Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 14, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Ireland's accession to the memorandum of understanding concerning the principles for the establishment and operation of a battle group; No. 15, motion re referral to select sub-committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of taxation agreements; No. 16, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(7)) (Membership of Council) Regulations 2015; No. 6, Marriage Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 48, Public Transport Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that (1) Nos. 14, 15 and 16 shall be decided without debate; and (2) for the purposes of the fortnightly Friday sitting under Standing Order 21(1) on 9 October 2015, the deadline for the submission of Bills to be included in the lottery shall be Friday, 25 September 2015 at 11 a.m., and related Standing Orders shall apply accordingly. Private Members' business shall be No. 208, motion re health service funding (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.
Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 6, Marriage Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 48, Public Transport Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1 - Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage.
That is not agreed. No. 14, which deals with the referral to select committee of a proposal for Ireland to participate in the establishment of a battle group, is an odious motion. It is a huge move or development in terms of our international relations. As such, this Chamber should first debate the matter before it goes to committee. If committee adopts it, it should come back here and be debated once again. It is a substantial change in the supposed neutrality of the State.
We are not in a position to accede to the Deputy's request. It is appropriate that the committee should have an opportunity to tease the matter out before it comes back to the House.
I am sure the Minister will agree that the loss to Dublin of the internationally renowned Web Summit is a hugely embarrassing development for the city and the country. Will the Minister indicate whether the Government has any legislative proposals or if it will implement the programme for Government to create a sufficient technology infrastructure and address the other factors which have been blamed for the decision to move the Web Summit to Lisbon, including a lack of State funding? The Minister will agree that this is a major development. The summit is worth millions to the Dublin economy and more to the country in terms of potential foreign direct investment. Could the Government have done more to salvage the situation by acting faster? Will the Minister outline what the Government knew in advance of this decision?
The second issue on which I ask the Minister for confirmation relates to the commissions of investigation legislation. Recent newspaper reports have indicated some concerns about the constitutionality of the inquiry into certain sales by IBRC which is being undertaken by Mr. Justice Brian Cregan. He is reporting to the Taoiseach's Department at the request of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. Is the Government aware of this and can it confirm whether the Taoiseach's office has received any information or communication from Mr. Justice Cregan on concerns about the constitutionality of the inquiry into certain sales by IBRC?
On the public health (alcohol) Bill, a drink sponsored report has been published today which, of course, given the sponsors, does not recommend limiting alcohol advertising at sporting events. Will the Minister indicate when the public health (alcohol) Bill will be brought before the House and say what the up-to-date position is on legislation pertaining to minimum pricing of alcohol?
Will the Minister refer to the Taoiseach and Government the need to have a Dáil debate on the unfolding troubling situation in Northern Ireland since summer? It would be appropriate to make time available for the House to debate that.
I am sure the Whips will deal with the Fianna Fáil suggestion for a debate on Northern Ireland. The public health (alcohol) Bill is this session and the issues, including the issue of minimum pricing, will be debated on that occasion. I have no knowledge of any issues around the constitutionality of the Tribunals of Inquiry Acts, but if the Deputy wishes to raise it by way of a parliamentary question, a reply can be furnished to him.
The Web Summit has been a very successful Irish company.
It started from small beginnings five years ago and has become an international success. As its sponsor stated, this is a natural step, the next chapter, in its growth. I have just returned from China. The company has a significant conference in Hong Kong and the US and is moving into India. This is a new development.
The summit is a great success and this does not in any way alter the strong start-up environment that we have in Dublin, which is something that we have nurtured and has grown from strength to strength. I wish Mr. Paddy Cosgrave and the company well. It has been a successful undertaking and has put an Irish company on the map. I welcome that and we will continue participating.
We heard this morning that the rents in this city were at the boom-time level even though the rent supplement was out of touch with the rents being demanded, that is, some €300 less than the average rent for an apartment and €400 less than the average rent for a house. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, promised action on radio this morning, yet the legislative programme that was published yesterday and which I have perused contains nothing in that regard. Will the Minister pursue legislation on rent controls or rent freezes, which was what he mentioned? For four and a half years, the Government has discussed making changes, yet the rent supplement budget has been cut by €200 million in that time and the mortgage interest supplement budget has been cut from €77 million to €12 million. What legislative action will be taken to address a crisis that is going through the roof? Many people do not even have a roof for it to go through.
I welcome two Bills on the legislative programme, as I have been asking for them for months. However, they still have the same status. It is not possible to indicate when No. 100, the national children's hospital establishment Bill, will be published. It first appeared on the legislative programme in 2013. The other Bill is probably in line with what the Minister discussed a moment ago, namely, the digital hub Bill, which the Government announced with a great deal of fanfare would address a large number of quangos. It has been on the programme since 2011, but it is in the section about which it is not possible to indicate when Bills will be published. Despite that, it is still operating. Another Minister, Deputy White, opened a new development in that regard last week. That is welcome, but certainty is required. Will the Minister ensure that this Bill is moved from section C to section B so that it can be passed before the dissolution of the Dáil?
I thank the Deputy for his question. I assure him that the Government is actively considering housing initiatives. The Cabinet committee met this week and initiatives are being developed. Any such initiative will appear before the House in the normal way. Those issues will not be on the legislative programme until they are agreed by the Government and moved to drafting stage. That is the normal approach to the legislative programme.
I understand that a planning application regarding the children's hospital was submitted on 10 August. A great deal of work has been done to get it to this point. The drafting of the legislative requirement is ongoing and is on track for publication in 2015, in accordance with the Minister's priorities. The practical implementation of the legislation has been initiated with the submission of a planning application.
The digital hub Bill is for next year. I will bring to the attention of the Minister the Deputy's concern about its priority, but it is still in section C.
This morning, the well-known Capuchin, Brother Kevin Crowley, stated that the housing crisis was the worst in the history of the State. In the Limerick council area, 5,200 people are on the housing waiting list with just 38 vacancies. In reply to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the Minister stated that the Government was "actively considering housing initiatives". The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government stated yesterday that emergency legislation was necessary to bring what he called "certainty" to the rental situation. Speaking on behalf of those in Limerick and elsewhere who are becoming homeless on a daily basis, when can we expect to see that emergency legislation? This is an emergency. The legislation must be introduced now, not considered or discussed.
Legislation on housing will be considered in the context of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government's programme and the Minister for Finance's programme in terms of budgetary measures. In the normal course, they will appear before the House when decisions have been taken by the Government.
As the Deputy well knows, given the fact that he was in government when the housing collapse occurred and the number of houses built fell from 90,000 to 5,000-----
I assure Deputy O'Dea that this matter will receive an absolute priority and Government attention. He will have read in newspapers about how the Cabinet sub-committee sat on this matter and groups were working to introduce proposals.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle, and it is in order. At the start of the summer, I asked the Taoiseach about a tenant purchase scheme for local authority housing. It was to be introduced but has been long-fingered by the Government. Unfortunately, many local authority tenants are waiting for the scheme to be introduced so that they might purchase their houses. Will the Minister state clearly when the scheme will be put in place and when local authorities around the country will be notified?
I understand that a tenant purchase scheme would be introduced by way of regulation, that is, secondary legislation passed by the Minister. I will convey to him Deputy Healy-Rae's concern and I am sure that he will correspond with the Deputy.
Yes. The heads of the Bill were cleared in July and it has gone to the office of the parliamentary counsel for drafting. As soon as that is completed, it will be published. The Bill is well on track.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, has stated that he would introduce rent controls or, as he called them, "rent certainty". When I asked about this matter, I was repeatedly told that the Minister was considering introducing legislation. We have a crisis. It has been described by eminent people as a humanitarian crisis.
Once again, I am asking whether we can introduce emergency legislation to address this situation. Is any being considered? I have received the same answer repeatedly, namely, that we would see the legislation before Christmas. A Bill is not even on the clár. The situation is urgent and will get much worse.
Clearly, there are serious issues in the housing area, which are being tackled by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and by the Government at large. The Deputy is aware he put in place a programme earlier this year to deal with the crisis that emerged around Christmas. A number of initiatives have been put in place to stimulate housing. As the Deputy is aware, this includes the new fund to help construction of new houses, the increased activity of NAMA in this sphere and the restoration of voids in the city. Moreover, further initiatives are under consideration to improve housing supply-----
-----including the assessment of modular housing as a potential solution in this area. There may be legislative proposals that emerge as well and I can only answer for decisions of the Government at this point that go on to the legislative programme. There are a number of issue, which have been raised by the Deputy and a number of other Members. Issues also have been raised on finance issues and their impact on housing. All of these are being considered, decisions will be issued and the House will be informed.
For the past six years, I and many others in this House have been waiting for the publication of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill and I welcome its publication this afternoon. However, I realised only this morning that the provisions to close off the gaping loopholes within the sex offenders register are not to be included in this legislation.
I refer to the sale of alcohol Bill, which is to codify the law related relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol. When does the Minister expect its publication? In addition, the apprenticeship Bill is to provide for the protection and responsibility applying to the employer and apprentices with the introduction of the new apprenticeships. When can Members expect this to be published?
The sale of alcohol Bill will be published next year and work is ongoing on the apprenticeship Bill. However, as the Deputy is aware, 25 proposals have been accepted by the Government and they are being fast-tracked and I understand they will involve an intake of 1,500 new apprentices in those entirely new apprenticeship areas. It is a very exciting area and one on which the Minister should be commended. The Bill will underpin this in due course.
I have two items under consideration. The first is Deputy Penrose's Bill for one-year bankruptcy. At present, an increasing and pressing inequality is visibly apparent. The Ceann Comhairle will have seen Professor David McWilliams's television programme, which shows, in simple Seán and Mary language, what a few Members have been trying to get across and impress on the Government's minds for the past four years. Unfortunately-----
I was at the IMO briefing session at which doctors had people in their surgeries whose health is falling apart. Suicides are taking place because the banks are out of control. They caused the problem, and the banking inquiry has not even revealed this-----
I understand Deputy Penrose's proposal is contained in a committee report, which obviously will be considered by the Government. However, there is no promised legislation in respect of it at this point.
And out of their own words.
The second item I wish to mention, and I keep repeating this, is the gambling control Bill. Paddy Power has taken over Betfair to become one of the world's biggest betting organisations-----
I welcome the recent announcement by the Shannon Group of a €21 million redevelopment of the industrial zone in Shannon. What is the position in respect of No. 127, the Irish Aviation Authority (amendment) Bill? When can Members expect to debate it in the House?
I again wish to ask the Minister about the appalling housing and homelessness crisis. As the Minister is aware, the constituency he and I share probably has the largest number of homeless families and people living under pressure in hotels and guesthouse accommodation in the entire country. While the Minister answered my colleagues here, when can Members expect the Minister to come into the House with a radical emergency programme to tackle this issue?
I have dealt with the issue of the legislation the Deputy is raising. However, I would point out that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has introduced a significant investment in social housing. NAMA is now stepping up its activity in the housing area.
-----and the modular housing, with which the Deputy clearly does not agree, is under active consideration. Moreover, new legislative measures also are being considered-----