Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Order of Business
Tuesday’s business shall be No. 6, motion re appointment of member to GSOC; and No. 23, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages (resumed). Private Members’ business shall be No. 179, motion re inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 7, motion re Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998; No. 8, motion re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 - continuance of certain provisions; No 23, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages (resumed); No. 46, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 [PMB] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 23, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages (resumed). Private Members’ Business shall be No. 180, motion re housing, selected by Solidarity-PBP.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 8a, motion re referral to select committee of the accession of Ireland to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere; No. 24, statements on incorrect registrations; and No. 25, statements on external independent clinical review of the maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe. No. 9, motion re report on cybersecurity for children and young adults from the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs shall be debated in the evening slot.
In respect of the proposal of arrangements for this week’s business, I refer to the first revised report of the Business Committee, dated 11 June 2018 and in relation to today's business, it is proposed that the motion re appointment of member to GSOC shall conclude within 85 minutes, if not previously concluded and speeches shall be confined to a single round by a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups or a Member nominated in their stead and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case. There shall be a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) The motion re Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and motion re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 - continuance of certain provisions shall be discussed together and to conclude within 85 minutes, if not previously concluded. The speeches shall be confined to a single round by a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups or a Member nominated in their stead and shall not exceed ten minutes each with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; and
(2) The Report Stage of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 [PMB] be taken in Government time and shall commence at 8.15 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded, and if it concludes before 10.15 p.m., the order shall resume with the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, if not previously concluded.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) The motion re referral to select committee of the accession of Ireland to the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately;
(2) Statements on incorrect registrations shall conclude within 90 minutes and shall be confined to a single round of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or a Member nominated in their stead, which shall not exceed ten minutes each with a ten-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; and
(3) Statements on external independent clinical review of the maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes, with ten minutes for all other Members and a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.
Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed? Agreed.
As the House will be aware, this month marks the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, a former Minister. As we all know, for far too many decades members of the LGBT community were wrongly discriminated against and many were convicted on charges of being gay. In the UK, Turing's law was passed to pardon all those who were convicted before decriminalisation was introduced. I am aware that the Northern Assembly passed a motion calling for a pardon. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government intends to bring forth legislation to achieve a similar objective, namely, to pardon all those who were convicted? This dates back not to a latter era but to the mid-1970s, when up to 50 people were prosecuted.
The 25th anniversary of decriminalisation will be marked on 24 June. We are working on a motion, which I hope all parties can agree, to recognise the wrongs that were done. There is a complication in that it is not always possible to distinguish one conviction from another. In some cases, the convictions involve minors and it is not necessarily possible in all cases to distinguish whether the offence involved a minor, a point that makes things a little trickier in Ireland for reasons Deputy Micheál Martin will understand. It is our intention to have an all-party motion in the spirit mentioned by the Deputy. Senator Nash is leading on this in the Seanad, along with Senator Buttimer and others. We also intend to have a Government event, yet to be organised or arranged, to mark decriminalisation 25 years ago. I would like to reach out to Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and ask her to take part in that because she was the line Minister who brought in the reform at the time and she deserves credit for it.
The news yesterday that the Taoiseach was prepared to allow the negotiations on the backstop arrangement to be subsumed into the wider Brexit negotiations is troubling. Last December, he told us that the backstop was a cast-iron guarantee. He told us that in the event of no deal there would be no hard border. He told us it was a sure thing, but the details were never worked out because, as we know, the British Government dithered and dithered. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that the Government in Britain is in disarray following the resignation this morning of a senior Minister on foot of the outworkings of the Brexit negotiations there.
Does the Taoiseach believe that the backstop arrangement was not part of the overall negotiations, that it was a separate legal agreement? The Government told us it would be separate from the overall arrangements. Does he still believe that we need certainty regarding the backstop arrangement, that that certainty must come at the European Council meeting in June and that, without it, progress will not have been made?
It is not covered in the programme for Government and there is no legislation promised in respect of it. However, 16 questions relating to European affairs are due to be dealt with during Question Time so I am sure I will be answering the Deputy's query then.
I do not think there is a Deputy in the House who does not have a number of queries in his or her constituency office about the mobility allowance and the replacement scheme that has been promised for some considerable time. I understand the complexity of the issue and the difficulty in drafting the replacement scheme but we have waited for it for an inordinate amount of time.
There was a difficulty following advice from the Attorney General regarding the legal framework that defined the existing mobility allowance. We need certainty now. The Government in which the Labour Party was involved promised that there would be a replacement scheme but it has taken time to work it out.
The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, has prepared draft heads of a Bill to reinstate a transport support allowance but it has not yet gone through Cabinet. Once it does, he will engage with the all-party committee. We still intend to legislate this year.
Despite the contempt the Taoiseach is showing Deputies for raising issues to do with inquiries that are ongoing, I wish to refer to the scoping exercise being conducted by Dr. Scally. Along with all other health spokespersons in the House, I sat down with the Minister, Deputy Harris, four or five weeks ago. We were given a commitment that the scoping exercise would be quick and that it would be completed by the end of June. However, on page 6 of the interim report there are worrying details regarding the lack of information coming from the HSE. On page 9, it is stated that the timescale is, very conveniently, being pushed back until the end of the summer when the House will not be sitting.
There are simple questions to be asked of, and answered by, the HSE. Does the Taoiseach remember Dr. Tony O'Brien? He was asked several times for a list of the clinics from where the 209 misdiagnoses came. He committed to giving us the list, as did the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe.
The clinical laboratory technicians told us that it was a simple answer but the interim report from the inquiry does not contain such an answer. In addition, there will be a delay until the end of the summer. Women are dying while this is happening. I do not think it is fair to the women who are dying from cancer to delay this any further. There must be an investigation into why it is happening. Perhaps the Tasoieach could hire private investigators to monitor people in his Department and in the HSE.
All I said when we set up the inquiry, the terms of reference of which were agreed on an all-party basis, was that we should let it do its work and respect its independence. I do not think that is contemptuous or contemptible.
If we set it up, we should allow it to do its work and who should respect its independence. The first report of the inquiry, which deals with term of reference (d) regarding information provided to women about screening and the issue of consent, was published earlier today There is also a progress report in which Dr. Scally updates us and the public on the progress he is making regarding the other parts of his inquiry. He has now asked for an extension and that he be allowed to complete his work by the end of the summer. We should respect his independence and allow him the time has asked for to do the work.
I respect the inquiry and, indeed, Dr. Scally but people are concerned and there are huge issues relating to this area. A family in Tipperary have contacted me to say that they have been waiting for six weeks for answers from the helpline. They are looking for information on their sister, who is deceased. Nothing will bring her back. Just ten minutes ago, the family were told that they will have to wait another four weeks before they get any information. The woman in question died of cervical cancer and it is just not good enough that the helpline cannot cope and is so inefficient. It is time something was done. The investigation is ongoing but I worry about it because our experience of inquiries has been so bad. Surely the helpline can be efficient, can give some information and can engage meaningfully with these families who have lost loved ones or are in the process of losing loved ones who have death sentences hanging over them.
I do not have the up-to-date figures for the helpline but those I saw from a few days ago indicated that well over three quarters, if not 80% or 90%, of calls have been returned. By returned, I do not mean answered - I mean that the people involved have been contacted and had their questions answered.
Tá an Straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus an plean gníomhaíochta atá geallta ardaithe go mion minic agam agus cúpla seachtain ó shin thug an tAire Stáit a bhriathar go mbeidh an plean sin os comhair an Cabinet inniu. Seo lá na cinniúna. Cá bhfuil an plean gníomhaíochta? Táimid leath bealaigh tríd bliain na Gaeilge 2018 agus táimid fós ag fanacht ar an bplean gníomhaíochta. Thug an tAire Stáit geallúint, dúirt sé go mbeidh sé os comhair an Cabinet inniu agus tá mé ag lorg freagra ón Taoiseach inniu, ní ón Aire Stáit. Tá seisean i gceannas agus tá plean gníomhaíochta ag teastáil go géar.
Tá na sonraí agam. I ndiaidh an comhaid a fheiceáil inné táim sásta go mbeidh an plean gníomhaíochta cúig bliana réidh fá choinne an Bord Rialtas Dé Máirt seo chugainn agus ina dhiaidh sin beimid ag déanamh agus ag treabhadh ar aghaidh fadúda plean gníomhaíochta a fhoilsiú ina dhiaidh sin ach beidh sé réidh Dé Máirt seo chugainn agus an fáth nach bhfuil sé réidh inniu ná go mbeidh cúpla rudaí de dhíth agus beidh cúpla pointí de dhíth fosta. Tá an Teachta Connolly ceart go ndearna mise gealltanas go rachadh sé go dtí an Bord Rialtas inniu ach d'athraigh an clár. Táimid san áit sin ach beimid amach as an mbearna baoil Dé Máirt seo chugainn le cúidiú Dé.
Three challenges have now been lodged against the results of the recent referendum. We are aware that there is a separation of powers and the courts will proceed accordingly. Some of us met the Minister for Health and we are expecting the legislation to be published next month. If those court challenges are not dealt with, is it possible for us to proceed with enacting the legislation? If both Houses can proceed with enacting the legislation, can it then be implemented if the court challenges have not been disposed of in advance?
That is a good question. I am not sure I have the answer. I will check up on the position. There are legal challenges obviously. They are with the High Court and it will make its decision in its own time. However, I hope it will be done as expeditiously as possible. We will continue to prepare the legislation in the meantime based on the timeline we set out. There has been no delay in drafting the legislation but it could not be enacted until all the court cases, if there are any, have been heard. I am not sure if we can introduce it. I will check.
This question relates to A Programme for a Partnership Government and funding for the Ability programme. There was an announcement by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, in conjunction with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, last year inviting applications for this programme. Will the Taoiseach explain why there is such a regional imbalance in approving funding under this programme? Everywhere north of a line from Galway and Roscommon to Dublin has been excluded. No one can understand this. It was not that we were not here. Other Donegal Deputies and I were present when representatives from the Bluestacks Special Needs Foundation and other groups such as iCare met the Minister. However, yesterday we were chastised by the Taoiseach's Donegal Minister. He said we are wrong to say that Donegal is being snubbed and that this is a myth. Donegal is being snubbed. It is not a myth, it is a fact.
Will the Minister of State please-----
There is no legislation promised on this matter but I will make inquiries with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and ask her to furnish the Deputy with a detailed reply.
On the same point, as well as on a wider point, the Ability programme, funding for which has been announced, was supposed to assist young people between the ages of 16 to 29 to transition from school to employment and training. Of the 27 projects that were announced for funding nationally, at a cost of €16 million, only one was north of the Dublin to Galway line, which was a project in Roscommon. The rest of the northern half of the country was totally excluded, as if there are no children or young adults in that region with disabilities and in need of support.
Will the Taoiseach revert to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, and ask them to revise the criteria by which this funding was allocated and to ensure that funding is allocated to the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation, the Inishowen Children's Autism Related Education, iCARE, and the Extern applications, which were not given funding. The iCARE organisation provides autism-related support, education and respite in the Inishowen area, and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, met it a couple of months ago when it was seeking extra funding, which has not been forthcoming as yet. The service is on its knees and needs funding. It receives no funding at the moment; it survives due to fundraising activities. Will the Taoiseach engage with those Ministers to ensure those services get a fair crack of the whip and that the north of the country, and Donegal in particular, is not ignored?
I want to speak on behalf of multiple sclerosis, MS, sufferers from Kerry and throughout the country. It is a fact that Irish patients have the slowest access to new medicines in western Europe. Ocrelizumab is a new treatment available for MS sufferers. The MS Society recently met with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. I am asking the Government to look seriously at this drug, and other drugs for MS suffers in Ireland, and to please help make it available for them in order that they can have a better quality of life. Last night I met people who are suffering from MS. This drug would improve their lives greatly. I sincerely ask the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and the Government to look at this request in a sympathetic way.
A process exists by which new drugs are approved in Ireland. It is a process that was set out in an Act of the Oireachtas. It does not involve a Government or ministerial decision, but rather an analysis by the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics and a final decision by the HSE national drugs committee. I will certainly let the Minister for Health know that Deputy Michael Healy-Rae has raised the matter again and will relay his concerns on the matter.
In the programme for Government a commitment was given to ensuring a strong and visible policing force in every community. However, in Cavan-Monaghan we have seen a surge in crime. It has increased by 36%, with over 483 burglaries last year. Only in the last month we have seen horrific, callous aggravated burglaries committed against the elderly, one of who was held at gunpoint in my constituency. The Garda did a fantastic job in apprehending these criminals. However, the Garda in my constituency are working with very stretched, minimal resources and is without the full complement of manpower it deserves. At the recent Garda Representative Association, GRA, conference real concerns were expressed about Garda policing in the Border region in the context of Brexit looming. There was a call for over 1,000 gardaí to be stationed in the area, with over 200 potential border crossings in the Cavan-Monaghan area alone.
Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to the concerns of gardaí relating to the manpower and the resources that are badly needed in that area?
A week ago this evening, in Cahersiveen, more than 500 people attended a meeting on the same issue, looking for their Garda station to be manned and open 24 hours a day and looking for more gardaí to address anti-social behaviour, which recently culminated in a murder in their town. The Taoiseach said in the programme for Government that he would open six new Garda stations. I am calling for him to open the ones that were closed full time. They are open in name, but they are not open for 24 hours a day. Along the coastline from Kenmare to Cahersiveen to Killorglin, Garda numbers are way down. People are looking for Cahirsiveen Garda station to be manned 24 hours a day, and they are looking for the return of their superintendent. Even their superintendent was taken from them.
I acknowledge the importance of the issues raised by the Deputies. I stress that unprecedented funding has been made available by the Government to An Garda Síochána - a sum in excess of €1.6 billion. I acknowledge the valid point raised by Deputy Smyth in respect of Border policing. I visited the Border recently and had an opportunity to discuss the issue with local gardaí.
In reply to Deputy Healy-Rae, the Government's ambition is to have 21,000 members of An Garda Síochána in service in three years. We are on target to achieve that. I look forward to attending a passing-out ceremony in Templemore next Friday, which will result in another 200 highly ambitious, energetic and well-trained gardaí entering service. Having regard to the fact that it is the Garda Commissioner's job to disburse An Garda Síochána's numbers throughout the country, it is both fair and reasonable to suggest that some of these new members will be stationed in Kerry and in Cavan-Monaghan.
The residential tenancies (amendment) Bill and the housing (regulation of approved housing bodies) Bill are both promised. They will affect the regulation of the rental sector. Is it envisaged that either or both of those Bills will come before the House before the end of this session?
I thank the Deputy for the question. The residential tenancies (amendment) Bill is priority legislation. It is being drafted at the moment, and dates have been agreed with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is my ambition, if we can get that Bill published shortly, to have it passed as quickly as possible and before the recess. That will depend on the co-operation of the committee in bringing forward those measures. As for other measures that we want to introduce to protect tenants in the market, a second Bill is proposed. I hope see that published before the end of this term but to be enacted in the autumn.
Section 9 of the programme for Government deals with care for the elderly, specifically the investment required for 30,000 of our citizens whose home is now one of the 580 private or public nursing homes in this country. Last week members of the Committee on Public Petitions were addressed by the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall. He dealt with the issue of additional charges being levied on old-age pensioners, OAPs, for social activities in nursing homes, which has led to people being "impoverished by the charges", and having less money in their pocket than the grandchildren who visit them. He said people's autonomy was being eroded and they were ending up with a disposable income of €7 per week.
Will the Government examine the contracts for care in nursing homes and take into consideration the fears expressed by the Ombudsman in our committee hearings last week in respect of the impoverishment of our elderly?
That matter is currently being examined by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, to ensure there is full transparency around charges in order that people know what they are for and that they only apply for additional or extra services and activities, and not for those that would be expected from a nursing home. This is an issue of concern to many elderly people and their families but the Minister of State is aware of it and he is working on it.
I wish to address the tourism commitments in the programme for Government. One of the finest tourism assets we have is the West Cork Secret activity centre in Kilbrittain. Its visitor numbers have increased year after year since opening. This all-year-round secret garden is a popular attraction that brings in visitors from all over Ireland and abroad. It is the brainchild of the O'Mahony family, who built up this wonderful facility from scratch, putting hours of hard work and planning into it. It is now creating as many as ten jobs in the rural community of Kilbrittain. However, it is facing an uphill battle to remain open, as it has been hit with a increase in its insurance cost from €7,000 last year to €25,000 this year. This is unacceptable, and it is the case in many more businesses throughout west Cork and Ireland. We have spent the past two and a half years talking about tackling the issue of insurance overcharging in the Dáil, but as the Taoiseach can see, we have not succeeded. Companies are going out of business. Will the Government take immediate action to stop what is nothing short of an insurance scandal?
We have discussed the insurance issue as it affects householders, businesses and motor insurance policies over the past several months in this House. Nothing is being done by the relevant Departments. Meetings have been held throughout the country giving the impression that something was happening. Insurance costs are spiralling out of control in every sector of the insurance industry. Do the Minister or the Government understand how serious it is for businesses and for individuals?