Dáil Éireann - Volume 516 - 09 March, 2000

Order of Business.

Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Today's Order of Business shall be as follows: item 5, Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; item 41, Statements on the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (resumed), to be taken not later than immediately following the announcement of Matters on the Adjournment under Standing Order 21 and the order shall not resume thereafter.

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

Mr. J. Bruton: I wish to inquire from the Minister on two related issues. Will there be a debate in this House on the national plan in view of the revisions being contemplated of much greater investment in rail than was originally provided for? Will there be amendments to the Light Rail Act to facilitate this? My understanding of the national plan is that it provides £500 million for additional rail projects to be selected over those already committed. The announcements in today's newspapers would cost in the region of £2,000 million or more, which is approximately four times greater than is provided for in the plan. Will the financial projections in the plan be revised to take account of the proposed major underground rail link which is much more extensive than was originally envisaged?

Dr. Woods: These are additional proposals which, if adopted, will be additional to the Luas proposals. I am sure the Leader of the Opposition is aware that the Luas proposals are progressing. Studies are in progress and it is expected there will be a report to the sub-committee early in April followed by a report to Cabinet for consideration. Therefore, the proposals are at a very early stage. The initial idea foresaw that kind of development out to Mulhuddart and Dublin Airport as being necessary in the longer term. There will be an opportunity to discuss what is happening under the Programme for Prosperity and [286] Fairness. We have already had a number of discussions. If and when proposals are put forward, there will be an opportunity to discuss them at that stage because it is very much a matter of medium to long-term planning.

Mr. J. Bruton: I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle allowing me to ask these questions. Will revised financial projections to take account of any amendments be published? There is no point debating ideas in the abstract without having figures indicating what will suffer if something else has to be cut to provide for this and where the additional money will come from. We need financial projections in order to have a meaningful discussion.

Dr. Woods: It is too early to project what may be necessary in this regard. Obviously there will be major financial considerations but these will depend on the methods and proposals involved. As soon as the measures have been considered by Government, discussions can begin. Deputy Bruton will recognise we must look to the medium and longer term and that there must be a dedicated proposal in relation to routes to Mulhuddart and Dublin Airport.

Mr. J. Bruton: The ink is barely dry on the proposal and the Minister is changing it.

Dr. Woods: This is a very fast moving economy—

(Interruptions).

Mr. J. Bruton: This is hard to take.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair must discourage any further debate on the matter.

Dr. Woods: It is important to have a vision of where one is going.

Mr. J. Bruton: It should not be a blurred vision.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Howlin, on the Order of Business.

Mr. Howlin: Will the Minister for Education and Science take this opportunity to dissociate the Government from the remarks of the Minister for Finance last night calling backbenchers who support the Government and the Irish League of Credit Unions hypocrites and those who supported the amendments tabled by them evaders of tax? Is that the Government's view of the Irish League of Credit Unions and the backbenchers who support the Government or was it simply another solo run by the Minister for Finance?

An Ceann Comhairle: The House cannot reopen a debate which took place last night.

Mr. Howlin: I presume that, in the absence of a denial, we can assume the attack on Government [287] backbenchers, on the Independents and on the League of Credit Unions is the attitude of the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: The matter cannot be discussed any further.

Mr. Howlin: In relation to the White Paper on Defence and something which causes all of us in this House concern in relation to employment in Harland and Wolff, will the Government consider the commitment in the White Paper to look at vessel replacement? Will it positively consider Harland and Wolff as a possible location to provide the replacements for the fleet envisaged in the White Paper?

Dr. Woods: It is Government policy to co-operate as far as possible with our colleagues in Northern Ireland. We have done so in relation to research in oil and gas structures, platforms and so on. The Deputy can rest assured that Harland and Wolff will be given an opportunity to become involved in any projects because they will be widely advertised.

Further discussions will take place between the credit unions and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste when Brussels gives its decision. That is the position.

Mr. Howlin: Will the Minister accept it is not helpful to good dialogue if the Minister for Finance continues to refuse—

An Ceann Comhairle: I have ruled on that matter.

Mrs. Owen: I am taking no chances this morning, I am staying on my feet. May I ask the Minister about promised legislation? Yesterday I asked about the registration of births, deaths and marriages legislation which is promised in the Government programme. Given that there are now a number of Garda inquiries into the integrity of the births, deaths and marriages registers, will the Minister bring forward the date of the legislation, which he said yesterday would be 2001, and bring in an immediate Bill to make amendments to the 1863 Act which covers the registration of births, deaths and marriages. It is clear there is—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may not make a statement on the matter but may ask about the timing of the legislation.

Dr. Woods: The heads of the Bill are expected towards the end of April 2000. It is possible that the Bill will be preceded by a White Paper this year, but it may be next year.

Mrs. Owen: Something immediate must be done.

[288] Dr. Woods: Something immediate has been done in the Finance Bill to allow for the exchange of the information which would be necessary. There is also a major £8 million, approximately, Grow project, a computerisation system, in co-operation between the Departments of Social, Community and Family Affairs and Health and Children. That will help with the questions raised by people in relation to this particular incident. That is the practical side of it. So far as the legislation is concerned—

Mrs. Owen: The deputy registrar of births, deaths and marriages said on radio this morning that it would be two years before the Grow project will be completed.

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot afford to discuss what was discussed on radio. That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Mrs. Owen: It will take two years to do that.

Dr. Woods: The money has been invested.

Mr. Stagg: I asked the Taoiseach some days ago if the Government would allow time in the House for a debate on the Sellafield issue to support the efforts of the Minister of State in that regard and I think he gave a positive response. Will the Minister in charge this morning contact the Taoiseach in Lisbon and impress on him the importance of talking about this issue and raising it with Mr. Tony Blair at the Lisbon Summit?

Dr. Woods: The Taoiseach is well aware of the issue and has been deeply involved with it. In relation to the—

Mr. Stagg: If the Community is getting involved—

Dr. Woods: In any event he is very much aware of it.

Mr. J. Bruton: When will the local government Bill which was promised last June for last autumn finally appear?

Dr. Woods: The local government Bill will be published in this session.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will that be before St. Patrick's day, before Easter or before the end of 2000?

Dr. Woods: Before Easter.

Mr. Sargent: I thank Deputy Bruton for sharing his time. I support Deputy Stagg in seeking a debate on Sellafield. The Taoiseach may be aware of the Sellafield issue but many other people are depressed by it. There is an Irish saying – beart de réir ár mbriathar. Ba mhaith liom é sin a rá leis an Taoiseach, chomh maith. An fhaid is a bheidh mise agus go leor daoine eile ag ceiliúradh Seachtain na Gaeilge beidh seachtain [289] chiúnais ar siúl sa Dáil. I gcomhthéacs cearta agus mianta daoine, cá bhfuil Bille na Gaeilge? Beidh go leor daoine le linn Seachtain na Gaeilge ag cur na ceiste sin ormsa agus ar go leor daoine eile. An bhfuil Bille na Gaeilge caillte? Bhí sé geallta do 1998, do 1999 agus anois do 2000.

Dr. Woods: Late in 2000.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): What is the situation regarding the Coroners Act, 1962? Given that it has been revealed that neither the Dublin City Coroner nor the Garda was notified as required by section 18 of the Coroners Act, 1962—

An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise. The timing of the legislation is appropriate but not the content.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): —of the deaths of babies at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, will the Minister agree that a statutory inquiry is necessary to investigate this—

An Ceann Comhairle: Does this relate to promised legislation?

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): —and other related matters such as the unauthorised taking of organs from dead children?

Dr. Woods: The first report of the working group which could lead to legislation is expected at the end of April.

Mr. Gilmore: At the end of the Second Stage debate on the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rent Abolition) Bill, 1997, on 19 March 1997, the Minister, Deputy Woods, said we should proceed to Committee Stage and then proceeded to move a motion to refer the Bill to a select committee.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not give a history of the case but should ask a question.

Mr. Rabbitte: It is the background.

Mr. Gilmore: This is different from the question I asked yesterday. Is it still the Minister's position that the Committee Stage of this Bill should be considered? What is the Government's position now with regard to a motion being put to this House to refer this Bill back to a committee which was the position he put to this House on 19 March 1997?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may ask only about the timing of the Bill.

Mr. Howlin: The timing is very important.

Dr. Woods: As I explained yesterday it is still being examined. In reply to a parliamentary question on 9 November 1999 regarding the Bill, the Minister then indicated that if, and when, the con[290] stitutional, technical and practical difficulties can be met in a way that would substantially improve on the good and reasonable system that exists for the purchase of the ground rents, the necessary legislative details would be announced in the normal way.

Mr. Gilmore: That is not an answer to the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not Question Time.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The Minister is still trying to con the people.

Mr. Deasy: When will the new licensing legislation be introduced and debated? It is long promised and the summer season is beckoning.

Dr. Woods: This question was asked yesterday and the legislation was promised for this session.

Mr. Rabbitte: The Government accepted a Bill from the Labour Party, the Whistleblowers Bill. What is the position in regard to that Bill?

Dr. Woods: This is a Private Members' Bill which is before a committee.

Mr. Rabbitte: With respect it is not before the committee.

Dr. Woods: It is listed to go to the committee; debate has not commenced in committee yet. The committees have been very busy.

Mr. Sheehan: Given that the Acting Taoiseach this morning was a former Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources and now Minister for Education and Science, when will the Government enact and implement the law of the sea convention?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should put down a parliamentary question.

Mr. Sheehan: The question relates to legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: That does not entitle it to come up on the Order of Business. The Deputy should resume his seat. The matter does not arise on the Order of Business.