Thursday, 11 December 2014
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, Supplementary Estimates for Public Services - Votes 12, 17, 25, 26, 30, 31, 32, 39 and 40, back from committee; and No. 31, Water Services Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) the Dáil shall sit later than 5.30 p.m. today and shall adjourn not later than 10 p.m., and there shall be a suspension of sitting for one hour after the Order of Business; (2) No. 15 shall be decided without debate and all Supplementary Estimates shall be moved together and decided by one Question which shall be put from the Chair and any divisions demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; and (3) if the proceedings on Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages of the Water Services Bill 2014 do not conclude today, the Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10 a.m. and shall adjourn not later than 2 p.m., there shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 26 and, accordingly, the business to be transacted shall be as follows: No. 31, Water Services Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (resumed) and Remaining Stages.
At that meeting information was sought by my colleague, Deputy Sean Fleming. This information, relevant to these Supplementary Estimates, was to be supplied but, to date, despite it being requested again by Deputy Fleming and me via the Whips' office, we are sitting here being asked to approve the taking of the Supplementary Estimates without the information having been supplied. I put it to the Minister that it is a most unsatisfactory situation. We should not be asked to blindly accept Supplementary Estimates of this scale, in particular, without the relevant information being supplied to the Members.
I reiterate that concern in respect of the superannuation and retired allowances Supplementary Estimate Vote 12. Deputy Sean Fleming requested that information, as did I. We went so far as to object to the completion -----
We went so far as to suggest that we should adjourn the meeting and reconvene so that we could have access to the information. It was not forthcoming. Two things happened. We were asked to complete a process at committee not exactly blind but certainly without all the information. Now we are asked to clear not just that Estimate, but a whole set of them - Votes 12, 17, 25, 26, 30, 31, 32, 39 and 40 - many of which represent very substantial amounts of money. The biggest of them is the Health, HSE, Supplementary Estimate for €680 million.
We do not believe it is acceptable simply to rubberstamp these Estimates with no debate here in the Dáil. To make matters worse, in the case of the Estimate taken in our committee, it is without having had the information that we requested and was promised by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. He made a bit of a production around his trustworthiness and record for providing information on that occasion.
I thank the Deputies for their comments. I should explain to those Members of the House who were not in attendance at the Select Committee on Public Expenditure and Reform. Vote 12 relates to the payment of pension entitlements to retiring civil servants. Some 1,100 have worked all their lives in the Civil Service and are entitled to their pensions. I am anxious that they are paid. The reason for the Supplementary Estimate is that there are 250 more than we estimated. However, it varies every year because we cannot predict exactly the number of civil servants who will retire. It was 1,100 this year and was 850 last year. They are entitled to be paid their pensions.
The particular information the Deputies sought was a breakdown of each type of pensioner. It was a very reasonable request. It is being compiled from Departments because it does not exist in one spreadsheet. The assistant secretary of my Department rang Deputy Sean Fleming this morning offering a full personal briefing today on the matter and offered to give the Deputies a précis of it over the phone this morning. All the details will be given to them as soon as it comes to hand. It is simply a breakdown of who is getting what.
Nobody disputes that these are retiring civil servants who have spent their lives in the Civil Service, paying into a pension to which they are entitled. I am anxious that they are paid it before Christmas. I inquired whether I could extract this particular Vote from the rest, but I am advised that logistically it is not possible because we need to publish the appropriations Bill, which is a constitutional requirement to validate payments next week.
I ask Deputies to bear with us. All the information will be provided orally today in a full briefing to anybody who wants it. It is simply a breakdown of who is getting what. All the documentation as soon as it is compiled will be given in writing through the committee secretariat. In the meanwhile, in the old tradition of Fianna Fáil I ask that the Deputies appreciate civil servants and do not stop retired civil servants getting their pensions before Christmas.
All Members of the House agreed yesterday that what was revealed in the "Prime Time" report, Inside Bungalow 3, was appalling and everyone condemned what we saw happening to residents in that unit. When the Taoiseach was asked yesterday by my party leader, Deputy Martin, if he would instigate an independent inquiry into what we saw in that programme, he did not rule it out but he failed to confirm that it would be undertaken. With the passage of time since yesterday and with mature reflection, is the Government now prepared to commit to providing what the relatives of those in care most desperately want to see being provided which is an independent inquiry into what happened in Arás Attracta?
I ask about the Seanad electoral (university Members) (amendment) Bill. The Government, at its outset, promised us a democratic revolution. When the people did not agree with the Taoiseach's proposal to abandon the Seanad, he returned to the idea of some reform. However, the small piece of legislation dealing with the amendment of the university panels has yet to be seen. When will that legislation be presented to the House?
The industrial relations (amendment) No. 2 Bill to provide for collective bargaining rights was promised in the programme for Government. When can the House expect to see that important legislation?
Everybody in the House was shocked at the revelations about Arás Attracta. Having seen so much and after so many inquiries, one imagines that one is inured to those things. However, I watched it with colleagues from the House and I found it really disturbing. I agree with the Deputy that there needs to be a full inquiry into it. The first inquiry, obviously, because what we saw prima facie looked like criminal activity, is a Garda investigation. My understanding is that 190 hours of RTE film is now being scrutinised frame-by-fame by the Garda Síochána to see what criminal charges might arise. That is the most important investigation that is under way.
I should pay tribute to the "Prime Time" investigation team without whom we would not have known that this happens. It may impact not only on Arás Attracta, but on similar homes and facilities across the country. We need a full investigation of what happened there and also need a robust mechanism to ensure we have proper oversight in every other-----
----- facility like it.
While I know I should not respond to Deputy Broughan's sidebar, this is not about resources. There were five trained nurses shown on screen in a bungalow. This was about abuse of power.
I know I should not encourage the Deputy. The notion that a Minister sitting in a Department is responsible for the action of 100,000 public servants-----
-----among people who are delivering services. We need proper oversight of them and proper mechanisms to ensure that any wrongdoing is outed. That is why we have, for example, enacted the Protected Disclosures Act to give real protection to whistleblowers who see wrongdoing without putting themselves on the hazard. However, we need to do much more.
I am informed that the Seanad electoral (university Members) (amendment) Bill will be next year as will the industrial relations (collective bargaining) Bill.
I wish to finish out that point. There is an additional issue that the Ombudsman raises.
It seems that concerns are not being passed on by the HSE or HIQA to the Ombudsman where there are matters to be investigated. In addition to the specifics that played out on our television screens, that is an issue the Minister might address as might the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. To return to the theme of the Childline night service, I am aware he replied to Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl earlier, the Minister seems to be unaware that the ISPCC has been in correspondence with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, and has alerted him to the fact that it requires a further €870,000 to retain the service. All of us, I hope, would be of a mind that those moneys must be provided for that service. Will the Minister confirm that is also his view?
In respect of the consolidated domestic violence legislation that has been promised for some time and which we await, on one of the Friday sittings we introduced a modest amendment to the current domestic violence legislation but the Government voted it down on the basis that a more comprehensive package is required. I agree comprehensive reform is necessary but we are waiting a very long time. I have correspondence from Deputy Alan Shatter who was the responsible Minister at the time stating that he was very sorry about the delay but that he had more important things to attend to, as set out by the troika. I hope with his exit from the office that level of prioritisation has changed.
In respect of the first matter on Aras Attracta and the comments made this morning by the Ombudsman, to whom I listened, the Oireachtas enacted new strong powers for the Ombudsman in the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2012 which gives him, in the instance of an institution such as Aras Attracta, the authority to enter, to seize documents and to interview people. These are compelling and strong powers that he indicated he had. It is a facility that is available to any citizen, who feels there is no proper response at local level from a public service provider, to access the Office of the Ombudsman. I have sent many of my own constituents in that direction if they had an inadequate response to a local complaint. They will find they will get a good response from the Office of the Ombudsman.
In respect of Childline, I agree it should continue as a facility and I hope the ongoing discussions with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will facilitate that. The Deputy's last question was in respect of the consolidated domestic violence Bill. The Bill will come before the House next year.
In view of the recent scandal, the Pro Life Campaign has today commented on Mr. Tony O'Brien's remarks about the value of undercover investigators, yet when the Pro Life Campaign learned what the Family Planning Association was doing undercover Mr. O'Brien rubbished it. We are waiting for a report for two years on the issue. Now we are told an audit is required and that no action will be taken against the staff who actually lied, and asked people to tell lies, and there was no investigation by the HSE. How can we have faith in such matter? I ask the Minister under the Health Information Bill-----
He should have an idea, as should the Minister beside him. It concerns the investigation by the HSE into what happened at the Family Planning clinics, which gave out untruths to people. It is now being dismissed with no further investigation.
On road safety issues and the use of Go Safe vans detecting speeding offences, penalty points have been quashed by judges for technical reasons leading to very serious implications. Are there any plans or legislation to address this anomaly? Has the Cabinet discussed the issue? The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, indicated recently that he would brief Opposition spokespersons on the issue. When will he do this?
A number of amendments have been made to the Road Traffic Act broadening the powers of the Garda in the enforcement of road safety. We have made huge progress on road safety in recent times. That seems to have been halted this year and we want to ensure the pressure is continued. I understand there was an issue in respect of a recent Bill. The Minister reported to the Cabinet this week that the matter is being given urgent consideration both within his Department and in the Office of the Attorney General. Advice on dealing with this issue comprehensively will be given shortly. I will ask-----
I will ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to contact the Deputy and the Opposition spokespersons generally to ensure they are brought up to speed.
Yesterday, after the inquest into the death of her daughter Mary Kate Kelly, Amy Delahunt said there is no Santa Claus coming to her house this Christmas. Last February the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the then Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, said they were working on open disclosure legislation for hospitals. Two weeks ago I asked the Tánaiste when we would see this legislation as it is not on the list of promised legislation. What is needed is legislation that ensures that families, such as that of baby Mark Molloy, are not dragged through the courts to get basic answers to what happened to their sons and daughters that led to their deaths. When will we see the legislation and what is the reason for the delay?
Before taking the consolidated domestic violence Bill we should reform and consolidate the domestic violence Acts so as not to delay the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on combatting and preventing violence against women and domestic violence. The Minister stated earlier that the Bill will come before the House next year. Is there any chance of taking the Bill sooner?
I will raise the Deputy's concern directly with the Minister and since it has come from both sides of the House I will convey to him the sense of urgency that Members feel on this matter.
The Minister referred already to the interview with the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, on "Morning Ireland" this morning. I understand he made it clear in his press release yesterday that his office cannot examine the actions in private nursing homes and essentially laid the blame at the Minister's door, saying he was waiting for the Minister to pass some statutory instrument. Why is the Minister holding up the Ombudsman from investigating private nursing homes in the same way as he can investigate HSE nursing homes? That is the impression I get. When will the Minister get around to doing what is necessary in this regard?
I understand that a protocol is being negotiated between officials of my Department and the Office of the Ombudsman and that the draft has been sent by my Department. We are awaiting a reply from the Office of the Ombudsman.
The environmental liability Bill is important promised legislation. When is it intended to bring it before the House and have the heads have been cleared by Government? Similarly, in regard to the role of the probation services Bill, No. 40 on the list of promised legislation, when is it anticipated that Bill will come before the House?
I wish to inquire about two pieces of legislation, the first is the policing authority Bill.
The other issue is the Irish Aviation Authority (amendment) Bill. What is the current position of both pieces of legislation and when will they come before the House for debate?
There is no date available yet for me to indicate for the Irish Aviation Authority (amendment) Bill. The policing Bill is regarded as an absolute priority and will be before the House early in the new year.
I ask about the provision of free GP care for children under six. We have been promised legislation in this regard and I would like an update on how negotiations are going with the Irish Medical Organisation, when we can expect legislation before the House and if financial provisions have been put in place for the issue.
Legislation is already enacted and provision has been made in the Estimates to provide the service but, as the Deputy knows, there are ongoing discussions with the IMO in that regard.
When will the licensing of health care facilities Bill be brought forward? Given the significant failure of HIQA in the Áras Attracta issue, all of us in the House welcome the extension of HIQA's powers to invigilate centres for citizens with intellectual disability. Will the Minister for Health be asked by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection to bring an urgent report to the Cabinet on what happened in that particular facility and examine why HIQA's invigilation process does not seem to have worked in this regard? I also echo the point made by Deputy Fleming about the Ombudsman.
The full investigation of what happened at Áras Attracta is ongoing and, no doubt, once the various investigations - the most serious of which is the criminal investigation by An Garda Síochána - are concluded, the matter will certainly be discussed by the Cabinet. I have no doubt that in due course it will be discussed here as well.
Will the health reform Bill include provisions for informing communities when changes are to be made in acute hospitals? Mammography equipment was stolen overnight from Sligo General Hospital by agents of the Health Service Executive some months ago. It was purchased following fund-raising by local people in Sligo, Leitrim, south Donegal and west Cavan.
The Minister is probably aware that the price of Brent crude oil has dropped significantly on the world market, with potential benefit for motorists, transporters and the overall economy. Unfortunately, the full extent of the reduction has not manifested itself for consumers because of the excise duty structure attached to the cost of diesel and petrol.
The order we voted on just a few minutes ago was that the Dáil shall sit later than 5.30 p.m. today and shall adjourn not later than 10 p.m., and there shall be a suspension of sitting for one hour after the Order of Business. We have completed the Order of Business so, as we voted, we should suspend for an hour. Nevertheless, there is a proposal to take a vote now. That is not in line with the order as voted or Standing Orders. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle clarify why we are taking this business?
Perhaps we should put that in Standing Orders if there are long-standing conventions that are not written anywhere. I told some people there would be a vote after the sos but it seems now it will be before the sos.