Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a proposal that section 17A of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 shall continue in force for the period ending on 8 March 2005; No. 1, Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage (Resumed); No. 5, Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 7 p.m.; No. 12 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of No. 1 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 p.m.

The Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m. and shall adjourn not later than 4.30 p.m., there shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Orders 26(2) and 26(3), the taking of any divisions shall be postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 9 March 2004 and, accordingly, the following business shall be transacted in the following order: No. 21, An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad] — Second Stage (Resumed); No. 5, Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003 — Second Stage (Resumed); No. 19, Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Bill 2003 — Second Stage (Resumed); and No. 22, International Development Association (Amendment) Bill 2003 — Second Stage (Resumed).

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12 without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1, the conclusion of Second Stage of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 agreed to?

As Members know, the Opposition parties have been opposed to guillotines. Is this a proposal to have a guillotine or is it because the Bill has to be introduced by a particular date? Given that some parties have expressed concerns about the Bill, can we have a guarantee that, on Committee Stage, there will be an opportunity to tease out the many amendments submitted by interested groups with large numbers involved in terms of pensions?

This Bill was initiated in the Seanad where it was debated for six and a half hours. Yesterday it was introduced in the Dáil and there were three and a quarter hours of debate. Today there will be approximately four and a half hours of debate. Discussion on the Bill will resume next Tuesday at 9.30 a.m. so that there will be adequate time to discuss the issues the Deputy has raised and to examine its detail comprehensively.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 1 be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for the business and sitting of the Dáil tomorrow agreed to?

I want to repeat the point we have made on several occasions about the manner of using Friday sittings. For example, last week the House rose on Thursday at 5 p.m. and there was no sitting on Friday. Without warning, there is to be a sitting this Friday during which there will be no divisions, no Order of Business and no Question Time. No response appears to be forthcoming from the Government to deal with this. It is not an acceptable way to proceed. The House adjourned last week at around 5 p.m., which is the normal time. It will sit tonight until 7 p.m. It is impossible to arrange one's diary to cope with the uncertainty of what might happen. The Friday sitting is not a real one. It is time we addressed this.

I have spoken about the use of the guillotine, the introduction of last-minute amendments and the irrelevance of Friday sittings, yet the practice continues. This is due to a lack of consultation. It seems now to be a common practice that we on this side of the House are not consulted. Our positive and constructive suggestions are ignored.

What has happened to the idea of Green Papers? The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has embarked on a new initiative on one-off housing. Many genuinely fear that this represents irresponsible and unsustainable long-term planning with real cost implications for transport, the environment and infrastructure, yet there has been no consultation. I would like to have seen a proper Green Paper and genuine consultation so that we could have avoided the mess on which the Minister is now embarking.

The Deputy should move down to the country.

He should go back to Donegal.

These are second homes.

Serious attempts at Dáil reform have been made over many years which is a good thing. Friday sittings were introduced only in recent years and I do not agree that tomorrow's meeting is useless. Some important measures will be discussed. I am pleased that my measure, the An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill, will be dealt with tomorrow. There have been three meetings of the Dáil reform committee in the past three weeks and I wish the committee well.

The Minister should send it a Christmas card.

It is important that we do our business in an efficient and expeditious manner. The Whips meet regularly and I assume that there is adequate consultation and diligent attendance at those meetings.

There is dictation.

There is no talk of Dáil reform.

There is only stonewalling and dictation at those meetings.

Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed. We now move on to the Order of Business.

We continue to receive large volumes of correspondence about the Government's proposal to introduce electronic voting. The Government is due to discuss the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill next Tuesday at its Cabinet meeting. Without any real consultation with the members of the Opposition parties, the Government appointed a panel that it says is independent but which does not include the Ombudsman who is a member of the Standards in Public Office Commission. Can the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who is standing in for the Taoiseach, say whether the independent panel must give approval to the process involved? If any member of the panel expresses serious concerns, will the Government defer the project until such time as an electoral commission, for which Deputy Allen has called, can be set up with the support and trust of all the parties?

I raised here on several occasions the issue of a debate in this House about a matter which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has raised, namely, that he has information that organised crime is funding a political party in the country.

These questions are not in order on the Order of Business. There are no Leaders' Questions today.

The Minister for Defence said two weeks ago that he had no objection to this and the Taoiseach said last week that it would not be out of order either. It was raised at the Whips meeting last night but the Minister of State was not in a position to give a guarantee on this. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform responded to a question from me on this matter and, in the course of his reply, he said that he stood by the comments he made and will continue to do so until it is clear that all paramilitary activity is ended. I do not support Sinn Féin but it is clear that some members of Sinn Féin have never been in the IRA and this matter should be dealt with in the House. Will the Government make time available to deal with these political matters which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has raised publicly and to which he gave a partial response yesterday?

There is an ongoing problem in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, whereby farmers in the community——

This matter is not in order on the Order of Business.

Will the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who is so pleased to be here, go to Ballinamore and sort out this problem? It runs counter to the programme for Government in which Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats said they would make all these facilities available and provide a first-class service to the farming community. This is not happening in County Leitrim where there is a stand-off. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, is a big man and should go down there and sort it out.

Is the Deputy's point anti-Friday sittings?

It is more decentralisation.

The Minister wants to reply to Deputy Kenny's points.

The Minister may reply if he so wishes but the Chair will not call on him to reply on this matter.

Why not?

He will not call him because the questions are not in accordance with Standing Orders.

If the Minister is anxious, why should he not reply?

If the Minister is anxious, I will give him the floor.

The questions on electronic voting are in order.

Surely the Minister has something to offer on that subject.

The Minister should stand up.

He should rise up.

A Deputy

He never shirks a challenge.

With the permission of the Chair, I will comment briefly out of courtesy to Deputy Kenny. The appropriate response regarding the commission on electronic voting is to await the report which is due shortly and to which the Government will give full and due consideration. It would be appropriate for the Whips to seek an opportunity to have a debate in the House on how the proceeds of crime might be used.

I am not aware of any legislation pending on the matter in Ballinamore. Teagasc has an annual budget in excess of €100 million to provide a research and advisory service to the agricultural industry. It must modernise that service regularly. Ballinamore is a field station of Teagasc employing approximately three or four people who look after 30 cows. That field station has not published a research paper for many years. It is being streamlined, but the good news for County Leitrim is that additional advisers are being appointed in Mohill, Manorhamilton and Carrick-on-Shannon to provide a top of the range service to the farming and agricultural community in County Leitrim.

Why are they not happy with that?

The Minister should go down and explain that to them.

The staff in the Ballinamore station are being offered appropriate and no less favourable employment. Yesterday there was a regular meeting of the Teagasc authority — it was not organised to discuss the Ballinamore matter. The authority, which is made up of members of the farming organisations, the IFA, ICMSA and Macra na Feirme, again reaffirmed the decision. It wants to streamline its service and do its best for the agricultural community generally.

I wish the Taoiseach was as forthcoming.

When will the orders be made for the local and European Parliament elections? Further to the arguments advanced by the Taoiseach for electronic voting, we now hear that the result of European Parliament elections cannot be declared until after 6 p.m. on Sunday. If that is true, it does not attach much urgency to the necessity for e-voting on Friday. Does the Minister for Agriculture and Food not accept that even if we were making a change to the manner in which we do business in this House, for example to change the roster for ministerial questions, the Government would do this after consultation with the Opposition and by a decision of the House?

However, the Government is prepared to change something as fundamental as the electoral system, and arbitrarily select and appoint members of a panel to invigilate it, none of whom profess to have any expertise in electronic voting, and two of whom are public servants of high reputation who are being used in a partisan adventure by the Government. What is the rush about all this if we cannot declare the result of the European Parliament elections until after polling booths have closed across Europe on Sunday? Why do we need electronic voting for this election? Can the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who is a sensible man, explain the urgency to the House?

We have made great progress on electronics and information technology generally. We are rolling out electronic systems across the board. Electronic voting is no different to many other electronic services.

It is different when we are electing a Government.

We need proof.

It is profoundly different.

It has been tried pretty well. It has been tested very well. It has been debated for at least five years.

Even the lotto is verifiable.

I support the strategy of introducing electronic voting in Ireland for the European Parliament and local elections. It will be another couple of weeks before the order is made. However, I will communicate in due time and in good time with the Deputy and the leader of the Opposition when the precise date of the order is known.

Many people have asked me why the Government is proceeding with television advertisements on electronic voting when it has not even been agreed in this House. Is this not a further affront to the way we conduct business in the House. It does not seem to matter what happens in the House — the Government will go ahead with it regardless, as one Government backbencher said on a recent programme. Why does the panel not contain people recommended by the Opposition? If the Government was to be truly consultative about this and wanted to get an objective a result, we could have recommended people with real expertise in this area.

As the Deputy is well aware, the contents of legislation are not open to discussion on the Order of Business.

I would like the Minister to respond as he has responded to the previous questions.

This legislation is a priority and will be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope the Deputy is not casting any aspersions on the composition of the panel.

Not at all.

They are eminent people and independent.

They do not have the expertise and it has not been agreed in this House.

I welcome the comments from the Minister for Agriculture and Food on Ballinamore, which have cleared up some of the issues. I ask him to clarify the misinformation the Taoiseach gave to the House yesterday, when he said that farmers' organisations supported the closure of the facility at Ballinamore, which is incorrect.

Has the Deputy a question on the Order of Business?

The Minister answered this question a few minutes ago and it is important that he rectify that answer.

We cannot have an ongoing discussion on the matter.

Ballinamore is only being closed because the Minister funding to Teagasc. Unlike all other budgets, the Teagasc budget has been cut in the past three years and it will offer fewer services to farmers across the country and not just in Leitrim.

The question in not in order on the Order of Business.

As this is an election year, given that we have no county registrar in County Clare, will the Fianna Fáil Party be able to get over its internal wrangling and allow the watchdog, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to appoint this man in County Clare.

It could be a woman.

The Deputy will have to raise this matter another way.

This position has been vacant for 12 months. Will the Taoiseach whip his party into line and get it to agree on a county registrar in County Clare? It is long overdue.

Come back James, all is forgiven.

He obviously cannot do it. I sat on the other side of the House yesterday and I can assure Members that those seats are considerably more comfortable.

We can take that either way.


As this is local election year, will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government be issuing directives to local authorities to implement the planning guidelines, which have already been leaked to RTE? Will there be adjustments to the national spatial strategy arising from the guidelines? Will local authorities now be asked to review their development plans in view of the new guidelines.

We cannot discuss the contents of the guidelines.

I want an assurance that this will not be treated in the same manner as the national spatial strategy, which remains on the shelf, and decentralisation, which is in chaos. Is this just another carrot for the electorate?

Given that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is making his statement outside the House, will time be provided to debate all the issues raised by Deputy Allen? In the context of Dáil reform can we have a commitment from the Government that Ministers will never again make statements about issues that should be firstly be raised on the floor of the House?

This is again a matter for the Whips, who are sensible people and should be able to agree on a time to debate this matter.

What is the view of the Government Whip?

Deputy James Breen said the seats on the other side of the House were more comfortable. The view is also better from over there.

The Deputy looks very well.

The Government has embarked on a very risky plan for decentralisation. Health services are already decentralised through the health boards. Will the Government reconsider the decision to remove democratic accountability within health boards which, in effect, will close down health boards and centralise the service? Does the Government intend to withdraw the health (amendment) Bill and, if not, when will it be taken in the House?

The heads of the Bill have been approved by Government and it is envisaged that it will be introduced shortly.

Given that the Government has decided to establish an independent panel, when will the legislation to implement electronic voting be published?

It is being prepared at present. It is being given priority and is expected to be introduced shortly. I will let the Deputy know the precise date at a later stage.

Will the Minister indicate whether he will publish the heads of the Bill in line with practice since the last general election regarding other legislation?

The Garda Síochána Bill is an example. The heads were published.

No, that is not envisaged. However, we are progressing the legislation as a priority.

Will the Bill be taken before or after the 12-day holiday around St. Patrick's Day?

I understand from the Whip that there are two working days involved around St. Patrick's Day.

There are 12 days.

On that issue, in view of widespread concern at the possible impact of electronic voting on the system of democracy we have known here, and as an indication of its sincerity in this area, and to prove its case, would the Government facilitate a forensic examination of areas where electronic voting took place in the last general election or European elections by, perhaps, conducting in the course of that examination the recounts that might have been of benefit to us?

The Deputy's question cannot be taken.

The Minister would like to answer that question.

It is outside the scope of the Order of Business.

This Minister wants to answer.

The question is outside the scope of the Order of Business.