Dáil Éireann - Volume 510 - 04 November, 1999

Order of Business.

The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 3, Broadcasting Bill, 1999 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 29, Education (Welfare) Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, National Beef Assurance Bill, 1999 [Seanad] – Second Stage.

An Ceann Comhairle: There are no proposals to put to the House.

Mrs. Owen: The Law Reform Commission published a report concerning gazumping. I welcome the fact it was asked to conduct this study on behalf of the Government as a result of Deputy Hayes's anti-gazumping legislation. Does the Government intend to introduce the recommended legislation in the consumer protection area regarding advertising of housing and in the area of deposits on housing to give consumers greater protection against gazumping?

The Tánaiste: The Government has not yet had an opportunity to consider the report but it is its wish to introduce the type of protection suggested. I am sure proposals will be put to Government in due course along the lines suggested by the Law Reform Commission.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Government intend issuing a revised legislative programme on foot of the publication today of the revised An Action Programme for the Millennium?

The Tánaiste: Clearly there are new issues in the review of the programme for Government which were not in the original programme. There are new priorities.

Mr. Rabbitte: Are there?

The Tánaiste: Yes.

Mr. Yates: It is nothing but a prayer book of aspirations.

[258] The Tánaiste: The Deputy should wait until he sees the national development plan in ten days' time.

Mr. Yates: The Walt Disney version.

The Tánaiste: The legislative programme is always published at the beginning of each session. In light of the review of the programme for Government, new legislative proposals will be brought forward shortly.

Mr. Quinn: I wish to clarify matters because the Tánaiste seems unsure. Is she saying it is possible or that she is sure there will be a new legislative programme to give effect to the review, or will it be normal practice to update the programme and publish it in January when the next Dáil session resumes? Is it a new programme to take account of legislative commitments in this document or is it simply an updated programme which will come in the normal course of events in January?

The Tánaiste: Many of the items in the review of the programme for Government do not require legislation but specific decisions which can be made without legislation, as I am sure the Deputy is aware. Much of the review will be dealt with in the budget on 1 December and in the national development plan. In so far as new legislation is required, clearly we will review the legislative programme.

Mrs. Owen: There are many items in the new cartoon version of the Government's programme about which I would like to ask questions, but one in particular which is topical and urgent is the measures the Government hints at in the review relating to taxis and hackneys. Has it considered allowing hackneys to use bus lanes, which would require changes in the law or regulations? It is all aspiration; there will be more taxis. How does the Government propose to make that happen?

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot ask questions on the nature of legislation on the Order of Business.

Mrs. Owen: This relates to measures and legislation. Will legislation or new regulations be introduced to fulfil the aspirations of the Government in this area?

The Tánaiste: The Government will issue new licences for taxis in the Dublin area quickly and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, will bring proposals in that regard to Government shortly.

Mrs. Owen: Before Christmas?

The Tánaiste: Yes.

Mr. Quinn: So as to be orderly, can I take it that, from the point of view of the Ceann Comhairle and the Government, any legislative com[259] mitments contained in the review of the programme for Government will be regarded as promised legislation and can be considered as right and proper for questions on the Order of Business? We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where the aspirations of the review are deemed by the Ceann Comhairle not to be a firm commitment whereas the Government may regard them as such. Perhaps the Tánaiste will clarify that matter so that we do not have this difficulty in future. My understanding is that legislative commitments not yet undertaken are deemed to be firm commitments on which we can ask questions as to when they will be delivered.

An Ceann Comhairle: Questions on promised legislation and its timing are in order, but the nature and detail of legislation are not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Quinn: I appreciate that, but the nodding of the Tánaiste does not appear on the record of the House. Will the Tánaiste clearly indicate to the House that any legislative commitment in this document constitutes promised legislation and that its time and delivery is the orderly subject matter for questions on the Order of Business? That is what I am trying to clarify.

An Ceann Comhairle: Once it is promised inside or outside the House, it is in order.

Mr. Quinn: Can we have an explanation to that effect from the Tánaiste?

The Tánaiste: Obviously, it is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle to decide what is in order. The legislative commitments contained in the programme for Government are relevant to the Order of Business. Deputy Stagg asked me to put that on record – he certainly put a great deal on the record yesterday.

Mr. Kenny: The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands recently announced a radical review of arts legislation. This was a diversionary tactic to mask the tensions which exist between the Arts Council and the Executive. Is it intended to introduce a new arts Act arising from this radical review?

In the context of the Broadcasting Bill, which is to be presented to the House after the Order of Business, does the Tánaiste consider that the office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation is in contempt of the Dáil by closing down—

An Ceann Comhairle: That matter is not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Kenny: This is an important matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: It may be important but it is not in order.

[260] Mr. Kenny: It relates to legislation which deals with the licensing of digital terrestrial television. The consultation period is due to close tomorrow at 5 p.m. but Second Stage of the Bill has not been presented to this House.

The Tánaiste: In relation to the accountability of regulators in the domain of the Minister for Public Enterprise, the Minister has announced that a review of the accountability issue is being carried out.

Mr. Belton: “Accountability” is a good word.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Broadcasting Bill is before the House today in any event.

Mr. Kenny: The consultation period will close tomorrow at 5 p.m. but we have not yet had Second Stage of the Broadcasting Bill. The Government may table amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage.

The Tánaiste: The debate on the Broadcasting Bill will take place shortly and I am sure the Deputy will be able to clarify these matters with the Minister. The Minister is reviewing the arts legislation and, if there is a need for new legislation, I am sure she will introduce it.

Mr. Kenny: The licensing consultation period will close tomorrow and we have not yet debated the Bill in this House. That is outrageous.

Mr. Rabbitte: Will legislation be forthcoming in respect of the McDowell report and the establishment of a single financial regulator? What is the compromise involved? Will the Tánaiste allow the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to regulate the banks?

The Tánaiste: The Government appointed a group, headed by the current Attorney General, to consider the establishment of an independent financial regulator. The group produced a report which was discussed by a number of committees of this House as recently as last week. The Minister for Finance and I will bring forward a memorandum to Government in the near future which will make a declaration in that regard.

Mrs. Owen: Will it be a joint memorandum?

The Tánaiste: Yes. I am still waiting to hear Fine Gael's view on this issue.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): On the one hand, we have a picture of a booming, flowering economy with all the glow, aspirations, hopes and ambitions of the programme for the new millennium while, on the other hand, we have a situation where a man in his prime hanged himself in Wheatfield Prison a few hours ago. Why has the prison service Bill not been accorded greater priority? It is crucial from the point of view of sorting out the tragic mess which is our prison system. The Govern[261] ment, on taking up office, inherited an expert group report. The heads of the Bill were actually on the Minister's table, ready to be drafted into legislation. Why has there been a delay?

The Tánaiste: I regret the delay but even if one were to have an independent prison service, unfortunately, tragedies of this kind would probably still occur. I do not think we can always prevent tragedies such as the one referred to by Deputy Higgins. The expected date for publication of the legislation is the middle of next year.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): That is not good enough.

Mrs. Owen: I want to return to a matter I raised earlier. At present responsibility for the allocation of taxi licences is delegated to local authorities. Does the Government intend, if it is to fulfil the promise made only five minutes ago, that more licences will be issued before Christmas? How is it proposed to do that? Does the Government propose to take the power back from local authorities or does it propose to mandate them to agree with the Government's views in this area?

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot discuss the contents or nature of legislation on the Order of Business.

Mrs. Owen: New legislation may be required if the Government is to fulfil its promise. At the moment Dublin Corporation and the various county councils are responsible for issuing licences.

The Tánaiste: I understand the power to issue licences is also concurrently held by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Mr. Sargent: Ó thaobh reachtaíocht atá geallta, tá scrios ar siúl timpeall na tíre le fada an lá agus tá Wildlife (Amendment) Bill geallta le deich mbliana. Tá an Bille foilsithe le tamall fada anois. An ndéarfaidh An Tánaiste nach mbeidh aon bhaol ann agus go mbeibh an Bille againn sar i bhfad? “Next few weeks” a dúirt sí ag tús mhí Dheireadh Fomhair – tá siad sin thart anois.

The Tánaiste: I am being informed from behind that the Bill is “beagnach réidh”. The Bill has been published, there is an Order for Second Stage and we are awaiting time in the House.

Mr. Naughten: When will the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill be published? In view of the fact that this is Youth Work Week, when will the Youth Work (Amendment) Bill be published? The publication of the Bill has been postponed by the Government on ten separate occasions which shows a blatant disregard for the value of youth work.

The Tánaiste: The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources informs me that the Fisheries [262] (Amendment) Bill will be published before the weekend, I presume that means tomorrow.

Mr. Belton: It will be a long weekend.

Mr. Quinn: I want to ask the Tánaiste about legislation which might emanate from her Department and about which she might be better informed. When does she propose to introduce the trade union recognition legislation, as recommended by the high level group?

The Tánaiste: The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is working on that issue at the moment and a parliamentary question has been tabled on the matter for this afternoon. I understand the legislation will be introduced early next year.

Mr. Flanagan: Will the Tánaiste make time available on the Order of Business for her colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to make a statement on his day out in the High Court yesterday defending the indefensible against the Sligo stonemasons?

An Ceann Comhairle: Statements are not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Flanagan: It is because of that type of behaviour that this House is of very little relevance to people. The Minister wasted public funds and that is indefensible.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should pursue the matter through the correct channels.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): When will the Government's proposals on private rented accommodation be introduced or will landlords be allowed to continue to exploit and rack-rent with impunity at the expense of students, poor people and ordinary working people? Will the Government continue to sit on its hands while we witness a scandalous situation in the housing sector—

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order to continue with a statement. The Deputy should ask a question.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I would like a firm commitment from the Government in regard to a date from which rents will be controlled and landlords brought into line. Do we need to have Michael Davitt back in this country before the Government takes action?

The Tánaiste: This matter was raised yesterday. A commission is reviewing the issue and is due to report next June.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Next June? Rents will have increased by a further 50 per cent by then.

[263] Mr. Finucane: The marine section of the programme for Government stated the Government would seek to ban flagships. That has been dropped from the review. Is that a recognition that the aspiration was no longer sustainable or achievable? It represents deception of the marine industry by the Government.

Mr. Gilmore: Does the Government take the housing crisis seriously? There are not any new proposals in this document to deal with the housing crisis which has 50,000 families waiting for housing and people living in appalling conditions in private rented accommodation. What has happened to the commitment that the Government would do something to deal with housing?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order.

Mr. Gilmore: It is the most critical social issue in this country and it is not being dealt with in this document by the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should use the correct procedures to raise that matter.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): On a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Higgins, on a point of order.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Following on from Deputy Gilmore's point, we could have a better debate on “unpromised” rather than promised legislation as far as the housing crisis is concerned.

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

Mr. Howlin: On overdue legislation, the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a requirement under the Good Friday Agreement which we are in arrears in delivering. When will we see that legislation and what is the delay in bringing it forward? The long promised legislation to abolish ground rents seems to have disappeared from the revised version of the programme for Government. Where stands the previous Government commitment on that?

A Deputy: I think the Minister of State said the Tánaiste is on her own on that.

Ms Harney: The Minister of State said the proposed ground rents legislation has gone to ground. I think everybody is aware of the constitutional difficulties. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will be published this session. Deputy Gilmore will see how seriously the Government takes the housing crisis when he sees the National Plan as published in ten days.

[264] Ms Shortall: Is the Tánaiste aware that later today we will witness yet again the shameful spectacle of people in wheelchairs having to demonstrate outside this House to have their basic needs met? When will the Government deliver on the promises it made prior to the last general election to properly fund people with physical disabilities.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is there any particular legislation?

Ms Shortall: It was a promise which has not been fulfilled.

An Ceann Comhairle: It does not arise on the Order of Business. There are other ways the Deputy can raise this matter.

Ms Shortall: I ask the Tánaiste if there will be a Supplementary Estimate to enable the Government to deliver on the promises it made to people with physical disabilities.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order.

Ms Shortall: For how many more years will they have to demonstrate outside the House?