The Order of Business today will be No. 30, the Finance Bill 2004, allocation of time motion for select committee; No. 13a, motion re the ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; and No. 6, the Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licence) Bill 2004, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight. Business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m. Nos. 13 and 13a shall be decided without debate. The proceedings of No. 6 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. Private Members' business shall be No. 38, motion re electronic voting.
Order of Business.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 13 and 13a without debate agreed?
On that matter, I am disappointed that the report on tax relief for persons with disabilities who require cars to get around has not been released by the Minister. That means that the Government has taken seven years to consider the needs of persons with disabilities regarding mobility, whereas it was seven days in the case of the Punchestown project.
I am sorry but we are discussing the allocation of time motion. The Deputy has made his point.
It makes a nonsense of examining serious issues.
Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 13 and 13a without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 6 agreed?
Is that a guillotine, or is it simply the adjournment of business of 10.30 p.m.? We are opposed to guillotines.
It is the conclusion of Second Stage.
The House might note this is another Bill among the 100% of Bills since Christmas to be guillotined.
I object to the use of the guillotine, for which there is no reason in this case. It is going into a late-night sitting. The Bill could easily be taken tomorrow, when we would have more time to debate it, rather than trying to guillotine it tonight.
I too object to the use of the guillotine in this case. It is impossible to gauge the extent of participation. It is unquestionably an important Bill, but business might very well be concluded within the time. The objection is that a guillotine is once more being applied. In the event that not all speakers have had a chance to participate, it rules out people in the queue. It is not acceptable, yet it has now become the practice since the resumption of this session. It is most objectionable, and I oppose the proposition.
I accept that we should try to avoid guillotining any Stage, where possible. However, the Second Stage of the Bill is today, but Committee Stage will be taken next week and Report Stage the following week. The Bill must be enacted before 24 March, so it will be taken in three stages. It is necessary to allow adequate time for Committee Stage next week.
Regarding the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003, in December 2002, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, clearly said that he intended to put an immediate stop to public service recruitment and reduce public service numbers by 5,000 by 2005. It has now emerged that public service numbers——
Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
——have gone up by 20,000 in the last year. Is that a cause of concern to the Taoiseach, and is the matter to be addressed in the context of putting the Bill before the House?
I am sorry, Deputy.
Twenty thousand members of the public service have been recruited.
I am sorry, but it is not appropriate to raise that matter on the Order of Business. There are other ways for the Deputy to raise the matter. I call the Taoiseach on the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003.
The Bill has already started its passage through the House. There is a difference between the number of people identified in the survey as working as whole-time equivalents. In the report to which Deputy Kenny refers, it is stated that, if one works for over an hour in any capacity, one is classed as a full-time employee. That is not the way to count the public service. There is an enormous difference between the figures from the Department of Finance and those in the survey.
Having changed his position half a dozen times on whether the introduction of electronic voting in the forthcoming elections could or could not be done by order, has the Taoiseach's Government discovered, at the 12th hour, that it requires primary legislation? When will such legislation be introduced? Will he assure the House that it will not be introduced before electronic voting in the European and local elections, having regard to the shambles and bungling of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, in handling the matter? Regarding the Tánaiste's concerns about there being no verifiable voter audit trail, does the Taoiseach consider that the amendment tabled to the motion tonight in the names of the Fine Gael leader, Deputy Sargent and me meets the crisis that has been unnecessarily provoked by the incompetence of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government?
The Deputy's first question is in order, but the second would be more appropriate to the debate during Private Members' time tonight.
The Deputy asked me several questions, but the first concerned whether we were going to introduce legislation. The answer is "Yes". The reason does not concern our changing our minds or position, or any advice that we may have received. The right to vote is one of the fundamental rights of our democracy, and because people raised several related issues, I said last week that we would listen both inside and outside the House. Many articles and people have said that we should——
The Taoiseach told us that he would not introduce the legislation.
If the Deputy asks me a question, he should let me answer it, for God's sake.
Where did the Taoiseach——
Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.
The Taoiseach said he was right and Deputy Gilmore was wrong.
Allow the Taoiseach to answer the question.
I did say that. There is no constitutional or legal position that says that one has to change the law. However, because the right to vote is fundamental and people, both inside and outside the House, have stated that on this issue we should be careful, "treble careful", as it was put in one newspaper, when making any changes, we have listened. We have examined what we can do to bring certainty. The Government understands and agrees with the need to ensure the utmost confidence in the electoral system. Therefore, in response to the concerns expressed, we have decided to establish an independent panel to verify secrecy and to deal with the issue of an individual who wishes to abstain and how that might be highlighted. It means changing the equipment technically, which will be explained later tonight, as well as dealing with the tallying information. Those were the issues raised. We have looked at them and while it is not a necessity to change, we think it would be better to do so to ensure the absolute credibility of the system. It is right that we do that and I hope it is recognised inside and outside the House.
My question was whether the Taoiseach will introduce primary legislation and, if so, when we will see it. Given the concerns to which the Taoiseach has now awoken and the absence of provision for the counting systems in the motion the Government has just published, the critical question is whether such legislation will apply for the forthcoming elections.
The Deputy has made his point.
The Taoiseach addressed the electronic voting system, not the counting system.
The Deputy's contribution may be more appropriate during Private Members' Business.
It is a well made one.
A question on when the legislation will come before the House would be appropriate.
As the Ceann Comhairle has ruled, I am entitled to ask the Taoiseach about promised legislation.
The Deputy has asked a question and I call on the Taoiseach to respond.
He has promised this legislation which does not in any way allay the most substantial fears expressed on this side of the House and by independent experts and academics outside it.
That matter does not arise at this stage. The Deputy's question on when the legislation will come before the House is in order.
Would it not, therefore, be prudent to defer this matter until we have time to consider it after 12 June.
The Deputy will have an opportunity in Private Members' time. In fairness to his colleagues on the opposite side of the House, he should not anticipate the debate.
May we have tallies for the Dublin West count in the previous election? It was the only constituency for which they were not available.
I did not think it was necessary, but perhaps it is, to repeat that the system has been examined many times, both internationally and locally. A number of issues have been raised in the current debate, of which tally information is one, and we will provide for——
The question of a tally was raised by the Government backbenchers.
The questions of an independent group handling the process and of accidental or non-accidental spoiling of votes were raised. The issues regarding the count and the ability of the system to deal with it have not——
Verifiability is the issue here and the Taoiseach did not deal with it.
I read the newspaper coverage of this over the weekend and the system has been looked at by about five international groupings. To say it has not——
Mossad or the CIA could fix a general election in 24 hours.
The system has not been found to be flawed in any way. We will bring forward the legislation quickly. We believe, and all the advice we have had from those involved is, that while these measures are not necessary, it is better to proceed with them and give credibility to the system, and we will do that very quickly.
Will the Taoiseach guarantee he will not railroad the legislation through committee?
This is not about satisfying Government backbenchers but about having a verifiable audit trail.
We will not debate the issue. Deputy Rabbitte will have an opportunity to deal with the matter tonight. It is not in order to anticipate tonight's debate.
The Taoiseach knows I have a high regard from him, but where the counting of votes is concerned, I do not trust the Fianna Fáil Party and this motion does not allay my fears.
The Deputy asked a question appropriate to the Order of Business and received an answer to it.
I caution the Taoiseach to watch out for the courts, which may have a different view on the need for legislation on electronic voting. On the charities regulation Bill, I heard the Taoiseach's brother, the Minister for State, Deputy Noel Ahern——
What is the position with regard to the charities regulation Bill?
The dormant accounts (amendment) Bill must not be used as a Government slush fund and we should first pass the charities regulation Bill so that the dormant accounts fund can be used in a fairer way.
The heads of the charities regulation Bill are expected before the end of 2004 and the dormant accounts (amendment) Bill, about which I spoke earlier, is expected this year.
The order in which they are taken should be reversed.
Given the cost of funerals in Dublin, which is exorbitant by any measure in the majority of cases, when will the money advice and budgeting service Bill 2002 be brought forward? This is an opportune time for the House to discuss this rip-off — an unusual term to describe the industry — which is a major problem in Dublin that needs to be addressed.
I understand the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is re-examining the Bill and it is not ready to be introduced.
The Minister told us she did not intend to proceed with it.
That is what I said — she is reviewing the legislation.
Is she re-examining it or reviewing it?
Allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption, please.
Aspects of the legislation will have to be legislated for at any rate so it will have to be done in some other way if the Minister does not bring forward the Bill.
I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the fact that there are two dormant accounts Bills scheduled in the current legislative programme presented by the Government at the start of this term. Will he indicate the relationship between the legislation listed under the Department of Finance and that listed under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs? Is there a particular order in which each will present or will they present simultaneously?
I have answered questions on one of the Bills on two occasions. The Bill listed under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the second Bill about which the Deputy asked, is to enable dormant funds in the courts to be applied for other purposes. It is intended to incorporate this into the civil liability and courts Bill.
I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle, if my question has been asked as I was at a committee hearing. Is primary or secondary legislation necessary for the proposed introduction of electronic voting?
The matter has been dealt with.
What answer was given?
We dealt with the matter a few minutes ago and we cannot have repetition.
May we hear the answer again?
No, there is a Standing Order dealing with repetition.
The Taoiseach did not answer when precisely the amending legislation on electronic voting will be brought before the House.
The matter has been dealt with and I have ruled Deputy Allen out of order.
We want assurances.
The legislation will be brought forward as a matter of urgency.
Emergency legislation was promised outside the House to deal with the situation that has arisen on the M50 which cannot be completed due to a Supreme Court decision. I cannot overstate the extent of the emergency. When will the legislation be brought before the House?
It will come before the Government next Tuesday when I hope it will be cleared.
What is the position in respect of legislation to empower one of the all-Ireland implementation bodies established in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, namely, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission? The commission requires primary legislation to facilitate its operation.
Is legislation promised?
Yes, drafting of the text is proceeding and publication is to coincide with consultation and publication in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The legislation is listed for later this year by which time I hope we can proceed. The Assembly must be operational before we can complete it.
Is the legislation ready to proceed?
We will certainly have it ready later this year. The heads have been approved and drafting is under way. It is not ready now but it will be later this year.
When will the Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill be introduced and will it include an ESOP provision? Does the Taoiseach anticipate legislation on foot of the report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on radio licensing?
The Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is not likely to be taken in the immediate future. What was the Deputy's second question?
My question was on No. 15, the report from Deputy O'Flynn on radio licensing.
It is a matter for the Whips.
Will the Taoiseach outline the current situation regarding the pharmacy Bill and state when he expects it to be produced and available?
Work is under way on the drafting of the heads of the Bill. It is expected during the course of 2004.
Will the Taoiseach say if and when a rates Bill will be before the House?
The local government (rates) Bill will standardise, modernise, streamline and consolidate rating law. The heads of the Bill are expected during this year and it could be next year before it is drafted.
Will the Taoiseach inform the House about the pensions (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? What categories of civil servants are to be covered by this Bill? Will it include, for instance, categories such as firemen?
That does not arise at this stage.
The Bill was due to be enacted, passed and implemented by 1 April. It is important legislation——
The content of the legislation is not appropriate at this stage.
—— and we have no information. Will the Taoiseach give the House some information on the reason it has not yet seen this Bill and when it will be before the House as it is important proposed legislation?
The Taoiseach to reply on promised legislation.
The pensions (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is now called the public service superannuation (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. It implements the public service pensions reform package announced by the Minister for Finance in the Budget Statement last December. The Bill will be before the House in this session.
We were not told that the Bill's name was being changed. I ask that the House be informed. I had questions tabled to the Minister last week and I was not even told of the change.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the ongoing crisis in accident and emergency departments, not just in Dublin but in other centres? In Wexford hospital, as I speak, there are almost two dozen patients——
Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
I have. Is the Taoiseach aware——
Is it a question on legislation?
Yes. The problem relates to the bed closures that occurred.
We must move on. I call Deputy Connolly.
Is there any intention to bring in a Supplementary Estimate to ensure that these beds are re-opened to meet the needs of patients?
That question was asked last week.
That question was not answered.
Nineteen beds in Wexford.
The Taoiseach has answered it now.
Given that elective surgery has been cancelled in Cavan General Hospital every day last week——
The Deputy should ask a question on legislation.
When will the health (complaints) Bill be introduced?
That Bill will be incorporated into the Health Act.