Wednesday, 8 November 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
In the programme for Government, there is a clear commitment to reduce emergency department overcrowding and numbers coming into hospitals as well as to expand hospital capacity. Will the Taoiseach outline his response to the fact that in October there were 8,903 patients admitted for care for whom there was no inpatient bed? That is a 15% increase when compared to October 2016. In the first ten months of this year, 82,059 patients were admitted for care with no inpatient beds available, an 8% increase on the first ten months of 2016. Also, the figures confirm that in October the levels of overcrowding in Dublin hospitals have increased when compared to 2016. In essence, the hospitals in Limerick, Galway, Cork, south Tipperary and St. Luke's General Hospital-----
All five hospitals are top of the list in terms of overcrowding. It seems that the commitment in the programme for Government is not being fulfilled in respect of the overcrowding in our emergency departments.
October certainly was a bad month in terms of overcrowding in our hospitals. It is important to examine the statistics produced by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to see the extraordinary variance that arises among hospitals. Deputy Martin mentioned a number in which the figures were very bad, including the hospitals in Limerick and Kilkenny. These hospitals have new emergency departments and extra staff and resources. In contrast, overcrowding at Beaumont Hospital is at its second lowest since the nurses started counting trolleys, and in Blanchardstown it is the third lowest. In St. James's Hospital overcrowding is the lowest in five years and for St. Vincent's University Hospital it is the lowest in four years. In Cavan General Hospital overcrowding is at its lowest in a long time. If this demonstrates anything, it is that the problem is not simply about resources or staffing because there seems to be no connection whatsoever between staffing and resourcing levels and the level of overcrowding. This is principally about clinical leadership, management and other matters. That is what makes it so much harder to deal with. If it was as simple as writing a cheque, we would have solved this problem a long time ago.
I wish to reassure the Deputy that November is looking a little better as the winter plan is being implemented. Today, the HSE figures indicate a total of 287 patients are on trolleys in acute hospitals nationally. That is down 25% on this day last year. The first week in November has seen numbers fall steadily. I cannot promise that this will continue, but through the additional provision of home care and social care in particular, I hope it will.
The confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil led to the creation of the expert commission on water. A key recommendation from this group was equity for those on group water schemes. This view was unanimously endorsed by all the members of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services. Despite this, people in rural Ireland continue to pay a standing charge for water. While the Government Water Services Bill, which concluded in the House today, deals with this matter for urban Ireland, charges for those in rural Ireland remain. Can the Taoiseach tell us when the Government will bring forward legislation and regulation to ensure full equality for those in rural Ireland on group water schemes?
I do not believe any legislation is promised on that matter, but I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, to correspond with the Deputy directly.
In July I asked the Taoiseach about the tenancy deposit protection scheme. It was to be operated by the Residential Tenancies Board. We enacted legislation in the House to bring that about. Subsequent to my raising this with the Taoiseach I received a letter from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, stating that the matter was to be reviewed again. I do not know why we cannot simply implement the legislation we have. When does the Government intend to provide protection for tenants' deposits, as the House required, and enforce the legislation that we have enacted?
The legislation is done, as the Deputy acknowledges, and it is something I strongly support. It will be beneficial to have a system by which deposits are held by a third party and not by the landlord for many reasons that people in the House will understand. I understand there have been some difficulties in getting the system set up. However, I do not have up-to-date information on it. I will certainly ask the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to provide and update to me and to the Deputy.
When the Taoiseach was in the United States recently he repeated his threat to attempt to restrict the right to strike for workers in essential services. The Taosieach's comment in the middle of a national rail strike has the potential to pour fuel on the flames and to make a settlement more difficult. Can the Taoiseach inform the House of his intentions to bring forward amendments of a Thatcherite character to the Industrial Relations Act 1990?
The Taoiseach said yesterday that the problem with the issue of progressing Private Members' business in this House was that we had not adopted the Dunning report. A meeting of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform agreed that the first Dunning report was not being implemented. However, the main culprit in that regard is the Government, which, despite a request from the Parliament to advertise the job of head of legal services in February, has not sanctioned the recruitment. If anyone is delaying this, it is the Government.
The second Dunning report would be restrictive on the powers of the Legislature. I believe this is the view of virtually all members of the committee which examined the matter. Indeed, I am afraid the second report will not be implemented as is. Will the Government ensure that the advertisement for legal services support is sanctioned straight away? Will the Government engage with the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform to ensure that we free up Private Members' legislation processes here rather than blocking issues and muddying order messages as a way of stopping the Legislature working? That is what is happening at present.
I was at that meeting. I wish to inform the House that we are in discussions, as you are aware, a Cheann Comhairle. We are due to meet again on this issue. It is important that we find a pathway that has all-party consent, but we do not have that yet. We agreed today that we would further examine the matter. I believe we need a solution on this issue. One of the things that will be available is resourcing if we can get all-party consent.
My question relates to promised legislation or the programme for Government. Where does it say the Government is going to try to criminalise car owners who allow unaccompanied young drivers to drive their vehicles? At a time when there are considerable waiting times for tests, the Government is criminalising ordinary decent young people who want to get educated and who are trying to go to work. The Taoiseach has talked about people getting up in the morning. These are young students who are trying to go to work to better themselves and pay for their education. The Government is hurting these people as well as those who do not have public transport facilities in their areas.
They have to use a car belonging to their mother or father or perhaps an uncle or aunt. Yesterday, out of the blue and on a day when trains were not operating, the Government announced it would criminalise ordinary, decent, respectable people. Will the Taoiseach explain why it did that?
That provision, which is being brought forward as an amendment to the Road Traffic Act, was approved by the Cabinet yesterday. I draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that 13 people with learner permits, mainly young men and women, have died on our roads so far this year and of these, 11 were driving unaccompanied. Perhaps if they had complied with the law and had been accompanied, they would still be alive today.
I agree with the Taoiseach's last comment.
When will a road traffic law consolidation Bill be introduced? The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, has spoken of a timeframe for such legislation and of involving the Law Reform Commission. Will a Bill be introduced or is this just talk?
Yesterday, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, published the McCartan report on the Stardust tragedy of 1981. The report has been rejected out of hand by the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee. It was based on very narrow terms of reference with which I and most other Deputies disagreed during the debate that led to the establishment of the McCartan inquiry in January last. Deputies wanted a full commission of investigation into the issue. Will the House have an opportunity in the coming weeks to discuss the McCartan report, which is on the clár of the Dáil today?
The scheduling of the business of the House is a matter for the Business Committee.
On the road traffic law consolidation legislation, this is, it is fair to say, a longstanding project in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I am not sure how much progress has been made on the legislation as yet.
A consolidated Bill would be a very good step forward. We have consolidated corporate law and taxation legislation. Road traffic law is heavily litigated and the fact that there are so many Acts amending and overlapping other Acts makes it even easier for solicitors to get their clients off when they should not get off. I will discuss the matter with the Minister as I would like to see it prioritised.
The foreign policy section of the programme for Government is grandly titled "Ireland and the world" and contains the following phrase: "we must articulate ourselves on the world stage, contribute to peace-building initiatives across the globe..." Did this statement trigger the recent proposed expedition to North Korea? Will the Taoiseach provide the House with an updated position on this expedition because the world is waiting?
There will be no Government mission to North Korea. Having said that, Members of the House are free to travel anywhere they like in their own capacity and at their own expense.
Page 86 of the programme for Government refers to education as the key to giving every child an equal opportunity in life. Despite the commitment in the budget to reduce teacher-pupil ratios and provide new teachers, schools are experiencing significant difficulties sourcing substitute cover, with substitute teachers not available within 80 km of many schools. It has been suggested the reason for this crisis is teachers' inability to source affordable rental accommodation and that they are leaving to find work abroad to earn deposits to purchase property. What steps does the Department of Education and Skills intend to take to address what appears to be an upcoming crisis?
The Deputy's question would be best addressed to the Minister for Education and Skills. I will, however, share one thought with him. The number of teachers being hired is increasing every year. We hired 2,000 extra teachers this year and 2,000 last year. We are not having a significant difficulty hiring teachers. However, it may be that because we are hiring teachers and so many of them are securing permanent jobs, fewer teachers are available to do substitution.
Earlier this year, Deputies voted by a margin of 80 to 51 not to regionalise the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, and Citizens Information Board. However, the policy of regionalisation is proceeding against the will of the House and despite a direction from Deputies not to do so. The first port of call for those who lose their home or get into financial trouble is to contact their local MABS or Citizens Information Board office. Members of these organisations do wonderful work for all those who contact them. Why is the policy of regionalising these offices still being pursued? It is another attack on rural Ireland. Given that local offices are doing wonderful work, why is the system being dismantled, which is upsetting those who are doing wonderful work for all those people in trouble who contact them?
I understand the decision was made by the Citizens Information Board and is not one for the Minister or House. I reassure the Deputy, however, that there are no plans to close any of the local Citizens Information Board centres or MABS offices. What is happening is the regionalisation of the board structures for reasons of good corporate governance. However, the local MABS offices and Citizens Information Board centres will remain open.
When will the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 be completed? Will the Taoiseach confirm the Bill is required to place the national planning framework on a statutory footing? When does he envisage the House voting on the Bill given that it is due to be completed in December? Will he confirm to the House the exact sequence of events required for the adoption of the national planning framework?
I understand the Bill is on Report Stage. I cannot say when it will be completed as that is obviously a matter for Members and dependent on the number of amendments tabled and the outcome of votes. The Government is keen to have the Bill completed by the end of the year.
I received an email this morning from Pamela Goss, the wife of Mr. Fintan Goss who left for work on Monday, 16 October last and did not come home. He died on his way from work in Dundalk during Storm Ophelia. The Goss family have many questions about what happened on the day in question. What are the rules or guidance for employers in respect of dangers during a status red weather warning? What guidelines were issued to employers, the self-employed and those working in the public sector for turning up for work on Monday, 16 October 2017? Much has been made of the correct decision to close every school in the country in the interests of safety. However, there was widespread confusion before, during and after Storm Ophelia as to the position regarding private sector employers and other parts of the public sector.
The Taoiseach conveyed the condolences of the country and Government to the Goss family and stated the most important issue was to ensure no one else loses his or her life. He also pleaded with people to put safety first. Those are fine words but they are of little comfort to the Goss family because putting safety first was interpreted differently by some employers and managers. Fintan Goss is dead because someone decided he should stay at work while others in the company were sent home earlier in the day. The resulting confusion and lack of clarity are the reasons Fintan Goss's children have no father, his wife Pamela has no husband and the Goss family has lost a son and brother. I will give the Taoiseach a copy of the email I received. I ask him to answer my questions.
I thank Deputy Fitzpatrick for raising this important matter and extend again my condolences to Mr. Goss's family in County Louth. Yesterday, the Cabinet discussed the response to Storm Ophelia. Although I believe that, in the round, people accept the storm was well managed, there are always lessons that can be learned and lessons can be learned from the deaths that occurred. A report will be done and submitted to Cabinet in January 2018. One of the issues it will examine is how we can better define what public safety warnings mean. It is acknowledged that there is a very clear mechanism in place for closing schools and public officers. There was, however, confusion regarding what private sector businesses and self-employed persons should do. We acknowledge that there is a shortcoming in this area from which we intend to learn. I hope we will give some clarity on this issue on which we should have an answer by January.
Ireland signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. The programme for Government stated the Government would ensure legislation was put to the Oireachtas by Christmas 2016.
We are almost at Christmas 2017 with no sign of this coming before the House. Can the Taoiseach advise me as to the progress of this vital legislation for those living with disabilities in this country?
We are working on that. There is a solemn Government commitment to ratify the convention. There is an area of legislation that has not been fully dealt with, that is, around the protection of liberty. It is quite complex legislation that we may need to enact in this House before we can sign the convention. It might be possible to sign it without having done that. I am aware other countries have done so but we have a different approach to the ratification of conventions than other countries.
My question has to do with the international recovery of child support Bill. As the Taoiseach will be aware, this Bill will implement the Hague Convention and the Hague protocol on the international recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance from abroad. I have a few constituents, as have many of my colleagues, who are finding it difficult to recover maintenance from persons living abroad. I want to know have the heads of this Bill been prepared yet.
I do not think so. I have not seen the heads and I would have seen them if they had been done. The answer to the Deputy's question is no. I will get a comprehensive answer for the Deputy and reply by correspondence.
In the programme for Government, it is outlined that there will be new investment in public services which will allow the Government to recruit additional front-line service professionals such as nurses and teachers. My comments relate to what Deputy Breathnach has said. Is the Lansdowne Road agreement and its replacement sufficient to deal with the haemorrhaging of front-line staff that we are seeing across the teaching profession and also across the nursing and health care professions? The Taoiseach, along with other TDs and myself, received an email from 35 principals in Dublin 15 which relates to the shortage of substitute teachers. In September, 546 school days were lost due to the absence of cover and substitute teachers. I wonder whether the Taoiseach feels the current public pay agreements are fit for purpose or should there be a Dublin focus to ensure retention of front-line staff who cannot afford to live here? I know the Taoiseach is aware of the problems.
I do not believe the Deputy is correct to say that we are seeing a haemorrhaging of staff. As I mentioned earlier, we have many thousands more teachers employed by the State every year and perhaps part of the reason it is difficult to find teachers to cover substitution is that they are being hired into permanent positions. The solution to substitution might be asking more retired teachers to come back and cover supervision and paying them to do so rather than looking for younger teachers who used to be on temporary contracts or working hours who now have full-time positions.
We are certainly having difficulty recruiting in nursing. Nonetheless, we have the fifth highest number of nurses per head in the western world, which is a significant statistic that many do not know, and we have more doctors and midwives hired in the health service than ever before. There is not a haemorrhaging.
That is not to say that there is not a difficulty recruiting in some areas, particularly health care and certain parts of the Defence Forces. We have asked the Public Sector Pay Commission to examine that specifically.
The Taoiseach's closing comments lead me nicely to the next question. The programme for Government, at page 5, on health, guarantees the future sustainability of GP practices in rural Ireland. The Taoiseach mentioned the number of doctors being recruited. However, in rural Ireland we are not seeing them. There appears to be a policy at HSE level to consolidate services around primary care centres in urban areas. While I certainly welcome the primary care centres as a positive, they are not a substitute for a local GP for those, often elder and immobile, who live in rural areas. What practical steps have been taken under this commitment to fulfil this sustainability? The rural practitioner allowance, which was previously a viability cheque for GPs to operate in such situations, has been discontinued and the hiring practices of the HSE have been to delay and prolong uncertainty about certain practices which has led to their demise. What steps are being taken under this commitment to support rural GP services?
GPs are not recruited. They are self-employed contractors. It is slightly different to doctors who are employed in hospitals and in the public health service.
The rural practice allowance has not been discontinued. It has actually been increased, and it is easier to qualify-----
----- than it was previously. I myself signed that order 18 months ago. The kind of GP that my father would have been was willing to get up and go out on house calls every night, would come home to find my mother would have a message for him to go out again, and would work every weekend. The world has changed and lifestyles have changed. Also, the nature of general practice has changed and one can provide a better quality of care in group practices now than a single-handed GP can, except for a small number of extremely dedicated doctors who still do that.
There are contract negotiations under way currently between the IMO and the Minister for Health. One matter that is under consideration which might work for rural areas is having a salaried GP, somebody who would be for the first time a State employee as opposed to a private contractor. I do not know whether doctors will want to do that or not. The world of work has changed and doctors may not be willing to do in the future the kind of work they were willing to do in the past.
In the programme for Government, the Taoiseach indicated his support for regeneration projects. While investment in the physical regeneration of Ballymun carried out by Ballymun Regeneration Limited, effectively Dublin City Council, is somewhat complete, there are residual social and economic deficiencies. One obvious glaring gap in the completion of the project is the development of a central shopping mall area. Dublin City Council has purchased the old shopping centre which was always the heartbeat of Ballymun providing employment, social and community interaction and contributing to the local community. Ballymun urgently needs a new central shopping area to consolidate the achievements and gains of over two decades of regeneration. Could the Taoiseach, his Department and Dublin City Council ensure that the regeneration is complete by pursuing and prioritising this goal and help recreate the community and social quarter that was always there and has sadly been lost?
-----which is, of course, the Sinn Féin Party, who are doing a terrible job for our city and who are much more interested in having votes about what flags they will fly-----
I want to raise the issue of SI 394 of 2017 regarding Education Support Centres (Appointment and Secondment of Directors) Regulations 2017. It has to do with education support centres and education centres throughout the State. Basically, the change means that directors cannot serve more than five consecutive years and they cannot be rotated. As the Taoiseach will be aware, one may be on the board of a limited company for five years after which a proportion of the directors must stand down and be reappointed. SI 394 of 2017, which was signed by the Minister for Education and Skills on 1 September 2017, prevents that from happening. It will be deemed to have passed after 21 sitting days unless it is brought to the attention of the House for debate. I have been contacted by persons working in the education sector who are concerned about this and I raise this as a result. The point they make is that after five years on the board, one is losing that corporate knowledge. They set out a coherent case for that. I do not want to take up the time of the House with that. In a debate, maybe we can do that. I ask that we table this statutory instrument for debate in the House as soon as possible. By the way, today is day 19. We have 21 sitting days to debate this. I ask that in the interests of good governance in the education centres around the country, we press the pause button on this statutory instrument, we have a concise debate here in the Dáil - I do not wish to hold up or stop progress - and we try and improve this. This statutory instrument, SI 394 of 2017, is seriously flawed-----
I am afraid I am not familiar with the particular statutory instrument. My understanding is that, under the rules of the House, the House can rescind a statutory instrument within a certain number of days.
I am not sure whether it is 21 days or 21 sitting days.
I am also unsure about the mechanism by which that is done because it is not in my purview to control the business of the House.
This might be fixable too. Fermoy town in north Cork has the lovely amenity of the River Blackwater flowing through it, providing immense tourism and sporting facilities for the area. However, there is a major problem in that the weir is crumbling. Three State bodies are mixed up about who is going to lead the project. I am bringing this to the floor of the House because this comes under the EU habitats directive, step four of which requires assessment and conservation, but we seem to be failing in that at the moment. The weir is in a dangerous state and if we get another flood on the River Blackwater, it could go. The fishermen are up in arms, as are members of the rowing club. Will the Taoiseach urge his Ministers to talk to the various bodies, including Inland Fisheries Ireland, the OPW-----
I am trying to push this under the EU directive. In the interim, will the Taoiseach, under section 107 of the fisheries Act of 1959, ask that all fishing be prohibited within 100 metres of the weir in Fermoy?
I thank Deputy O'Keeffe for the question. I will certainly raise this with Inland Fisheries Ireland and come back to the Deputy with a response. If there are safety issues, clearly, something needs to be done. I will also liaise with the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, and revert to the Deputy on the matter.
I recently discovered by way of a reply to a parliamentary question that between 4,000 and 6,000 gardaí were injured in the course of their duties, some very seriously. In that context, when will the Garda Síochána compensation Bill be introduced in the House?
Many sports clubs in Kildare and around the country applied for funding under the sports capital programme earlier this year. They are trying to plan for the next phases of their developments, upgrades and expansions. Will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport tell the House when we can expect the final decision to be made and when the clubs can expect to be informed of same?
I thank Deputy Heydon for his question. We had an unprecedented number of applications to the sports capital programme for 2017. A total of 2,320 clubs nationwide applied and the value of their applications was €155 million. Initially there was a budget of €30 million. We were able to increase that to €60 million, €56 million of which will go to local sports capital applications. We expect to be able to announce the allocations in the coming weeks, it is hoped within the next fortnight. The announcement will include a per capitaallocation for each county, so Kildare will be very well looked after.
On page 46 of the programme for Government is a recognition that one of the biggest challenges facing rural Ireland is bridging the digital divide with urban areas. As such, it sets out the national broadband plan and identifies that a tendering process is under way which will be completed with the signing of a contract in June 2017. That has not happened. I have posed numerous questions to the Minister concerned but have been unable to get any kind of indicative timeframe for the signing of this contract which would give some clarity to the approximately 540,000 premises that are to be covered under the national broadband plan. There are some small businesses included in that number too. What we need is a timeframe and a plan that sets out the Government's intentions in this regard.
I share the Deputy's frustration with how long it is taking to sort out this contract. It looks like it will be next year before the contract is signed. Once it is signed, however, it will allow us to become the first country in the world to connect every home and business to fibre, which will be a real achievement. I am frustrated that the contract will not be signed until next year. I should say, separate to that, that the percentage of homes and businesses connected to broadband is increasing all of the time. It was 52% when this Government took office last year, it is about 67% now and will be 77% by the end of next year. That said, those last 500,000 premises need this contract and we will get it signed as soon as possible.
The programme for Government committed to a mid-term capital review, the outcome of which we saw in the recent budget. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport acknowledged that his Department saw the greatest increase in capital expenditure of all Departments. The Taoiseach and I are well aware that in the west of Dublin traffic congestion is consistent daily. We are also looking at greater housing development through strategic development zones, SDZs, in Adamstown and Clonburris. I am sorry to have to ask the Taoiseach about this today but I am bringing this matter up now because I have asked a series of questions of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and, quite frankly, the answers are absolute rubbish. There is clearly identified additional capital funding available and I am trying to find out how many additional buses are likely to run next year, when Kishoge station will open, and when the Kildare route will be electrified. I have asked a number of very specific questions but I cannot get a simple, direct answer from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on how this additional funding will be spent.
I am sorry but I have come here today having gone through the normal channels. It is the lack of clarity that I am raising here. The best answer that I occasionally get from the Minister is that he will ask the National Transport Authority, NTA, to write to me. The money has been allocated but we cannot see the outcome or what tangible steps are going to be taken this year. I do not expect the Taoiseach to have the answers now but I would ask him to liaise with the Minister and encourage him to be more forthright and more forthcoming. In our area, apart from the congestion, we are planning for very significant increases in housing and we need the public transport and road network to match. I cannot get answers, despite the increased funding having been identified in the budget.
I do not know the answers to the Deputy's questions, to be very frank. An additional €1.3 billion has been allocated to transport for the next four years on top of what was already allocated. A ten-year capital plan will be published, it is hoped by the end of the year, and I would anticipate that it will give us a bit more clarity. As a representative for west Dublin, I acknowledge the need for a very significant improvement in public transport in terms of the implementation of BusConnects and the electrification of the DART line to Maynooth and the Kildare line, but we do not have dates just yet.
For seven years, the Government and its predecessor have shirked their responsibility to bring forward proposals for updating the wind energy guidelines of 2006. Many local communities are living in fear of pending planning applications. They are concerned about the lack of public consultation and engagement with communities and the fact that the guidelines have not been put on a statutory footing. We know that the two Labour Party Ministers in the previous Government could not agree on what needed to be done. Can the two Ministers in the current Government agree on what needs to be done? When will legislation be in place governing planning applications for wind farms?
I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to reply to the Deputy.