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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Jun 2011

Vol. 737 No. 1

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 17, statements on European Council; No. 5, Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) (No. 2) Bill 2011 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 [Seanad] — Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 17 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall be confined to the Taoiseach and to the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time, and which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place at 1.30 p.m., or on the conclusion of No. 17, whichever is the later, until 2.30 p.m. Private Members' business shall be No. 24 — Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 3) Bill 2011 — Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 17 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal relating to the suspension of the sitting agreed to? Agreed.

We heard reports this morning that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government decided to shut down an independent investigation into planning practices in certain local authorities which had been established by his predecessor, John Gormley. Is the Taoiseach aware of this decision and the reasons for it? Will he provide a briefing to Opposition spokespeople as to why the decision was taken?

The question is not in order.

There will be an internal review instead.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that the electoral (amendment) Bill will be published tomorrow? If so, will it be debated before the summer recess? Will there be input from the Opposition in agreeing the terms of reference for the new constituency commission? Has the Government determined the number of Deputies that will be cut?

The Government approved the Bill yesterday but I cannot give the exact date when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will publish it. There is a process to be followed in the appointment of a constituency commission. The Minister will write to the Chief Justice, who will in turn ask the High Court to appoint a judge to chair the commission. It will be given terms of reference in respect of which it will make its findings independently. All Governments over the past 25 years have followed the recommendations of the various independent constituency commissions on the number of Deputies, constituency boundaries, etc.

Who sets the terms of reference for the commission? Will the Opposition have an input into it?

Opposition Members will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the Bill when it comes before the House.

That means "No" then.

Be careful of gerrymandering.



We remember that.

His master's voice.

The programme for Government commits the Government to sell €2 billion worth of what it describes as non-strategic State assets. Has the Government decided what constitutes such an asset? Will the Dáil have an opportunity to debate this issue?

The question is not in order.

When will the Government introduce the legislation it has promised to establish its NewERA body which will handle the planned sale of State assets?

Now we are in order.

Will this legislation be introduced before the summer recess? Is this another issue on which the EU, ECB and the IMF must be consulted before the Dáil has its say?

There is no need for the Deputy to expand on the question.

Work on NewERA is proceeding. While much work has already been done, it will be some time before it will be published. The Government has agreed that over its lifetime, non-strategic State assets could be sold to the extent of €2 billion. In due course, the Government will make its decisions in that regard. The Deputy will know what they are when it happens.

On promised changes, ahead of the last general election the Fine Gael Party education spokesperson, Ulick Burke, assured rural communities——

Before the election does not matter now.


I think the Ceann Comhairle speaks for everyone in the House.

We know that. I think I figured that one out.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn should buy the t-shirt.

We are dealing with promised legislation since the new Government came into power.

Deputy James Bannon does not like that.

Maybe I am a naïve soul but——

Maybe the Deputy is but it is not for me to comment on that. The Deputy should proceed with his question.

The Taoiseach will know of the strong views of rural communities regarding proposed cuts to school transport services. His party was committed to change the——

Where are we heading here on legislation?

When will the Taoiseach stop the cuts to the school transport service, as his party promised, which were introduced in the last Estimates?

That does not concern promised legislation.

So the promises made a long time ago do not count. These are promised changes. The Taoiseach's party promised it could change these cuts.

Yes, but it is not about promised legislation. The Deputy will be able to discuss the matter during the finance Bill and the budget.

A Cheann Comhairle, with respect, it will take legislation to change these cuts. I want to know when the Government will introduce this legislation.

No, it will not. The Taoiseach has indicated there is no promised legislation in this regard.

So the promise does not matter. I can see the Taoiseach is eager to answer my question.


No, he does not want to.

The Taoiseach is desperate to answer this question.

The Taoiseach is desperate.

Unlike Deputy Ó Caoláin, of course.

If Deputy Mac Lochlainn would not mind, can we get on with the Order of Business? The Deputy's colleague, Deputy Michael Colreavy, wants to be in order.

Today's Order Paper lists, as a document laid before the House, SI No. 305 2011, regarding the student grant scheme. Will the House have an opportunity to discuss the changes to the non-adjacent rates to student grants which will halve the grant for tens of thousands of students?

Is there a debate promised on this matter?

The Deputy could put down a parliamentary question.

No debate is promised. I call on Deputy James Bannon.

He remembers before the election.

The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2006 put in place procedures enabling prisoners to vote by post in all elections. Forms are available in prisons to allow them the opportunity to vote.

Are a few of them on Deputy James Bannon's side?

He might need a few of them in the next election.

It is blatantly unfair, however, that no provision has been made for the huge number of Irish emigrants abroad.

No, we do not need to discuss this matter.

Will legislation be brought in before the presidential election to enable Irish people abroad to vote in Irish elections?

No, because they are not Fine Gael supporters.

This was another of those promises made before the election.

Legislation on this matter was promised in the programme for Government.

Deputy James Bannon can take this matter up at a party meeting. It is not a matter for the Order of Business. I call on Deputy Timmy Dooley.

In light of recent events, is it intended to amend the Broadcasting Acts with a view to providing RTE with voting machines?


I have called Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. Can we have some order for her?

The legislation establishing a Department for public expenditure and reform came through the House last week and is now in the Seanad. I note from the rota for parliamentary questions that the Minister without Portfolio, Deputy Brenda Howlin, will not make himself available to the Dáil before the summer recess. Recently, I read with interest that the Minister is presiding over key policy decisions at Cabinet level and yet we have waited a long time for the establishment of this Department.

Sinn Féin delayed the legislation.

The legislation will come into effect on 5 July but yet the Minister will not answer questions in the House.

Sorry Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, but you are out of order.

He will not even provide written replies to parliamentary questions in advance of the summer break. Will the Taoiseach please address and remedy this issue?

The Bill is due to be returned from the Seanad to the Dáil tomorrow. From a legal standpoint, the Minister cannot answer parliamentary questions in the House until it has been signed into law. Thereafter, the Questions Office is responsible for determining the ministerial rota for parliamentary questions as approved by the Dáil. There is no reluctance on the part of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to come before the House to answer parliamentary questions. He is very anxious for the opportunity to do so.

Those in opposition tried to delay the legislation.

That is correct.

The only time the Deputy speaks is when——

The Deputy should speak for himself.

When will legislation to require the banks to make credit available to viable business be forthcoming? There are key elements contained in both the programme for Government and the jobs initiative which commit this Administration to ensuring that the banks will be compelled to provide credit to small to medium-sized business which are viable and which are providing essential employment. We have yet to see any action on the Government's part in this area. When will the relevant legislation be introduced?

The Minister for Finance has made many comments on this matter, particularly in the context of the decisions taken in respect of the dysfunctional banks, the fact that two pillar banks are to be established and the requirement to deleverage non-core assets in order that, as a result, credit will be available. He has also pointed out that there is a requirement to stimulate demand for credit.

The Government is proceeding to work on a Bill designed to facilitate the introduction of a partial loan guarantee scheme. It is hoped to publish this legislation in the autumn. There is a need to provide an initiative to stimulate the indigenous economy and the legislation is a central part of that. The Minister for Finance has made the legislation a priority and work is proceeding on it. I cannot——

A great deal could happen between now and the autumn if the banks are allowed to proceed in the manner in which they are operating at present, namely, acting against viable businesses.

I am surprised at Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is normally in order.

I would like to be able to introduce the legislation today. However, this is a complex matter. It will be forthcoming before the end of the year. A great deal of work is being done on this matter.

It is widely expected that on Thursday, 6 July the European Central Bank will raise interest rates by 0.25%, which may serve to push many people who are struggling to pay their mortgages over the edge. When will promised legislation designed to increase mortgage interest relief for certain categories of homeowners and force the banks to absorb the 0.25% increase be introduced?

I cannot provide an exact date in that regard. The Government is pursuing a range of options in respect of this matter that will be additional to the mechanisms already in place to assist those who are experiencing serious difficulties repaying their mortgages and who are in distress. I understand the sentiments behind the Deputy's query. Work is ongoing in respect of a range of additional options relating to how best we might assist the people in question. I do not have a date in respect of the introduction of what is envisaged. As soon as anything is forthcoming, however, I will inform the Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach indicate if a decision has been made with regard to the reconfiguration of the VECs? If such a decision has been made, when is an announcement likely to be made?

The Government approved the relevant Bill yesterday and it will come before the House in due course for debate. Copies of the legislation are available to Members.

The Government is proceeding with its referendum on judges' pay. It was recently announced that a cap on pay — from which well-paid consultants and NAMA officials will be excluded — is to be introduced. Legislation will be required in order to facilitate the introduction of the cap. Are there any plans to introduce legislation to stop bonuses being paid out?

That is not——

I am of the view that it is important.

I know it is important. However, I am obliged to ascertain whether legislation is promised in respect of particular matters.

The Government has made its position clear in respect of bonuses. We want to get the message across that there is a requirement on everyone to play his or her part. The Minister with responsibility for public expenditure and reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is conducting a review of the situation. I do not have a date for the introduction of legislation.

As the Taoiseach is aware, the House is due to continue its debate on a Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill designed to facilitate the running of a referendum on adoption on the same day as the presidential election. The Government has indicated that it does not support the Bill and has put forward an amendment. Fianna Fáil is committed to working towards the holding of a full referendum on the rights of children as soon as possible. Part of the Government's amendment to our Bill states that Dáil Éireann "Endorses the actions taken by the current Government to progress the introduction of the amendment to the Constitution on children". How can the Taoiseach expect us to vote in favour of this amendment when the main action the Government has taken is to row back on the promise it made four months ago——

I have been very lenient with the Deputy. He should ask a question.

——to run the referendum on the same day as the presidential election?

That matter can be discussed during Private Members' time later.

Will the Taoiseach remove the clause from the amendment?

No, that is not——

It is unfair to expect us to endorse the very little that has been done in respect of this matter. All that has happened is that the Taoiseach has rowed back on his promises.

That matter can be dealt with during Private Members' time later.

On promised legislation——

This marks the formal end of the Order of Business.

I will not be deflected from my course by that ribald comment from the Opposition benches.

The Deputy is deflecting the rest of us.


I will instead focus my attention on it later. I wish to inquire about two important items of promised legislation and I am interested in the extent to which they have been discussed by the Cabinet and whether the heads have been drawn up. I refer to the Children (Establishment of Child Welfare and Protection Agency) Bill — No. 68 on the list of Government legislation — and the Health Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is designed to provide for a new risk equalisation scheme for health insurance.

About what is the Deputy inquiring?

I apologise, I did not make my intentions clear at the outset.

The Deputy is checking the weather forecast.

It may take a little time but what I am seeking is information on the extent to which——

I do not want the Deputy to go through the entire list. The information is readily available.

I thought the Ceann Comhairle wanted me to go through it all again.

Is the Deputy seeking to elicit information?

I wanted to ask whether the Bills had been discussed by the Cabinet.

That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

It is. I am inquiring about the heads of the two Bills in question.

What does the Deputy wish to know?

The heads of a Bill have always been an issue for raising——

It is not the practice to announce what is discussed at Cabinet in this House.

The Deputy is not in Cabinet.

He should ask his colleagues who are in Cabinet.

If the Deputy reads the newspapers he will have access to complete briefings.

Have the heads of the Bill been drawn up and discussed? To what extent has the Cabinet discussed the principles relating to these two Bills? I am of the view that these two questions are permissible on the Order of Business and I hope such questions will remain permissible for a long time after I have left the House.

It will be a dull and boring place without the Deputy.

I can be of assistance to Deputy Durkan by confirming that neither of these Bills has come before Cabinet as yet.

Would it be possible to afford a degree of urgency to bringing them before the House, particularly in light of the important nature of their content?

I am sure the Taoiseach will note the Deputy's request.

It must be fun at Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meetings.

At least we have a parliamentary party worthy of the name.

It is not doing much business.

Will the Taoiseach outline the position?

I recognise the importance of both Bills. However, I cannot provide a date in respect of when they will come before Cabinet.

The Taoiseach will be aware that when the Government makes a decision in respect of joint labour committees, JLCs, legislation will be required. Will he indicate the earliest possible date on which such legislation will be forthcoming? If I might avail of the Ceann Comhairle's unexpected leniency——

I am not being lenient at all.

In the event that the High Court rules against JLCs on Thursday next, would it be the Government's intention to appeal?

We do not anticipate court decisions.

I am trying to discover the level of the Government's commitment.

The Deputy cannot expect me to prejudge the outcome of a High Court case.

No, he cannot.

I am not asking the Taoiseach to do so. I am merely asking if an appeal will be lodged.

I am not in a position to provide a date in respect of any legislation which may or may not be necessary.

I thought the Taoiseach stated that the matter is urgent. He indicated that the entire economy is depending on these changes.

We must proceed to questions to the Taoiseach.