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Order of Business

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 762 No. 1

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The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore It is proposed to take No. 4, Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty and Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 5, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012 — Second Stage (resumed), to be taken at 8 p.m. tonight.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the Order of the Dáil of 22 March 2012, that the Dáil shall sit later than 5.45 p.m. and adjourn not later than 10 p.m.; the sitting shall be suspended on the conclusion of Private Members’ business for 30 minutes; and the Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m. and shall commence with an Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 26, subject to the proceedings comprehended by paragraphs (2) and (3) of that Standing Order not exceeding 20 minutes, and shall adjourn on the conclusion of the business ordered on that day.

Private Members’ business, No. 33, Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012 — Second Stage (resumed), shall take place immediately after the Order of Business and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil sit later than 5.45 p.m. agreed to?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I oppose the Order of Business as it is laid out on the grounds that it is important and necessary there should be a comprehensive debate on water charges.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Two years.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Yesterday we asked for the Minister to come before the House to make a detailed statement on the issue and to take questions. It is extraordinary that every newspaper, radio and television programme has been able to debate the issue while the one place it cannot be debated is Dáil Éireann where the elected representatives of the people are. It speaks to the irrelevance of the House in terms of topical issues. This is a serious issue involving a significant degree of public expenditure, with €500 million being borrowed. Many issues were raised yesterday in the context of Leaders’ Questions in a restricted format. That is not adequate for such a major decision. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government said this was the biggest decision since the formation of ESB in the 1920s.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Where is he now?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Denmark.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Deputy Rabbitte is laughing because he does not believe his fellow Minister’s hyperbole, but if the decision is that big, surely the Government can facilitate a decent debate on the issue where the Minister can come before the House to make a detailed statement and take questions?

[10]Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I cannot believe what Deputy Martin comes out with.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath We will take Fergus. He has been on the television every night.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The hapless Minister of State is probably fed up standing in for the Minister.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte He cannot do it by video link from Denmark.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. After the incredible plethora of different versions over recent days from different Ministers of what new raft of punitive local taxes, between home taxes and water taxes, they want to pile on the already hard-pressed people of this State, we need clarification. We need it because the Tánaiste and Leader of the Labour Party again, unfortunately, misled people this morning when he claimed domestic metering, at a cost of hundreds of millions of euro, is a significant water conservation measure when one of the leading engineers, Kevin Murray, who is in favour of water charges and meters for different reasons, says the idea that meters would significantly reduce domestic consumption is largely a myth.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte It is the experience.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins The Government must come before the House to explain to us the rationale for these situations. The Tánaiste should also explain why one year ago it was fine to publish massively expensive adverts in newspapers with the slogan: “Look what Fine Gael have in store for you! €238 per annum water tax. Fine Gael — every little hurts.” Apparently it does not hurt if the Labour Party now has done an about-face and agreed with the party.

The Tánaiste’s approach to this is so shambolic that I cannot resist bringing to his attention a better idea whereby the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government could raise significant sums of money.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Here is the punchline.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The carefully rehearsed spontaneity.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins I found it over Easter in an old song, over 100 years old, by Percy French, and appropriately it is called “Phil the Fluter’s Ball”. Phil the fluter, instead of Phil the Minister, did not go around intimidating his neighbours. He invited them into his house to play the flute and fiddle for them and then passed the cap around. The Government might be better off asking Deputy Healy-Rae to send his cap around this House. He also played “The Hare in the Corn” on his flute.

Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan There is only one flute in here and we are looking at it.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Has Deputy Boyd Barrett resigned already?

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will have a better chance of catching the hare in the corn than he will of breaking the boycott of ordinary, decent people of this new raft of taxes. We need a debate today and tomorrow and the Government should accede to that because it is terrifying decent people with the extent of the burdens it is trying to impose.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte This is a vote of no confidence in Deputy Boyd Barrett already.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

[11]Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan The real leader.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Deputy Boyd Barrett’s flute was removed. He obviously did not play it appropriately.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett As jovial as those on the Government benches are, it is a serious issue that requires a debate if this House is to make any claim to represent the concerns of citizens.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Tell that to Joe the Plumber.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The possible introduction of water charges is literally striking fear into the hearts of the elderly and vulnerable sectors of our society, with the prospect of up to €600 in property taxes at the beginning of the next year.

Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Like the rally in Galway. That frightened a lot of people and the Deputy still has not apologised for it.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett At the very least, the people of this country are entitled to see a full, detailed debate take place on these issues and to have the Government clearly set out its intent——

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath It does not know its intent.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett ——to give them some type of reassurance. Do we want a situation where pensioners and vulnerable sectors of our society will be afraid to turn on the taps——

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon You are the real threat to public safety.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett ——or to run a bath for fear of running up a bill they cannot afford? Give some consideration to people who are fearful and struggling to make ends meet by arranging for a proper debate in the House on this issue in the next few days.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Could the Tánaiste give a commitment that time will be made available for the debate? It is clear from the exchanges here that a debate is necessary.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Two years.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald In fairness, I do not think it needs to be of two years’ duration. I am sorry the Tánaiste did not dissociate himself this morning from the comments made by the Taoiseach yesterday in respect of cutting off people’s water supply. Perhaps he will do so now, as well as giving a commitment to have that debate.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore There will be plenty of opportunities to debate the arrangements the Government intends to propose to ensure the country has an adequate and clean supply of water into the future. As I made clear, the arrangements will not come into operation for two to two and a half years so there will be plenty of time to debate it in the intervening period.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Metering is starting in October.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The legislation to give effect to the measures will have to be brought before the House and that will provide an opportunity for debate. I am agreeable to the suggestion by Deputy McDonald that we make arrangements through the Whips for a debate.

[12]Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Today.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore No. We have a very full schedule today, which the Government has proposed and which the Opposition intends to oppose. I am proposing that the House sit until 10 p.m. to deal with the important business before it. The Opposition opposes this. We will make arrangements for a debate on the decision the Government has made about the establishment of a State company under Bord Gáis Éireann. I understand that no request has been received from the Opposition parties by the Whip for such a debate today, but we can make such arrangements. It can be discussed by the Whips and arrangements can be made for a debate as soon as possible. We have no difficulty with that.

In the meantime, Deputy Higgins and Deputy Boyd Barrett talked about people being fearful about what is coming.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Big Phil has them terrorised.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore It would be helpful, in advance of debate and of decisions being made, that Members of this House would not whip up unnecessary fear among people.

(Interruptions).

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore They have talked all morning about things that might or might never happen, but decisions relating to the practical arrangements that will be put in place for water services have not yet been made. There will be plenty of time to debate them and there is no need for Deputy Higgins to get over-exercised by quoting Percy French. Percy French would not have known Deputy Higgins but he had clearly and adequately anticipated him when he wrote some of his songs.

Question, “That the Dáil sit later than 5.45 p.m. tonight”, put and declared carried.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Is the proposal relating to the suspension of the sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for the sitting and business of the Dáil tomorrow agreed to? Agreed. I call Deputy Martin on the Order of Business.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Given what was said earlier, is it now promised that section 4 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill will be deleted on Committee Stage? Will the Tánaiste confirm that we can expect amendments in line with what was said by the Minister for Social Protection last night? Will section 4, which deals with the reduction in payments to single parents up to 2014 and establishing the age of seven years for the youngest child, be deleted?

In addition, can the Tánaiste confirm when the regulations arising from the Water Services (Amendment) Bill with regard to septic tanks will be published? The Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, has said in writing to Deputies, and particularly to Deputy Ó Cuív, that he does not propose to publish these regulations because, he said, they would cause too much confusion.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath He has some experience with that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Apparently he has published a lay person’s guide to the regulations but has not published the regulations. There might be a reason for that. This might be a sleight of hand approach because he does not wish to say up-front what the regulations actually mean in terms of the standards that will apply. It is something he has dodged and fudged for months now.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath That is a fact.

[13]Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin It is unprecedented that a Minister would write to a Deputy to say he is not publishing regulations because they are too legalistic and would confuse people, but that is what he said in writing.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn So we have invisible regulations now.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin I agree with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, that it sounds incredible, but I can show him the letter. He should see the Minister, Deputy Hogan, whom I know is held in the highest esteem and affection by members of the Labour Party. However, can the Tánaiste confirm when those regulations will be published?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore With regard to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, it is not intended to withdraw section 4. Obviously, issues relating to amendments and so forth will be dealt with by the Minister in the normal way.

As regards the regulations arising from the wastewater legislation, I do not have a date for their publication, but when a statutory instrument and regulations are made under any legislation they are laid before the House. That will happen as is normally the case.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald This morning one of the national newspapers carried photographs and a report of an eviction of a couple of pensioners from their home. This case probably featured in the media because it occurred in a place that was referred to as “millionaires’ row”, but it is symptomatic of a broader crisis in society. More than 100,000 households were in mortgage distress at the end of December and over 90 households fall into distress every day. In light of that, will the Tánaiste comment on the insolvency Bill and Government plans for legislation to deal with the mortgage crisis and negative equity?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I found the photographs and story this morning quite distressing. The couple concerned live in my constituency but they have not been in contact with me. I am making arrangements through my constituency office to get some of the facts of the case. The personal insolvency legislation is on the “A” list of legislation to be published in this session. We hope it will be published shortly.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys The Government is committed to the implementation of mental health reform and has ring-fenced €35 million for A Vision for Change. In that context there is a need to appoint a director of mental health services. The HSE governance Bill is on the “A” list of legislation. Can the Tánaiste give a more precise date for its publication and would it be possible to appoint a director on an interim basis, given that it is such an important element of A Vision for Change?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The draft heads of the HSE governance Bill have been approved but there is still some work to be done on it. It is intended that the Bill will be published in this session. The question of the appointment of a director of mental health services is a matter for the Minister for Health.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath With regard to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, there is to be a review of community employment schemes but the review is not taking place. This is directly affecting people’s work. Schemes are closing and sponsoring groups are running away from them. One cannot blame them for that because cuts of 66% are being implemented. Before the last election, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Education and Skills wrote to SIPTU, promising to protect those CE schemes.

[14]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That matter could be addressed in a parliamentary question, Deputy.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath No, this is part of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, which is being debated in the House at present.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The Deputy will have an opportunity during the course of the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill——

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I did so last night, at 11 o’clock.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore ——to raise these issues with the Minister for Social Protection. A commitment was given to review community employment schemes——

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath They are not happy.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore ——and that is proceeding.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath The Commission on Credit Unions published its final report yesterday, which is welcomed. Can the Tánaiste assure the House that no credit union will be forced to shut its doors as a result of the restructuring arrangements that will follow from that report? When can we expect the Central Bank regulation of credit unions Bill, which will implement some of the commission’s recommendations?

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The report of the Commission on Credit Unions has been published. The credit union movement was very much involved in the preparation of the report and there was a high level of consultation. It is expected there will be further discussion and consultation with the credit union movement. Some legislation will be required. The object is not to close credit unions but to consolidate and to ensure credit unions and the credit union movement have a secure future. The Government is strongly supportive of the voluntary co-operative credit union movement that has done enormous work in this country. We want to see that continuing. The report of the commission will be helpful in charting the way forward for that.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae With regard to the new Irish water board, could we have an assurance that the suggestion of removing existing water meters will not go ahead? This would be a massive waste of money.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That relates to the content of a Bill, Deputy. We do not discuss that on the Order of Business.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I want an answer from the Tánaiste. It would be a massive waste of money if existing meters were removed. Since Christmas last, thousands of meters have been installed. Are they to be ripped out? I would like to hear the Tánaiste’s views on that matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt That can be discussed when the Bill is debated.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The Deputy is not being told that. A decision has been made as to the structure that will be put in place for the water utility in future. There will be a State company under Bord Gáis Éireann. Beyond that, arrangements for metering, the types of meters to be used and all of those practical arrangements will require much work. We are talking about a period of two or two and a half years to progress that work.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae It will be like the HSE. The Government will be able to hide behind it.

[15]Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe For heaven’s sake.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae I was not talking to Deputy Kehoe at all.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I welcome the Tánaiste’s expression of concern at the disturbing events surrounding the eviction from their home in Killiney of Mr. Brendan Kelly and his wife. Mr. Kelly has been in contact with me and I am sure he would he glad to hear from the Tánaiste and from any other local public representative about his plight. As Deputy McDonald said, this speaks to a much wider issue. Many situations like this occur that we do not hear about and which are not filmed.

I add my voice to the urgency of bringing forward personal insolvency legislation. Is there nothing the Government can do to put a freeze on evictions and repossessions, pending the enactment of legislation surrounding these matters? Scenes of this sort are reminiscent of the mid-19th century and must be stopped.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Deputy, you should raise that in some other way.

The Tánaiste: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The personal insolvency legislation, as I indicated previously, is being moved forward with urgency. It has been moved to the A list, which is the list of Bills for publication this session. As both the Taoiseach and I have said publicly on a number of occasions, we are hugely concerned about the difficulties many households have in making their mortgage repayments. Dealing with the mortgage issue is a huge priority for the Government.


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