Dáil Éireann - Volume 519 - 25 May, 2000

Order of Business.

The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 39, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 2, Intoxicating Liquor Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage; No. 5, Teaching Council Bill, 2000 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage and No. 16, motion re progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, Towards Equal Citizenship, 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.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 16: (i) the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the speeches of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, and of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) Members may share time and (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16 agreed to? Agreed.

Mrs. Owen: Does the Government have any plans to amend the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) (Amendment) Act to accept Mr. O'Flaherty's offer to return his pension? We would not like the situation to arise that arose when two members of the Tánaiste's party made a big gesture of returning their pensions which they then had to take back in a lump sum because there was no provision under which somebody could return his or her pension. As the Act does not allow for the return of pensions, except where somebody is being paid by the Exchequer, and Mr. O'Flaherty is being given a European job, does the Act need to be amended?

[1610]

The Tánaiste: It is not true that the pensions forgone by Deputy O'Malley and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, were handed back in a lump sum. That is incorrect.

Mr. Gormley: They took the money back.

The Tánaiste: They did not.

(Interruptions.)

The Tánaiste: Mr. O'Flaherty has indicated that it is not his intention to take the pension. The formal arrangements have still to be finalised.

Mrs. Owen: Is there a need for a mechanism to enable him to offer the £160,000 that he will forgo as a gift to the Minister for Finance?

The Tánaiste: No.

Mrs. Owen: Is there any way the Tánaiste will be able to ensure the money will go to the Ryan family or some good cause?

The Tánaiste: As the Deputy knows it is open to anyone to make a gift to the State at any time.

Mrs. Owen: Is this a gift?

Mr. Stagg: On the standards in public office Bill promised for this session, in light of the latest revelations at the Moriarty tribunal that a former Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil was funded to the extent of more than £8.5 million during his political career—

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the tribunal.

Mr. Stagg: —I ask the Government to stop equivocating, accept the total ban on corporate donations, forget about the Taoiseach's strategy to divert this issue to a dead-end committee—

Dr. McDaid: That is a statement.

Mr. Stagg: —and set about completing all Stages of the Labour Party Bill to ban corporate funding which was supported by the Government last week on Second Stage.

Dr. Woods: Is this what the House has been reduced to?

The Tánaiste: The Bill will be published before the summer recess. By no stretch of the imagination could the money taken by Mr. Haughey be considered political donations.

Mr. Gormley: How does the Tánaiste know?

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Has the Tánaiste read The Spirit of the Nation by Mr. Haughey?

[1611] Mr. Finucane: As the Tánaiste is aware the Taoiseach is on a three day visit to Poland. Is she also aware that there is a cloud hanging over that visit in the sense that the minority party in government, the Liberals, is due to pull out next Sunday?

An Ceann Comhairle: That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Mr. Finucane: Is it likely that the Tánaiste will do likewise?

Mr. D. Ahern: The Deputy is whistling past the graveyard.

Mr. Finucane: The Minister will be disappointed. He will not be up any more trees.

Mr. Rabbitte: On the Thursday before the Easter recess the Tánaiste informed me that she would be publishing that weekend her review of the job initiative scheme. Just short of 3,000 people are about to be disemployed, 600 immediately. I have been in constant touch with the Tánaiste's office since. I would be greatly obliged if she would inform the House, having regard to the fact that all these people are at the bottom of the ladder, that they will get a second chance in the review which I hope she will publish soon.

The Tánaiste: Four hundred and fifty people are due to complete their time on the job initiative scheme next month. I have indicated in public that nobody will move from the scheme to unemployment. The decision I have made is that a flexible approach will have to be adopted to each individual. It will be the job of FÁS to ensure that if they cannot move to mainstream training they remain on the job initiative scheme. I have communicated this decision to the social partners who are discussing my recommendation.

Mr. Rabbitte: May I take it that the Tánaiste—

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a discussion on the matter.

Mr. Rabbitte: —is not yet in a position to publish the review as promised in Easter week? The social partners seem to have entirely supplanted us in this House.

The Tánaiste: No.

Mr. Rabbitte: Should Deputy Owen and I not have a copy of what the Tánaiste has decided?

Mrs. Owen: The Tánaiste has not given it to us.

The Tánaiste: I will communicate with both Deputies this afternoon in relation to the decision.

[1612] Mrs. T. Ahearn: Today is the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the Forum for People with Disabilities. Listening to their comments on radio this morning one could not but conclude that they are hard done by. Acknowledging the Government's willingness—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot make a statement on the Order of Business. Does she have a question?

Mrs. T. Ahearn: The Government has shown a willingness to introduce emergency legislation to cater for those it perceives to have been hard done by.

An Ceann Comhairle: A debate is arranged for this afternoon on this matter.

Mrs. T. Ahearn: Is the disabilities Bill still on the long finger or is the Government prepared to give it the urgency and the priority it deserves to cater for people who are hard done by?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste on the disabilities Bill.

The Tánaiste: There will be a debate in the House today on the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The heads of the Bill are being drafted. This is a priority and I share the views expressed by the Deputy.

Mrs. Owen: The work permits Bill is still on the long finger. Is the Tánaiste aware that the tourism industry is threatened this summer because of delays in issuing work permits?

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

Mrs. Owen: Will she expedite the work permits legislation which might give her the resources she needs in her Department to issue work permits? Yesterday another agency stated it is taking three months to get work permits for people needed for the hotel and catering industry for this summer. We will have a serious problem.

The Tánaiste: We do not need a work permits Bill to facilitate the granting of work permits which, as the Deputy knows, is done on an administrative basis. Yesterday my Department gave the Deputy information I am now going to give her. It is not taking three or six months to issue permits. Unfortunately, it has gone up to six weeks.

Mrs. Owen: It is taking six to eight weeks.

The Tánaiste: We recently assigned more staff to the division because of the volume of applications. It is my intention that we should be able to make decisions within one week. We are granting about 98% of all applications and anyone who makes a legitimate application for a work permit [1613] will be facilitated as quickly as possible. The heads of the Bill were approved by the Government and the matter is with the parliamentary draftsman's office.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Will there be an appeals mechanism?

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot discuss the matter.

Mr. Stagg: The Labour Party's Statute of Limitations Bill was accepted by the Government and the Bill is intended to allow redress for people who have been damaged. However, I have come up against a brick wall in terms of trying to get the Bill included on the programme for this session. Will the Bill be taken and finalised during this session?

An Ceann Comhairle: This question was asked yesterday.

Mr. Stagg: We did not get an answer yesterday. I am asking the Tánaiste if the Bill will be taken during this session? Yes or no?

The Tánaiste: I understand from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that that is the intention.

Mr. Stagg: Can we take it that the Bill will be taken in this session? It will only take 30 minutes to deal with Government amendments.

An Ceann Comhairle: The same questions should not be repeated every day.

Mr. Currie: The Taoiseach stated that there could be a review where lands received planning approval as a result of corruption. Is legislation in existence to enable such a review or will new legislation be required?

An Ceann Comhairle: Questions about the requirement of legislation are not in order. Questions must refer to promised legislation.

Mr. Currie: Presumably the Taoiseach promised this legislation.

Dr. Upton: What measures are being taken on the ground to inform drug addicts about the current spate of deaths which may be related to the use of contaminated heroin?

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter was raised on the Adjournment yesterday.

Dr. Upton: There is a crisis – eight people have died.

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business. If there is a crisis it should be raised in a different manner. The [1614] Order of Business is not the appropriate place to deal with crises.

Mr. Allen: Arising from the Tánaiste's comments on the job initiative scheme where 600 workers will be laid off by the end of June, 150 of them in Cork city, will she communicate her comments in the House to the organisations?

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter is not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputy is not being orderly.

Mr. Allen: These people feel they also deserve a second chance, like Mr. O'Flaherty, and they should not be placed on the social welfare scrap heap

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Gilmore.

Mr. Allen: I had discussions with these groups and they have heard nothing.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have ruled that this matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Gilmore: The Local Government Bill has been published. When is it intended to take Second Stage? Is the Tánaiste aware that Deputy Healy-Rae indicated he will not support the section of the Bill which proposes to abolish the dual mandate for councillors and Members?

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: We have heard empty threats from that quarter before.

Mr. Finucane: Deputy Healy-Rae will huff and puff but he will not bring the House down.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste on promised legislation.

The Tánaiste: The legislation is no longer promised and Deputy Gilmore acknowledged it is already published. When the Bill will be taken in the House is a matter for the Whips. I am not aware of Deputy Healy-Rae's views on every matter.

Mr. Shatter: What promised legislation concerning the privatisation of State bodies will come before the House before the end of June or before the end of this year? In that context, can I draw to the Tánaiste's attention that, having heard of the Government's collective decision to over-price Eircom shares, not a single member of the public would purchase a second-hand car from a member of the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is being disorderly. This matter was dealt with yesterday. The Tánaiste on promised legislation.

The Tánaiste: I do not know what the question is.

[1615] Mr. Shatter: Would the Tánaiste buy a second-hand car from any member of the Government?

The Tánaiste: The economy is going so well an unprecedented number of new cars are being purchased.

Mr. Gormley: Given the terrible cynicism about golden circles and the way this Government looks after its friends, when will the Government look after those who ought to be looked after, namely, carers? When will the carer's leave Bill be introduced?

The Tánaiste: The Government approved the heads of the Bill this week and hopes to publish it as quickly as possible when it is drafted.

Ms Fitzgerald: Can the Tánaiste give the public or the House further information on UNIFIL's changing mandate in south Lebanon and the implications for the Defence Forces?

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter was raised recently.

Ms Fitzgerald: The situation is changing every few hours. This morning we heard appalling statistics about homeless Irish people in London and we do not need to look to London to see the problem of homelessness.

An Ceann Comhairle: This matter is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Ms Fitzgerald: A Cheann Comhairle, this matter involves promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question on promised legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald: People are being evicted every day in Dublin and losing out in private rented accommodation. When will the report of the commission on private rented accommodation be published and will legislation arise from that report?

The Tánaiste: The report is expected at the end of July. As regards the issue of homeless Irish people in London, every year the Government gives money to welfare societies in Britain through the Díon project. However, because of the change in the exchange rate the value of the £1 million was reduced by 25%. The Government has decided to make an additional allocation to such groups and it is right that it should do so.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): It is five weeks since the tragic death of John Carthy in Abbeylara. RTE will tonight broadcast a programme which raises disturbing questions about this issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a relevant question.

[1616] Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): When will the report on this tragic event be laid before the House?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should pursue the matter by way of a parliamentary question. It is not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Many Members have raised this issue with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

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

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Given the public concern about this issue, the Tánaiste should give a reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Jim Higgins.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): A Cheann Comhairle, I appeal to you to ask the Tánaiste to reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have ruled that the question is not in order.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Many questions which were not in order were asked this morning and received a reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have ruled that the question is not in order. I call Deputy Jim Higgins.

Mr. Rabbitte: I think the Tánaiste wishes to reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have ruled that the matter is not in order.

Mr. Rabbitte: This issue is profoundly important.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is an important issue but that does not make it appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Rabbitte: If the Tánaiste wishes to answer she should be allowed to do so.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair applies the rules, not the Tánaiste or any Member.

Mr. Rabbitte: We join Deputy Higgins in seeking a reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair applies the rules and that is what it is doing. That is what the Chair is here to do.

Mr. Rabbitte: A Cheann Comhairle, this issue greatly concerns citizens.

An Ceann Comhairle: That does not matter. The Chair has ruled. I call Deputy Jim Higgins.

[1617] Mr. D. Ahern: The Deputy will make a great Ceann Comhairle in about 20 years.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): I agree with Deputy Joe Higgins that there is no reason that report cannot be wrapped up and presented to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should put a question or resume his seat.

Mr. Finucane: The Ceann Comhairle is very tetchy this morning.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Are you going to shoot me?

Mr. D. Ahern: Is the Deputy going to sit down?

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Regarding long promised legislation, yesterday the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform announced the building of 700 additional prison spaces. These will cost £77 million to build and £37 million to run.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is not in order.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): This is in a Prison Service where there is no rehabilitation for ordinary prisoners and there are no sex offenders programmes.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair is waiting for an orderly question from the Deputy.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): There is a starved Probation and Welfare Service. In addition, there is no drug programme for drug infested prisons. Why has the Prison Service Bill, the purpose of which is to put in place a coherent management structure and hopefully end incarceration—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot discuss the contents of a Bill.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Why has the Prison Service Bill not received higher priority from the Government? When will this incarceration madness be ended once and for all?

The Tánaiste: As the Deputy is aware, the Prison Service is already in place in terms of its statutory basis and administration.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): What about the Bill?

The Tánaiste: The heads of the Bill will be ready by the summer and it will be next year before the Bill is available.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): So the madness will go on.

Mr. M. Higgins: It has been indicated that the Official Languages Equality Bill, known as Bille na Gaeilge, might be published before the end of 2000. When will the heads of the legislation go before the Government for approval? This Bill [1618] was promised almost on a weekly basis at one stage by the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands.

The Tánaiste: The draft memo which includes the heads of the Bill has been circulated to Departments for observations. This was done two weeks ago. Hopefully the draft heads will go before the Government shortly. The intention in relation to publication is late this year.

Regarding Deputy Higgins's point, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will publish that report when it is to hand. He does not know yet when he will receive it.