Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 6a, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimate [Vote 40]; No. 6b, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimate [Vote 40] to select committee; and No. 2, Social Welfare Bill 2007 — Second and Subsequent Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. and business shall be interrupted on the conclusion of No. 19, motion re road safety; reform of penalty points system (resumed), which shall be taken for 90 minutes at 7 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later; (2) No. 6a, and subject to the agreement of No. 6a, No. 6b (referral to select committee), shall be decided without debate and any divisions demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; (3) the resumed Second Stage and Subsequent Stages of No. 2 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) proceedings on the resumed Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 5 p.m. today; and the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.
Yesterday in the House I asked the Taoiseach about this matter and he stated: "I will ask the Minister to brief the Deputy on the other issue", namely, this health Supplementary Estimate. We have been telephoning about this matter since it arose. The clerk to the committee was not sure when it would meet. A quorum could be formed and a meeting called within two hours. We are talking, on the face of it, about €1,000 but the reality is about shifting €250 million from one budget to the other. The Taoiseach promised me a briefing from the Minister and all I got was a page of gobbledegook. As far as I am concerned this is what is at the heart of what is wrong with the Health Service Executive. I got a load of figures and an indication of the health boards involved but no detail on what is being done or why it is being done. On that basis, I strongly object to this. I took the Taoiseach at his word. I expected to get a briefing. This document came through from the office of the Whip at 6.46 p.m. last night. That is not the way to run the country or to reassure people that our health service is being taken in hand in a serious fashion. I would like an explanation as to the reason we did not get a briefing or is it his intention that we will get one before this evening?
If the Deputy did not get the brief as early as he should I regret that but it is usual at this time of the year that we would bring forward Supplementary Estimates, although not as many as was the case previously but——
The Minister will address the Select Committee on Health and Children this evening where she will deal with the issue. All we are doing today is moving what is a technical Supplementary Estimate for €1,000. It does not involve additional taxpayers' money. Savings on subheads of €255 million, and particularly the health repayment scheme, and €260 million will offset additional spending incurred on courts services across other subheads. The additional spending of €255 million on certain subheads represents a small amount of the HSE Vote. The HSE will continue to implement its planned efficiency measures at the end of the year. The Minister will deal with the matter in committee this afternoon.
I have two questions for the Taoiseach. First, what is the expected date of publication of the electricity regulation (EirGrid)(amendment) Bill, which is to give ownership to EirGrid to build and own the east-west electricity interconnector? Second, I am aware the Taoiseach and his office have a personal interest, as has the Ceann Comhairle, in the issue of Dáil reform and that he has extended an invitation to discuss that. I would be happy to take up that invitation if his office would make contact, hopefully before the Christmas recess. In the meantime we should all be engaged as fully as possible on the issue of Dáil reform on which the Whip has proposals.
Work is continuing to progress on the preparation of the heads of the electricity regulation (EirGrid)(amendment) Bill. It is unlikely to progress it any time soon. The Bill is to convert the ESB into a plc under the Companies Acts and to consolidate existing electricity legislation. Talks are going on also with the unions involved.
At the beginning of this session the Government indicated that it intended to publish 17 Bills in this session. It has managed to date to publish three of those, two of which are the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill, which simply transferred the roads functions from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport arising from the appointment of Government, and the second is the annual Social Welfare Bill. I do not believe there has ever been a session of the Dáil where a Government has published less legislation. In fact, the Labour Party has published more Bills this session than the Government. I accept the Taoiseach responds to individual questions about Bills here on the Order of Business but it would appear there is something seriously wrong——
I can go through them in detail but they include a number of complex Bills. In the case of a detailed Bill a drafter in the parliamentary draftsman's office works full-time on that Bill. Regarding the employment agency regulation Bill and the employment law compliance Bill, somebody effectively works full-time on those Bills. Other Bills are put back when that happens. A broadcasting Bill is due to be brought forward also and a student support Bill. There is a number of these Bills but they will be published shortly.
Has a date yet been set for holding the referendum on the ratification of the EU treaty? Given ongoing concerns about the health service and information appertaining to it, when will legislation regarding governance of information in the health sector be introduced?
As the Minister for Health and Children is sitting next to the Taoiseach, does she intend to publish the report on diabetic services for juveniles? It is a glaring fact that services for children with diabetes in the southern region are lacking. Do we have to put up with this two-tier service? If one lives in Dublin, one has a good service but if one lives in the south, one has an appalling service. There are children as young as 18 years, as the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, who do not have access to a service.
Does the Taoiseach have any intention of introducing legislation to bring to an end self-certification in the building industry? A pyrites infill scandal has hit homes in north and west Dublin. The media have expressed little interest in the matter because they are heavily compromised by advertising from auctioneers and builders. Some politicians are also probably heavily supported at election time by builders. The Fingal and Dublin county managers told local authority representatives last Friday that they were urgently waiting on legislation to help those young people facing negative equity with their homes having to be rebuilt from scratch.
Yesterday the Taoiseach informed the House that the nursing home support scheme Bill would not be taken before Christmas but shortly afterwards, as there needs to be a discussion on it. When will the Bill be published in order that discussions can take place? Many are anxious about the issue.
In the light of recent events regarding drugs, for young people the most serious drug of all which leads to others is alcohol. Will the Taoiseach reconsider legislation regarding the advertising and promotion of alcohol to young people, particularly coming up to Christmas?
We hope to publish the nursing homes Bill in the next few weeks.
The Minister has received the first report from the monitoring group established to oversee adherence to the voluntary codes in alcohol sales. The Department and the Minister are considering the report and a decision on whether the legislation will be reactivated is yet to be made. It will be decided in the new year.
Will the Taoiseach acknowledge it is unacceptable for it to have taken eight years to produce a report on serious allegations, now established, of physical and sexual abuse of children with disabilities in the Galway area? Will he indicate whether he intends to implement the recommendations contained in the report? What additional legislation will be brought forward to ensure that children and adults with disabilities are adequately protected within the criminal justice system in order that perpetrators can be properly prosecuted?
The Taoiseach replied that he did not know the date of the referendum on the EU treaty. Tomorrow, he will travel to Brussels to sign off on the EU reform treaty. Will he be telling his EU colleagues about the timing of the referendum? At a luncheon for journalists he promised that the enabling Bill would be passed by the end of January 2008. If it has not been yet published, how will the House pass it by the end of January? We cannot establish the referendum commission until the legislation is passed. Deputy Durkan is Chairman of the Joint Committee on European Affairs. Obviously, he wishes to organise its work around the referendum. Will the Taoiseach give an indication of the timescale of when the various items of legislation will be put in place?
We had this yesterday in the House for half an hour. Anyone listening to the debate would be clear on the matter. I did not say in reply to Deputy Durkan's question that I did not know. I said no date had been fixed. The EU reform treaty will be signed tomorrow. The Government will receive a formal report from the Attorney General and I will consult the Opposition parties. This process will be undertaken in the next few weeks. We will then move on with a plan for 2008. It was never the intention to have an enabling Bill in January when we would be signing the treaty at Christmas.
A Cheann Comhairle, as a new Member who should be more familiar with the rules of the House but is not, will you help me? How do I find out, on behalf of women, when the Ann O'Doherty report will be made available? How do I find out when the HIQA report on cancer services in Cork which does not cover the time the Finnish pathologist was there will be made available? Is the word of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health and Children worth nowt? On the Ann O'Doherty report, the Taoiseach informed us on 6 November——
——we would have it by the end of November. The Minister said on 7 November that she would have it by the end of November. I asked about the report yesterday but got no reply. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked again today and the same thing happened. How long must we go on? What is the function of the House?
Will the sale of alcohol Bill be brought forward earlier? There is a clear indication that the consumption of alcohol with illegal substances such as cocaine is causing untold damage in our society. Young people are dying as a result. We need education measures——
Given the dearth of legislation in this term and the lack of urgency about legislation on this issue I urge that the sale of alcohol Bill be brought forward and that it provide for education on the dangers of mixing alcohol and cocaine.
There are several matters outstanding in respect of the electoral commission, local authorities, boundaries and population. Local elections are due to take place in summer 2009. Will there be changes to the boundaries and the structure of the seats in constituencies?