1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Nally report on the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor’s office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16803/07]
Vol. 638 No. 4
1 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the Nally report on the reorganisation of the Chief State Solicitor’s office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16803/07]
2 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date on the implementation of the Nally report on the Chief State Solicitor’s office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18781/07]
3 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if he is satisfied that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has sufficient staff numbers to allow it to discharge all its functions; if he has received representations from the DPP for an increase in staff numbers; if it is intended to sanction the appointment of additional staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20598/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
I am pleased to say that implementation of the relevant recommendations of the Nally report on the re-organisation of the Chief State Solicitor's office is now completed.
The last recommendation to be acted upon, that responsibility for the local State solicitors should be transferred from the Office of the Attorney General to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with legislative provision to enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to delegate to them, was implemented with effect from 15 May 2007. In January 2007, the Minister for Finance approved 28 new permanent posts and one contract post for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This brought the total authorised staff complement of the director to 202. These additional staff were sanctioned following a detailed analysis of the staffing needs of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions undertaken jointly by officials of the director and the Minister for Finance. This analysis culminated in a report which concluded that there had been both an increase in the volume and complexity of the work undertaken by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and that new areas of work had also emerged which need to be addressed.
In addition to the new staff sanctioned in January 2007, the director is in communication with the Courts Service and the Departments of Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform with regard to further staff which will be required to implement a range of initiatives in the criminal justice sector. The number of additional staff required is not yet clear but is being kept under review. The director is also examining the number of extra staff which will be required when responsibility for sea fisheries prosecutions are transferred to him from the Attorney General.
Filling of all of the additional posts sanctioned in January 2007 will not be possible until additional accommodation which has been approved for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions becomes available. The office currently has 14.5 staff vacancies. However, I understand that efforts are continuing to recruit additional staff notwithstanding the accommodation difficulties. In the meantime, a range of temporary initiatives are being used to overcome the accommodation problems.
Are there plans to provide better information for victims of crime and their families on the progress made on cases in the DPP's office? In a recent case the victim of child sexual abuse was informed by her abuser that the case would not proceed to prosecution.
Does the Taoiseach share my view that before sentencing, the prosecution should be allowed make a submission to the court on behalf of the people regarding the category of crime involved in the case? In a number of serious cases there was no opportunity for the voice of the people to be heard in the court before sentencing. Does the Taoiseach share my view that a statement should be made before sentence is handed down in such cases?
There have been difficulties in the Chief State Solicitor's office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. For the first time, we have come to the end of those difficulties and staffing is in place. There has been a huge increase in staffing in recent years and this has given rise to a need for new office accommodation.
Deputy Kenny has raised these matters a number of times and the DPP is examining them himself. This is a matter for the director, because of the independence of his office under the 1974 Act. He has highlighted the case for giving more information to victims. However, the DPP is totally independent and I do not wish to discuss how he might deal with the matter. The manner in which information is given to families is a hugely sensitive matter. The director acknowledged that in a recent speech. I do not know what he can do to improve that service.
I have raised this matter with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and he is anxious to see improvements in this area. He has pointed out to me that the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions is total. However, I am sure our views will be noted.
One of the functions of the Chief State Solicitor's office is to act for the State in inquiries established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 and to provide legal staff to act for tribunals. Does the Taoiseach know how much time this pursuit takes up in the overall work of the CSSO? What is the cost to the State of employing legal teams for tribunals? Is this advice made available to the Taoiseach on an ongoing basis, presumably through the Office of the Attorney General?
The CSSO also advises and represents the State in asylum and refugee law cases. Is the CSSO under instruction to scrutinise EU immigration law for loopholes that allow the State to limit residency rights? This seems to be the only explanation for the Government's recent decision to refuse residency to spouses of EU citizens under the purported terms of an EU directive which has the opposite intent, that is, to facilitate residency applications. This has been the subject of a number of parliamentary questions I have tabled for the appropriate Minister.
The Chief State Solicitor's office has recruited a large number of staff. The office complement is 249, which represents a large increase in the last number of years. The complexity and range of cases covered by the office has also risen dramatically. This aspect of the work of the office was analysed by the Departments of Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. On the first case, a number of the tribunals have their own legal team working to the tribunals, but the Office of the Chief State Solicitor is involved with the Barr tribunal. I know the workload in that area. On the issue of asylum, I am not familiar with the details, so I do not wish to comment on it, but the workload of the office has increased dramatically in the past ten to 12 years because of the very lenient procedure and the fact the appeals mechanism is used to the full, unlike the situation in other countries.
On the question of tribunals of inquiry, I asked the Taoiseach if he had any idea of the time taken up in tribunal work by the Chief State Solicitor's office. If he is not in a position to answer I will understand, but will he please ensure that an answer is secured? Is he concerned about the time the Office of the Chief State Solicitor must allocate to the work of the tribunals of inquiry currently in train as compared with its other work, and the cost of same? Will he state specifically if he receives regular reports on the work of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor through the Attorney General?
In regard to asylum and refugee law cases, there is evidence that the Office of the Chief State Solicitor is acting under instruction to seek loopholes in EU directives and has employed such an approach in cases that I have given the details of to the appropriate Minister, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am waiting for a response on that issue. If the Taoiseach is not in a position to give a definitive answer, is he not concerned that might be the case? If it were the case that the State is acting contrary to the intent of an EU directive, which was intended as a facilitating measure, would he not also, like other Deputies, seek a definitive explanation?
I ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to table a question on that matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform because I have no details of it. I assume the Office of the Chief State Solicitor is applying the EU directives and law correctly, as it would in all cases. I have no other comment to make.
I have no information on the tribunals, but in the case of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals and in some of the other main tribunals which have been running for years there is a separate legal team to the tribunals and the work is not being done by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor. To the best of my knowledge the work is being done by the office in the Barr tribunal, and perhaps in some others as well. I will ask for details on it.
Will the Taoiseach contact me about it?
My question refers to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In an article in The Sunday Business Post on 19 August 2007 the Director of Public Prosecutions is reported to have said “his office is struggling to provide advice to the government on major legal issues including proposed legislation due to staff shortages”. He goes on to state that he is having difficulty keeping up with requirements under European law and requests from international bodies. More worryingly, he goes on to say “that the establishment of a fully resourced prosecution policy unit was essential to cope with the increase in prosecutions work taken by gardaí under the Garda Síochána Act 2005”. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that whatever about its scale, we have a serious crime problem and when the Garda does its work, assembles a case and sends the file to the DPP, we should not have a situation where the DPP’s work in prosecuting matters and in carrying out the functions of his office are held up because of lack of staff. I listened to the Taoiseach’s opening reply where I understand some staff has been sanctioned but there are 14.5 vacancies in the Office of the DPP and some delays are due to problems with accommodation. We all know the difficulties the Garda have in investigating cases on a daily basis, but surely it is possible to resolve the staffing shortages in the DPP’s office to ensure the prosecution service of the State is operating with the greatest efficiency.
I will try to do that. I understand the office accommodation has been sourced. My note states that currently the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution is sited on two locations. The additional accommodation being sourced by OPW is in a third location. This will in itself lead to difficulties because the office intends to move to Infirmary Road, but that is dependent on the Department of Defence moving accommodation. I think it is agreed where the DPP is going, but there is a delay. I will see what I can do about that.
We have approved the staff, but as I mentioned in the reply, in addition to the new staff sanctioned, the director is in communication with the Courts Service and the Departments of Finance and Justice, Equality and Law Reform with regard to further staff which will be required to implement a range of initiatives in the criminal justice sector. I think Deputy Gilmore is referring to this, but the number of staff has not been clarified but the director is also examining the extra staff that will be required for responsibility for the sea fisheries prosecutions. While the Nally Report is completed, the issues are to get the new staff and to move the entire service to Infirmary Road and be in one location — the director is concerned that the office is split and this creates difficulties. Infirmary Road is a good location for the office because it is near the courts----
And it is in the Taoiseach's constituency.
It is on the edge of my constituency. The sea fisheries work is transferring to the office, as well as work arising from some of the initiatives in the criminal justice sector. I do not think the 14.5 posts sanctioned will cover for this additional work. There is a requirement for additional staff for those two areas.
Has the DPP quantified the number of additional staff in addition to the 14.5 staff he is seeking?
That has not been quantified yet by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Department of Finance.
4 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16804/07]
5 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the recommendations of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18782/07]
6 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Taoiseach the way he will ensure that Ireland’s regulatory framework remains flexible, proportionate and up to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18990/07]
7 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Taoiseach the steps he proposes to adopt to give effect to the commitment in the programme for Government to ensure that the regulatory framework remains flexible, proportionate and up to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19314/07]
8 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the progress made to date with regard to implementation of the OECD Report on Regulatory Reform. [19881/07]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, together.
The OECD Report, Regulatory Reform in Ireland, was published in 2001. Since then, significant progress has been made in the area of regulatory reform. The Government White Paper, Regulating Better,published in January 2004 in response to the OECD's report, provides the basis for work on the Better Regulation agenda. Importantly, it sets out six core principles that must be reflected in how we design, implement and review legislation and regulation. These principles are necessity, effectiveness, proportionality, transparency, accountability and consistency. The Government is confident that adherence to the above principles will ensure that Ireland's regulatory framework remains flexible and responsive to the needs of business and citizens alike.
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 those recommendations. A detailed report on progress made in implementing the White Paper commitments was submitted to Government earlier this year and is available on the Better Regulation website. My Department has a specific remit on better regulation in that a dedicated unit within the public service modernisation division is tasked with promoting the better regulation agenda. The programme for Government includes a commitment to instigate a review of the economic regulatory environment which dovetails well with elements of the action programme for better regulation contained in the White Paper. The preparatory phase of this review is in progress across the relevant Departments.
It might be useful for me to outline for the House the progress made to date on the implementation of the White Paper, in particular in regulatory impact analysis, modernisation of the Statute Book and improving the regulatory environment for business.
Regulatory impact analysis, RIA, has been introduced across Government Departments and offices. Officials are now routinely applying RIA to legislative proposals in advance of their submission to Government. The better regulation unit of my Department provides practical support for officials conducting RIAs, including a training course and guidelines, as well as through the RIA network. Departments and offices are strongly encouraged to publish RIAs on their websites. Making good on commitments contained in Towards 2016, my Department is also progressing an independent, external review of the introduction of RIA in Ireland.
The better regulation unit of my Department has, together with the Office of the Attorney General, steered and focused work in the area of modernisation of the Statute Book. The Statute Law Revision Act 2007 was signed into law by the President in May of this year and repealed 3,225 obsolete statutes. The removal of these redundant Acts from our Statute Book has undoubtedly assisted in clarifying the legislation that remains in force.
Last month, a public consultation process on the next phase of statute law revision was launched, focusing on local and personal and private Acts enacted prior to 6 December 1922. This phase of the project has the potential to be bigger again than the May 2007 Act. It would probably be the largest statute law revision Act ever enacted anywhere in the world.
In addition, as part of the development of an appropriate programme of restatement, the Law Reform Commission published a comprehensive consultation paper on the issue of statute law restatement in July.
Still on the issue of modernising the Statute Book, in June of this year the Government agreed to introduce a new electronic system for the making of statutory instruments and to place it under the management of the Government Supplies Agency. This new system, which had been successfully piloted by my Department prior to its adoption, is now the sole process by which statutory instruments can be made. It ensures that all statutory instruments are produced in a standard electronic format, which Departments then place on their websites as soon as the notice of their making appears in Iris Oifigiúil. This facilitates the faster and more accurate provision of statutory instruments and also enables those with responsibility for the maintenance of the on-line Statute Book to place them in the on-line Statute Book more quickly.
The better regulation unit commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute to conduct a survey of business attitudes to regulation, which was published in March of this year. This comprehensive survey of over 800 companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, has been widely distributed.
Efforts are now being focused on actioning the findings of the survey. Specifically, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment established a high level group on business regulation, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This group is working directly with business to look at ways of reducing unnecessary burdens arising from regulation. This is in line with the commitment in the programme for Government to ensure direct feedback from business on regulatory burdens. The work of this group will also help address the requirement in the spring European Council conclusions to put in place a national programme to reduce unnecessary administrative burdens.
Much of what the Taoiseach said is relevant. In 2007, the cost of red tape to Irish business will amount to €6 billion, which is an enormous and restrictive burden that was meant to be simplified following the ratification of the Nice treaty. This was the concept driven through by European leaders but it has not translated into real effect.
The Taoiseach mentioned the better business regulation forum, a body proposed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, that will be chaired by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. How many times has it met and does it publish its reports?
I note the Taoiseach stated that Departments are strongly encouraged to publish regulatory impact assessments. I agree, but it should be compulsory and also mandatory that they should be published on time. This is an area where the Government has direct impact and influence and these assessments are valuable because they allow policy makers and businesses to see best practice and how it works.
Will the Taoiseach comment on the 2001 report that specifically referred to bottle necks in physical infrastructure, such as housing, transport and environmental services, that are fuelling inflation and constraining future growth? The Taoiseach is well aware the inflation rate in Ireland is more than double that of most of the euro zone. What is the response of Government to the 2001 report?
Will the Taoiseach comment on the reform of the energy market given that permission has been granted for the ESB to build a new power plant in Aghada? What is the impact of regulation of the energy sector?
I will not deal with individual Departments but with the overall position. My reply was from the perspective of ensuring we reduce the burdens on business and citizens alike. Our watchword in regulating business is proportionality. The ESRI business regulation survey that I referred to in my reply has identified priorities for improving the regulatory environment for business. The findings of that survey are relatively positive and reveal that regulation ranks in the middle of the challenges faced by business, behind the concerns over labour costs and increased competition and ahead of concerns over infrastructure and staffing. It sits in the middle of the business agenda.
In general, business feels the amount of regulation is about right, although, obviously, a number of areas have been identified in the report that require specific action. Transport accessibility, mentioned in the 2001 report, has gone down the list, except perhaps for within the confines of Dublin, but it is not nearly as pressing in other areas. Other issues that still exist are taxation, mainly for smaller companies because larger companies are on-line and do not have difficulties with the Revenue Commissioners; health and safety which, rightly or wrongly, drives business mad because they believe it is too much regulation for them; environment law; statistical returns; and employment and company law. It is recognised nationally and internationally that our economy is lightly regulated but these issues have been highlighted in business surveys.
Initiatives are underway to ensure regulation does not result in increases in the cost burden or administrative red tape for business. I would not agree for a minute with doing away with health and safety regulation because we know why the legislation was put in place — wholescale abuses and safety issues for workers — but how we implement it and how people report on it can always be improved. We expect these initiatives to result in a measurable reduction in the regulatory compliance burden for business and I hope they work.
I accept that Irish businesses have legitimate concerns about the regulatory burden. That is why regulatory impact assessments are so important. Before any legislation, statutory instrument or other action is introduced, people must follow the six principles outlined. I take the point that the assessments are not compulsory and I agree with the Deputy that this should not be a voluntary position. The procedure is to ask if the regulation is necessary, can we reduce red tape, and whether the rules and structures that govern this area are still valid because many of them are dated.
As regards effectiveness, one must consider whether the regulation is properly targeted and will be complied with and properly enforced. On proportionality, we must ask if we are satisfied that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of the regulation, and if there is a smarter way of achieving the same result. That is what businesses usually say because they are not against doing it if there is a better way — sometimes there is and sometimes there is not.
On transparency, the question arises as to whether we have consulted with the stakeholders prior to regulating. We have now got on top of that point, given that the social partners, including businesses and trade unions, are involved in it. Therefore, before regulating, there is a discussion with the stakeholders as to whether it is necessary. Under the regulation, accountability makes it clear precisely who is responsible for whom and for what. Business people also feel strongly about an effective appeals process. One must also ask whether the regulation will give rise to anomalies and inconsistencies given the other regulations already in place, and whether we are applying best practice in developing one area while relegating others.
In each area those questions must be answered and there is consultation about them. It can slow up the system but in the longer term it is better. Before any statutory instruments, legislation or regulations are undertaken that process will take place across Departments.
The Competition Authority has now completed the reports on professions, including engineering, architecture, optometry and law. A preliminary report has been completed on the dental profession and the final report is due this month. It is expected that the report on veterinary surgeons will be published at the beginning of 2008, while the report on medical practitioners will follow towards the end of next year. A number of these matters have already been inserted in legislation or are awaiting forthcoming legislation.
Will the Taoiseach comment on the role of Dáil committees examining the range of quangos of which there appears to be a great number? I accept that regulation is necessary and that it should be as light as possible, but it must be effective. In recent years, the House has passed 50 pieces of labour legislation. There is scope for consolidation of the Employment Acts and Companies Acts to make it easier for employees and employers to know their rights and responsibilities.
There are 80 tax return deadlines each year for various headings such as PRSI, PAYE, VAT and corporation tax. That system should be made easier for small businesses because it represents an enormous burden. The relevant Acts could be amended to facilitate the collection of statistics supplied to the CSO, the Revenue Commissioners, Enterprise Ireland and local county enterprise boards. The same importing and exporting information is required by service providers as by Government authorities, which places a burden on businesses. Using the best technology, traders could submit relevant data once through a single electronic entry point. Such methods would make it easier to transact business as well as giving us an extra advantage by promoting the perception of being able to do business fairly, efficiently and professionally. These matters should be examined as part of a public service reform programme to make an impact on the implementation of regulatory regimes.
When one brings in the OECD to look at public service reform, particularly in the health sector, is that not an admission that we have failed to do the business? We have a very bloated public service in some areas, which is full of quangos but could be streamlined. It will require serious action by Government to give taxpayers the return in terms of efficiency and professionalism which they deserve.
Most of the issues raised by the Deputy are being examined and substantial improvements are being made. However, I will bring that list to the attention of those who are working on it in my Department.
It is good to see the OECD examining the situation in Ireland because one of its purposes is to benchmark the Irish public service against the best there is, so that where criticisms are made they can be taken on board to improve matters. There are many other systems in place. It always strikes me that when we go to European Councils, the Irish delegation turns up with 15 or 20 officials, while larger countries turn up with several planeloads — 400 or 500 people. The OECD report aims to benchmark the Irish public service for the first time against the best there is. It will also analyse how we do things. We will examine the report and take it on the chin. Hopefully, the OECD will see the good things we do and, in addition, we will correct those things the OECD thinks we can do better and more efficiently compared with some sectors in other countries.
We overran on Leaders' Questions, unsurprisingly, so I must allow a further ten minutes.
The Government's White Paper on regulatory reform lists a number of actions concerning the legislative process. It indicates that better information on new legislation is commendable. It promises that Departments and offices will provide such improved information, including the draft heads of a Bill where feasible and appropriate.
The Taoiseach will recall that I have raised this matter with him on several occasions, and he has stated that it is being implemented where possible. Does the Taoiseach agree that the release of heads of a Bill, once they have been agreed by the Cabinet, should be a matter of standard practice? That would represent a significant improvement in addressing legislation in the House, rather than the current sporadic system whereby the Taoiseach indicates that his Department and others are making an effort to be compliant while others have their hind legs dug in the sand. Is it not time for a new approach across the board, which would become standard practice? It would be of benefit to all parties, including the Taoiseach's party and, no doubt, to his colleagues in their own time in Opposition.
If I understand Deputy Ó Caoláin's point on the RIAs, he is saying that they should be done more efficiently and presented more openly. Is that it?
On many occasions we have discussed that the heads of a Bill——
Yes, that they should be given in each case.
In the past, the Taoiseach has indicated a positive disposition towards that proposition.
Yes, I am in favour of it.
Can the Taoiseach use his position as head of the Cabinet to have the co-operation of all Departments in releasing the heads of Bills once the Cabinet has reached agreement? That would facilitate a better understanding and preparation on the part of all opinion in this House.
I have always followed that practice. I agree with Deputy Ó Caoláin on this issue although it is not easy to get all of the system to follow it.
I thought the Taoiseach was going to say it was not easy to reach agreement between us.
I do agree with him on it.
I have always tried to put the heads of Bills out for debate. In the end, as with regulatory analysis, if there is more discussion on an issue it ultimately leads to better legislation and more agreement. It gives people a chance to have a direct input. I did get Departments to publish the heads of a number of Bills in the last Dáil, although I admit that some Departments have not followed that practice. I will continue to try to get them to publish the heads because it is good practice.
Looking through the OECD report's specific recommendations on regulation, it seems the only matter that has been implemented is the abolition of the groceries order. Otherwise, all we seem to have got are lots of reports about regulating regulation. One such report, as I recall, was by the Competition Authority on the legal profession. Does the Government have any plans to progress new regulation for the legal profession?
There are several reports that have moved on. The OECD report on regulatory reform of professions suggested that competition in the professional services sector could be stronger. In response to this, the Competition Authority commenced a study of selected professionals, including engineers, architects, solicitors, barristers, veterinary surgeons, dentists, optometrists and medical practitioners. The strategy of the Competition Authority was to release a preliminary report for each profession containing initial proposals for improving competition, having a consultation period and moving to the next stage. They have completed all of those reports except those for veterinary surgeons and medical practitioners. Some of those have moved on.
A significant part of the report on reform of the legal profession was taken into the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, Part 2 of which provides for the establishment on a statutory basis of a legal service ombudsman to provide independent statute based supervision of the companies schemes of solicitors and barristers. That Bill is before the House. It is important because it will provide a form of review of legal services for customers who are dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint made to either the Law Society or the Bar Council. It will also oversee the complaints procedures of the Law Society and Bar Council by examining a random selection of complaint files each year. It will oversee admission to the legal profession, particularly in regard to the adequacy of the numbers admitted.
We also decided to establish the legal costs implementation advisory group to examine that issue. That group's report has three main strands. It recommends the replacement of the existing taxation of costs system with a new regulatory assessment regime; calls for significant improvements to the quality and quantity of information that a solicitor is required to provide to clients and the manner in which it is supplied; and recommends several legislative and procedural changes to reduce delays in court hearings and generally expedite the legal process. It is intended that the regulation will introduce more certainty into the area of legal costs in civil litigation and provide a simple and more transparent system of determining costs where disputes arise.
That report was published last March. It was indicated at the time that the group drafting the legislation had commenced work. When those two Bills, the one before the House and the one being drafted, are passed they will significantly improve the whole legal area, both in respect of the ombudsman and the costs. I am not sure where the second Bill is but the first is before the House and will hopefully be enacted this year.