Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 21 November, 2000

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 20, motion re ICC Bank Bill, 2000 – financial resolution; No. 22, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate [Vote 6]; No. 23, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimate [Vote 6] to select committee; No. 42, National Pensions Reserve Fund Bill, 2000 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 43, the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2000 [Seanad] – Second Stage, resumed.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 20 and 22 shall be decided without debate and any division demanded on No. 22 shall be taken forthwith; and (2) subject to the agreement of No. 22, a general debate on the Supplementary Estimate [Vote 6] may arise on No. 23 and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion within 30 minutes and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; (ii) the speech of a Minister and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party and of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case; and (iii) Members may share time.

Private Members' Business shall be No. 104, motion re public transport.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 20 and 22 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the Supplementary Estimate agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton: What is the Government's policy on taxis? Is it intent on using bogus quality control to restrict the number of taxis available to tourists and natives of Dublin city and not willing to see a significant increase in the number of taxi licences issued for fear it might offend people? Does the Taoiseach agree there should be a clear statement that, once a taxi is wheelchair accessible, clean and safe, it should get a licence?

Mr. Quinn: Will the Government bring forward regulations or legislative measures on this area and, if so, which government will it be? Will it be the backbenchers' government or the Front Bench? There seems to be a division within the [497] current composition of the Government as to what action should take place.

Mrs. Owen: Send out the backbenchers.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Callely is calling the shots.

The Taoiseach: There is no legislation in this area but regulations will be announced later today.

Mr. Quinn: Regarding those regulations, have there been extensive consultations with the various interests, including the taxi associations, regarding the composition of those regulations? Is agreement forthcoming from those associations in respect of the content of those regulations?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Public transport is the subject of Private Members' business.

Mr. Quinn: I am talking about taxis, Sir.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Taxis are included in the Private Members' motion.

Mr. Quinn: I am sure the Taoiseach would love to avail of this opportunity to indicate the nature of the consultation which took place to bring forward these regulations. I am sure you would be interested too, Sir.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach not agree that the Government's failure to deal with the taxi issue is one of its greatest public transport failures and that, if it intends introducing regulations to change the position, these regulations should be submitted to the House for approval? Does the Taoiseach agree, given that he has announced he will eventually make a decision today, that the regulations in question should be tabled for debate in the House this evening?

Mrs. Owen: Hear, hear, and not another PR exercise we cannot question.

The Taoiseach: I remind Deputy Bruton, who always forgets, that when he was in office he did not issue one new taxi licence. This Government issued about 750 and about 1,500 hackney licences.

Mr. Howlin: That is not true. Hundreds were issued by local authorities.

The Taoiseach: They did not issue any either. The Minister responsible will speak about these issues in the House tonight, and they will be before the House.

Mr. J. Bruton: Could I ask the Taoiseach—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We will not have further discussion on taxis because they are the subject of Private Members' business.

[498] Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree he proposes to use Fine Gael Private Members' time to make an announcement on regulations when they concern a matter of sufficient contentiousness that they should be approved on their own independently in the House on the basis of a motion proposed by the Government and not piggy-backed on a Fine Gael motion on another general subject?

Mr. M. Ahern: Is that on the back of the Fine Gael snail?

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that any attempt to introduce quantitative restrictions for the benefit of economic interests flies in the face of a High Court judgment, is likely to be challenged and is wrong, and that the only consideration should be safety and quality?

Mr. Gormley: Now that the Government has sold out again on the question of neutrality by joining the European rapid reaction force, when will the Taoiseach hold a referendum on the Nice Treaty which will provide the people with an opportunity to show their disapproval of the growing European superstate?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is such a referendum promised?

The Taoiseach: As I have said a number of times, that consideration will be made at the conclusion of the Nice summit. I remind Deputy Gormley once again that the European security and defence policy proceeds on the basis of the treaty provisions as approved by the electorate in the referendum in the wake of the Amsterdam Treaty.

Mr. Gormley: They were misled.

The Taoiseach: If he alleges a sell-out, he accuses the people of selling out and he should not do that in the House.

Mr. Quinn: On a separate matter, there are reports in today's paper concerning the long-awaited package of legislative measures to deal with public life, the conducting of elections and related matters. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the proposals or legislation concerning ethics in public office and the conduct of the financing of political parties will be published?

The Taoiseach: A number of Ministers are involved in that because the legislation covers about six Departments. All the various measures have been discussed but they are at various levels of consultation in different Departments. There will be a package of measures but I am not in a position yet to say what date.

Mr. Quinn: Can I clarify that these measures [499] will include legislative proposals which must come before the House for them to have effect?

The Taoiseach: Yes.

Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach indicate whether those proposals will come before the House before Christmas?

The Taoiseach: It is unlikely.

Mr. Kenny: The Taoiseach has put the minds of a grateful nation at ease in that there will not be a general election until 2002.

Mr. Sheehan: Wishful thinking.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Dream on.

Mr. Kenny: It has become patently obvious that the implementation of the national plan as far as the Border, midlands and west are concerned will not be met. Does the Taoiseach intend to give co-ordinating responsibility to a senior Minister in respect of the development plan for those regions?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Finucane.

Mr. Kenny: The Taoiseach will not answer the question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It does not arise on the Order of Business. The Chair would rule him out of order if he answered.

Mr. Finucane: Given the systematic destruction of morale within the armed forces, will the Taoiseach consider having a special debate on the future of defence because the Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, has systematically destroyed morale within the Defence Forces?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Howlin.

Mr. Howlin: On promised legislation, in light of the decision yesterday in the Court of Criminal Appeal in the Shortt case, when will we see legislation to implement lessons learned from the Carty report and when will the report be published?

The Taoiseach: I am not aware of any legislation but I will check for the Deputy.

Mr. Howlin: When will we see the Carty report on the situation in Donegal which was alluded to yesterday in that court case?

The Taoiseach: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says that matter is [500] before the DPP. The Shortt case is still before the courts. That case is adjourned until January.

Mr. Howlin: When will the report on the Carty investigation be published?

The Taoiseach: That is before the DPP.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree that case suggests we in this jurisdiction need a system of accountable policing just as badly as they do in Northern Ireland, and that the recommendations of the Patten report are not ones which should be imposed in one part of Ireland without also being followed in this part of Ireland in respect of the actions of our own police force?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should submit a question on that matter.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Taoiseach agree lessons must be learned from this? If this were an example of policing by the RUC in Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach and his Ministers would queue up to make condemnatory statements. We deserve the same level of accountability for policing in this jurisdiction as applies in the other part of the island.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That does not arise on the Order of Business. The Deputy should submit a question. I call Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Noonan: Does the Government intend introducing the Valuation Bill before Christmas and will it be introduced as published or will it be withdrawn and a new one brought forward?

The Taoiseach: As I understand it, the Valuation Bill is awaiting Second Stage. It was published in the summer.

Mr. Noonan: Will it be taken before Christmas?

The Taoiseach: I do not know, quite frankly. It is not ready.

Mr. Quinn: Why not?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Deputy McManus on something appropriate to the Order of Business.

Mr. Quinn: She is always appropriate to the Order of Business.

Ms McManus: I am always appropriate and I am patient too. Is the Taoiseach ready to take my question?

The Taoiseach: Yes.

Ms McManus: Good. I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that there have been shortages of doctors and nurses in our hospitals, but is he aware that [501] there are some qualified foreign doctors here who are unable to obtain internships because of legislative difficulties? Will he bring forward the Medical Practitioners Bill, which is on the list of proposed legislation, at an earlier date? It would certainly assist in resolving these difficulties

The Taoiseach: The heads of the bill are expected after Christmas, although I am not sure if it will resolve that issue. I am aware of the matter, which involves the regulations of the Medical Council.

Mr. J. Bruton: When will the Garda Síochána Bill, which is promised legislation, be introduced? Will it include provisions for localised accountability of our police services – the Garda Síochána – drawing on the lessons of the scandalous Short case which has recently been published?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The first part of the question concerning the Garda Síochána Bill is in order.

Mr. J. Bruton: The second part may not be in order but it is definitely necessary for law and order that we have proper accountability from our policing services.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy, it is important that in this House we obey Standing Orders.

The Taoiseach: The Bill is being published. Lest it be said that I said nothing about it – Deputy Howlin asked me about this earlier – the full report of the investigation in Donegal is headed by Assistant Garda Commissioner Carthy who is working with the DPP. We are awaiting the decision on what criminal prosecutions should be taken arising from his investigations in Donegal. He will also address what convictions, if any, might be regarded as unsafe in light of the information that has been uncovered.

Mrs. Owen: There could be a rash of them.

The Taoiseach: We wait to see what happens.

Mrs. Owen: There could be a number of them.

Mr. J. Bruton: We have a culture of secrecy as regards the Garda Síochana.

The Taoiseach: The Garda Síochána Bill will be produced next year.

Mr. J. Bruton: Would the Taoiseach agree that there is insufficient accountability concerning the Garda Síochána?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Bruton, you are totally out of order.

Mr. Howlin: I thank the Taoiseach for his response to my earlier question. While it is [502] obviously true that prosecutorial matters are being considered under the proper stewardship of the DPP, in the Carthy report I understand there are other matters which are proper to the administration of justice and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Can that portion of the report be published so that we can address other outstanding issues with speed, apart from the prosecutorial ones that are properly in the domain of the DPP?

The Taoiseach: I will bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, but I am told that cannot be done.

Mr. Howlin: Can we wait forever then?

Mr. Naughten: Will the Taoiseach tell the House when the work permits Bill is to be published, in light of the fact that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is currently carrying out an investigation into the sale of work permits for £6,000, and the fact that a number of businessmen have secured dozens of these permits? Will the Taoiseach expedite the legislation to ensure that these loopholes are closed off immediately, instead of allowing the current system to be abused?

The Taoiseach: The legislation to deal with the work permits regime in respect of non-EU nationals working in the State is expected early in the new year.

Mr. Belton: Does the Taoiseach intend to have a debate in the House on the current crisis in the beef industry?

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

Mr. Belton: Does the Taoiseach intend to have a debate on that matter?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy have a second question?

Mr. Quinn: When will the debate take place?

Mr. Belton: How many budgets does the Taoiseach intend to introduce this year? He brought in two last year.

Mr. Flanagan: Earlier today, I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle on an important matter. It is almost two weeks since the national children's strategy was published amidst a fanfare of publicity at an arranged Government press conference. Numerous Members of the Opposition have sought copies of this report but, apparently, it is unavailable. Perhaps the Taoiseach could oblige us by letting us know when Members of the House can receive a copy of this comprehensive document.

[503]

Mrs. Owen: It is not in the Oireachtas Library.

Mr. Kenny: There is a shortage of trees.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That matter was touched upon in Question No. 94 on today's Order Paper.

The Taoiseach: I understand what the Deputy said is correct – that a sufficient number of reports were not available.

Mrs. Owen: Who got the copies?

The Taoiseach: I apologise for that. I understand that the second print will be available in the morning.

Mr. J. Bruton: Why should Members of the House have such a low priority in receiving copies of the report? Where did the copies go, rather than to Members of this House?

The Taoiseach: There were not enough.

Mr. J. Bruton: Surely enough could be printed for the 166 Members of the House?

The Taoiseach: I agree with the Deputy.

Mr. J. Bruton: What happened? What went wrong?

Mrs. Owen: The press and everybody in Dún Laoghaire got one.