Tuesday, 15 May 2018
Order of Business
Tuesday’s business shall be No. 6, motion re report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach under Standing Order 114 on COM (2018) 147 and COM (2018) 148 re taxation of the digital economy; No. 7, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Dietician) Regulations 2018, back from committee; No. 8, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Speech Therapist) Regulations 2018, back from committee; No. 9, motion re Standing Orders 23, 28, 140 and 144; and No. 21, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad]- Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. Private Members' business shall be No. 176, motion re mandatory open disclosure in health service provision, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday's business shall be No. 22, statements on Palestine, to adjourn after the opening round and to resume after the conclusion of the Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad]; No. 21, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad]- Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 23, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. Private Members' business shall be No. 177, motion re housing, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 21, Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad]- Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage; No. 22, statements on Palestine, resumed, and to adjourn, if not previously concluded; and No. 23, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. No. 44, Second Stage of the European Communities (Brexit) Bill 2017 shall be debated in the evening slot.
I refer Members to the first revised report of the Business Committee dated 15 May 2018. In relation to today's business it is proposed that:
(1) The Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' business, which shall be taken not later than 9 p.m. for two hours;
(2) The motions re report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach under Standing Order 114 on COM (2018) 147 and COM (2018) 148 re taxation of the digital economy, re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Dietician) Regulations 2018, Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of Title: Speech Therapist) Regulations 2018, and re Standing Orders 23, 28, 140 and 144 shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and
(3) Notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 143F, on 15, 16 and 22 May, Private Members’ business shall be taken in the following temporary sequence: Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and the Social Democrats-Green Party group, whereupon, on 23 May, the sequence shall resume at the point which would normally have followed.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) the Dáil shall sit later than 10.15 p.m., and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ business, which shall be taken not later than 9.15 p.m. for two hours; and
(2) the statements on Palestine shall adjourn after the opening round and shall resume after the conclusion of the Data Protection Bill 2018 [Seanad] and the following arrangements shall apply: statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons, or a member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other Members, a five minute response from Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
No, it is not agreed. I do not think that we can wait until tomorrow to debate the slaughter in Palestine. We have heard the figures, with the number who died yesterday having now risen to 59, including an eight month old baby. A total of 113 people have been killed by Israeli forces since 30 March. There are protests taking place again today. How high is the figure going to rise to? We need to be debating the matter today and I propose that we take 80 minutes from 7.40 p.m. until 9 p.m., in advance of the debate on mandatory disclosures, to do so. That would not affect the timing of business for the rest of the week and would mean that we could discuss the issue today rather than waiting until tomorrow.
From 7.40 p.m. until 9 p.m., before the debate on the Sinn Féin Private Member's motion. That will not change anything else for the rest of the week but will mean that we can debate Palestine today rather than tomorrow.
The initial proposal was that the statements would be taken today and they should be, particularly in light of the Government's response vis-à-visthe Israeli ambassador and the failure to recognise the state of Palestine. It is important that the statements are taken today and if needs be, the Business Committee should reconvene and agree a time slot that would be adequate for everybody to make his or her contribution on this issue.
I was surprised to get the revised schedule and to be advised just before I came in that the statements that I assumed would be taken today were to be put back to tomorrow. There is a general concern across the country that the appalling events of yesterday should be reflected in statements in this House. Indeed, I hope we will have more than statements and that there will be a formula for action from Government in response to those statements.
Is the House agreed that we will ask the Business Committee to look at this and try to reorder the schedule to provide for the opening round of eight ten-minute contributions?
Yes, for today. Is that agreed? Agreed. We will ask the Business Committee to make the necessary arrangements. On the basis of that amendment, today's business is agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business, which will include the business moved forward from today, agreed? Agreed.
On promised legislation, I call Deputy Micheál Martin.
In the context of the programme for Government, it is important that in the conduct of our foreign policy we are clear and unambiguous in our response to atrocities when they are committed. We must unreservedly condemn the killing of up to 60 Palestinians, including children, and the injuring of 1,200, including journalists and health care workers. The Israeli response to the mass protests in Gaza was wholly disproportionate and counterproductive in terms of undermining any prospect, however faint, of a peace process emerging.
I appreciate the Tánaiste's efforts in bringing in the Israeli ambassador to convey our condemnation of the behaviour of the Israeli forces and the Israeli Government. While we support the establishment of a UN inquiry, we note that the US Government has expressed its opposition to such an inquiry. I understand it could veto the establishment of an inquiry. It is important for any inquiry to be protected. Given what happened previously, the personnel involved in the inquiry should be supported and protected. The programme for Government talks about "our commitment to recognise the State of Palestine". Essentially, the decision that led to the opening of the embassy yesterday represents an attempt to shape the eventual outcome, if there is ever to be an outcome, of a Palestinian settlement. The Dáil will have to consider this matter in light of what has happened and the way things are going.
I want to repeat the Government's condemnation of the violence that has occurred between Israel and Gaza. Our view is that the Israeli Defence Forces have used disproportionate force in using live ammunition against civilians and thereby causing numerous deaths, including the deaths of young people and children. The Tánaiste called the Israeli ambassador into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Iveagh House this morning to advise him of the Government's concerns and of our strong objections to what is happening in the Middle East. We strongly support the UN Secretary General's call for an independent inquiry. This matter will be discussed at the EU Council summit tomorrow and in Sofia the following day. The programme for Government clearly states that we will "honour our commitment to recognise the State of Palestine" when such a state exists, which of course requires a peace settlement.
Even though we are into the third week of the cervical cancer scandal, the Government has yet to get to the core of the wrongdoing in this regard. Sinn Féin wants accountability and wants to propose constructive solutions that prioritise patients above all else. As the Taoiseach will be aware, we intend to use our Private Members' time this evening to propose a motion calling on the Government to legislate for mandatory open disclosure before the summer recess. Our motion, which calls for the introduction of criminal sanctions in this regard, goes to the heart of everything about which we have learned over the past three weeks. I refer to the cultural, organisational and management failures that have been exposed during this period. I have three questions for the Taoiseach in this regard. First, will the Government support the Sinn Féin motion calling for mandatory open disclosure to be legislated for before the summer recess? Legislation to this effect has been tabled by my party's health spokesperson, Deputy O'Reilly, and is currently with the Ceann Comhairle. Second, will the Taoiseach tell us whether the cervical cancer audit and other documentation will be published later today? Two weeks ago, I asked for all documentation to be published, but the Taoiseach could not provide an answer at that point. Third, will the Taoiseach provide information in response to media commentary that despite the resignation of Mr. Tony O'Brien on Friday, he will continue to draw his full salary until July?
I have made my comments on Gaza. I am happy that we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter later today. I want to raise a different issue with the Taoiseach now. It is one I have raised on several occasions. As a consequence of the collapse of Carillion in January and the Sammon Group subsequently going into examinership, the completion of the construction of a bundle of six schools has been delayed for half a year. The new building at Loreto secondary school in Wexford was to have been occupied in January. The school authorities had made provision for timetabling, recruitment of staff and subject choices on the basis that the new building would be available. They are now being told by the Department that they should make contingency plans to stay in the existing facilities, which are inadequate, when the new school term commences in September. This is causing consternation because it is not doable. I imagine that there are similar situations in the other schools. The hands-off approach to this matter that has repeatedly been set out in response to questions asked by Deputies on this side of the House is no longer acceptable.
If the Taoiseach is not fully up to speed, I understand, but I urge him to take a personal interest in seeking to resolve this really important issue for the thousands of pupils involved.
I am afraid I have nothing to add to the update the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, gave us last week. Clearly, the issue is ongoing. Certainly we all want to make sure the kids will be in the new schools by September at the very latest. I will certainly speak to the Minister about the issue to see if there is anything I can do. If a personal intervention on my part would make a difference, I would be happy to do so.
I also refer to the commitment in the programme for Government on the recognition of the Palestinian state. The response of the Taoiseach indicates that it is entirely meaningless and that he has no intention of doing it within the timeframe of the Government, despite the Dáil voting to recognise the Palestinian state. It was just something to give to some of the Independent members of the Government to let them say they had received it, but the Taoiseach does not intend to do anything about it. Earlier he made the point that if we expelled the Israeli ambassador, we would not be able to get the message across to the Israelis that we were opposed to what they were doing. It is precisely by expelling the Israeli ambassador that we would get the message across. By recalling the Irish ambassador from Tel Aviv we would send a message around the world that we were absolutely appalled by the slaughter of innocent Palestinians by Israeli state forces, that we were opposed to the European Union's complicity in the slaughter through the EU-Israel association agreement and the hundreds of millions of euro of public funds that ended up with Israeli armaments companies, that we were opposed to the ongoing use by the State of Israeli defence companies, including in buying drones from them, and that we stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people. That is how the Government would send a message, rather than saying a few cross words to the Israeli ambassador. What more powerful way of doing so is there than by passing a resolution and the Government actually recognising the Palestinian state?
Our view is that we do not solve problems by way of one-off messages. In a few weeks' time I will have an opportunity to meet the Israeli Prime Minister in Jerusalem for the fourth time in about nine months. I suspect it will be a very straight conversation. In my view, the idea that we assist Palestinians by cutting off all diplomatic ties with Israel is fundamentally flawed. What Ireland needs to do is challenge, propose solutions and be part of them, as opposed to setting itself up as some kind of protest organisation. That is why we have chosen engagement over isolation on this issue and why I-----
We have engaged and continue to engage with the Palestinian Authority. We have been and continue to be supportive of the ongoing reconciliation process and have supported Egypt in those efforts. What I am serious about trying to do on behalf of the Government and the country is to offer real criticism when necessary, as we have done today very directly with the Israeli Government. We will continue to do so, but we will also try to work on a way forward, as opposed to what others seem to be offering.
On the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, I want to ask what is going on over there. Has dysfunction also spread to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? The Road Safety Authority has come under intense pressure from civil servants to make use of the public services card mandatory for all driving licence applications. They spent €2 million on the project before the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, pulled the plug on it. What, in God's name, is going on? We have been accused of filibustering and delaying the Bill when we want to point to basic flaws in it. It is unworkable. A sum of €2 million has been spent in trying to make use of the public services card mandatory for all driving licence applications. I know - it is very funny. The Government Front Bench might now listen.
They are only gimmicking and acting the you-know-what, or the Ned, as we call it in Tipperary. That is what they are doing, the three of them, but it is not funny. A sum of €2 million has just been thrown away and the proposal has now been scrapped. What is going on in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport? I know that the Minister is not here. He is never here to support the Government. Will the Taoiseach try to rein him in and have some examination of the waste in the Road Safety Authority?
Yesterday a constituent came to my office and told me she went for a smear test appointment with her GP who is offering free smear tests, which is good. When she asked where the test was going to be sent to, however, she was informed it would be sent to the US. She did not want it to be sent to the US and asked for it to be done in an Irish lab instead. She was subsequently informed that this would cost her €125. She had to cancel it because she is on social welfare and cannot afford it. She has had to reschedule her smear test.
Will the Taoiseach investigate if this was a one-off incident or is there a charge for women patients to have their smear tests sent to an Irish lab? If that is the case, it is wrong and it should be dealt with.
I am not in a position to comment on any individual case. I understand smear tests done as part of CervicalCheck are sent to different labs, depending on what region the person lives in. The Irish Family Planning Association tests go to the Coombe. It may be of interest to the House to know that I have confirmed that the laboratory to which Vicky Phelan's smear tests were sent has not been contracted since 2013. About 10% of smear tests go to the Coombe while the others are divided equally between MedLab in Sandyford and Quest Diagnostics in New Jersey.
The US Government has huge responsibility for the slaughter and outrage which happened yesterday in the Middle East. It is becoming a rogue state which seems to want only to sow discord in the region. Yesterday, the EU ambassador to America, David O'Sullivan, said that in the coming days the European Union will come together to address the sanctions which the US has applied with regard to coming out of its nuclear deal with Iran. It is possible, he said, that we could introduce blocking regulations which would nullify the effect of such sanctions, in the same way we did in the 1990s with US sanctions placed against Cuba. Countries could also give directions to institutes like the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, not to deal in dollars but switch to euro currency transactions.
Given that this approach will be agreed in the next two days, has the Government decided whether we will support such measures to nullify the effects of sanctions? Will we introduce the same blocking regulations applied in the 1990s to send a message to America that what it is doing is fundamentally wrong and it will not be allowed get away with it?
I do not believe the EU approach on the Iranian nuclear deal is about sending the US a message. It is about trying to send Iran a message that the EU and others want to maintain this nuclear deal because we believe it is working. We also believe Iran is complying with its terms. Although the US has taken a different approach, we would like to see that deal remain intact. EU countries are trying to work together to ensure that happens. We support that approach.
The programme for Government proposes legislation for the reintroduction of the mobility scheme. The scheme was wound up more than five years ago. In that period, thousands of people with disabilities have been left in limbo. It is a ridiculous situation where buses with empty spaces pass by the homes of some of our young adults who need to go to a service centre for people with disabilities. They cannot avail of these empty spaces because this legislation has not yet been introduced.
The Government committed that this legislation would be introduced early in 2018. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach could give an update and let us know when those who are in need of the scheme in question will be able to avail of it?
A memorandum is due to come to the Cabinet in the next few weeks. After that, primary legislation will be required. I cannot predict how long that will take to get through the Dáil and Seanad. We intend to have the new scheme in place next year sometime.
Farmers' pockets are empty at this time. Back in 2008 and 2009, €1,100 was taken off the area aid payment but it was promised that it would be given back.
Now the Taoiseach is saying he will give €200 or €230 sometime later on this year. I am appealing to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to give them back the money that was taken off them at that time. It is theirs.
As I said to the Taoiseach, they cannot pay suppliers or contractors. They cannot pay for anything. This €1,000 or €1,100 would mean so much to them at present because there were never as low. I appeal to the Taoiseach to give them back this money which was taken off them in 2009.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is in China leading a trade delegation to try to get more business and to open more markets.
Under the programme for Government, an increased total of €25 million was committed to under the areas of natural constraint scheme and a further €25 million was provided for the sheep welfare scheme. The €25 million under the areas of natural constraint scheme will be allocated. It has been decided how it will be distributed among the three categories. That commitment was made and has been honoured this year.
Page 118 of the programme for Government document refers to how the horse and greyhound sectors are fundamentally important to rural Ireland and must be protected. In recent weeks we have read in national and international newspapers that there is another horsemeat scandal emanating from Ireland. It would appear that horses have entered the food chain from a licensed facility under the control of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with incorrect passports, double microchips and banned medications. Information has also come to my attention that horses not fit for human consumption were slaughtered at a facility licensed to slaughter horses fit for human consumption on the same day that horses were being processed for the food chain. Is the Government aware of what is going on? What steps is the Government taking on this matter?
In the first instance, as in the last horsemeat scandal and the pork meat scandal, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is the competent authority that deals with it. Some of the allegations or contentions made by the Deputy are of a criminal nature. If the Deputy has evidence pertaining to that issue, he should bring it to the relevant authorities.
Is the Taoiseach aware that general practitioners in the Louth and Meath region are concerned today? This is in connection with the programme for Government commitment to an improved health service. GPs are concerned that blood tests for the region are being outsourced from the public sector to the private sector. They expect results to come back in a paper-based format. GPs are telling me today that blood tests from last week that should have been back by now are not yet returned to their practices. This has a major impact on patient safety. Is the Taoiseach aware of this? Is the Government aware of this? Will they get to the bottom of this and assure us that the delayed blood tests in Louth and Meath are not causing health difficulties to my constituents and to the wider population?
I am not aware of any specific issues relating to delayed tests in Louth or Meath. I will pass it on to the Minister for Health and ask him to provide Deputy Byrne with a detailed reply.
It certainly is no secret that blood tests, X-rays, operations and all sorts of investigations are outsourced to the private sector and private laboratories. That has been the case for a long time. Indeed, many Irish people spend a great deal of money to have tests done in private facilities, whether laboratories or radiology centres. I hope, notwithstanding recent events, that people do not make the assumption that Irish or public laboratories are necessarily better than private ones. Any of these laboratories are of course ISO-accredited.
I wish to ask about promised legislation relating to vacant site levies. It has come to my attention that in the Limerick area, land zoned for residential purposes that is being used for agricultural purposes may be coming under the site levy and may incur charges under the site levy. I believe it would be helpful if we could correct any anomalies that might be within the legislation to target what we need to target, that is, land hoarding by developers. We need to negate that against the agricultural use. Land that is being used for agricultural use might be zoned through no fault of the landowner.
I thank Deputy Neville for the question. As the Deputy will be aware, in last years' budget we increased by more than double the vacant site levy on vacant land that was being hoarded and that could be used for the development of housing. From the beginning of this year the 3% levy applies and from next year the levy jumps to 7%. That means over a two-year period there will be a 10% levy on land.
It is up to each local authority to decide which lands go onto its register. If farmland is in productive use, it should not be included. If the Deputy wishes to give me the specific example and case, I will speak to the local authority about it.
Page 67 of the programme for Government refers to health and ensuring support in a crisis. When he answered Deputy Micheál Martin earlier, the Taoiseach alluded to the fact that the people who failed to escalate the matter to do with cervical screening did so on the basis that they assumed others were dealing with it. On that basis, will the Taoiseach outline for us whether any disciplinary processes are under way? Is anyone on verbal or written warnings? Is it to be the case that there will be no tangible sanction as a result of the failure by our system to acknowledge a culture of containment and preventing information from getting to those who most need it, namely, the patients?
There are no disciplinary processes under way that I am aware of. Not being the employer, however, I may not necessarily be aware of them for obvious reasons.
As I have said before, we are seeking four things. The first is to care for the women and their families. The second is to get to the truth. The third is to establish accountability. The fourth is to rebuild confidence in cancer screening. Specifically, Deputy MacSharry talks about truth and accountability. We have the Scally inquiry. The best way we can get to the truth is through the Scally inquiry. The best way we can get to the truth is to examine all of the facts, take them in totality and then draw conclusions. I do not believe we can get to the truth by examining bits of facts or snippets of information as they come out, often out of context. That is not how we get to the truth. I appeal to people to allow Dr. Scally, assisted by Karin Denton, to get on with his inquiry and to get to as many facts as quickly as we possibly can. If we are genuinely interested in the truth, that is what we should be doing.