it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m. and the order shall not resume thereafter.

Private Members' business shall be No. 117, motion re commissioning of MOX plant at Sellafield (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 52, the conclusion of Second Stage of the Family Support Agency Bill, 2001, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal relating to the taking of Question Time tomorrow agreed to? Agreed. I will now take Leaders' questions.

Sula chuirim ceist ar an dTaoiseach ba mhaith liom fáiltiú roimh lucht féachana TG4 agus tréaslú le bainistíocht an stáisiún lán Ghaelaigh sin as ucht an tseans atá tugtha aige do mhuintir na hÉireann cúrsaí agus díospóireachtaí na Dála a fheiscint. Tá súil agam go n-aontaíonn gach éinne leis sin. Against the background of yesterday's events, especially the statement by General de Chastelain's commission, Fine Gael welcomes what is an historic report. We are very supportive of the decision that the IRA is putting weapons permanently beyond use. We all share the hope that this breakthrough will lead to the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and that the Agreement will become the Good Friday settlement for the next generation. Does the Taoiseach agree that those loyalist paramilitary organisations which are no longer officially engaged in a ceasefire should be immediately encouraged to resume their ceasefires as a first step to putting their weapons beyond use?

I call on Deputy Quinn to ask a supplementary question.

I also welcome the viewers of TG4 to the Order of Business. I hope the management of TG4 will extend coverage to the Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle and the committees of the House. We owe a debt to TG4 in that respect, although the same could be said of it owing a debt to the House having regard to the amount of money voted by the House to underwrite its costs.

Does the Taoiseach share the concern of many for the Nationalist people living in the Ardoyne due to the trouble they continue to experience? Trouble is actually far too mild a word to describe the daily harassment young children are still experiencing. It behoves all in Northern Ireland, particularly the RUC, to ensure that this level of sectarian harassment is eliminated on the streets of any village, town or city in Northern Ireland. That would remove any residual reliance upon paramilitaries to provide protection for communities. It has no place in the new Ireland. Can the Taoiseach ensure that over the next 48 hours of the ongoing discussions attention will focus on the fears of people living in certain isolated communities, be they loyalists or Nationalists? Those fears must be dealt with effectively by the legitimate forces of law and order.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte Uí Cheallaigh a chur roimh lucht féachana TG4 atá linn ar maidin don chéad uair. Beidh Riar na hOibre á chraoladh ag TG4 gach Céadaoin agus Déardaoin as seo amach. Is maith an rud é sin agus tá súil agam go mbeidh suim mhór ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge san obair thábhachtach atá ar siúl sa Dáil.

Obair as Gaeilge.

Bímid ag obair as Gaeilge agus as Béarla. Níl mo chuid Gaeilge chomh maith agus atá Gaeilge an Teachta Sargent. Ní raibh mé i mo mhúinteoir.

I thank Deputy Noonan for his positive remarks and the House for its support during this effort. Through all the Question Times on this issue the House has been positive in its support of the efforts to achieve what was accomplished yesterday. It is appreciated. We would probably not have had this success without a united House. There was no way for people to ignore the hard realities of this issue.

I very much welcome what was achieved yesterday. It provides an opportunity for movement. It is almost a year to the week since the institutions ran into difficulties. It was on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend last year that we encountered the problem of the exclusion of Sinn Féin Ministers from the North-South bodies, which led to the tension that followed. We must now move quickly to get the institutions working. The assembly is operating and will continue to do so and the Executive will put the First Minister and his Ministers back in position. The North-South bodies also have to be put back to work very speedily. I hope that will be done over the next day or two. We will be in talks to make sure it happens.

There has been an enormous amount of activity by loyalists this summer and it has continued into the autumn. The pipe bomb attacks which have become synonymous with loyalists have continued to occur practically every day and right up until recent days. I hope they will desist from that activity. In many of the difficult areas it is putting pressure on individuals to respond. My attention is daily directed to the fact that members of the paramilitary groups on ceasefire have been attacked and criticised by their communities for not responding. They are being taunted to respond, but thankfully they have not done so. The best way to move on is for the loyalists to join in the ceasefire and for those who have control to get them to desist from these activities. I also hope the recent action by the Secretary of State in coming down on the loyalist groups will have some effect. We all want to see their leadership stop the violence and get on with the peace process.

I had the opportunity to meet Father Aidan Troy last week and there is no doubt that the actions at the Holy Faith School in the Ardoyne are extraordinary. Every morning and evening a huge number of RUC officers have to move into the area. They go through the daily ritual whereby everybody takes up positions, which would be laughable if it were not so serious. However, the people affected are small children and they and their parents are terrified. Everybody else is terrified. Every morning everybody does exactly the same thing. People have told me that it has become part of the ritual of their day, with the same actions and scenes being repeated, except for the violent incidents which happen every so often. It is far more serious than mere ritual because these children cry through this every morning. Before it starts they are playing and dancing, but then the ritual begins and they are terrorised. They get to school and it takes them an hour to settle. A number of the children have had stress and trauma problems in recent weeks. While adults can perhaps take this – though I am not so sure that is true – children cannot. I take the opportunity provided by Deputy Quinn's questions to appeal to people to stop it. The parents cannot back down and they will not back down. Only a small number of children have left the school and the rest will stick with it. It has nothing to do with solving the problem of paramilitary groups. Father Troy is doing his best and is prepared to talk to anybody in the Glenbryn estate and elsewhere to find a resolution. The success of yesterday gives people an opportunity to think and to stop these actions as quickly as possible.

All of us in this House have heard the word "historic" being used from time to time. It is probably much abused, but yesterday was historic. It would be appropriate to mark such an historic event by providing information to the House by way of debate or statement. There is to be a debate on the matter in the House of Commons today and this House should mark the historic occasion by at least having statements if not a full debate.


Hear, hear.

I do not press the issue with a view to contention but I ask the Taoiseach to initiate discussions among the Whips after the Order of Business to see if it is possible to have statements commencing at about 4.15 p.m.

I do not have a problem with that if time affords the opportunity.

Why has this Government effectively sabotaged the viability of Aer Lingus over the past four and a half years? Why has it changed its political direction on, and attitude to, the airline? Why did it have Aer Lingus up for sale, withdraw the Bill to provide for the floatation and then change its mind again? Why has the Government signally failed to raise this matter in a meaningful way at the informal Council in Ghent last week? Why has the crisis in Aer Lingus not rated the same level of priority as far lesser issues which have demanded so much of the Taoiseach's personal time and attention? Why is one of the only island states of the European Union being directed by an ideologically driven Commission? The Commission is interpreting the rules in the most rigid way and in some cases misinterpreting Article 87 or 92. Why has this Government capitulated so spectacularly to the bureaucratic pressures of the Commission and we now have a forced fire sale of 35% of the equity of Aer Lingus? That sends a clear signal to everyone that this proud State company is now a wounded bird ready to be picked up by anybody who has the money to do so.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the Government's decision to sell 35% of Aer Lingus is a clear manifestation of its failure to persuade the Commission to allow it to put equity into the airline through guaranteed loans to secure its future? Is it not amazing that the government in the United States, which has the most liberal economic philosophy, can underpin its aviation industry? The European Commission and the Irish Government run up the white flag and allow the terrorists to take another trophy – the destruction of Aer Lingus – after the destruction they visited upon the United States.

This Government did nothing for two and a half years when Aer Lingus was getting into increasing difficulty. The cataclysmic events of 11 September have brought about the forced sale or fire sale of the airline because the Government has no other strategy.

The Taoiseach has very little influence in Europe now, but he and the Government should think again. We will support him on this side of the House in getting the Commission to put equity into Aer Lingus and not sell it in the current circumstances.

The Government is endeavouring to help Aer Lingus manage itself through the very stark difficulties it currently faces. In the early months of this year, Aer Lingus was in the news because it was in a financial position to give substantive increases to various members of staff. It looked as if it would have a healthy year. That changed during the summer and, certainly, the outlook became even worse after the events of 11 September.

Yesterday, we had an hour and 40 minutes of questions to the Minister for Public Enterprise. I do not want to cover that ground again, but the objective of the Government is to save the company. We do not want to see it go into receivership, examinership, or liquidation. We want to see the company saved with a maximum amount of jobs in the future and we want to maintain its viability. We will keep the lines of communication with the EU Commission open, although we understand the rules. We do not want to be in a position where Aer Lingus will get limited aid from the EU Commission and have to go into receivership to do that, nor do we want to have to proceed through courts only to find the company in such difficulty that it will have to sell anyway in a month's time without having solved anything.

Any package we negotiate with the Commission will have to ensure the viability of the company. If we give State aid in a manner that does not conform to the rules, one would have to wait for more than a year as the company continued to haemorrhage. It is losing £15 million per week, £2 million a day. It is important to save and protect the company for the future and sustain as many jobs as we can. We have to look at all options. The Minister for Public Enterprise made it clear yesterday that one of those options is to see if we can get a strategic partner alliance and have somebody invest equity in the company. It is the right thing to do for the short term and, probably, the long term. We will see if this is possible. The Minister for Public Enterprise has written to the chairman of Aer Lingus requesting him to pursue the stated investment course of action and the internal negotiations within the company. We also want to look after the staff.

The Taoiseach does not care about the staff.

Order, please.

If the Government did not care about the staff—

It does not care about the staff.

The Taoiseach was not prepared to take on the Eurocrats.

The Government takes the view—

Order, please. Please allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Deputy Owen should stop misleading her constituents.

So much for the democrats.


Please allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Those watching for their first time on TG4 today will know that whenever the Opposition does not like the truth, it objects to—


Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach without interruptions.

The Government wants to make sure that as many jobs as possible are sustained, that the other staff are looked after properly and that the company is kept viable.

Stand up to the Commission.

People will say there are easy solutions such as statutory redundancies, but it is not our intention to take that route. The Government has looked at every option, but the main issue is the viability of the company. We do not want to hear people saying there are easy options – if we take them, we will end up without Aer Lingus. That is the last thing this Government wants. Maybe other people want that, but not us.


Hear, hear.

Article 87 of the European Community Treaty states explicitly that State aid is permissible in certain sets of circumstances. Paragraph 2(b) states that aid can be granted "to make good the damage caused by natural disasters". What else was foot and mouth disease? It states can also be given in "exceptional circumstances". What else were the events of 11 September?

The Government has failed spectacularly through political incompetence and a lack of political friendship in the Council of Europe to insist with the Commission that, in the present circumstances, State aid is warranted to restructure Aer Lingus, without confusing the issue with forced privatisation in the manner of the right-wing ideologues in the European Commission. Why has the Taoiseach submitted to the terrorism of the European Commission in relation to this issue? Why has he not fought the issue in the courts, if necessary, to restructure Aer Lingus as is needed? The issue should not be confused by weakening the very future of the company by having a fire sale of 35% as the pre-condition imposed by the Commission. It is not necessary under the interpretation of Article 87, paragraph 2(b) of the treaty. The Government has run up the white flag in submission to this because it is without friends in Europe.


Deputy Quinn should know that contact and debate with the Commission has taken place and is continuing to go on. The reality is ongoing—

The Commission has won.

The Taoiseach has changed his policy.

The Government wants to achieve viability for Aer Lingus in the future and ensure the maximum number of staff can remain employed in it. It can do that—

With the forced fire sale.

—and there will not be a forced fire sale. Any of the negotiations will be concerned with maintaining the maximum number of staff and looking after the staff that have to go. That is the Government's policy, which it will continue to honour, in the best interests of Aer Lingus in the future.

That concludes the Leaders' questions. We will proceed to other relevant questions on the Order of Business.

As we speak, the Belgian Prime Minister, who holds the presidency of the Council of Ministers, is reporting to the Belgian Parliament on the Ghent Summit. Romano Prodi, Pres ident of the Commission, is reporting to the European Parliament on the summit.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach took decisions in Ghent which involved representations from this House. Yet, he is refusing to report to the House, in breach of the practice and precedent of dealing with clearly planned informal summits in spring and in autumn. I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider his position and to make suitable arrangements, either tomorrow or early next week, so we can have normal reporting of an informal summit, which has been the custom in this House.

Questions about debate are not in order. It is a matter for the whips.

What is the promised legislation?

The Ghent Summit was the summit in which Aer Lingus was surrendered to the bureaucrats.

Very briefly, Deputy. It is a matter for the Whips.

The Taoiseach said yesterday on the Order of Business that it was not the convention, although he was not necessarily correct, to report and have statements in the House on summits of the European Commission. On behalf of the Labour Party, in support of the request by the leader of the Fine Gael party, I ask the Taoiseach to have statements and questions in respect of every European summit of heads of Government, formal or informal.

The Deputy should not continue. I have pointed out to the—

We have discussed the lack of accountability in the House.

The Chair has pointed out to the Deputy that it is not in order to raise the matter in this way. It is a matter for the Whips. Only questions on promised legislation are in order.

The Taoiseach said it was not a practice. Will he give an undertaking that he will change the practice?

It is a matter for the Whips, but I will call the Taoiseach.

I do not oppose a change in practice but I make it absolutely clear that at no time when we were in Opposition did the then Government have statements on informal Councils. Last year I was asked—

What about Stockholm and Berlin?

No, an informal council—

Order, please. I am allowing the Taoiseach to make a brief reply.

A Cheann Comhairle, you allowed others to answer, so I have some rights.

The Taoiseach should not get tetchy. He is on television.

There are three types of Councils. There are the June and December Councils.

They are the formal ones.

Yes. The spring Council for the past three years since Lisbon has also been considered formal. There is only one informal Council. If we want to change the position, I do not have any problem with examining that.

That is my request.

No, the Deputy's request was for questions and answers. He said last year that we should use the committees of the House and I did that. I wish people had turned up when I sent Ministers to these committees.

Especially your own.


Order, please.

The Government will try to deal with European issues as best it can and we will debate the issue with the Whips. I will ask the Whips to come to an agreement.

I call Deputy Howlin on the Order of Business.

A Cheann Comhairle—

This matter is closed.

There was such uproar at the end of the Taoiseach's statement that I do not know whether he gave a commitment. I want to hear what he said. That is reasonable.

Perhaps the House will allow the Taoiseach to repeat what he said.

I do not have any difficulty with the Whips agreeing a suitable time.

Early next week.

As soon as possible.

I call Deputy Howlin.

Yesterday on the Order of Business the Taoiseach, while doing arithmetic on the spot, conceded that 36 Bills are promised from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Another announcement was made by the Minister regarding the publication and enactment of a Garda inspectorate Bill. In terms of the priorities the Taoiseach outlined yesterday, when will this Bill be published and will he give a commitment that it will be enacted before the end of the term of office of the current Administration?

Work is in progress on the Garda inspection and complaints Bill which is to introduce inspection arrangements for the Garda Síochána. I do not have a date for it—

Another flyer.

—but I hope it will be one of the many Bills enacted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Government has published its legislative proposals to compensate victims of abuse in State institutions. When will that matter be brought before the House for a Second Stage debate?

When the House resumes after the bank holiday weekend, we will be within one week of an ASTI threat to close second level schools throughout the country. What plans, if any, does the Government have to avoid the closure of such schools?

The question is not in order. The Deputy should table a parliamentary question.

It is a relevant issue for pupils, their parents and teachers throughout the country.

It is not in order at this stage. There are other ways to raise the matter. Now is not the proper time.

There are no plans to avert this unnecessary dispute.

The Deputy is out of order and should resume his seat.

I asked about promised legislation.

Yes, but the Deputy became disorderly. Once that happens and he continues to be disorderly, his question cannot be answered.

Last June the House passed Second Stage of the European Union Bill in the name of the Labour Party which would have provided for much greater accountability within the Houses for the activities of the Government in respect of the European Union. When will Committee and Report Stages be taken?

It is a Private Members' Bill awaiting consideration by a select committee. It is a matter for the Chairman of the relevant committee to work it out.

That is not the position. Due to the fact the Bill was accepted and adopted by the Government, we were given to understand that, while it remains a Private Members' Bill, the Government would promote its passage through the committee. Since the Government controls the committee, it is reasonable to ask if it is the Government's intention to promote the Bill actively and ensure it goes through Committee Stage.

That is a matter for the committee.

No, it is not any more. The movement of business through the House is decided by the Government Chief Whip and the Government Chairs of the various committees. In this instance, they control the passage of any legislation on Committee Stage. I believe I am in order to ask what priority is being given to the Bill and when we will see it.

A normal Bill goes through Second Stage in the House and proceeds to a committee which either deals with it or does not. There is no report back from the committee. I have not received any report from the committee in question and I do not believe the Deputy has asked the Chairman of it to report either.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte speisialta a chur roimh lucht féachanna TG4 ar maidin. Tá Gaeltacht mhór sa Ghaillimh agus tá súil agam go mbeidh spéis mhór ag muintir na Gaeltachta sin agus ag an bpobal go ginearálta sa chlár seo.

When will the long-awaited report on the management structures of the University College Hospital Galway be published?

That matter would be the subject of a parliamentary question.

I am doing that as well.

I call Deputy Sargent.

I am covering all options because it is very difficult to get a straight answer on this issue which has been ongoing for two years.

Cuireann an Comhaontas Glas fáilte roimh díospóireacht ar bith ar díchoimisniú threalaimh mhíleata an IRA. Creidim gur gá díospóireacht ar Aer Lingus freisin mar go bhfuil seasamh an Choimisiúin in aghaidh an dlí.

A question on the Order of Business.

Beidh suim ag lucht féachana TG4 sa Bhille darb ainm Official Languages Equality Bill. An bhfuil aon seans gur féidir linn an Bille sin a fheiceáil taobh istigh den bhliain seo? Tá an-mhoill air agus deirtear go bhfuil baol ann nach mbeidh sé rite roimh deireadh an Rialtais. An féidir leis an Taoiseach a rá go mbeidh sé?

The heads of the Official Languages Equality Bill were passed on 12 June. I presume the Bill is being drafted.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Before the Control of Road Opening Bill is introduced, can the Taoiseach do something to resolve the difficulty in the negotiations with the IFA on compensation to landowners?

That is not in order on the Order of Business.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): There is no point introducing this legislation if there is no compensation for landowners. There is a major problem throughout the country. The Taoiseach is renowned for his negotiating skills.

The Taoiseach on the legislation.

The Bill is being drafted and it will some time before it is ready. I cannot comment on the other matter.

When will we see the legislation the Minister for Public Enterprise spoke about yesterday to allow for the sale of 35% of Aer Lingus? We were informed that the previous Bill would not be adequate and that a new one was required. Will the Government introduce that as a matter of urgency?

If it is required, there will be new legislation.

Is the Taoiseach saying that if it is not required, there will not be new legislation?

I asked the Taoiseach about legislation to give protection to tenants in private rented accommodation. Yesterday, he confirmed to the House that the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill will be with the Government before Christmas and published in the New Year. I thank him for being so forthcoming on that. Is it the Government's intention to enact this legislation in the life time of the Dáil?

That is the intention. The Minister of State worked hard to produce the report and bring forward the legislation.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for calling me in time to wish farewell to the TG4 viewers.

The Deputy will be in order when he asks about legislation.

Given that half of all the patients admitted to St. James's Hospital in Dublin suffer from smoking related illnesses, when will the Bill on tobacco and health be brought forward for consideration by the House?

It will be next year. There are two Bills – the Public Health (Tobacco) Bill which is a Private Member's Bill and the other is a Government Bill which will ready next year.

The Bill concerning the education of children with disabilities is an important Bill to provide education for children with special needs from dyslexia to autism. Will the Taoiseach urgently bring it to the House?

The heads of the Bill are expected by the Government in November to be followed by the drafting.

The Local Government Bill was passed by this House, but, in light of the statement by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that he is in favour of the dual mandate, will we see amending legislation before this Government's term of office is completed?

The Bill is passed.

That Bill is passed. We can only consider future legislation.

He has already said "no" to me.

We must not heed what the Taoiseach says at the Ard-Fheis.

I am glad the Deputy watched our Ard-Fheis.

It is a good thing the Minister for the Environment and Local Government did not run for vice-president.


Order, please.

The Taoiseach stated this morning that it will be some time before the Control of Road Opening Bill is prepared. This contrasts with the Tánaiste's statement that it would be within the Government's life time. Which is correct?

The answer is the same as there is a long time left in the Government's life.

Will it be in the life time of the Government?

We do not know when the road will be pushed.

As Deputy Michael D. Higgins pointed out last week, an enormous amount of legislation was passed by the House and more is still to come. We may run out of time by next June.

When will the Taoiseach introduce the legislation to enable the health boards introduce a grant scheme for orthodontic treatment, as was promised in the House by the Minister for Health and Children last year?

A world class health service. The Taoiseach must be confused with the world cup.

The legislation is there, but he should raise the regulations with the Minister.

On the Order of Business yesterday, the Taoiseach stated that the disability Bill would be published later this term. Will there be time allocated in this term for that Bill?

That is a matter for the Whips.