Thursday, 19 January 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
We have 15 minutes for questions on promised legislation. I remind Deputies that this time is for questions on promised legislation not statements. Some 13 Members have indicated and I will call them in the order that they indicated to me. I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae to ask a question. I would like him to set a good example.
The question is that farmers are under severe financial pressure and many of them are waiting for their GLAS payments. Why is this so? I am asking the Minister to speed up the GLAS payments due to farmers. Why are they being held up? We are already in 2017 yet many have not been paid. I ask the Minister to pay them as soon as possible.
We recently opened GLAS and now more than 50,000 farmers are eligible for payments under the scheme. Currently, fewer than 9,000 applications await payment. As such, a very substantial number of farmers have already been paid. We are working through this as quickly as possible, which I appreciate is cold comfort if one is among those awaiting payment. However, the Department is approving payments as they are processed. Some have outstanding documentation due and communication is happening with farmers in that regard. We are making every effort to clear the backlog of payments due.
I will be quick. The spring-summer legislation programme was cleared by the Government on Tuesday last, but there is no date included as to when the House can expect heads of a Bill on the affordable child care scheme. The Bill is essential for the smooth operation of the affordable child care provision announced by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, last year. Is it expected in this session?
I am bringing a memo to Cabinet next week with a view to securing permission to publish the heads of the Bill.
It is hoped the Bill will be enacted and commenced to ensure that the affordable child care scheme will be in place when we said it would be.
The programme for Government contains a commitment on the value and benefits of rural transport links for communities. In respect of that, and with an eye to the fiasco that is unfolding around Bus Éireann and the very aggressive position taken by management, I note that the Minister is missing in action from all of this. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Ross, be asked to present himself before the House and give a full account of his stewardship of this matter.
More to the point, I want him to outline how he and the Government propose to honour the programme for Government commitment which places a premium on the benefits of rural transport links for communities. To many of us, it seems that rather than building on it the Government is hellbent on dismantling it.
I understand that the Minister is dealing with a Topical Issue matter later which will address these issues. For 2017, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has secured an 11% increase in Exchequer funding for PSO services generally. That means that Bus Éireann's PSO funding will likely increase in 2017.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to include family consent and an opt out register for organ donations to be enacted before the end of this year. As the Tánaiste is aware, this important legislation will greatly increase the availability of life-saving organs for transplantation. It is extraordinary that there is no mention of it in the programme. I ask the Tánaiste to recommit to making that happen this year. When will we see the heads of a Bill and when can we expect the Bill to be presented to the House?
Disability rights activists are outside the Dáil as we speak, and I am passing on their request to the Tánaiste. They want to know when the promised legislation to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will come before the House, be debated and ratified?
One of those outside made a very simple point to me, namely, that North Korea, a tin-pot dictatorship, has signed the convention, yet we have dragged our heels for the best part of a decade. Could the Tánaiste provide me with the details so that I give those outside an answer as to when, precisely, the Bill to deal with this matter will come before the House and the timescale for it to be concluded?
We have consistently improved services for people with disabilities and have taken a huge range of actions to make a difference to the lives of people who have a disability. We want to sign the convention when we have done the required work. The Bill went to and was agreed by the Cabinet before Christmas. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, will take the Bill in the second week of February.
I refer to the recognition in the programme for Government of the role played by education in tackling disadvantage. Will the Tánaiste and Government commit to escalating the examination that is currently taking place in forming a list of new DEIS schools to be designated? I refer specifically to St. Joseph's primary school in Tipperary and its sister schools.
I understand the Department of Social Protection is nearing the end of the review. There is huge expectation and people around the country are waiting for an announcement. Tipperary town missed out on the last DEIS programme and schools have been treated very unfairly. What stage is the list at and will the Tánaiste please escalate the process?
The review of DEIS areas is at an advanced stage. It is being discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee and decisions are expected shortly. As the Deputy is aware, this week the Cabinet sanctioned a further 900 teachers and resources for schools for children with special educational needs.
The review is under way and nearing completion.
My question is for the Tánaiste and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Following on from the Private Members' debate last night, what is the Minister's intention with respect to calling an urgent meeting of the tillage forum to discuss with farming organisations and representatives of the tillage sector how compensation and a crisis fund for those farmers who lost a significant part of their harvest along the west coast due to the bad weather last autumn will operate and how they will be compensated?
As I indicated in our amendment to Deputy McConalogue's Private Members' motion, I intend to convene a meeting of the tillage stakeholders' forum at the earliest possible opportunity. I expect to meet them in the next two weeks with a view to progressing issues they raised at a previous meeting, including the issues referred to by the Deputy.
I will also raise the issue concerning the GLAS scheme. As the Minister stated, this affects up to 9,000 farmers who are waiting for their payments. When they come to us and we contact the Department, nine times out of ten we are told there is some stop on the payment but a day or two later it is removed. The issue is usually not on the farmer's side but something in the Department. Many feel that there is something in the Department's IT system that seems to be blocking the payments. Will the Minister confirm that this may be the case? If it is the case, will he accept that a payment delayed is a payment denied? These farmers need to get their money as quickly as possible. What can be done to resolve the issue?
I assure Deputy Martin Kenny that every effort is being made to clear payments as quickly as possible. The Department has no interest in delaying payments to individual members. As I stated to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, the number of outstanding applications is somewhat less than 9,000 and the scheme is now open to more than 50,000 farmers. I appreciate that is not the message those who are waiting want to hear. In the round, delays exist that are due to incomplete documentation being furnished and logistical reasons in processing payments. We are working through these issues and committing the resources within the Department to clearing the backlog as quickly as possible.
Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have been asking for some time when we will see the legislation on wind farms. Communities up and down the country are extremely frustrated at so-called promises that we would see it the next week or the week thereafter. It is not coming. I advise the Government to publish the proposed legislation so that communities can discuss it and consider where we are going with this because it is quite a big issue throughout the country.
With regard to providing the victims of crime with greater support and assistance in their time of need, when can we expect the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill to be enacted? Will it happen in 2017? I understand that we are still waiting on Second Stage of the Bill.
The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill has been published and was approved by Cabinet before Christmas. I agree it is important legislation that will change the balance in our criminal justice system in terms of victims and victims' rights and hope that the Business Committee will agree to it being taken this term.
As the Tánaiste knows, a cross-departmental working group is examining legislation to ensure the responsibilities of landlords under the Residential Tenancies Acts apply to banks, vulture funds and receivers when they repossess properties. There was disturbing news in the Irish Examinertoday that approximately 20,000 mortgage repossession cases that were adjourned will be back before the courts this year. In my view, we will see a significant increase in the level of home repossessions, including properties of buy-to-let landlords. When will this working group report and when will the legislation be introduced? If there is, as we suspect, a dramatic increase in the number of home repossessions, will the Tánaiste bring forward the timeline for the legislation so tenants are given the adequate protections they so rightly deserve?
I understand the Taoiseach will visit Ballymahon on Monday to launch the rural renewal programme.
His visit will take place one week after an arm of the State issued letters to many businesses in Longford-Westmeath about rates revaluations. Yesterday, when I asked the Taoiseach when the heads of the Bill to deal with the revaluation of business rates would be published, he indicated that it would be later this year. In my constituency, some businesses have been issued with rate increases of 400%. In her reply to Deputy Brendan Howlin's question, the Tánaiste spoke about the need to remain competitive. How can a small business remain competitive when it receives a rate increase of 400%? Will the Tánaiste ask the revaluation office to put rate increases on hold until such time as the legislation promised in the programme for Government has been introduced?
As the Taoiseach informed the Deputy earlier in the week, the heads of the Bill to which he refers are being prepared. I am sure they will be brought to Cabinet as soon as they have been completed. The Bill will be drafted as soon as possible.
When will the budget commitment to grant medical cards to the children of those in receipt of domiciliary care allowance be implemented? When can we expect these children to receive a medical card?
As the Deputy probably knows, the family remediation Bill is on the priority list and I hope we will be in a position to introduce it during this term. It is important legislation which will give people an opportunity to avoid costly court proceedings and try to resolve their difficulties through mediation.
On the commitment to community policing in the programme for Government, on Tuesday I received a response from the Tánaiste to a parliamentary question I tabled concerning the number of community gardaí in the Lucan and Clondalkin areas. The question was part of a series of questions related to the west side of Dublin where there is a serious crime problem and, as the Tánaiste will be aware, a horrific murder took place in recent days. The reply I received indicated that six community gardaí had been allocated to Lucan, an area in which tens of thousands of people live, and a glorious total of seven community gardaí had been allocated to Clondalkin. This effectively means that an urban area which, unfortunately, is experiencing a serious problem and is affected by the spillover of the gang crime that is disfiguring Dublin and other parts of the country, has almost no community gardaí. This matter is the responsibility of the Tánaiste, as the Minister for Justice and Equality, although I acknowledge that direct line responsibility lies with the Garda Commissioner. Is the Tánaiste speaking to the Commissioner? Does she consider that six community gardaí for Lucan and seven for Clondalkin in any way adequate? Incidentally, the number of community gardaí in Blanchardstown is not much higher.
I deplore the senseless loss of life we have seen again in recent days. I am ensuring that the Government will provide resources to An Garda Síochána to ensure it can intervene effectively. We have also made a decision to increase the number of gardaí in all areas, including Lucan and Clondalkin. Other areas, for example, Blanchardstown, the local area of Deputy Burton and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, have seen an increase in the number of gardaí assigned to them. Almost every Garda division has been assigned additional gardaí and we will assign additional gardaí again this year as we continue to recruit an extra 800 gardaí.
When this Government came into office, Templemore was closed and there was no Garda recruitment.
We have changed that completely. We are determined that every community will have Garda resources in place to intervene. The Garda has been intervening, preventing crime, bringing people to justice and seizing weapons and drugs. It has achieved significant success.
Unfortunately, there are people who are intent on violence. I want to ensure that every community has the resources to deal with this challenge.