Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 9 Oct 2003

Vol. 572 No. 2

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 5, Aer Lingus Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003 [Seanad] – Second Stage; and No. 6, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill 2003 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

There are no proposals to put to the House.

The Aer Lingus Bill 2003 contains proposals to privatise Aer Lingus. A precedent has already been set with the Eircom debacle which led to difficulties. Will the Minister for Defence confirm that a White Paper will be produced before Committee Stage of the Bill so that Members of the House will have an opportunity to discuss in detail the options, given that the slots at Heathrow Airport are of considerable importance to this country, and to understand what proposals the Government has to dispose of these in the event of Aer Lingus being privatised? I ask him to respond to that question first.

I support the proposal by the Fine Gael leader for the publication of a White Paper on this issue. It is clear the Bill deals with more than just providing for the implementation of the ESOP for the workforce at Aer Lingus. It is an irrevocable step towards the privatisation of the national airline, probably in a trade sale. Before the House is required to make a decision on this matter, the proposal from Deputy Kenny would enable everyone in the House to examine the business case being made for this drastic decision and why the Government feels it necessary to proceed with legislation which is far wider than its initial purpose.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to answer the question.

A Cheann Comhairle —

We will hear the Minister's reply. We could have a debate all day.

I only want to ask one question.

The points being raised are more appropriate to a Second Stage debate on the matter.

I will not make a Second Stage speech. I want to ask one question.

I will allow one question.

Will the Government make time available for a debate on a White Paper which would deal with the strategic importance of the proposals in the Bill? The Second Stage debate will only deal with the technicalities, not with the strategic importance of a national airline. The Government must come clean on whether it sees that as the future of Aer Lingus or whether a privatisation agenda is being pushed.

I join other colleagues in asking for Deputy Kenny's proposition to be accepted. The legislation before the House is enabling legislation to move towards privatisation of the national airline, to which I strongly object.

The Deputy will have the opportunity of mentioning this later.

There is an opportunity for Deputies to put forward their views on any aspect of this Bill on Second Stage.

What is the Government's view?

Nobody should rush to conclusions on privatisation. I will ask the Minister to communicate directly with the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Rabbitte about whether a White Paper is being proposed.

Will the Minister also communicate with the other parties—

Sorry, Deputy Ó Caoláin, Deputy Kenny is on his feet.

—in recognition of the democratic result of the last election?

He is the one coming up in the poll.

I am not afraid of a democratic decision.

I must put my question to the Minister for Defence because the Taoiseach is speaking on Lite FM at the moment when he could usefully be here to answer some important questions. When might we expect publication of the tribunal of inquiry (evidence) (amendment) Bill? Does the Government intend to make a statement in the House to reassure the public that there is no impediment to the continuation of the planning tribunal's vitally important work?

It is intended to introduce that legislation this session.

What about the second part of the question? Does the Government intend to make any statement in the House?

That does not arise on the Order of Business.


Will the planning tribunal be able to continue its important work?

The question was asked on the Order of Business.

I suppose the Taoiseach is on Lite FM at the moment.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform promised to publish amending legislation in the autumn to permit the question of costs to be considered by the Mahon tribunal. When will that legislation be published? Does the Government intend to make a statement on the developments referred to by Deputy Kenny?

The first part of the question is in order.

Why is the second part not in order?

If the Deputy has problems with the Chair I suggest that he come to my office, where I will be glad to—

I asked you a question. There is an age-old convention in this House that the party leaders are permitted—

There is an age-old convention in this House that Members obey the Chair and that decisions of the Chair are not debated on the floor of the House.

There is an age-old convention in this House that leaders of the Opposition parties are permitted to raise a simple, polite question with whoever is taking the Order of Business on the issue of the day. That is all I sought to do.

Hear, hear.

The Deputy has raised his question appropriate to the Order of Business and I ask the Minister to respond to it.

It does the House no service for the Chair to clamp down every morning on that kind of simple, straightforward question, which was permitted by your predecessors.

The Deputy should not go too far in casting aspersions on the Chair.

The tribunal of inquiry (evidence) (amendment) Bill will deal with matters arising from the resignation of Mr. Justice Flood and other cost-related matters. The information I have at the moment is that it is intended to introduce the Bill this session.

It would be helpful for me to make a brief statement on the other matter, with the Ceann Comhairle's permission. His Honour, Judge Alan Mahon, chairman of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, made clear in a public statement last night that prior to his appointment as a judge he had disclosed in his written application to the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board the fact that he had concluded a tax settlement with the Revenue Commissioners in 1992. As the House will be aware, the board was established for the purpose of identifying persons and informing the Government of the suitability of those persons for appointment to judicial office. The proceedings of the board are confidential. That board recommended Judge Mahon as being suitable for appointment to the Bench. The Government accepts unequivocally the suitability and integrity of Judge Alan Mahon, both as a judge and as chairman of the tribunal.

I thank the Minister for Defence for the statement issued on behalf of the Government. However, it leaves one question unanswered. Yesterday, in the context of constitutional matters, the Taoiseach's proposals for judicial accountability were mentioned. As one who sat around the Cabinet table, I know the procedure for obtaining Cabinet approval of names for appointment to the Judiciary. Perhaps it would be appropriate for the Government to clarify the information that is available to it when it approves appointments based on recommendations from the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.

I thank the Minister for his statement. The Labour Party is in agreement with the position of the Government as he has expressed it.

I appreciate the Minister's statement, but he should also provide for a statement from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who was involved in the vetting procedure. It is important to explain why we are only now hearing of this matter. I ask that the Minister come into the House and make a statement explaining why, knowing about this matter, he did not inform the Government. This matter needs to be clarified before we can go further. It should not affect the work of the tribunal, which needs to proceed as quickly as possible with its job.

The work of the tribunal should proceed without interruption. It is imperative that the work already in train should continue and we hope Judge Mahon and his team will expedite the process.

In view of the fact that the Minister made a statement, the leaders of the four Opposition parties were allowed make a statement in reply. Nobody else is entitled to participate on that issue at this stage.

Will the Government make time available to discuss the consequences of the WTO conference in Cancún? The 2002 report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development was published recently. No time has been allocated in plenary session for discussion of a number of important UN reports, including reports on population and development. We had statements before the meeting in Cancún, at which the Government successfully maintained its three different positions. We now need to debate the consequences. I would like an indication from the Government that it will make time available for this, ideally by way of a motion, so that we may have an opportunity of expressing our views and discussing these matters.

The Deputy has made his point.

There are no facilities in the committees or sub-committees for the discussion of any of these reports, some of which are up to five years old. This is quite scandalous.

There is clearly some opportunity of dealing with these matters in the agriculture and foreign affairs committees.

Deputy Higgins's point is valid in that the House should have the opportunity of debating issues such as these. There is a contribution to be made by all of us towards making this happen and some of the time we spend here could be better used in debating other matters. If we spent less time on some of the ridiculous things—

If the Taoiseach was here more often.

The Minister is making a good case for having the Taoiseach here on Thursday mornings.

It seems to be the intention of the Government to send troops to Liberia. This must first be approved by the Dáil. When can we expect to see this matter before the House?

Very soon, although we do not have a precise date. The reconnaissance group is on its way. It will make specific recommendations about risk assessment and other requirements. As soon as I hear from the reconnaissance group as to the exact nature of what is involved, I will inform the House immediately.

There is a proposal on embryo research before the Council of Ministers which has profound constitutional, legal, moral, administrative and ethical implications and on which the Sub-Committee on EU Legislation has reported to the House. The sub-committee has asked that this decision on embryo research should not be made and that the Government should oppose it until such time as it has been properly vetted by the Oireachtas. Will the Minister confirm that the request of the sub-committee will be addressed by the Government?

The Deputy should submit a written question on the issue to the appropriate Minister.

If necessary, the report should be debated on the floor of the House before any decision is made at the Council of Ministers, unless the appropriate Oireachtas committee has had an opportunity to assess this important matter.

I call Deputy Brian O'Shea.

One moment, a Cheann Comhairle.

I am sorry, but this matter is not appropriate for the Order of Business.

It is in order. There is a report before the House and I am asking the Minister to allow a debate on it.

That is a matter for the Whips.

No, Sir. I am entitled to raise this matter concerning legislation that has not yet come before the House. There will be a Minister in the Council agreeing to research on embryos, which raises important constitutional, legal and moral issues – life and death issues. I want to know if the report will be properly vetted and debated on the floor of the House. I am entitled to ask that question.

In the first instance, I will bring the Deputy's views to the attention of the Minister concerned. I will also have discussions with the Whips with a view to ensuring that this matter can be debated in the House, if at all possible. Obviously, this is a serious matter but it is important to bear in mind that we do not control what happens throughout the European Union in these matters.

The views of this House should be taken into account.

Will Government time be made available to discuss the important health report published this morning, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland? I am sure the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, will support my request.

That is a matter for the Whips. We cannot allow a situation whereby every Deputy can get up—

On a point of order, there is no such thing as a matter for the Whips – it is a matter for the House. The Whips might recommend something to the House but it is not a matter for them as they do not have a decision making power. They can only make recommendations to the House, so it is a matter for the House. You keep saying that it is a matter for the Whips, to kick matters to touch but that is not in order. You are out of order in saying that.

The Chair has ruled on the matter. As Deputy Stagg knows, because he has raised the same point on many occasions—

You are wrong and I am right.

—the Chair has ruled that it is not appropriate that Members of this House can ask for any matter to be debated.

Keeping the Executive accountable is our job, so it is appropriate.

If that was the situation—

You stopped the situation.

—every morning, every Deputy on both sides of the House would raise issues they were concerned about.

Would that not be a good thing?

If you think it would be a good thing, you know the answer – change the Standing Orders. The Chair will be absolutely delighted to implement the new Standing Orders to that effect, if that is what people want.

We do not need to change them. It is your interpretation that is wrong.

It is a matter for the Whips to decide if time can be made available.

On a point of order, the last time Standing Orders were changed the Taoiseach vanished from the House. I would be very worried about what might happen if the Government benches change them again.

I wish to raise two items of promised legislation. First, a consultative process is currently under way concerning the Adoption Information (Post-Adoption Contact and Associated Issues) Bill. Will the Minister indicate when it is expected that that consultation process will conclude, and when the publication of the Bill is anticipated? Second, a year ago the legislative programme showed that the Pharmacy Bill would be published this year. As we are now being told it will be published in 2004, when does the Minister expect it will finally be published?

I am not yet in a position to indicate that to the Deputy.

Does either of these matters appear in the Minister's briefing notes?

It is in the Liberia file.

What is the answer to Deputy O'Shea's question? An hour long press conference is being given on this report at the moment but what is the answer for the House? Will the Minister allow Government time to debate this report?

As I pointed out to Deputy Stagg, the issue does not arise at this stage.

But as Deputy Stagg told you, Sir, we do not accept that.

If the Deputy does not accept it, I suggest he should go to the Committee on Dáil Reform and have the Standing Order changed.

We are entitled to ask about the scheduling of Business.


If the snivelling, ineffectual Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment would stay out of this I could put my point quickly.

Standing Order 26 is quite specific on what is allowed and what is not.

The Cancún victory has gone to his head.

He had a considerable victory at Cancún, his biggest achievement so far. This is an important report on the organisation of cancer services.

I accept that it is an important report, Deputy, but—

My colleague, Deputy O'Shea, simply asked if the Government would allow time in the House to debate the report. That is the only question to which we are trying to obtain an answer. May I ask the Minister for Defence what is the answer?

That can be discussed by the Whips.

We are very anxious to facilitate debate in the House on all serious matters. This is an important report which was only published this morning. There will be an opportunity in the House to discuss when arrangements can be put in place to have a formal debate on it. The Government has absolutely no objection to that and will try to facilitate it. It is important to take into account, however, that as the report has just been published, it is not possible to say when such a debate will be held but we are anxious for it to happen.

On a point of order, may we take it that there is now a precedent in the House arising from two issues? The first occurred yesterday morning on the smoking issue when an Opposition Deputy sought Government time for a debate, which was allowed. This morning, a question was raised on the health issue, which was answered by the Government. Can we now take it that there is a precedent to ask for Government time to debate important issues?

Within reason.

Absolutely. We are always reasonable.

The Chair is in the position—

Let us not hear any more that you cannot do that because it is a matter for the Whips.

The Chair is obliged to implement and enforce Standing Orders.

You have a new precedent now.

The Chair will continue to implement the Standing Orders and if Members are not satisfied with them they know what to do.

There is no point in telling us about Standing Orders, a Cheann Comhairle.

On a point of order, I asked about two important items of legislation – the Adoption Information (Post-Adoption Contact and Associated Issues) Bill and the Pharmacy Bill. Will you please note, a Cheann Comhairle, that I have received no response to either question?

The Chair has no control over answers given.

There has been no response to either question. What influence can the Chair exert on the Minister who is representing the Government this morning to give the information I have requested?

The Chair has no control over Ministers' replies and never has had.

But the Minister wants to answer.

I told the Deputy that it was not possible to indicate the publication date of the first Bill he mentioned, and the Pharmacy Bill will be published in 2004.

In recent days, a number of members of CORI and of different religious orders, have indicated a willingness to publish accounts and information about their assets. It is very difficult to do that in the absence of any charities legislation. Given the importance of the redress issue, will the Government allow time to have the issue of accounting by religious orders debated in the House in the context of the charities legislation? The legislation has been promised by the Government for almost seven years, yet it remains unseen.

We cannot discuss the contents of legislation at this stage.

The heads of the Bill are expected to be published this year.

A strange thing happened as I drove home last night: on the motorway I spied a tall truck, which was about 30 feet high. For some reason, I immediately thought of the Minister for Transport and the question arose as to how that truck will fit into the Dublin Port tunnel. I am sure it is not the only such truck in the country but if it has to queue for as long as other traffic in the city does at present, there will be a serious problem. The tunnel will have to be raised or the truck lowered.

We need retractable trucks.

Perhaps the Minister might elucidate on the road traffic (amendment) Bill for the benefit of the House and he might tell us how he intends to resolve that problem along—

The Deputy has made his point.

—with the rails on stilts out at the Red Cow.

Are we sure the Minister was not on stilts?

I was tempted as I heard the Deputy asking on his way home last night what the time was, because sometimes heights can look a bit higher than they actually are.

Could we have a second opinion?

It will be next year.

Ireland is playing Australia on 1 November in Melbourne in the rugby world cup. The face value of the most expensive ticket is $140 Australian. The only tickets on offer here are the equivalent of $510 Australian. Is there is any legislation that might help people who have an interest in rugby and in travelling to Australia? Incidentally, I have no plans to travel to Australia.

I suggest you submit a question to the appropriate Minister.

Is there is any legislation to take account of such a rip off mark up?

It is called the market.

Last night I happened to see the news and the Minister for Defence was nearly coming out through the television set, telling us he was going to go to the "nth degree" to provide resources for our soldiers in the Irish Army. Yet there are cutbacks. I ask him to comment on the newspaper reports this morning on the State paying €16 million to lease a helicopter over three years.

It does not arise on the Order of Business.

The Minister could actually have bought three medium helicopters for that amount.

It does not arise on the Order of Business.

Of course it does. The Minister wants to answer.

I am not allowing the Minister to answer because he would be totally out of order.

In the spirit of generosity he displayed this morning I thought the Minister might like to respond to that.

Is it the intention of the Government to bring legislation before the House in relation to one off rural housing? There is much confusion among the general public, particularly young people. Recently the Taoiseach expressed sentiments with which I would agree. It is one of the biggest issues facing us. Many people are expecting legislation to be brought before the House. Is it coming and when can we expect it?

That is called an election campaign.

The answer is "No".

In the context of forthcoming secondary legislation, which is promised, to implement the smoking ban, has the Government given careful thought to the definition of a workplace? In that context there are 120,000 carers working 24 hours a day in their homes. Will careful consideration be given to that? Where people are not allowed to smoke and have no respite, will they be compelled to leave the home, or will the people they care for – possibly 200,000 people – have to leave, to enable them to enjoy a cigarette? I support the implementation of the ban, but this is an example of the type of nuance that is important.

You will have to submit a question to the appropriate Minister on that matter.

The Minister wants to answer.

It is extremely important.

I appreciate that, but unfortunately the Order of Business is not Question Time.

I ask that careful consideration be given to that because it will be an anomaly.

The cost of keeping someone in prison at the present time is exorbitant. In one centre it is over €200,000 per annum at least and the yearly average is well in excess of that. The Law Reform Commission has made proposals in relation to replacing imprisonment for non-payment of fines by alternatives. When is it intended to bring forward the enforcement of fines legislation?

It is not possible to indicate at this stage.

When will see the bus deregulation legislation and the legislation for the break up of the CIE companies and the abolition of the holding company? Will we see either or both of these Bills prior to the introduction of competition within the Dublin bus market?

It is intended to have that legislation next year.

Is it the intention to bring in the family law Bill? In view of the fact that I have raised the matter of the ground rents Bill, has the Government abdicated its responsibility, in favour of the wealthy ground landlords? Is it intended to bring in the ground rents Bill or not?

On the family law Bill draft heads are in preparation and the aim is to circulate these at some stage this year. On the second matter, it is not possible to indicate the position at this stage.

Like Lord Lucan.

Given that the Minister for Defence has come back from the PDFORRA conference and will be aware of the current frustration and anger within the forces, I wish to ask about two pieces of legislation, the Curragh of Kildare Bill and the heads of the Bill for hearing loss compensation within the Defence Forces. When is that latter Bill coming forward and have the heads been agreed? Will it deal with the harassment and bullying that has taken place by senior officers in the Defence Forces against ordinary serving soldiers?

We expect the publish the heads of the Curragh of Kildare Bill later this year. The Deputy will be glad to know that the Government has been extremely successful—

Not glad at the harassment and bullying taking place.

—in dealing with the hearing claims, so it will not be necessary to bring forward that legislation at all. We have an expert group under the leadership of Dr. Eileen Doyle dealing with harassment and bullying. We have been asked by other organisations in the State about the methods we are using because they are the most progressive in the country.

The Minister is acknowledging—

What is the Government's timeframe for a motion it brought forward yesterday on approving the ratification of the international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, given that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, has stated he is opposed to GMOs? I share that viewpoint and wonder what the Government position is if this motion is coming forward. Is it to be taken in the near future?

I do not have the specific information here, but I will make contact with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and communicate directly with the Deputy.

In view of the widespread opposition of public transport workers to the proposal to base Dublin's public transport system on the costly and discredited so-called London model, does the Government remain committed to publishing legislation without any real consultation with workers?

Has the Deputy a particular Bill in mind?

I have in mind legislation on transport that the Minister talks about introducing at some stage.

The transport reform Bill was raised yesterday by Deputy Timmins.

I am assured by the Minister that the consultation process is an ongoing matter.