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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Mar 2007

Vol. 633 No. 1

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the internal agreement concerning the tenth European Development Fund; No. 13, Finance Bill 2007 — Financial Resolutions; No. 18, Finance Bill 2007 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. a4, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences)(Amendment) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at 6 p.m. tonight and the order shall not resume thereafter.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 11.30 p.m.; Nos. 12 and 13 shall be decided without debate and, in the case of No. 13, Financial Resolutions Nos. 1 and 2 shall be moved together and decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair; the Second and Subsequent Stages of No. a4 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m.; the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group who shall be called upon in that order shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 11.30 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Private Members’ business shall be No. a61, motion re rail freight, on the Supplementary Order Paper.

There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 12 and 13 without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a4, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages, agreed?

In respect of No. a4, while I welcome the fact that this Bill is being brought in, may I ask the Taoiseach was this approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday last? The reason I ask is there was no contact at all with at least the Fine Gael Party about this matter and one would have thought there would have been such contact out of normal courtesy on a Bill, especially a Bill as sensitive as this, particularly when it was known to the Government that Fine Gael intended to move a private Members’ Bill on Internet grooming.

As the Taoiseach will be aware, in May 1980 a similar situation arose on the Ombudsman (No. 2) Bill. One does not want to hold up the House from doing its business and one does not want endless repetition on the same issue. The Government has had to change its tune here. The Taoiseach would have been aware of the private Members' motion having been submitted, yet the original order circulated stated that the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2007 would be taken at 9 o'clock. Now the Bill is being taken at 6 o'clock, which has obviously necessitated the Fine Gael Party returning to the Ceann Comhairle seeking authorisation under exceptional circumstances to change the party's private Members' motion at very short notice. I do not know who is responsible, but it is not the way to do business. I am quite sure the Taoiseach accepts that this could have been handled far more competently and efficiently. If the Government had the courtesy to inform Deputies Howlin and Jim O'Keeffe of this matter, perhaps the Taoiseach would not have had to refer to a precedent of 1980 to look for the Ceann Comhairle's authorisation to change private Members' business at short notice. The Taoiseach might like to clear that up.

Is anyone else offering on the same issue?

I confirm that Deputy Cuffe was not contacted on this issue either. Has the Taoiseach considered the wider implications here? It is welcome that we are closing the loophole, but if we are approaching this sensitive subject in a piecemeal fashion, would it not make sense to sit down in Cabinet and look at the wider implications of Internet use for children?

That does not arise out of this proposal, which is merely on how we deal with the legislation.

I would simply ask that the Taoiseach state, when responding, whether he has thought about this in greater detail.

It does not arise. Find another way of raising it.

There is a lack of detail and this is being done repeatedly on the hop.

The criminal justice (trafficking in persons and sexual offences) Bill, which is a wider Bill covering several of these issues, is being prepared. The problem is it will not be ready for some weeks, and that would mean that the loophole would not have been closed and perhaps some of the other issues would not have been dealt with either.

The request for more time came from the Labour Party Whip and that is why the time was changed. We are anxious to deal with it tonight. I will raise with the Tánaiste Deputy Kenny's point, that the Fine Gael Party's spokesperson had not been contacted.

Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed. On the Order of Business, Deputy Kenny.

Will the Aviation Regulation Bill, which is due some time in 2007, cover the Government's failure to act on its own promise to see that the airports at Cork and Shannon will be debt free once Aer Rianta is restructured? The then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, may not have meant this when he wrote his letter. It seems there is something radically wrong on the other side of the House——

The content of the Bill would not be appropriate. On the legislation——

——when the Government gives a commitment and then does not stand by it. It drives the people of Cork and Shannon into convulsions.

That question does not arise on the Order of Business.

It does arise.

Will the Aviation Regulation Bill deal with the——

We cannot discuss what might be in the legislation.

——clearance of debt for Cork and Shannon airports?

Hear, hear.

The Aviation Regulation Bill is to provide for the separation of the safety regulation role from the Irish Aviation Authority and the establishment of a new aviation commission. The legislation is due this year.

So it will not deal with that.

It is true, and we appreciate, that more time was given for the Bill just mentioned. However, we did not request the time, to gazump private Members' business but so that there would be more time to debate the Bill. Sometimes the Taoiseach can be too smart.

There will still be private Members' business.

It is different.

I know. I speak of the subject matter that was slotted for tonight. It is considered, I am sure, a matter of great risibility in certain quarters that it was gazumped. Sometimes if you go through life like that, you will get a long fall off your white steed.

Will the Taoiseach clarify the status of the promised legislation for the regulation and control of management companies? Is that likely to be enacted in the present session?

The proposals on that are being developed. Recently the Cabinet received a report from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. To the best of my knowledge, the legislation is in preparation. I do not know when it will be available, but they certainly are working on it. In the autumn we gave it priority.

I give the Taoiseach notice that we will raise the matter again with him this week and ask him to find out from the Minister whether it is likely to come before the House this session.

The Taoiseach has probably noted that there are fewer and fewer Members coming into the House.

It does not arise on the Order of Business.

On promised legislation, it does. It would be helpful if the Taoiseach, and the Government Whip, provided an outline at this stage, with 13 sitting days left, of the sort of legislation to be taken on those days.

How does Deputy Gormley know how many days are left?

The Government Whip is nodding in agreement. It would be helpful to all of us.

One could not organise such an instruction. How could one regulate it?

The Minister can regulate that. One Bill in which I am interested, and I want the Taoiseach to tell us if we will deal with it in the 13 remaining days, if we can believe that, is the Ethics Bill, which is to amend current ethics legislation to require officeholders and Oireachtas Members to seek the opinion——

On the Ethics Bill, the Taoiseach.

It is already published.

When will we deal with Second Stage?

Hopefully, shortly. It is ready.

I want to raise a Bill again, in light of the fact that families encounter so many difficulties getting their loved ones into nursing homes with the changes that have been made. When can we have a full debate on the entire nursing homes chaos——

Unless a debate is promised, it is not appropriate to raise it on the Order of Business. To what legislation do you refer?

Give me a second and I will come to it. The Nursing Home Support Bill is on the list, but there is a crisis at present.

On the Nursing Home Support Bill, the Taoiseach.

The legislation is due this year. It will be sometime during 2007.

We need it urgently. There is a crisis.

Given that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and the foundation of the European Union, does the Government have plans to mark the occasion, either in the Dáil, or elsewhere in Europe?

A number of commemorations have been planned both in Europe and here. The formal date is 25 March, on which a special Council meeting will be held.

Over the past two years, we have sought and been promised the charities Bill on numerous occasions. Will the Bill be published prior to the general election? I am aware it is in section A of the Government's legislative programme.

It will be published shortly.

In order to assist the Government in these trying times, I ask the Taoiseach the status of the minerals development Bill. Some time ago, it was high on the agenda and I am sure it remains the intention to test it and give us the good news as soon as possible.

It is in County Mayo.

The Taoiseach on the legislation.

It is listed for 2007.

Brilliant, that was a profound response.

Given the urgent need for Waterford city to extend its borough boundaries, when is it intended to commence the sections of the Local Government Act 2000 that provide for the establishment of a local government commission to deal with submissions from local authorities? Has the Government abandoned the commencement of these sections?

I understand the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is examining the sections in question.

Through which end of the binoculars?

No decision has been made but the matter is before him.

We know that.

He is being urged to make a decision.

With regard to the report of the Commission on Electronic Voting, which was submitted to the House last July, will Government time will be provided for the House to discuss the matter?

I understand the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government met today with the chairman of the Mahon tribunal. Will legislation be brought before the House arising from that meeting?

Is legislation promised?

It is not promised at this stage. With regard to the report, we could take it if the Whips created time but that will be difficult.

That is what I thought.

The House is sitting until 11.30 p.m. tonight.

Another escape.

People are giving out about how late it is.

The Taoiseach wants to debate the matter, does he not?

We could debate it between 11.30 p.m. and midnight.

Would it be better to melt down the ballot boxes for use on the M50?