Dáil Éireann - Volume 580 - 18 February, 2004

Order of Business.

  The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 17, Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 18, Aer Lingus Bill 2003 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. Private Members' Business will be No. 38, motion re electronic voting (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

  Mr. Stagg: Can we take it that the two Bills will be allowed to run their natural course without being the subject of a guillotine?

  The Taoiseach: Yes.

  Mr. Stagg: It is the first time that has happened since Christmas.

  The Taoiseach: It is just for Deputy Stagg.

[482]   Mr. Stagg: It is another plus for the Opposition.

  The Taoiseach: We will watch to see how effectively they will run.

  An Ceann Comhairle: There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business.

  Mr. Kenny: Arising from the comments of the Taoiseach, when can we expect legislation dealing with e-voting to be brought before the House? Does he intend that the legislation will be enacted before 11 June, which is the polling date for the European and local elections?

On the issue of electronic matters, the Ceann Comhairle has been more than diligent in observing the rules of his predecessors and the regulations of the House. I understand that oral questions are allocated on the basis of some form of electronic lottery which takes place every evening. I notice on the list of questions to be asked of the Minister for Education and Science tomorrow that my colleague, Deputy Durkan, has been awarded three oral questions under the lottery system. I am aware that this is one question more than normal, but it could be one vote as well.

  Mr. N. Dempsey: Deputy Durkan asks so many questions that he was bound to slip an extra one in.

  Mr. Durkan: The electronic system has gone awry again.

  The Taoiseach: The legislation will be prepared as a matter of priority. It is intended that it will be passed in more than sufficient time for electronic voting to operate nationwide in June.

  Mr. Durkan: I would not bet on that.

  Mr. Rabbitte: Will it be guillotined if it is introduced before 11 June? I think I speak for everyone in the House when I say that we were all glad to the see the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform ferried home safely from UCD to his family in Ranelagh in the back of a Garda van.

  Mr. Durkan: He had to be rescued.

  Mr. Kenny: In a paddy wagon.

  Mr. Rabbitte: In the context of yesterday's publication of the Garda Síochána Bill, the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, in my name, was referred to select committee on 16 June 1999. After the 2002 general election, the Government restored it to the Order Paper by Government resolution. What is the status of the Bill now?

  The Taoiseach: It is almost five years since the Bill was published. It is awaiting Committee Stage — it seems it is a long wait for Committee [483] Stage. I am not sure if the Minister will go ahead with the legislation, but I will ask him. There is no point in having it on the Order Paper if it is not going ahead.

  Mr. Rabbitte: It was restored to the Order Paper after the 2002 election. At the time, the indications were that, having accepted the Bill on Second Stage, the Government would prosecute it through the remaining Stages. As the Taoiseach said, five years later that has not happened. The Garda Síochána Bill is published and this is a relevant aspect of it. I would be obliged if the Taoiseach would speak to the chairman of the select committee as well as the Minister.

  The Taoiseach: I will find out the position.

  Mr. Sargent: A couple of minutes ago the Taoiseach sang the praises of the Taliban and its hard line on drugs. Given that alcohol advertisements are shown in cinemas during pictures where children under 12 years must be accompanied, is it not important we get on with the alcohol products Bill to review the position whereby there is a free run in terms of alcohol advertising? When will that legislation be introduced?

  Mr. Kenny: It is more like alcohol free-flow.

  The Taoiseach: I agree with Deputy Sargent it is important legislation. The heads of the Bill have been completed and it is in the drafting queue. The legislation was due to be introduced before the summer but due to the parliamentary counsel's involvement in other legislation, it went down the order. I will ask about the Bill's progress again.

  Mr. Durkan: Apropos the Garda Síochána Bill, when will Second Stage be taken in the House? I am worried that it might be done on the plinth or in RTE. As the Administration is preoccupied with information, I would also like to know when will the Bill to replace the Official Secrets Act be introduced? Some indications have been made on the plinth and elsewhere outside the House regarding the format of the prison services Bill. When will that Bill be introduced? I am not sure whether the proposal is to set aside 100 acres or 1,000 acres as a prison location.

  The Taoiseach: I do not have a date for the prison services Bill which will put on a statutory basis an independent prison service and related matters. As I understand it, the service is run on an ad hoc basis and is working very well. The Garda Síochána Bill, which has just been published, will I hope be introduced soon because it has been long awaited. The first preliminary draft of the criminal justice (protection of confidential information) Bill has been received [484] in the Department and is under consideration. It is hoped it will be introduced in 2004.

  Mr. Sherlock: When is it proposed to bring in the health (amendment) Bill which will allow for the removal of Fianna Fáil councillors and Deputies from health boards?

  The Taoiseach: This session.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I asked yesterday about two separate Bills on the programme for the spring session, both of which are titled the dormant accounts Bill. I recall that one is under the Department of Finance and the other under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. In the Taoiseach's reply yesterday, he indicated that the latter Bill is under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This is not what appears in the circularised programme of legislation for the current session.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has made his point.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I seek clarification on this matter because the dormant accounts (amendment) Bill is clearly stated under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This arose directly from Deputy Rabbitte's question yesterday. I seek clarification from the Taoiseach on this matter because there is a discrepancy——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has made his point. He should allow the Taoiseach to answer.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——in the response offered yesterday. I wish the matter to be properly answered.

  The Taoiseach: There is no discrepancy. The dormant accounts (amendment) Bill is being prepared under the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and will be introduced, I hope, in this session. The other Bill referred to is the dormant funds account Bill which is to do with the funds held in the courts and is included in Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform legislation.

  Mr. Allen: The Taoiseach announced yesterday that he would establish a committee to deliberate on the integrity of the electronic voting system. Will legislation be introduced on this matter and, if so, when? Is it not hypocritical to proceed with the introduction of electronic voting——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The last question does not arise on the Order of Business. Questions on [485] the legislation were answered this morning. The Deputy's Leader asked a question on the legislation and received an answer.

  Mr. Durkan: We can have a second opinion.

  Cecilia Keaveney: They will only be the same answers as yesterday.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We do not want to spend the whole day repeating the same information.

  Mr. Durkan: It might have changed since this morning.

  Ms O'Sullivan: What progress has been made with the drafting of the commission to inquire into child abuse (amendment) Bill? Has the Taoiseach given further consideration to taking over responsibility for the commission in view of Ms Justice Laffoy's criticisms of the Department of Education and Science?

  The Taoiseach: There is an appeal by the Christian Brothers which has delayed the legislation and as soon as that appeal is heard the legislation can be moved forward.

  Ms O'Sullivan: There are many people waiting.

  The Taoiseach: Yes, but the board is going ahead with its work in the meantime. We cannot finalise matters until the appeal is heard.

  Mr. Timmins: A couple of months ago the Minister for Agriculture and Food announced that several hundred houses would be built on the Teagasc site in Clonakilty. I put down a parliamentary question to find out the exact details of this project because I understand that there is a problem with the site and the building might not be able to go ahead.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Has the Deputy a question appropriate to the Order of Business?

  Mr. Timmins: I was informed that the Minister for Agriculture and Food had no responsibility for the project. Is there any way to find out what is the situation? When will the land Bill be published?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The second question is in order.

  The Taoiseach: This session.

  Mr. Timmins: What about my first question?

  The Taoiseach: I cannot answer the Deputy's first question.

  Mr. Allen: It will be open again in time for the next election.

[486]   An Ceann Comhairle: I call on Deputy Shortall.

12 o'clock

  Ms Shortall: I asked the Taoiseach at the end of last year about the delays in the legislation to provide for the break-up of Aer Rianta and he informed the House that the Bill was expected to be published in January 2004. It is now the middle of February and there is still no sign of the Bill. What is the reason for the delay and when is it expected the Bill will be introduced?

  The Taoiseach: The Bill is almost ready but the Minister has been involved in negotiations with the trade unions and I assume that is why it has not been published. It is still due this session.

  Mr. J. Higgins: It was reported that UCD students pulled at the coat of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This may have been a misunderstanding and they may have been trying merely to touch the hem of the great man's garment.

When will the driver testing and standards authority Bill, to establish a public sector agency to deliver driving testing services and set standards, be brought before the Dáil?

  Mr. Morgan: The students might have been contaminated if they touched the Minister's coat.

  The Taoiseach: The driver testing and standards authority Bill is due in this session. Whenever I go to a university these days Deputy Higgins's hairy looking students turn up to protest against me. They have not seen the inside of a college in 20 years.

  Mr. Boyle: I do not wish to add unnecessarily to the workload of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but given that legislation is promised on electronic voting, what is the status of the promised legislation on the strategic national infrastructure Bill and the legislation that now seems to be required in the light of the High Court decision on Carrickmines?

  The Taoiseach: The Carrickmines legislation is being prepared. It comes under the national monuments legislation which will be before the Government next week. The strategic national infrastructure Bill will hopefully be published in the coming months. Other priorities have taken precedence in the drafting of Bills such as the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the Carrickmines Bill which puts back the dates of other Bills.

  Mr. Allen: Has the fast-track been moved into the slow lane?

[487]   The Taoiseach: No but unfortunately other Bills take priority. There is only a limited number of people employed to do the work.

  Mr. Kenny: I am not sure that this is of any great assistance but I am intrigued by No. 46: the continental shelf Bill to update the Continental Shelf Act 1968. Publication is expected in 2006. Does this mean that it will be put back further behind the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill? What is it all about?

  Mr. Durkan: It is on the shelf.

  The Taoiseach: If it has to wait that long it cannot be too important.