Wednesday, 11 July 2018
Questions on Promised Legislation
We have 30 minutes for this particular matter, with one minute for a question and one minute for the answer. If earlier questioners consume more than one minute or if an answer takes more than one minute, this leaves less time for the people at the end of the list. The list is compiled on the basis on which Deputies have indicated and in the order in which I have seen them. The list can be viewed at the beginning or end of the session.
There are a number of commitments in the programme for Government in regard to education. I wish to address the commitment on capitation. The commitment is that capitation rates for schools will be set on a three-year rolling basis. This has not happened. We know that capitation rates are far too low for many schools and that they need to be increased. There is also a commitment to examine measures to assist teaching principals. Anybody who has met teaching principals recently will know that they are at the pin of their collar and they are finding it extremely difficult to operate within schools given the increased responsibilities attached to schools in terms of special needs, additional staff and so on, so much so that many are leaving their posts and there is great difficulty in recruiting teaching principals, namely, those who can teach classes as well as operate as principals. Will the Taoiseach outline the Government's plans to fulfil these commitments?
The Deputy is correct that those commitments are in the programme for Government that Fine Gael negotiated with the Independent Alliance but they are not in the confidence and supply agreement. They will be examined in the context of the forthcoming budget. If we can find the money to do it, we certainly will. That is our intention.
The "This is Me" campaign held a rally on Saturday last. This campaign is part of a grassroots campaign to improve transgender healthcare in Ireland. While progress has been made globally in this area, in this State the treatment of trans and non-binary communities leaves a lot to be desired and the current healthcare system is not fit for purpose and is letting citizens down.
It is my understanding that the Gender Recognition Act has been reviewed and that the report is due to published soon. While the indications are that the review calls for extended gender recognition for trans youth and non-binary persons, which is positive, we will be in a space that the law recognises and embraces our LGBTQ+ identities but our healthcare system does not. Despite the Government claiming otherwise, our healthcare system does not comply with World Professional Association of Transgender Health, WPATH, or World Health Organization, WHO, standards. Will the Taoiseach commit to achieving this adherence to international standards in the provision of healthcare following the Gender Recognition Act review?
On the legislative matter, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has informed me that the review is complete. I have not seen it yet but the Minister intends to bring it to Cabinet this month. We will publish it subject to approval from the Cabinet.
On the matter of health services for transgender citizens, I spoke to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, about this issue during the week and he proposes to meet representatives of the transgender community over the next six to eight weeks to discuss how we can make further progress in this area.
This is the last Order of Business that the Taoiseach will take before the recess. As I stated yesterday, the instability of the Government across the water makes the Irish Government look very stable. However, there has been much speculation about the prospect of a September election. The confidence and supply agreement is scheduled to be reviewed at the end of this year and a third budget will need to be agreed. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Government will introduce a budget in September-----
-----and that it is his intention to introduce a finance Bill and a social welfare Bill in the autumn? Also, what is his preferred date for the opening of discussions with Fianna Fáil on the renewal of the confidence and supply agreement?
It is my preference that we would have already started discussions on renewal of the agreement. It is not in the country's interests for us to be trying to negotiate an extension to the confidence and supply agreement in October or November when we are dealing with the Brexit negotiations and so many other matters. It is a matter I will discuss with the Leader of the Opposition in due course. It is the intention that the Government will introduce a budget in October.
Given that Cork City Council has decided to withhold pay due to its firefighters under the terms of a national pay agreement, that every other local authority in the State has honoured the agreement and paid its firefighters and that this decision to renege now places Cork two weeks away from an official firefighters dispute, is the Taoiseach prepared to ask the Minister for Finance to sign a ministerial order instructing Cork City Council to immediately pay the moneys owed?
I am aware of the dispute but not the details of the claim. Should it not be possible to resolve the issue between the local authority's management and the representatives of the firefighters I suggest that State intervention may be required. That intervention should be by the Workplace Relations Commission. We established the latter as a State body precisely because it has the expertise to intervene in such disputes. If the local authority and the firefighters' representatives cannot resolve the issue at a workplace level, that is the intervention that should occur.
I raise the case of Mr. John White of Clonmel and Dublin, was a self-employed contractor who worked in Abu Dhabi. On his return to work there in September 2011, having said goodbye to his wife and three of his children at Dublin Airport, he was arrested on arrival in respect of cheques that had bounced because people who had employed him had not paid him. Mr. White was incarcerated in extremely inhumane conditions in Al Wathba prison in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He has since had a stroke and has been brought back to court by the supplier he could not pay. As stated, he is incarcerated in appalling conditions. On behalf of the family, who live in Tipperary, and this man's wife and children who live in Dublin, I wish to ask if the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade provide assistance to this man. This man has had a stroke in respect of which he is receiving no medical treatment and he has no access to a hospital. I reiterate that the conditions in which he is being kept are inhumane. There are many Irish citizens in this region working hard and honestly to earn a living.
If the family makes a request to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for consular services, he will do all he can to provide assistance via the embassy in Abu Dhabi. Having dealt with a number of similar issues, including on behalf of a constituent, I know that the United Arab Emirates is rigid in the manner in which it enforces the law and it does require that people pay their debts. If there is a humanitarian aspect to this case, I am sure we could provide consular assistance via the embassy in Abu Dhabi if the family request it.
I wish to raise the issue of mental health services, which I have raised many times and which was raised earlier by Deputy Healy in the context of a specific area.
We have been through this conversation. We had A Vision for Change. It was to be reviewed. The Government set up an international review of literature. That took some time and it is over, and now a review is ongoing. When will it be completed? A Vision for Change was an excellent document. The difficulty was in its implementation, in addition to the abolition of the independent monitoring group that monitored its implementation and which sat for two three-year sessions. When will the review be completed? If the Government is seriously interested in providing proper services for people suffering from mental health difficulties, why would it not reinstate the independent implementation body?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Connolly as an gceist sin. As she will be aware, that is one of the more important reviews that is ongoing at the moment. A Vision for Change was one of the most visionary and revolutionary changes in the delivery of mental health services the country has ever seen. We take the review of that policy very seriously and I do not want to rush it. It will be completed before the end of this year on time. I meet the people who review it on a regular basis to get an update on how that is going. I believe I have another meeting with them in the next week or ten days. It certainly will be concluded by the end of this year.
Following the referendum which was overwhelmingly carried in May, the legislation to give effect to the decision, which most of us had hoped would have been introduced, cannot be introduced until a challenge is disposed of in the courts. Does the Taoiseach have an indication of the timeline involved in the courts given they will also have a long recess? Does he expect the legislation to be introduced on Second Stage in September? Is the Government also working on the regulations to accompany the legislation in parallel in order that there are no further delays?
Obviously we have seen a draft of the legislation but there are a couple of glaring issues. Abortion should be fully decriminalised. We still retain a 14-year jail sentence for somebody who might assist somebody to have an abortion at 13 weeks, for example, which is really dangerous. It will have a chilling effect on doctors and could end up endangering women's health. A 72-hour waiting period should not be nailed into law. It should not be made mandatory. It could be made optional and dealt with in medical guidelines.
We were promised any legislation would use language that was trans-inclusive and the language I have seen clearly is not. That is a big demand of young people in society. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that multiple visits are not enforced on women and pregnant people because they will just hit very young people, very vulnerable people, working women and others.
In answer to Deputy Catherine Murphy's question first, we are working on the regulations and the clinical guidelines. The intention is to make abortion services available to Irish women from January next year. We are working on the regulations, guidelines, funding models and all the things that must be put in place in order that the services can be provided from January. It is our intention to introduce the legislation in September but obviously what happens in the courts is well beyond my remit. It is best that we allow the judges in the High Court - and if there is an appeal the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court - to make their decisions without any pressure from us in this House. Hopefully they will hear the case and the appeal, if there is an appeal, as quickly as possible.
All things going to plan, assuming the court challenges are unsuccessful, the legislation will be before the Dáil in September and it will be open to Deputies to propose amendments to legislation at that point.
Another major international report published today, from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, calls out shamefully Ireland for its failure in green environmental issues. On many of the sustainable development goals we are doing well but in the red zone, where we are failing or going in the wrong direction, it cites our waste planning, waste management, climate action, ocean protection and global partnership arrangements. Shortly the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment will scrutinise the latest European legislation, which will compel us to start taking waste reduction seriously and mandates exactly the sorts of actions contained in the Waste Reduction Bill which we introduced and which this House supported a year ago.
At yesterday's meeting of the Dáil reform committee, we were reduced to talking to legal advisers about whether we would have to take a legal challenge against the Government in Europe for failing to live up to its environmental obligations.
There are many ways by which people can debate matters. The most obvious way to debate a matter is for the Deputy or his party to put a motion to the Dáil or Seanad.
That is entirely in the Deputy's control. On the particular legislation he mentioned, I can only give him the answer I have given previously. Both the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I have explained why we do not think a money message is appropriate on this occasion.
I address my question to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. The programme for Government makes a commitment to enhancing justice facilities and services. This is the third time I have asked the Minister this question. Can he give me a date for the opening of the west Cork protective services unit in Bandon? As he knows, premises have been earmarked. On two other occasions he told me he would come back to me with a date, but he did not. I have tabled parliamentary questions and I have been sent from the Garda authorities to the OPW but I still do not have a date. Money does not solve everything, but in this case it does. It is just a matter of funding. Great premises have been located and we just need the money to open the unit. I ask the Minister to give me a date today. It might be third time lucky.
As on previous occasions, I would be happy to revert to the Deputy on the issue. There are issues involved here which are not immediately under my control. I am not in a position to give the Deputy a date, as I stated on the last occasion. However, I am prepared to offer any assistance and support to her constituency issue with a view to ensuring that she has a date at the earliest opportunity. As on previous occasions when the matter was raised like this, let me say that I will be in contact with the Deputy before close of business this afternoon offering the assistance of the Department of Justice and Equality over issues that are within my remit and control.
The programme for Government makes a commitment to regulate and monitor energy costs and in particular domestic energy costs. At around this time in 2017, seven out of the ten providers of electricity increased their charges. This year since 1 June, six out of ten have done so. Can the Taoiseach and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment commit to carrying out a review of this situation in what seems to be an industry-wide cartel which does not serve the interests of the consumer?
I think with almost 20 electricity retail providers, I doubt there is a cartel. If the Deputy believes there is, I would encourage him immediately to make a complaint to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The programme for Government commitment on the review of prices and the regulation of prices is being fulfilled by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities.
The Government is allocating massive sums of money to the HSE. Some of it is very well spent and some of it not being well spent at all. It is a known fact that when people who break their legs and get crutches seek to hand back the crutches, they will not be taken back. These crutches cost money.
Likewise with a patient who is in a wheelchair. The wheel on the wheelchair broke and he wanted his wheel to be repaired. Lo and behold he was told it could not be done but he was given a new wheelchair at a cost of more than €3,000. Is there any accountability for what is going on in the HSE? These items cost money. Many people I know asked if they could hand back their crutches and they could not be taken back. Is there any law and order at all?
I am not sure about the wheels on the wheelchair but I looked into the matter regarding crutches when I worked in the health service and what I was told - and this is the information I have - is the cost of examining the crutch and making sure it is safe for use by an additional person is greater than the cost of manufacture and there would be potential liability should a crutch be reused and not work. The cost of the potential claim apparently outweighs the cost of producing new ones because they can be produced quickly. The Deputy makes a serious and valid point. We now spend €16 billion a year on public healthcare in Ireland. It is one of the highest per head in the entire world. For 20 years now spending on public health in Ireland has been above the OECD average on a per capitabasis. Taxpayers are not getting value for money and patients are not getting the service they deserve. It is something the Government and I will focus on in laser-like detail in the months ahead.
In the programme for Government, there are commitments on urban renewal specifically regarding under-used buildings and also commitments on town and village renewal. While we have heard different announcements on town and village renewal, they have not translated onto the ground in Macroom and other regional towns. On the main street in Macroom, there are now up to 50 vacant commercial units. The Taoiseach will have seen some of them himself as he walked the main street recently. We have lost five businesses, including a veterinarian, an electrical shop and others in recent months. It is of concern to people as they see more and more closed doors and the loss of services. Even the Briery Gap theatre has been closed for several years. The aim of the commitments in the programme for Government was to improve the living and working environment for people. When will those commitments translate into changes on the ground for people in Macroom and when will we see progress?
I was in Macroom last Friday and I was delighted to have a chance to visit the town again and to visit the Deputy in his office. It was good to see him serving his constituents as assiduously as he does every Friday. Our biggest commitment to Macroom is making progress on the Macroom-Ballyvourney bypass which will go to construction next year or, at the very latest, the first part of 2020. It was great to see the town looking so well and so busy and so many people who were there and happy to greet me. There is a problem of vacancy in the town. On Friday, the Minister for Community and Rural Development, Deputy Ring, and I will be in Westport where we will launch the €1 billion fund for rural regeneration and development. Applications for that fund will open in a few months and towns with a population of less than 10,000 will be able to bid for funding from that. I hope they will bring forward interesting ideas, particularly around turning old commercial premises into housing. As a result of the change in retail and it going online, there are real opportunities there. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, is providing €250,000 from her Department to help reopen the theatre. I appreciate the costs are much greater than that but if the local authority will contribute more, central Government is willing to consider that too.
Page 87 of the programme for Government stated that changes will be made to remove discrimination against small businesses and family farms under the fair deal scheme. Almost two and a half years later, can the Taoiseach give a guarantee that family farm assets will be excluded when calculating applications under the fair deal scheme? If farmland and assets are subject to charge under the scheme the livelihoods of farm families will be at risk. These assets have to be excluded completely. Can the Taoiseach give a guarantee that they will be?
The proposal to put a cap on the 7.5% for farm assets is at an advanced stage. I hope to bring it to Government in the next two weeks for approval and to proceed to bring the legislation to the House. I hope in the next two weeks it will secure Government approval.
This time last year, I raised the issue of respite beds for adults with intellectual disability a number of times. All the answers I got said it would be looked at in the context of the next budget and increasing the respite care that would be available for 2018. After the budget was brought through officials played us along for six months and now tell me there is no money available. Senior officials from the HSE told me on Tuesday morning no money is available for extra respite care beds. We are looking at sharing the care and respite beds for families particularly over the summer months. There is no honour to the commitments that were given and no respite care available. It is a shameful position to be in. The Taoiseach should take a serious look at what he said last year and the reality on the ground.
It is the same situation in Sligo-Leitrim. We have a huge problem there with respite services for children with disabilities. Solas house in Sligo has been closed and we were promised a new one would be put in place. There is supposed to be a house in Tullaghan that would serve north Leitrim, Sligo and south Donegal. So far, after months and months of waiting, nobody has been admitted to it. We need to get this in place because there are families out there trying to take care of vulnerable people and they get no break whatsoever. All we are getting is promises. It is time something was done about it.
If either of the Deputies have a specific query, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is the Minister of State with responsibility. Earlier this year there was an announcement of an increase in the number of respite beds. There has been an increase and there continues to be an increase in the number of beds being provided.
We readily acknowledge it is not enough and the demand is increasing at such a rate that capacity cannot keep up with it. We continue to try to meet that demand. Deputy Kenny raised the issue of the house that is not operational and I am quite happy to have a look at that for the Deputy and come back to him on it.
There was an announcement recently about an upgrade in University Hospital Waterford. I have raised the issue a number of times with the Minister for Health of people living in the north west above the Dublin-Galway line where there are no PCI services or any other specialist cardiac services available. This decision was made when we were told the national review was taking place. I am under severe pressure because we have none in the north-west and on that basis, I ask the Minister for Health to provide me and the people of the north-west and Sligo with an update on the cath lab.
I thank Deputy McLoughlin for raising this important issue. I know he has taken an interest in it over the years. We have a contract with Altnagelvin hospital in Derry to provide cath lab services and primary percutaneous coronary intervention, PCI, for people in Donegal. I appreciate that Sligo is a long way from Derry. The provision of a cath lab in Sligo University Hospital is being considered under the national review. I do not have a date for the publication of it yet but I will ask the Minister for Health to speak to the Deputy about it.
I refer to a programme for Government commitment on improving public transport. It also relates to the Taoiseach's constituency and to mine. Irish Rail has abandoned Hansfield, Dunboyne and M3 Parkway off-peak services during the summer. When the last Fianna Fáil Government put that train line in, the idea was it would be used. It cost an awful lot of money. It is a gross waste of public resources for that train service to be closed during off-peak times. It is not good for the Taoiseach's constituents or for mine. It gives the train service a bad name. Will he use his good offices to get Irish Rail and the NTA to get a grip and to use this train line which has cost us so much money?
I was not aware of that. I will check it out. The line serves Pace, Dunboyne and Hansfield stations in my constituency. I have not been made aware of it but I will definitely look into it.
On page 38 of the programme for Government, the Government committed to "deliver on our commitment to bring next generation broadband to every house and business in the country by 2020". It obviously meant "in the State by 2020". That is 17 months away. It has been promised by this Government, the previous Government and the one before that. I heard the Taoiseach giving figures recently. According to the Department, 540,000 households and businesses are still waiting in rural Ireland. Job creation and employment is being held up in rural counties like Laois and Offaly. Commuting distances have increased. In Laois, 11,500 people commute long distances from the county, mainly in this direction, every morning.
The Taoiseach needs to take an interest in the tendering process, in which only one company, enet, is left. It appears to be in serious difficulty. The date for the completion of the process has been postponed repeatedly because it is a legal and logistical nightmare. When will the national broadband plan be signed off and rolled out? This is important for rural Ireland.
When this Government of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents came to office, just over 50% of premises in the country had access to high-speed broadband.
At least 400,000 premises have been connected to high-speed broadband in the past two years. I appreciate that if someone is among the 20% or so who do not have it-----
-----that is no good to them. This is where we need further Government intervention and it is our expectation that the contract to provide broadband to the last 500,000 or so premises will be signed this autumn.
Earlier this week, GSOC issued a scathing report into the deficiencies in the investigation of the death of Fr. Niall Molloy, which occurred in 1985. In 2015, the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government backed the DPP decision not to have a new inquiry into his death. Some 33 years on, his family and many people in County Roscommon are not happy. The programme for Government talks about a fair society for all.
In light of the GSOC report, which was released on Monday, I have two questions and I do not mind if the Taoiseach or the Minister for Justice and Equality answers. Can they inform the House if an investigation is ongoing into the death of Fr. Niall Molloy? Due to the seriousness of the information in the report that documents have gone missing, what does the Government intend to do now in relation to this case?
I assure the House, and the Deputy in particular, that there still is an ongoing Garda investigation into what is an open file. In the event that Deputy Murphy or any of his constituents have any information that might assist the gardaí in processing the issue further, I trust that the information will be forthcoming. I acknowledge the independent review undertaken by Dominic McGinn SC in recent times. As it is independent of Government, I do not have any grounds at this stage to take matters any further. It is the subject of a live and active Garda investigation.