1 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress to date in implementing the recommendations of the OECD report on regulatory reform. [14283/06]
Vol. 620 No. 2
1 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress to date in implementing the recommendations of the OECD report on regulatory reform. [14283/06]
2 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his Department’s plans for a study of business attitudes to regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14874/06]
3 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach his Department’s plans for a consultation paper in regard to regulatory appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14875/06]
4 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16021/06]
5 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will report on progress in implementing the recommendations of the OECD report on regulatory reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16191/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
Significant progress has been made since the publication of the OECD report on regulatory reform in Ireland. The focus of our efforts in progressing regulatory reform is now on implementing the White Paper on Better Regulation, Regulating Better, which was published in January 2004 in response to the OECD's report. It sets out six core principles which will be reflected in how we design, implement and review legislation and regulation. Some of the key areas outlined in the OECD report relate to specific sectoral issues and the appropriate Ministers with responsibility for those sectoral areas are reporting directly to the House on progressing the OECD recommendations.
Progress has been made in a number of key areas set out in the White Paper. The better regulation group was established in 2004 to oversee the implementation of the action plan arising from the White Paper. The group has met twice this year. Three subgroups have been established, the first of which is to progress certain commitments in the White Paper with regard to developing improved approaches to regulatory appeals and reviewing the issue of penalties for non-compliance with laws or regulations. This group has prepared a consultation paper on regulatory appeals, which I understand will be presented to the Government shortly. The paper will form the basis for a public consultation process regarding existing appeals mechanisms and how they might be streamlined and improved. As the paper has yet to be sent to Government, I cannot comment on its specifics but I understand it contains information on the range of existing appeals mechanisms and will invite comment on relevant issues and challenges. Submissions made as part of the consultation process will inform proposals which will be developed by the better regulation group to ensure an approach to appeals in keeping with the White Paper's principles.
Another sub-group of the better regulation group is considering improving electronic access to statutory instruments and a third group is completing an audit of the regulatory framework.
In July 2005, I announced the establishment of a business regulation forum. This forum, which is under the aegis of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, comprises senior members from the public sector and business. It gives businesses an opportunity to identify regulatory measures that impact negatively on business and competitiveness, or issues arising from inefficient, outdated or disproportionate regulation. The forum has met three times so far.
The better regulation unit in my Department has commissioned a comprehensive survey of business attitudes to, and the experience of, regulation. This will build on a similar survey conducted four years ago. The survey will be guided by input from both the better regulation group and the business regulation forum. It is intended that it will focus not only on red tape and administrative burdens but also on the impact of regulation on business more broadly, such as the extent to which it facilitates or is a barrier to economic growth and the competitiveness of Irish business. The ESRI has been appointed to conduct the survey after a competitive tendering process and it is expected that the results will be published in the autumn.
My Department continues to provide support and guidance to Departments and offices on regulatory impact analysis, which is now required for all proposals for significant new regulation being sent to Government for approval. The process of modernising the Statute Book will continue in 2006 with the introduction of the Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union) Bill. This Bill will repeal nearly 2,300 old statutes dating from before 1800 which have been identified as redundant or obsolete. The Bill will also retain in force about 300 statutes from the same period as they are not yet suitable for repeal. The next step in the process will be to examine those statutes from the period 1800 to 1922. As Deputies know, this work builds on the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005, which repealed 206 Acts.
Deputies will also be aware of the Statute Law (Restatement) Act 2002. Work is also ongoing on giving effect to that Act's provisions and I hope to report on progress in this regard before the summer.
What prompted the survey on business attitudes to regulation? Was it motivated by a perception by businesses that the regulatory environment is overly demanding, bureaucratic and costly or impedes competition and productivity? Did a sense of disquiet in the business community cause the Taoiseach to commission the study?
The survey was commissioned on foot of the comments on the original White Paper. The organised business groups — the representative groups — say they have no problem with regulations or the burdens of the regulatory process as they see them, but they believe they must be of some value or use and that they must be streamlined. They want to try to move away from red tape and have a more satisfactory system. It is not a matter of trying to get out of essential issues.
The business representatives have made some valid points in this regard because many of the regulatory mechanisms date back many years. Their value and usefulness may not be great in many cases. In other cases, compliance is not great where it is very important and it is therefore a matter of determining what is important to the State and trying to get the parties concerned to do this right and remove some of the arguments and difficulties.
The initiative resulted from the original White Paper and the associated discussions and debates. The business regulation survey will assess Irish businesses' attitudes to, and their experience of, regulation. It is intended that the survey, in addition to assessing attitudes to red tape and administrative burdens, will focus on the impact of regulation on business more broadly, including the extent to which it might affect economic growth in general and the competitiveness of business specifically. The intention is that the results of the survey will be used to identify possible sectoral areas for future regulatory reform.
Some groups have practically tried to say there are far too many groups and agencies and they have made all kinds of arguments to the effect that the whole process should be abandoned and started again. I do not agree with this and we must proceed in a careful way. There are areas in which many of our regulatory systems are outdated and it is better that businesses have an input into them. Ultimately, they are the ones fulfilling the criteria and paying for the staff to do so.
Will the Taoiseach indicate the number of OECD conclusions implemented since the publication of the report five years ago? On the question of regulatory reform, is it not a cause of concern to the Government that one of the principal issues being raised by businesses concerns energy security and the fact that, within 15 years, all of Ireland's imported energy resources will come from one field in the Russian Arctic, which will also supply China and the United States? Should this not be dealt with as a matter of urgency?
Bearing in mind yesterday's announcement on the new ownership of Eircom, there seems to have been real difficulties concerning the regulations. BT pulled out of the discussions. I read the speech made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, at the e-Galway conference. It set out the regulations concerning broadband, yet, when one looks at the graphs, one will note that we are very far down the list of countries in terms of broadband penetration.
Detailed questions should be directed to the line Minister.
It is on regulatory reform.
The Deputy is outside the limit but I am allowing the first question.
The Ceann Comhairle has been very good with the European Commissioner and the Australian Prime Minister. It is a matter of only one question and he will not knock me on it.
On Deputy Kenny's first point, I do not know exactly how many of the OECD's recommendations were implemented, but I know it is a large number. This is helping in the work in that there has been direct engagement over the past year. Senior business people and senior representatives of IBEC and the chambers of commerce are involved in the setting up of new regulations for business, which is helping in regard to future regulation. The business regulation forum is considering all the issues, which is certainly helping.
As I said to Deputy Rabbitte, the concept of business regulation arose through IBEC with a view to developing formalised working relationships with the Government regarding regulation. The forum has advised the Government on regulatory issues in so far as they impact on business and competitiveness. Particular problems arise from outdated, inefficient or disproportionate regulation and these are being addressed by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The small business people have fed into the process.
There is no doubt that the issue of energy, with which I will not deal directly, has become the main issue at European Council meetings, bearing in mind that it was not mentioned at them heretofore. The Commission for Energy Regulation is the independent statutory body established under the Electricity Regulation Act, passed by this House, and it has regulated the electricity market over recent years. Its functions and duties are wide-ranging and have grown rapidly since its establishment. This is likely to continue. In line with the EU directive requirements, full market opening has been in place for the past 14 months, since 19 February last year. That represents the culmination of a number of years of planning and development and market implementation. From a regulatory viewpoint, while the delivery of a fully liberalised retail market is a major achievement, a significant amount of work is needed to create an electricity market in this country to optimise the benefits of liberalisation and compliance and the impact of competition for customers. It is an issue that the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the regulator must continue to deal with.
On the Deputy's broader question about the issue of supply, without getting into a long answer, we will have to deal with energy on a European level. That is the solution. It has not been the case up to now. The contribution of the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel to this debate is one I support. There is no doubt that Russia is going to play hardball. It has gone back into itself. Everybody is concerned about that situation. The Russians have fallen on their feet and——
They hold all the resources.
They have the resources and their friends in the countries around them have the rest. They have enormous muscle until an alternative is found, which hopefully will happen. The only way to deal with the problem is for Europe to act in a collective fashion. Otherwise, it is quite obvious what will happen. I fully support Chancellor Merkel's opinion on this and as the Deputy knows from his own group, a fair amount of discussion is taking place on that. I have taken a strong position in support of her initiative.
Further to what the Taoiseach has been saying about the importance of regulations and laws that serve the people I want to ask about regulations already enacted such as Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which provides for developers to provide 20% social and affordable housing. That certainly is good, and would have delivered to a great extent. I want to ask about the extent to which this initiative has been undermined by the ability of builders to buy their way out of the Part V arrangement——
That matter does not arise out of these questions. It is a question for the line Minister.
The Taoiseach said the emphasis should be on people. There has been a complete stop on transport for people on dialysis, those with cancer——
It does not arise. I suggest——
——and older people.
——the Deputy submits questions to the line Minister concerned.
The total stopping of transport for dialysis patients in the west is an urgent matter for the Taoiseach to investigate. It is a disgrace. It also applies to cancer patients and older people.
The Deputy will please submit questions to the line Minister.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about three areas in which his Government has been involved as regards regulation in certain sectors of the economy and how it is dealing with each of them. Deputy Kenny has already mentioned the energy area. Does the Taoiseach have an opinion on Eirtricity's decision in February not to——
That does not arise. It is a question for the line Minister.
There is a specific question to be addressed on the failure of regulation at the time and I am addressing the Taoiseach in that regard, with particular reference to a moratorium on wind farm connections. The second area concerns a decision which the Government chose not to take as regards the licensing of café bars. The Government has established an interdepartmental committee——
Again, this matter does not arise on Taoiseach's Questions. It is a question for the line Minister.
This is an interdepartmental committee for which, I presume, the Taoiseach has primary responsibility.
It does not arise out of the OECD report on regulation——
It has to do with the area of regulation because it has a European dimension, of which the OECD is very much a part. This interdepartmental committee has been informed that there might be a breach of EU laws as regards the decision not to go ahead with the Government decision-——
I suggest the Deputy submits a question.
I am putting the question to the Taoiseach as well.
The third issue is the concerns that exist as regards regulation for business. Will the Taoiseach say whether it is about the amount or type of regulation and given the recent decision to get rid of the groceries order and the impact that has had, some sectors of the business community-——
That does not arise. It is a general question.
This has to do with the question of regulation. This is a debate that occurred about whether regulation was acknowledged.
This is not an omnibus debate on all regulations by all line parties.
It is about the Government's policy on regulation and its effects.
The Chair has ruled time and again, as have my predecessors, concerning questions for line Ministers. The groceries order question is for the line Minister.
I am asking about the situation of the groceries orderper se. If the Ceann Comhairle lets me continue for 15 seconds, I will have concluded my questions. The Taoiseach will be in a position to answer, I am sure. My question is about the fact that in this debate, some business interests felt it was unnecessary control of market mechanisms, while others thought it was unnecessary regulation. What does the Taoiseach and the Government do in those types of situations? The question is very pertinent.
On the general question, this arises out of a report we did some years ago in conjunction with the OECD, which did the groundwork and the fieldwork. It looked at how to keep the economy competitive and how not to be restrictive in areas, while allowing competitiveness to develop for the benefit of business, specifically, and consumers. To answer Deputy Boyle's question, it is not so much about volume but about the concerns of businesses that they are complying with regulations they believe to be outdated, inefficient and disproportionate and that too much time, effort and person power must be devoted to providing information. It is a question of how valuable this is and how it is used within the system. They know from CSO and other statistics that they must comply with orders, however, so the better regulation forum is trying to work out what is important and how best to deal with matters, using technology to best advantage. It is seeking to determine what is most beneficial for the various agencies of the State, which collect information, and what is of benefit to business. There are now a number of regulators working on detailed issues as regards the particular areas for which they have responsibility. The enterprise steering group, which is responsible to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has regulations as regards the better regulation group. Questions in that regard should be put to him.
In the Taoiseach's omnibus response to the five questions grouped, he indicated that the business forum on regulation met on three occasions since it was established. What is the membership of the business forum on regulation?
I do not have the names, but they are senior representatives of IBEC, as well as an interdepartmental group of officials, under the direction of an assistant secretary of my Department.
Will the Taoiseach circulate the details?
Yes, I will. There is no problem with that.
6 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14284/06]
7 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the National Security Committee which have been held to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16022/06]
8 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the role and function of the National Security Committee; when it last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16089/06]
9 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16192/06]
10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach when the National Security Committee last met; when the next meeting is scheduled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17144/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 10, inclusive, together.
The National Security Committee is chaired by the Secretary General to the Government and comprises representatives at the highest level of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Defence and Foreign Affairs and of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.
The committee meets as required and will continue to do so. However, as I indicated in reply to a question in November last, I am satisfied that having regard to the security nature of the committee's work, it is not appropriate to disclose information about the dates of individual meetings or any of its proceedings. However, I can confirm that it met recently. In addition to their meetings, the members liaise on an ongoing basis to monitor developments which might have national security implications, in particular in the international arena.
The committee is concerned with ensuring the Government and I are advised of high level security issues and the responses to them — but not involving operational security issues.
In view of the comments made by the British Government in respect of new nuclear plants in Britain, has the Government received any briefing for the National Security Committee, given al-Qaeda reports in the past that Britain is a legitimate terrorist target? I know the Taoiseach cannot give all of the details concerning security arrangements for Sellafield or any other proposed nuclear station on the west coast of Britain. He could not go the UN route and has taken the issue back to Europe. It is, obviously, a consideration at the National Security Committee.
Previously, I raised the issue of the emergency planning procedures being split between quite a disparate number of Departments, State agencies and sub-groups, including the task force on emergency planning, the interdepartmental working group on emergency planning, the Office of Emergency Planning and the National Security Committee. I raised the possibility of co-ordination under one roof to deal with national emergency planning. Has the Government given any consideration to streamlining, clarity and concentration of responsibility in this area?
The Office of Emergency Planning and the working groups on emergency planning are all co-ordinated under the various emergency services involved in all our contingency plans. The contingency group is chaired by the Minister for Defence, meets frequently and is under his control. It is working well and has set up a superstructure pulling together the people from each area. It is deemed not necessary — I hope it never is — to set it up as a tidier arrangement. It would involve significant cost to do that. We are a small enough area to be able to pull the people from the various groups. As long as it is under one Minister and committee, it works well.
The National Security Committee falls under the remit of my Department. It deals primarily with international issues and with the information that flows to us through Europol and Eurojust. This information flows on a well organised basis since 11 September 2001 which, if it achieved nothing else, at least got the European security system to work well.
We continue our efforts on the Sellafield question. We have engaged a high level group of legal and technical experts to work on the legal case. We continue to pursue the case and the Attorney General has given much effort and time to it. At a recent international conference he set out his full position and gave a full update on the situation. I refer Deputies to his speech on that occasion because it comprehensively pulls together all the aspects of the situation. We are continuing with the case.
As I predicted, for its own reasons the British Government is hell-bent on taking the nuclear route. It tells us that it will be done with the best of security and safety measures, but we are never totally convinced. We continue to make our case. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and others have outlined our concerns. We have good dialogue with the British on these issues and are able to put forward our case and point of view, but I do not think that will stop them. If France and the UK have decided that their future energy interests lie with the nuclear option, they will continue on that path.
My question mirrors that of Deputy Kenny. With regard to the role and function of the National Security Committee, does it have a responsibility to address the threat posed to the people of this island by not only Sellafield, but the British nuclear arms stockpile of some 185 long-range missiles? There is no indication of any attempt at decommissioning on Britain's part, rather it is all talk of expansion. The Taoiseach did not address this matter in his reply to the previous question.
That might be a question for the line Minister.
Will the Taoiseach indicate whether this is part of the focus of the National Security Committee. While we know the record of the Government with regard to Sellafield, has the Taoiseach ever raised the issue of the British nuclear arms stockpile directly with the Prime Minister?
The National Security Committee is comprised of senior officials of Departments, the Garda and the Defence Forces and is a high-level forum for mutual awareness and consultation on issues of security. Any issue of security is raised at it and followed through, back to the line Departments. Sellafield is, obviously, an issue of concern. The committee provides for exchange of information and collective assessment on an ongoing basis. Its work precludes me from giving a description of the issues, but all the obvious issues are debated and discussed at a high level. The committee agrees on what action should be taken and this is followed through by the relevant Ministers or, if it is an issue that directly concerns the British Government, I follow through.
What about the nuclear armament stockpile? Has that been addressed by the committee?
That matter does not arise at this point.
On a minor point of clarity, do I understand that the committee only deals with potential security threats and has no role in anticipating or dealing with civil disasters? I heard what the Taoiseach said about continuing to prepare the case on Sellafield. Has the committee any role in monitoring the potential threat from Sellafield in the event of a disaster occurring?
The Office of Emergency Planning deals with that, but obviously Departments, in particular, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, have a major role to play. The National Security Committee discusses any issue or intelligence it receives. If it has information, it passes it on to the relevant sources, but does not as a group meet individuals or governments. The Office of Emergency planning deals with national disasters and preparations to deal with them. The input into that committee comes mainly from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which has control over most of the emergency services, for example, the fire and local authority services.
The Taoiseach mentioned earlier his concerns about Sellafield and the extension of nuclear power stations in Britain. Does he, through the National Security Committee, hope to address information that may come from Britain with regard to threats to civil aviation? We had the example in recent months of planes flying over Sellafield that had to be diverted to Scottish airports because of engine failure. The Government was not given advance warning of this information. Did the Taoiseach seek further information on these diversions or an apology from the British Government for not being informed? Does the National Security Committee deal with these issues?
Does the committee give consideration to the colour code systems that operate in the United States and the United Kingdom with regard to threats from international terrorism?
In reply to questions on national security in November 2005, the Taoiseach only informed the Dáil then that the committee had met in the previous month. Why is there such secrecy with regard to past meetings of the committee? Why can the House not be informed that the committee met X number of times in the previous year?
On the general point, most of the information we get on international terrorism usually comes from Europol or Eurojust. Substantial information is transferred from them.
With regard to not being informed on rogue aircraft, there is an agreement, which is renewed annually, with the Department of Foreign Affairs on procedures for dealing with such events or any breaches of the agreement. The Department of Foreign Affairs is very careful to follow up any issues which arise, whether they arise along the Border, along the coast or in the sea between Ireland and Britain. There is a procedure for dealing with such issues. Traditionally, the National Security Committee does not give the dates of its meetings. While the committee meets fairly regularly, it does not meet monthly. The various elements of the committee, such as the Garda and the Defence Forces, are in contact with one another on a more regular basis to consider various issues. I suppose the reason for the traditional practice is that if the committee were to start making the dates of its meetings known, people would start to ask what it was talking about etc. Many of the committee's dealings relate to international terrorism and much of the information it discusses relates to the movement of individuals. That was probably the convention in the past. There are many more discussions of that nature now for the obvious reason that there is a fair bit of movement of people who are of interest to the international agencies in Ireland and other countries.
11 Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach the annual figures for moneys paid to a person and a company (details supplied) since 2002 for services to his Department; if he will justify this expenditure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14384/06]
When I am due to speak in Dáil Éireann or I am about to be interviewed for television, I make the normal preparations that are standard for all those who participate in television programmes, just as successive Taoisigh have done since the introduction of the televising of Dáil proceedings in 1990. The rates paid to the providers of the service are in line with current SIPTU rates. The annual amount paid in respect of the preparations since 2002 is detailed in the following table:
Amount paid for preparation for television appearances to the person referred to in the question
Amount paid for preparation for television appearances to the company referred to in the question
2006 (to end of March)
It seems from figures I have seen previously that the Taoiseach is spending hundreds of euro on what are called "make-up services" every week.
He is looking well on it.
It is disgraceful.
How does the Taoiseach expect taxpayers, many of whom are lying on trolleys, to pay such an exorbitant sum to meet the cost of his vanity, essentially? Is it not extraordinary that it seems, from the figures I have seen, that the Taoiseach spends more money on make-up than many of the ladies in the Cabinet? What sort of priorities does the Taoiseach have when he is heading around like the queen of Drumcondra?
Given that this year is the 80th anniversary of the founding of Fianna Fáil, what does the Taoiseach think the founder of that party, Éamon de Valera——
He used mascara.
——would say about a Taoiseach who spends hundreds of euro on make-up every week?
That question does not arise from Question No. 11.
He would tell him to use Vichy.
Does the Taoiseach agree that we could now call him the L'Oréal Taoiseach, as he spends this money because he is worth it?
He is worth it.
Deputy Gormley could do with some make-up.
When Deputy Gormley is Taoiseach some day——
I thank the Taoiseach for his confidence.
——he will find that the services of two people who are paid on aper diem basis are made available in the Department of the Taoiseach. Their services are usually made available two days a week — they are usually the Dáil days. One of the staff in question has been there since the start.
Is that why the Taoiseach will not come in on Thursdays?
If I came in on Thursdays, we would have to pay for three days.
He cannot come into the House unless he is wearing make-up.
It would be even more expensive then.
We will pay for it if the Taoiseach agrees to come in.
They are paid the SIPTU rate for the job they do.
We will pass around a hat if the Taoiseach comes in.
I do not think these people should be fired to satisfy Deputy Gormley.
They could work in the health service.
They provide a service and they do their job.
We could decentralise them.
They are paid the SIPTU rate. I avail of the same services as everyone else who appears on television. I understand that Deputy Gormley always very carefully goes to the make-up room when he is in RTE.
One has to go there whether one likes it or not.
It is not a question of "whether one likes it or not". Deputy Gormley always goes to the RTE room and uses make-up.
It does not make a difference.
He has never been known not to do so in advance of any of his many television appearances.
How does the Taoiseach know all this?
I know because I checked.
He must be the fly on the wall in RTE.
I must say the Taoiseach has done some extraordinary research on my habits.
He is engaging in a security offensive.
Would it be too much trouble for the Taoiseach to apply his make-up himself?
We could not have that.
Does he need all of these people?
That does not arise.
We could not expect him to do that.
What is the story here?
That is a frivolous question.
Can the Taoiseach give us a breakdown of how much it costs per week? I have seen a figure of €480.
It is a long-standing rule that a supplementary question is not in order if the answer to it has already been circulated in response to the original question.
Can we have an estimate of the price per gallon?
I know this is embarrassing for the Taoiseach.
Not one bit.
I have allowed Deputy Gormley a fair amount of latitude.
To spend €480 a week on make-up is extraordinary at a time when there are people lying on trolleys, when we do not have proper schools and when we have extraordinary deficits in our services.
You have made your point.
It amounts to nothing more than decadence.
The Romans were like that too.