Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 12 June, 2001

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 48, Local Government Bill, 2000 – Second Stage (resumed); No. 48a – Statements on Nice Referendum (on a Supplementary Order Paper) – to be taken not later than 6.30 p.m. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.00 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 48a; the opening statement of the Taoiseach, and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and the Green Party combined with the Independent Deputies, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes. Government business shall not be interrupted at 7.00 p.m. and Private Members' Business which shall be No. 112 – motion re National Road Network, shall be taken from 8.30 p.m. until 10.00 p.m.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed to?

Mr. Noonan: I have a difficulty with the Order of Business given that the Minister for Public Enterprise has announced the trade sale of Aer Lingus for approximately £300 million.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is opposing the late sitting?

Mr. Noonan: Yes, I oppose the late sitting and I am stating my reasons. The slots into Heathrow Airport are worth more than £300 million alone. The Aer Lingus brand in itself is worth more than £300 million and it amounts to national sabotage for a Minister to threaten to sell Aer Lingus at a knock-down price of £300 million when, after four years—

[1077] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have a statement.

Mr. Noonan: I am finishing my sentence. The Minister and the Government are moving into [1078] their fifth year in office and they are totally responsible for the debacle which is now in Aer Lingus.

Question put: “That the late sitting be agreed to”.

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Ahern, Noel.

Andrews, David.

Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.

Blaney, Harry.

Brady, Johnny.

Brady, Martin.

Brennan, Matt.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).Carey, Pat.

Collins, Michael.

Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.

Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullen, Martin.

Daly, Brendan.

de Valera, Síle.

Dennehy, John.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fleming, Seán.

Flood, Chris.

Gildea, Thomas.

Hanafin, Mary.

Harney, Mary.

Haughey, Seán.

Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Lenihan, Conor.

McDaid, James.

McGennis, Marian.

McGuinness, John J.

Martin, Micheál.

Moffatt, Thomas.

Molloy, Robert.

Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.

Moynihan, Michael.

Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Donnell, Liz.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Flynn, Noel.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Malley, Desmond.

O'Rourke, Mary.

Power, Seán.

Roche, Dick.

Ryan, Eoin.

Smith, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

Treacy, Noel.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Woods, Michael.

Níl

Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.

Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Liam.

Burke, Ulick.

Carey, Donal.

Clune, Deirdre.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael.

Coveney, Simon.

Crawford, Seymour.

Creed, Michael.

Currie, Austin.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Enright, Thomas.

Farrelly, John.

Fitzgerald, Frances.

Gilmore, Éamon.

Gormley, John.

Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.

Higgins, Michael.

Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McGinley, Dinny.

McGrath, Paul.

McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.

Mitchell, Olivia.

Naughten, Denis.

Neville, Dan.

Noonan, Michael.

Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Shea, Brian.

Owen, Nora.

Penrose, William.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.

Shatter, Alan.

Sheehan, Patrick.[1079]

Níl–continued

Shortall, Róisín.

Stagg, Emmet.

Stanton, David.

Timmins, Billy.

[1080] Upton, Mary.

Wall, Jack.

Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Are the proposals relating to No. 48a agreed to?

Mr. Quinn: Last Thursday the people clearly expressed their view in the referendum. It is a view which has to be respected. I would have thought that the Taoiseach would have at least acceded to the requests for a substantial debate on the issue. The proposal we have is for a limited and closed series of statements which excludes the possibility of many Members expressing their views. Given the nature of what is involved this is undemocratic. It is not acceptable that a matter of this importance should be treated in this way. I urge the Taoiseach, before the Ceann Comhairle rules on the matter, to reconsider. I remind him that not too long ago he proposed to deal with the four issues which were to be the subject of referendums in one parliamentary week. If a message is to be discerned from the events of last Thursday it is that the people do not believe that politicians are listening to them. The House needs to devote serious time to this matter. The proposal is an insult.

Mr. Noonan: My party is also opposed to this proposal. We believe there was an appalling lack of leadership by the Government in prosecuting the referendum. We further believe that people were antagonised into voting no by some outrageous attacks launched by the Taoiseach on persons on the “no” side of the debate. The same kind of tactic is being employed today. A closed debate, without a substantive motion, is trying to tie the issue in an undemocratic fashion. We are looking for a substantive motion to debate the issue and an open-ended debate in order that, even at this late stage, the variety of opinion in the House may be expressed.

Mr. Sargent: The Order of Business indicates that on No. 48a 15 minutes will be the time given to those parties and individuals in the House who advocated rejection of the Nice Treaty.

Mr. Rabbitte: Will it be shared by Deputy Ó Cuív?

Mr. Sargent: It seems that this is a flagrant under-representation of the majority view of the people on a deeply flawed and undemocratic treaty. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to have regard for the outcome of the referendum in ensuring the debate is long enough to incorporate the number who wish to speak on it and representative enough in order that it will give some indication of the views of those who voted to reject the treaty.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): A Ceann Comhairle—

An Ceann Comhairle: Under Standing Orders I cannot call the Deputy, I must call the Taoiseach.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): The Ceann Comhairle knows very well that he can.

An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I want to raise a point of order. The Standing Order states that you may allow the leaders of parties to make a short objection. It does not state that you may not allow others like myself to do so.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair is the interpreter of Standing Orders, not the Deputy. The Deputy should resume his seat.

The Taoiseach: The Government decided to table the motion to start the debate which is not to end tonight. Originally I hoped that it could continue later this week but I understand from the Chief Whip that is not possible. The debate should be open-ended and anyone who wants to speak on the matter should be able to do so when the Whips can organise it. I thought it was important that on the first sitting day after the referendum result we commenced the debate which can continue based on the arrangements the Whips come to.

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

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Ahern, Noel.

Andrews, David.

Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.

Blaney, Harry.

Brady, Johnny.

Brady, Martin.[1081]

Tá–continued

Brennan, Matt.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.

Carey, Pat.

Collins, Michael.

Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.

Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullen, Martin.

Daly, Brendan.

de Valera, Síle.

Dennehy, John.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fleming, Seán.

Flood, Chris.

Gildea, Thomas.

Hanafin, Mary.

Harney, Mary.

Haughey, Seán.

Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

[1082] Lenihan, Conor.

McDaid, James.

McGennis, Marian.

McGuinness, John J.

Martin, Micheál.

Moffatt, Thomas.

Molloy, Robert.

Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.

Moynihan, Michael.

Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Donnell, Liz.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Flynn, Noel.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Malley, Desmond.

O'Rourke, Mary.

Power, Seán.

Roche, Dick.

Ryan, Eoin.

Smith, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

Treacy, Noel.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Woods, Michael.

Níl

Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.

Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Liam.

Burke, Ulick.

Carey, Donal.

Clune, Deirdre.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael.

Coveney, Simon.

Crawford, Seymour.

Creed, Michael.

Currie, Austin.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Enright, Thomas.

Farrelly, John.

Fitzgerald, Frances.

Gilmore, Éamon.

Gormley, John.

Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.

Higgins, Michael.

Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McDowell, Derek.

McGinley, Dinny.

McGrath, Paul.

McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.

Mitchell, Olivia.

Naughten, Denis.

Neville, Dan.

Noonan, Michael.

Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Shea, Brian.

Owen, Nora.

Penrose, William.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.

Shatter, Alan.

Sheehan, Patrick.

Shortall, Róisín.

Stagg, Emmet.

Stanton, David.

Timmins, Billy.

Upton, Mary.

Wall, Jack.

Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business agreed to?

Mr. Noonan: When the Taoiseach replied before the previous vote he indicated that the Government was tabling a motion, but the indication to our Whips was that the debate would be by way of statement. We can accept that we are to proceed by way of motion and the debate is to be open-ended, but we cannot if we are to proceed by way of statement with an adjournment of the debate to an indefinite time in the future.

An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Quinn.

[1083]

The Taoiseach: Perhaps I could clarify that.

Mr. Quinn: Before the Taoiseach replies, could I add my concerns on the matter? These circumstances are unprecedented. The country has never before voted against a European Union treaty. The Taoiseach will represent Ireland at a Council of the Heads of Government in Gothenburg later this week and we do not have a clue what he will say. He does not have a mandate from the House to speak to the leaders of other Governments on the outcome of the referendum. I propose that there should not only be a series of statements, but also a set of questions to which there would be replies in order that we can obtain a coherent view which represents all the people.

It is unsatisfactory that there is the possibility of additional time, welcome as that would be from Deputy Noonan's point of view. We need much more than what is proposed by the Government. Accordingly, unless the Government, with the agreement of the Whips, is prepared to suspend business, as we sought in our request to adjourn the Dáil under Standing Order 31, to deal with this matter without also having to debate for an hour or so the Second Stage of the Local Government Bill, which is hopelessly compromised, and examine what we will do tomorrow before the Taoiseach goes to Gothenburg, the Order of Business is not acceptable.

Mr. Sargent: The gravity of this matter is without precedent, but the necessary clarity has not been given by the Taoiseach. It needs to be given in order that we know the debate can continue [1084] tomorrow rather than at some future, unspecified point. Will the Taoiseach take into account that one of the many reasons people gave for rejecting the treaty was the feeling they were not listened to? If he is to be disproportionate in the allocation of time and the Government is to continue to disregard the mandate the people have given it, the Taoiseach will encounter further difficulty in winning the people's support in future referendums. I sound that note of caution because I am sure he does not want to alienate more people than he already has.

The Taoiseach: The House is taking statements. It is important that we start the first day back after the referendum results with statements on the Nice Treaty referendum. I will express my views when making the opening statement and state what I believe we should do. I assure Deputy Quinn that we will not conclude the arrangements on Thursday.

At the beginning of the Order of Business I said “a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes”. I understand this was taken to mean that the reply would be made tonight. That is not the case. The statements – the debate – in whatever format, can continue when the Whips agree. It was originally said that this would be on Friday, but it can take place at whatever time we agree on the matter.

Mr. Gormley: That is not acceptable.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with Private Members' Business be agreed to.”

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Ahern, Noel.

Andrews, David.

Ardagh, Seán.

Aylward, Liam.

Blaney, Harry.

Brady, Johnny.

Brady, Martin.

Brennan, Matt.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.

Callely, Ivor.

Carey, Pat.

Collins, Michael.

Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.

Coughlan, Mary.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullen, Martin.

Daly, Brendan.

de Valera, Síle.

Dennehy, John.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fleming, Seán.

Flood, Chris.

Gildea, Thomas.

Hanafin, Mary.

Harney, Mary.

Haughey, Seán.

Jacob, Joe.

Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Killeen, Tony.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Lenihan, Conor.

McCreevy, Charlie.

McDaid, James.

McGennis, Marian.

McGuinness, John J.

Moffatt, Thomas.

Molloy, Robert.

Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.

Moynihan, Michael.

Ó Cuív, Éamon.

O'Donnell, Liz.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Flynn, Noel.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Malley, Desmond.

O'Rourke, Mary.

Power, Seán.

Roche, Dick.

Ryan, Eoin.

[1085]

Tá–continued

Smith, Brendan.

Smith, Michael.

Treacy, Noel.

Wallace, Dan.

[1086] Wallace, Mary.

Walsh, Joe.

Woods, Michael.

Níl

Barnes, Monica.

Barrett, Seán.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Broughan, Thomas P.

Burke, Liam.

Burke, Ulick.

Carey, Donal.

Clune, Deirdre.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cosgrave, Michael.

Coveney, Simon.

Crawford, Seymour.

Creed, Michael.

Currie, Austin.

Deasy, Austin.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Enright, Thomas.

Farrelly, John.

Fitzgerald, Frances.

Gilmore, Éamon.

Gormley, John.

Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Joe.

Higgins, Michael.

Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kenny, Enda.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McDowell, Derek.

McGinley, Dinny.

McGrath, Paul.

McManus, Liz.

Mitchell, Jim.

Mitchell, Olivia.

Naughten, Denis.

Neville, Dan.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Shea, Brian.

Owen, Nora.

Penrose, William.

Perry, John.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Ring, Michael.

Ryan, Seán.

Sargent, Trevor.

Shatter, Alan.

Sheehan, Patrick.

Shortall, Róisín.

Stagg, Emmet.

Stanton, David.

Timmins, Billy.

Wall, Jack.

Yates, Ivan.

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: We now come to leaders' questions.

Mr. Noonan: Does the Taoiseach agree his lack of leadership, which amounted to moral cowardice, was the principal reason for the failure of the Nice referendum? Will he take action against his Ministers who opted out of the campaign? Will he inform the House what he proposes to do to ensure the Nice Treaty is ratified in Ireland?

Mr. J. Brady: What would the Deputy do?

Mr. Quinn: How does the Taoiseach think a citizen of this Republic can believe the utterances of any of his Ministers in light of the extraordinary revelations that the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, made on the airwaves? Will the Taoiseach confirm that he spoke at length to the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, and told him he fully understood his contradictory actions, urging people to vote in one direction when he knew in his heart that he would vote against the same proposal? Will the Taoiseach confirm he said that was all right, that he fully understood the distinction between being a Minister of State and a citizen, and that one could vote one way with one set of responsibilities and another way with another set of responsibilities? Did the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, quote the Taoiseach accurately when he broadcast that gem of information on the airwaves?

The Taoiseach: To repeat what I said outside the House, I am disappointed and regret that the Nice Treaty was not passed last week but, of course, I accept the right of the people to vote as they see fit. The Government cannot canvass or spend money on such issues but the Government parties, as political parties, did their utmost to ensure the treaty was passed.

Mr. Gormley: The Government cannot spend public money, the parties can spend their own money.

The Taoiseach: We must now reflect on the position. Last Friday I asked all the key and relevant officials to examine the various options. Over the weekend I talked at length to President Prodi, other members of the Commission and heads of state. The Minister for Foreign Affairs reported to all the Foreign Affairs Ministers at the General Affairs Council yesterday and to the representatives of the applicant countries today. I will address the European Council on Thursday at the beginning of the Gothenburg Summit on the Irish position.

[1087] We must look at all the options and take into account the reasons people voted against the treaty. We will not make any hasty decision. We must examine all the issues to see how best we can build a strategy to deal with the situation. The Nice treaty must be ratified for the enlargement process to go ahead. Between now and the end of the next year, the enlargement process will proceed. Every member state is legally entitled to due process and to follow whatever procedures are in place in its jurisdiction. We must accept that position. We must ascertain what is best for us and try to see how best to handle it. The Government has made no decision and is unlikely to do so for some time.

The Cabinet Sub-committee on European Affairs will meet tomorrow and will receive a report from the officials involved. I will report on Thursday but we will not make a quick decision on this. We will endeavour to deal with the situation over time.

Mr. Noonan: The fundamental fact is that this was an exercise in political cuteness that failed. At an early stage, the Taoiseach identified a significant “no” vote and decided for political reasons not to alienate it. He did nothing to carry a referendum through his Administration or his position and he got caught out. Will he confirm the Minister for Foreign Affairs was informed yesterday that there will be no renegotiation of the terms of the Nice treaty? In precise terms, what will he report to his colleagues in Gothenburg later this week when he addresses them?

The Taoiseach: I will make a preliminary assessment of the situation on Thursday based on what we consider is the position. I will report to the Council the result of the vote and our assessment that we do not believe it was a vote against enlargement. Many of the campaigners and leaders on the “no” side have made it clear they were not against the enlargement process. They cited many other reasons for voting “no”. We will have to reflect on them and see how best we can handle them because we must take into account the right of the people to vote as they see fit.

As the Deputy knows, there was no clever strategy. The only thing I wanted was to have a treaty ratified which I spent an enormous amount of time negotiating. Unfortunately, that was not to be, but it is the way sometimes is in politics that what one would like to see done is not done. I canvassed vigorously for the treaty.

Mrs. Owen: The Taoiseach must not have been in Dublin Central.

The Taoiseach: At the request of the House the Minister for Foreign Affairs appeared before the relevant Oireachtas committees and explained at great length the various aspects of the treaty. We, [1088] for the first time ever, sent a summary of the treaty to every household.

Mr. Shatter: Did the Taoiseach explain it to Deputies de Valera and Ó Cuív?

The Taoiseach: We undertook a campaign for four weeks.

Mr. Shatter: Obviously the Minister of State did not understand it.

The Taoiseach: There were both Government and party conferences and the respective parliamentary parties in Government did their utmost during the campaign.

Mr. Belton: The Taoiseach ended up in court.

The Taoiseach: I confirm for Deputy Noonan that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was told yesterday it was not the intention of the General Affairs Council to renegotiate the treaty. Significant work was put into negotiating it which culminated in four days and four nights of work last December. All the checks and balances in the treaty are delicately poised and cannot be undone. However, the General Affairs Council accepted and respected the difficulty we are in and pledged itself to assist us in dealing with this issue and vice versa, as I hope will the European Council on Thursday, because the last thing any of us want to do is create difficulties for the applicant countries in their desire to join the European Union.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I wish to raise a point of order.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There can be no point of order during Leaders' questions, except in regard to procedure. Procedure has been followed under Standing Orders. I call Deputy Quinn on his second question.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): My point of order relates to procedure.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no provision under Standing Orders. The Chair rules on Leaders' questions.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): My point of order relates to procedure.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Procedure has been followed according to Standing Orders. The Standing Order provides for a question from Deputies Noonan and Quinn, a reply from the Taoiseach, a further supplementary from Deputy Noonan and now a question from Deputy Quinn.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Procedure has not been followed.

[1089] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I ask you to listen to my point of order on Standing Order 26. We have had squabbling from the “yes” camp over a bucket of milk.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He is out of order. The Chair has ruled.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I ask you to implement Standing Order 26, which silences the rest of us, to whom the people have listened.

Mr. Belton: The Deputy is a good squabbler.

Mr. Quinn: Will the Taoiseach confirm he is not allowing the record to stand in regard to comments made by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív? He did not reply to that part of my earlier question. Is it true the Minister of State got absolution from the Taoiseach?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that the Deputy's question?

Mr. Howlin: It is not.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree one of the reasons cited by many people for voting “no” was they felt Brussels was not listening to the Irish people and the Oireachtas had become somewhat irrelevant in regard to legislation emanating from Brussels? If he accepts that observation, which was made by many people, does he agree it is extraordinary that the Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs unilaterally decided yesterday at a Council of social employment Ministers to defer the introduction of a general framework for informing and consulting employees in Ireland by up to four years – two years in respect of companies with 50 employees and four years for companies with 100 employees?

Will the Taoiseach explain why the introduction of important legislation covering issues such as paternity leave and the rights of workers to be consulted about the future development of their companies, similar to shareholders, was decided by a Minister of State in Brussels without referring back to the relevant committee of this House? Does he agree that is not the way the House should deal with primary legislation? Was he even aware the Minister of State was taking that decision on behalf of the Government yesterday in Brussels?

Mr. Noonan: Does the Taoiseach agree the remoteness of decision making in Brussels from the lives of ordinary people is a factor that is encouraging them to reject the European project?

[1090] Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): It was not just the Taoiseach who was not listening.

Mr. Noonan: Has he any proposals to make the House more relevant in considering decisions made at Council of Ministers level or elsewhere in Brussels?

The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Quinn on the information and consultation directive, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, followed Government policy in this area. This issue has been under discussion for several years and the view of successive Governments has been that our procedures and collective bargaining system with the social partners, both employers and workers, should be followed. It was agreed yesterday that it will be left to individual countries to make their own decisions and rulings based on negotiations under the collective bargaining system. That is the best way to handle that because then nothing is forced on a country which is against its normal practices. I understand that yesterday significant amendments, which suit the voluntary system of industrial relations in this country and the collective bargaining system, were included in that directive. If it had stayed as it was for the past number of years, although there have been discussions at European level between employers and unions about this for some time, it would have been more of a diktat. The way it is now is better and more suitable to Irish employers and workers.

Mr. Quinn: Does the Taoiseach agree that his Government has successfully deferred the coming into effect of rights for Irish workers which will be enjoyed by other European workers and that that deferral amounts to up to two, if not four years? Does he further agree that what is at issue is the way in which we do our business? If the decision last Thursday sends any message to this House it is that the elected representatives must be engaged and consulted about legislative decisions, because that is what they amount to, which are taken in Brussels and then this House is subsequently presented with a fait accompli. What has happened is that new additional European workers' rights, such as entitlements to paternity leave and other measures covered in the general framework, have been postponed, according to the reports, for up to four years. Is that the case?

The Taoiseach: The decision yesterday means that our collective bargaining system can negotiate when and how what happens, with Government approval. It is not the case that we cannot do anything in some of these areas for two or four years. We recently had an industrial relations Bill before the House, which was the conclusion of collective bargaining. It is better to deal with issues which can be dealt with at national level.

[1091] Mr. Quinn: The issue is about accountability in the House.

The Taoiseach: The issues can be reported and answered here at any time.

Mr. Howlin: The decisions are made here.

The Taoiseach: The decisions on these issues are not just made here; they are made by the Government. The Government is and always has been actively engaged in these issues at the Social Affairs Council with the employers and the unions. We want to get conclusions which are satisfactory to both and which can work at local level without creating unnecessary difficulties at both plant and industrial levels. The decisions and the negotiations on these issues, which are now European policy, will be negotiated and agreed here in a way which is satisfactory to the Irish industrial relations scene. That is a satisfactory conclusion to this matter.

Mr. Noonan: Item 116 on the proposed list of legislation is the Aer Lingus Bill which has gone through the Seanad. This Bill gives a statutory basis to the flotation of Aer Lingus. Now that the Government's preferred option seems to be a trade sale of Aer Lingus rather than a flotation, will the Bill be dropped or will it be introduced to this House? If it is introduced to this House, when will it be introduced and what is the purpose of its introduction if the flotation is not going ahead?

The Taoiseach: The Bill is listed and it will be in the House before the summer. It would be entirely wrong for anyone to believe – the Minister did not say it – that the work of her advisers has been completed because it has not. There is no trade sale of Aer Lingus and the Government decision of 14 December 1999 still stands. The discussions with the trade union movement, which took place last week, will continue.

Mr. Stagg: Was the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, on a flyer?

Mr. Howlin: Two weeks ago I asked the Taoiseach on the Order of Business the Government's intention on the European Convention on Human Rights Bill and whether, as was indicated by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it would be split into a short Bill to rectify difficulties in the existing legislation that set up the human rights commission here and separate legislation to transpose the European directive into Irish law. Two weeks ago the Taoiseach indicated that was being considered. Is he determined to go ahead with the single Bill and guillotine it in three hours on Thursday and cause division in this House on an issue on which there should not be a division or will he seek to separate the two issues? I pledge the support of the Labour Party to enact the short commission Bill if that could be done.

[1092] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is making a speech.

The Taoiseach: As I understand it, the short Bill will be taken on Thursday.

Mr. Howlin: It is the full Bill. The full incorporation of the European Convention is part of that Bill which has been opposed by many people, including the chairman of the Human Rights Commission. It will cause division to try to guillotine it after three hours.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to reply.

The Taoiseach: I will consult with the Minister about it. All the organisations and bodies have been waiting for this and calling for it since Christmas. As I said a few weeks ago, the only thing separating it will be to clear up the membership matter. It will not give them all the functions and powers they want.

Mr. Howlin: It will.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have a discussion on what is in the Bill. I call Deputy Richard Bruton.

The Taoiseach: I will consult with the Minister.

Mr. R. Bruton: I want to ask the Taoiseach about a scheme the Government announced on subsidies for the orthodontic service. Is legislation promised on this issue?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is legislation promised?

Mr. R. Bruton: The Taoiseach will know the health boards have argued that such legislation must be introduced because children are entitled to this service free of charge.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Only promised legislation is appropriate on the Order of Business.

Mr. R. Bruton: Children are entitled under the Health Acts to such a service free of charge.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must find another way to raise that issue.

Mr. R. Bruton: Legislation is required to introduce a scheme where they must pay 50%.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is legislation promised, Taoiseach?

Mr. R. Bruton: The Taoiseach will know the scheme is not happening because there are 11,000 children in the Eastern Regional Health Authority area waiting for an orthodontic service [1093] which is not being delivered. Legislation is required.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must table a parliamentary question.

Mr. Shatter: I refer the Taoiseach to Item 61 on the Order Paper which seems to be an abandoned and orphaned proposal for a constitutional amendment. Is it intended to move the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution Bill into a formal committee hearing? Does the Government intend to hold a referendum in the autumn on the issue of judicial misconduct?

The Taoiseach: I answered questions on that issue a fortnight ago. A decision has not been made on that. I said a fortnight ago that if the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform believed there might be support to proceed with it he would talk to the Opposition spokespersons. In the meantime, nothing new has happened on it.

Mr. Shatter: Does the Taoiseach now recognise the wisdom of the Opposition parties not to include that referendum with the referendum on the Nice Treaty?

Mr. Rabbitte: The House will know that the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Ó Cuív, has said he does not have a job in Government. Is it time the Taoiseach agreed with him?

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

Mrs. Owen: Perhaps the Taoiseach could clarify what is happening to the legislation on Aer Lingus. The legislation which has been published relates to the flotation of Aer Lingus.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Taoiseach may answer on the legislation on Aer Lingus.

Mrs. Owen: The Minister has had meetings with the trade unions in the past two weeks about a trade sale of the company.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has asked a question about the Bill, which is appropriate.

Mrs. Owen: Will the legislation the Taoiseach mentioned, which is on the Order Paper, be dealt with before the summer recess or will there be new legislation based on what the Minister for Public Enterprise is now saying she will do, namely, to become involved in a trade sale?

Mr. Stagg: Will the Taoiseach clarify what he said earlier? I heard him say there will not be a trade sale.

[1094] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That does not arise on the Order of Business. I call the Taoiseach on the legislation.

Mr. Stagg: I want the Taoiseach to clarify what he said. Will the flotation go ahead?

Mr. Belton: When the Taoiseach says no, does that mean yes?

The Taoiseach: I hope the legislation will be introduced before the summer recess, although there is some doubt about that given the amount of legislation. It will be the same legislation. The various options and discussions have not been completed. The advisers who have looked at this have not reported.

Mr. Stagg: What has the Minister been talking about for the past fortnight?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Taoiseach: The Minister has apprised the Aer Lingus unions of the developments in the discussions. There was agreement last week on the resumption of discussions with the trade unions on increasing the current shareholding of 14.9% in the company and those discussions will continue.

Mr. Gilmore: As we are about to resume the debate on the Local Government Bill, I ask the Taoiseach which version is now before the House – the Minister's version or Deputy Healy-Rae's version?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That matter does not arise on the Order of Business.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Gilmore: What is the Government's position on section 14 of the Bill? Is it proceeding with it?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That matter can be discussed during the debate on the Bill.

Mr. Gilmore: Members who wish to contribute to the debate will need to know what they are debating.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is not allowed on the Order of Business. One has never been allowed to discuss the content of a Bill on the Order of Business. I call Deputy Shortall. If the Deputy does not ask her question, we will move on to the business proper and it must be one appropriate to the Order of Business.

Ms Shortall: The Taoiseach offered an apology some time ago to those who were the victims of abuse while in State care. Does he have anything to say to the almost 700 children on waiting lists [1095] on the north side of Dublin for social work services—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That matter is not relevant to the Order of Business. I call Deputy Sheehan.

Ms Shortall: —who are suspected of being victims of abuse and neglect? There are currently—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is being disorderly. I ask her to resume her seat while the Chair is on his feet.

Ms Shortall: —some 700 children on waiting lists.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: If the Deputy persists in standing up while the Chair is on his feet, I will have to ask her to leave the House.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Will the Deputy, please, leave the House? That question is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Ms Shortall: Does the Taoiseach have anything to say on the matter?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I have asked the Deputy to leave the House. She will have to leave the House as she is being totally disorderly on the Order of Business. I ask her to leave the House.

Mr. Stagg: The Deputy is trying to raise a legitimate matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Of course it is a legitimate matter, but it should be raised in the appropriate and legitimate way. Deputy Stagg is aware that we cannot allow an omnibus question on the Order of Business as the Standing Order is very specific.

Ms Shortall: There are some 700 children waiting—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I asked the Deputy to leave the House.

(Interruptions.)

Sitting suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As Deputy Shortall has left the House, we now resume the Order of Business. I will take two more questions, one from Deputy Sheehan and one from Deputy Joe Higgins. I call Deputy Sheehan to ask a question relevant to the Order of Business.

Mr. Sheehan: Will the Taoiseach indicate when legislation will be introduced to enable him to [1096] hold the referendum on abortion, which he promised would be held in the lifetime of this Dáil? We are coming to the last stages of this Dáil and in view of the threat of the flotilla of abortion ships we will have to encounter between now and the end of this session of the Dáil, I would like to hear the Taoiseach's advice on the matter.

The Taoiseach: The Minister for Health and Children has already made statements about the ship to which the Deputy refers, which is due to arrive off the coast of his constituency on Thursday. On the proposals, the Cabinet committee, I hope, is getting towards the finalisation of its work and as soon as that is completed, the Government will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Sheehan: Will it be held before the end of this Dáil?

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): We hear through the media today of legislation by the Minister for Finance and, presumably, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government providing a huge slush fund from the taxpayer for the major political parties in particular—

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I do, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I was half way there.

Mr. Dukes: He just got bogged down on the way.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): —and also the legislation allowing the establishment parties to raise large sums continually from business. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the legislation enshrining this breathtaking brazenness will be brought before the Dáil?

Mr. Dukes: That fell rather flat.

The Taoiseach: I hope it will be before the summer.