Dáil Éireann - Volume 492 - 16 June, 1998

Order of Business.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods):It is proposed to take No. 20, the Turf Development Bill, 1997, Order for Report and Report and Final Stages, No. 1, Investor Compensation Bill, 1998 [Seanad], Second Stage, No. 2, Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998 [Seanad], Second Stage. It is further 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 p.m.; the Report and Final Stages of No. 20 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 6 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Public Enterprise; and the proceedings on Second Stage of No. 1, if not previously concluded, shall be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. Private Members' Business shall be No. 52, motion re: student nurses.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 1 agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton: I wish to raise an issue which has been raised by Deputy Quinn and me on previous occasions, namely, the introduction of legislation permitting prisoner releases in the case of those involved with particular paramilitary organisations. [691] This legislation was promised in the British-Irish Agreement but the Taoiseach indicated he did know whether it would be introduced. Will the Minister inform the House whether the legislation will be introduced and, if so, when?

Dr. Woods: At this stage it is not envisaged it will be necessary to introduce further legislation in this jurisdiction to deal with releases here under the British-Irish Agreement. However, I understand the Taoiseach proposed to write to party leaders in the coming days to brief them fully on this matter.

Mr. Quinn: I note the Minister's reply. However, I again place on record my serious concern about this action. If the Taoiseach is so disposed to write to us, it appears a decision has already been taken. Do I take it from the Minister's reply that the Government has decided that between now and the end of June, notwithstanding any commitments into which the Irish public entered in the referendum, it will not bring forward legislation to deal with the release of prisoners under licence as set out in the British-Irish Agreement?

Dr. Woods: Members appreciate that the question of prisoner releases is extremely sensitive. The Taoiseach will be writing to the party leaders to brief them in a comprehensive way. I suggest the best approach for them is to wait until then before pursuing the matter further, if they wish to do so.

Mr. J. Bruton: This is public business.

Mr. Quinn: The Minister may or may not be in a position to clarify the point. Has the Government decided not to bring forward legislation?

Dr. Woods: We have been advised that it will not be necessary to introduce further legislation. There is a basis in current legislation in this jurisdiction which——

Mr. Quinn: That is an outrageous breach of faith.

Dr. Woods: I am merely informing the Deputy about the advice the Government received.

Mr. Howlin: Has the Government made a decision?

Dr. Woods: The matter is being considered. It is the Taoiseach's intention to communicate at an early stage with the party leaders and discuss it with them.

Proinsias De Rossa: As the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources stated, this is an extremely sensitive issue. Given that 95 per cent of the people supported the constitutional amendments put forward in the referendum, it is [692] appalling that we are now being informed that the Government does not intend to implement the legislation promised in the British-Irish Agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask a question related to the Order of Business.

Proinsias De Rossa: Has the Government made a decision not to introduce legislation?

Ms McGennis: Yes, unless it is necessary.

Mr. Quinn: Why was it not apparent that legislation was not needed when the agreement was made?

Dr. Woods: I suggest that the party leaders discuss this matter with the Taoiseach. It is not currently envisaged that it will be necessary to introduce further legislation in this jurisdiction.

Mr. Howlin: Why was that not apparent when the agreement was made?

Ms McGennis: Legislation is not needed.

Dr. Woods: This matter is being investigated.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are not debating the matter now.

(Interruptions.)

Dr. Woods: The party leaders should approach this matter with the sensitivity and seriousness it deserves.

Mr. J. Bruton: Does the Minister agree that this country is ruled by law? If a person who committed an offence is to be released, that will have to be done on the basis of law, not administrative discretion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on that issue and I am calling Deputy Sargent on another matter.

Dr. Woods: I would not like people to get the impression that any actions the Government might take will be based on anything other than legislation.

Mr. J. Bruton: What legislation?

Dr. Woods: It is wrong of the party leaders to start this kind of action at this stage.

Mr. Quinn: I take offence at the Minister's comments.

Dr. Woods: The party leaders know there are provisions under existing legislation. The question that arises——

(Interruptions.)

[693] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call Deputy Sargent and I ask Deputy Quinn and the Minister to resume their seats.

Dr. Woods: The Taoiseach will communicate with the party leaders.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Sargent, without interruption.

Mr. Sargent: I look forward to receiving from the Taoiseach the written communication in respect of the stated legal advice the Government has been given.

Will the Minister indicate when the Taoiseach expects to be in a position to lay the wildlife amendment Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas? Will he make a statement on the delay surrounding drafting that legislation?

It is appropriate that the House should send greetings to those who have travelled to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday and to people across the globe who are taking time to mark what has become a remarkable celebration of artistic achievement on the part of a native Dubliner with strong Cork connections. The writings of James Joyce refer to many hundreds of people, real and imaginary, including Arthur Griffith, the first President of this assembly. It is appropriate for the House to send such greetings.

Dr. Woods: There are 69 heads to the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill. The heads of the Bill were approved by the Government on 26 March 1996. The revised draft, with 78 sections, was received by the Department from the parliamentary draftsman and it is expected to revert to him shortly. It is expected the Bill will be approved this autumn. Everybody is welcome to celebrate Bloomsday and I hope they will do so.

Mr. Quinn: When is it intended to introduce the motion to amend the terms of reference to the Flood tribunal as indicated in the Government's amendment to the Opposition Private Members' motion of two weeks ago?

Dr. Woods: It is expected that will be discussed by the Whips tomorrow. I hope it will be before the House next week.

Proinsias De Rossa: Will the Minister indicate if the Immigrant Trafficking Bill was brought before the Cabinet and approved this morning? When will the Bill be introduced to the House? Is it intended to arrange a debate on the Cardiff summit this week?

Dr. Woods: The heads of the Bill were before the Government today and were approved. They have gone to the parliamentary draftsman. The Bill is unlikely to be introduced to the House this session.

[694] Proinsias De Rossa: This is an urgent matter, given the almost daily reports of people being smuggled into the country, presumably by gangs who are abusing them. Will the Minister indicate when the Bill will be introduced to the House?

Dr. Woods: It is hoped to introduce the Bill to the House in the next session. I expect the Taoiseach to provide for statements on the Cardiff summit next week as normal.

Mr. Allen: Has the Cabinet decided to publish the full report of the inquiry into sex abuse in swimming?

Dr. Woods: It is the intention of the Minister to provide the report to an Oireachtas Joint Committee shortly.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): In view of its extraordinarily piecemeal approach to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, is it the Government's intention to revoke the Refugee Act, 1997?

Dr. Woods: To my knowledge there is no proposal in that regard.

Proinsias De Rossa: The Government will not implement the Act.

Mr. M. Higgins: Do I understand the Minister to say that heads of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill were presented to Government and approved in March 1996 and that the reason for the delay in the text of the Bill is because new heads have been inserted? This conflicts with the Taoiseach's statement last week when he referred to the delay in compiling the legislation. The legislation has been available in the form of heads of a Bill since March 1996. When will the Bill be published? Will it be published this year?

Mr. Rabbitte: Has the Government discovered new species?

Mr. M. Higgins: Is the Minister in a position to tell the House which legislation will be published before the end of this Dáil session? Will legislation be published during the summer months? Some legislation has been referred to as due for publication in the autumn.

Dr. Woods: The Taoiseach said the Bill would be available in the autumn. He also said that a considerable amount of extra work had been done on the Bill and that extra heads had been added. I am sure the Deputy will be happy with the more comprehensive Bill which will be available in the autumn.