Dáil Éireann - Volume 506 - 03 June, 1999

Order of Business.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): It is proposed to take No. 3, Protection of Children (Hague Convention) Bill, 1998, Second Stage (resumed), and No. 32, statements on human rights.

Mr. Noonan: Is the Minister aware of reports of a high incidence of bogus voter registration in Castleblayney, County Monaghan? Will he ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to give assurances to the House that the matter will be investigated and that it is not a matter of policy that persons are falsely registered throughout the country?

Dr. Woods: That is a matter, in the first instance, for the country registrar, but I will ask the Minister to look into it.

Mr. Howlin: I commend the Government on its decision yesterday to refuse visas to the Yugoslav national team. It was a morally correct decision. On the possible consequences for the Irish team, will the Minister confirm that the matter will be raised at the Cologne summit and agree that there should be total solidarity that it would be unacceptable for Ireland to be punished for tak[2] ing a moral stand? On a related matter, what is the Government's attitude to the proposal to appoint the current Secretary General of NATO, Javier Solano, to the position of foreign and security policy chief in the European Union? What position will be taken by the Taoiseach when the appointment comes up for ratification?

An Ceann Comhairle: This is not Question Time.

Mr. Howlin: It is normal practice when the Taoiseach is attending a summit to indicate his position.

An Ceann Comhairle: The normal procedure is that the Taoiseach reports on the summit. Does the Minister wish to make a brief comment?

Dr. Woods: Other Deputies wish to comment on the first matter. I accept Deputy Howlin's point on the need for solidarity. Ireland has taken a stand. We were disappointed that UEFA did not accept its responsibility and take a clear decision which would have been helpful. Notwithstanding this, there is solidarity. The General Affairs Council ensured this in the first instance. The Taoiseach will raise the issue at the summit, en marge at least.

[3]

Mr. Howlin: Given that the General Affairs Council and Sports Ministers have taken decisions on the matter, does the Minister agree it would be unacceptable for the Irish team to be penalised because the Government has taken a moral stand?

Dr. Woods: The Taoiseach made clear in the House and on radio yesterday that that is the Government's position. He also made clear that the Government had not been in contact with the FAI for some time and that the Government took the decision it believed was appropriate at the time once UEFA had made its position clear.

Mr. Kenny: I seek the guidance of the Chair. Arising from an article in a recent issue of Magill, I tabled a priority question on the acquisitions policy of the National Gallery. You, Sir, informed me, by letter, that the Minister is not directly responsible to the Dáil in this matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot raise the matter on the Order of Business.

Mr. Kenny: After 150 years there is no acquisitions policy in the National Gallery. How should I raise the matter?

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Mr. Kenny: I sought your guidance on how I should raise it.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy consults my office, we may be able to help him.

Mr. Kenny: I will do that.

Mr. Rabbitte: Like the rest of us, the Minister has been on the hustings and is aware of the extent of the ground rent issue. I have been telling my constituents about Deputy Woods's Bill. Is it likely that time will be provided soon to abolish ground rents?

Dr. Woods: This matter is being handled by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is not possible at this stage to indicate when the Bill will be brought before the House.

Mr. Noonan: Has the Government considered the continuing decline in the value of the euro? Would it be possible for the Minister for Finance to come into the House when we resume on 16 June to make a statement on the possible adverse consequences of this decline and, in particular, the fact that we are fast approaching an exchange rate of 80p to £1 sterling?

Dr. Woods: It would be wrong to give the impression that there is a major problem.

Mr. Howlin: No problem.

[4] Dr. Woods: There is a difficulty in the sense that we import so much from Great Britain. We are increasingly importing more from Europe. The euro is settling in. Our exporters are currently very happy and there is no need for panic. We do not want to convey the impression that there is. I will convey the Deputy's remarks to the Minister for Finance who is keeping a watchful eye on the area and, if necessary, a debate can be held.

Mr. Noonan: I am seeking statements in the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the Whips.

Mr. Noonan: I am looking for a commitment from the Minister in principle, and the Whips can then sort it out.

Dr. Woods: This is a matter which can be discussed with the Minister for Finance and, subsequently, among the Whips.

Mr. Gormley: Will the Minister condemn the electoral fraud in Castleblayney where up to half a quota—

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a matter for the Order of Business. The Deputy is not in order referring to this matter.

Mr. Gormley: I have asked about the standards in public office legislation on many occasions but have been fobbed off. Does this matter not make that legislation urgent? Is the Minister aware that a letter was sent by the Lough Muckno group to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on this electoral fraud, and they have not received a response to date?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will have to find another way to raise the matter.

Mr. Gormley: Does that not send the wrong signal? We must come clean on this matter. Will the Minister condemn electoral fraud?

Dr. Woods: All Members would be against electoral fraud wherever it happens.

Mr. Gormley: It is happening in Castleblayney.

Dr. Woods: These are democratic Deputies who are used to walking the streets to win votes.

Mrs. O'Rourke: There cannot be electoral fraud until someone votes.

Dr. Woods: The standards in public office Bill is expected in the summer or autumn of this year.

Mr. Howlin: On the consultation process on genetically modified food inaugurated by the Minister for the Environment and Local Govern[5] ment, in light of the withdrawal of most of the voluntary groups and that it is a totally one-sided process, are there any plans to abandon the current process for a more balanced presentation of the facts?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a matter for the Order of Business unless legislation is involved.

Mr. Howlin: This matter was raised previously on the Order of Business because it may lead to legislation. Is legislation promised?

Dr. Woods: I understand this is not a matter for legislation. The Minister has offered consultation and embarked on a nationwide programme of discussion and consultation.

Mr. Howlin: It has collapsed.

Dr. Woods: It has not collapsed.

Mr. Gormley: There is a total lack of confidence.

Dr. Woods: There are very strong views in this regard. Submissions have been made and it is important that people go back to the table and get on with the consultation process. It is an important issue which should not be treated lightly. It is important that everyone comes to the table to find the best and most balanced solution, and common ground for the future.

Mr. Gormley: It is distorted.

Dr. Woods: Allegations of distortion and differences have been made, but there will be a difference of opinion. The objective is to get the basic scientific and practical facts on the issue.

Mr. Gormley: A moratorium was promised.

Dr. Woods: The Minister provided the opportunity for that and it would be wiser for those concerned to come back to the table.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): The Minister for the Environment and Local Government recently announced a new squad of civilian wardens to augment the Garda Síochána, particularly in relation to traffic regulation. In view of the fact the only people who have power to regulate traffic under legislation, including the Road Traffic Acts, are members of the Garda Síochána, is new legislation envisaged? Has any thought been given to redeploying some of the traffic wardens, many of whom are fearful about their future, if they are willing to be redeployed into the new service?

Dr. Woods: I understand it is not clear—

Mr. Howlin: I am sure it is not.

[6] Dr. Woods: —whether legislation will be required for that purpose. Work is at a preliminary stage in the Department on a road traffic Bill and it is expected towards the end of 1999.

Mr. McGinley: I understand the Minister is standing in for the Taoiseach who is attending an EU summit in Cologne. Will the Minister indicate whether the Taoiseach will raise at that summit a matter of direct interest to his Department and to my constituency, that is, the proposal by the Commission to introduce a blue whiting quota of 14,000 tonnes? That would have disastrous consequences for the Irish fishing industry.

Dr. Woods: The fishermen's organisation met with me yesterday and the Taoiseach joined us. He will raise the matter at the summit in Cologne. It is a crucial issue which is vital to Ireland's interests. The proposals are discriminatory against Ireland.

Ms Fitzgerald: Some weeks ago the Taoiseach indicated to the House that the White Paper on defence would be published by the Government at the end of June but the Minister for Defence said at a committee this week that there was some delay. Will the Minister clarify when the White Paper on defence will be published?

An Ceann Comhairle: Matters relating to White Papers are not in order on the Order of Business.

Ms Fitzgerald: When in Opposition Fianna Fáil said it would publish it—

Dr. Woods: I understand the groups which made submissions have requested more time but it will be published this year.

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): When the Government has dealt with the sudden explosion in the population of Castleblayney, will it find a peace-keeping force to quell the open warfare in the Labour Party? On the cancellation of the football match against Yugoslavia—

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot allow this matter to come up on the Order of Business continually. The matter has been dealt with adequately and it is not proper to the Order of Business. Does the Deputy have a question relevant to the Order of Business?

Mr. Higgins (Dublin West): Having made a gesture deploring the Milosevic regime by cancelling the football match, does the Government plan to make a gesture of condemnation regarding NATO's appalling and growing casualty list of innocent civilians?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputy should raise that matter in another way.

[7] Mrs. O'Rourke: The Deputy cannot have it every way.

Mr. Deasy: It should be noted that the majority of the House agree with the Government's decision on the Yugoslavia match. Will the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform make a gesture to the licensing trade regarding the extension of hours for the forthcoming tourism season? The answer I got yesterday does not mean a lot. Another year will have passed without anything being done. Will the Minister make a gesture, such as an extra opening hour on a Sunday?

Dr. Woods: As the Deputy knows, the Bill is expected later this year but I am sure the Minister has noted what he has said in that regard. On the points made by Deputy Joe Higgins, I always found that when we worked with the Labour Party they agreed with the Fianna Fáil policy of openness and transparency and that is what he is now seeing publicly. They are very open about their differences.

Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister could get that job permanently.

Mr. Howlin: He is trying.

Mr. D. Carey: When he stood for the leadership he was the only honest candidate in the race.

Mr. Rabbitte: I think he is heading for Brussels. When will the Bill setting up an independent agency to administer FEOGA funds and taking the present responsibility away from the Department of Agriculture and Food be published?

Dr. Woods: I understand it will be published early next year.

Mr. Stanton: Will the NET Bill be produced before the summer recess? Will legislation be required for the proposed sale of IFI and, if so, when will it be published? When will the Copyright and Related Rights Bill, 1999, come before the Dáil?

Dr. Woods: The Government authorised the urgent drafting of the NET legislation and it is expected to be published in late 1999. The Copyright Bill is at Committee Stage in the Seanad.

Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister said the Bill to set up an agency to administer FEOGA funds was promised for next year, while the Taoiseach promised it for March this year. Is the Minister sure he was advised correctly on the matter?

Dr. Woods: It is scheduled for early 2000. The draft memorandum seeking authority to draft the Bill in principle has been circulated to Departments and observations have been received from some Departments.

[8] Mr. Rabbitte: It is interesting that the Department of Agriculture and Food has fought off the decision of the Taoiseach to publish the Bill in March 1999.

Dr. Woods: The Bill will be published early next year.