Thursday, 13 April 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
Exactly six weeks ago, I raised in a Topical Issue debate the subject of the revaluation process that is under the remit of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. The Tánaiste's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, took the debate in her absence and the Tánaiste was to revert back to me. Six weeks later I am still waiting for an update on the revaluation process that is under way in a number of provincial towns across the State. It is leading to increases in commercial rates of up to 400%. Will the Tánaiste's office finally respond to the questions I raised in the Topical Issue debate? Will the Tánaiste also indicate when Members might expect the consolidation of the commercial rates legislation to come before the Dáil? When that legislation comes before the Dáil, will the revaluation process that is currently under way by the Department of Justice and Equality's Valuation Office cease to exist?
I want to ask the Tánaiste about the inspection of places of detention Bill. This is to provide for the inspection of all places of detention, including prisons. The Bill is supposed to include provisions to enable the ratification of the United Nations optional protocol on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Last November, a report on health care in Irish prisons produced by the late Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, was published. The report makes a number of recommendations on the provision of health care in prisons, including a review of prison health care. I understand the terms of reference are being finalised. Will the Tánaiste indicate when she expects the terms of reference to be concluded? Will they be published? How long does she envisage the review of prison health care to take? When does she expect the inspection of places of detention Bill to be published?
The heads of that legislation are under preparation. I imagine the review of prison health care, which is a joint initiative between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality, will be concluded this year.
Last June, the Government colluded with Fianna Fáil to kick the Labour Party's Equal Status (Admission to Schools) Bill down the road. Ten months after that Bill was introduced, nothing has changed. We will not have any statutory guidelines in place on how schools should deal with cases of over-subscription. We will not have any legislation in place to make it clear that all schools must be welcoming of all pupils. We will not have any ban in place on the charging of fees for applying for a school place. We certainly will not have anything in place to deal with the real concerns of thousands of parents whose children have not been baptised and who are desperately anxious for a school place. Simply put, when will we see Government legislation to deal with these urgent matters?
The Education (Admission to Schools) Bill has already been published. It is intended that it will go to Committee Stage shortly. In respect of the Labour Party's Bill, as the Deputy knows, a decision was made in the House that it should be deferred for a period while assessment of some of the issues would occur. I published an assessment with four options. The closing date for contributions was just last month and I am currently assessing these. It was clear that the Bill is on a different-----
It was made clear at the time that the issue raised in the Labour Party's Bill would not be dealt with for this coming September, whereas the other issues in the admissions Bill will be targeted. The consultation on the wider issue of access to local schools for non-denominational children will not be for this September.
Is the Tánaiste going to consider amendments to the Industrial Relations Act? There are a couple of Bills outstanding that deal with the representation of workers. Changes are also due to be made to allow gardaí more representation. Any amendment to the Act should outlaw the type of practices that we hear are being carried out by Tesco. It is bullying workers who took part in pickets of other stores represented by the same union. Those workers are now being called in and intimidated. This also happened to Dunnes workers after their recent dispute. They are not allowed representation by their own union on the shop floor. Tesco is apparently calling in workers who may have gone in their own spare time, not in work time, to show solidarity with their colleagues. They are now being victimised. We need anti-victimisation clauses introduced into industrial relations legislation. We need an Industrial Relations Act that is not anti-union but that actually protects workers.
During the talks on the formation of the Government, members of the Rural Independent Group raised an issue. The programme for Government committed to reviewing the discrimination against farming families and self-employed businesses, especially small business people, who require access to the fair deal scheme. I understand that a review has been carried out and that a working group has been established to move the matter forward. Where is this working group at? When does it expect to report? When can we expect legislation? It is hugely unfair and very traumatising and damaging to businesses, landholdings and families that this discrimination exists in the present legislation.
With discussions and, it is hoped, some solutions imminent in respect of Brexit and in view of the serious concerns expressed by those involved in the security of this State together with the PSNI, what plans, urgency and progress have been given to the following legislation: the criminal procedure Bill, the criminal records (information systems) Bill, and the European arrest warrant (amendment) Bill? It is my belief that many criminals are targeting weaknesses and loopholes in our security in view of the imminent exit of the UK from the EU.
The relationship between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI has never worked more effectively. The Deputy knows they have had a number of joint operations in recent times targeting criminals who would exploit the situation. The European arrest warrant will be a very high priority for us in the upcoming negotiations. We do not want to return to using extradition. I have had discussions with the Home Secretary on the matter. The UK approach to these issues is not yet clear. I spoke on this matter in the House last week. The sooner we can get clarity on the European arrest warrant, the better. It will be a key priority for us in the negotiations.
With reference to page 96 of the programme for Government, will the Tánaiste give me an indication as to the progress being made on the roll-out of the CCTV systems programme to rural Ireland? I have seen at first hand the benefits of CCTV systems in respect of crime prevention efforts in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim and in many other towns and villages. It is frightfully important. The Act is a major deterrent to criminals.
There is a budget for increased use of CCTV by local communities and I will be announcing the details of that very shortly. There is a budget line in place allowing communities to apply to enhance their CCTV provision. I would certainly hope to increase that budget in the time ahead. I agree with the Deputy that it is an extremely important part of fighting crime.
With regard to the Government's commitment to utilising the State's industrial relations mechanisms to resolve disputes, has the Minister for Social Protection reviewed the Labour Court recommendation to put in place a pension scheme for community employment supervisors? The State has not followed through on this matter. Will the Minister now take action and implement the recommendation?
I have read the recommendation. My Department is not the employer, and the responsibility for implementing any Labour Court recommendation falls on the employer. While the Department is certainly the employer of many staff, the supervisors are employed by the sponsoring bodies.
The Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 was published immediately before Christmas and commenced Second Stage in this House on 31 January 2017. The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The precise timing of ratification now depends on how long it will take for this Bill to progress and, I understand, on issues regarding the commencement of deprivation of liberty provisions, which will be included in the Bill. As Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, I can say on behalf of the committee members that we are very anxious for this Bill to progress through to final ratification. There is a concern among members that we are being in some way scapegoated in terms of the delay. It is simply not acceptable. I have spoken to the Tánaiste and Minister responsible and have raised the matter on several occasions.
When exactly will the Department of Justice and Equality be ready to bring forward the amendments for Committee Stage address?
I thank the Deputy. I know that he will regard this as a priority once the amendments have been published. It is important that we get to that point as soon as possible in order that we can ratify the convention.
I appreciate the points Deputy Ó Caoláin is making. The amendments are being worked on. They are a priority. They are complex. The task involves working with the Department of Health in respect of the points made by Deputy Ó Caoláin. These are priority amendments. I assure Deputy Ó Caoláin that I expect we will be in a position to move forward with the Bill early after Easter. The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, is working on the Bill and it is a priority for him. Of course we want to get the amendments done as quickly as possible.
There was an agreement on the retention of records Bill by the last Government. Pre-legislative scrutiny took place in May 2015 to protect the records of the various commissions of inquiry into child abuse, the Residential Institutions Redress Board and the Residential Institutions Review Committee as well as to hold the records for up to 70 years. Nothing seems to have happened under the current Government in respect of this legislation.
The second point is a related matter. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill will give adopted people the right to acquire their records as adults. It was to have been in the Seanad but it does not seem to have made any progress. What is the issue?
I can confirm for the Deputy that the heads have gone through Government but discussions are continuing with various stakeholders to finalise details of the Bill before it can be presented to the House.
My question relates to the programme for Government. People with cystic fibrosis and their families welcomed the agreement in principle relating to Orkambi and Kalydeco, as did everyone across the House. However, they have an issue relating to another matter in the programme for Government. I am referring to an opt-out register for organ donation instead of the current opt-in register.
This was due to happen before the end of 2017 according to the programme for Government. However, there does not seem to be anything on the legislative programme on this matter even under the Bills listed further away.
I want to find out when we will have an opt-out register. Such a register greatly increases the number of organs available not only for cystic fibrosis patients but for others as well. This has been shown in other European countries.
I can confirm that it is the Minister's intention to proceed with that legislation. I will ask him to correspond directly with Deputy O'Sullivan to let him to let him know what stage it is at. It is the intention to do exactly what Deputy O'Sullivan has described because there is strong evidence internationally that it would greatly increase the supply of organs.
Under the programme for Government we have a scheme called JobPath. It is being delivered in my constituency by a private company called Seetec. For people in rural Ireland this is a major difficulty because many of them have to travel long distances to make the appointments.
Recently, I was contacted by a woman from west Cavan. She is 30 miles from Cavan town. She was told that she would have to come three times each week for an appointment. She explained that there was no bus service and that she did not drive. She was told that she would have to get a taxi. She asked whether she would be compensated. The person in Seetec told her that was her problem.
We have asked several times for this scheme to be scrapped because we believe it is inappropriate. Failing that, will the Government put in place some kind of travel fund for people who have to travel long distances?
It is part of promised legislation. If people do not attend these appointments, their money will be cut yet they cannot afford to attend them. Will some fund be put in place to compensate people who have to travel long distances, especially those in rural areas?