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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 9 Mar 2010

Vol. 704 No. 3

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 6, Finance Bill 2010 — Financial Resolution; No. 7, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Finance Act 2004 (Section 91) (Deferred Surrender to the Central Fund) Order 2010; No. 18, Finance Bill 2010 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 7a, motion re Broadcasting Act 2009, Levy Order 2010, to be taken not later than 7 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 on the adjournment of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 36, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Review of Rent in Certain Cases) (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage, which shall be taken on the conclusion of No. 7a and adjourn after 90 minutes and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 10 March 2010; Nos. 6 and 7 shall be decided without debate; and the proceedings in relation to No. 7a shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time, and shall not exceed five minutes in each case; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.

Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and the arrangements for Private Members' time agreed?

I am not objecting to it but I want to ask the Taoiseach a question arising from it. This proposed arrangement is to allow for a half hour debate on the broadcasting levy order. This is the levy Deputy McManus has raised on a number of occasions which is to apply essentially to the private broadcasting sector. Deputy McManus had tabled a motion to the effect that this order should be annulled and in a discussion at the Oireachtas committee last week it was agreed on an all-party basis that it should be annulled. When the schedule for last week was circulated to us initially time was set aside for this matter to be dealt with but then a second schedule was subsequently circulated which had withdrawn it. I am curious as to why, it having been agreed that it would be debated, it was then withdrawn. Who asked for it to be withdrawn? Was it at the Taoiseach's initiative or was it requested by some Minister?

I am disappointed that the motion the Government has tabled on this issue is not a motion annulling the order but one simply noting it. Deputy McManus has an amendment to that motion which we will vote on at 7.30 p.m. but even at this late stage I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider the Government's position on this matter and to agree to the motion that this order should be annulled.

The matter has been noted and discussions are continuing.

I am sorry but I did not hear that. I cannot hear a word the Taoiseach is saying.

The matter has been noted by the Government.

Is the proposal agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 6 and 7 agreed? Agreed. Is No. 7a agreed?

On No 7a, Deputy Coveney, along with Deputy McManus, has tabled an amendment to this motion. This issue is of serious import to local radio stations. A number of people will lose their jobs as a consequence of the extent of the levy and I, too, regret that the Government merely notes the statutory instrument introduced by the Minister. In our view it is an excessive levy which will result in people in these radio stations becoming unemployed, and that will be to the detriment of the very good work they do. I would have preferred if the Government had been open enough to have an annulling order before the House to allow a rational discussion about the extent of the levy required, as has been pointed out by Deputy Coveney and Deputy McManus.

On the same issue, a Cheann Comhairle, could I ask you——

I am sorry, Deputy, but under Standing Orders only one Member from each party can speak.

The Deputy can raise it on a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle.

On a point of order a Cheann Comhairle, I am seeking your assistance. Last week, the all-party Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources debated this issue and we decided that we would send a motion to the Dáil requesting the annulment of this order. Where stands that request? In normal circumstances when a motion is sent from committee to the floor of the Dáil it would be the basis for debate rather than a new motion designed by the Minister.

There is no motion before the Dáil on the matter. That is the position, Deputy.

Where stands the motion that was sent through the Chairman of the all-party Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the Dáil for consideration and debate and why is it not being debated? Can the Ceann Comhairle give us some guidance on that?

It was laid before the Dáil but there is no formal motion before the Dáil in regard to it.

There was a formal motion because I drafted it along with Deputy McManus and the Chairman of the committee.

It got lost in transit.

The Deputy will have to go back to the committee.

A Cheann Comhairle, the important point here is about trust. There are written rules in this House and Standing Orders but there are also unwritten rules on which the Whips depend to ensure that we work well and get through our business. The Taoiseach did not answer the question raised by the leader of the Labour Party. It is unprecedented in my experience that a motion was tabled to be on the schedule for this week, was then withdrawn, reappeared today, was withdrawn again and a different wording put forward. We must be given an explanation. It is most unusual that a committee would be unanimous in rejecting a Standing Order, or at least a statutory instrument, but that is what happened. While I appreciate the point the Taoiseach is making, that a motion did not come before the House from the committee, there were extraordinary circumstances in which the Government was playing games with the schedule of this House. That is extremely serious.

We cannot have a detailed discussion at this point. We are on the Order of Business.

If the Whips are to be able to work on the basis of trust, we need an explanation, not just a brushing aside, as we got from the Taoiseach.

The Deputy needs to find a different forum in which to discuss that.

No, this is about procedure and the schedule and the Order of Business with which we must deal. Can I have an explanation as to why this item, which was on the schedule circulated to us all last week, suddenly disappeared and was then re-included? Why did this happen? What was the sequence of events?

The question is, "Is the proposal for dealing with——

The question is, "What was the Government playing at?" The Chief Whip and Taoiseach are present and the very least they could do is give us an explanation. We are surely entitled to one. There is a certain amount of disrespect for this House evident in what happened in the past couple of days. The item was on the schedule and was removed without any explanation. I would like a very simple explanation as to what provoked the Government's decision.

The reality is that it would not be on the schedule at all had we not raised it with the Chief Whip's office earlier.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7a, motion re Broadcasting Act 2009 (Section 33) Levy Order 2010 agreed to? Agreed.

In view of the increasing concern over the impact of non-co-operation, unrest and uncertainty in the public sector and the fact that people in some sectors are beginning to hurt, what effort is the Government making to communicate with the trade unions such that some discussion might take place with a view to having public services restored as people would expect?

Is legislation promised in this area?

I am speaking to the Order of Business. We are in here at the Ceann Comhairle's behest and cannot get any response to questions. This matter is not just of interest to those in the House but to people right across the country.

I note a letter from the Ombudsman today on the lost at sea scheme. In fairness to the Minister for Transport, with whom I disagree on a regular basis——

We have been labouring this issue for some time.

——he said last week there would be no further Government time allowed in the Chamber. Would the Taoiseach have any objection if the committee decided to re-examine this matter?

The Taoiseach should be aware that today the Ombudsman has accused the Government of bad governance in respect of this issue.

We are really getting into deep water.

On the instruction of the Taoiseach, his colleagues on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have thwarted the efforts of the committee to investigate further the report on the lost at sea scheme.

That matter is very suitable for Private Members' time.

Bearing in mind that the Office of the Ombudsman acts to protect the interests of complainants with a grievance against the State——

The Deputy will have to find some other way of pursuing that matter in the House. It is not promised business or legislation.

——why is the Government intent on undermining that office by circling the wagons to protect Deputy Fahey in this matter?

The Deputy cannot pursue that issue.

That is outrageous; it is rubbish.

I call Deputy Durkan.

This is a serious issue.

It may well be but I have advised that Private Members' time would afford an opportunity to raise it. There are so many other ways in which the Deputy can pursue it.

The Ombudsman has made an accusation. To use her words, "The saga began with maladministration and has ended, to date at least, with poor governance."

That is entirely inappropriate on the Order of Business. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Has the Taoiseach anything to say on the matter?

I want to raise two important items I have raised before in the House, one of which concerns the national vetting bureau Bill, which is to provide for the establishment of a national vetting bureau for the collection and exchange of information relating to the endangerment, sexual exploitation or sexual abuse, or risk thereof of children. Publication is expected in 2010 but we have heard no specific date at this stage. It is very important that the Government indicate to the House the progress on the preparation of the Bill and its heads.

That Bill is being worked on. Only ten weeks of the year have elapsed.

Has Deputy Durkan a second query on legislation?

I remind the Taoiseach that the aforementioned matter is very important and is becoming increasingly important with each passing day.

My second query concerns the bail (amendment) Bill, in respect of which the legislative programme states it is not possible to say when publication is expected. This issue has taken up some considerable time in the media and this House and I suggest respectfully that the Taoiseach indicate whether the Bill is being actively pursued. Have the heads been discussed, has drafting taken place and at what time of the year is the Bill likely to emerge?

It is consolidation legislation, as the Deputy stated, and therefore does not have the same priority as new legislation that would be more urgent. It is certainly an ongoing exercise but there is no date for the publication or enactment of the Bill.

I will not delay the House. Surely everybody realises that the bail legislation, be it consolidation legislation or otherwise, must be dealt with as a matter of extreme urgency. I do not know whether the Government realises this.

I understand it is a consolidation Bill and does not contain any new provisions. It is simply consolidating the existing legal framework. Therefore, the existing legal position will continue regardless of whether the new legislation is introduced. The latter is just for the purpose of consolidating the corpus of law in the area.

Has the Taoiseach received any communication from the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, on his membership of the Government and of Dáil Éireann? If so, when will he make an announcement to the House in that regard?

As there is now one vacancy in the membership of the Government, as a second one is to arise shortly and as a third is possible, when does the Taoiseach intend to table a motion in the House on the appointment of new Ministers? Will he confirm to the House what is widely speculated, that is, that he will announce a Government reshuffle on 23 March?

The comments made today by the Ombudsman at the Institute of Public Administration are very strong. In the course of making her remarks, she expressed the hope the Oireachtas may yet find a mechanism to allow her report to be dealt with calmly and reasonably.

That is really inappropriate to the Order of Business.

In light of the very strong comments made by the Ombudsman today, will the Taoiseach reconsider this matter and find a means of dealing with it on an all-party basis rather than have it dealt with, as the Ceann Comhairle advocated, in Private Members' time, which would result in a divisive atmosphere?

I have no intention of introducing any divisiveness whatsoever in regard to this or any other matter. It is a matter for the Oireachtas to order its own business. The Dáil and Seanad dealt with the report in question by way of statements of 4 February and 18 February, respectively. On 3 March, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food rejected a motion brought before it. Having regard to the statements in this House and the Seanad, I am satisfied the Oireachtas has fulfilled its responsibility to consider the special report. I have stated this on a number of occasions.

With respect, I do not accept the argument made. The report has been discussed in the Dáil and Seanad. I refer again to the initial statement by the Ombudsman at the time the report was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas when she invited them to consider the report and to take whatever action they deemed appropriate. I am satisfied the Oireachtas has fulfilled its responsibility in this regard by dealing with the report in the way that it did.

No action has been taken on foot of the report.

In regard to the Deputy's other question, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, has communicated his intention to resign from the Government and from public life in the context of the serious back condition from which he suffers. It is my intention to advise the President to accept his resignation on a date on which other matters relating to the Government, and which I am currently considering, will also be the subject of decision. That was outlined in the statement I issued yesterday. I cannot add to the speculation on the date.

On the same issue, there are now no fewer than three by-elections pending. In addition, there is a commitment — although it may be one with a small "c" — to hold a referendum on children's rights, as well as the signalled direct election of a mayor of the city of Dublin. In total, therefore, there are five engagements with the electorate pending. Is there any intent on the Taoiseach's part to confirm the by-election arrangements given that it is more then eight months since the vacancy in Donegal South-West arose? When does the Taoiseach intend to allow the electorate in these constituencies to have their say and to facilitate the referendum and the direct election of a mayor of Dublin? When will he advise the House of his intention to set firm dates for all of these? Or would he like to get the pain over in one go by vacating his position and holding a general election——

Not until 2012.

——which might also accommodate a referendum on children's rights and the election of a mayor of the city of Dublin?

In the context of the tenuous arrangement that Fianna Fáil has with the Green Party in regard to the revised programme for Government, I asked the Taoiseach earlier and ask him now again about the signalled intent to introduce measures to assist families that are experiencing difficulties meeting their mortgage repayments——

The Deputy is off on a tangent.

My question relates to promised legislation, which is what I understand the Order of Business is about. The revised programme for Government outlined measures such as reduced interest rates, longer maturity dates, the rolling up of outstanding interest and so on——

Will the Deputy come back to his original question?

What stage is the Government at in its preparations for the introduction of the necessary legislation or the facilitation of the roll-out of the commitments contained in the revised programme for Government given that every day of the week we are seeing more and more people in severe difficulties in regard to their mortgage payments?

The Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and other relevant Ministers have been working on this issue and have put forward initiatives in the budget and on other occasions to assist people who are experiencing difficulties. Codes of practice are in place to deal with these matters and measures to assist people have been outlined in the House. I have no comment on any further speculation.

In respect of the Ombudsman's report, the Taoiseach cannot possibly claim that by tabling a take note motion he was fulfilling the Ombudsman's desire for the Dáil to make a decision on it.

Today's Order Paper includes SI 88, the order for the introduction of the system of what is called long-term economic value for the €77 billion of assets that are proposed to be transferred to NAMA. This builds in the €7 billion overpayment for these assets over and above the market price. It is based on a very low risk factor in assessing the worth of the assets. Will the Taoiseach make time available in the House to discuss this? The decision in regard to the evaluation process is of immense importance to the State. I hope the Taoiseach will accede to my request for a debate on the matter.

Deputies will have an opportunity on Report Stage of the Finance Bill, which will commence shortly, to raise directly with the Minister for Finance his intentions in regard to this matter. There will be further opportunities to have a debate once NAMA is in operation and further policy decisions are taken in regard to the restructuring of the banking system or anything that arises as a result of the transfer of these loans or assets on to the NAMA books.

In regard to the report of the Ombudsman, the latter asked us to consider it and to take whatever action was deemed appropriate. The decision on what action is deemed appropriate cannot be taken other than by the Oireachtas.