Order of Business

It is porposed to take No. 1 — Property Services (Regulation) Bill 2009 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 73, motion re reform of structures of Government.

There are no proposals to be put to the House.

Last week the High Court issued a finding in regard to a citizen whose constitutional rights were being deprived.

Was a letter from the Chief State Solicitor, which was received by a legal representative of Senator Paudie Coffey, written on instruction of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Government? The letter asks that, in the circumstances, the Senator should not proceed with proceedings before the High Court in regard to a by-election in Waterford and a similar case in Dublin South. It seems the finding of the High Court has now been acted upon by the Government as the by-election in Donegal South-West is proceeding. In that case, what is the purpose of taking a costly appeal to the Supreme Court? Why was the Chief State Solicitor instructed to write to a citizen requesting that legal proceedings not be taken to the High Court for two by-elections to be held in the very same circumstances and on the same principle as the Donegal South-West by-election?

In the same way as a solicitor for Senator Coffey and Mr. Van Turnhout wrote to the defendant, the defendant's solicitor wrote back. This is a normal course of action. The Government was entitled to await the outcome of a Supreme Court appeal before moving the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election. However, out of deference to the High Court, it decided to move the writ forthwith. This deference does not mean the Government accepts the points of constitutional principle laid down by the High Court. Rather, it considers that the High Court's judgment gives rise to highly important issues of constitutional principle which have not arisen before and which should be settled conclusively by the Supreme Court in the interests of certainty for future elections. I indicated to the Dáil last week the issues in question. That is the reason.

When the hearing goes before the——

I allowed the Deputy to put a question and he has received a response.

I will not labour the point. In the event that the High Court on Thursday sets a date for a full hearing of the Waterford and Dublin South cases, will the Government expedite its appeal to the Supreme Court so that a hearing will be held and a determination reached before the end of this term?

The Deputy is seeking detailed information on the Order of Business.

It is very important information.

He should table a parliamentary question.

The reason I raise the matter is that in normal circumstances a Supreme Court appeal can drift for 18 months before being heard. While I do not speak for the Supreme Court, in the event that the High Court on Thursday gives a date for a hearing on the Waterford and Dublin South by-elections, does the Government intend to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court in the Donegal South-West case as a matter of urgency? It appears the same principle applies.

The Taoiseach indicated that if the Supreme Court determines the case, the Government will immediately move the writs. When does the Government expect to lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court? In the event that the High Court on Thursday decides on a date for a hearing, will the Government expedite the appeal in the hope that it may be determined by the end of this term and the position becomes crystal clear?

On the appeal to the Supreme Court, we intend to seek a hearing on that action at the earliest possible date. The commitment I gave to the Dáil in respect of moving the writs in the first quarter of next year stands in relation to the other elections, regardless of how long the appeal will take.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the election of Ms Mary Robinson as the first woman President. It is also the day on which the Irish Human Rights Commission called on the Government to immediately establish a statutory inquiry into the treatment of women and girls in the Magdalene laundries. Does the Government intend to accede to the commission's request to establish such an inquiry?

On the same issue, I ask the Taoiseach if he will welcome the finding by the Irish Human Rights Commission that a statutory inquiry should be conducted by the Government. While I note the Attorney General will examine the commission's report, I ask the Taoiseach if he will agree that the survivors of the Magdalene laundries, whose case we have raised previously in the House, should receive an apology from the State and that a distinct redress scheme should be established for them.

On the same issue——

The matter has been selected for discussion on the Adjournment.

I will be brief. Will the Taoiseach join other Deputies in asking the Conference for Religious in Ireland to meet representatives of the victims of the Magdalene laundries? This is an issue on which, I hope, the House could unanimously agree and encourage.

On the point relating to the redress scheme——

The Deputy must pursue this matter through a parliamentary question.

To keep matters simple, will the Government, however belatedly, agree that the women in question will be included on the terms of the redress scheme?

While all of us are horrified at the prospect of a statutory inquiry, in the case of the Magdalene laundries most of the work has been done. The evidence is irrefutable and the State must apologise to the women in question.

I am sure the Deputy will make these points during the Adjournment debate.

The difference, however, is that the Taoiseach will not be in the House to respond to us tonight.

I refer the Deputies to a press statement issued by the Government today which encapsulates the situation as far as we are concerned. The report in question is an assessment report which was produced by the Irish Human Rights Commission and forwarded to the Department of Justice and Law Reform yesterday evening. It was brought to the attention of the Government this morning that the report had come to hand.

While the Irish Human Rights Commission has decided it will not carry out an inquiry under the Human Rights Commission Act 2000, it has asked the Government to establish a statutory mechanism to examine the extent of the State's involvement and responsibility and in the event of State involvement and responsibility being established, "that the statutory mechanism then advance to conducting a larger-scale review of what occurred" and the redress which should be considered.

The Irish Human Rights Commission did not seek any observations from the Government during its assessment process. We have initiated a review of the assessment report, as published, and will consider its recommendations in that context. There are a number of Departments, including the Departments of Justice and Law Reform, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Health and Children, Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and Education and Skills, for which the assessment report will have implications and the views of the Attorney General will be required. The Government will consider the report, having received it without prior notice or involvement.

How are we to interpret the decision of the Minister for Social Protection to take up the role of director of elections for the Fianna Fáil Party candidate in the Donegal South-West by-election——

The matter raised is inappropriate to the Order of Business.

——in relation to the concerns of pensioners, those dependent on social welfare, carers, and so on? Has the Minister successfully defended those dependent on social welfare or has he given up in terms of protecting their needs in the Government's considerations vis-à-vis the forthcoming budget?

Deputies may only raise issues related to promised legislation on the Order of Business.

When does the Government intend to publish the Social Welfare Bill that may be anticipated at this point?

The Social Welfare Bill will, I understand, be published in the normal way after the budget. If the Deputy has any queries for the Minister for Social Protection, he is in his office in the House.

Perhaps the Taoiseach, who, like me, is from a rural constituency, will provide an update on when the veterinary practices (amendment) Bill will be brought before the House. This is important legislation for the agriculture community. Farmers in the midlands region are putting considerable pressure on the Government to introduce the legislation. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the position?

The heads of the Bill were cleared by the Government in recent weeks and the legislation has gone for detailed drafting.

Is it intended to implement by way of urgent response, the recommendations of the second interim report of the Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children with regard to defences available to defendants, age of consent, persons in authority and criminal evidence and to reform the laws on incest? When will the relevant legislation be introduced? It has been promised several times for 2011.

Given that it has been deemed to be of urgent need, the Taoiseach might indicate to the House whether it is intended to respond to this in an urgent fashion.

Given the level of legislation and important work the Dáil must complete between now and Christmas, 2011 is the earliest time at which that Bill might be taken.

While I do not wish to prolong the issue, it should be noted that debate in the House collapsed several times recently and there was space for the introduction of this necessary legislation.

The Deputy's point is noted but he must refer to legislation.

It is necessary. I simply bring to the Taoiseach's attention the fact that this legislation is promised and necessary and that there has been space. It has been shown——

Deputy please. You cannot promote a debate on this matter at this time.

I am not. I merely point out that it has been shown there is adequate space already.

In these times in which there is a need for stability——

—— I refer to the proposed legislation to consolidate the body of legislation relating to the Central Bank into a single statute, to address the question of necessary changes and enhancements to the regulatory functions of the Central Bank and to transfer ministerial responsibility for building societies from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Minister for Finance. Surely this legislation must be urgent.

The last proposed Bill to which the Deputy referred was the financial services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and it is due for 2011. Similarly, the proposed Central Bank (No. 2) Bill will come first and then the consolidation Bill will come thereafter, again hopefully next year.

I call Deputy Sheahan.

I must comment on that.

The Deputy cannot.

Is there no sense of urgency on the Government benches?

The Order of Business does not recognise the Deputy's demand to make comment after he has received an answer.

Would the Taoiseach not rush in with the Bill as a matter of urgency to take responsibility away from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government before he gets carried away?

The Deputy should resume his seat. I call Deputy Sheahan.

The Deputy should have been here for discussions last Friday.

It was not the Government's fault.

I call Deputy Sheahan.

No, the Deputy was not.

Will the Taoiseach introduce an amendment to the Competition (Amendment) Act 2006 to ban below-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets? Will he consider the introduction of more stringent regulation on main contractors? A tax clearance certificate constitutes insufficient regulation to allow them to tender for Government contracts.

Deputy, is there promised legislation in this regard?

I hope the Taoiseach will promise it.

We simply consider queries about promised legislation. The alternative arrangement is to table a parliamentary question.

Had the Ceann Comhairle let me alone, I would be finished. I refer to cases in which main contractors are allowed to tender for Government contracts even though they owe hundreds of millions to subcontractors.

The Deputy is promoting debate and discussion on the Order of Business.

Will the Taoiseach consider bringing forward more stringent regulation on that sector?

Is there promised legislation on this issue?

On Deputy Sheahan's second point, I agree this is an issue that must be addressed. There is a Bill before the Seanad that was introduced by Senator Quinn and which the Minister for Finance has taken up. They have decided to work with amendments on that Bill to process it further. I agree this is an issue that requires statutory provision.

Tá go maith. We will move on.

What of below-cost selling of alcohol?

As far as I am aware, there are no proposals in that area.