Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 13, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 (section 44) (Variation of Indemnity Amount) Order 2016; No. 13a, Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad] – Motion to Instruct the Committee; No. 13b, Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Financial Resolution; and No. 33, Technological Universities Bill 2015 - 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 adjournment of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 215, motion re social housing, and shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes; and Nos. 13, 13a and 13b shall be decided without debate.
Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 33, Technological Universities Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages (Resumed); No. 34 - Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage.
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 Nos. 13, 13a and 13b, agreed to? Agreed.
Potentially, we are heading into perhaps the last week of this House. The date has been in the Taoiseach's head for quite a long time. I merely want to commend the Taoiseach and the Government on their capacity for self-assessment. The prospect of the chapter in the programme for Government dealing with fairness, in particular, in dealing with the health service, will rank as probably the greatest act of political fiction ever written. It is tremendous stuff.
Five years ago, the following was stated in the programme for Government:
This Government will introduce Universal Health Insurance with equal access to care for all. Under this system there will be no discrimination between patients on the grounds of income or insurance status. The two-tier system of unequal access to hospital care will end.
The Universal Health Insurance system will be designed according to the European principle of social solidarity: access will be according to need and payment will be according to ability to pay. The principle of social solidarity will underpin all relevant legislation.
As a statutory system of health insurance, guaranteed by the State, the Universal Health Insurance system will not be subject to European or national competition law.
This Government will act speedily to reduce costs in the delivery of both public and private health care and in the administration of the health care system.
I will not read out the entire chapter on the health service but it goes on. The Government promised legislation for universal primary care under legislation to be called the universal primary care Act.
Are the heads of the Bill available? It was to be brought in. The claimants of drugs on the long-term illness scheme, at a cost of €17 million, was to be introduced. It read very well.
A system of Universal Health Insurance (UHI) will be introduced by 2016, with the legislative and organisational groundwork for the system complete within this Government’s term of office. UHI will provide guaranteed access to care for all in public and private hospitals on the same basis as the privately-insured have now.
There is another full page on the universal health insurance Act, which is promised in the programme for Government, and on how hospitals and clinics will participate in supplying care under UHI, and so on. On the third page about UHI it states, "Under UHI public hospitals will no longer be managed by the HSE."
For five years, I have been asking for these Acts periodically. Up to approximately three months ago, the Taoiseach kept saying there were delays but they were coming. Only in the past three months has the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, ditched the entire chapter on universal health insurance. Will the Taoiseach confirm that he misled the people on it five years ago and that it has been a spectacular failure of implementation? Can he confirm that it belongs, and has always belonged, to the realm of fantasy in terms of political commitments and promises and creates serious doubt about any commitments he makes in health or any other area? What the Taoiseach said about health did not materialise.
We were told it would happen. The pathways are detailed on the fifth page, starting with the enactment of the legislative basis for UHI. It did not happen, and I do not know why. Maybe the Taoiseach can give some indication. Can he confirm that it is unlikely to happen, given that we are, potentially, in the last week of the Dáil?
The Taoiseach attempted to introduce self assessment for the junior certificate. There was much objection by teachers. In the Taoiseach's self assessment of his record, he gave himself 93%. I begin to understand why the teachers have concerns about self assessment.
If all our schools had a similar pattern of self assessment, it would reduce our education system to ridicule. I have a far greater understanding of teachers' concerns about self assessment, given the Taoiseach and Tánaiste's self assessments.
Can the Taoiseach indicate how the report of the banking inquiry will be laid before the House and the arrangements for statements?
I appreciate it. I am nearly finished. Can the Taoiseach clarify when the taxation and certain other matters (international mutual assistance) Bill will be published and whether it will allow for an extension of the maximum period of four years over which a taxpayer can reclaim any amounts he or she has overpaid to the Revenue?
The Deputy read out sections of the programme for Government. I have been upfront about it. There areas on which we have not been able to deliver, including universal health insurance. The Deputy asked why. Given the total collapse of the economy, there were no resources to drive any of the programmes to the extent one would wish. The Dutch health insurance system was not appropriate in Ireland's case, and we always made this point. The Minister has made it very clear that we have not been able to introduce universal health insurance, but the priority remains to introduce universal health care, which will be paid for by an insurance scheme. It will be introduced at the end of the lifetime of the next Administration.
It is not hard to credit. At that stage, there will be a universal health care system based on primary and community care and home care packages and on an increased capacity to invest in hospitals, medical personnel such as consultants, doctors and nurses, and other public services such as the Garda. Templemore was closed for some reason, which the Deputy might explain some time.
These are all reasons it is critical the momentum of growth pattern the country is on must be kept up to provide the resources to invest in all those public services. I will come back to the Deputy on the tax issue he raised.
The Chief Whip will move a motion tomorrow for the publication of the report of the banking inquiry. On Thursday morning, there will be an opportunity to debate it here, starting with contributions from the Chairman of the inquiry, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, and the members of the inquiry. They have laboured long and hard during the past 12 months in dealing with various elements of the inquiry.
I know they have. Last year, at a meeting of the health committee, the Minister gave a commitment that he would bring forward a Bill which would include a duty of candour and a policy of open disclosure for doctors and other health professionals. It was in response to countless distressing examples of families having to go to court and force health professionals to reveal the facts when mistakes in treatment had occurred. In recent weeks, the Minister has decided it will not happen, and said that to legislate in this way would be counterproductive. I do not know what made him change his mind. Maybe the Taoiseach can shed some light on why the Bill will not be published.
The Taoiseach has reported that the monitoring of journalists' phones is a matter of grave concern. The review the Minister has ordered under the Communications (Retention of Data) Act will apply only to journalists. Would the Taoiseach agree, given the number of requests for monitoring, that it is a bigger issue than just journalists? Would he consider that the review should be broadened to include other members of society?
Work is proceeding on the health information Bill. It is not in the priority list and will not be published before the Dáil ends its duty. The Minister had intended to introduce a particular kind of Bill on open disclosure. This will not go ahead in the manner he first envisaged.
Regarding the review, the Government made a decision that a former Chief Justice should examine the application and operation of the law in this case. When the allegations were made that GSOC had been bugged, people were very strongly of the opinion that GSOC should be given a full range of powers and investigative facilities. However, when the recent incident came to light, they changed their tune and said we had to consider the question of the law.
I would say that this is not a simple matter. The question of the use, retention and retrieval of data is one that has other implications in terms of terrorist activities and relations between different countries and between companies and countries. For now, the Government has made a clear decision that a former Chief Justice should review the operation of the law as it applies at the moment to members of the journalistic profession and report to the Minister for Justice and Equality inside three months. I think that is appropriate and warranted.
The Taoiseach will be aware that the Heritage Bill 2016 is in the Seanad this week. Could he give us an assurance that this small but important Bill, which deals with canals and wildlife, will be dealt with in this Chamber before the dissolution of the Dáil? If it could be taken next Tuesday, my understanding is that there would be agreement right across the House on its contents.
Obviously, I do not speak for the illustrious Members of the Upper House. I cannot say how long they might wish to spend on the Committee Stage debate on the Heritage Bill 2016. After that debate, the Bill will be considered on Report Stage in the Seanad before coming back here. It is like a telescope beginning to shorten. I cannot guarantee Deputy Timmins that the Bill will be dealt with finally and fully before this House rises.
The Taoiseach and my party leader spoke earlier about the programme for Government in the context of health. The programme for Government talks about giving "equal access to [health] for all" our citizens. I do not know whether the Taoiseach is aware that one citizen in Ireland suffers from Degos disease. Just 40 or 50 people in the world suffer from it. Does the Taoiseach think it is right or proper that a woman from my constituency has been refused access to a life-saving drug due to its cost?
Does the Taoiseach think this is right and proper? Does he think it is a fair reflection of his time in Government? The programme for Government promised equal access to our health services. I ask the Taoiseach quite sincerely to look into this individual case.
Excuse me, Deputy. The Taoiseach is subject to the same Standing Orders as you are. Please resume your seat. You have made your point. I call Deputy Mathews on promised legislation.
On promised legislation, I wonder when the national monuments Bill will come before the House. Our national heritage needs to be protected and regulated. As certain structures and sites in this country are of national importance and are certainly worthy of State protection, the national monuments Bill should come before the House sooner rather than later.