Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, motion re proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council repealing certain acts in the field of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters; No.37, Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 38, Sport Ireland Bill 2014 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 39, Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
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 shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ business which shall be No. 187, motion re residential mortgage interest rates and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes and that No. 11 shall be decided without debate.
Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 39, Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 38, Sport Ireland Bill 2014 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 40, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11, motion re proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council repealing certain acts in the field of police co-operation and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, to be taken without debate, agreed to? Agreed.
Can the Taoiseach indicate when the Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No.2 ) Bill will be introduced? It is a Bill to provide any legislative changes required to deal with the bargaining rights of trade unions, and it is included in the programme for Government. If it was in place, it would assist the Dunnes Stores workers who will be on strike tomorrow. Can the Taoiseach confirm when the Bill will be progressed through the House?
Can the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government is reviewing its position on guidance counsellors and its decision two years ago to take them out of our second level schools? It was a scandalous decision. Will he commit to restoring them? Can he indicate where stands the junior certificate reform proposals?
There is an issue I want the House to address and ask the Taoiseach whether the Government would be prepared to give some time to, namely, comments made by Deputy Adams some weeks ago on the murders of Garda Aidan Donohoe, Paul Quinn and others. In the course of his contribution he identified a small gang in a particular location which he said was responsible for all of those murders. I would regard that as a fairly significant revelation in itself. I looked at the blacks and that is what Deputy Adams said on the record, which contrasted with what was said publicly earlier by him and others who said they did not know the identity-----
The Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is due this session. On the question of guidance counsellors and the reform of the junior certificate, the Minister for Education and Skills has given her views in respect of the junior certificate. I will raise the question of guidance counsellors with her, but the decision was very clear, namely, to allow them to have greater freedom at school level.
In respect of the third matter the Deputy mentioned, it is a matter of concern to me. I hope that we could give consideration to a debate in the House, on the resumption of the Dáil, on these matters in general. A number need to be reflected and commented upon in the House.
I refer to the mental capacity Bill and the commitment made by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last month to introduce legislation to freeze rents. Monday was the eighth anniversary of the State's signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In the programme for Government there was a commitment to introduce a mental capacity Bill that would incorporate the convention into domestic law. Some four years later that has not happened. There is a whole range of other legislative matters which have been promised but have not come to the floor of the Dáil.
In the meantime, 156 states have ratified the convention. This State is one of only three in the European Union which has failed to do so and we still rely on the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871. There are ongoing difficulties faced by citizens with intellectual disabilities in some care homes. When will the Taoiseach repeal the disgraceful Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and introduce a mental capacity Bill?
As I said, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last month promised to introduce legislation to freeze rents in the private rental sector for the next two years and to tackle excessive rent increases by landlords by the end of this year. When can we expect this legislation to be published? It is a matter of major concern. The Taoiseach will know that 500,000 households in rented accommodation are now approaching the levels of rent they paid at the height of the property boom. Rental costs in Dublin have risen by almost 10%.
The Minister also expressed concerns about the impact of the programme of reform of local government by the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, and said he supported the comprehensive review of the changes Mr. Hogan had forced through. Does the Government intend to hold a comprehensive review of local government? When does it intend to do so?
In respect of the mental capacity Bill, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill was published on 17 July 2013 and provides a series of options to support people with impaired capacity to make decisions and to exercise their basic rights in line with the principle of the UN convention. It undertakes a comprehensive reform of existing legislation governing capacity and is awaiting Committee Stage in the House. A number of amendments are being worked on.
The Government has given a firm commitment to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Government intends to proceed to ratification as quickly as possible. It is important to clarify the process and issues involved. We have a dualist legal system. Therefore, we cannot become party to treaties unless we are first in a position to ratify the obligations that are imposed upon us, including the amendment of domestic law as necessary. I am advised that a substantial number of items need to be dealt with before we can deal with that.
The Minister has set up a team in the Department of Justice and Equality to examine all of these outstanding matters. It has almost completed the first phase of its work, which includes identifying those areas which will need attention prior to ratification being possible. An interdepartmental committee is in place and it met recently to review those issues and the actions and timeframes set out to meet them. I can advise Deputy Adams that the Government is serious, but because of the dualist system we have we have to deal with a number of issues here before we can ratify the convention.
It is awaiting-----
No, the Bill was only published in July 2013. Committee Stage is awaited in the House. Another key task which is under way involves examining how the issue of reasonable accommodation can be achieved in a meaningful way within our constitutional framework, as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
The House may be aware that the Supreme Court in an Article 26 referral dating from 1998 found it unconstitutional to impose an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities where the cost would be more than a nominal cost. The United Nations requires a higher standard that it calls "a disproportionate" cost. Our law with respect to sexual offences imposes a ban on persons with intellectual disabilities having intimate relationships. That needs to be changed while still protecting vulnerable people from exploitation. The Department of Justice and Equality is working on proposals to be included in a revised sexual offences criminal law proposal and to deal with this issue. It has published a discussion paper to allow interested parties to contribute their views on what is a sensitive and very complex matter.
As the Taoiseach may know, we have a disproportionately high level of cystic fibrosis in this country and everyone in this House or the wider society would know a family affected by cystic fibrosis. In the first half of 2012, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, promised a health information Bill that would allow and regulate research into this and other diseases. He also promised a human tissue Bill that would govern organ donation, and that is clearly crucial to the treatment of cystic fibrosis. Again, we have not yet seen that Bill. When will those Bills be progressed?
I am sorry but I do not have a date for either of those Bills. I can advise the Deputy on the work that has been completed. I am pleased to say that in recent years, with all the difficulties, there has been a deal of progress made with isolation units for people suffering from cystic fibrosis, which is to be welcomed.
SI 58 of 2015 relates to the new tuberculosis regulations introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It facilitates departmental officials in having a stricter interpretation of existing law on the testing of cattle for bovine tuberculosis and it is causing much hardship for farmers. Is the Taoiseach aware that a notice has been issued to farmers in my area and throughout the country instructing them that they should not treat animals with a veterinary medicine until they have carried out their animal herd test? This is contrary to the animal welfare laws of this country and a farmer complying with that directive from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine could be prosecuted and jailed for breaking the animal welfare laws. Will the Taoiseach allow time to be made available in the House to discuss this statutory instrument, which comes into force today, have it reviewed and have a consultation both in the House and with farming organisations? This would ensure it can be implemented in a fair and reasonable manner which does not contravene other law in the country.
I would be surprised if the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was contravening animal welfare law. I have not seen the letter to which Deputy Naughten refers. I will have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine respond to this.
It is not necessary to have the matter discussed formally in the House. There could be either a Topical Issue debate or a response from the Minister, as I will bring it to his attention today, to deal with this. Tuberculosis is a serious illness and bovine tuberculosis has cost the country millions of euro over the years. The conditions dealing with it should not be flouted.
My question concerns the Omagh bomb victim families. The Taoiseach has promised on countless occasions to meet them. The legislation in question is the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. When will the Taoiseach meet the families of the Omagh bomb victims? They had open access to him before he became Taoiseach but in the four years since, he has not met them. It is disgraceful.
I acknowledge the tremendous work being done by the Government for job creation and I welcome in particular the announcement that Apple will begin operations in Galway. Many young people are returning home and I know-----
It is an insurance Bill. Many young people are coming home and I know the Ministers and the Taoiseach, when abroad on St. Patrick's Day, encouraged them to come home. If young people are gone for more than three years, insurance companies will not honour a no-claims bonus or clean driving record in a foreign country.
This morning, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, made a very significant announcement in Limerick this morning to journalists about social housing. The announcement was not made in this House, despite the fact the housing crisis is probably the most serious social emergency we have in the country. Will the Taoiseach explain why he did not come-----
That will be later this year. There are a few matters we are to attend to in Northern Ireland at the same time, including minimum pricing and so on. I will advise the Deputy later.
I have asked before about the technological universities Bill. The provision of a technological university for the south east is crucial to the area because of the unemployment rate there over recent years. The Taoiseach is aware that negotiations broke down prior to Christmas and an independent facilitator, Mr. Michael Kelly, was put in place. When is he expected to report back to the Government on his deliberations involving the Waterford and Carlow institutes? Is the Taoiseach expecting a positive outcome?
The Bill is due this session so I expect the report will go to the Minister for Education and Skills shortly. I understand that despite the initial hiccups, there has been some progress. I hope the matter can be concluded. It was an important priority for the Government, following the demise of a plant in Waterford some years ago, that there would be a technological university in the south east. The standards are very high and the criteria are difficult to meet, but it is a very important issue for the next generation of young people.
Commissioner Phil Hogan has spoken about diesel laundering in the Border areas and the contamination of water supplies, with consequential suffering for businesses, specifically farming businesses. We need a full debate on this serious issue in this House. When is publication expected of the criminal justice (freezing and confiscation) Bill, which is to transpose Directive 2014/42/EU of the European Parliament and Council of 3 April 2014 on the freezing of proceeds of crime in the European Union? I am sure Deputy Adams would love a debate on diesel laundering in the Border areas.
Various elements of our heritage come together to give each local area its identity and sense of place. There are many artifacts which belong to rural counties that are stored in basements of various public buildings, particularly here in Dublin.
Yesterday, Deputy Adams raised the national monuments Bill. Another Bill that is dear to my heart is the heritage (amendment) Bill and I would like to inquire when it will come before us.
I have three questions. One is on the awaited tenant purchase scheme. During the past 18 months, no local authority tenant has been eligible to buy his or her council house, despite repeated promises that the legislation will be published within months. Can the Taoiseach give a definitive timeframe in which we will know when the new scheme will be announced?
The Government has repeatedly promised that it will bring the adoption (tracing and information) Bill before the House. When will it happen? The Taoiseach is aware that for the past two years, the mobility allowance has been closed to new applications. Although the Government has promised to deal with this in the short term, two years on, we still await the publication of the health (transport support) Bill. Meanwhile, people with mobility issues cannot avail of the scheme. When will a new scheme be published?
I wish to inquire about three Bills, No. 108 on the legislative programme list, the data sharing Bill, No. 109, the personal injuries assessment board (amendment) Bill and No. 86, the housing (regulation of approved housing bodies) Bill. I welcome today's announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, about social housing and the fact that €26 million has been allocated to County Clare. What is the status of No. 82, the building control Bill?
Both the housing (regulation of approved housing bodies) Bill and the building control Bill will be published this year. While I do not have dates for the two other Bills the Deputy mentioned, I will bring them to the attention of the Ministers and advise the Deputy.
The apprenticeship Bill has been promised for some time. Have the heads of the Bill been agreed by the Government and when might we expect to see it? One might expect that, as part of a recovering economy, there might be greater emphasis on apprenticeships. Much of the very skilled construction workforce we had have left Ireland and, no doubt, the Taoiseach will have had contact with many of them during his St. Patrick's Day travels. What sort of impetus is there regarding apprenticeships?
The Deputy has raised an important point, given that unemployment is down to 10%, although it is still too high. The Minister with responsibility for this, Deputy English, is shortly to bring proposals about a new apprenticeship council, which is in situ, and new modules for upskilling, training and apprenticeships, to the Government for approval. It was to happen last week, but did not, and I expect it in the next few weeks.
Last week, I asked the Taoiseach when the Construction Contracts Act 2013 would commence and he said he would send me a note. This morning, two subcontractors contacted me and said people in the industry are saying the issue has gone off the boil and might never happen. Could the Taoiseach send me the note?