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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Vol. 801 No. 3

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 19, Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Bill 2013 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 3, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2013 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 20, Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 4, Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 102, motion re organ donation (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.

There are no proposals to be put to the House.

When will the freedom of information (amendment) Bill, which proposes to fulfil a Government commitment to extend freedom of information to NAMA, the administrative side of the Garda and other public bodies, be introduced and enacted? When will the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2012 be brought forward?

The freedom of information (amendment) Bill is listed for this session. The second Bill was published last September and we are awaiting an opportunity to take Second Stage.

Maidir le reachtaíocht atá forógraithe, I ask about promised legislation on workers' rights and also the Government's plans to implement fully the insolvency directive from the European Court of Justice. Today is May Day, a day when workers traditionally celebrate solidarity. It is also an Teachta McDonald's lá breithe. She was born a radical. Last week, a group of former Waterford Crystal workers argued successfully in the European Court of Justice that the Government had failed to ensure their pensions were protected after the company went bankrupt. This again shows the very weak nature of legislation protecting workers' rights in the State. I congratulate the workers, who, I know, will be here later today to meet Deputies and Seanadoirí. The European Court of Justice ruled that the Government failed to give effect to the insolvency directive on pension entitlements in the event of a company's insolvency. There is planned legislation on workers' rights. What does the Government intend to do to fully implement the insolvency directive to ensure that workers' pensions are protected in the future?

Five Bills, the consumer and competition Bill, the county enterprise boards (dissolution) Bill, the employment permits Bill, the friendly societies and industrial and provident societies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and the workplace relations Bill, are listed for this session and all deal with workers' employment rights. I cannot give the Deputy an accurate read on the insolvency directive, but I will come back to him today on that. In respect of the former Waterford Crystal workers, that case was referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court on a number of technical issues. The European Court of Justice has now given its verdict. That case must now be heard again in the High Court with the clarifications on the technical issues the High Court sought. The Government is obviously studying the implications of the European Court of Justice decision, which will now be dealt with in the High Court again.

Yesterday the Taoiseach told the House that the sale of Coillte's harvesting rights was being considered and in the event of it going ahead, legislation would be required. However, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, said the sale of Coillte's harvesting rights was unlikely because of protests and opposition, in which case no legislation could be expected. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify these competing messages from the Government. Can we expect legislation relating to the disposal of the harvesting rights of our public forests or not? I ask the Taoiseach to give a straight answer to that.

Maybe the Deputy cannot see the wood from the trees.

The Taoiseach cannot either.

We are trying to figure out whether the Government will separate the wood from the trees.

The Deputy is trying to imply if he keeps protesting, he might stop the sale of everything. I will clarify it for the Deputy. The Government agreed a list of potential sales of State assets. Clearly the Government would need to evaluate the value and opportunity that might present itself for any of these assets, including the sale of the timber on Coillte grounds.

A great deal of work has been done by NewERA on evaluating these opportunities. It remains the position of the Government that it must consider from this menu of potential sale of State assets which would be sold, at what time, the most appropriate fashion in which to do so and how the moneys would be used for investment and job creation. This is the position. When the Government makes its formal decisions on this, the House will be informed, as will everybody else.

It will be considered in the time ahead.

When is it proposed to introduce in the House the health (amendment) Bill, the criminal justice (forensic evidence and DNA database system) Bill and the National Treasury Management Agency (amendment) Bill, which is to address the issue of third party legal costs of tribunals? Have the heads of these Bills been discussed?

The health (amendment) Bill and the criminal justice (forensic evidence and DNA database system) Bill are listed for this session. The National Treasury Management Agency (amendment) Bill is for later in the year.

I wish to ask about two items.

On promised legislation I hope.

It is legislation. It is with regard to the Government's proposal to abolish our town councils which I believe to be a disgraceful decision and a very retrograde step.

We will discuss this when the Bill comes to the House.

It will hurt many of the people in the Taoiseach's own party and they are very upset with what the Government is doing. I am asking about the electoral (amendment) Bill. I wish to comment on the disgraceful way the Minister involved would not meet the mayor of Killarney who wanted to discuss making a special case for Killarney. He refused even to meet him. This is a disgrace.

The Deputy should have a chat with him and see what he says.

With regard to the critical infrastructure Bill, why does the Government not seek funding from the EU solidarity fund to deal with the fodder crisis we have in Ireland at present?

What Bill is this? A fodder Bill?

There should be a fodder Bill.

It is the critical infrastructure Bill.

The critical infrastructure Bill.

Yes, because it is a crisis. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle is aware-----

I do not know whether the Bill will cover this.

The hay being imported is one thing, but the farmers need cash.

The fodder situation has been extended for a further week. I expect the electoral (amendment) Bill will be published in this session.

Why did the Minister not meet the mayor of Killarney?

The Deputy can deal with Killarney by way of a parliamentary question.

I cannot speak for why the mayor did not speak to the Minister.

No. That is not the way I put it. Why did the Minister not meet the mayor?

I heard it was the other way around.

Perhaps the Deputy and the Taoiseach can have a chat about this over a cup of tea.

Let us get together.

When will we have the promised valuation Bill? We have a serious problem with regard to sporting and voluntary groups which place small bars in facilities and find it very difficult to pay rates. In my area the rates amount to €22,500 a year. These groups have no problem paying rates, but because many of these premises have bars, they are being rated-----

What about the publicans across the road?

We can discuss this when the Bill comes before the House.

-----on their courts, showers and the entire area. They have no problem if they are evaluated on the bar itself but not on the entire area. It is ludicrous and many fine facilities built during the Celtic tiger throughout the country are being closed.

The Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is on Committee Stage in the Seanad. I hope it will move through this fairly quickly.

It will come to the Dáil shortly.

I will raise this as a Topical Issue matter.

I think the Deputy has raised the issue strongly enough this morning. He does not need a Topical Issue matter.

When is it expected the friendly societies and industrial and provident societies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will come before the House? It will deal with combating the unfriendly activities of illegal moneylenders who cause hardship and stress to many people.

I can confirm for Deputy McLoughlin that the Bill will be published in this session.

When is it proposed to bring forward the necessary legislation to place the Children First guidelines on a statutory basis?

It is listed for this session but I doubt it will make it through. I hope it does, but it may be in the next session.

I wish to ask about the sport Ireland Bill which provides for the establishment of sport Ireland to replace the Irish Sports Council. When does the Taoiseach expected publication of this Bill?

It is expected later this year.

This year, to comply with the European semester, the Government must submit a draft budget in October to the European Commission. This is a great opportunity for the votes to be taken as normal in December which would give the Oireachtas and the committees a fantastic opportunity of having several months, as is best practice in other countries, to interrogate the budget proposals. However, I have heard it suggested the votes on the social welfare Bill, which is promised legislation-----

I thank the Deputy

-----will be voted on in October. Is this the intention for the timing of the legislation or will there be a gap between the submission of the draft budget in October to the Commission and time for the Oireachtas to debate it and vote on it at the end of the year as we did last year?

The budget will be on 15 October to be followed immediately by the finance Bill and the social protection Bill, so these votes will take place soon after 15 October. This is a requirement following a decision of the European Parliament. People will have the opportunity for a much broader discussion on the finance Bill and the social protection Bill which must be completed before the end of the year.

In addition to Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, is it the intention of the Government to prepare legislation to give effect to the reports of the proposed amalgamation of Coillte and Bord na Móna?

I do not have legislation on that.

No legislation has been promised.

I asked whether it is the Government's intention.

Not at the moment.

When will the betting (amendment) Bill come before the House? Will it be superseded by the gambling control Bill?

It was drafted last year.

That is right.

It was withdrawn. I expect the redrafted Bill will be published during this session.

Is that the gambling control Bill?

No, the gambling control Bill is a much more complex and extensive Bill, and authorisation has not been given yet for the Minister to proceed with it. It will be much later on. It is a very broad, complex and extensive Bill.

Will the Taoiseach give a rough estimation of when?

The Government has not authorised the Minister to get on with it yet. It will probably come before Cabinet for authorisation in the coming weeks.

I also wish to refer to forestry, and the Taoiseach mentioned seeing the wood from the trees. Are there wood partitions in the Cabinet room because the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, says one thing and the Taoiseach says another? In my area, groups such as Knockmealdown Active and Galtee Walking Club are concerned about what is happening to Coillte. I appeal for clarity.

With regard to the geothermal energy development Bill, Deputy Hayes is in the House and the Whip stated Deputy Hayes is looking after the project in Tipperary, which is underfunded. I have raised this matter with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. I wonder how far he has gone down this road.

The geothermal energy development Bill. Yesterday morning I was told it would be 2014-----

I invite Deputy McGrath to my office any time.

I hope Deputy Hayes has sorted it out for Tipperary and all the householders who need it. With regard to the Central Bank (consolidation) Bill, a certain Mr. Elderfield is leaving our shores and going back to Lloyds. There are a huge question marks about the way Lloyds dealt with Bank of Scotland Ireland.

That has nothing to do with the Bill.

I will raise it at our next interparliamentary session in London.

That is good to hear.

I am asking the Taoiseach about the Central Bank (consolidation) Bill.

It will happen after the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill. The geothermal energy development Bill is next year. The Deputy mentioned seeing the wood from the trees. I had an opportunity to do the Galtee walk a number of years ago and there was absolute clarity and no fog at all down there.

The Taoiseach might not be able to walk there any more.

I call Deputy Martin Ferris.

We need the trees and amenities. What about Deputy Hayes looking after it?

If Deputy McGrath calls into my office, I will give him an update.

Deputy Ferris is anxious to make his point.

Last Thursday, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine met the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who assured the committee about the €1 million fodder transportation fund. He said he had spoken to the major co-ops which indicated they would give a three-month credit freeze. He also said the banks were prepared to help with the current crisis that is escalating daily.

Someone called to Deputy McLellan's office this week who had sought a €5,000 loan to cope with the fodder crisis. The person was told that they would have to repay it within one month. There is no certainty from the co-ops regarding the three-month credit freeze.

Is the Taoiseach prepared to chair a meeting with the Minister and the relevant Opposition spokespersons, because of the urgency of this escalating crisis in rural Ireland?

I thank the Deputy for making his point.

I must stress the urgency involved, including in the Taoiseach's constituency.

I am asking for the Deputy's co-operation. He has had a good hearing.

This situation is continuing and I have no other forum in which to raise this matter.

I have tried it under Topical Issue matters, which is hit and miss. It is a joke. There are people who are on their knees. They are being crippled.

The Deputy has had his chance. I call Deputy Ryan.

Will the Taoiseach bring forward any legislation to help solve the crisis facing the rural community and farmers in particular?

Is there promised legislation in this area?

No. Much more immediate action is needed here.

That is why the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said that if people have an immediate or pending crisis, as the Deputy mentioned, the line is open to the Department. I have evidence from Deputies on this side of the House of where the Department has helped farmers who have a fodder crisis. The scheme is being extended for a further week. I would advise the Deputy to get the details from his constituent with that particular problem and to contact the Department this morning. It will help.

What can be done about the co-ops and the banks?

The Deputy should resume his seat.

The banks and co-ops are culpable.

Other Deputies want to make points and the Deputy has had a good run. I am calling Deputy Ryan.

The Deputy should contact the Department today.

The programme for Government states: "We will seek a mechanism to compensate those women who were excluded on age grounds alone from the Lourdes Hospital Redress Scheme", yet no apparent action has been taken on this matter. I have raised it before and others have also raised it with the Taoiseach. The last time I raised it, I asked the Taoiseach to take a personal interest in this to bring it to a speedy conclusion. I am asking him again today to give us an update on the matter. Will he give a commitment to bring the matter to a speedy conclusion for the women who are waiting on the sidelines in the hope that something will happen?

I understand that these are all very important issues, but I am constrained by what is allowed and what is not. I try to be fair to everybody. However, I cannot allow a couple of Deputies to raise issues that are not in accordance with Standings Orders and then chop down others, as it were. I therefore ask Deputies to please respect the Chair. It is not that I do not think these are important issues but they will have to be raised in a different way.

It is in the programme for Government.

It may be in the programme for Government but it is not promised legislation.

I am sorry that I cannot give the Deputy an update now but I will come back to him today on it.

I wish to ask a question about the thirty second amendment of the Constitution (abolition of the Seanad) Bill. When does the Taoiseach expect that to happen? Does he envisage that on the day of that referendum, it may be possible to hold other referenda on amendments to the Constitution, if required?

Today is the first day of May and, hopefully, we will be heading into summer with three or four months of good sunshine.

It would be important for agriculture and the economy generally.

Is there promised legislation for sunshine? We would all be interested in that.

I hope there will be plenty of warnings about the dangers of ultra violet rays. I wish to ask about the public health (sunbeds) Bill because this is the time of year for first communions and confirmations. Young people can legally use sunbeds, which are absolutely detrimental to their health.

We can get the information for the Deputy now.

We have a major skin cancer problem in this country, so will this matter be prioritised by the Government?

The public health (sunbeds) Bill is to be brought forward later this year. I can confirm that the Government has authorised, and work is under way on preparing, the Bill for the abolition of the Seanad, for decision by the people later this year by way of referendum. We have confirmed that a second referendum will be held on the same date concerning the requirement for a court of civil appeal.

The first report from the Constitutional Convention will be received by the Government shortly. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will bring a report on that to the Government. Arising from the recommendations made by the first report of the Constitutional Convention, we will consider whether there is scope for a further referendum, or more, to be held on the same date also.

I note the Deputy's comments on the fine weather and I hope that when we participate in the Ring of Kerry charity cycle, the sun will shine and the breeze will be nice and fresh up over Coomakista.