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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 8 Nov 2001

Vol. 543 No. 4

Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 51, the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 6, Residential Institutions Redress Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed).

There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Noonan on leaders' questions.

Two weeks ago the Tánaiste took the Order of Business and in reply to questions she said Ireland had the fastest growing and most successful economy in the world. She also claimed she had an effective early warning system which signalled any job losses and she was buoyant and optimistic. Since then we have had a list of closures and job losses around the country. October has been the worst month in terms of unemployment figures since 1967. Yesterday, both inside and outside the House, the Taoiseach agreed with the Governor of the Central Bank that we are heading straight into a recession. How is it possible for the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Government to have such divergent views on the economy? Are different people advising the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach? Has she changed her view in the past two weeks?

Different spin doctors.

Following on from our exchange a fortnight ago and having regard to the work of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, can the Tánaiste tell the House how many people are in the early warning monitoring unit in her Department? What is the level of staffing in terms of senior personnel? What systems of advance warning and communications does it have? Is there an informal link with the banks, which are the first line of information about companies or sectors which could be in crisis, without breaching the confidentiality of the bank/client relationship? Has she any additional information to give to the House? Will we continue to see this type of headline—

The Deputy should not display newspapers in the House.

I thought you might not have seen it yet.

It is not in order to display newspapers.

It is not for the faint hearted.

It may not be in order but it is revealing. Is it true that the Tánaiste has become comfortable and complacent in Government after four and a half years, that she presumed the boom would continue forever and now that reality has struck she is unprepared?

The most precious commodity in any economy is confidence.

The Government is not giving much of it.

It behoves all of us not to hype a difficult situation. I was in the House answering questions two days ago and my view has not changed. The economy continues to perform well and it is the most successful in Europe. Unemployment is below 4%. In Germany, France, Italy and other countries it is 9%, 10% and 11%. There is no difference between the Taoiseach and myself.

Except what is said.

The Taoiseach's speeches in the United States will be upbeat and they will point out the benefits Ireland has to offer to companies restructuring. Different people have different perspectives. One of the most respected economic commentators, Dan McLaughlin, had a different perspective from other people this morning. Just because one stops driving a car at 100 miles per hour and slows down to 70 miles per hour does not mean one is not driving the car. This economy continues to grow. There are more people at work in Ireland today than there were this time last year. Today there are an extra 117,000 people at work in Dublin and 320,000 people at work in the country compared to four years ago. I could read out a list of ten companies which are currently recruiting, such as Microsoft, Oracle, Dell, Prumerica, Nypro, Irish Life and many more.

We must put things in perspective in this House. The economy is doing well. There are huge international difficulties. We are not doing as well as we were. We are an open economy. There is a global slowdown, which was already happening in the ICT sector. That has been compounded by the tragic events of 11 September which have undermined confidence in the United States and globally. We are suffering and will continue to suffer the effects of that in the next number of weeks. However, the fundamentals are sound. We have a good budgetary situation relative to where we were ten years ago when we experienced difficulties. We had more than 15,000 notifiable redundancies in 1993. The economic base at that time was different from what it is today. There are an extra 400,000 at work today than there was on that occasion. As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, we must put things in perspective and we must maintain confidence in ourselves as a people and as a country.

People are losing confidence.

Mr. Noonan: The people do not have a lack of confidence in themselves, but they have an increasing lack of confidence in an incompetent Government that has squandered the boom. That is the difficulty. I appreciate what the Tánaiste said this morning, but it is totally at variance with what the Governor of the Central Bank said yesterday at the Committee on Finance and the Public Service. He said the Celtic tiger phase of the economy was over and growth was flat which, as every economist knows, means zero growth. We know what is the next phase after growth.

I refer to the Tánaiste's particular job. Did her early warning system signal the job losses which were announced in the past two weeks since she addressed the issue last in the House? I heard her on radio and television saying nobody told her about the 700 job losses at Tara Mines and it was not really her job because mining reports to a different Minister. Is she not the Minister responsible for employment? What kind of an early warning system does she have if 700 jobs go out of the economy and nobody even tells her it is about to happen? What did she know about the job losses? Is she confident that she knows what will happen over the next month or so? She is able to signal that people are hiring on a contract basis for the Christmas rush but she is not able to indicate what the job losses may be going forward or else she is not giving us full information.

There is no early warning system or complicated formula that can tell us what may be decided in a boardroom in the United States or somewhere else. For example, last Sunday Motorola informed Celestica that it did not want to go ahead with a legal contract it had signed because the mobile phone industry was in serious trouble and it, in particular, was in difficulty. Celestica made certain decisions. I was not aware that would happen and that a legal contract would be broken. No early warning system in the world would detect that.

Where is the IDA?

Do not be ridiculous.

Where is Deputy Noonan's early warning system?

We live in a world where decisions are made rapidly. What early warning system could have told us about 11 September? Let us be real.

The Tánaiste cannot get away with blaming the losses on 11 September.

Order, please.

Events happen and no matter what early warning system one has it cannot predict all events. We have an excellent warning system overseen by an assistant secretary in the Department, which involves IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, FÁS and Shannon Development.

What is it?

I do not have ministerial responsibility for the mining industry but, notwithstanding that, I took questions in the House on that the other day. I am not trying to run away from responsibility. With regard to the mining industry, the price of zinc is on the floor at a 20 year low. It is down to $760 a barrel. I am not an expert on mining because I do not have responsibility. The workers are on protective notice. There are industries in difficulties and restructuring all the time, even in good times.

Earlier this year we were threatened by foot and mouth disease and there was gloom and doom from the Opposition.


There was total support.

Withdraw that remark.

There was doom and gloom.

Withdraw that remark.

Order, please. The Tánaiste, without interruption.

I will not withdraw the remark.

The Government is desperate now.

The Opposition wants disasters.

That is typical of the Government.

The Government is on the back foot.

On a point of order, with regard to foot and mouth disease, not only did the Government receive full co-operation from the Opposition, we gave—

The Deputy cannot put a further question. Under Standing Orders, the Deputy is not in order to ask a further question. The Tánaiste, without interruption.

I have the quotations. I was in the House as Members predicted gloom and doom. They said the Government was not handling the crisis well and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, a skilful Minister and good manager, was not on top of it.

The Government learned as it went along.

Confidence is going out of farming.

He saved this country from the consequences of foot and mouth. Equally, if we manage our affairs properly during this very difficult period over the next number of months, I have every confidence the country will return to high growth rates.

The Government was supported on Aer Lingus and farming.

(Mayo): The Government will not be returned.

Will the Tánaiste stand on her record?

The people know who they can trust with the economy.

Mr. Haughey's party.

Look at our record all over the country.

The Tánaiste will get her answer.

In reply to Deputy Quinn, we have new early warning systems in place. In the first instance, Forfás has conducted an analytical assessment of the current situation and we have put action plans in place. In particular, all executives working overseas for Enterprise Ireland have been at home over the past few weeks meeting Irish companies to try to help them in a new marketing drive.

IDA Ireland is engaged with companies almost on a daily basis and those companies are reviewing or restructuring their operations. We are trying to point out to them the advantages of doing more business in Ireland because we are very competitive.

We have discussed an early warning system in times of uncertainty and the Tánaiste has indicated the difficulty of anticipating certain events. I turn to something that is full of certainty. On 13 June Mr. Justice Flood requested the House make extra personnel available to him and on 14 June the Tánaiste replied to my colleague, Deputy Howlin, stating: "Even if the judge gets the two extra members he requests in his correspondence to this House the tribunal will take two further years and if he does not, it will take considerably longer". She further stated: "It would be right that that parties in Opposition be consulted about the new members to be appointed as it is this House that established the tribunal. It can be taken that that will happen".

The Tánaiste does not need an early warning system for this. What is happening? It has been five months since this request was made. It is a matter of concern which is not the private property of the Government. Have there been discussions with the Attorney General and senior members of the Bar? If so, why have Opposition parties, to whom the Tánaiste gave an undertaking in this House, not been consulted? I raised this matter some weeks ago in the House.

Is the Tánaiste aware no consultation has taken place with myself or my party on the appointment of additional judges to the Flood tribunal? Is she further aware a number of names are freely in circulation and are openly speculated about? As far as Fine Gael is concerned, token consultation will not fit the bill and if we are not happy with the proposals made, we will object both publicly and privately.

Clearly the tribunal was established by the House and it would be appropriate, therefore, that parties should be consulted in regard to any appointments. If that has not yet happened, I apologise. I was not aware of that but I know the Attorney General has had discussions with Mr. Justice Flood. New counsel has been appointed to the tribunal and I will speak to the Attorney General in regard to this matter. I do not know when the appointments will happen. There is no difficulty. Whatever resources are required will be made available to Mr. Justice Flood and the tribunal. I will revert to the Deputies later or perhaps tomorrow and I will ask the Attorney General to speak to the Deputies in regard to the appointments in question.

I accept the apology given by the Tánaiste. It was very graciously given and I accept it in that spirit. This matter is above party politics. It is about the confidence of the citizens in the democratic process of the country and the way in which decisions are made. Will the Tánaiste give an undertaking that there will be consultation within the next few weeks at the latest and that a decision acceptable to all parties in the House will be made in a manner that does not damage the integrity of the Flood tribunal or its operations, having regard to the fact that, as the Tánaiste said, we do not want to prolong the work of the tribunal any longer than is necessary or curtail its effectiveness in reaching finality on how decisions were made? Will she recognise that Mr. Justice Flood made the request on 13 June and asked that it be acceded to and completed by the end of the summer session, yet we are now less then six weeks from the end of the autumn session?

I will give an undertaking that there will be consultation with the Opposition and I will ask the Attorney General to speak with the Leaders of the Opposition parties. I am not aware of what are the mechanisms. Earlier in the summer there were discussions about various personalities and the Attorney General spoke with different members of the Judiciary and the Flood tribunal. I do not know where that is at now but I will ensure that the Opposition is kept informed.

That concludes Leaders' Questions. We now come to other relevant questions on the Order of Business.

(Mayo): We have the most run-down, decrepit rail system in Europe, which uses 37 year old trains which run late, are dangerously overcrowded and constitute a public hazard.

The Deputy cannot make a statement. He may ask a question.

(Mayo): This is a question. The railway safety Bill would establish a rail inspectorate to end this public hazard once and for all. It would establish a proper inspectorate to guard and protect public safety.

The Bill will be published in early December.

The last time the Tánaiste took the Order of Business she told me that the Bill designed to take FEOGA funding from the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development because of past conduct had fallen off the A list, but that it would still be brought before the House. My subsequent inquiries suggest this is not the case. As we know, the Minister has been captured by the Department, the Tánaiste and her party have been defeated and this legislation will never see the light of day.

There is an almost daily decline in employment due to job losses. Does the Tánaiste intend to bring forward legislation to update the Redundancy Payments Acts which only provide for a half week's pay—

This issue is not in order unless it deals with promised legislation.

I am trying to establish if this legislation is promised, given the dramatic downturn in the economy. Only a half week's pay per years of service is provided for under the 1967 Act.

The Tánaiste on promised legislation.

The Deputy knows that the payment is only one week's pay for people over a certain age. The answer to our current difficulties is not necessarily to reform the Redundancy Payments Acts.

It would help.

If the statutory payment was higher, perhaps the payment made by companies would be lower. I am not sure that employees would benefit in that situation. The average payment tends to be five or six weeks per year of service. Companies in the private sector, particularly many foreign companies, have, in so far as one can be generous, and I accept that redundancy is never generous—

Except in cases of liquidation where they are not allowed to be generous.

In so far as they can be, companies have erred on the side of giving quite a substantial number of weeks. The average tends to be five or six weeks.

I stated the legislation regarding FEOGA was not on the A list. I understand proposals regarding FEOGA and other matters in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will come before the Government soon. I cannot give the Deputy a commitment that there will be legislation in this area. I did not give that commitment two weeks ago and cannot give it now.

I call Deputy McCormack.

This was promised legislation. My question is straightforward and there is no need for fudging or obfuscation. Will legislation be brought forward on this issue or not? I am not interested in proposals or anything else. Is there legislation or not?

Legislation was promised on this area when the Deputy was in government.

Yes, no or maybe?

I do not expect legislation in this area over the next six months.

In view of the long housing waiting lists and the fact that almost no housing repair grants are being processed by local authorities, when will the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill come before the House?

The Bill will be published this session.

Sometimes the House debates reports produced by its committees. Will the Government consider a report produced by the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government on the implications of deregulation for the taxi service, particularly in the light of three articles in today's edition of the Irish Independent? The first article outlines that it is impossible to get a taxi at peak periods and late at night.

We must deal with promised legislation.

The second article highlights the fact that taxi fares are increasing, despite deregulation.

The Deputy should put a question.

The third article highlights the fact that the families of taxi drivers are in danger of losing their homes because of loan repayments. Will the Tánaiste allow for a debate on the unholy mess created in the taxi service as a result of the big bang announced last year to deregulate the taxi service which has clearly not worked?

This is a matter for the Whips. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

It is in order to ask about a debate on the report of a committee. The Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government considered this matter yesterday. Will the Tánaiste allow for the report to be discussed in the House?

The Government originally intended an approach to the taxi situation which would have given every holder an additional licence.

That was before the Taoiseach interfered.

No. The taxi people appealed this proposal to the courts.

This is a fact. We originally sought to deal with the matter in a different way. I accept that there are difficulties for some families. However, the taxi situation is vastly improved, particularly in the Dublin area.

The Tánaiste does not have to get a taxi. She should wait until she has to use taxis again.

I got a taxi last night.

One swallow does not make a summer.

We cannot discuss the matter. There are other ways in which it can be dealt with.

I do get taxis. I got one last night. It was operated by a new licence holder who is very happy with the new situation. The House discusses reports, but that is a matter for the Whips.

A Cheann Comhairle, I wish to ask for your assistance on a matter. There is a consensus in the House on the need for hearings by the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on the situation in Aer Lingus. Unfortunately the Chairman is unable to accede to a request because of the committee's involvement in the mini-CTC inquiry.

This matter does not involve promised legislation.

It does involve promised legislation in that the Government proposes to sell off part of Aer Lingus, for which legislative authority will be required. The House would not be satisfied to pass such legislation unless we held proper hearings on the options available to Aer Lingus.

The Taoiseach met the ICTU last week, but refused to answer questions this week on those meetings, even though he later declared that the company could close within one week. As the Minister will not take questions in the House until 27 November, the House is powerless at present. The committee is unable to deal with this issue because of the mini-CTC inquiry on which all its resources are deployed.

The Deputy should not proceed with a motion before the House.

This does not concern a motion before the House, but meetings in which we could hear from the trade unions and management, and the Minister as to what applications she has made regarding the principal investor investment in the company. This option is open to her, but to my knowledge she has made no application to the European Union—

We are on the Order of Business and cannot deal with this issue. Does the Tánaiste wish to comment?

It is a matter for committees as to how they order their work. If the Government could facilitate the committee in holding hearings on Aer Lingus, it would wish to do so. The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, would be delighted to go before the committee.

I have been in the House three times on this issue. The Deputy's party sold Irish Steel for £1.

The Tánaiste has put a question to the House. The Government could assist committees by making extra resources available. The reason committees cannot meet is because all the House's resources have been, of necessity, made available to the mini-CTC inquiry. The Tánaiste put a question to the House suggesting that if the Government can help, it will do so. The Government can release some of the consultants it has hired and some of the resources for the 73 press officers to give additional resources to committees. That is the answer to the Tánaiste's question.

We cannot debate the matter further.

If the committee in question wishes to meet regarding Aer Lingus—

It cannot do so because of the mini-CTC inquiry.

The Tánaiste to continue without interruption.

That is a matter for the committee.

The Tánaiste is woefully unaware of the realities. When the request is made members of the committee are told by the Oireachtas secretariat, under the Ceann Comhairle, that no staff are available. Is the Tánaiste aware of this fact?

The Deputy should resume his seat and allow the Tánaiste to reply.

The committee cannot meet because it does not have the staff.

On a point of information—

There is no such thing as a point of information.

The committee has not met in plenary session for about ten weeks because of the mini-CTC inquiry. There is no opportunity for Deputies to pursue this issue which the committee should be pursuing.

The Tánaiste to continue without interruption.

The Deputy should pursue this matter through the committee. If resources are required to have a meeting of a committee to discuss Aer Lingus, those resources will be made available.

I cannot believe it is resource implications that are preventing the committee from meeting.

It is about scheduling, it is about—


Please, allow the Tánaiste to reply without interruption.

Members cannot tell me it is because of a lack of staff that the committee cannot meet to discuss Aer Lingus.

The Tánaiste should talk to her Whip.

The Taoiseach told Deputy

Fitzgerald yesterday that a disabilities Bill will be published before Christmas. Have the heads of that Bill been agreed by Cabinet? As the Tánaiste well knows a drafting process has to be gone through and it is not long until Christmas.

Have the heads of the Bill been agreed by Cabinet?

The heads of the Bill were agreed by the Cabinet some time ago.

Ceist maidir le reachtaíocht agus Bille atá geallta le fada ach a bhfuil an dul chun cinn air íontach mall ar fad, sé sin Bille na bPáirceanna Náisiúnta agus na nGabháltaisí Stairiúla, the National Parks and Historic Properties Bill. Cén uair a bhéas an Bille seo á fhoilsiú? Táimid ag fanacht leis le cupla bliain agus tá an dul chun cinn air thar a bheith mall. Tá an cás ag éirí íontach práinneach i láthair na huaire. It is urgently needed. Will the Tánaiste indicate when it will be published?

It will be published early next year.

I would like to return to the Aer Lingus situation because of its seriousness.

This is the Order of Business, Deputy. We have to comply with Standing Orders. We cannot have a debate on the matter. There are other ways in which the Deputy can deal with it but not on the Order of Business. Unless the Deputy has a question relative to promised legislation, it is not in order to raise the matter.

Will you hear me out, a Cheann Comhairle? With every day that passes, there is a greater danger of Aer Lingus going into liquidation like Sabena. Meanwhile, the chairman and many members of the public enterprise committee are tied up with an inquiry. Hearings of that committee are being refused. This House is frozen and unable to act in relation to Aer Lingus. What will the Tánaiste do to urgently facilitate hearings on this issue by a committee of this House?

On the same matter, I remind the Tánaiste that Deputy Mitchell, when Minister for Transport, refused to appear before the same committee.


The Tánaiste, without interruption.

May I ask a question?

I have called the Tánaiste. I will allow the Deputy to ask his question. He should resume his seat and let the Tánaiste reply.

The question is apropos this issue.

If the Tánaiste is saying resources can be made available to service the committee, is there any reason the Vice-Chairman of the committee cannot, as quickly as possible, convene a meeting on the important issue of Aer Lingus? I envisage it would take a couple of days to hear the different parties on Aer Lingus.

We cannot discuss the logistics of when and how committees meet here. In so far as the Government can assist, I think it will want to do that. I suggest we follow the usual procedure, that is, the convenors of the committees should discuss the matter with their party Whips. We will see how we can resolve the difficulty.

In view of the widespread breakdown of law and order last Wednesday, Halloween, in many parts of the city, including in the Tánaiste's constituency and in mine, as I have asked the Taoiseach repeatedly, is it proposed to bring forward legislation on the national crime council?

It must be promised legislation.

The Taoiseach has announced the national crime council many times through which we might get accurate crime statistics instead of the fantasy the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform gives every year through the Garda Commissioner report.

I do not believe specific legis lation has been promised to establish a national crime council on a statutory basis. We have strong legislation in this area and it is a question of enforcing the law.