Dáil Éireann - Volume 655 - 22 May, 2008

Order of Business.

  The Tánaiste: It is proposed to take No. 8a, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 (Section 5) (Specified Period) Order 2008; and No. 1, Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. 8a shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours, and that the following arrangements shall apply — the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statements of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; 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 five minutes.

  An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8a, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000 (Section 5) (Specified Period) Order 2008 agreed to? Agreed.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: There are two matters I would like to raise with the Tánaiste today. The first matter, Sir, arises out of the legislative proposal to provide for a judicial council, which has been around for some time. There were proceedings yesterday in the courts in which a rape conviction was sustained and a sentence imposed of five years, suspended for three, which will result in the offender having to serve two years in jail. He was described by the judge in the course of sentencing as being a person of good character. The leniency of the sentencing has given rise to substantial public concern. I am aware that is not a matter for this House. The Director of Public Prosecutions can appeal against leniency to the court of appeal, and I believe in this case it is appropriate that he does so. However, there are two issues that are matters for this House. There is no mechanism at present in so far as any individual member of the public may wish to complain about comments made by members of the Judiciary. The judicial council would provide that. What is the position with regard to bringing forward that legislation?

Second, in regard to this case, an offer of compensation was made by the convicted rapist to the victim. The victim indicated to the court that she would be willing to accept compensation if ordered by the court but not on the voluntary offer of the convicted offender. There is no legislation at present that allows the courts to require a convicted person to pay compensation [240] to a victim in cases where there are convictions for rape or other sexual offences, or where there are convictions for simple assault.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Yes, but is legislation promised on it?

  Deputy Alan Shatter: That is what I am coming to. I believe there is a need for such legislation. In the light of what occurred yesterday, will the Government give any consideration to the enactment of such legislation? At present, victims can only get compensation if they bring separate court proceedings.

I will be briefer on the second matter, which is also a matter of legislation. Following the publication of the Ferns Report, the Minister of State with responsibility for children announced that consideration would be given to the manner in which the Children First guidelines were being implemented, and to the possibility of them being given statutory force. It is appropriate that we raise this today because we will deal later with the commission of inquiry into abuse in residential institutions. Prior to the reshuffle, the then Minister of State with responsibility for children indicated to the House that the report should be completed by the end of December. I have information available to me that indicates the Children First guidelines are not being implemented, and that if one is a child abuser in the southern part of the country one is less likely to be detected than if one is in what is described in Health Service Executive parlance as the Dublin-mid-Leinster area. In the context of those areas, for example, in 2006 out of the totality of child abuse allegations made, 29% in Dublin-mid-Leinster area were found to be correct——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter cannot go into that now, he must ask a question.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: ——as compared to only 7% in the southern area.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: Child abusers in the southern part of this State are scot free and have practically open season to abuse children.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter must confine himself to the legislation.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: When will the report be published on the review of the applications of the Children First guidelines? Does the Government intend to make the guidelines statutory and can the Tánaiste provide assurance to people outside this House to guarantee the safety of children who are at risk of abuse in circumstances where we currently have hundreds of cases that are not being allocated to social workers?

  An Ceann Comhairle: We must confine ourselves to the legislation, Deputy Shatter.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: Can this House guarantee that no child will die or suffer serious injury as a consequence of the failure of the HSE to apply the Children First guidelines?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste to reply on the legislation.

  The Tánaiste: The judicial council will be introduced later this year. As Deputy Shatter is aware, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was awaiting the views of the Chief Justice and he has nominated someone to liaise in those discussions.

Regarding sentencing, being an eminent lawyer Deputy Shatter will appreciate that we cannot make public comment on the matter, given the independence of the Judiciary. It would [241] be inappropriate for me to comment on any particular case. On a general point, as we all know, the DPP has powers to allow an appeal if it is considered that an unduly lenient sentence has been imposed. It is our intention within the overall programme for Government to strengthen victims’ rights and due consideration and regard can be taken of the other point regarding compensation. I will liaise with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and advise him of Deputy Shatter’s comments.

On the Ferns Report——

  Deputy Charles Flanagan: He has not been seen since he was appointed.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Flanagan.

  The Tánaiste: The man was here yesterday.

  Deputy Johnny Brady: You were not here for the past five years either.

  The Tánaiste: It is anticipated that the Ferns Report will be brought to finality. As the Deputy will know, the Children First guidelines are being extensively reviewed. There has been discussion with the stakeholders. We have always evolved these issues in the context of new outcomes and considerations. If those are available in the Ferns Report, I am sure they will be involved and reflected on as we have done in my 21 years as a Member of this House. I remember one of my first occasions in this House was the debate on important legislation, the Children Act, which took almost 80 years to bring to fruition. We have seen an evolving child protection facility and advanced services being provided. The Minister of State will extensively review the Children First guidelines in the context of any outcomes that arise from a public perspective.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy Gilmore.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: A Cheann Comhairle——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Gilmore has been called.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I wish to raise three matters. The first is an issue that I raised yesterday during Leaders Questions, which relates to prices and the extent to which consumers are being ripped off. I understand that following my raising the matter with the Taoiseach yesterday he asked the Tánaiste to get a handle on the problem. I was a little surprised that after 11 years in Government neither the Tánaiste nor the Taoiseach appears to have a handle on the prices problem.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Can Deputy Gilmore translate the handle into legislation?

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I am coming to it. The translation facilities were a little inadequate yesterday. Does the Tánaiste have a handle on it yet? When can we expect her to make a statement to the House on the prices issue?

  An Ceann Comhairle: It is out of order.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: With respect, making a statement in the House is in order and I am asking——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is the issue of prices on the Order of Business? It is not in order.

[242]   Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——whether the Tánaiste will make a statement to the House on the prices issue.

  An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I understand the Government yesterday decided to decline the request from Waterford Wedgwood to underwrite a loan for that company. Particularly as the Tánaiste is the line Minister, can I ask her if the Government is really going to let Waterford Wedgwood go to the wall?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order either.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: May I ask about the electoral Bill? Is that in order, a Cheann Comhairle?

  An Ceann Comhairle: Yes.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I thank you.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Third time.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Next week, we are scheduled to have statements on the report of the Constituency Commission. Does the taking of those statements next week have any implications for the promised electoral Bill to implement the report of the Constituency Commission and when will that Bill be introduced?

  The Tánaiste: The electoral Bill will be before the House this session.

  A Deputy: What is the debate for?

  The Tánaiste: On the other issues——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The others are not in order.

  The Tánaiste: I met the National Consumer Agency, which was a pro forma meeting to brief the Minister on these issues. I will be issuing a statement arising from that discussion. The issue of Waterford Wedgwood was raised in the House.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order.

  The Tánaiste: We are firmly of the view that there will continue to be a solid future for a restructured Waterford Wedgwood.

  Deputy Joan Burton: The Taoiseach suggested that the Opposition would be invited to discuss management companies with the three or four Ministers involved. Will that be collectively? The National Consumer Agency, which we discussed yesterday, seems to have a remit in this matter also. As with prices in the shops, it seems powerless to do anything——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is it on legislation?

  Deputy Joan Burton: ——to restrain management company owners, usually the developers——

  An Ceann Comhairle: About what legislation is the Deputy speaking?

  Deputy Joan Burton: ——ripping off young couples who have just bought an apartment.

[243]   An Ceann Comhairle: About what legislation is the Deputy speaking?

  Deputy Joan Burton: They are charging them €2,000 to €3,000 a year.

  An Ceann Comhairle: What legislation is it?

  Deputy Joan Burton: I ask the Tánaiste to clarify the arrangements regarding the three or four pieces of legislation and the consultation arrangements with the Opposition that the Taoiseach has mentioned twice. The Tánaiste is the lead Minister.

  An Ceann Comhairle: When will we have legislation on management companies and what are the arrangements?

  The Tánaiste: Legislation is promised. A meeting of the relevant Ministers will take place next week. There are two aspects of it under my Department. One, in the overall context, is the legal preparation for the Bill. The other regarding the National Consumer Agency is outside the legal remit and is a matter of protocol between the industry and the criteria set down for management. There is a commitment to provide legislation and we hope to arrange a pro forma meeting among everyone for Wednesday or Thursday next week.

  Deputy Joan Burton: I ask for clarification on that matter. The Tánaiste spoke about the industry. Does this relate to the construction industry, the people who run management companies, usually developers who appoint their brother or the foreman to be the management company, or the agencies? A consolidated companies Bill is also promised. Originally the Tánaiste indicated the management companies would be dealt with through that legislation. However, that is an onerous and large Bill.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have that now.

  Deputy Joan Burton: Is she saying that her Department will expedite legislation to deal with the management company issue separately, given its urgency?

  The Tánaiste: We are speaking about two issues. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the lead Department on one. This will be the new legislation to be introduced and the Law Reform Commission will make its views available to the Government. A Cabinet sub-committee is meeting next week and discussions will take place with the Opposition. That is under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

There is a different scenario regarding the companies consolidation Bill on which I spoke to the Deputy’s party spokesperson. The Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, and I will work through that. Given that it is an extensive Bill, pro forma we should go through the discussions on that in a different way. Separate from all that and feeding into the companies legislation, work is being carried out by the National Consumer Agency on my behalf specifically regarding issues outside the legal remit which will be introduced to the House under separate legislation under the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

  Deputy Joan Burton: Does it have a remit——

  An Ceann Comhairle: I must go on.

  Deputy Joan Burton: ——to restrain price increases and rip-off prices for young people who bought homes in developments with management companies?

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into those details now.

[244]   Deputy Joan Burton: The key issue is that people are being ripped off by management companies.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that now.

  Deputy Charles Flanagan: Yesterday, the Government published the report of the National Commission on Restorative Justice. In complimenting Judge Mary Martin on a very useful contribution to the criminal justice system, I ask the Tánaiste to ensure time is made available at the earliest opportunity to discuss this report in the House.

  The Tánaiste: I believe it is an interim report. However, I am sure we can facilitate discussions in the House.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I asked for a debate on the exclusion of Irish cytology laboratories from the screening programme for cervical cancer. I understand the matter has been discussed by the Whips. Have arrangements been made to hold that debate before the decision is made?

  The Tánaiste: There is no proposal for that matter to be debated. However, I am sure it could be raised on the Adjournment or in other ways.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I understand it has been raised at the Whips’ meeting.

  The Tánaiste: It is being examined.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: The Whips agreed to a debate which is likely to be on Thursday, subject to the Minister’s availability.

  The Tánaiste: I am not the Whip. The Whips are asking me the question, knowing the answer themselves.

(Interruptions).

  The Tánaiste: There has been a decision. Deputy Stagg could have advised his party spokesperson. There has been agreement between the Whips to allow time for this matter to be discussed.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: The Government must decide whether time will be made available.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I am entitled to an answer from the Government.

  The Tánaiste: I told the Deputy. The answer is that time will be made available. That is what the Whips agreed.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a chat about it now.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: I return to the legislation on the Children First guidelines. Would the Tánaiste agree that it is a national scandal that there are hundreds of children——

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have that.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: ——at risk of abuse whose cases are not being investigated?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has had a good innings on that matter.

[245]   Deputy Alan Shatter: I have before me the statement issued by the Minister of State with responsibility for children following the publication of the Ferns Report. He said the review of the guidelines would be complete by December 2007. Has that review been completed yet? Will it be published? When will it be put in the Oireachtas Library and be available for a debate in this House? Does the Government intend to give statutory force to the guidelines to ensure that what is happening today does not continue to happen because the debate we will have in this House today, looking back at what happened in residential institutions in the past——

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot debate that issue now.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: ——will be repeated in ten years’ time. We must look back at what is happening now.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste, on the guidelines. The Deputy cannot make a speech about it now.

  The Tánaiste: An extensive review of the workings of the Children First guidelines has taken place. There has been consultation with all the stakeholders and, in view of the McElwee report, further consideration is being given to a review. As to whether those guidelines will be mandatory, no firm decision has been made yet.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: Will that review be published? Is there an outcome to the review? Is it a private chat between the Department with responsibility for children and the Health Service Executive?

  An Ceann Comhairle: I call Deputy O’Shea.

  The Tánaiste: Given that I am not the Minister for children, I will advise the Deputy and ask the Minister——

  Deputy Alan Shatter: You are the Tánaiste and this is an important issue.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter, I have called Deputy O’Shea.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: Children have died in this country as a consequence of child abuse.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter has come in three times on the issue. I call Deputy O’Shea.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: The Ferns Report made substantial recommendations. We are entitled to know five months later if those guidelines will be given statutory force and——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Brian O’Shea has been called.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: ——if the review will be published.

  Deputy Charles Flanagan: No view.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: I seek clarity regarding——

  The Tánaiste: That is not true.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Brian O’Shea is in order, Tánaiste.

[246]   Deputy Alan Shatter: Is there any change to the review?

  The Tánaiste: It is being brought to finality.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Have a chat about it afterwards.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: I seek clarity from the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on her response to my party leader regarding Waterford Crystal.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry——

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: She said on the Order of Business——

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on that now, Deputy.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: I am entitled to seek clarity on what the Tánaiste said.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy raised that matter on the Adjournment last night.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: I am entitled to seek clarity.

  An Ceann Comhairle: You are entitled to do that but you are not entitled to raise the matter on the Order of Business.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: The Tánaiste already raised it and I am seeking clarity on what she said on the issue. The Minister said she sees a sound future for a restructured Waterford Crystal, but how can she reconcile that with the fact that the company needs loans of €39 million to effect the restructuring package and that it has no capacity to borrow? That does not add up. As my party leader said, will 550 jobs be allowed to go down the tubes?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is out of order but the Tánaiste answered it earlier——

  The Tánaiste: I do not want to show disrespect to the Deputy, who represents Waterford. Given that we will have to have some guidelines on the way questions will be answered on Thursdays, whereas pro forma we are only supposed to discuss legislation, in case people——

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is what I said.

  The Tánaiste: ——are of the view that I am being blasé about what is happening in Waterford I say to the Deputy, who represents Waterford, that I am not. As outlined during the debate last night, a request was made to the Government and, arising from that, it was not possible to devise an approach that would be acceptable to both the Government and the company. We were not in a position to do that. As I said, however, it is our hope and aspiration that through the restructuring the Waterford Group will find itself in a position where it can deal with the issues appertaining to Waterford and the group in its entirety. I gave an undertaking that in the event of further investment, all the agencies I represent will do all they can to support the company. I can speak to the Deputy in private about the matter after the Order of Business.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: On the Electoral (Amendment) Act, No. 4 on the pink sheet, which proposes to revise Dáil and European Parliament constituencies in light of the Constituency Commission report and to revise the procedures in regard to the establishment of future commissions, which is the key signal in that, we were told at the Whips meeting last night that the Government has approved the heads of the Bills and that we will have a debate on the matter next week in advance of discussing the Bill. It would be most useful if the Opposition spokes[247] persons, at least, although many Members will have an interest in this, could have supplied to them the heads of the Bills as approved by Government. That would not be unusual, but the Chief Whip was to inquire about that and this is the public forum for getting the final answer on it.

  The Tánaiste: We will try to facilitate that request.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On promised legislation, first, what is the state of the discussions involving the ESB, EirGrid and perhaps the Government with a view to introducing in the House the legislation to transfer the assets from the ESB to EirGrid?

  An Ceann Comhairle: What is the title of that Bill, Deputy Durkan?

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The Electricity (Transfer of Assets) Bill. Second, the Dalton report has been available for some considerable time and it is listed as promised legislation. When and to what extent have discussions taken place with a view to introducing the legislation to give effect to the recommendations in that report? It is either No. 17 or 18 on the legislative——

  Deputy Michael D. Higgins: The dogs have the——

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: It is not a great morning for walking dogs, a Cheann Comhairle, but to ensure the industry is catered for.

  An Ceann Comhairle: It seems to be all right for chewing bones though.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Some of my constituents are interested in that industry.

  Deputy Joan Burton: Dog walkers.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: On the last two items, there are two fisheries Bills promised, Nos. 37 and 38 on the list, but it appears that one Bill would have covered the two areas. Will the Tánaiste indicate to the House the extent to which the heads of the Bills have been discussed or if they have been discussed? When is it proposed to introduce those Bills to the House?

  An Ceann Comhairle: Those matters are all in order.

  The Tánaiste: On the Electricity (Transfer of Assets) Bill, a date has not been finalised for discussion of that Bill. The Dalton report is under consideration. On the fisheries Bills, one is a consolidation Bill and the other is separate legislation. They will probably be introduced later this year.

  Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I congratulate the Tánaiste on her move to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. There are two substantial items of legislation before her and is she in a position, having only recently taken up the post, to comment on their progress? The first is the consolidated companies Bill, with 1,300 sections, which is an unprecedentedly large Bill. I asked the Tánaiste’s predecessor if extra resources were being provided to expedite the production of that Bill, which is key to our commercial success and modernisation.

The second item is the rationalisation, consolidation and reform of our industrial relations legislation. Will the Tánaiste indicate the position regarding those Bills? They are not the normal run of the mill types of legislation. Is it the Tánaiste’s intention to seek outside resources or assistance to draft them?

[248]   The Tánaiste: On the consolidation companies Bill, I am in a position to have a designated parliamentary draftsman and specific resources provided for that legislation. I am not in a position to give a date on the industrial relations legislation as other legislation promised in Towards 2016 will have to be addressed in the House also. I will revert to the Deputy in due course.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: The Tánaiste’s former Department had responsibility for the Foreshore (Amendment) Bill which is on the legislative list and, therefore, she will understand the need to reform our foreshore Acts. My understanding is that responsibility for foreshore is being transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Is that the case and when are we likely to see that legislation?

  The Tánaiste: We do not have a date. There will be a differential between foreshore responsibilities; some of which will remain within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, including the issues of piers and harbours, ports and fishery harbours, while the other aspects will be transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Given that there have been changes in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, transfers of functions will have to be put before the Government.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Sheehan raised the issue yesterday of information leaflets pertaining to school children and so on. We have looked into that matter and it will be taken care of.

  Deputy P. J. Sheehan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle.