Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 24 Mar 2010

Vol. 705 No. 2

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take No. 6, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council Decision on the conclusion of the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway on the application of certain provisions of the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters of 29 May 2000; No. 7, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council Decision on the conclusion of the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Iceland and the Kingdom of Norway on the surrender procedure between the member states of the European Union and Iceland and Norway; No. 8, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council Decision on the conclusion of the agreement between the European Union and Iceland and Norway on the application of certain provisions of Council Decision 2008/615/JHA and Council Decision 2008/616/JHA; No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a Council Decision on the conclusion of the agreement between the European Union and Japan on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; No. 1, George Mitchell Scholarship Fund (Amendment) Bill 2010 — amendment from the Seanad; No. 21, Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Bill 2010 [Seanad] — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 22, Road Traffic Bill 2009 — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' business shall be No. 73, motion re tourism (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, without debate, agreed to?

It is not agreed.

Before agreeing to the Order of Business as proposed by the Taoiseach, I ask the Taoiseach to indicate when an opportunity will be provided for this House to discuss the terms of reference of the inquiry into the recent events at Tallaght hospital. It is vital that this House has the opportunity to debate and approve, if that be the case, the terms of reference of that inquiry. We need to know whether it will include an investigation of the Minister's role and address the fact that the Minister knew by at least 15 December last of what was taking place in Tallaght hospital, although that information was not shared with this House or with the patients whose X-rays were not read or whose referral letters were not opened. Will the terms of reference also address the matter of the consultants at Tallaght hospital, whom we pay handsomely from public moneys, and whether they are fulfilling the terms of their contracts under the current arrangement?

I cannot see a relationship between the matter raised and the proposal on the Order of Business.

This is an important issue——

I have no doubt, but there are many other ways of raising it.

——and relevant to this House. The House is entitled to know the details of the terms of reference of the inquiry.

The Deputy will have to raise the matter in another way.

I would like the Taoiseach to respond because this is a matter——

Ultimately, it is a matter for the line Minister. The Deputy may raise the matter as a parliamentary question or a private notice question or on the Adjournment.

Clearly, the line Minister has little heed of the matter. She was on the other side of the globe when this issue burst into the media and the homes of concerned citizens up and down the State, but she might as well have been on another planet. Although she is now back——

I know, but I must remind the Deputy——

——she has yet to be accountable to this House for her and her Department's role in this matter.

——that we must reach a decision on proposal No. 1. There is no relationship between the Deputy's point and the proposal.

There is an absolute relationship.

Absolutely none.

With respect, if you cannot see it, a Cheann Comhairle, that is another point of concern to me.

He should have gone to Specsavers.

I ask the Taoiseach whether the terms of reference of the Tallaght inquiry will be brought before the House for debate and approval. I would appreciate a response from the Taoiseach.

An independent review is being conducted by Maurice Hayes, a person held in high regard, and the terms of reference have been set for him. I have every confidence in his integrity. When the report is issued it will be discussed in the House.

Will the Taoiseach present the terms of reference to the House?

No. The terms of reference have been set and the chairman of the review group appointed. His independence and integrity are not to be questioned by me and I do not think they can be questioned by anyone else.

Nobody is questioning Dr. Hayes's integrity.

That is the situation.

This House should have a role and function with regard to the terms of reference.

When the final report is issued it will be discussed here. In the meantime, the important thing — in line with best practice — is to complete the clinical audit so that people will know exactly what their situations are. That is being conducted at the moment.

We are all for that, but the terms of reference should be brought to the attention of the House.

That is the Deputy's opinion.

We should have the chance to debate it and indicate approval if approval is deserved. There are major issues that may not be addressed in this inquiry.

Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed.

I ask the Taoiseach whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs will take time today to make a statement to the House about how he intends to manage the disruption being experienced by citizens who wish to obtain passports at the Passport Office. The Taoiseach is aware that every citizen is constitutionally entitled to a passport and to travel. Those rights are being denied to citizens at the moment. Has the Government considered a situation in which it fails to deliver on the constitutional imperative for so many citizens? If a person who wants to travel abroad with his family books a holiday and pays the airline but cannot travel because he cannot get a passport, there is clearly a case for him to receive compensation from the Government, as he has lost money through no fault of his own. How does the Government propose to manage the delivery of its constitutional responsibility to provide passports and uphold the right to travel for people who want to leave the country?

What is the Government's response in cases in which people have clearly followed the procedures and have not had their passports delivered, thus incurring losses from money paid to airlines and so on through no fault of their own? They followed the procedure but their passports have not been sent. The Government has failed to deliver on that constitutional imperative.

Is legislation promised in this area?

There is no legislation promised. My great regret in this matter is that the Passport Office has in the past been an excellent example of the provision of a good public service. An industrial relations issue has arisen and the only way it can be resolved is to see the action stopped. The impact this is having on the public is absolutely disproportionate to the issues being raised. A forum has been established on my initiative to ensure all issues like this can be dealt with in current discussions.

For everybody interested in the public service and in respect to any concerns or aspirations public servants have, ordinary public servants know why the Government had to take the decisions it took in December. The issue for today and over the coming weeks is to deal with the backlog that has emerged as a result of the action. The only way the backlog can be resolved is to lift the action of not co-operating with the employment of seasonal staff that could be brought in to deal with the matter and stop the refusal to do overtime, which would normally be available. There are many seasonal fluctuations in the number of passports being sought at a given time of the year, with Easter and the summer being the busiest times.

I ask that common sense prevail and people enable temporary staff to be taken on to deal with the backlog to try to get back to a proper service for people who need it. It concerns people who may not be in a position of life and death but who need this service in the normal course of events. I acknowledge that in the past we have seen that staff in the Passport Office are good, committed public servants who have provided a good service. We need to get back to that position and the only way to deal with the matter is to have the union lift the stipulation not to co-operate with seasonal staff, should they be brought in, and allow overtime to be provided. That is how to get the position back to normal as quickly as possible.

With regard to other matters, there is a forum and facilitation taking place and discussions are ongoing. Issues can be dealt with like so and cannot be dealt with in any other forum.

I note the union representing staff working in the passport offices has issued protective strike notice. This issue has been very disruptive for thousands of people and the Government has failed to put in place a system that delivers a service to citizens that they deserve and which is their constitutional right.

The Taoiseach has made comments in good faith about getting the working position restored. May I take it from his comments that he clearly supports the lifting of the embargo now? Does he support overtime being made available and the introduction of temporary workers normally employed at this time of the year in the passport offices to deal with a backlog? If so, has the Taoiseach communicated this, through his office, to the union and asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to speak directly to unions about the Government's wishes? Is there anything further he can add through making a statement in the House today?

Every Deputy from every party has heard of hundreds of cases from all over the country. People have travelled by train but were unable to get into the office. There are issues concerning management of the line, with people possibly being ordered by who is travelling on Friday, Monday or Tuesday if there is authentic proof of travel. Given that there is an extensive line of people, there could be simple management of the queue according to who is travelling on a particular day. That would be much more manageable.

It is imperative that the Taoiseach ensures the Minister for Foreign Affairs intervenes and expresses the Government's wishes in this regard directly to the union and staff so that the matter can be resolved.

There is an ongoing process in place.

It is not working.

It began on my invitation and was agreed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Government as employers. All the unions, including the one which the Deputy has said has suggested protective strike notice, is involved in that process. Best industrial practice means there cannot be an escalation of disputes when there is an ongoing discussion for the purpose of trying to find a way forward and trying to coincide the public interest with any aspirations public servants have for their future work. We must get on with that job, which cannot be dealt with in the context of the action taking place.

It is a matter of particular regret to me that this is occurring in an office which has been, in the past, an excellent example of how the public service provides an important service to the public in a very competent and professional way with a quick turnaround. We must get back to that position. Every year temporary staff are always taken on at this time and overtime is provided to deal with the greater workload. That has always been facilitated and will continue to be facilitated. It has been sought but there has been a decision not to co-operate with the policy which must be lifted. The only way to deal with a backlog of 44,000 applications is to see that this happens.

The modification of the union position this morning, moving from issues of life and limb to trying to provide the service to everyone who needs it, will not be possible without extra temporary staff and overtime. We must get on with the business and there is another forum being facilitated by people who are expert in industrial relations in order to deal with general issues. That should be allowed and we cannot have an escalation when there is a facilitation of discussions agreed between congress and the Government as employer.

I understand why this industrial action is taking place; it is a result of anger among low-paid public servants in particular that the Government unilaterally cut pay and threw their trade unions out of Government Buildings last December. When issues of pay and people's employment conditions and contracts are approached in such a way, there is a consequence.

I have called for a suspension of the industrial action given the major inconvenience being caused to the public and the difficulties being posed for people. I was glad to see yesterday a statement and decision from the union concerned that it was prepared to vary the industrial action. I was surprised at the reaction of the Government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, which effectively shot down the suggestion. An opportunity was provided yesterday evening when the trade union concerned indicated a willingness to vary the industrial action and the appropriate Minister should have taken it positively, sat down with union representatives and tried to work out some kind of formula that would have got over the crisis that now exists in the passport offices. It clearly did not happen and there is now a position where there is talk of escalating the dispute. The Government's handling of the issue leaves much to be desired.

There are a couple of other issues I wanted to raise with the Taoiseach. This morning he announced the assignment of Ministers to a number of Departments, referring to the Departments as they were before yesterday. In his introduction of the motion yesterday, he said it was intended to reconfigure Departments and rename a number of them. Is it intended to bring legislation before the House to provide for the reconfiguration of the Departments and, if so, when will that be introduced?

When is the reconfiguration of the Departments to take place? For example, we were told yesterday that matters relating to science investment and research were to be transferred from the Department of Education and Science to the new Department responsible for enterprise, trade and innovation. If Deputies have a question relating to science or research, to which Department or Minister do we address the question?

I also wish to inquire about matters relating to cost. When the Department of Social Welfare became the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in 1997, it cost £2 million to change the logos on its headed paper and on nameplates outside its offices. Yesterday, the Taoiseach announced changes in name for five Departments. There is probably a consequential change in the name of a sixth Department given that if responsibility for equality is to be transferred to the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, then I presume the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will become the Department of Justice and Law Reform. If it cost £2 million to change the name of one Department in 1997, how many millions of euro will it cost to change the names of six Departments in 2010?

The Ceann Comhairle indicated that he received the resignation of former Deputy Martin Cullen. Although I took issue with the former Deputy in respect of certain matters in the past, I take this opportunity to wish him well. This latest resignation means that there are now three vacancies in the House. When it is intended to hold by-elections in respect of those vacancies? It is normally the case that when a vacancy arises as a result of the death of a Member, a suitable period is allowed to pass before the by-election is held. However, the three current vacancies came about as a result of resignations as opposed to the deaths of Members. As a result, there is no need to postpone holding the by-elections. When will those by-elections be held?

The third matter I wish to raise with the Taoiseach is the lost at sea scheme report. I have been putting moderate questions to the Taoiseach on this matter, which I believe should be dealt with in a non-partisan manner. I suggested that it should be referred to an Oireachtas committee in order that the issues raised by the Ombudsman might be dealt with. It is clear that the Ombudsman is unhappy with regard to the way in which this matter has been handled. In an interview in last Saturday's edition of the Irish Independent, the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, stated that the future of her office is at stake as a result of the way in which this matter has been dealt with.

We are on the Order of Business and long contributions tend to eat into the time available to other Members for raising matters or posing questions.

Yes, this is the Order of Business and I am seeking to discover whether the Taoiseach — in the absence of further unnecessary rancour — will agree to have this matter referred to an Oireachtas committee in order that it might be dealt with. If this does not happen, those of us who are members of Opposition parties will be obliged to take the appropriate steps in order to exercise our responsibility in the matter on the floor of the House.

I do not know what the Deputy means by his final comment. The basic point is that the Ombudsman presented a special report on the lost at sea scheme to the Houses of the Oireachtas, at which time she invited them to "consider my report and ... take whatever action they deem appropriate". That has happened.

It has not happened. That is the issue.

Both Houses have discussed the report. I have no difficulty with the relevant committee dealing with any of these matters. I am not involved in any phoney confrontation with anyone. As I have done in the past, however, I am entitled to make the point that there is no obligation on the Government to accept the recommendations in a special report.

It is clear from the record of the debates relating to this matter that there has been an attempt to continue with a misrepresentation of the position of a certain Member of the House. The particular allegations in this case — which the Ombudsman, in her report, accepts were not well grounded — continue to be made. Deputy Gilmore suggests that he wants this matter dealt with in a non-partisan fashion. However, in the debates that have taken place it has been dealt with in an extremely partisan way. That is the truth of the matter.

If people want to deal with the report in a proper fashion before a committee of the Houses, I for one am not in the business of blocking what committees want to do. I am also not in the business of facilitating those who state that they want a matter to be dealt with in a non-partisan way when the contents of the relevant debates on that matter suggest the contrary.

The Ombudsman's report sets out the position. The charges that were made against the relevant Deputy were unfounded. However, for political reasons, Members of this House are making efforts to ensure that the matter remains in the public domain and it is they who keep uttering jibes, etc.

Why is the Ombudsman so unhappy about the way the report has been dealt with?

In such circumstances, the Taoiseach should allow us to deal with the matter properly. He should read what the former Ombudsman, Mr. Michael Mills, had to say on the matter.

Here we go again. That is the position and that is how the matter can be dealt with by——

It is the Ombudsman who has made certain statements about this matter.


The Taoiseach, without interruption.

I have just explained that I have no difficulty with the relevant committee dealing with this issue. If the Ombudsman wants to come before that committee in order to discuss the matter, that is fine. I am not involved in a confrontation with the Ombudsman and nor have I any interest in becoming so involved. I am concerned with regard to the way people have sought to use the report in the House in order to continue to make allegations which are without foundation. In fairness to the person to whom the report refers, I am defending the position that has emerged.

Then the report should be brought before the relevant committee in order that the matter might be debated in full.

The Ombudsman has a strong view on this matter.

I have just outlined the position. Deputy Reilly's problem is that he does not listen. He has a major problem in that regard. He has a great deal to say but he does not listen.

I do listen but I have a difficulty with what I am hearing. The Taoiseach wants to bury the report at sea.

I am not involved in a confrontation with anybody. I am merely setting out the legal position, the nature of the report, the basis on which it was brought before the House and the fact that it was discussed and dealt with by both Houses. The suggestion that it was not dealt with is incorrect. If Members want the report to be discussed further by the relevant committee, I will not get in the way of such a process.

The Ombudsman wants the committee to discuss it.

I am not getting involved with the Ombudsman and I am not seeking any confrontation with her. I am merely making the point that the committee can discuss the matter further.

The Ombudsman cannot be ignored in this matter.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

I much preferred the Taoiseach when he was prepared to opt for confrontation.

Deputy Gilmore also inquired about the renaming, etc., of various Departments. A transfer of function order will have to be drawn up in respect of the various changes that were announced. That will be done in due course and in the normal way. The programme for research in third level institutions, PRTLI, will be transferred to the new Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The changes and rearrangements I announced yesterday are intended to provide better services to the public. On organisational changes, realignments will have to be made. In the first instance, there must be better co-ordination among existing organisations and the Departments. The purpose of the rearrangements is to ensure that the outcomes will be better for the people who need to access the services to which I refer. The various issues that arise will be dealt with over time.

The Deputy also inquired about costs. I made various changes to certain Departments and I sought to indicate the new emphasis that will be brought to bear by the relevant Department in respect of, for example, innovation. The latter is at the heart of an industrial policy that will drive the investment strategies of businesses that will be contacted by IDA Ireland and which will work with Enterprise Ireland. That is the purpose of what I have done. This is not the first occasion on which name changes have occurred. Whatever consequential changes arise, must be dealt with sensibly and in the normal way. There is nothing to disbar a Taoiseach or Government of the day from making new arrangements or ensuring that the names of Departments indicate what are the activities of those Departments.

The Deputy's first question related to by-elections. A decision has not yet been taken in respect of the holding of by-elections.

Given that the Taoiseach has no objection to the lost at sea report being referred to an Oireachtas committee, will he accept the motion on the Order Paper in that regard which is tabled in the name of Deputy Sherlock? The issue now at stake here is as much about the Office of the Ombudsman as it is about the report. The dissatisfaction with the way the report was dealt with was expressed by the Ombudsman.

The second point I wish to raise relates to the reconfiguration of Departments. When will the transfer of functions order be introduced? Confusion has already arisen in respect of the changes that have been made. For example, the questions on today's Question Paper are addressed to the Ministers for Education and Skills, Justice and Law Reform and Social Protection. Everybody seems to be confused now as to who is Minister for what and what are the Departments. Will the Taoiseach clear up this? From when will the reconfigured Departments take effect?

Deputy Gilmore has experience of the House. He has known formation of Governments in the past, even ones of which he was half part. The transfer of function orders will be drawn up in due course, confirmed at Cabinet and put before the Houses of the Oireachtas or laid in the Library or wherever they are brought. In the meantime I want to see the practical arrangements put in place. We want to see better service provided in the training and skills area, where FÁS will liaise with what is being done in education. In the meantime corporate accountability remains with the existing Departments until the new arrangements are put in place. On a practical level we will get on with ensuring that the agency sits down with the Ministers concerned and that the practical arrangements for the interface between that wing of FÁS dealing with social welfare and the other wing of FÁS dealing with education will proceed and make the necessary arrangements to improve co-ordination in the first instance and work through the ultimate integration at a stage in the future which may require legislation. That does not stop the immediate point which is to get a better service for those who need it by ensuring that the various parts of the organisation deal properly with the new Department. The political decision has been made and we will now deal with it. There is no confusion. The existing arrangements remain in place while that process begins and once the transfer of functions orders are decided they will move to the other Departments.

The other matter raised is——

Deputy Seán Sherlock's motion on the Ombudsman.

The committee can meet and decide in what way it wants to take forward the report. I want to make the point again that the report was brought to the House and it was for the Houses of the Oireachtas to decide how to deal with it, consider it and take whatever action they deemed appropriate. It is a matter for the House to decide, whatever views people outside the House may have on it. We had a debate on it in plenary session. There is now a request that we deal with it in committee. I am not standing in the way of that but it is a matter for us to decide and not, with respect, anyone else. I respect everyone's position on this but the House decides these things.

The Taoiseach's party members voted it down.

Yes, because their position was that we had dealt with this matter in plenary session. However, on the basis that someone is trying to suggest that an issue arises, I do not have an issue with anybody. I am stating that the House decides how it will deal with the report and not otherwise.

There is an issue. The Taoiseach cannot allow the Ombudsman's lost at sea report——

It is now 12.15 p.m.——

It goes to the very essence of our democracy

——and we are still on the Order of Business.

I hear what the Taoiseach is saying, that he will not stand in the way of it being referred to committee, in which case the Labour Party will move Deputy Seán Sherlock's motion as soon as possible. Will the Taoiseach provide Government time for it?

I am still confused about the Departments.

We had an explanation here——

We did but it does not——

We are prolonging the agony on the Order of Business.

Are these reconfigured Departments not reconfigured yet? Are we still talking about the Departments as we had all got to know and love them?

The position will emerge as we go along.

The Deputy is playing a game now.

I am not playing a game.

You are playing a game.

I only want clarity.

You know what the story is.

An announcement has been made. Transfer of function orders will be drawn up. If you are ever in a Government yourself it will be the same story for you and when you get it, you get on your bike and away you go.

So nothing has changed at all from yesterday.

In the meantime what is the legal basis of the new names?

Is it operation transformation?

It is 12.15 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business.

I will not delay the Ceann Comhairle very long. With regard to the outstanding three by-elections to this House, is the Taoiseach aware that next week we will be but ten weeks short of a full year without a third Deputy in Donegal South-West?

Deputy, we had this previously.

We have not had a response, with respect, and the Ceann Comhairle is happy to allow other speakers to go on ad nauseam.

I know, that is the problem.

I have only started so he will allow me to finish.

I do not want the Deputy following bad example.

I want an answer from the Taoiseach as to his intentions regarding the three outstanding by-elections. One is now obviously vacant as of this morning but one is now but ten weeks short——

Have we promised legislation in this area?

——of a full year in a constituency in the province of Ulster. Will the Taoiseach indicate to the House that an early — hardly an applicable word at this point — by-election will take place in a very short period of time? Will he announce it before the Easter recess?

An Easter rising.

Great humour indeed but I am assured it is not at all humorous in Donegal South-West and make no mistake about it.

No, it is just the way you say it.

The people there are entitled to have a date set. There is one week leading into the Easter recess for which the Taoiseach proposes to take two weeks out. Will this drift on and on and on? Will the anniversary of this——

——vacancy be reached and still no date set? Will the Taoiseach give an answer to this Deputy's question?

With regard to the situation developing vis-à-vis the intent to centralise the processing of applications for medical cards, something that will perhaps place the difficulties in the passport offices in the ha’penny place——

Is there legislation in this area? There are other ways to deal with this.

Will there be time——

The line Minister——

My question is valid on the Order of Business.

It is not valid on the Order of Business.

Will time be allocated to address the issue of the proposed centralisation of the medical card application processing and——

The Deputy is really going to have to submit a parliamentary question on this matter.

To hell with this. Do you know what it is?

It is not appropriate on the Order of Business.

I think a little bit of equity in this House would go a long way——

Yes, and I am doing the best that I can on the matter——

——that Deputies would be treated in the same way——

——but I need the co-operation of the Members.

——when they get up to speak not only from your Chair but from other chairs across the Chamber.

I need the co-operation of all the Members of the House.

These are relevant questions to the Order of Business. I am asking whether the Taoiseach will accommodate——

It is not appropriate.

——the provision of time in this House——

Promised business and legislation are the basic——

No, the provision of time is absolutely——

I am not allowing dissertations either.

——within the ambit of the Order of Business and every bit as valid as any other question that has been posed here since the Order of Business started.

There are other ways and means of eliciting the information required.

Will the Taoiseach accommodate time on the medical card centralisation proposals and the fact that we are seeing an increasing effect by the measures introduced in the budget on dental treatment services as exemplified once again yesterday by the Irish Dental Association?

Is debate promised in this area?

These are hugely important matters and they are not being addressed by the Department of Health and Children. Will the Taoiseach accommodate an opportunity for Members to address these issues here and in Government time?

There is no legislation promised on those matters and no decision has been made on the by-elections.

What about the by-elections, particularly that in Donegal South-West?

No decisions have been made.

No decisions made. Is it at all within the Taoiseach's gift——

I wish to advise the House that at this point in time there are 14 Members in the House and it is now 12.20 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business. We will not entertain anything other than promised business or legislation.

On promised secondary legislation, the promise was to extend the Freedom of Information Act to the Railway Safety Commission. In view of the significant and serious accident that occurred at Malahide, I understand the Railway Safety Commission has issued a compliance audit safety report to Iarnród Éireann in respect of this matter. Its statement of strategy states that it will conform with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act until the statutory instrument is signed. The fact is that it is refusing to release the details of that report.

We will try to find out whether there is promised legislation.

We have grave concerns about the safety issues that——

There is no promised legislation.

There is. With respect, and I am not arguing with the Ceann Comhairle——

The Taoiseach has advised me that there is not.

There is promised secondary legislation to sign the order in respect of the Freedom of Information Act to find out what the safety commission thinks about what is happening on the Malahide Estuary.

When the Taoiseach was the Minister for Foreign Affairs, he spent €23 million on the Passport Office in Balbriggan. State-of-the-art machines were put in there——

We are not on promised business now.

——the best in the world. Is the Taoiseach satisfied? I cannot understand why those machines are not functioning now because they are the best in the world. Is the Taoiseach satisfied that they are not being sabotaged?

The Deputy is abusing the latitude——

It does not make sense that the backlog exists——

Go to the Israeli Embassy and ask if they have any spare passports.

——because they have the capacity to have a world-class delivery service.

The Deputy's co-operation is requested.

I will be as brief as possible. I wish to ask the Taoiseach about a house price database being brought before the Oireachtas. The programme for Government contains a promise that a register and database of house prices will be put in place.

There is no promised business in this area.

It is part of the programme for Government. When will legislation on this issue be brought before the Houses? Given yesterday's reconfiguration, what Department will——

The Deputy should submit a parliamentary question to the line Minister on the matter.

I am asking whether legislation will be brought before the House.

Is legislation promised in this area?

There is no promised legislation. I suggest a parliamentary question.

That is highly unusual because the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Finneran, who is sitting behind the Taoiseach, issued a press statement on this issue two weeks ago.

The Deputy should allow the floor to his colleague, Deputy Tuffy.

Second, a number of Bills are passing through the Oireachtas at present. For example, the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill is completing its passage through the Seanad at present and will come before the Dáil some time after the Easter recess. In whose Department will the aforementioned Bill now lie? I noticed that when the Taoiseach spoke in the House yesterday, he referred——

We will try to find out the answer to the query on the legislation.

—— to the greyhound industry now becoming part of the agriculture brief. Will particular items of legislation move into other Departments?

We will find out about the legislation for the Deputy. We have gone well over time.

Does the transfer of the greyhound brief into the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food indicate there is some difficulty with this Bill in respect of the Department that has responsibility for it at present?

He who lies down with dogs will rise up with fleas.

Is there promised legislation in this area?

I understand there to be some legislation on the first issue raised by Deputy Lynch. For the purpose of accuracy, work is beginning on it.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I apologise to Deputy Lynch on that issue.

Second, on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, I have a great personal interest in the greyhound industry, which is going back to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I have a stake in some greyhounds, which might be helpful in the future.

Are they good ones?

I do not believe the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill will be moving with the industry. It will remain where it is.

The Taoiseach should walk the dogs on a permanent basis.

The Taoiseach sold a pup to Deputy Gormley.

It was the runt of the litter as well.

Deputy Tuffy, on promised legislation.

This pertains to secondary legislation. My constituency colleague, Deputy Curran, has been promoted to the position of Chief Whip and I congratulate him. My question relates to a matter in his new area of responsibility. The previous Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey, recently spoke to the Joint Committee on the Constitution about proposals to amend the Standing Orders of this House in respect of how business operates to give Deputies a more enhanced role. It is in the interest of both the Government and the Opposition to do something about this issue because it is in no one's interest when our Parliament is knocked, as has happened recently.

We would welcome positive thoughts on the matter, particularly in respect of the Order of Business.

This relates to the Order of Business because it pertains to Standing Orders. In the United Kingdom, the Government and Opposition have worked together and have come up with proposals to enhance the role of MPs there. Is something similar proposed here? For example, one could move the Adjournment debate to the morning and make it the commencement business.

The Minister of State, Deputy Curran, is settling into his brief. I am sure he will be able to discuss this matter further with his constituency colleague, Deputy Tuffy, in the coming weeks.

Deputy Rabbitte, on promised business.

Yes, this pertains to promised legislation. Arising from the controversy that surrounded the enactment of the Defamation Act and the inclusion of blasphemy, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform has since made an announcement to the effect that he intends to hold a referendum to excise the provision from the Constitution. The Taoiseach should indicate when it is intended to hold a referendum.

The Minister for Justice and Law Reform has recently made public his intention to propose to the Government an amendment to the Constitution to delete the provision concerning blasphemous libel. The proposal would avail of the opportunity afforded by other planned referendums. He indicated this approach during the consideration by the Oireachtas of the Defamation Bill. It will be considered in the context of whether and when other referendums will be held.

I am grateful to the Taoiseach. May I take it, given the all-party agreement on the proposed amendment regarding the rights of children, that it will be held in conjunction with that proposal this year?

That report is a matter to be considered by the Government, having been recently published.

Almost one year ago to the day, I asked the Taoiseach whether the Government would ban the thousands of turf cutters on the bogs of Ireland under the European Union habitats directive.

This might be a sickener for the Ceann Comhairle——

Members can see this is an issue close to the Ceann Comhairle's heart.

Taoiseach, have we promised business in this regard?

No, he good-humouredly told me on that occasion that as soon as the next fine day came, he and I would be out cutting turf.

I thank the Deputy for the observation.

What is the up-to-date position in respect of those thousands of bog owners? The turf machines are trundling their way down the bog roads of Ireland and are about to cut. Are they allowed to so do?

That is a matter for the arts, sports and the Gaeltacht.

I assume the Taoiseach has an answer to this question.

The Deputy must table a parliamentary question on that matter to the new Minister.

Should I take it that the Taoiseach has no knowledge in this regard or has nothing to say about it at present?

A Deputy

Can a man cut turf on his own bog or not?

He probably would prefer the line Minister to answer because——

The line Minister probably got bogged down.

This issue could be a rerun of the rod licence controversy, the return of which no one would wish to see.

Where do the thousands of bog cutters stand? This is a legitimate question for this Parliament.

There is no promised business in this regard.

There is no promised business in this regard. The Deputy is aware that a ten-year derogation was obtained in respect of the traditional rights of turf cutters on protected bogs. The then Minister, Síle de Valera, obtained that derogation, the length of which was unique in the context of the aforementioned directive. This is how matters stand.

The Taoiseach is actually stating that the cutters are banned from this day on. This is absolutely shameful.

This also affects the Taoiseach's constituency.

The Taoiseach will be busy between walking the dog and footing the turf. I wish to raise two items of secondary legislation with the Taoiseach. The first is a legislative item I raised with the Taoiseach in the Chamber a fortnight ago, that is, the introduction of a new statutory instrument in respect of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to remove the exemption from the requirement of planning permission for head shops. When will this item of secondary legislation be introduced? Second, the Government has drafted a statutory instrument under the Misuse of Drugs Act to ban quite a number of products that are on sale in head shops. The Taoiseach has informed the House that it will take three months for approval from the European Commission. In light of the fact that the three-month period has expired in the United Kingdom for the banning of similar substances that are to be banned here and in light of the European Commission's ability to give approval for the immediate——

We will try to find out about the basic query the Deputy has on the matter.

——ban of mephedrone on public health grounds and given that another young girl died yesterday in the United Kingdom following the consumption of mephedrone, will the Taoiseach make this a priority?

Is secondary legislation promised?

Will the Government introduce a statutory instrument to ban mephedrone and the other products immediately? When will Members have sight of the secondary legislation of the Planning and Development Act?

Deputy Reilly, on the same matter.

I wish to raise the same matter and another unrelated matter.

Please do not.

On this matter, I asked both that this secondary legislation be put in place and that the Minister for Health and Children introduce secondary legislation to ensure first that there would be product liability on all the products sold and second that the Irish Medicines Board and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland would be obliged to pass all substances for sale in such shops. This would have the net effect of shutting them down.

While I am on my feet, I will raise an unrelated matter. The Taoiseach might confirm to Members that there is a recruitment committee responsible for appointing senior management to NAMA and that one person on that committee is a Mr. Maurice Keane. Is this the case because this man is a director——

The Deputy must find another way to raise the matter.

I will not stop now. This is the Anglo Irish Bank——

This is the Order of Business.

A Cheann Comhairle, I am entitled to find out in this House on behalf of the people——

Yes, but there are other ways of so doing.

The Deputy is not entitled to do so on the Order of Business.

No, this is too important. I am trying to ask a simple question and if the Ceann Comhairle allows me to finish I will sit down.

Yes, but the point is the question is out of order.

Is Mr. Maurice Keane, who is a director of Anglo Irish Bank, also on a committee to select management for NAMA, to which his bank will be selling bonds and loans? Is this not a gross conflict of interest?

The Deputy should table a question to the line Minister. I call Deputy Durkan.

I am entitled to a response in respect of the secondary legislation.

I do not have to hand that information.

Deputy Costello, on the same matter.

On the same matter, I refer to the legislation in preparation to ban certain products in head shops. On foot of the transfer in ministerial responsibility from, I understand, the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, to the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, will this legislation continue in train? Will the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, deliver the legislation?

In the context of the Taoiseach's trip to Brussels tomorrow and Friday, the only item on the summit's agenda is the financial future of Greece. The Chancellor——

We will not get into the financial issues of Greece on the Order of Business.

This is not just a matter of policy, but legislation. The Chancellor of Germany has indicated that she would be inclined to expel Greece from the eurozone. What is Ireland's position in this regard? The alternative position of a bailout of Greece——

This is not promised business. We are anticipating.

This is relevant. If there is a bailout of Greece——

Is there promised business?

——by the other eurozone countries, what legal and financial implications will it have for Ireland?

The Deputy will need to submit a parliamentary question. It is not promised business in the House. We are on the Order of Business.

This is business.

It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach will be in Brussels tomorrow and Friday.

We understand that.

He will be discussing one item on our behalf, namely, whether Ireland will put forward a considerable sum of money in respect of Greece.

The Deputy is seeking detailed information. Hopefully, he will get it via a parliamentary question.

Nothing is coming through from parliamentary questions, as the Ceann Comhairle well knows.

Yes, but we are abusing the Order of Business by pursuing issues like this.

The Taoiseach is going tomorrow. Clearly, he has been briefed by his civil servants, has made up his mind and knows what policy Ireland will table. We want to know what he proposes to do.

I doubt he will tell us at this point in time what the agenda will be.

He could give the Parliament some idea.

Deputy Feighan wishes to raise the matter of head shops, so will Deputy Costello submit a parliamentary question to try to elicit the information he is seeking?

Will the Taoiseach answer my question and give us some indication as to how he will respond?

It is not in order.

This is not in order. We are abusing the Order of Business. We are spending all day on it while there is other business is to be transacted.

If the Taoiseach will not answer that question, will he tell the House about the legislation on head shops?

I would like to address that matter.

I have one or two other Deputies offering on it.

If the Government can ban substances like St. John's Wort because of powerful lobbies, surely it can proscribe the substances in head shops. People in Ireland must travel across the Border into the United Kingdom to get a simple substance, St. John's Wort, because it was banned due to the influence of major people.

Could the House get some information on this?

On the question of the misuse of drugs, etc., work is ongoing. A cross-departmental group is working on the legislation and we hope to have it some time in June.

Will the Taoiseach confirm whether this man is on the triumvirate selected——

The Deputy is out of order.

Who is responsible?

I will not allow Deputy Reilly to pursue that matter on the Order of Business. There are other ways to do so. He should resume his seat.

The people are entitled to know. Surely the Taoiseach knows who is responsible for appointing the senior management of NAMA, which will make decisions that will affect billions of euro of taxpayers' money.

The Deputy should sit down in his chair.

We are on the Order of Business.

On promised legislation, it has long been recognised that there is an urgent need to amend the Mental Health Act 2001. Amnesty International has published a good dissertation on the human rights implications of that Act. When will the mental health (amendment) Bill, which will deal with this issue, be introduced in the Dáil?

I understand that it will be dealt with later this year.

Further to the Government's proposal on the reconfiguration of Departments, is legislation to break up FÁS into three parts proposed? If this is not the intention, which Minister will be answerable to the Dáil for FÁS? In terms of the examination of FÁS by the Committee of Public Accounts, which Secretary General will be the responsible Accounting Officer?

As things stand, it will remain with the existing Department until, as I have said, a transfer of functions order is signed and dealt with. In the first instance and as of today, we need to sit down with the FÁS operation. Two thirds of its operations deal with placements and all of that area will be dealt with in the Department of Social Protection to get people working together to provide a better service for the people who need it. Similarly, skills policy will be dealt with in the Department of Education and Skills. The corporate accountability issues remain with the main Department until such time as there is legislation that will change it.

I am sorry, but I did not catch that last bit.

The Deputy asked about the final situation, that is, what the setup of FÁS will be. Our first job is to align and co-ordinate the work being done and deal with issues of how to proceed. In due course, whatever legislation is needed to effect a Government decision will be effected. In the meantime, corporate accountability for the organisation will remain with the current Department until the changes take place.

The Taoiseach has had one month to work this matter out.

We will——

We cannot and will not have a debate on this matter now.

The Deputy proposed a question and got an answer.

She did not get one.

I did not get a satisfactory answer.

We cannot have a debate on it at this point. There are other avenues through which the debate can be pursued.

It is only a matter of months since the House passed legislation on FÁS.

Deputy, please. I have a list of speakers offering. It is nearly 12.40 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business.

Is the Taoiseach saying that we will get new legislation for the purpose of breaking up FÁS? Will he clarify this point?

Can I explain to the Deputy? In due course and over a period of time, there may well be an integration of that part of the FÁS operation into the Department of Social Protection.

Has the Taoiseach not worked that out?

Excuse me, but the first thing I am doing is providing a better service for the people who need it and are unemployed. That is what we are doing. I do not know what Deputy Gilmore is shaking his head about.

The Government does not know what it is doing.

It had four weeks to work it out.

We cannot have a debate on this issue.

What does Deputy Quinn mean? One does not re-arrange the FÁS organisation overnight or over four weeks.

The Government dealt with decentralisation in secret.

What one does is indicate which parts of the operation will deal with which Departments. One gets them to sit down and co-ordinate their works so as that people who need their service get a better service than the current one. Over time and as one deals with the IR issues, one makes whatever arrangements are necessary in terms of the organisation.

It is a basic thing.

In the meantime, one makes sure that the service is better for the people who need it. We are one of the few countries in the world that do not have a placement service in line with those who receive the benefits. That is what we must get on with. That is what the OECD report states.

Yes, but we expected that the Government would have worked it out and would know at this stage whether legislation would be necessary.

That will be the outcome of this.

We cannot have a debate on this matter on the Order of Business.

What has the Taoiseach been doing for the past month? Is this stuff just off the top of his head? Does he know that it is quite important?

Look at the OECD report.

Is it off the top of his head or is legislation proposed?

Deputy Shortall, please.

This is important.

Yes, it is.

It is nearly 12.40 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business.

It is too important for soundbite politics.

What thought has gone into it? Will the Taoiseach make a statement on whether FÁS will be broken up?

Deputy Shortall, please. The Deputy will need to find another way.

What other way? This is the way.

How else is the Government going to do it?

It does not have a clue. It does not know what it is doing.

Legislation will be required in due course.

This is the Order of Business.

Will there be legislation?

Yes. I am sorry for saying this on the Order of Business, but the important point is that we must get this part of that organisation to work with the services provided by social welfare to improve the choice for people in that area. Similarly, the skills training part will deal with the Department of Education and Skills. I outlined in a statement to the House yesterday the purpose of this and how we will proceed with it. This must be arranged, co-ordinated and then proceeded with.

No one is arguing with me about doing that,——

That is the Deputy's problem.

——but there needs to be a statutory basis for it.

That concludes the Deputy's questions for the moment. Legislation is coming, so the Deputy will have the opportunity then.

I have explained.

Is the Taoiseach saying that there will be legislation to break up FÁS?

In the first case, and as I said to Deputy Gilmore, a transfer of functions order must be made. There will then be co-ordination between what is happening in that part of the FÁS organisation and social welfare. Over time as we deal with the IR issues, we will deal with the overall integration of the service. That is what is going to happen. Whatever is required legislatively to achieve that will be proceeded with. End of story.

We will not have a debate now.

This is an important point.

Deputy Shortall is just having an argument.

I really cannot allow it. I have shown the Deputy much tolerance on this matter. She must resume her seat.

FÁS is a major semi-State organisation and it is important that we know whether the Government will introduce legislation to break it up.

Deputy Shortall is abusing the Order of Business. Will she resume her seat?

Can the Taoiseach clarify this point?

If the Deputy cannot understand the answer, we will get someone to explain it to her.

That is patronising nonsense.

Will Deputy Shortall resume her seat? I ask for her co-operation.

Does the Taoiseach intend to break up FÁS? Has he worked this question out?

Read the transcript.

I am calling Deputy Deasy.

These decisions are important for the 437,000 people who are unemployed. How will the Government do this?

The Taoiseach does not know.

The Taoiseach does not have a clue.

I worked it out beforehand.

He had long enough to think about it.

Deputies, please.

I explained this to Deputy Shortall. I know the game the Deputies are playing. It is very simple.

We are not playing a game.


We are in the business of making sure that services are provided and that the placement services in FÁS work with social welfare to provide a better outcome for the people who need them. That is what we are doing.

A statutory basis is needed for doing that.

Deputy Shortall——

Where is the statutory basis for that?

I cannot get involved in this. I am sorry. There is no point.

Deputy Shortall, you must find another time to raise this issue. I call Deputy John Deasy.

I wish to raise an issue of——

The Taoiseach has not a clue where he is going.

I ask Deputy Shortall to allow me to raise an issue.

It is Deputy Shortall who does not have a clue.

I am about to raise an issue of life and death but I will not act like her.

Deputy Deasy should stop acting as Ceann Comhairle.

The question I raise arises from a decision which affects the Irish Coast Guard search and rescue service for the south and south east. A decision was made recently to increase the budget over ten years but the decision had the effect of downgrading the service in Waterford after 2013.

Deputy Deasy, you know it is not appropriate to raise this matter on the Order of Business. You should raise it on the Adjournment or put a parliamentary question.

There is an immediate timeline involved in this.

There is a question on this matter on today's Order Paper.

A contract will be signed within the next week. We must question the wisdom of spending a considerable sum of money on the coast guard while at the same time downgrading the service.

Deputy, please submit a request to debate this matter on the Adjournment.

Two days ago, the Minister for Transport said the coast guard had issued the recommendation. We met with the coast guard a couple of days ago and it told us it did not issue the recommendation but that it had been issued by the Department of Transport.

A parliamentary question is on today's Order Paper on this matter. It will be dealt with.

It was not true to say the coast guard issued that recommendation. That is the key point. That was made clear to five or six Deputies when we met the coast guard two days ago.

Deputy Deasy, you will be able to pursue this matter. A parliamentary question has been submitted on the subject.

We have only one week to revisit this issue before the contract is signed. This is a matter of life and death for fishermen and others who use the water after 2013.

It does not only apply to the water.

Deputy Dempsey is a very knowledgeable chap, I must say.

Why did the Minister for Transport lie about the coastguard?

With regard to the reconfiguration of ministerial responsibilities, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has had responsibility for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs. Deputy Pat Carey's brief does not include rural affairs. There is genuine concern among people involved in rural affairs. I have received calls on this and I ask the Taoiseach to clarify the matter.

Let me clarify this matter for Deputy Deenihan. I know he has a genuine interest in this area. The rural social scheme goes across to the new Department of Social Protection but responsibility for voluntary community and rural affairs remains in what is now Deputy Pat Carey's Department. The rural social scheme has gone with other community employment schemes and they will all be dealt with by one Department. At present they are spread among three Departments.

I am afraid I must mention the dogs again. The horse and greyhound industry has been bounced back into the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but it is not clear how funding for the horse and greyhound fund will be put in place. The former Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen, recently said that the general Exchequer cannot continue to fund this. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, recently told Deputy Joe Costello, with regard to gambling——

Deputy Upton, this has nothing to do with promised legislation.

These are very important points relating to the funding of this industry.

I know they are but it is not appropriate to raise them on the Order of Business.

Deputy Dermot Ahern told Deputy Joe Costello, "The Deputy can expect the publication of legislative proposals in the normal course". That was said in relation to gambling. I raise the issue of Internet gambling and a tax take from it. When can we expect some progress to ensure that the horse and greyhound industries are supported and made viable in the future?

Work is ongoing on that matter.

What does that mean?

It means we are seeking to ensure a sustainable method of funding a very important industry. Work is ongoing. When it is complete the Minister will bring proposals to Government and we will consider them and deal with the matter.

Are we likely to be able to ensure that there will be adequate funding that does not call on the general Exchequer to support those industries?

That is the objective of the exercise.

It is generally accepted that lack of adequate regulation was the cause of the considerable problems experienced in the banking industry. Legislation is promised to address the question of the necessary enhancement of the regulatory functions of the Central Bank. Legislation is also promised to consolidate and modernise financial services in accordance with the Government's better regulation agenda. This agenda was published two years ago and considerable time has passed since then. Both Bills are deemed to be essential and the need for them is accepted. What progress have those Bills made? Have the heads of the Bills been agreed? Are they in the course of being brought before the House and when might they appear?

The first Bill will come before the House next week and the second Bill in the summer.