Thursday, 8 February 2018
Questions on Promised Legislation
As a former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I am sure the Tánaiste will understand very well the fodder crisis scheme the current Minister has announced. There is a shortage of grass and grass-based fodder in the country but the Minister, instead of introducing a meal voucher scheme, which would be grain-based, would operate at a world price and be easily transported, has instead decided to give a transport subsidy for grass-based fodder, an already scarce resource. This move will only increase the price of fodder. On the one hand, it is a very skimpy and counterproductive policy proposal and on the other, it is an expensive public relations move on the part of the Minister because it will not be effective. What is the Tánaiste's view? Will he engage with the Minister? Will the Government change tack and introduce a meal voucher scheme? This would address the problem, which is particularly acute in a small number of areas but acute nonetheless.
I will talk to the Minister about that if that would be helpful and ask him to contact the Deputy directly about the matter. However, the concept here is to recognise that we have enough silage and other grass-based fodder in the country to deal with shortages but that there is a cost to transport it to those parts of the country that need it. This is why we have focused on trying to address that cost through a transport subsidy scheme to ensure we can get the fodder that is needed to farms in parts of the country that, for weather-related reasons primarily, have fodder shortages and that we subsidise the cost of getting the fodder to where it is needed most. That has been the focus of the Minister, Deputy Creed, and it makes sense, but I will ask him to come back to the Deputy on the meal voucher issue he has raised.
The programme for Government commits the Government to protect mortgage holders, tenants and small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, that had taken out loans that may have transferred to vulture funds. The Minister may be aware of this matter. At least he should be because I told the Taoiseach this is the next scandal that will hit the Government. It has already hit but the Government needs to get to grips with it. I refer to the global restructuring group of Ulster Bank. A total of 2,141 Irish companies employing tens of thousands of people went into the global restructuring group, GRG, and fewer than 100 emerged alive. The select Treasury Committee in Britain heard evidence recently of the actions and modus operandiof the GRG, which operated under RBS in Britain. I will read to the Tánaiste a memo written at the height of the financial crisis.
This is the question. The memo to staff on the operational manual stated, "Rope: sometimes you just have to let customers hang themselves ... If they sign, they can't complain." It goes on to state, "Avoid round number fees - £5,300 sounds as if you have thought about it, £5k sounds like you haven't."
The GRG existed in this State as it did in Britain. West Register existed in this State as it did in Britain. The modus operandiwas the exact same. The Financial Conduct Authority, FCA, in Britain has done a report into it.
It sounds as if the Deputy has asked the Minister for Finance this question recently. I will raise it with him again but I would be surprised if he was not informed of the detail the Deputy has been raising. It is the first time I have heard of the matter on the floor but I will raise it with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and ask him to get back to the Deputy.
The programme for Government includes a commitment to review the school transport scheme, but 90% of services in the scheme are operated by private companies contracted by Bus Éireann. That is well over 1,000 companies carrying 100,000 children. Thankfully and mercifully, no one was killed in the school bus accident yesterday in Limerick. Buses undergo annual roadworthiness tests, and seat belts, as the Tánaiste knows, are mandatory. However, as reported by Paul Melia in today's edition of the Irish Independent, half of the 1,207 buses subject to roadside inspections in 2016 were found to have defects. There is no suggestion, and I am making none, that there was anything at all wrong with the bus involved in the accident but in light of that article, will the Government conduct a safety review of the school bus fleet to give reassurance to all parents that everything is well?
This service is provided by the Department of Education and Skills in conjunction with Bus Éireann. In respect of the very sad accident yesterday, I express my sympathy to those who were hurt. I thank the emergency services and the school for the instant plan and the supports that were put in place. The service is delivered with Bus Éireann. I have no reason to believe Bus Éireann is not keeping equipment up to the highest standards. However, in light of what the Deputy has asked, I will ask for a report on the issue.
Yes. The programme for Government is supposed to support farm families and businesses. As Deputy Pearse Doherty did with the Tánaiste, I raise the issue of the banks, especially AIB. I have been in contact with a family, Tim and Nora. They have written to the Tánaiste, but ten years later they are going around in circles with the bank. They were overcharged by €90,000 and are being treated like pariahs. They cannot get answers from AIB. They are just sent further around the merry-go-round. It is State terrorism-----
When will the Government take proactive action with these pillar banks that the people bailed out? They are running amok and literally destroying people's lives, which are ending up in suicide, ill health, family separation-----
The programme for Government commits to make older years the better years for the elderly. After the Labour Court hearing yesterday, it looks like long-running problems in Bandon Community Hospital might be at an end. Will we see respite care made available to the people of the Bandon hospital catchment area? Most of them, if not all, have been refused over the past year.
I thank Deputy Collins for raising this issue. I am sure the Labour Court ruling will come as a great relief to the people of Bandon and I expect it will see respite services recommence in Bandon Community Hospital, a hospital I have had the pleasure of visiting and a very special place.
Regarding the programme for Government and water investment, more than 1,000 homes in my constituency yesterday were put on a "no wash, no drink" notice by Irish Water due to extremely elevated levels of chlorine contamination. Quite a number of questions remain as Irish Water fixes the problem. The constituents on the ground do not know the type of chlorine that was in the water or the extent of it. We know there were elevated levels right down at the end of the line in this case, but they do not know how long it has been a problem. What we do know is that this is very important.
This concerns children's health. Children have suffered what their parents describe as chemical burns. There have been many illnesses in the area in recent weeks and people are beginning to wonder what the position is. When people make a call to what is, I understand, the poisons hotline of the HSE, the HSE cannot give them any information because they need the information I have just asked the Tánaiste for regarding the duration of the contamination, the type of product that is in the supply and the extent of it in people's water. By the way, pets who depend on water have died in this case-----
I will give the House some information on this. As the Deputy knows, about 500 households are affected, which is just over 1,000 people. The incident was caused by a mechanical failure at a chlorine dosing pump that resulted in excessive chlorine levels in the water supply. Chlorine is added to drinking water for disinfection purposes to ensure that water is safe to drink from a microbiological point of view. Irish Water customers have been told not to drink the water, not to use it for food preparation and not to wash with it until further notice.
Manned water tankers are in place in appropriate locations in the area. The mechanical failure has now been addressed and Irish Water is flushing the network to return chlorine levels to what they should be. The advice is clear, and it is that people should not use the water until Irish Water gives an instruction that it is okay to do so and the problem has been being fixed.
On page 41 of the programme for Government, with regard to jobs and rural development, one of the sections deal with the appointment of a new Cabinet Minister whose brief is to advance economic and social progress in rural Ireland and to work to implement best proposals in partnership with the rest of the Government. One of these proposals was to ensure the viability of our post office network and avoid closures in our post office network. Unfortunately, the postmistress in Glengar, County Kerry, passed away on 16 January. Since then the service has been run by her sister in law, who was contacted this week and informed that Glengar post office is to close. If a semi-State body is not implementing Government policy, how do we hope to make progress in advancing the needs of rural Ireland?
The record of this Government and the previous Government on trying to ensure post offices did not close is an awful lot stronger than that of the Government that preceded them. Post offices are a part of rural infrastructure but we also have to work with An Post on different pressures on the overall post office network system. It is difficult for me to comment on a single case unless I have the actual details of it. Two Ministers are very engaged on this issue. These are the Minister, Deputy Naughten, because he has policy responsibility for An Post and the Minister, Deputy Ring, who has responsibility for rural development. I suggest the Deputy tables a question to both of them.
I will direct my question to the Minister for Health. We have a serious health issue in this country at present with Lyme disease. It is a very debilitating disease for anyone unfortunate enough to have it. Early detection can make a big difference to these people. I understand that at present GPs are not trained to deal with it, but it is crucial that they are brought up to speed on it. The earlier it is detected the faster it can be dealt with. It will be cured but it definitely can be made easier on the patients who have it. At present, samples must be sent to Germany for testing. We have good hospitals and good laboratories in this country. I cannot understand for the life of me why we cannot have a laboratory in this country that can test these people's blood. The quicker it is detected the quicker it can be dealt with.
I thank Deputy Scanlon for raising the important matter of Lyme disease. I have asked the Department to carry out work on looking at how Ireland deals with it compared with other countries. I expect to receive it any day now and I am happy to revert to the Deputy directly.
The programme for Government makes reference to the fair deal scheme. It is my understanding that long overdue changes will be implemented, and one of these changes is the three year cap on the time charge on farm assets. In light of the fact farming families have waited so long for these changes and are under great pressure, including in my constituency of Laois-Offaly where many farming families have approached me and lobbied me on this issue, it is only right that we introduce these changes as quickly as possible. How long will it take for the changes to take effect? I call on the Government to take urgent action on this issue.
I thank Deputy Nolan for raising this issue. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, has been working very closely with the IFA on it. We agree there needs to be greater equity and fairness for farming families and small business owners in the fair deal scheme. I expect the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to have definitive proposals on this very shortly which he will bring to Cabinet. We will then need the co-operation of the Oireachtas to pass legislation and I hope all parties will support us in passing it as quickly as possible. We will have news on it very shortly.
The Government has announced ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Last week, officials at the Department of Justice and Equality informed the joint committee on justice that the capacity legislation will not be commenced this year, but for the Irish State's compliance with the convention to be true that capacity legislation needs to be progressed. Is Ireland ratifying something with which it cannot comply? When will we see full compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Is this just an announcement of ratification?
We will ratify it; we are not just announcing it. It will create a focus on finalising the final piece of legislation required. Much of what Ireland has done in recent years with regard to disability is consistent with the convention. There is more to do and there is no question about it. Many countries ratify conventions while they are in the process of finalising the obligations that come with it. This is the position from an Irish perspective on this convention.
My question is for the Minister for Health, regarding an update on the human tissue Bill. Following publication of the report on the public consultation process in December, which showed a large majority of respondents support the planned opt-out system for organ donation, and a milestone 300 organ transplants carried out in 2017, progressing the Bill will help continue this growth. It is something I would like to see happening as soon as possible.
I thank Deputy Heydon for raising this very important issue. We had a very important and informed public consultation, and I published its results just after Christmas. I expect to be in a position to go to pre-legislative scrutiny this year. We will make a lot of progress on it in 2018.