Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Order of Business
Today’s business shall be No. 8, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the draft Commission of Investigation (Response to complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse made against Bill Kenneally and related matters) Order 2018; No. 23, Childcare Support Bill 2017 - amendments from the Seanad, resumed; and No. 24, Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.
Private Members’ business shall be No. 190, motion re special needs assistants, selected by the Rural Independent Group.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere and Ireland, back from committee; No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down rules facilitating the use of financial and other information for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of certain criminal offences and repealing Council Decision 2000/642/JHA, back from committee; No. 25, pre-European Council statements; No. 26, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, resumed; No. 23, Childcare Support Bill 2017, amendments from the Seanad, resumed, if not previously concluded; No. 24, Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, resumed, if not previously concluded; and No. 27, Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016 introduced by Deputy Kelly - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. Private Members’ business shall be No. 53, Bail (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 28, statements on implementing the national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A Health-Led Response to Drug and Alcohol Use in Ireland 2017–2025; and No. 29, statements on child homelessness June 2018. No. 11, motion re report on penal reform and sentencing by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality shall be debated in the evening slot.
I refer to the first revised report of the Business Committee dated 20 June 2018. In relation to today’s business, it is proposed that the motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the draft Commission of Investigation (Response to complaints or allegations of child sexual abuse made against Bill Kenneally and related matters) Order 2018 shall be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes. Speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead not to exceed five minutes each with a five-minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere and Ireland, back from Committee, and motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down rules facilitating the use of financial and other information for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of certain criminal offences and repealing Council Decision 2000/642/JHA, back from committee, shall be taken without debate;
(2) pre-European Council statements shall commence immediately after Taoiseach’s Questions and be followed by the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 25(1) for one hour. The statements shall be brought to a conclusion after two hours and 45 minutes with the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead for a period not to exceed ten minutes each. There shall be a second round of contributions not exceeding ten minutes each with a five-minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; and
(3) Second Stage of the Bail (Amendment) Bill 2017 shall conclude after two hours, if not previously concluded.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) statements on implementing the national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A Health-Led Response to Drug and Alcohol Use in Ireland 2017-2025, shall adjourn after the opening round of statements by a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, whose statements shall not exceed ten minutes each and all Members may share time; and
(2) statements on child homelessness June 2018 shall be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes, if not previously concluded, and shall be followed by Topical Issues, and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of the motion re report on penal reform and sentencing. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead for a period not exceeding ten minutes each with a five-minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 is scheduled for Report Stage today. I am aware that we cannot have a debate about it now, but a very unusual set of rulings was made by the Chair at committee. Virtually every amendment proposed by the Opposition was ruled out of order on the basis of Standing Order 179(3), that is, on the basis that they proposed to impose a charge on the State. For example, an amendment that proposed to increase the compensation paid by employers generally was ruled out of order on the basis that the State is an employer. If that had general application we would never be able to propose an amendment to anything. If we were amending legislation on landlords or property rights, the State is a property owner. If we were amending contract law, the State enters into contracts and there might be a potential cost. It is a new departure which ruled out virtually all Opposition amendments. It puts us in an invidious situation in respect of Report Stage. I do not suppose there is a remedy for it but perhaps we could discuss it generally at the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform.
Let us have a discussion about it immediately after this session and we will see if matters can be resolved. Apart from that, is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. I call on Deputy O'Dowd.
The debate on the national drugs strategy is very important. The problem is that there are 80 minutes for the debate in total. The Government gets ten minutes and the Opposition gets 70. The difficulty I have is that this is a huge issue in my constituency, where there is very serious intimidation by criminals. People are being threatened. One family has been followed from one town to another. The property the local authority were moving them into has been attacked. It is a huge issue. In the interests of accountability in the Oireachtas, I need to speak for my constituents here on Thursday.
The difficulty with that proposal, on which I sought clarity today, concerns the question of when it will be resumed. I would be happy if it were resumed next week but if the Dáil is to adjourn shortly, it might not be resumed until the autumn. It is such an urgent matter for my constituents.
The report today that the half-year deficit in the HSE may rise to €300 million, with a further increase by the end of the year, certainly raises a continuing issue over transparency regarding the healthcare budget, the needs of the healthcare services generally and the role of the Government in its interaction with the HSE and the Oireachtas. Invariably, we are never presented with a full, transparent picture in advance of the budget. Last year, a deficit of approximately €140 million was shoved into this year. The problems will continue to build if there is not a proper, transparent assessment of need. There was some indication that Storm Emma and the influenza issue at the beginning of the year might have been factors. One third of the deficit is due to shortfalls in income, according to the Minister for Health in a response in May. The figures in the media today are real and have been confirmed by the Minister. Rather than just continuing with his defined role as a detached commentator on health matters, the Taoiseach should note that, as an Oireachtas, we need far more transparency than we are currently getting on health issues.
There is no legislation promised on this but it is certainly a matter on which the Ministers for Finance and Health are working. Part of the problem is transparency. The Government is not hiding anything. It is difficult to follow the money in our health service. We know there are overruns in many areas, and we do not know exactly why. It is certainly not because of increased output. It is not that 7% more patients are being seen or that 7% more operations are being carried out. Expenditure is increasing while output is not. In some cases, even attendances are not. We are trying to get to the bottom of the reasons for the overrun. When we do, will deal with the matter, sooner rather than later.
The programme for Government commits to supporting the establishment of a public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane almost 30 years ago. Today Pat's wife, Geraldine, and the Finucane family are in the British Supreme Court in an attempt to compel the British Government to fulfil its obligation to hold a public inquiry, as agreed at Weston Park in 2001. The Taoiseach may recall that in 2001 there was an agreement to examine four cases between the two governments. Three of these inquiries have taken place but the Pat Finucane inquiry has not. The de Silva report, published in December 2012, revealed a shocking scale of collusion between the British State and unionist paramilitaries. The fact of collusion in the killing of Pat Finucane is well established and accepted by the British Government. All of this serves to reinforce the need for an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. His family has campaigned long and hard and with great dignity and it is now time that the British Government stepped forward and met its obligations.
The Taoiseach will recall that it is not just a matter of a commitment in the programme for Government but the decided will of the Oireachtas that the British Government should fulfil its obligations in respect of the inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane.
I am not sure that there was a question. It is absolutely the Government's position that there should be a public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. I understand the UK Supreme Court is hearing a case on it now. I would be best not to comment on it but we do believe there should be an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. The Tánaiste is due to meet the family again quite soon. It is absolutely something we will continue to raise with the British Government.
The Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, which is a Council of Europe body, has published a draft report criticising the changes to the judicial appointments system proposed in the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017.
This follows an extraordinary intervention by the presidents of the five Irish courts. They directly contradict the views of the Government that there has been in-depth consultation with the Judiciary. They say that replacing the Chief Justice as chairperson, reducing the number of judges on the commission, creating a lay majority and having a lay chairperson accountable to Parliament were components which had never been subject to an independent review or scrutiny or expert report.
In light of all the views throughout Europe about independent judiciaries and the concerns about the undermining of judicial independence, as well as the views of GRECO and the European Commission, will the Taoiseach pause and reflect again on the Bill?
The Deputy will be aware that this Bill is proceeding through both Houses. We had extensive debate on it in the Dáil recently, during which it was amended. It is currently in the Seanad. I have been reflecting and I will continue to do so. I assure the House that it remains the Government's priority that this legislation be enacted-----
-----and that we reform the manner in which our judges are appointed.
I have taken careful note of what was said by GRECO and I had the opportunity of meeting the body. One of the many amendments to the Bill relates directly to the point raised by GRECO on the number of judges on the proposed new commission. I was pleased the House agreed an amendment to increase that number to five, which will comprise representatives of all courts.
Due to the importance of the point raised by the Deputy, I acknowledge some work must be done on this. Again, I urge the co-operation of all Members when it comes back from the Seanad to reform and modernise our legislation in accordance with international best practice.
Last week the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, upheld the right of a vulture fund to issue eviction orders to more than 20 households at Leeside Apartments in Cork in the middle of the largest housing crisis in the history of the State. Many of the households have children and are low-income. Many of the residents have had Leeside Apartments as their home for years. One of them, Aimee O’Riordan, the mother of a five-year-old son, was here to tell her story this morning. All of them - men, women and children - now face the prospect of being made homeless. They have nowhere else to go - all of this to maximise profits for a vulture fund.
The guidelines issued to the RTB before Christmas by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, failed to protect the Leeside Apartments residents, despite them offering to vacate their homes for a month to allow for renovations. The Minister has promised to bring in fresh legislation should his guidelines fail to protect residents in such cases. Will he comment on this case? Will he inform the House of his plans to bring in the legislation which he promised?
It is not the case that the guidelines failed to protect the residents in this instance. The fact of the matter is that an independent body, the RTB, found that substantial refurbishment was required and the measure was properly invoked in terms of the notice to quit the apartments themselves. In November last year, the board published detailed guidelines as to what "substantial refurbishment" means. It remains a requirement whereby landlords can serve a notice to quit if they want to make a substantial refurbishment necessary for their property. That said, we have recognised that some people have tried to use this as an excuse to evict tenants on spurious grounds, not regardless of being appropriate. As a result of that, I will bring forward a second rent protection Bill this year with measures relating to substantial refurbishment to protect tenants who are being abused in such instances.
In the programme for Government there is a commitment to increasing accessibility to the courts' legal systems. More than 40 years since the introduction of free legal aid, there is still no such option available for Irish families facing eviction from family homes and farms. I note the Josie Airey case was led by Mary Robinson at the time. The situation has led to persons regularly being sent to jail when they will not vacate their homes. We have a housing crisis. When will the Taoiseach introduce free legal aid for these people who are being intimidated by the justice system? They get legal aid in the Supreme Court after having no representation all that time. They get it then because of the Government's fear of the European courts. Will the Taoiseach please introduce free legal aid for these people who are trying to keep roofs over their heads? There are criminals with 40 previous convictions who get free legal aid - sometimes they have 100 previous convictions - yet families trying to keep a roof over their heads cannot get free legal aid.
As I understand it, free legal aid is available from the Government-funded Free Legal Advice Centres for people seeking it but I will get a more detailed answer for the Deputy and supply it to him.
With regard to a previous question, I have confirmation that no migrants rescued from the Mediterranean by our Naval Service have been handed over to the Libyan coastguard.
Large numbers of people continue to be denied access to timely healthcare, whether at hospital or community level. The recruitment and retention problems within the health service are now reaching crisis point. Sláintecare is an all-party strategy to address those kinds of deep structural problems and to bring about reform of the health service to bring it in line with best practice in Europe. We do not know where the Government stands on Sláintecare. The Taoiseach promised a Government response by last Christmas. He promised the establishment of an implementation office. He promised a lead executive would be recruited months ago. None of these things has happened. He promised legislation in this area and we still have not seen it. What is the Government's position on Sláintecare?
The implementation office has been established and we are in a position to appoint a lead executive for Sláintecare so we should be able to do that very shortly. In the next couple of weeks, the Minister will bring the implementation plan to Cabinet. While the Sláintecare report is very good and contains principles I agree with, it falls down in a lot of areas. When one reads the sections on recruitment and retention, using public money efficiently and making sure the money actually gets to the patient, there is not an awful lot in it, which is why we needed to do so much work to bring it to implementation plan standard.
I want to clarify the response the Taoiseach gave to me last week on Leaders' Questions when I asked about directly elected mayors. I was very glad that the Taoiseach seemed to indicate that with regard to Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway, he intended to have a plebiscite to introduce the ability of people to vote for mayors. With regard to Dublin, he said he would have to look at the issue because it was complex. Has the Taoiseach decided on the issue of allowing the people of Dublin to have a directly elected mayor? There was a slight caveat when I read the Official Report afterwards. The Taoiseach seemed to indicate he would have the plebiscite in May. I assumed the Taoiseach intended to have the plebiscite this October and we would vote for mayoral candidates in May. Is the Taoiseach considering having a plebiscite in May at the same time we have the local elections? It would be slightly farcical to ask people if they want a different system and at the same time getting them to vote in the old system. Will the Taoiseach confirm what exactly the intended arrangements are?
There has been no Government decision on it yet other than we will have plebiscites on directly elected mayors. We need to be realistic about timelines. I do not think it would be possible between October and May to pass all the legislation necessary to give effect to those new offices.
Any of these things would need one or two years' lead-in and people will know that from when the office of the London mayor was established, it took a number of years to establish it properly.
We all welcome the very warm and good weather but it also brings challenges, particularly for the farming community. Will the Taoiseach take up a matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on showing flexibility for farmers who are participating in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and who have taken up the traditional hay meadow option within that scheme, which prevents the cutting of grass and hay before 1 July? It is five days from now. I contacted the Minister over the weekend to ask that some flexibility be shown. He has so far refused to do so. It is important, given we need to replenish fodder stocks, that every opportunity is given to the farming community to ensure it maximises fodder saving this year. I ask the Taoiseach to respond to me on this matter and to take it up with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to see that some flexibility is given in order that farmers can get on with that important work.
I ask very strongly that the Taoiseach looks at this issue, which is of great concern to the farming community. In the cold spell we had last March, the Taoiseach called in an emergency response unit to deal with the crises that would result from the very cold weather. While everybody welcomes fine weather, it brings a considerable number of challenges, particularly for elderly people and the farming community. There are concerns about forest fires and water shortages, particularly in the cities. I ask the Taoiseach to consider reconvening the emergency response unit because although fine weather is something we all enjoy and welcome, the challenges it brings are no less serious than they were during the cold weather. I ask the Taoiseach to seriously consider that because it may be necessary if it continues for the period that has been forecast.
I call on the Taoiseach to intervene. During the cold snap, the farming community was absolutely instrumental in helping out our communities. It is a reasonable request to bring the cutting date forward to accommodate farming families. I call on the Taoiseach to do that. I have written to the Minister on the issue.
Together with Deputy McConalogue and other colleagues, I support this call. I have been contacted by 20 constituents who are involved in the GLAS. We need flexibility on this. Last year, as a result of the bad weather, those farmers could not cut the meadows. Now they want a little bit of flexibility to cut them when the weather is good. We do not know when the weather will break. I have been in contact with the Minister and had no response. I ask the Taoiseach to get involved and ask him to bring a bit of flexibility to it.
I support Deputy McConalogue's request. It is only a matter of a couple of days until 1 July. Farmers are entered into a contract under the GLAS. In the constituency I represent in Sligo-Leitrim and south Donegal, there is a real urgency about this. The same issue arises in north Donegal. My colleague, Deputy McHugh, spoke to me earlier today about it. It is vitally important to give farmers an opportunity to cut hay this week because we do not know what the weather will be like. For some of the areas I represent it is vitally important that we get a positive response.
I will make hay while the sun shines. That is what the farmers are trying to do. This is a very simple issue. The Department has shown flexibility in the past when there were crises, particularly around the slurry issues. It is very sensible to simply allow a little flexibility in order that farmers can cut hay meadows a couple of days earlier. If they have to wait until 1 July, they may not be able to save the hay because it may be raining. It is as simple as that. A little bit of flexibility by the Minister would solve an awful lot of problems.
Yesterday I made contact with the Minister, as did many of my colleagues. Unfortunately our calls seem to be falling on deaf ears because the Minister made an announcement yesterday that he would not allow farmers this vital exemption. It would only be between now and 1 July, which is next Sunday. It is so important that the Taoiseach should go to the Minister today and, in the interest of common sense and the honour of God, tell him we have this great opportunity.
People should be encouraged to cut rushes and they should be baling, not alone cutting, hay. However, they have to wait until next Sunday. If the weather was to break next week, it would cost individual farmers thousands and thousands of euro. This is an opportunity that should be seized upon. It would be mighty for the Taoiseach to be seen to be directly getting involved in this. The people would be delighted with him.
I picked stones during many a summer but I have never cut hay. We do not believe it is necessary at this time to convene the national emergency co-ordination group because we are at status yellow. Given the nature of the weather we are having, perhaps that should be "status bronze". We will keep it under review.
On GLAS, I am advised by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine that there is no law or regulation prohibiting farmers from cutting hay before 1 July. Under GLAS, however, some farmers have opted into the traditional hay meadow action. This is a voluntary action as part of a voluntary scheme. If farmers opt into the scheme, they are compensated at a rate of €315 per ha up to a maximum of 10 ha. This is a biodiversity measure and will deliver approximately €18 million in payments this year. The purpose of it is to maintain and conserve grassland flora and fauna.