Dáil Éireann - Volume 677 - 05 March, 2009

Order of Business.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The Order of Business is No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a proposal that section 17A of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 shall continue in force for the period ending on 8 March 2010 — back from committee; No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for the transfer of command of the Irish contingent currently serving in Chad with EUFOR TCHAD-RCA to the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, MINURCAT — back from committee; No. 14, motion re appointment of chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission; and No. 1, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad] — Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 12 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 13 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 35 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, which shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes in each case; the proceedings on No. 14 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1 p.m. today and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches 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 speeches 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 speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes in each case.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12 without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 13 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal regarding No. 14 agreed?

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It is not agreed. I want to record the Labour Party’s objection to the way in which this item is being taken. The proposal concerns the appointment of a chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. The procedure for this appointment is that a nomination is made by the Government, approval is required by the Oireachtas and the appointment is made by the President. There is a rationale to doing it that way. The rationale is that the appointment of this office, and similar type offices, should have all-party agreement across the Oireachtas.

The Government has not consulted the Labour Party about this appointment. We are being presented with a decision of Government. I want to be clear that I do not have any particular objection to the nominee being made by the Government but this is not the first time the Government has done that type of business in this way. When the appointment was being made to the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Government decided to replace former Labour Minister, Liam Kavanagh, with former Fianna Fáil Minister, Michael Smith, without any prior consultation. Similarly, when the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General was being made, even though the Labour Party had flagged in advance that we wanted to be consulted about the appointment, no consultation took place. We now have this procedure again where no consultation has taken place.

[217] Day in and day out people inside the House and outside it tell us we should all get together and agree issues but when it comes to agreeing issues——

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: We hear the Deputy call for resignations the whole time.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——there must be a willingness on the part of the Government to consult about the matters that are required by law to be agreed by us across the House. I am not objecting to the particular appointment today but I put down a marker that the next time the Government deals with an appointment like this one in this way, the Labour Party will oppose the appointment.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: I welcome the fact that the leader of the Labour Party has welcomed Mr. Gallagher’s appointment as chairman of the commission.

  A Deputy: He did not say that.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: He has no particular objection and I take it there is unanimous confidence in the House for the proposed appointment, as a matter of practice, and that is welcome in the context of the important work the commission has to do.

I understand from his statement that Deputy Gilmore has some constitutional objection to the manner in which the Government has proceeded. The position is that the appointment of members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission is dealt with in sections 65 and 66 of the Garda Síochána Acts 2005-07. The President makes the appointment based on the nomination of the Government, subject to the passage of resolutions by the Dáil and Seanad recommending the appointment.

The Government makes the nomination but it is subject to a resolution of the House. There is no constitutional convention or legal obligation on the Government requiring it to consult with Opposition leaders. It is a matter of prudence and wisdom for the Government of the day to decide whether to make that consultation.

  Deputy Michael D. Higgins: The Minister is travelling a very barren furrow.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It is a divine right to rule territory.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: There is no question of that. This is a matter of legislative practice. There is no question of the Government claiming any prerogative other than following legislation. I will draw Deputy Gilmore’s comments to the attention of the Taoiseach and Government.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is the proposal to deal with No. 14 agreed? Agreed.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: I understand we will have a new Finance Bill and a new Social Welfare Bill. I thank the Minister for the briefing we received on the state of the tax affairs and spending projections. What are the ground rules for the debate we are entering into? Will we see a new approach to Dáil evaluation, whereby the House would be presented with the options under consideration in each Department and the impact of the different options so there can be a mature debate in the House on the best way to tackle this problem? Will we have the same situation we have seen in the past, where the Government produces a pre-cooked passage offered to the Dáil on a take it or leave it basis on one day, which will be 1 April? What will happen?

Will we have a genuine opportunity to engage with options so the House can look at different options and see what is best suited to this challenge or will we return to the old situation? Let [218] us be honest. People have said the Opposition should participate and put forward its proposals. There is no point in putting forward proposals if the Government will use them as sticks to beat the Opposition and not put its options on the table as well.

  Deputies: Hear, hear.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: If there is to be engagement it must be from both sides. The Government has all of the information on the options available, which was not released to us yesterday in any shape or form. That information needs to be on the table so there can be a genuine exchange on what are the best options for the future.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: If they have any.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: I take it this matter is being raised on the Order of Business in the context of any proposed announcement the Government may make in early April. The Government is, of course, willing to supply Opposition parties with any information they wish to have if they want to inform themselves as to the options they believe are desirable. I have already offered to have any options put forward by them costed in the Department to assist them in consideration——

(Interruptions).

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Allow the Minister to respond.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: Ultimately the Government, as I made clear yesterday, will make decisions in this area because it is obliged to and is responsible to the House for doing so. Recommendations for decisions in this area must be made with the approval of Government. The Government has told Opposition parties that if they wish to participate in this process they are welcome to do so.

  Deputy Richard Bruton: I want clarification. My question was very clear. I asked if we would see a new process and if the Dáil would be engaged in looking at a set of options and reaching a mature decision as to what is best for the country or if the Government would come in on 1 April and say, “We have made our decision and the Opposition can like it or lump it”. That is the question.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no need to ask about the procedure.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: They do not have a clue what they are doing.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: We will of course make whatever decisions are required in the national interest. We welcome the assistance of the Opposition in putting forward any proposals it wishes to.

  Deputy Dinny McGinley: Does the Government have any?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Allow the Minister for Finance to continue.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: If it does not wish to put forward proposals and have them costed then clearly the Government will have to make a decision in any event.

(Interruptions).

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Gilmore has been called. Allow him to ask his question.

[219]   Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It will be like the appointment of the chairman of the Garda Ombudsman Commission.

  Deputy Alan Shatter: The Government is throwing shapes but there is no substance.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Minister will attend the House and tell us again that it is the Government’s constitutional responsibility to decide and we can take it or leave it.

I want to raise some matters with the Minister. There is a long-standing practice and procedure in the House whereby any Member can make a personal statement to the House about a matter which is in the public domain and about which they wish to make some statement of clarification. Yesterday, following the conclusion of Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach made a statement which amounted to a personal statement on behalf of the Tánaiste and which purported to clarify certain remarks the Tánaiste made in the course of a radio interview and which were the subject of comment in the House. I have a number of questions arising from that statement.

Did the Taoiseach seek the permission of the Ceann Comhairle to make such a statement? There is a requirement in the House that when a personal statement is made, permission is sought from the Ceann Comhairle and the form of the statement is agreed with him. I want to know if that permission was sought. Is it permissible for another Member of the House to make a personal statement on behalf of the Member concerned? In this case, the Taoiseach was effectively making a personal statement on behalf of the Tánaiste and I want to know if that was in order.

The Taoiseach has made a statement to the House on behalf of the Tánaiste and has put on the record of the House a version of the statement and responses made by the Tánaiste in the radio interview concerned which do not correspond to the transcript of the radio interview I read. Will the Tánaiste attend the House and make a personal statement in connection with the interview?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to raise that matter on the Order of Business. However, by way of general explanation, a personal explanation can only be made on the initiation of the individual concerned. That is the normal procedure. If somebody wishes to make a personal statement, they advise the Ceann Comhairle accordingly and time is allocated to do that.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I have not finished. The statement made by the Taoiseach yesterday does not correspond to the procedure outlined by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to the House. If the Tánaiste wants to make a statement clarifying what she said on the radio, which the House would welcome——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to raise the matter now.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——she should make that personal statement herself and not have the Taoiseach make it on her behalf.

A request has been made by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement for additional powers to prosecute white collar and corporate crime. It was reported in the Sunday newspapers that the director sought such additional powers to overcome the difficulty of what is called the “evidential burden” in company law cases. We know this office is greatly engaged at present in investigating certain matters in the banks. I understand the director has written to the Tánaiste——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is legislation promised in this area?

[220]   Deputy Eamon Gilmore: ——seeking additional legislation to strengthen his powers. The response from the Department, according to the report, is that it will be several months before it responds to the request. Given the urgency of the matters the Director of Corporate Enforcement is investigating, I expected a more urgent response to this request than to say it will take a number of months to examine it. Will Mr. Appleby’s request for additional powers, particularly relating to issues to do with evidence, be addressed urgently by the Government? Will appropriate legislation be brought forward?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is legislation promised?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: No legislation is promised but, clearly, any request by Mr. Appleby will be entertained with expedition by the appropriate Minister and the Government. It is important that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement has the amplitude of powers it requires to restore the damaged reputation of the banking sector abroad.

I am a little concerned at the contrast the Deputy drew between the approach the Government took to the appointment of the Garda Ombudsman, Mr. Gallagher who is a distinguished public servant and we did not believe his appointment was in any way exceptionable, and the approach we are taking to the grave position in our public finances where we will certainly put at the Deputy’s disposal all the options involved and we will cost any proposals he may wish to bring forward in that regard.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Cathain a foilseofar an Bille um chúram leanaí? When will No. 61 on the list be published? Mar is eol don Aire, tá Seachtain na Gaeilge ar siúl faoi láthair. Tá rún curtha síos in ainmneacha Teachtaí Sinn Féin chun 50% de ghnó na Dála a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge an tseachtain seo chugainn. An bhfuil an Rialtas sásta glacadh leis an rún sin? Will the Government accept the proposition from the Sinn Féin Deputies, ar son gach éinne sa Dáil, that in the course of next week’s business we should endeavour to see 50% of the business of the House conducted in the first language?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: D’iarr an Teachta ceist mar gheall ar an mBille um chúram leanaí. Tá cinn an Bhille socraithe ag an Rialtas ó mhí na Samhna seo caite. Beidh an Bille foilsithe i rith an seisiúin seo. Níl mé cinnte faoi stádas an Gaeilge sa Teach an tseachtain seo chugainn. Níl aon mhion-rud ar siúl an tseachtain seo chugainn. Is féidir an Ghaeilge a úsáid i rith aon díospóireacht sa Teach seo.

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: Given that the HSE is spending millions of euro on public relations groups to promote its own propaganda, when will the health information Bill be delivered so that we can obtain truthful and proper information?

In light of the severe economic circumstances faced by some people who are using unfortunate ways to address them, when will the mental health (amendment) Bill be introduced?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The mental health (amendment) Bill will be published later this year.

With regard to the health information Bill, a wide ranging public consultation exercise, using a detailed discussion document prepared in the Department, was initiated in June 2008. Many submissions were received, including several as late as October of that year. The authors were then invited to participate in a major feature on the Bill at the annual health care society conference on 19 November last. A structured and facilitated focus group took place on 20 January this year in Dublin. This was a useful event and the Department will summarise the points raised at the focus group on its website shortly. That level of consultation is essential, given the complex and sensitive nature of the Bill. The Department is working towards finalising the heads of the legislation, which are expected in April.

[221]   Deputy Joe Costello: On legislation, a referendum commission was established by law to provide information to the public on the Lisbon treaty last summer and it produced its report recently, in which it complained strongly that it had only three weeks to conduct research and provide a draft of a leaflet for distribution to the citizenry. It stated that it needed in the region of five months to do its business properly. I am not sure whether the Minister can indicate the date the second referendum on the treaty will take place but, no matter when it is held, it is time to think about establishing the new referendum commission by law, as is required. What plans has the Government in that respect?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: There is no proposal relating to a referendum commission. No date has been fixed by the Government for the referendum but the establishment of the commission requires the publication of a Bill to amend the Constitution.

  Deputy Joe Costello: I ask this question in the context of the report by the outgoing commission in which it stated the new commission should be established by law at least five months in advance of a referendum so that it can conduct its business properly and disseminate information. That was a major problem during the last referendum.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: We cannot do that.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no proposal for legislation and it would be more appropriate to table a parliamentary question to the line Minister.

  Deputy Joe Costello: The majority of people who voted “No” stated in the Millward Brown survey that they did so because they did not know what was involved and the Government had not given them the opportunity to find out.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot debate this now.

  Deputy Finian McGrath: The Deputy lost. He should take the beating and get over it.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: The Minister for Social and Family Affairs in conjunction with the Carer’s Association has prepared a strategy for carers nationally and the Minister recently announced her refusal to publish the document, which was prepared at huge expense to the taxpayer following genuine consultation. Will the Minister publish the document and lay it in the Oireachtas Library so that it would at least be available to Members? The document is prepared and completed.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has promised us legislation on the control and regulation of local elections since the last general election. He published the Bill yesterday but it is proposed to take it in the House next week using a guillotine on all Stages. That will not give Opposition Members the normal 14 days between publication and the reading of Second Stage to peruse the legislation. A guillotine has been proposed, which is unacceptable.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That can be decided next week.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: There is no reason the Bill could not have been brought forward six or eight months ago. The Minister is not overburdened with legislation.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That proposal is not before the House.

[222]   Deputy Emmet Stagg: That indicates there is either a lazy Minister in the Department or he failed to secure agreement with Fianna Fáil on the Bill’s provisions. There is very little in the Bill.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That proposal is not before the House. The first matter is not strictly in order. Is it proposed to lay the document before the House?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: No document has been prepared to date and no legislation is promised in regard to the first question raised.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: The document has been prepared and it is completed.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The document is not completed.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: We will get it under the Freedom of Information Act but not from the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: With regard to the electoral legislation, the period envisaged for this measure of control over the conduct of local government elections is 60 days, which will begin in April. Clearly, it is of some importance that the legislation be enacted with expedition.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: Absolutely, but we should have had it before now.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: I wish to raise two issues. Will the Minister inform the House on when legislation will be introduced or enacted to give effect to the Dingle plebiscite voted on more than 18 months ago and passed by more than 95% to give the area its bilingual name, Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: Níl aon reacht ann.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: Beidh ar an Aire Acht a thabhairt isteach.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: The Minister for Finance might have an answer to my next question. Since he has promised tax increases and expenditure cuts, will he——

  Deputy Noel Dempsey: As has the Deputy’s party.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: ——explain the memo sent from the NRA to the director of services at Kerry County Council not to enter into any contractual agreements without the Minister’s signature?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is not in order on the Order of Business.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: The question I have to ask——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The matter may provide a good parliamentary question.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: Given the razzmatazz surrounding the NRA’s announcements in respect of County Kerry, will they go ahead or will the Minister pull them?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy knows that this matter is not in order.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: No legislation is promised.

  Deputy Michael D. Higgins: What is the timescale for the legislation that constitutes the package on labour law agreed with the social partners? I refer to a number of Bills, including [223] an amendment to section 4 of the Competition Act, the recognition of the right to organise and so on. The listed number of labour law Bills is essential. Taking my colleague, Deputy Costello’s point, if the commission is eventually to prepare for a consultation on matters relating to the Lisbon treaty debate, the legislation should be in place.

According to the social partners and confirmed by the Government at the beginning of their last meeting, this package of reform legislation and labour law was still in place. Which Bill will be introduced first and when? How much of the package will be completed during the current Dáil session?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The discussion on the employment Bill will resume next week and the NIRA and industrial relations legislation will be published in this session.

11 o’clock

  Deputy Michael D. Higgins: What of the other Bills in the programme, namely, the amendment of section 4 of the Competition Act on the right of workers, employed and unemployed, to be represented by their trade unions? I also referred to legislation on the recognition of the right to organise. A third Bill raised with the Government by the social partners would have made the former compliant with outstanding ILO regulations regarding the full right of the worker to be represented by a trade union, a right that would not be quenched by arrangements concerning unregulated competition.

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The amendment to the Competition Act envisages making amendments to competition law in respect of collective bargaining. The Department is in consultation with other Departments and the EU Commission and preparation of the heads is under way, but it is not possible to indicate a publication date at this stage. I must communicate with the Deputy regarding the ILO conventions.

  Deputy Lucinda Creighton: What are the proposals for the promised company law consolidation and reform Bill? Its heads have been agreed. Will the Minister consider introducing appropriate criminal sanctions in respect of directors in great breach of its provisions, namely, those whose loans are inappropriate or illegal under section 31 of the Companies Act 1990?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Asking about the legislation’s content is not appropriate.

  Deputy Lucinda Creighton: It is appropriate, as——

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair will determine what is appropriate.

  Deputy Lucinda Creighton: ——the provisions are currently contained in the 1990 Act. With other Acts, it allegedly will be consolidated by the promised Bill. Will the Minister consider increasing the sanctions provided? It is a relevant issue, given events in our banks.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to discuss the contents of legislation. When is it proposed to introduce the consolidation Bill?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: The Bill contains 1,263 heads. Its purpose is to bring greater clarification and simplification to the companies code. It involves 13 separate company law Acts and its heads were approved by the Government on 25 July 2007. It is a substantial Bill in terms of its size and it is not possible to indicate at this stage when it will be published.

In any discussion on a Bill of such size, consideration can be given to the penalties appropriate to the many offences that it creates. It is important to bear in mind that there are already substantial criminal penalties in existing legislation for criminal conduct in connection with companies.

[224]   Deputy David Stanton: Will the sale of alcohol Bill be published before the summer recess?

  Deputy Brian Lenihan: It should be published over the summer.