Order of Business.

Wednesday, 4 April 2001

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 534 No. 1

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The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. 25 – motion re Powers of sub-Committee on the Mini-CTC Signalling Project; No. 26 – motion re Powers of sub-Committee on the Abbeylara Incident; and No. 5 – Twenty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed). 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 10.00 p.m. and Nos. 25 and 26 shall be decided without debate. Private Members' business shall be No. 115 – motion re Economic Effects of Foot and Mouth Disease (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the late sitting agreed to?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn Will the Taoiseach clarify the Government's intentions on No. 5? The order [3] refers to the resumption of the debate. I presume there is no guillotine this evening. Will he also clarify if it is the Government's intention to proceed with all Stages of the Bill in the next week or so with a view to holding a referendum on 31 May?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern There is no guillotine on the debate. It is not the intention to proceed with all Stages before the Easter break.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley I seek clarification on the same issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison We are discussing the proposal for the late sitting.

Mr. Gormley: Information on John Gormley Zoom on John Gormley We object to this proposal. The Government is rushing through this legislation because it wants the least amount of debate possible. We also seek clarification on the role of the Referendum Commission. The Government does not want a debate on the Nice Treaty but we want both sides of the argument to be made. Publishing so called neutral literature – the condensed White Paper – is not enough for the Green Party.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. The next proposal is for dealing with Nos. 25 and 26 concerning the powers of sub-committees.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan On No. 25 we will support the powers that have been requested. We hope they will be granted and that the committee will have an expeditious and fruitful inquiry. I am worried about a number of leaks from the committee. The Public Accounts Committee conducted its inquiry into the DIRT difficulties without any leaks. The leaks from this committee may inhibit it from carrying out its functions to full effect. Does the Taoiseach have any observations on this?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Unfortunately I can do nothing about what is happening. These matters concern agencies who have the information. I do not believe members of the committee have engaged in leaks but I hope it will carry out its investigations in a proper manner.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg Nobody else has information.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 25 and 26 agreed to?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn If the Taoiseach is informed of the suspicions of members of the committee about a possible source of a leak will he take action?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern In so far as I can.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Is the proposal agreed to? Agreed. I now turn to Leaders' questions.

[4]Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Taoiseach and most Members of the House would agree that the greatest risk of the spread of foot and mouth disease in this State is from the smuggling of sheep. The Taoiseach may be aware of a request under the Freedom of Information Act which established that an assistant principal in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development working in the sheep meat division reported in a memo dated November 1998 that farmers were furious with the lack of concern shown by the Department, which had done nothing, and that veterinary inspectors must be turning a blind eye to the consignments of lamb in question. On 13 October 1998 the Minister said the Department did not keep any records of sheep imported from Northern Ireland, yet a few months later, on 2 February 1999, he gave assurances to the House about sheep smuggling when he said he was not aware of any recent incident of illegally imported lambs into the jurisdiction.

It seems to me that this should be investigated. I do not want to take from the great work done by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and its officials in recent weeks, but it seems to me that they were very remiss when it was exposed in the media that there was widespread smuggling of sheep of UK origin into the jurisdiction, and that the assurances given by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development to this House did not reveal the full story. I put it to the Taoiseach that nothing was done except to refer the matter to the Revenue Commissioners and that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development sat on his hands. This has been the source of most of the grief this country has experienced in the past two months. Will the Taoiseach have this matter investigated?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Deputy Quinn may ask a brief supplementary question.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Smugglers obviously have many friends in Fianna Fáil.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn No doubt part of the problem we are experiencing at present has come about because of sheep smuggling but the closer co-operation between the authorities in Northern Ireland, and particularly the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development under Ms Bríd Rodgers, MLA, and the officials here opens up for the first time the possibility of considerably enhanced co-operation between North and South. In view of the responsibility which the Taoiseach's Department has for Northern Ireland, could I ask him to request an official from his Department, not the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, to look at this in the context of an all-Ireland solution which would serve the interests of farmers North and South of the Border?

[5]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Neither we nor the Garda have information of an illegal movement of sheep since 21 February. If there is specific information about that, it should be given to the Garda immediately. They are heavy on the ground in that area and most of the special units of the Garda are in that particular area.

In reply to Deputy Noonan, as has been emphasised during the course of the many debates here over the past number of weeks, under EU veterinary legislation there is free movement without certification of sheep between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Many of the comments I have heard recently seem to have been made by people who seem to have forgotten that, but in 1998 and 1999, that was the position – free movement of sheep without certification of any kind was permitted between Northern Ireland and the Republic. That is what has been going on for a long number of years.

Traditionally, there has been considerable legal movement of sheep across the Border in both directions. Recently I have heard many good arguments that this is not such a good idea put forward by all sides of the House but the fact is that traditionally that has been the practice and it has been legal to do so.

In 1997, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development became concerned that the VAT refund regulations were not being observed and asked the Revenue Commissioners to investigate that because the Department thought that the percentage VAT system in operation, which is indexed here every year on budget night, should be looked at. There was some concern that it might be a consideration for people and might explain why people would be involved in so many movements of animals. Some time later the Revenue Commissioners reported back that they had imposed heavy fines on two meat companies for VAT refund irregularities.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development also took action in the 1997-98 period to which Deputy Noonan is referring to increase vigilance at meat plants and to ensure that sheep from the United Kingdom were not slaughtered illegally in Ireland, and circulars were issued to inspectors at that time reminding them of the import requirements – these are some of the facts of which the Deputy spoke.

The issue was taken up in the sheep forum where it was agreed that the most effective solution to the problem was sheep tagging. We know the difficulties involved there but that is water under the bridge. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has finally, after decades, managed to resolve that matter and I congratulate him for that because I know the difficulties involved in it. Agreement has now been reached with the farming organisations on the introduction of sheep tagging from a date in early May next, with traceability through to the carcass.

In reply to Deputy Quinn's point, which is a good point, the excellent relationships which have been built up under the North-South bodies are [6] allowing for new developments. Of course the establishment of a single veterinary regime for the island would require agreement between the Government and the United Kingdom and the Northern Ireland Assembly. A considerable amount of work has already been done under the aegis of the North/South ministerial body before any of this happened to seek possibilities for collaboration and co-operation in a range of animal health areas and this will continue.

In the present foot and mouth situation, there are potential advantages to having a common veterinary regime. I would be strongly supportive of such a regime, assuming it would be possible to ensure that the controls equivalent to those operating between this jurisdiction and Great Britain, the Netherlands and France were also operating between Northern Ireland and those countries, otherwise it would not make much sense.

I am advised that the question is extremely complex. It is not as easy as it seems. Any decision to establish a single veterinary regime on this island would require equivalent animal health status in both parts of the island, which is not the case at present. There is a considerable amount of equivalence at present, but the situation is complicated by the high incidence of BSE in the UK herd, which has meant that the exportation of livestock from Northern Ireland has been banned since March 1996.

However, I am not against it and we should do anything we can on the North-South bodies to try and move it on. There is also an over 30 month regime operating in the UK where such bovine animals are excluded from the food chain. Therefore there are some obstacles to the establishment of a single veterinary regime but the Minister advises me that he and his colleagues are very anxious on the North-South body to try and press on and do as much as they can in this area.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan The Taoiseach has given the House a great deal of information but the principal item of information he has put on the record is not correct. It is not correct to say that there was free movement of sheep from Northern Ireland to the Republic and that it was quite legal to do so. There was free movement of sheep of Northern Ireland origin to the Republic, which is entirely different. The sheep which were being smuggled for the purposes of evading VAT did not originate in Northern Ireland. They came from Great Britain and many of them were purchased in exactly the same market in Carlisle which has been instrumental in spreading foot and mouth disease to Northern Ireland. It was those sheep which were the concern of the official in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development when she wrote a memo stating that the Department has clearly done nothing and has turned a blind eye.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison A question, please.

[7]Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am putting it to the Taoiseach that the Civil Service advice was ignored, that we are talking about sheep smuggled in from Great Britain, that the Minister did nothing when he knew what was going on and that the Minister misled the House by evasion and by not giving full information when questions were asked.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy should ask a question. The Deputy should not make charges.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I am asking the Taoiseach to have an investigation into this matter.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey The Deputy should tell us the difference between a UK sheep and a Northern Ireland sheep.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Even this morning the Taoiseach is evading the issue. He knows quite well what is the legal position. There should be an investigation into this matter. Nothing was done by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and the Minister to prevent the smuggling of sheep from Great Britain through Northern Ireland into this jurisdiction—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Standing Order provides for questions.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan —the purpose of which was to get a rebate of VAT to which the people were not entitled. This was not investigated. I would ask the Taoiseach to correct the record of the House because he has put incorrect information on the record.

Mr. Dempsey: Information on Noel Dempsey Zoom on Noel Dempsey The Deputy should tell us the difference.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy is in breach of the Standing Order. The Standing Order clearly states that brief questions should be asked.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte They did the same in the case of Goodman.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Serious allegations should not be made under the cover of Leaders' questions. There are other ways of doing that.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern What Deputy Noonan says is totally wrong and he knows it. I have already replied that the Revenue Commissioners did investigate this matter when it was highlighted in 1997 and prosecutions took place.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe The Taoiseach is answering questions he was not asked.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern May I again draw Deputy Noonan's attention to the central element of this, that under the EU veterinary legislation there is free movement without certification of sheep between Northern Ireland and the Republic. On the other side of it and in the context of the cur[8] rent position as regards the foot and mouth situation, in replying to Deputy Quinn that there were advantages to a common veterinary regime, I said, “assuming that it would be possible to ensure that the controls equivalent to those operating between this jurisdiction and Great Britain, the Netherlands and France were also operating between Northern Ireland and those countries”, because people in Northern Ireland can move sheep between these countries. That is the difficulty. There is also the movement of sheep within the islands. It is legal for Northern Ireland to trade with those countries and with us.

On the other side there is the Carlisle situation. From the information we have to hand – and I am sure these matters will be subject to investigations – it appears the two confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease on this island to date were the result of smuggling. I am sure the Garda investigations will finalise that, but that movement was before 21 February, the date we closed things down. I have said inside and outside the House what I think of smuggling and the other malpractices that seem to be a culture that has developed. We still have quite an amount of work to do in that area and we will have to do it. The Garda has been updating for the past four or five weeks what I am sure is a long litany of facts they have gathered on these matters and I hope they can proceed to prosecution with them and also reach conclusions on how we might tighten up matters for the future.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn There is a report in one of today's newspaper summarising the recommendations of the Flynn report on the future of the post office system. There is also a statement attributed to a spokesperson on behalf of the Minister for Public Enterprise to the effect that an announcement will be made fairly soon about the future of the banking arrangements and the post offices. I am aware that the Taoiseach's Department was briefed some time back by representatives of the banking federation about the introduction of a single universal bank account. In light of the uncertainty that hangs over the immediate future of the viability of the post office network countrywide and the desirability to ensure that every citizen is properly integrated into a system of financial transfers, will the Taoiseach indicate what the current position is, the substance to the report attributed to the spokesperson on behalf of the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, and when he will make an announcement on the introduction of a universal bank account that would help, in part, to secure the future of some but not all of the post offices?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I welcome the report. Phil Flynn has done an amount of work on this area over a period of time. He has gone over the history of the post office system, the 1,800 branches throughout the country, back to the foundation of the State. A number of difficulties with the post office network are outlined in the report. As [9] to what will happen now, there will be no delay in establishing an interdepartmental group who will work on the report. A number of issues highlighted in the report must be implemented forthwith.

Given that commercial banks have pulled out of various areas, the Minister is anxious that the post office network should be in a position to take up as much of that work as possible and serve the community as best they can. She has almost concluded negotiations with the banks on arrangements to ensure they will have an involvement in this. I am not sure what date she will announce those proposals, but it will be shortly as they are nearly concluded.

The Government considers the post office network as extremely important. Far from creating any uncertainty, we are anxious to make sure that as much business, including new and different types of business, can be given to them so that we can make them viable for the future . Some of them will close as some of them will not renew their licences, but it is our wish that the network stays in place and we want to ensure it will be viable. Apart from the issue of postmasters and postmistresses requiring pay increases given their low incomes, it is also essential to ensure they are given new areas of business. Where banking services have been pulled out of not only rural areas but urban areas, the Minister is of the view that some of those services should be passed to the post office service.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan Arising from the Flynn report, is it the Government's intention to announce the widespread closure of post offices around the country? Will that be done by the Government? At what stage can we expect that announcement? In the meantime has the Government any proposal to reopen the 80 or so post offices where those operating them are finding it difficult to get people to take over the duties of postmaster or postmistress?

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn I am confused about the Taoiseach's reply. This report has been referred to an indepartmental committee. The post offices and the Exchequer are facing a bill of approximately £82 million by the year 2003, yet the Minister for Public Enterprise is about to announce proposals on one aspect of new business fairly soon. I suggest that report and the announcements when made by the Minister should be referred to a relevant committee of this House because of the widespread concern people have about the future of the post office network. The proposal to refer the report to an interdepartmental committee and that the Minister is about to make an announcement on one aspect of business seems to indicate that the Government is moving in two different directions on this matter at the one time. The matter should be referred to a relevant committee of these Houses to facilitate a proper discussion on it.

[10]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I have no difficulty with that suggestion. I will reply to two questions put. Some issues are more urgent than others. As Deputy Quinn correctly said when he spoke first on the matter, the discussions between the banking group and the committee it has set up and the Government have been going on for a long time. Since then banking services in many parts of the country, rural and urban, have been pulled out.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn And more will pull out.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern More will pull out. In those areas not alone does it not make sense to close the post offices but it makes good sense to develop them and to give them the technological advances to enable them not only to do their existing work but to do much of the banking work that was done by the commercial banks in the past and to benefit from any other new experience the State can give them. That is our intention.

With regard to Deputy Noonan's question, I do not envisage branches of banks that were closed because nobody wanted to take up the business as they were not viable, being reopened. Equally, I am sorry to disappoint the Deputy that he will not see the wholesale closure of post offices throughout the country.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael Noonan Zoom on Michael Noonan I did not mention that.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Is the Taoiseach aware of the restrictions on the work of the Human Rights Commission in relation to its budget and North-South contact?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That matter is not in order on the Order of Business. A matter raised must be a direct question about legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Legislation is promised on this.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Then the Deputy should put her question.

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Is the Government considering reviewing a decision to introduce amending legislation—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Asking if the Government is considering something is not a question. That is not a relevant question. Is it promised legislation?

Ms Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald Legislation is promised to amend the Human Rights Commission because of the mess made in its appointment in the first place. Is any urgency being given to the introduction of that legislation or is it planned to introduce it with the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights? Surely it requires greater priority. There is not much point talking about supporting Mary Robinson and not establishing our own commission properly.

[11]The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As I announced a number of times, there is an extension to the membership of the Human Rights Commission and that legislation is due shortly.

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I wish to raise the matter of the Government's intention to take the Twenty-second Amendment of the Constitution Bill on judicial accountability, the timeframe and sequencing of the taking of that legislation and the required supporting legislation. When will the supporting legislation be published and what timeframe is envisaged by the Government to process that Bill through these Houses?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I understand from the Whip that it is hoped to commence that legislation next week but it will not be completed before—

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin What about the supporting legislation?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern What supporting legislation?

Mr. Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin There is a requirement for a supporting Bill to work out the terms of the judicial conduct committee to be established under the constitutional amendment. Would that be published before the constitutional amendment Bill is passed through these Houses or before the matter is put to the people?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I stated yesterday that the issue was under consideration by the Minister and that if it was required he would bring it forward.

Mr. Hayes: The Taoiseach is aware that there are 10,000 homes in my constituency which do not have an adequate bus service at the moment because of ongoing attacks on bus drivers and vandalism and violence. Could the Taoiseach direct the Minister for Justice to meet with the workers involved to—

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

Mr. Hayes: On a point of order—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy cannot have a point of order if he is in disorder. The Deputy is totally disorderly. If the Deputy has a relevant question on the Order of Business he may put it.

Mr. Hayes: Will the Taoiseach instruct the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to meet the workers involved?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That is not a relevant question on the Order of Business. The Deputy should resume his seat.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Maybe the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will provide a taxi service to west Tallaght.

[12] I am sure the Taoiseach enjoyed, as I did, the eulogy to him in The Sunday Tribune on the fairly flimsy pretext that he had taken to giving straightforward answers.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Order of Business Deputy. The Deputy should ask his question.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte It would be impossible to put the question without the preamble. It has been suggested in a prominent Sunday newspaper that the Taoiseach has taken to giving straightforward answers to straightforward questions and I know that is built on a flimsy foundation. Will he now tell the House whether his Government will permit the whistleblowers' Bill to be enacted before the general election in October?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Deputy Roche will have to consider ear tagging for leakers.

Is there any basis for the reported promise of the Taoiseach's commerce Minister that he intends to legislate to reduce insurance costs for young drivers?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Not to let down The Sunday Tribune the answer to the first question is “yes”. We intend to take the whistleblowers' legislation and we will bring forward amendments. On the issue of young drivers the Minister will take the questions that are down for him on that.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell In February last I placed a question to the Minister for Health and Children which he promised to reply to in due course. The relevant information was released outside the House before it was sent to me. There is a motion on the Order Paper this morning in my name, Motion No. 134 seeking meetings of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges at least every month. There are two other questions one asking about the number of task forces that have been set up in the Department of Health which is a month outstanding for reply and—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy should ask now about the taking of the motion.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell I wish to ask the Taoiseach, given the abuse of parliamentary privilege which seems to be commonplace—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy should refrain from allegations. The question on the Order of Business please.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell We should be allowed to tell the truth in this House. Will the Taoiseach provide time for a discussion on this motion? It seems to me that Members are being bypassed at every hand's turn.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The Deputy cannot make allegations now.

[13]Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell The allegations are self evident.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern As I understand, it is a Private Members' motion which can be moved in Private Members' time.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent In contrast to the feigned concern from the Government after President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto protocol, may I ask about legislation to help Ireland comply with our obligations under that protocol. The Irish energy centre Bill is due to be published within the next week. Given that the Minister of the Environment is concerned about double jobbing by officials can the Taoiseach say whether the Local Government Bill will emerge from its indefinite parking spot to see the light of day before Easter or before the Government falls?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Local Government Bill will be dealt with as soon as possible and the Irish Energy Bill is still due this session and will, I hope, make it.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton When will the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill be debated in the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is scheduled for the Seanad next week.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): Members of the Committee of Public Accounts have pointed out how the banks, which had engaged in widespread tax evasion, escaped virtually free in terms of penalties. If it were the small people it would have been up to £400 million rather than a few million. When will the Government make large powerful business institutes, like the banks, as accountable as the ordinary person in the matter of taxation? This could be done through the financial services and Central Bank Bill. Could the Government bring this forward and make these institutions accountable rather than allowing them be a law on to themselves, let away with murder?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison The timing of a Bill is not a relevant question on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern Work is in progress in the Department of Finance on this issue. The heads of the Bill are expected this summer but the Bill will not be ready until early next year.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell A point of order. Is it in order for me to ask when the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will meet to consider my complaint about the Department of Health and Children?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison It is out of order now on the Order of Business.

[14]Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins  (Mayo): The Fine Gael Private Members' motion last week on the crisis in the electricity industry had the positive effect of helping to bring forward the publication of the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill, 2000, to give a 5% shareholding to ESB employees. If we brought forward a motion in relation to An Post would it have the same effect? We have No. 15 on the list of promised legislation for this term, the post and miscellaneous provisions Bill, to give an ESOP shareholding to employees. Are the financial crises in An Post and the report which is now on the Minister's desk likely to have an effect on the Bill?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern I stated already that the Bill was due this session but I am now informed that it will drift into the session after Easter.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes Surprise, surprise.

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern It is expected just after the Easter break.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Yesterday and today the Taoiseach indicated that the debate on the Local Government Bill would resume as soon as possible which means that it has been put on the long finger. Will the Taoiseach state the Government's current intention on the Local Government Bill? Is it the Government's intention to have the Bill enacted in the life of this Dáil?

The Taoiseach: Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern The Government's intention is to deal with the Bill as soon as possible.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison That concludes the Order of Business.


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