Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 31 May, 2001

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 23, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services [Vote 31] (returned from Committee); No. 23a, Technical Motion re Further Revised Estimates [Votes 3 and 32]; No. 23b, Motion re Powers of sub-Committee on the Mini-CTC Signalling Project; No. 48, Euro Changeover (Amounts) Bill, 2001 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 49, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 46, Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 50, Agriculture Appeals Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) Nos. 23, 23a, 23b and, in the event of the motion for the by-election for Tipperary South being moved, No. 45 shall be decided without debate and in the case of Nos. 23 and 23a any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; (2) Report and Final Stages of No. 48 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one question, which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amend[826] ments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; (3) Report and Final Stages of No. 49 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. 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 Health and Children; (4) Questions shall be taken today from 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and in the event of a private notice question being allowed, it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m.; and the order shall not resume thereafter; (5) the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 12 June 2001.

An Ceann Comhairle: There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 23 and 23a, Estimates, No. 23b, Powers of sub-Committee on the Mini-CTC Signalling Project, and the motion for the by-election, agreed? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 48, Report and Final Stages of the Euro Changeover (Amounts) Bill, 2001, agreed?

Mr. Quinn: The House has been repeatedly assured by the Government and by the Taoiseach that action will be taken to deal with the issue of limiting donations to political parties and other amendments in respect of the financing of elections. Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government published 71 amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, not one of which met any of the promises repeatedly given here by the Taoiseach. In view of that duplicitous activity by this Government, we are opposed to this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 48, Report and Final Stages of the Euro Changeover (Amounts) Bill, 2001, agreed to?

Mr. Quinn: No, Sir.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 48 be agreed to.”

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.

Brady, Johnny.

Brady, Martin.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.

Callely, Ivor.

Carey, Pat.

Collins, Michael.

Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullen, Martin.

de Valera, Síle.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fleming, Seán.

Flood, Chris.

Foley, Denis.

Fox, Mildred.

Gildea, Thomas.

Hanafin, Mary.

Harney, Mary.

Haughey, Seán.

Healy-Rae, Jackie.

Jacob, Joe.[827]

Tá–continued

Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Kitt, Tom.

Lawlor, Liam.

Lenihan, Brian.

Lenihan, Conor.

McCreevy, Charlie.

McDaid, James.

McGennis, Marian.

McGuinness, John J.

Martin, Micheál.

Moffatt, Thomas.

Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.

[828] Moynihan, Michael.

Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Dea, Willie.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Malley, Desmond.

Power, Seán.

Reynolds, Albert.

Roche, Dick.

Ryan, Eoin.

Smith, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

Wade, Eddie.

Woods, Michael.

Wright, G. V.

Níl

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Ulick.

Clune, Deirdre.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael.

Crawford, Seymour.

Currie, Austin.

D'Arcy, Michael.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Durkan, Bernard.

Enright, Thomas.

Finucane, Michael.

Gilmore, Éamon.

Gormley, John.

Hayes, Brian.

Healy, Seamus.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Michael.

Hogan, Philip.

Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McDowell, Derek.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Olivia.

Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.

Naughten, Denis.

Neville, Dan.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Shea, Brian.

O'Sullivan, Jan.

Owen, Nora.

Penrose, William.

Perry, John.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Reynolds, Gerard.

Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Seán.

Shatter, Alan.

Shortall, Róisín.

Stagg, Emmet.

Stanton, David.

Upton, Mary.

Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: I come to the proposal for dealing with No. 49 – Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2000 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages. Is that agreed to?

Mr. G. Mitchell: On a point of order—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is only entitled to speak if he is opposing the motion.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I will oppose it, then. The Minister of State with responsibility for children should come in and correct the record on the inaccurate information she gave the House on overseas adoptions. I want the record corrected and I will make a substantial submission to you, Sir, on this matter.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 49 be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: The next proposal is that for dealing with Question Time today. Is that agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the adjournment of the Dáil today agreed to? Agreed. I will now take leaders' questions.

Mr. Noonan: The ESRI report on the further development of the greater Dublin area predicts that 100,000 new houses will be required in the next five years. The effect of Government policy has been to reduce the number of houses rather than to increase them. For example in the first four months of this year there have been almost 1,000 fewer starts in Dublin than there were last year which is a reduction of 30%. The construction of houses in Galway is down by 30%, in Limerick it is down by 25%, in Cork it is down by 17% and on a national basis the construction industry predicts that there will be 8,000 fewer houses constructed this year than last year which reflects a total downturn of 17%.

[829] In light of these facts, does the Taoiseach agree that the ESRI target of 100,000 over the next five years cannot be achieved? Does he agree that policy is failing to deliver the new houses necessary for our young population and that already the dream of owning one's own home is nothing more than a dream that will not be fulfilled for many young people? Will the Taoiseach take a personal interest in this? Everything that has happened in the provision of houses was predicted by us on this side of the House when the third Bacon report was implemented. Will the Taoiseach now get the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to change policy because the housing crisis is deepening on a weekly basis and the proof is there for all to see. There is a massive reduction in housing starts across the country and particularly in the major cities.

Mr. Quinn: On the same subject, does the Taoiseach agree there is now some validity to the concern that there is massive hoarding of building land for which planning permission has been granted and for which services exist to enable development to proceed and that perhaps the time has come for the State to intervene to acquire that land, either by negotiation or under CPO, in order to unblock the hoarding of land which is denying people the right to a home as a result of Government policies? Given that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has indicated that he is aware of the amount of land zoned for residential development for which planning permission has been granted and has expressed his concern, does the Taoiseach agree the Government is aware of the nature of the difficulty? Can he outline what steps, if any, the Government proposes to take?

The Taoiseach: Last year we built more than 50,000 houses, which was an increase of about 50%. The Government put significant resources into the serviced land initiative, which allowed planning permission to be granted and gave access to an enormous amount of zoned land that is now ready for house building.

Mr. Quinn: Have they been ordered?

The Taoiseach: Part V of the Planning and Development Act contains radical new measures which have got constitutional clearance and will ensure that land is zoned to meet the housing needs. There is validity in the issue raised. There are about 70,000 or 80,000 sites particularly in the greater Dublin area where planning permission has been received. The Minister for Finance has given the resources for the land to get the necessary amenities and facilities. In the past three months of last year and the first three months of this year there has been a huge rise in the number of planning permissions granted nationally. Where land has been zoned, has planning approval and has had the benefit of the serviced [830] land initiative, the Government would like to see house construction proceeding. The Government has made its position clear on Part 5. I know that some people do not like the idea of having affordable houses within the zones. Within the past few days, the Minister has again listed precisely to the industry how Part 5 works and how it should be used. Some sections of the industry have used this as a reason for not commencing work before now on sites for which there is planning approval. I hope the Minister's clarification, which was given personally at meetings with the industry and in his latest circular, will be helpful.

Local authorities also have their own strategic plans for housing, which have to be in by the end of next month. The Government has increased the housing budget from under £400 million to almost £1.2 billion. All of those measures should assist. We have moved from the position, when this Government took office, in which first time buyers had absolutely no chance of getting a house. We have changed that position successfully—

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

The Taoiseach: We have driven the investor out of the market, which was being taken up totally—

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

The Taoiseach: I do not know where the Deputy lives, but—

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. A supplementary from Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Noonan: Could I put it to the Taoiseach, as he faces into his fifth year in Government, that his housing policy is now an abject failure? The Bacon initiatives have not worked and could not have worked. The Minister for Finance, who brought them in, agreed with me, in effect, when I told him they could not work, but they were imposed on him by other people. There are a number of issues which I wish to put strongly to the Taoiseach. First, the housing market is indivisible. Those who cannot buy a house will be on a local authority housing list and if they are unsuccessful there, they will be looking for rented accommodation. It is not possible to categorise, as Bacon did. Second, land is being hoarded. When this Government introduced a proposal to reduce capital gains tax on building land to 20%, this was to be for a three year period and a rate of 60% was to be imposed if houses were not built on the land by the end of the three years. Instead, the Government abandoned the 60% [831] rate, building land is being hoarded and people cannot get houses.

Finally, I put it to the Taoiseach that the penal stamp duty imposed on certain sectors of the housing industry has quite predictably reduced the supply of houses. Because of the Bacon initiatives brought in by the Government, the supply of new houses has come down to meet the new demand. That is why the number of new houses being built will drop from 48,000 last year to less than 40,000 this year and will continue to go down until the Government changes policy. The Government is getting increasingly out of touch and, when its members start knocking on doors again, they will find out what young people are saying.

The Taoiseach: We have got the building programme up to almost 50,000 houses—

Mr. Hayes: There were 48,000 last year.

The Taoiseach: Yes, 48,800, I believe. We will continue to look at further measures. It is interesting to hear Deputy Noonan speak of the 60% tax rate. This time last year, all his colleagues on that side of the House were shouting that this was stopping house building. In the provincial papers all over the country, their party was calling for it to be changed. We did change it—

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: We have continued with the serviced land initiative, support for the voluntary housing sector and local authority housing. We have brought in Part 5 of the Planning Act.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: We continue to put in the necessary resources to help first time buyers get houses. We will continue those policies and amend them where necessary.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Quinn, on leaders' questions.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Quinn: It appears that the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs wishes to conduct another inquiry.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Quinn: Is the Taoiseach aware of the disgraceful treatment which is now being handed out by some Irish employers to immigrant workers? Immigrant workers came here on foot of permits issued by the Tánaiste and were promised a better life in this country, in some cases through recruitment fairs in which the Government engaged on the European continent and elsewhere across the globe. Does the Taoiseach not [832] consider it incredible, in this day and age, that some Irish employers are treating foreign immigrant workers in exactly the same way that Irish potato pickers were treated in Scotland in the 1930s? It is an absolute disgrace that this is allowed to happen in flagrant breach of the law. What action will the Taoiseach take to correct this?

Mr. Noonan: Arising from Deputy Quinn's question, is the Taoiseach aware that many of the nurses who were recruited from the Philippines are leaving their employment in the major Dublin hospitals after just a couple of months service? They are doing so for two reasons. First, they are paid 30% less than Irish nurses and, second, they cannot get affordable accommodation in this city. In effect, they are being discriminated against and that will affect the health services which are already in a shambles.

The Taoiseach: On the matter raised by Deputy Quinn, I agree that the employers concerned are totally wrong. They are not complying with the law and they are exploiting people. I understand that the legislation on permits includes a capacity to withold permits from people who abuse the system. I assure the House that foreign workers coming to live in this country are entitled to the full protection of our labour laws. We make no distinction, in any of the employment legislation passed in this House, between the rights of foreign and Irish or EU workers. Any employer who arbitrarily decides to make such a distinction is committing a very serious offence under Irish labour laws.

All workers, including foreign workers, can make a complaint and I believe in this instance their representatives are making a complaint to the appropriate authorities. The labour inspectors of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will investigate the complaint of alleged breaches of employment laws. That Department is translating its guide to labour laws into seven of the languages most commonly used by non-nationals who come to this country, to assist them in understanding their full employment rights.

The Government is determined that the minority of employers who might exploit foreign workers who come to these shores will be brought to book and that Ireland's international reputation as a good place to work is not in any way tarnished.

Mr. Quinn: Would the Taoiseach agree that SIPTU and RTE are to be congratulated on the manner in which they have highlighted this flagrant abuse of our law? Would he also agree that it is an indictment on the Tánaiste's Department for her abject failure to bring in the work permit legislation which has been consistently promised in this House to put our system of work permits on a statutory basis? That is still promised but not delivered. Her Department has also failed to [833] provide an adequate number of inspectors to ensure that the legislation which does not distinguish between Irish citizens and foreign workers is properly and effectively implemented right across the country. What will the Taoiseach do? There is no point his crying crocodile tears about exploitation. He has the resources to put justice back into the workplace but will not do it because he does not care.

The Taoiseach: I reject all of that. The Deputy knows how the inspectorate works and organised labour's representatives have a tight mechanism for monitoring complaints. The Tánaiste's Department takes tough action in this area. In recent cases, files were given to the Garda for investigation. There is no tolerance of breaches. Normally members of the public, employees or representatives bring them to the inspectorate's attention and it acts accordingly. That will continue.

Mr. Stagg: It is not working.

The Taoiseach: The new permits legislation is irrelevant as legislation already exists and they are in breach of legislation that has been on the Statute Book for some time. These people had work permits and the employers breached that legislation. The new permit Bill being drafted would make no difference.

Mr. Quinn: That is rubbish.

The Taoiseach: I again assure the House that in any case where information comes from anyone, the Department continues to take the strongest action.

Mr. Noonan: Will item No. 43 on the Government's legislative programme, the Greater Dublin Area Land Use and Transport Authority Bill, stop the holding of building land in Dublin?

An Ceann Comhairle: What the Bill will contain is not an appropriate question.

Mr. Noonan: I will rephrase it. Can the Taoiseach urgently bring forward this Bill? He indicated that it will not be available until 2002. It is important that it is brought forward so that steps can be taken to prevent the holding of land in Dublin.

The Taoiseach: The legislation is to make provision for land use and transport planning in the greater Dublin area and to establish an authority for that. As I stated recently at the launch of the ESRI report, the two month consultation period is almost up. Work has begun in the Department and the heads are expected later this year but the legislation will be ready next year.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Since this Bill deals with the transport problems in the greater Dublin area, does the Taoiseach listen to AA Roadwatch [834] on Morning Ireland, the radio programme? Did he listen this morning when every artery into Dublin was clogged? The M50 from one end to the other—

An Ceann Comhairle: Put a relevant question, please.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): If the Taoiseach is so committed to sorting out the land use and transport problems, why has this Bill not been brought forward? Why will it not be on the Statute Book in the next couple of weeks, if not months? There is chaos in housing and a transport crisis in our city—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy put his question and cannot elaborate.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Why can he not make this a priority and put it on the Statute Book before Christmas?

The Taoiseach: What is the question, a Chean Comhairle?

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): The question is why the Taoiseach does not give priority to this legislation which deals with two fundamental issues, the housing crisis in the greater Dublin area—

An Ceann Comhairle: The only appropriate question is to ask when the Bill will be coming.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): No—

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order to ask the Taoiseach to give reasons—

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Why is it not a greater priority? Housing and traffic—

The Taoiseach: It is the same answer that I gave to Deputy Noonan. The Deputy was out of order, but I will tell him, who does not know much about Dublin, that we have the completion of the M50, the south-eastern motorway, the port tunnel, the Luas work under construction and the metro planning. All of these are possible without any legislation.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

The Taoiseach: We do not need legislation for any of them—

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Not one of them is being fulfilled.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach is in possession. Deputy Higgins should resume his seat.

[835] Mr. D. Ahern: The Deputy should stick to the potholes in County Mayo.

The Taoiseach: They would have been built years ago except that when the Deputy's colleagues were in power—

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Higgins will resume his seat.

The Taoiseach: —they left the files hiding in their desks because they feared to stand up to a few people who wanted to move swans and ducks off the roadway.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): That is outrageous. Nothing will be finished on schedule.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy J. Higgins is out of order. He must resume his seat.

Mr. Quinn: When will item No. 45 on the section C list, the Housing (Private Rented Sector) Bill will be brought forward in view of the extraordinary exploitation occurring in the—

An Ceann Comhairle: There is no need to elaborate, just ask the question.

Mr. Quinn: There is because the Taoiseach does not seem to realise the urgency. We have few opportunities to convey it to him.

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not the opportunity to elaborate.

The Taoiseach: Work is at a preliminary stage on this Bill. A report came out last Christmas. The Bill's heads are expected late this year.

Mr. Quinn: Can I clarify one matter? The notice we have states that publication is expected mid-2002. If that timetable has not shifted, the Taoiseach's reference to progress being made towards the end of this year is misleading and deliberately so.

The Taoiseach: No, the heads are expected late this year and the Bill will then be drafted.

Mr. Quinn: It received no added priority. Is that correct?

The Taoiseach: It received added priority, but the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy—

Mr. Quinn: Is he responsible for it now? The Taoiseach washes his hands of it.

The Taoiseach: —brought together the entire industry—

Mr. M. Higgins: Putting the landlords first.

Mr. Quinn: If he is responsible—

[836] The Taoiseach: There is no point in my answering questions if people will not listen.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach is in possession.

Mr. D. Ahern: Did Deputy Higgins have his Weetabix this morning?

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach without interruptions.

Mr. Hayes: Today is the fourth anniversary of the passage of Second Stage of the abolition of ground rent Bill, a superb piece of legislation introduced by the Minister, Deputy Woods. Noting this, could the Taoiseach tell the House when will this groundbreaking legislation, introduced by his spokesman on Equality, come before it so that the Minister can reprieve himself? When will the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was promised two years ago, be introduced given the current crisis in the housing market?

Mr. Quinn: Never.

The Taoiseach: I hope that the ground rent Bill—

Mr. D. Ahern: The ultimate solution.

The Taoiseach: —will come before next year. The Attorney General has almost finished work.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. R. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach bring the heads of the greater Dublin land use Bill to the House? It appears that he is unaware that the city's housing lists on the north side are up 77%—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must stick to the question.

Mr. R. Bruton: —the legal aid board waiting list has trebled—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is giving information.

Mr. R. Bruton: —the waiting lists for hospitals on the north side are up 30%, passenger use of public transport is down—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is being disorderly.

Mr. R. Bruton: The Taoiseach will not acknowledge this.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should resume his seat. He is being disorderly.

[837] Mr. R. Bruton: There is disarray in public transport.

The Taoiseach: I am glad to see the Deputy here today. He has not been here for some months.

Mr. R. Bruton: I dropped a leaflet about this in the Taoiseach's office. I hope he read it.

Mr. Currie: Would the Taoiseach agree that it is a betrayal of children that the Children Bill, which received its Second Reading in the House in February 1997, is fundamentally the same Bill as is now before the House. What is holding it up? It is a betrayal of children. Instead of talking about heads of Bills, will he take personal control, knock a few heads together, as I did in 1996, and progress this Bill through the House in the interests of the children?

The Taoiseach: I confirm that the Bill is scheduled, as I said yesterday, for all day on 13 June.