Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 47, Carer's Leave Bill, 2000 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. a23, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill, 2001 – Financial Resolution, to be circulated on a Supplementary Order Paper and taken immediately following the announcement of matters under Standing Order 21 and the order shall resume thereafter; and No. 46, Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.; (2) Report and Final Stages of No. 47 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, 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 Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and (3) No. a23 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' Business shall be No. 112, motion re western regional development (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to?

We have been endeavouring on this side of the House to extract from this disputatious Government when it will bring forward the Report Stage amendments to the Children Bill which has been delayed for over a year in the House. The Taoiseach seems incapable of getting his Ministers to come to an agreement on these amendments. We are opposed to the Order of Business until such time as we receive a firm commitment from the Government as to when this outstanding matter will be resolved.

It is scheduled for Wednesday, 13 June.

Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to?

No, Sir.

Question put: "That the proposal for the late sitting be agreed to."

Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ardagh, Seán.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.

Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin. Tá–continued

Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.

Wallace, Dan.Walsh, Joe.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.


Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Bell, Michael.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Liam.Burke, Ulick.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.

The next proposal is that for dealing with No. 47, the Report and final Stages of the Carer's Leave Bill, 2000. Is that agreed? Agreed. The final proposal is that for dealing with No. a23 – Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill, 2001 – Financial Resolution, without debate. Is that agreed?

This is an indication of a very back to front priority on the part of the Government—

Does the Deputy oppose the proposal?

I am proposing that this is a sign of a failed strategy without an overall transport strategy behind it and that this country is in the teeth of a crisis on transport issues. This just shows that little priority is being given to it.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No.a23 without debate be agreed to” put and declared carried.

Yesterday, a European Commissioner, Mr. Bolkenstein, told the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin that all member states had now agreed to the upward harmonisation of energy taxes and that this would involve an increase of 12p per litre in the price of petrol. He said that all euro countries had agreed, with the exception of Spain, and that Ireland had agreed to the principle of upward harmonisation but had not agreed the level. Would the Taoiseach inform the House if this is correct and would he also comment on the implied threat which was put on the table by the Commissioner that, if this was not accomplished satisfactorily by agreement in Europe, certain provisions of the Nice Treaty would be used to ensure that there would be an increase of 12p per litre in the price of petrol in the immediate future?

In his reply, would the Taoiseach outline the Government's general attitude to the principle of carbon taxes and energy taxes, in the light of Ireland's failure to meet the progress that we are required to make towards the Kyoto commitments?

Taking the last question first, we are committed to the implementation of the Kyoto agreements and will continue to work towards those guidelines, as I have stated many times. In reply to Deputy Noonan, the issue of energy taxes has been on the table for several years. It has been discussed in various forms and is still before the ECOFIN Council, without any agreement on it. Ireland initially led the arguments against it, as did Spain. There has been some modification of the case being put more recently but there is still no agreement on the issue. The arrangements or plans have not been worked out. We have said that we are not against the overall principles, if we can work out a satisfactory arrangement. However, we are not now at that position and it is not correct to say that we are in the ‘yes' group on this issue at this stage. We will maintain our position until we get a satisfactory agreement at the ECOFIN Council.

Is it a fact that Ireland has agreed to the principle of upward convergence, that it only remains now to set the level and that, unlike Spain, Ireland is not opposing this but has agreed the principle and that the level could be set in the coming months?

It is not just a question of the level. At an ECOFIN meeting some time back, the Minister for Finance said Ireland would not block this if there was a satisfactory arrangement. Spain took a different view. Apart from the level, other aspects such as the scheme, its operation and structure would have to be agreed before we would be in favour of it. There has been some speculation that this issue will come up in the next few weeks but I believe it will be several months before the proposal comes back in any form.

The Taoiseach, as the Minister for Finance who brought in the tax amnesty legislation of 1993, which was a last and final opportunity for tax cheats to come on side, must be aware that the Revenue Commissioners are effectively subverting the provisions of that Act in relation to the beneficial owners of bogus non-resident accounts. What action does the Government propose to take with regard to this flagrant abuse of legislation passed in this House?

I put it to the Taoiseach in the strongest possible terms that Fine Gael is utterly opposed to anybody who availed of the amnesty taking advantage of the new arrangements in respect of the payment of DIRT. Does the Taoiseach agree with our view and will he take immediate steps to contact the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and to inform him that this House will not stand for that?

I agree with Deputy Noonan. The statement of practice is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners, who are charged, under tax law, with the assessment and collection of taxes imposed by the State. I understand the Revenue Commissioners took legal advice and are satisfied that the terms of the statement of practice, as they set out on 2 May, are in accordance with their care and management powers under their existing legislation. I agree that a number of issues which Deputies have raised should be clarified. I understand the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners is happy to clarify these matters and that he will appear before the Committee of Public Accounts shortly to deal with the Revenue operations generally. No doubt, the issues relating to the statement of practice will be raised in that context.

I should point out also that, in its recent report, the Committee of Public Accounts which includes members from all sides of the House, recognised the scale of the task which the Revenue Commissioners have to deal with in the assessment and collection of the underlying tax in a pragmatic and effective manner, while safeguarding the overall revenue of the State. The Minister for Finance informed the House last week that he understood from of the Revenue Commissioners that those who availed of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act, 1993, may also avail of the arrangements under the statement of practice, but it does not apply to cases already under inquiry by Revenue on 2 May or coming within the scope of the Ansbacher investigations, the Flood tribunal, or the Moriarty tribunal. Those who did not properly avail of the 1993 Act – Deputy Quinn's point – will pay higher amounts now if they come within the statement of practice. The 1993 Act, for which I was responsible, stated that someone could comply then but would have no other opportunity. I stand over the terms of an Act which I brought through the Houses.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that it is incumbent on his Government and his Attorney General to give a clear interpretation of the law on what constitutes, in effect, a second illegal tax amnesty, on foot of what was brought through this House as a full and final settlement of the issue of tax cheats? It is not adequate for him to rest on the legal advice given to, and interpreted by, the Revenue Commissioners about their care and management provisions. The Taoiseach and this Government have a responsibility to ensure that what is in effect an additional amnesty is not given to the tax cheats who availed of bogus non-resident accounts. It is incumbent on him to satisfy himself that the law is being implemented properly. Our view, as set out in the recent article in Magill magazine, is that it is not being implemented properly.

I do not want to get into a debate over the Revenue Commissioners' powers or lack of them. They have legal advice and are satisfied with the terms of practice. The Minister for Finance accepts this. It is not an amnesty if a person must pay 100% of taxes and penalties. Anyone looking at what the Revenue is attempting must take that into account. The Minister for Finance indicated to the House last week that he understood from the Commissioners that those who availed of the waivers in the 1993 Act may make arrangements under the statement of practice, but it does not apply to cases under inquiry by them, which may cover many cases.

That is rubbish.

If the Revenue Commissioners are rubbish, the Deputy can tell them so in the Committee of Public Accounts. It does not apply to those coming under inquiry by the Revenue Commissioners, the Ansbacher investigations, the Flood tribunal, or the Moriarty tribunal. Persons who did not properly avail of the 1993 Act will pay higher amounts if they come within the statement of practice. Other questions should be put to the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners when he comes before the Committee of Public Accounts.

Could I ask the Taoiseach—

That is the end of questions to the Taoiseach. That is out of order. The Deputy will finish with Leader's Questions. He cannot have another supplementary question.

I specifically asked the Taoiseach if he will ask the Attorney General for his opinion.

Yes, I will.

(Dublin West): The cat, which the Government hid at the bottom of the Nice bag, spectacularly jumped out last night as the EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, called for a Euro-tax and for the un-elected Commission to direct foreign policy.

That is not in order.

(Dublin West): That cat will be among the pigeons on 7 June. Struggling to be in order and to get a reply from the Taoiseach, the only legislation I can identify coming up, that might give us an opportunity to discuss the real Nice agenda, is the Euro Changeover Bill. Would the Taoiseach recommit that to committee—

The Deputy is out of date. That was 1998.

(Dublin West):—so that we can have a proper agenda and put before the people a discussion identifying the real agenda behind the Nice Treaty, which the Government is concealing.

That Bill will be before the House. I thank the Deputy for clarifying his position that he wants to get us out of Europe entirely and return to the bad old days.

When will the Olden report into the circumstances of the parole procedures in the Nancy Nolan murder case in County Galway be published?

That is not appropriate.

We were promised this report.

I ask the Deputy to put down a Parliamentary Question on the matter.

Some time ago the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children proposed an amendment to the Statute of Limitations Act, 1957, and the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act, 1991, to allow litigation against tobacco companies by those adversely affected. The Minister for Health and Children promised to review this. Is the review concluded and will there be an amendment to the Acts to allow that litigation, which enjoys support across the House, to take place?

The litigation area is with the Attorney General. The heads of the Public Health and Tobacco Bill are approved and the Bill is due this session.

(Mayo): A Government press release, 6 March 2001, stated that an independent regulator would be appointed for the natural gas sector and that the market would be liberalised this summer. Is it true that the Gas (Interim Regulation) Bill, to give effect to that and transfer the powers of the CER to the gas sector, will not be going ahead and so this will not happen before the summer?

The heads of the Bill were approved in early spring and the legislation is due this session. The Minister will inform the Deputy if there is any change to that.

The Taoiseach, like us all, rightly acknowledged the great role and dedication of many people in the foot and mouth disease crisis. Will he ensure that all the officers who performed that task in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, are paid their due remuneration, including overtime and other payments?

That is not appropriate.

It is a scandal.

Thousands of victims of abuse await the Government's legislation for a tribunal of compensation. Will the Taoiseach respond to the allegation that the Government is running down the clock over the Statute of Limitations? Victims have until 20 June to lodge civil cases if the Government legislation does not allow them to qualify. Will the Taoiseach bring forward the legislation immediately, so that people can see the colour of the Government's money?

The heads of the Bill dealing with institutions are cleared and the Bill is due this session.

The Government has difficulties getting the independents' agreement over the local government Bill. Is the compromise that Deputy Healy Rae can continue as a councillor until 2004?

That question is not in order.

When will the Government introduce it? When will we see the compromise? Does this not undermine confidence in the Minister for the Environment and Local Government that he cannot—

The Deputy is not in order. He must confine himself to when the Bill will be before the House.

It will come before the House.

When will it come before the House?

It will be next week.

On a point of order, it is not in order for the Taoiseach to address Members while sitting down.

That is not a point of order.

I was out of order in answering the Deputy.

Is the Taoiseach aware that his Ministers with responsibility for North-South bodies are not answerable to the Dáil? If legislation comes before the Dáil concerning these bodies, why is it that they are not answerable?

The Deputy's question is not in order.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach informed the House that the Government would enact the local government Bill in this session. The Labour Party seeks to assist the Government in passing this Bill by then, but as there are four sitting weeks left in this session, could he propose a timetable or schedule for taking the Bill's stages in this time?

I will ask the Minister to consult the Deputy. I thank him for his support because with that, we will definitely get it through in this session.

Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Government intends to publish a liquor licensing Bill in the context of today's reports that the Government will liberalise off-licensing and open up the licensing of public houses?

The Deputy should not ask about the contents of a Bill.

Sir, it is promised legislation. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it will be published?

The interim report of the Commission on Liquor Licensing has been considered by the Government and will be published in the next few days.

On the public health and tobacco Bill, will the Taoiseach clarify the situation in view of his answer to Deputy Howlin? The Bill is described as dealing with tobacco advertising and sponsorship. The issue is whether that includes the question of the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill. Is the Taoiseach saying that the public health and tobacco Bill will deal with the issue of statute of limitations?

What it will deal with is not an appropriate question on the Order of Business.

The difficulty is that everybody presumed there would be two Bills. We need clarity on whether there will be two Bills or whether the Minister for Health and Children will deal with these two issues under the public health and tobacco Bill, otherwise the information we are getting is inaccurate. Maybe the Taoiseach would take the opportunity to clarify the situation now.

The heads of the public health and tobacco Bill have been approved and will be circulated in this session. The issue raised by the Deputy is not included in the tobacco Bill.

It would appear now that there are two Bills. When will the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill come before the House?

I do not think there has been a promise of a Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill.

In view of the large number of Bills listed in the most recent Government legislative programme where the date suggested for the publication of heads is late and mid 2002, can we take it that all that legislation is effectively dropped from the Government programme? Would it not be better and more helpful if the Taoiseach announced that work is not proceeding on them? He has on occasion said that some of the legislation is not being proceeded with, such as the national historic properties Bill.

There is only a handful of legislation in that category which we might not reach in that period but, I hope we will get through most of it. Some of the Bills listed for the second half of 2002 can be brought forward. We see Bills which are not on the list at all being brought forward from time to time. This is an indication of an expected publication date. It is unlikely that every Bill will be brought forward because we would be breaking a world record.

In light of the Taoiseach's reported remarks in today's newspapers about density of housing in Dublin, does the Government plan to introduce legislation to reduce the proposed density of housing in the city?

The intention of the Government is a matter for a parliamentary question, unless it is clearly promised legislation.