Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 21, Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland)(Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 91, motion re job creation and economic growth.
As we discussed, there are 168,000 people in mortgage arrears. The heads of the Personal Insolvency Bill were first published on 25 January 2012. It is now March 2013. How many sections of the Personal Insolvency Act have been commenced? I have asked this question on a number of occasions on the Order of Business in recent months and the Taoiseach indicated he would check that and get back to me. Given the urgency and all the pronouncements, it is important that we would know the number of sections that have been commenced. Can the Taoiseach provide a timescale for the commencement of any remaining sections that have not been commenced to date?
-----but we referred here previously to the extent and complexity of the Personal Insolvency Act. As I have told the House, the personal insolvency agency will be open for business in early summer. The director has been appointed. Recruitment is taking place. Arrangements are being made to open this. The Deputy will get the details he seeks tomorrow when the Minister for Finance addresses the mortgage situation in so far as the future is concerned and dealing with the 100,000 people who are in limbo.
I think I am entitled on the Order of Business to ask about sections of Bills that have commenced or are awaiting commencement. I asked about that previously. I am simply asking when the sections of the Act will be commenced.
The Deputy wants the number of sections that have commenced and the date for the commencement of operation by the insolvency agency. All of that detail is under way. The Minister for Finance will update everybody on that tomorrow.
The programme for Government contains commitments to enhance trust between local communities and the gardaí, and also through the policing partnerships, to give greater priority to community policing and higher Garda visibility in local neighbourhoods. What is the position on that issue? The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and I were in St. Patrick's GAA Club in Lordship, of which Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was an active member. He was killed recently a mile from where we met. There is widespread concern in the area that 21 Garda posts have been cut. There is one van patrolling a 45 km stretch of the Border.
I hope my questions for the Taoiseach are in order. The first concerns the Defence (Amendment) Bill and Civil Defence. A number of different directives have been issued to Civil Defence which are conflicting in terms of what its members can do. They can no longer use the blue flashing lights but when they are called out to accidents to help the gardaí or ambulance staff they have to use those lights. Those directives are conflicting, and the Taoiseach might examine them under the Defence (Amendment) Bill because they are getting different-----
I know that, but many accidents will occur before then.
The other question is on the local government reform Bill, which contains many proposals to abandon and merge councils. The Leader partnership companies are now being denied all funding because everything is on hold until such time this so-called merger takes place or they are succumbed into the county councils.
The local government Bill will be a very extensive Bill. It will have to be enacted before the end of this year because of the local elections to be held next year.
Deputy Martin asked me about the number of sections of the Personal Insolvency Act that are in operation. It is a little like the time the late Noel Lemass asked my father, who was a Member at the time, how many seagulls flew over the Phoenix Park in 12 months.
I asked about funding for the Leader partnership companies, which has been frozen. The Taoiseach knows what they do better than I do, and perhaps that could be released.
The more important question refers to the Finance Bill. I ask the Taoiseach, and the Minister for Finance, if there is any possibility they might rein in the Secretary General, Mr. Moran, for his comments in which he attacked-----
The Central Bank and the Secretary General of the Department of Finance in turn have given rise to major concern among many people with distressed mortgages. Essentially, they have been urging that people should be turfed out of their homes by the banks in terms that-----
The Taoiseach has responded to me already and the Government has said, in essence, that it will bring in legislation to facilitate that. Is that still the Taoiseach's intention? What kind of legislation will be brought forward? Will it be simply to close the loophole from the High Court case, which prohibited evictions, or will it bring in legislation which is needed to protect people's right to their home and to write down impossible debt?
Government wants to have a fair and transparent process for dealing with all of those cases that are in distress. I have pointed out on many occasions that this is about ensuring that a resolution, and a solution, can be got in each individual case, which are all different, in order that the people concerned can be taken out of the limbo they are in and contribute to the economy. The last resort clearly identified by Government, and referred to by banks, is the question of repossession of any of these houses. The vast majority of people involved in this can have resolutions brought about for their security and their future in a way that does not involve repossession.
The Government will deal with the question of the loophole in the law because that loophole was being used by some lending institutions to say they cannot settle with clients in particular positions. It is only to have a process that is fair and transparent in the interests of the clients to ensure they will not lose their houses but will have a resolution they can meet and with which the lending institutions are satisfied.
Given the concern about this issue after the comments that were made last week, when is the legislation going to come forward and what is that legislation going to be? That is what people want to know, Taoiseach-----
Excuse me, a Cheann Comhairle, I have not finished yet. On a second piece of legislation, I want to ask when the forestry Bill in section A of the legislative programme is going to come through. Is that going to happen this session-----
-----and can the Taoiseach give a commitment that the Bill will come before the House before the Government makes any announcement or decision on the sale of the harvesting rights in Coillte? Both questions are about legislation.
The High Court issue was dealt with this morning and approved by Government under the Land and Conveyancing Bill. The forestry Bill referred to by Deputy Boyd Barrett will be published during the current session.
Lack of heating kills 1,200 people in this country every year. That shocking fact was disclosed yesterday at a fuel poverty conference in Dublin. On top of that and despite the trebling of grant aid from St. Vincent de Paul-----
I am going there, a Cheann Comhairle. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has trebled its support to elderly people who are in need of heating from €3.8 million in 2008 to €10.4 million last year. I ask the Taoiseach to take the opportunity presented by the fact that the Finance Bill is before the House this week-----
What was originally referred to as the mental capacity Bill is now known as the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill. I confirm that work on the Bill is very advanced and we will let the Deputy know exactly when the Bill is to be published.
Members of the SOUND support group for children who developed narcolepsy from the Pandemrix injection wonders why the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has refused to meet them and bring forward a package-----
The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, made a commitment to the parents of children suffering because of narcolepsy from the Pandemrix injection. This is a fact the Taoiseach knows about. Can he please tell us when the Minister will meet these people? It comes under the heading of the Bill.
The Taxi Regulation Bill is due in the House shortly. It has already had an airing in the Seanad. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, has said he will meet with taxi representative groups who will outline a large number of problems they have with the legislation. Can consideration of the Bill in the House be delayed until after the meeting takes place to allow the representative groups to air their concerns?
It is on Report Stage in the Seanad. The Whips will have to make arrangements to bring it in here. I am quite sure the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, will be able to meet with the representatives before that happens.
The Taoiseach will be aware like other Members that many families have been destroyed by gambling. Recently, there was an advertisement on RTE for the Rutland Centre which was followed two seconds later by an advertisement for a well known bookmaker. Many other European countries have put in place a health warning on gambling. Is there any proposal in Government to introduce similar health warnings in respect of these ads, particularly given the week that is in it?
Possibly, we are talking about the gambling control Bill, a betting Bill or communications legislation. It is a difficulty and the irony is not lost on many families. We have seen the advertisements ourselves and other countries have introduced measures.
Deputy Crowe raises a very serious matter which affects families to their detriment. The heads of the gambling control Bill have not come before Government yet. I understand that quite extensive work has been done and will update the House on the current stage of it.
The Government has confirmed to the Council of Europe that it intends to legislate for the X case, that the legislation will be published next month and passed by July. Can the Taoiseach confirm that to the House?
Work is proceeding in the Department of Health following the information meetings and as part of the process we outlined before. The Minister for Health has not brought the heads referring to the regulations to Government yet. Clearly, we want to deal with this in a proper, comprehensive fashion given the sensitivities involved. We do not want it unduly delayed. When the heads of the Bill come to Government, the Oireachtas committee will have the opportunity to debate them. Everybody will get an opportunity to contribute.
It was promised that a number of Bills would be published during this session including the Houses of the Oireachtas (inquiries, privileges and procedures) Bill and the protected disclosure in the public interest Bill. When is it hoped to publish the social welfare and pensions Bill?
In 2004, a White Paper on regulating better was produced, the purpose of which was to develop principles and practices to provide reassurance that regulation was being made in a transparent and accountable manner. The paper was distributed to all Deputies. Can the Taoiseach look at the White Paper again given the guillotines last week and the issues of property tax and taxi regulation? A process was set out in the White Paper whereby the House was encouraged to produce legislation through various stages including hearings on heads of Bills. In most cases, heads of Bills have not been discussed in the House since 2004 notwithstanding that we are supposed to discuss them before legislation is published. There has only been one instance since the Government took office when heads of a Bill were discussed by a committee before being published.
That Bill will be taken this year. The Houses of the Oireachtas (inquiries, privilege and procedures) Bill and the whistleblower legislation are on track and on target for this session. The question of better regulation is something we must have a general discussion about. I would like to see further improvement in our capacity to do business competently and to give everyone an opportunity to talk.
The criminal law (human trafficking) (amendment) Bill will be taken this session as it is in section A of the Government legislation programme. The criminal justice (legal aid) Bill will be taken later this year.