Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 Feb 1999

Vol. 500 No. 1

Order of Business (Resumed).

It is proposed to take No. 25, Statements on Criminal Justice Policy; No. 4, Immigration Bill, 1999, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is also proposed that, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders the proceedings on No. 25, if not previously concluded, shall conclude within 55 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: statements should be confined to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, provided their spokespersons may share time with other Members.

Following the statements, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform shall take questions which, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to conclusion after 25 minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 68 – Motion re. the EU Commissioner.

There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25 agreed?

Before agreeing to it, is it possible for the Taoiseach to circulate to Members the legal advice the Government has got that the Good Friday prison release arrangements cannot be construed as applying to those convicted as a result of the Adare bank robbery? It is important that legal advice should be available to the House before this debate so that there are no arguments about legality.

That advice was given by the Attorney General and has been discussed many times. Some people stated they might challenge this in the courts. The Attorney General gave me his entire case, but I could not agree to circulate his advice without consulting him.

I appreciate that there are very few precedents for the Government's legal advice being circulated. Will the Taoiseach at least make available the gist of the legal analysis upon which he has stated the release scheme does not apply to these people?

The Minister will answer questions on this and the gist will be given in those answers .

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25 agreed to? Agreed.

On the Order of Business, I ask the Taoiseach if the Government will agree to a debate on the proposals for Agenda 2000, particularly on agriculture, before the proposals are agreed.

If the Whips can agree a time for a debate, I would not have a problem with that. During the week beginning February 22 there will be a five day session of Agriculture Council of Ministers.

Will the Taoiseach agree to a debate being held before that?

Given that we are just one month from the 10 March deadline for the devolution of powers in Northern Ireland and the continuing impasse there, is the Government prepared to make time available to debate the present situa tion in Northern Ireland, particularly in light of the opinion poll published in today's newspapers which indicates widespread support in both communities for movement on the issue of decommissioning and for a breaking of the impasse?

We debate Northern Ireland at some length every week. If I thought it would be useful, I would talk to the party leaders. It is my opinion, however, that this is not the best time for a debate.

The Social Welfare Bill was circulated yesterday. When is it proposed to take the Bill? The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill omitted the proposed empowerment of social welfare inspectors to stop cars and question their occupants. Was this a deliberate omission by the Government?

We cannot debate the content of the Bill.

The explanatory memorandum should cover this area.

That is not appropriate on the Order of Business. The Deputy can raise the issue by way of a question.

When will this and other provisions be debated? I ask the Taoiseach to indicate if he wants a full debate on that draconian element of it.

The Bill will be taken on 23 February.

Last week I asked what progress had been made on the legislation for a human rights commission. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been able to move with extraordinary alacrity to produce an alien immigration Bill which will be debated this afternoon. Can the Taoiseach tell me if the Government has disposed of the human rights legislation?

It was stated last week that the Government was due to discuss this today. It has done so and the heads of the Bill will go to the committees as previously agreed.

When will that happen?

That will happen as soon as possible. The heads were cleared this morning so that the committees can discuss it.

That is a matter for the Government to initiate, not the committees.

We cannot have a debate on this now.

From my point of view, I want to get on with this Bill.

Will the Government ensure that the chairpersons of the two relevant committees are requested to prioritise the legislation and that they will deal with it immediately?

I understand they certainly will be.

Will the Social Welfare Bill be taken by the Minister or a civil servant—

That is not in order.

—in view of the Minister's policy of having civil servants comment on that Bill? Is the Comhairle Bill on the National Social Services Board due for publication given that drafting was authorised last month? The Fundraising for Charitable and Other Purposes Bill, which states that other priorities are being attended to by the Department—

It is appropriate to ask a question about legislation.

This is legislation. Has the Fundraising for Charitable and Other Purposes Bill become a priority, given replies I have received that it is a priority? Has that changed the expected date of publication and what is the date?

The Comhairle Bill, which deals with the establishment of the organisation to replace the National Social Services Board and the disability support service in the National Rehabilitation Board, will be dealt with early in this session. The other legislation is still a priority though it is not clear how it is to be handled. It will be dealt with by the Minister shortly.

In view of the circulation of the Bill on immigrants and the lack of provisions to deal with racism and xenophobia, when is it intended that the human rights debate adjourned some months ago will resume? These are issues that the House is waiting to address.

That is a matter for the Whips.

Can we at least have the debate in tandem with the Bill?

Has the Government made a decision today to introduce legislation to amend the regional structures, and when will such legislation be circulated?

The Government has made decisions on the regional structures, as I stated. That requires an amendment of the 1991 Act and an order. The Department will make an announcement later today.

Is the legislation to give new functionality–

It is an order.

It is an order, not new legislation. So there will not be strengthened regional government based on the existing legislation?

That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

It will be an amendment of the 1991 Act. I gave the relevant section of that Act. It will be a strengthening of the regional structure.

By order.

Will that be done by principal legislation here in the House?

By ministerial order.

Why not debate this in the House? If the country is to be divided up, surely the House should have a say.

That is not appropriate on the Order of Business.

Is the Taoiseach afraid to have Deputies vote if they are from counties like Wexford, Tipperary and Carlow, which have lower incomes?

Deputy Bruton should resume his seat. He is out of order.

I know I am, but on a point of order I ask the Chair, as guardian of the House, to ensure that this legislation is debated in the House and that the country is not divided up by stealth.

This is ridiculous.

The Taoiseach has made a statement to the House that I believe is misleading–

That is not a point of order.

Listen to the point first.

It is a point of order. I am asking a question about what I believe was a misleading statement from the Taoiseach.

That is not a point of order.

The Deputy is being disorderly.

It is important that the Chair address the issue of the Taoiseach's statement. It is not clear what is being proposed, and if he is saying that a ministerial order only is to be used, then that has to be clarified, and I ask the Chair to do so.

The Minister for Public Enterprise said two weeks ago that legal representation for rape victims would be dealt with by last week's Cabinet meeting.

This is not in order.

It is promised legislation and I am entitled to raise it. The Taoiseach said it would be dealt with at today's Cabinet meeting. Has he delivered on that promise?

The Deputy asked for clarification of what I said. The current regions were set up under the 1991 Act and any amended regions would be set up by an amendment to the 1991 Act.

Without strengthening local government.

It is screwing the south-east.

Wait for the details. Regarding the second matter, the Government has decided to prepare legislation on a priority basis to establish a sex offenders register. The Minister will announce details of this in due course.

On a point of order, is it not the case that the privileges of the Oireachtas require that legislation passed here can only be amended here? It is not open to the Executive – to any Minister with any legislation – to amend legislation. The only bodies that can amend legislation are the Dáil and the Seanad. The Taoiseach's proposal to amend the 1991 Act by ministerial order is ultra vires and impossible to do. I ask the Taoiseach to amend his statement to indicate the true legal position.

It will be done by order. As Deputy Bruton should know after 30 years in this House, orders are laid before the House.

One cannot amend principal legislation by order.

We cannot have a debate on promised legislation.

There have been many court decisions on this. It is well known–

We cannot have a debate on this issue. The making of a ministerial order can be debated in Private Members' time.

Any lawyer worth his fee could tell you.

Will the Taoiseach withdraw the statement he made that he intends to amend the 1991 Act?

Deputy De Rossa should resume his seat. We cannot have a debate on this matter.

What the Government is doing is pure camouflage.

It cannot be done.

I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week and he said it would be done by way of regulation. He now says he proposes to have the 1991 Act amended. How does the Taoiseach propose to amend primary legislation without bringing a Bill before the House?

I have stated for several weeks, and it has also been said during Question Time for several weeks, that the new regional structures will be brought in by amending the 1991 Act.

Without amending legislation.

If that could be done by amendment to the Act it would require legislation, or it could be done by ministerial order.

No. That cannot be done. Are there any lawyers in the Government?

Deputies should wait for the Minister to announce his proposals and lay them before the House.


(Dublin West): Has the Government agreed to proposals to bring forward legislation relating to telecommunications masts and Garda stations?

There is no promised legislation.

(Dublin West): Is it proposed that ministerial Mercedes are liable to be stopped by social welfare inspectors or will it only be vans which look down at heel?

Ministers do not get the dole.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

(Dublin West): Where is the Minister? I asked a question about proposed legislation.

No legislation is promised.

How do you know?

(Dublin West): The Taoiseach did not answer.

There is legislation on the telecommunications infrastructure, which we hope to publish this month.

There was promised legislation – wrong again.

Apologise to the House.

Homer nodded.

The Taoiseach must not have eaten his Weetabix this morning. May I have a reply appropriate to my question? I asked about legal representation for rape victims but his reply had no connection with that matter. Did the Cabinet, as the Taoiseach promised it would, deal with the provision of legal representation to rape victims in certain limited circumstances?

When I was endeavouring to answer the Deputy her new colleagues were interrupting me – perhaps they had too much Weetabix. The legislation on this matter will contain provisions for separate legal representation for complainants in rape and sexual assault cases during applications to hear evidence and to cross-examine on a complainant's past sexual history.

A constituent of mine, the Tánaiste, is in Tasmania. Will the Taoiseach assure the House it is his intention that she will return?

I understand the Deputy was in the same country last week.

That is why I want to know about her return.