Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 21, motion re referral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil of the Terms of the International Coffee Agreement, 2001; No. 49, statements on cancer research; No. 50, Sustainable Energy Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Report and Final Stages; No. 51, Public Health (Tobacco) Bill, 2001 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 9.30 p.m. No. 21 shall be decided without debate. The proceedings on No. 49 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening statement of a Minister or Minister of State and the contributions of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 15 minutes with the contributions of all other Deputies not to exceed ten minutes. Members may share time. The speech of a Minister or Minister of State called upon to reply shall not exceed ten minutes. The Report and Final Stages of No. 50 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes or by 8 p.m., whichever is the earlier, by one question put from the Chair which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Public Enterprise. Private Members' business shall be No. 122, motion re traffic and transport, which shall take place at 8.30 p.m. and adjourn at 9.30 p.m.

There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal to sit late agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21 without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 49 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 50 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

At long last the Government has decided to have a judicial inquiry to examine the allegations made about the behaviour of certain gardaí in County Donegal. The bulk of the evidence which would have led to a judicial inquiry was available to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform three years ago. It was certainly all available to him when he voted down a motion in the House in November and inveigled the two Independent Deputies from Donegal to vote with him. A senior counsel, Mr. Shane Murphy, reviewed all the documents available to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Was it that the Minister was incompetent or did Mr. Murphy discover some new information which was not available to the Minister? I put it to the Taoiseach that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been grossly negligent and incompetent, that he has allowed allegations made about gardaí to stand without proper investigation and that public confidence in the Garda has been reduced somewhat because of the Minister's failure to deal with these allegations as he now purports to deal with them.

This House has debated this matter before and the Taoiseach will be aware of the widespread concern in my party about this very disturbing set of events which took place in Donegal. I ask the Taoiseach in his reply to give a clear commitment to publish forthwith the report of Mr. Shane Murphy SC and, as has been the practice in the past, to also give an undertaking that this House and the leaders of the various parties in it will be consulted with regard to the terms of reference of any motion to establish a tribunal since it will be established by this House and not by the Government.

First, I can confirm to the House that today the Government gave approval in principle to the setting up of a tribunal of inquiry into allegations of misconduct on the part of certain members of the Garda Síochána in Donegal. A public statement was issued a short time ago by the Minister. The Deputies may not have had an opportunity of seeing that statement. For the record, apart from announcing the decision in principle to set up the tribunal, it stated that the Government's agreement was obtained to have amending legislation drafted as a matter of priority so as to enable the tribunal to conduct its inquiry without prejudicing various civil and criminal proceedings which have already been instituted in relation to alleged misconduct. The heads of the Bill, on which the amending legislation will be based, were approved by the Government today also.

I reject, of course, what Deputy Noonan said about the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue. Consistently when dealing with this matter, with parliamentary questions and motions regarding the alleged misconduct by gardaí in Donegal, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform make it clear that he was not opposed to the holding of a public inquiry. The record of the House clearly confirms this.

He did everything in his power to make sure it would not happen.

The Attorney General, on the basis of the information then available, advised that the holding of such an inquiry at that time would prejudice civil and criminal proceedings which had been instituted as a result of the alleged misconduct. Of course a Minister could not ignore that clear advice at that time but he did go ahead with a range of other investigations and co-operated with the Garda over a period.

The former President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Frederick Morris, has agreed to chair the tribunal. A motion will be brought before the House immediately following enactment of legislation for the holding of a public inquiry taking account, amongst other things, of the terms of the legislation and the debate in the House in the course of the passage of the legislation.

In reply to Deputy Quinn's two specific questions as regards the publication of the Murphy report, I am advised that, having regard to the content of the report which goes into some considerable detail, parties to proceedings already in being would be able to make the case that publication was prejudicial to those proceedings. It would be contradictory, having introduced legislation for the precise purpose of ensuring that the tribunal does not prejudice civil and criminal proceedings, to proceed at the same time with the publication of a report which would carry exactly the same risks. The report will, accordingly, be made available in the first instance to the tribunal chairman who will be in a position to determine what and when material should be put into the public domain in relation to the matters under inquiry.

The answer to his second question, regarding co-operation and consultation with the Opposition, is "Yes".

I put it to the Taoiseach that the only documents available to Mr. Shane Murphy SC were the files in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform about this matter and the files in the possession of the Garda Síochána. Therefore everything Mr. Shane Murphy examined had been available to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, yet on the presentation made by the Minister the Attorney General said it was inappropriate to have a judicial inquiry and on the basis of the same information presented by Mr. Shane Murphy the Attorney General said it was appropriate to have a judicial inquiry. Does this not suggest incompetence on the part of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and that he operated in a rather slip-shod manner? Will the Taoiseach give a commitment in the House that, whatever the terms of reference when they are promulgated, one term of reference will be to examine the Minister's conduct in this affair?

On the Minister's conduct in this affair, no doubt it will show that he acted absolutely correctly throughout. That is my belief and I said this from day one when we started. Mr. Justice Frederick Morris and everybody else in the tribunal will be able to examine that in due course and the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is very happy that that will be the case.

Will all Department files be made available to the inquiry?

Deputy Shatter, you are not the leader of your party.

I want to emphasise that the record of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform throughout this shows that he never ruled out a public inquiry. He went on the advice and he spoke to me many times about it.

He voted it down.

Deputy Howlin, allow the Taoiseach to speak.

The Deputy never wants to hear it.

The Attorney General—

I remind Ministers and Deputies that the Taoiseach, Deputy Noonan and Deputy Quinn are the only Deputies entitled to participate on leaders' questions.

It has taken three years. A few weeks ago he was voting down a motion in this House.

Deputy Shatter, please allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

The Deputy is shooting the messenger.

Minister, I ask you to desist from interrupting.

Every constituent of mine got a letter from the Minister.

Please, Deputy. The Taoiseach to continue.

The advice the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, received all along on the basis of the information then available was that the holding of an inquiry at that time would prejudice civil and criminal proceedings which had been instituted as a result of the alleged misconduct. No Minister, especially not the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was going to ignore that advice, not that any Minister or party could either. The position is now different because we have the Murphy report.

What is the difference between the information—

The Taoiseach without interruption. Deputy Shatter, this is leaders' questions, not aspiring leaders' questions.

The Taoiseach is being deliberately obtuse.

Unfortunately we will have to wait for a tribunal to see what the Murphy report states. We will see what will happen and then we will see that the Minister acted absolutely correctly.

I call Deputy Quinn on another matter.

Ten years ago today the Taoiseach and some of his colleagues beside him were celebrating their re-appointment to the Cabinet under the then Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds. On the same day on whichThe Irish Times front page carried the composition of office holders in the new Cabinet there was a story at the bottom of the page which stated that the State was attempting to stop a girl's abortion. That was the first time, ten years ago today, that a baffled and horrified nation was made aware that the State was attempting to stop a young girl, who had become pregnant as a result of rape by a person known to her – she was 14 at the time – from having an abortion. Ten years on, why is the Taoiseach persisting in his efforts to remove the legal protection which the Supreme Court gave to young women such as the girl in the X case in this forthcoming referendum?

I was surprised at the Taoiseach's comments over the past few days, which are alarmist and scaremongering. He said that if the referendum was not passed, the floodgates to abortion on demand would open. I put it to the Taoiseach that the real position is that if the referendum is rejected, thestatus quo will prevail. If the Taoiseach checks the record he will find that since the X case first came to public attention ten years ago, there has been no other case of a pregnancy being terminated in Ireland on the grounds that a woman was suicidal. I would like the Taoiseach to confirm that. The only similar case was the C case where a young girl in the care of the State was allowed travel to the UK and have her expenses paid by the appropriate health board. The Minister for Health and Children, in a piece of outstanding hypocrisy, has already confirmed that the State will continue to pay for the travel and other expenses of underage girls in the care of the State who may become pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

How will the floodgates open if the referendum is rejected when there is no evidence of much happening in this jurisdiction as a consequence of the X case?

I do not think I am on the public record about what I said ten years ago but I am certainly on it for what I said six or seven years ago. I promised that Fianna Fáil in Government would hold a referendum on the question of abortion. I had come to that conclusion in the wake of the Supreme Court judgment and the views expressed by its members about what the Legislature should do. When in opposition, I co-operated fully with the then Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, when he established a constitutional review group which outlined its views on this matter very clearly.

In the wake of the Supreme Court judgment, I concluded that there was unfinished business, a view shared by Mr. Whitaker and many others. I was fully aware that it would be a difficult and complex issue but I set about dealing with it. We did not rush to put the issue to the people but gave ample time for debate and undertook the widest level of consultation ever undertaken before framing the legislation. We formulated our proposals in the genuine belief that the vast majority of people in the country do not want to see abortion legalised here. We knew that people wanted to protect the life of the unborn but equally, we knew that people wanted to ensure that women had their right to life protected.

We proposed, for the first ever time, to give statutory protection to the lives of pregnant women. It is the first time in 150 years that we have had such legislation in this jurisdiction—

They have constitutional protection.

—under either British or Irish law. We proposed giving—

The Taoiseach does not know what he is talking about.

As I understand Standing Orders, only Deputies Quinn and Noonan can make contributions during leaders' questions.

The Taoiseach has to give an answer first.

We proposed giving statutory protection to current medical practice in this area. We wanted to create circumstances where no woman need fear developing a life-threatening condition while pregnant in which a doctor would not save her life.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): They did not have to fear that.

We wanted to create circumstances where no doctor need ever again fear that he or she would not have the full protection of the law in doing so. Prior to the formulation of these proposals, these statutory protections did not exist.

I never mentioned floodgates. I am not responsible for what someone else might say when I make a detailed comment on a matter. We did not rule out suicide as a reason to legislate for abortion because we are insensitive to women or as some people, including Deputy Quinn, have suggested, we did not trust them. We did so because the evidence provided to the all-party committee and made available during the preparation of the Green Paper showed that where termination is allowed on the basis of psychiatric considerations, the numbers seeking abortion rise rapidly.

As in Northern Ireland?

I quoted those statistics which were provided by eminent people.

It has been the law for ten years.

There has not been a case here for ten years.

Although I understand that some people do not like it, it is clear that the view that the situation will not change is based on a very thin consensus in the medical profession. Last year, we saw where that can lead.

We have heard the same nonsense since 1983.

Does the Taoiseach consider suicide as a threat to life to women? Does he recognise the sad fact that women have committed suicide in Ireland in the past? I am not talking about psychiatric illness, rather the threat to life of women who are suicidal. Why is he persisting in bringing this abortion referendum to the people in a manner that would remove the right conferred upon Irish women by the Supreme Court?

I could give a long or short answer to that but I choose to give a short one. We listened to leading psychiatrists who told committees of this House that pregnancy, in itself, does not cause suicidal tendencies and in the extremely rare cases where those tendencies might exist, abortion is not an appropriate treatment.

That concludes leaders' questions.

On 6 December last the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs informed the House that child benefit increases would be introduced in April 2002. Given the recent comments of the Minister, who now wants to hand out money like confetti in May, will the Taoiseach tell us when we are likely to see the Social Welfare Bill? Is it in order that announcements of this nature are made outside the House as against the normal practice which holds that they should be made inside it?

The Bill will come before the House shortly.

Does the Taoiseach support the latest frolic by "K-Club Charlie" to disadvantage amateur sports people throughout the country, especially tens of thousands in the GAA and other sports? Does this measure have the support of the Government?

The Finance Bill will be before the House shortly.

It is government for the elite by the elite.

Before Christmas the Tánaiste told the House that the control of road openings Bill would be published before the election. Does the Taoiseach accept that this city is in total chaos because of road openings? Will the Government do its best to publish this before the election?

The heads of the Bill were approved late last year and the Bill is ready for drafting. I cannot give a date for its publication. Its purpose is to strengthen the power of local authorities in relation to road openings. I do not think it will be before the House before Easter. We may take it after Easter.

During leaders' questions the Taoiseach indicated that the Government today approved an amendment to the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts. When will that amending legislation be brought to the House? Is it intended to have it enacted in this session?

When does the Taoiseach intend to furnish Opposition parties with the draft terms of reference to enable legislation to be passed to establish a tribunal of inquiry as referred to by him earlier today? Will the Taoiseach tell the House whether a meeting has been held between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Deputies Gildea and Blaney to explain why—

Deputy Shatter must resume his seat.

It is the Minister's intention to have that Bill passed in this session.

When will the resolution be brought before the House?

What is delaying the Ombudsman for Children Bill? It is more than five years since it was initiated in the Department of Health and Children. It is now 12 February and it was continually promised it would be debated before the end of last year. Will it be worthwhile having it when it arrives?

If it is not yet published, it is due to be published any day. It was cleared by Cabinet last week.

It was supposed to have been published before the end of last year.

When will the Electoral (Amendment) Bill be published?

In July.

In the third week in May.

It must be dealt with before June.

The Minister for Health and Children set up a review committee under the pharmaceutical legislation to examine the pharmaceutical business. It met three times, received 70 submissions and the Minister has taken a unilateral decision without having the report of that review group. Is it proposed to abolish that group?

There is no legislation proposed in this area.

The group did not report to the Minister and he—

This issue is more appropriate to a parliamentary question, not to the Order of Business.

When will Nos. 26 to 29, inclusive, 31, 33, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44 and 46 to 48, inclusive, on the Order Paper be taken? These are all reports of the Committee of Public Accounts, some of which date back to the examination of the accounts of vocational education committees in 1994, appropriation accounts for 1995 and other accounts for subsequent years for various other purposes. Does the Taoiseach agree it is meaningless for us to insist on such bodies preparing these accounts and to commission reports from committees such as the Committee of Public Accounts if there is not some approach taken in the House for either debating or disposing of them? Leaving them on the Order Paper when some of them date back to 1994 makes the House look ridiculous.

Deputy Bruton has a point when he says that, if they are cleared, they should be debated. The Whips would have to make time to debate them. The difficulty is that there is a long list of applications for debates other than normal legislative business. If the Whips or the Committee of Public Accounts could agree a priority process, we could debate them because there is no point in leaving them on the Order Paper.

Does the Taoiseach agree that consideration of reports of the Committee of Public Accounts, which are reports on whether the will of the House has been fulfilled or otherwise—

We cannot have a debate on the issue.

This matter is not one that can be referred to the Whips as if the House has no responsibility in the matter.

We cannot have a debate. I call Deputy O'Sullivan.

This is a responsibility of the House and not three or four individuals called whips. The Taoiseach should answer the question.

The Deputy is being disorderly.

May I ask a question on this issue?

No, I have called Deputy O'Sullivan. I will call the Deputy in turn.

Given that the Disability Bill was not debated last week and has not been listed for discussion this week, has the Taoiseach decided to withdraw it in response to a wide variety of disability organisations that have requested that it be withdrawn?

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Minister is prepared to table amendments—

That issue does not arise. Deputy O'Sullivan's question is in order.

The Bill will be before the House next week.

When does the Taoiseach intend to introduce the Fifth Additional Protocol to the Constitution of the Universal Postal Union given that the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, intends to close 1,000 sub-post offices in the next few weeks?

The question is in order but the Deputy cannot make a speech on it.

I do not believe any Bill is before the House in this regard and the discussions agreed last week with the unions are continuing.

The Minister intends to close 1,000 sub-post offices.

Tá suim agam sa transmission planning Bill which is described as providing for accelerated roll-out of ESB. Will the Taoiseach accelerate the Bill or does acceleration mean cables will be placed underground, which would prevent the type of protests we have witnessed throughout the country?

The Bill is due this year. It is to provide for the accelerated roll-out of ESB, not roll under.

I have asked the Taoiseach about a matter of some urgency, namely, the criminal law (insanity) Bill, the lack of which has been severely criticised by the High Court. Will the Bill be published in the current session and is it a priority before the natural end of the Dáil?

There are 15 heads in the Bill which are being worked on at present. That is not too many, and I hope it will be ready.

I remind the Taoiseach that No. 23—

The Deputy should ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

Why did the Taoiseach not answer the question I asked relating to No. 23 which has been on the Order Paper since 1994? When will we debate something which was in the Taoiseach's Department in the previous Administration and which the Taoiseach kicked to touch because we set out a plan to save the sub-post offices? He has forgotten about it.

The Deputy should ask a question appropriate to the Order of Business.

It is appropriate. It refers to No. 23 on the Order Paper.

The Taoiseach to reply to No. 23 on the Order Paper.

I do not believe there is anything coming forward in this regard. It does not affect the issue raised by the Deputy. What does is the forum report on An Post which is being proceeded with. What he has heard in this regard and which is causing him concern is untrue.

On the alleged lack of time to debate reports, is it correct that the Government proposes the House should sit for only seven days during March? If so, does the Taoiseach accept that his excuse of inadequate time for debate is lame? Is the proposal to sit for only seven days in March because he does not want the House sitting before an election?

The normal arrangements apply. The House has been sitting longer and later in the past year.

Seven days in March.

The normal arrangements for the holding of the referendum and for St. Patrick's Day apply in March.

In approximately three weeks' time, there is a threat of closure of many post-primary schools.

Does the Deputy have a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

I do, and it is appropriate to many thousands of students as well. Does the Taoiseach plan any initiative between now and that date to try to close the gap between the teachers' unions and the Department to avoid closure of schools?

That does not arise on the Order of Business. The Deputy will have to find another way to raise the issue.