Thursday, 28 January 2016
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2016, back from committee; No. 16, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Companies Act 2014 (Section 1313) Regulations 2016, back from committee; No. 17, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Optician) Regulations 2016, back from committee; No. 18, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 (Section 44) (Variation of Indemnity Amount) Order 2016, back from committee; No. 34a, statements on the report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis; No. 2 - Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage; No. 1, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); No. 7, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 15, 16, 17 and 18 shall be decided without debate, and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 34a: the statement of the Chairman of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis and of each member of the committee shall not exceed ten minutes; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes, and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes.
There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, 16, 17 and 18 - motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2016, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Companies Act 2014 (Section 1313) Regulations 2016, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Optician) Regulations 2016, back from committee, and motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 (Section 44) (Variation of Indemnity Amount) Order 2016 - without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 34a, statements on the report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, agreed to? Agreed.
I assume it is, and I want to pay tribute to him as the outgoing Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I know he is not seeking re-election to the next Dáil, but it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge his immense contribution to public service.
I believe he has been a Member of the Oireachtas for in excess of 40 years. He has a very distinguished record representing the people of Galway East. He is a public servant of the utmost integrity and I want to acknowledge that. On behalf of his own party, the Fianna Fáil Party, I thank him for decades of service and wish him and his family all the very best in his retirement.
I wish to raise a couple of issues. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad] is due in the House later today. As I understand it, there is broad consensus, at least among the parties, to support the passage of that Bill. Is it the Government's intention in the very limited time available to pass all Stages of that Bill in the House? It is something my party would support.
Recently, Deputy O'Dea brought forward a Private Members' Bill, the Pension Fund (Prohibition of Levies) Bill 2016. The background to this is the imposition of the pension levy on private pension savings from 2011 to 2015, over which period €2.5 billion was taken out of the private pension savings of hundreds of thousands of workers and existing pensioners. The impact of that is becoming clear now for many and will become clear for others over the years ahead. Does the Tánaiste support the thrust of that Bill, which would prohibit any future Government from raiding private pension savings in a similar manner?
In relation to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, I appreciate that the majority of Members in the House would like to see the passage of this Bill. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, has indicated that she would be happy to see all Stages of this Bill being taken today, if the Opposition agrees. It is really dependent on the agreement of the Opposition. If the Opposition can indicate its agreement, then that can be so. That would mean the Dáil would sit later, but it has to be agreed across the board. We would then have an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Dáil shall sit not later than 5.30 p.m. today and shall adjourn at the conclusion of Topical Issues, which shall be taken on the conclusion of Second and Remaining Stages of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad], and it shall be taken no later than 3.30 p.m. today, and the proceedings on the Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after three hours. It is really for the House, and for all of the different groups in the House, to indicate.
I appreciate Deputy Catherine Murphy's own personal position in relation to the legislation because she has spoken on the matter at different times. I appreciate she is obviously not able to commit the Technical Group to the Dáil agreeing and, therefore, I will not proceed. The Second Stage is, therefore, on the agenda.
I join in the words of commendation so deservedly spoken about the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and thank him for his courtesy and patience. He was certainly a gentleman, and a patient one at that. We all wish him the very best in the future and congratulate him on his distinguished career.
On the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, my party would be extremely keen that this legislation pass all Stages-----
-----as, I appreciate, is the Tánaiste herself and, indeed, as is Fianna Fáil. There is an understandable difficulty for Deputies who may wish to amend or have a fuller debate on the legislation. It is only fair to record that it is not by any means ideal or desirable that such important legislation is dealt with at the eleventh hour. That said, my party's concern to have the legislation passed overrides any concerns around a guillotine or the shortening of the debate. I merely want to indicate that position. When I resume my seat, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might tell us what this means or when a vote might be taken in relation to amending the Order of Business, or if that is the intention.
There has to be general agreement for the House to agree that all Stages will be taken today. That agreement, as Deputy Catherine Murphy stated, is not forthcoming. In fact, only Second Stage is listed for the Dáil today.
We will be taking the Second Stage. That is what I would suggest. This is something that I have spoken out about down the years. It is certainly legislation that I and the Labour Party have supported. There are Members of differing views among the Independents. The Bill also received extensive discussion over a long period of time in the Seanad and that, probably, is one of the reasons it is so late coming here. However, without the agreement of the House, Second Stage is listed for today and that is how it will proceed.
I thank the Tánaiste for that clarification. Of course, if this were to reach all Stages today and to pass through the Oireachtas, it would give us an all-island framework on the prohibition of the purchase of sex. It is a great pity and I hope that Deputy Catherine Murphy's consultations will be successful.
What I wanted to ask the Tánaiste relates to Moore Street. Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and I sought access to the national monument not for the sake of it, but to have an expert conservation architect go in and establish and verify exactly the nature of the works under way, under what permission and under the supervision of whom. I have been in touch with the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on this matter and we have had some correspondence. I understood that such a visit would be facilitated but we have heard nothing back, and I am concerned. The Tánaiste will be aware that this is a matter of considerable public concern and contention and I wonder if she might be able to assist me in establishing when those experts might gain access, on behalf of us four Members of the Oireachtas, to establish what is going on.
I would be perfectly happy to contact the Minister to see whether the Deputies' access can be facilitated. I have had the privilege of visiting the different houses. As Moore Street is where I always did my shopping as a child, I remember the houses. From what I witnessed during my brief visit, they are in an extraordinarily fragile state. I hope that agreement can be reached with all the parties to undertake really important conservation work on these historic monuments. I had hoped to see that proceeding. I will contact the Minister and ask her to facilitate the Deputies' visit as soon as she can.
I want to be associated with the remarks to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, and by Deputy McDonald. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his advice and friendship over the years and acknowledge the distinguished service that he has given the people of Galway and, indeed, the people of the country. I am struck by the fact that the 32nd Dáil will be unique in that it will be the first time in many years, indeed decades, that a member of the distinguished Kitt family will not be serving here.
I also wish well those who are retiring, like Deputy Kitt, voluntarily. I see Deputies Dinny McGinley and Ruairí Quinn here. I wish them long life and happiness.
On the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Act, earlier the Tánaiste talked about the dynamic recovery that is happening. The 580 Xtravision workers would not share the Tánaiste's view that the recovery is dynamic. What will happen to those workers, some of whom knew they would be made redundant at the end of January and all of whom expected to receive their pay and redundancy entitlements? With the appointment of a provisional liquidator, the position is very unclear. Can the Tánaiste give an assurance that payments will be made to these people so they can pay their rent or mortgages and feed their families immediately?
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his courtesy, patience and the very good humour with which he has overseen proceedings in the Dáil, particularly on Thursdays, when he has been more often present than not for some interesting and exciting debates. I wish him and his family well in his retirement. I have met his family in recent times, and life outside politics seems to be going very well for them, for which I am glad.
It has been known for several years that new technology transmission systems such as Netflix have rendered Xtravision's business model redundant and there have been many suggestions of difficulties in the company from time to time. The Department of Social Protection will make all its services available to anybody who is affected by the proposed redundancies. When the Department receives notice from liquidators, or whoever is arranging the company's wind down, we will immediately move to establish any entitlements that people working there have through their social insurance contributions and any entitlements they may have to social welfare payments. We will also make all our Intreo public employment services available to workers affected. Given the demand for employees, I hope to assist as many of the workers as possible with fresh employment within a reasonably short time. We will provide all the services, and I can give the Deputy those details later for anybody who is affected.
I too would like to be associated with the good wishes to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and all retiring Members. On assuming office almost five years ago, the Government promised the adoption (information and tracing) Bill was a priority. It is regrettable that the Dáil term will end without the Government giving every citizen the basic, fundamental right to his or her identity. The Tánaiste promised it was a priority of hers. It should have been implemented before the end of the Dáil term. Can she update us on the status of the Bill?
We are still awaiting the publication of the wind energy guidelines, which was promised before the 2014 local elections. Last week, when I raised it on the Order of Business, the Taoiseach promised me he would send a note indicating when it would be published. I await this note.
The Tánaiste's Department announced a compensation package, through the community welfare offices, for families affected by the devastating floods across the country. Families have incurred significant expense through the hire of pumps and increased ESB charges and have suffered many inconveniences protecting their homes over time, but may not have had water run through their doors, due to their work to protect their houses. Can the Tánaiste instruct the community welfare officers to ensure these people receive some State funding through compensation?
I have taken a very close interest in the adoption (information and tracing) Bill on a personal basis and I am sorry there has not been enough time to bring forward the legislation. The Minister, Deputy James Reilly, has been working very hard to bring the legislation before the Dáil. There are a small number of outstanding issues on which he has not yet reached a decision. Unfortunately, we will not have it in the lifetime of this Dáil. However, I hope and anticipate it will be a priority for the next Dáil immediately on its resumption.
The wind energy guidelines are still being worked on by officials in the two Departments concerned.
My Department has assisted more than 400 households and paid out approximately €500,000 to families affected by flooding. If the Deputy has particular cases, he might make them known to me or to the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys. We have made payments to quite a few families who have incurred expenses related to the hire of pumps and other equipment. The Deputy could contact the regional official in charge of the midlands, whom the Deputy knows well.
In the context of the Deputy's other occupation, I am happy to say that, today, the managing director of An Post and I signed the new contract for the renewal of the cash contract to post offices which pay out cash in social welfare payments. The value of the contract last year was €54 million.
May I also be associated with the remarks to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle? I wish Deputy Sandra McLellan, who is a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, well and thank her for her work on the committee. I thank and pay tribute to my good friend, Deputy Dinny McGinley, who is also leaving us.
This morning, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, launched the Tourism Action Plan 2016-2018, which contains 23 actions. Through the Tánaiste's good offices, could she take up the issue of the Norwegian Air flight from Cork to Boston with the US authorities? It is an important issue that will increase connectivity for the smaller airlines. It is not in breach of the EU-US Open Skies policy, but will augment it and help bring more tourists into our country. Could the Tánaiste intervene with the Taoiseach and the Minister to intercede and ensure we get those flights from Cork to Boston?
I will ask about it. I am delighted that the tourism action plan was published. Having met various people involved in tourism in the Cork region, I know the developments at the airport are important for the region. I look forward to seeing those flights to the US.
I too want to be associated with the good wishes and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for all his kindness and courtesy and all the Members who are retiring after long service. I want to ask the Tánaiste about an issue in Tipperary and around the country, namely, the rural practice allowance for GPs. The Tánaiste is very familiar with Bansha, County Tipperary, where there is great confusion and ineptitude on the part of HSE officials to fill the position. This is under the health information Bill.
The Tánaiste and I have mutual friends in Bansha. There is great confusion.
We do not have a GP there. Ministers promised that the rural practice allowance would be reinstated, but it has not been reinstated. We cannot get applicants. I ask the Tánaiste to intervene personally again to see if this issue can be sorted out. That would give solace and satisfaction-----
I assure Deputy McGrath that Bansha is very close to my heart. I look forward to meeting him on the election trail sometime soon, perhaps in the vicinity of Bansha. I will ask the Minister for Health about Bansha. I have already spoken to him about it. I know the GP service is an absolutely vital local provision for people in the Bansha area.
I want to return to No. 2 on the Order of Business, which is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015. I raised this with the Taoiseach last week. It is absolutely critical that this substantial legislation is not rushed through. I was somewhat surprised to hear Opposition Deputies saying that all Stages of the Bill should be taken today. There are significant issues-----
It is important for this to be clarified. Significant issues like consent, sexual offences and prostitution arise in the context of this Bill. Many submissions have been made by groups like the National Women's Council and the Rape Crisis Centre. The whole issue of consent is not covered in the Bill. There are many gaps in the legislation. It is much better not to rush through legislation than to have bad law. Even though I am anxious to see certain aspects of this Bill go through, it is really important that it is not rushed. I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week. I ask the Opposition to agree that it should not be rushed.
The spokespeople for the Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and Fine Gael parties all agreed that the passage of this legislation is highly desirable. Therefore, a proposal was offered that would have seen the legislation dealt with today. All Stages would have been passed, provided there was agreement. Deputy Catherine Murphy, on behalf of the Independents and the Technical Group, advised the House that although she is personally strongly in favour of this legislation, she is aware that some Deputies in the Technical Group, including some Independents, are not in favour of it. I regret to say that we were not able to get the agreement of the entire House on this important legislation, which deals with people who buy sexual services and offers some level of protection to very vulnerable women who are involved in prostitution. Clearly, that is reflected in Deputy Coppinger's comments now.
There are elements of the Bill that we strongly support, but equally there are elements of it that represent a step backwards. The legislation proposes to criminalise people in the most vulnerable situations.
Sex workers and important human rights organisations like Amnesty International have expressed significant concerns about this legislation, which absolutely deserves further scrutiny. That is why we opposed the proposal made earlier.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. There seems to be general agreement now that the remaining days of this Dáil are numbered. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I are among those who definitely will not be members of the next Dáil. It has been a privilege to represent the people of Donegal South-West for so many years in this House. I notice that my constituency colleagues, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Thomas Pringle, are present in the Chamber. I can assure them without fear of contradiction that I will not be making a comeback this time, unlike what happened ten years ago.
It has been a great privilege to be here. I consulted the Official Report today to recall my first speech in the Dáil. I was allowed to speak on the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 1981 for an hour entirely as Gaeilge. I do not think the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would be as liberal with speaking time as his predecessor was on that occasion. I suppose there was length in the speech anyway, whatever about its content. It has been a privilege to serve here under six taoisigh and five leaders of my own party. Since that time, there have been five leaders of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's party and the Labour Party as well. There has been just one leader of Deputy McDonald's party and I suppose he will be here for a while yet. It has been a great privilege to be here.
Given that my first speech was in Irish, ba mhaith liom deireadh a chur le mo chuid cainte sa Dáil trí mheán na Gaeilge freisin. Is mian liom buíochas a thabhairt do na daoine i dTír Chonaill a thug tacaíocht dom in olltoghchán i ndiaidh olltoghchán le breis agus 30 bliain. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt do na daoine uilig eile a thug tacaíocht dom, ina measc baill de mo theaghlach féin a thug tacaíocht dom i gcónaí. Ba mhaith liom chomh maith buíochas a thabhairt d'oifigigh an Oireachtais - the staff of these Houses - fá choinne chomh cuirtéiseach agus chomh cuidiúil a bhí siad i rith an tréimhse atá caite agam anseo. Ní bheidh mé ar ais. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt duit féin, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Feicim go bhfuil an Teachta Ó Coinn anseo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh gach duine eile anseo ar ais. I hope everyone here who is going forward in the election will be back again. Thank you very much. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
It is no problem, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I want to wish everyone who is retiring this year the best of luck. In particular, I want to congratulate you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and your family. The Kitt family is very much ingrained in Dublin South-Central. We know your extended family on a personal basis. It is a great honour to the Kitt name that Fr. Kitt Court in Crumlin was officially named after a member of that family who was the parish priest of St. Agnes's parish in Crumlin when it gave Dublin City Council the land on which this most magnificent senior citizens' accommodation was built. I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a great retirement.
That definitely concludes the Order of Business. We have extended the time a little this morning. As Gay Byrne says, "it may all be true". If it is true, that brings the extended Order of Business to a finish.