Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business today shall be No. 19, Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 17, Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 18, Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010 - Second Stage (resumed). Private Members' business shall be No. 33, Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction (Fixed Penalty) (Amendment) Bill 2009 - Second Stage (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.
Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity to speak to the new British Prime Minister or is there an arrangement for him to meet Mr. Cameron to discuss matters of mutual interest, in particular regarding economic cross-Border activities? Has the Taoiseach put a call through or is he booked on the list of calls?
There has been a deal of comment about the proposals by Eirgrid to deal with the country's electricity grid situation. I refer to No. 38 on the legislative list which proposes to give formal recognition to the establishment of Eirgrid. This Bill is not expected to be published until some time in 2011. Is there a reason it is delayed for so long, given that Eirgrid is central to a range of proposals?
That legislation is due next year. An independent analysis is being carried out in preparation for legislation on the matter. On the first matter raised by the Deputy, I have issued a statement and I will speak to the Prime Minister soon, hopefully by telephone.
I note a new social welfare Bill in the list of legislation. In that context I ask the Taoiseach about the plight of people who have lost their jobs and who are waiting for redundancy payments from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. A person came to see me last week who lost his job in the first week of January of this year. He is now being told he will not receive his redundancy payment until October. I understand there are currently 39,000 people who have lost their jobs who are waiting for redundancy payments as a result of the delays in processing the redundancy rebates. Will the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation who has direct responsibility, take whatever action is necessary to speed up the processing of these claims? It is bad enough to lose one's job without having to wait for the best part of a year before the redundancy rebate comes through.
I am aware of that issue. The Minister is seeking to do all he can. I indicated when reorganising Departments that this matter would ultimately be removed from that Department and become the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection. There is a perennial issue with regard to meeting demand. I am aware of the situation and the Minister is doing all he can to deal with it.
I refer to the licensing of health facilities Bill. There is a great degree of distress and anger among patients and relatives of those who are and have been resident at Loughloe House in Athlone, which has now been earmarked for closure by the HSE. A HIQA report on this facility has not yet been published. It recommends significant changes but, I believe, it does not recommend closure. Is there not now a serious question as to how the HSE is utilising HIQA reports? While this report has not been published, why would the HSE have announced a decision to close this facility, causing untold distress? This is an issue for the Minister for Health and Children to make a direct intervention in order to establish what has given rise to the HSE's decision. I urge the Taoiseach to take a personal interest in this case because there is a worrying indication that the HSE may very well be taking the decision in the context of cost-saving measures and not about patient safety, because HIQA is not recommending closure.
Will the Taoiseach bring forward the licensing of health facilities Bill which has yet to be published so that the House can properly address this matter? Will he undertake to make an intervention with the Minister in the context of the case I have mentioned, Loughloe House at Athlone?
There is no date for the publication of that legislation. Deputy Naughten and others raised this issue yesterday. I am not aware of the particulars of the case but I will ask the Minister for Health and Children to check out the position.
My question also relates to the HSE. I do not wish to go over the same ground but there is a problem which is obvious to everybody. The HSE is not now providing the services for which it was intended. The concept of a single health board for the whole country has not worked.
I will refer to the legislation in a moment. The HSE has not worked. Severe hardship is being caused to a significant number of people throughout the length and breadth of the country. Nothing is being done to address the issues and nothing will be done to address them.
We have no opportunity in this House; we can ask questions but the questions will not be answered. The Ceann Comhairle has no control over the quality of the answers either, as he keeps telling us, and we accept that. Will the Taoiseach consider bringing forward emergency legislation to address the health services? In particular, the health and social care professionals (amendment) Bill, is promised legislation and publication is expected in 2011. When it comes to 2011, the problems we are now experiencing will be multiplied many times over. I ask the Taoiseach, as a matter of urgency, to consider introducing the relevant legislation so that the Members of this House can contribute to that debate.
Is it being accepted by Government that serious issues with regard to the administration of health services or the lack of administration of health services need to be dealt with urgently? That is a simple question which relates to the issue.
This Government seems to have a serious problem with cultural heritage and national monuments. When can we expect to have the national cultural institutions Bill before the House? Is it to join the national monuments Bill and the heritage fund Bill in continuing limbo? No Bills have been brought forward in the time of this Government to protect our culture and heritage.
I wish to raise two matters. First, as a result of all the recent hospital bed closures around the country, people have to wait even longer for service and lie on trolleys for even longer then they did hitherto. Will the Taoiseach inform the House when the eligibility for health personal services Bill will be introduced? Will he consider inserting a provision in that Bill that if a person is waiting more than two hours in an accident and emergency department, he or she should not have to pay the fee of €100?
At least people will get some sense there is somebody who cares about their health care and there is some accountability for the accident and emergency departments and hospital management to provide a service. The Minister for Health and Children keeps cutting and cutting while promising to improve services.
Yesterday I encountered a case in Beaumont Hospital in which a man was lying on a trolley overnight with only days to live.
That may well be the case but there is a frustration at the Government's lack of ability to deliver the services it is obliged to.
The reference pricing for drugs Bill is listed as No. 71 on the Government's legislative programme and will not be taken this session. When I raised this legislation before, the Taoiseach informed me it and the Prescription Charges Bill, No. 9 on the programme, would be introduced at the same time. Clearly, this will not be the case. The message we get again is that legislation which may save only €20 million while hurting chronically ill and vulnerable people on medical cards will be taken first while the reference pricing for drugs Bill which could save the country badly needed hundreds of millions of euro is put on the long finger to be taken in the autumn or even later. Will the Taoiseach inform us when these Bills will be brought to the House?
Regarding the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill, it is ridiculous that elderly patients are sitting on chairs overnight in hospitals such as Beaumont. Under the 1970 Health Act, they are entitled to an eligibility for health services.
When the Fine Gael leader earlier asked the Taoiseach whether he was considering changes at EU level that would require the Irish budget to be first approved by other countries' Finance Ministers, the Taoiseach seemed decidedly uncomfortable and did not answer the question. I believe this is a legitimate question for the Order of Business. Is the Taoiseach contemplating legal and profound changes in this respect?
Has the Taoiseach had an opportunity overnight to clarify the nature of legislation needed for the proposed Irish guarantee of €7.5 billion for the eurozone stabilisation fund? While the House welcomes this development, we need to know to what extent is the taxpayer moving ahead of other creditors such as bankers who have lent to countries in debt difficulties. Will the Irish taxpayer have preferential treatment over these creditors? What protections will be in place? Has the Taoiseach legislative proposals to put before the House so these issues can be thrashed out?
Last week the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills indicated the House would have a debate on the EU stabilisation package. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said legislation may be required. It is important the House is given the information as to what the Government understands will be the required response by Ireland. Yesterday, I also asked the Taoiseach on the position of the scoping inquiry by Herr Regling and Mr. Watson from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, but he did not give me an answer as to whether its report would be published. The two gentlemen said it would go to the Government and then to the Attorney General.
Will the Taoiseach give an undertaking that the report will be debated in the House or in the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service? Will he give an undertaking that it will not be sat on as has happened with other inquiry reports such as that on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority?
I got a briefing from the Department of Finance on Thursday about the bilateral arrangements for the €1.3 billion loan to Greece. We do not know whether the €7.5 billion loan is a bilateral arrangement with Ireland and the EU. We do not even know what the Lisbon treaty commits in this context.
As I said yesterday legislation for the Greek situation will be put before the House and all aspects of it can be debated then.
The whole idea behind the stabilisation fund was to provide a Community instrument quite apart from pooled bilateral loans. The special purpose vehicle being established in respect of the €440 billion contingency facility should it be required will probably require legislation, on which we are getting legal advice. This can also be brought to the House and debated.
We have indicated debates will take place when the reports are available.
Legislation to deal with the matter in question will more than likely be required and will be brought forward to the House. The basic point is about allowing the contingency facility to obtain these bonds on the market, should they be required, by a special purpose company set up at European level. This will enable this facility to be accommodated, underwritten and guaranteed by the member states thereafter.
The taskforce established by the European Council President, Mr. Van Rompuy, will meet for the first time on 21 May. A proposal from the Commission, to be published today, will form an input into that discussion. It was envisaged those discussions of the taskforce would last until the end of the year but it has been asked to accelerate them. The Commission will bring forward its proposals. The matter will then be discussed by the taskforce. The Minister for Finance is Ireland's representative on this.
We will give ample opportunity for everyone to comment during the course of the discussions and in the event of a report being obtained. That is the normal position. I do not see about what Deputy Burton is shaking her head.
The Taoiseach has spoken on many occasions about public sector reform and improving the efficiency of the public service. As the Department of the Taoiseach is responsible for the Chief Whip, the Taoiseach has an overarching responsibility for the drafting of legislation. Will he send a search party to Marlborough Street to find the departmental legislative unit, if there is one, that has been sitting on amendments to the Student Support Bill for two years?
Will the Taoiseach attach to that search party someone who knows those drafting the legislation in respect of placing on a legal footing a school that has now been in operation for nearly three years? If the drafting of legislation was a leaving certificate examination subject the Department would not be allowed to sit the exam at this stage.
The Ceann Comhairle has not listened to my question. The Taoiseach has overall responsibility for legislation in his Cabinet. The Chief Whip is sitting behind the Taoiseach. The Secretary General in the Department has a responsibility for efficiency. We are now looking at a dysfunctional Department that cannot get its act together. It is a legitimate question on my part. There are two schools operating illegally in north Dublin. There are students who cannot get money and grants to which they are entitled because the system has not been changed and there are proposals to abolish the National University of Ireland. I am asking when can we see the legislation. I am not looking for the third secret of Fatima.
I am already on record as telling the Deputy that the education patronage Bill is expected this session. Amendments are being drafted in respect of the Students Support Bill and I will inquire on the updated position for that. As I understand it, I have already informed the House that the National University of Ireland abolition legislative proposal will probably be ready at the end of the year.
We saw some spectacular scenes not last night but a number of months ago in terms of the elderly and their medical cards. We are all agreed that the Government's reaction was probably the wisest thing to do. Will the Taoiseach inform me whether it is proposed to reduce the services available on the medical card? I refer to certain legislation.
The legislation about which I intend to inquire is on the pink list. It seems medical cards are being removed by stealth from people who rely on them for the provision of treatment. There will be a prescription charge. The poor and those who rely on medical cards can no longer receive dental treatment. If one has an infected tooth it must be pulled out.
I am asking a question which has already been put relating to eligibility for health and personal services. At the end of the day if one is honest with people they would probably accept it more than if they are kept in the dark.
As I mentioned earlier to the Fine Gael spokesperson, there is no date for the legislation as things stand. I understand the Minister for Health and Children will be taking questions next week and these matters would be best addressed then.
I wonder whether the Ceann Comhairle or the Taoiseach can help me with a matter. I tabled a number of priority and oral questions today to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. They were disallowed on the basis that, following a number of announcements, FÁS has now been transferred wholly to the purvey of the Minister for Education and Skills by ministerial order. I understand there will be primary legislation at a later date to transfer some of the functions to the Minster for Social Protection.
When I looked for this order, I could not find it. It was signed by the Taoiseach. It is called the Employment Programmes and Services and Skills Training (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2010. It is a statutory instrument. It does not have a number yet. I understand it was signed on 27 March and came into effect on 1 May. It was only lodged in the Oireachtas Library late last night. It has not been published in Iris Oifigiúil or the Order Paper and we cannot challenge it. I do not understand how legislation can be made in this way or how the Taoiseach can sign an order of great importance on 27 March, have it come into effect on 1 May and allow for a situation almost two weeks later whereby it is not on the Order Paper or in Iris Oifigiúil and only lodged in the Oireachtas Library last night. We are not in a position to challenge this legislation but it was introduced two weeks ago.
Essentially, we have Government by decree and legislation by regulation. This is no way to treat Parliament. Essentially, we have a situation in which Ministers can sign orders and have them come into effect before they are even laid before the House and before we can challenge them. I trust the Ceann Comhairle will not stand over this situation and I trust the Taoiseach will give some explanation as to why that is the case.
The Deputy brings these matters to my attention today and I do know the reference. Practical arrangements are being made to ensure these services are being provided and that reorganisation can take place in due course. On advice, the Government made an order on 27 April to transfer all functions in respect of FÁS to the Minister for Education and Skills with effect from 1 May and since 2 May to the Minister for Education and Skills. The purpose of this was to give the training and skills functions of FÁS to the Minister for Education and Skills. Primary legislation will be required for the onward transfer of functions in respect of the employment services and community services programmes of FÁS to the Minister for Social Protection. The issues are being dealt with on the ground. As regards the question of the order and whether it was laid before the Oireachtas, I will check out the position.
To sign an order and bring it into effect two weeks before it is put it in the Oireachtas Library, before it appears in the Iris Oifigiúil and before we can even challenge it is no way to treat Parliament. Why have a Parliament at all if the Taoiseach is going to govern by decree as if he is the President of Russia? This is a Parliament and we are elected. The Taoiseach should not do this without at least laying the order before the House and holding a debate on it.
I refer to the issue raised by Deputy Varadkar. It is without precedent for questions to be disallowed to any Member because legislation has changed or is proposed, without affording such a Member the opportunity to realign his or her question in such a way as to get an answer. There are several precedents in the House for this but it has happened in the past two-----
I am sorry. In the past two weeks changes have taken place which have resulted in a failure to answer questions from the relevant spokesperson or Member on the day they were supposed to be answered by the relevant Minister. That is creeping legislation in terms of the administration of the Orders of the House. The Ceann Comhairle has a responsibility and I call on him to protect Members and to ensure this does not happen again.
Yesterday the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government heard proposals or submissions from many groups representing bodies throughout rural Ireland in respect of hunting and the banning of many sports. There is a vast difference of opinion between what the Fianna Fáil Deputies stated at the committee and what the Green Party Deputies and Senators stated.
Thousands of people are attending meetings throughout the country about this. People are in dread that their livelihoods are being taken away but the Ceann Comhairle is trying to rule me out of order, which is very unfair. I call on the Taoiseach to request that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should attend the House and explain the legislation and what he is going to do before the summer.
The kernel of the issue is people are worried that it will be guillotined before this Dáil session is over. It will be rammed through and the ideas and views of everyone will not be taken into account. I call on the Taoiseach to respect the views of his own party members as well as the Members generally.
On another matter, 598 Irish citizens have died while abroad in the last three years. Two weeks ago the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs heard from a deputation on this matter. I subsequently submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, asking that the Civil Registration Act 2004 be amended to allow deaths of Irish nationals abroad to be registered in this country. Will the Taoiseach indicate when that will be done?
Question Time would be the best way for the Deputy to ask the Minister whether it is intended to change the current position in order to accommodate the issue he raises. Regarding the matter raised by Deputy Tom Hayes, the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill is in the Seanad, as he said. The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 has been published.
I may be pre-empting the Chair's response by pointing out at the outset that I have no alternative means of raising the issue I wish to highlight. I have submitted parliamentary questions on the subject but because of the work to rule in the public service, I have not received an answer.
I was permitted to raise a matter on the Adjournment debate last week, for which I was grateful, but that means I will probably be down the list for several weeks. My question relates to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare degenerative disease. Ireland is the only country in Europe that does not have a clinical trial site. I spoke to a man earlier this week whose nine year old son-----
It is appropriate to raise this matter. Let me explain. I asked the man how his nine year old son is doing and he told me the boy is playing football these days. However, while the other young lads are getting stronger week by week, this man's son is getting weaker. It is a very serious issue. I acknowledge the work done in this area by the Taoiseach's constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, but there has been a vacuum for the last nine months. This issue must be kept on the agenda and we must, like every other European country, have a clinical trial site.