Thursday, 14 November 2013
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 10, motion re proposed approval for a Council Decision on the signature of the Agreement between Canada and the European Union on the transfer and processing of Passenger Name Record data, back from committee; No. 11, motion re proposed approval for a Council Decision on the conclusion of the Agreement between Canada and the European Union on the transfer and processing of Passenger Name Record data, back from committee; No. 17, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Arms Trade Treaty, back from committee; and No. 21, Local Government Bill 2013 - Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 5.30 p.m. today and business shall be adjourned on the conclusion of Topical Issues; Nos. 10, 11 and 17 shall be decided without debate; any division on the resumed Second Stage of No. 21 shall be taken immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 19 November 2013, the proceedings thereon, which if not previously concluded, shall adjourn at 7 p.m. and the Order shall resume thereafter with Topical Issues.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 10, 11 and 17 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21 agreed to? Agreed.
I call Deputy Martin on the Order of Business.
It is now 12.45 p.m. and we are only now agreeing the Order of Business, which is indicative of the type of situation we are in in this great era of radical Dáil reform.
We have done very little work yet today. The last episode may have been good public relations but not substantive work in terms of the key issues.
On proposed legislation, the programme for Government contains a number of commitments in relation to primary care, including legislative commitments. The programme for Government commits specifically to the introduction of legislation to provide for access by people on the long term illness scheme to a medical card. The Government committed in the recent budget to the allocation of medical cards to children under five years of age. However, there are many young children above the age of five years across this country who urgently need medical cards and have had them withdrawn. I am speaking in this regard of children with Ehlers Danos syndrome and Down's syndrome and others with chronic multiple conditions who need medical cards. When is the Health (General Practitioner Medical Service) Bill 2013 due and can it be amended to provide that young chronically sick children and teenagers are accommodated in any extension of the medical card eligibility criteria? One needs only to read the website of the Jack and Jill Foundation to learn of the degree to which parents have to fight for medical cards. When will the legislation to underpin the extension of medical card eligibility be introduced?
The Tánaiste might also indicate when the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill to provide revised equalisation credits for 2014 and some technical amendments to the health insurance Acts, which is on the C list, will be introduced. Surely, if it is to be in place in advance of 2014, we can expect it will be taken in the House before the end of this session. When will the Licensing of Health Care Facilities Bill, which is to provide for a mandatory system of licensing for public and private health care facilities, be published?
The Health (General Practitioner Medical Service) Bill deals with the extension of publicly funded GP services without fees. The heads of the Bill are currently being prepared. It is expected that the Bill will be published this session. I acknowledge there is an issue in relation to medical card availability to people with chronic and long-term illnesses, which is being looked at by the Minister.
The Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill was published today and it is expected to come before the House next week.
The draft heads of the licensing of health care facilities Bill are being developed, and it is not possible to indicate at this stage when that Bill will be published.
When will the health information Bill be published? This Bill is intended to provide a framework for better governance of health information and initiatives, and the unacceptable delay in publishing the Bill has been criticised not only by me and others in here, but also by the troika. Information management improvements have the potential to deliver significant savings on our overall health expenditure.
The second issue I wish to raise under promised legislation relates to Deputy Martin's choice for Leaders' Questions this morning on the incredible level of theft of financial and personal details from more than 1.5 million of our citizens. I am talking about the criminal justice (cybercrime) Bill. This Bill is supposed to enable ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and the transposition of the EU framework decision on attacks against information systems. This Bill is of great importance and I hope, following his earlier response to Deputy Martin, that the Tánaiste would take on board the fact that there is legislation in the pipeline which can also help to address this insidious crime. It is a straightforward issue; it merely ratifies something that has already emanated from Europe.
There are two health Bills involved in the Deputy's first question. The health identifiers Bill was a troika commitment and it is expected to be published before the end of the year. The health information Bill is to provide the legislative framework for better governance of health information and initiatives, including data matching and health information resources for use in the health service. The Minister will bring forward a revised general scheme, in view of policy developments. I am not in a position to say when the Bill will be published, but the Minister will be bringing forward a general scheme.
I do not have a date for the publication of the cybercrime Bill. That Bill enables the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, and the transposition of the EU framework decision on attacks against information systems. I will convey the views of Deputy Ó Caoláin and Deputy Martin on this to the Minister for Justice and Equality.
On 1 January, Irish Water will take over all the assets of local authorities in respect of water services, including all pipes and treatment plants. The water services Bill has not been brought before the Dáil yet, even though it was promised for this term. I told Ministers last year that the metering programme would not move at the projected pace. It is moving at a snail's pace and the Tánaiste can check the figures on that. When will we see that Bill? It is the biggest reform of water services since the foundation of the State but the legislation is not in place. Local authority officials are concerned. They certainly have raised it with me and I am sure the Tánaiste is hearing the same thing. Workers in the local authorities are concerned and local public representatives of all parties are also concerned about what is happening.
The water services Bill is due to be published this session. We hope to have it by the end of November, but the intention is to have it this session. The transfer of the water services and infrastructure from the local authorities to Irish Water represents a major reform of our water services. Much discussion has gone on between the Department, local authorities and Irish Water on protocols and other arrangements. As we saw in Dublin in recent weeks, there is a need to modernise the way in which we deliver water to the public to ensure that adequate resources are invested in it in future. This change is a major undertaking and there is quite a lot of work going on with it.
A Cheann Chomhairle, my first question is to you as well as to the Tánaiste. Why did the group known as "Others" not get an opportunity to speak following the recent announcement about the troika? We have questions to ask about the German bank, KfW, and the role it will play in our country.
I noticed Deputy Dowds, my friend and colleague from Clondalkin, rightly getting upset with Fianna Fáil for the way they wrecked our country-----
-----but the Tánaiste will remember that in September 2008, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Independents waltzed us into the debacle from which we are now trying to emerge. It is very important to put that on the record when the Taoiseach comes in here. The Minister for Finance knew the reality, just like I did and just like Deputy Rabbitte did.
He is a lot more social democratic than Deputy Kehoe.
I would also like to ask the Tánaiste about the Health (Amendment) Bill 2013, following a letter I received this morning from Dr. Mel McEvoy in Donneycarney. His letter asked me why a 84 year old is losing her medical card and why she is living in terror because she has a son with a disability who needs care.
She feels that she has so many additional costs. Why is the Tánaiste standing over these savage cutbacks in health? Why is it necessary for Dr. McEvoy to write to me, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, Deputy Kenny, Deputy Flanagan, and Deputy Finian McGrath, as he will confirm?
We intend to have time next week for a debate when the Minister for Finance has finished providing information to the Eurogroup. There will be a debate in the House then and arrangements can be made with the Whip.
If Deputy Sean Kenny or Deputy Ó Ríordáin give me the information the Deputy says they have got about an individual case, I will be happy to look into it.
Alcohol is being delivered to homes and premises across the country, and money is being exchanged on the spot and at the doors. We are told that money or credit cards can only be accepted on a licensed premises. When will the sale of alcohol Bill be published, which will deal with the sale and consumption of alcohol? Can the Tánaiste also clarify that this practice is breaking the law? Will the recently announced minimum pricing on alcohol be dealt with in this Bill?
There are two Bills involved, the public health (alcohol) Bill and the sale of alcohol Bill. It is intended to make progress on both next year.
The Tánaiste stated that the water services (No. 2) Bill will be brought before the House in the next few weeks. Will that contain all the legislation required in order to give effect to the policy that the Government has initiated to introduce water charges next year? Will it give details of service level agreements?
Will it, as Deputy Stanley said, have within its detail the relevant legislation to give effect to the transfer of assets?
A couple of Bills have already been passed. The Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2012 was enacted in February 2012. The Water Services Act 2013 was enacted on 20 March 2013. The heads of the water services Bill have been approved by Government. It will provide Irish Water with the following necessary powers: to deliver water services, including through service level agreements with local authorities; to define the relationship between Irish Water, local authorities and the economic and environmental regulators; to set the legal basis for domestic water charges; to extend the water regulatory powers of the Commission for Energy Regulation; and to provide for related matters. As I have stated, it will be in this session.
I wish to raise two matters of legislation. Is the Tánaiste aware that coming up to 2014 there is a major plan in the Clontarf area to celebrate or commemorate the Battle of Clontarf 1,000 years ago?
This is relevant for small businesses. Under the heritage (amendment) Bill, will the Tánaiste indicate whether he will support the local 2014 group in respect of funding? There are many ideas relating to the arts, it will be historic and it will be good for tourism, small businesses and the country.
I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, being an ex-Clontarf man, will be very supportive at Cabinet level and within the Government. The group needs a few bob to kick-start the project.
My second question relates to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Bill. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment in the House today that the Government will not allow Dublin Port Company to fill in the 52 acres of Dublin Bay?
The heritage (amendment) Bill will give effect to actions arising from the Government reform programme and will be in 2014.
The heads of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority dissolution Bill are in preparation and will be published in 2014.
I wish to raise two matters. The Government has not exactly distinguished itself in matters relating to climate change and the environment but it has promised a geothermal Bill to regulate and licence that sector. Has this been considered by Cabinet? When will it be brought before the House?
We made reference to the crisis in the Philippines on Tuesday. Today, we heard a call for additional funding to be made available to combat the crisis there. Will the Tánaiste outline the position on the deployment of a rapid response corps to the area to give practical assistance to the people of the Philippines? It defeats the purpose of having a rapid response corps if at this point in the crisis it has not been deployed.
The draft heads of the climate action and low carbon development Bill were referred to the joint committee on 26 February.
The geothermal Bill is down for late next year. It will provide a legislative framework for the vesting, licensing and regulation of the development of geothermal energy.
We are working closely with the United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations in respect of the Philippines. We will respond to them and with them as we see the situation unfold. We have already sent money, equipment and emergency materials.
I wish to ask the Tánaiste about the Narrow Water bridge project. Apprehension is growing in County Louth about whether it will go ahead. It is a vital project. The whole peace dividend is at stake and it would be a major symbolic development if we could get it moving. The other issue is that if it does not proceed then a significant tranche of money from the Special EU Programmes Body may not be utilised, a serious matter at a time when we need all the resources we can to regenerate the economy.
The issue that has arisen in respect of the Narrow Water bridge is the value-for-money assessment. The proposal did not meet the assessment requirements. We discussed it at the North-South Ministerial Council last week and the Taoiseach and I discussed it with the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Government and the Northern Ireland Executive support the project. We need to get some technical work done relating to how the project can be progressed. Clearly, we have no wish to lose the money that would otherwise have gone into the project. There is a certain timescale involved and the money will probably have to be reallocated. However, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive continue to support the Narrow Water bridge project and we will get the necessary technical work done and then see how it can be progressed.
A quality transport system is key to driving economic growth and development. It is important for connectivity to European and global markets. The completion of the M4 motorway is important too because there is a bottleneck through the midlands.
This is a historic day since we are back in control of our purse strings. When will the road transport Bill come become the House? Proper transport links to the midlands are important to the midlands and central to economic development there. Will the Tánaiste give an update on when road transport Bill and road traffic Bill will come before the House?
Responses received from the consultation process with stakeholders on the road transport Bill are currently being examined and the Bill is expected to be published next year.