Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 - amendments from the Seanad; No. 20, Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 21, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); No. 22, Merchant Shipping Bill 2009 - Report and Final Stages (resumed). Private Members' business shall be No. 74 – motion re strategic investment bank (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
When is it expected to introduce the Bill giving effect to the proposal for a directly elected mayor of Dublin?
In his Budget Statement in October 2008, the Minister for Finance announced the merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority yet this still has not happened almost two years on. Why such a delay? Are we waiting for legislation? What is the problem in giving effect to the Minister's announcement in this regard in October 2008?
Will the election take place this year or not? If it is going to take place this year, when will the legislation for it be brought before the House?
The second issue I wish to raise is the allowance promised to the 300,000 families who will be affected by the introduction of the carbon levy on home heating oil from next Saturday. It is not acceptable that the poorest households can be dismissed, as the Taoiseach and the Minister for so-called Social Protection did yesterday in their statement. The Government is welshing and reneging on the promise of a special allowance for these families before the carbon levy is introduced. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, now says they will not get this allowance until next October.
Those affected are families dependent on oil for home heating and who have seen its price go up by 37% in the past year with another 9% increase due after the introduction of the carbon levy. These people were promised an allowance to offset this. I did not expect the allowance to be huge but it would have been some assistance to these families in paying the increased costs for heating their homes.
The Government's new position for pensioners and low-income households is that they can wait until October. That is not good enough. There was a promise of an allowance before the carbon levy was introduced which was confirmed in the House during the budget. The Minister's excuse of a statement yesterday is an absolute insult to those people.
On promised legislation, the programme for Government states the election for a mayor for Dublin will be held in 2010. Such elections would have a statutory requirement which is being prepared and is due to be published this session, we hope.
On the other matter, I have outlined to the Deputy twice already, both yesterday and today, how the existing schemes will be used. The exceptional needs payment is also in place for anyone who experiences hardship in the meantime.
Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I know but we are talking about poor people. Every time an issue is raised concerning poor people and low-income households, suddenly it is dismissed as out of order. This levy will be introduced on Saturday.
This is the only opportunity I have to raise this matter. The levy will be introduced on Saturday. The Ceann Comhairle told my colleague, Deputy Shortall, she could down a parliamentary question on the matter. If she does, it will not be due for answer until next week by which time the carbon levy will be in.
Raising this on the Order of Business is the only way. The Government promised it would bring in an allowance in advance of the carbon levy. It has welshed on that promise. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, yesterday told all those pensioners and low-income households dependent on oil for home heating that they can wait until October for the allowance. That is not good enough. I want a more sympathetic and responsive answer from the Taoiseach than what he has just given about existing schemes.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the General Office regarding a parliamentary question I had tabled to the Taoiseach requesting him to report on his meeting with representatives of the Catholic religious institutions on 15 April. The letter I received informed me the Taoiseach will not answer the question and it will be referred instead to the Department of Education and Science.
Yesterday, a parliamentary question in the same vein, tabled by a Fianna Fáil backbencher, got a full and detailed report of the meeting.
Why is there a difference in response? This is also a matter for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, whose party is with this Fianna Fáil Government. This matter must be addressed.
Is it correct that the Irish participation in the IMF loans to Greece will require primary legislation? Has the Taoiseach a date in mind for this? Has a draft of the legislation been produced? If so, will the Government publish an outline of it so we can prepare to examine the legislation?
The commitment in the programme for Government on the carbon levy was that it was to be revenue-neutral. An ESRI report, and many reports from the Green Party, indicated that the money would be recycled to reduce employment costs, particularly for low paid workers, and spent in such a way-----
When will the legislation on the International Monetary Fund support for and loans to Greece come before the House? What is the position on the carbon levy commitments in the programme for Government and, in particular, the commitment to protecting people who are suffering from what the ESRI, other agencies and the Green Party describe as fuel poverty, that is, the people on pensions and social welfare income?
The Minister for Finance is answering questions today and he will be able to deal with any detailed questions on whether legislative requirements are needed on the IMF loan.
On the other issue regarding the programme for Government, it is proposed that the existing schemes, which cover the 32 weeks that heating is required by people on low income, will be augmented this year as a result of the changes coming forward. I want to give the reassurance that assistance continues to be available as usual over the summer months for people with special or additional heating needs through the heating supplement and exceptional needs payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.
Regarding the first question, I understand that legislation such as that dealing with the loan to Greece requires Government approval. Has the Government taken a decision in principle to support the IMF package of assistance to Greece and, if so, has the Government, in its scheduling of business involving the Chief Whip and so on, set aside a date for that legislation?
No. The Taoiseach is the head of the Government and it is reasonable to ask him about the scheduling of legislation. The Taoiseach's reply to the question on the carbon levy and the compensation the Green Party promised people who are poor and living in fuel poverty-----
As I said, Ireland outlined in successive European Council communiques our support for the proposal being drafted in respect of the Greek position, working with the European Central Bank and the Commission. Whatever requirements are to be made here in the House will be brought forward but until that is brought to Government I do not have any further information.
With regard to the question raised by Deputy Burton and having regard to the commitment previously given by Government, will the Taoiseach indicate if it is intended to review the impact of the carbon levy on the various sectors that will be negatively affected by this extra imposition in the course of the current year-----
This question is in order. This is in the programme for Government. Is a review likely of the impact, negative or otherwise, of the carbon tax as the year progresses? That is the question, and it is on promised legislation.
That is wrong. We have outlined the position, namely, that there is the heating supplement and exceptional needs payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme and the fact that we will bring forward augmented measures under the existing schemes for supporting people.
On a separate issue, legislation was promised in the House during the passage of the NAMA legislation to the effect that measures will be introduced to assist people whose mortgages had fallen into arrears through no fault of their where unemployment had overtaken their position and where, subsequent to that, a group-----
It arose as a result of amendments from Fine Gael and Labour relative to that particular section in the NAMA legislation. The question is simple. What has happened regarding the expert group set up to advise the Government on the measures that could be taken to assist those who have mortgage arrears, on modest houses, of up to €100,000?
There is not promised legislation in the area but we are examining all possible ways and means of addressing it. As part of that ongoing review process there were presentations recently including from Start Mortgages, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and financial institutions and updates on local authority housing and on the review of the mortgage interest supplement scheme. Also, on a rolling basis initiatives can be taken by the Minister for Finance where that is deemed appropriate.
I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of the campaign under way this week to highlight the worsening exploitation of domestic servants who have the protection of virtually no labour law in this country and, where labour law applies to them, it is not enforced. I refer to people being paid a fraction of the national minimum wage or who are grossly exploited in terms of hours. These workers are largely migrants. Is the Government contemplating any legislative measures to give some protection to this weakest section of the migrant worker population?
I am not aware that legislation is proposed for this session to cover any such position. A question to the Minister for labour affairs might elicit a more accurate and updated reply. No one in the House would condone exploitation of any people, particularly vulnerable people, and therefore whatever labour law framework we have in place should be as supportive and protective of those people as possible. I cannot be any more specific.
On two items of promised legislation, first, the noise nuisance Bill has been promised for some time. It is to give greater powers to local authorities to deal with the issue of noise pollution. It is on the programme for the past three years. The second item is the forestry Bill to develop the forestry industry, which is going through a very rough period at the present time.
On promised legislation, can I ask the Taoiseach what the Minister for Health and Children meant in the statement she issued today saying there will be further drastic cuts in the health services as a result of the breakdown of talks with IMPACT?
There is. The eligibility for health and personal social services Bill is No. 63 on the clár. I would like to know when that Bill will be introduced and will people get eligibility to the services they have been promised. The front page of the Irish Dail Mail tells us there will be chaos in the cancer vaccine programme. I must put it to the Taoiseach-----
The Ceann Comhairle continually advises Members of the House to try another route but there is no other route. My colleague, Deputy Mitchell, tabled to the Minister for Health and Children a parliamentary question regarding a patient and got the following response, which I will read for the Ceann Comhairle's information. It states:
I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action by the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you however I would invite you to raise it with me again.
This inquiry relates to a patient who has an aneurysm, which is a life threatening condition, who has been waiting 18 months for surgery. What does this answer mean? Does it mean the Deputy should contact the Minister again if the patient is still alive?
Given that Glanbia plc is in the process of being broken up and returned to a co-operative, which is a major breakthrough for this country, when will the industrial and provident societies and friendly societies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which is supposed to be of benefit to the co-operative movement, be introduced? I welcome the re-establishment of co-operatives.
The Taoiseach, when announcing the recent reshuffle of ministries, stated FÁS was to become the responsibility of three different Departments. Will legislation be needed in this regard and how will this affect support to the Quinn Group and the hundreds of jobs therein which are at risk? What other support is the Government giving to the Quinn Group to ensure that as many people as possible continue to be employed by it?
As regards the renewed programme for Government and the Green Party proposal regarding a tax on fuels, a tax which I understand will be ringfenced to fund some its pet projects at a cost to the taxpayer, the Taoiseach said this matter might be dealt with by way of the supplementary welfare officers scheme. I am sure he is aware that scheme has been swamped by people in regard to bread on the table issues.
-----to be seen under the supplementary welfare officers scheme. That will not work. Is there a need, arising from the fact that there will be a new subhead for expenditure, for secondary or primary legislation to implement the proposal announced in the Budget and when will that legislation come before the House?
I made the point that this is about augmenting existing schemes which operate from October to March and April. Where exceptional needs or hardship arise during the summer months, we have in place exceptional needs payments, as is always the case.
I wish to raise two points, one of which relates to the national paediatric hospital to be located at the Mater Hospital site on the North Circular Road. Recent reports in the media state that a deal has been done by Government with the Church authorities and religious congregations on the funding of the new hospital. Perhaps the Taoiseach will state if this is the case. It is some time now since the decision was taken-----
-----to build the hospital and as yet there is no sign of the €500 million required to do so. Is this now to be the approach? I note the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is in the House. Ten days ago, he indicated he would bring forth urgent proposals to deal with head shops. Another community will today march on the Dáil in regard to head shops. I understood the Minister was to urgently bring forward proposals on this matter and would not await legislation from the Minister for Health and Children in regard to the ban on certain named drugs. When is that legislation likely to appear? Also, is there any chance of our getting a look at the heads of the Bill? I understood from the Minister's remarks that this legislation in terms of new powers for the Garda Síochána is well advanced.
I agree with Deputy Costello in regard to the urgency of legislation to deal with head shops. When trawling through emails which I received in recent years I came across a letter I received in 2006 from the family of a man who-----
The matter is related. We have had three Ministers dealing with the drugs strategy since this man died in 2006 as a result of the effects of products sold to him by a head shop. The family asked at the time that all that can be done be done to ensure that all mind altering-----
------hallucinogenic substances are taken off the shelves. Another option would be the close these shops. It is not that this issue has not be raised previously. It has been before Government for four years at this stage. The legislative programme contains nothing to address this issue despite a promise by a former Minister with responsibility for the drugs strategy that it would be addressed.
Only last week, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated that we needed to be imaginative on this and that we should watch this space. However, there is nothing in the space. We need a timeframe in regard to legislation on this issue.
In response to Deputy Costello, there is no promised legislation in regard to the first issue raised by him. On the issue of head shops, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is actively involved in urgently bringing forward proposals in this area. As soon as the heads of a Bill have been agreed with the Attorney General, the Minister will publish them.
It would be an absolute outrage if Mr. Fitzpatrick succeeded in camera to hide the details of whatever deal he is doing, notwithstanding the fact that he may have the right to make such application. Perhaps the Taoiseach will answer that question.
I have three queries on promised legislation. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employed promised some time ago to put on a statutory footing a code of practice that would balance the rights of producers and consumers of food. Currently, the price of products for producers is decreasing, the profitability of multiples is increasing and consumers are not getting value for money. A reduction in the cost of products was promised in legislation introduced in this House a couple of years ago. When will the fair trade Bill be introduced? Also, when will the legislation regarding the merger of the Competition Authority and National Consumer Agency be introduced in light of the recent proposal that a bonus be awarded to the chief executive of the National Consumer Agency? When will the merger of those two agencies take place?
I will have to get back to the Deputy on the first issue. I am not aware of where that is or when the legislation is being brought forward. I already answered a question on the consumer and competition Bill earlier today, stating the heads of the Bill are being prepared. I understand the sale of alcohol Bill is due later this year.
Last year, Aer Lingus paid €40 million in travel tax to the State. At least partly as a result, it then posted a loss of €81 million that year. Last week, as a result of the volcanic ash and the grounding of all the aircraft, it lost a further €25 million in revenue.
As a result of that it is now in a very precarious position as an airline. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has indicated he will not give any State aid to any of the airlines. Will the Taoiseach use the opportunity of the financial Bill before the Dáil at the moment to abolish the travel tax to ensure we continue to have two airlines serving this island? It will be too late if we continue with this tax.