It is proposed to take No. 10a, motion re referral to the joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008; No. 10b, Finance Bill 2008 — allocation of time motion for select committee; 10c, Finance Bill 2008 — Financial Resolutions; No. 15, Control of Exports Bill 2007 [Seanad] — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, to adjourn at 1 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 10a, 10b and 10c shall be decided without debate. In the case of No. 10c, Financial Resolutions Nos. 1 to 35 shall be moved together and decided by one question which shall be put by the Chair.
Order of Business.
Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 10a, 10b and 10c without debate agreed? Agreed.
We should be honoured the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is here this morning to represent the Green Party. I am aware today is Valentine's Day but I was going to say, had the Minister, Deputy Ryan, not come into the House today, that it would be easier to find a green man on Venus than a Green Party Minister in the Dáil.
Today it is the turn of the Progressive Democrats Party, which supports the Government, to absent itself from the House.
There are not too many of them.
Also, four Ministers are absent who are not paired. However, one cannot control them all. The Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, will recall that there was a time when it was obligatory for Members to attend the House for the Order of Business.
The boys rose to the party.
I wish to raise a couple of matters with the Minister. It is a source of regret to me that the Minister for Education and Science was not present for the Dáil vote last night on the Fine Gael motion on autism moved by Deputy Brian Hayes.
I want to state publicly that I admire the spirit of Deputy O'Rourke. It is a pity it was not matched by three or four members of the Fianna Fáil Party who could have stood up for children challenged in this way. This would have sent to the Minister for Education and Science a direction that this type of Thatcher-like approach to the process of education should be more flexible. This is a cause of regret. The Government has disappointed many parents around the country.
We learned today from the national newspapers that almost 300 prisoners who are on the run are either on temporary release or absent from low security prisons. The Ceann Comhairle is thinking of stopping me.
I do not want to stop the Deputy but he is completely out of order.
I know; I am on the run.
It is a curved ball.
We could spot Deputy Kenny anywhere in that tie.
The Deputy is out on the sideline somewhere.
What action will the Government take to assist the Garda Síochána in ensuring these people serve their due sentences——
The Deputy is not in order. He must ask relevant questions on the Order of Business. It is not possible for Deputy Kenny to continue with this matter.
——whether in low security prisons or from absconding while on temporary release? One person has been on temporary release from prison since 1992.
Will the Tánaiste say if the Government intends to make any amendment in respect of the pharmacy (No. 1) Bill or pharmacy (No. 2) Bill to introduce an arbitration system to ensure there will not be chaos after 1 March?
Thousands of people are concerned about whether they will be able to get their prescribed medicines after this date.
It is not possible to indicate at this stage when the pharmacy Bill will be brought forward. On the matter raised by Deputy Kenny in respect of newspaper coverage, this issue relates to 272 prisoners out of a total prison population of 150,000 during a 16-year period. Deputies will be interested to know that the use of temporary release has decreased significantly from 20% when the Rainbow Coalition was in power to 5% under this Government.
The Joint Committee on Health and Children is meeting today for the third day in succession to deal with the continuing problem that no agreement has been reached between the Health Service Executive and pharmacists in respect of the terms of their contract. This could result in many medical card holders being unable to obtain their prescriptions from 1 March.
That is not in order.
This is in order.
Nothing is in order in this House.
It has been under consideration by a committee of the House for three days in succession, which is unprecedented. Will the Government provide some time in this House next week to consider a report from the health committee about its deliberations on this matter and afford all Members the opportunity to discuss this important matter? It causes considerable anxiety, particularly to older people who are concerned they will not get their prescriptions from 1 March. All Members should have an opportunity to consider the health committee's report and I ask that it be brought here next week.
May I ask the Tánaiste about a matter on which I asked him before, his Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill, which passed all Stages in the Seanad last July? It provides for an arrangement whereby if somebody offers an officeholder money or a large gift and the recipient is in doubt about whether he or she should accept it, he or she could go to the Standards in Public Office Commission for advice. That Bill has passed all Stages in the Seanad. I asked the Tánaiste two weeks ago when he intended to bring it to this House. He was to consult the Government Chief Whip on that and I ask him when the Second Stage of that Bill will be debated. A report from the Standards in Public Office Commission last July recommended a number of changes to the ethics legislation. When does the Government intend to bring forward legislation to give effect to the recommendations of the Standards in Public Office Commission?
On the Deputy's second point, I would be amendable to inserting some of the recommendations into the Bill he mentioned earlier. That is why I am having amendments drawn up to take on some of those recommendations and incorporate them into the Bill under discussion.
Could the Tánaiste answer the first part of the second matter and all parts of the first matter? When will he bring in the Second Stage of the Bill, whereby people in doubt about accepting money from strangers can go to the Standards in Public Office Commission to get advice about it? Will he allow time for a debate on the health committee's report?
I have just explained the procedure to the Deputy. He asked a question and then criticised me for letting him know when I will take some of the recommendations made by the Standards in Public Office Commission last summer.
I only asked the question.
I answered the question but if I get a smart answer I have to give Deputy Gilmore a smart answer back.
My answer was not smart.
It was a smart answer. Deputy Gilmore is trying to get a line in the newspaper.
The Tánaiste is all right. We are not in the lobbies.
Deputy Gilmore need not worry. He will achieve double digits eventually. He will break through that 10% mark any time soon. Recommendations were made, some of which I wish to incorporate. Those amendments are being prepared. When they are finalised and incorporated into the Bill it can come to the House and be dealt with comprehensively. I thought that was a comprehensive way to deal with it.
Is the Ethics in Public Office Bill that was passed by the Seanad being withdrawn for a second Bill to be prepared?
There is something wrong with Deputy Gilmore's hearing too.
Will the Bill that was passed by the Seanad be brought to the House?
Yes, with Government amendments. It will incorporate some of the recommendations of the Standards in Public Office Commission and when enacted here will return to the Seanad to take on those amendments.
May I ask two questions arising from that?
Has the Government approved that course of action? When will it appear in this House?
The Government has approved that course of action in principle. Work continues on some technical amendments and they will be provided as soon as possible. Once I have that I can come to the House with the incorporated Bill. I cannot say much more about it.
I invite the Tánaiste to answer my first question, whether he will provide time next week for a debate on the health committee's report on the row involving pharmacists and the HSE.
As Deputy Gilmore knows, that is a matter for the Whips.
How the House orders its business is a matter for the Whips, as the Ceann Comhairle said.
The Opposition Whips are amenable.
The Taoiseach dealt with this matter comprehensively during Question Time yesterday.
Then the answer is no.
Does that mean there will be no debate?
I thank Deputy Eamon Ryan for agreeing to an independent study on the EirGrid proposal. When will the electricity regulation (EirGrid) (amendment) Bill come before the House?
I wish the Minister for Health and Children would agree to an independent study on the pharmacists issue.
As I said in my request under Standing Order 32, there is a crisis in the agriculture sector. The only Bill relevant to the sector is the animal health Bill. If there is to be no debate on agriculture, can that animal health Bill be brought in so we can have an opportunity to discuss the crisis?
There is a crisis in dentistry. Young people cannot get their free entitlements for dentures and one family told me it was costing them €500 to have two teeth seen to. When will the dentists Bill be brought into the House so we can discuss that issue?
It is not possible to say when the dentists or animal health Bills will come into the House but the electricity regulation (EirGrid) (amendment) Bill will be published this session.
Now that Irish criminals are enhancing their image on a daily basis internationally, could I again ask the Tánaiste whether it is intended to provide for the miscellaneous changes to the criminal law and give effect to a number of international instruments, such as extradition, with a view to curtailing the activity of such people? This is urgent and it is clearly recognised internationally that a large number of Irish drug baron exiles reside in the various hot spots all over the world and have a very high quality of life.
The criminal law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will be published some time later this year.
That is a vague and nebulous reply.
The House has agreed to an extension of the Limerick urban boundary, which will have knock-on effects on local election boundaries. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has established two committees to redraw local election boundaries. Part of the terms of reference for those committees is that the chairman Mr. Niall Callan must take cognisance of constituency boundaries. Does that mean the existing constituencies or the new constituencies which have not yet been implemented? Submissions close by early March and people are unsure how to frame their submissions. Do the terms of reference refer to existing or new boundaries and will the Government give a commitment to bring forward the legislation enacting the new Dáil constituency arrangements before the committee addresses the submissions?
A debate in the House on the Electoral Commission's report is the first step to be taken before taking any legislation on it. There has been much comment on it from all sides of the House and it would be good to have the views of the House expressed in a debate.
Regarding the correct answer to the Deputy's first question, I presume it is in relation to the new boundaries. However, I will have to clarify that and will confirm with the Deputy exactly what is the position. The purpose of the order is in the interests of convenient and effective local government, in order to address the geographical divorcement of the relevant areas from Limerick County Council and to assist in the implementation of the Fitzgerald report. The order provides for the extension of the administrative boundary of Limerick City Council, which was one of the recommendations of that report. Regarding the specific question the Deputy asked about the boundary, I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to contact him directly.
I ask the Tánaiste to deal with this as a matter of urgency. I am sure it is the case in Fianna Fáil, as it is in all other parties, that various units of political organisations are drawing up submissions on boundaries now, on a national basis. On the face of it, it looks as if the submissions to align the local areas to Dáil constituencies relates to the existing constituency boundaries. That is the sense of it but all of that will have changed very quickly, after the submissions have been made.
It is best to get clarification from the line Minister and I will ask him to communicate with all Deputies.
Before Christmas, and again in this session, Government spokespersons committed themselves to introducing legislation, following a review of the Competition Authority. This arose in the context of the discussion of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2007. The Government indicated that a review of the Competition Authority's powers and functions was under way. When can we expect that legislation? I ask the question because of the urgency that attaches to it in view of the fact the HSE is choosing to ignore the Fennelly judgment in the case against the Irish League of Credit Unions. Mr. Justice Fennelly upheld the appeal by the Irish League of Credit Unions and on behalf of the Supreme Court stated that where there was no issue relating to the economy or the abuse of a dominant position, the Competition Authority had no role. This is precisely one of the roadblocks in the pharmacy dispute.
When we addressed this issue substantively in my Private Member's Bill before Christmas, Government spokespersons indicated they would respond to issues such as this with their own legislation. My legislation, on behalf of the Labour Party, was voted down. When it is proposed to circulate heads of a Bill? What is the position regarding the review? When may we expect legislation? Does the Tánaiste agree the elimination of this roadblock would have enabled people, as is usual in most democracies, to be collectively represented? Mr. Justice Fennelly was explicit on this issue. He argued that the straying of the Competition Authority into another area is unhelpful. I also object to the abuse of power by the HSE, which probably contacted the authority and asked it to use powers it does not have.
It would be enormously helpful if the Tánaiste would indicate when the Government proposes to clarify the role of the Competition Authority or alternatively, if it proposes to bring forward trade union legislation that would copperfasten the right to collective representation and ensure it can never be struck down by quangos.
I am not aware of the debate which took place but I take it that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Micheál Martin, and other Government spokespersons were talking about the general regulatory review that is being undertaken at present. If that is the case, the first report on that is due in July. I am not aware of any impending legislation coming before the Cabinet in terms of heads of a Bill concerning the specific matter raised by the Deputy. I can only take the matter up with the relevant Minister and ask him to relay to the Deputy information on the present position.
In view of the publicly expressed comments of the chairman of the Road Safety Authority regarding the purchase and implementation of the proposed new speed cameras, for which tenders have been invited, I ask the Tánaiste to confirm that the tenders will proceed and the cameras will be purchased and put in place as soon as possible.
No, he cannot because it is not in order.
I raise the matter in the context of the national road safety strategy. This is the place for a debate. The chairman of the authority has expressed his concerns. Can the Tánaiste respond as to what he will do about it?
Questions must relate to legislation. I call Deputy Ciarán Lynch. Apologies, Deputy Broughan wishes to make a point on the same matter.
Given that the Tánaiste did not include funding for this in the Estimates for 2008 for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is his Department effectively acting as a roadblock regarding the implementation of speed cameras?
Deputy Broughan raised the matter of speed cameras last night and was allowed to do so. I call Deputy Ciarán Lynch. The Deputy had a good innings.
It is never any other way.
In the context of the Finance Bill and a reply to a parliamentary question which I received yesterday, it has been brought to my attention that tenants living in this country who are paying rent directly to a landlord living outside the State are liable for the taxation owed by that landlord. When I asked the Minister for Finance yesterday how much money was collected, how many tenants were affected, how many had defaulted and about any aspect of the mechanics of this provision in the Finance Bill, he was not able to provide me with any information. The response was that the Department is completely and utterly unaware. The unfairness of a tenant being liable for tax owed by his or her landlord harks back to the 18th century and the time of absentee landlords. I ask the Minister to re-examine the legislation and abolish the relevant section, which is obviously serving no purpose. There is no information available as to whether it is actually working. It must be changed and I ask the Minister to reconsider the legislation which is completely unfair and iniquitous in that it lays liability on the tenant for the landlord's tax liabilities.
This does not relate to legislation which is promised.
In response to the Deputy, we look forward to him joining us for the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill, when we can discuss these matters.
The first matter I wish to raise relates to secondary legislation, namely the guidelines issued to the boundary commission, which is examining the local boundaries for the 2009 local elections. The commission is precluded from considering the possibility of equalising representation as between counties but a gross inequality now exists in that regard. Has the matter been considered and if so, why has it been ruled out? Has the Government received legal advice on the constitutionality of such a discrepancy regarding the representation of people who ultimately are the electors for a House of the Oireachtas?
The Tánaiste will be aware that I introduced on behalf of the Labour Party, on two separate occasions, in the current and previous Dáil, a Civil Unions Bill. The first was agreed by the House, but with a date of implementation beyond the lifetime of that Dáil, which was a disreputable way of voting it down. When it was introduced again in this Dáil, a commitment was given that the Government would produce its own legislation in this session, that is, the first session of 2008. It is not on the legislative programme for this session. When will the Government's civil partnership Bill be introduced?
I understand it will be introduced some time this year. It is not on the legislative list at present. Draft heads of the Bill are in preparation in the Department and its expected publication date is 2008.
The commitment was that it would be done by March of this year. Has that now been abandoned?
As the Deputy will know from his time as a Minister, it is not a question of abandoning legislation but of preparing it properly and producing it on time, if possible. It may be that the promised date may not be met.
The Government might have anticipated that.
The Government remains committed to bringing forward a civil partnership Bill as soon as possible, given the drafting requirements that are involved.
It is not as if we are coming down with legislation.
Regarding the first matter raised by Deputy Howlin, his question will have to be directed to the line Minister for a detailed reply. I am not aware of any constitutional issue arising but I will ask the Minister to consult with Deputy Howlin, having heard what he has raised this morning.
Does the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government intend to introduce legislation to further increase landfill rates, which are reported to be rising from €15 to €20 per tonne? Such charges will help to reduce the dumping of biodegradable waste and lessen the threat of EU fines. However, it will place a greater burden on the taxpayer and cripple business and industry.
Is legislation promised in this area?
No, legislation is not promised or necessary. A parliamentary question to the Minister might elicit the information.
From the Tánaiste's form and good mood, he must be aware that it is St. Valentine's Day. Is he aware that thousands of people, hopefully including himself, will go out for meals tonight and that many of the country's restaurant workers will not be on proper wages and conditions, including the minimum wage? Last week, I brought to the Tánaiste's attention the case of a worker in an Indian restaurant who was awarded substantial damages because he had no rights or good working conditions.
Is legislation promised in this area?
The Government has repeatedly promised the social partners and trade unions an employment agencies Bill to regulate the plight of foreign workers. Just as people want to know from where the food they eat in restaurants comes — we hope it is from Ireland — they want to see signs that restaurant workers are getting fair wages and conditions when we are privileged enough to sit down to dine. Where is the Bill?
There has been a protracted consultation process to try to get agreement on this matter. Preliminary advice from the Attorney General's office has been received in respect of the extent of licensing of employment agencies having regard to Article 49 of the EU treaty on related matters. The Bill is not before the House and the social partners have not signed off on what we are trying to achieve. The discussions are continuing and will probably form part of the discussions that will shortly commence in respect of pay issues.
On that romantic note, we will move to the first motion.