Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. a29, statements on the establishment of a statutory commission of investigation into a foster home in the south-east. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in relation to No. a29 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and of 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 ten minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; the speech of each other member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; and a Minister of Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 214, motion re 1916 Quarter area development.
Tomorrow’s Business after Oral Questions shall be No. 6, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 30, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage (Resumed).
There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a29, statements on the establishment of a statutory commission of investigation into a foster home in the south-east, agreed to? Agreed.
As the Taoiseach knows, there has been much debate and there were many provisions in the programme for Government about the self-employed needing far more support and protection under the social welfare system. Last week on Joe Duffy's radio show, Ms Martina Kelly spoke harrowingly about her experience as a self-employed person. She outlined how a sudden and debilitating condition negatively impacted on her personal well-being but also left her penniless due to the absence of a social security safety net. It is striking that the Government has made no effort to implement the Mangan report prepared by an advisory group on tax and social welfare about extending social insurance coverage to the self-employed. It was published in May 2013.
Essentially, it stated that in international terms, Ireland is unusual in not providing state supports for the self-employed in the event of injury or illness. In most EU member states, provision is afforded to the self-employed to cover occupational injuries or sickness.
The group was of the view that social insurance for the self-employed should be extended to provide cover in terms of contingencies related to long-term illness. This is the very point that Ms Martina Kelly made on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme last week. If the Taoiseach gets a chance, he should listen to the podcast. I believe Ms Kelly may have rung the Taoiseach, as did her husband. It is an extraordinarily sad and difficult story for all concerned.
The recommendation is that the extension of social insurance to self-employed to provide cover for long-term ill-health or incapacity should be on a compulsory basis. Why did the Government not proceed to legislate for that recommendation of the report? The Taoiseach made a very important commitment to do something for the self-employed but very little has happened at a time when we are encouraging people to become self-employed and self-starters.
On a related issue, the programme for Government makes a commitment that: "Universal primary care (UPC) will remove fees for GP care and will be introduced within this government’s term of office." This commitment has now been abandoned by the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, similar to what happened with universal health insurance. Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, said that free GP care would not be deliverable in the next five years. In the 2011 programme for Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party promised to deliver it by 2016. Now, before a general election, we have the new phenomenon of Ministers predicting that even in the next five years, it will not be implementable either.
Does the Taoiseach accept that chapter of the programme for Government is complete fiction? Clearly, it will not be implementable in this Dáil but now what was proposed in 2011 will not even be implementable in the next five years to 2021. Does the Taoiseach accept that?
On the Deputy's first point on the self-employed, obviously, the Government is well aware of the anomaly that has existed here for some time, with hundreds of thousands of self-employed people without any safety net. I understand completely the difficulties being experienced by self-employed people if something like this happens. That is why the Government started to address this in the recent budget, hopefully to eliminate the anomaly in terms of tax that has been there between self-employed and PAYE people.
Obviously, the Mangan report was produced for the Minister for Social Protection. Unfortunately, we have not been able to implement it in the lifetime of this Dáil. The issue the Deputy raises is a very real one and that is why the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has started the process with the tax credit for self-employed people. Clearly, we cannot do all of these things without the resources to provide it.
With regard free GP care, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has been very realistic here, both in terms of the numbers of doctors who are in training and the capacity to deliver the system. The GP care will be for all under 18s. He has pointed out the potential of overwhelming the service if we proceed on this particular model. Were we to have nurses doing some of the work currently done by GPs, it would be a different matter.
If he looks at the number of doctors being trained and the numbers involved here, we have delivered it for those over 70 and under six. The next stage is to deliver it for everybody under 18 years of age. I think that is an issue the Minister has addressed realistically.
Not everything is for free but people are entitled to certain rights and they should not have to pay for them. These include water and health.
Following what Deputy Martin said, I wish to mention four pieces of legislation that were also in the programme for Government, which in some cases the Government has failed to even publish. The programme for Government committed to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities into domestic law.
The Bill in question is the disability/quality (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which has not even been published. It certainly will not be passed before tomorrow.
Another commitment in the programme for Government related to adoption. The Bill in question is the Adoption (Tracing And Information) Bill. It was first due for publication in 2013. Last July, the Government finally approved the publication of the general scheme and heads of the Bill. Again, it has failed to make it on to the priority list and will not be passed before this Dáil ends.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, to protect children and vulnerable citizens against sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as making it a criminal offence for those who try to buy sexual services, has been introduced and was due to be debated in the Dáil this week. The likelihood of it progressing through all Stages before the Dáil completes this term is slim to none.
The health and wellbeing (calorie posting and workplace wellbeing) Bill was another priority. The Taoiseach may be aware of the HSE's cancer control programme that one person a day dies from a cancer attributable to obesity. This legislation was to help address that issue but again, it has not even been published.
Will the Taoiseach explain why priorities in the programme for Government have not even reached the stage of publication?
The sexual offences Bill has already been dealt with in the Seanad and has been introduced here. I thought it might have been possible to deal with it in its entirety last week, if all the parties could have agreed. However, they were not able to agree because of some amendments coming from the Independent benches.
It is not going to see its way through now.
There are two adoption Bills which are both on the A list. Work is proceeding with these. The Workplace Relations Bill has already been enacted.
In October 2015, the Government published a roadmap for Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It detailed the legislative changes to be undertaken to enable Ireland to ratify the convention, along with the estimated timeframe involved and a clear line for ratification by the end of 2016. The Government approved the drafting of the equality/disability (miscellaneous provisions) Bill to make a range of miscellaneous amendments to statute law necessary to enable ratification. Work on the general scheme of this is under way.
The recently published employment strategy for people with disabilities, phase 2 of a three-phase consultation process, will lead to the adoption of a new disability inclusion strategy. There is a substantial legislative agenda across several Departments to get through, as set out in the roadmap, and much work to be done to prepare a new inclusion strategy that will have a real impact. The Government is committed to seeing that happens.
Civil society groups and stakeholders are also keen to see the convention ratified. The Minister set out the process by which this could be achieved. We do it differently to other countries.
Legislation involved includes the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill, the Juries Act 1976, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 and Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006. In the mental health legislative area, there is the Mental Health Acts 2001 and 2008, issues about deprivation of liberty, the Electoral Act 1992 and the Companies Act 2014. The Bill in question will address the constitutional issue regarding reasonable accommodation. These are all elements which need to be put in place before the convention can be ratified.
Deputy Joe Higgins is leader of his party and is probably standing on the Order of Business for the last time. I want quietness and attention for him.
I also wish him every success in his retirement.
First, specifically under Standing Order No. 26(3) relating to the business of the Dáil, we are enabled to ask the Taoiseach questions about business, the Order Paper and about arrangements for sittings. What is the arrangement for the sitting of the Dáil tomorrow? It is intended that it will sit at 9:30 a.m.? For how long does he intend it to sit tomorrow? Does he intend to come to the Dáil to say he is going to President to seek its dissolution? In that case, what time might that be? What will the arrangements, thereafter, be for the sitting?
Judging by what he had to say in the Sunday Independent, he has so much energy he could do with a run around the Park before he is unleashed on the unfortunate people of Tipperary. However, the Taoiseach would want to be careful because, as a self-confessed addict, the Minister might try to stage a coup on the way to meet the President.
The sea-fisheries (amendment) Bill was on the programme for Government but it will not be seen through at this stage. There were some difficulties about it raised with the Attorney General. A court decision was recently taken which essentially throws the enforcement regime in the fishing sector into disarray. On the eve of the general election, there will probably be a vacuum between now and the next Dáil. Will the Department make some effort with the Attorney General to get clarity on the enforcement regime for the sea-fisheries sector? The word is that it will revert to the old Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, which was draconian. The penalty points system which was to be in place has been challenged, leaving the entire sector in confusion as to what enforcement regime will be in place.
I take this opportunity to wish Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Frank Feighan the very best in the future, as well as my fellow Corca Dhuibhne man, Deputy Joe Higgins.
With respect to the Order of Business and the time that is made available for it, will the Taoiseach, if he is in a position to do so in the future, broaden the remit of it to give backbench Deputies, like myself, an opportunity to raise issues of the day in this Chamber? It would build on many of the positive reforms that have already come into place. If it were possible to provide for that, it would be a big step forward in the 32nd Dáil.
I had thought that we might have been able to conclude it but, apparently, there were so many objections to elements of it that it is not possible to do it without revamping it and having further discussions.
I wish everybody the best and I wish nobody ill but I cannot wish anybody here good luck in the next four weeks for obvious reasons, politically speaking. In terms of the last five years and what dominated this Dáil, would the Taoiseach like to say "Sorry" to the people for making them pay the bankers' debts with the savage austerity that accompanied it over that period of time?