Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 6, statements on the EU-IMF programme. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 18, motion re residential mortgage debt (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 6 agreed? Agreed.

Before I proceed, I hold no brief for Deputy Higgins but I believe in the right of people to articulate their positions fairly and to have them properly assessed. Before the conclusion of the Order of Business——

I ask Deputy Martin to proceed with his question.

——whether or not the Taoiseach meant it, the assertion that Deputy Higgins was a supporter of Osama bin Laden should be withdrawn and should not be allowed to stay on the record.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It was not a fair assessment by any objective consideration of what was said.

Will Deputy Martin please proceed with his question?

The Taoiseach will probably do so. It was not his intention but the assertion is hanging and it should be withdrawn.

With regard to the Order of Business proper, the Taoiseach has told the House that legislation to establish the Department of public spending and reform will be published shortly and will be enacted at some point in the next two months.

The Taoiseach will be aware that more than six weeks have passed since the Minister, Deputy Howlin, indicated that he would be happy to answer in this House questions in regard to his brief. The Minister has probably set a record in terms of the length of time he has gone without answering parliamentary questions. The last time this happened was when Members of the House were on the run or in jail during the first and second Dáil.

We have the Opposition on the run.

There is a motion on today's Order Paper which would allow us to address this issue immediately. Will the Taoiseach agree to the motion and make interim arrangements so that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, in whose hands rests the fate of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, can account to the House rather than the media alone? He is, of course, entitled to speak to the media.

I will first clarify a remark I made in respect of Deputy Higgins. I do not believe he is a supporter of Osama Bin Laden. I hope that is clear.

Thank you, Taoiseach.

If there was any inference in my comment, I know he is a good Christian man who has a job to do in here from a political point of view.

The Taoiseach may have to withdraw that too.

In respect of the reminder from Deputy Martin, I recall an answer given by a former Taoiseach to something which came from the Sinn Féin quarters. Were I to make a remark like that made by the good Deputy when she referred to the Deputies opposite as the boys over there, I could be guilty of behaviour unbecoming.

She might clarify that.

The Taoiseach should stop digging.

The Minister, Deputy Howlin, is anxious to answer questions on his parliamentary brief. We are dealing with the creation of two separate Departments to deal with finance and public expenditure and reform. The legislation to establish his Department will be published on 17 May and we hope to process it quickly to give him the legal and constitutional authority he requires to answer questions in the House. That will be followed shortly afterwards by legislation in respect of the Department of children.

There is a motion on the Order Paper.

I have no problem with the motion, which I have just received and read. There is nothing wrong with it but it is a matter of whether the Attorney General will advise that the Minister has the constitutional and legal authority to answer questions before his Department is formally established.

The revised memorandum of understanding finally came to light and was published last night. I am not sure whether there is anything new in it other than the issue of the minimum wage. What progress has the Taoiseach made on these matters in light of his assertion that he is toiling daily on them?

I remind the Deputy that this is the Order of Business.

In the course of yesterday's exchanges, the Taoiseach stated that because the document is not the finalised agreement with the troika it would return to the House. Can he tell me the date in May on which that will occur and whether we will have a debate and, more important, a vote on the matter? I raised this question with the Taoiseach previously.

There was not a request for a debate with a vote on this. There was a legitimate request that the memorandum of understanding would be debated and that is what the Chief Whip acceded to. What is taking place today was granted in response to the request made to the Government by the Opposition Whips. We have already held a vote on the vote on the matter. It is not true to say the memorandum of understanding has not been altered. It has been altered in so far as the Deputy rightly refers to the minimum wage. There is no second NAMA and transfers of loans below €20 million are not allowed. There are significant changes in respect of the jobs initiative, which was signalled even before the discussions with the troika. Prior to the election, the troika made it perfectly clear to us that it would be willing to accommodate within the overall envelope changes in priority to give a more effective drive to create jobs and strengthen the economy. That element of the changed memorandum of understanding will be announced on Tuesday. I hope there will be a relevant discussion on the memorandum, which was granted in response to the request that was made.

Like many Deputies, I am meeting increasing numbers of families suffering problems with debt. The programme for Government promises legislation to transfer the Money Advice and Budgeting Service into a personal debt management agency with strong legal powers. When will legislation come before the House to enable that to happen?

I cannot indicate an exact date but it is a commitment of the programme for Government and work is being done on it at present. As progress is made we will report further to the Deputy but I cannot yet provide him an exact date.

Following publication of the McCarthy report, the Taoiseach indicated in response to questions put to him in this House that he would be open to a debate on it. Those of us who believe it is a plan to asset strip the country to pay back the IMF and the bankers would like to know when a debate will take place on the McCarthy report.

I have no problem with having a discussion on the issue and I would welcome one. The Whips will meet this evening and I assume Deputy Catherine Murphy will raise the issue in order to make arrangements for a debate. Deputy Boyd Barrett should bear in mind that it will be worth having a debate when he sees what the Government proposes to do.

On promised legislation, what progress has been made on legislation to change the practice of upward only rent reviews? Another company, Xtra-vision, has gone into receivership or administration due to upward only rents. A number of companies around the country are facing severe difficulties but, while legislation was promised, I cannot find it in the legislative programme.

This is an important element of providing certainty for those who wish to invest in the purchase of property. Consideration is now being given to dealing with the issue under the property services regulation Bill, which is at present with the Attorney General.

I ask about the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce legislation to allow small and medium enterprises to restructure their debts without recourse to expensive court proceedings. Will that provision be part of the bankruptcy legislation or is a separate Bill planned and, if so, when can we expect to see it?

I will have to revert to the Deputy with the details of that issue. I am not sure that it requires legislation but I will give him an up-to-date report tomorrow.

I seek clarification from the Ceann Comhairle regarding the submission of parliamentary questions. Two weeks ago he indicated that a suggestion had been made to Ministers that responses to questions about agencies such as the NRA which are not directly under the control of Ministers should be sought via the respective Departments. Can he confirm whether he has issued a direction to Ministers on this matter?

Any parliamentary question received on such subjects has been approved for oral or written answer.