The Order of Business today shall be No. 15, statements on European Council, Brussels, and No. 1, Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad] – Second Stage. 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 10 p.m. The proceedings on No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and shall be confined to the Taoiseach, the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; and immediately following the statements, the Minister for Foreign Affairs shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 8, National Transport Authority Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 26 March 2003.
Order of Business.
There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?
I wish to comment on No. 1. May I do that now, a Cheann Comhairle?
We are discussing the late sitting.
I was going to lodge my objection to the Order of Business in respect of No. 1 because the all-party committee which sat to discuss this matter recommended that further time be provided for reflection and consideration of this legislation and that substantial amendments should be tabled to it. The Government did not put forward any amendments to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill in the Seanad—
We are discussing the late sitting and whether it is agreed to.
I object to the Order of Business in respect of No. 1 because the all-party committee chaired by a member of one of the Government parties recommended that substantial amendments be tabled to this Bill and that more time should be made available to consider it, yet here we are about to go straight into the Bill—
We are dealing with the proposal for the late sitting. There is no proposal relating to No. 1 before the House.
There is not.
—in that this Bill is being taken until 10 p.m. I am concerned about this because it should not be on the Order Paper in view of the fact that the all-party committee recommended that—
That is the Taoiseach's prerogative.
I understand that, but it is my prerogative to differ from the Taoiseach on this.
Not at this stage.
Is it not?
There will be an opportunity to do that during the debate.
So you wish me to sit down, a Cheann Comhairle.
If the Deputy does not have something appropriate to say on the question we are discussing, which is related to the late sitting, then yes I do.
I object to the late sitting in that this Bill is being taken up to the conclusion of the late sitting. The reasons I object are that the committee recommended that substantial amendments be made to the Bill and that more time should be provided to consider it.
There is not a proposal on No. 1 before the House.
I thank you for your advice, a Cheann Comhairle.
I object to the proposal that we sit late because it is purely a figleaf for the Government to give the impression that it is providing adequate time to deal with the undermining of the Freedom of Information Act. It is ramming through this legislation in the same fashion as it rail-roaded it through the Seanad in the absence of the relevant Ministers.
So much for the lapdogs.
It wants to shut out the media and limit the use of the Act. It wants closed Government and in all of this it did not even have the decency to consult the freedom of information commissioner about the proposals being considered. The Government wants to undermine, in so far as it relates to Government, the Freedom of Information Act.
I pointed out to Deputy Kenny that we are not discussing the freedom of information legislation.
I am discussing the late sitting, I do not know what you are discussing, a Cheann Comhairle. This is an inadequate amount of time for us to deal with the serious issues which have been given rise to by the filleting of the Freedom of Information Act. This Act has improved the character of governance and it has improved the quality of advice internally, as evidenced by the freedom of information commissioner when he appeared before the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service.
Before he resigned.
It is disgraceful that the Government would seek in a matter of hours to undermine the Freedom of Information Act and to consider, by causing the House to sit late tonight and tomorrow night, that is adequate time to deal with the serious issues involved.
What is the Government hiding?
As Deputy Kenny said, there are a number of serious amendments that were not even entertained in the Seanad and they are not likely to be entertained in this House. The high priestess of openness, transparency and accountability is happy to collude with Fianna Fáil in doing down and undermining the Freedom of Information Act that was introduced in 1997. For that reason, I oppose it.
The Green Party is opposed to the taking of the Order of Business. This is not only based on the late sitting proposal, the question with which we are dealing. If we were to regard this proposal – sitting until 10 p.m. to deal with the freedom of information legislation – as satisfactory, we would need an assurance that we would sit until 10 p.m. over the next six weeks to have sufficient time to deal with the serious issues that underpin the changes proposed in this legislation. This was put in place as minimal, limited freedom of information legislation, as the Fianna Fáil Party said at the time of its introduction. Therefore, it is bizarre that it is being redrawn and rowed back. I ask the Government to give an assurance that there will be many late sittings on this Bill if we are to have sufficient time to deal with the complexity and range of changes that will be implicit for society as a result of the rowing back of the legislation.
There is undoubtedly no small sense of irony that Second Stage of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill is before this House on the very day the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner tendered his decision to retire.
Mr. Kevin Murphy, who has given stoic service, has been treated objectionably—
We are discussing the late sitting.
—by Ministers, including the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform.
The Deputy will have to find another way to raise that matter.
I oppose the Order of Business on the basis of this legislation and the way the Government is handling it. I do so not only today, but in any way that it can be opposed. The Government will be objected to in its efforts to railroad through this objectionable legislation.
I wish to make two points. Two Members have made remarks about the Information Commissioner and the Ombudsman. They should read the statement he made today and the remarks the Minister—
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
—made about his contribution. It was also mentioned that when he came before the committee he made it quite clear that he had prepared a report to be examined and that process has been taking place at that stage, which is now some weeks ago, in the Department.
For a Second Stage debate, the time allocated is quite lengthy in that more than 11 hours are being allocated for the debate in the House this week.
I have said this many times, but I will say it again in reply to the Deputies, the FOI Act established new legal rights five years ago to enable each person to access information held by public offices. The Government extended such access by the establishment of an enormous amount of agencies over the past five years, with up to 370 agencies of State now covered in this regard. We have established the right of each person to have official personal information amended where it is incomplete, incorrect or misleading and to obtain reasons for decisions affecting him or her. None of those rights has been changed in the legislation. I can only conclude that those Members who have stood up in the House give the impression they have not bothered to look at the changes. I can come to no other conclusion.
The changes being introduced will only affect issues which are part of the collective Cabinet responsibility process.
Has the Taoiseach spoken to the One in Four group? The House is being misled.
This is Alice in Wonderland. Language means whatever the Taoiseach wants it to mean.
Deputies should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption. Deputy Rabbitte made his contribution without interruption.
Second, there are ongoing issues which are subject to a deliberative process and we must have certainty in this area. It is good for neither the Government nor the country to release information in the middle of a deliberative process on an issue under discussion.
Like the tribunals.
It is not why we have tribunals. Deputy Quinn should not talk nonsense.
It is not nonsense.
The deliberative process involves a debate which is going on—
What are the examples? The Taoiseach should give us examples.
Only one member of Deputy Bruton's party is entitled to speak when called by the Chair.
When the Taoiseach is giving information—
The Deputy is not entitled to speak.
When there is a debate going on in Government it would be entirely undesirable if documents relating to part of that debate were released into the public domain. There is no difficulty with this process at the end of the deliberative process. In most countries background briefing for parliamentary questions and other issues concerning Ministers' expenses and so on remain available under freedom of information legislation and I support that. The proposed changes are minimal and if people have strong views—
I am reluctant to intervene but we are discussing the late sitting, although I know the Taoiseach is responding to questions which were raised.
I accept that. Deputies Kenny, Rabbitte, Sargent and Ó Caoláin—
What does the Taoiseach mean, my rabbit?
—made speeches on this issue so I can also comment on it. It is quite clear that, with Members not wanting to study the freedom of information legislation or other Acts, they want an extended debate on this matter, but that is a waste of time.
On a procedural matter, arising from the Labour Party's decision to oppose and not co-operate with the Government programme to ram through the Bill, which is an undermining of the Freedom of Information Act, under Standing Order 69, I ask, as a teller, that the division be taken by other than electronic means.
As Deputy Stagg is a teller and has demanded a division, the division will take place through the lobby.
Question, "That the proposal for the late sitting be agreed to", again put.
Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Seamus.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Cassidy, Donie.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Fleming, Seán.Fox, Mildred.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Glennon, Jim.Grealish, Noel.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Hoctor, Máire.Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Kirk, Seamus.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McDowell, Michael.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Nolan, M. J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Peter.Ryan, Eoin.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Walsh, Joe.Wilkinson, Ollie.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.
Boyle, Dan.Breen, Pat.Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burton, Joan.Connaughton, Paul.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Coveney, Simon.Cowley, Jerry.Crawford, Seymour.Crowe, Seán.Cuffe, Ciarán.Deasy, John.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Enright, Olwyn.Ferris, Martin.Gregory, Tony.Harkin, Marian.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.Lynch, Kathleen.McCormack, Padraic.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Finian.McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Morgan, Arthur.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Murphy, Gerard.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Twomey, Liam.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, statements on the European Council, agreed to?
It is not agreed, Sir, because I want to draw the attention of the House to the statement by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service which states: "In the light of the hearings held by the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service to date on the report of the high level group to the Government on the Freedom of Information Act and related matters—
Deputy, the question relates entirely to statements on the European Council in Brussels. The issue of the Freedom of Information Act was discussed on the last proposal.
I am a bit like Senator Terry Leyden. If you do not get splashed with red paint the first time, you come back again and again if needs be.
This House is different. You will have to find another way of coming back in.
Deputy Rabbitte removed the red paint years ago.
Deputy Rabbitte, if you are opposing this item I would prefer if you would oppose it on the basis of the item before the House, which is statements on the European Council.
The point I want to make, if Deputy Lenihan does not double up laughing at his own joke, is that the committee strongly recommends, as a matter of urgency, that time be allowed for further limited hearings.
Deputy Rabbitte, you are out of order. You are abusing the Standing Orders of the House.
Sir, a committee of the House has—
An all-party committee.
Sorry, Deputy, that issue has been disposed of.
On a procedural matter, arising from the Labour Party's decision to oppose and not co-operate with the Government programme to ram through the Bill, which is an undermining of the Freedom of Information Act, and as a teller in the last vote, I am seeking a vote by means other than electronic vote under Standing Order 69.
As Deputy Stagg, who is demanding the division, is a teller, the vote will proceed in accordance with Standing Order 69.
Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 15 be agreed to", again put.
Ahern, Bertie.Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Seamus.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Cassidy, Donie.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.
Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Fleming, Seán.Fox, Mildred.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Glennon, Jim.Grealish, Noel.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Hoctor, Máire.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Kirk, Seamus.Kitt, Tom.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McDowell, Michael.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moloney, John. Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Malley, Fiona.
O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Peter.Ryan, Eoin.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Walsh, Joe.Wilkinson, Ollie.Woods, Michael.Wright, G. V.
Boyle, Dan.Breen, Pat.Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, John.Bruton, Richard.Burton, Joan.Connaughton, Paul.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Crowe, Seán.Deasy, John.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Enright, Olwyn.Ferris, Martin.Harkin, Marian.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.Lynch, Kathleen.McCormack, Padraic.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Finian.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Gay.Morgan, Arthur.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Murphy, Gerard.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Twomey, Liam.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8 agreed? Agreed.
Given that the Government published a list of 39 Bills, what is the projected number which the House will get through in this session?
I have not got a precise figure, but it is usually about 12 Bills per session. That is the normal throughput.
That is slow progress.
Does the Taoiseach intend to reinstate the whistleblowers Bill?
That Private Members' Bill is still in committee. As I understand it, the Minister of State had undertaken some work on it and I am not sure of the current state of progress. However, I will inform the Deputy of the position.
Is it being extended?
It requires massive amendment, by all accounts.
When does the Taoiseach expect to be in a position to introduce legislation to improve statutory redundancy terms? What form will that legislation take?
The legislation is being drafted. It is a priority Bill. It is to update the legislation following the work of the redundancy review group. The heads of the Bill have been approved and it went for priority drafting about a month ago.
Will it be ready before Easter?
I am not sure of a date, but it will be as soon as possible because there has been agreement to clear it as quickly as possible.
Due to present circumstances, when will the legislation on the International Criminal Court be circulated?
That Bill is to give effect in domestic law of the Rome statute. The heads of the Bill were approved late last year. The fourth draft is being examined in the Department at present and it is still hoped to have the legislation by the summer.
In light of the commitment given by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, to those such as the aged whose driving licences may have lapsed, when will the driving test agency Bill come before the House so we can at least discuss the issue?
There are 40 sections in this legislation. The heads of the Bill are being drafted at present. It is hoped that the legislation will be published in the autumn session.
When will the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill be published? Given the obvious attraction to gambling of some Ministers, will there be legislation amending the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1986 or new legislation to facilitate casinos in the State?
The Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill is due this session.
Is the Deputy thinking of starting a new business – a new lucrative area for protection?
Again the Deputy is focusing on the wrong side of the House. He is used to that.
It is not possible to indicate at this stage when legislation amending the Gaming and Lotteries Act will be brought forward.
Yet another major Dublin hospital is making cutbacks in services. St. Vincent's Hospital is joining Beaumont Hospital and the other hospitals.
Does the Deputy have a question on legislation?
In recognition of the fact that there is now a crisis in the Dublin hospitals—
To what legislation does the question refer?
—will we get a commitment from the Taoiseach that there will be a Supplementary Estimate to deal with this crisis?
There is no Supplementary Estimate envisaged.
Will the Taoiseach indicate the progress on the Health and Social Care Professionals Regulatory Bill, the Gas Regulation Bill, which should generate some heat on that side of the House, and the Health (Complaints) Bill?
The Health and Social Care Professionals Regulatory Bill, which is to provide statutory registration of health and social care professionals for the purpose of ensuring a quality service for the public, is expected in mid-2003. The heads of the Bill have already been approved. The heads of the Health (Complaints) Bill, to provide a statutory framework for the handling of complaints within the health system, are expected in the middle of 2003. The Gas Regulation Bill, which contains 60 heads, is to give effect to restructuring of the national gas industry. The heads of the Bill are expected in mid to late 2003. The legislation will be published next year.
Has any time been found for the Oireachtas (appointment of inspectors to assist committees) Bill and is this being given any sense of urgency by the Government?
A draft general scheme was forwarded by the Attorney General's office for consideration and the response is being awaited. I do not have a date for the legislation yet. The legislation is to enable inspectors to be appointed from time to time to ascertain facts relevant to the inquiry of Oireachtas committees.
I am not sure if the Taoiseach received an invitation to a candlelit vigil on Saturday attended by a couple of thousand people.
It does not arise under promised legislation.
It does arise. There are 40 or 50 Bills in the justice area. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform walks out of this House smiling and yet the streets of the northside are grossly unsafe.
Does the Deputy have a question appropriate to the Order of Business?
This vigil was held—
To what legislation is the Deputy referring?
—for a young man who was murdered on the streets of the city before Christmas.
The Deputy is out of order. Does he have a question on legislation?
A number of young people were attacked at the same spot only a few days later. I want to ask the Taoiseach what he proposes to do about it.
The Deputy is being totally disorderly and I ask him to resume his seat.
In light of the fact that victims of abuse in certain residential institutions not listed in the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 are being asked to provide evidence of their attendance at these institutions, does the Government intend to provide legislation to list these further institutions?
I do not think legislation is listed but I will check the position for the Deputy.
I am concerned that the Water Services Bill will have more to do with privatisation than conservation of resources. When will we have a chance to discuss it in the House, in solidarity with the people of Basra who are beleaguered without water?
It will be the middle of this year.
Apropos the point raised by Deputy Broughan, what is the present progress of the Crimes Bill and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill?
The Crimes Bill is to provide for substantive criminal law to be codified into a single Crimes Act. There is an expert group advising on possible approaches to codification. It is expected that the group will report at the end of this year and then the proposals will be brought forward. Work is at a preliminary stage on the heads of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, to provide for miscellaneous criminal law reform matters. These heads are expected by mid-summer.