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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 27 Jan 2005

Vol. 596 No. 2

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 1, the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999 — amendment from the Seanad; and No. 18, the Disability Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 1 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes, and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Private Members' business, No. 42, motion re: Health and Safety Authority: Request for A&E Risk Assessment (resumed), will be taken immediately after the Order of Business and conclude after 90 minutes.

There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1, the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999, agreed? Agreed.

I pay tribute to Des Edwards who is retiring from the usher staff this week after 29 years' service. Des has served the Houses of the Oireachtas for more than 29 years with great distinction and is a very popular character around here. He always displays good humour and is always helpful to us, temporary staff. Des arrived in Leinster House in 1976 and through his long and distinguished career here has rubbed shoulders with the great international statesmen and women of our time who have visited these Houses. He has also had to deal with us, more local types. I think I speak for everyone in this House when I say he was always courteous, professional and extremely thorough in every aspect of his job. He did all of this with a smile on his face and an uncanny knack of putting everyone in good humour no matter what the situation.

Des, as we know, is one of the fittest people around here. He cycled in and out practically every day hail, rain or snow. He is a keen theatre buff but no stranger to outrageous characters, extraordinary plots, unbelievable egos and the odd Greek tragedy, which served him well when working in this place. The Edwards name will not totally disappear from the Houses as a son and daughter of his work here also — a dynasty in the making. He was part of what I call the "holy trinity" with Mr. Paddy Behan and Mr. Frank Lane. Paddy and Frank retired before Christmas and I extend my best wishes to them once more. I wish Des many happy years ahead. Next year, he and his wife Geraldine will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I extend my congratulations to them and my gratitude to him for his outstanding work here during a distinguished career. He will be missed by all.


Hear, hear.

I would like to associate myself and the Fine Gael Party with the expression of gratitude for public service to Mr. Des Edwards, Mr. Paddy Behan and Mr. Frank Lane. Between them, they gave more than a century of courteous, dedicated, efficient and common-sense service to people from all walks of life who came through the gates of Leinster House and to Members from many Governments and parties over the last 40 years.

They all learned their trade from the inimitable great servant, Mr. Paddy Cullagh, who trained all these young men in the last 50 years. Anybody in a position to have a word with Paddy before he did a tour of Leinster House would make sure the names were mentioned up there in the ranks of the famous Taoisigh and those who pretended to be Taoisigh in the House.

I hope Des has a happy new career. That trio gave outstanding service and are role models for all those who have come into the House as ushers and as servants of the public in so many ways.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I too acknowledge the professional service of Mr. Des Edwards through the years and thank him for his courtesy. On behalf of my party, I had the opportunity to attend, with the Ceann Comhairle, the retirement celebrations for Mr. Frank Lane and Mr. Paddy Behan. I am beginning to think the entire matter is a ruse to allow the Superintendent to make long speeches on these occasions.

If it is really the case that Des Edwards, despite his appearance, has reached retirement age, I wish him every happiness in that retirement. Upon returning to the House after interview with the people at approximate intervals of three and a half years to find many colleagues missing on each occasion, it was a great comfort that Des Edwards seemed to go on forever. His courtesy has been unfailing and I thank him for his service to the Houses of the Oireachtas and wish him well in retirement.

Like other speakers, I pay tribute on behalf of the Green Party to Mr. Des Edwards for the many years of service he has given and wish him, his wife and family well into the future. As we were paying tribute to Mr. Frank Lane and Mr. Paddy Behan, some of us could not help but also pay tribute to Des even though he was not retiring at that time. This was not surprising as the three men were associated.

Des should also be remembered, as the Minister for Finance mentioned, as a dedicated regular cyclist. Medically, his fitness must be attributed in no small extent to his lifestyle. It is a recommendation to which the Ceann Comhairle as a GP can relate that, upon reaching middle-age, those who cycle are generally approximately ten years younger medically than non-cyclists. I hope this does not mean that cyclists must work longer in the future and put off retirement simply because they are more youthful. Des is getting his reward, however, and is retiring in a youthful and fit fashion.

On behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies and our team in Leinster House, I would like to associate with the good wishes to Mr. Des Edwards for his service here through the years and for his courtesy to each of us and to myself when I first came to the House on my own in 1997. I would like to associate him as one of the trinity of those who have been the pillars of the permanent staff of this institution over the years of my presence and for some time before that. This trinity includes Mr. Frank Lane and Mr. Paddy Behan and I wish all three a long, happy and healthy retirement.

It is a good job the Ceann Comhairle did not ask us to stand. When he moved forward, I thought for a moment he was getting into a formal position.

I wish to ask three questions of the Minister for Finance. First, I am not clear on the issue I raised yesterday with the Taoiseach regarding the critical infrastructure Bill. When will it be published? It is not on the list and has been removed from the Government programme. Second, there has been much media reportage of the report on the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen. Is that report intended for general release and, if so, will it be published today?

Will the report be leaked?

Publication would liberate the Minister from the stranglehold of public comment.

Finally, will there be a formal statement by the Government on this, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp? Heads of Government and State are attending there today to mark that dreadful era in international politics.

The final question is a matter for the Whips to arrange if such is required and appropriate. This morning on radio, the President articulately expressed the views of the nation on this 60th anniversary.

For the information of the House, the Quigley report was received by the Taoiseach on Monday afternoon, whereupon he took the opportunity to consider its content and recommendations. Having done so, arrangements are being made for its publication today. However, prior to its release, a final copy has been given to those persons identified or likely to be identifiable so as to allow them a chance to familiarise themselves with its content before it comes into the public domain. Once this is done, it will be sent to Opposition leaders and placed in the Oireachtas Library. Shortly thereafter, it will be made available to the media and on the website of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach will issue a full statement for the perusal of the House.

On the first issue raised by Deputy Kenny, draft heads are being considered as a consequence of the resubmission of the draft legislation to Government.

I agree with Deputy Kenny on the importance of making the Quigley report available. In terms of value for money, the contract concerned succeeded in getting some publicity for the Minister. We shall have to await any other consequences.

I am sure the Minister for Finance shares the concerns of Members on this side of the House regarding the rate of employment attrition this month with job losses especially evident in the more traditional sector. Some 140 jobs have been lost at Kantoher Chickens, 60 at Media Lab Europe——

Deputy Rabbitte should address a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

——220 at SerCom Solutions in Clondalkin, 350 at Irish Sugar, 260 at Shannon Airport, 200 at APW Enclosures in Tallaght and 92 at Sara Lee. In all, 1,392 jobs have been lost.

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

Yes. Does the Government contemplate any legislative proposals that might address the rate of job losses, especially in the more traditional manufacturing sector, given the losses that occurred in January?

I am anxious to remain in order in answering the Deputy's question. It should be clear to the leader of the Labour Party that all projections for the coming year indicate a net increase in employment of more than 35,000 on an already high level of employment that is unprecedented in the history of the State. I take the point that, as the Deputy well knows, we are engaged in the provision of that new employment in a change in the nature of economic activity. Some of the traditional industries face competitive pressures and we all regret job losses at any time, whether it be those announced this morning or in recent times. I make this point in the context of increasing employment levels overall.

We cannot have a debate on the matter.

The Deputy asked about the legislation. On the publication of the Finance Bill next week, we will give legislative effect to the measures announced at the budget. The Government took specific measures on the health levy for those earning less than €400 per week and did not increase indirect taxation as a means of ensuring that competitive pressures are minimised to the greatest extent possible. Such measures including taking those on the minimum wage out of the tax net represent another effort by Government to assist employers in traditional industries to maintain employment levels despite the pressures they face.

On promised legislation——

We cannot have a debate. The Deputy asked a question that was out of order and got an answer that was out of order.

When will the information and consultation on employees Bill be brought before the House?

It is hoped it will be brought before the House during the course of this year.

I have two questions, one a request for a debate. The Minister mentioned giving the Opposition the opportunity for perusal of the report into the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen. Could we perhaps have further consideration including perhaps a debate with questions to be answered by the Minister?

That just relates to the business of the House. In 2003 the forestry (amendment) Bill was promised for 2004; in 2004 it was promised for 2005 and in 2005 it is now not possible to say when it will be published. I know the Taoiseach is famous for his love of forestry after his less than exhaustive look up every tree in north County Dublin. Is forestry now something of an embarrassment or will it be put back on the list of promised legislation?

I am informed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food that we are awaiting the outcome of discussions on an EU rural development directive. It would be inappropriate to introduce domestic legislative proposals on forestry until the requirements and obligations under the directive become clear.

The dormant financial assets Bill had been quite prominent on the Government's legislative programme. This appears to have disappeared from the programme. This Bill is important as, for example, customers due refunds by some of the banks, which have been found to have overcharged, might not be traceable resulting in funds to be dealt with. It would be appropriate that the Dáil should consider such legislation.

The Minister has announced a review of tax reliefs in the tax code. Does he intend publishing a Green Paper or a White Paper thereby involving the Oireachtas in the course of the review?

In the budget I announced a review of the existing incentive reliefs and exemptions and this matter is being pursued as quickly as possible. Advertisements as required under EU rules have been placed in the EU Journal and we have indicated we wish to hear from the public and other interested parties. The review will be conducted by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Finance, which is the correct approach. Upon conclusion of those deliberations it will be a matter for this House to debate and discuss. We should not pre-empt that process. Various mechanisms in this House are available to the Deputy to inquire into the progress being made in the course of the year.

The dormant financial assets Bill is to extend the dormant accounts treatment of assets other than life assurance and bank accounts. The provisions envisaged for the Bill will be incorporated in the financial services (consolidation) Bill.

In the autumn schedule of promised legislation the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill was listed and scheduled to be taken this year. In the new programme of Government legislation just published it does not appear to be listed, unless I cannot find it. What has happened to this promised legislation? If it has fallen off the table will the Minister take steps to have it restored? As it is such an important issue addressing leave for parents——

It is not necessary to make a speech on the matter.

The Minister might take note of the Department under whose aegis this falls and ask whether it is the appropriate Department.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to answer his question.

The Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2004 was published on 20 December last and is now before the Seanad.

Will the gas regulation Bill be published before the opening of the gas market and if so when will it be published? Does the Government have any plans on the national minimum wage?

The gas regulation Bill has 60 heads. It will give effect to the restructuring of the natural gas industry. It is expected to be published in the course of this year. I cannot be more specific.

No legislation is envisaged on the other matter. As the Deputy is aware it is a matter that is addressed under the social partnership process as a result of agreements already reached.

There are no plans.

The electricity Bill is topical. When will the Bill be circulated? When this happens adequate time should be given for appraisal of the Bill before it is passed by the House. When will the energy Bill come before the House? This is also a topical issue particularly as it relates to support for alternative energies over which question marks hang at present. Both Bills need adequate debate before being passed.

Obviously I agree with the Deputy on the matter. The electricity Bill has 172 heads. It will allow the ESB to be converted into a plc under the Companies Acts and to consolidate existing electricity legislation. The Deputy will also be aware that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources announced his intention to review the state of the industry and what strategic decisions should be taken in the future. Ongoing discussions are taking place at management and union level. Following the implementation of the PACT agreement, I am sure the ESB can continue competitively as a dominant player in the market. While the heads of the Bill were approved some time ago, it is a question of considerable continuing work. It is not expected to be taken this year. The review announced by the Minister predates all of that. We will have plenty of opportunity to discuss it here and in the industry generally quite apart from waiting for the Bill to reach the Order Paper.

The energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will amend the powers of the Commission for Energy Regulation to regulate assets not owned by the ESB, give the Minister power to give general policy directions to the regulator and permit the regulator to claw back any windfall gains accruing for electricity generators. It will also update existing legislation and introduce new provisions regarding natural gas safety. The Bill will probably be published in the latter half of this year.

Yesterday evening I asked the Taoiseach about the ground rents Bill and I do not recall getting an answer. Has the ground rents Bill been withdrawn from the programme and if so on what basis?

It is not proceeding at the moment or in the immediate future due to a Supreme Court judgment, the implications of which must be studied.

All sides of the House want to see reform in the insurance industry but this week the High Court struck down some of the proposals of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. Will this decision be appealed to the Supreme Court or will amending legislation be introduced by the Government?

Mr. Justice McMenamin gave a High Court judgment and the board is considering its options and the response it can make. Press reports have stated that an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely. My understanding of the basic issue in the judgment is that while a solicitor can be employed by the client, costs of the solicitor will be borne by the client rather than the board. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, as a litigant in the case, has its own rights and entitlements and is taking legal advice on the matter.

For many years, legislation has been promised to regulate the charity sector. In light of recent events, the unprecedented response by the public to the Asian tsunami appeal, and the growing expansion of the budget in this area, there is a need for this legislation to be fast-tracked. It is non-controversial and all sides of the House would welcome it.

Work is ongoing on the matter. The Bill is substantial and involves statute law revision and restatement in addition to legislative reform provisions to regulate charities to ensure accountability and to protect against the abuse of charitable status and fraud. It is hoped to bring that consideration to finalisation in the course of this year.

Aer Lingus will tomorrow lose its senior management as a result of the Government's failure to decide on the future funding of the airline. When will that decision be made? When will the Air Navigation and Transport Bill, which ratifies the convention dealing with the international financing of aircraft, come back before the House to facilitate that decision?

It will be before the House this year.