Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 15, statements on pre-European Council meeting of 22 May; and No. 15a, statements on the matter related to issuing of fixed ticket charges and exercise of Garda discretion, on the Supplementary Order Paper. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 104, motion re Ireland and the eurozone, and shall be taken on the conclusion of Topical Issues and adjourn after 90 minutes; No. 15 shall be taken immediately following the Order of Business and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 65 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 be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the proceedings on No.15a shall be taken on the conclusion of No.15 and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of 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, shall not exceed ten minutes in each cas, and a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; and the order shall resume thereafter with Topical Issues.

There are three proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, statements on pre-European Council meeting of 22 May, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No.15a, statements on the matter related to issuing of fixed ticket charges and exercise of Garda discretion, agreed to?

No. The decision to table this proposition is a pre-emptive strike to prevent a situation in which the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, would come into the House to be specifically examined about his behaviour in releasing private information supplied to him by An Garda Síochána on the public airwaves to undermine a political opponent. Members on this side of the House tabled several private notice questions and special notice questions because they were anxious that the Minister clarify this issue alone, not the wider issue of the report on the alleged cancellation of fixed notice charges. The core issue that many Deputies, particularly the Opposition spokespersons on justice, want to put to the Minister is his unacceptable behaviour in publicising such private information. I understand he already faces two inquiries, one under the Standards in Public Office Act, the other on whether he is in breach of the Data Protection Act. These are very serious issues. The special notice questions that were tabled on that specific issue should have been allowed today. That is where the focus should be. What will happen later, when there are four speeches of ten minutes each and a 20 minute question and answer session, will be an attempt to subsume that key issue into a wider set of issues and to let the Minister off the hook. That is the gambit or parliamentary ploy that is being used by putting this proposition before us.

These are very serious issues. Under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 if a garda passed the kind of information that the Minister has to the media or other places he or she would be fined €50,000 or would be imprisoned for six months under the provisions of section 62(5) of the Act. The Minister for Justice and Equality can boldly ignore such rules and do what he likes with private information supplied to him. That is unacceptable. The Taoiseach's endorsement of him, his own behaviour and the Taoiseach's failure to state whether he believes he was right or wrong is equally unacceptable. The Garda Commissioner indicated to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last week that the report to be discussed today could very well be referred to the Garda Ombudsman for further inquiry and investigation by any individual who may wish to do so.

It might be premature to be discussing its content. In the final analysis, what Deputies require today is a very specific and focused question and answer session with the Minister on his decision to release private information on Deputy Mick Wallace in the course of a debate with him, with the set purpose of undermining him.

That was a Second Stage speech.

The position our spokesperson and Sinn Féin have taken up is that the breach of the Minister’s office in declaring information given to him by a member of Garda Síochána should be subject to an independent inquiry. I asked earlier why this was not made the responsibility of the Garda Ombudsman. The way the Taoiseach has set this out could prejudice an inquiry which may be held in the future. I do not know if we can force that on the Government, but it certainly strikes me that we are going to have a discussion around all of the detail of this report and so forth when the crux of the issue is the way the Minister, as we see it, abused his office in using this confidential information to have a go at a political opponent.

The fact of the matter is that the Government Whip was approached by Opposition personnel, including Whips, to arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the Dáil to answer questions about this matter. That is what is happening later.

It is not what will happen.

Is the Deputy ordering business now?

The fact of the matter is that there was a request made to the Government Whip for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House to make a statement and answer questions. That is what is on the Order Paper. I have no control over people in tabling Priority Questions.

The Taoiseach means a private notice question.

Neither do I have control over complaints made to the SIPO, the Standards in Public Office Commission, or the Data Protection Commissioner. These are completely independent matters.

I am happy to have tabled this motion in response from our perspective and, in order that everyone is quite clear on this, I am happy with requests from Opposition Whips that the Minister come into the House to make a statement and answer questions. We are wasting time as he prepares to do this. He is quite willing to come into the House and will go before the Oireachtas committee to discuss all of the issues involved, either individually or the report and its appendices.

However, he will not address the issue of what he did with Deputy Mick Wallace’s information. That is the point I am trying to make. That is the specific issue.

Deputy Micheál Martin can come this evening-----

That is what parliamentary accountability is all about. The Taoiseach is dodging it.

The Deputy still has not lost it. The purpose of this evening’s business is to answer questions the Deputy might have for the Minister.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 15a, without debate, be agreed to," put and declared carried.

I call Deputy Micheál Martin on the Order of Business.

On the thirty-third amendment of the Constitution, the Government in its programme for Government has committed to holding a referendum to protect the right of citizens to communicate in confidence with public representatives. Given that it claims to be protecting the rights of citizens, on the one hand, it is somewhat ironic that it is proposing this amendment as it blatantly misuses private information on citizens and Members of this House supplied to it by the Garda. When will the legislation dealing with this objective of the programme for Government to protect the right of citizens to communicate in confidence with public representatives be published? I do not believe one could have too much confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality if one wanted to communicate with him.

The protected disclosure in the public interest Bill is meant to provide protection against reprisals and victimisation, as well as redress, for workers who disclose information on serious wrongdoing in their workplace. This is another topical issue because it seems anyone who attempted to provide any information or raise any issue on fixed ticket charges became the target and focus of various activities. When is it expected to publish this Bill?

Regarding confidentiality between citizens and politicians, is the Deputy referring to the section in the Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries (Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013, Second Stage of which will be taken tomorrow?

No, I am referring to the protected disclosure in the public interest Bill which is to protect whistleblowers.

That Bill will be taken during this session.

When will it be published? What about the constitutional amendment to protect the right of citizens to communicate in confidence with public representatives?

Will the Deputy repeat his question?

In the programme for Government the Government committed to holding a referendum to protect the right of citizens to communicate in confidence with public representatives. When will this Bill be published?

The Government has decided on two referendums, one on the abolition of Seanad Éireann and the second on a code of civil appeal. In its own time it will make further decisions about further referendums.

Yet this is in the programme for Government.

I know it is in the programme for Government. I am telling the Deputy that the Government will makes it decisions about referendums in its own time. He need not worry as we will have loads of them.

Regarding the Magdalen laundries redress scheme, the Taoiseach might recall, following his apology to the women who were enslaved in these laundries, that the Minister for Justice and Equality committed to having a comprehensive scheme of supports for the surviving women. Mr. Justice Quirke was to examine and advise on the scheme’s mechanisms and report back to the Government within three months. The three months have now passed. Has Mr. Justice Quirke completed his work? If so, will the Taoiseach inform the Dáil of its findings? If not, when will we see details of the proposed redress scheme and the long-awaited supports for the women in question, many of whom are very elderly, while some are unwell? While it might not be the Government’s intention to foot-drag on this matter - I hope it is not - we need to move speedily to ensure there is no further distress or hurt caused to the women concerned. Has the Taoiseach received the report? If not, when will we have it?

There will be no foot-dragging on this issue. I have not received the report and do not wish to make a direct inquiry to Mr. Justice Quirke who is conducting the report. I expect that he will furnish it as quickly as is appropriate for him to conclude his work. The Government will then consider the report and publish it. We will see what recommendations Mr. Justice Quirke makes therein. I met some of the Magdalen women last week who were over on a trip from England. I gave them that information also. As soon as Mr. Justice Quirke sends the Minister the report, the Government will consider it and publish it.

At the weekend, a national newspaper indicated that it had heard from some source in the Government that a merger was being considered between Bord na Móna and Coillte. We obviously have the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, saying the sale of Coillte will not go ahead, while the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, says it is being considered. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, then claims it is due to be sold under the troika arrangement. Will the Taoiseach give us clarity on the matter, particularly given that there will be people protesting against the planned sale of Coillte’s harvesting rights outside Leinster House today? Is there any message I can pass on to members of the public concerned about this plan as to when legislation will be brought forward? When will we have clarity from the Government on its intentions for Ireland’s public forests?

The Deputy is flogging a dead horse.

We are waiting for the announcement.

The Government originally set out in conjunction with the troika a list of potential sales of State assets.

"When" is the question.

One involved the sale of the harvesting rights of timber on land owned by Coillte, but not the land. A great deal of work has been done in the evaluation of what that actually means in terms of potential value and so on. It is always the right of the Government to decide what to do with that information, as well as the timing, appropriateness and under what conditions any of the State assets so listed might be sold. The Government has not made any final decision on Coillte. That matter will come before the Government in due course. The Deputy can give this message clearly to people.

He can tell them the Government will make its decision when the matter comes before us.

It has not come before us and the Deputy can tell them that also. I hope that is clear for him.

"In due course" is as clear as mud.

Is it intended to introduce the legislation to make the necessary amendments to the European Communities (Statutory Audits) (Directive 2006/43/EC) Regulations 2010 under the companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? The legislation is dependent on other legislation but will it be before the House at an early date?

What is the current position regarding the Irish Aviation Authority (amendment) Bill to restructure the Irish Aviation Authority, which is also promised? Have the heads been discussed? When is the Bill likely to come before the House? Is it anticipated before the end of the year?

There is no date for publication of the companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. We have not discussed the heads of the Irish Aviation Authority (amendment) Bill and it will probably be next year before it comes out.

I thank the Taoiseach.

Tomorrow, Second Stage of the House of the Oireachtas Inquiries (Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 will commence. Earlier, the Taoiseach restated his intention to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad later this year. If the proposal is accepted by the people, when will he come back to the House with legislation to amend this inquiries Bill? The Bill's Title implies the Seanad has a role and it contains several references to the Seanad and to the Houses of the Oireachtas. We are, therefore, being asked to pass legislation in the full knowledge that if the Seanad is abolished in a few months, we will have to revisit it and amend it. What is the point of the legislation? When does the Taoiseach plan to introduce the amending legislation?

I expect to have the Seanad Bill published next week. If the people decide to abolish the Seanad, and it will be their choice, the current Seanad will continue until the night before the next Government is formed, which is three years away. The Bill that will go through the House tomorrow refers to the Seanad, which is, and will continue to be, a constitutional entity until it is abolished, if the people so decide. Subsequently, the Bill will be amended. However, the work of this Seanad will continue until the night before the next Government is formed. That depends on the question the people are asked in the autumn and the answer they give.

Thirty years ago, a politician or a Minister in a Russian Government might have behaved like the Minister for Justice and Equality last week.

Does the Deputy have a question on legislation?

I am coming to it. How much longer will the Taoiseach continue to defend the indefensible in defending the Minister the way he has over the past few days? I refer to the commitments he gave in the programme for Government regarding confidentiality between people dealing with politicians.

We will debate that later.

Will the Taoiseach answer?

No legislation is promised on that. The Deputy is perfectly entitled to sit in his seat later and ask the Minister questions and he will answer them for him.

We only have 20 minutes for questions and answers. If that is divided between-----

The motion was passed half an hour ago.

Keep the questions short and accurate

That is a short time to divide.

The Deputy should have been present to oppose the motion.

Over the past three or four weeks, I have asked the Taoiseach on a number of occasions about the privatisation of Coillte. In his latest reply, he did not give an indication of the timescale for a Government decision on this issue. I did not have the benefit of reading what he said in reply to me over the past few weeks but I thought he had indicated that an early decision was imminent. Could he enlighten us as to when he will bring this decision or a proposal to the House?

NewERA is carrying out an evaluation of the matter to be considered - that is, the potential sale of harvesting rights on lands owned by Coillte. The agency has been joined in that assessment by the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Public Expenditure and Reform. When the evaluation is completed and assessed, it will be brought to Government by the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Public Expenditure and Reform and the Government will then make a decision. That memorandum has not come to Government. It will in due course and then the Government will make its decision clearly.

The Taoiseach has no timescale.

I do not but the Deputy will know about it when the decision is made.