The Order of Business today shall be No. 18, Finance Bill 2003 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. Private Members' Business shall be No. 34, motion re nursing home care and respite and residential care.
Order of Business.
There are no proposals to be put to the House. As promised, I wish to report to the Dáil on the problem encountered with the electronic voting system last week. The software company, Ebow, which operates the electronic voting system, identified the problem as a virus affecting the system. At present electronic voting is linked to the House system and measures have been put in place to make it stand-alone. This work will be completed over the coming weekend. In the meantime, I am informed that electronic voting can continue to be used this week and that from next week the system will be guaranteed to be virus free.
Three cheers for those who debugged the Oireachtas system and eliminated the virus. I am sure we are all very glad to know we will be able to continue to vote electronically. I oppose the Order of Business.
There is nothing to oppose today.
There are 93 amendments to the Finance Bill.
You may ask a question on the Order of Business. There are no proposals to be put to the House.
There will be only two minutes and 20 seconds per amendment, which represents high-speed government.
Deputies will have time again tomorrow to debate this matter.
How many hours will be allocated tomorrow?
I oppose the guillotine.
There is no proposal before the House today. That will come tomorrow morning with the time motion.
I refer the Minister to his interview of 29 December in which he told Catherine Cleary of The Sunday Tribune:
The Government will not be splurging on a new government jet. We are not able to afford to buy a second jet. We will be leasing one.
Is that still the Minister's view or what is the position now?
I suggest you submit a question on that. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
The Minister wishes to reply.
We will have to wait for ten years.
Will there be an emergency Estimate? This is an item representing Government expenditure of €50 million. The Minister told Catherine Cleary we would not purchase.
You are well aware of the Standing Order. You have an advantage because you may avail of Leaders' Questions as well as being able to submit an ordinary question to the Minister or raise the matter on the Adjournment or in many other ways.
Will the Minister answer the last question again, this time in relation to the Finance Bill in which there will be a major hole if one or more Government jets are purchased? My question on promised legislation relates to our fuel security in light of the crisis in Iraq. The Bord Gáis Éireann Bill was promised in April 2001 and again in early 2002, yet is not listed for 2003. Can we expect the legislation to be rolled into succeeding years for as long as gas is available or will it be taken before our gas reserves run out?
The heads of the Bill are expected in the middle of this year.
Is the Government aware of the serious crisis in the meat, bonemeal and offal market in which factories are being closed down? Will the Animal Disease Bill or any other Bill related to agriculture be brought before the House so that we can discuss—
We cannot discuss the content of legislation.
The heads of the Bill were approved in February.
When does the Government intend to introduce the Bill which would abolish the €20 planning fee? Will the Minister direct me to the legislation on the legislative programme, if any, which refers to the Government's plans to sell off large amounts of State owned property, as announced by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon?
There will be no roll-over tax on those sales.
With regard to the first question, the matter is still under consideration.
I asked two questions.
There is no legislation at this stage.
In other words, there will be no sell off. How will the assets be sold without legislation?
We cannot have a debate on the issue.
The Minister of State announced we would sell off a significant amount of State property. I want to know which legislation he—
The Minister has just stated legislation is not promised on the matter.
It is required.
I suggest the Deputy submits a question.
What is the relevant legislation?
Having been directly involved in the disposal of State property in circumstances where it is surplus to requirements, I assure the Deputy legislation is not required.
Perhaps the land will be swapped for a jet.
We will not splurge.
Given the decision of the Government to close the windows and shut out the lights, when will the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003, which is before the Seanad, come before this House?
It is currently before the Seanad.
It will come before the House as soon as the Seanad is finished with it.
Last Thursday we discussed the workings of the House. Is the Government in a position to introduce a set of proposals to improve the effectiveness and impact of the House, a matter for which the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Hanafin, has responsibility? This is of interest to all Members.
The work to continue to reform the operations of the House has been undertaken primarily by the Chief Whip. We are anxious to see this work expedited.
The Minister is not prepared to tell us when the reform will take place.
On a point of order, the House established a statutory committee to deal with Dáil reform. As it is not the role of the Government Chief Whip, the Minister may be misleading the House.
The Minister stated the Government would indicate its position on Iraq on foot of the inspectors' report on 8 March. Will it allocate sufficient time for a debate on the matter early next week, particularly in view of the fact that six people have been killed in a bombing in the no fly zone for which there was no United Nations mandate? The forces being used in the no fly zone without a UN mandate may have travelled through Shannon Airport. The Government gave a commitment—
We cannot have a debate on the issue.
On foot of the inspectors' report, which will be delivered on 8 March, will the Government hold a full debate in the House as early as next Tuesday to include discussion of the illegal activity being carried out without a UN mandate?
The matter could be discussed by the Whips.
It is matter for the Whips. The Taoiseach has consistently made clear that we want the issue resolved through peaceful means and we will make every effort to achieve that outcome.
The Taoiseach has not made the position clear.
Will the Government provide time for a debate?
We cannot have a debate on the issue now.
With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, the Minister did not answer the question. Will the Government make time available to discuss the second report of the weapons inspectors?
The Opposition will agree.
This issue, like all such matters, can be discussed among the Whips. The Government wants to facilitate the wishes of Members in this respect.
Is the Government prepared to introduce secondary or parallel legislation to allow local government authorities to suggest alternative uses for land banks and under-utilised properties it intends to sell on the private market?
I will have the matter checked. I do not believe there is any specific legislation proposed on the matter.
The Ceann Comhairle will agree it is heart warming to see the Minster for Finance and the Minister for Health and Children having a cosy chat together. We know from freedom of information requests that their relationship is very different in reality and that the Minister for Finance is now directing what happens in the health service. As a consequence of this patients are suffering and lives will be put at risk. Will the health complaints Bill establish a mechanism to allow people to continue to know what is going on in the war between the Departments of Finance and Health and Children?
We cannot have a debate on the content of legislation.
I have not finished. Will a Supplementary Estimate be introduced for the Department of Health and Children to ensure patients' lives and health are protected?
The heads of the health complaints Bill are expected in the middle of the year.
In relation to the Dublin Transportation Bill, the Minister will be aware that Dublin City Council has started the process of revising its development plan. When will the Bill be published and taken in the House? What provision has been made to inform local councils of its impact on the process of drawing up development plans?
The Bill will be published later this year.
Will the Government provide information to local councils?
We have all seen photographs and television shots of razor wire being erected at Shannon Airport. This raises legal issues in the areas of planning and health and safety. It appears the wire was erected illegally. Does the Minister have any legislative proposals on this matter?
No legislation is promised.
Shannon Airport is entirely surrounded by wire which was erected without planning permission or compliance with health and safety regulations.
The Deputy will have to raise the matter in another way.
Reports at the weekend indicate the Progressive Democrats Party is again about to assume the role of the lapdog rather than the watchdog in respect of the introduction of third level fees. Does the Government intend to introduce third level fees or a graduate tax? Is legislation planned in this area? The Finance Bill will be completed in the House tomorrow. If a graduate tax is to be introduced, I presume it would have to feature in a finance Bill. Will the Minister clarify the position of the Government with regard to third level fees?
No legislation is promised.
Does that mean third level fees will not be introduced?
We will move on to No. 18.
A Ceann Comhairle, I know it is difficult to see Members sitting in this part of the House, but I indicated I wished to raise an issue on the Order of Business. At what stage is the rates Bill and when will this side of the House be informed of its contents, lest it contain some hidden virtues?
The heads of the Bill are expected later this month.