Dáil Éireann - Volume 477 - 10 April, 1997

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take the report from the Select Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy on the Credit Union Bill, 1996; No. 22, the Freedom of Information Bill, 1996 [Seanad], Report and Final Stages; No. 23, the Organisation of Working Time Bill, 1996, Report and Final Stages; and No. 2, the Youth Work Bill, 1997, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the Report and Final Stages of No. 22 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall be brought to a conclusion not later than two hours after its commencement by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste; and (2) the Report and Final Stages of No. 23 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 4.30 p.m. today by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Are the proposals for dealing with No. 22 agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with No. 23 agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ahern: I understand that the Courts Service Bill is to be published shortly. In view of the comments by the Law Society regarding the urgency of this Bill, perhaps the Taoiseach will tell us when it will be published.

On a morning when the headlines in the newspapers are about the soaring profits quickly leading to the privatisation of Aer Lingus, may I ask the Taoiseach when the legislation——

Mr. Dukes: That is a nonsensical statement and the Deputy knows it.

[742] Mr. B. Ahern: The Minister is handling the matter. Will he please tell Members of the House the story?

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy is making an ass of himself again. The people in Aer Lingus are breaking their hearts laughing at him.

Mr. B. Ahern: Is the Minister, against his colleagues in the Labour Party, going ahead and organising the privatisation? Will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Dukes, please tell the House what cosy arrangement is going on behind the board and workers in Aer Lingus? What involvement has the Labour Party in what is going on in Aer Lingus?

The Taoiseach: The Courts Service Bill is receiving urgent attention and will be ready next week. I am glad the Deputy mentioned the Law Society because it has particularly complimented the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, on the priority she is giving to court reform and the unprecedented progress that has been made in court reform during her tenure.

Mr. B. Ahern: When will we see the Bill?

The Taoiseach: As far as Aer Lingus is concerned it is a matter of congratulation for all involved in the company that such a high level of profit has been achieved. It is also prudent that the board should look at the possibility of making strategic alliances so that those profits can be enhanced and the job security of the employees in Aer Lingus can be enhanced also. The attempt by Fianna Fáil to politicise this issue in the way they are is detrimental to the interests of the employees in Aer Lingus whose job security will be enhanced by any arrangements that the board, upon which the employees have representation, makes in order to ensure that jobs are secure and that the business is in hand.

A Deputy: What does the Tánaiste make of it?

Mr. S. Brennan: This is a sell-off.

Mr. R. Burke: No wonder the Minister for Finance is smiling beside the Taoiseach.

Mr. D. Ahern: Forty pieces of silver.

Mr. B. Ahern: I again ask the Taoiseach when we will see the Courts Service Bill. I heard what he said about the comments of the Law Society, which I have mentioned, but when will we see the Bill?

Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that it was I who, as Minister for Finance, gave £175 million to Aer Lingus to see them through a difficult period?

Mr. M. Higgins: I thought the Government had something to do with it.

[743] Mr. B. Ahern: As Leader of the Opposition I should know what deals are going on between at least one party in Government and the board and some sections of Aer Lingus about the future of the company. Will we see legislation in the life of this Government on the matter?

The Taoiseach: It was not exactly the Deputy's own money that he invested.

Mr. B. Ahern: No, it was not.

The Taoiseach: This is pretended generosity.

Mr. R. Burke: The Taoiseach is not bad at spending taxpayers' money himself.

The Taoiseach: The board of Aer Lingus is acting in a prudent, modern and businesslike way to build on the excellent profit performance that has already been achieved with a view to negotiating a strategic alliance which will strengthen the future of Aer Lingus.

Mr. B. Ahern: We want to hear the facts. Spell them out.

The Taoiseach: I am surprised that Fianna Fáil is opposing such a move. It shows that its attitudes to industrial development, including airline development, are quite antediluvian.

Mr. S. Brennan: After £175 million of tax-payers' money has gone into Aer Lingus, will the Taoiseach give an assurance to the House that no such sell-off will take place without full documentation being laid before this House, unlike what happened at Telecom Éireann where no documents were laid before the House?

Mr. Rabbitte: What did the Deputy do to B & I?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am anxious to facilitate the Deputy but we cannot debate this on the Order of Business. It is not an appropriate forum.

Mr. S. Brennan: Give us an answer.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy does not deserve one for such a lame question.

The Taoiseach: The party opposite is desperate to find something to criticise when it is criticising a situation in which our airline company is profitable and engaging in prudent business arrangements to safeguard its future.

Mr. S. Brennan: Release the documents.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Government is selling off the silver.

The Taoiseach: The Opposition is not able to take off because of fog.

[744] Mr. Power: The Taoiseach became involved in the Northern Ireland election yesterday evening by stating that a vote for Sinn Féin was a vote for the IRA. Will he show the same honesty during the election here in a few weeks' time by telling the electorate that a vote for Fine Gael is a vote for Democratic Left?

The Taoiseach: I will advise the people who intend to vote for Fine Gael to continue their preferences for the Labour Party and Democratic Left to keep a good Government in office. This Government has brought unprecedented success to this country which is causing considerable loss of nerve in the Deputy's party.

Mr. D. Ahern: People are going missing.

Mr. S. Brennan: Are Aer Lingus workers included?

(Interruptions.)

Miss Harney: When will the legislation to establish the food authority on a statutory basis be published?

The Taoiseach: That legislation is receiving priority, as I told the Deputy and other Deputies on a number of occasions. I expect it will be ready in the next few months but I cannot give a precise date.

Mr. T. Kitt: The Taoiseach's outburst yesterday about Sinn Féin shows he is not the bridge builder he claims to be.

Mr. Currie: Did the Deputy disagree with what he said?

Mr. T. Kitt: What action is the Taoiseach taking to prevent the ambulance drivers' strike which is due to start on Monday?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: I am interested that a member of Fianna Fáil's junior bench seems to disagree with what I said yesterday about Sinn Féin. Does Deputy Tom Kitt not realise that Sinn Féin and the IRA are part of the one movement or does he believe, like Deputy Reynolds, that it is appropriate to support Mr. Adams against Dr. Hendron?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Deputy Davern.

Mr. D. Ahern: The Taoiseach is interfering in another election. He should let the people in the North decide for themselves.

Mr. T. Kitt: I stand over my point that the Taoiseach's actions yesterday show he is not the [745] bridge builder and inclusive leader he claims to be.

Mr. D. Ahern: Hypocrites.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask that the Deputy in possession be allowed to speak.

Mr. Davern: Given the reply by the Minister for Justice to a parliamentary question yesterday that there are not enough whistles for the Garda Síochána, is this morning's political statement supporting Democratic Left whistling past the graveyard?

The Taoiseach: That is below the Deputy's normal standard.

Mr. Davern: I know, but if the Garda Síochána cannot get whistles, how will it get cars?

Dr. McDaid: The Freedom of Information Bill, 1996, will be taken in the House shortly. When will a date be set to discuss the report commissioned by the Select Committee on Legislation and Security on the Official Secrets Act?

The Taoiseach: That is a matter for the Whips. The Freedom of Information Bill, 1996, is before the House today.

Dr. McDaid: A promise was made to discuss the report of the select committee in the House, but that has not happened yet.

Mr. Rabbitte: It will be discussed immediately after the summer break.

The Taoiseach: That is a separate matter, although it is related to the Freedom of Information Bill, 1996. I suggest the Deputy raises it with his party Whip, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and we will see if we can arrange a debate.

Mr. Martin: Today and next Tuesday the Select Committee on Social Affairs will take oral submissions from approximately 15 bodies on the Education Bill. An attempt was made to take Committee Stage on Wednesday, but I am glad that pressure forced the Government to relent. An attempt was also made to reduce the status of the Select Committee on Social Affairs in the Government scheme of things. Some 300 amendments have been submitted by interested parties. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment not to guillotine Committee Stage of the Education Bill because I want to avoid the unseemly rows we had in this House when Second Stage was guillotined?

The Taoiseach: It is a matter for the committee to regulate how it handles its business.

Mr. Martin: The Government is leaning on the select committee.

[746] The Taoiseach: We can leave the matter confidently in its hands. It is important that this legislation is passed so that parents will, for the first time, have an opportunity to participate in educational decision-making and that an Irish statutory base is set up for Irish education so that we do not continue to rely on British statutes in this regard.

Mr. D. Ahern: Earlier this week the Government published its list of legislation but it did not include legislation on the hepatitis C compensation tribunal. The Taoiseach seemed to suggest that I should amend his list. At the Whips' meeting last night we were given an indication of the business to be taken in the House in the next three weeks. However, there was no mention of the hepatitis C Bill. The Family Law Bill, which seeks to change the situation in relation to void marriages, was not included either. The Government has given a commitment on these issues, yet it has not included them in the list for the next three weeks.

Mr. Dukes: We will be sitting until August.

Mr. D. Ahern: Is the Taoiseach giving priority to that legislation?

The Taoiseach: As regards the question about marriages, a written question on today's Order Paper to the Minister for Health will provide the Deputy with the relevant information. As regards the other matter, I do not expect the relevant legislation to be before the House within the next three weeks but it is being worked on intensively at present. I have already indicated it is a priority issue.

Mr. S. Ryan: I congratulate Aer Lingus on its figures which were published yesterday and the workers for the role they played. Statements by Deputy Séamus Brennan are hollow, given that he is one of the greatest proponents of privatisation.

Mr. R. Burke: Is the Deputy feeling a cold draught?

Mr. S. Brennan: The Government just sold Telecom Éireann.

Mr. S. Ryan: It was not until the Labour Party came into Government that £475 million was given to save Aer Lingus. Fianna Fáil did nothing. It played ducks and drakes with the workers in Aer Lingus.

Mr. R. Burke: The Deputy should talk to his friends.

(Interruptions)

Mr. S. Brennan: The record will show that Deputy Seán Ryan voted to privatise part of [747] Telecom Éireann approximately three months ago.

Mr. S. Ryan: Yes.

Mr. R. Burke: The Deputy should not upset Deputy Seán Ryan; he is not fit for it.

Mr. S. Brennan: Deputy Burke upsets him every day; I only do it occasionally. On the Order of Business yesterday the Taoiseach promised competition between MMDS and deflector television systems. Given that announcement, does the Taoiseach plan to issue licences to the deflector groups and when can we see legislation to that effect?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is legislation promised?

The Taoiseach: I have nothing to add to what I said yesterday on this matter. The Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications is working on the general issue, which has its origins in licences which were issued by a Government composed of the Deputy's party.

Mr. D. Wallace: Two and a half years ago.

Mrs. O'Rourke: And prepared by Deputy Jim Mitchell.

Mr. Callely: What progress has been made on the promised non-national legislation and what is the reason for the delay to date?

The Taoiseach: I answered that question yesterday.