Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 12, statements on tackling crime, and No. 4, Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2007 — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 12 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Members may share time and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 16, motion re the health services (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

There is one proposal to be put to the House, dealing with No. 12, statements on tackling crime. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Despite the meeting and the Taoiseach's response to me yesterday, I have not received any proposals from the Government Chief Whip regarding the proposed committees or their structure. When will I get those proposals?

The Taoiseach claimed yesterday that Opposition Deputies only ever chaired watchdog committees. That is not true. In the last Dáil, for example, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs was chaired by a member of the Labour Party. In the previous Dáil, the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Heritage and the Irish Language, and on Tourism, Sport and Recreation were chaired by Fine Gael and Labour Deputies respectively. It is not true to say that members of the Opposition chaired only watchdog committees, as they are known.

Committees are instruments of the Dáil and not of Government only. I put the Taoiseach on notice that I am seriously concerned about what he said yesterday about not changing his mind. The structure of the committees should reflect the changed representation in the House, elected by the people.

I will not offer any great co-operation unless the Government moves on this issue. In order to have this above board, I propose that, in advance of the Whips' meeting, we devote next Thursday, 11 October, to a discussion in the Chamber about the issue that Deputy Michael D. Higgins raised yesterday. This would include the quality of the committees, their role and responsibility and how we should deal with them. It would also deal with my belief that the Dáil, Seanad and committees should all be televised on a special parliamentary channel so that people would know what goes on in here.

Let us have that discussion and ask the Members, new and not so new, about their views on committees, their structure, their nature and how the House should deal with them. This would be beneficial to the Parliament and democracy in general. I suggest to the Government Whip that tomorrow week we have a discussion here between all the parties and individuals about the committee system. I am concerned that the proportion of elected representatives should be reflected in the way that the committees do their business.

The Deputy is aware that this is not a matter for the Order of Business but in view of its importance I am allowing some discussion on it.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Well done.

We replied to Deputy Kenny's letter this morning but he may not have had an opportunity to see the reply. I have no problem discussing the procedures. That is a good idea. In respect of some of Deputy Higgins' points yesterday, the committees do a much better job than they are given credit for and over the past 20 years committees have undertaken good work. Only a few get prominence for the effort and commitment they put into their work. I have appeared before several committees in the past few years and they are well attended in so far as people can manage when handling their other tasks. The contributions to them and their reports are good.

While I do not wish to single out committees, a number of the committees in the last Dáil did a very good job and produced excellent reports on a wide range of areas. I refer to the idea of a channel, of securing more time for such committees and avoiding difficulties with rooms. I had the opportunity to talk to Deputy Higgins after yesterday's Order of Business and I agree with him. Members should try to resolve these issues.

After the elections in 1997 and 2002, I agreed on the composition of the committees in consultation with the Government Whip of the day. We want to reach agreement on this matter quickly. As I stated yesterday, I am not in favour of the D'Hondt system. Obviously, Deputy Kenny's party's representation on the committees will be on the basis of its current numbers. The Government Whip is ready to talk to the Fine Gael Whip about how to make progress in this regard. Obviously, were a debate to be held next week, it would not be concluded before then. However, this matter should be settled as soon as possible.

I support the suggestion made by Deputy Kenny. It follows on from the suggestion made by Deputy Higgins yesterday that the House should have a debate on the role and function of committees.

However, the immediate issue that must be addressed relates to the number of committees to be established, as well as the chairing of those committees. I understand the Taoiseach has proposed to establish 21 committees, 18 of which will be chaired by Members from the Government benches. This is manifestly unfair by any standards. In many Parliaments it is the practice that committees are chaired by Members from the Opposition, particularly committees that mark Departments and Ministers. Is it purely coincidental that the increased number of committees coincides with the number of Independents who support the Government? Has the Taoiseach struck a deal with the Independents for the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of committees in return for their continued support for the Government?

In order to be assistance in this regard, I am glad the Taoiseach has acknowledged it is absurd that an important committee such as, for example, the committee on foreign affairs should be governed as to the length of time it sits by the availability of a room, as has happened frequently. The aforementioned committee is a good illustration of the need for a debate on the fundamental role of committees, which the House should have next Thursday. Yesterday I made the point about the distinction between scrutiny committees, the purpose of which is to scrutinise legislation put before them by the Executive, and initiating or legislative committees, such as exist in Denmark, that have the right to introduce legislation or even committees that have the right to make amendments and return them to the House.

A fundamental issue arises as to whether committees are an extension of the Executive or a creature of the Parliament. If one is to defend a robust parliamentary system, a debate on the different categories of committee is required. A further example that arises in this House concerns the chairman of the committee on European affairs, who has the right to be consulted on some intelligence matters affecting the European Union. However, such a right does not exist for the chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. At present, several different unspecified functions exist. After the committees have been initiated in this House it will be too late because their Standing Orders will have been established and Members will be unable to amend them.

This issue will arise in the context of preparing for the constitutional referendum on the European treaty, whenever it will take place, when Members will be obliged to discuss issues pertaining to the democratic deficit. No foreign affairs committee in the European Union was able to say anything significant regarding the prevention of the Iraq war. In other Parliaments, such as the Parliament of Australia, Members have been unable to secure information on the war's consequences.

I have raised this issue today and yesterday because at the outset of a new period for the committees, it would be irresponsible not to discuss their functions and purposes in the Dáil in plenary session and to continue thereafter to fill them properly, resource them with staff and rooms and have minutes available that are accountable in the plenary system. I do so as a parliamentarian who is committed to the accountability that must exist in this Parliament.

I repeat the policy at issue is whether the committees are an extension of the Executive or a creature of the Dáil in plenary session. For example, it is nonsense to suggest the committee on foreign affairs, under its existing Standing Orders, is anything but an extension of Iveagh House.

The Government has already agreed to have a meeting regarding committees. Over the years a number of initiatives have been taken. For instance, there used to be a committee week that was dropped because Members thought it interrupted the main work of the House. The number of committees has been increased, their role and remit has been extended and they now bring before them far more external bodies. The committee system has expanded since its beginnings in 1984, when only a few committees existed. Any good ideas or suggestions should be taken up.

However, lest any Member believes the committees were mere debating chambers, in the last Dáil, legislation was held up repeatedly by committees. I was obliged time and time again to go after people to try to get legislation through. Had the legislation been dealt with in this Chamber it would have gone through. The idea that this does not affect the operation of the Executive is a nonsense as important legislation gets tied up in committees. In many instances a committee is only as good as its chairman, vice-chairman or membership. On occasion, some committees had difficulties in getting members to turn up in the first place. There are difficulties in this regard. I am content to hold a debate and to reach a good accommodation on this issue. However, to think the committee is a debating society, then UCD or Trinity——

No. However, there are committees other than the committee on foreign affairs.

There are many of them.

It is important to have a structure and a system.

As for Deputy Gilmore's query, I have been lobbied by many Members on both sides — I will not mention names — who have inquired whether there is any chance of securing a committee chairmanship or vice-chairmanship. This is not confined to Independents.

Members must wait and see.

The Whips are to meet on this issue. I call Deputy McManus.

It is just as well I did not ask the Taoiseach for anything.

Deputy Higgins should time his run.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has closed down a highly important grant aid scheme for householders to introduce renewable energy systems into their homes. Will the Taoiseach address this issue? While the Green Party does not intend to keep an eye on Fianna Fáil, perhaps Fianna Fáil should keep an eye on the Green Party in respect of the termination of a scheme to support householders.

The scheme was ended by the Minister and Members received a promise of a Supplementary Estimate. However, the Minister for Finance has indicated there is no sign of a Supplementary Estimate. Will the Taoiseach ensure the introduction of a Supplementary Estimate, albeit for the greatly emasculated scheme now proposed by the Green Party?

Is this promised legislation?

This pertains to a promised Supplementary Estimate and I am entitled to ask about promised Supplementary Estimates.

I am not aware of any such promise.

It was definitely promised.

I thought I had made that clear when I rose.

I am not aware of any such promise. I call Deputy Coveney.

On a point of order——

The Taoiseach must answer me.

——the Deputy is entitled to ask a question on a promised Supplementary Estimate. It does not matter whether the Ceann Comhairle is aware of it, once it has been promised.

I am not aware of it.

It is not necessary for the Ceann Comhairle to be aware of it. It is not his job to be aware of it.

Is the Taoiseach aware whether it has been promised?

I am not aware of it either.

There is no promise.

The Taoiseach is not aware of it either.

It is not necessary for the Ceann Comhairle to be aware of it.

This is the problem. It is clear that the Taoiseach is not aware of it.

I am aware the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance does not intend to introduce any Supplementary Estimate.

Deputy McManus must table a parliamentary question in respect of this matter. I am merely enforcing Standing Orders.

This is important——

I am sure it is.

——because a reduced scheme was announced by the Minister to be introduced by him on the basis of a Supplementary Estimate.

This matter is not in order now.

I am entitled to ask the question in the House and I am amazed to find the Taoiseach is unaware of this matter.

It is not in order.

It is in order.

Of course it is in order.

It is in order. It pertains to a Supplementary Estimate.

I call Deputy Coveney.

It is in order. The Taoiseach should indicate——

On a point of order, it is important the Ceann Comhairle does not rule it out of order to raise an issue about a promised Supplementary Estimate because that is in order. We do not want to set a precedent that we cannot raise issues about promised Estimates in future.

Deputy Stagg has a point. To be helpful, I am not aware of the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance bringing forward this year a Supplementary Estimate about anything.

Could we then have clarification that there will be no new scheme, that the Minister misled the public by indicating that there would be a scheme by way of a Supplementary Estimate?

It is quite clear that since there was no promised Supplementary Estimate——

——Deputy McManus is not in order. The Deputy is entitled to raise the matter by way of parliamentary question and I must ask her to do so. I have no alternative, I am merely enforcing the rules.

In the context of today's Order of Business, and statements on tackling crime, in particular, which will presumably deal with gangland and drugs crime, is the Taoiseach concerned at recent reports of one of his Ministers being quoted as saying that he uses cocaine on a regular basis?

One way or another, that is not in order.

If we are discussing crime for two or three hours this afternoon is it not the case that we will hear hypocrisy?

Deputy Coveney is welcome to make that point during the course of that discussion but it is not in order now.

The Taoiseach is obliged to take responsibility for the Government and his Ministers and the simple question I want to ask is whether he has investigated the reports——

There is no promised legislation.

I call Deputy Timmins.

——and whether he has called in his Minister to ask whether it is factually true. I have the quote in front of me, "Yes, I do take drugs, just coke though, on a regular basis."

A Deputy

Coca-Cola.

I call Deputy Timmins.

He goes on to state that he is certainly not the only one around here who does.

That has occurred to me at times, to be honest with you. I call Deputy Timmins.

All I want to know is, does the Taoiseach intend to investigate it?

(Interruptions).

Recently the Government made a decision to give the green light to Irish participation in an EU-led force to Chad. Would the Taoiseach join with me in the condemnation of the massacre of troops from the African Union over the weekend by Sudanese rebels? Is he satisfied that our EU mandate for this force is satisfactory, the force will have the backing of the international community and it will be adequately equipped?

I empathise with Deputy Timmins but the matter is not in order.

I think the Taoiseach would like to say something on the matter.

No, it is not in order.

In light of the most recently exposed cutbacks in the health services where patients must wait while essential practitioners avail of their entitlement to annual leave, when does the Taoiseach expect the Cabinet to agree the heads of the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill? This is a question I have addressed here on a number of occasions. It is all about the entitlements and rights to proper health care of every citizen. Would he accept in the light of all that has already been addressed here this morning that it is vital to press ahead with this legislation as speedily as possible?

That legislation is under preparation and it will probably be into the new year before it is ready. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, tells me that the question raised by Deputy McManus relates to internal transfer of funds, that he has an understanding with the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance on that issue, and therefore funds will be provided.

I am delighted to hear it. When is that likely to happen?

The Deputy should put the question to the Minister.

I want to raise the issue of the animal health Bill. In light of the blue tongue disease and foot and mouth disease outbreaks in the UK, does the Taoiseach realise that there is a new urgency to adopt an all-Ireland approach to animal disease?

Good try, but the question is out of order.

It relates to promised legislation.

The animal health Bill is——

Nobody mentioned the animal health Bill until now, Deputy Naughten.

I mentioned it at the outset.

Does Deputy Crawford want to ask a question?

I mentioned it at the outset. It is in order. The animal health Bill is No. 18 on the list.

Second, the child care Bill is only in section C of the list, yet there is a crisis in the child care area as far as community groups are concerned.

The animal health Bill is due in the middle of next year.

On promised legislation,——

Deputy Durkan has not gone away.

——when will the immigration, residence and protection Bill and the prevention of corruption (amendment) Bill be published, have all the heads been agreed in Cabinet and when is it proposed to take them on Second Stage?

Both of those Bills are listed for this session.

What is the timeframe for the aviation regulation Bill and is the Taoiseach concerned that social partnership seems to be breaking down due to unilateral actions by companies like Aer Lingus where agreements have been made from which they walk away unilaterally?

In the same context, is the Taoiseach aware of what the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, gets up to? The Minister is effectively excluding the social partners from membership of the boards of the partnership and Leader companies and I wondered whether the Taoiseach was aware of that.

On the legislation.

The aviation regulation Bill is due in 2008.

How could the Taoiseach know what the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is up to?