Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. b13, motion re membership of committee; and No. a13, motion re Aer Lingus Group plc (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 190, motion re Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise (resumed), which shall take place not later than 9 p.m. tonight, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes; and No. b13 shall be decided without debate.
Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No.a13, motion re Aer Lingus Group plc (resumed); No. 39, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2015 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 5, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2015, Order for Second and Second Stage.
I object. For some time, the Taoiseach's approach to the House has been disgraceful and shameful. As has been said earlier, it is similar to the way the Irish Water and IBRC legislation was rammed through with no consideration or detailed debate. During Leaders' Questions yesterday, the Taoiseach was asked basic questions about the Aer Lingus sale, and he refused to answer. I did not believe the Taoiseach when he said he did not know what was happening and what was going to happen later that evening. I think he did know.
The motion is being put because, at the 11th hour, the Government is changing the schedule we agreed yesterday for today because it has decided to rush and ram this through, despite the fact that it was meant to go to the transport committee.
Sitting is to be extended tonight to facilitate the Taoiseach's ramming this through because he does not want Labour Deputies getting windy. Deputy Clare Daly is correct. He does not want this to go on for a week or two.
It goes to the very heart of how the Parliament is being treated, which is probably of concern to the Ceann Comhairle. The way this happened last night and the way we were told to be in for 9.30 a.m. to change everything and ram this through is a very bad day for the Parliament and reflects the Government's absolute contempt for the Dáil.
On the comment made by Deputy Micheál Martin, I answered his earlier question about the internal report he mentioned. I know very well that if an issue as important as this one was decided by the Cabinet yesterday and Deputies did not have an opportunity to speak on it, the Deputy would be the first to call for Standing Orders to be suspended to debate it. He will have seven hours today and five hours tomorrow to debate it.
Deputy Micheál Martin is very good at expressing his indignation about treating the House with contempt. The Government debated this issue yesterday and made a decision yesterday evening. At 7.38 p.m. the Chief Whip's office notified the other Whips about the outcome of the meeting and our intention to change business to allow the matter to be discussed today, as is right and proper. At the end of that e-mail, which pointed out that the usual order of parliamentary questions, Order of Business, etc., would be followed, the advice was given that anybody who had questions should make contact with the Whip's office. One contact was made, but it was not by Deputy Micheál Martin's party. No objection was received to this-----
We will have seven hours of discussion today and five tomorrow. There will also be a vote because it is an important issue and Deputies are entitled to have their say. The Deputy has already had a 15 minute rant this morning to express his righteous indignation.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for letting me speak again. Yesterday I asked for a debate on this issue, but I also requested the documentation. I asked the Chief Whip again this morning to provide the documents, in the presence of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I checked with the Oireachtas Library and noted that the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications had asked that any deal be brought before it for scrutiny. We do not have the full agreement between the Government and IAG, the articles of association or the full text of the letters between the CEO of Aer Lingus and anybody else. However, we are going to have a debate. Unless the Minister is briefing other Deputies to that level of detail, nobody else in the House will have this information. How on earth can we have a debate when we do not have the documentation and why do we not have it when elements were leaked to the media yesterday? We can read extracts suiting the Government's case in this morning's print media.
Deputy Timmy Dooley knows full well as spokesperson on transport that he has access to information which gives him more than sufficient opportunity to make a contribution on the proposal before the House.
There will be a 12 hour debate on the matter and a vote tomorrow. The details have been outlined and I understand the chief executive of IAG will be holding a press conference today, in which context all of the questions arising will be put to him and answered. The debate will continue throughout the day and tomorrow. We want the Dáil's approval for the proposal in order that we can get on with it.
I do not mean to be disrespectful to the Deputy's comments, but I allowed him to make a point of order. It has been dealt with and, while he may not accept the answer, that is it. I am proceeding to the Order of Business when he can raise an issue.
It is essential that the Taoiseach meet the leaders of the Opposition parties and other groups to discuss how the House is being run and that he make time available to discuss the political proposals in the programme for Government pertaining to Dáil reform. What is happening is bringing the House into continual disrepute. The idea that the Government can repeatedly change the schedule overnight without reference to the Opposition to ram something through the House should be unacceptable in any modern parliament. We have seen this happen in the case of Irish Water and IBRC. It is not good enough. He is running the House into the ground and I think he is doing it deliberately because with the election approaching, it suits him to shut down the House as often as he can. It also happened last week. The Taoiseach knew Prince Charles was coming on Tuesday and there were no questions on that day. The same will happen next week. Will the Taoiseach allocate time to debate this issue and agree to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties, even at the end stage of this Dáil, in order that we can have some credibility in how we do our business as a Parliament for the people of the country? He is undermining parliamentary democracy at its core.
The democratic revolution the Taoiseach promised simply has not happened.
On the Planning and Development (No. 1) Bill 2014, every day we hear stark accounts about families being made homeless. More than 70 families were referred to Focus Ireland in the past month alone. The problem in Dublin is an absolute scandal, with more than 1,000 children in emergency accommodation in hotels across the city.
We also saw it in Kilkenny where many families with children were housed in the Aspect Hotel. What is happening is absolutely appalling. The Simon Community has stated there will be deaths and that terrible things will happen. There will be a terrible tragedy if something is not done to deal with the emergency for families and children in the capital and elsewhere across the country. Will the Taoiseach confirm when the Bill will be brought before the Dáil, given that the actions mentioned in Construction 2020 would be facilitated by the passage of the legislation?
On the Deputy's second question, the urban housing and regeneration Bill - the planning and development (No. 1) Bill - is due to be taken in the House shortly. Everybody knows that this is a really serious issue.
I also make the point which is valid, whether the Deputy likes it, that housing tenants are receiving notice from landlords that their rent is to be increased. However, if they cannot meet it, they are likely to be placed on the homeless list as a consequence. The Department of Social Protection deals with such cases individually. The people concerned should not be deemed to be homeless in the first place. The supplementary welfare scheme applied through the Department of Social Protection has helped 1,500 tenants. There is a need to communicate with people who find themselves in this position, where they receive a notice of a rent increase from their landlord and are likely to be in difficulty, that there is assistance available to them under the supplementary welfare scheme.
There are statements before and after European Council meetings are held. Topical Issue matters are taken at the appropriate time in the course of the day. I do not have a problem in sitting down with Deputies Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams and whoever the Technical Group nominates to discuss propositions for running the Dáil. I will be happy to do so to see if we can go further.
After his long years in the House the Deputy knows that government is about making decisions. It is right and proper that the Government should also be able to bring to this Chamber, to be discussed over two days, its decision to support in a strengthened position the sale of the State's share in Aer Lingus. This is the premier forum and the Government is quite entitled to do so, while giving every Deputy the opportunity to have his or her say on what is an important issue for the country.
First, I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for asking the Government to bring forward the necessary documentation. I hope it will comply with your request, seeing that it has ignored everybody else in this premier forum.
Tá ceist agam faoi tuarascálaca an Coinbhinsiún ar an mBunreacht. There are four outstanding reports from the Constitutional Convention that have yet to be debated in the Dáil. The Government is in clear breach of the timetable it set for them. Today we were to have a debate on voting rights, but that matter has been put off. In March the Taoiseach told me that all of these matters had been completed by the relevant Departments. Given the overwhelming vote last Friday, including the number of people who had travelled home to vote, will he now move to implement the proposal of the Constitutional Convention that voting rights in presidential elections be extended to citizens living outside the State, including in the North?
While the Taoiseach has probably not heard this, the English Queen in her speech a short time ago confirmed the British Government's plans to bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights which would displace the European Convention on Human Rights and repeal the Human Rights Act. The programme for Government stated the Government was entirely committed to full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The measure the British Government has noted today as being due to be brought forward will breach the structure of the Agreement. In addition, the in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the Europeand Union which was also announced today will cause profound difficulties for people living on this island. Any lessening of human rights law, especially the repeal of the Human Rights Act, will undermine an agreement which is an international treaty and of which the Taoiseach is co-equal guarantor. I am asking the Taoiseach to make clear the Government's opposition to any repeal of the Human Rights Act when he meets the British Prime Minister next month.
As I said yesterday, I am due to meet the British Prime Minister before the next European Council meeting. Of course, it is my intention to raise with him the fact that both the British and Irish Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. As it is an international treaty, human rights form part of it. The British Government's statement of legislative intent was read as part of the Queen's speech today. As I indicated to the Deputy yesterday, I will, of course, raise the matter.
Maidir leis an ábhar eile, cuirfidh an Príomh-Aoire an díospóireacht a bhí le bheith againn inniu ar ais ar an gclár. Tarlóidh sé sin go luath nuair a thiocfaidh an Dáil ar ais. I am giving a commitment, but I must check to see whether the outstanding elements awaited from some Departments have been received in order that we can have the discussions which are long overdue on a number of the Constitutional Convention's reports.
You are the defender of the Members of Dáil Éireann on behalf of the people. The Taoiseach, as leader of the country, needs to make an unequivocal defence of the interests of Members of this House.
As the Ceann Comhairle is aware, there is an attempt to silence Members of this House, as reported in newspapers over the weekend. It is an attempt to silence not only Deputy Catherine Murphy but all Members of the House. It is extremely important that democracy and free speech are defended. The Taoiseach should make his defence of the right of Members to speak freely and openly without fear or favour and without placing corporate interests ahead of the interests of citizens.
Not on the Order of Business. I ask the Deputy to resume her seat while I reply to her. I will always defend the right of anybody to raise matters in the House provided they are in order and raised at the proper time. Any issue, such as the one the Deputy has just mentioned, will be dealt with at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. If any action is to be taken, I will report back. I give an assurance-----
The Government has promised to introduce a criminal law (sexual offences) Bill which I presume will address issues such as the purchase of sex and the trafficking and exploitation of individuals. The problem is very real in many parts of the country. Will the Taoiseach indicate a timeline for bringing forward that legislation?
In February 2013 the Government closed down the mobility allowance scheme. I understand it is intended to address the issue in the health (transport services) Bill. Is that correct? If so, given that many people who in the past might have availed of the mobility allowance are enduring real hardship, when might we expect to see the Bill before the House?
Work on the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill has practically been completed. I expect the Bill to be published during this session.
With regard to the second question, the transport issues for people with particular difficulties will be addressed later in the year under the Bill mentioned, the health (transport services) Bill.
In November 2012, this country voted in the children's referendum. As a result of a decision by the Government to publish biased documentation, there was a challenge taken to the Supreme Court. I am thankful the Supreme Court rejected that challenge in April this year. As a result of the challenge, the necessary legislation to give effect to the referendum result has been delayed since November 2012. Given that we are almost three years on from that, will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the legislation will receive priority from the Government? Will the Taoiseach indicate a timeframe for the passing of the legislation by this House?
I have raised the issue of wind energy guidelines on a number of occasions. The Taoiseach indicated it would be the fall of this year before those guidelines would be published. We heard, again through the media, that they may come before that. Perhaps the Taoiseach will indicate to the House when we will see a comprehensive proposal for wind energy guidelines.
The Deputy is aware that the Supreme Court found very clearly in favour of the Government position in respect of the children's referendum. There is a number of matters arising from the Children and Family Relationships Bill that must be taken into account in the final preparations of the adoption Bill. That work is well advanced and I will advise Deputy Troy of the current position with respect to the opportunity to present that Bill.
I have seen some comment on wind energy guidelines. Clearly, Ireland has targets to meet, both in terms of energy and the carbon issue, as well as the question of the potential for wind energy. There are also planning implications very well known to Deputy Troy and others that are quite controversial in different parts of the country. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is considering this position and he will make his views known in respect of the turbine position shortly, in consultation with the Minister responsible for energy matters.
I have raised the credit guarantee (amendment) Bill on a number of occasions. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, have committed that it will include a provision for businesses whose banks are exiting the market. There are literally hundreds of jobs waiting on the enactment of this Bill. Will we see it before the end of this session, before the summer recess?
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, published the prison visiting committee report this morning. Included in this were concerns from members of the committee about the accommodation of a small number of 17 year olds in St. Patrick's Institution. When can we expect the St. Patrick's Institution Bill to be brought before the House for debate?
The new children's hospital establishment Bill is promised legislation, so when is it likely to come before the House? Have the heads been fully cleared? Similarly, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Bill is also promised legislation. Have the heads of that Bill been cleared and when is it likely to come before the House? Will it be passed into law by the end of this present session?
The carbon bill is awaiting Committee Stage. I do not have a date for the national children's hospital Bill but work is very much advanced from where it was. We expect the planning application to proceed on time. I will advise Deputy Durkan where we are with the preparation of the Bill.
I am sorry I have to go back to something I raised yesterday about the Health (General Practitioner Service) Act 2014. The Taoiseach told me that 100 GPs per day were signing up to the scheme. Only two have signed up in Tipperary.
The Government was supposed to publish the list of people who had signed up, including details of where they are, by Monday but that has not happened. Will the Taoiseach withdraw his comments from yesterday that 100 GPs per day are signing up?
There are three long-delayed Bills in the justice area. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill is a big issue for people who were convicted of very minor offences in their youth and who now face a barrier to employment. It has been delayed for far too long. The second Bill is mediation legislation, which will be very important with regard to family law. It would mean people would not have to go down the road of adversarial court processes but would instead go through mediation. It is much needed but long delayed legislation. The third Bill, the judicial council Bill, is also long delayed. It deals with oversight and independence of the Judiciary, as well as sentencing guidelines. There are new Bills being brought into the justice area but when will these long delayed Bills come before us and be finalised?
The judicial council Bill will be this session. The mediation Bill will be later in the year. The spent convictions legislation is awaiting Report Stage, as there are a number of amendments that are quite complicated. There is a great deal of work done on them but I cannot give a date on movement. It is a priority.
On 28 April I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, whether he was happy with the Environment Protection Agency, EPA, interim report on hydraulic fracturing. That report was less than two pages in length and it was a disgraceful document to be given to the Minister and the Dáil. On 28 April, the Minister of State indicated that he had received a further updated report from the EPA setting out in detail the specific tasks being undertaken by the consultancy consortium pursuant to each of the component projects, together with the status of those tasks. He indicated he was happy to share this detailed update and had made arrangements to have it published on the Department website.
I understood that the more detailed EPA report was to be made available that evening, let alone that week. The more detailed report has still not been made available and I have serious concerns as to why that has not happened.
That completes matters on the Order of Business. There is a Private Members' Bill listed from Deputy Pearse Doherty. Unfortunately, the Deputy was late in trying to introduce it the other day. I understand perfectly that it arises from his attendance at the banking inquiry. I am conscious that it is coming up so perhaps he can let the office know when he is available. We would be only too pleased to facilitate him.