It is proposed to take No. 39, Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 18, Customs Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Order of Business
There are no proposals to be put to the House today. I call Deputy Barry Cowen.
On the proposed legislation, as published yesterday, could I ask the Tánaiste about the EirGrid Bill, which is to establish EirGrid in primary legislation. Will the report of Mrs. Justice McGuinness on the pylon issue predate the Bill, in order for the electorate to recognise the impact of the legislation on various parts of the country? Could the Tánaiste inform the House of the date of publication of the Bill?
We have no date yet for the publication of the Bill.
When can we expect the report of Mrs. Justice McGuinness?
I will have to come back to the Deputy on the matter as I do not have a date for publication of the report.
I ask the Tánaiste to come back to me on Tuesday with the details.
The Taoiseach confirmed yesterday that only two of the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention will be put by way of referendum during the lifetime of the Government. The Tánaiste will recall that the Dáil resolution to establish the convention committed the Government to respond to each of the recommendations within four months of publication and to schedule separate Dáil debates, yet the Government has failed to meet the deadline in regard to four convention reports on which we still do not even know the Government position. The deadline on extending the vote to citizens resident outside the State passed on 26 March 2014. The deadline on the three final reports of the convention passed almost six months ago. When will the overdue Dáil debates on the right to vote and on Dáil reform on economic, social and cultural rights take place, and when will the establishment a second convention be scheduled? When will the Government make the position on the recommendations known? By the way, that is not the same as asking when referenda might be held, as the Taoiseach has already told us that nothing more will be done by this Administration in that regard.
My second question relates to the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005. The Bill completed Committee Stage in April 2009, nearly six years ago, and it has still not reached Report Stage. My colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, asked the Taoiseach about the matter in October 2014 but the Taoiseach knew nothing about it. I hope the Tánaiste will be more helpful. It is interesting legislation which also introduces some of the recommendations of the Moriarty tribunal. Could the Tánaiste explain the whereabouts of the Bill and the reason for such a lengthy passage of time without a conclusion to the Bill?
In regard to the various reports of the convention, I understand the Deputy wishes to see progress on the commitments made. I am sure the Whips would be very well disposed to arranging a debate if the Sinn Féin Whip chooses to engage with the other Whips. I will leave Deputy McDonald to address that with her own Whip.
It was a Government commitment made in respect of a particular schedule.
There is no difficulty. Deputy McDonald should get her Whip to raise the matter with the other Whips. It is not a problem.
The Whips should not have to do so.
Whip, whip, whip. It will be cream next.
Deputy McDonald asked a question and I offer her a remedy. She should talk to her Whip and get him to raise the matter.
Second, I do not have any date for Report Stage of the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005, but as Deputy McDonald is probably aware, many of the recommendations contained in the reports of that era have been implemented-----
And many have not.
-----in the context of various changes which have been made to regulations and planning legislation, some of which are currently before the House or have completed their journey through the Houses.
The Tánaiste will recall that a number of years ago Aer Lingus moved its Shannon to Heathrow landing slots to Belfast, which caused significant concern at the time in Limerick. I opposed the change at the time, as did the Tánaiste and her colleagues, and the decision was subsequently reversed. The lack of connectivity caused damage to business in the mid-west. There is now growing concern in Limerick and across the mid-west that the future certainty of connectivity might be in question given the takeover bid for Aer Lingus by AIG, which has been reported by the media.
Is legislation promised on the matter?
Could I ask the Tánaiste to provide certainty given the growing concern in Limerick? I have been contacted on the matter. I pose the question of whether it would be opportune to have a discussion on the issue in the context of balanced regional development?
I am not aware that there is any proposed legislation involved in terms of the Deputy's query, but if there are matters which he wishes to raise, via the Whip, in discussion with the other Whips, I am sure that is in order. Perhaps he would initiate such a discussion with his own Whip.
Since the control and sale of alcohol has been a subject of some discussion in recent years and there is promised legislation in the area-----
Deputy Durkan should get his Whip to raise the matter.
-----could I ask the extent to which the heads of the relevant Bill or Bills have been cleared and are likely to come before the House and when the legislation is likely to be passed?
I understand that will be later this year.
Could the Tánaiste provide an update on the road traffic Bill to provide for road safety and related matters, which I believe is a priority matter at this stage because many of the proposed new road construction projects and the realignment of national roads have been abandoned? For that reason, significant road safety issues arise in terms of such roads currently. Work on the Killarney to Farranfore road has been put on the back burner. Could the Government take a serious look at such roads that have been neglected and give rise to safety concerns? In particular, there have been serious accidents-----
The Deputy should not go into too much detail.
-----and a number of casualties have resulted. A total of 12 people were involved.
I understand the road traffic Bill will come later this year.
The Road Safety Authority and the National Roads Authority should be asked to promptly investigate the current condition of the road to which I referred as it is a death trap.
For some time we have been promised the publication of the climate Bill. When is that likely to happen? Will the sectoral plans be produced 18 months after the climate Bill is published or will they be produced parallel to it?
I also wish to inquire about the planning (No. 2) Bill, which was promised before Christmas. I asked yesterday about the landlord and tenant Bill. The Taoiseach described the proposals of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, as highly speculative.
We all know there is a housing crisis. Some of the proposals seemed to be very beneficial for the short rather than the medium term. The issue is urgent, but there is no date for the landlord and tenant Bill. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has responsibility for Irish Water and for Bills relating to planning, and it is dealing with a disproportionate number of difficulties or issues. Will the issue of housing be pushed down the priority list as a consequence?
The climate Bill was approved by Cabinet yesterday and it is on the A list. The planning and development (No. 2) Bill is on the A list and will be on the way quite shortly. I do not have a date for the landlord and tenant Bill. I understand there were some references to the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, examining various features of rent and the desirability of rent certainty, which we have discussed on a number of occasions in respect of people in the private rented sector. No legislation is tabled at this time, but the Department indicated that all options were being examined. The Department has been allocated the largest budget for a very ambitious housing programme in order to open up the properties that local authorities have allowed to be closed up in recent years and to undertake a very ambitious social housing building programme, much of which will be focused in the Dublin area but which also be spread throughout the country. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, will be very capable of delivering that programme as well as delivering on many other issues.
I must ask for brevity, as many Members wish to speak.
What is the status of the communications regulation (postal services) (amendment) Bill and the inland fisheries (modernisation and consolidation) Bill?
The postal services Bill will be published later this year. I do not have a date for the inland fisheries Bill.
I refer to the Government legislative programme for this term. I note that the water services Bill is not going away. This Bill is to address outstanding issues reflected in the Government's water services package in November 2014 and issues that went on into December before the Christmas recess. I have been informed by Irish Water that the meters will only last seven to ten years. Will the Tánaiste appoint an independent evaluation team to assess the longevity of these meters, because-----
I thought the Deputy was against consultants.
-----the battery driving the technology will only last seven years - like the Tánaiste's watch?
Seven years maximum. Will the Tánaiste take it outside politics and appoint an independent evaluation team to ascertain whether these meters are fit for purpose?
We are not going to discuss the content now.
Will there be another scandal? We have enough of consultants; I asked for technical experts. The Government can hardly go to the toilet without consultants.
That is scaremongering.
It is not scaremongering.
Is there an answer to that question, Tánaiste?
I remind Deputy Mattie McGrath that half of the charges are in respect of sewerage and related services-----
I did not say they were not. I asked if the Tánaiste would appoint an independent team.
The water services Bill is No. 17 on the list.
It will not go away.
What is the status of the new building control Bill, given that the construction sector is getting going again? It is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past and that there is proper regulation. It is also important that subcontractors are paid properly this time around and that we have control and high standards of building, good payment methods and an effectively regulated sector. This is a very important Bill.
That Bill will come before the House this year.
When is publication expected of legislation on the sale of the loan books to unregulated third parties, to cater for the sale of loan books by regulated financial institutions to unregulated financial institutions? These loans are being bought for very small money and these unregulated institutions are looking for the principal. Will the legislation also provide for credit unions and the Irish Credit Bureau? People are going to loan sharks over the Christmas period to get small loans. We need the credit unions to open up their lending. The Irish Credit Bureau has closed down credit unions and it is a serious issue with people trying to pay bills after Christmas. We need to get credit unions to open up and to get them lending again. This is a huge issue in rural Ireland.
Yes, Deputy; I know that.
The legislation to which Deputy Butler refers is now the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill, which was published yesterday. We can have a more detailed discussion when it comes before the House.
The Tánaiste will be aware that many people are concerned about data protection and PPS numbers. There has been a debacle on that issue with regard to Irish Water, which asked for PPS numbers and subsequently withdrew the request. The Government, through its agencies, is proceeding with the national postcode system. Is the Government introducing legislation for data protection measures for the new postcodes?
That is a matter for the detailed legislation-----
The Deputy is referring to further data protection-----
With regard to the postcode system.
I will need to get advice from the line Minister on the details of that legislation. I will revert to the Deputy.
My colleague Deputy Durkan made reference to the sale of alcohol Bill, which we are informed is delayed until later this year. The control of gambling Bill is also delayed and there is no indication at all as to when it will be published. Why are these two important pieces of legislation being long-fingered?
When does the Government expect to receive the Fennelly report? Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that it will be published immediately?
I refer to the point raised by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald - because it is very valid - in respect of the Constitutional Convention. The Tánaiste's response is facile, in my view. There are four reports outstanding from the Constitutional Convention. The matter of the convention has been raised repeatedly at meetings of the Whips. With all due respect to the Government Chief Whip, it is not his fault nor the fault of the Whips that the reports have not been forthcoming. It is our clear understanding that they are not forthcoming because the Departments have not given them the priority they deserve. The Government, who set all the deadlines in respect of the Constitutional Convention and who established it with great fanfare, is now sailing very close to the wind in terms of what I would regard as the contempt with which it is treating the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention.
The Government is holding two referendums in the first half of this year in respect of the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention. These are very important referendums which will need to be addressed by all citizens. The reports of the Constitutional Convention have been extremely useful and valuable additions to political discussion. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is a Whip, and if he wishes to engage in further discussions on the reports I would be more than happy for him to raise the matter with the Government Chief Whip and have it addressed through that vehicle.
I asked about the Fennelly report.
I apologise to the Deputy. I do not have a date for when Mr. Justice Fennelly will report. The timeframe for the report is to the end of this year, but that is a matter for Mr. Justice Fennelly and I do not have that information.
I again ask for brevity, please.
Will the Dáil have an opportunity early this term to discuss the proposed sale of part or all of AIB? Did the Minister, Deputy Noonan, consult the Tánaiste or the Labour Party members of Cabinet about the appointment of Goldman Sachs, given the clear conflict of interest?
With regard to the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill, yesterday the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was not able to tell me whether there are ongoing Garda investigations into the findings of the Flood, Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, or whether the Director of Public Prosecutions will take prosecutions. In recent months there has been an apparent collapse of some of the findings of two of the tribunals. The Tánaiste and I had a strong interest in the establishment of the Flood tribunal and the investigations at that time. Will the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, have an opportunity to come to the House and give us a full report on what is happening with regard to the Flood and Mahon tribunals and the serious findings made against various people?
To answer the Deputy's first query on AIB, the objective is to have a bank functioning to provide credit and savings deposits, to get a proper functioning banking system back on its feet, and to get a return on any and all State money invested in the bank. When we came into office we inherited a bank guarantee-----
I am aware of that.
-----which has cost €35 billion-----
That you continued to support.
-----and further funding was put into AIB. It is the objective of the Labour Party and Fine Gael to recover this money for the taxpayer. I am happy to say we are well on the way to doing this, but it will take quite a significant period, I would have thought, before it is finalised. In understand Goldman Sachs is working in an advisory capacity on a pro bono basis. It is simply a scoping exercise at the beginning of a process in which we hope to see significant funds being returned over a period to taxpayers and citizens. This is a good thing and is important.
What about the tribunals?
With regard to the tribunals of inquiry, the Deputy should address the question directly to the Minister for Justice and Equality. I do not have a detailed brief on it.