Thursday, 13 July 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
Last evening, the House debated the Fianna Fáil's Mortgage Arrears Resolution (Family Home) Bill 2017, on which the House, when we vote shortly, will have its say. I know the Government is opposing this Private Members' Bill. There were two notable aspects to last night's debate. The only two speakers on the Government side were Ministers; no Government backbencher contributed. Notable by their absence were Members from the Independent Alliance, who made a great play during last year's negotiations on the issue of mortgage arrears. Also noticeable was that neither Government speaker mentioned the mortgages special court Bill. One could not but reach the conclusion that the Government has abandoned all plans to introduce a dedicated new court to deal with the issue of mortgage arrears. It was not even referenced by either of the Ministers from the Department of Justice and Equality last night when responding to an issue relating to mortgage arrears. The Tánaiste will be familiar with this as she was the line Minister up to a few weeks ago. Does the Government still plan to introduce that Bill and, if so, what is the current position in respect of it?
There is a promise in the programme for Government regarding the provision of €42 billion in capital investment, including in respect of infrastructure. While this is obviously good news, too many construction workers are being forced into bogus self-employment contracts. In March, a full four months ago, I asked when the report led by the Department of Finance on bogus subcontracting would be published. At the time the then Minister for Social Protection and now Taoiseach said it would be published in a number of weeks. It is now four months later and there is still no action from Government. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions estimates that this practice has cost the State €80 million annually since 2007 - twice the amount lost to the Exchequer from overpayments and social welfare fraud - but we are not seeing the same level of attention from Ministers on that loss of revenue as we are in respect of the others. When will the report be published? When will the Government introduce the necessary legislation? When will Government start to take serious action to protect workers and the taxpayer and drive out bogus subcontracting?
On the same issue, when I was Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, I commissioned a report on the issue of people in low-paid employment who are being disguised as self-employed. This is not out of any choice of theirs; it is because it is their only way of getting employment. Many people are being exploited across a range of sectors, from the construction sector to the hospitality sector and tourism. This includes at times driving tour buses and delivering other hospitality elements. I am quite sure that this work, which was undertaken in great detail with approximately 23 submissions from the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Protection, is now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere while this issue fails to be resolved.
The Joint Committee on Health's Report on Scrutiny of the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 was published at 12.30 p.m. yesterday. Before it was published, the Tánaiste's colleague, Deputy Kate O'Connell, appeared on a radio show basically lambasting the Bill. This is not the first time she has lambasted it. It is wholly inappropriate that the Deputy appeared on radio and was severely critical of the Bill before the report was published.
The report itself is shambolic, to say the least. It has missed out all clinical evidence on medicinal cannabis.
Yes, I have. What will the Tánaiste do about this, because what has happened is that the Bill I introduced has been shelved? The situation in Ireland is that medical refugees are going to Holland and Spain-----
We have a health committee set up to examine and carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on Bills. When it examined the Deputy's Bill it found that it was not fit for purpose in the sense that there were unintended consequences, both legal and otherwise, including leakage of supply of cannabis to the recreational market-----
-----and a lack of safeguards against harmful use of cannabis by patients. The use of medicinal cannabis has been taken on board by the Minister for Health. As the Deputy is aware, he asked for a report from the expert group. I believe we should be led by clinicians when it comes to this issue and he is making sure that there will be a medicinal cannabis access programme.
I wish to raise the situation regarding the proposed amalgamation of Cahir boys and Cahir girls national schools in Cahir. This has being continuing for more than 18 years. In 2002 a technical report was put forward for the amalgamation of both schools. Later, in 2004 all parties approved a further technical report. The amalgamation schedule was approved and agreed by both boards of management and they also agreed to put in a special needs unit. In 2009 I was told in this House by the Minister of State that the amalgamation would go ahead-----
This may be my last opportunity before the recess but I hope it will not be a lost opportunity to raise the commitment to deliver the planned Narrow Water Bridge, which is on page 141 of the programme for Government. This is a shovel-ready project on which some €2.3 million has been spent to date in preparation for the work. The reason I raise the matter with the Tánaiste and relevant Minister is that while the project has full planning permission on the southern side because it was a compulsory purchase order, CPO, the permission will run out in October 2017 on the northern side if a renewal process is not put in place. I do not wish to see this project lost by stealth. I call on the Government to make a renewed effort on the basis of money being available through the DUP or otherwise to ensure this project gets started and that negotiations go on North and South in the absence of an Executive to deliver it.
The Deputy is correct; this is a North-South issue, and it has been raised at quite a number of the North-South ministerial meetings. Hopefully, the parties can get together and form the Assembly in order that projects such as this can be progressed.
I wish to raise ticket-touting legislation with the Tánaiste. Last weekend we again saw consumers getting ripped off by ticket touts reselling Ed Sheeran tickets. In fairness to Ed Sheeran and his promoters, they had the initiative to try and prevent the resale of tickets for his shows, but the problem still persisted and it is clear that legislation is needed to tackle this problem. I introduced my own Bill in March aimed at curbing the abuse of the entertainment ticketing system in Ireland. It would have introduced legislation to take the profit from ticket touts and also protect those who bought tickets in good faith but were subsequently unable to attend. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael decided to defer discussion of the Bill after Second Stage for nine months, for no real reason. Has the Government any plans to deal with this continuing problem?
In the programme for Government it is stated that the mental health budget would be increased annually in order to implement A Vision for Change. The review of the programme for Government did not contain a single mention of mental health, following the paltry €15 million in additional funding announced in budget 2017. That is barely enough for the service to stand still. It is the case that 47% of child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, positions are not filled. Due to the growth in population the indication is that adequate staffing levels will not be reached until 2040. We have just three of the 14 recommended crisis houses, which are all in one community healthcare organisation, CHO, and just 63 of the minimum 100 beds needed for CAMHS, and 11 of those are under threat of closure. Will the Government commit to a substantial increase on last year's budget and at least double the additional investment in mental health?
Mental health services remain a priority for the Government and the point the Deputy made will be considered in the context of the budget this year. A huge amount of recruitment has taken place for local CAMH services. We have seen a huge increase on the ground of teams delivering CAMH services around the country but recruitment, in particular, and retention of staff in the area remains an ongoing difficulty. Every effort is being made to recruit the appropriate range of interdisciplinary specialists so that those services can be delivered. It is not always about providing the funding; it is about trying to find the staff who are available to develop the multidisciplinary teams around the country.
The human tissue Bill was to meet the key recommendation of the Madden report that no hospital post mortems could be carried out or no tissue retained after post mortems without consent. The human tissue Bill also tackles the problem of the low availability of organs for transplantation due to a fall in the number of donors. The lack of donors has led to bleak prospects for hundreds of people in desperate need of transplantation. Could the Tánaiste please tell me when she expects the human tissue Bill to come before the House?
Page 83 of the programme for Government has the stated objective that older people would remain living in their homes independently. Tomorrow, the HSE seeks to close St. Michael's day care centre for older people in Navan. It is a critical service and for many of the users it is the only social contact they have in the entire week. The centre also provides access for mental health services and physical health services for those people. Many of the people who avail of the service will be forced either to have home help hours or to consider nursing home options. Could the Tánaiste make a commitment that the closure of the service will be postponed until a fix is in place?
The programme for Government also has a commitment to building capacity for emergency and acute services by reducing the number of people going into hospital. The decision to close the facility was announced at 4.10 p.m. on Tuesday by the HSE. It will put 124 elderly patients out onto the street. The service has existed for 34 years in Navan. Last month the Taoiseach said from now on the HSE would show compassion and common sense. How can he stand over a situation where 124 people will be thrown out on the street tomorrow afternoon? Where is the compassion or common sense in that? I urge the HSE to postpone the decision. The HSE has said it will secure an additional building. It has had five months to secure it and nothing has been done.
I do not have the precise details so I will ask the Minister to communicate with both Deputies who have raised this issue. The Government has begun the consultation on the development of home care and making sure we have more substantial investment in home care generally. Such services are very supportive of keeping people in their home.
The programme for Government makes specific provision in respect of increasing jobs in rural Ireland. I am unsure if the Tánaiste is aware that in Sligo, the IDA is now advising that its site in Finisklin is full of units while other lands it owns at Oakfield are not accessible due to there being no road constructed on the western distributor route. I ask the Tánaiste to give an undertaking to investigate this issue with the IDA and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport so that funding will be provided for these lands to be opened up. I ask her to ensure the IDA visits to Sligo will continue and that new factory units can be constructed.
Regional development and jobs across the country, including in Sligo, are a critical part of what we want to achieve in the months and years ahead. I will get details for the Deputy and communicate further with him on the issues he has raised.
-----when the issue had already been raised and addressed by the Tánaiste. If a Deputy indicates in advance when a matter is raised, I have no difficulty. The Deputy cannot come in after the event. He has made his point of order so I ask him to resume his seat.
That report will form the basis of a motion that will have to come before the House in September. When that motion comes before the House, I expect that the Business Committee will provide for an opportunity for the matter to be debated. That is the procedure. That is the democratic process in action and in operation. I appeal to Deputy Boyd Barrett to respect that process. It has worked in the past. I do not see why it would not work in relation to the particular issues about which he is concerned.
I would like to respond briefly. For the record, it is not an all-party committee. The party and group that put forward this Bill is not represented on the committee. I think there has been an absolutely outrageous sabotage of this Bill for the most spurious of reasons. Medical evidence from doctors, the Irish Medical Organisation, Professor Mike Barnes, Professor David Finn and many other people who are experts in this area has been distorted and denied. Instead, the committee has relied on expert evidence from the pharmaceutical industry.
I will finish on this point. The procedural clarification given by the Ceann Comhairle was necessary because the message that went out from the Chairman of the committee and other members of the committee was to the effect that they had a right to stop this Bill from proceeding to Committee Stage. They do not have that right. Only the Dáil has that right. In fact, Standing Order 141 suggests that once a Bill goes past Second Stage, notwithstanding the right of the committee to scrutinise it or to refer it back to the Dáil, it will go to Committee Stage. Many other Bills, including Deputy McLoughlin's Bill, have been substantially changed on the basis of legal advice, but have still gone to Committee Stage. In this case, the Bill is being sabotaged by all the representatives on the health committee. The Deputies who put the Bill forward-----