Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 26 February, 1997

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take item No 1, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1996 — amendments from the Seanad; No. 21 the Credit Union Bill, 1996 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 4, the Equal Status Bill, 1997 — order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

Private Members' Business shall be No. 49 — Punishment of Aggravated Robbery Bill, 1997 — Second Stage (resumed) and it is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on the Second Stage thereof shall be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. tonight.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is one matter to put to the House. Is it agreed that Private Members' Business shall conclude at 8.30 p.m.? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ahern: Even though the Taoiseach told me the complex legislation dealing with syringe attacks would not be ready for several months, yesterday the Government announced its proposals in that regard. Was it a coincidence that Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill on the matter was being debated? If I were to ask Deputy O'Donoghue to publish a court officers Bill, a prisons board Bill and a bail Bill next week — which he would be capable of doing — would the Government also publish its proposals on them next week?

The Taoiseach: I do not make a practice of answering hypothetical questions.

Mrs. O'Rourke: He does not answer any questions.

Mr. D. Ahern: Time and time again the Minister is playing for time.

Miss Harney: The Taoiseach should be reminded that he voted down a prisons Bill last week. When will a Bill dealing with a referendum on Cabinet confidentiality be introduced?

[886] The Taoiseach: The answer to that is the answer I gave the Deputy the last time she raised the matter. That Bill will be presented when it is ready.

Mr. S. Brennan: Does the Taoiseach intend to have the Minister for Justice charged under the Larceny Act, 1916, as amended, for stealing another Fianna Fáil Bill?

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: The Fianna Fáil technique is not to have ideas of its own, find out what the Government proposes to do and then try to do it. The Opposition should think for itself.

Mr. Cowen: Fine Gael does not have any policy.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The Taoiseach does not have a policy on any matter.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Fine Gael Party went into hiding yesterday.

Mrs. O'Rourke: An own goal.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Taoiseach should take legislation on crime seriously. The referendum on bail was held on 29 November. He stated approximately five times in the House since Christmas that the legislation on bail would be available shortly.

Mr. Crawford: The Deputy has a short memory. His party did nothing about it for seven and a half years.

Mr. B. Ahern: In regard to the promise in the programme for Government to establish an interdepartmental committee with an independent chairman to review the objectives and procedures for the distribution and allocation of national lottery funds, the Taoiseach stated last June that he was awaiting a report from the Minister for Finance before setting it up. Has he appointed an independent chairman to that committee?

An Ceann Comhairle: Does this matter refer to legislation?

Mr. B. Ahern: Yes.

The Taoiseach: I am pleased Deputy Ahern raised the bail issue. When his party was in Government it referred the matter to the Law Reform Commission and asked it not to make recommendations so that the Government would not have to do anything about it.

Mr. B. Ahern: That is not correct.

The Taoiseach: In contrast, when we came into office we acted on the matter. We passed the referendum and the legislation will be ready. It is [887] wonderful that the Opposition get a surge of new ideas on matters they did nothing about when they were in Government. They use the Order of Business to find out what the Government is going to do and when they are to do it. Then they try to produce something that is to anticipate what the Government is doing a day or two before the Government produces it.

Mr. S. Brennan: This is an election speech.

The Taoiseach: The Opposition should think for themselves.

Mr. B. Ahern: The Taoiseach is suffering from memory loss. I asked a question about the national lottery legislation and the Taoiseach has not answered.

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us not have argument or debate on these matters.

The Taoiseach: That is not a legislative matter. It is under consideration by the Minister.

Mr. Dempsey: On a point of order, can the Taoiseach clarify his remarks? Is he alleging that the Law Reform Commission accepted an instruction from the Government of the time not to do their duty in relation to the bail referendum?

The Taoiseach: No.

Mr. Dempsey: That is what the Taoiseach has said. Is he withdrawing the accusation?

The Taoiseach: The Government of the time kicked the bail issue into touch and we have dealt with it.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Tragically, it appears that another violent death occurred yesterday in Kerry. Does the Taoiseach deem it appropriate that a new deputy State pathologist be based in the southern region in view of delays in the State pathologist getting to the scenes of these deaths?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy could raise this in another way. This is not Question Time.

Mr. O'Donoghue: It is an extremely important matter for those involved.

The Taoiseach: The matter is under active consideration and is of some concern. There is a question tabled on it for today or tomorrow and a full statement will be made in answer to that question.

Dr. McDaid: Would the Taoiseach agree that the photograph in one of today's tabloids shows a deplorable insensitivity to the family of the murdered young man? Does he have a comment [888] on the standard of what newspapers are publishing in order to sell copies? It is deplorable.

The Taoiseach: One of the characteristics of any civilisation is respect for the dead. The matter to which the Deputy refers indicates a lack of civilisation on the part of those concerned. Civilised standards are not simply for application by politicians. Those who preach civilised standards to politicians should also practise them.

Mr. D. Ahern: Does the Taoiseach intend to reconvene an urgent meeting of the Fine Gael convention which was described on LMFM this morning as an “eastern bloc” rigged convention by one of his own members?

Mr. Finucane: The Deputy should go to west Limerick for the Fianna Fáil convention.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Taoiseach should have listened to the radio when it was described as an eastern bloc convention. It was Mr. O'Sullivan.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Matters relevant to the Order of Business should be raised.

Dr. O'Hanlon: When answering questions yesterday, the Minister for the Environment said there would be an increase of 3 per cent in car tax next year and the following year, and that after that there would be no increases other than by Government decision. In an announcement of 19 December, it was said that local authorities would have discretion to vary the national rate by not more than 6 per cent in 1999 and subsequent years.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): If they wish, but that is from the base. The Deputy does not understand this.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy will have to attend remedial classes.

Dr. O'Hanlon: There are two policies for everything but Fine Gael has none.

Mr. Flood: In view of the impending increases in the cost of child care services at preschool and creche level, could the Taoiseach put down an amendment to the Finance Bill that would deal with the potentially catastrophic increase for over 50,000 people who use child care services?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy can raise that matter in another way.

Dr. Woods: While the Minister for Social Welfare is away and the Labour Members are in ascendancy on the Front Bench, could the Tánaiste consider prompting the Taoiseach to move a butter vouchers restoration Bill? It is long overdue.

[889] Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): I like Deputy Woods's seriousness.

Dr. Woods: It is important legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order now.

Mr. B. Ahern: Can the Taoiseach inform us of the time this House will remain in existence? The Taoiseach has signed advertising contracts for cycle 10 and 11, which cover the period from 5 May to 2 June. Can he tell us when the election will be?

The Taoiseach: I have signed no advertising contracts because the achievements of this Government are so well known that they require no advertisement. I relish the opportunity the Deputy gives me every morning on the Order of Business to advertise the achievements of the Government and I look forward to doing so for a long time to come.

Mr. R. Burke: Those achievements will speak for themselves. The Tánaiste should not use a glove puppet.

The Taoiseach: Deputy Ray Burke should be a broadcasting consultant to Fianna Fáil because he has a better memory than anyone else.

Mr. Callely: Thankfully, we are in the final days of the 27th Dáil and the Taoiseach speaks of achievements. One of the commitments in his programme for Government was to a vigorous third force in banking. Would he agree that it is now unlikely that that will be considered before this Dáil ends?

The Taoiseach: This matter will continue to be considered for as long as is necessary in this Dáil. The Deputy is over-excited, as many in his party are. Yesterday there were disquieting signs of extreme over-excitement in the Deputy's party.

Mr. R. Burke: Will the Taoiseach give way?

The Taoiseach: No.

Mr. R. Burke: If Deputy O'Donoghue publishes a Bill, will the Taoiseach follow it?

The Taoiseach: Deputy Ray Burke should allow me to answer his colleague, Deputy Callely, who posed a question. The Deputy should not be nervous. This Government will be around for a long time to come.

Mr. Sheehan: The Opposition should plan their holidays.

Mr. B. Ahern: There is plenty of room for advertisements.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy advertises for us.

[890] Mr. D. Ahern: We have heard the Taoiseach on this Dáil continuing for a long time but the same Mr. O'Sullivan claimed on radio that the Taoiseach said the Meath convention was the last one to be held.

An Ceann Comhairle: This does not arise on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: The Deputy should check his facts.

Mr. Durkan: Deputy Dermot Ahern must be cracking up.

Mr. D. Ahern: That is what he said.

Mr. M. Kitt: If the Taoiseach is not using the advertising space, could he inform the farmers and hauliers where dead animals are to be disposed of?

When will the Bretton Woods Agreement be published? Will the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs be able to discuss that proposal?

The Taoiseach: The Bretton Woods Agreement is to enable Ireland to become part of the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility. It is at an early stage of preparation and I compliment Deputy Michael Kitt on being the only Opposition Deputy, apart from Deputy Flood, to ask a serious question.

Mr. McCreevy: What legislation has been used by the Government to promise the executive chairmanship of the Sports Council to a person to prevent him from being a candidate in the next general election?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should table a question on the matter.

Mr. McCreevy: The position of chief executive in a new State organisation should be advertised and the normal procedures followed. What legislation has been used——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not Question Time.

Mr. McCreevy: The question relates to legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should table a question on the matter.

Mr. Martin: In line with the commitment given in the programme, A Government of Renewal, when is it intended to introduce legislation to redefine child care and pre-school facilities, thereby exempting them from the payment of VAT? The imposition of VAT at 21 per cent on fees and charges——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should find another way of raising that matter.

[891] Mr. Martin: ——will mean that such facilities will be less, not more, accessible to parents on low incomes.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may find an opportunity of raising the matter at Question Time today.

Mr. Martin: This is a valid question and indicates the lack of commitment on the part of the Government to achieve its objectives as outlined in the programme, A Government of Renewal.

The Taoiseach: In this case the application of VAT occurs under the EU Sixth VAT Directive which has been in effect since 1977. It is not a new provision and the enforcement of the law is a matter for the independent judgment of the Revenue Commissioners. Decisions are taken by them in their independent function. The Government, in conjunction with the social partners, is concerned about the adequacy and availability of child care facilities and the contribution they make in allowing persons to take up paid employment. A working group is being established under the programme, Partnership 2000, to investigate the matter. Any matter that the Deputy wishes to raise can be raised in the context of the Finance Bill but this matter of the adequacy and availability of child care facilities is being pursued actively by the Government in conjunction with the social partners. The question of whether guidelines should be issued on the application of VAT under the EU Sixth Directive, which is the law and from which Ireland cannot exempt itself as a member of the European Union, is under consideration by the Revenue Commissioners in their independent function. They interpret and apply the law which is either made in this House or, as in this instance, at EU level.

Mr. Martin: We can seek to change or amend the law.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Government promised to introduce changes to allow Deputies to raise urgent matters on the Order of Business, a matter close to the Ceann Comhairle's heart, but it reneged on this promise. I understand it may have changed its mind yet again and decided to proceed with its original proposal. In view of what happens in the Chamber day in day out when the proceedings resemble a cattle mart — I do not want to be fobbed off with an offer of Dáil committees — does the Government intend to introduce changes to allow Members on the Opposition as well as the Government benches to raise urgent matters?

The Taoiseach: I relish the opportunity to deal with matters raised by Deputies each day——

[892] Mr. D. Ahern: The Taoiseach does not relish it.

The Taoiseach: ——but with the guidance of the Ceann Comhairle as to what is in order. At times the Ceann Comhairle is very indulgent in these matters. The matter of whether Standing Orders should be changed is under consideration by a sub-committee of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of which the Deputy is a member.

Mr. D. Ahern: They were voted down.

The Taoiseach: Deputies have many opportunities to raise urgent matters.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Taoiseach is a great performer.

The Taoiseach: They may avail of the Adjournment debate and Standing Order 31 procedures as well as tabling questions in the normal way. Some Deputies also seek to raise matters on the Order of Business. There is no shortage of opportunities to ventilate urgent matters.

Mr. D. Ahern: There is to be no change.

The Taoiseach: If one compares this House with comparable Houses in other jurisdictions, there are more opportunities in this House to raise matters with the head of Government on a daily basis than anywhere else in Europe.

Mr. D. Ahern: There is no policy.

Mr. Cowen: The Minister for Health announced last week at the 40th anniversary dinner of the VHI that he intended to allow it to seek a strategic partner. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this is Government policy and indicate when the required legislation will be brought forward to change the status of the VHI as a statutory corporation?

The Taoiseach: No legislation has been promised in the matter.

Mr. Cowen: On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us not argue the point now.

Mr. Cowen: I have no wish to argue it. The Minister for Health has announced that the VHI will be seeking a strategic partner and that this is Government policy. Legislation will be required. Is the Taoiseach indicating the Government has agreed that the VHI will have a strategic partner without considering the need for a change in legislation?

The Taoiseach: As the Deputy fully understands, the question of legislation to facilitate a strategic partnership will arise only when the strategic [893] partnership has been agreed. Legislation is not required to explore the possibility of looking for a strategic partner. There is no legislation being prepared on the topic.

Mr. Cowen: On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has had a fair chance.

Mr. Cowen: Is it the practice——

An Ceann Comhairle: I will not hear a point of order from the Deputy or any other Deputy while I am on my feet dealing with the business of the House.

Mr. Cowen: May I now raise a point of order?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may proceed.

Mr. Cowen: A precedent has been set whereby a Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order but of disorder.

Mr. Cowen: ——has announced legislative changes without the Government considering the matter. Is the Taoiseach saying that until such time as a strategic partner has been identified he will not consider the question of legislation? He seems to be putting the cart before the horse. It is clear that the Minister for Health did not have the full approval of the Cabinet when he made his public pronouncements in relation to the VHI.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy had the audacity to raise the matter as a point of order.

Mr. D. Ahern: Surely it is in order to raise the matter. Legislation has been promised by the Minister for Health.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not dictate to me. Deputy Cowen sought to raise the matter as a point of order.

Mr. Cowen: The Taoiseach has hung another Fine Gael Minister out to dry.

Mr. H. Byrne: Not for the first time.

Mr. Dempsey: Fine Gael does not have any policies, it does not know where it is.

Mr. O'Dea: When is it proposed to publish the Social Welfare Bill and does the Taoiseach propose to make any adjustments to allow somebody to stand in for the Minister for Social Welfare who will be busily occupied elsewhere for some time?

Mr. Durkan: Not up to the Deputy's usual standards.

[894] Mr. Sargent: In view of the failure of the previous Government to bring to an end the cruel practice of hare coursing — there is a photograph on the front page of today's edition of The Irish Times — when will the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill be published to enable us to debate fully the implications?

Mr. Finucane: The photograph was taken in England.

Mr. Cowen: It was taken at the Waterloo Cup meeting.

Mr. Finucane: The Deputy should seek to have the matter raised in the House of Commons.

The Taoiseach: The Waterloo Cup is run at Aintree, not in Ireland.

Mr. Sargent: I am well aware of where it is run but the practice is well known.