Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Ombudsman Act 1980 (section 4(10)) Order 2013; and No. 2, Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members’ business; No. 11 shall be decided without debate; and Private Members’ business which shall be No. 36, Mortgage Restructuring Arrangement Bill 2013 – Second Stage, shall take place at 7.30 p.m. or at the conclusion of the opening speeches of No. 2, whichever is the later, adjourn after 90 minutes and, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 2 October.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal dealing with No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Ombudsman Act 1980 (Section 4(10)) Order 2013, without debate agreed to?

It is not agreed to. I seek clarification from the Taoiseach. Will he explain the background to this motion? We did not receive the Order Paper circulated earlier. I have just received it and consulted the Chief Whip. Why is there to be no debate on that motion and what is the background to it?

When the remit of the Ombudsman was being extended last year, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Ombudsman for Children sought to have the remit of the Ombudsman for Children extended in a similar manner. Accordingly, the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 amended the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 to align the remits of the two Ombudsmen over public bodies. The Ombudsman's remit has always excluded the administration of prisons or other places for the custody of persons committed to custody by the courts. There was a similar exclusion in the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002, other than for reformatory schools and industrial schools certified under Part IV of the Children Act 1908. This exclusion of places of detention was maintained in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs made an order with effect from 1 July 2012 which removed the exclusion which had previously prevented the Ombudsman for Children from dealing with children in any institution in which children were held in custody or detention. It was considered at the time that the subsequent Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 would have no impact on this order. However, following concerns expressed by the Ombudsman for Children on the issue earlier this year and subsequent advice from the Attorney General on this highly complex legal matter, it is now evident that the amendments made in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 had the unintended consequence of, again, precluding the Ombudsman for Children from dealing with complaints relating to children held in custody or detention. Under section 4(10) of the Ombudsman Act 1980, as amended by section 6 of the 2012 Act, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has the power to make an order to make an agency a reviewable agency at the request of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, with the consent of the Minister for Justice and Equality, is proposing to make such an order in order that the Ombudsman for Children can investigate complaints concerning children in custody or detention. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has laid a draft order before the Houses of the Oireachtas and is bringing a motion to both Houses seeking a positive resolution with a view to the order being passed as quickly as possible.

From what I can gather, there is a significant lack of accountability to the House on this issue. This is coming in under the radar without debate, for example, on the inadequacies of the 2012 Act, the unintended consequences, as the Taoiseach described them, which, again, precluded the Ombudsman for Children from hearing complaints regarding children in detention. I cannot understand why there would not be a debate on this motion, a presentation by the Minister, a statement outlining why the House is being asked to approve this resolution, the background, implications and consequences of it. It is sharp practice to lay this motion before the House almost in silence without any accompanying statement to the House in plenary session.

Until I stood up and asked for the information, the many Members present would not have been very aware of what was being slipped through. I can understand why and may have no opposition to it, although I would like to check the legal underpinning. Trying to apply this power via the agency route may not be as legally robust as doing so by primary legislation, which was the original intention. Somewhere along the line the Taoiseach got it wrong in terms of the original legislation and its unintended consequences. I do not know the background to this or why it happened, but we need far more transparency in the House. There should be no reason someone did not today issue a statement to facilitate a debate because many issues arise from the Ombudsman for Children's reports, particularly on children in detention, which have proved contentious during the years and which merit debate. It is wrong that did not occur.

The Deputy's party welcomed this move. This is the first time ever that an ombudsman can go into a place of detention or custody to investigate a complaint concerning a child.

Did people know this with the original Bill?

Was it valid then? How far does it go back?

Yes. I have -----

It seems from what the Taoiseach has said that the intentions of the Oireachtas were not put into effect over the past 12 months and nobody knew about that. Nobody was told about them.

I have given the Deputy the background and given him -----

Am I right that 12 months ago it was the intention of the Oireachtas to ensure reports could be made on children in detention? Is it the case that what people thought they passed was not passed and nobody knew anything about it until now or that has not been published? Nobody has got any clarification on that.

The Deputy will not listen. As I said, new legislation was brought in here. The fact of the matter is that the Ombudsman for Children expressed concerns earlier this year and following her concerns, advice was received from the Attorney General on what is a highly complex matter. That advice indicated that the amendments that were made in 2012 had the consequences of precluding the Ombudsman for Children from dealing with complaints relating to children held in custody or detention. Therefore, all that is here is a technical-----

Was the House made aware of that at the time?

No it was not. There was no deliberate intention here.

Should it not have been?

Who here was involved? This was new legislation.

That would not matter. It is basic procedure that if the House passes something and it turns out that the House thought it passed something, but it had not -----

The Deputy wants clarity, openness and transparency and I am giving him that.

In getting the clarity, I have discovered something else.

The Deputy's party welcomed this.

The Taoiseach is missing the point.

I am not missing the point.

For 12 months people held the belief that the Ombudsman for Children could raise these issues, but now it has transpired that -----

The point is that the Ombudsman for Children, following on the new legislation, made an observation expressing concerns. Those concerns were brought to the attention of the Attorney General and it transpired that based on the evidence, the unintended consequence was to preclude the Ombudsman for Children from dealing with cases of children in detention. This technical amendment allows for the Ombudsman for Children to go into a place of detention or custody to deal with complaints concerning children. I do not believe anybody could say that is not the right thing to do.

In terms of the legislation, getting it wrong makes the consequence serious in that the Ombudsman for Children could not do what she wanted to do or that everybody wanted to give her the power to do, the least the House deserved in a situation like that is a statement from the Minister responsible.

To be clear about it, we have had some comments on these things before. I do not have any problem and I am quite sure that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has no problem either with regard to the legislation that came here and coming in to explain this in greater detail if the Deputy wishes. We are not in the business here of excluding anybody who wants answers to questions.

Is there any chance we could get the legal advice? I think we should.

I must ask the Deputy - does he not want the issue dealt with today?

I am going to oppose it now.

There is no need to oppose it. We can put it back. If the Deputy does not want it taken today, we will not take it today. We can put it on the Order another day. All that is in it is the right of the Ombudsman for Children to go into a place of detention.

Will the Taoiseach publish the legal advice on it?

No, we will not publish the legal advice. We never do that.

The Taoiseach has proposed that No. 2 -----

The Deputy's spokesperson has already welcomed this amendment.

I am not against its principle. The Taoiseach is missing my point.

To be clear on this, what we will do when these things happen is extend the time.

No, let us be clear, the Taoiseach and the Minister knew about six or nine months ago that something was wrong here, but they never advised the Dáil of that. They should have, and that is the point.

That charge is unfair. The Deputy's party did not give any time on the substance at all, but his spokesman welcomed it.

Is the proposal withdrawn, Taoiseach?

Is it agreed that the proposal is withdrawn? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

In regard to the commitments made in the programme for Government on eliminating poverty traps, will the Taoiseach indicate when we can expect the legislation dealing with the proposal to tightly regulate moneylenders and debt collectors to be brought before the House? Also, in the programme for Government the Taoiseach said that the Government would divert staff from elsewhere in the public service to clear the social welfare appeals backlog and would introduce a consolidated appeals process. The situation with regard to social welfare appeals has got worse over the past year and a half. The situation is shocking and some people must wait 11 months before their appeals are heard. There is huge distress in this regard and people are in poverty because of the failure to progress appeals in a timely manner. The commitment in the programme for Government, in terms of diverting staff, has clearly not been implemented to a degree where it is having an impact on the waiting times for social welfare appeals. The delay is far too long and the length of time people must wait is disgraceful.

On page 23 of the programme for Government, the Taoiseach said that the household benefits packages would be put out to tender so that the Exchequer will benefit from reduced prices. Will the Taoiseach confirm that has not happened? Is it going to happen? Some household benefits were taken from pensioners last year, such as telephone and electricity benefits, which had quite a significant adverse impact on pensioners. This is the only change the Taoiseach has made with regard to household benefits. Why were these proposals included in the programme for Government when there is no indication they will ever see the light of day? What is the position on that particular commitment?

Unlike previous programmes for Government, this one will be implemented to the maximum, as far as possible.

Which one? Will the Taoiseach deal with the three commitments I raised?

The commitments will be implemented as far as possible. We have been caught with regard to the upward rent review issue, because of constitutional problems.

The issue of the upward rent review was a promise Fine Gael made in the election which was not delivered.

Yes, of course. Fianna Fáil made quite a few promises itself and did not live up to others when it had the chance.

Not on the same level as the Taoiseach. I did not do a Roscommon on it.

As far as I can recall, there is no specific legislation with regard to debt collectors, but there have been meetings with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Finance on the matter. I suggest that Deputy Martin should get his spokesman to table a Topical Issue on the question of social welfare appeals. I do not have evidence on the numbers mentioned by the Deputy.

We have done that.

The same should apply in regard to the household package.

This is not about putting down a question. There is a commitment in the programme for Government -----

This is the order of Business.

Deputy Quinn is not the Chair and should not try to be the Chair. I asked a specific question. I am entitled under Standing Orders to ask on the Order of Business about the implementation of a commitment in the programme for Government. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to put household benefits out to tender. Is that going to happen or not? I am trying to get an answer from the Taoiseach on this.

The Deputy is entitled to ask the Taoiseach about legislation.

That is legislation. I am also entitled to ask about the programme for Government. What is the answer?

What legislation is the Deputy talking about?

I am talking about the programme for Government commitment. It states the household benefits package will be put out to tender so that the Exchequer benefits from reduced prices. I am entitled to an answer on that. Under Standing Orders and precedent I am entitled to ask about that. Will it be put out to tender?

What legislation is the Deputy talking about?

Is it going to be put to tender or not? The Taoiseach never answers questions.

The Order of Business is about legislation that has been promised and committed to. I am asking the Deputy what legislation he is talking about.

Where is the Deputy getting the promise of legislation from?

On precedent, any commitment in the programme for Government can be raised on the Order of Business. That has been the case in the Chair's time and anybody else's. That does not have to be written.

I have already suggested that the Deputy should get his spokesperson to submit some topical issues on social welfare appeals.

The Taoiseach is now demonstrating his lack of accountability to the House. This is being done on an ongoing basis.

The next time the Deputy comes back in to deal with the Ombudsman for Children, I hope he remembers that his spokesman welcomed this, but the Deputy did not ask for time on it, but he continues to waste the time of the Houses on something he has already accepted.

Last week, I asked the Taoiseach if he would facilitate a dedicated debate here on the current difficulties regarding the process in the North. I know the Taoiseach shares my concerns about the summer we have had and what is fomenting below the surface there.

The Sinn Féin Whip raised the question of a debate on Northern Ireland at the meeting as I suggested. I confirm that we will allocate time for a decent discussion on Northern Ireland, but it may take a couple of weeks to get to it as many issues have piled up. The request is approved and the debate will happen.

With regard to the Constitutional Convention, the process is that the chairman will co-ordinate the reports and send them to the Government, which will respond within four months to each report as it is received. We must respond to the second or third report by the end of October. I recognise the strength of the sentiment of what was involved. I went around this circle 25 years ago and it would not be easy to implement such a process were one so inclined. We will respond to the Constitutional Convention's report in due course as we promised.

With regard to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (amendment) Bill, it is quite extraordinary to think tonight will be an historic occasion when the issue of the abolition of the Seanad will be debated on prime-time television but the Taoiseach will not engage.

Is this a question about legislation?

Yes. The Taoiseach is handing over the job to a man who wanted his job a number of years ago. He would not give him the job then but tonight he will put him out in his place. It is extraordinary and absolutely unbelievable.

This is not on the Order of Business.

But it is very topical.

It is extremely topical.

The Deputy should raise it in another way.

The people of Ireland look up to their Taoiseach and want to hear his arguments on the abolition of the Seanad, but he refuses the opportunity to go on prime-time television and debate the matter with people with differing views from his own. What is the Taoiseach doing tonight that is so important that he cannot go on television to debate a matter of national importance, a referendum that he instigated? He started the move to abolish the Seanad.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle-----

I am not speaking to the Whip but to the Taoiseach. He knows I am making sense.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

I would like the Taoiseach to answer the question.

This is supposed to be about legislation, but I will answer Deputy Healy Rae's question. I am not interested in debating societies or being led around by those who want me to debate Deputy Martin, which would turn into a debate between two individuals rather than a debate on the issue involved. What is involved is the question the people are being asked, which is the straight question of whether they want to abolish or keep the Seanad. I hope people vote "Yes" to abolish it. I have had very many good friends in the Seanad over the years but unfortunately after 70 years of politics nothing has been done about it. It is powerless, ineffective and costs €20 million a year to run. It has never engaged with public society in the way it should. We can do far more to have comprehensive analysis, preparation, co-ordination and implementation in this House, the people's House, which under Article 28.4° is responsible for holding the Government to account. This is where the people's influence is vested. On Friday the people will have the opportunity to have their voice heard. It is not a matter for politicians, leaders or political parties. It is a matter for the people and their voice can be heard on Friday. "Yes" for the abolition of the Seanad and "Yes" for establishing the court of appeal.

The Taoiseach did not answer the question.

Tonight I will launch a book on The Gathering for the hospice movement and another book on Ireland's participation in the European Union over the past 40 years, both of which are about our country, jobs, opportunities and civic society. Frankly, I have no interest in those who like to comment on who did what with regard to the debate. I am not into debating societies.

The Taoiseach could have sent the Minister, Deputy Bruton, there. It would have made more sense.

When can we expect publication of the education (admission to school) Bill, which will ensure schools' enrolment policies are more open, credible and consistent?

I can confirm for the Deputy the draft heads of the Bill are out for consultation and will come back to the Minister for Education and Skills in due course.

No. 35 on page 1436 of the Order Paper is a motion tabled by the Minister for Finance, with four amendments tabled by Deputies of the House. It was put on the Order Paper on 12 February, debated on 13 and 14 February and adjourned to be resumed. It has not been called since. Is it possible for this debate to be resumed on the basis that there has been a change in circumstances of the country? Since February 25,000 people have emigrated, of whom 15,000 - that is, 60% - are highly educated third-level-degree-holding Irish citizens.

I thank the Deputy. We are not going into the debate now.

This is a most pressing issue. Last week the Fiscal Advisory Council spoke about the national debt being at 122% of GDP, which put it in third place after Greece and Italy. The paper ignored the fact that private household debt and SME or non-financial corporate debt, taken together with national debt, puts Ireland in the worst position in the OECD.

I want to call the Taoiseach. We will have a debate on it, but the Taoiseach will reply.

This is crucial. In the meantime, the Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill, which had to go through the Seanad and the Dáil to be brought to the people, has passed. It was brought in under a very strict Whip system so that Deputies and Senators who advocated the retention of the Seanad voted against their own debate. Another Bill passed was the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which was also whipped. In the meantime, the debate putting the case for the Irish people for debt reduction, which is extremely valid by any measure of logic and financial assessment, has been left for seven months without discussion or conclusion.

I am not sure what the Deputy's question is. This is a motion in the name of the Minister for Finance.

It has not been resumed and is unresolved.

Clearly, the Deputy is aware of the outcome of the negotiations on the promissory note.

They are not over. The consequences are not over.

He is aware of the interest rate reductions and the lengthening of the debt profiles. He is also aware of the decision taken by the European Council on 29 June 2012 in respect of the European stability mechanism, which has the potential to deal with the recapitalisation of banks. He is aware of the progress made by our Minister for Finance, as chair of the Council of Ministers, in dealing with banking union, banking supervision, the Capital Requirements Directive IV and the opportunity to move to a point at which we can have assistance from our European colleagues.

All inconclusive and open questions.

This is work which is clearly ongoing.

We should have been speaking about it for seven months.

We have only four minutes left, and four Deputies wish to speak.

Deputy Matthews certainly has not been quiet on this issue. I recall his visit to Berlin, when he voiced matters very vociferously.

And since then in May, when other issues occurred.

Many other people have been speaking about it also, and we will continue to speak about it and negotiate on it and hopefully get a solution which will reduce our debts very substantially-----

The promissory notes were a given.

-----and continue to drag the country out into open ground far from the catastrophic economic mess we inherited.

Before the summer recess the Taoiseach published the Betting (Amendment) Bill, which we welcomed. The programme for Government also promised the gambling control Bill.

The gambling control Bill will be in the earlier half of next year, we expect. The horse racing Bill will be introduced in this session. The betting Bill has been published but it cannot be taken before the end of October because it has been referred to the European Commission.

On promised legislation, what is the progress on the criminal records Bill, which relates to the exchange of criminal records between this country, other European countries and other jurisdictions? Similarly, what is the progress of the trusts Bill, which is to protect the assets of trusts? I understand that particular legislation should be brought before the House as soon as possible for very compelling reasons. In both cases, when are the Bills likely to appear before the House?

The criminal records Bill is early next year. I do not have a date for the trusts Bill but I will communicate with Deputy Durkan on that.

The deadline in the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Act ended yesterday. We see from our television screens and from the number of telephone calls to our constituency offices the difficulties people have in this regard; a common denominator seems to be difficulties for parents of emigrants. Will there be a directive from the Minister extending the deadline?

I will consult the Minister, Deputy Hogan. I presume that if those things were put in the post or dropped through the letter boxes, even though they might be just outside the official closing time, they could be accepted. I will have the Minister make contact or make a public comment on it.

We need to amend regulations to facilitate an all-island gas market. When is the common arrangements for gas Bill due to be published?

I do not have a date for that but I will come back to the Deputy.

Given that the Minister for Education and Skills is beside the Taoiseach, I ask that the Taoiseach try to ensure Bus Éireann is contacted by the Department of Education and Skills in regard to five exchange students in the Ashdee area of north Kerry who are not able to get on a bus, despite having registered for it, due to the fact they were not in the country in time to pay their money. There are also three other students in the Ballyconroy-Liselton area who-----

The Deputy needs to table a parliamentary question.

I have been in contact with the Department and Bus Éireann in this regard. They have told me they need a report so this can be sorted out.

If the Deputy gives the information and the background on this to the Minister, Deputy Quinn, or the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, one of them will respond to him.

I have already given the information.