Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Feb 1998

Vol. 486 No. 5

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 3, Education (No. 2) Bill, 1997, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

There are no proposals to be put to the House.

Will the Taoiseach let us know if legislation will be introduced soon to deal with the taxi problem? The forum he set up — to delay making a decision — has only had two meetings and the problem of getting a taxi in Dublin is increasingly difficult. I hope the Taoiseach will not continue to put this matter on the long finger.

I do not know if it will require legislation but I share Deputy Bruton's concern that this issue needs to be resolved. The problem is not so much getting a taxi as the difficulties of the regulations between cosies, hackneys and taxies. A large number of vehicles are in operation but they are governed by different regulations. The question of the provision of taxies for the handicapped is creating difficulties also. I hope the forum will deal with these matters and that whatever conclusions its reaches will be speedily implemented.

Is it not the case that this forum is operating under the Taoiseach's own aegis and that it has only met twice? Given the urgency of the issue, this is a degree of latitude on the part of the forum that is not acceptable, given that the Taoiseach and his Department are leading on this issue. Can the Taoiseach not insist that the forum increase the pace of its work?

We cannot go into the detail of this matter on the Order of Business.

In view of the Taoiseach's recent association with the drugs awareness programme following the press conference in Ballyfermot, does the Government plan to bring forward new legislation to strengthen the fight against drug addiction and criminal trafficking?

That was the objective of a number of Bills brought in recently by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other legislation introduced in recent years. The recent Criminal Justice Bill has wide powers. We must ensure now that all of the legislation passed by this House is fully implemented.

The problem is fairly well addressed in legislative terms because of the combined action of this and the previous Government. The real problem arises for those addicts who come off drugs. They need specific help to get decent employment. Are there any legislative proposals to ensure they get the kind of employment that will stop them going back to their habit?

As the Deputy is aware, the health boards received additional resources to assist in the rehabilitation programme. The Minister for Health and Children recently announced regulations governing the dispensation of methadone, and I hope these measures will help to deal with the problem. A major problem still exists, however, and a recent survey indicated that the number of addicts is approximately 10,000; the figure was 6,000 only 18 months ago. In the light of that we must continue our efforts at every level to deal with the problem.

When does the Taoiseach expect the International War Crimes Tribunals Bill, 1997, will be brought before and approved by the House? Has the Taoiseach noted the dire warning from the President of Russia that an attack by the United States on Iraq would result in a world war? What steps is the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs taking, through the European Union, to persuade the United States to continue to seek every possible diplomatic solution to the problems with Iraq?

That matter does not arise on the Order of Business. It is not a matter of legislation.

The Taoiseach has already answered questions this morning which were not related to legislation promised. I am asking a question about a war crimes tribunal.

The Deputy is in order in asking about the Bill but he is not in order if he broadens the question to include—

Will the Taoiseach answer the question? Will he indicate his attitude to the threat of war against Iraq and the possibility that that will result in a world war? That is a serious matter for this House to address.

Does the Taoiseach wish to comment on the legislation referred to?

I will have to check when would be a suitable time to bring forward the Bill.

I presume Democratic Left will support the Russians in this war.

That is very clever.

It is not too long since the Deputy was there.

I noted the remarks made by President Yeltsin yesterday. I would not ignore comments by a world leader. The Deputy can take it the Department of Foreign Affairs, given its involvement in European matters, is closely following all that is being said on this issue.

I raised a question regarding legislation on the Order of Business yesterday and I understand from the Taoiseach's Department that it will communicate with me during the day. I am grateful for that information. I wish to raise the urgent matter of an extradition case being taken today involving a women who could face the death penalty in Connecticut. I understand an undertaking has been given to the State that she will not face the death penalty if we allow her extradition. Will the Taoiseach during the course of the morning arrange for the relevant Department to communicate with me about the nature of that undertaking?

This is not a matter for the Order of Business.

If legislation on this matter was before the House I would have an opportunity to raise this matter. As the woman concerned will be brought before the courts today, I ask the Taoiseach to communicate with me about the nature of the undertaking given so that we can be sure she will not face the death penalty if she is extradited to Connecticut. I raised this matter yesterday.

The Deputy has raised it again today and it is not in order.

I ask the Taoiseach to communicate with me about the nature of the undertaking given.

The matter is not in order.

Given that a woman was executed yesterday and we are in the process of extraditing a woman to face conspiracy to murder charges that might result in her facing the death penalty—

I have extended the Deputy a good deal of latitude on this matter. Will he resume his seat?

I will resume my seat, but I ask the Taoiseach to communicate with me about the undertaken given to the State.

Deputy Mitchell, please resume your seat. I call Deputy Gormley.

This is an urgent matter.

The Deputy will have to leave the House if he does not resume his seat. He is out of order.

This extradition case is before the courts today.

The Deputy has been given too much latitude. This matter is not in order on the Order of Business.

Will the Taoiseach communicate with me about the nature of the undertaking given?

The Deputy can raise this matter in other ways. He has done that in respect of other matters and he can do it in regard to this one. I ask him to resume his seat or leave the House.

Will the Taoiseach confirm media reports that it is the Government's intention to amend the Electoral Act by deleting the more unpalatable aspects of it? Will he agree that we need to be careful before we tamper with legislation that has enhanced the democratic process, levelled the playing field and increased transparency and openness?

Is legislation promised in this area?

There is no question of removing unpalatable parts from any legislation related to the Electoral Act. The Whips are trying to make sure that the legislation enacted is workable, in conjunction with the commission, to make sure that we comply with the core principles of that legislation. That is all that has been suggested. I am sure the Deputy would be one of the first to subscribe to that.

Will the Taoiseach indicate if it would be possible to produce a separate sheet on promised legislation which would indicate the Bills that would be referred to various committees at heads stage for debate prior to publication? It would be useful if he could indicate what Bills would be referred to committees for discussion before publication. The committees have power to discuss the heads of a Bill before the Government produces a Bill.

I do not know what that would involve, but I will look into it.

On promised legislation, I must express some concern about the dearth of legislation in the health area, given that no new Bills were introduced in the last session and only one new Bill is promised for this session. I am concerned about two particular Bills that are urgently needed and long overdue. They include the Bill to reorganise the Eastern Health Board and the mental health Bill. Will the Taoiseach explain why there has been such a delay in introducing those two Bills? Will he guarantee they will be introduced before the summer recess?

There are some ten or 11 Bills at various stages of preparation by the Department of Health and Children. The mental health Bill has more than 100 heads and I understand it will be ready by the middle of the year. The draft heads were approved by Government during the summer and sent to the parliamentary draftsman for drafting. That process of drafting has been ongoing involving the usual discussion between the Department and the parliamentary draftsman. It is expected the Bill will be ready mid year. The legislation on the reform of the Eastern Health Board will be ready later this year.

Is the Taoiseach aware that he told the House on 19 November that the mental health Bill would be ready in the spring of this year? Now he says it will not be ready until the middle of the year. Will the Taoiseach give us an explanation for the slippage from what he told the House on 19 November? Will he let us know the position on the private third level bonding Bill? The Minister, Deputy Martin, when in Opposition raised that matter several times.

He said it could be dealt with in an hour.

Now he is in a position to do something about it, having been six months in office. Will the Taoiseach let us know when that Bill will be produced by its principal advocate?

It will be some time before the bonding Bill will be ready. As Deputy Bruton will recall, that was the first Bill he promised to deal with in 1995, but it had still not been dealt with—

I do not know what the Taoiseach is talking about. I suggest the Taoiseach addresses the promises made by the Minister.

I will do that, but I remind the Deputy of promises he made that were not delivered on in two and a half years.

I have no recollection of promising such a Bill. When will the Minister, who repeatedly asked for this Bill to be introduced and who has been six months in office, produce it? Has he started drafting it? Has he presented the heads of the Bill to the Government?

He said it could be dealt with in an afternoon.

I remind Deputy Bruton that it was one of the priorities in his Government's programme for renewal. I am sorry if that upsets him.

The Taoiseach is wrong.

I am right.

The Taoiseach's dredging has not worked. He would want to dredge a little deeper.

The Minister for Education and Science is working on that Bill. It will be some time before it is produced.

What is the problem?

If the Deputy wishes to table a question to the Minister for Education and Science, he can outline the position for the Deputy. As Deputy Bruton will appreciate, the Minister for Education and Science is an active and hard working Minister who has put forward many proposals and he is working hard on this Bill.

He is spending too much time opening all the schools we built.

He is attending too many press conferences.

On the mental health Bill, I admit I stated it would be ready in the spring. There have been a number of difficulties in that regard concerning constitutional issues, but we are hopeful the Bill will be ready by the middle of the summer. Dealing with the obvious problems in this area is complex.

When will the private third level bonding Bill be ready?

I do not have an exact date on when it will be ready, but I hope it will be produced more quickly than what happened during the past few years.

It is a little like Deputy Kitt's Bill.

The Taoiseach is in Government now. He should get on with it.

Is the Taoiseach's word his bond?

The Government has given an undertaking to initiate a debate in the House on the rights of children. Will the Taoiseach state if he intends to have that debate before the end of this session?

We will try to arrange that.

The Minister for Defence has said he will go to the High Court tomorrow to seek a stay on the claims currently before the court in relation to Army deafness because he is awaiting the report of an expert group.

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

I am coming to the matter of legislation. On 29 January the Minister said in reply to a question I asked him that he had no details of how that group was transacting its affairs and refused to give any information on that group. That is an unacceptable way to treat parliamentary questions. Does the Government intend to bring forward legislation on a State claims agency in this term so that some of those claims and claims taken generally against the State can be managed more effectively by the State?

That legislation is being prepared by the Department of Finance. It will not be dealt with in this session.

Will the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, use his obvious influence to bring forward the Greyhound Racing Bill?

It is his interest, not his influence.

It is not that obvious. When will the Standards in Public Office Bill be published?

I do not have a date for that, but it will be late this year.

I asked the Taoiseach yesterday when the report of the task force on the dumping of radioactive material in the Irish Sea will be published.

We cannot repeat questions day after day on the Order of Business.

The question was allowed yesterday and I did not receive an answer. Tá áthas orm Bille na Gaeilge a fheiceáil ar liosta na reachtaíocht atá geallta. An féidir leis an Taoiseach a rá caitheann a fhoilseófar é? An bhfuil dáta aige go fóill?

An bliain seo chugainn.

When will the Bail Act, 1997, be implemented? The people voted to change the bail laws 15 months ago and last May this House passed the Bill. The Taoiseach said the reason for the delay is lack of prison spaces.

In the prison space programme, of the 840 prison places which were promised and delivered by the former Minister, Deputy Owen, 400 have now been completed. Why has the Minister not prioritised the Attachment of Earnings Bill which would free up several hundred prison places? Places would be made readily available by introducing sensible measures whereby fines would be deducted at source and people would be unable to stand on their dignity and hold down valuable prison places.

I dealt with this matter last week and a question to the Minister was also put down. As soon as there are more adequate spaces, which are coming on stream from the prisons' programme at present under construction, the Minister intends to bring the sections into force.

Why does he not get started?

The Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution Bill is on the Order Paper, dealing with the proposal to allow 20,000 citizens to nominate a candidate for the Presidency. On 1 October, it passed Second Stage unanimously. The order made in the House was that in accordance with Standing Order 104, it would be referred to a special or select committee. It is time the Bill was concluded. This day next week I will seek the appropriate order to be made, which would be to have it referred to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government so it can go through Committee Stage.

That matter will be looked at.

I thought we would refer it to the constitutional review committee.

That is not a committee of the House.

It cannot be referred to the all-party committee on the Constitution because it is not a select committee and cannot deal with Committee Stage of the Bill. I am advised that is not the correct procedural approach.

I understood we agreed we could send it to the all-party committee on the Constitution. I am prepared to move it on, as I promised before Christmas.

Deputy Jim Higgins asked me about the Attachment of Earnings Bill — it is at a preliminary stage.