Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Vol. 654 No. 1

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 7 — motion re nomination of Comptroller and Auditor General. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted on the adjournment of Private Members' business which shall be No. 31 — motion re Irish economy, to be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m. tonight or on the conclusion of No. 7, whichever is the later; and (2) the proceedings on No. 7 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight with the following arrangements: that the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case and the speeches of each other Member, if called upon, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Members may share time and a Member or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 7 — motion re appointment of Comptroller and Auditor General, agreed to? Agreed.

This January saw the second anniversary of the document, A Vision for Change, which was to be the charter for mental health services. No money was allocated for this programme in 2008. When will the mental health (amendment) Bill, which is No. 56 on the legislative programme, be brought before the House? Its publication is expected in 2009. If the implementation of the document A Vision for Change is not being resourced, we will face serious problems.

I am pleased the Taoiseach launched a broadside yesterday regarding the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. I am glad he is urging all his members to stay inside the tent first of all and then to go out and campaign strongly for a "Yes" vote. In that context, is it proposed to have a discussion in the House to allow for an outline of the full range of what is on offer in terms of the trade agreement at the World Trade Organisation talks? I understand this is available in the Department. There is serious angst within the agri-sector in respect of the Government's right to use a veto at the conclusion of the World Trade Organisation talks if they are concluded, notwithstanding any intervention from the United States. I ask for the Taoiseach's comments because it is an issue out there on the hustings as he will become aware shortly.

I understand the mental health (amendment) Bill is not due until next year. With regard to the other matter, it is important to point out that we recently had a serious discussion in the House. The then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food offered a briefing to bring people up to speed on the situation. Unfortunately, this invitation has not yet been taken up, as far as I am aware, and it is something that could be considered. We must avoid ending up in a situation where we discuss issues such as the WTO which may or may not conclude at all, and may only have a 50-50 chance of concluding, whereas we are definitely dealing with another issue on 12 June and it is vital to achieve a "Yes" vote for that issue.

In the context of the health check which will take place on the Common Agricultural Policy this year, it is very important that our Minister would be armed with a considerable mandate in favour of Europe when trying to deal with simplification of the single farm payment. This issue is on that agenda and is one we would like to pursue with colleagues. It is an issue which has been raised by farmers and we would like to address it in the context of the health check. The possibility of increased milk quota is another issue we want to address.

The tendency to suggest that one would be looking after farming and agrifood interests by voting "No" in the European Union referendum on the basis of concerns which might never emerge in the WTO talks would be shooting ourselves in the foot twice because we then would have a situation where the Minister would be asked to go in to those discussions on the health check without the goodwill from colleagues we would otherwise have as a result of a strong "Yes" vote. While I understand the concerns and issues being raised are a matter of public debate, I ask that we keep these issues separate so that we do not confuse the public, let alone ourselves.

While these issues are to do with the same sectors in terms of the stages of the negotiations, by giving a "Yes" vote to the European reform treaty we have a fundamental interest to protect in terms of how the Common Agricultural policy health check goes in the short term and indeed many of the other issues post-2013 which are also germane. We need the goodwill of colleagues to deal with these matters as these Common Agricultural Policy reforms are being considered. I ask that we keep those matters separate. It might be a good idea to take up the invitation to the briefing on the WTO issue.

I am at one with the Taoiseach on this matter. I have been expressing this point of view clearly and cogently for the past number of months. However, the Government should now intercede with the farming organisations which clearly by advertisement link the Lisbon treaty to the WTO. I have made my view clear that they are separate matters but they are being linked and many of those involved in the agri-sector may well take that to heart. I suggest the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should liaise directly in order to clarify the situation because it is so important for the future of everybody that we be part of a stronger Europe and then be in a stronger position to deal with the consequences of WTO whenever it is concluded.

On first day in the job I was in Northern Ireland and I was here on my second day. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, met with Michel Barnier, the French Agriculture Minister. He came to see me in my office and we discussed the issue for 15 minutes although not in great detail as he had to catch a plane. I knew Mr. Barnier when he was in the Commission and I was Minister for Foreign Affairs. I know the French Government is working with us on this matter. It is very important that we do not end up in a situation where we apply a position to the treaty on the basis of a concern about the WTO which may not happen at all. This makes no sense, although this is not to say we are not concerned about the issues. However, we should not decide to shoot ourselves in the foot twice.

I met M. Barnier at 8 a.m. before he met the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I wish to ask three questions about promised legislation. The OECD report, published last week, drew attention to the increase in the number of State agencies. In response, the Taoiseach indicated his wish to see some State agencies merged, amalgamated or whatever. The legislative programme proposes the creation of 11 further State agencies. Does the Taoiseach intend to indicate to the House his plans with regard to the amalgamation or abolition of some State agencies?

On the publication of the Green Paper on local government, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government promised legislation to limit the spending by candidates in the forthcoming local elections. When will that legislation be introduced?

I note my constituency colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, last year published a Private Members' Bill, the Spent Convictions Bill 2007. Will that Bill be presented as a Government Bill?

We intend to take the Spent Convictions Bill in our own time. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, for his initiative. It is intended to introduce the electoral amendment Bill this session. In regard to the question of agencies, the biggest criticism of any agency in the country is the HSE which got rid of 56 agencies and brought them into one. Everyone gives out about that one.


The next argument then is that we have too many. I make the point that, perhaps, it points to the fact that it is easier said than done. That is the first point. The agentising out of Government delivery of programmeshas been part of previous Civil Service reform programmes, including ones when the Labour Party was in Government, because it has the benefit, if properly done, to deliver services and have a focus on the delivery of a particular service. My attitude to all of this is that at the end of the day it is not a simplistic equation of the fewer agencies, great services. The problem is, whatever way we have to deal with it,depending on how they are organised, reforms will require us to apply different means of addressing these issuesdepending on the outcomes. The issue is what guarantees better outcomes. I take the point that we have to review all of this. The OECD has pointed this out. I will set up a task force which I intend will report to Government before the end of the summer on how to implement that OECD report so we go about this in a proper way. The last thing we want to do with this is to put everything in and expect it will be honky dory. Itis not as simple as that. From my point of view, all proposals coming to Government in terms of the establishment of agencies will be critically assessed by us as to whether the task can be done by existing agencies or if agencies are being appointed, to what extent we can ensure they are focused on a particular issue and in a way that will maximise benefits to the citizen.

Last Thursday I raised the issue of the Nuclear Test Ban Bill, which has no explanatory memorandum. Will you advise me, a Cheann Comhairle, if it is in accordance with Standing Orders that a Bill going through the House does not have an explanatory memorandum? When I raised the issue the Tánaiste said she would organise a one-to-one for me with the Minister. If I had a one-to-one I would have been told that should a bomb go off in this country we would be fined €5,000 and, perhaps, sent to jail for 12 months. Given that such significant legislation is going through Committee Stage tomorrow, why is there no explanatory memorandum available which would make some of the more ridiculous aspects of the Bill clear to read?

It goes to the District Court.

It is not always the case that the explanatory memorandum comes at the same time as the Bill. In the course of the Order of Business last Thursday, the Deputy raised this matter and the Tánaiste indicated she should arrange for the appropriate Department to revert to the Deputy. I have here a letter dated 13 May to the Deputy from the Office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stating the Nuclear Test Ban Bill will be before the Select Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for consideration on Committee Stage on Wednesday, 21 May. The Department will be circulating an information note on the Bill to the committee members prior to the meeting and an explanatory memorandum will also be made available following reprint of the Bill, after Committee Stage. There will be a note for the moment and after Committee Stage the explanatory memorandum.

On a point of order, am I to understand that in respect of a Bill that has been before the House since 2006 it has taken until now to have an explanatory memorandum produced?

I cannot give the Deputy the reason but, perhaps, I can find out what was the situation. The Deputy's query has been answered and it is being dealt with.

To quote the Taoiseach, in his wish to deal with things in a proper way, was a by-law introduced at the Cabinet table this morning? Yesterday I gave most of my day to the draft fishermen in Cromane, County Kerry, who have a licence and were given the go-ahead yesterday evening by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to fish today. The South-Western Regional Fisheries Board received——

Is this promised legislation?

——an e-mail last evening from the Minister at 8 p.m. stating that he will bring a by-law to Cabinet and that it would take 24 to 48 hours to put a stop to them. Is this the proper way to deal with fisheries?

Is fisheries legislation promised in this area?

I understand this issue is on the adjournment for tomorrow.

I sought an adjournment debate today but it was not listed.

In his e-mail, the Minister said it would take 24 to 48 hours to introduce this by-law. Is legislation coming in by the back door?

Following scientific advice, the Minister may have to bring in a by-law. He does not have to go to Government for the issuing of a by-law.

Is it going to happen?

I was disappointed the Taoiseach did not think of Wexford when he was appointing his Ministers. This is the first time in many Governments that Wexford has lost out. In the Fine Gael rainbow Government there were two senior Ministers and a Minister of State.

That matter is not in order.

When will the explosives Bill come before the House? I have no doubt when the Taoiseach goes to Wexford he will need the explosives Bill behind him because the people are very annoyed with him today.

The Bill will come before the House in 2009.

When will No. 41, the education patronage Bill, to extend additional models of patronage in regard to primary school education, come before the House? It is promised in the current session. I have raised on many occasions the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill. In relation to the Taoiseach's commentary here last week that he is absolutely intent on proceeding with the further decimation of services at local hospital sites around the country when does he expect that legislation will come before the House to allow for address of the rights of citizens to care on the basis of need?

I understand the first Bill will come before the House at the end of this year and the second Bill will come before the House next year.

In light of the fact that Senator George Mitchell is coming to Belfast this coming week, would it be possible to bring forward the George Mitchell Bill regarding increased funding for scholarships? In recognition of the great work he did I would like the Bill brought forward.

I agree with Deputy Crawford that he has done an outstanding job and the scholarship in his name is well merited. I understand the Bill will come before the House later this year.

I wish to raise an issue that has been raised many times, that is, the fair deal legislation. The Tánaiste told the House on Thursday last that it is intended to bring the legislation through the two Houses before the summer recess. As far as I can see there are only about seven weeks remaining. When will that Bill be published given that we need adequate time to properly debate it in the Oireachtas?

I understand it is in its final stages of drafting. We hope to have it published in two weeks.

Listening to the Taoiseach announce the appointments to the office of Minister of State, it struck me that multiple Ministers of State have been appointed to the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Will the Taoiseach publish formal, delegated orders for the duties, budget and powers of Ministers of State? Without delegated functions and a budget, power and responsibility, a Minister of State, even one who serves in four different Departments, is a poor creature.

I congratulate the new Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Mansergh. While I am pleased for him, I note he has also been appointed Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism which struggles to occupy the time of one full Minister. Given, as the Taoiseach indicated, that most of the Department's work is done by agencies, what will a Minister of State in the Department do? I suppose he will attend openings of events.

The Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, and the Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen, will ensure the State properly promotes, acknowledges and represents the cultural life of the nation and we do all we can to assist creative flair in all the arts. The Minister of State, who has a particular interest and expertise in this area, will do this very well. Joining up arts and the Minister of State's responsibility in respect of the heritage function of the Office of Public Works is entirely logical and complementary and fits his talents admirably.

I join Deputy Burton in congratulating the Ministers of State and acknowledge the work of the outgoing Ministers of State. There are always far more competent, able candidates than positions available.

People are asking the reason the Tánaiste was not able to hold on to Pat the Cope.

I want to make that point regardless of what barbs emanate from the other side of the House. Some Opposition Deputies will have known the elation and disappointment of days such as today. We must be fair and I thank everybody for the courtesy shown to me in the good discussions I had with all the Ministers of State, both outgoing and incoming, on the role they can play in working with Ministers to ensure their work is valuable and fulfilling for them professionally, adds value to the Government's work and is well managed and presented. This is a genuine sentiment and a hope I have for all those who have been privileged to have been asked to serve, including last week. We intend to do this to the very best of our ability. It is only fair, on a day like this, to make that point.

Will the Taoiseach answer the question about delegated functions? One would expect a Minister from Waterford to be well able to look after culture given the small size of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the large number of agencies involved in these areas. What is the purpose of having multiple Ministers of State in one Department? What will the five Ministers of State at the Department of Education and Science do when they sit down together? Will they have delegated functions?

Let me be clear as it is important to be fair. The Deputy was a junior Minister on one occasion.

I had delegated orders and a budget.

I will give the Deputy an answer if she wants one. I apologise for being distracted by the second part of her question. The Ministers of State will have delegated functions.

I will repeat my reply. The Ministers of State will be given delegated functions. Some of them have cross-cutting responsibilities. The reason for having cross-cutting responsibilities and removing ridiculous distinctions between departmental silos is to make Ministers of State more effective and give them a wider remit to cover all the policy aspects that may reside in different Departments. The discussion on Leaders' Questions was instructive in this regard. Technically, the Office of the Minister for Children has three different policy areas, namely, justice, health and education. These have been brought together and, as everyone will privately acknowledge — they should also do so publicly given the excellent leadership being provided at Civil Service level in that office — it is doing an outstanding job in its current construction, much better than would have been the case when it was acting separately in different Departments.

We are trying to introduce innovative, more progressive ways to ensure Ministers of State are given an opportunity to show the full range of their talents by having access to various departmental areas in particular areas of activity. For example, the area of children is covered by education and, as we have heard in respect of the child protection area, health, as well as justice in terms of juvenile justice issues and so on. This approach is proving correct and similar approaches are being taken in the areas of elderly people and integration. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, faces a major challenge in the area of integration and will have the full support of all colleagues in trying to address this very important issue.

Securing effective cross-cutting responsibility across Departments is something of a culture change in public administration. Diligent, able and persistent Ministers are required to ensure they get the type of response, co-operation and outcomes they need. This requires co-operation from all Ministers and I have been clear to everyone in government that I do not believe in territoriality or Ministers having functions that are not substantive. All members of the Government have been given an onerous task which they will seek to perform conscientiously and on the basis of an esprit de corps in the Government that insists on everybody being respected and getting their job done in a co-operative and collegiate manner. That is the way good Government operates and I intend to ensure it occurs.

On a topical matter, when is it intended to introduce the criminal justice exchange of information Bill to give effect to the EU framework decision on simplifying the exchange of information between law enforcement authorities? Will the Taoiseach indicate when the pharmacy Bill will be introduced? Have discussions between the HSE and pharmacists progressed sufficiently to enable the Bill to come before the House?

A date has not been set for the pharmacy No. 2 Bill, which is not germane to the issue raised by the Deputy. The heads of the other Bill are early in the process of being drafted. It is not possible to state when it will be introduced.

I note the Taoiseach's use of the expression "departmental silos", which is new to me. The legislative silo, as it pertains to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is fairly empty. The legislative programme features three Bills for the Department, one of which is the animal health and welfare Bill. I have been inundated recently——

That is not relevant. The Deputy must ask questions on the legislation.

I ask for a little latitude. I am coming to the question.

The Deputy is taking the scenic route.

I have been inundated with correspondence from representatives of Compassion in World Farming on the defeated Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill 2004, which was, I understand, introduced by the Green Party during the previous Government's term in office. Will the relevant provision feature in the animal health and welfare Bill? When will the legislation come before the House?

On the scarcity of global food supplies, given the lack of Government initiatives in this area, it would be pertinent to have a debate on the issue.

As the legislation in question is a Bill to consolidate existing legislation, it is not envisaged that the issue raised by the Deputy will be incorporated in the Bill. The legislation is in a public consultation process which must be completed before the heads of the Bill are prepared.

Although the second issue the Deputy raised is not fully in order according to the Ceann Comhairle, it is an important matter. It has come into sharp relief in the past six to nine months and it is having a major affect on the World Food Programme and on UN agencies and export tariffs are being raised by countries which are not exporting. Rice, for example, is a staple food for billions of people and its price has trebled in the past four months. There is real worry about what is happening. It would be an excellent subject to debate in due course.

That is matter for the Whips.

Has the Taoiseach assigned responsibility for children with autism to a Minister of State? This is a typical example where responsibility crosses Departments, especially in regard to the educational needs of children with autism. If he has not assigned responsibility, I ask him to do so as soon as possible. There are ongoing difficulties between the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children in regard to back-up services, such as speech and other behavioural therapies. We have an opportunity to deal with this issue once and for all.

I recently tabled a parliamentary question asking if we could include a question in the next census asking if anyone in a household has autism in order that we know exactly what we are dealing with.

We cannot go into that matter. I call the Taoiseach on the issue of assignment of responsibilities.

The Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, will have cross-cutting responsibility through his disabilities and equality brief. Mental health is a separate issue. There is the whole question of mainstreaming autism services in our schools about which there are varying opinions. A significant amount of resources is going into that area. I do not believe it is about one Minister having responsibility for it across Departments but it is about Ministers liaising, planning, working, co-operating and networking to get these matters sorted to the greatest possible extent within the resources available.

Somebody must be given responsibility to lead this.

The responsibility in the school system quite clearly lies with the Minister for Education and Science and responsibility for the provision of disability services generally lies with the Department of Health and Children. There are also issues relating to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in terms of the statutory protections and standards put in place. That issue is being improved on by the new arrangements not only started here but being built on by bringing equality into that area as well.