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Order of Business.

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 22a, motion re Sustainable Energy Bill 2001; No. 49, State Authorities (Public Private Partnership Arrangements) Bill 2001 – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 50, Sustainable Energy Bill 2001 [Seanad] – Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 4, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2001 – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 5, Disability Bill 2001 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is 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.; No. 22a shall be decided without debate; and Question Time tomorrow shall be taken at 3.30 p.m. until 4.45 p.m. and in the event of a Private Notice Question being allowed, it shall be taken at 4.15 p.m.; and the order shall not resume thereafter. Private Members' Busi[1394] ness shall be No. 119, motion re insurance costs, resumed, to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 22a agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal in relation to Question Time tomorrow agreed? Agreed. I will now take leaders' questions.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I would like to ask the Taoiseach about reports this morning of fraud in Allfirst, a subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks in the United States. I do not wish to say anything that could undermine confidence in the banking system as I am conscious of its importance to the people and the economy. There are questions to be answered, however, arising from this catastrophic news. What steps does the Taoiseach intend to take to protect Irish interests at home and abroad? I note that neither the AIB press release nor the interview with the chief executive of the bank this morning referred to reporting of the fraud to the Irish Central Bank. There is a legal requirement that such a report be made.

Has the Central Bank received a report of the fraud and, if so, when? Given that AIB has 31,000 staff and 98,000 shareholders worldwide, does the Taoiseach agree that confidence, both at home and abroad, in our regulatory regime should be the primary concern? Banking is a rapidly changing sector that is becoming increasingly internationalised. A row between the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance has prevented legislation, necessary for the establishment of an appropriate regulatory regime for modern international banking, from coming into this House in the past three years. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that legislation in this area will be brought forward as a matter of urgency in this session?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Like Deputy Noonan, I do not want to fuel a difficult and worrying situation for many thousands of Irish people who have invested with AIB. To amplify a question put by the Deputy, when was the Central Bank informed of the fraud? Did the Central Bank subsequently inform the Minister for Finance? Will the Minister for Finance make time available later today to make a statement to the House in relation to these matters so that the information available to him can be put into the public domain?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern In reply to Deputies Noonan and Howlin, the AIB authorities informed the Central Bank of the fraud. The Governor of the Central Bank told the Minister for Finance last evening and AIB management informed the Secretary General of my Department as a matter of courtesy. The Minister for Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank discussed the situation at a meeting last evening. AIB's statement says that it is undertaking a full investigation into foreign exchange trading operations at the Baltimore headquarters of its US subsidiary Allfirst [1395] and that the investigation will be carried out in the United States. The AIB will co-operate fully with that investigation.

In reply to the more general questions, the bank has informed the Minister for Finance that it is still profitable to the tune of €400 million. Its capital base remains strong and there is no danger to AIB account holders of any loss of funds or to the bank's solvency. Even after this event the AIB's capital adequacy ratio remains comfortably above established limits.

The US Federal Reserve is the immediate regulator with which the Central Bank of Ireland will keep in close contact on this matter. The investigations will be carried out by the Federal Reserve with which the Central Bank will keep in contact on any matters which arise. The Minister for Finance will be kept informed of developments during the day as matters unfold and the exact nature of what is involved is examined. I have no more information on what the AIB included in its statement. The Central Bank is the consolidated regulator for the AIB group. In this regard the AIB's capital adequacy ratio is the key consideration for the Central Bank. The AIB's capital adequacy ratio remains comfortably above established limits.

The Bill, which is complex in terms of drafting, is at the final draft stage. There is a final proof. The Central Bank's regulatory role is expanding all the time as it deals with many banks. The view in the banking world is that the Central Bank is an excellent regulator with its existing powers. This issue, therefore, does not arise. The new Bill will be brought forward shortly.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Will the Minister for Finance be making a statement?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern That is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle. I had a meeting with the Minister today. At this stage he has no more details other than those I have given to the House. Many things are going on at bank level. Unless something happened in the past 30 minutes, I do not think the Minister can report on those matters.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Minister might take a private notice question.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The situation may change later in the day, but, as of now, the Minister has no additional information.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison I will allow a supplementary question from Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Taoiseach does not need me to remind him that in the past the State was called in to rescue the AIB for which taxpayers are still paying. He will also agree that in circumstances such as this rumour is the rust which corrodes the system and that it is important that every piece of information is made public at the first available [1396] opportunity. When the Governor of the Central Bank consulted with the Minister for Finance last night, did he give assurances that $750 million is the extent of the fraud and that the full story is now in the public domain?

It is important that the Taoiseach accedes to Deputy Howlin's request and arranges for the Minister for Finance to come into the House this afternoon to confirm, if that is all the information he has, that the full story is in the public domain. A fraud of $750 million is enormous, but it is sustainable against the background of the AIB's strong balance sheet. However, the public needs the assurance that this is the full extent of the problem, that it has been fully investigated and that everyone knows with security what the future holds. Even if no additional information is available later today, for the sake of accountability and transparency, the Minister for Finance should come into the House to stamp his authority on the information which is now in the public domain and add any new information which comes to light in the course of the day.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Deputy Howlin has indicated that a private notice question will be tabled. I am well aware of what happened with the AIB in the mid-1980s and remember the lengths to which I had to go as Minister for Finance to sort it out years later. However, the AIB will remain profitable. That is what its customers wish to know. Its capital base remains strong and there is no danger of any loss of funds by the AIB's account holders or to the solvency of the bank. That is important to account holders and the considerable number of staff in the bank.

Neither I nor the Minister for Finance can give an assurance as to the final amount of the fraud. The AIB's statement refers to the figure indicated by preliminary investigations which will have to continue. At this stage it is a case of fraud. I do not know how many are involved, but the individual referred to by the bank has mysteriously gone missing. The investigation, therefore, is taking place without the co-operation of the person, or perhaps persons, involved. This is a case of fraud and it is unlikely that all of the facts will be known that quickly. This matter will unfold and I am sure the AIB will continue to keep its customers and branches informed.

The Central Bank is the consolidated regulator for the AIB group and will keep in touch with the US Federal Reserve regarding the matter. If the Minister for Finance has any additional information, I am sure he will be only too glad to make it available.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Chair will give full consideration to a private notice question. We will now move on to leaders' questions.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Women's Health Council was established in 1997 as a statutory body with the legal obligation and duty to advise the Minister for Health and Children on all matters relating to [1397] women's health. Why was it not asked for its advice in advance of the decision to publish the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution Bill? Does the Taoiseach accept the expressed opinion of the council and its chair, Professor Cecily Kelleher, that the published legislation in the Bill is inconsistent with the national health strategy as published?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison I will allow a supplementary question on the same subject from Deputy Noonan.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I put it to the Taoiseach that we are sliding into a moral morass when the Minister responsible for the implementation of the legislation if the referendum is passed will talk in terms of 12 year prison sentences for anyone who transgresses the provisions of the legislation, yet he is quoted yesterday as affirming that he will give funds to health boards to ensure children in care who are pregnant as a consequence of rape or incest will be funded by the State to have abortions in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. What kind of moral morass is the Taoiseach organising for the people when the same Minister will be acting in such a contradictory fashion with the same principle issue?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern In reply to Deputy Howlin, the Women's Health Council and every other person was asked to respond. A total of 105,000 people responded to the Green Paper while tens of thousands responded to the all-party committee's report. There was, therefore, adequate provision for everyone to be consulted on the issue.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe About 99% of those responses were postcards.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern From personal correspondence over the past four years it seems that everyone has put forward their views. I am not going to reply every day to each question raised in the course of a referendum—

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus Why not? Is it because this issue is only about women's lives?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Order.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have reminded the Deputy, who continually seems uncomfortable with the fact, that, for the first time, women's lives have been taken account of in a legislative manner.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus Is the Taoiseach suggesting that he does not have to answer questions which involve women's lives?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern For the first time since legislation was first introduced 150 years ago women's lives have been taken into account. I thought Deputies would welcome legislation ensuring women's rights were fully safeguarded.

[1398]Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus The Government is threatening women's lives.

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter What about suicidal young teenagers who have been raped?

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe The Government is suffering from hypocrisy now.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The status of the statutory body charged under law by this House to advise the Minister for Health and Children on women's health matters, as perceived by the Taoiseach, is now clear. Does the Taoiseach now accept, considering the views expressed by the Women's Health Council, the National Women's Council of Ireland and the Adelaide Hospital Society, that the Government's proposals are ill-conceived and flawed and should now be withdrawn in order that a proper debate on these issues may take place, with the safeguarding of women's health, which should be paramount in our considerations, at its core?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am very glad that the proposals enacted by this House which are before the people have women's health as their primary regard and that for the first time women's health has been legislated for. Medical difficulties encountered by women are dealt with in the legislation and the ambiguities of the past have been removed.

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter The Government has compounded—

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Constitutional and political hypocrisy is what the Government has engaged in.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I am sure that people are glad that these issues, which for one reason or another have not been dealt with by this House since its foundation, have now been taken into account.

Mr. U. Burke: Information on Ulick Burke Zoom on Ulick Burke There has not been a pharmacy Bill since 1875. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to introduce such a Bill, in view of deregulation and the free-for-all that may occur? Will he introduce a moratorium on the issuing of pharmacy licences until such legislation is put in place?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern There is a pharmacy Bill due this year, to update and rationalise the Pharmacy Acts, 1875 to 1977.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Considering all the environmental changes related to motor construction and suggested changes by the racing board to the racecourse at the Curragh gallops, as well as other problems with sheep farmers and farmers leasing land in the area, what is the status of the Curragh of Kildare Bill?

[1399]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Curragh of Kildare Bill, which will consolidate existing legislation, is being drafted and will be circulated some time this year.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Is the Government considering withdrawing the disability legislation promised for tomorrow, in view of the fact that, extraordinarily, section 47 seems to take away people's rights to go to court—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison We cannot discuss a section of the Bill on the Order of Business.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald —and is causing widespread alarm for parents of children with a disability?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy is out of order.

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I ask the Taoiseach to withdraw the Bill, in view of the fact that a number of disability organisations have requested his office to have this done, including the Forum of People with Disabilities, the National Parents and Siblings Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and other organisations familiar with what they want. There are no rights provided for in the Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison We cannot discuss the matter now. The Bill is being proceeded with.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern May I have 30 seconds? There is no point in everybody talking together.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have to say I find this quite extraordinary. For a number of years the Government has been pressed to introduce legislation.

Deputies: Not this.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is always “not this” or “not that.”

Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan We need something which provides for rights.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Has the Taoiseach read the Bill?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern We are now introducing the legislation. Because there is confusion and misinformation outside the House about section 47, Members do not want to have it debated here in case we dispel the confusion. That seems extraordinary. I thought we were the elected assembly which tries to deal with matters that cause confusion. Surely we should get on with the Bill and people can then make remarks about it.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

[1400]Ms O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan There is an absence of rights in the legislation; it takes away people's rights. There is no confusion at all.

Mr. Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Does the Government propose to place a resolution on the Order Paper to establish a tribunal of inquiry to consider allegations of Garda misconduct in County Donegal? Is the report of Shane Murphy, senior counsel, which arose from the all-party motion last November calling for the establishment of such a tribunal, to be published as promised and laid before both Houses?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin In relation to statutory tribunals of inquiry, it has been the practice for consultation to take place between the parties in government and opposition on the terms of reference. Before the terms of reference are finalised, as we read in today's newspapers, by the Attorney General and the Government can there be discussions with the Opposition parties, some of which have been directly involved in calling for this inquiry for some time?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern For the information of the House, the report on the Shane Murphy inquiry on the County Donegal affair was received by the Minister in the last few days. He is considering the report and will bring the matter before the Government at its meeting next week after which a statement will be issued. Until then no comment will be made on the report.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins When will the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill, 2002, published just before Christmas, be taken? Will it be taken this session?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It will be taken this session. It has priority.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus Yesterday the National Cancer Registry's report was published. It showed a very high level of cancers and a very serious geographical inequality in cancer deaths. Will the Government allow a debate in the House on the findings of the first major report on cancer?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That is a matter for the Whips. It is not one for the Order of Business.

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus Zoom on Liz McManus Perhaps the Taoiseach would like to reply. It is not about abortion, but cancer deaths.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison It is not in order. The Deputy might table a parliamentary question or pursue the matter with the Whips.

Mr. Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed Last year at the height of the ASTI dispute the Minister for Education and Science was in the Far East. I understand he is on another world tour as chaos is about to revisit our schools on 4 March. Given his paralysis in the matter, will the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity, while the [1401] Minister is out of the country, to intervene in the supervision and substitution issue?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That is not in order.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I spoke about it yesterday, but Deputy Creed was not here.

Mr. Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed I raised the matter on the Adjournment last night when the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy O'Dea, confirmed that the Government intends, again, to sit tight while chaos reigns in our schools.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy is not in order.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte What are the chances of the dispute being settled? It is two and a half years since the House approved the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill, Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 1999. Is it the intention of the Government to enact it before the general election, which it cannot avoid for much longer?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I will answer to the best of my knowledge; it is so long since the Deputy asked me about it. The Bill is before a committee. To the best of my knowledge, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, is proceeding with it.

Mr. Dempsey: That is the final whistle.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins (Mayo): The communications regulation Bill is to provide for the extension of powers of the ODTR and update the regulatory framework. It is very important legislation. The market has not been opened up and we are quickly losing our place on the e-commerce league table. The industry is pressing for the Bill as a matter of urgency. It is on the list of Bills to be published this session, but unless it is published immediately, as the Taoiseach is aware, it will not be enacted. We will certainly co-operate in the passing of this important Bill and I ask the Taoiseach to give it priority.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is a very important Bill which will be published shortly. I appreciate the Deputy's offer of co-operation in passing it quickly.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I wish to clarify some remarks the Taoiseach made yesterday in regard to the housing, private rented sector Bill. He told us yesterday that the form, memorandum and heads of the Bill have been passed by the Government. Does that mean the Government has completed its consideration of the heads of the Bill and that they have been approved? Has that specific Bill been forwarded to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for drafting?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Yes, on all counts.

[1402]Mr. Coveney: Is the Taoiseach aware that another young man was stabbed in the streets of Cork last night? This is yet another example of a rise in street violence—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison A question on the Order of Business, Deputy.

Mr. Coveney: Can the Taoiseach assure the House that we will see the Criminal Justice (Enforcement of Public Orders) Bill, before the end of this Government's term in office?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As I said last week that Bill to provide additional powers to the Garda Síochána to tackle street offenders will be published shortly.


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