Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council decision concerning the signing of the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway on the surrender procedure between the member states of the European Union and Iceland and Norway; No. 12a, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil; No. 21, Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad] — Second Stage, resumed, to adjourn at 1.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 24, Health (Nursing Homes) (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, resumed; and No. 2, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Nos. 12 and 12a shall be decided without debate, and the deadline for receipt of oral questions for answer on Wednesday, 7 June 2006 shall be 1 p.m today.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12 and 12a without debate agreed?

I thank the Tánaiste and Government Whip for agreeing to our proposal that the House sit next week. Apart from the crisis which besieges the Government, it is entirely appropriate that the House should sit in any event. I suggest it sits as normal on Tuesday afternoon.

I do not disagree with Deputy Rabbitte's proposal. Will the Tánaiste indicate what is the deadline for receipt of ordinary questions for answer on Thursday, 7 June 2006. She mentioned a deadline of 1 p.m. today for receipt of questions for answer on Wednesday. As Monday is a bank holiday and officials will not be in the House, is there a deadline for submission of ordinary questions for answer on Thursday?

The Green Party also welcomes the fact that the House will sit next Wednesday and Thursday. It is a nonsense that the House is considering rising and my party would prefer if we had a full sitting week next week.

On Friday's special sitting, I request that time be provided for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a further statement, preferably during today's sitting, in light of the re-publication in today's edition of the Irish Independent of an article he wrote in the Sunday Independent in 1995 in which he indicated his intimate knowledge of the issue in hand. The Minister needs to make a statement setting forth the reasons he has not acted on that knowledge since becoming a member of the Cabinet in 1999.

Most importantly, I welcome the opportunity to address the emergency legislation tomorrow. Clearly, it is something that not only the Members of this House but also the public will welcome.

Looking at the proposal on the Order of Business today regarding No. 12a, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil, one would have to say that this reflects a Government in crisis. Over the past week, conflicting information has been provided to us in the House concerning knowledge and awareness of and responsibility for the Supreme Court decision and all that emanates from it. We have addressed these details fully over recent days but there are critical points arising from that that also need to be addressed.

Yesterday, the Tánaiste admitted that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was told of the challenge as far back as 2002. The Attorney General was represented in this case and he sits at the Cabinet table, yet the Tánaiste claims that neither he nor the Minister knew about the case. It is hard for people to accept that is credible. There must cracks in all that that will yet be exposed. There is a responsibility on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the House today to explain his role and that of the Attorney General regarding this case.

Is this a speech?

The Order of Business we are presented with should be amended to accommodate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the House to set the record straight. That is absolutely necessary. He should also be accountable to the House by answering Members' questions rather than presenting us with a prepared script.

If it were a Fianna Fáil Minister, he would be gone.

Deputies require the right to ask pertinent questions. The Minister sat here dumb throughout the past few days——

He should wake up.

——as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have responded on his behalf and on behalf of the Government. He has not been accountable to this Chamber, yet that is what is required of him. That should happen today and that is why No. 12a needs to be amended. The proposed emergency legislation will be addressed in the House tomorrow but none of next week’s business reflects on the many important elements arising therefrom that need to be addressed.

The Deputy should be brief.

A Deputy

We have been trying to get in for the past five minutes.

I am very sorry. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a responsibility to come before the House. The Government should have ordered the paper for next week's sittings, for whatever days, to include the commencement of the substantive debate that must address all the issues arising from the Supreme Court decision. That will not occur in the limited time tomorrow. To all intents and purposes, this is emergency legislation. The important debate must not be put on the long finger. It must start straight away. It should be on the business for next week's schedule.

The Government Chief Whip has told me that next week's business has been agreed with the other party Whips. The deadline for questions for Thursday is 11 a.m. tomorrow.

For Thursday.

There is a specific proposal for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement to the House. Is that being taken by the Tánaiste?

I do not think so. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12 and 12a, without debate, agreed to?

It is not agreed. We do not need a statement from the Minister.

Order. The Deputy has made that point.

We need an opportunity to question him properly on the floor of this Chamber.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12 and 12a be agreed.”
The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 15.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Breen, James.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donoghue, John.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Boyle.
Question declared carried.

The next proposal deals with parliamentary questions.

I wish to add to what I said earlier. The deadline for receipt of oral questions for answer on Wednesday, 7 June 2006, is today at1 p.m. and for Thursday, 8 June 2006, is 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The chronology of events that has unfolded in the past week shows a Government in crisis, displaying gross incompetence on a matter of extreme seriousness to many people around the country. Last week I made the point that this matter is not one of pure party politics but is one for the Legislature and the Oireachtas to deal with and I offered support from this side to do that. It would have been appropriate, I would have thought, for the Taoiseach to have turned around the people's jet and come back and join in that process. However, following the case made by the Opposition yesterday the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform did have discussions with the Opposition in so far as proposals to deal with this issue are concerned. I understand that process is continuing and I hope it can conclude today with a Bill that can be put through to plug this gaping hole in the law.

Leaving that aside, I ask the Tánaiste, in respect of the question I asked yesterday, the numbers involved under section 1(1) of the Act that was struck down and the number of cases pending under section 2(1) of that Act. I am sure the Tánaiste has that information to hand now.

Deputy Enright produced a policy document and Bill in November 2003 dealing with the issue of vetting persons. In respect Mr. A who has walked free, and others who may walk free, depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court appeal tomorrow, if any of those persons, convicted under that section of the Act which has been deleted and is no longer in force, apply for jobs dealing with children there is no evidence available to the Garda in respect of their personality or character. A method needs to be found of dealing with soft information being made available to the Garda in respect of that category of person who might apply for a job which would have an involvement with vulnerable children. In that respect the Tánaiste should look urgently at the proposals Deputy Enright brought forward in respect of vetting of persons who might have an involvement in dealing with children. A critical consequence of the subsection having been removed and no longer being in force legally, is that persons who were convicted could apply for positions dealing with children and there is no information available to the Garda anywhere in the country about their appalling record in those cases. That is a matter the Government should consider as a matter of priority and urgency.

I agree with Deputy Kenny that we are dealing with children who have been the victims of very serious crimes that have stolen their childhood and innocence. That is the reason it is serious and urgent and the reason all the legal expertise available to the Government is being marshalled to have appropriate legislation put in place. I acknowledge the co-operation of the Opposition parties in that process. As Deputies are aware we will have legislation later today. The Government will meet to finalise that legislation later this morning and it will be communicated to the Opposition parties and dealt with in the House tomorrow.

In respect of those convicted solely on the basis of section 1(1) I think there were seven cases. Obviously, given the decision in respect of Mr. A, that leaves six cases. There is, I understand, the possibility of another case but that has not yet been confirmed. In regard to section 2(1), the Irish Prison Service is going through its documentation and has informed me it will have that information later today. That information is not yet to hand. It has to go through all the convictions to ascertain how many are being detained solely on the basis of section 2(1) but we will have that information later today.

There is no question of anybody being able to work with children. There is a Garda vetting unit which has been greatly strengthened. There is no question of anybody who may be released under these circumstances being able to work with children.

Deputies

What is to stop it?

If one of those persons was to apply for a position dealing with children there is now no information available to the Garda to comment on their character or personality or the appalling acts they have carried out. That is the point I am making.

Obviously there will be a decision in the Supreme Court but I do not know when. The case will be fought in the Supreme Court tomorrow in respect of Mr. A and much will depend on the outcome. I said yesterday it was open to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the independent officer, who I am confident has a legal strategy, to rearrest and recharge those individuals but that is solely a matter for him. We need to be careful before we anticipate some of these issues. There is a Garda vetting unit in respect of those who work with children.

It does not cover all of them.

It covers a huge majority of those who work with children. In fact one of the complaints I get in my job relates to the delay it sometimes takes to clear a person to work in this area. As late as this week a Deputy approached me in respect of a delay in trying to approve persons to work with children. We need to strengthen the vetting process further and that is happening. Clearly there is a huge issue for victims and their families. Given that the Health Service Executive has a counselling service I have asked it to communicate with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Irish Prison Service and others with a view to making that counselling service available to the victims and their families in these circumstances.

Since last week the Labour Party has consistently argued for the closing off of this loophole. For that reason when the Government was persuaded to deal with it this week, last night we facilitated it being taken, which is the reason for us not voting against the Order of Business. However, we have not yet seen the Bill and there will be little time to look at the issue. I urge the Tánaiste to cause the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make it available as soon as possible. What the Minister said in the private briefing to the justice spokespersons yesterday was quite different to what he said in the Seanad. This is part of the difficulty. The Tánaiste has referred to the plight of the victims, but there has been very little mention of the families or the victims up to now. I know of a particular case which was pending and where the action is now stayed and will not proceed, and no contact of any kind by the Health Service Executive, appropriate personnel or anyone else, has been made with the family involved. Can the Tánaiste say if a list of the families involved in this debacle has been compiled, or a list of the victims affected by the circumstance where the historical cases are now likely to walk free? Has the Tánaiste any idea how many cases are pending? Why has contact not been made?

The mother of the young girl in the case of Mr. A told Gerry Ryan on radio yesterday morning that it took two years for anybody from the social services to make contact with her. I am entering a plea to the Tánaiste on behalf of the families and victims that whatever resources are available to the State in the area of counselling and advice will be made available to them immediately. Those people are left in fear and uncertainty and cannot know from what has gone on in this House over the past week what the position is the of the Government. The Government has frequently left the impression that it is more concerned about protecting its members than about protecting children. As the Cabinet Ministers differ, the position of Government changes from one day to the next. Legislation is a matter on which haste should be made slowly, according to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform last week, and there was supposedly no gaping hole. He then met the spokespersons on justice and offered them a menu of suggestions, and an hour later entered the Seanad to say he had broadly agreed with the spokespersons on the shape and character of the legislation. That is not acceptable.

The Tánaiste is standing in for the Taoiseach, who takes responsibility in this House for the Attorney General. Given that it is the role of the Attorney General to protect our Constitution, can the Tánaiste say how it can credibly be suggested that the Attorney General was not aware of a case of this gravity concerning the Constitution? The Tánaiste told the House yesterday or the day before that the Attorney General and the DPP had joint carriage of this case. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been briefing against her since then, to the effect that she was mistaken. Whether it is true that the case was one of joint responsibility, and that there was a de jure and de facto distinction as the case progressed, surely the Attorney General ought to have been aware of this. Will the Tánaiste say if he was aware? If he was not aware, I suggest he was not doing his job.

As the Tánaiste knows, in the case between the appellant and applicant, the first named in the title was Ireland, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is the normal description of such cases and it reflects the normal function of the Attorney General. Accordingly I ask the Tánaiste to take this opportunity to reassure people about the role of the Attorney General in this matter because parents and citizens are concerned to know the truth. They find it very difficult to believe this situation could not have been anticipated by the Government. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform told the Seanad last night that it was impossible for him to anticipate the outcome of the case and have legislation ready. That is complete and absolute nonsense. The suggestion he put forward was that it would pull the rug from under the people defending the case. That is complete and arrant nonsense. Given the gravity of what is involved, amending legislation ought to have been in preparation in the event of the section concerned being struck down. That was not done. What is now being prepared, and only after a mother and father of all battles in this House and outside it, is legislation which we still have not seen.

I would like the Tánaiste to say to the House what action she causes to be taken in respect of the families and victims and to advise us on the role of the Attorney General.

I will deal first with the legislation. For 70 years, it has stood the test of time, and the High Court maintained it was constitutional and appropriate. Until 12 May of this year, the DPP was bringing charges against persons under this provision. A total of 20 charges were brought this year, up to 12 May, against eight individuals, so clearly the DPP was not anticipating the section could be struck down, as otherwise he would not be bringing such charges.

No Minister or Deputy brought forward legislation proposing what we must now do for constitutional reasons as opposed to the reasons outlined by the Law Reform Commission's document in 1990 which stated the section was too restrictive and conservative. The Ombudsman for Children has taken a strong view against dealing with this and I believe the Government would have taken on board her view and perspective, as someone who has a sole remit——

Someone else is being blamed, as usual.

I am not blaming anybody. Even after the Supreme Court case, the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, is not in favour of what we have to do constitutionally. If we were doing it in the absence of having to do it constitutionally, I do not believe we would have proceeded against that kind of strong advice, because people would have said we were weakening the law. We now have no alternative. There is no doubt there were people aware of what the Law Reform Commission said, and were aware the section was probably too harsh and conservative to some, but others would have taken the view that to weaken that provision would weaken the protection of our children.

The Attorney General has behaved impeccably in this matter. There is no question of him having any responsibility in this matter. There was joint carriage of the case, and joint counsel. I said yesterday that the Office of the Chief State Solicitor informed the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in November 2002 that this case was emerging; that it was being initiated. Subsequently, in December 2002, I think, there was contact from the Office of the Chief State Solicitor saying we would be kept up to date, and I understand nothing happened subsequent to that. Being aware of a case and having a Bill in the drawer to deal with it just does not happen. To start, one would need to see the terms on which the Supreme Court might decide that something was unconstitutional. There was no anticipation it would come to its decision.

I hope the people involved will not walk free. The Supreme Court case will be fought tomorrow. Ultimately, the decision of Ms Justice Laffoy will be determined by that court, either tomorrow or subsequently. As I have said on a number of occasions, there is also available to the Director of Public Prosecutions the possibility of re-arresting these people on other charges. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is completely independent, as Deputy Rabbitte knows, and I am sure the DPP has a strategy to deal with these matters.

With regard to counselling, I have said the Health Service Executive is available to counsel the victims and their families. Obviously the HSE has not got the details of these individuals but I have asked that the Irish Prison Service, the Office of the DPP or the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, or a combination of all three, could make available the names of the people involved, and I will ensure they are put in contact with the counselling service.

Will that take two years?

No, it should take a matter of days. We will have the information later today from the Irish Prison Service with regard to section 2(1) and when we have it, we will seek in a professional way to identify those persons and offer them counselling if that is their wish.

Before I call Deputy Boyle, I remind Members that the Bill will be before the House tomorrow, and comments on the Bill along with requests for detailed information should be held for tomorrow's debate.

The Tánaiste said it was unlikely any Member would have made a statement identifying the loophole in question and seeking to correct it. Is that not precisely what her colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, did as a Progressive Democrats Deputy when he wrote an article for the Sunday Independent in 1995? The Tánaiste was leader of the Progressive Democrats then. Did she read the article? Did she talk to Deputy McDowell about his comments? Did she ask him to progress his reservations? The record of the House must show who knew what and when. I reiterate my call for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to make a statement to the House to clarify these matters.

There is need for a wider debate on the issue of child welfare and this Government's collective policies on it. The Government has put aside many millions of euro to establish an Office of the Minister for Children, yet several sections of the Children's Act are still not enforced. There must be an explanation to the House as to why many sections of this important legislation are still not enacted.

The register of persons unsafe to work with children Bill has been on the Order Paper for the lifetime of the 29th Dáil. The Government has used the excuse that the Bill cannot proceed because it is an all-island measure. However, similar legislation has been enacted and enforced in Northern Ireland. This is another question the Government must answer.

Why today of all days do we not have the hectoring presence of her party colleague on the front bench? On any other day, he would be in the Chamber pointing his finger, making accusations and asking this side of the House to account for itself. Of all days, this is a day when his presence is needed.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is working hard, as he has been for the past week, to have this legislation available for the Government meeting later this morning.

He was only on "Today with Pat Kenny" once this week.

We have done much for children. We have appointed the first ever Ombudsman for Children. Comprehensive legislation in child welfare has been introduced. We now have the first Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who sits at Cabinet. He has got responsibility for and is working hard in drafting legislation on the register of persons unsafe to work with children, which heretofore was under the Department of Education and Science. Regarding the newspaper article, if any Member — I genuinely believe this and I am not trying to be smart — proposed weakening the law on this defence, he or she would have been rounded upon.

He wrote it in a newspaper article.

No one was highlighting that this provision was unconstitutional. We are dealing with the unconstitutionality of it. No one was arguing it was unconstitutional.

They were two weeks ago.

Two years ago.

The Law Reform Commission said it was too harsh that one cannot have a defence in such cases. That is a different issue. I genuinely believe if Members had stood up and seen the response of the Ombudsman for Children and other groups, they would have thought again and decided not to go down such a road and weaken the law. Every Member is working hard to close off the loophole that has emerged. Hopefully, we can do that over the next 24 hours. We need to spend the rest of the day doing that. I repeat the commitment I made. As soon as the Government has agreed the provisions for the legislation later this morning, I will have the Minister make it available to the Opposition parties.

Will the Tánaiste indicate what time we will have sight of the Bill? When will it be published? Will the Tánaiste advise what timeframe is anticipated by her for the required debate and consultation regarding all the details that arise out of consideration of the Supreme Court decision? Will the Tánaiste accept that the timeframe for this emergency legislation will not accommodate the full consideration of all the necessary elements? There are several issues such as the age of consent and age differences. Will she indicate when the debate will get under way? Will there be a sunset clause to the Bill? Unquestionably with the vacuum that exists, all Members will want to see it successfully passed and speedily enacted. That debate is necessary due to the flawed process of the rushed nature of the Bill's introduction.

In reply to an earlier question, the Tánaiste spoke about counselling for the victims regarding the release, impending or prospective, of these individuals. Has the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform been in contact with the families involved, even as a courtesy apart from whatever supports they may need? If not, would she ensure this is done so the people who have gone through much pain will not have it compounded by learning of developments through the media as has been the case heretofore?

Will the Tánaiste concede, even though we have had a rejection of the proposal to amend the schedule of business, that it is imperative for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to attend the Chamber to make a full and detailed statement on all the matters in question? This not only includes his knowledge and that of the Attorney General's but of their respective Departments and offices. We must have the truth behind this affair going back to the Law Reform Commission report of 1990. The Minister must face the questioning of Members so the full facts can be placed on the record of the House. Will she ensure this is done, if not today then tomorrow? It must be included in the schedule of business for the coming week at the very latest.

I will use my best endeavours to have the Bill with the Opposition at lunchtime. I know lunchtime is a moveable feast but it should be somewhere between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock. After the Opposition has had a chance to consider the proposed legislation, the Whips will be in discussion on the timing of the different Stages. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will be in the Chamber tomorrow to deal with the legislation for as long as it takes. Today we must concentrate on getting the legislation together.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform does not have the names of all those affected because it is still in discussion with the Irish Prison Service. As soon as the names of the victims are available, the Health Service Executive can make contact with those persons. I am more than happy to make that service available because it is important.