Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 37, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance - motion 5 resumed. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the resumed debate on No. 37: the speech of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, or persons nominated in their stead, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case; and such Members may share their time; and the speech of each other Member called upon, who may share time, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case; (2) the suspension of the sitting under Standing Order 23 (1) shall take place on the conclusion of the leaders' speeches for one hour; (3) the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until Tuesday, 20 October 2015 at 2 p.m.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 37, Financial Motions by the Minister for Finance, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the suspension of sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until Tuesday, 20 October 2015 at 2 p.m. agreed to? Agreed.
Will the Government give specific time for discussion of the health Estimates, because there is total confusion in terms of what health has received in this year's budget? The huge supplementary provision of €600 million illustrates the dishonesty that has been at the centre of health Estimates over the past three years. This has caused significant distress in hospitals and led to extended waiting times for both outpatient and inpatient cases.
Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, outdid himself in the spin department. He announced health funding of €13.175 billion for current expenditure in 2016, allegedly an increase of €900 million, but on budget day last year he announced Exchequer funding of €13.079 billion in current expenditure - a difference of approximately €96 million. Somewhere in between he has lost close to €800 million. Then, yesterday, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, stated in the expenditure report that health was getting an increase of €280 million. He also said that health spending was now at pre-crash levels.
However, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, explicitly denies that. Will the Taoiseach provide Government time for a debate on the health Estimate and on broader health issues, because there is chaos and a lack of morale in the system?
On the programme for Government legislative commitments on housing and distressed mortgages, it is interesting that it was written into the programme five years ago that the Government would convert the Money Advice and Budgetary Service, MABS, into a strengthened personal debt management agency with strong legal powers that would support families and make an honest effort to deal with their debts, including non-mortgage debt, and provide protection from creditors where appropriate so that families would have time to sort out their affairs. In order to do this, the personal debt management agency would have quasi-judicial status. When will that legislation be introduced and what is the position on it?
In regard to homelessness, a provision was made four and a half years ago in the programme for Government that in line with the comprehensive spending review, the Government would alleviate the problem of long-term homelessness by introducing a housing first approach to accommodate homeless people. In that way, it would be able to offer homeless people suitable long-term housing in the first instance and radically reduce the use of hostel accommodation and the associated costs for the Exchequer. I respectfully suggest that the use of hostel accommodation has not reduced. Rather, hotel and emergency accommodation for the homeless has doubled, treble or quadrupled. The Government said that by having a dedicated body to formulate policy across Government, it would target initiatives in cross-cutting areas to prevent, as much as possible, problems like homelessness. Can the Taoiseach indicate when the legislation for that cross-cutting body will be brought before the House as provided for in the programme for Government?
For 2016, the Department of Health will have funding from the Exchequer of €13.175 billion in current expenditure and €414 million in capital. Further funds come in from contributions from the HSE, from private insurance, car parks and so on. These amount to over €1 billion. This represents an increase of €880 million on the 2015 current expenditure budget set out in the Revised Estimates volume and €32 million on capital expenditure.
In the last period the Tánaiste has nominated a number of MABS officers around the country to work in a more focused and structured way with people who have mortgage difficulties. This is paying dividends in the work they do. I will have to advise Deputy Micheál Martin in respect of the legislation to which he refers concerning the personal debt mediation, PDM, agency. The same applies to legislation on housing, an issue he has raised.
Will the Minister of State, please, settle down? I will not ask him a second time. Everybody is treated equally in this Chamber. Will Deputies, please, stay quiet and allow Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn to speak?
I have two issues that I wish to raise, the first of which concerns the Stormont House Agreement implementation Bill. As the Taoiseach knows, in the Stormont House Agreement the two Governments agreed to provide for truth recovery mechanisms for the families of victims of the conflict. Specifically, the Government has committed to legislating for an historical investigations unit and the creation of an independent commission for information retrieval. There has been consternation at the draft published by the British Government. Using the pretext of national security, it would give the British Secretary of State the power to block full disclosure. What are the Taoiseach's views on that issue and, more importantly, when will the Government publish a Stormont House Agreement implementation Bill? Why is there no date for implementation of the international treaty to underpin the independent commission for information retrieval?
The second issue concerns reformed and consolidated domestic violence legislation and the Istanbul Convention. The tragic events of recent days have focused our minds on this issue. Women's domestic violence groups have been raising the issue of the signing of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. I understand the Government took a decision on it yesterday. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Government will sign the convention? We will then obviously meet our responsibilities in this important matter.
In respect of the Stormont House Agreement, we signed off on it before Christmas, with the intention that it would be implemented in full. As the Deputy is aware, there are some serious discussions ongoing. I think from speaking to the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, that they will resume tomorrow. I do not want to say anything that would disrupt that process to any extent. Suffice it to say that, in respect of the criminal justice (Stormont House Agreement implementation) Bill, negotiations are at an advanced stage with the United Kingdom on concluding an international agreement that will set up the independent commission for information retrieval, a new body to be established in both jurisdictions. These are sensitive discussions and I do not want to say any more about them until we see what progress we can make. The Deputy is aware of other reports which are due to emerge shortly.
Regarding the Council of Europe convention-----
We gave approval at the Cabinet meeting yesterday for progress to be made on it. I think the Minister for Justice and Equality will report on the matter shortly. The intention is to move it forward in order that these matters can be ratified. I point out that in Ireland the view is taken that if we sign a convention and then have to ratify it, it is important to put in place the necessary legislation to allow it to be ratified. Other countries have signed conventions but have not ratified them in legislation. As in the case of the disability sector, there is a range of legislation which must be put in place before we can actually ratify the convention. This applies to the issues of domestic violence and violence against women. Such legislation is so appropriate in view of current circumstances.
I ask the Taoiseach about the timing of the introduction of a tenant purchase scheme for local authority tenants. This matter has been ongoing for a long time and local authorities throughout the country are awaiting the introduction of the scheme, while tenants are waiting to purchase their houses. Will the Government, please, move on the matter?
The Minister is to finalise the statutory instrument for consideration and expects this to take place soon. I think he wrote to the Deputy in September stating his intentions. Clearly, the tenant purchase scheme has always been important in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and for local authorities. As the Deputy knows, such a scheme arises every number of years, depending on the interest shown and the conditions attached. I will follow up the matter with the Minister when I get an opportunity to do so.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the EirGrid Bill. People in Tipperary and other counties have been fighting against the might of massive companies for the past few years. There is a lot of subterfuge and we now have an announcement prior to a general election that it is being deferred or that it is to revert back to the old policy of using existing lines. People simply do not believe this. When will we see the EirGrid Bill and the reins being put on the people who are wrecking the lives of communities? They are only interested in big business and money, not the environment or anything else.
It is only in recent weeks that the commission of investigation into IBRC has actually started its preliminary work. There was a change in the personnel who would conduct the inquiry. When it was announced, an interim report was expected in December. Does the Taoiseach still expect to receive an interim report in December?
As the Deputy is aware, I cannot comment on the work of the sole member who will make his own arrangements, in which I cannot interfere in any way. Generally, there may be a request for either resources or extra time, but it is beyond my remit to interfere in any way once the sole member has been appointed to conduct the investigation.
In the past few years I have raised on numerous occasions the question of the updating of the law on bail. I know that the Bill has been worked on and that the heads have been cleared. I understand the Bill will soon be ready. In view of the obvious and pressing need to update the law on bail, in line with the requirements of the 21st century, when are we are likely to see the Bill in the House? I hope it will pass through the House as a matter of urgency.
The general Bill on bail was cleared in July and work is proceeding on it. On the other Bill on consecutive sentencing, the Minister has made decisions and the Bill is being put through the House. I will advise the Deputy on the state of play on the general Bill on bail. To be honest, it will probably be early next year before it comes through the system.
In view of the fact that there was little or nothing for people with disabilities in the budget announced yesterday, will the Taoiseach tell me when, if ever, the Government intends to restore the mobility allowance?
The Taoiseach has promised on a number of occasions to introduce legislation to extend the university franchise beyond the National University of Ireland, NUI, and Trinity College Dublin in order that graduates of the University of Limerick and regional technical colleges, including the one in his own home town, will be able to vote in Seanad elections.
Can the Taoiseach tell us if that will be in place? Will those people be in a position to vote to elect people to the Seanad from university seats in the next election?
The Government promised to introduce legislation to extend the university franchise for Seanad elections beyond NUI and Trinity College so that people who graduated from the institutes of technology and places like the University of Limerick will be in a position to vote in the election of those six university Senators. Will that be in place in time for the next Seanad election?
I cannot see it being implemented before the next election.
The mobility allowance is a complex area, as the Deputy is well aware. The important thing is, first, to protect the people who are in receipt of the mobility allowance. Detailed work has been done on this to introduce a subsequent scheme which would be as broad as possible. There are degrees in this that are very complicated. The first thing is to protect people who are in receipt of it and this is being done. The drafting is underway in respect of making a broader-based scheme that would accommodate the various needs that are there.
There are many families looking after loved ones with severe disabilities who cannot access public transport. In turn, they spend a lot of their time within the four walls of their houses instead of getting out and meeting friends, socialising, getting fresh air and making hospital appointments. We need to provide a scheme to make individual payments-----
I am referring to the health (transport support) Bill. We need a contribution towards the costs of people with severe disabilities who cannot access public transport. When can we expect the publication of the Bill?
This is more or less the same question Deputy O'Dea asked, which I have already answered. Detailed work is also ongoing in respect of rural transport provision, which would accommodate what Deputy Fitzpatrick is referring to.
The news in the budget that the maximum tax on an average heavy goods vehicle will fall from €5,000 to €900 is great news for hauliers in my area. In light of that news, could the Taoiseach give a commitment to the speedy enactment of the road transport Bill, which would reduce the administrative burden on people seeking to transport people or goods? There is a considerable administrative burden in this area so this Bill would be a great help.
This is part of the budgetary process and will be acted upon administratively. The Bill to which Deputy O'Reilly refers is due next year. The impact of the decision by the Government will follow through from the budget.
My first issue is a promised debate. The Government set up the Convention on the Constitution and promised that it would complete its remit within 12 months. I understand it did it in about 14 months. The motion passed by the Dáil setting it up said that the Government will provide in the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation by the convention within four months. The last report from the convention was in March 2014, a year and a half ago. It is not just the last report. There are four outstanding reports so four debates have been promised. It is an insult to those who took part. I urge the Taoiseach to set aside Government time over at least the next four weeks to debate the last four remaining reports from the convention.
There was talk here last week or possibly the week before about Longboat Quay and the need for an audit. Some of the responses seemed to suggest that there is forthcoming legislation that will ensure that there will be new standards and responsibilities. I have looked at the legislative programme and there does not seem to be any legislation that captures what is required. The nearest I could find that is coming up in this session is the Planning and Development (No. 2) Bill. However, the problem there is that it says that it is to provide for the implementation of the planning recommendations of the Mahon tribunal. Does the Taoiseach now intend to change that legislation to take account of the needs of the planning inspectorate and planning enforcement around Longboat Quay and other buildings that were built in that era and the need for an audit, ongoing inspection regime and a standard for Traveller sites in light of the recent horrific tragedy? Also, Taoiseach-----
It is not a speech. I am asking whether that Bill, which is very urgent, address those issues. One key area that has not been addressed to date is the issue of young people in schools with prefabs. Can I ask that an audit be carried out on educational facilities around the country?
The Minister for Education and Skills has already set out the programme to do away with prefabricated buildings that in many cases have been in schools for many years. She will make announcements on that in the next two to three weeks. The Planning and Development (No. 2) Bill is due this session.
I will see if we can fit in a debate on the outstanding reports of the Convention on the Constitution before the end of this session. The convention has wound up. We thank it for its work. I agree that we should have been able to discuss these things but the pressure of business here sometimes does not allow for that. I will see if we can fit it in before the end of the session.
Will the Planning and Development (No. 2) Bill contain legislation to give effect to fast-tracking the provision of modular homes that the Government announced again yesterday? In the absence of that legislation and an amendment to the Planning and Development Act, it will take 12 to 18 months to go through the procurement and planning process. That would be to hood-wink people into thinking that these can be provided much earlier than that.
Will the Taoiseach consider giving Government time to a Bill I have on the Order Paper today? It would deprive the Taoiseach and all future taoisigh of the power to dissolve the Dáil. This is introduced in light of-----
I understand that under Standing Order 26(3), I can raise this matter on the Order of Business today because it is on the Order Paper. It has nothing to do with the Taoiseach and the recent difficulties he has had with deciding the date of the election. I ask him whether he would consider amending the Constitution so that all future taoisigh do not have this absurd and very unfair power to call the date of the election.
I have two items to raise. Before I do, in light of the tragedy at Glenamuck Road and the Travellers who lost their lives, I want to take the opportunity to commend An Garda Síochána for the enormous compassion shown at the Sandyford Community Centre. In the aftermath of their own tragedy, the gardaí have been hugely supportive and shown great empathy for all the Travellers who have come to that centre and it should go on the record that in spite of their own troubles, they have been hugely compassionate to the community.
I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying that the election will be held on the other side of Christmas. This is because he wants to do the job and continue the job and mandate.
It ties in with the Taoiseach's stated intention last week when I raised the matter that the one-year bankruptcy Bill championed by Deputy Penrose be brought forward as quickly as possible because the Attorney General has given it the all clear, as I understand the Taoiseach is aware.
Therefore there is no impediment, no obstacle, no distraction of an election before Christmas. This should now be the spearhead priority-----
-----given that there are 38,000 deeply distressed mortgage householders who want to avail of this but cannot because they have family commitments and children in school.
The only tax that was imposed yesterday in the budget was a 5% increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes. Why, given that there is still dithering on the Gambling Control Bill, could the Government not have put a 2.5% levy on gambling turnover in Ireland which would have raised €125 million-----
I have already clarified the position in so far as elections are concerned between now and the end of the year. I commend Deputy Mathews’ comments on the gardaí and their considered actions in regard to the tragedy at Glenamuck.
In respect of the bankruptcy Bill, we have to deal with the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest legislation and the Public Service Stability Agreement 2013-2016, Haddington Road, the Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 and the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015.
With the help of the parties we could maybe move things through, such as the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 and the Legal Service Regulation Bill 2011. I will consult with the Chief Whip in respect of the bankruptcy Bill that the Deputy mentions.
-----with funding provided by this Government.
In order that people are fully prepared for the new job opportunities in our improving economy can the Taoiseach update us on the status of the apprenticeship Bill? I have raised this issue before in the House.
I am glad to note that the largest school in the country will be opened at Edgeworthstown. Every time I pass there and see the statue of Maria Edgeworth I think of her famous book, Castle Rackrent. Deputy Bannon will be pleased.
The Bill in respect of apprenticeship matters is under discussion at the moment.
The ground rents issue affects tens of thousands of people around the country. I think there is cross-party consensus on trying to resolve this. Does the Government have any plans to introduce legislation to try to finally resolve this issue?
We had this problem for many years, whereby properties were subject to ground rents which were paid to absentee landlords. The Government changed the legislation many years ago to allow for those to be bought out, many were small in scale but that was changed. I will have to advise the Deputy on the question he raises.
When does the Taoiseach expect the family courts Bill to be brought before the House? It will establish a dedicated family court structure. I ask in the context of domestic violence, the long delays for free legal aid and the long queues in Dolphin House. I have visited it and it is disgraceful that people are making decisions about their families in corridors. It is not acceptable and I would therefore like to see this Bill published as soon as possible.