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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Feb 2012

Vol. 753 No. 3

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 14, statements on the European Council in Brussels; and No. 15, statements on the Health Service Plan 2012. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in relation to No. 14 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall be made by the Taoiseach and by the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and the proceedings in relation to No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.42 p.m. tomorrow and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening statements shall be made by a Minister or Minister of State and by the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes and Members may share time.

Private Members' business shall be No. 39, motion re small primary schools (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 14 agreed to?

Is it possible to allocate an additional five minutes to the party leaders to ensure we are within time limits?

That is fine.

I ask the Taoiseach if he will stay to take questions following the statements. This would be appropriate given that he headed the negotiations on the matter.

Not on this occasion because I have a number of other engagements. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for European affairs will be present. I will have plenty of opportunities over the course of the next several weeks to answer directly any questions Deputies may have.

I have no doubt there will be ongoing debate on the matter but this is the first occasion on which statements will be made and questions put. It is not right that the Taoiseach will be unavailable to take questions. After all, he headed this endeavour and he stands over the treaty on behalf of the Government. Irrespective of other engagements, he ought to be here to answer questions.

I am also prepared to sign the agreement. I already answered the Deputy's questions on the matter directly during Leaders' Questions.

In fact he did not answer my questions.

I did answer her questions.

We are not getting into a debate on this issue.

Would she like to write the answers that she wants us to give to her questions?

I have given the lie to her comment about acting on anonymous reports. Of course I will be here to answer questions but not today. I have a series of other engagements.

Is it not the case that the Minister of State was not at the summit? She would not have attended the Council meeting. The situation has changed subsequent to Lisbon whereby the Taoiseach attends the summit meetings.

You used not to go at all.

That is not true.

When the Deputy has finished his chat, would he mind resuming his seat? I want to propose an amendment.

Put that lie to bed.

The important point-----

He can have his say when it is his turn to speak on the matter.

How can the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, answer questions when she was not at the meeting?

This is purely technical.

She was not, by definition.

Is it agreed that an additional five minutes be given to the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group? Agreed.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 14 be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15 agreed to? Agreed.

I ask the Taoiseach when the HSE governance Bill will be brought before the House because it has been a long time since the HSE board was disbanded by the Minister for Health. As we witnessed this morning, there is an absence of detailed planning on front line services to deal with the exodus from the health service. It is important that a clear governance structure is put in place for health services.

It is not true to say there is an absence of planning. There is a clear and concentrated focus on the pressure points that will emerge and the facilities being made available to deal with them and keep front line services at the highest standard that people expect. The agency governance Bill will be produced in this session.

When will time be provided for statements from the Taoiseach and a debate on the scheme of early retirement from the public sector and the implications it will have for the front line? The Taoiseach did not - yet again - answer in a concrete fashion the questions put to him this morning on the matter. If his Government has plans or a strategy for dealing with this issue, at what stage will he set out before the Dáil the number of exits and proposed recruits and the manner in which vital front line services will be protected?

That is not a matter of promised legislation. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has already answered questions on this matter in great depth and he will continue to do so.

As I stated this morning in response to Deputy Martin's question, there is a central planning unit in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Every line Minister is addressing the question of the actual number of people who will be leaving the public service. I have pointed out that several thousand people leave the public service every year in normal circumstances. This is the conclusion of a decision-making process where people, themselves, decide to leave and obviously the flexibility of the Croke Park agreement will now be tested in terms of redeployment and the mobility of staff to continue to provide services that are critical for the people.

Can I take it that the Taoiseach takes no responsibility for this matter-----

We are not having a debate on this issue.

No, the Deputy cannot take that.

-----and will not allow time for a debate? Will the Taoiseach not come in and address this issue?

As Head of Government of course I accept responsibility. I am not like many others who deny reality and deny responsibility. That is a question the Deputy does not need to ask in here.

I understand the national vetting bureau Bill is to be introduced this term. While waiting times have improved, in the case, for instance, of nurses getting part-time work, the Garda vetting is not transferable from one position to the other which is causing considerable delays.

The Deputy is correct in what he says about waiting times having improved. This is a sensitive matter and rightly so. That Bill is expected during this session.

What is the status of the residential tenancy Bill and the landlord and tenant Bill? Changes are taking place in the social welfare support going into the rental sector and I am concerned that this could lead to a further deterioration in the rental standards open to some tenants. The swift implementation of those Bills would be important in that regard.

This was considered. Obviously there is a requirement to deal with a number of Bills that are time-lined here because of the memorandum of understanding. Both the residential tenancy Bill and the landlord and tenant Bill are scheduled for later on this year. I will have the Minister give the Deputy a more exact timeline on that.

Yesterday the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, revealed details of the taxi review, which, I am sure, the Cabinet has reviewed. It contains approximately 46 recommendations.

I remind the Deputy that we are dealing with promised legislation.

I am coming to it.

I am just reminding him.

The programme for Government indicated that legislation would be introduced fairly quickly. This industry has a myriad of problems and the legislation is urgently needed. Will it be brought forward very quickly? I do not want to hear it will be some time in 2012 - we need to address the matter as urgently as possible. Can the Taoiseach give us any sort of date?

On the same subject, can the Taoiseach arrange a debate in the House in the next few weeks in order to discuss the report of the taxi review group and to allow the Minister of State to outline the legislation he proposes to introduce?

While I know the Taoiseach has been busy in the past week or so, does he have any news for the young men and women of Priory Hall?

The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, brought three reports to the Cabinet yesterday, one on smarter travel in towns, one on an integrated rural transport scheme, and one dealing with taxis. This is an issue about which everybody here is concerned. Based on the system outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, I want to see those involved in the taxi business, who have pride in the work they do, maintain their high reputation. I am concerned about illegal operators. Many thousands of parents are very concerned about their young girls and boys getting into the wrong taxi, which might not be legitimate in the first place. The recommendations made by the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, need to be discussed by those involved in the industry. They have been endorsed by the Cabinet and I want to see them implemented in a way whereby those involved in the taxi business, who work very hard, can maintain their very high standard of professionalism and reputation as it should be. Cowboy operators need to be taken out of the system so that they neither impinge on legitimate operators nor do down the reputation of the country by offering inferior services, about which, in some cases, people have legitimate reason to be concerned.

Will we have a debate?

Yes, we can arrange for that here.

When will the temporary partial credit Bill be published?

It is on its way. I would say it would be in the next couple of weeks and certainly in this session. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, has gone through the structure and model for it. The Bill will be in here as quickly as we can - obviously it is of importance.

In response to a parliamentary question on vehicle testing centres, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, stated: "It is envisaged that the RSA will take over responsibility for licensing and supervising commercial vehicle testing in the near future when the required legislative provisions are in place." When will that happen?

As the Taoiseach is aware, constitutional law is a minefield considering what is going on at present with regard to the controversy over the fiscal treaty. Is there proposed legislation to protect the rights of rural children to be treated equally with children in other areas-----

-----taking into consideration Government cutbacks in education and the impact these will have on our small schools?

The Deputy was going grand until the second item, which is totally out of order but could be a matter for a parliamentary question.

I do not have a timeline on that - I will have a response sent to the Deputy. In regard to the issue of children, obviously the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is working on a referendum in respect of child protection. In a general sense, while we might assume that all the children of the nation are supposed to be treated equally, in reality we have been very far from that in a number of areas for many years and we would like to rectify that if we could.

When can we expect to see legislation covering whistleblowers for the public and private sector, data protection amendments, and freedom of information?

The whistleblowers and data protection Bills will be later this year. I will need to come back to the Deputy on freedom of information.

Yesterday I raised with the Taoiseach the continuing ill-treatment of the La Senza workers at the hands of KPMG and I wrote to him about it as requested. I got further calls today informing me that their P45s were-----

Come on - this is not promised legislation.

-----not done properly by KPMG and have been refused by Revenue. In that context there is an urgent need to introduce industrial relations legislation to prevent such shoddy treatment of workers. Given all that has happened in recent weeks, does the Government plan to introduce new industrial relations legislation to prevent the kind of mistreatment of workers we have seen with the La Senza workers?

Is there legislation promised?

The Deputy was supposed to give me that document outside the door here-----

I had to write it up.

-----but he had fled the scene by the time I got out there.

I e-mailed it to the Taoiseach an hour later.

I felt completely deprived and disappointed that he was not able to give me that yesterday.

Did the Taoiseach get the e-mail?

The Labour Relations Commission and the facilities of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation are available for everybody here. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has an interest in this and his officials have always been available to trade union officials. At the end of the day, the LRC machinery is there. I hope these can be used to solve this dispute and others.

What about the legislation?

Will the Taoiseach contact KPMG?

He said he would yesterday.

I will respond to the Deputy's letter if he sends me a letter.

I sent it to him yesterday.

I suggest that the Deputy tables a parliamentary question on the issue and we can have a proper discussion.

Will the Taoiseach make time available for the House to debate the proposed Poolbeg incinerator? A sizeable amount of money, €83 million, has been spent to date on the project and there is a significant future potential liability arising from the "put or pay" clause.

I think a parliamentary question is called for here.

It is a significant issue here in the capital and relates to national policy.

It is a matter for the Minister.

If the Taoiseach will not make time available to debate it in the Dáil, can he have the Committee of Public Accounts investigate some of the very alarming issues which have been raised as part of the public discussion on it?

Not on the Order of Business.

If Deputy Niall Collins raises that matter at the Whips' meeting, I am sure the Whip will be able to facilitate him. Obviously there is a difference between a Dáil debate and an investigation by the Committee of Public Accounts. I suggest he raises it at the Whips' meeting and I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, will be flexible in his response.

That would be one in a row.