Dáil Éireann - Volume 500 - 17 February, 1999

Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 4, Finance Bill, 1999 – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 24, Statements on Agenda 2000. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10.30 p.m; (2) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 24; (i) the opening statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; (ii) the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (iii) Members may share time; and (iv) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 68, Motion re. Confidence in the Minister for Health and Children (resumed).

An Ceann Comhairle: There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed?

Mr. Quinn: Before we agree to the late sitting, will the Taoiseach clarify an event that has taken place since yesterday's Question Time? I tabled questions to the Taoiseach yesterday which were ruled out of order. However, the Taoiseach indicated in his reply that he had no access to papers in the Department of Finance regarding the contract with GTech or, alternatively, section 19 of the Finance Act, 1994.

It has subsequently emerged that a senior official in the personal office of the Department of the Taoiseach arranged private briefings for selected journalists on a one by one basis. I regard that as an act of contempt for this House. There is no difficulty in relation to access to the information for journalists but there is clearly a difficulty in providing access to information for Deputies. Will the Taoiseach clarify the point before we proceed further this morning?

[998]

An Ceann Comhairle: The proposal before the House is the late sitting and that matter does not arise.

Mr. Quinn: I would like to be as orderly as I can. There are limited ways of raising this matter. There is no difficulty with a briefing being provided for elected Members of this House, who are doing the job we were elected to do. However, the Taoiseach, perhaps inadvertently, misled the House yesterday and I want him to avail of the opportunity now to clarify the situation before we agree—

Mr. M. Smith: There is no way he misled the House.

Mr. Quinn: I said “perhaps inadvertently”.

Dr. Woods: More slurs.

Mr. Dempsey: Deputy Quinn had all this information last week.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Taoiseach must be allowed reply.

Mr. Stagg: Is the Deputy trying to take the Taoiseach's job?

Mr. Howlin: They are queuing up for it.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Let us hear the Taoiseach. Order, please.

The Taoiseach: It might be useful for me to make a few points. There has been some confusion because some of this morning's newspapers said I ruled out the questions yesterday and refused to answer them. You, a Cheann Comhairle, made quite clear yesterday that it was your office which ruled them out. I did not refuse to answer anything yesterday.

Very serious allegations very made in a number of Sunday newspapers that directly concern me. They were not made by politicians in this House but by newspapers. At 11.48 a.m. last Saturday I was given 13 questions by Mr. Matt Cooper of the Sunday Tribune. I was asked to give replies to those in the early afternoon so that he could check them with his legal people and have them printed in the late afternoon for the Saturday night edition. Through my office, I said that was absolutely impossible but that as soon as we could get the records we would make them available.

There were no records relating to GTech or section 19 of the Finance Bill, 1994, in my office or in my possession. I do not keep records relating to any Finance Bill in which I was involved or any briefing note, although I did recognise the briefing note in the newspapers last week as one that I would have had as Minister for Finance, because it was clear from the language that it was a Revenue briefing note.

[999] I asked my office yesterday to ask the officials in the Department of Finance, who had these records, to brief the newspapers on these matters. They can also brief any committee of this House. It is a pity they cannot brief the entire House because then people would be able to see the position. Unfortunately, what happens in these cases is when a totally erroneous, false and damaging allegation is made it is on the front pages of the Sunday newspapers, but when it is clarified that I was involved in no wrongdoing, that is put on page 19. That is the difficulty.

Mr. Quinn: I heard what the Taoiseach said. Will he not agree that it would have been far more appropriate for the offer made by the senior official in the personal office in the Department of the Taoiseach to have been extended to Opposition Members who were simply doing our job yesterday? The Taoiseach has misled the House by saying he had no access—

The Taoiseach: I have not misled the House.

Mr. Quinn: He said he had no access to papers, when clearly the official—

An Ceann Comhairle: We are not going to debate the issue now.

Mr. Quinn: —in his Department was able to organise–

Mr. M. Smith: The Deputy had full access to them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Quinn should resume his seat. He has been allowed to make his point.

Mr. J. Bruton: Will the Taoiseach consider it might be better, in matters of this nature, if he were to make a statement himself rather than having third parties do it for him? There seems to be a pattern which probably is not helpful. Given that the allegations were about the Taoiseach, he should have made the statement himself.

The Taoiseach: I would have no difficulty doing that in normal events. However, as Deputy Bruton, who has been in this position, knows, if one were to do that one would have to make many statements to the House. A part of political life in this country today is the theory of the former US President Johnson – “Hear the Taoiseach of the day deny them”. That is what the game really is. Nobody believes us.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to?

(Interruptions).[1000]

Mr. J. Bruton: Lyndon B. Johnson appears to be the new role model. What is it he had to say about the value of things?

Mr. Quinn: Before we agree to this item of business, will the Taoiseach clarify a point in relation to answers he gave yesterday? Is the Taoiseach now saying that the briefing made available to journalists yesterday will be made available to individual Members of the House if they wish to see it? If questions are tabled by Opposition Deputies to the Minister for Finance in regard to the matters referred to, will they be answered?

The Taoiseach: On the latter question, the Department of Finance clearly would answer the questions as they have records in that respect. On the first question, if any Member wishes to obtain a copy of the briefing, they are more than entitled to do so.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 24 agreed to? Agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton: In regard to promised legislation to amend the Central Bank legislation, will the Taoiseach consider strengthening the bank's powers to assist them to deal with suggestions that there may be collusion among banks across Europe to keep charges up on euro transactions? Does the Taoiseach agree this would damage Ireland more than any other country because we have a land boundary with a non-euro state and are therefore more vulnerable to any collusion on transactions involving euro conversions? Will the Taoiseach consider raising this matter in his discussions with the Dutch Prime Minister later today in the hope that the matter might be raised at the summit?

The Taoiseach: The Central Bank Bill which is to provide for the supervision of the Central Bank's foreign trusts is currently being drafted. I do not have a definite date for its publication. The point made by the Deputy is one of increasing concern to consumer groups across Europe. I note his comments and will raise them with the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Quinn: Has the Government any plans to introduce legislation to put the European Convention on Human Rights on a statutory basis?

The Taoiseach: The heads of the legislation on human rights which might cover these issues are currently before two committees of the House. The legislation itself will come before the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Quinn: Is the Taoiseach aware that the legislation to which he referred does not make specific reference to—

[1001] An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot debate the matter at this point.

Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach inadvertently misled the House. I asked him if the Government intended to introduce legislation to give effect to the European Convention on Human Rights. He referred to a piece of legislation, the draft heads of which have been circulated and do not contain any proposal in respect of the European Convention on Human Rights. Is further legislation envisaged or will the draft heads be amended to incorporate what was already set out in the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill?

The Taoiseach: That matter should be discussed by the relevant committees. At this stage, no further legislation is proposed. The issue of whether to include the Deputy's concerns in the current legislation should be discussed.

Mr. Quinn: If that is the case, will the Taoiseach accept—

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must resume his seat. We cannot proceed further with a discussion on this matter. I have called Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Noonan: The Taoiseach will be aware that the Government has authorised a series of very complex changes on pensions for self-employed persons and an even more complex set of arrangements on the manner in which the bank accounts of non-residents will be dealt with in the future. None of these proposals is incorporated in the Finance Bill. It is not possible for the Opposition or any Member of this House to deal with these complex proposals sight unseen. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that Members will receive these proposals well in advance of Committee Stage of the Finance Bill? Otherwise, we will not be able to do our parliamentary duty. It is simply not possible to have an informed debate on these issues unless we receive outside briefing. If that does not happen, the House is no more than a charade and the debate on the Finance Bill simply becomes an exercise in futility.

The Taoiseach: I note the Deputy's comments and understand the difficulty of dealing with major sections of the Finance Bill on Committee Stage. I will discuss the matter with the Minister for Finance.

Mr. Finucane: Is the Taoiseach still speaking to the Minister for Finance?

Mr. Gilmore: Last week on the Order of Business, the Taoiseach indicated that the Labour Party proposal that 20 per cent of new housing development be set aside for affordable housing might be dealt with in the promised Bill on planning and development. When will that Bill be published?

[1002] The Taoiseach: It will be published in the middle of this year.

Mr. Gilmore: I am somewhat confused as to when the middle of the year is. It is a term widely used in relation to promised legislation. Could the Taoiseach be a bit more specific and inform me in what month the legislation will be published?

The Taoiseach: Mid-1999, which is usually June.

Mr. Gilmore: It could be July.

Mr. Finucane: As Ash Wednesday is traditionally associated with the consumption of fish, is the Taoiseach aware that Killybegs fishermen cannot fish at present?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy's question would be more appropriate to Question Time.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Yesterday, the Supreme Court declared that search warrants signed by peace commissioners are invalid. In view of the fact that a serious criminal case was thrown out of court and the serious consequences for criminal cases involving search warrants, what emergency legislation will be put in place to rectify this situation? Is it envisaged that the powers and functions of peace commissioners will be reviewed?

The Taoiseach: I was informed this morning that the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court is being examined within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The initial view, following a brief examination, is that the decision is not of general application but only applies to particular facts of the case in question.

Mr. Sargent: On promised legislation, the Bill on the Irish Energy Centre becomes more urgent now given that Ireland has been shown to be doubling its greenhouse gas emissions. In light of that fact and in light of the deregulation of the electricity industry, when will the Bill be published?

In regard to legislation on water services, 2 per cent of European citizens are exposed to fluoride in water which medical opinion indicates is damaging. When will the legislation be published in light of those medical findings?

The Taoiseach: The proposed Bill to establish the Irish Energy Centre Agency is due for publication at the end of this year or early next year – January 2000 is the date outlined. The Bill on water services will be published later this year; work is at a preliminary stage in the Department. The Bill will consolidate and update water services legislation and has in excess of 100 heads.

Mr. M. Higgins: An féidir liom ceist a chur faoi reachtaíocht atá geallta le leasú ar an Acht um Údarás na Gaeltachta? Nuair a thóg mé an cheist [1003] seo suas cúpla seachtain ó shin, dúradh go mbeadh an Bille i gcló sar i bfhad. When will this Bill be published? Can we take it that the press release which is used as an alternative and on which the Minister of State is briefing the media is roughly related to the Bill in some way?

The Taoiseach: The Bill will hopefully be published late next month or in April.

Mr. M. Higgins: Workers who were represented on Údarás na Gaeltachta until now through various mechanisms are already deeply disturbed about many matters within the Údarás. It is singularly unhelpful to them to be conducting public briefings on a Bill which has not yet been published, apart from being discourteous to this House.

Mr. Kenny: I thought the Taoiseach was going to change the name of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to the Department of Great Expectations. Is it likely the broadcasting Bill will be published before or after the Taoiseach flies to Los Angeles? We have been awaiting its publication for a long time. Has the Taoiseach a date for its publication?

The Taoiseach: It will be published this session.

Mr. Howlin: There is a so-called Immigration Bill before the House which, in effect, is a deportation Bill. Will the Taoiseach confirm when the Refugee Act enacted by the House will be brought into effect and if that will require amending legislation?

The Taoiseach: I understand the Department will bring forward proposals to amend the legislation.

Mr. Howlin: For the sake of clarity, can I take it that an amending refugee Bill will be introduced?

The Taoiseach: That is the position, as I understand it.

Mr. Howlin: When will it be introduced?

The Taoiseach: I do not have a specific date, but it was decided it would be introduced as soon as possible.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): In view of the many submissions made by adult literacy groups across the country and the precedent set for the forthcoming European elections, will the Taoiseach consider introducing a measure to allow for the display of photographs of candidates on the ballot papers for the forthcoming local elections?

An Ceann Comhairle: Is this the subject of promised legislation?

[1004] Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Legislation was promised in this area.

The Taoiseach: Legislation is due to be introduced, but it will not cover this matter. This practice will be tried on an experimental basis in the European elections.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Could it not also be permitted in the forthcoming local elections?

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Following confirmation this morning that Allied Irish Banks was happy to underwrite the speculative ventures of not one but two former Taoisigh and perhaps former Ministers, will the Taoiseach bring forward an amendment to the terms of reference of the Moriarty tribunal to enable it examine the dealings of this institution in particular with senior politicians in view of disturbing matters, including the fact that the taxpayer has massively bailed out that institution in the past in the form of ICI?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not proceed with this matter on the Order of Business. Is there promised legislation in this area?

The Taoiseach: No.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): I did not hear what the Taoiseach said.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is not promised legislation in this area.

Mr. R. Bruton: I am surprised we have not yet seen an order laid before the House in respect of an announcement by the Taoiseach last week that a psychological services board is to be established. Has that order been prepared and will we see it? The Minister gave a commitment that any such establishment would be governed by detailed regulations that would have to be approved by the House. Will the order be introduced this session, next session or when will we see it?

Mr. Martin: It has to be set up on an administrative basis.

The Taoiseach: Legislation is not promised on this matter. It is a matter for the Minister.

Mr. R. Bruton: On a point of order, there must be positive approval of such an establishment by the Oireachtas.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is not promised legislation on this matter.

Mr. R. Bruton: It is a matter of promised legislation. The Taoiseach and the Minister promised it in this House. A positive order must be approved by the House in Government time. Therefore, I expect to see it at some stage.

[1005] The Taoiseach: The Deputy should table a question on this matter to the Minister concerned.

Mr. R. Bruton: The Taoiseach is supposed to know the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: Legislation is not promised on this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot debate this issue now.

Mr. Rabbitte: I wish to ask the Taoiseach about a statement made by the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, to the House yesterday.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order on the Order of Business.

Mr. Rabbitte: It relates to promised legislation. On several occasions the Tánaiste has given the impression that the ten inquiries she is conducting into matters that impact on the Moriarty tribunal will be published. She said yesterday that not only can they not be published by law, but she may not transfer them to the Moriarty tribunal.

Dr. Woods: This is not related to promised legislation.

Mr. Rabbitte: Is the Government prepared to introduce brief amending legislation to the Companies Act to allow the Tánaiste pass on those reports to the Moriarty tribunal?

An Ceann Comhairle: Is there promised legislation in this area?

The Taoiseach: There is not promised legislation in this area.

Mr. Quinn: What is the Taoiseach trying to hide?

Mr. Rabbitte: The Tánaiste said the information she has from these inquiries ought to be passed on to the tribunal.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will have to pursue that matter in another way.