Thursday, 24 September 2015
Order of Business
I want to raise two issues with the Tánaiste. She may be aware that last May a Supreme Court decision effectively struck down the code of conduct on mortgage arrears as a barrier to repossessions - in other words, banks no longer have to comply in full with the contents of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears before proceeding with repossession action in the courts. In essence, this makes repossessing homes easier for financial institutions. In his judgment in May, Mr. Justice Clarke strongly signalled that the Oireachtas should respond to this and that only it could close the loophole. I do not see any such measure in the legislative programme published by the Government. Does it intend to close what is an unintended loophole? We brought forward proposed legislation which will be moved in the Dáil next week.
I want to raise the scandal of the Volkswagen emissions testing which could have an impact in Europe, as it has had in the United States. I understand news is emerging that the 11 million vehicles involved do not just relate to America, but also to Europe. Is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport taking any steps to assess the possible impact of that scandal on motorist in Ireland? As the Tánaiste knows, since 2008 the motor tax system has linked the amount of tax paid to the CO2 bands and emissions from vehicles. Can she comment on that?
On the Supreme Court judgment, the Attorney General is examining the judgment on behalf of the Government and we will await that detailed analysis and advice. It is the policy of the Government to help families to stay in their homes. As the Deputy knows, the number of solutions for families to stay in the family home has increased. The Government policy is dedicated to continuing to do that in the most effective way possible, in particular for families who could be at risk of losing their homes.
On Volkswagen, the last two cars I bought over the past ten or 12 years were diesel. I am not great on cars, so I ask the Deputy to bear with me. Like most consumers, I am extremely concerned that cars bought in order to reduce emissions could, it appears, be doctored in a particular way to produce false and misleading results. It says a whole lot about how effective modern regulation is, which consumers, in particular, have come to rely on and trust. It is very worrying. I am sure the Department of and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will examine the matter. There is some conflicting evidence as to whether the same mode of testing applies to the European market as appears to apply to the American market. It is extremely disturbing. I will come back to the Deputy on the matter and will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy when more information is available.
The legislative programme was published yesterday and I want to inquire about legislation which the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, indicated he will bring before the House. This is on dedicated injecting sites for heroin users. Will this legislation be brought before the House in this session or, if not, will it definitely be brought before the House during this term of government?
My understanding is that it will be brought before the House this year. What is under consideration in the Dublin area, and perhaps in other locations, is a centre where this could happen. I want to be clear that nobody is envisaging a very widespread number of centres. This is to address a very specific issue on the recommendation of experts, doctors and organisations dealing with people who are battling drug addiction issues. If we are speaking about such centres, I envisage that there would be one for Dublin city and county.
I wish to ask about two Bills, namely, the health (miscellaneous provisions) (No. 1) Bill and the health insurance (amendment) Bill. The first refers to amendments to a number of Acts in line with an EU directive and the second refers to risk equalisation credits. When are they likely to come before the House? Have the heads been cleared? Will they pass through the House in this session?
I wish to ask about the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 which is to deal with section 37 of the Employment Equality Act. At the time of the successful marriage equality referendum, the Government made reference to dealing with this. When the Anti-Austerity Alliance Private Members' Bill passed Second Stage, it was mentioned that this would be prioritised. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, is quoted as stating it would be through and finished by September but we are at the end of September. I notice it is in section D of the Government's legislative programme for the autumn. Will the Tánaiste provide information on when we can expect to see it before the House?
As the Deputy probably knows, the legislation has completed its passage through the Seanad. I anticipate it will be before the House this session. As I understand, there is general all-party support for the particular section. I anticipate it should have a reasonably rapid passage through the House.
Domestic violence continues to be a major problem in the country, and the Tánaiste will accept that, unfortunately, in many instances the family home transpires to be a very unsafe place for women and quite a number of children. Many of the practitioners in the area doing the best they can to tackle the particular problem look to the Government's ratification of the Istanbul Convention as a step in the right direction and an indication the State will, for once, prioritise the challenges that exist. Will the Tánaiste tell us when might we expect to see the Government ratifying the Istanbul Convention given that it came into force internationally on 1 August? The reformed and consolidated domestic violence Bill is listed at No. 60. Is this part of the preparation for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention? No. 114 on the legislative list is the family court Bill. The establishment of a family court was part of the programme for Government. Will the Tánaiste give an undertaking that the Istanbul Convention will be ratified and the family court system will be in place before the Government goes out of office?
With regard to the domestic violence legislation to which the Deputy referred, the heads were cleared by the Government on 14 July so work is under way on it. It is anticipated to be in the House early next year. We also anticipate family courts and the Istanbul Convention next year. I will ask the Minister to come back to the Deputy more specifically on the Istanbul Convention.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Tánaiste mar gheall ar an international protection Bill and the McMahon report. Last June the Taoiseach said to our party he would facilitate a debate into the McMahon report and the direct provision system. Since June we have all seen the horrific images of tens of thousands of people making their way from war zones in the Middle East throughout Europe. We have seen the horrifying images of children drowning in the Mediterranean, families having to walk hundreds of miles and Hungarian security forces using violence against these individuals. The Government has stated it will allow for 4,000 people to come into the State. Yesterday the Taoiseach was in Europe to speak about the much-needed financial resources that will be provided. However, there is great fear in society that what we will get is direct provision mark II, and that is a shocking, disgraceful and unjust system. Will the Government agree to a full, urgent and proper debate with regard to refugees in this State and the McMahon report? When will the international protection Bill be published?
The Construction Contracts Act was introduced as a Bill in 2010, 2,000 days ago, but only in 2015 was the chair of the adjudication panel selected. Many workers and subcontractors throughout the State are finding it very difficult to live and make ends meet with regard to getting paid for the work they have done and the products they have supplied. What is the status of the adjudication panel?
That work is under way. It is very specialised work for the reasons the Deputy outlined. I understand the Minister is anxious to get somebody who is an outstanding international expert but who also has experience of the Irish construction sector. I understand this has been achieved in the person appointed so the work of the panel has commenced.
With regard to the international protection Bill, beidh an Bille sin os comhair an Tí an bhliain seo. With regard to asylum seekers or refugees coming in the context of the current European crisis, the Deputy may be aware that people will come into orientation and reception centres where they will be identified. Any assistance, including medical assistance, will be given and identified if necessary, and fingerprinting and identification for various purposes will be done. This period should be relatively short because the people will be coming via a European Commission-led programme. Other people have already come from Syria via the UNHCR programme. I was the author of Ireland's first Refugee Act, when I was Minister of State with responsibility for development. I cannot say exactly how long the reception and orientation period will be, but in the case of people coming from places like Bosnia, it was up to six months. This was the last significant group of refugees that we took in on an arranged basis. We have organisations such as the Red Cross, local organisations, parishes and the faith communities offering very strong assistance to people in this particular case. All of this will, as far as possible, be utilised.
We also want to emphasise, in order to help people integrate, that once those coming to Ireland have undergone reception and orientation, we would like to assist them, particularly with English language skills. In my long experience of dealing with this area, the key point for success in integration is language, as it allows people to get a job. My understanding is that people are generally interested in getting employment but much of it is dependent on having a working knowledge of the local language. Fairly advanced arrangements are in place at Government level, but the discussions involving the European Commission about the arrangements are still ongoing. That is what we are aware of at the moment.
I looked at the legislative programme sent in the past few days and I saw a reference to a Bill relating to drinking or alcohol. I spoke to the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, about this issue. At the moment, right across the country, drinking at home is becoming a major problem. If a person decides to keep drinking for a week, nobody can bring the person somewhere to treat the issue. I have personally heard about and seen this happening. Has the Government any intention of tackling this problem, which is widespread? It involves mothers, children and fathers around the country. Has the Government any intention of facing up to the problem that is evident right around the country?
I understand the legislation is expected before the House this term. Without getting into a debate on the detail of the Bill, people are entitled to drink at home. There are a couple of issues related to the Deputy's comments. There is public health education, but is the Deputy referring to minimum pricing of alcohol? I understand he is concerned about people drinking excessively.
I have no problem with anyone taking a drink. Will the Bill include provisions to tackle a problem that is arising around the country where, if a person has a real problem with drinking - perhaps drinking for seven days in the week without stopping - nothing can be done? That person will either die or decide to stop drinking.
It is an important point and, honestly, I do not have the answer. We all wish that anybody who drinks will do so responsibly, and that will form part of the debate. There should be public health education from school about the dangers of excessive drinking. There will also be some examination of pricing issues around drinking.