Tuesday, 10 June 2014
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 9, motion regarding Standing Order 83A; No. a21, statements on mother and baby homes; No. 21, Health Identifiers Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 9 shall be decided without debate; No. a21 shall be taken today, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, such Members may share their time, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; Private Members' Business is No. 150, motion re death and burial of children at mother and baby homes. Tomorrow's Business after Oral Questions will be No. 22, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 23, Protected Disclosures Bill 2014 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill - Second Stage (resumed).
We disagree with the proposal because 45 minutes is a derisory amount of time to give to such an issue. That is a minute for every year of abuse that took place. This issue is causing huge anger around the country. Major issues are at stake and major questions must be asked, including why this happened. Why did a weak, poverty-ridden capitalist State lean on the Catholic Church for legitimacy and support and tie the morality of the Church into the foundations of this State with the result that women and children born outside wedlock were given such appalling treatment? The State is made up of the political parties that are represented in this Chamber today. The State is largely culpable in this. We need a major debate, with all Deputies given the right to participate. Only ten minutes have been allocated to the Technical Group. Notwithstanding the Private Members' debate later, we believe that more Government time must be given to this debate. The time allowed is derisory for such an issue.
This is the first request made by Deputy Coppinger, and often one does not have one's request approved. However, I have no objection to the continuation of this debate next week. Obviously, a time slot has been set for this week, which was agreed at the Whips' meeting. There will be another Whips' meeting tomorrow, so if Deputies wish to consider an extension of the time until next week, I have no objection.
I assure the Ceann Comhairle that they will all be in order.
On the appalling scandal of the withdrawal of discretionary medical cards from very sick children and from people with chronic, life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, the Government has promised legislation to restore those discretionary medical cards to the sickest in our society. When can we expect that legislation to be published and brought before the Dáil?
I understand that the Cabinet will be meeting this evening to discuss the Cooke report on the alleged bugging of the offices of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Is the Government open to providing time in the House to consider that report in the coming days? I understand the report will be published before 9 p.m. tonight and that the Cabinet is meeting at 7.45 p.m., although the Taoiseach can correct me if I am wrong on that. Will time be made available in this House to discuss the Cooke report?
The Taoiseach has also promised to bring before the House proposals, for the agreement of the House, for a serious reshuffle of his Cabinet. The Taoiseach made a public statement to that effect and, indeed, the Labour Party will be doing the same, with the aspiring leaders-----
I just want to know because it will require a resolution of the House. The Taoiseach will have to come before the House to propose the new members of Cabinet. He has indicated publicly that he is going to do it. He has told members of his own party that it will be a radical change.
I ask the Taoiseach to outline the timeframe in that regard.
On the Oireachtas inquiry Bill, the banking inquiry committee members were expected to have their preliminary meeting tomorrow, but it has now been deferred. What exactly is the cause of the delay in the banking inquiry committee starting its work? We are aware that the Seanad selection committee selected the Seanad nominees last week. There has been no formal referral by anybody to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of a Member of either the Seanad or the Dáil. We need an explanation from the Government as to why there is a delay in the commencement of the work of the banking inquiry committee.
I ask the Taoiseach to update us on the status of the regulation of lobbying Bill and explain the delay with regard to that legislation.
The Government made its decision in respect of a suspension of the review of discretionary medical cards, which were withdrawn for administrative reasons. Obviously, the Minister is considering how best to restore them. He will bring-----
The Cooke report was received in the Department on Friday last. I came back from America on Sunday. I have read the report and there are a number of matters that need to be redacted from it. I expect the report to be published this evening. At the Whips' meeting tomorrow, arrangements can be made to consider the report in the House next week. I say next week because Deputies will need time to read it. It is not a report that one can absorb just like that. It is technical in nature in some respects and needs to be read more than once in order to get a full understanding of its meaning. It will be published this evening and considered tomorrow, and time will be allowed next week for a debate on it. I have no objection to that.
In respect of the Seanad nominees, a voting procedure took place last week. However, in order for terms of reference to be adopted and a mandate to be given, the Government needs to have a majority on the inquiry committee. That matter is being considered by the Seanad. Clearly, the situation that pertains at the moment means that the Government does not have a majority-----
This is an extraordinary revelation by the Taoiseach. He is saying that the Government wants to dominate the committee and decide the terms of reference. If it does not get its own way, there will not be any terms of reference. That is what he just said.
I am not hopping up and down. I normally do not do this but the Taoiseach has made extraordinary comments to the effect that the terms of reference will be dictated by the Government and no one else.
-----the Leader of the Seanad uttered an innuendo about a Member of that House. Said innuendo related to the particular Member's character and it was stated that he had a conflict of interests. The Taoiseach has now stated that all of this relates to the fact that the Government wants a majority on the inquiry.
I wish to inquire about three reports that are outstanding and also about the issue of discretionary medical cards. The Cooke report, with which the Taoiseach has dealt previously, relates to allegations of bugging at the offices of GSOC. I do not think it is good enough for a discussion on this report to be put off until next week. In recent days the Taoiseach returned from what, I presume, was a very gruelling trip to the United States at which point he read the Cooke report and digested its contents. There are those in this House who possess the same intellectual and technical capacity as the Taoiseach.
I am seeking that the Taoiseach set time aside at the earliest possible opportunity for a debate on this very serious issue.
The other reports to which I wish to refer are those compiled by Professor Oonagh Walsh and Judge Yvonne Murphy, respectively, in respect of symphysiotomy. Last July the Taoiseach informed the Dáil that the Walsh report was to be published soon after. In November Judge Murphy was appointed to carry out an examination into the horrific practice of symphysiotomy and her report was to be completed within eight weeks. Neither report has as yet been published. In a letter to me on 15 May the Taoiseach stated that the Minister of Health would submit proposals to the Government in the coming weeks. Has the Minister now done so and when will the Government make the contents of those proposals known to the Dáil?
For months the Government claimed that there was no such thing as discretionary medical cards or that if they did exist, they were not being taken away. It then suspended the review of medical cards and we are now informed that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and his Minister of State, Deputy White, were tasked with preparing a plan in respect of this matter. The Government's cuts have given rise to a great deal of distress and there is huge confusion with regard to this matter on the part of the sick, the elderly and the parents of children with difficult medical conditions. There is still no coherent plan. When will the Government produce its proposals in respect of medical cards?
The proposals relating to medical cards will be produced by means of a memo the Minister will present to the Cabinet next week. Earlier today he provided the Cabinet with an update on the progress being made in respect of this matter.
I cannot answer Deputy Adams' question regarding the reports on symphysiotomy. However, I will communicate further with him in respect of the Minister's intentions for bringing them before Government.
There are people in this Chamber's with intellects that are vastly superior to mine. I am sure they could quite easily speed read the Cooke report and absorb its contents. The report relates to a serious matter. It was received on Friday last and is being published today. It is appropriate that we should give all Deputies the opportunity to absorb its contents before, as is my intention, making Government time available for statements on it next week.
I did not ask when the Cabinet would receive a memo on medical cards, rather I asked the Taoiseach to indicate when the Government is going to produce its proposals.
This is such a vexed and debilitating issue. I note that this is the first time the Taoiseach has been in the House since the elections. What I want to know is when the Government will announce a reversal of its policy.
Normally I do not respond to the Taoiseach in this way, but he said he could not give me an answer on when the symphysiotomy proposals would be brought forward. This was a barbaric practice which affected women who are now elderly, some of whom are quite ill.
Given the earlier discussion during Leaders' Questions, I beseech the Taoiseach to come forward, even tomorrow, and tell the House when he will let these citizens know how we will deal with the issue of how they were treated barbarically by the State for a long time.
The Minister will bring his proposals on medical cards to the Government which I hope will be able to adopt them next Tuesday.
I agree with the Deputy on the issue of symphysiotomy. We have had this discussion before. I know that the Deputy likes to have clarity about dates, but I cannot give him clarity today. This was a barbaric practice. Again, it feeds into the treatment of women for many years. I will have the Minister give me the up-to-date position on the publication of the report and bringing forward his propositions to deal with the matter. I know that a good deal of work has been done on it and will advise the House as soon as I have the information.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about promised legislation in respect of the promise made to change the law on the basis on which medical cards are granted. Will he confirm that these measures will only be temporary, as it is the Government's intention to abolish all medical cards under the universal health insurance scheme?
Work on many new school buildings is ongoing and there is promised legislation. I believe the heads of the education (admission to schools) Bill have already been placed before the Cabinet. Many schools, particularly in north Wicklow, for example, where there is an Educate Together school, are waiting to form boards and to get on with their formation following the changes to admissions policy. Does the Taoiseach know when we will see the Bill before the Dáil?
I have two brief queries on legislation. We have legislation - I gather it is through the Oireachtas - to facilitate the introduction of a tenant purchase scheme. When is its introduction contemplated?
The second query relates to the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill which is before the House and the issue of below-cost selling of fruit and vegetables and perishables, including milk products, etc. There is no provision in the legislation to deal or cater for this matter. Primary producers are very unhappy.
I will discuss the matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the Deputy. The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is one of several housing Bills being considered by the Minister of State with responsibility for housing. Consideration is being given to a tenant purchase scheme.
I wish to inquire about the current position on the sale of alcohol Bill which has been promised and is much sought after. I understand its introduction was conditional on certain legal cases being dealt with in other jurisdictions. When is it likely to be brought before the House and when is it likely to become law?
What is the position on the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill which is No. 54 on the list?
I will have to come back to the Deputy on that issue. A great deal of work has been done on the sale of alcohol Bill, but I cannot give the Deputy a fix on it.
Was the second question about the Legal Services Regulation Bill or the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill?
Is the Taoiseach aware that several houses were knocked yesterday as a result of the pyrite scandal? We have the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013. It is a shame that the industry has not been regulated or that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has not taken action to show-----
As the Deputy is aware, the Pyrite Resolution Bill has been enacted. There is an issue for all builders, developers and quarry operators to determine whether pyrite is contained in the material they supply.
I wish to inquire about progress on the State Airports (Shannon Group) Bill. The Bill was brought forward to separate Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority, something the previous Government had failed to do. Furthermore, it neglected Shannon Airport. At what stage is the Bill in passing through the House?