Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 27 Feb 2003

Vol. 562 No. 3

Order of Business.

The Order of Business today shall be No. 19a, motion re presentation and circulation of Revised Estimates 2003; No. 6, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 25, Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed); No. 20, motion re Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 [Seanad]; No. 26, Railway Safety Bill 2001 – Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders that: (1) No. 19a shall be decided without debate and any division demanded thereon, shall be taken forthwith; (2) the proceedings on No. 6 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1 p.m.; (3) the proceedings on No. 25 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after one hour; and No. 20 shall be taken immediately thereafter and shall be decided on without debate; the proceedings on No. 26 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m.

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 19a without debate, agreed to?

Has the committee to deal with this matter been set up yet? Will these Revised Estimates cater for shortfalls that are clearly obvious in a whole range of areas, including health and education in particular?

I suggest that this matter is so important it should be debated in this House. On radio this morning the Minister for Health and Children made a commitment that dialysis patients would not suffer as a result of cutbacks. Implicit in that is the issue of a Supplementary Estimate for the Department to protect patients whose lives are endangered because of Government policy in regard to cutting back on hospital services. This is a grave issue. Can we have debate on the issue and a guarantee that there will be a Supplementary Estimate to deal with the crisis in the major Dublin hospitals, including Beaumont, to ensure that the House can protect patients—

We cannot debate the contents of what might be in an Estimate.

I ask you, A Cheann Comhairle, to take into account, not just in regard to the difficulties in the health service but in regard to these Estimates, that many of us have some knowledge from our constituencies and elsewhere that cutbacks are indiscriminate and completely lack understanding of where the needs are greatest in society. It is important we voice that and that the debate takes place in the House where the maximum number of Deputies can inform the Government of ways the hurt can be lessened in the event that it embarks on such a draconian course of action.

The Minister for Finance's motion states that the Revised Estimates for the public services will be circulated to Members today, 27 February. I have not had sight of any documentation on this proposal, yet we are being asked to rubber stamp it. It is clear that it has serious ramifications in regard to a number of Department responsibilities. One of the key questions was alluded to by an earlier speaker. Is there a Revised Estimate included in this to make up for the inadequate provision for health care delivery? What is the position? Are we not entitled to the full details before we take a decision such as the one suggested.

In reply to Deputy Kenny, it is normal practice to allow the debate to continue in committee. Deputies know that every Member is entitled to attend committees and discuss matters.

We would not fit.

Deputy McManus knows, as well as I do, that a significant additional provision of over €29 million has been provided for cancer treatment.

Will there be a Supplementary Estimate?

She is also aware that her party was in government when the decision was taken—


—to introduce a law which required health boards and health agents to live within their financial means.

It was accompanied by £200 million.

The health Estimate has trebled since 1997. More than 20,000 additional staff have been provided.

Is the Minister saying that all is well?

There is no bottomless pit that will meet every need Deputies raise.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with No. 19a be agreed to.”

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Niall.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Browne, John.Callely, Ivor.Carty, John.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Glennon, Jim.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Hoctor, Máire.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.

Kelly, Peter.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Seamus.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Nolan, M. J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Peter.Power, Seán.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Woods, Michael.


Allen, Bernard.Boyle, Dan.Breen, Pat.Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, Richard.Burton, Joan.Connaughton, Paul.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Cowley, Jerry.Cuffe, Ciarán.Deasy, John.Durkan, Bernard J.English, Damien.Enright, Olwyn.Ferris, Martin.Gilmore, Eamon.Gogarty, Paul.Gregory, Tony.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Padraic.McGrath, Finian.

McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Murphy, Gerard.Neville, Dan.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Quinn, Ruairi.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 6 agreed?

This is, annually, a very important Bill, for reasons I do not need to explain. A number of speakers are offering on the Opposition benches and I am sure the same is true on the Government side. I ask the Minister for Defence to agree to an extension of time to allow people a reasonable opportunity to make a contribution on this Bill.

In the normal way the Government tries to accommodate Deputies as much as it can. However, this Bill was debated for the entire day yesterday and there is a time constraint on it. There is very little room to manoeuvre and I cannot agree to an extension.

That is entirely unreasonable.

Deputy, are you agreeing to the proposal.

A number of people would like to make brief interventions—

In that case I will put the question.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 6 be agreed to", put and declared carried.

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, it is outrageous for you to intervene when a point is being made to try to get agreement—

I suggest you read Standing Order 26. One speaker from each party may make a contribution. Your leader, Deputy Rabbitte, made his contribution, the Minister responded and the Chair, in accordance with long-standing precedent, put the question.

You quote tradition, Sir. There is a long tradition in this House of giving latitude in these matters. Your intervention was most unhelpful to the House.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 26 agreed? Agreed.

I wish to clarify the long-standing ruling on promised legislation on the Order of Business as I feel there is a need for clarification in view of the exchanges in the House recently, particularly on Thursday. Under Standing Order 26(3) a question may be asked at the discretion of the Chair in respect of "the taking of business which has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the Dáil". Under rulings of the Chair and practice, questions have been allowed asking when legislation is to be introduced or circulated, if such a date, previously given, can be brought forward or the state of preparation of the legislation in regard to drafting, for example, draft heads of the Bill. Other questions which stray outside this context are not in order. This means policy matters, such as what should be included in the content of a Bill, are not in order, nor is a statement, nor is a preamble to a question. Only a question, which I remind the House is to elicit information, is permitted and once that information is put on the record in a given week a repeat of an identical question the same week is repetition and in these circumstances may be disallowed.

I ask Members to co-operate with the Chair in operating this Standing Order. As I have stated on numerous occasions, if the Dáil sees fit to change the rules the Chair will be more than happy to faithfully implement any such change.

On a point of order, this process relating to the Order of Business on Thursday is totally unacceptable in a democratic parliament, although it is not through your fault, a Cheann Comhairle. I give notice of our intention to bring forward proposals to make Thursday and every day in the House meaningful as far as the public is concerned. This is not a junior school where we are to be corralled and curtailed to the extent that we have no effectiveness. It is essential for democracy that we are seen to operate fully, fairly and without hindrance on each day the Parliament sits.

I reject your ex cathedra direction to the Chamber.

It is not a direction. It is merely an interpretation of Standing Orders.

I do not accept your interpretation. It is counter to the practice of the House over a long period of time and is even counter to what you read out last week. Your attempt to sanitise the House on Thursday is not acceptable. That would be the effect of what you are saying.

Standing Orders are clear. Members may raise issues about legislation, whether promised inside or outside the House, and they may also raise issues regarding secondary legislation.

Deputy, I am referring specifically to legislation promised inside or outside the House.

May I please continue? Members are entitled to do so without interruption from the Chair and to have a short preamble to their questions. That is the normal practice in this House. You are not entitled, Sir, as soon as a Bill is mentioned to assume what the question will be and to interrupt the speaker, which is your practice and will soon be a precedent. I ask you to cease that and allow Standing Orders to operate properly.

A Cheann Comhairle, am I to understand from what you have just said that you are confining questions on promised legislation to the date, which we already have? This makes a question meaningless because we already know the answer to it. Is that the substance of what you have said and, if so, can you quickly facilitate a meeting of the Whips which would allow that to change? It must seem absolutely comical to people outside the House to be told that the only question we may ask is one to which we already know the answer. It would be comical if it were not so sad.

Valuable time is lost, perhaps every day, in what amounts to a sham fight. What is required is reform of the conduct of business in the House.

You have made the point on many occasions that if the Standing Order is changed you will faithfully implement it. I disagree with your interpretation. However, as the process of Dáil reform may take more time than Members would wish, I appeal to you in the interim, rather than perpetuate an unacceptable situation, to introduce a degree of latitude in line with the express views of Members and allow for a more substantive engagement on legislation with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister of the day. There is no other formula we can employ. I appeal to you to allow greater latitude and allow for a process of reform to take place where new Standing Orders would be introduced and the long-standing nonsense would be replaced by real and substantive engagement between the Opposition parties and the Government.

One would almost want to give an award to a Member who could ask a question on a weekly basis, within the confines of the regulation as laid down there. On any given day 60 or 70 motions under Standing Order 31 could be produced from the Opposition benches which would make a mockery of the time of the House and what we do here. There exists in the office of the Minister of State a body of information and reports on how we can sort this out. Writing in 1998 about the crime figures, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, said that political determination was the way forward – be radical or be redundant. We will facilitate the Government if the Minister of State brings in here a list of proposals for effective reform and effective working of this House. I do not want to be here on my feet, nor does Deputy Rabbitte or anybody else, with this nonsensical business whereby the Taoiseach has a plastic brief every morning containing a list of legislation which will not appear until 2004 or 2005. We would like to think we could adopt best practice from some other parliaments where Members and Opposition can raise issues of the day—

—without getting into this time wasting exercise and a charade that goes on here. If the Minister of State brings in a list of proposals, from the wealth of information she has already, we will facilitate her in every way to bring about a more effective working of the House.


Hear, hear.

I just want to make one net point. It may appear reasonable on the face of it for you to say you will operate the Standing Orders of the House and if the House wants to change them, of course, you will do that also. The House does not change the Standing Orders, a Cheann Comhairle, it only approves a recommendation from Government. If Government does not come forward with reasonable changes to Standing Orders and if you interpret them in the fashion you have just outlined, we would be better off at home e-mailing you and letting the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, when he comes back from shopping abroad for three jets, e-mail us back.

My ruling this morning takes into account the more recent practice, and goes beyond the one question allowed under a strict interpretation of the Standing Order, namely, when legislation will be introduced, and no more.

Maybe the Minister—

That is what the Standing Order states. Under my ruling, questions can be asked about bringing forward the legislation at a date earlier than given previously and the timing of the drafting stages – draft heads of a Bill. It is obvious from the debate here this morning that Members are not happy with the Standing Order and suggest that Standing Orders be amended to take account of Members' wishes.

Will the Chair tell the Government?

The sole function of the Chair in regard to Standing Orders is to implement them, not to change them.

The Government may well have sabotaged the voting system. It is changing the Freedom of Information Act and will not tell us anything. Maybe it does not want reform at all.

We are moving on to the next business.

A Cheann Comhairle, you made a statement that is factually incorrect. You said this is a recent development that Members might slightly elaborate when asking questions about promised legislation. I have been in this House for nearly six years and it is not a recent development.

Hear, hear.

In fact in the first five years the Ceann Comhairle, and the Leas-Ceann Comhairle who was yourself, allowed as a matter of practice a very short elaboration, which was entirely reasonable for a Deputy, in perhaps one sentence to say something about legislation.

Who changed that rule?

I ask the Deputy to appreciate that is not what has been happening here.

I take the point. It is a matter for Members to change the Standing Orders.

If the Chair would like to call me now on the Order of Business I will show how it could be done.

I call Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business.

I will ask the Minister two questions. In respect of the Local Government Bill there appears to be a revolt within the Fianna Fáil backbenches. Will the Bill be withdrawn to cater for the inclusion of amendments on specific mandatory guidelines for contact between Oireachtas members and members of county councils? In respect of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, section 17 of that Act requires that the name and address of off-licences be attached to all products sold. It is obvious that this section has not been implemented. Literally thousands of beer cans and bottles are picked up on streets and locations all over the country without the name of the off licence from which they were bought being contained thereon in accordance with the law. When is it proposed to introduce that secondary legislation to implement that section of the Act?

On that same legislation, the Local Government Bill, a report this morning suggests that Fianna Fáil backbenchers consider the legislation to be—

That has nothing to do with legislation.

—too skimpy. My mother used to say the same thing about the mini-skirt when it was brought in the 1960s.

A question on the legislation referred to by Deputy Kenny.

Is it the intention to dress up the Bill somewhat to make it more palatable and decent for the Fianna Fáil backbenchers?

It would be hard.

It is hoped to circulate the heads of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill before the end of 2003 and the heads of the Intoxicating Liquor (Admission in Licensed Premises) Bill are expected by Easter of this year. There is no indication on the regulations at this stage.

Section 17 of the 2000 Act.

The Local Government Bill is being debated in the Seanad. It is not being withdrawn and it is hoped to have it passed through the Houses before Easter. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has indicated very strongly the provisions which are being made in relation to contact between Oireachtas members and local authorities.

Will the Government publish the advice it received from the Attorney General on this matter?

Sorry, Deputy, that does not arise.

It does arise.

I call Deputy Rabbitte.

It is central to all the revolt over there. The backbenchers want to know if the Minister will publish the advice he received from the Attorney General.

He will when it goes to the High Court.

This is all right, some of the Minister's crowd will pay for that.

It was the Minister, Deputy Dempsey's Bill. Does he remember what happened to it?

When I raised certain matters yesterday morning about Beaumont Hospital the Taoiseach responded quite menacingly towards some public servants whom he accused of leaking the memorandum. Will the Minister say, in regard to the conclusion of the Second Stage of the Whistleblowers Bill on 15 June 1999 – a Bill which the Labour Party introduced at the time in my name – and in the context of several promises since by the Taoiseach that the Whistleblowers Bill would be brought forward, when the Bill will be introduced in the House in order to protect public spirited people who bring information to this House, and which the Taoiseach did not like and he threatened them?

I reject the implication that the Taoiseach addressed this question in the way Deputy Rabbitte has described.

Read the record.

It is on the record.

The only information I have is that it was published in 1999 and is awaiting Committee Stage.

There are a couple of matters with regard to promised legislation which relate to a matter of deep concern which arose in a report today about animals which originated in Ireland being found with brucellosis in Scotland and in England. There are a couple of matters of legislation which need to be addressed urgently in this regard as questions are being raised over the veracity of tests being done. One Bill is the veterinary medicine Bill and the other is the animal health Bill. The veterinary medicine Bill was promised in April 2001 and again in late 2001 and now in 2003. Can we believe it will be published in mid-2003?

The heads of the Bill were approved in July 2001. It is currently being drafted and it is expected to be published in the middle of this year.

Will the Minister offer to the House an explanation why the electronic voting system is not working? How could a virus be introduced if the system was secure.

Deputy Durkan wished to raise that question.

In view of the lack of security in a very enclosed system here, how can the Minister guarantee security of electronic voting at national level for the local and European elections? In view of the fact Zerflow has raised questions, can the system be trusted to deliver the correct results and can hackers tamper with the new system of electronic voting? These are major questions and I ask the Government to bring forward a fairly detailed assessment of the security of the system proposed to be used in the European Parliament and the local elections. I asked for it before but I got a report which was meaningless.

I strongly support my colleague, Deputy Allen. This is a much more serious matter than is appreciated. If a virus is able to bring the voting system in this House to a halt not only this week but in subsequent weeks, it is quite possible that the electronic voting system which is part of the electoral Acts and the brainchild of the former Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey—


—will be so flawed that it will be unreliable. The public will not trust any voting system introduced by the Minister and it will know more about it now after the number of visits he has made down the country in the past few days.

In the interests of the security of the voting system in this House and the privacy of the ballot box outside the House, the Ceann Comhairle should take into account the points raised by my colleague. I ask the Minister to do something about it as well.

We are as anxious as the Deputies to have the matter examined and we will report back to the House. In regard to the other matter on the voting, I recall a statement by the late Frank Cluskey that sometimes if one does not get enough votes, it is a bit of a problem.

In response to the Minister, that is what worries me about the electronic voting system outside the House as already pointed out by my colleague.

We cannot have a debate on the matter, Deputy Durkan.

I wonder why the Minister introduced it in the first place.

Two issues have been raised. The issue in regard to electoral law can be followed up in another way. In regard to the voting system in the House, it is a technical issue. In my previous incarnation, there were anti-flu injections for these types of things. The Chair will undertake to investigate the matter and report back to the House at the beginning of next week.

There are implications for security of voting in the European Parliament and local elections.

Sorry, that is not a matter for the Chair. The Deputy is talking about electoral law.

I wish to raise two matters both of which I think are in order. Yesterday, I asked when legislation would be introduced on foot of a European directive. I did not expect the Taoiseach to have the information directly to hand and he undertook to inform me but I have still not been informed. I know he has a very elaborate support system. The Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, might have the information today or perhaps he will indicate when I will be communicated with.

In regard to the redundancy payments (amendment) Bill, in light of the increasing number of redundancies, some of which it is feared are being brought forward in order to avoid the impact of this new legislation, does the Minister accept there is an urgent need to bring forward this Bill to increase redundancy payments? When will we see it?

I accept what Deputy Howlin said. It is important legislation and it is being dealt with as urgently as possible. The heads of the Bill were approved by the Government on 18 February and it is being drafted with all haste.

When will we see it?

I do not have a specific date but it will be within weeks.

In regard to the first issue raised by the Deputy, I do not have any additional information. I understand the Taoiseach indicated he would make direct contact with the Deputy and, as is practice in this House, that will happen.

I would like an explanation to be given to Members as to how a virus can get into a computer system which should be standalone—

The Chair has undertaken to report back to the House on that matter.

My limited knowledge of these things would suggest to me that this should not be possible.

We cannot have a debate on the matter now as it has been dealt with.

I am not debating the matter but it is imperative that we all get a full explanation of what has happened.

I reiterate my call for a special supplementary budget for health. In that context, what are the prospects of bringing forward the health and social care professionals regulatory Bill and the health (complaints) Bill, both of which are due for publication later this year and next year, which I hope will serve to introduce significant improvement?

In relation to the health (complaints) Bill, I received a call this morning from a man who is in great pain in Roscommon General Hospital and who has been waiting 11 days to get into the renal unit in Beaumont Hospital.

What is the Deputy's question?

I would like to contact this man and to be able to tell him that the Government is speeding up the health (complaints) Bill so that he has some means of expressing what has happened in his life and the reality of the situation for kidney patients who cannot access the services.

In regard to Deputy Ó Caoláin question's, the heads of the Bill are expected shortly but it is not expected that the Bill will be before the House until 2004. The heads of the health (complaints) Bill are expected in the middle of this year.

In the circularised advice of intended legislation for the next Dáil session, it states that the expected publication date of the health and social care professionals regulatory Bill is late 2003, yet the Minister has indicated 2004. May I have some clarification on this?

I said the heads of the Bill were expected this year. Obviously, work on drafting the Bill will follow. It may be published before the end of the year but it is not likely to be passed until 2004.

On a point of order, the Ceann Comhairle indicated that we cannot begin with a preamble. If I wish to talk about the Higher Education Authority Bill, is it correct that I cannot talk about the shambles in the Cork School of Music—

That is absolutely correct.

—and the fact it will cost €12 million?

The matter can be raised in another way.

Strictly speaking, I can only ask about Bills and when they will be introduced. I wish to ask about legislation while staying within Standing Orders. I wish to ask about the electricity Bill, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission Bill, the sea pollution (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2003, the industrial and provident societies (amendment) Bill, the safety, health and welfare at work Bill, the building control Bill, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands (powers and functions) Bill, the national monuments Bill, the water services Bill, the Central Bank and Financial Service Authority of Ireland (No. 2) Bill, the financial services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, the Ombudsman (amendment) Bill, the public service management (recruitment and appointments) Bill, the adoption information, post-adoption contact and associated issues Bill, the health and social care professionals regulatory Bill, the criminal justice (Garda powers) Bill—

I think the Deputy has made his point, a Cheann Comhairle.

—the criminal justice (protection of confidential information) Bill, the defamation Bill, the equal status (amendment) Bill, the International Criminal Court Bill, the property registration authority of Ireland Bill, the land Bill 2003, the Bord Gáis Éireann Bill, the broadcasting (major events television coverage) (amendment) Bill, the coastal zone management Bill, the fisheries harbour centres (amendment) Bill, the forestry (amendment) Bill, the gas regulation Bill, the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) Bill, the mercantile marine (amendment) Bill 2003, the minerals development Bill, the radio communications Bill, the sea fisheries (consolidation) Bill, the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and offshore fixed platforms Bill—

Bring in the coffee as well.

And the scones.

—the transmission planning Bill, the charities Bill, the Curragh of Kildare Bill, the defence forces hearing loss compensation Bill, Grangegorman development Bill; register of persons who are considered unsafe to work with children Bill; companies Bill; redundancy (amendment) Bill; comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty Bill; local government (rates) Bill; Civil Service regulation (amendment) (1956 Act), Bill; financial services (financial collateral arrangements) Bill; Oireachtas Bill; revenue Bill; Hague Convention on the protection of children in respect of inter-country adoption Bill; health (complaints) Bill; Irish Medicine Board (amendment) Bill; medical practitioners Bill; Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 and 1984, (regulations and orders), 2000; nurses Bill; pharmacy Bill; Voluntary Health Insurance Board (corporate status) Bill—

The Deputy should phone a friend.

The Minister does not have too many left.

It is amazing that nobody on the Fine Gael front bench is prepared to do anything, to help the Deputy.

—adoptive leave (amendment) Bill; amendment of the in camera rule in family law cases; civil evidence Bill; contractual obligations (applicable law) Bill; coroner's (amendment) Bill; courts (miscellaneous provisions) Bill; crimes Bill; criminal justice (international co-operation) Bill; criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill; disability Bill; dormant funds Bill; and so on. I will read out the rest next week.

They all come under section C. The heads have not been approved. Earlier, we were trying to find extra time for members of the Labour Party to speak on the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. They were quiet during that contribution.

Is there any word on the jacuzzi?

What about the bill?

The Deputy has been jetting around from party to party.

There are many bubbles all right.

Given the statement by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism yesterday regarding the national stadium and the problems that will create for the FAI in fulfilling its fixtures for the European Championships next year under the rules and guidelines laid down by UEFA, where stands the Abbotstown sports centre authority Bill?

It is still listed for this session.

Following the revelation on Tuesday that the State has a secret data retention regime, I questioned the Taoiseach and he gave me a wrong answer. When can we expect publication and debate on the proposed Bill in line with the EU directive which will mandate a three year retention of all telephone, mobile, Internet, fax and e-mail traffic information and will potentially result in the greatest mass deprivation of personal privacy ever proposed in the State? The Bill's title, for the benefit of the Minister, in case he cannot find it in the long list in front of him, is the telecommunications (retention of traffic data) Bill. Publication is expected this year but can that be brought forward so that we can debate the revelation that the former Minister for Public Enterprise, Senator O'Rourke, allowed the retention of data secretly for the past year?

The heads of the Bill are expected in the middle of this year.

At the end of last year, the Government sanctioned a significant increase in the television licence fee to €250 per year. A clear promise—

A question on legislation, Deputy.

That was my short preamble and I will now ask the question.

The Deputy is not supposed to do that.

A promise was made both inside and the outside the House, which means my question is in order, that a new broadcasting authority of Ireland would be set up as the sole regulator of private and public broadcasters. When will legislation be introduced to give effect to that promise? How long must we wait before it is implemented?

I do not have details on that and I will communicate with the Deputy directly.

I refer to the control of road works Bill that will strengthen the powers of local authorities to control telecommunications and other companies in regard to road openings. Will local authority staff supervise contracts when they are awarded?

Preliminary work on the Bill is under way and the heads are expected by the end of this year.

Will legislation have to be introduced to facilitate the apportionment of time and space between various Ministers in respect of three new jets?

Deputy McDowell will want everything.

The Deputy will have to find another way to raise that matter.

This is as good a way as any.

Will the Minister explain the reference to the prisons Bill? It is described on the list as "publication expected" but also as "it is not possible to state at this stage." I do not understand this use of language. No date is given for publication, yet publication is expected. It is important legislation and many international organisations have commented on the appalling conditions in our prisons and the antiquated procedures for investigation.

The Deputy cannot discuss the content of the legislation.

Yes, but to assist the Minister, usually when there is a delay such as this and there is a change in commitment in regard to publication, the reasons offered are that the Bill has an extraordinarily long number of sections or there are constitutional difficulties or whatever. What is the reason for the delay in publishing this basic rights legislation?

My information is that work is in progress.

What does that mean?

We do not have the heads of the Bill yet.

A raft of legislation is being drafted and going through the House. I do not have additional information and it will only be available when the heads have been approved.

Ireland is light enough in terms of the UN Convention on Human Rights to be in contempt—

Has the Deputy a specific question on the legislation?

It is because they are the weakest, most vulnerable and threatened people that they are last to be legislated for and it is a disgrace.

Strictly in accordance with Standing Orders it was my intention to ask the Minister whether he could bring forward the ground rents Bill. When will it be published, given the stated position of both Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats prior to the general election?

Heads of the Bill are expected this year but it is not possible to indicate any more than that at this stage.

I have been asking the Taoiseach questions for more than two years about the timing of the publication of the housing (private rented sector) Bill. A year ago I was told the heads had been approved and had been sent for drafting. Since then every time I have asked a question about it I have been told "It will be published this session" or "It will be published next session." It is manifestly clear that such replies to a question about the timing of legislation are misleading and unacceptable. It is not credible—

The Deputy should ask a question on legislation.

I refer to the timing of legislation. My question is in order. It is not credible that the Government does not know—

The Deputy is out of order.

On the timing of legislation. It is not credible at this stage that the Government does not have an approximate—

The Deputy is entitled to put a question on legislation.

I am putting a question.

No, the Deputy is making a statement.

I am putting a question about the timing of legislation.

That is not a question.

It is not credible that the Government at this stage does not know the approximate date on which this legislation will be published. I ask for a date for the publication of the legislation.

The heads of the Bill were approved in 2002. It is the Minister's firm intention to publish the Bill just before Easter.

Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach how he intended to respond to the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the non-statutory regulations relating to the intoxiliser in a situation where thousands of prosecutions are pending and the Garda Síochána has no direction as to whether or not it can use this equipment at present. He gave me a vague answer to the effect that he intended to introduce legislation in the summer. There are thousands of cases to be dealt with in the courts and there are no effective regulations. This means that drunk driving will go uncontested because gardaí have been given no direction in the matter.

We cannot discuss what the legislation might contain.

Does the Minister have any precise information about when legislation will be introduced to plug that loophole?

I understand the implications of this are being considered by the Minister at present.

I have tried a few times to obtain a straight answer to this question. Does the Government propose to redraw the electoral boundaries for the European elections, and what mechanism will be used to do that? Does the Minister intend to redraw the electoral boundaries for the local elections in June 2004 in the view of the census figures?

The Government does not redraw electoral boundaries. That is a matter for the Electoral Boundaries Commission. We will await the outcome of the census.

The census is published.