Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Order of Business
Today's business shall be No. 30, post-European Council statements; No. 31, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed); and Private Members' business shall be No. 168, motion re trolley crisis, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday's business shall be statements on the Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution; No. 31, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed); and Private Members' business shall be No. 169, motion re reimbursing staff of section 39 agencies, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday's business shall be No. 31, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed), if not previously concluded; and No. 32, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (resumed), if not previously concluded.
I refer to the second revised report of the Business Committee dated 15 January 2018 in respect of today's business. It is proposed that:
(1) post European Council statements shall commence immediately after Taoiseach's Questions and will be followed by Questions to the Minister for Rural and Community Development. The statements will be brought to a conclusion after 1 hour and 45 minutes, if not previously concluded, and shall be confined to a single round for An Taoiseach and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a member nominated in their stead, for a period not exceeding ten minutes each. A Minister or Minister of State shall take questions and answers 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;
(2) Notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 143F, the rota for Private Members' business on 16 to 23 January, shall be in the following temporary sequence: Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Social Democrats-Green Party group, whereupon the sequence in the Standing Order shall continue; and
(3) Private Members' business shall be taken at 8 p.m., or on the conclusion of the Topical Issue debate, whichever is the later, for two hours and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' business.
With regard to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
(1) there shall be no Taoiseach's questions and the sos, in accordance with Standing Order 25(1), shall take place on the conclusion of Questions on Promised Legislation; and
(2) the opening round of statements on the Report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, for a period not exceeding 20 minutes each. In the following round, statements shall be confined to members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution for a period not exceeding 20 minutes each. All other Members shall have 20 minutes each, with a ten-minute response from the Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. The statements shall adjourn at 8.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, to take Second Stage, resumed, of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, unless previously concluded. If the proceedings on Second Stage of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 conclude before 10.15 p.m., the statements shall resume.
With regard to Thursday's business, it is proposed that:
(1) the proceedings on Second Stage of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 4.30 p.m. and any division demanded on the conclusion of Second Stage on Thursday shall be taken on Tuesday 23 January 2017 after the Order of Business;
(2) the Topical Issue debate shall take place not later than 7 p.m.; and
(3) no Private Members' Bill shall be taken under Standing Order 140A and no committee report shall be taken under Standing Order 91(2).
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?
It is not agreed. I would like an explanation from the Chief Whip as to why the decision taken by the Business Committee last week to allow each Member a ten-minute slot in the debate on the referendum on the eighth amendment was changed to allow for 20-minute slots. Could he explain why it is necessary for each speaker to have 20 minutes? My understanding is that both the Chief Whip and the Minister for Health contacted the business office to seek a doubling of the time allocated. I also understand that every Deputy in this House is entitled to speak for 20 minutes. That would effectively allow for 52.3 hours of debate on the joint committee's report if every Deputy wanted to use his or her 20 minutes. It just does not make sense. How much can one say about this issue, which we have been debating for years? Women's health has waited long enough. Could we please accept the proposal from Solidarity–People Before Profit to revert to the original decision of the Business Committee, that is, to allow for ten-minute slots?
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I, for one, was incensed when I saw we were to deal with such an important issue by allowing Members slots of only ten minutes when we have 20 minutes slots for any other issue, from climate change to a fly going up a wall. This is a very important issue and should not be rushed with indecent haste. I contacted the Whip's office, as did the Ceann Comhairle, to demand that we would have adequate time to discuss the momentous decision to repeal the eighth amendment, which has stood the country in good stead for so many decades.
Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.
We will proceed to questions on promised legislation. I will call the party leaders who have indicated and then I will use the card system to identify other contributors.
Déanaim mo chomhbhrón le clanna Dolores O'Riordan faoina bás. Ceoltóir agus amhránaí den scoth ab ea í. Bhí tionchar faoi leith aici ar chúrsaí ceoil agus clú agus cáil uirthi ar fud an domhain.
I want to send my personal sympathies to the children and the family of Dolores O'Riordan, a world-class musician and singer, a great ambassador for Irish music and creativity, who had a huge impact on many generations. She also spoke frankly and gave important insights into life itself. While world famous, she retained throughout that time a great commitment and connection to her native city, Limerick, her family and tradition. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
May I raise an issue on the Order of Business?
We were told it was arranged for the Order of Business. That is why I was waiting. Obviously, there has been a miscommunication somewhere.
Deputy Lowry raised the difficult plight of Scoil Aonghusa in Tipperary which I visited with Deputy Jackie Cahill. I must comment on the wonderful telepathy between the Taoiseach and Deputy Lowry on the needs of Scoil Aonghusa, needs which I support and endorse. I hope the same telepathy will apply to other Deputies across the country for their specific projects in their constituencies.
It brings to mind the wider issue, despite what the Taoiseach has said, concerning the significant disconnect between the rhetoric and reality for many special needs children across the country in accessing to physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, as well as mental health services. Will he outline when the sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act relating to the rights of children with special needs will be commenced? It is over a decade since the relevant sections, which will give rights to children with special needs, were enacted but never commenced. We have this significant debate about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, to a large extent, it is meaningless when we are not prepared to commence the relevant sections of legislation we passed in the Oireachtas over a decade ago.
The Taoiseach spelled out the work done in the Department with a 44% increase in the resources being invested in this area, a massive expansion in the number of resource teachers with 3,000 extra special needs assistants, SNAs, and 1,500 extra resource teachers in the past two years.
It has always been indicated that until the service has been developed further that the cost of implementing this would be significant. The Department has not been in a position to date to implement the terms to which the Deputy referred. That does not in any way diminish the commitment in this area to develop programmes and to see that children with special needs are not only welcomed but fulfil their potential.
I am sorry for interrupting the leader of Fianna Fáil as he waffles on and on.
In 2016, the Government committed to a hospital bed capacity review. This is crucial in the context of the trolley crisis in our emergency departments. It became so serious last week that Tallaght hospital had to place adults in a children's ward. According to trolley watch, 98,981 admitted patients were on trolleys in 2017. That is a record figure and a damning indictment of the Government's health policy.
In November, we were told that the bed capacity review would be published by the end of the year. Last week, we were told that it would be at the end of this month. In the meantime, The Irish Timeshas carried extracts from the review. Instead of leaking the review to the media, will the Government publish it in advance of discussion at Cabinet in order Members can scrutinise it? When will the health service capacity review be published?
It will be published this month. The Minister for Health has not brought it to Cabinet yet but he intends to do so in the next week or two. As Deputy Adams correctly pointed out, it has been widely leaked to the newspapers. The content should come as no surprise to anyone.
It proposes, alongside reforms to our health service, that we will need 2,500 additional acute beds between now and 2021.
I should repeat what I said. The Government did not need a bed capacity review report to tell it that we need additional beds in hospitals. We have been increasing the number of beds for the past two years at the rate of approximately 150 to 200 a year. That work was under way, even before the report was produced. Even if there was no overcrowding in hospitals, we would still need to increase bed capacity because of our growing and ageing population and the new things the health service can do.
I am sure it was inadvertent, but the Taoiseach's comments in the past week on the eighth amendment of the Constitution have produced a little confusion. Therefore, I ask him to clarify what he said. There are two issues at stake, one of which is the holding of a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution, while the second is the nature of any legislation that would flow in the event that the referendum to repeal is passed. In the case of the first issue, is it the Government's intention to bring before the House a repeal simpliciterresolution, or is work ongoing to amend the recommendation of the all-party committee?
The Government and the Cabinet have not yet made a decision on the issue. I am keen to hear people's views. We had a good discussion at the Cabinet last week. I also attended a meeting yesterday of my parliamentary party which lasted for five hours to hear views across the parliamentary party on the issue. There will be a debate on it in the Dáil and the Seanad in the next couple of days. At that point, having listened to the views of Members and the public, a proposal will be brought to the Cabinet. It will need to have two elements, including a referendum Bill to allow for the repeal of the eighth amendment. The Government does not propose to come up with a new wording, but one thing that has to be considered is the proposal of the Citizens' Assembly to have an enabling provision specifying that legislation in this area would be the sole prerogative of the Oireachtas, not the courts, because, as the Deputy knows, there are other rights listed in the Constitution. We are awaiting advice from the Attorney General on that issue because we would find ourselves in a very strange position if we were to repeal the eighth amendment only to find that there were other rights to life in other parts of the Constitution that might make any legislation we would pass unconstitutional. We have to obtain the Attorney General's advice on that issue. The Government will also produce the heads - a detailed draft scheme - of any legislation which would be brought before this House after a referendum should it be passed. We need to bear in mind that once, or if, the eighth amendment is removed from the Constitution, the legislation would then be in the purview of the Oireachtas and that the Government does not have a majority in the House.
On the same subject, the Taoiseach has stated his desire which we share that the referendum take place in May. A significant concern we have which is partially expressed by Deputy Bríd Smith's concerns about the time the various debates could take to complete relates to whether it will happen and that we will actually have the referendum in May. I do not see in anything the Taoiseach has said or any issue he has raised any reason the legislation required to ensure the referendum will take place should not be published and placed in front of us. Regardless of all of the other ancillary issues involved, where is the legislation to enable the referendum to be held? It is simple legislation which does not require major consultation. It is just to allow for the holding of a referendum. If the Government is having difficulty in drafting it, there is legislation on the Statute Book which was debated in this House. We need the legislation and a clear commitment that there will not be any delay, excuses, technicalities, obstacles, filibustering or anything else that will prevent the referendum from taking place in May which is when we will hear the voice of the public. We have had enough debate here. We need to hear the voice of the public in a referendum.
The process of having a Citizens' Assembly, referring matters to an Oireachtas committee and making decisions at the Cabinet and in this House was established by the Government.
Despite what other people may think, it was never about delaying tactics or long-fingering this issue. I do not want to long finger it either.
I am committed to having a referendum in May or June if possible. However, I answered the Deputy's question in my previous reply. Before members of the public vote in a referendum, they will want to have some indication as to what legislation this House will enact if the eighth amendment is repealed. As the Deputy is aware, if the amendment was repealed tomorrow, it would not change the law. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 would remain in place.
People would like to see, at the very least, a detailed, general scheme in order that they might have some understanding as to what might be the new law.
We need to check the position. The Citizens' Assembly differed from the all-party committee as to whether there needs to be an enabling provision which makes it clear that only the Oireachtas can make the law on this issue because there is another right to life in the Constitution. There are also rights to privacy, children's rights and rights to bodily autonomy. We need to consider the possibility - and we have sought the Attorney General's advice on this - that the Citizens' Assembly may have been correct in suggesting that an enabling amendment will also be needed.
The Taoiseach mentioned that he is shocked about the trolley crisis, about the numbers involved and about how slowly the matter is being dealt with. It is a pity the Minister for Health has left. Mary Street Medical Centre in Clonmel is a fine facility and has excellent diagnostic equipment. The Minister visited the centre and saw this with his own two eyes. After three years, the HSE gave the centre a 14-day contract to carry out diagnoses. That worked to relieve the numbers waiting on trolleys in South Tipperary General Hospital but, after eight days, the HSE pulled the contract, despite two and a half years of negotiations and even a visit from the Minister. That is the kind of incompetence that is going on in the HSE and why we have what we have. The Taoiseach need not be shocked at all because he is a former incumbent in the Department and he should know all about the trolley crisis. The medical centre in question has the capacity and an excellent team of doctors and staff connected to University Hospital Limerick to read scans, which would keep people away from the emergency department. It is a simple solution. There is an excellent team in the centre and it has made a huge investment in equipment. It was given a 14-day contract, which was the shortest ever. The HSE pulled the contract after eight days saying that it did not have the money to pay for it. Money is being channelled in the wrong direction and anybody can see that. Will the Taoiseach please try to insist that common sense prevails in the HSE or the Department of Health?
Additional responsibilities were given to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission regarding protected disclosures and a business case was sent to Government to ensure that resources were available to carry out the work in the context of protected disclosures. The chairperson of GSOC, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, was forthright in an RTÉ interview last Sunday about the inadequacy of resources, with less than was sought in the business case provided. She made the point that the organisation could not carry out the work that it is required to do. Will the Taoiseach revisit this issue as a matter of urgency? Will he also consider the independence of GSOC, which is also an issue that the chairperson articulated in that interview?
The Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that GSOC has sufficient resources to ensure that it does its most important task in society. I listened to the interview referred to by the Deputy and I have been in contact with GSOC. I am keen to ensure that any issues are resolved. As far as the proposed change to legislation is concerned, I remind her and, indeed, the House that we have established a commission on the future of policing, which will deal with a range of issues pertaining to An Garda Síochána, one of which is the future role and function of GSOC. The commission is due to report later in the year and I look forward to receiving that report when issues can be revisited in the context of any proposed change to legislation.
I add my words of sympathy to the family of the late Dolores O'Riordan who was a great artist. As John F. Kennedy said, great artists are often solitary figures who have a lover's quarrel with the world, but we will miss her now that she is gone. We think of her family who must miss her the most.
Ten days ago the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced a major review of the local property tax. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach set out some details of the nature of that review. Does it have scope to be a full review in which we look at switching to, say, a site value tax which might help us to tackle the housing crisis and have really good, dense, high quality development? What is the timing involved? Has the Cabinet looked at this issue? What about the plans announced in the newspapers by the Minister? When can we expect the review to take place and come to fruition?
As the Deputy knows, the local property tax is principally a tax matter. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, brought a memo to the Cabinet today to ask for permission to commence the review. As that permission was granted, he will be making a statement in the next short while on the details.
I am always up early, a Cheann Comhairle.
The programme for Government committed the Government to introducing a new national drugs strategy and it was launched by the Taoiseach last summer. He said at the launch that the treatment of abuse as a public health issue rather than as a criminal justice issue "helps communities." I ask him whether the small rural community in Ballivor, County Meath will be helped by the attempt by the Church of Scientology to establish a Narconon drug programme in an old national school in the tiny village. I further ask whether the cult's wacky drug rehabilitation programme is legally permitted to operate in the State. Would the Taoiseach like to send a message of support, both as Taoiseach and a doctor, to the concerned parents who will protest outside the school tomorrow at 2 p.m? They are petrified about the safety of their children.
I have read a little about this matter in the newspapers, but I do not know all of the details or the facts. I am absolutely of the view that the only people who should provide addiction services are those who are appropriately qualified and licensed to do so. On occasion, these services can be provided by religious groups. I know that a number of Catholic groups provide alcohol counselling services and do so very well.
I address my question to the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Damien English. Under the programme for Government, he committed to enhancing the fishing industry. Why then did he sign off on a licence to allow the mechanical harvesting of 1,806 acres of native kelp in Bantry Bay which will have a detrimental effect on the fishing industry and the broader economy there?
It was further administered by the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, at a later stage. We upgraded the condition recently. I am happy to meet the Deputy to discuss the issue, but it is a long-standing condition attached to a licence granted a long time ago. My role concerns the conditions attached to the licence in the past couple of months.
Yesterday we received the news that Carillion, the company that had won the tender to construct, maintain and manage six new schools in the State, had gone into voluntary liquidation. This has left huge fear in the schools among the teachers, principals, parents and children. Two of the schools - Coláiste Ráithín and St. Philomena's - happen to be located in my constituency. There has been a lot of uncertainty in recent months. Those involved in the schools were supposed to move into the new buildings - they are substantially completed - in October and November last year, but that date was pushed back to December. They were then due to move in on 22 January.
There is considerable uncertainty and fear. Christmas exams have been interrupted, we are heading into the mock exams period and additional teachers have been taken on in order to serve the schools in their new buildings. Will the Minister assure the House that the deadlines will be met, that the schools can move into their new premises and that whatever work is necessary will be completed so as to ensure a continuation of service?
I endorse Deputy Brady's comments because people in Kells are concerned. Five schools are affected. However, an issue has reared its head in the years that these projects have been running, with subcontractors and local businesses in Kells in my constituency left short numerous times by contractors and other subcontractors above them. They are worried that this will become a major problem for them with Carillion going into liquidation.
The Deputies are correct in that one of the companies involved in the joint venture to build a number of PPP schools has gone into liquidation. At this point, the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, is dealing with the remaining shareholder and has expressed confidence that there should not be significant delays in the execution of these projects given that they are 90% built. It must complete its discussions so as to ensure that the work continues. It should be mentioned that not only are the projects 90% built, but the State has not made any payment beyond a small element of site cost. The only way in which the value to the developer can be obtained is if the State issues the licences. The State is in a relatively strong position. The NDFA is dealing with this issue and is determined to ensure that there will be no disruption to the work.
Due to the continuous wet weather since last August, many farmers are in a bad way. Having fed animals for four and a half months, most of their feed is gone. Land is saturated and no one knows when it will recover or when farmers will be able to let their animals out again.
GLAS payments are being held up again. If one person on a commonage has a problem with land and has a payment delayed, the rest of the farmers will not be paid either.
At the end of 2016, €106 million returned to the Exchequer from the agriculture Vote. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that farmers will not be left without assistance, especially those who run out of fodder. People with grain had no incomes in 2016. They received very little help and they had to fight hard just to get that. Will the Taoiseach ensure that farmers do not go through the same hardship this year? Many more are involved. They must be looked after and given help.
Early in the morning on the Friday before Christmas, I spoke early to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine about this important subject. We are being told that IT issues are stopping GLAS payments from being made. It was the same story last year and the year before. I will explain to the Taoiseach what a GLAS payment is. It is the farmer's lifeline and is needed desperately to keep a household going. It is the difference between making ends meet and not. Why are IT issues for the third year in a row-----
-----stopping farmers from receiving this payment? It is their money. They are entitled to it. They should have it, but it is being delayed. They owe contractors for last year's work. They owe creameries and co-ops.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae indicated that there was €106 million of an underspend in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2016. According to a reply I received to a parliamentary question, there was a €75 million underspend in that Department last year.
Like me, the Taoiseach will attend the IFA's annual general meeting, AGM, this evening. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine attended meeting of the fodder action group yesterday but the farming organisation representatives left that empty-handed and with no sense of how the Government intends to respond. Will the Taoiseach and the Minister once again leave farming representatives empty-handed tonight and in the coming weeks or will the Taoiseach, once and for all, show some leadership in this regard and deliver a meal voucher scheme, which is required in those areas of the country experiencing an acute fodder shortage?
------as is, I think, everyone in this House. That is the nature of our work. As Deputy McConalogue pointed out, the Minister, Deputy Creed, and I will be attending the IFA AGM this evening.