Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, motion re by-election for Dublin South-West; No. 16, motion re by-election for Roscommon-South Leitrim; No. 30, Forestry Bill 2013 - Report Stage (resumed); and No. 31, Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that in the event a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members’ Business, the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight, and that Private Members’ Business shall be No. 55, Water Services (Exempt Charges) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, which shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes and shall also take place after the Order of Business tomorrow and, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes on that day; the proceedings on Nos. 15 and 16, which shall be debated together, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 25 minutes, whereupon the separate questions thereon shall be put from the Chair, and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, or a person nominated in their stead, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed five minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; all divisions demanded in the House this week shall be taken manually; for the purposes of the fortnightly Friday sitting under Standing Order 21(1) on 3 October 2014, the deadline for the submission of Bills and committee reports to be included in the lottery shall be Friday, 19 September at 11 a.m., and related Standing Orders shall apply accordingly.
Tomorrow’s Business after Oral Questions shall be No. 30, Forestry Bill 2013 - Report Stage (resumed); and No. 31, Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed).
It is not agreed. I oppose the proposal that the Dáil shall rise tonight following Private Members' Business. I believe the House should sit later to discuss the horrific ordeal of the suicidal migrant rape victim who was denied an early abortion in this country over the course of the summer, which has drawn international opprobrium and has horrified ordinary people throughout this country. Amazingly, no time has been provided by the Government to discuss this case or to allow Deputies to question two Ministers who had knowledge of these events when being questioned by the United Nations during the summer. Clearly, this anti-woman law which was voted through the Dáil has failed. We need to table time to discuss when a referendum can be held to repeal the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, which is a medieval amendment inserted into our Constitution 31 years ago.
I propose that the Dáil not rise until this matter has been discussed and until such time as the Tánaiste, in particular, who made her reputation on women's rights-----
This is a very sensitive and personal matter. Arising from the circumstances involved, a report is being prepared for the Minister for Health. That report is due shortly. I cannot give a definite date for it but I can assure the House that the young woman involved is receiving the very best level of care and attention possible. The Minister for Health intends to publish the regulations regarding terminations on, I think, Friday of this week.
Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 15 and 16 agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with divisions in the House this week agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the sitting and business of the Dáil on Friday, 3 October 2014 agreed? Agreed.
It would appear from the schedule of legislation published today that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has won the day. The Government promised in January last to introduce the health reform Bill, whose stated aim was "to put in place the new structures for the health service as set out in Future Care and the disestablishment of the HSE". According to the new schedule, however, the Government intends to introduce only the Health (General Practitioners Service) (No. 2) Bill and the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill. Where stands the health reform Bill and when can we expect it to be published?
In addition, the programme for Government promises the introduction of at least nine pieces of legislation in the area of health to underpin the introduction of universal health insurance. This legislation was meant to be introduced during the lifetime of this Government. Perhaps the Taoiseach would indicate when the universal primary care Bill will be published. On universal health insurance, the programme for Government states that the legislative basis for universal health insurance will be established by the universal health insurance legislation. When can we expect that legislation to be published?
When can we expect the patient safety authority legislation to come before the House? The Taoiseach might also indicate when the legislation to give public hospitals autonomy from the HSE will be brought before the House. When will the legislation to give the HSE function of purchasing power for uninsured patients to a hospital care purchase agency and the establishment of that agency be brought before the House? A treatment purchase fund to purchase care for the uninsured over the transition period is to be established. When will the relevant legislation come before the House? According to the programme for Government, an integrated care agency is to be established. Perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate when the necessary legislation in that regard will be introduced. It is three and a half years or more since this Government was formed. All of the aforementioned legislation was promised in the programme for Government. I have asked the Taoiseach about it on previous occasions. I would appreciate if he could give me a precise answer now in regard to whether we can expect publication of this legislation during this session or beyond that, as promised by the Government.
In addition, when can we expect the establishment of the commission of inquiry following the publication of the Guerin report? It is four months since the Taoiseach committed in the House to such a commission to deal with the serious allegations made in that report, which also recommended the establishment of a commission of inquiry to specifically deal with those allegations. The Taoiseach committed in the House to doing that. For some reason unknown to most people, that has not happened. I would appreciate some clarity in that regard.
On the latter matter, the Minister for Justice and Equality, when ready, will bring proposals to Cabinet in respect of the terms of reference for the commission of investigation arising out of the Guerin report. A number of difficult cases were brought to my attention, some of them by the Deputy in this House, as well as others that were sent directly to GSOC and others by the Justice for All group. These have been assessed in respect of the work that may have been carried out on them and the difficulties associated with them. That work is ongoing. The Minister is anxious that there be an analysis of those cases before the making of a decision on the terms of reference for the commission of investigation. The Government has no intention of holding that up unduly. It is important to get it right, because it is a sensitive matter. The Deputy will also be aware that there is a High Court case pending in respect of a number of the findings of the Guerin report.
The Deputy also asked about ten questions regarding the health area.
The A list is the indicative list of Bills we expect to be published this session. In 2015 there will be two legislative sessions which will deal with a raft of other legislation.
I will respond to the Deputy on each point made and get it right.
As indicated by the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, in the three and a half years since the Government – the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government – was appointed, it has published 191 Bills.
The Deputy should note that there are a number of other areas in which a great deal of work has occurred on Bills that are not on the A list, some of which may come through also. For now, however, the A list represents a clear statement by the Government of the Bills to be published this session, before the end of the year.
This is very serious because it concerns the programme for Government. Should it not be scrapped? It is fantasy. The Government is treating the public and the Dáil with contempt. None of this is going to happen. The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has said it is not going to happen.
The Department of Health officials said it was not going to happen. I have spent 12 months asking the Taoiseach about each of these Bills, but he keeps on talking nonsense and avoiding answering the questions. It is fantasy.
Maidir le Riar na hOibre, ba mhaith liom dhá rud a ardú - an Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill agus an Water Services (Exempt Charges) Bill. Tá an Rialtas seo tiomanta do reachtaíocht a thabhairt isteach chun Údarás Garda Síochána neamhspleách a bhunú. Regarding the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill, the Garda Inspectorate, in its 2014 report, recommended that all petitions for the cancellation of penalty points be handled centrally by the fixed charge processing office in Thurles. That was the only point of authority in regard to penalty points. The latest revelations suggest the recommendation has not been implemented. Therefore, will the Government now move to ensure the recommendations of the Garda Inspectorate are fully implemented?
On the Water Services (Exempt Charges) Bill, Sinn Féin is against water charges, as the Taoiseach knows, but I will not deal with that issue today. However, there is a basic unfairness in charging people for water they cannot drink. Therefore, will the Taoiseach consider providing for an exemption in the Bill for affected citizens?
The Water Services (Exempt Charges) Bill, a Private Members' Bill, is listed for discussion this evening. I have already answered the question on the flexibility that currently is available. I have indicated to the Deputy that the regulator has already made comments in the draft statement where boil water notices or undrinkable or contaminated water is concerned.
Did the Deputy mention the Garda authority?
I want to raise an issue concerning Standing Orders. There appears to be a change to Standing Order 120. It means that the Technical Group will be expanded. I acknowledge the point the Ceann Comhairle makes on the importance of respecting the mandate of everybody elected-----
If Deputy Catherine Murphy wishes to come to my office, I will deal with it. However, as far as I am concerned, what appeared in the newspapers today was totally and utterly incorrect. First, I had no hand, act or part in two new Members applying for membership of the Technical Group; that is not my role. The Standing Order sets out how a technical group can or cannot be formed. Any change is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges; it is then a matter for the Dáil to decide on.
There is no legislation in that regard, but this is a question of realigning services to deliver a better service. Obviously, the Minister of State with direct responsibility for rural development has been appointed. I am quite sure the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will have a particular focus on this issue.
On promised legislation, is it intended to bring the Sale of Loan Books to Unregulated Third Parties Bill which it has been promised will have priority before the House at the earliest possible opportunity in view of the necessity to ensure sales to unregulated third parties will take cognisance of the need to recognise the rights of the individuals affected?
What is the current status of the spent convictions legislation, an issue I have raised before? It sets out to deal with what are often very minor misdemeanours in which people might have engaged a very long time ago but which can have consequences today when travelling, etc.?
I will revert to the Deputy on that issue. The Bill is awaiting Report Stage and there were a number of amendments being considered during the course of the summer. I will advise the Deputy on the current state of play.
Before the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan, left office, he indicated that legislation might be needed under the planning and development code to change how events licensing was handled. The recent Garth Brooks concerts fiasco has shown that the system in place is not fit for purpose. Will the Taoiseach outline if legislation is being considered? Has it even been considered or discussed by the Cabinet? Has the new Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, picked up on it?
The Garth Brooks non-concert is an issue the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is examining; he has already commented publicly on it. I will update the Deputy on the work that is under way.
I have a number of issues to raise with the Taoiseach. The legislative programme lists the redress for women who were in certain institutions Bill.
That refers to the Magdalen women, of course. Can the Taoiseach give a date for the introduction of that legislation? Will he also say when we will see the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes? As he is aware, we were due to see them before the recess, but they did not materialise, and there has now been a change of Minister. Everybody concerned, including the victims, survivors and their advocacy groups, has urged that the terms of reference be inclusive and that the Government get them right. When will the terms of reference be available? Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that he has listened to all of the concerned voices?
Finally, I have raised on a number of occasions the overdue Government responses to, and the Dáil debates on, Constitutional Convention reports. The Taoiseach made much of the establishment of the convention. Tom Arnold stewarded the process with great effort and citizens partook in the debates and took decisions. Why is the Taoiseach dragging his heels on these matters? The Constitutional Convention's fourth report on Dáil electoral reform, for example-----
That report was due last December. The Taoiseach is dragging his heels on the outstanding six reports and six debates. It is an insult to the people who took part and does no justice to the issues raised when the Taoiseach drags his heels in this way. When will we receive the reports and have the debates? When will there be referendums on the issues concerned, not least in respect of votes for the many thousands of citizens who are emigrants living overseas?
Two of the reports are ready to go, and the Whip will update the Deputy after a meeting he is due to have this evening on when the debates can be held in the House. It is for the Government to decide on what referendums will be held. A number of referendums are to be held next year. Obviously, the reports of the Constitutional Convention are important. They are the citizens' views and they deserve discussion in the House. A number of the reports were delayed because of clarifications and discussions relative to Departments arising from the recommendations made by the Constitutional Convention. It is not a case of deliberately wishing to drag heels in this regard. The Whip will report to the Deputy later.
In respect of redress for women in certain institutions, the Department of Social Protection has already commenced payment in many of these areas. The interdepartmental committee on this produced a very detailed report for the Minister. The details of that interdepartmental report are being worked on currently.
Over a year ago, the Taoiseach personally promised what he called a game-changer approach in terms of legislation for the retrospective recapitalisation of Irish banks. Will he introduce legislation to deal with the retrospective recapitalisation? Some legislation is promised on this, but will it deal with the public commitment the Taoiseach gave and which he called a game changer? Second, the Government has agreed to introduce legislation regarding the sale of loan books and family home mortgages by regulated financial institutions to unregulated financial institutions. Will the Taoiseach wait until all the loan books have been sold before the legislation is put in place, or will the legislation be passed as a matter of urgency, even though it is too late for some of them?
A number of loan books have been sold and those who have bought them are voluntarily complying with the Central Bank's code of conduct. In respect of recapitalisation, the decision was made by the European Council in 2012. A number of discussions and detailed negotiations have taken place to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together. The option is open to the Government to consider this towards the end of this year. The supervisory mechanism and the other elements of that have now been put in place, principally driven by Ireland as the country that was mainly the focus in this regard. That work proceeded during the early part of this year and is now practically complete. The Government will consider towards the end of the year whether it wishes to pursue its claim in that regard. It is an option that remains on the table.
I would have thought the Deputy would have welcomed the decision arrived at by ECOFIN and the Eurogroup in respect of approval for Ireland to buy out IMF loans that were borrowed at much higher interest rates than we can currently secure on borrowings. The process is that the individual parliaments give their approval, and we hope that will be forthcoming following the agreement of ECOFIN and the Eurogroup. It is very much in the interest of our country.
With the greatest respect to the Taoiseach and you, Deputy, this is the Order of Business and it is my duty to continue. We only have four minutes left and four other Deputies wish to contribute.
The Fine Gael and Labour Party programme for Government states that a system of universal health insurance will be introduced by 2016. It could not be more definitive. The health reform Bill was an essential part of the process to put that system in place. That Bill was on the A list of the legislative programme in the last session, but it has now been removed from that list. When does the Taoiseach expect the health reform Bill to be published?
I will not indicate a date for it. As I have already said, the necessary foundations of the hospital groups, the money follows the patient principle, primary care and other such areas are of absolute priority for the Minister-----
Before the recess, many Members on this side of the House appealed to the Government to take urgent action to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis. Indeed, some of us protested about the summer recess taking place before this issue was addressed. The Taoiseach promised that the Government would come forward with measures to deal with it. Over the summer the situation has deteriorated substantially.
When will the strategy document be published? Will we get ample time to discuss it properly in the House? Is legislation planned on foot of that, particularly to deal with what appear to be the Government's plans for long-term leasing arrangements with the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and big property developers?
-----on social housing, direct provision of housing by local authorities, the reconstruction of up to 1,800 units in Dublin, involvement with NAMA in providing opportunities for both finance and sites, and a planning Bill to stimulate the construction sector and to get back to a point at which we can build 20,000 to 25,000 houses per year.
No matter what we do and no matter who is in government, we still have to put blocks on the ground before we can build houses. That takes a certain amount of time. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has clarified this.
It is very important that every child receives a school place. When can we expect the publication of the education (admission to school) Bill which is to make the admission process more inclusive and equitable? The framework also proposes a mechanism to ensure that every child receives a place.
I respectfully suggest to the Deputy that she could usefully put in a Topical Issue on that. It is a matter of concern to the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Finance. While it is obviously difficult to make regulations that cover what goes on, it is a source of concern and interest.
That is the first question, which is of international importance. The second is in connection with what was in the discussions in the last few weeks regarding the re-financing of IMF loans, which are part of the troika bailout loans. The counterbalance to that-----
A number of commitments have been made by both Fine Gael and Labour in regard to the excessive alcohol abuse in this country. A number of analyses by various groups in Ireland have come to the fore in recent months indicating that we are apparently at critical levels compared to Europe.
The promised legislation I am referring to is the alcohol pricing Bill. Does the Taoiseach accept we need a constructive debate in this House on what has been happening to Irish youth, the effect this is having on the economy and the effect on the health of the nation?
We are now beginning to move ahead of other European countries, such as the Nordic countries, with regard to how alcohol is affecting our youth in Ireland. It is now three and a half years since the Government came in-----
I expect the heads of the Bill this session. I might add, in respect of Iraq, that Ireland has been proportionately one of the biggest humanitarian donors. It is not the only area in that region where there are humanitarian crises, given the situation in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and the extermination of Christians and so on.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade goes to New York next week as part of a round of city visits dealing with the UN General Assembly and issues related to that.
Governor Honohan has been very clear in respect of his responsibilities in so far as the Central Bank is concerned. The Minister, Deputy Noonan's success with his colleagues at ECOFIN and the Eurogroup in respect of the IMF is a separate matter. Obviously, the Governor of the Central Bank is well able to speak for himself.