Dáil Éireann - Volume 477 - 17 April, 1997

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take Nos. 25a to 25d — Finance Bill, 1997 — Financial Resolutions; No. 3 — Bail Bill, 1997, Second and remaining Stages; and No. 41 — Youth Work Bill, 1997, Second Stage (resumed).

It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) Nos. 25a to 25d shall be moved together and decided without debate by one question which shall be put from the Chair; and (2) the Second and remaining Stages of No. 3 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 Justice.

An Ceann Comhairle: There are two matters to put before the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 25a to 25d satisfactory and agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 3 satisfactory and agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ahern: I understand that last night the Government circulated the draft heads of a Bill to Positive Action and perhaps other groups involved in the hepatitis C issue. Will the Taoiseach indicate when we, as an Opposition party, will see the draft heads of the Bill? Will he also indicate when the Bill will be presented to the House? My party Whip has received no word that it will be listed within the next few weeks.

I understand from sources outside the House that the Government has set out three options in the draft heads of the Bill. Will the Taoiseach indicate which option the Government prefers, or is it a case of trying to get the men, women and children affected by this scandal to divide among themselves? It appears from what I have heard at second hand that the concerns of those involved in the transfustion aspect have not been addressed.

In its motion on the issue, which was debated in the House a few weeks ago, the Government [1418] stated that it would ask the Blood Bank to state its position regarding liability. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the Government has received a reply from the bank on this?

The Taoiseach: The Minister for Health is currently engaged in consultations on the basis of detailed documentation which is being considered by the interests directly affected. When that consultation is concluded the Government will publish its proposals. However, it is appropriate that the consultation proceed in its present format. It will be pursued with great urgency and, when it has agreed on the heads of the Bill, the Government will arrange for the legal drafting of the words that will make up the statue, which is a different process to the drafting of the heads, to be undertaken with great speed.

As this matter affects the rights of those concerned, it is prudent from every point of view, especially with regard to those most directly affected, that the necessary legal care should be taken with the next phase, which is the drafting of the detail of the Bill on the basis of the heads.

Mr. B. Ahern: Am I to understand from the Taoiseach's reply that proposals were issued yesterday which will eventually lead to draft heads? Will he indicate if this is the reason the Opposition has not received the draft heads of the Bill, a practice which has been followed for the last 18 months or so? When the Government announces to the media that the draft heads of a Bill have been circulated we normally receive them. In this case we did not. Is it the case that the draft heads of the Bill have been circulated with different options for different groups which, following consultation, will lead to the heads of a Bill and, ultimately, legislation?

The Taoiseach: Consultation is taking place, which would not have great meaning if the Government had already reached definitive positions on everything. Detailed consultation only commenced last evening when the Minister for Health gave, on a confidential basis, the documents on which he has been working to the people concerned so that they can make their input.

It is sensible from every point of view that this consultative approach should be taken. We do not intend to allow it to delay the matter and I have no doubt that those participating do not want delay either. In view of this, I believe that the consultation process will proceed intensively and, once concluded, the Government's definitive proposals will be decided upon and published.

Mr. B. Ahern: I do not suggest the consultative process is a bad idea. However, it is amazing the media has the impression the heads of a Bill were circulated last night. I did not give that impression.

[1419] An Ceann Comhairle: I must dissuade Members from the notion that the matter can be debated now. Questions have been asked about the measure and replies have been given. Let us not tend towards debate now because that is not in order.

Mr. B. Ahern: I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle allowed us to establish that there are no draft heads of a Bill. Did the Government receive a reply from the Blood Transfusion Service Board in relation to liability?

The Taoiseach: The Deputy placed an incorrect construction on what I said. The position is that documents which contain drafts of various proposals are being discussed. However, they are not definitive Government proposals until the Government takes a decision on them. It will not make a decision until consultation has taken place. The Deputy should not attempt to put any other construction on it.

Mr. B. Ahern: Somebody did so last night. Who briefed all the political correspondents?

The Taoiseach: Regarding the Deputy's second point, I suggest he table a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health. It is a detailed matter concerning administration and it is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Miss Quill: Have the heads of the Bill been approved by the Cabinet? Will the Taoiseach consider moving the matter forward by publishing the Bill and ensuring consultation proceeds at pace following its publication? The Credit Union Bill is a good model. It was published and consultation continued during the various debates in the House. A vastly improved Bill was passed last night. It is a good example of how consultation can take place after the publication of a Bill and during its consideration. Given the circumstances of the hepatitis C crisis, does the Taoiseach agree there is a huge onus on the Government to publish the Bill and proceed with it without undue delay? There is delay in this matter.

The Taoiseach: It would be a denial of the value of consultation if the Government approved and published definitive proposals before consultation took place. The Government is acting appropriately in this matter. It is holding consultations before the definitive proposals are published. It is allowing those most directly affected to have their say first. When a definitive decision is made by the Government on the proposals, everybody, including the Deputy, will have their say. The proposals will be shaped by the consultations which will take place at all stages of the process. However, the Government considers it appropriate to start by consulting those most directly affected first. That is the appropriate way forward and the Deputy's [1420] suggestion would be an unnecessary dilution of the value of the consultations taking place with those directly affected.

Miss Quill: It worked well with the Credit Union Bill.

Mr. B. Ahern: I did not misrepresent the Taoiseach's comments. However, he gave the House a clear impression yesterday about this matter and it is stated in the media today that draft heads of the Bill have been published. However, that is not the case. The Taoiseach has given to each group options which appear to try to pit them against each other. That is sharp practice. I and my party have no difficulty with consultation.

An Ceann Comhairle: There are other ways of clarifying these matters.

Ms O'Donnell: This issue is important because confusion will arise from the comments about consultation and the ongoing preparation of the heads of a Bill. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that the commitment given by the Minister for Health a couple of weeks ago in a debate on an Opposition motion stands? The clear commitment to the women involved and the House was that the Government would alter the terms of the compensation tribunal to enable aggravated damages to be awarded in the same manner as permitted in the High Court. Will the Taoiseach assure the House there has been no backsliding on that fundamental commitment and that the women will be entitled to aggravated damages?

The Taoiseach: The Minister is proceeding on the basis of the policies set down by him on behalf of the Government. There is no alteration in those policies.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to assist the Greencore workers who have been on strike for a number of weeks? Has the Government totally abandoned working people?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should raise that matter at another time.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: There is no point trying to fob me off because this is a serious issue. The company is at risk from the ongoing strike. No action has been taken. Ministers are not interested in workers.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the matter is that serious and important, it should be dealt with in the appropriate way and not now.

Mr. Sargent: What is the position on the promised debate on the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities? I understand a commitment was given on 20 March for a debate.

[1421] I heard reports that the food safety authority Bill would be published today. Are those reports correct?

The Taoiseach: The food safety Bill will not be published today. It is anticipated the debate on the report of the commission will take place within the next three weeks at most.

Dr. Woods: Does the Taoiseach have any legislative proposals to deal with the counterfeit notes circulating in Dublin suburbs? Supermarkets are now forced to take measures to deal with them. Are there proposals to deal with this serious problem and to trace the people who have the equipment to make such top class counterfeit £20, £10 and £5 notes? These notes can be bought for £5, £3 and £1.50.

The Taoiseach: The enforcement of the law is a matter for the Central Bank and the Garda authorities.

Dr. Woods: Has the Taoiseach considered the penalties or tried to ensure people are protected?

Mrs. O'Rourke: It is history repeating itself.

Mr. D. Ahern: Are they at it again? Court cases are very expensive.

Dr. Woods: It is similar to the position in relation to cigarettes. Counterfeit £10 notes are easily found in the suburbs. I do not know who is printing them or who has the machines.

Mr. Davern: Would it come under “insider trading”?

Mrs. O'Rourke: Court cases must be paid for.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy can raise the matter at a more appropriate time. It cannot be debated now.

Dr. Woods: It is a serious problem.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should table a parliamentary question.

Mr. M. Kitt: In the context of the preparations for a general election, is the Government satisfied disabled people will have access to polling stations? Failing that, will other arrangements be made?

The Taoiseach: That matter should be dealt with by way of a parliamentary question.