Thursday, 1 June 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
I ask Deputies for their co-operation. We have 15 minutes. Custom and practice is that the leader or the representative of the party asks a question. There are already six leaders or representatives, which could take up most of the time. After that, there are 16 Members indicating. There will be very little time. If we get to that point, Deputies can trust me to do a draw because everybody put their hands up at the one time. I call Deputy Byrne on behalf of Fianna Fáil.
Could the Tánaiste enlighten the House as to the status of the Technological Universities Bill? There have been many complaints among the wider public that the Dáil has not passed much legislation. I believe it is a legitimate complaint. New politics is blamed.
However, in this case and many others, the root cause is a complete lack of engagement with other parties, in particular Fianna Fáil, on various Bills. I had engagement with the Minister for Education and Skills about a year ago and have asked for further engagement but there are many people in the higher education sector, such as DIT, which I visited with my party leader last week, who simply do not know what is going on and are left in limbo. The Dáil has shown itself to be willing to legislate if it can but in many instances, it depends on the Government to bring forward that legislation or, at the very least, to engage with us on what it expects to be in the legislation.
No, it is the same issue. The last time I raised this issue was a number of weeks ago when the Minister was in the Chamber. He said there was some agreement with the TUI and that he hoped he could progress the Bill. He might be aware that since then, Waterford Institute of Technology has gone into a three-year cost recovery programme and there are ongoing negotiations with trade unions regarding the curtailment of hours for programmes and the closing of some campuses in the summer months. It is of real concern to the staff and students in the institutes of technology so could the Minister comment on that?
All I will say is that I have a good memory. Deputies Durkan and McLoughlin, who always get a fair share, will be in the hat if there is any time but we are wasting time now. It is not a point of order and Deputy Barrett should know that.
I thank Deputy Brassil for raising this issue, which I have discussed on numerous occasions in the Dáil. This Bill was on Committee Stage in the House and is being restored to the Order Paper. Deputies will recall that in the last Dáil, very significant problems arose that led to it not being possible to complete that Bill. I regard this Bill as being very important in terms of providing a framework for regional educational development. I believe we need stronger regions with stronger institutions at regional level to drive economic and social development. We have sought to resolve the issues that prevented it from moving forward. Some of those were industrial relations issues. I indicated previously that we had discussions with the TUI. We have a set of proposals that are going to the TUI membership and, hopefully, that will remove one of the major obstacles lying in its way. If we can conclude that, we will move forward to bring that legislation back into the House. It is on Committee Stage but there is no pointing in coming into committee with proposals if they will be scuppered at the very first opportunity. I share the Deputy's anxiety to move this forward and will provide a briefing for Deputy Thomas Byrne and anyone else who wants one.
Yesterday we heard extraordinary accounts from senior civilian executives of An Garda Síochána in respect of the Garda Training College in Templemore. To say that the set up has been reflected as shambolic and toxic is to use very mild terms. On the Tánaiste's behalf, the Taoiseach committed that she would come to the Dáil to make a statement about the irregularities, malpractice and possibly corruption in Templemore and that she would also take questions from Members on those matters.
So far, she has failed to do so. As we advance in our inquiries, it becomes more apparent that the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality have very serious questions to answer. When will the Tánaiste present herself to the Dáil to make a comprehensive statement on the issues at the Garda College in Templemore and take questions from Members?
I have answered many questions about this issue. As I said, I will take any action required on my part once the Committee of Public Accounts has reported on its examination. To be very clear, without prejudicing any individual which would be grossly unfair, nobody is above the law and if any wrongdoing is uncovered, it will be investigated.
It is appropriate that the Tánaiste is taking my question because she was instrumental in the holding of the children's rights referendum and ensuring the rights of children were inserted into the Constitution when she was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. After 12 homeless families, including 30 children, had been sent to Garda stations last week in Dublin - there were reports that at least one of them may have slept in a park - Mr. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland pointed out on "Morning Ireland" that there was no legislative framework in place to look after the rights of children when their families were homeless. This morning I published a Bill on behalf of the Labour Party to address that issue, but I want to ask the Minister if the Government has plans to bring forward legislation to ensure that, when local authorities are presented with a homeless family, the children will not just be treated as dependants of somebody who is homeless, that their rights will be protected.
I will answer that question, if I can. What happened last week should not have happened and we have put measures in place to make sure it will not happen again. We do not need legislation to provide homes for people. There is very significant expenditure by the Government to provide appropriate levels of both temporary emergency accommodation for families and individuals and social housing to ultimately provide long-term solutions for the many families concerned. That cannot happen overnight, but there are construction teams on-site 24 hours a day, putting in place facilities to significantly improve the State's response to the problem of family homelessness. I have set very ambitious targets in the timelines needed and that is my focus.
The programme for Government refers to driving down the cost of providing new treatments, drugs, etc. It asserts that the Government will examine opportunities to leverage purchasing power. The Tánaiste is aware that yesterday 21 patients from the Alpha-1 group who are receiving Respreeza on a compassionate basis came to voice their concerns. They are living on borrowed time because of the simple fact that they do not have a surety that this much-needed drug will be provided. Will the Tánaiste, in conjunction with the Minister for Health, please see after them? They have come here twice in the past few weeks.
The Deputy has seen the actions of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to provide the drug Orkambi, for example. He has taken a decision to make the drug available. The development of new drugs and the state's capacity to make them available are very big issue for governments, not just in Ireland but internationally. I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with the Deputy on the particular drug to which he has referred.
Taoisigh and Ministers continue to walk away from the Dáil with massive, gold-plated, guaranteed pensions - it has happened under this and previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments - yet the relentless attack on the pension entitlements of workers continues. The latest attack is in Irish Life, a company that the Government sold and that has remitted €370 million to the parent company in the past two years.
As if that was not bad enough, it is now taking away the defined benefit pension scheme of 3,400 pensioners.
Exactly. I want to ask when the social welfare and pensions Bill, the general scheme of which has been published, will come forward and will the Government deal with this assault on the pension entitlements of workers, such as the Irish Life workers, in defined benefit pension schemes who paid in good faith and expect a decent pension?
There is pre-legislative scrutiny on the social welfare and pensions Bill today. We see the story this morning in regard to defined benefit pensions. There is increasing pressure on all of these funds. The Department of Social Protection and the Department of Finance are clearly concerned about this. No doubt it is an issue that will be discussed in the pre-legislative scrutiny on that proposed Bill.
The programme for Government commits to doubling the number of apprenticeships nationwide by 2020. On that basis, given the importance of apprenticeships for creating and retaining jobs in the north-west region, can the Tánaiste advise the House as to the progress being made in this regard and what sectors in particular we will focus on?
I congratulate Sligo for winning the new insurance apprenticeship, which is a very successful programme delivered online by the Sligo Institute of Technology. We have approximately 20 apprenticeships in the pipeline in new areas. These includes modern manufacturing, insurance, financial services and the hospitality industry right across a broad segment of sectors. We have a fresh call-out for new employer groups to come forward with proposals for apprenticeships.
In the programme for Government, the Government has given a commitment with regard to ensuring a strong and visible police force in every community. Figures show that the lowest number of Garda recruits have been assigned to rural areas. In Cavan-Monaghan, we have a mere 21 new recruits. With such low numbers, how are the goals outlined in the programme for Government being met? A strong and visible force implies that there are a proportionate number of gardaí to civilians in the area.
It is part of the programme for Government. I am asking for the appropriate number of gardaí in regard to the size of the community in rural areas. We are as susceptible to crime as those in urban areas are. I would like the Tánaiste's views on that.
I have reopened Templemore. We are having 900 young recruits coming out this year, as we have had for the past number of years. Clearly, capacity is being built up. New recruits are being assigned to different areas. No doubt Deputy Niamh Smyth's area will see the benefit of those new recruits.
The copyright and related rights (amendment) (miscellaneous intellectual property) Bill is on the Government's proposed spring-summer legislative programme. Where does it stand? It is with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Also, while the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is present, I met representatives from Trinity College Dublin who would like to meet the Minister on this Bill.