Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take Nos. 3, 4, 5, 1, 6 and 8. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 3, 4 and 5 shall be decided without debate; (2) the Second Stage of No. 1 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the debate; (i) the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State, the main spokesperson for the Fine Gael Party, the Progressive Democrats Party and the Technical Group shall not exceed 45 minutes in each case; (ii) the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case and (iii) Members may share time. Private Members Business shall be No. 19.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal that Nos. 3, 4 and 5 be decided without debate satisfactory? Agreed.

Are the proposals for dealing with No. 1 satisfactory?

Mr. J. Bruton: I have no problem with the time limits but I am concerned that a legitimate question should be capable of being put to any Member in possession during a debate. It would be [1367] unfair if a Member's time was to be restricted by the fact that he accepted legitimate questions from other Members. Will you, Sir, interpret these time limits with a degree of flexibility which would allow additional time at the end of a contribution where a Member has been good enough to accept a question from another Member and respond to it?

An Ceann Comhairle: As the House knows, the Chair is obliged to conform to the rulings of the House. Any departure from that would be a matter for the House itself or, in the first instance perhaps, the Committee on Procedure and Privilages. What the Deputy is suggesting is, to my mind, a contentious matter and one which as yet has not been acceptable to the Members of this House.

Mr. J. Bruton: I do not wish to enter into contention with you, Sir, but it is a long established precedent in this House that interruptions are allowable. There is not anything in Standing Orders to prevent them and the precedents of earlier rulings of your predecessors allow them. In practice, however, they are not being allowed now and that is probably because we have time limits. I am asking you, Sir, if you will agree to interpret the time limits with a measure of flexibility so that if a Member accepts a legitimate question from another Member, that will not be taken away from the allocated time. We can deal with the matter by changing Standing Orders but a flexible interpretation by you, Sir, would be more satisfactory.

An Ceann Comhairle: I would much prefer if it were done in that way.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am asking you to do it, Sir.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair will be flexible, as the House knows, in all such matters but in the matter of a [1368] serious departure of the kind suggested——

Mr. J. Bruton: It is not a serious departure.

An Ceann Comhairle: ——I have no power to do so.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is already provided for in precedents.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am aware of the history of the matter. I suggest that this matter be brought before the Committee on the Procedure and Privileges so that it might be cleared up.

Mr. M. McDowell: A Cheann Comhairle, if you refer to the Official Reports of this House there is no doubt that at one time what Deputy Bruton referred to was permissible——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am well aware of that, Deputy.

Mr. M. McDowell:——and that some process has happened in the meantime to make it impossible. I ask you, a Cheann Comhairle, if you are a man of flexibility — and I accept you see yourself as somebody who is flexible and wishes this House to be a relevant and lively debating Chamber — to revert to the better practices of your far distant predecessors and abandon the rigidity which has crept into this House in recent times. It is a bit like hardening of the arteries. We have to go back to being a youthful, vibrant assembly.

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter came up at a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privilages.

Mr. E. Kenny: I agree with Deputy McDowell. For the information of Members of the House, this matter was a formal item in my name on the agenda for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at its last meeting. It has been agreed to discuss this, Sir, at a meeting of the Whips to take place tomorrow to [1369] deal with this and other matters. Hopefully, we might arrive at a successful conclusion to our deliberations at that meeting.

Mr. Rabbitte: You might give it a trial run.

Mr. Cowen: That would exclude Deputy Rabbitte.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair will be happy to implement any decision the House makes in this matter.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I want to ask a question about an Estimate. May I do that now or should I wait until the Order of Business has been put?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must wait until we complete the Order of Business.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am willing to allow this time limit to go through at this stage, having made my point, but we will be returning to this issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Are the proposals for dealing with Item No. 1 satisfactory and agreed?

Mr. J. Bruton: In view of the fact that the Taoiseach said on the radio there were a number of questions that have to be answered about the Attorney General's handling of the paedophile case and the delay involved, will he make provision for the Minister for Justice to make a statement in the House on this matter when the answers the Taoiseach has sought have been provided?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is hardly appropriate now, Deputy.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is appropriate to some of the business we are dealing with today, including the Courts and Court Officers Bill. I would be reluctant to see the Government nominate Mr. Whelehan to any position while he remained under a cloud of unanswered [1370] questions here in the Dáil. For the sake of the judicial system, these questions should first be answered in full for everybody's sake, including that of Mr. Whelehan. I hope the Taoiseach will be willing to have answers in the House to questions that he admitted this morning have not yet been answered.

An Ceann Comhairle: Should Members not await the debate which is about to ensue?

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach admitted on radio this morning that there were unanswered questions remaining and I am asking him——

The Taoiseach: I will clear up the matter for the House. We asked for explanations. The explanations are not fully in accord with what we would expect and we are asking for further explanations. It is not a matter of unanswered questions or the suitability of the Attorney General——

Mr. J. Bruton: Fair enough.

The Taoiseach: ——or anything like that. It is an administrative matter in his Office on which we are asking for questions——

Ms O'Donnell: For which he has responsibility.

The Taoiseach: ——and when we receive the full explanations, we will make our own decisions in relation to them.

Mr. J. Bruton: Can we take it there will be no appointment until these explanations — if the Taoiseach wants to call them explanations, I am happy to use that term — have been provided here in the House? Can we take it there will be no recommendation to appoint Mr. Whelehan until the explanations to the Taoiseach have been provided in the Dáil? They have not been provided so far.

[1371] The Taoiseach: The Government will make decisions in its own time and in its own way.

Mr. J. Bruton: There is a slight trace of arrogance in that reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed Deputy Burton quite some latitude in the matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Taoiseach should recognise that his mandate derives from this House and he is accountable to this House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Bruton may not proceed to debate the matter now.

The Taoiseach: Deputy Bruton should be aware that it is not his job as Leader of the Opposition to tell the Government when and how it should make decisions.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is my job to ask the hard questions that the Taoiseach is unwilling to answer.

The Taoiseach: Deputy Bruton can ask them.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am asking the Taoiseach to answer these questions now.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are having quite a lot of repetition. I am calling Deputy Harney.

Miss Harney: In light of what the Taoiseach said this morning, does he accept that the Attorney General is responsible for everything that happens in his Office?

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not Question Time, Deputy.

Miss Harney: It is relevant because the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle: It may be relevant at a more appropriate time.

[1372] Miss Harney: ——spoke this morning as if the Attorney General was not responsible for what happens in his office. He is responsible and accountable for everything that happens in that office. Does the Taoiseach accept that?

An Ceann Comhairle: That matter could be raised later.

Miss Harney: It is a simple question. The Taoiseach dealt with it on Morning Ireland — surely he can deal with it here?

The Taoiseach: I will deal with it when Deputy Harney puts down a question on the matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will that be too late?

Miss Harney: He is responsible.

Mr. Barrett: A question was put down today but it was transferred.

Proinsias De Rossa: In relation to legislation which we are dealing with today, the Courts and Court Officers Bill, will the Taoiseach give an undertaking to the House that there will be no appointments to senior judicial positions until this legislation has been passed by this House?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a rather similar question.

The Taoiseach: That is the very same question that was asked by Deputy Bruton. The Government will make that decision in its own time.

Proinsias De Rossa: Will it be subsequent to this House passing the Courts and Court Officers Bill?

Mr. Rabbitte: Is the “Baldonnel Agreement” silent on the point?

Mr. Sargent: On promised legislation, did the Taoiseach intentionally or otherwise mislead the House when he said, more than four weeks ago, that the [1373] Waste Bill would be published within three to four weeks? That time has now elapsed and I wonder if the Taoiseach has anything to say on the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: We must not have any reference to the matter of misleading the House.

Mr. Sargent: It is a fact.

The Taoiseach: I passed on to this House the information given to me by the appropriate Department and we will take up the matter with them again.

Mrs. Doyle: Blame the civil servants at all costs. The pattern has been set. It is not the Taoiseach's fault — it was the fault of the messenger.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Will the Taoiseach again consider bringing forward an Estimate for the Office of the Attorney General as we cannot get any answers in this House and must rely on answers given in another House in a foreign jurisdiction to find out what is happening in this extradition case?

An Ceann Comhairle: That question has been asked recently.

Mr. Durkan: The Taoiseach is willing to answer.

The Taoiseach: When Estimates are taken is always a matter for discussion among the Whips. The question posed by Deputy Mitchell is appropriate, subject to the rulings of the Chair, in relation to the debate today.

Mr. Shatter: On a different matter in relation to promised legislation and action promised by both the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Health, will the Taoiseach state when it is intended to bring before the House the necessary rules and regulations to ensure the implementation of the Child Care Act of 1991 in relation to the safety and protection of children? Is the [1374] Taoiseach aware that if there is a repetition of the circumstances that arose in the tragic Kelly Fitzgerald case, the health boards cannot intervene to protect the lives of children? Will the Taoiseach agree that it is outrageous that this legislation has not been brought into force?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may not elaborate. He put a question to the Taoiseach.

Mr. Shatter: I wish to raise a different issue.

The Taoiseach: The Minister for Health explained the regulations pertaining to the Child Care Act seven times in the House. I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Shatter: How many more children must die before the Minister for Health takes action?

Mr. Howlin: That is outrageous opportunism.

Mr. Shatter: The Minister issues the same speech week after week. We had the Kilkenny incest report and the Madonna House case. Young people are dead but we still have the same public relations statements. It is outrageous——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is completely out of order.

Mr. Howlin: That child died in February 1993.

Mr. Shatter: ——especially from the Labour Party.

Mr. Howlin: The Deputy is a disgrace.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is behaving in a disorderly manner.

Mr. Shatter: It is absolutely outrageous.

[1375] Proinsias De Rossa: The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health indicated on a number of occasions that the Child Care Act would be fully implemented on a phased basis. Bearing in mind that the courts found the health board was not responsible for the death of the child, will the Taoiseach, nevertheless, agree there is urgent need to speed up implementation of this Act?

Mr. Shatter: How many more children will die during the phasing in of the Act?

The Taoiseach: The Child Care Act was outlined in the House——

Mr. Shatter: Four years ago.

The Taoiseach: No one would disagree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy De Rossa. The unfortunate death to which he referred occurred in February 1993.

Mr. Shatter: The Act was passed four years ago. What will be the excuse next time?

Mr. J. Mitchell: Children sustained a number of injuries caused by fireworks in the last few days. Has the Government any plans to legalise and regulate fireworks? Bearing in mind that there might be some fireworks in Cork next week——

An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps the Deputy would proceed by way of question.

Ms McManus: The Taoiseach stated this morning on radio that protecting children from domestic abuse was a top political priority. Will he agree that is totally at odds with the Government programme regarding implementation of the Child Care Act which will take until 1996——

An Ceann Comhairle: The question of implementation of the Child Care Act has been replied to.

[1376] Ms McManus: Will he now live up to his word regarding promised legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle: This is repetition. Has the Deputy a pertinent question appropriate to the Order of Business? I want to assist her if she has.

Ms McManus: It relates to promised legislation increasing the powers of social workers to protect children from domestic abuse. We are told this legislation will not come into force until the end of 1995. Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure children are protected and that the legislation is brought forward now?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy made her point adequately.

The Taoiseach: The Government addressed the problem and committed 370 extra staff and £20 million towards implementation of the Act.

Mr. J. Bruton: Has the Taoiseach looked at page 37 of the joint programme which promises full implementation of the Child Care Act?

Mr. Howlin: In the optimum possible time.

Mr. J. Bruton: It is unqualified. There is no reference on page 37 to 1995. It is unambiguous.

Mr. Howlin: The Deputy will support the estimate for additional money——

Mr. J. Bruton: Is the Taoiseach aware that the Waste Bill was first promised on 12 May 1992, again on 10 February 1993 and promised by him for this session on 28 June this year? Do we take it this pace for the preparation of legislation is acceptable to the Government?

The Taoiseach: This Government has produced more legislation than any of its predecessors. It is expected that the Waste Bill will be completed and before [1377] the Government in the next three weeks or so.

Mr. Barrett: When will the Supplementary Estimate for the Department of the Environment be brought forward in view of the commitments given in Cork, like snuff at a wake? It would also facilitate debate on the housing crisis which exists, particularly in Cork where 2,700 people are on a housing list.

An Ceann Comhairle: No speeches, please.

Mr. Barrett: Instead of handing out promises the Government should build houses for those on the list.

The Taoiseach: I understand the frustration of Deputy Barrett who, after his weekend visit to Cork, found the infrastructural development there, which is a Government priority, so well advanced. However, we will continue it.

Mr. Barrett: I asked about the Supplementary Estimate.

The Taoiseach: It will not be before next week.

Mr. Durkan: What is the reason for failing to implement the remaining stages of the Child Care Act?

Mr. Howlin: Which sections? Does the Deputy know the first thing about it?

Mr. Durkan: The remaining important sections. Is it for financial or other reasons? Perhaps the Taoiseach or the Minister for Health would like to answer.

Mr. Howlin: I would be happy to answer the Deputy's questions.

Mr. Durkan: Then tell us.

Mr. O'Malley: I repeat the question posed earlier by Deputy Harney as to [1378] whether the Attorney General was responsible for what happens in his office. The answer is either “yes” or “no”. If the Taoiseach declines to reply that is significant. Could I further inquire whether his statement this morning that the Attorney General did not see these papers extends to whether the Attorney General was aware of them and of the request over a period of seven months?

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not Question Time. That matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. O'Malley: It is a very important matter——

An Ceann Comhairle: Undoubtedly but it should be dealt with in the appropriate way.

Mr. O'Malley: ——and the fact that the Taoiseach fails to deal with it here is very significant.

Mr. Rabbitte: Depending on whether the answer is “yes” or “no”, will we be told the names of those who are allegedly concealing information on such an important matter from the Attorney General?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is continuing the issue. I cannot permit a debate.

Mr. Rabbitte: It is a very important issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot permit a mini Question Time.

Mr. Rabbitte: If people are concealing information from the Attorney General it is about time they were named in this House or else the Attorney General should be made accountable to this House.

Ms O'Donnell: On the same matter, can I ask——

[1379] An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot permit a debate on the issue.

Ms O'Donnell: Is it not the final insult to the House that questions I legitimately put to the Minister for Justice last week were answered in another House in the United Kingdom yesterday. The question was whether there had been any contact between the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland and the British authorities in relation to the extradition warrant and the Attorney General's office.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy raised this matter before. I permitted her to raise it on the Adjournment quite recently.

Ms O'Donnell: Is it not the final insult to this House that the accountability of the Government to the Dáil——

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot pursue the matter now. I am proceeding to the Business of the House proper.

Mr. J. Mitchell: The House was misled. I wrote to the Chair about this.

Mrs. Doyle: They will probably find a civil servant to blame.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Labour Party used to be the mudguard of the Government.