Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Order of Business
Tuesday's business shall be No. 8, motion re parliamentary questions rota change; No. 19, statements on Catalonia; and No. 4, Finance Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 140, motion re national housing emergency selected by the Social Democrats-Green Party group.
Wednesday's business shall be No. 4, Finance Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 20, statements on the national planning framework; and No. 21, post-European Council statements. Private Members' Business shall be No. 141, motion re tracker mortgages, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday's business shall be No. 4, Finance Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed, if not previously concluded); No. 20, statements on the national planning framework; No. 8a, motion re Financial Resolutions for the Finance Bill 2017; and No. 5, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Fógra maidir le na socraithe atá molta le ghnó an seachtaine seo; I refer to the first revised report of the Business Committee dated 19 October 2017.
In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that:
(1) The motion re parliamentary questions rota change will be taken without debate;
(2) There shall be no Oral Questions to the Taoiseach under Standing Order 39, and Oral Questions to the Minister for Finance shall take place immediately after the motion re parliamentary questions rota change;
(3) There shall be no Topical Issues under Standing Order 29A; and
(4) The statements on Catalonia will commence immediately after questions to the Minister for Finance and shall be brought to a conclusion after 80 minutes, if not previously concluded. The statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead and shall not exceed ten minutes each, and all Members may share time.
Maidir le gnó Dé Céadaoin, is é atá molta:
(1) The Dáil shall sit at 10 a.m.
(2) The statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, on the national planning framework shall not exceed ten minutes each. The statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case and all Members may share time.
(3) The post-European Council statements shall commence immediately after Taoiseach's Questions and will be followed by questions to the Minister for Education and Skills. The statements shall be brought to a conclusion after 1 hour and 45 minutes, if not previously concluded. The statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed ten minutes each. A Minister or Minster of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes, with a five minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
(4) The Dáil shall sit later than 10.15 p.m. and shall adjourn not later than 11 p.m.
Maidir le gnó an Déardaoin, is é atá molta:
(1) The Dáil shall sit at 10 a.m.
(2) The Financial Resolutions for the Finance Bill 2017 shall be moved together and decided without debate by one question, and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
(3) There shall be a suspension of sitting on the conclusion of the voting block for 30 minutes.
(4) If proceedings on Second Stage of the Finance Bill 2017 conclude after the voting block on Thursday, any division demanded shall be taken immediately.
(5) Questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government shall be taken not later than 6 p.m. Statements on the national planning framework, if not previously concluded, shall be taken for not more than two hours following Topical Issues, and neither a committee report nor a Private Members' Bill shall be taken. The Dáil shall sit later than 7.48 p.m. and shall adjourn after statements on the national planning framework, or Topical Issues, whichever is the later.
(6) The Dáil, on its rising, shall adjourn until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 7 November 2017.
There are three proposals to be considered by the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with business on Wednesday as outlined agreed to?
I have one question on tomorrow's business. During Leaders' Question, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade said that the Minister for Finance would make a statement on the tracker mortgage scandal. Is it envisaged that this will happen during Fianna Fáil Private Members' time or will there be a separate statement in the House during Government time?
We have the business proposal before us. We are either agreeing to it or we are not. Can I take it that the proposal for Wednesday's business is agreed? Agreed. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, intends to propose an amendment to the Order for Thursday's business.
No. We would like to propose that the Business Committee be convened later to discuss two amendments to the Order of Business for Thursday. First, given that Saturday is the fifth anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar and in view of the fact that Thursday is the closest Dáil sitting day to that, we would like the committee to consider that a minute's silence be organised in the House on that day in her memory. Second, given that there is to be a national rail strike next Wednesday - the first of five strike days - and that the Dáil is not sitting next week and in light of the fact that there are strong indications that the CEO of Irish Rail, with the support of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, collapsed the talks last week, time should be set aside that day to discuss the national rail crisis.
I would like formally to object to the proposal for the Dáil to rise until 7 November. The House has only sat for six weeks since the beginning of this session.
There is a lot of legislation, as we have said to the Government mid-term and the summer. This includes the Technological Universities Bill and the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I take it that it is not the fault of the Oireachtas but it has not yet been produced by Government. However, I think it is excessive. That is my genuine view and I have been saying it to Deputies for quite some time. The Dáil should reconvene on Wednesday, 1 November and Thursday, 2 November, which used to be a normal occurrence after bank holiday weekends. It seems to me that there is a tendency for the Dáil to sit less and less as we go on. There may be a reason for that and Government may acquiesce in it for its reasons. We have a lot of work to do and we are not going to get it all done if it is to be sandwiched in on Wednesdays and Thursdays every week.
People talk about industrial disputes but we cannot deal with everything on Thursday. We just cannot do it and I do not see why we do not come back until 7 November. That is just a view.
It was agreed. The issue did come up but it was agreed. What about the staff who have booked holidays? What about all the other staff whose plans have been thrown into disarray just for grandstanding here by Deputy Martin? That is all it is. Grandstanding of the highest order.
Let us not have that sort of accusation being made. Let me make it clear that the Business Committee discussed the matter, that reservations were expressed about the Hallowe'en break, that agreement was reached by a majority of members of the Business Committee and that a calendar was produced. The intention was that the Members and staff of the Houses would know well in advance the schedule of work until Christmas. That was what was done.
On Deputy Mick Barry's proposal, I will ask the secretariat to the Business Committee to write to the other Members in relation to the two issues he has raised and we will revert to him. In light of that, is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?
As has been done already, I welcome the release of Ibrahim Halawa and wish him the best of health as he returns to his family and home in Dublin after such a terrible injustice being meted out to him and his being in prison for so long. I put on the record our appreciation of the work of the officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. They have long-standing experience in difficult situations such as this one and their work needs to be acknowledged, as well as that of the Ministers and the Members of this House, as led by the Ceann Comhairle. It is important to note that at times we do not recognise the professionalism of those in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when dealing with such difficult issues.
Others used Leaders' Questions but I was keeping my question for this item, so, if I may, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has been on the schedule for quite some time. A Government spokesperson in the Seanad wrongly accused this party of delaying it, which is an untrue statement. I have been pushing for this since the summer and we have indicated our support for the legislation. I am told by my colleagues in the Seanad, however, that they are told it will be dealt with this month, then next month and now that it will be another week or two before it will be presented. Will the Minister confirm when the Bill will be re-entered, if one likes, to the Seanad and the Oireachtas process?
I wish to restate my thanks to the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for their work and in particular to the ambassador and his team, and the previous ambassador and team, in Cairo. This has been a long-running problem for the Department to work on with the Halawa family and its legal team. It is great to see its happy ending today.
My understanding is that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is in the Seanad.
My question revolves around a commitment in the programme for Government, on page 5, to enhance the lives of those with disabilities. Lewis Harte is from Castlebar, County Mayo. He suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is a very serious life-limiting condition affecting a very small number of boys in Ireland. Lewis will turn six on 2 November, next Thursday. He is mobile, and he is full of fun. He is a gorgeous little boy but all of this will change in a matter of months if he is not granted access to the drug Translarna. The drug is available in 22 European countries. Children like Lewis have only a very small window of opportunity within which the drug is effective and the clock is ticking for Lewis. Another boy, three year old [name redacted], is in the same position. Both of these children risk losing their ambulatory capacity, in other words, they will not be able to walk. The Health Service Executive, HSE, has consistently denied children access to Translarna, the drug they desperately need. I am appealing for common sense, goodwill and decency to prevail in this case. Can the Minister give us some assurance that decency will prevail?
I will give the Deputy an assurance that I will raise it with the Minister. The Deputy knows how decisions are made on approval for drugs. I know the issue has been raised many times in this House that drugs that treat very rare conditions are sometimes in a different category. This is the first time I have heard of this particular six year old. I will raise it with the Minister for Health and respond to the Deputy.
I join others in warmly welcoming the release of Ibrahim Halawa and thank the consular section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the embassy staff in Cairo. I was very happy to be part of the delegation earlier this year and I am glad that this has come to a happy conclusion.
More than two years ago, I published the general scheme of the data sharing and governance Bill, the purpose of which was to streamline the number of occasions on which any individual citizen had to give the same personal information. It was also intended to enshrine in law best practice in data sharing to address some of the concerns of the public that have surfaced again recently. The last time I looked at the legislative agenda it stated that pre-legislative scrutiny had commenced. In fact, pre-legislative scrutiny was finished in July. When will we see the legislation here in the House?
The official position is that it has just finished pre-legislative scrutiny but even if that happened in July, we do not have an official date for when it will be brought before the House. I will try to get a response for the Deputy.
In respect of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, at lunchtime today there was a very sobering event organised by Alcohol Action Ireland to remind people that the consumption levels of alcohol are on the up again. It outlined in very stark terms the harmful impact drinking has on one in 11 children as a result of parental drinking. It also said that alcohol is implicated in approximately half of all suicides. This year, some 1,000 people in this country will be diagnosed with alcohol-related cancer.
It is 600 days since the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was published and started winding its way through the Seanad. By all accounts, the problems in the Seanad are the result of the failure of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to reach agreement on a compromise.
By all accounts, that is what is being said by Senators. Whatever the reason for the interminable delay in the Seanad, I appeal to the Minister to arrange to sit down with the leader of Fianna Fáil, find the reason for this logjam in the Seanad, put their heads together and move this Bill forward so this House can pass it because it is very much needed.
No, it is not all right that things like that are being said. The bottom line is that the Government withdrew the Bill from the Seanad and said Fine Gael will examine it. We have spoken to the Government and said that we support the Bill and that it should come back to the Seanad and come to this House as quickly as possible.
I know, and I try to update the House by asking for information from outside the House. Perhaps the Deputy could say "thanks". I am trying to get an answer for him. I know Deputy Shortall is very associated with this legislation and I remember the debates she brought forward relating to the alcohol Bill. All I can say to her is that the Minister is committed to this legislation and wants to bring it forward. It is due back in the Seanad very shortly and I would like to see it progress, as would the Government.
I thank all the emergency services that worked so hard and are still working, particularly ESB Networks, the council workers and everybody who dealt with and tried to help, such as the Red Cross, the Garda, and others. However, I have one issue to raise relating to the strategic infrastructure Bill, namely, Uisce Éireann. Uisce Éireann really is unfit for purpose and has been found out nakedly on this issue.
My question concerns Irish Water's role in disseminating information to us as representatives. It closed down the Oireachtas line at the weekend when everybody else was out trying to help and then gave us misleading-----
Irish Water should be brought to account because it is giving out misleading information. I do not want to call it anything stronger but that is what it is. It was telling me that water was back in places when it was not back until several days later. When I asked about some place in Tipperary, it talked about Buttevant in Cork and some place in Kilkenny. It is so serious it is almost funny, but it is a big issue and it must be dealt with.
First, I thank ESB Networks and Irish Water for their response to what was an extraordinary weather event. My understanding is that there are fewer than 50 houses without water as a result of Storm Ophelia. There were tens of thousands that did not have water at one point. Likewise, in terms of ESB connections, at one point, up to 350,000 households had no power. It is now down to somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 with most of them in the Cork area. There were co-ordination efforts across Government and Government Departments and through Irish Water and ESB Networks. Of course, we will test to make sure we can improve it for the next time if it should happen again but we should recognise the efforts that have been made.
Coillte and Bord na Móna are two key players in delivering the forestry targets contained in the programme for Government. The decision by Coillte to stop buying wood pulp from private operators in the forestry sector sends a very bad signal to the industry. Those operators have no other outlet for their wood pulp. In the context of meeting our climate change targets on biomass, it is completely the wrong signal for a semi-State company to be sending out.
I have control over many things but I not quite sure I have any power in the context of where Coillte sources its wood pulp. I take the point the Deputy is raising. During my time in a previous Ministry, I got to know Coillte very well. I do not know the strategic reason for its not sourcing wood pulp from private forestry operators, if, in fact, that is the case. I can certainly try to establish why but I do not have any further information today.
I want to raise with the Minister the commitments listed on page 5 of the programme for Government in respect of health in the context of prioritising increased access to safe and timely care as close to patients' homes as possible. The emergency department at Portlaoise hospital, which had almost 40,000 presentations last year, is to be closed according to the report which I have in my possession and which is due to be discussed tomorrow. It is authored by Dr. Susan O'Reilly, the head of the Dublin Midlands hospital group. The numbers attending Portlaoise hospital, including people from south Kildare, Laois and east Offaly, continue to increase. The report is due to be signed off tomorrow. The Minister for Health knows about it because he has had a similar report on his desk for the past 12 months. The full report was supposed to be released in September 2015 but we have not yet seen it. I plead with the Minister to discuss the matter with the Minister for Health this afternoon and to ensure that the report goes into the shredder.
I have raised the issue of the status of the Technological Universities Bill on seven occasions. I do so because it is a massive issue in Waterford and the south east. We are the only region without a university. We also have the highest unemployment rate and the lowest educational attainment rates. It is massively important that this issue be resolved. Last week, in response to Teachta Howlin, the House was informed that the legislation has been recommitted to Committee Stage and that amendments will be tabled at the appropriate committee. Is that happening? Has it happened? Can the Minister, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister for Education and Skills outline when the Bill will be brought to a conclusion?
University status for the south east is extremely important in order to ensure the continued growth of the region. My question is similar to that of my colleague, Deputy Cullinane. When will the Technological Universities Bill come before the House? When can we expect to see the legislation? It is important for us.
The Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, answered a question on this matter last week. The position is that a number of amendments were necessitated by the discussions with various stakeholders. Those amendments are at a very advanced stage in the Attorney General's office. The Minister of State indicated that she hoped to bring the Bill to committee at an early date. The ambition is to try, with the support of the House, to have it passed before Christmas with the support of the House.
Under the programme for Government and the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, the Department has encouraged and will fund what are known as turnkey projects. The basis of the project is that 10% of the funding will be delivered upfront and the remainder will be delivered once the project is complete and handed over. I understand that in the Minister's county of Cork, if a developer is willing to hand over land, 30% upfront funding is made available and this makes the development far more bankable and deliverable. I welcome that. I do not have any problem with it. In the context of procurement guidelines, I asked whether different rules apply to different counties.
If so, is that fair and can it be addressed? We cannot have a situation where developers in one county are trying to get something over the line and cannot get the necessary finance for it whereas in other counties they can. I welcome the initiative taken in Cork to allow 30% upfront funding.
In Cork city and county they are very proactive in trying to get projects moving. I do not know whether the funding initiative, which essentially is what it is, to try to help developers from a cash point of view is unique to Cork or is on the instruction of the Department. We can establish that for the Deputy. We should have a common approach - the best approach - to getting these projects moving quickly nationally.
I have a question on the programme for Government and a very serious anomaly. A person who applies for carer's allowance for someone who is terminally ill must wait four months for a decision. Unfortunately, sometimes, that time is not there for the person who wants to receive the carer's allowance because the person is terminally ill and does not have that time to spare. Somebody needs to explain to the Minister that this will have to be expedited. Once the person is terminally ill and once the proper medical evidence is in, the carer's allowance should be granted immediately upon applying for it. It is a very fair and ordinary request.
I am not personally familiar with the exact procedures and timelines. I take the point the Deputy makes. We clearly cannot stand over it taking four months to make a decision on the care of a person who may not have that time. I presume there is a streamlined decision-making process that is possible in those circumstances. If that is not the case, I can certainly ask the Department of Health to revert to the Deputy on it.
I join in the words of satisfaction that Ibrahim Halawa has returned home having been released from prison. A total of 32 people have applied for transfer into this country from prisons abroad. Surely we should be equally anxious for them to come home. They were coming home at a rate of about six a year until there was a difficulty in the courts in 2014. Last year, only one person was repatriated. It is very appropriate to ask this question today. When will the transfer of sentenced persons and transfer of execution of sentences Bill, which has been on the legislation programme for years, come before the Dáil in order to facilitate the repatriation of people incarcerated abroad to our country?
I am told that work on that legislation is ongoing. It is important to point out that the case of Ibrahim Halawa was different because we had to wait until it was concluded and there was a verdict. He was found innocent of all charges. Therefore, he is a free man and an innocent man. He is not somebody who is incarcerated and needs to be brought home potentially to serve a sentence in Ireland or anything like that. I can understand why the Deputy is raising it today and it is a fair point.
It is important to emphasise that in the Halawa case, Ibrahim was found innocent of all charges and, as result of that, he has travelled home as a free man with an Irish passport.
Can the Minister advise the status of the non-fatal offences against the person (amendment) Bill, which I understand will focus on addressing aspects of the Law Reform Commission report from last year, which is particularly important for the work of the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs in respect of its hearings on cyber security? The Minister might update the House on that matter.
Regarding the programme for Government and promised legislation, will an amendment to the Finance Act be tabled to allow for the recommendations of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, to make additional moneys available to double the number of restored posts of responsibility by September 2018? It is not feasible to expect schools currently to implement new initiatives while continuing to deny them the necessary management capacity to do so. The Minister might make comment on that.
The programme for Government states that the Government will use appropriate avenues to express its perspective on the UK membership of the EU, including to the British Government. On that basis, can the Minister update me on the Government's efforts to succeed in this regard? Also, will he join me in condemning any calls being made for a hard border to be built on our island, which has been advocated by some element within Fianna Fáil this week?
The Brexit negotiations are ongoing. The view of Government is crystal clear. We will not support any form of hard border at any point. We have made it a priority of the EU task force, which is negotiating these issues, to ensure there is no Border infrastructure whatsoever within the Border or on the island of Ireland. That is our focus, regardless of what other parties have been adding to that conversation.
The Government is preparing for a major revamp of commercial rates. Many businesses and small and medium enterprises, SMEs, are depending on the Bill that will deal with them coming before the House. Local authorities will be given the power to reduce their rates. I come from Dundalk, where many small wee businesses are struggling to cope with the cost of rents, rates, insurance and other expenses. This is a very important issue. In his previous role as Minister with responsibility for the environment, the Minister pushed very hard in this respect. Can he advise what is happening with respect to commercial rates?
This is comprehensive legislation and it is going forward for pre-legislative scrutiny. It essentially will modernise our rates legislation that dates back to the 1920s. It will allow local authorities to have more autonomy in terms of altering those rates up and down in a way that can drive commercial activity into certain parts of certain counties and cities. This legislation is badly needed. The sooner we can co-operate with other parties to bring it forward, the better.