Thursday, 6 October 2016
Questions on Proposed Legislation
I welcome the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Naughten, as my question concerns the new guidelines on wind farm development that have been promised for a number of years. We are anxiously awaiting them. I am dealing with a situation in Kerry in which an entire community is facing the construction of ten turbines in excess of 65 m in height.
The project was refused by Kerry County Council and recommended for refusal by the inspector of An Bord Pleanála but the board of An Bord Pleanála subsequently granted the development. The community is left with no other option but a judicial review which will cost in the region of €25,000 to €50,000. They are coming up with that and pursuing it because they believe their rights are being infringed greatly. I support them in that.
When I was on the Deputy's side of the House, I raised this question as well. I am as anxious as anybody else to have these new guidelines put in place as the current guidelines are not fit for purpose. Along with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, my officials and I are actively engaged with this at the moment. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to present the new guidelines to the Government within six months, and we intend to do that. I hope we will have those finalised by next month.
On page 100 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to extending Garda oversight and accountability. The task of sorting out the problems in the Garda will require much more than the Government's stated intention of supporting the independent Policing Authority and enhancing the role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. It is clear to me and many who have had dealings with the so-called cover-up squads in the Garda will know that only root and branch reform will suffice, including standing down the top brass and having a focused programme of changing the culture of bullying, malpractice and protectionism that is destroying everything.
Earlier this year, I raised issues in this House about Garda malpractice in Leitrim, and within a few weeks, I was visited by two senior gardaí - one an assistant commissioner - who told me they were determined to investigate everything fully.
The issue I raise is very simple. I was promised that the Garda Commissioner would fully investigate these allegations but nothing has happened. There has been no investigation or contact with the people who raised these issues.
Page 100 of the programme for Government does not mention legislation but it refers to various other mechanisms that must be introduced. In terms of change, civilianisation and rostering, all of that is happening currently and there will be more, budget permitting, next year. With regard to legislation and accountability, I said I will consider the comments of Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring on the strengthening of powers of GSOC and I will meet her shortly.
With regard to the elements of the programme for Government dealing with the trolley crisis, why is the Government not providing funding for extra staff for the escalation ward in Tralee general hospital, or what is now known as University Hospital Kerry? The wards are there but we need staff to man them. The funding is not there. Why is the Minister not providing it?
Although it is not promised legislation, I will look into the specific issue raised by the Deputy. We have already seen an increase this year in staffing numbers in our health services in terms of both nursing and medical staff when compared with last year. We have also provided €40 million to deal with what the Deputy describes as the trolley crisis. Numbers on trolleys are still high but they are down approximately 5% on last year. Some of that €40 million in funding for the winter initiative will deal with the fact that we still have too many people on beds who need to be at home instead. That is why we are providing more home help as well.
As the Tánaiste is probably aware, the Seanad voted yesterday on a motion to reject the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA. The agreement is due for provisional ratification at the European Council meeting of 19 October. Will the Government provide for a debate in the Dáil in advance of that in order that we can advise the Government on its views on the provisional application proposal?
That will be discussed with the appropriate trade ministers this Friday in Bratislava. Clearly, Ireland will outline its position there. I will ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, to contact Deputy Pringle directly about the position of the Irish Government.
Will the Tánaiste to provide an update on the progress of the bail Bill which is to be introduced by the Department of Justice and Equality. When can we expect this much anticipated Bill to come before the House for debate?
More than three years ago the previous Government discontinued the mobility allowance for people with a disability. It promised that within six months a new scheme would be introduced. When can the people who suffer from a disability and who have been awaiting the introduction of a new scheme for the past two and a half years expect it to be introduced? When will the Government finally honour the commitment to introduce a new scheme?
My questions relate to the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and the landlord and tenant law reform Bill. In light of the report published yesterday by the Simon Community which showed that the rent cap increases introduced in July have had a very limited effect, will the aforementioned legislation include real rent controls, which will not just freeze rents but slash them? When will the legislation be brought before the House? Will the Government again bow to the landlord lobby, so strongly represented in Fine Gael, or will it introduce real rent control which is clearly needed by so many people, as shown in yesterday's report?
Serious commitments were made in the programme for Government about the protection of services in rural Ireland. The GP out-of-hours service is really important in assisting people who need GP services out of hours or at weekends. A huge burden is taken off accident and emergency units if such people are properly facilitated. However, there is a proposal in the mid-west, announced only yesterday, for a very serious curtailment of such services that will affect people in east and west Clare. In my view, the proposal is crazy and has the capacity to put a greater burden on an already over-extended accident and emergency service in Limerick. As the Tánaiste knows-----
There is a commitment there for it. As the Tánaiste knows, if people do not get to see a GP at the weekend and end up waiting until Monday, they find themselves on hospital trolleys for the early part of the week. There must be immediate intervention to ensure this proposal does not go ahead.
I thank Deputy Dooley for bringing this matter to my attention. I will be visiting University Hospital Limerick tomorrow where I will asked to be briefed on the issue and I will revert to the Deputy at that stage. I agree with him on the importance of GPs and, as the Deputy knows, the Government is committed to entering into contract talks with GPs by the end of the year.
The mortgages special court Bill or courts (mortgage arrears) Bill is promised legislation and, in view of the ongoing pressure on many householders who are anticipating relief through this legislation, when is it likely to come before the House? Can we expect it to come before us in this Dáil session?
The Tánaiste had a lot to say earlier about the independence of the processes for senior Garda appointments. However, the evidence stacks up against her claims. In May the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality appointed four of the eight new assistant commissioners while in July she appointed ten chief superintendents and 18 superintendents. In fact, far from delivering an independent and trustworthy appointments process, she has frustrated it. In the context of the policing Act of 2015, I understand that a change to the regulations for appointments needs to be made and a commencement order is required.
Until that happens, it is a joke, quite frankly, to talk about an independent appointments system. Can the Tánaiste tell us when the regulations will be amended and when the relevant sections of the legislation will be commenced?
Essential appointments were made earlier this year when the Policing Authority had just been established. In fact, that was the last group of appointments to be made under the old processes. The new regulations will be in place before the end of the year and the next group of appointments will be made by the Policing Authority, as was always the intention.
Last July, I warned the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, who is not here at the moment, of the impending chaos in the school transport system throughout the country. Sadly, that has happened as a result of the deliberate cuts in concessional seats on schools buses. I welcome the Minister of State's decision to bring together an all-party committee to deal with some of the issues that have arisen during the year. I ask the Tánaiste to use her good office to ensure such issues are dealt with as soon as possible. I am aware of children who are entitled to tickets but have lost their seats on school buses and had their tickets given to concessional students because their parents were six days late making the €650 payments.
The Department of Education and Skills provides school transport to approximately 120,000 students each year at a cost of approximately €175 million. Priority on all buses goes to designated eligible students. There has been no systematic effort to reduce the number of concessionary places on buses. As the Deputy indicated, the Minister of State has initiated a review of this expensive scheme. It must be borne in mind that we cannot make rules for one individual locality. The scheme has to apply to every parish and school in a uniform and fair way. I know cases will be brought up that seem very difficult for individuals who are just caught, but the rules have to be applied universally. We acknowledge that there can be difficulties for parents. We are continuing to support large numbers of students through this fair scheme, in which we are investing a great deal of money.
The roll-out of 24/7 cardiac cover at University Hospital Waterford was promised in the programme for Government, subject to a favourable independent review. As we all know, this review has taken place. The consultants in Waterford and the south-east have grave concerns in relation to the review. I call again on the Minister for Health to meet the consultants.
The Deputy's request for a meeting is probably not quite a matter for the Order of Business. I have made my intentions very clear in relation to this matter. I have published in full Professor Niall Herity's report, which examined the need for a second catheterisation lab in University Hospital Waterford. Professor Herity, who is an external consultant working for the NHS and who specialises in this area, found that there is no need for such a lab. However, he noted a number of deficiencies that need to be addressed in the hospital and a number of investments that need to be made by this Government. As the Deputy knows, my intention is to move ahead with making those important investments and increasing the staff, the equipment and the opening hours of the existing catheterisation lab in Waterford. As I have said, we can look at and review the impact of those improvements on volumes next year. That remains my commitment. I hope to visit the hospital shortly. I am sure I will have an opportunity to talk to staff at that stage.