It is proposed to take No. 18, Finance Bill, 2001 – Financial Resolutions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive; and No. 43, Finance Bill, 2001 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, in respect of No. 18, that Financial Resolutions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, shall be moved together and decided without debate by one question which shall be put from the Chair. Private Members' Business shall be No. 108, motion re ASTI dispute.
Order of Business.
There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 18 agreed to?
No. Despite the fact that on questions to the Taoiseach we have tried to establish the reason there is still a contradiction between the Taoiseach's version of the account given to him by his programme manager and that given by Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, we still need the Taoiseach to explain the issue to the House. It will be recalled that, when asked, Deputy O'Keeffe said that the programme manager not only wanted his head, but his whole body. The Taoiseach assured us that such a conversation never took place. These matters must be clarified.
The Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government is due to meet tomorrow at 2 p.m. In the light of statements from the Tánaiste in the House earlier today, is the Taoiseach prepared to lift the Government's veto on discussion of Committee Stage of the Labour Party's Bill banning corporate donations to enable the all-party committee discussions that he is so earnest to see taking place to commence tomorrow at 2 p.m?
Will the Taoiseach be more expansive in explaining what happened at the time of the resignation of the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Keeffe? When will the Local Government Bill be introduced given that the Green Party has indicated that the Government should not face a problem in abolishing the dual mandate at this time? Will the Taoiseach include it in the Order of Business in order that we can agree to the Order of Business today?
We will now deal with leaders' questions.
I wish to raise the Sinnott case. The Minister for Education and Science gave assurances to the House on the last occasion that the appeal he filed to the Supreme Court ruling was merely for the purpose of establishing the law and the State's constitutional obligations regarding the education of adults. He said that all payments awarded in the High Court would be paid to the Sinnott family. The State's solicitor had the same understanding as me of the Minister's statement because he wrote to the Sinnott's solicitors and said that the Minister intends to discharge the award of damages made by Mr. Justice Barr in his judgment in the High Court. It appears, however, that, for the Supreme Court hearing, counsel for the State has been briefed on the basis of not paying the £55,000 awarded to Mrs. Sinnott.
It is absolutely shameful and extraordinary. Will the Taoiseach explain the Government's position on this case?
The Taoiseach was away last week and may not be aware that the Minister for Education and Science effectively misled the House when he said: "This is a technical appeal ". The advice we have received, as outlined by Deputy Noonan, is that the case is being appealed in its entirety. Why is the Government taking this action? I suspect it is bowing to legal advice. Given the position the Taoiseach and the Government are in, have we learned nothing from previous legal pursuits on the basis of legal advice against the clear desire to give this family and the citizen concerned justice?
The Supreme Court appeal is due to commence on Tuesday next, 27 March. The Government believes that the court is the best and most appropriate forum for consideration and determination of the issues involved. A detailed discussion of the appeal and the merits of its grounds would not be appropriate, but I will attempt to set out the position.
The appeal focuses on the High Court's decision that a person is entitled as a constitutional right to be provided with free primary education for as long as he or she can benefit from it, even if that means primary education for life. As it stands, this appears to imply that any adult at any time must be given access to free primary education in a primary school setting. The appeal also seeks to clarify issues related to the separation of powers. The award of damages to a person in respect of a breach of a constitutional duty to another breaks new constitutional ground and the court is being invited to consider the nature and scope of this right. This is a new aspect and the purpose of the appeal is to consider its nature and scope for the future.
Notwithstanding the appeal, the Government has agreed to pay all damages awarded to Jamie Sinnott, which amount to £222,500, on anex gratia basis. It has also agreed to pay the £15,000 for past expenses incurred by Mrs. Sinnott in her son's education and all High and Supreme Court legal costs for both sides. The payment of these damages and costs is not affected by the appeal and a refund will not be sought in any circumstances.
Irrespective of the outcome of the appeal, the Government is committed to providing for the primary education of all children, especially those who are autistic, severely or profoundly handicapped or who have other special education needs. The Government is also committed to providing services, including developmental and training services, for all severely or profoundly handicapped adults in an adult appropriate context and setting. The Government intends to press forward with these initiatives until all children with special needs have access to high quality educational services comparable to best practice internationally.
These are the facts as I understand them. The point raised by Deputies Noonan and Quinn relates to the case made last week. In the matters advanced last week, the court was also asked for its views on the issue of the payment of £40,000 in damages to Mrs. Sinnott.
The sum is £55,000.
It is the balance of £55,000.
A sum of £15,000 has been paid.
As a sum of £15,000 has been paid, the balance is £40,000. This issue was linked to the case made regarding the breaking of new constitutional ground. The court has been invited to consider the nature and scope of the right involved. This aspect is before the court and I understand it was not covered in the other costs mentioned. The Government, in conjunction with its legal advisers, hopes to receive full clarification of this matter. However, the other damages of £222,500 and £15,000 for past expenses will be paid, although I accept that the figure of £40,000 appeared to be separated from that amount. The appeal relates to the reasons outlined regarding the nature and scope of the new constitutional ground, but all the High and Supreme Court legal costs for both sides will be met. I cannot give any more details. The other aspects will have to be advanced in the Supreme Court next Tuesday.
The House was informed previously that the full award would be paid.
I remind the Deputy that this is leaders' question time.
Apart from being more succinct, the Taoiseach has not advanced the matter any further than the Minister for Education and Science two weeks ago. Two issues still arise. First, the House was misled by the Minister for Education and Science when he said that all awards due to Jamie or Kathryn Sinnott would be paid. It now transpires that the Government is challenging £40,000 of the £55,000 award made to Mrs. Sinnott. Second, the Taoiseach justified the appeal to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Government wants to establish the constitutional obligation of the State regarding the ongoing education of special children into adulthood. Yet, he also said that it is a matter of Government policy to provide whatever education is necessary.
It is policy anyway.
If it is already a matter of policy—
—why is it necessary to go to the Supreme Court to establish the obligation?
They are two separate matters.
Deputy Noonan to continue without interruption.
The Government has taken on the obligation by making it a matter of policy. Why not drop the appeal now, pay the Sinnotts what they are due and make the general commitment to all special people in society that whatever level of education and training fits their needs will be maintained by the State into adulthood?
The commitment to education has been given. The Government is committed to providing a service, including development and training services, for all severely and profoundly handicapped adults in an appropriate context and setting. This has been the position since October 1998.
I understand the issue regarding the £40,000 award relates to the manner in which it is provided. The court is being asked to consider the nature and scope of the right set down. As I understand it, it is entirely open-ended and this is the aspect the court is being asked to consider. The sum of £40,000 is linked to that examination. It has been the Government's intention to find ways and means to pay these large costs, but this must be considered in the context of how the issue will be dealt with in the Supreme Court. The Government will continue to live up to its promises.
It is a damage limitation exercise.
Deputy Shatter, please allow Deputy Quinn to put a question to the Taoiseach.
Deputy Shatter, please, this is leaders' Question Time.
Last week, the Minister for Education and Science decided to take himself off to Malaysia for four or five days, leaving in charge of the Department—
I was in Malaysia for two days.
The Minister got a good colour in two days.
Last week the Minister responsible for the education system took himself off to Malaysia for a substantial number of days, leaving the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, who moonlights as a journalist at weekends, in charge of the Department.
A question, please, Deputy Quinn.
I am raising an issue which is as follows. What action, if any, will the Government take in this matter? Has the Government effectively abandoned any chance of finding a solution to the problem of the teachers' pay dispute or will it continue to allow young people to be used as a football between the Government, on the one hand, and teachers, on the other?
I remind Deputies that this matter is the subject of Private Members' Business tonight and tomorrow night. However, I will allow the question. I call Deputy Noonan.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the increasing danger of confrontation between leaving certificate students and their teachers and will he take that into account when considering the issue over the next ten days? If this aspect develops along the lines which is happening, the consequences will be dire.
While I understand the frustration of young people, it will not help students, parents or the dispute if students abandon their classes. This will not serve the students well, nor will it help to resolve the dispute.
They are being abandoned by the Government.
Allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption, please.
I will have to ask Deputy Shatter to leave the House if he continues to interrupt. This is leaders' Question Time. Deputies Noonan, Quinn and the Taoiseach are entitled to speak. I call the Taoiseach.
The Government will continue to do everything it can to resolve this dispute. I do not need to go over the entire history of it because I did so previously on many occasions both inside and outside the House. Since I last spoke on the issue on the Order of Business, the Government regrets that the Labour Court decision has been speedily turned down. Mr. Pomphrett, as facilitator, brokered the arrangement to go to the Labour Court and asked that the outcome be put to the membership at large which, unfortunately, has not been the case. Even though the ASTI membership did not sign up to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, the Government took the advice of the arbitrator when he asked that the PPF increases be paid in good faith. The Government agreed to pay the increases, even though it was not bound to do so, and I acknowledge the Labour Court looked upon this in a favourable light. It stated that the PPF increases, plus previous special awards, should be taken as payments on account, effectively saying the case put forward by the ASTI has been dealt with in that regard.
Last Tuesday morning, following careful examination of the Labour Court's report, the Government accepted that the teachers have a sustainable case. The Government understands the English language in relation to industrial relations terms. Following due process and through the various mechanisms, the Government accepts that teachers have a case for some financial rewards. The issue in this dispute is not money, it is that the entire public and private sector workforce has, under the terms of the PPF, agreed certain mechanisms. They did so during the latest negotiations on 4 December when all sides agreed on the issue. The Government cannot move away from that but it is anxious to resolve the outstanding issues for ASTI and others in relation to the benchmarking process. On 4 December it was agreed that the benchmarking process would pay arrears of anything conceded, which inevitably will be the case. The first substantial part will be paid from next December. If the Government can be more helpful in trying to explain, outline or analyse any of these issues, it will continue to do so.
I believe the ASTI leadership is aware of the position. It would like the Government to abandon the PPF but it will not do so. It would like us to abandon the benchmarking system.
(Dublin West): If they are entitled to the money, the Government should pay up and not go through this charade .
Deputy Higgins, please.
(Dublin West): Does the Taoiseach think teachers are striking for fun?
The Government will not follow these mechanisms. I know I am not allowed to answer Deputy Higgins on this matter, but the Deputy has got it wrong. The Government has paid up. ASTI members have received the same tax breaks as everyone else. Unfortunately, one group is out of line. If they come back into line, the matter can be resolved. The Government is anxious to assist in this matter because it does not want to affect the teachers in their everyday work or children in their preparation for State examinations. However, it cannot throw away the industrial relations mechanism, whether the conciliation and arbitration aspect, the Labour Court aspect, the Labour Relations Commission or the benchmarking aspect. Unfortunately, ASTI – I say this with no ranker – is asking the Government to ignore everything, which it cannot and will not do.
In light of what the Taoiseach has just said and having regard to the fairly substan tial citation of the contents and recommendations of the Labour Court, with which I agree, does he agree the public, teachers, parents and students have lost confidence in the ability of the Minister for Education and Science to resolve this dispute?
That is a personal observation.
That is a fact. Sadly, it is not a personal observation, it is a political observation. In light of what the Taoiseach has just said, will he now enter into direct discussions with members of the ASTI which do not hold the views he has attributed to them. They do not want the Government to abandon everything. They want a resolution to this matter and time is rapidly running out. An entire generation of students will have their educational careers blighted if action is not taken quickly and effectively. The only person who can do this is the Taoiseach. Will the Taoiseach intervene now?
The Minister for Education and Science is acting in this instance as per what we negotiated in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, as per what the conciliation arbitrator stated, as per what was laid out in the benchmarking report and was stated by the judicial member of that committee dealing with benchmarking, and as per the facilitator, the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court. Every one of them said the same thing and the Minister followed their recommendations. He has done no more and no less; he has correctly followed what was stated. If the teachers indicate they are prepared to listen to the recent recommendations of every part of the industrial relations machinery in this State, I will meet them in five minutes, but if they do not, I have nothing to discuss with them.
Is that an invitation?
Is the Taoiseach aware of the serious problems facing children with handicaps due to sit the leaving certificate or junior certificate—
Under Standing Order 31 that matter has been ruled out of order. I call Deputy McGahon.
Will the Taoiseach undertake to put in place a facilitator to help those young people sit the leaving certificate?
I have called Deputy McGahon.
This is a very important matter for those young people who have put up a great fight in life to get to this stage.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. I have called Deputy McGahon.
Is the Taoiseach aware of the extreme hardship experienced by people in the Border area, in the exclusion area of County Louth, and will he consider making compensation available them?
I call Deputy Gilmore who I hope has something appropriate to ask on the Order of Business.
I wish to raise an issue on which the Taoiseach appears to have no hesitation in intervening, the U2 concert in Slane. Why has the Minister for the Environment and Local Government not yet made the necessary regulations governing the licensing of outdoor events, which was contained in the Planning and Development Act enacted last summer? When will those regulations be made?
The regulations on the new licensing system are being drafted. They can be formally made only when resolutions approving them have been passed by the Dáil and Seanad. I understand the Minister will bring the regulations before the House this session.
Arising out of the policy enunciated by the Government on item 66 on the Order Paper, was the Government aware of Mary Robinson's intention to resign and the grounds for her resignation, namely, that when she criticised certain countries about human rights transgressions, she was punished by restrictions on her budget? Had the Government advance notice of her intention to resign and, if so, did it do anything about it?
That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.
A threat of war on the borders of the European Union arising from events in Macedonia – in which we have an interest, given that more than 100 Irish troops are stationed next door in Kosovo – was discussed at an important meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council yesterday in Brussels. A total of 17 Ministers and Ministers of State were abroad over the weekend. An Irish Minister was not present at that Foreign Affairs Council meeting. Is that a new policy?
That matter does not arise on the Order of Business. The Deputy is making a speech, has he a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
Was it not inappropriate that an Irish Minister did not bother to attend that meeting at which one of the most important issues arising in Europe was discussed?
The Deputy will have to find another way to raise that matter, as it is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
In light of the Tánaiste's remarks on Question Time that she is in favour of the continuation of the Howlin regime in terms of limits on spending during elections, will the Taoiseach's side of the coalition proceed-—
That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.
It is promised legislation.
The Deputy is making a speech, he did not mention legislation.
Is it the Taoiseach's intention to proceed with that section of the electoral Bill that provides for a substantial increase in spending—
It is not appropriate to ask about the details of a Bill when it is before the House. I call Deputy Naughten.
Will the Bill proceed? It is a simple matter for the Taoiseach to answer that question.
I am not asking the Minister for Slane, but the Taoiseach, if the Bill will proceed.
The Tánaiste is in favour of limits on spending having regard to a commitment she gave on Question Time. She is in favour of no change.
Deputy Rabbitte, I have called Deputy Naughten.
Will the Taoiseach ensure the prohibition of ticket touts Bill is taken in light of the fact that U2 tickets are retailing for £600?
This Bill is before a select committee. It is a matter for the committee as to when the Bill will be taken.
On a point of order, the Ceann Comhairle read out a statement over a week ago on the duties of chairmen of committees concerning legislation that has passed Second Stage in this House. The ticket touts Bill was vetoed going through Committee Stage by instructions from the Minister and by a vote of the Fianna Fáil members of that committee.
The Chair read out last week—
We are asking the Taoiseach—
Deputy, the Chair is speaking. The Chair pointed out last week that this is a matter for the committee.
It is two years since Second Stage of the Bill was passed. It has been blocked by the Government.
The Ceann Comhairle read out a statement over a year ago concerning the duties of chairmen of committees—
The Deputy should read the record.
Will the Taoiseach freeze the price of the tickets?
Has the Deputy got one?
As it is only two and a half months prior to the holding of a referendum on Nice and various other matters, is the publication of the White Paper any nearer completion, given that a White Paper was published six months prior to the Amsterdam Treaty? Will the Taoiseach agree that he misled the Dáil when he said most national parliaments had already voted on Nice, which is not the case?
The first part of the Deputy's question is in order, but the second part is not.
I understand the functions of the acquaculture licensing appeals board are to change in law. Is there a Bill, perhaps the acquaculture licensing appeal board Bill, to that effect, about which the House has not been informed? Given that the board is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, I believe such a change in its functions would be unconstitutional, if challenged.
The agricultural appeals office Bill was published on—
The word is "acquaculture". The two words have different meanings.
The Taoiseach is all at sea.
Perhaps the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources could inform the Taoiseach on the matter.
I cannot find a Bill with that title or anything near it.
On the matter of the White Paper, it has been cleared by Government and will be published shortly. I do not believe I misled the House on that matter.
I wish to raise two matters on the Order of Business that are in order. The first relates to promised legislation, a Bill to set out the rights of persons with a disability together with means of redress for those whose rights are denied, the disabilities Bill. My point relates to the point made by my colleague, Deputy Boylan, on the rights of children with disabilities who are due to sit examinations. Will the Taoiseach bring forward that legislation or part of it to ensure the point raised by Deputy Boylan is adhered to. Those young people have a right to sit their examinations, as set out in this legislation promised by the Government. I would like the Taoiseach to answer that question.
Already this Dáil, with the enactment of the Equal Status Bill, 2000, and other Bills in this area, has properly legislated to give rights. Work is in progress in the Department on the Disabilities Bill. The heads of the Bill are expected this summer and the Bill will be enacted this year.
It will be too late this summer for the kids.
Deputy, if you have a question appropriate to the Order of Business, I would ask you to state it. We must move on to other business.
Is the Taoiseach aware that there are 20 pieces of Government legislation with committees at present? Surely it is the business of the Government to see that legislation gets through those committees. What plans has the Taoiseach to ensure that these 20 Bills, on which nothing is being done, will be passed by the committees and ready for Report Stage?
That is a matter for the committees.
May I have an answer?
It is a busy Government.
It is the Government's legislation.
The legislative programme of the Government is extremely good and involves some 135 Bills. The Ministers, with the chairpersons of those committees, will endeavour to move along as quickly as possible the Bills currently before committees.
Has the Government plans within the framework of the PPF to bring forward legislation to provide for the establishment of a personal injuries compensation board and, if so, at what stage is this legislation?
That matter is currently before the Government and proposals will be announced in due course.
(Mayo): In the past 24 hours there has been yet another power collapse in California, the second such occurrence in the past weeks. With a similar crisis staring us in the face, can I ask the Taoiseach about two important pieces of legislation, the first of which is a short-term project, the Irish Energy Centre Bill? That Bill is on the list of Bills for this term, but eight weeks have passed and we still have not seen it. The second is the Electricity Bill, which is No. 101 on the list. It is a long-term project but should be dealt with in the short-term if we are serious about getting to grips with this crisis.
The Irish Energy Centre Bill to establish the Irish Energy Centre as an agency under the aegis of the Department is due this session. Hopefully the text of the Bill will be cleared before the end of next week. The Electricity Bill, to deal with the remaining regulatory and restructuring issues regarding the electricity industry, to convert ESB into a plc under the Companies Acts and to consolidate all the existing electricity legislation, is a large Bill. The heads are expected late this year but the Bill will not be ready until next year. I think there are 150 heads in that Bill.
(Dublin West): Almost every outlet of the news media is engaged in a disgusting vilification of secondary school teachers. When students come out on strike I hope they direct their anger at the Government rather than at their teachers. Will the Taoiseach expedite the Teaching Council Bill, which is supposed to enhance the position of participants in the education system, and bring it into being? It is reckless to ignore the damaging implications for education of an embittered teaching profession.
That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.
(Dublin West): What about my question about the Teaching Council Bill?
It is at Report Stage.
(Dublin West): Questions related to the setting of business is the House are covered by Standing Orders. On a point of order, my question relates to the arrangements for the taking of the business.
In the next few weeks.
How is Bille na Gaeilge getting on?
Not very well.
A long gestation.
When might we expect it to be published and when will it be before the House?
It is still at the same stage. The heads of the Bill are expected shortly and the Bill will be enacted later this year.
Since this is equality legislation, the Taoiseach gave a solemn undertaking that this Bill would be enacted during the lifetime of the Government. Is he now in a position to state that it will be law before this Government finishes?
When will we see the Waste Management Bill which is being fast-tracked by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government?
I want to ask about other legislation, which appears to have been announced outside the House and not in the House. Does the Taoiseach propose to introduce legislation providing for a referendum to create a disciplinary code and ethics committee for judges?
Yes. It will form part of the summer referenda.