Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 17 Feb 2010

Vol. 702 No. 3

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 22, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 4, the Road Traffic Bill, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business is No. 3, Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Powers of Inquiry) Bill 2010 — Second Stage (Resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight if not previously concluded.

A Cheann Comhairle, I had intended commenting on what I considered was an over-hasty reaction to expelling Deputy Flanagan from the House but I received a telephone call from an official in your office yesterday, I assume out of courtesy, at about 2 o'clock informing me of procedural matters. Your office said that I would be prevented from raising a matter of personal consideration; I assume this was in respect of the Minister for Defence. It was not my intention to raise that matter during Leaders' Questions in any event because we discussed the Ryanair position. I am wondering how it was that I got an unsolicited telephone call from your office on the assumption that it was my intention to raise an issue of importance about a Cabinet Minister. I am aware of the rules governing substantive motions where serious matters might be laid against any Member in that these are required to have four days' notice unless you, as Ceann Comhairle, change that. Did you get a flash or inspiration or some——

No. A decision was taken to telephone all the leaders of the parties who were likely to raise the issue of——

May I ask you, Sir——

It was not just Deputy Enda Kenny alone.

And the Taoiseach as well.

A Deputy

The Taoiseach was going to telephone was he?

What brought it on?

Was this political or divine inspiration, or did you suddenly come to a conclusion that you should telephone the other party leaders on the off-chance that they might want to raise something about the Minister for Defence?

The important principle we were endeavouring to establish is that if there were to be any serious allegations made against any Member of the House they would have to be made by way of a substantive motion. That is an important principle to establish in this House——

Of course it is.

——and that was the purpose of it.

Does that mean that you will telephone again tomorrow because there is always an opportunity on every Order of Business to do something like that?

It may not arise tomorrow.

It struck me that it was unusual to get an unsolicited telephone call from the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, for which I am grateful, to give me information of which I was already in possession.

Did the Ceann Comhairle initiate it?

You left out the Independents again, a Cheann Comhairle. You have not telephoned them yet.

I, too, got a similar telephone call. It is always very nice to hear from your office, a Cheann Comhairle, but as you know there is a rule that you apply to the rest of us. You regularly remind us that we should not anticipate debate. I believe you were anticipating debate and an approach to this issue that you should not have anticipated. As it turned out, it was not necessary for you to anticipate.

The more substantive issue was——

The issue was an issue for the DPP.

——that the arrangement eventually arrived at here yesterday evening was a very unsatisfactory one whereby the Minister gave a statement but no opportunity was provided to Members of the House to ask him questions or to respond to the statement he made. I appreciate that the Ceann Comhairle responded to a request from the Minister to allow him an opportunity to make a statement of personal explanation. However, as I understand it, the rules in regard to statements of personal explanation require such statements to be brief, non-contentious and non-controversial in the political sense and to be such that they do not invite debate. The statement made by the Minister for Defence satisfied none of those conditions. It was highly contentious, highly partisan, highly self-serving and it required an opportunity for a response to be made to it. I do not blame the Ceann Comhairle for that; I blame the Taoiseach. The Government should have provided Government time for that statement to be made and for questions or responses to be made by Members.

In view of the point the Deputy has raised, I am quite prepared to give Government time today for the taking of a confidence motion on this issue. I am giving notice that we will do so.

The Green Party may have a view on that.

This shows the Taoiseach can act when he wants to.

Deputy Reilly is always acting.

To clarify, the Ceann Comhairle also did not telephone the leader of Sinn Féin in the House on this matter.


The programme for Government has a section dealing with equity of access to health care and indicates that this will be guaranteed through the implementation of the new consultants' contract. Is the Taoiseach aware that this contract is being frequently flouted by consultants throughout the hospital network and health service? Is he aware of the recent report by the Health Service Executive which highlights that some 17 consultants in the executive's western area are almost entirely functioning in the service of private patients and are not holding to the 20% allowed under the contract details? In other words——

The Deputy is transgressing from the Order of Business.

My question is in the context of legislation. These consultants should be providing an 80% service to public patients but that is not happening. It is not only an issue of the programme for Government; my question is what measures the Taoiseach is prepared to take to ensure adequate monitoring and enforcement of these contracts. Will he consider legislation to ensure there is strict adherence to the terms of the contracts and, if necessary, to ensure there are appropriate penalties for blatant breaches of those terms?

Is this about promised legislation?

My question is whether the Taoiseach will consider legislation in order to ensure full adherence to the terms of the new consultants' contract given that there is such a degree of breach by consultants and, in particular——

Will the Deputy consider putting a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health and Children?

——in view of the catchment of consultants highlighted by the recent Health Service Executive report?

Will the Deputy submit a parliamentary question to the Minister?

I have asked a question of the Taoiseach and it merits at least a response on his part.

The Deputy's question is not in order.

This is a very serious matter. The Taoiseach could make the effort to rise in his seat and give us some indication of what he will do to address the problem.

The Deputy is not in order.

Is legislation promised in this area?

No legislation is promised. The Deputy may submit a parliamentary question.

It is no wonder there is no adherence to the contract requirements when there is absolutely no accountability.

I have told the Deputy to table a parliamentary question.

I will give the Deputy an answer when his question is in order. He cannot make up the rules as he goes along.

The Taoiseach indicated earlier his willingness to have the motion of no confidence in the Minister for Defence taken today. I was surprised this morning that the Order of Business presented to the House did not include a counter-motion tabled by the Government, that is, a motion of confidence in the Minister. Is there some reason for that? Has the Taoiseach not yet secured the agreement of all members of the Government to table a motion of confidence in the Minister? When does he expect to be in a position to table such a motion?

The Deputy can take it that the Minister for Defence has the full confidence of the Government.

If that stands for anything.

We will table the motion and will have that debate this afternoon.

What is the position in regard to section 110 of the Finance Act 2007, which was introduced by the Taoiseach as Minister for Finance? That section provided for the closure of a loophole whereby property developers were avoiding the payment of stamp duty. This provision was included in the legislation after a long campaign by the Labour Party but was never implemented.

The Minister for Finance has given a statement to the examiner from Brussels indicating that we may now see legislation to close off this loophole because, otherwise, the whole NAMA process, bad as it is, will sink further. As a result of this loophole that the Taoiseach engineered and then refused to close, we have a situation where most of the properties being transferred to NAMA have no title in terms of the associated loans. There is no capacity for NAMA to work, even in its appalling way, without this loophole being closed. It is four years since the Taoiseach and I engaged in this debate on numerous occasions in this Chamber and in the dungeons of the committees as we discussed the details of the Finance Bill 2007. As a result of his failure to close this loophole, it will now cost the Irish taxpayer not just the €250 million that the Taoiseach's own consultants, Goodbody Consultants, predicted at the time, but probably now a further €20 billion in bad loans. Not only are those loans bad but the underlying securities have no title.

The Deputy is completely out of order.

I am totally in order. I am referring to legislation that was passed by the Dáil but never implemented. The Minister for Finance made a statement to the examiner from Brussels——

Will the Deputy consider putting down a parliamentary question to the Minister for Finance?

——that he is considering bringing in legislation to close off this loophole finally in order to put the rickety NAMA train back on the tracks somehow or other. The Taoiseach, as the leader of the Government, did not know what the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea was doing. Does he know what the Minister for Finance is doing when he is in Brussels?

Does he know anything about his own Government?

Is the Deputy inquiring about promised legislation in this area?

Yes, I am. The Minister for Finance has indicated in a public statement that he proposes to introduce legislation, the provisions of which are already included in the Finance Act 2007 but never commenced by the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Finance. The loophole addressed in the relevant section of the 2007 Act was identified at that time, at the height of the boom, as costing the State €260 million in stamp duty forgone by developers either transferring shares in companies or entering into licences and resting contracts.

The Deputy's query is more appropriate for a parliamentary question.

The Taoiseach has spoken about this in the Dáil on some 12 separate occasions.

The Deputy will obtain a more detailed answer by way of parliamentary question to the Minister.

I am referring to pending legislation. The Minister for Finance told the examiner from Brussels that legislation is pending, but he did not have the guts to acknowledge it last week when I asked him about it in this House.

Committee Stage of the Finance Bill will be taken next week and there will be ample opportunity to discuss this matter.

We are talking about secondary legislation. The provisions in the 2007 Act were not implemented. Deputy Burton has asked a legitimate question and it is not good enough for the Taoiseach to point to the current Finance Bill. We are discussing the Finance Act 2007.

There will be a debate on the Finance Bill. The Deputy has an opportunity to put down a parliamentary question on this issue.

We are entitled to ask about secondary legislation and to receive answers to those questions.

This matter can be raised in the context of the debate on the Finance Bill.

As Deputy Burton said, I have spoken about this matter in the House on 12 occasions. That is on record.

The Taoiseach refused to implement this provision because Fianna Fáil's developer friends did not want the loophole closed. Now the Minister for Finance is saying he will act despite the developers — or perhaps to rescue them and get their loans into NAMA — now that those developers, along with the banks, have made the country bust.

Deputy Burton must put down a parliamentary question on this matter.

There is a report in this week's Irish Medical Times that at least five young people were admitted to hospital suffering the effects of substances they ingested having purchased them from head shops. I would like to help the Government here. We are expecting a Bill that was mentioned in the Seanad by the Minister that is due to come before the House in the next month. I hope that is still on track and that it will be law by June. In the interim, could we not insert a provision into the Finance Bill on Committee Stage to make it necessary for such shops to have a licence to operate and to make that licence prohibitively expensive? It would be a short-term measure while these shops continue to damage young people every day; they are open 24 hours a day. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could equally issue a regulation on opening times. The sale of alcohol is limited but these shops can operate 24 hours a day.

Committee Stage of the Finance Bill will be taken next week if the Deputy would like to make a point then. The question of not being able to provide retrospective effect would be an issue. If the legislation is coming as quickly as the Deputy envisages, it is best to take the primary legislation on the issue itself.

It is not primary legislation, it is secondary legislation.

When will the sale of alcohol Bill come before the House? It is urgently required in light of the fact next year is the third anniversary of the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Since then, an average of one ASBO a year has been introduced for children and one ASBO per year for adults. It is clear that legislation has failed because of a failure to implement it by the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and his predecessor.

The eligibility for health and personal social services Bill is also promised. Will the Taoiseach intervene in the mess that has been created with medical cards? No one is answering phones or processing applications in north Dublin. This causes huge trauma for the elderly around the country. Some of these people are confined to bed in nursing homes and they are getting letters to tell them their medical cards are being withdrawn. They are relying on visits from neighbours and relative to pursue this. They cannot get a straight answer from the agency in north Dublin. It is an unmitigated mess. The Minister for Health and Children must at least state that she will not dump more medical card applications into that system, which is what she plans to do from next April.

There are many other ways to raise that issue.

There is no date for the second Bill the Deputy mentioned. The sale of alcohol Bill shall be introduced mid-year.

In view of the huge disappointment and unfulfilled expectations arising from this week's meeting in Rome, does the Taoiseach consider it appropriate for Dáil Éireann to invite the Pope to visit Ireland and apologise to the survivors?

These are matters for consideration.

That is not a matter for the Taoiseach, it is a matter for the Cardinals.

At the time of the closure of the Dell plant, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, announced that he had negotiated 700 replacement jobs in Limerick. What progress has been made with that?

A parliamentary question would secure much more detail on the matter.

I have no details.

The Government is putting forward the view that EU competition legislation is the reason for the Lynxs cargo project delay at Shannon Airport. Has the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister for Transport discussed this at EU level to progress the project forward? Is legislation required?

No pre-clearance facilities that go beyond aircraft passengers to include cargo pre-clearance are being used by the United States at present. Seeing how the present pre-clearance arrangements work will be a factor in any consideration that might be given to any widening of them. There are many issues that would be involved so instead of raising or dampening expectations, we must allow the present facility, which is working well, to gain confidence. We can then see where other possibilities might go.

When will we see legislation to establish the independent electoral commission? Also, when we will we see legislation to prevent employers in the public and private sector retaliating against employees who, in the public interest, disclose misconduct? These were both promised in the programme for Government.

I notice Dáil reform is not a commitment in the renewed programme for Government. Is that why the Government is doing nothing about Dáil reform?

I will come back to the Deputy on the first two issues. Dáil reform is still with the Whips.

Nothing is happening and it is the Taoiseach's fault.

The Finance Bill is how we collect taxes. It appears, however, that the Revenue Commissioners are ignoring the Finance Bill and reinterpreting decisions they have made heretofore. It is a serious issue because businesses are struggling at the moment.

These points can be made in the debate next week.

That places citizens in the situation whereby the Revenue Commissioners are claiming to have made mistakes in the past and are reinterpreting the legislation. If a citizen wants to settle——

These points can be made next week.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to excuse me, I am not finished. It is a very important issue.

I do not disagree but this is the Order of Business, not Question Time.

I am dealing with the Finance Bill, which will be coming up next week. I did not get the opportunity to speak on Second Stage so I want to ask if the Revenue Commissioners are entitled to revisit all decisions in an arbitrary way without legislation or regulations. It is the Taoiseach's former stomping ground so I want to hear his views.

The Revenue Commissioners normally issue guidance notes where matters such as this arise. Those are then dealt with by the professional associations, which normally have a good relationship with the Revenue Commissioners, who can sit down with them and go through whatever issues are causing problems to see if matters can be dealt with without amending legislation. Revenue decisions can be appealed to the courts if people feel strongly enough that there is no legal basis for the interpretation they are giving, be that in the Revenue courts or the civil courts.

In respect of how matters are interpreted, it would be best to have the professional associations interact with senior personnel in the Revenue Commissioners to find out the basis for this and their justification.

If a practice has been accepted by the Revenue Commissioners over a number of years and that practice is changed on the basis that the Revenue Commissioners claim an incorrect interpretation of the matter——

This is a matter for the Adjournment or a parliamentary question.

No, it is not. The Taoiseach has answered the question and I am probing further. Should the Revenue Commissioners rely upon the Finance Bill or regulations to show how and why the position has changed?

This is not in order strictly speaking but to be helpful, the Revenue Commissioners are entitled to interpret the law as they see it. If people want to challenge it, they can do so. They do not require the consent and agreement of every taxpayer. I do not know the detail so perhaps the Deputy should table a question or talk to senior personnel in the Revenue Commissioners who will give their side of the story. The issue is that the Revenue Commissioners are entitled to interpret the law as they see fit. If taxpayers have a difficulty with that, there are remedies which can be pursued.

This new interpretation by Revenue is having an extremely negative effect on co-ops, several of which have indicated that they may go out of business. As a result, we will lose the night cover that is in place at present. I communicated with the Minister for Health and Children in respect of this matter and she indicated that she would approach the Minister for Finance. Action must be taken before it becomes a crisis.

These points can be made during the Committee Stage debate on the Finance Bill.

We will raise the matter then.

Did the Taoiseach indicate that he will be moving a motion of confidence in the Minister for Defence today and, if so, at what time will it be moved?

I am of a mind to move it today or tomorrow, by agreement. Whatever people want, I will do. I am prepared to move the motion.

I thought the Taoiseach said he would move it today.

I can do it today or I can do it tomorrow.

The Taoiseach should put the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, out of his misery.

I would be quite happy to deal with the matter next week.

We will deal with the matter in the House. On the basis of what people were saying——

Deputy Kenny is only trying to clarify what the Taoiseach said earlier.

I am sure the Taoiseach will inform us of the position.

What I said earlier was very simple. I stated that we will deal with the motion of confidence if people so desire.

So the Taoiseach will inform us of the position.

I will inform the Deputies with regard to whether it will be taken today or tomorrow.

I thank the Taoiseach.

So it may be taken tomorrow.

I said I will inform the Deputies as to whether it will be taken today or tomorrow.

Has the Green Party agreed to the motion yet?

I call Deputy Tom Sheahan.

Does the Green Party know about it? Has the Government made a decision on the matter?

Is the Green Party in the know?

There is more division among those opposite than there is between the parties in government.

You wish, Minister.

That is for sure.

My query relates to the national tourism development authority (amendment) Bill, the purpose of which is to amend section 24(2) of the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003 in order to increase the aggregate level of moneys provided by the Oireachtas in respect of expenditure on capital projects in tourism. In light of the serious difficulties being experienced by the tourism industry, will the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism introduce this legislation, which is most likely to be of assistance to the sector, as a matter of urgency? The tourism sector is on its knees and requires investment. Opportunities exist with regard to job creation——

A well-crafted parliamentary question to the relevant Minister would be of assistance in this matter.

I beg the Ceann Comhairle's pardon, but I am referring to promised legislation. In light of the problems faced by the tourism industry, would it not be possible to bring forward the Bill to which I refer? A date for its publication has not been provided. Are we going to go through another tourism season with the Bill left on someone's desk or on a shelf gathering dust?

Is there promised legislation?

The information in my possession indicates——

Investment is needed in the tourism sector now in order to capitalise on the opportunities that exist in respect of job retention and job creation. I urge the relevant Minister to bring forward the legislation.

That is fine, we must move on.

I wish to raise——

I apologise to Deputy Bannon, I did not see him offering.

It appears that this part of the Chamber is something of a blind spot. No one seems to be able to see us, even during votes.

I apologise. I must become more conscious of those sitting in the area occupied by the Deputy.

In light of the appalling hardship being experienced by many low-income families and lone parents, why have the heads of the social welfare lone parent and other low income families reform Bill not been published? If the legislation was introduced, it would give effect to the proposals to support lone parents that arose on foot of the relevant discussion paper. There is a degree of urgency attaching to the introduction of this Bill.

It was interesting to hear what the Taoiseach had to say with regard to the motion of confidence in the Minister for Defence. Some 90% of the population has no confidence whatsoever in this incompetent Government.

We must move on.

The Taoiseach did not reply to my question.

There is no date for the legislation.