Thursday, 18 October 2018
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
We have 15 minutes for Questions on Promised Legislation and 16 Deputies have already indicated. If the questions and answers are succinct, hopefully we will get through everyone.
This morning the Scottish Government has confirmed the outbreak of a case of BSE in Aberdeenshire. Were we informed about this outbreak by the Scottish Government? Does the Tánaiste have any details on it? I understand, based on Deputy McConalogue's briefing on the issue, that this is something that has happened on an annual basis nearly. What details do we have and what is the Government's response to it?
The only information I have on it is what I have read in the media, in social media in particular. I would be surprised of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine officials had not been informed by their colleagues in Scotland and we will take appropriate action.
Sinn Féin actively campaigned against the 27th amendment to the Constitution and the subsequent provisions in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, which sought to deny Irish citizenship to children born in Ireland to parents who are not Irish. It was wrong then and it continues to be wrong now. Politicians come in here and criticise President Trump for the deportation of children from America, in particular those children referred to as dreamers. Yet the same thing is happening here. We have seen attempts to deport nine year old Eric Zhi Ying Xue from Bray. Children like Eric are our dreamers. Are there any plans to change or update the legislation that allows this to happen?
Second Stage of the Local Government (Restoration of Town Councils) Bill was passed last month with broad cross-party support. Obviously the Bill is time sensitive as the local elections are due in May 2019. It has been referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, but for very obvious reasons that committee is focused very largely on housing and the local government issues take a secondary role there. I have written to the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan in this regard. Would the Tánaiste be amenable to suggesting to his colleagues that we might have a bespoke small committee to deal with what is a very short and simple Bill in order that it might be enacted in time for the local elections?
The programme for Government claims to aim to promote the rights of ethnic minorities. In recent days we have seen the spectacle of a candidate in the presidential contest singling out an ethnic minority. He has poured contempt on them with a racist commentary, all in a crude attempt to boost his poll ratings. These are racist comments from what we might call a desperate dragon. I understand that members of the Travelling Community in County Tipperary will protest at the visit of Mr. Casey to their area this afternoon and I wish them luck with that. Many people will have a strong feeling of solidarity towards that protest. I also hope that the people reject Mr. Casey's lines of argument and give him an award on polling day next week - the award of the wooden spoon.
On the more serious but not totally unrelated issue of hate crime against minorities, when will we see a comprehensive response to the Irish Council for Civil Liberties report on that subject, which was produced last August?
I am not sure if it is helpful for me to give more oxygen to this issue in this House. One of the things we should and could be quite proud of in the context of elections in Ireland and politics in Ireland generally is that most of the time candidates do not resort to politics of the lowest common denominator, trying to build a profile through feeding a prejudice that undoubtedly is there but should not be stoked up.
The Government has a strong record in trying to change the conversation on the relationship between Travellers and the settled community. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, made a very emotive and powerful speech here when we recognised Traveller ethnicity in Ireland.
Since then, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, to his credit, has followed words with actions in regard to a new national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy, and we have followed through in terms of significant increases in budgets to be able to implement that strategy.
This is a vulnerable ethnic community in Ireland. Those of us who have the responsibility of office, or those of us who want the responsibility of office, should in my view show leadership and generosity in terms of trying to improve and change the narrative that Travellers are often subject to.
I want to raise the issue of the health services in south Tipperary, particularly at South Tipperary General Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital. Some 42 people are on trolleys today, so this is ongoing. There is talk about modular building and all the rest but we cannot get the nurses. We talk about ethnic minorities. People of all ethnic status and none are languishing in queues while the staff are under appalling pressure, although they do tremendous work. There is now €17 billion of a health budget yet front-line services are getting worse, despite some good outcomes. Nurses, doctors and GPs will not stay because of the appalling conditions and the constant pressure. We keep talking about it but it is getting worse, day by day. We are not near winter yet, or even autumn, and we have these queues, having had them all summer. It will reach a crisis point. A modular unit is to be built three miles out the road but where are we going to get staff for it? The Government should please do something for people all over the country, the people of Tipperary in particular. People are waiting 52 months for orthodontic treatment. It is a mess.
We will see a new HSE service plan for next year which will involve a very significant increase in the available budget. I suggest the Deputy puts down a detailed question to the Minister for Health in regard to Tipperary.
Today is international credit union day, as I am sure the Tánaiste is aware. Both the programme for Government and the confidence and supply agreement contain commitments to the credit union movement that have not materialised. As the housing crisis continues, the willingness of the credit union movement to invest in social housing has still not been tapped into. Will the credit union movement be permitted to invest in housing development via the special purpose vehicle being developed by the Irish Council for Social Housing? When will the details of that special purpose vehicle be finalised?
There is a clear commitment in the programme for Government, as initiated by Fianna Fáil, to ensure the credit unions use this vehicle. As Deputy Ó Caoláin said, today is credit union day and, indeed, the credit union movement has given 60 years of dedicated service to communities, businesses and families. It has been lauded as the No. 1 customer experience and has been voted as such in the last four years. Like Deputy Ó Caoláin, I want to ask when we will see the outgoings in this regard. The Central Bank gave a clear commitment that the credit unions would be able to participate in this yet there seems to be a lack of effort by the Government to initiate it. It is time to stop propping up banks that are charging exorbitant interest rates to those lucky enough even to get consideration for loans, not to mention the failure to put a stop to the rampant gallop of the vulture funds' activities.
This is just another reason people have lost faith in the ability of this House to deal with the single biggest crisis facing us, the housing crisis. The credit unions have had billions available for a number of years to invest in the delivery of social and affordable housing. The Tánaiste discussed this with me previously at committee. It took over three years for the Central Bank to approve this funding to deliver social housing and we are now one year on from that. The off-balance sheet model that was deemed possible to allow the credit unions to invest in social housing has been proven to be on-balance sheet, and all approved housing bodies are on-balance sheet. Until we deal with the bureaucracy that is stopping us finding the solutions for people out there, we are wasting our time. We have billions available; all we need is a model. We have been talking about this model for years. When is it going to arrive?
My understanding is that, in response to proposals from the credit union sector to provide funding for social housing, the Central Bank's investment framework was amended to allow for investment in tier 3 approved housing bodies via a regulated entity. Since 1 March 2018 credit unions have been permitted to provide funding via a special purpose vehicle to tier 3 approved housing bodies for the provision of social housing. This change in regulation could facilitate a combined sector investment in tier 3 approved housing bodies of close to €700 million. To put this figure into context, to the end of 2017 total lending from the Housing Finance Agency to approved housing bodies was €350 million. Under current regulations, credit unions are free to set up special purpose vehicles and invest in tier 3 approved housing bodies, subject to certain limits.
I heard on radio this morning that 17 jobs are to be lost at Bord na Móna fairly soon. I ask the Government not to, in line with its policy, close down these peat-burning stations and peat providers which provided briquettes and turf over the years. I ask the Minister not to focus his attention on the people who cut their own turf. They are worried he will extend the policy to stop them cutting their own turf. They are saying this is being done because the State is getting no tax or VAT out of this type of fuel. Is that why the Government is against people cutting their own turf?
There is nothing more wonderful-----
With respect, I find that slightly contradictory. The Deputy has asked me two questions today. The first was on how we respond to a climate change phenomenon that is resulting in more extreme weather and a flooding threat. At the same time, he is advocating for burning turf. For me, that is a contradiction. In Bord na Móna, we have a State company we are very proud of. It has committed to moving away from a reliance on peat and turf as a source of power generation over time. It is working with its staff to ensure that Bord na Móna pursues other avenues to replace the employment potential that has been linked to peat. That is an ongoing discussion. However, we have to face the facts. While, of course, there are turf cutting rights and we have tight regulations around that, burning turf for the purposes of home heating or power generation is not something that is consistent with a responsible approach towards climate change.
Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe and I last week raised issues in regard to St. Joseph's Foundation and other section 39 organisations, in particular the escalating cost of insurance, which has gone from around €100,000 to almost €600,000. These organisations are providing services on behalf of the State for people with intellectual disabilities. Has the Government looked at subsuming these costs into the State Claims Agency? This is a realistic proposal that has been put from the section 39 organisations, which are essentially doing the work of the State. Rather than them having to fundraise to pay for the insurance, can it be subsumed into the State Claims Agency?
I will refer the Deputy's question to the Minister concerned. I agree that section 39 organisations are doing an extraordinarily good job in many areas. The Minister for Finance is looking at a whole series of issues on section 39 bodies. I will raise the matter of insurance and see if I can come back to the Deputy with an answer.
That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation with eight Deputies not reached on the list. I point out to Members that, in future, I will not call those who abuse the time limit allowed.