It is proposed to take No. 6, motion re Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006; No. 7, motion re Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill 2005 [Seanad]; No. 8, motion re Nuclear Test Ban Bill 2006; No. 9, motion re Control of Exports Bill 2007; No. 10, motion re Passports Bill 2007; and No. 2, Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 6 to 10, inclusive, shall be decided without debate and Private Members’ business will be No. 27, motion re proposed child care subvention scheme.
Order of Business.
There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 without debate agreed? Agreed.
We know the 27 countries of the European Union will sign the reform treaty in Lisbon in December, that is a given. The Taoiseach indicated that the referendum would be held in the first half of 2008. This is a crucial challenge where the people of this country will make their decision on the treaty. As there is a maximum of 25 weeks, we should know approximately when the referendum will take place. We do not want to know the exact date but will it be after Easter and before the summer? Could the Taoiseach clarify this? Does the Government intend to hold the referendum on children's rights on the same day as the referendum on the European reform treaty?
In respect of the figures in the census, will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government issue an order to the appropriate committee to look at the question of local electoral area boundaries? Some of them are out of line under the criteria laid down.
The Taoiseach disassociated himself from remarks that the Provisional movement is responsible for the murder of Mr. Paul Quinn. In view of the comments of the spokesman for the International Monitoring Commission, is the Taoiseach concerned there is a drift back to very serious activities by those involved? Has the Taoiseach spoken to Prime Minister Blair about it and does he intend to speak to the Northern Ireland Assembly about it?
Arising from Deputy Bannon's comments, it appears that RTE sources looked at a video where a Minister indicated he or she is involved in drug activity.
The Deputy has strayed far beyond the remit of the Order of Business, as he well knows.
He has even strayed back to the Blair era.
It is not in order.
Is the Ceann Comhairle saying I am drifting away on the drugs issue?
The Taoiseach should ask his Ministers if any of them is involved in this and clear it up politically because no information will be forthcoming from the RTE source, although RTE sources say many things these days.
Will there be a Supplementary Estimate from the Taoiseach's Department for at least €38,000, plus appropriate amounts for assistant secretaries, secretaries and other persons in the higher public service?
The Taoiseach on matters which are in order concerning legislation to deal with the referendum.
There are no Supplementary Estimates. I said previously that I would like to hold the two referendums on the one day if possible; the timing is a matter to be discussed by party leaders. We face a challenge in dealing with this and when it should be. It must be some time in the summer or early autumn because it must be ratified by 2008. We have a calendar year to deal with the issue. It will not be any earlier because if the treaty is signed in Lisbon or Brussels in December, we must have a referendum Bill and a referendum commission must be established while we get through the legislative work programme. It will take some months. I am happy, however, to discuss the issue. If we can do them together we will. It is not essential but it would be useful because the party leaders all made a commitment in April that we would deal with the children's issue within a year and there is a commitment to deal with the treaty in 2008.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated today that he intends to press ahead with the Defamation Bill to reform libel law but that he will park the Privacy Bill, originally introduced in tandem with the Defamation Bill and to go hand in hand with it. Will the Taoiseach clarify the Government's intention on the proposed Privacy Bill and, if the Government is not proceeding with it, will there be consequential changes to the Defamation Bill?
Deputy Kenny raised the issue of local government boundaries. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government said in response to a question from Deputy Burton on 1 November that the Government planned to produce a Green Paper in a couple of months and a White Paper some time next year. Meanwhile, the section of the Local Government Act that deals with the numbers of members of local authorities has not yet been commenced. In the meantime, political parties and those considering standing for local elections do not know what the boundaries will be. Will the Taoiseach bring some clarity to the issue soon? If we must wait for a Green Paper, then a White Paper, then a report from the Boundary Commission, the local elections will be upon us. We must have clarity on the electoral boundaries that will be contested in those elections.
Someone asked me about this two or three weeks ago and I stated that as soon as the European boundaries and the Oireachtas boundaries were changed, the Minister would immediately commence work on the local electoral areas. There will certainly be revision and the Department will start the process of alteration.
When will we know?
It could take at least six months.
To do what?
To do what?
The numbers are available already. Why would it take six months?
Because the Taoiseach is worth it. He is great value for money.
Unfortunately, I am not doing it myself. I am telling the House what I have been told.
That is cold comfort.
On the defamation legislation, we are proceeding with that Bill and the other Bill is before the Seanad.
A number of Deputies in the previous Dáil repeatedly raised the issue of unregulated management companies for housing estates. The Government promised a raft of legislation involving a number of Departments to deal with this. The companies are springing up like mushrooms in a field of horses and they are abusing residents and tenants because they are not regulated. High charges and no services is the general rule. Will the Taoiseach clarify the Departments involved and when we can expect legislation?
Three or four Departments are involved — the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and at least two others. I am not sure what the situation is but they are working on it; the Deputy should put down a parliamentary question, but we intend to bring forward legislation.
Is there any timescale?
I do not have a timescale.
On the list of promised legislation, the sale of alcohol Bill is listed under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, as recent reports have indicated, the issue of alcohol is primarily one of health. All Members are mindful of the very dangerous and negative impact it is having, particularly on young people at present. Can the Taoiseach advise whether the Department of Health and Children has a direct or a consultative role in respect of the preparation of the sale of alcohol Bill and whether, given the growing societal concern about the sale of, and access to, alcohol products, particularly by young people and without the necessary controls, that legislation will be brought forward and addressed within the current session? Will the Taoiseach advise whether that is possible?
While I have answered this a number of times, the Minister has received the first report from the monitoring group established to oversee adherence on the voluntary codes. Discussions are taking place between a number of Ministers and Ministers of State to consider whether the legislation should be reactivated. No conclusion has yet been reached in this regard but the matter, based on the report, is being discussed.
I call Deputy Bruton.
I beg the Ceann Comhairle's pardon. I thought he had failed to notice me.
I do not miss that much.
The Ceann Comhairle certainly does not. I tabled a parliamentary question to ascertain the cost of the programme for Government because, naturally, if Members are preparing for the budget——
Tabling a question was the correct way to proceed.
Yes, but the reply refused to provide information on costings. It has long been the traditions of this House that all parties provide costings and proposals. Why should the costings for the programme for Government be denied to this House?
It is a major document.
It is a very important document, which sets the framework for the coming years. As Members perform their financial planning and as we approach the budget on 5 December, they should have access to that information. I seek the Ceann Comhairle's assistance, if not that of the Taoiseach, to ensure the House receives such information.
I cannot oblige the Taoiseach or any Minister to issue a reply.
The Taoiseach could comment on it. I understand the Taoiseach is in favour of transparency in respect of financial issues. Where is the Taoiseach when Members need to hear him?
The Taoiseach, in respect of the budget.
It is on 6 December.
As the Taoiseach knows, that is not the question. The question is why is he refusing to provide Members with the information——
It is not in order now.
——about the cost of proposals that are outlined in the programme for Government.
I am not.
He is, as is his Government.
It is not in order now.
I cannot think of an occasion when it would be in order. This is the only time when the Leader of the Government is present in the Chamber——
It is not in order. The Deputy must find a different way of raising that matter. I call Deputy Bannon.
——to answer questions. Members know the response of the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance.
I call Deputy Bannon. As Deputy Bruton knows well, it is not in order.
Given the incidence of bird flu in Norfolk that follows the outbreaks of foot and mouth and bluetongue in the UK, will the animal health Bill be brought forward as a matter of urgency? When can Members expect this Bill to appear before the House?
It will be introduced toward the middle of next year.
I wish to follow up on an issue that already has been raised. A Bill pertaining to the advertising of alcohol appeared before the House and was subsequently withdrawn. Will it be reintroduced? It differs somewhat from the sale of alcohol Bill and pertains to the promotion of alcohol to young people. It should be dealt with in light of the present position in which Ireland is the second highest consumer of alcohol in the European Union.
Second, in light of the fact that Kerry Radio, which now owns Northern Sound and Shannonside, has withdrawn news programmes from air, when will the broadcasting Bill be introduced to this House in order that Members at least can discuss openly what constitutes its remit?
The broadcasting Bill is due this session. As for the alcohol Bill, the reply is the same as that which I gave previously.
What progress has been made on the nurses and midwives Bill? Have its heads been agreed and when does the Taoiseach expect it to be published?
The legislation is due next year.
I call Deputy Olivia Mitchell.
Are the heads agreed?
No, the public consultation process is still under way.
Almost eight years have passed since Members were promised a Dublin transportation authority. Again this week, one sees Dubliners being subjected to the miseries of a strike by the monopoly bus provider. When will the legislation come before the House? Will it, as promised, provide for the introduction of competition in the bus market?
Will it do as promised, namely, bring in competition?
I cannot deal with that issue.
It is said the Taoiseach will make that decision.
He cannot give the detail. I call Deputy Tuffy.
I will not.
A couple of weeks ago, I raised with the Taoiseach the need for the Government to ratify the Aarhus Convention. At the time he stated that he would direct the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to reply to me, but it does not appear to have done so. What is the up-to-date position in respect of the Aarhus Convention? When will the Government ratify it? Ireland is the only EU member state that has not ratified it as of January 2007. It would ensure the rights of the public to information, participation and access to justice in respect of environmental matters.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, assures me that he replied. However, as a breakdown in communication may have occurred, we will check and secure a copy of the reply for the Deputy.
I wish to raise two issues. The first arises from the point made by Deputy Richard Bruton in respect of replies to parliamentary questions. As the Members' custodian in the House, the Ceann Comhairle will be greatly concerned about this issue. There is a growing tendency in Departments to provide Members with replies to the effect that the relevant Minister has no responsibility to the House. Like the Taoiseach, me, and a number of others, the Ceann Comhairle has been a Member for a number of years. A Minister is responsible to the House for every penny that is spent by his or her Department. This should be borne in mind because any attempt to close down the avenue of replies to questions of the Opposition is a serious matter.
Second, given the recently expressed concerns about a possible intervention in the formation of a panel for an RTE discussion, is it intended to bring forward the broadcasting Bill to address the issues? If not, have discussions taken place with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland in the interim?
The only issue in order concerns the broadcasting Bill.
As I noted earlier, it will be taken this session.
Notwithstanding the disappointing results of the HIQA independent assessment of hospital hygiene and its close resemblance to the original results of the first HSE assessment, when is the forthcoming nursing homes legislation due for publication? Will it include provision for an independent inspectorate of public and private nursing homes?
That matter cannot be discussed. The Taoiseach, on the nursing home support scheme Bill.
I understand it is planned to have it enacted by Christmas.