Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Questions on Proposed Legislation
I want to give an opportunity to as many as possible. I have a number of indications already. I want to be very strict on this. The question has to relate to business which has been promised, including legislation promised either within or outside the House. The first to indicate was Deputy McGrath.
As the Taoiseach is aware, there is a real crisis in motor insurance premiums. A Government working group is examining the issue at the moment. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that we will have recommendations from that group by the end of this month, as promised? The personal injuries assessment board (amendment) Bill has been proposed to reform the Injuries Board. It is to be hoped it will contain measures to strengthen the powers of the board to deal with the issue. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment on when it will be published and enacted?
There is a commitment in the programme for Government to set up a new mortgage court. The mortgages (special courts) Bill is to give more powers to the courts to impose solutions in certain cases of mortgage arrears and personal insolvency. Will the Taoiseach update the House on when that legislation will be published and debated?
We expect the mortgage court Bill to go for pre-legislative scrutiny in November. We expect the heads of the personal injuries Bill to be produced by the end of the year and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has been working on motor insurance and hopes to have his proposals ready in November. I will confirm progress on that to Deputy Michael McGrath but he expects to have several proposals for action fairly soon.
Yesterday, when I raised the judicial appointments legislation, the Taoiseach gave an undertaking to the House that he will not allow the year, or many months, it will take to enact the legislation to stop the appointment of urgently needed judges, for example, to the Court of Appeal. That was the instance he gave. According toThe Irish Times, a few hours later his spokesperson contradicted that. I do not know if that was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, striking back. What is the position? Is it, as he set out to the House yesterday, that we will take the proper time to consider this legislation, which will take several months to enact because it has not been drafted yet, and that meanwhile a backlog, which would have serious hardship and financial implications for citizens and businesses, will not be allowed to arise in the Court of Appeal or the superior courts?
The Government is fully focused on producing the legislation for the judicial appointments commission. There are a few vacancies in the courts. On the last occasion when we made appointments we expected them to be the last appointments under the old system pending the introduction of the new judicial appointments commission. I do not have any proposals to bring names before Cabinet for appointment to the Judiciary now.
The programme for Government commits the Government to pursuing the implementation of the independent working group on Seanad reform as a priority. The report of the working group acknowledged that the current electoral system for the Seanad is elitist and it produced a range of proposals for the reform of the Seanad, including opening up the electoral participation for emigrants and citizens in the North. The programme for Government describes the implementation of the Manning report as a priority. There has been very little evidence of this. It is a year and a half since its publication and there is no sign of prioritisation. Has the Taoiseach set a date for the Dáil debate on the working group’s report on Seanad reform? The working group also recommended that the interim implementation body be established, and the Taoiseach wrote to party leaders on this matter last week. Does the Taoiseach have a date in mind for the establishment of that implementation body? Given that in the Seanad last week the Taoiseach committed to implementing the proposals of the working group, how confident is he that this will happen before Fianna Fáil decides to call an election?
I wrote to all the party leaders asking them to nominate somebody to serve on the implementation committee. As soon as I have all those names, and I assume every party will want to participate, under the direction of the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Buttimer, the first meeting will take place and the authors of the report, former Senators Manning and O’Toole, are available to give technical advice if necessary to the implementation group. I referred to this in the Seanad last week. As soon as the names come back from the parties, we will have the implementation group’s first meeting and get on with implementation. I hope that everybody will support it although there have been 11 reports on the Seanad over the past 35 years and there was never agreement, even from within the Seanad of the day. I hope that it will look more favourably on this.
Separate from that, the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy McHugh, is pursuing the question of votes for emigrants and for those in Northern Ireland and we will move that forward as quickly as possible.
When the Simon Community’s latest report was released, it showed very clearly that the people least able to access private rental accommodation are those on the lowest incomes, those dependent on the housing assistance payment, HAP scheme and those on the rental accommodation scheme, RAS.
If the Taoiseach reads the Simon Community report he will see that they are not able to get rented accommodation. The housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is down for priority in the autumn schedule, but will the Taoiseach give me the exact date it will come before the Dáil? That legislation will be mainly about fast-tracking the planning process. How will that help those who today cannot access private rented accommodation, despite being supported by the State to do so, because the rents are so high and landlords do not want them? We have a real problem in this regard, with over-reliance on the market, a lack of social housing, and a Bill that is being brought forward to fast-track planning. That needs to be addressed, but we need a debate on it as soon as possible. I ask the Taoiseach to comment on the latest report from the Simon Community.
Social housing and other housing. The shortage of housing supply has been the main cause of the problem because of the collapse of the entire construction industry during and after the recession. That is the focus of the housing programme put forward by Government. I expect the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will be debated here - I do not know the exact date - in three weeks' time.
On the programme for Government commitment to support family farms, the tillage forum is meeting today but I ask the Taoiseach specifically about the need for emergency funding for farmers who have lost crops this autumn. Does the Government intend to come forward with a package to support them in the very near future as there is a crisis on many farms, particularly those on the west coast? The Taoiseach will be aware of that in terms of his own county.
Some of those involved in the grain business will have no income at all this year. The Minister, Deputy Creed, has been speaking to the banks in respect of possible support measures. It is an issue of concern to us because of the extent of the bad weather. I will have the Minister respond to the Deputy on the contacts and the outcome of discussions he has had.
I wish to clarify a point raised by Deputy Howlin earlier. Did the Taoiseach say in reply to Deputy Howlin that the Government intends not to fill any vacancies on the Bench until such time as he gets an agreement on the new system of appointing judges? Is that the position?
No. What I said was that there are a small number of judicial positions that are vacant. I do not intend to bring names to Government for appointment to fill those small number of positions. My focus is on introducing a new way of appointing members of the Judiciary under legislation currently being drafted for the judicial appointments commission. I said yesterday that we cannot have a situation where an excessive backlog builds up in the courts and the judicial system comes to a halt. In the meantime, there are a very small number of positions vacant now but it is not my intention to bring names to Government. I intend to follow through as quickly as I can with the production of the legislation for the judicial appointments commission. When the last few judges were appointed, we assumed that would be the last series of appointments under the old system. The appointments commission legislation is complicated enough.
I ask the Taoiseach about the review of barriers to education for lone parents. That report was meant to be published at the end of August. It is very disappointing that it was not, given that we have had cuts to the one-parent family payment. Surveys have been published which show that 59% of one-parent households suffer material deprivation. I ask the Taoiseach for a clear commitment that this report will be published before the budget is announced.
Bhuail mé le Conradh na Gaeilge ar maidin. Caithfidh mé ceist a chur faoin bpolasaí oideachais don Ghaeltacht. Cén fáth nach bhfuil sé foilsithe? An bhfuil an Rialtas chun an polasaí oideachais i gcomhair na Gaeltachta a fhoilsiú gan mhoill?
Ó thaobh chlár gníomhaíochta an Rialtais, Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla agus na leasuithe atá beartaithe, an féidir leis an Taoiseach soiléiriú a thabhairt dom maidir le scéim na gcúntóirí teanga agus an laghdú airgid atá i gceist? Níl an scéim in ann feidhmiú. Seo scéim bunúsach san Iarthar. Faoin scéim, téann cúntóirí isteach sna scoileanna agus tugann siad cabhair do na gasúir an Ghaeilge a shealbhú agus a láidriú. Cén chaoi is féidir leis, mar Thaoiseach, seasamh taobh thiar den gcinneadh agus an gearradh siar atá i gceist? Níos tabhachtaí, an féidir leis geallúint a thabhairt dom go mbeidh athbhreithniú ar an gcinneadh sin?
The current commercial rate base is totally archaic and outdated and is becoming a daily burden on the commercial sector nationwide. The Taoiseach has indicated that the heads of the rates Bill are expected. When can Members expect them? In my view and that of most people, it is time to have a full review to create a scenario in which the rate should be self-assessed and based on an ability to pay, that is, on the income of the particular business. I seek the Taoiseach's comments as to when Members can bring this forward.
My question relates to the programme for Government and the commitment to investing in the schools capital programme. The programme stated the Government is committed to:
... extensions/refurbishments, additional school places, and eliminating the use of prefabs. Significant funding has been secured as part of the Capital Plan.
The Taoiseach visited my constituency at the end of 2015 to announce a number of schools that were on the list for this year. However, hundreds of pupils, teachers and parents were outside the gates of Leinster House earlier as they discovered only in the past month that the funding might not be available this year or in future years. I have spoken about this matter to both Ministers sitting beside the Taoiseach. Can he give an assurance that the appropriate allocation will be available for schools, as the Government promised? It is important not to have an under-provision of funding and an over-provision of promises, particularly around election time, and that the Taoiseach matches his words relating to important capital matters.
An additional €100 million was added to the capital budget for schools this year. I had a very useful meeting with the board, principal and patron of the particular school about which the Deputy is concerned. I gave a commitment that the Department would review its spending programmes to ascertain whether, in the light of the phasing of different programmes, additional schools could be released. However, there is a very full programme at present and the Department makes sure every penny allocated to it is spent. Nevertheless, I assure the Deputy that I understand the priority of the school to which the Deputy refers.
Why is the Department holding up the building of local authority houses or social housing and curtailing the number of rural cottages that can be built? Why is this happening after all the talk we have had about housing?
Deputy Healy-Rae will understand that local authorities have been given money. They have been given targets for the number of houses to be built and the opportunity to do their own planning and design and to get on with the job. He should discuss that with the chief executive in County Kerry because the local authorities have the resources and the authority to get on with the job and they should be doing that.
The consultation process regarding the wind energy guidelines closed more than two years ago. The previous Government failed to publish them and the current Administration is failing to publish them. When will they be published?
Second, when can Members expect to have the Technological Universities Bill back before the Oireachtas for debate?
I can confirm to the Deputy that the Technological Universities Bill is awaiting Committee Stage.
I will have to come back to Deputy Troy. In fairness, he raised this on quite a number of occasions previously. There was a difference of opinion between Ministers at the time. There is one Minister handling this now. I will have him advise Deputy Troy-----
Unfortunately, I am bound by Standing Orders. Regarding questions indicated to me from Deputies Healy-Rae, Kenny, Madigan and Durkan, I assure the Deputies that if I am in the House tomorrow, they will be first on my list.