Thursday, 23 June 2016
Questions on Proposed Legislation
Last month the Dáil passed the Second Stage of the Central Bank (Variable Rate Mortgages) Bill 2016. When does the Government intend to bring that Bill to Committee Stage? The Tánaiste might give us an update on that.
It has been reported that RTE will tonight air a report raising serious concerns about the national suicide charity, Console, with some serious alleged irregularities in relation to governance and financial management issues etc. I ask the Tánaiste what current investigations are underway in relation to that matter by the HSE, the Garda or by the charities regulator. It comes at a time when everyone involved in the charitable sector is seeking to rebuild public confidence in charities so that public support, by way of donations etc. can be maintained as they seek to recover from previous scandals in the past number of years.
On Deputy Michael McGrath's first question, as he will be aware, the committees are only being set up. There is not yet a date for the Committee Stage of that. Obviously, when the committees are set up, whatever will be the date of Committee Stage is an issue which the relevant committee will decide on.
On the second point the Deputy raised regarding Console, obviously we would all be concerned about reports in the media this morning regarding a leading charity which, I understand, will be dealt with further by RTE tonight. It is essential, as Deputy Michael McGrath stated, that confidence is maintained in the NGO sector. We now have the Charities Regulatory Authority. The HSE has finalised an audit into the Console agency. I can say the HSE has confirmed that it has received no complaints about the important suicide prevention and family support services provided by Console.
These services will not be affected but there is the question of gardaí being involved, with further investigation to be done by the charities regulator and bringing information together relating to the issue.
I ask about the misuse of drugs (amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which provides for the establishment of supervised injection facilities. Will the Tánaiste give a precise timeline on when we will deal with the legislation? The heads were approved in January 2015 and there is a fear and suspicion that there is an undue delay in dealing with the issue. Could we have reassurance today that the Government is still committed to supervised injection facilities, that it has not resiled from that position and we will see this legislation soon? Will the Tánaiste indicate how soon that will happen?
I assure the Deputy that the Government's position remains that we are in favour of supervised injection centres. The heads of the misuse of drugs (amendment) (No. 2) Bill had been approved in January 2015 and additional heads were approved in December 2015. The Office of Parliamentary Counsel is currently drafting the Bill and I expect pre-legislative scrutiny to take place early in the autumn; it will go to the health committee for that. We are proceeding with the other misuse of drugs Bill to deal with issues arising in the north inner city and other parts of the country.
As I did not have a spot on Leaders' Questions today, I join with other parties on my behalf and that of the Labour Party in congratulating the Irish team on the magnificent result gained by them last night. I specifically congratulate the manager and fans. Every other major city involved in this occasion has a fan zone with a big screen. We have done something similar for all-Ireland finals and even for the equality referendum result. Is there any prospect that either the Government or Dublin City Council could by Sunday provide a facility for fans to enjoy the magnificent atmosphere if they cannot get to France?
The Government could certainly approach the relevant bodies. We handled the public screening of the results of the marriage equality referendum very well at Dublin Castle last year. I am sure that could be replicated.
When will the legislation relating to the Cregan inquiry on IBRC be published, as it is due this week? Will it be taken in conjunction with the change in the terms of reference for the inquiry? The business committee will order the time but I hope the House will collectively agree that this needs to be done before the end of the term, given that the costs are not static and the inquiry must occur in a timely way.
We expect to have that Bill in the next few days. The intention is to bring it to the House before the end of this session. We can certainly see if the new terms of reference can be agreed at the same time. The Taoiseach will certainly consider that.
I ask about the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation to be brought to the floor of the Dáil. Legislation indicates that the Minister must consider whether any of the provisions continue to be necessary, having regard to the purpose of the Act, the revenue of the State and commitments in respect of public sector pay and pensions. The FEMPI legislation should not be necessary any more as the Government keeps talking about recovery and how well we will do. A report on this needs to be brought to the floor of the Dáil before 30 June. When will that be brought forward? This is important as there is a cohort of teachers being penalised because of the FEMPI legislation. It is interesting to note that emergency legislation, in penalising public sector workers, can continue to exist when we cannot introduce emergency legislation to deal with the housing crisis.
The Government has already restated on a number of occasions its absolute commitment to the Lansdowne Road agreement. If there is a report due in respect of the FEMPI legislation, I will revert to the Deputy on the timeframe for that but the Government has consistently repeated its commitment to the Lansdowne Road agreement. We saw the summer economic statement yesterday and the important progress that is being made and we want to make sure that is maintained, in the interest of all our public servants and in the interest of public services.
When will the health (transport support) Bill, which is to provide for a scheme to make individual payments as a contribution toward transport costs for people with severe disabilities, be brought before the House?
Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, met with a deputation. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to a liquefied natural gas, LNG, facility in the Tarbert-Foynes area. When will the Government make progress with regard to fulfilling the commitment it has given in the programme for Government regarding Ireland having a LNG facility because this is most important? Can the Tánaiste make a statement on that?
I asked the previous Minister for Health a parliamentary question regarding the process of board appointments for the new hospital trusts established by the previous Government and continued by this Government. The response was that it would continue "pending the enactment of legislation" and the trust would operate on an administrative basis, with appointments made on an administrative basis. Is it the intention of Government to continue to progress legislation in this regard or will it continue with its current interim arrangement around the appointment of people to these hospital trusts?
The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has left. I will have to revert to Deputy Chambers on that. I do not know what the arrangements are but the heads of the Bill in regard to the children's hospital will be published in July.
I want to ask about the Government's promise in the programme for Government to train and have more HSE speech and language therapists in place and to increase the number to 1,102, which is a 25% increase. There is a major crisis in my constituency, in particular in County Leitrim, in regard to early intervention and there is no access at all for preschool children to speech and language therapists. I want an assurance that recruitment has started and that additional training will be in place to ensure the service is provided.
The Government has identified this as a very important area for further investment and money is available for investment to deal with the waiting lists for children, particularly those under five years of age. There are major inconsistencies in the waiting times around the country. There is a real problem in respect of recruitment. The money will be available over the course of this year to deal with those waiting lists but the Minister informs me that there are a number of difficulties in terms of the actual recruitment of speech therapists and occupational therapists. I hope that people who have gone abroad can be persuaded to return and that people will take up those posts because it is an extremely important service. We are committed to developing this service and ensuring that waiting times are reduced and that the service is available in a timely way to children.
When is it expected that the financial services and pensions ombudsman Bill will be advanced? In that context, could the Tánaiste give the House an assurance that her colleagues in government, namely, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Education and Skills, will give every possible support to the 70 employees of Liberty Insurance who face redundancy? I hope the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, along with the statutory agencies, can engage with the companies to try to retain the maximum level of employment in that company because the further loss of jobs at Liberty Insurance is a serious blow to the local economy in Cavan.
On the Order of Business a couple of weeks ago, I asked for an update on the Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2014 and whether the Government intended to reintroduce it. I was promised an update but I have not heard anything. Can the Tánaiste ensure I get some sort of reply, even if she does not have the details with her now?
The issue is being pursued and we will reply to the Deputy with some further details in the next couple of days. It has not yet been restored to the Order Paper and was originally a Private Members' Bill.
I have two related questions. The first relates to the recently published, and much welcomed, Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016. All sides agree that it is urgent, so can the Tánaiste give some indication of a timeframe for its passage? The programme for Government commits the Government to the development and implementation of a national drugs strategy and I understand work is going on in that regard. Can an update on progress be circulated to Members of the House and arrangements be made for a debate on the strategy in advance of it being published? In this way Members would be able to have an input into the strategy.
The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 is being debated in the Seanad and, with the support from this House and the Seanad, it should become law before the end of this term. We certainly hope the legislation will go through as the Garda Síochána has made it very clear that it needs it to be in place so that it can interrupt the trading in prescription drugs which is taking place at present.
The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is developing the national drugs strategy at the moment and I am sure there will be opportunity, both in committee and in the House, to discuss the details of the strategy in advance. It is extremely important given the damage that drug dealing and the availability of drugs are doing across Ireland, where towns, villages, families and communities are being destroyed by this scourge. We want the strongest possible national drugs strategy and that will be greatly aided by a good debate in the Dáil.
Have the orders been issued yet for the changing of ministerial titles and Government Departments? If so, can the Tánaiste clarify if this includes arts and heritage and when any such orders were made?
I am disappointed that there is no timeframe for the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill in the legislative programme, despite the fact that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, said she would introduce it before the end of the year. The Tánaiste will be familiar with this matter from her time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Can the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill be incorporated into the Adoption Bill which is currently before the Oireachtas and is about to go to committee? That would be an opportunity to deal with this issue which is very important for a number of people in our society.
I believe the two Bills will be dealt with separately but a huge amount of work has been done. There were some serious constitutional issues to be worked through in respect of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill but I understand that it is now possible to deal with the complex issues in the Bill and I have no doubt it will be a priority this year for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone.