Tuesday, 17 April 2018
Order of Business
Today's business shall be No. 8, motion re Nineteenth Report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken without debate; No. 9, motion re parliamentary questions rota swap between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, to be taken without debate; and No. 1, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 181, motion re fodder crisis, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Wednesday's business shall be expressions of sympathy on the death of our former colleague, Peter Mathews; No. a27, Vehicle Registration Data (Automated Searching and Exchange) Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Committee and Remaining Stages; No. 1, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad] Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded; and No. 5, Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill 2018, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be Second Stage of No. 48, Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018, selected by Solidarity-People Before Profit.
Thursday's business shall be No. 1, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded; No. 5, Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 27, statements on plastic and packaging pollution, to be taken not later than 3.40 p.m. and to conclude within 80 minutes, if not previously concluded. Second Stage of No. 49, Extreme Weather (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018, shall be debated in the evening slot.
I refer to the third revised report of the Business Committee, dated 16 April 2018. In relation to today's business, it is proposed that the motion re Nineteenth report of the Committee of Selection and the motion re parliamentary questions rota swap shall be taken without debate and any division demanded shall be taken immediately.
In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
(1) the expressions of sympathy shall take place after Questions on Promised Legislation, shall be followed by Taoiseach's Questions, shall be brought to a conclusion after 20 minutes if not previously concluded, and each contribution shall not exceed two minutes;
(2) the proceedings on Second Stage of the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 shall conclude within two hours, if not previously concluded; and
(3) the Order of the Dáil of 29 March 2018 referring the Vehicle Registration Data (Automated Searching and Exchange) Bill 2018 [Seanad] to a select committee be discharged and the Third Stage of the Bill be taken in committee of the whole Dáil on Wednesday, 18 April 2018, with Committee and Remaining Stages to adjourn after 90 minutes if not previously concluded, and in the event that Second Stage of the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill 2018 concludes, the order shall not resume thereafter.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that the statements on plastic and packaging pollution shall commence not later than 3.40 p.m. and shall conclude after 80 minutes, if not previously concluded, and the order shall not resume thereafter. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokesperson of parties and groups and shall not exceed ten minutes each, and all members may share time.
No. I think we need to have a debate on Syria today, or for two hours at approximately 6 p.m. tomorrow. In excess of 100 missiles were fired by the US, France and Britain at the weekend on the pretext that it was a response to an abhorrent chemical weapons attack. The conflict in Syria is a gross humanitarian catastrophe. More than 500,000 people have been killed and millions of people have been displaced. Those responsible are the dictator Assad, the various jihadi groups-----
-----and the outside forces of western imperialism and Russian imperialism on the other side. The problem is that the world is heading to a very dangerous place. The Government is seeking to line up this country with western imperialism. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has said he can understand why the military action took place. We have not had a debate on this.
They could allocate the two hours available for Private Members' time tomorrow evening to this issue, if they wish. I have allocated two Topical Issues slots to this matter today.
We welcome the decision to select this matter for discussion during Topical Issues, but there is a difference between a two-hour debate in which parties set out their positions on an issue like this, which is particularly serious in light of the Government's record on neutrality-----
I understand there are two questions on this being taken. If the Deputy believes it requires more than that, I suggest he and his colleagues use their Private Members' time for it.
We have had much discussion on Brexit and the issue of avoiding a border both North-South and east-west and optimising the potential economic relationship on this island. This means there should be no border if it is to be fully optimal. I do not want to get into the bigger matters, such as UK Ministers disagreeing with certain interpretations. The British Government has advertised for 18 customs officers for the Border recently, and that does not augur well for the kind of outcome that everybody has signed up to or at least verbally committed to. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach could give any update on the Government's response to that and where we are in progressing the matter.
It is clearly a matter for the United Kingdom to hire customs officers as it sees fit. I do not know if they are replacements as there are border and customs checks already in the United Kingdom-----
They are in the North too for people and goods coming from outside the European Union. I am not sure if they are additional staff or replacements. I did not see the advertisement but I had heard that it was only open to British passport holders and, in line with the Good Friday Agreement, applications to the role should also be open to Irish passport holders as well. The Good Friday Agreement allows everybody in the North to be British, Irish or both and to be accepted as such.
Yesterday the National Women's Council of Ireland raised very serious concerns in response to a report demonstrating that An Garda Síochána had been overstating the number of sexual offences reported by 26% in 2003 and by 6% overall for the 14 years up to 2016. The National Women's Council of Ireland described the system-wide shortfall of data collection and analysis by State services which interact with victims of domestic and sexual violence as "at crisis point". I put it to the Taoiseach that his Government is simply not delivering on the ambitious policies, legislation and resources necessary to tackle head-on the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in Ireland. Has the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, 2 scoping group submitted a report to the justice Minister? Will the commissioned report include a review of domestic and sexual violence-related data collection and the analysis by State agencies, information technology infrastructure and cross-agency data management? Will the Government act on the recommendation of Women's Aid to introduce a "no contact until contact is safe" rule for access arrangements in the case of domestic violence?
I was not present at the launch of that report this morning as I was attending Cabinet. I am aware of its content and I am also aware of the seriousness of these issues in the context of a recent court case in particular North of the Border and out of the jurisdiction.
I appeal again to this House at the start of this term to facilitate the passage of important legislation in the area of justice. I refer specifically to the Domestic Violence Bill. I expect that to be passed, with the co-operation of the House, within three or four weeks. That will deal with some of the issues raised by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. There are, of course, other issues and that is why over the Easter break I announced a review will be undertaken by my Department in consultation with stakeholders, in particular women's groups, which I intend meeting over the next few days. I will deal with a number of specific questions at 5 p.m. and I would be happy to update the House at any time on the package of measures I intend to review.
I understand the Cabinet approved legislative proposals today to strengthen the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. There are thousands of students outside this building protesting at rent hikes in Dublin City University, DCU. The latest rent increases by private student accommodation providers will see DCU students paying over €10,000 for a nine month period. That is an extortionate amount of money for students and their families trying to avail of an opportunity for education. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, trumpeted the fact that the targets for student accommodation are being met. That is of little use if it is unaffordable. As the Taoiseach knows, at present student accommodation units are exempt from the rent pressure zone, RPZ, regulations. They are also beyond the scope of the RTB as they are deemed to be under licence rather than leased under the scheme. When will we see the long overdue residential tenancies (amendment) Bill? When will it be in the House? Will the Government introduce amendments to ensure that student accommodation comes within the full scope of the regulations already in place?
-----very welcome for the students who will be living in that accommodation. It is not necessarily the case that student accommodation does not come under the RPZ measures. However, meetings have been held between my Department, the Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for higher education, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and the students concerned over the last two weeks to see if this particular accommodation falls within rent pressure zones regulations. I brought the heads of the residential tenancies Bill to Cabinet today. It is priority legislation. We are working with the Attorney General's office on it at the moment. I hope it will have speedy passage through the House once it is published. If it is necessary during the passage of the legislation to consider an amendment in relation to student accommodation, then that can be considered at that time.
In 2017, the Tallaght intercultural centre provided a point of contact and a route into education, work and inclusion for 197 people of 39 different nationalities. The Clondalkin intercultural centre did something similar. Unfortunately both now face closure due to a lack of €80,000 in funding from the Department of Justice and Equality. How does that tally with the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government, for example, under Culture 2025, on the need to break down barriers in areas of social inclusion and disadvantage and how culture is enriched by greater cultural diversity? Will this cut be reversed so these services can be maintained?
I will take the question. There was a competitive tender for this funding. Unfortunately, that centre did not actually succeed in that tender. However, we have invited it to meet with officials in the Department to discuss other funding mechanisms. I am also responding to a parliamentary question later this afternoon.
A constituent of mine, a 14 year old girl who I will refer to as Aoife, is languishing in South Tipperary General Hospital. This is her ninth week waiting for a bed in a special adolescent unit in Cork or anywhere. There are up to six cases like this, I believe, in South Tipperary General Hospital, not only blocking the beds but failing desperately. In early January, she was admitted to the paediatric ward and in early February was admitted again. She has been there ever since and is on 24-hour watch for the last nine weeks. The long wait is taking its toll on her and, indeed, her family.
Nine weeks is a long time for a 14 year old, as the Taoiseach knows, especially when she is receiving little treatment to help her cope or understand her deep and profound sense of despair. The three-day programme that she attends gives her a little help but she needs individual targeted treatment.
Her family life is hugely affected. The mother has to sleep in the hospital with her as does the father sometimes, and the other children must be attended to as well. This is a crisis in Clonmel and Tipperary, where we do not have a single mental health bed.
I am very sorry to hear about the experience of the woman that Deputy McGrath describes. Needless to say, I do not have any information on individual cases. For reasons of confidentiality and other matters it would not be appropriate for me to discuss them anyway, but if the Deputy wants to pass on the information to me I will make sure that it is passed on to the relevant authority.
I would like to return to the issue raised earlier on measures considered by Cabinet today with regard to tenancies and rent pressure zones. Given that those measures were essentially debated in this House under a Bill from the Social Democrats last January and that there was cross-party support for the measures, I take it there will not be any delay in bringing forward this legislation and getting it through the Houses. Will the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, give a commitment that this will happen in advance of the summer recess?
Second, I wish to raise the issue in respect of section 50 student accommodation. The Minister says that is being examined currently.
It relates to that legislation. Is the Minister saying that if there is an issue with extending rent pressure zones to section 50 accommodation he will support an amendment to include section 50 student accommodation under rent pressure zones?
I thank the Deputy for the question. The work we are doing currently on to rent sector and people who are renting is something I flagged last autumn in terms of a change management programme to make our rental market more mature. This is the first tranche of legislation but there is a second tranche to follow this year that will update on the first tranche of work.
Similar legislation and ideas were put to the House earlier this year. There should not be any controversy in bringing these measures forward. They are positive for tenants and landlords, the vast majority of whom are good landlords and do a good job for their tenants. The pace at which it proceeds though the House is not in my hands but in the hand of the Business Committee and the Oireachtas. I hope we can proceed with it as quickly as possible. If we can get it enacted before the summer I believe it would be important. Again, it depends on the House.
I responded to Deputy Howlin's question on student accommodation earlier. I mentioned that we are in the middle of an engagement on those issues currently. On the basis of what comes back from that engagement we will then proceed to an amendment if that is necessary, but it is not clear yet whether it is.
Part 12 of A Programme for a Partnership Government relates to agriculture and the marine. Since last autumn a serious fodder crisis has been developing in this country. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister were far too slow to react in a meaningful way. The only way to explain this is to say they were asleep at the wheel. This has led to animal deaths being recorded at double what is normal for this time of year. Only for the co-operatives importing fodder, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would never have woken up. Glanbia has promised a €50 payment for each tonne of animal feed purchased during April. Will this be extended by the Department to all farmers and every co-operative as well as backdated to January for farmers who can show receipts for fodder they purchased? This would in some way ease the major financial burden that farmers are under at this time.
I would like to inform the Taoiseach as well as ask a question on the dire needs of farmers in west Cork because of the fodder crisis. We will have a Private Members' motion later on, when we will have a chance to discuss the matter further. Is the Taoiseach fully aware of what is happening throughout the country and the dire circumstances in which farmers find themselves?
I am disappointed that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is not here to hear what we are highlighting after days of incessant rain in Kerry, including yesterday and the days beforehand. The ground has gone so wet now.
I heard the Taoiseach saying that the weather was picking up. The Taoiseach may be involved in some way in the weather forecasting and maybe he knows more than I do, but the fact is that if it dried today it would take two to three weeks before land would dry so that a farmer could leave cattle out.
Cattle are hungry. Cows are hungry. Lambs are perishing. Farmers' minds are being tested to the limit.
Will the Taoiseach and his Government subsidise meals and rations and give farmers some sort of subsidy? As Deputy Michael Collins said, this has been going on since last fall. By November, farmers had used half their fodder.
It is clear that everyone, including the Taoiseach, is very conscious of the situation farmers are in but, unfortunately, nothing has been done for them. That is the problem. Some 15% of low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, payments are due to be paid to farmers from the middle of May onwards. I ask that those payments be brought forward and paid now. That would amount to €500 or €600 for most farmers, which is not a great deal of money. I understand there are regulations and that inspections are meant to take place before that happens but they can be set aside in the current emergency circumstances. It is a simple thing that can be done now to relieve this situation and get a cheque in the post to farmers by the end of this week. I implore the Taoiseach to make that happen.
I do not want to be repetitive but I ask if the Minister has any plans to deal with the psychological impact this issue is having on farmers across the country. Their physical and mental health is being affected by the crisis and I ask that any plans and help he has to resolve the issue would include help in that regard.
As somebody who is an active farmer and currently purchasing fodder in the uplands in Wicklow, I take on board the Deputies' points and appreciate the issue in question. It is not fair to say that nothing has been done. There have been a number of incentives. Deputy Collins make shake his head-----
I know what is going on on the ground as much as any of the people who have spoken, probably more than most of them. If anybody says they could have predicted last October what the weather would be like in April and that we would have a late spring, they are in the wrong business.
We have introduced measures including a fodder import subsidy and a fodder transport subsidy. The Deputy said animals are dying. There has always been a welfare helpline in place for people who have a dire need for fodder who will get it, regardless. There is fodder within the country that is still being moved throughout the country and what is being assisted is the cost to transport that.
My question is more for the Minister for Justice and Equality. He will be aware that in my constituency in Limerick, we have one of the largest geographical Garda districts in the country, namely, the Bruff Garda district. For years, we have been experiencing the appointment of a superintendent to oversee the Garda district and that person not staying in the role very long and moving on to a Garda district in another part of the country. What we have been experiencing is a revolving door scenario. The position has remained vacant for a long period of time and when we inquired as to the reason, we were told it was to do with the employment control framework. Last week, we were told finally that a person had been appointed to the position in a permanent capacity only to be told in recent days that this person will not now take up the position, which again has left the community flummoxed. It is one of the biggest districts in the country. It has many policing challenges.
This has affected morale among gardaí and the area's communities are worried about not having a permanent officer appointed who would stay there for a good number of years and get to know them, as opposed to it being treated as a staging post for other appointments. Will the Minister see to the need to appoint someone to the area on a permanent basis?
The Deputy will be aware that the allocation and distribution of gardaí are matters for the Garda Commissioner. The independent Policing Authority also has responsibility in the process. I do not have a personal or ministerial role in the appointment of superintendents to Limerick or any other part of the country. Nevertheless, I will be happy to convey the Deputy's concern to the acting Garda Commissioner.
I refer to page 65 of the programme for Government and the matter of mental health, in particular eating disorders and the number of vulnerable children and adults being sent by the HSE to the United Kingdom for treatment. It was recently reported in the Irish Examinerthat the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, had stated he believed the numbers, particularly of severe eating disorder cases, were such that it would be much cheaper to provide the necessary facilities in Ireland, rather than sending them to the United Kingdom. The General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court, Ms Patricia Hickey, stated the situation concerning treatment transfers was not feasible and that it was unfair to rend the people in question from their families. There are only three beds available in the country to treat eating disorders, but none of them is for children. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue. When does the Taoiseach propose to provide the necessary treatment in Ireland for these vulnerable children and adults?
I am afraid that I do not have a note on that issue in front of me. What I do know, though, is that sometimes we have to send people abroad to treat rare conditions or for specialised treatment. It is not a matter of money. It is very expensive to send people abroad for treatment, but we do it because sometimes specialised treatment can only be provided in specialised centres in areas with a population of 10 million, 20 million, 30 million, 40 million or 50 million. I cannot say to the Deputy for sure whether it would be viable or possible to have the treatments provided in this country, a country of 4 million or 5 million, but I will certainly mention it to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and get back to the Deputy with a more detailed reply.
According to the section on health in the programme for Government, the Government will work with the Oireachtas to sustain annual increases in health budgets so as to improve services to the public. The Government's decision, through the HSE, to not automatically award medical cards to all cancer patients has caused much devastation among people who are already under pressure. For example, persons recovering from cancer can have large chemist bills. Their chemists have been kind enough to tell them not to worry about them for the time being, but they know that they must be paid. I will not prolong this and will only ask the Taoiseach a simple question. Why did the Government make this decision? Can the Taoiseach give people any hope, particularly cancer patients, that they will receive a medical card? It was my belief this would happen, but it has fallen by the wayside.
On the same issue, people who heretofore were diagnosed with cancer received a discretionary medical card for 12 months or so. Like every other Deputy, I deal with a number of clients who are cancer patients. They have applied for a medical card because they have cancer. I have dealt with cases of people who, despite having applied online, have still not achieved a result. They have been diagnosed with serious cancers. There are different types. On behalf of the families who are under enormous stress having been told that their loved ones have cancer, I plead with the Taoiseach to consider this matter and have the medical card applications dealt with immediately.
This is a matter that has been discussed many times in the House and was given detailed consideration by the Government and an expert group established under Professor Tom Keane. The group came to the conclusion that it would not be a good idea to allocate medical cards based on diagnoses. It is worth reading the report and understanding exactly why the group came to that conclusion.
The programme for Government states the Garda must have the modern resources necessary to detect and investigate crime. There are some difficulties at present with the Garda headquarters in Sligo. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality give a further update on the progress on developing the new Garda regional headquarters in Sligo?
The Deputy will be aware of the commitment to establishing a new Garda headquarters in Sligo at the earliest opportunity. Discussions are at an advanced stage on the provision of an appropriate site. I expect that a legal contractual situation will develop over the next couple of weeks. I understand the urgency. I visited the station in Sligo before Christmas. I accept the need for a greater level of resources in the form of a new station. I will be happy to communicate with the Deputy and the House as matters develop. I expect we are getting there.