Order of Business.

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): The Order of Business today shall be No. 28, Sea Pollution (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) (Civil Liability and Compensation) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 29, Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic by Sea) Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 4, Interpretation Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business.

In respect of defence legislation will the Minister confirm that the tender for three medium air lift helicopters for the Air Corps has been cancelled? Will he confirm that on Tuesday at the opening of the Air Corps conference he agreed that the personnel involved had put in great effort in regard to procurement and that his announcement was greeted with astonishment in Baldonnel?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Under the legislation with which the Minister is reforming the defence forces, will—

Only the legislation and what is in it is appropriate. Is the legislation promised?

The Minister might comment on that. It seems he will remain silent and that the Air Corps can forget about its helicopters.

The Deputy must find another way to raise the issue.

Will the Minister inform us when the Bill dealing with health complaints will be brought before the House and whether the 200,000 people who have been cheated of medical cards will be able to make complaints under the Bill for betrayal by the Government? This morning a Fianna Fáil backbencher told them to go and see their local community welfare officer.

Sorry Deputy, a question on the Bill itself only.

Is that the Government answer, that they should go to see the community welfare officer?

Minister, when will the Bill be introduced?

He promised 200,000 people would qualify for medical cards and will renege on that promise at the stroke of a pen. Can we underline procedure for the medical complaints legislation? Will these 200,000 people be able to make complaints under this legislation for betrayal and—

Deputy Rabbitte, allow the Minister to answer the question which was in order.

It will be introduced next year, 2003. Every promise we made in 1997 was honoured. We will honour this one also.

It is not necessary, Minister, to go beyond the question that was asked.

He promised 200,000 medical cards. Will he renege on that?

He targeted the poorest. He should be ashamed.

Please allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

When will the Nurses Bill be published? I note it is listed for 2003, but will it be like the Fianna Fáil election promise in the programme for Government that 200,000 additional people would avail of the medical card scheme?

This will be next year, 2003.

When can we expect to see the EPA (Amendment) Bill? While the Minister is on his feet perhaps he can indicate the steps the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Health and Children are taking to deal with the discovery of uranium in the water in Wicklow.

The EPA (Amendment) Bill will be introduced this session. The RPI, the EPA and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government are working closely with the local authority, of which the Deputy is a member, with regard to the water problem in Wicklow. He is probably more up to date on what is happening.

I am sure the Minister will agree that, when the Government is negotiating with any organisation or body, it is important commitments are kept; otherwise any possibility of negotiation in the future is practically impossible.

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

When the issue of medical cards for the over 70 year olds was raised by doctors in negotiations with the Government, a commitment was made by the Government to widen the income limits for medical cards.

The Deputy is out of order.

I am asking a question.

The Deputy will have to find another way to raise the matter.

I am asking about a Bill.

The Deputy is not asking about a Bill; she is making a statement that is not related to a Bill.

I am asking about legislation.

The Deputy is asking about legislation.

To what Bill is the Deputy referring?

The Medical Practitioners Bill, but I would like to make the point—

It is not necessary to make a point at this stage.

—that any commitments made by the Government must be honoured. The Government misled the people and it also misled the medical profession about the position of people who cannot access their family doctors because they cannot afford to.

The Bill will be introduced next year.

It is not often that Baltinglass makes national headlines, but the levels of radioactive contamination found in water raises a disturbing issue.

Does the Deputy have a question on promised legislation?

Will the water services Bill to consolidate and update water services legislation, which is expected in mid-2003, address the issue of contamination by radioactive substances?

The Bill is due in mid-2003.

The Government promised a local government rates Bill to consolidate rating law. Will the Minister include in that legislation the new layer of charges and taxes that have been imposed by local governments to compensate for the shortfall in Government funding for local authorities?

We cannot discuss the content of the Bill at this stage.

Will the Minister consolidate this new layer of taxes, which are essentially poll taxes?

Thousands of families who expected to be included under the medical card scheme have had their hopes dashed this morning. They will not be able to afford to send their children for medical care.

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

In relation to the health medical indemnity Bill, how will the Government indemnify itself against the wrath of the Irish people?

I call Deputy Power.

Members of the Government should be ashamed of themselves. The income limit to qualify for a medical card is €137 per week. The Government targets the poorest people.

Deputy Stagg, will you allow the Member for Kildare-South have his say?

The Deputy is usually very nice to me. Yesterday we learnt that a number of Members from both Houses are to visit the Columbia three. Would it not be more appropriate to discuss the matter in this House before any Members make such a visit?

That is not in order.

With respect, it is an appropriate question.

It is a proposal from the Government side and we accept that.

It is a matter for the Whips to discuss.

I agree with the suggestion that the matter be brought before the House to have a thorough discussion. Considering the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has squandered the boom times, that promises have been broken wholesale and he is reneging on the medical card promise—

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

Will the Minister bring forward the dormant funds Bill so that funding can be made available immediately? We read today that bogus accounts are—

Please, give the Minister a chance to answer.

That will be next year, 2003.

I call Deputy Crowe.

The Deputy asked a question. What about the legislation?

Do we not have rights on this side of the House? We have put a question and the Chair should allow the Minister to answer.

When the Minister is called by the Chair, he is entitled to rise and to answer the House without interruption.

He did not have the answer at the time. He has only just been briefed.

I called the Minister to answer and he answered. If Deputies are interrupting and do not hear the answer, the Chair takes no responsibility for that.

He did not answer. Deputy Costello asked about the dormant funds Bill. Can we hear the Minister? Do we have any rights on this side of the House?

If the Deputy resumes his seat the Chair will explain. The Deputy talked about medical cards. How is that related to the dormant funds Bill?

That is not your affair, Sir; it is none of your business.

If Deputies make—

Deputy Costello asked about the dormant funds Bill and he made a comment to the effect that the funds could be used to fund the medical card—

Deputy Rabbitte, resume your seat, please. As the Deputy knows, it is the business of the Chair to ensure the Order of Business—

It is not the business of the Chair to make comments. The Chair is supposed to be impartial.

Deputy Stagg, when the Chair is on its feet, Members should resume their seats. The decision under Standing Order 26 is specific. Members are entitled to ask questions on promised legislation. It is not appropriate to make a long preamble or any preamble. In this instance Deputy Costello made a preamble about medical cards. If Deputy Costello has a question about a particular Bill the Minister will answer the question.

I would like to clarify my question. It is proposed to introduce the dormant funds Bill. I am asking the Minister to bring it forward so that the broken promises of this Government in relation to the medical cards—

It is not necessary to have a preamble on it.

This would make money available in the budget.

The aim is to have the heads of the Bill drafted by the end of this year. However the Minister favours including these proposals as part of the Courts (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

On a point of order, it is not appropriate for the Chair to determine the form of question under the particular Standing Order. The attempt to sanitise the House to such a degree that it is like a closed clinic is what has the Gallery empty and the columns of the newspapers empty also. The Chair is in breach of the rules by seeking to determine the form and format of questions under the ruling here. The Chair is not so entitled.

I am not dealing with the form.

The Chair is.

It is not appropriate to have a long preamble to every question on the Order of Business.

This is a Parliament.

The Chair has ruled on the matter and that is it.

Would the Chair like us to write to him and stay out of the House altogether? He could talk for us to the Government and we will stay away and write to him. Would the Chair prefer that?

Is the Deputy reflecting on the impartiality of the Chair?

It is not the Ceann Comhairle's job to ask questions.

It is my job to ensure that the integrity of the Chair is protected in this House. Is Deputy Rabbitte reflecting on the integrity of the Chair?

Sir, I merely posed a question. It is a matter for him—

I am asking the Deputy if he is reflecting on the integrity of the Chair.

I merely posed the question—

The Ceann Comhairle is supposed to be impartial.

(Interruptions.)

Is the Deputy reflecting on the integrity of the Chair in his comments?

No, I am not reflecting on the integrity of the Chair just on the format.

In the forthcoming Social Welfare Bill, is it proposed, in line with a commitment given by a Fianna Fáil Deputy this morning, to amend a provision of that Bill to enable community welfare officers to issue medical cards to the poor and disadvantaged who have been denied them and to ensure—

Deputy Penrose knows he is out of order. Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Sorry, Deputy Seán Crowe.

I was the second person with my hand in the air and the Ceann Comhairle is passing me by.

I want to know. I want answers from the Government—

(Interruptions.)

Does Deputy Penrose have a question on legislation? What legislation?

Is it proposed in the Social Welfare Bill to include a provision to enable community welfare officers to—

When will the Social Welfare Bill come before the House—

—honour the promise the Government made—

It is obvious to the Chair that Deputy Penrose is being disorderly and that he knows he is out or order—

I have not been disorderly.

It is appropriate to ask about legislation but not about the content of legislation.

I know what it is to have a medical card. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle does not. My family was very glad of it—

Deputy Penrose—

Maybe those people who look after the horse owners and breeders—

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Penrose—

Why did the Government not increase capital gains tax and ensure the ordinary working class people got a medical card? I will stand up for these people. I am sick and tired of this. It is a charade—

Check the figures—

I ask Deputy Penrose to resume his seat—

I know exactly what this is about. I know because I come from that background—

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He knows he is being disorderly.

I have never been disorderly.

The Deputy is being disorderly and I ask him to resume his seat.

I am fighting on behalf of the people who were wronged—

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

What was the answer?

(Interruptions.)

When will the Social Welfare Bill come before the House?

The Bill will be presented after the budget and its provisions will be contained in the budget.

When will the Government bring forward legislation to implement in full the recommendations of the task force on dyslexia delivered to the Department of Education last year?

There is no legislation promised in that regard.

There will be plenty of dyslexia in the Book of Estimates.

What does the Ceann Comhairle have against me? I was the second person to put my hand up this morning. When the Contractual Obligations Bill comes before the House, will it mean that when people post a letter in Dublin, it will arrive in rural Ireland and the postman will deliver it?

The Deputy must ask questions appropriate to legislation not its content.

I ask for the Ceann Comhairle's help as a Member of this House. Can the Minister for Defence – and he is the Government's defence as the Taoiseach is on his day off for his FÁS scheme – ensure that we have a discussion about the postal dispute? Thousands of people have not received their letters this morning in rural Ireland. That is an important issue to this House.

Deputy Parlon talks about selling public buildings and if he keeps going this way, he will sell this House and rent it out for dances.

That was last week's joke.

(Interruptions.)

Deputy Cassidy can book the bands.

The first question on legislation.

This is a technical Bill and work is proceeding on it. It is impossible to say when it will be introduced.

It is a shame the Taoiseach is not obliged to be here this morning to answer for the Government's shameful reneging on medical cards.

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

Will the Ceann Comhairle sponsor a change in the Standing Orders so that the Taoiseach is obliged to come to the House on Thursday mornings to answer for crimes such as those announced yesterday by the Government—

Standing Orders are a matter for the Members of the House not for the Chair.

It has deprived vulnerable people of medical cards. Will the Ceann Comhairle bring forward changes?

The Deputy is out of Order and he knows he is. We must have a question appropriate to legislation. We have not heard anything about legislation yet.

It is clear that change to Standing Orders should not have been made—

That does not arise. The Deputy will have to find another way of raising the matter.

Given that parents will now have to make the decisions they would normally expect their GPs to make as to how sick their children are, will they be protected under the Medical Indemnity Bill?

We cannot discuss the content of the Bill at this stage. The Deputy will have to find another way of raising the issue. Deputy Jerry Cowley.

When will the Bill be introduced?

Can the Minister say when the Bill will be introduced?

The line to Medjugorje has broken down again.

It is not on the list of promised legislation.

It is on a list of promised legislation.

I would not have asked the question otherwise.

We will have to go to Medjugorje for the answer.

Is the Medical Indemnity Bill on the list?

(Interruptions.)

Deputies should give the Minister a chance to respond.

This is another good reason for the Taoiseach to be here. The Minister cannot read – at least the Taoiseach can read the answers even if he cannot speak well in answering our questions.

The Bill is on the list and publication is expected next year.

The Taoiseach is not here to answer questions – having been given the day off by the Labour Party – is there any legislation to reverse that considering all the medical cards that will not now be given?

Is there legislation promised? No.

On a point of order. Last Thursday was the first for which the Taoiseach was not here. A Private Notice Question was tabled and the Dáil had to be suspended because there was no Minister present to take it. If a Private Notice Question is tabled today, will I get an assurance from the Minister that there will not be a suspension of business in the House?

That is not a point of order. I call Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.

Will the Courts (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill contain provisions to extend the successful north inner city drugs court?

The aim is to have heads of the Bill by the end of this year and the Minister favours including proposals of the Dormant Accounts Bill with it and publishing it in mid-2003.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats and in relation to the matter raised in the House this morning by Deputy Power, I ask the Chair, to consider, perhaps in consultation with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, whether it would be appropriate for some Deputies and Senators to travel to Colombia to meet the people who have been charged with very serious terrorist offences and to observe the nature of the proceedings against them. It is a serious matter for this House and I suggest to the Ceann Comhairle—

The Deputy should bring the matter to her own party for submission to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for consideration.

Because the Ceann Comhairle has responsibility for the reputation and integrity of the House, I urge him to make a determination on this matter in the near future.

I support Deputy O'Donnell's comments. Given that the two parties in Government have indicated that there is a wish for such a debate, I suggest the Whips should meet soon to make arrangements in that regard.

Given that many people will have to pay for private medical insurance if they are to have medical cover, when will the Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill be introduced?

Next year.

Given that the British army marches at about four miles per hour, with full pack, and that traffic in Dublin is now reduced to two miles per hour so that it takes two hours to travel from Newlands Cross to this House, are there any proposals in the Government's legislative programme on transport that might have some effect on the speed at which people can move around this city?

(Interruptions.)

Is the Minister aware that the workers at IFI are required to sign a legal document to get their minimal, partial payments under a redundancy settlement? Will he ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to intervene to allow a pre-Christmas payment to be made to the IFI workers irrespective of the outcome of negotiations which are still under way?

I appreciate that the workers are legitimately concerned. I will contact the Minister in relation to the matter.

Does the Government propose to introduce legislation to protect the integrity of the postal system given that the receiver at IFI is opening personal letters addressed to the workers?

Is there legislation promised?