Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Order of Business
I call on the rapporteur for the business committee, Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin, to announce the Order of Business for the week and to move the proposals regarding arrangements for the taking of that business.
Tuesday’s Government business shall be No. a11, motion re parental responsibility in the matter of child abduction - referral to committee without debate; No. b11, motion re appointment of member of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority - referral to committee without debate; No. 11, motion re change of departmental names in three committees’ terms of reference, without debate; and No. 1, Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members business shall be No. 73, motion re pharmacy fees in the name of Fianna Fáil.
Tomorrow's Government business shall be No. 1, Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad]- Second Stage resumed, if not previously concluded, and No. 5, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members business shall be No. 74, motion re abolition of water charges in the name of Sinn Féin.
Thursday’s Government business shall be No. 1, Road Traffic Bill 2016[Seanad]- Second Stage resumed, if not previously concluded, and No. 5, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. No. 13, interim report of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare,will be taken in the afternoon slot.
The proposed arrangements for the week's business are as follows, and I refer Members to the report of the business committee of 22 September 2016. There is one proposal relating to today's business. It is proposed that No. a11, motion re parental responsibility in the matter of child abduction - referral to committee; No. b11, motion re appointment of member of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority - referral to committee; and No. 11, motion re change of departmental names in three committees’ terms of reference, shall be taken without debate.
There is one proposal relating to tomorrow's business. It is proposed that, following Leaders' Questions, Government business shall be taken until 3.02 p.m., Topical Issues shall be taken at 3.02 p.m. and questions to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality shall be taken immediately following Private Members’ business.
There is one proposal relating to Thursday’s business. It is proposed that Question Time shall be taken at 1.30 p.m. or, in the event that No. 1, Road Traffic Bill 2016 [Seanad], and-or No. 5, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, have already concluded, Question Time shall be taken on the conclusion of the weekly divisions.
On foot of the proposals of Deputy O'Loughlin on the Order of Business, there are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to?
I agreed the Order of Business at the business committee last Thursday and I do not have a problem with it. However, this afternoon we face the possible conviction of a 17 year old boy regarding a protest against water charges in 2013.
-----but this is a significant national issue that will impact on all types of people, such as farmers, trade unionists and young people, and their right to protest. It has implications for that.
On a point of order, we have agreed a process. The Business Committee lays down the order. Every party and group is represented on it. We cannot have it each and every way, saying we agree with the Order of Business but also that we do not agree with it.
I take it the business to be conducted on Tuesday is agreed to. Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. That means that the business for the week has been agreed to. We shall now proceed to questions on promised legislation. There are 24 minutes remaining.
The Chief Whip indicated this morning that there were 25 Bills planned for this session. She referred to the possibility that there might not be sufficient time in which to deal with all of that legislation. My understanding is that only five hours are allocated for Bills each week. Given the 25 Bills emanating from the Government and all of the legislation that has already been referred to various committees, some of which should be coming back to be dealt with in plenary session, it is clear that this is not workable. There is no basis on which one can process this legislation adequately or effectively in the five hours allocated during the week or each day. I ask that all parties meet fairly urgently to resolve this issue to secure more time for what the House has ordained to do, that is, pass legislation that is urgently required to improve people's quality of life. We have but one member on the Business Committee and the reform committee. That critical issue needs to be addressed, as was pointed out earlier.
Can I also ask-----
The chief Whip has received a request from the Business Committee to allocate an extra two hours every Thursday. She is considering that request. That is what the commitment is. The request has been received and is being considered.
Tá ceist amháin agam faoi seirbhísí sláinte. The programme for Government commits the Government to providing additional funding to rebuild the health service, including through providing additional front-line staff. The Taoiseach may be aware that there was a protest outside involving nurses who were protesting against the decision by the Government that denied incremental credit for nurses and midwives who had graduated between 2011 and 2015. This is most unfair to those involved who are mostly young. It is unacceptable and short-sighted. Many of them will be forced to take their expertise across the globe. This will have another knock-on adverse impact on the health service which is struggling to retain nurses and midwives. Will the Government fully honour the agreement made with the INMO, the PNA and SIPTU to restore incremental credit for these graduates and end the pay discrimination?
The question raised is important. It is about restoring incremental credit for the first 36 weeks of a clinical placement undertaken in the fourth and final year of the degree programme in nursing. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, met the union in the past hour. His officials met those concerned last week to discuss the matter. Yesterday officials from the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform met to discuss whether there was scope to accelerate the review process for the restoration of incremental credit to those who graduated between 2011 and 2015 and to do so prior to 2018. The Department of Health is to submit an updated business case in a revised submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the coming days.
I expect that will receive consideration in terms of seeing if we can move this forward.
Following a committee session with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, last week, I would like to ask the Taoiseach the timescale for considering the report of the commission on low pay on the question of a lousy 10 cent increase in the minimum wage. The Minister told the committee that the proposal for such an increase was not hers but rather came from the commission and has to come back to the House. She said she would prefer to give €10 an hour extra, for which I applaud her. We will not get that, but since all Deputies and, probably, Senators are due a pay rise next year, we are saying to low-paid workers, who in the main are women and young workers, that there will be an insulting increase of 10 cent per hour in the minimum wage while the cost of rents, mortgage, insurance, food and travel soar. We need to have that discussion on the floor of the Dáil as soon as possible.
There are many stressed and worried people who can barely afford to live on the minimum wage they receive and we are proposing to give them a lousy 10 cent increase. According to the programme for Government, it is hoped to raise the minimum wage to €10.80 per hour by 2020. If the Government proceeds at this pace, it will be 2028 before we get near that. When will we have that discussion?
I have made the case that the previous Government restored, and increased, the minimum wage. It had been cut by the Fianna Fáil led Government. Given the unstructured way that claims for increases came forward, the previous Government set up the Low Pay Commission to examine the relevant proposals for increases in an objective way in order to get as many people as possible to move from unemployment into jobs that pay well. The Deputy would have a different argument if this was produced by the Government. The Low Pay Commission is completely independent and objective in its views, and the Minister will consider that in the context of the budget. That is the way to proceed.
Ba mhaith liom an Taoiseach a fháiltiú ar ais. An féidir leis soiléiriú a thabhairt dom maidir leis an bpróiseas faoi na leasuithe a bhí beartaithe i dtaobh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003? An bhfuil dréachtbhille i gceist? De réir mar a thuigim, bhí dréachtbhille i gceist sa Dáil dheireanach. Cá bhfuil an dréachtbhille sin anois? An bhfuil sé ar an gclár oibre?
Beidh cruinniú ag comhchoiste Gaeilge an Rialtais go luath. Pléifear an cheist atá ardaithe ag an Teachta ag an gcruinniú sin. Nuair a bheidh sé sin thart, cuirfidh mé scéal chuig an Teachta agus os comhair na Dála maidir le céard go díreach atá i gceist. Cuirfidh mé an méid atá ráite ag an Teachta in iúl don Aire Stáit agus seolfaidh sé teachtaireacht chuig an Teachta freisin.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the timescale for the processing through the House of the bail review legislation. Will it happen during the course of this session? Is it likely to be passed and become law by the end of the session?
The Minister hopes to publish the Bill. This issue has been ongoing for a long time and the Deputy has raised it on numerous occasions. It has now moved to a point where we hope to be able to publish a Bill.
Pages 46 and 47 of the programme for a partnership Government states that one of the biggest challenges facing rural Ireland is bridging the digital divide with urban areas.
Is the plan over-optimistic and can it be delivered? Is the funding ring-fenced for this project or is it aspirational and destined for the long finger? Can the Taoiseach guarantee that the Government will follow through on the plan to extend high-speed broadband to every premises in the State?
There are two Departments involved, namely, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The tender that is being examined at the moment is quite complex and there is a risk that has to be taken into account. Obviously, the number of houses covered by the national broadband scheme has varied because of the statements made by some of the commercial bodies that they feel they can include more houses in what would be a commercial investment area. I think there has been approximately 300 hours of discussion about this and there is quite a deal more to go but it is so important that we cannot afford not to do it. If we are to adhere to the eight regional action plans for jobs and if we are to give students in our schools the opportunity to be able to compete, we need to be able to roll out this out. I can give Deputy Breathnach more accurate information later but that is where it is currently. It is on track and when it is eventually rolled out, it will be the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs which will roll out the task forces to actually implement the broadband being rolled out in different areas.
I have a question for the Ceann Comhairle. Could he clarify for me the Standing Orders of the House? It is my understanding that the wearing of emblems or items of clothing which espouse a particular political viewpoint or position is prohibited. Is that the case? My experience is that it is the case. Three years ago, I had 20 children visiting the precincts of Leinster House. They were wearing black T-shirts with the word "CoderDojo" in white across them. The children were immediately removed from the precincts of Leinster House and had to travel across the road to Kildare House and remove the t-shirts. Only on removing the T-shirts were they allowed to re-enter Leinster House. In light of what we have seen today, can the Ceann Comhairle clarify if the wearing of such clothing or emblems is prohibited and if so, does he intend to consistently apply those rules?
I thank Deputy Cannon for raising that matter. The House itself, on the recommendation of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, adopted previously a code of parliamentary standards which governs a wide range of matters concerning the conduct of Members both inside and outside the Chamber. While the wearing of emblems per seis not prohibited by the code, paragraph 11 of the code, as adopted by the House in July 2010, addresses this matter that emblems of a party political nature should not be worn or otherwise displayed within the parliamentary precincts. It is a matter that can and will be discussed by both the Business Committee and perhaps by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
We certainly all want to be constructive on the issue of the provision of housing. I know from the media that the Government discussed legislation this morning along with plans and proposals. I see on the legislative programme that there is a housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, part of which will be about fast-tracking planning applications. However, from my knowledge of the statutory process, that is only likely to save approximately 12 weeks at the most. Are there any other measures with regard to speeding up the construction of housing? For example, we have many sites that already have planning permission and the delay is at the other end in the availability of sites and moving the process between the Department and local authorities. Are there other measures besides the simple one of fast-tracking and bypassing the local democratic process, which in itself has problems?
Yes, there is a straight answer. Today, the Cabinet approved the putting together of that legislation, which will be done as a priority. There is a series of measures, one of which is a fast-track planning process for large developments. There are also facilities around renewal of planning permissions in a fast-tracked manner. There are provisions around statutory time limits on Part 8 decisions made by local authorities on social housing. There are a number of other provisions on protecting tenancies when property is sold between institutional investors. All that detail will be debated in the normal way when the legislation is brought forward for Second Stage in a few weeks' time.
On page 87 of the programme for Government document, it states there is a commitment to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to produce smaller classes and have a greater and more beneficial impact on younger pupils. I am particularly interested in this in the context of smaller schools in rural Ireland. In my home parish of Aghavas, only two children started school this year and were stuck in a situation which saw the school reduced from three teachers to two. In Kiltyclogher in north Leitrim, where one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, Seán MacDiarmada, was born, it is expected that the school will close in the next two years because there are no more children arriving in that community. One of the reasons for that is rural depopulation. One cannot receive a signal on one's mobile phone and there is no broadband there. We have all of these issues in rural Ireland. The specific issue I wish to ask about today is the pupil-teacher ratio. In the budget in the next couple of weeks, will the Government do something to ensure the pupil-teacher ratio is brought into line with other European norms to ensure that our smaller schools in rural Ireland will not be under threat?
First, I am glad to tell the Deputy that as and from 1 September this year, the pupil-teacher ratio has been reduced in our primary schools. That measure was included in last year's budget and will, of course, have a carry-over cost into 2017 when the bulk of the year will be funded by the 2017 budget. There is also a review of the position of small schools under way. Like others, I cannot give the Deputy an indication at this stage what will be included in the budget. However, I am aware that there is much commitment to see improvements in the pupil-teacher ratio. Indeed, it was included in the confidence and supply agreement and in the programme for Government. Therefore, there is an interest in this area but, of course, those programmes are in place for the duration of the Government. I cannot therefore give an indication in respect of any particular budget.
According to the programme for Government and the Department of Health, the provision of funding for home help is to assist elderly people to stay in their homes for as long as possible. The Minister for Health is not here but I need an answer from him in relation to €40 million that he made available for health services in June. Kerry was to receive €900,000 of this for the provision of extra home help in the county. The opposite is happening. One old man had the two hours of home help he had cut to an hour. Another elderly man of 95 years of age is paying €240 for his own home help and to go to the day centre for extra home help. Where is the €900,000 gone? I need an answer on this because the HSE is not giving us any reasonable answer as to where the money is or what it is doing with it. It is certainly not going into home help anyway.
The HSE service plan awarded €330 million for this area with a target of 10.4 million home help hours to support about 47,800 people, 15,450 home care packages and 190 intensive home care packages for patients and people who had very serious needs, including dementia. In respect of these matters that were arising, the Government supplied an extra €40 million in 2016. There was €20 million for once-off time-related savings, €10 million to support service provision during the summer months and €10 million of that was ring-fenced for home care as part of the new winter initiative. I suggest that the Deputy contact his local home care person in charge to see what extent of that €10 million has been allocated to the area for dealing with cases that are needy.
My question follows on from a question asked by an Teachta Adams. Can the Taoiseach give a date to the nurses with regard to the implementation of the agreement that they have with the Department of Health? I wish to make the Taoiseach aware in case he is not - perhaps he is, which maybe makes it worse - that an agreement was reached between the three recognised nursing trade unions and the Department of Health.
The unions reached this agreement in good faith. What more are workers in the health service and public service supposed to do? Having gone to the negotiating table and reached an agreement, they are being told the current inequality must continue because a memorandum must be sent by the Department of Health to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. What message are we sending to nurses who, in case the Taoiseach has not noticed, have been emigrating in droves because they do not feel respected? This decision sends them a message that the House does not respect them. I and my party do not want to be associated with such a message and I do not believe the Taoiseach wants to be associated with it. Will he give these bright young men and women a date by which the agreement will be implemented?
Yes, to follow up on the point made by Deputy Louise O'Reilly, private hospitals are offering young professional nurses bonuses of €5,000 in addition to what they are currently earning if they sign a contract. The Government is not showing respect to 600 nurses and midwives who reached an agreement with the Health Service Executive. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform made the same payment to nurses who graduated in 2016. The Government is showing disrespect to graduates who stayed here for five years and held the health service together during the worst of conditions and times. A memorandum should not be needed. The payment agreed with the Department of Health and HSE should be made immediately. This is scandalous.
In answering Deputy Adams's question, I made the point that officials from the Department of Health met nurses last week and the Minister met them just an hour ago. Yesterday, officials from the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform met to see if this matter could be expedited. I remind Deputies that incremental credit for the 36-week clinical placement undertaken by fourth year student nurses was abolished by the then Government in December 2010. Following submissions made on behalf of the nursing representative bodies, namely, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland and SIPTU, the Department of Health and Health Service Executive, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, on 19 February 2016, sanctioned recognition of the 36-week placement as qualifying for incremental credit for students on a placement in 2016 and in future. This was an agreement to restore the payment.
The sanction stated that the question of awarding incremental credit for the placement of nurses who graduated between 2011 and 2015 may be reviewed on foot of a consideration of whether the sanction granted in respect of 2016 graduates and future graduates results in an increase in the retention rates for the graduate nurses in question. Nurses who undertook the placement in 2016 recently completed their placements and are only now in the process of registering. It will not, therefore, be evident for some time as to its impact.
A number of initiatives are under way to improve nursing staff levels and, as Deputies know, nurses are coming back from abroad. The Health Service Executive is offering permanent posts to 2016 degree nursing programme graduates and full-time permanent contracts to those in temporary posts. These are both important incentives. The HSE also launched an international staff nurse recruitment campaign last year, which focused on attracting nurses back from the United Kingdom to take up jobs in Ireland. The campaign placed particular emphasis on targeting Irish nurses who left the country in recent years and want to return home. Nurses returning home were offered a relocation package of assistance of €1,500, assistance with the costs of nursing registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and funded postgraduate education as an incentive.
What is the position with regard to the capital programme for education, specifically schools? I understand between 15 and 17 capital projects due for commencement in primary and secondary schools have been held up. The projects are either to build new schools or refurbish and rebuild existing schools.
There are two in my constituency and I understand up to 15 others in other constituencies. The Minister for Education and Skills is, correctly, seeking a further capital allocation. However, I am very concerned the capital programme in education is going to fall apart before our eyes unless there is a rapid decision to provide additional funding so our children can be educated, given the new population and the demographics in my constituency. There is also a need for the ancient schools, some more than 100 years old and which have been more than ten years on the list, to be completely rebuilt.
There is a €42 billion capital programme out to 2025, with a review of progress in 2017. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, might like to comment specifically on the capital programme for schools.
To add to what the Taoiseach has said, we have a provision each year for the next six years. Deputy Burton is right that there is pressure on schools and that we have a growing number of pupils at both primary and secondary level. The Department has always practised a policy of having projects ready to go in order that any available money is fully utilised in any year. That is the current situation. There are projects we could release if we were in a position to obtain funding and we have always taken that approach. My predecessor as Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, earlier this year sanctioned 38 schools to proceed to tender. The process is proceeding although, as Deputy Burton said, not every project gets approval as soon as it might like. Nonetheless, we are using the funds very efficiently and effectively.
The Minister might communicate with the Deputy. That concludes questions on promised legislation. I am conscious we veered into areas not relating to legislation. However, we might look at that again.