Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, together.
My Department has responsibility for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC.
The National Economic and Social Council statutory basis is as a body under the framework of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006. This framework is no longer necessary and Government has agreed that it should be dissolved and the NESC itself placed on a statutory footing.
This work is ongoing and is the only legislation being prepared in my Department.
The role of NESC is to analyse and report on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development.
It is a little like Groundhog Day in that there is only one piece of legislation on the Department of the Taoiseach's list and we are again rehearsing the progress of the legislation to put the NESC on a statutory footing. I am interested in hearing if that legislation is going ahead and, if so, when it will be published.
More importantly, the Taoiseach told us some time ago that there are a number of contingency plans across all Departments in the event of a hard Brexit. Obviously, these contingency plans have not been published as of yet. Presumably, the Taoiseach's Department has such contingency plans. Do they include specific legislation that might need to be enacted in that eventuality? The Taoiseach previously offered a briefing on the contingency planning across Government. What is the status of that briefing such that those of us in opposition might know specifically what is being planned in the event of a hard Brexit?
On the NESC, a number of the appointments to that body have not yet been filled. Are they to be filled and does the Taoiseach know by whom they will be filled? I particularly urge the appointment to those vacant positions of people who have ideas on how to deal with the current housing and homelessness crisis.
The NESC recently published a report on the property sector. Is there anything in that report which the Government is considering responding to from a legislative point of view? The NESC report proposals on how we might begin to address the current housing and homelessness disaster are good. Is the Government taking any cognisance of them?
The Government has agreed to hold referendums to remove blasphemy and on the woman in the home articles of the Constitution and it is proposed that these will take place on the same day as the presidential election in the autumn. Can the Taoiseach say whether his Department has any role in ensuring priority is given across Departments to legislation? For example, can he say whether he is frustrated with delays in producing legislation in the health area? It has taken eight months to draft the home building finance Ireland Bill, an initiative in respect of which €750 million was allocated in last October's budget. Not one penny of that funding has been spent despite that we are experiencing a major housing crisis. The vulture fund Bill brought forward by Deputy Michael McGrath is still outstanding, as is the parole Bill brought forward by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan. These are Bills that have all-party support yet they are being continuously delayed. Is there a plan to increase the number of skilled drafters available for necessary legislation? By any yardstick, performance over the last three years in terms of the drafting and passage of legislation has been very poor.
There needs to be an analysis of this area. I am speaking in this regard not only of Bills published by the Opposition but Bills in general. The House did not sit in the week following the bank holiday, the reason for which I do not know. We could have been in here on Wednesday and Thursday last legislating. As the House proposes to adjourn on 12 July - which I propose to challenge with the Business Committee - a lot of important legislation will not be passed prior to the summer recess.
There are inquiries under the remit of the Taoiseach's Department. I presume work in that regard is ongoing and that there are no issues arising in regard to the IBRC inquiry of which the House needs to be informed.
On the question raised earlier by Deputy Boyd Barrett in regard to multinational tax evasion, I did not discuss that issue at my meeting with Prime Minister Michel but we did discuss the issue of digital taxation and the EU Commission's proposal for a digital levy, of which Belgium is a supporter and Ireland is not because we take the view that corporation tax should be applied where value is created and profits are made and sales taxes should apply where a product or service is sold. We have a very firm position in that regard. Also, as such a levy would reduce the corporation tax revenues coming to Ireland, it is a proposal we cannot support.
On the NESC legislation, it is going ahead but it is not a legislative priority. The NESC is functioning well without that legislative change. We will do it but other Bills are taking higher priority, including, for example, the legislation around abortion and also the House Building Finance Ireland Bill, which was mentioned by Deputy Martin and which was passed at Cabinet yesterday. I am not sure if it has been published yet but it is ready for publication.
On the vacancies on the NESC, I think they have been filled. There are two sets of appointees, namely, the sectoral appointees and the independent experts who I appoint. I signed off on appointments in both regards some weeks ago. The independent experts are in the main people from an academic background. Two of them are from Ireland, one is from Northern Ireland and the other is from outside of Ireland. On the report on the property sector, I think it is a good piece of work. It is worth reading. The areas in respect of which I think it speaks most clearly are the need for a new approach to land use and land management. Government will take that on board. We propose to establish a land development agency.
We will not use NAMA because that would require EU Commission clearance and that would set the process back a year or two.
That is why we will set up an agency de novo, which will take control of public landbanks to make them available for development and buy up private land if appropriate and do the same with that. That is perhaps something we should have done decades ago but we will do it now.
It has been done in the past on a certain scale with Grangegorman and the docklands but this needs to be done in all our big cities if not nationwide.
There is a lot of work done on contingency planning for Brexit. We should be in a position to publish some of that, probably in the next couple of weeks. As is always the case we would be happy to offer a briefing to party leaders on that.
On the delays in producing legislation the record should show that 70 Bills have been enacted by this Oireachtas since this Government came into office, which is not bad for two years. It is important to recognise that. For the first time we are seeing a decent number of Private Members' Bills becoming law, not as many as I would like but six have become law in this Oireachtas, which is probably more than in the past five or six Oireachtais combined, so we are seeing a trickle of them coming through. That is not bad for a minority Government and one that does not have the ability to use the guillotine. That slows business up quite a lot because legislation that is being filibustered is causing other legislation to be delayed. Members of the Opposition who are involved in delaying legislation have to take responsibility not just for the legislation they are trying to slow down or block but also all the other legislation behind it that is being slowed down as a result.
I am frustrated just as other Deputies are with the slow pace of legislation. There are several issues. There is a need for more parliamentary draftspeople. That is being examined. There is also a need to streamline the way we manage Private Members' Bills and the Ceann Comhairle is working on that with my office and others. Departments, which should be producing good legislation that will become law and make a difference in people's lives, are now spending a huge amount of time responding to Private Members' Bills that everyone knows will not become law and that have been put down largely for the purposes of calling a press conference or making a press statement. Poor quality legislation coming from the Opposition------
-----is gluing up the system. It is legislation which, to quote Senator Nash, could have been written "on the back of a receipt". Officials having to deal with that sort of stuff is causing problems and we should be honest about that.
We should also be honest about the way we manage our time in the House in respect of the Dáil sitting for another week to get important legislation passed. I am absolutely up for that as long as that is the purpose, that we will use that extra time to get legislation passed and not for endless debates, questions and statements about the same stuff. If we are going to have extra time we should use it to get important legislation passed to which we agreed.
Not exclusively, the Dáil should carry on and the Taoiseach should be held to account at Leaders' Questions and so on. There were some proposals that would not happen at all but it is not on.