It is proposed to take No. 15, Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Bill 2007 [Seanad] Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the EU military operation named “EUFOR TCHAD/RCA”. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of No. 22, motion re confidence in the Minister for Health and Children (resumed), which will be taken after 90 minutes at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 10, whichever is later. The proceedings of No. 10 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to conclusion at 7 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply. The speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 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 ten minutes.
Order of Business.
There are two proposals to be put to the Dáil today. Is the proposal that the Dáil should sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed? Agreed.
I do not oppose the proposal but is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Bill 2007 and the motion on the despatch of Defence Forces personnel represent sufficient business on the Order Paper to necessitate the House sitting later than 8.30 p.m.?
The Whip advises me that there is sufficient business.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 10, motion re despatch of Defence Forces personnel to EUFOR TCHAD/RCA agreed?
I do not object to the proposal but this is part of the triple lock mechanism whereby the Dáil must consent to the despatch of troops. My party does not object to this and has never objected to such matters being debated in the House but the Minister for Defence suggested this morning that the central issue is that the Government must wait for a report on the matter from Lieutenant General Pat Nash, operational commander of the EU mission to Chad. I am informed that there is a likelihood of a major civil war in southern Sudan and that millions of refugees could stream across the border to Chad from Darfur. Has the Government considered the logistics of dealing with a human catastrophe that may erupt there? Whether we give consent to despatch troops is a matter for the Dáil. However, is it wise to give consent now if we find later that Irish troops, as part of the EU force, do not have the necessary logistical back up, particularly in the area of air transport? The military commander in charge of the mission may yet decline to send the force because there is no agreement on the capacity for air transport.
Until Lieutenant General Pat Nash, operational commander of the EU mission to Chad, gives his approval we will not proceed but today's motion, I understand, relates only to the first 50 troops to be sent in December. It is hoped that the issue of air transport will be resolved if it has not yet been resolved because the situation in the area is difficult. Rebels in Sudan have been on the move of late, as they were this time last year, and this has made the situation problematic in the past week. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, visited the area two weeks ago and reported to the House on the situation. There will ultimately be 800 Irish troops in the region and the first group to arrive will be the Army Ranger wing, which is to make preparations. Lieutenant General Nash feels that sending this group will not present a difficulty but we will have to decide what to do after that.
Will the Dáil have to give its consent again to the sending of further troops?
It will probably be March before the full brigade is sent and if there are difficulties with this the matter will probably come before the House again. It is necessary that the first 50 troops be sent.
The Taoiseach has replied but I will allow Deputy Gilmore a brief intervention on No. 10.
I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence because everyone in the House is proud of our Defence Forces, our missions abroad and the courageous work that will be done in Chad. We also recognise that this is a potentially dangerous mission and I ask that the Taoiseach or Minister for Defence tell the House in the course of the debate the arrangements being made to ensure troops have the necessary resources, particularly air transport, to enable them carry out the mission effectively and ensure their safety.
That will be done in the course of the debate. Lieutenant General Nash, as operational commander of the EU mission to Chad, is satisfied with arrangements. The outstanding matter was the issue of helicopters because it is a huge country and the logistics of the operation present difficulties. Many refugees are in the area and rebels have been creating many problems in the past week so this has added to pressure. The 50 troops that are to be sent in advance of the main body are well equipped and are from the elite wing of the Defence Forces. However, there is no point suggesting the mission is not difficult.
Is the proposal relating to No. 10 agreed? Agreed?
When is No. 20, the minerals development Bill, likely to come before the House? It is supposed to be published in mid 2008 and I would appreciate an update.
That will come before the House around the middle of 2008.
There have been reports in the media that the Taoiseach indicated the referendum on the EU reform treaty and the referendum on children might be held on the same day. If that is the case, when is it anticipated that the committee on the children's referendum will report? Is it the Taoiseach's intention to indicate a date for the referendum on the EU reform treaty to the Heads of State he meets in Lisbon on 13 and 14 December? Does the Taoiseach intend to consult Opposition parties on the referendum on the EU reform treaty and will he discuss with us the implications of holding that referendum on the same day as the referendum on children?
As I previously stated, the matter of whether the two referenda should be held on the same day will be discussed with party leaders. I understand the children's committee will take about four months to report, the referendum Bill will come before the House and a Green Paper and White Paper will be published and circulated around the country so logistics will influence the timing of that referendum. At the European Council I will point out that a referendum on the EU reform treaty is a constitutional requirement and will be held by the due date.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the difficulties being experienced by numerous people, including young first-time buyers, in closing house sales because of difficulties with various banks, the credit crunch and the collapse of several solicitors' businesses? In that context, does the Government propose to bring forward the financial services regulation Bill? Several of these entities, although acting as financial services agents and intermediaries, are not regulated. Considerable suffering is being caused to a growing number of first-time buyers and others selling houses and involved in a transaction chain because the title deeds and mortgages have not been cleared by banks.
The legislation is due next year. The Department is examining some of the issues referred to by the Deputy.
Will the Taoiseach clarify his reply to Deputy Stagg yesterday on the nursing home support scheme Bill? Each time I ask about this, the Taoiseach says that the new scheme will be implemented on 1 January. I sought clarification from his office in this regard last week. However, his reply yesterday indicated that the introduction of the new scheme may now be deferred. This would be welcomed by the groups representing older people because it would allow time for consultation to take place. The Taoiseach said the Bill would be published before the next session. Does he still intend to bring it through both Houses before the Christmas recess?
That is the intention. However, the Bill is not yet ready. It will be published this session but we will have to wait and see.
The groups concerned would welcome a deferral if that facilitated consultation.
Many primary schools throughout the State are struggling with limited space and working out of substandard buildings. Meanwhile, new guidelines are being introduced by the Minister for Education and Science to oblige schools to retain data on pupils for 17 years. Will this be dealt with in the education Ireland Bill? When can we expect that Bill to come before the House?
It will be brought before the House next year.
Yesterday, the national newspapers carried an advertisement placed by the Irish Haemophilia Society, the Irish Kidney Association, Positive Action and Transfusion Positive, highlighting how the insurance scheme for people infected with hepatitis C and HIV through contaminated blood products is not operating properly. The commencement order for the scheme was signed by the Minister for Health and Children on 12 September 2007. However, these groups report that the operation of the scheme is on a restricted basis only due to the rigours applied by the HSE. Given that these organisations represent people who have suffered as a result of State failure, neglect and worse — some of them fatally — can we now expect legislation to amend the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment) Act 2006, the flaws in which many Members pointed out at the time, or will a new order in regard to the rules and regulations of the scheme be introduced to address——
The Taoiseach should respond on promised legislation.
The Deputy should put down a question to the Minister.
Will the Ceann Comhairle allow me to finish my question?
It is not relevant. I have called Deputy Brian Hayes. The Deputy is out of order; there is no legislation promised.
The Taoiseach cannot gloss over something of such importance to people who are dying or whose quality of life has been seriously impaired as a result of State neglect.
I must obey Standing Orders and so must Deputy Ó Caoláin. I have called Deputy Brian Hayes.
I apologise for speaking over Deputy Brian Hayes; that is not my intention. I persist in my questioning because of the import of this issue and because these eminent organisations——
I have outlined on numerous occasions——
Will the Taoiseach provide a proper response to this pressing issue?
The Deputy should put down a question to the Minister. That is how he will obtain a response.
One of the problems in regard to third level maintenance grants is the late payment to so many students throughout the State. The Government has promised to introduce a student support Bill to address this and other issues. I understand the Taoiseach told Deputy Quinn yesterday on the Order of Business that it is likely this Bill will not come before the House until the next session. Given the urgency of trying to put a new regime in place for September of next year, will the Taoiseach undertake to publish the heads of the Bill, which I understand have been passed by the Cabinet?
I will raise that with the Minister. The heads of the Bill have been approved and I understand the legislation will be available this session, but that may be in January.
There is an ongoing problem in providing school sites and developing new schools in rapidly growing areas. I refer to page 42 of the programme for Government, entitled High-Quality School Buildings and Planning for New Schools, in which a specific commitment is given to ensure that no rezoning of land for residential development can take place without a prior commitment to provide an appropriate portion of land for a school. However, the recent "Prime Time" special report showed that local authorities throughout the State are rezoning land willy-nilly without making provision for schools. With the exception of the provisions for strategic development zones, there is currently no legislation that would allow local authorities to require that school sites be provided as part of residential developments. This issue does not form part of the remit of the review group currently reviewing local government and proposing amendments to the Local Government Act. When will the Taoiseach introduce amendments to the Planning and Development Act to honour the commitment in the programme for Government?
Is legislation promised on this issue in the programme for Government?
The heads of the designated land (housing development) Bill have been approved and the legislation is due next year.
A large number of my parliamentary questions to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism have been returned to me this morning or passed on to other Departments with the advice that they are not the responsibility of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Whose responsibility are they? For example, one of my questions asked the Minister about the discussions he has had with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in regard to Garda vetting of persons involved in sport. That question has been passed to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It seems the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has no responsibility to initiate any discussion on such Garda vetting. It is a ridiculous situation. I do not know whether quangos are running the State or if the Minister is responsible for his Department.
The Deputy is not in order. There is a different way of raising that issue.
We have had good news in Monaghan in that some minerals have been discovered. When will the minerals development Bill be brought forward to consolidate legislation in this area? The second issue to which I refer is not so easy to address. More than 2,000 people attended a protest in Monaghan town last night regarding EirGrid. It is absolutely essential that a debate on this issue be held in the House. There are several ways this can be done, whether through Private Members' business or by bringing forward the electricity (transfer of transmission assets) Bill. We were told that the Minister has no responsibility for this issue, but the transfer has not taken place and the legislation has not been brought to the House. Who has responsibility and when will a debate be facilitated in the House?
The first Bill to which the Deputy referred will be introduced next year, as will the electricity (transfer of transmission assets) Bill.
Will time be allocated to discuss the issue in the House?
That is a matter for discussion by the Whips.
I reiterate the point made by my colleague, Deputy Upton. No questions are being answered by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Who is responsible for rejecting questions that are clearly related to the Minister's brief? Is the Minister responsible for anything?
There is another way of raising that issue, as the Deputy is aware.
What is the other way?
The Deputy is not in order. I have called Deputy Timmins.
The Ceann Comhairle used to answer our questions when he was Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.
That was a golden age.
Bring it on.
The Ceann Comhairle is a relic from the past. Yesterday during Question Time, I tried to ascertain the Government's view on the probability of a unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo and the possible implications for our forces there. I received no answer. The last time I raised this issue, I was told it should be put to the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Question Time. What is the Government's view on a possible declaration of independence in Kosovo?
Deputy Timmins is long enough here to know that will not run now.
I am not here that long.
The Deputy will need to find a different way of raising that issue.
In view of rapidly escalating housing rents, will the Taoiseach indicate if it is intended to discuss the relevant promised legislation, the social housing Bill, at an early date?
That will happen early next year.
Everything is mañana.
It will be a busy year.
As a person who participated yesterday in a cross-party brief and workshop with the Dublin Transport Authority, I wonder when the Bill to provide a single transport authority for the greater Dublin area will be introduced. What emerged from yesterday's session is that a multitude of organisations are involved in public transport, participating in turf warfare with public money. This should be a growth sector and taxpayers' money is at stake when people will not co-operate with each other. If the Dublin Transport Authority is to proceed, this Bill should be introduced.
This important Bill will be published this session.
With regard to No. 14a on the Order Paper, why is there no Supplementary Estimate for health, given the kind of blockages we have in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire and the lack of packages for seniors who are stroke victims and who have other major problems? Last night we had to listen to a half hour of obfuscation from the Minister for Health and Children who never gives us any information——
The Deputy is completely out of order.
——on any of these kinds of issues. She does not have any views on key policy matters.
The Deputy may contribute to the debate tonight.
I am asking the Taoiseach. I may have to go to Deputy Cyprian Brady with the matter as he seems to be the only person who can deliver any kind of progress in the health area.
If that is the Deputy's preference, he should do so.
He is not even a Minister.