Dáil Éireann - Volume 459 - 07 December, 1995

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take Nos. 1, 5 — Vote 34 only — 7, 8 and 9. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 1 and 5 shall be decided without debate and any division demanded on No. 5 shall be taken forthwith.

An Ceann Comhairle: Are the proposals for dealing with Item No. 5, Vote 34 only, agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ahern: Will the Taoiseach amend the draft Schedule for next week's business in the House to ensure that the Estimates are debated?

The Taoiseach: There is no draft Order of Business for the House in my possession at the moment. As far as the Book of Estimates is concerned, that document will be available for discussion as soon as consideration thereof is complete.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Government Whip is not keeping the Taoiseach informed. We have the draft schedule for next week. The Government has refused a debate on Northern Ireland and to debate the Book of Estimates. [826] Will the Taoiseach give the House a categorical asssurance that next week, in accordance with usual practice, we will debate the Book of Estimates?

The Taoiseach: It has not been the practice, to my knowledge, that the Book of Estimates is discussed in any detail at this stage. To my recollection, there was one occasion on which it happened. The Government is working carefully on the Book of Estimates and it will be published as soon as work on it is complete.

Mr. Martin: I thought it was ready.

Mr. B. Ahern: Can the Minister for Social Welfare say if we may debate the Social Welfare Estimate for 1996? Can the Taoiseach tell the House when the book of Estimates will be published, and if he will have a debate on it in this House next week? Can we have an adjournment debate, a debate on Northern Ireland? We will debate anything, but the Taoiseach is saying no to everything.

The Taoiseach: In so far as a debate on Northern Ireland is concerned, there is provision for a debate on a motion from the Government next week concerning the establishment of an international body to examine the subject. Furthermore, as far as the Estimates are concerned, these will be published as soon as they are completed and we will make such provisions as are appropriate thereafter for their debate.

Miss Harney: It is a serious matter if the Book of Estimates is not agreed this morning. If it has been agreed, the Taoiseach would have told us when it is to be published. I urge the Minister for Finance to continue to hold the line against the spendthrift tendencies of Democratic Left, supported by Fine Gael.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order to discuss the Estimates now.

[827] Miss Harney: Last December there were extraordinary developments; obviously December is the month for that. With the exception of last year, because of those extraordinary developments, the Adjourment debate always includes a debate covering the Estimates which have always been published from early to mid-November. As a person supposedly committed to Dáil reform who wants his Government to be as transparent as a pane of glass, does the Taoiseach agree that it is unsatisfactory that we do not have the Book of Estimates and will not, therefore, be able to have a meaningful debate next week?

The Taoiseach: I have been a good while in this House and I have a good recollection of Appropriation Bills. I remember fighting in this House for a debate on the Appropriation Bills when it was the custom, as it was for approximately 20 years, not even to debate the Appropriation Bill which was passed without debate.

Mr. D. Ahern: That is what the Taoiseach suggested last night.

The Taoiseach: There were one or two occasions at most on which the Estimates were debated in general terms before the end of the year. Therefore, the assumptions underlying Deputy Harney's questions are not valid or in accordance with the facts.

When the Government, which is working cohesively, collectively and carefully on the Estimates, has completed its consideration of the matter, the Estimates will be published. The Opposition parties should not be unduly concerned in relation to this issue. They will not discover anything to disrupt their having a happy Christmas.

Mr. B. Ahern: It has been the practice for a number of years for this House to engage in a debate in relation to the Appropriations Bill or the Book of Estimates. This has been the case since 1987, with the introduction of the Book [828] of Estimates in December of that year. The Taoiseach may consult the Official Report for the relevant dates.

Will the Taoiseach repudiate the outrageous and insulting attack, made yesterday by a Government spokesman on the professional competence and integrity of civil servants in the Department of Finance while carrying out their public duty?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Mr. B. Ahern: A vicious attack was made——

An Ceann Comhairle: It is a veiled insinuation. The Deputy is making an allegation which is incorrect and disorderly. If he wishes to make an accusation he should do so in the proper manner.

The Taoiseach: I have no knowledge that any such statement was made. As someone who has worked closely with officials in the Department of Finance I can say that they are people of high integrity and a high level of patriotism. I compliment them and all other officials working in connection with this issue. I advise everyone concerned to treat the officials with great respect, which in fact they do. I advise Deputy Ahern not to listen to tittle tattle.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Taoiseach is obviously——

An Ceann Comhairle: The matter should not become personalised.

Mr. B. Ahern: ——unaware of the notice issued by the Government Whip. A member of the Government made an attack on an official of the Department of Finance yesterday. Perhaps the Taoiseach might investigate the matter.

Mr. Power: Representative bodies were established a number of years ago which have given a voice to the members of our Defence Forces. Why [829] has the Taoiseach attempted to muzzle the general secretary of PDFORRA and prevented him from attending a public meeting in County Kildare?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will have an opportunity to raise that matter in the proper way.

Mr. Power: It is a very serious issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am proceeding with item 1.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: If Deputy Power wishes to pursue the matter there are a number of ways in which he may do so under Standing Orders. It is not in order at this time.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: What action does the Taoiseach propose to take to correct the statement made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry last weekend in relation to the threat to the Irish beef industry from mad cow disease, BSE?

(Interruptions).

Mr. M. Ahern: With regard to proposed legislation, will the Taoiseach inform the House if a section will be included in the equal status Bill to exclude discrimination against County Cork? I note that not one person from County Cork has been appointed to the new board of CIE.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order. I ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. Ellis: Will the Taoiseach inform the House if the Government has decided to introduce a ban on recruitment to the public service? Will this ban apply——

An Ceann Comhairle: No matter how many times members are admonished by the Chair, they seem to repudiate it. [830] We will proceed with the Order of Business.

Mr. D. Ahern: In paragraph 61 of the Programme for Government a commitment was made that encouragement would be given to Ministers and Ministers of State to discuss various proposals prior to publication with the Oireachtas committees responsible for legislation. During recent weeks the Government has indicated that the heads of a number of Bills, including the freedom of information Bill, have been approved. Publishing the fact that the heads have been approved by Government, rather than publishing the Bills themselves, represents a change of practice.

Will the Taoiseach inform the House of any proposals the Government might have to discuss the drug trafficking Bill, the freedom of information Bill, the juvenile Justice Bill or the equal status Bill with any of the committees concerned? The Dáil could then discuss this proposed legislation before publication, as was enunciated in the Programme for Government.

The Taoiseach: It has not been the practice for such action to take place. However, if Oireachtas committees request discussions with the relevant Ministers in relation to particular areas of policy which may be subsequently presented in the form of legislation, such requests can and will be considered on their merits. The appropriate approach would be for the committees to raise such matters with the relevant Ministers. We will investigate, on a pragmatic basis, how this might be achieved. I expect to meet one of the committees next year in relation to a policy issue.