Thursday, 1 December 2016
Questions on Proposed Legislation
In view of the critical situation in our hospitals and the huge waiting lists for every kind of medical service, will the Tánaiste advise when the health (amendment) Bill will be introduced in the House?
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is due to publish his rent strategy paper shortly. As the Tánaiste knows, the Residential Tenancies Board published its latest index this morning, which reveals that the cost of renting a home is continuing to climb. The board's director has described the rental market as still volatile, which is probably gentle language. Those working with the homeless and in housing distress have called for legislation to deal with the issue of runaway rents and rent uncertainty.
Later, a Sinn Féin Bill, which was cosigned by Independents 4 Change, the Labour Party, the Anti-Austerity Alliance People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and the Green Party will be voted down by the coalition Government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This will be the third occasion on which they together will vote down protections for tenants to their shame. Will the Tánaiste give us a commitment that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will include rent certainty and security of tenure in his long-awaited rental strategy, which is due to be published shortly?
We have given a commitment to launch a new rent strategy before the end of the year. The Deputy's party has been part of the consultation process in putting that together. The party made a comprehensive submission to the process, as did other parties. I have said consistently each time Sinn Féin has brought forward the same Bill - it is the third time we will vote on it later - that I do not see it has a balanced solution to the problems we face, which are primarily about a deficit in supply of affordable, social and private rented housing. We are trying as a Government, in response to the challenges many people face in a pressurised rental market, to bring forward a balanced series of proposals. Some will be about protecting tenants in pressurised situations.
The pace is still too high and I have said we are looking to address the issues that have been raised in the debates on rent certainty to date in a balanced approach to a rental strategy and the Deputies will see that in approximately ten days.
I attended the launch of the CARI Foundation annual report earlier this week. The organisation raised two Bills that come under the remit of the Tánaiste's Department - the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016, which is proceeding through the Oireachtas, and the criminal law (victims of crime) Bill. First, when will the latter Bill be published?
Second, when will the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016 become law? Kitty Holland also attended the CARI Foundation launch and she raised concerns in an article in today's edition of The Irish Timesabout an app called Yellow. Mr. Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on child protection, was the main speaker at the launch and he also raised serious concerns about this app, which is being used by young teenagers. Mr. Shannon made the case about it being open to sexual predators. The Bill will deal with issues such as this. When does the Tánaiste expect it be enacted?
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016 has been passed by the Seanad and is on Committee Stage in this House. It will be taken next week by the justice committee. Everything depends on how much time is needed by the committee. Potentially the Bill could be passed by the end of the year but that depends entirely on the work of the committee. I am pleased it is at this point.
I refer to the issue of the app being used for grooming. Grooming is dealt with in the Bill in an innovate way that is necessary. Grooming and the different stages of grooming are defined and the Deputy's example of the Yellow app will fall under that. It is important legislation.
The victims of crime legislation is close to finalisation and I hope to circulate it to Cabinet in the next few weeks before the end of the year.
I am not sure whether the Tánaiste will be aware of the reports of horrific abuse of greyhounds in Macau, which does not have animal welfare laws or retirement programmes for greyhounds. As a consequence, there have been significant protests in this country and the Australian Government has banned the export of greyhounds to Macau.
When does the Tánaiste expect to have the Greyhound Industry (Amendment) Bill brought forward? Will it include export prevention measures to states with a poor animal rights record?
The Tánaiste may be aware that in 2014, there was a working group set up within Government to look at the issue of voting rights for the diaspora and citizens in the North. How many times has it met and when is it due to report? Will the report contain any legislation to extend voting rights?
Perhaps I can be helpful there. We had quite a long debate in the Seanad on this yesterday. I have given a commitment to bring forward a detailed options paper on extending the franchise in presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside of Ireland.
-----or both if they want to. We are looking at the practical implications of extending the franchise for presidential elections so that when we make an announcement on the issue we will be able to answer questions in a comprehensive way.
What others seem to be looking for is to make a commitment without being able to answer those questions. That is not the way we should approach it because we are leading some people up the garden path.
Yesterday I was approached by somebody who rents a one-and-a-half bed apartment in Clonee in Meath for about €860 a month. The person has been advised by the landlord that when the two-year moratorium on rent increases, which my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, introduced, finishes in March, the rent will go up to €1,200. In Dublin 7, in the Manor Street area, two-beds are renting at the moment for €1,800. I raised a Topical Issue Matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government three weeks ago. All his recent statements indicate that, notwithstanding the extraordinary additional jump that has taken place in the last couple of months, he is setting his face against any kind of rent control. For the sake of people at work who are paying their rent out of their income, will he give consideration to rent control?
I will not give the detail yet because I have to bring it to Cabinet first. That is not unreasonable. We are looking at getting the balance right between protecting tenants, who are vulnerable because of an unsustainable level of rental inflation in Dublin and other parts of the country, and at the same time ensuring we are promoting supply, which in the medium term is the solution. We are trying to do both. We have discussed issues around rent predictability and rent certainty. They are very much part of the considerations. We will be publishing the result of those considerations in about ten days' time.
Currently there are 8,000 people employed either directly or indirectly in the pig farming industry in Ireland.
At the end of 2016, the derogation that currently exists in respect of the relaxation of rules around slurry spreading will come to an end. Under the programme for Government, what are the plans of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with this important issue? This could have the consequence of putting many people out of business.
This is an important issue. Ireland has negotiated derogations from the nitrates directive in respect of our nitrates action plan in a series of areas linked to agriculture. These derogations are important for the expansion potential of many sectors, including the pig sector.
I will be consulting my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to figure out a way in which we can ensure that we can give some certainty to the pig industry in this context. We have a little time to do that. Certainly, there is a need for continuity in terms of the derogation. Of course we will have to negotiate with the European Commission to ensure that can be facilitated.
My concern revolves around the consequences arising from the recently published report on the provision of domestic water supply services. I congratulate Deputy Paul Murphy, who is not in the House, and his colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, on the neat way in which they hijacked the Sinn Féin Party in its entirety.
This is promised legislation and it is in the programme for Government. I think the Ceann Comhairle will agree that what the Deputies did was no mean task. Having succeeded in that particular context, they then proceeded to hijack the Fianna Fáil Party. Now, they would appear to be set to hijack the Government and the Labour Party, everyone included. They are purporting to speak for the majority of people in the House. I want to refer to the consequences for two groups of people.
Neither I nor the people on this side would be able to stand over a situation whereby people who did the right thing and quietly paid their charges would be disadvantaged in any way by their decision to obey the law. Let me make that clear. We would not stand over a situation whereby people who disobeyed the law benefit over those who obeyed. That is the reason this is one of the issues to be considered carefully by the committee that the House has set up.
The programme for Government refers to the full implementation of A Vision for Change, which we welcome. A Vision for Change outlines how mental health services should have established governance, autonomy and independence to enable proper management structures to function. Yesterday, Tony O'Brien, director general of the HSE, outlined how he intends to merge the national directorships of primary care, social care and mental health services. This has the potential to dilute and undermine what the Government has allocated for mental health in future budgets, especially if there is no specific national director for mental health services. Can the Tánaiste clarify whether the Government supports the director general of the HSE and his change in position from a Vision for Change or is the Government going to clarify the situation with him?
Let us be clear: the Government is absolutely committed to the implementation of A Vision for Change. As Members are aware, extensive recruitment has taken place but difficulties remain in terms of recruiting certain specialist staff in order that the community care teams and mental health teams can be built up. There has been a sea-change in respect of those teams. There are still gaps but considerable funding has been provided.
The discussion about management structures in no way impacts on the delivery of A Vision for Change or the budgetary commitment that is in place.