Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 3, Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 32, Criminal Justice (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, 1999 – Committee and Remaining Stages; No. a10, motion re Agreement Establishing the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains; No. 31, Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Committee and Remaining Stages (resumed) and No. a1, Companies (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second and Remaining Stages.

It is also proposed, nothwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m., that the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 3, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 12.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government; that the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 32, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion not later than 1.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; that No. a10 shall be decided without debate; that the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 31, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and that Second and Remaining Stages of No. a1 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Private Members' Business shall be No. 54, Local Government (Planning and Development) (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

There are six proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 3 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 32 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a10 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 31 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a1 agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the initiatives announced by the Government in regard to child care and, in particular, the abuse of children in the distant and recent past. It must be recognised that the Government is dealing with horrors which have affected children, now adults, and their families and which at the time our society did not equip itself with a vocabulary to describe adequately. Is it proposed to introduce legislation to deal with any of the initiatives announced? Why has the appointment of an ombudsman for children to deal with problems which may arise in the future not been included in the package?

I thank the Taoiseach for responding to the proposal on the Order of Business a fortnight ago that an apology be offered in this House. That matter will be taken tomorrow. I also compliment the Government on the way it has responded so far. When will the measures outlined in the package be brought forward? Can some definitive progress be made at last on the juvenile justice Bill, otherwise known as the Children Bill, which has been languishing for over two years? With the forbearance of the Chair, I remind the Taoiseach that it is still not clear from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform whether we are talking about a set of amendments to the existing Bill or a new Bill. Can that matter be resolved once and for all?

I thank the Government for responding. Will it be proactive and place the commission on a statutory basis? Will the Taoiseach do what he can to speed up publication of the mental health Bill given that there are still severe problems of neglect and under-resourcing in a number of institutions which may land us in a similar situation in the future? We are in a position to take action now to prevent problems occurring in the future.

(Dublin West): It would have been useful if the Government had circulated to Deputies yesterday a comprehensive report on the proposals made. As it is, we are relying on media reports. I strongly welcome the establish ment of a commission to inquire into institutional child abuse. I understand it is to begin work in September. In view of the fact that the Dáil will not meet in part of July and August, is it proposed to introduce legislation to give the commission powers which will make its work of inquiry effective? I understand it is part of a process of healing. This is important as is the apology from the State. There are matters which have to be inquired into, including the reasons these nightmares happened and were allowed to continue for so long. Powers will be needed.

Will the Taoiseach say what legislation will be introduced? Will the sections of the report on Madonna House, which were wrongly suppressed when it was published, be published as part of the healing process and the process of coming to terms with the more recent as well as the distant past?

On promised legislation on this matter, I welcome yesterday's announcement by the Government that it intends to amend the statute of limitations so victims of child sexual abuse will be able to take court action despite the fact they have gone beyond the age of 18. I published a Bill in this regard and suggest the Government take it in Government time because given the queue in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as regards legislation, I do not know how long we will have to wait for the Government Bill to be published.

I do not believe there is justification for excluding victims of physical abuse from the legislation which, according to yesterday's Government announcement, includes only sexual abuse. Will the Taoiseach clarify that matter? There is no reason victims of gross physical abuse, such as the breaking of legs about which we heard in the programme last night, should not be included in this legislation.

I thank the leaders and Deputies for their support for these initiatives. A number of Bills are affected by this. I have had a report on the dates for all the legislation, most of which has already received priority. I will circulate a note on the times as soon as they are definite. I am trying to introduce all the legislation this year, but I would like to get a proper report from all the Departments. I will then circulate a note to the spokespersons and the leaders.

Deputy John Bruton asked about the ombudsman. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges Ireland, as a party to the convention, to establish a mechanism to vindicate the rights of children. The convention does not describe any particular mechanism but, as I said before, the children's ombudsman is the most common model adopted by countries which have ratified the convention. Recently the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Fahey, outlined his intentions in that regard in the House. At present he is with the ombudsman from Norway, which has been identified as having a satisfactory and suitable system. The Norwegian ombudsman has agreed to spend some time here as soon as he can, although he has already given advice. It will probably be late June before he can do so. He can give us advice on how the system operates in Norway and consult with the people here. That is the intention.

Deputy Quinn mentioned the children Bill, and I will try to resolve this matter once and for all. Work on amending and expanding the children Bill, which deals primarily with juvenile justice, is complete. A large part of it has been forwarded to the parliamentary draftsman for drafting. There has been an enormous amount of change, as I said here a number of times. It is well nigh impossible to process the Bill to Committee Stage in its present form. I will ask the draftsman if he can proceed on the basis of a new Bill and if he will complete it as soon as possible. The relevant Minister will ask the Government to publish the new Bill. I have looked at this matter in the past week or so and it is a far better way to deal with it.

The Minister of State went to New Zealand last year because the relevant groups here had said we should look at the juvenile system there which has the reputation of being the best, most innovative and successful. He is particularly interested in their system of holding family-group conferences both for children who have committed an offence and children who may be in need of care and protection. It has generally been accepted by those who I have met in the preparation of the committee's work that the New Zealand system cannot be transported to other countries, but that it is considered worth undertaking an examination of our system in light of its experience and to identify the extent to which the ideas which underpin its system can be adopted here. That is under way at present and will be incorporated in the new Bill.

Deputy Sargent asked about the mental health Bill. It is intended that it will be before the House in this session. The Government accepts the principle of Deputy O'Sullivan's and her party's Bill, although we also have a Bill. We can work through it to ensure we reach a successful outcome.

It will take a long time for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to publish the Bill.

I remind the House that this issue will be the subject of statements tomorrow. It would not be appropriate to have a debate on the matter at this stage. I have allowed some latitude on the matter.

I ask that my Bill be taken rather than wait for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to publish its Bill because it has about 30 Bills with which to deal.

I support my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan. When the Government was in Opposition, it occasionally proposed Private Members' Bills which the then Government accepted. It is a fairly net point as regards the statute of limitations, and the point we are pressing is that if the Government accepts Second Stage of the Bill, it can amend it as it chooses. It will enable citizens to commence their own cases of litigation against people who abused them and against whom they can initiate a civil case. They cannot do so at the moment because no legislation has been introduced. If the Government gave an indication that it would take Second Stage in Government time, the Bill could go to Committee Stage when amendments, if required, could be made. It is not very substantial legislation.

I got my signals wrong, that is the intention. The Bill will be taken as it has been accepted in principle. We have prepared amendments to the Bill.

That is very welcome.

We are on the Order of Business and I have allowed much latitude on this matter.

On a related matter – I am grateful to you, a Cheann Comhairle for giving us some latitude – many of the victims of abuse ended up in our prisons and are currently there. Will the Taoiseach give the House an assurance that the commission, in its investigations, will give ample opportunity to people currently in prison to tell their story and to have a free hand to have their pain ventilated in a complete and open way?

The answer to that question is yes. We discussed that matter yesterday and it had been raised with us previously. It is an important matter which should be part of the commission's work.

(Dublin West): On promised legislation, the Taoiseach did not respond to my questions on legislation necessary to give powers to the commission beginning in September and on the publication of the full Madonna House report.

The commission must come back to us within a three month period when we will know what is necessary.

(Dublin West): What about the Madonna House report?

I understand that the Attorney General is considering the matters raised in connection with the Madonna House report.

We should not make the mistake of assuming neglect is a thing of the dim and distant past. If we look at the record in recent years, it is not particularly good. It is important we remind ourselves that Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child seven years ago, but we have yet to provide for it in our Constitution. On promised legislation – this was an omission from yesterday's statement – does the Government plan to bring forward a proposal for a constitutional referendum to incorporate the UN convention in our Constitution and to amend Article 41?

The constitutional matters are being looked at by a committee of the House but, if necessary, that will be done. The other issue is mandatory reporting and I agree with Deputy Shortall that we must be vigilant now and in the future. We are conscious of the need to ensure abuse cannot occur today as we are talking not only of the dim and distant past. We have approved a number of measures to deal with issues. Proposals on mandatory reporting of instances of sexual abuse of children will be published by the Department of Health and Children in a White Paper as soon as possible and will be acted on without delay.

I pay tribute to and welcome the announcements made yesterday by the Government which are overdue. Arising from the announcement victims of abuse will be preparing their cases in terms of appearance before a commission. Can the Taoiseach give an assurance regarding the integrity of the records of any letters or documents they submitted by way of complaint to Departments, including the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, and that transmission of documents from Departments to the National Archives will be respected and assured so that victims will know that anything they need in advancing their case by way of legal means or through appearance before the commission can be provided? Is there a need to amend the archives legislation in this regard?

Who has responsibility when a statement is made that files are missing in relation to a matter in a Department? Is the Taoiseach not concerned that many of those who in the new atmosphere will want to vindicate themselves and give an account of their experience may have no record other than that which they sent to a Department? Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that he will immediately issue such instructions as are necessary to ensure the integrity—

It would be more appropriate for the Deputy to table a parliamentary question.

Much can happen in a week.

I think I know to what the Deputy is referring. The intention of the Government is to protect and make available the data.

Does the Government propose introducing legislation to improve regulation of the financial services industry and the banking system? When does the Government expect to receive the report of the committee under the chairmanship of a former Member, Michael McDowell, SC?

The report will very shortly be available to the Minister for Finance.

Will legislation be then introduced?

We have to see what the report says.

In recent weeks two men were given a ten year prison sentence for killing a person while driving a stolen car.

The matter does not appear to be in order on the Order of Business.

Both men had previous convictions. Has the Government any plans to change the legislation so that such people could be convicted of manslaughter if driving a car at speed through our streets?

Is there promised legislation?

Not specifically. I am not sure of the case, but maybe it could be considered under existing legislation.

When does the Taoiseach intend introducing the valuation Bill?

Not for some time.

When will the White Paper on the health insurance industry be published?

The White Paper is due shortly.

I have difficulty with the word "shortly", as the Taoiseach makes much use of it and I do not know what it means. Will the Taoiseach define "shortly"?

When the White Paper is finalised it will be considered by Government. Hopefully, this will be in the near future.

When will the disabilities Bill come before the House? Also, when will the Fundraising for Charitable and Other Purposes Bill come before the House? The Taoiseach may remember there was some controversy in this area and we would like to see the legislation published as soon as possible.

Work on preparation of the disabilities Bill was deferred as priority was given to the National Disability Authority Bill. As soon as this has been completed, the disabilities Bill will be brought forward. I do not have a date at this time. Neither do I have a date for the publication of the Fundraising for Charitable and Other Purposes Bill, but work on preparing the general scheme will proceed in the Department as quickly as possible in light of the other legislative priorities.

The Taoiseach and the House will be aware that we are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of the referendum endorsing the Good Friday Agreement. Under the terms of the Agreement, if all the components of the Agreement are not in place—

Questions to the Taoiseach relative to this matter have been tabled for today.

Legislation is required in order to ensure the proposed amendment to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution can proceed if the deadline is not met by the prescribed date, something which seems likely. To avoid a rush at the last minute, will the Taoiseach undertake to consult formally with the Opposition parties and publish in advance the proposed legislation so our good intentions in this respect can be clearly signalled to the parties in the North?

I will do that. The Department is working on the legislation and I have asked it to communicate with the leaders of the other parties, something I will again ask them to do. It must be ready by 5 June.

Why is the Government so unhappy? How many elections will be held on 11 June?

So that is why the Deputy is not his party's spokesperson on Finance – he cannot count.

The Údarás elections will take place later in the year.

Given the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday, I think the question of compensation is likely to feature more and more in relation to many of the cases. Is it not time to bring forward the State claims legislation and attach more priority to it than is currently the case to ensure these cases are dealt with more effectively and comprehensively than the deafness compensation cases relating to the Defence Forces? Surely this legislation is critical if the State is to begin to manage these cases in a more effective way.

Hopefully, that legislation will be brought forward shortly by the Minister for Finance.