Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. a11, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 4, National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1 - Animal, Health and Welfare Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of Topical Issues and the order shall not resume thereafter.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a11 shall be decided without debate. Private Members’ business shall be No. 57, motion re confidence in the Minister for Health (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, without debate agreed to? Agreed.

I welcome the decision to hold a referendum to insert in the Constitution an amendment on the rights of children. Much work has been undertaken on this issue over a number of years by all political parties in the House. I refer in particular to an all-party committee chaired by former Deputy Mary O'Rourke, which created significant momentum on the issue. Considerable constructive work was undertaken by former Minister of State, Mr. Barry Andrews, who produced draft wording of an amendment that was approved by the previous Government, and by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. Indeed, the wording proposed by Mr. Barry Andrews and the joint committee is not dissimilar from that of the amendment the Government will announce later today.

We know this insertion in the Constitution will be additional to a significant body of legislation which is in place, from the Child Care Act 1991 to the Adoption Act 2010. Can the Taoiseach outline the legislative timeline for considering this matter in the House, the holding of the referendum and the establishment of the Referendum Commission? Has the Government decided on a chairperson for the Referendum Commission, and who will that be?

As we outlined to Opposition parties this morning, the Government decided yesterday to hold the referendum on 10 November. Parties were briefed on that this morning and given copies of the wording of the referendum, as agreed by Cabinet. The Bill will come before the House next week and will be debated in the Oireachtas for two weeks. The name of the person to chair the commission will be given by the Minister at her press conference at 11.30 a.m. The commission can be effective from today. The Adoption Bill is being circulated to Members. It was in print this morning when we had our conversation.

I hope there will be a rational and comprehensive debate on this matter during the course of the next few weeks. I can confirm the Government's appreciation of the efforts of members of all parties over the years and of a number of Oireachtas committees. It is now 20 years since Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness asked for a referendum on children's rights. This is an important element of what we have to say about children and how important they are in the country. That is why the Government appointed a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, set up a specific Department of Children and Youth Affairs and introduced important legislation in this area.

The Dáil will sit four days next week to deal with this matter. Members of the House, from Deputy Martin's parties and others, must make their minds up with regard to support for the referendum. I hope there can be consensus among public representatives on something that is of exceptional importance to us all. To insert a new article specifically relating to children, their rights and their protection into the Constitution is not something to be considered lightly. It deserves a thorough and full debate and it will get that.

If any Member, of a party or non-party, who has issues or questions or requires information about the referendum the Government will be happy to deal with those. We will provide as full an opportunity as possible to debate this matter in the House over the next two weeks.

The Adoption Bill will be circulated today. It is there for everyone to read but will not be taken in the House at present. If the referendum is approved by the people, the Adoption Bill will be put through the legislative process.

As I did yesterday, I commend the Government on its work on this issue, and others who have worked on it.

My question is about forthcoming legislation, particularly the proposed credit union Bill. I recently met a delegation from the mid-Louth group of credit unions. They are concerned that the Government may be treating credit unions like banks, when there is a totally different ethos in the credit union movement. They particularly fear that some of the legislative proposals may close smaller credit unions and put obstacles in their way. I understand the Bill is being discussed by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. When will the Bill be published and brought to the Dáil? Can the Taoiseach assure the House that the Bill will be concerned with conserving, protecting, reinvigorating and promoting the credit union ethos?

This is an important element and phase in the development of credit unions, which are so important for everyone. They are fundamental to the economic life of the country. Some, admittedly, have serious financial difficulties.

The Bill will be published in this session. It is an important Bill and has a bearing on hundreds of thousands of small savers who are loyal to their credit unions. The Bill will be published during this session.

I can assure the Taoiseach that Fianna Fáil Members will be constructive in our consideration of the referendum issue. Obviously, the party will look at the wording.

I do not want to be too pernickety, but I suggest that the name of the chairperson of the Referendum Commission should be announced to the House. That would be more appropriate protocol than to announce it outside the House. It is not a big deal, but the Taoiseach should announce to the House who the chairperson is. The House is central to the holding of a referendum.

I would leave it to the Minister. I chose to announce to the Dáil yesterday that the Government had decided on the wording of the amendment and that the referendum date would be 10 November. I did that out of courtesy. I intend to continue to make announcements of that nature here.

Deputy Martin must have come to that conclusion lately.

He has had a recent conversion.

When he was in opposition, the Taoiseach was a great advocate of what I propose.

I welcome the referendum and I look forward to campaigning for a "Yes" vote. On a related issue, does the Taoiseach agree that the construction of the national children's hospital is the most compelling infrastructural issue facing the country? Does he believe the Dolphin report should be published? Will the Government give time for the House to discuss the recommendations of the report and allow Deputies to comment on its findings? When will a decision on the hospital be made?

That will happen inside a relatively short time. The Dolphin report has been given to the Minister for Health. The report does not set out a list of categorised locations. It sets out Dr. Dolphin's views on a number of locations. The Minister must come to Government with a recommendation arising from the Dolphin report. The Government will then make a decision on what will be one of the most important buildings of the next 100 years. Clearly, there will be a debate in the House about that. I can confirm that the Government has not discussed the Dolphin report. I expect the Minister for Health will bring his assessment and recommendation to Cabinet in a matter of weeks.

My question concerns promised legislation on excise licence regulations and controls. People who are already in possession of mineral oil trader's licences are now being asked to provide a new auto fuel trader's licence. They are being told they require a second licence from 1 October until 30 June. They are being asked to pay for a 12 month licence that will be in effect for only nine months. Why should they be asked to have a second licence?

Deputy, what are you asking?

I am asking if the Government will allow for a debate on promised legislation regarding excise licence regulations and controls.

Taoiseach, is there promised legislation on this matter?

I am not in control of the Chair but I might suggest that if the Deputy submits a request for a Topical Issue debate, the Ceann Comhairle might consider it so the Deputy could get a direct response from the Minister.

Is there promised legislation in this area?

I also welcome the announcement on the holding of the referendum on children's rights. Last year I introduced a Private Members' Bill on scrap metal and gold. It was rejected by the Minister but he promised that he would bring forward a report that would lead to legislation. Where is that? Many householders and premises have been destroyed since then and it is a shame to see this happening.

The Minister is still considering the Private Members' Bill the Deputy introduced and I will ask him to update the Deputy on the issue.

On the pending local government reform Bill which is to be published this term, will the Taoiseach confirm the Bill will include protection for students applying for third level grants against the illegal action that has been taken by some county councils?

We do not deal with the contents of the legislation. When will this Bill be taken?

Does the Taoiseach agree the actions are illegal and is he aware that when it comes to tax compliance, only 52% of commercial rates are collected?

The Deputy's party leader spoke on the matter earlier so he can give the Deputy an update. When will this Bill be published?

I do not have a date for publication of that Bill.

Tá sé ráite sna meáin inniu go bhfuair garraíodóir ó pháirc náisiúnta Ghleann Bheatha litir bhagartha arís ón Roinn siocair go raibh sé ag labhairt amach ar Bhille a chuaigh fríd an Teach seo, Bille na Gaeltachta. An aontaíonn an Taoiseach gur cóir litir bhagartha a chur chuig duine atá ag obair mar gharraíodóir atá ag labhairt amach ar son phobal na Gaeltachta faoi reachtaíocht a théann fríd an Teach seo?

Ó thaobh na reachtaíochta atá le teacht chun cáin a fhorchur ar thithe, on the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill, which was announced in the legislative programme yesterday, can the Taoiseach indicate when this Bill will be published and if he intends to publish the expert report that has looked into this matter in advance of the publication of the Bill? Can we take it that the fact that responsibility for this Bill has been transferred to the Department of Finance is a vote of no confidence by the Government into the disastrous performance by Big Phil on the household charge?

I ask the Deputy not to beat it to death but to stick to promised legislation.

I wish the Deputy the best for Sunday.

The Taoiseach does not sound too confident.

We will see. The property tax has been put on the legislative list by Government. The Thornhill report has been with the Minister for some time. He will come to Cabinet with his recommendations and the Cabinet will then make a decision. The tax will apply from 1 July 2013 and people will contribute on the basis of a half yearly charge from 1 July 2013. The decision was taken to transfer the tax to the Revenue Commissioners for the design of the structure and mechanics of collection. There will be a full debate on this when Government has decided on the nature and scale of the tax to be introduced.

On a point of order, I am entitled as a Member of this House to get a response to a question.

The Deputy is entitled to a response if he is in order. We are dealing with promised legislation and the Taoiseach has answered the question.

I have the question written down here.

Then the Deputy should submit a written parliamentary question.

No, with respect. I asked when the Bill included in the legislative programme will be published and I did not get an answer from the Taoiseach. It is a simple question and he has not answered it, just as he did not answer the other question about the letter sent to the gardener who spoke out about legislation that went through this House.

The Minister for Finance has already outlined that it will be introduced on budget day so it will be towards the end of the session.

I was looking at the updated legislative programme and the sale of alcohol Bill has been put back by six months. The Taoiseach reminded us that around 2,000 hospital beds are occupied as a result of alcohol abuse so could this be introduced sooner?

This is a massive project so the Bill is some time away. The committee dealing with social policy will look at the issues that have been prepared by the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, and the Minister for Justice and Equality in respect of alcohol. That meeting will take place in a couple of weeks but the Bill is some time away. We will keep the Deputy informed.

On the landlord and tenant Bill in the legislative programme published yesterday, and on the PRTB, this is freshers' week and already in Cork city this week we have seen bedlam caused by students engaging in excessive alcohol intake, causing huge disruption in neighbourhoods. The Taoiseach mentioned a public health Bill and it is important the Government fast-tracks that but there should be parallel provision in the landlord and tenant Bill to give more powers to ordinary residents, as opposed to landlords, who have disproportionate influence with the PRTB.

The public health (tobacco) Bill is an idea the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs wants to promote at a European level but it is some distance away. The heads of the landlord and tenant Bill the Deputy mentioned were cleared last October and work is ongoing on the Bill. It will be the end of the year or next year before it is published.

Arising from the concern expressed by the representative agencies on the trafficking of women and children and the consequences for both foreign nationals and Irish citizens, will the human trafficking Bill be introduced and the European directive on the issue adopted earlier than is now proposed? Has the matter been discussed in Cabinet, have the heads of the Bill been approved and is the Bill likely to come before the House earlier than it now appears?

The Deputy is referring to the criminal law (human trafficking) Bill. The heads of that Bill have not been cleared at Cabinet yet, it has not been discussed. It is some time away because it is not on the current priority list because of the pressure for legislation. We will keep the Deputy updated as work continues on it.

I hope I am in order-----

-----to ask for clarification of something the Taoiseach said earlier. If I heard him correctly, he said local authorities do not have the authority to refuse to pay a higher education grant on the basis the household charge has not been paid.

We cannot go back over that.

Am I correct in that interpretation?

In law since 1983, where a charge is due from a person in a specific instance, the local authority is empowered to withhold another payment in respect of that if it wishes. Local authorities, however, are not entitled to withhold an element of the third level grant. What Clare County Council did was acquire information as part of processing the application form for a third level grant as to whether the householders involved had actually paid the household charge. It is not entitled by law to withhold any of the grant.

We cannot debate this, it was discussed on Leaders' Questions.

Surely the council would know from the receipts if someone had paid or not.

The Deputy should ask a parliamentary question.

If someone has not paid there is no receipt.

Then the county council should know the charge has not been paid.

A lot of these questions are asked routinely about the non-principal private residence charge, water charges, commercial rates and so on.