Thursday, 8 November 2018
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I hope the House will indulge me in expressing sadness and respect on hearing this morning of the passing of an exceptional Irishman, Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. On behalf of the Government, I express condolences to Mícheál's family and friends and to the cultural community more widely who are mourning his loss. Mícheál's talents as a composer and musician were rightly admired and have been hugely appreciated. He energised and engaged audiences, both at home and abroad, with magical piano performances combining Irish traditional music and classical music. At the helm of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, he made a significant contribution to our cultural knowledge and to mentoring many new generations of young Irish musicians. His broadcast work enhanced the fundamental understanding of our musical heritage.
Mícheál played an enormously important role as the first chairperson of Culture Ireland from its establishment in 2005 until 2014, shaping how Ireland would best promote the arts and culture, not only at home but also globally.
I certainly hope that, through our Global Ireland initiative, we can do justice to the work he started by continuing to ensure that people across the world understand the extent of our musical heritage. I want to thank and recognise him for his extraordinary contribution to Irish life. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I join the Tánaiste in sympathising with the O'Sullivan family, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's extended family and all his friends and relations. I grew up with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin in Clonmel in the 1950s and 1960s. I was classmate of his and we were very good friends. He was a giant in the whole area of music, in particular traditional music and classical music, and he blended all those genres together. He is now and has been world renowned in this area. His legacy will be that blending and fusion of the various musical strands but also the founding of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at Limerick University. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I offer my sympathies to the family of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. He was a proud Clonmel and Tipperary man. He achieved so much in his life, including the amount of tuition he gave to students at the University of Limerick and also on a private basis. When he met people, he inspired them with his talents. He is up there with Seán Ó Riada and many others in his achievements and what he has done for Irish culture, music, song and dance - indeed, my own niece, who is a dancing teacher, studied with him. He will be a huge loss to the cultural life of Limerick and Tipperary. Thank God he has left a lasting legacy at the University of Limerick. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
On behalf of my party, I extend our deepest sympathies to the family, colleagues and friends of the late Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. There is no doubt his life, his talents and, in particular, his sharing of those talents with many generations enriched the spirit and the stock of our nation. As a consequence, we are diminished as a nation by his passing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Tá laoch imithe uainn agus go ndéana Dia síoraí ar a anam uasal.
Ba mhaith liom fosta cur leis an méid a bhí ráite fá bhás Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin agus comhbhrón a chur in iúl ó mé féin agus ó pháirtí Shinn Féin dá theaghlach, don chlann ar fad agus dá chairde ar fad. Níl dabht ar bith ann gur laoch mór é ó thaobh an cultúir de a bhí ann agus cé nach bhfuil Mícheál linn níos mó tá a chuid saothair agus oibre linn agus beidh go deo. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I express our sympathy at the untimely passing of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who has made an indelible mark not only on the musical heritage of this nation but on the cultural and social life of this nation. Few people leave such an impression and a legacy as Mícheál has in the academic sphere. In bringing music and our culture to the heart of the definition of our Irishness, he will long be remembered. On behalf of the Labour Party, I send my own and all our condolences to his family, his friends and all those who have loved his contribution to music in Ireland.
I offer Solidarity-People Before Profit's sympathy and solidarity to Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's friends and family.
With regard to promised legislation, I want to ask about the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, in particular those provisions relating to bogus self-employment, on which an amendment was passed against the wishes of the Government. I do so because it seems to me the Government has its head in the sand in regard to the issue of bogus self-employment, that it wishes the problem did not exist in the way that it does and that it dramatically understates the extent of the problem, given 12% of workers in this country are self-employed with no employees, and are, therefore, liable to be bogus self-employed. In particular, I ask because the Department was before the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection this morning, where it said it keeps no records of bogus self-employment. It does investigations and has done maybe 3,000 investigations in the last year, but at the end of the process it does not keep any record on who is bogus self-employed. Is that accurate? How is it defensible and how does it indicate any seriousness in terms of dealing with this problem, which is a massive problem in construction and in regard to deliveries, couriers and so on?
I appreciate that. Since August there have been ongoing problems relating to the payment of illness benefit which have resulted in some of our most vulnerable citizens not getting any payment and others receiving varied payments from week to week. On Tuesday the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, took to her feet and blamed the problems with payments on the transition to a new system. She said that remedial actions were taken by the Department in recent days and that action was taken on two occasions last week. If that is true, these were the first actions taken to resolve the problem. The Minister needs to clarify why it took her so long to take action despite the problem existing for three months. The Minister also stated she ordered an independent review into the changes to the system and how they were made. Can she confirm this review is under way? When will it be published?
Not only did I answer, as the Deputy rightly pointed out, on the Order of Business on Tuesday, but there was also a very lengthy Topical Issue Debate where the entire debacle was discussed by me and Deputy Thomas Pringle on Tuesday evening. The Secretary General, the head of the IT department and the assistant secretary were in front of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection this morning, so all of the information is in the public domain. Last week was not the first time there was an attempt to rectify this situation, as was laid out in full this morning in the statement issued to the committee. I can put it on the website so the Deputy can have access to it.
To answer the questions, the independent review has been commissioned and a gentleman from the Revenue Commissioners is conducting that review for me. I would expect to have it before Christmas and it will be published as soon as I get it.
I ask the Tánaiste to look at the Local Government (Restoration of Town Councils) Bill 2018, which was passed by a very large majority in the House and referred to the select committee. The Ceann Comhairle has determined it will require a money notice from the Government because of incidental expenses that may arise. It overcame any difficulties in terms of being a charge on the State on Second Stage but incidental expenses apparently require a notice from the Government. Will the Tánaiste undertake to look at it so we can have this Bill enacted in time for the local elections?
On behalf of my Independent colleagues, I pay tribute to Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and offer condolences to his family and friends. Mícheál's love and enthusiasm for music was infectious and he can rightly be placed alongside Seán Ó Riada, George Martin and all the other great musicians. When people saw him sitting down at the keyboard, they felt like going to a keyboard themselves, his enthusiasm was so infectious.
I pay tribute to the Ceann Comhairle for his organisation of the meeting and dinner last night with leaders of the Traveller community, at which I was delighted to represent the Independent group. It was a very important initiative and the Ceann Comhairle deserves great credit as chairperson of the House.
I would like to discuss the issue of Ireland's support for a UN parliamentary assembly. The Tánaiste will be aware that this week elected representatives from around the globe, excluding elected representatives of dictatorships, called for the support of Ireland and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, for the establishment of a parliamentary assembly tier to the United Nations. There is great frustration in regard to how large powers and dictatorships can dominate on issues like Yemen, Syria, Iraq and so on and the view is that if we had elected members at some level, it would help. Will the Tánaiste push for the establishment of a parliamentary assembly during his tenure in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
I agree with the Deputy's remarks regarding the Ceann Comhairle's leadership last night on the issue of reaching out to the Traveller community, for which I, too, thank him. I hope we will see a lot more of it.
On the UN parliamentary assembly, we are currently looking at ways in which Ireland along with many other countries can continue to protect and support multilateral structures through the UN so that we do not allow the UN and other international fora to become places where the large control everything and might is right. The contributions I have made at a UN level have very much focused on how small and medium sized, and some large countries, that are deeply committed to multilateralism can work together to do this. In it is in that context that I will give serious consideration to any proposals that come to my desk.
I refer to the Taoiseach's comments on Tuesday and, also, to the programme for Government commitment to building capacity in our emergency and acute services. Rostering is not the problem in regard to Christmas and the New Year in our health service. The Taoiseach, in suggesting that those who have remained to work in our health service are reducing their commitment over Christmas and the New Year by taking their annual leave entitlements, missed the target. His target should have been the Department of Health and the HSE because accident and emergency overcrowding occurs all year round. For example, yesterday - two months before Christmas - there were 591 people on trolleys. Last year, there were 714 people on trolleys two months after Christmas. The problems in regard to our health services are in plain sight. The solutions are also in plain sight. When will funding be provided for the transformation of our health service, which must be over and above the normal allocation. Extra funding must be provided for transformation.
I accept this is a 12 month of the year challenge and problem. Capacity is a major issue across so many hospitals. For this reason, we have provided an additional 240 beds so far this year, with more to come before the end of the year. We have spent tens of millions of euro doing this. The health budget for next year is about maintaining and supporting services, but also about transformation. There has been an enormous increase in the budget allocation for next year for healthcare. The Government is committed to an ongoing reform programme consistent with Sláintecare that can deal with capacity over time.
The Taoiseach's comments earlier this week in regard to preparing for the challenges that we know are coming through the Christmas period and through January focused on one particular element. We need to have an honest conversation about rostering and ensuring there is health leadership and full teams available in hospitals when the pressure is most intense. This is not an unreasonable issue to raise. The Taoiseach and I and everybody else accept that there are many other issues that need to be resolved over time to enable us deal with capacity in a comprehensive way.
Under a commitment in the programme for Government regarding the national broadband plan fibre to the home was to be delivered to those within the national broadband plan area by 2020. There are 540,000 households and businesses that still do not have broadband service. Three weeks ago, we had the fiasco of the resignation of the former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, following which the Government announced in a press release that it had commissioned a review of the plan by Mr. Peter Smith and that it would be completed in three weeks. The three weeks expired on Tuesday, 7 November. Has the Government received the report? Has the tendering process been compromised on foot of the meetings between the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, and Mr. McCourt, the remaining bidder? Does the Government propose to continue with this flawed sham of a process or does it have a plan B? Seven years ago, Sinn Féin put forward a plan B, involving the use of State infrastructure and a State company such as the ESB to provide the service. I am happy to note that in recent weeks Fianna Fáil has come around to that idea and that last weekend the Labour Party also moved to that position.
Does the Government have a plan B?
We all know the importance of broadband. It is as important as electricity and water to households and communities. The reality is that we are at least five years behind the UK and a decade behind Europe in regard to the roll-out of a broadband service. Last weekend, the Taoiseach said that he had a plan B in regard to this issue, following which the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, said there is no plan B. Is there a plan B if the process is found to be flawed and, if so, what is it?
The Peter Smith report, which is the report from the independent auditor of the process to determine the national broadband scheme in terms of tendering and procurement, is not available to Government yet. He is independent of Government and if he needs more time he needs to be given it, which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, confirmed yesterday.
Recently, the UN report on climate change warned that we have approximately 12 years to limit catastrophe yet the Government continues to purchase diesel buses for public transport and it has yet to publish the wind energy guidelines and the solar farm guidelines. This is indicative of a Government that is neglecting this issue.
In a press release on Tuesday, 13 June 2017, the Tánaiste published the Review of Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006: Summary of the Key Aspects of the Preferred Draft Approach, which concludes: "I envisage following the completion of the SEA process, the new statutory Guidelines will be finalized and issued to planning authorities in Q1 2018”, Minister Coveney concluded." We are far from the first quarter of 2018 and no guidelines have been issued. This forms a key part of alternative energy for our country and communities need certainty and consultation. Will the Tánaiste tell the House today where stands the wind energy guidelines which he promised would be published in the first quarter of 2018?
There were draft wind energy guidelines agreed between the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Housing, Planning and Local Government. Those draft guidelines then needed to go through a process of public consultation, which has been ongoing. The Government is anxious to conclude that process as-----
I ask the Deputy to allow me to respond. In regard to climate change more generally, the Government is determined to be a leader in this area. This will require some policy decisions for which I hope we will have the support of other parties in this House. Climate change is not always about making the easy decisions and spending more money. It is also about policy change that will need political leadership and cross-party support.