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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Apr 2002

Vol. 552 No. 1

Order of Business (Resumed).

Does the Taoiseach appreciate the fear of violence, particularly street violence, now pervasive across the country? Apart from the deaths of the gardaí to whom we have paid tribute, does the Taoiseach realise that in the past week alone there were four violent deaths in Dublin? A young man was stabbed in Tallaght, a young man was killed in a brawl in Portmarnock, a man was shot dead in Blanchardstown and a man was murdered in St. Stephen's Green across from the Shelbourne Hotel in the middle of the day. Does the Taoiseach appreciate that many young men are in hospital, some of whom were kicked into a coma during street violence? Does he realise that parents in all urban centres throughout the country are afraid to let their children go into town? Does he realise that young men and women are reluctant to go out to their normal places to socialise because of the fear of random violence? Does he realise that young women, who were afraid to walk home after dark, are now afraid to go out during the day when places, such as St. Stephen's Green, are no longer safe in broad daylight?

Against that background, does the Taoiseach agree that the zero tolerance campaign was a slogan substituting for a policy? Does he agree it was a con and a charade and that no real policies have been put in place by the Government? The proof is the fact that assaults causing grievous bodily harm increased by 131% in the year 2000 and are still increasing, while the Administration in its dying days continues to stand idly by and do nothing about it.

In the light of what Deputy Noonan said and the horrendous weekend of violence, including the deaths of some people which we have just noted with solemnity, is the Taoiseach embarrassed that the only comment the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could make was to call the Opposition spokespersons names and that he could not engage in any meaningful dialogue? Does he believe after five years that such a response from a senior Minister in his Administration is both sensitive and responsible?

I readily acknowledge it was a bad and sad week. It is tragic to lose two gardaí and have a number of murders and serious attacks, particularly involving young people. All these things must be taken in the round. I could list all the measures and statistics relating to crime now compared to a number of years ago. As Deputy Noonan knows, crime has decreased under most headings.

It is not being reported.

The recent Garda report shows an increase in the number of assaults recorded as headline offences. However, it also shows that 84% of those assaults are regarded as non-headline offences, not as serious offences. In 1999 proceedings were taken in more than 8,500 non-indictable assault cases. The corresponding figures for recent years show a decline in this regard. Any case of assault or attack on young or old people is sad. In many cases the people involved in anti-social behaviour do not come from poverty stricken backgrounds. The opposite is the case as they have too much money, drink and drugs.

What will the Taoiseach do about opening hours?

That makes the level of viciousness more serious. There has been an increase in the level of vicious attacks. While the overall statistics and detection rates have improved – I am not here to put a spin on the figures – the vicious and aggressive nature of young males involved in serious crime has increased.

This Dáil has enacted more than 43 Bills during its lifetime.

It is all law and no order.

They have provided for tough powers, mandatory sentences for possession of drugs and additional gardaí, prison places and resources.

Not in force. There is plenty of law but no order.

I thought the Deputy was muzzled.

The Minister should not go there.

We have increased resources greatly and that increase has successfully dealt with most elements of crime.

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs is blinkered.

Deputy Hogan, please. This is leaders' questions.

The Minister is not blindfolded.

That has successfully dealt with most issues of crime across most areas.

Deputy Mitchell has come back to life.

Mad Max is back.

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

There is a serious issue to address and that is crime by young males on our streets. We must continue to address that.

Does the Taoiseach realise that churches that would normally be places of tranquillity and sanctuary in his own constituency are now closed during the day because of criminal activity? Did he notice last night when he, I and the Tánaiste attended that very sad occasion in Mount Argus, that the holy water fonts had been sealed to prevent drug addicts from washing their needles in them? This is now the practice across suburban Dublin. Is the Taoiseach aware that on many of the main bus routes in Dublin it is common for drug addicts to inject themselves on the buses? How can the Taoiseach detach himself from responsibility when things are so bad, and when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform relies on the statistics for reported crime—

From two years ago.

—when everybody in this House knows that more crime is now going unreported than is reported? If it were not so close to an election, I would ask the Taoiseach to appoint a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who is aware of the problems in urban areas. Whatever Deputy O'Donoghue is aware of, he is not aware – coming from the tranquillity of Cahirciveen – of how bad things are in the main urban centres.

Whether the Deputy likes it or not, most people – now as before – report crime. There has been a 27% reduction in crime.

That is not true.

They do not bother reporting.

The detection rate—

Does the Taoiseach think that all is well?

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

The official Garda published figures show a detection rate of 42%, compared with 24% in the UK and 21% in the United States.

All is well.

Crime, in overall terms, is at a 20-year low. I remind Deputy Noonan—

What of street violence?

I have already acknowledged that vicious street violence is up from 7% or 8% to 16%.

That is the issue that has not been addressed.

Deputy Shatter, please.

Most of the legislative measures that we have taken, and the resources that we have put in, have successfully dealt with the issues. Deputy Noonan will know that, unfortunately, the churches in my constituency have, since the 1980s, been closed during the day. During the drug epidemic of 1983-86, it was really bad on the streets and people were robbing candlesticks and attacking people in churches. Drug supermarkets, as they were called, were in existence in the inner city.

All of the churches are closed now.

It is called "walking around money".

Drugs could be bought at many locations. That continued into the 1990s.

What is the Taoiseach's plan?

Members will know that in areas of Ballyfermot, Cherry Orchard and the north east inner city, there were set places. Thankfully, most of those places are gone due to the resources put in by, and the actions of, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, in recent years. The issue is not nearly as bad as it was.

Heroin and syringes were a major problem in the flats but the problem is different now. The big problem now is the viciousness of those who are not particularly badly off—

The Taoiseach is out of touch.

He is in a different world.

The Taoiseach is opening too many envelopes.

—and who are involved in vicious attacks, who roam through numerous places and attack young people. There is very serious crime in that regard. I have acknowledged that but it is not all over the place, in all areas or affecting all issues.

It is all over the place.

It is in every town and city in the country.

The figures and the Garda report show otherwise. The fear that the Deputy suggests is not in most cities, although it is in some places. There has been an increase in such crime in some places. In the greater Dublin area, it is in a very confined number of places, as gardaí have said. The statistics show where the problems are and they must be dealt with in those areas. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has probably done most in the last five years to put resources in place and to tackle crime.

I will bring Deputy O'Donoghue to my constituency.

An area that the Minister still has to tackle is that of crime among young people, and the rise from 9% to 16%.

What about zero tolerance for street crime?

The Minister has acknowledged the other areas that must be tackled.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, who I think is still with us, famously said that he wanted his five budgets considered as five chapters in an integrated book, the end result of which would be the basis on which he would like to be evaluated. Does the Taoiseach agree that an evaluation comes to the conclusion that the richest 10% of the population got 25% of the value of the benefit of the budget giveaways, while the poorest 20% got only 5% of the budget giveaways during the sequence of the five giveaways in that book? Is the Taoiseach proud that this is the objective assessment by a researcher from a State agency, the Combat Poverty Agency? After five years of boom, when people ask where the money went, we can now point to a conclusion objectively drawn by a researcher to the effect that the richest 10% walked away with 25% of the benefits that were collectively put in place by the workers and entrepreneurs of this country, and that the poorest 20% were left with a mere 5%. Is this the epitaph the Government, in its dying days, wants to go into the record of its achievements in this century?

Will the Taoiseach agree that there is a connection between this question and the previous question and that Governments frequently reap what they sow? Does he agree that the Government has promoted a society where individual greed has been promoted, has disregarded community and social values, and has created the environment for the violence and aggression which is now pervasive in every community in the country? Does he agree it is the generality of Government policies, including social and economic policies, that has caused the collapse of order in our society just as much as the lack of policy and attention by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform?

I have read the article and do not accept it as an accurate reflection of events. If I can say to Deputy Quinn—

Inconvenient facts.

What about the Government's spin?

Please, the Deputy should stop talking. It is leaders' question time. Deputy Howlin tried that and did not make it.

That is the first yellow card of the evening from the Taoiseach.

The Standing Order during leaders' question time is that the leaders answer. We listened and now I will answer.

That is a plaintive cry from a pressurised Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

We can talk afterwards.

Regarding Deputy Quinn's point, under the assessment of consistent poverty and the methodology which was set in late 1996 by the Government of the time, the national anti-poverty strategy report, which was published recently, shows that over 200,000 people have been taken out of the category of consistent poverty. That target was set by the Government of which the Deputy was a member and with which I agree. They are the facts based on the same criteria today. The measurement of consistent poverty set down by the previous Government and recommended by the ESRI was reduced from 10% in 1997 to just slightly over 6% today and it shows that 200,000 people were taken out of poverty. Consistent poverty among children has more than halved, falling from 17% five years ago to 8% two years ago. The ESRI and NAPS assessment reckon that it will go down to about 6%.

Unemployment has been reduced from 10.3% to 4% while long-term unemployment has been reduced by almost 6% to just over 1%. Over 300,000 jobs have been created. We have the best minimum wage rate in Europe. The EU and OECD reports on the Budget Statement show that the least well-off in society gained from the budget. These are the facts.

"K Club" economics.

Even if he wanted to and some suspect that he did, it would be very difficult, given the rate of economic growth over the last five years, to make the poor poorer in absolute terms. That would have been some achievement and it manifestly could not and did not happen. Assuming that the Taoiseach was in agreement with the Minister for Finance's five budgets, in areas where there was discretion and a choice and where money was being given back, is the Taoiseach suggesting that these facts are lies? Is the Taoiseach questioning the research done by the Combat Poverty Agency which showed that 10% of the richest sector in our society received, as a result of votes in this House, 25% of the rebates returned by way of tax reductions, while at the same time 20% of the population received merely 5%? That is the net question. Can the Taoiseach say that the statistics I put forward are lies and he does not accept as true?

I do not accept that they are true. Mr. Walsh's analysis in his recent reports is that the best way to deal with the poorest people is to deal with the issue of child poverty and with the issues of consistent poverty and I agree with him. He also complimented and supported the Government measures where, in the last few years, we have given families of three an increase of £80 per month. Under the previous Government, they were given £7 per month. We have taken about 250,000 people out of the category of consistent poverty where the circumstances of the less well-off in Irish society have been dramatically improved.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, got the message across.

Deputy Hayes, please do not interrupt.

Is it a fact or not?

They are the realities.

Does the Taoiseach accept the report?

I accept the NAPS report—

Deputy Quinn, you have asked your supplementary question. There is no provision for other questions.

I accept his own analysis. I do not accept—

Is it true or not?

Is it a lie?

Deputy Quinn, please. You may not ask a further supplementary question.

—that the article is incompatible with the European Union survey, the NAPS survey or any of the other surveys. There is a one-sided slant in that article that is not even consistent with Mr. Walsh's own analysis of the child benefit issue.

The Taoiseach is right.

One cannot fool all the people.

It is all a conspiracy.

The Taoiseach will have to run that by us again.

I call Deputy Flanagan on the Order of Business.

With regard to an earlier comment from the Chair regarding the late receipt of amendments, I ask what precedent the Chair draws on for such a discarding of the rules in an arbitrary manner?

That does not arise at this stage. That matter has been dealt with.

In the context of the implementation of the Electoral Act with respect to the provisions of information on the new electronic system of voting in the constituencies of Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath, does the Taoiseach accept that the Minister's roadshow has been a disaster? It is not providing—

That does not arise at this point in time.

It is very relevant. I am looking for information for my constituents.

The Deputy is not entitled to look for information on the Order of Business on this matter. He will have to find another way of raising that matter. I call Deputy Belton.

What about the democratic process? Is it too much to ask?

You are being disorderly, Deputy Ryan. If you do not resume your seat I will ask you to leave the House.

Is that too much to ask?

Deputy Ryan, resume your seat or do you wish to leave the House?

In the dying days of this Government I want the Taoiseach—

Resume your seat, Deputy Ryan. I ask you for the last time.

I want some information from the Taoiseach.

It does not arise at this point in time. Resume your seat or leave the House, Deputy Ryan. Deputy Belton has been called. It does not arise on the Order of Business. You will have to find another method. The Deputy will leave the House. You were given your chance and it is your own decision. I will send for the Ceann Comhairle.

Do you want him to leave electronically or physically?

I suspend the House for five minutes to await the Ceann Comhairle.

Sitting suspended at 4.57 p.m. and resumed at 5.05 p.m.

I am prepared to accede to your request and leave for the rest of the day.

In view of the exceptional circumstances, I am prepared to accept the Deputy's assurance. He will leave the House for the remainder of the day.

Deputy Seán Ryan withdrew from the Chamber.

Have the orders bringing into force the Criminal Justice (Juvenile) Act been signed and is that Act now in force? The Act was supposed to provide alternatives for dealing with particularly disruptive and dangerous young people. While the Government passed the Bill, it has not introduced any order to bring it into force.

I answered this some weeks ago. The legislation was passed and the orders are being signed in stages. Some of them are in and others are coming through.

None of the ones that deal with the sort of children we are discussing have been brought in. It is well over a year since the legislation was passed.

They are coming through.

Today is one of the wettest days for some time. The parents and staff of Newtownforbes school are out in the rain all day waiting to hear from the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. The Taoiseach was in Newtownforbes a few weeks ago. What did he promise in relation to Newtownforbes school?

Does the Deputy have a question relevant to the Order of Business?

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste gave a commitment when they were in County Longford, but have done nothing about it since.

In recent weeks Deputy Quinn and I have raised with the Taoiseach the issue of amending, as promised, the Redundancy Payments Acts to improve statutory redundancy payments to redundant workers. Has the Taoiseach come to an agreement on this matter? Will a proposal be brought before the House? If so, I believe all parties would agree to its speedy passage before the conclusion of the Dáil.

As I said previously, the Tánaiste has initiated a review of this matter with the social partners to see what improvements are necessary. Both the Tánaiste and I believe that improvements are necessary. I hope that review can be successfully concluded and legislation can be introduced later this year.

On the last day the House sat, under some pressure late at night, we passed all Stages of the Competition Bill allowing for changes in the law dealing with mergers and takeovers. Since then the possibility of a merger between the two main banks has been floated in the media. The Minister for Finance appears to agree with this, although other Ministers have contradicted him.

Does the Deputy have a question relevant to the Order of Business?

Legislation will be necessary.

Does the Taoiseach have a view on the merger of AIB and Bank of Ireland? It is a most important consumer and enterprise matter.

The Deputy should find another way to raise the matter.

Does the Taoiseach have a view?

It would be out of order to express that here.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the House has just reconvened after the Easter recess, during which time we were unable to hold the Government to account. Will you ask the Taoiseach and Tánaiste why neither of them will be here tomorrow? They are running away to Cork.

I am not going with him. I am going elsewhere.

The Taoiseach waited until after the Order of Business started to make an announcement that is already in the public domain. Why will he not do his job?

A leopard never changes its spots.

The Chair is not responsible for who is here. I call Deputy Currie.

We know 200 jobs are going to EMC in Macroom. Why will he not come in?


Why do we not just have the general election and get it over with? It is nonsense.

I called Deputy Currie.

We went to great trouble to have leaders' questions so that there would be orderly behaviour and we could ask questions of the Taoiseach, but he is running away.

He is going to the Phoenix Park.


At a time when people's minds are again concentrated on the abuse of children, can I take it that the Ombudsman for Children Bill, which was initiated five and a half years ago in the Department of Health, will not be brought in by this Government?

If the Deputy wishes, it can be introduced next week.

(Dublin West): Following the publication today of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's report, does the Government intend to bring forward legislative measures to deal with the issues raised? These include the bloated fees of the legal profession, which are pushing up the cost of insurance, and the crushing levels of premiums for young people, irrespective of their driving records.

Has any legislation been promised, Taoiseach?

The report was published today and an implementation group will now have to act on it. The recommendations are set out in the report which includes an enormous amount of material. I thank those who have been involved in producing it. It will be a matter for the new Dáil.

Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Land Commission Bill will be published, in view of the fact that many farmers are seriously affected by the difficulties in paying land annuities? It is an ongoing problem so I must ask the Taoiseach for a positive response.

The legislation was approved in February and the Bill has gone for drafting to regularise the position relating to land annuities and to amend the Land Acts.

Why has the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation failed to respond to me and to Offaly County Council—

That does not arise on the Order of Business.

—with regard to representations made concerning Birr, Clara and Edenderry swimming pools?

I am calling Deputy Shortall. That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach should get the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation to respond because Laoighis-Offaly is one of the furthest inland areas.

Deputy Enright is being disorderly. I call Deputy Shortall.

The Minister is throwing money everywhere but there is nothing for Laoighis-Offaly.

If Deputy Enright does not resume his seat, I will move on to the next business. I would ask him to allow his colleague to raise a legitimate question on the Order of Business.

Before Easter, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, published the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill without any consultation. He forced that legislation through the Seanad in a couple of days in the face of huge opposition from all disabilities groups. Where does that Bill now stand and what is the Taoiseach's intention in relation to it?

The Bill has gone through the Seanad and the Minister had discussions on it over Easter. Many comments have been made about those discussions, both at the teachers' conferences and elsewhere. Hopefully, the discussions will be completed shortly.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh fhoilsiú Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla Chomhionann, 2002, ach tá ceist agam don Taoiseach faoi. An fiú an Bille a fhoilsiú nuair is beag an tseans go gcuirfear i bhfeidhm é?

May I also ask the Taoiseach about the International Criminal Court Bill? It seems strange that this Dáil will be coming to an end before the Bill is passed, given that the people decided in June 2001 that this legislation should go ahead. It is not yet in place. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to let that situation stand?

The National Tourism Development Authority Bill is appropriate at the moment, given that this is the international year of eco-tourism.

Does the Deputy have a question about the Bill?

May I ask the Taoiseach whether he is going to publish the Bill or ensure that the Irish Seal Sanctuary gets the funding it needs, rather than waiting around for a Bill that is not going to happen?

The International Criminal Court Bill is to give effect to the Rome Statute. I already answered that question on the last occasion the matter was raised.

Many times.

It is proceeding. Bille na Gaeilge has been published and there is no legislation on the other issue.

In recent days, we ratified the International Criminal Court at the United Nations with great fanfare, but the Government has taken a short corner-kick because the legislation is not there to underpin the ratification process. When will we have it?

On the final day of the last session, I reported to the House that we were entitled to do it that way and that the legislation would come through in due course. It does not create a problem.

How many years is "in due course"?

As quickly as possible.

It is a very suspect way of doing business.

It emerged only this week that at a conference in Germany last December, the Attorney General, Mr. Michael McDowell, revealed that the Government had not been consulted beforehand about the proposed European arrest warrant, which was agreed by the EU Council of Ministers that month. What is the status of the legislation to implement this warrant? Was the Taoiseach personally aware that no consultation had taken place on this fundamental matter of civil rights that the Attorney General had advised so publicly had not been brought to the Government's attention?

Does the Deputy have a question relating specifically to legislation? The implementation of legislation does not arise on the Order of Business.

I am anxious to know what is the current status of the legislation.

The Deputy will have to find another way of raising it.

Surely it is permissible to raise issues such as the current status of legislation? It is a very serious and important matter.

A Deputy

So is law and order.

Those issues were dealt with last year. The Attorney General was involved and the legislation was debated in the House just prior to the Christmas recess.

But what about the information that was exposed this week?

As you will be aware, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, many small enterprises are under serious pressure in terms of trying to get insurance cover. The report that has been published—

We have not yet reached the Adjournment debate, although the Deputy plans to raise this matter on the Adjournment tonight.

I do, indeed, Sir.

This is the trailer.

I am grateful to your office for accommodating me because it has taken five years—

Does the Deputy have a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

I was just about to ask one when the Leas-Cheann Comhairle intervened.

I would like the Deputy to come to the point, rather than making a Second Stage speech.

I promise I will do that. Will the Taoiseach permit time to debate this report which establishes beyond doubt that young drivers have been grossly exploited? After five years, this report has specifically established that no action has been taken by the relevant Minister. Is legislation promised concerning the establishment of the personal injuries assessment board? That was recommended by Mr. Dan McAuley in May 1997 but, five years later, it has not been implemented. Is legislation necessary and will it be published in the lifetime of this Dáil? What does the Government intend to do about thousands of young drivers who need a car to get to their place of work, yet cannot obtain insurance cover? In some cases they are paying more for insurance than they are for the car.

The Deputy has made his point, he should allow the Taoiseach to reply.

I think Deputy Rabbitte would acknowledge that this has been the biggest examination of the insurance industry.

More than three years' hard work has been put into the report which contains very important findings. I would welcome a debate on it in the House because the higher the profile the work of those involved receives, the better. The Government has established an implementation group to bring that matter forward. I understand it will require legislation. An enormous amount of recommendations and other issues will have to be dealt with as a result of the report. While, clearly, the legislation will not be ready, I would welcome a debate on this next week. I will ask the Whip to arrange that.

Do I understand from that, that the Taoiseach will be asking the Government Whip to facilitate a debate on this report next week?