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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 8 Nov 2012

Vol. 782 No. 1

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 16c, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services - Vote 35, back from committee; No. 5, Credit Union Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to adjourn at 2.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 16d, motion re children’s hospital.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 16c shall be decided without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; and the proceedings with regard to No. 16d shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: speeches 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 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 speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

With regard to the Tax Transparency Bill 2012, the Second Stage of which shall be considered tomorrow, the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of Deputy Eoghan Murphy and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Technical Group and of a Minister or Minister of State, who shall be called upon in that order, and who may share their time, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes and such Members may share time; a Minister or Minister of State, who may speak twice, shall be called upon not later than 1 p.m. to make a speech which shall not exceed 15 minutes; and Deputy Eoghan Murphy shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16c, motion re Supplementary Estimate for Public Services – Vote 35, back from committee, agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16d, motion re children's hospital, agreed to?

The statements are welcome, as is a decision on the hospital, but there was no contact with the Whips in respect of the shape of this debate. I understand there will be 20 minutes of questions and answers. I do not oppose the arrangement but it would have been far better if we had allocated more time for questions and answers. There are considerable issues people want to tease out with the Minister.

In anticipation of Deputy McDonald requesting time for a debate on the decision on the children's hospital, the Government took the initiative to put it on the programme for today. We also tabled a motion, which we circulated to the Whips last night. If there are amendments, we can consider them. Some 85 minutes are provided and when spokespersons are in the Chamber, there is a degree of flexibility in exchanges. The arrangements are reasonable and can be flexibly applied by Members in the Chamber.

Is that agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the Tax Transparency Bill 2012 tomorrow agreed?

Is there a manifesto of transparency?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Last year, there was a significant raid on the pensions of workers in the private sector through the 0.6% pension levy to fund job creation, which has clearly failed in its application. Many pensioners are receiving letters from their trustees, saying pensions are being reduced because of the levy. In the context of the NewERA proposal, and particularly the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the forthcoming legislation regarding it, or by including it in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2010 and the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act, has the Government considered including a mechanism similar to that used for public sector pensions to reduce those pensions significantly? I refer to bankers' pensions in particular. There is a precedent and a facility that has been used in respect of public sector pensions and it could be used in the context of the pensions of bankers, particularly at a bank that has received substantial State support and where transfers have taken place within the bank's balance sheet, as happened recently in the case of AIB. The Department of Finance officials did not object. In the context of such recapitalisation and utilisation of taxpayers' funds and company funds to bail out the pension fund up to 100%, the mechanism used for the public sector could be used here to redress the balance and to apply some justice and fair play. It is a constructive suggestion that could have an impact on bankers' pensions.

With the indulgence of the Ceann Comhairle, before replying to Deputy Martin's question, this is the last opportunity in the House to encourage people to vote on Saturday in the children's referendum. I am sure other party leaders will do the same. It is an important referendum and it is the first time we have run something like this on a Saturday. Deputy Martin was particularly exercised about students earlier but students, in particular, asked for this measure so that they can get home and vote.

They have no money.

The pension levy is a temporary levy and has generated 10,000 jobs in the tourism industry. A report has been received by the Minister for Social Protection on charges on pensions. A consultation process has been initiated and will run for three months. The specific issue raised by Deputy Martin is whether something similar to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act can be applied to private pension schemes. Private pension schemes are established separately and are governed by separate legislation. The schemes have trustees and the scope of the State to intervene in such pension schemes is limited and must be done through the Pensions Board.

What about the recapitalisation of the bankers' pension fund?

Deputy Martin is referring to the money transferred to the pension fund in AIB. That was put in to ensure the voluntary redundancy scheme at AIB, leading to a significant reduction in the number of staff in AIB, was supported and to ensure the pension entitlements were protected.

I refer to the big ones.

We cannot have a debate on this.

We must be careful because it is complex. We all feel the same way about large pensions paid to the big guys who have left but we do not want to undermine the pension scheme for bank officials, who are not at fault for what happened in the banking system. Many of them have lost their jobs and we must ensure their pensions are protected. We do not want to undermine their pension schemes while dealing with a different problem.

The Government may not have to.

I disagree with all of the above, but I am not going to go there.

The Tánaiste is aware of the huge concern about the possible ending of 24 hour accident and emergency services in a number of hospitals. In the south east, and particularly in Waterford, there is huge concern among the public and clinicians-----

This matter will be dealt with during Topical Issues today by a Member from the Deputy's own party.

I want to ask about specific reports. Every other person is given the space to make introductory comments.

No, they are not.

That was a very lengthy exchange between the Tánaiste and Deputy Martin.

Deputy McDonald is gazumping another Member.

I am gazumping nobody.

I am trying to be helpful. The issue you are speaking about is a topical issue for today and permission to raise it was granted to Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin spokesperson on health. I am just putting you on notice.

That is fine. The matter will be dealt with then. Could you allow me to utter three paragraphs without constant-----

Are you asking about legislation, Deputy?

No, it is about reports.

This is the Order of Business.

There has to be a level of even-handedness in terms of how Members are dealt with.

I will look at the transcripts and we will have a chat about it then.

She is trying to steal Caoimhghín's thunder.

They are undermining Caoimhghín again.

When will the report on the framework for the development of smaller hospitals be published and when will the report by Professor John R. Higgins on the composition and number of the new hospital groups be published? Those are my questions. Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.

Did Caoimhghín give her the script?

Who gives Deputy Kehoe his script?

The Minister of State gives it to him.

Clearly not; there is no script.

The Higgins report has yet to be received by the Minister for Health. A consultation process was undertaken and various meetings took place in that regard. The report will go to the Minister for Health and will be considered by the Government when it is presented by the Minister for Health.

Work has been under way on the framework for smaller hospitals. All of this has to be seen in the context of the reform of the health system by the Government which is under way, and the move to universal health insurance and a single tier system of health service which is the reform the Government is pursuing.

Can the Tánaiste confirm that no legislation is required for Sinn Féin Deputies to act in accordance with the wishes of Deputy McDonald, as expressed this morning, and cut their wages to €75,000 a year?

That is not a matter for the Order of Business. It is a matter for a parliamentary question.

A short letter to the Minister, Deputy Howlin, would suffice. If they do not think they are earning the money they can give it back.

Or their Westminster salaries either.

With regard to the Health Service Executive Governance Bill 2012 and in view of what was published recently in the Irish Independent about family planning centres giving advice that is medically harmful and in breach of legislation, has the Minister asked the Health Service Executive to investigate this? The HSE was written to five weeks ago.

That is a matter for a parliamentary question.

It is a serious issue and comes under the heading of the Health Service Executive Governance Bill 2012.

It is an important issue but does not have to do with promised legislation.

The Bill has been through the Seanad and is awaiting Second Stage in the Dáil.

With regard to the alignment of the 52 local development companies with the local authorities, we have been held up in the European Court of Auditors report of 2010 as a model of best practice in the delivery of local development, using the bottom-up approach. Unfortunately, we are now dismantling this system and setting ourselves back 20 years. The dissolution of county and city enterprise boards Bill will dissolve the existing county enterprise board structures and establish local enterprise offices.

We have seen what happened with regard to the centralising of the processing of medical cards and student grants. This is the same thing. We are centralising-----

Deputy, you may put down a parliamentary question. The Tánaiste may give you information about the legislation.

That Bill is due to be published next year. This is all part of the reform of local government, which the Government is undertaking. It will be the first major reform of local government since the end of the 19th century.

The Government is banishing local democracy.

Reform is always difficult but it is something we are committed to see through.

Their opinion of themselves is unreal.

Big Phil is destroying it.

It is a gerrymander for the Labour Party. They will have eight seaters to protect their local electoral seats.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform indicated that the Legal Services Bill would be before the House by this time. When will it come back before the House? When will the National Vetting Bureau Bill be before the House?

The Legal Services Bill is awaiting Committee Stage. Report Stage of the National Vetting Bureau Bill will be taken in a couple of weeks.

I ask the Tánaiste about legislation to abolish the Health Service Executive with my latest frustration with that organisation in view. Questions I asked on 9 October have not been answered by it.

The Health Service Executive Governance Bill is awaiting Second Stage. The difficulty with awaiting answers to parliamentary questions is a legacy of the structures that were put in place by the previous Government. We are dismantling those now.

Have the heads of the regulation of the vehicle immobilisation Bill, which has to do with clamping, been approved by the Government and when will it be published?

The Bill is due to be published next year.

Three items of promised legislation will be fundamental in the fight against organised crime. The criminal records information systems Bill will facilitate the exchange of information between European Union member states and states outside the EU with a view to combating crime; the inspection of places of detention Bill will bring into focus the recommendations of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, OPCAT; and the courts (consolidation and reform) Bill will also have an impact on the fight against crime. Have the heads of these Bills been discussed and when are they likely to be before the House?

The first Bill will be published in the middle of next year. A draft of the courts (consolidation and reform) Bill was included in the Law Reform Commission's report. That will form the basis of the Bill. At this stage it is not possible to give a date for its publication. The intention is to publish the inspection of places of detention Bill next year.

When will the workplace relations Bill be brought before the House?

It is intended to bring that Bill before the House early next year.

Cathain a mbeidh an Mental Capacity Bill os comhair na Dála?

Beidh an Bille sin os comhair na Dála i rith an tseisiúin seo.

It had been indicated that the House would hear statements on junior certificate reform today. That will not now happen. When will we have statements on junior certificate reform? We have heard an announcement and seen publicity about reform but we have seen very little detail about how it will be implemented. It is important that we have statements and discuss the matter in the House as soon as possible.

It is the intention of the Minister for Education and Skills to bring a motion to the House on that matter.

It is currently being discussed by the Whips so it will be done soon.

I wanted to ask the same question as Deputy Tóibín. As he asked the question in Irish, I will ask it in English. What is the status of the mental capacity Bill? I am acutely aware of how concerned people are about the delay with the Bill, and the reference to lunatics in the current legislation is an affront to people. I urge the Tánaiste to have that Bill published as soon as possible.

It is intended that the mental capacity Bill will be brought forward during this session.