Dáil Éireann - Volume 447 - 24 January, 1995

Order of Business (Resumed).

[1513] Mr. B. Ahern: On the Order of Business proper, lest there be any confusion, it has always been your ruling that items listed were dealt with before further questions. I assume we shall continue that practice.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is the intention.

Mr. B. Ahern: I noticed yesterday and indeed last week that a number of other parliaments verbally recognised the commitment of the former President of the Commission. Monsieur Jacques Delors, to European Union and enlargement and recognised his work on European monetary union and European integration. Perhaps the Taoiseach, at an appropriate moment, would afford some time to allow us do so here, because we should put his visionary policy on Europe on the record as have other parliaments.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy did not seem to like it very much.

Mr. B. Ahern: We did very well out of it. Indeed I hope Deputy Dukes and his colleagues enjoy spending the money we received from President Delors.

Mr. H. Byrne: We will have to appoint another committee to accommodate Deputy Dukes.

Mr. B. Ahern: Before entering the House I received a list of the Government's legislative programme and noticed two major Bills were omitted. What is the position in regard to the legislation on the European Convention on the Repatriation of Prisoners which it had been intended to take prior to Christmas? I should like some information on the Bill on Freedom of Information.

[1514] The Taoiseach: The legislation on the European Convention on the Repatriation of Prisoners is on the list.

Mr. B. Ahern: Will it be taken this session?

The Taoiseach: It is at an advanced stage and will be taken this session.

May I seek clarification from you, a Cheann Comhairle, for my own sake. My impression was that the Order of Business is taken before the business but in the last few minutes we have gone through a number of items of business. My understanding is that we discuss the order in which business is being taken before taking the business and that we do not discuss the order after we have taken a good part of the business, which we have already done here. I had thought the Order of Business was over. I am somewhat surprised that you ruled otherwise.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair very much wishes to allow questions on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: So do I, but one should know exactly what are the relevant rules.

Mr. B. Ahern: For the past seven years, whenever there were items to be taken without debate, the Chair took these items first and other items were then taken. That is the procedure we followed.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is fair to say that the sooner the anticipated change in this area takes place the better.

Mr. B. Ahern: I asked the Taoiseach about the Freedom of Information Bill.

The Taoiseach: The Minister of State at the Office of the Tánaiste is working apace on that Bill. I expect it will be produced quite soon. I cannot give an exact date but I know she is working on it quite extensively.

[1515] Mr. B. Ahern: It will be published this season?

The Taoiseach: Yes, it will be published this session.

On the other point Deputy Bertie Ahern made in regard to the contribution to Europe by the former President of the Commission, Monsieur Jacques Delors, it is fair to say that Monsieur Delors has been a visionary in European terms, a man who has created a concept of how Europe might work in the next century. It is important that we should pay tribute to him and I am doing so now. Yesterday at the General Affairs Council, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the Government, paid extensive tributes to Monsieur Delors. Furthermore, it is fair to say that Monsieur Delors, as President of the Commission, at all times was concerned to protect the rights of smaller countries, one of the important marks he made in the course of his tenure. He, in his role, expressed the importance of the Commission, in general, as a protection and bulwark for smaller member states.

Miss Harney: The Order of Business today appears to be a movable feast.

I concur in the remarks and tributes paid to Monsieur Jacques Delors.

I am pleased that the Government did not proceed with the removal of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Is it the Government's intention to table an amendment to the Road Traffic Act, 1994? Is it significant that, in the legislative programme circulated earlier, there is no mention of the information on abortion legislation? This programme deals with legislation to be dealt with from January to July next, yet does not include legislation about information on abortion or provide for holding a referendum on divorce.

The Taoiseach: The list furnished to the Opposition parties contains only those items which are either already in the House or which we know, from our preliminary discussion within this new [1516] Government, are almost ready for introduction. Many other items of legislation we expect will be ready within that period, but we did not want to include anything in the list until we were absolutely sure it would be ready. Members should not read anything into the absence of any item from the list.

Mr. S. Brennan: With vital decisions now being urgent in the case of Telecom Éireann, will the Taoiseach assure this House that he will organise a full debate on the floor of this House before, and not after, any major decisions are taken on the future of the company, particularly given the strong ideological divide in the present climate?

An Ceann Comhairle: The matter is not appropriate at this time and must be dealt with in another way.

Miss Harney: The Taoiseach did not answer my question about the amendment of the Road Traffic Act, 1994.

The Taoiseach: I omitted to answer part of Deputy Harney's question. As the House will be aware, the Minister for the Environment held an extensive series of meetings with the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Association, the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, the Licensed Vintners Association, the Irish Hotels Federation, the Irish Restaurants Association and the Irish Insurance Federation. In addition, he received a detailed report from the Garda Síochána on the operation of the new provisions with particular reference to enforcement problems. In the light of that, the Minister is reviewing the position intensively, but no decision has been taken at this juncture.

Miss Quill: I received this list of legislative proposals a moment ago only. Could it be a printing error or omission, or is it possible that the long promised juvenile justice Bill will not be introduced in this session by the new Government? My clear understanding from the former Minister for Justice was [1517] that the Bill was practically ready for introduction in the House.

The Taoiseach: My understanding is that this is a very large Bill the heads of which the previous Government had reached, that it had circulated a general scheme to other Departments and was consulting other Departments at that time. It is my understanding that a draft Bill was not ready when this Government took office. Obviously we would wish to bring it forward as quickly as possible but all of the work needing to be done certainly had not been done before we took office.

Mr. O'Donoghue: With regard to the Road Traffic Act, 1994, it was suggested that the Government was considering staggering the closure times of public houses. Will he confirm that ludicrous suggestion is not being considered?

An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise now. I wish to get down to the business of the House proper.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Why did questions which I put down to the Minister for Enterprise and Employment not appear on the Order Paper? I seek the Chair's help on this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sure they were disallowed for very good and cogent reasons and my office will be glad to elaborate on the matter if the you so desire.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not know why they did not appear.

An Ceann Comhairle: As the Deputy knows, I am not obliged to reply to questions like that in the House.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I appreciate the Chair's offer of help, but I want to know why the questions did not appear on the Order Paper.

An Ceann Comhairle: I do not deal with that in the House as the Deputy [1518] knows full well. I am not obliged to reply to questions like that in the House, Deputy. If the Deputy requires elucidation as to the reasons the questions were disallowed, my office is at her disposal.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I appreciate the Chair's courteous offer of help, but I want to know why the questions did not appear on the Order Paper. This is the Government of OTA — openness, transparency and accountability.

An Ceann Comhairle: There are many ways open to Deputy O'Rourke to raise that matter.

Mr. M. McDowell: Will the Taoiseach indicate what happened to the trademarks Bill? Deputy Quinn should be in a position to assist him on that. It is now 18 months overdue and we are in default of our European obligations. I have at all times been told that it was almost ready for publication, yet it does not appear on the list.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is it promised?

The Taoiseach: It was promised by the previous Government.

Mrs. O'Rourke: You are in office now.

Mr. Barrett: We are not automatically accepting everything you did.

The Taoiseach: Indeed.

Miss Harney: We have not noticed much difference so far.

The Taoiseach: A draft text is currently in preparation in the parliamentary draftsman's office and we expect it will be submitted to the Government next month. It is at a pretty advanced stage, a good deal more advanced than the Bill to which Deputy Quill referred.

Mr. McCreevy: While I am fully aware of the political changes in the [1519] past few months, will the Taoiseach indicate when it is hoped the Book of Estimates will be published?

The Taoiseach: On 27 January.