Thursday, 6 December 2018
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
In this morning's Irish Independent we read the news that Qudos Insurance, an insurance underwriting company which underwrites 50,000 people in this country, has gone into liquidation and may not be in a position to pay out on any existing claims. This is eerily similar to the Setanta story from a number of years ago, which has still not been resolved. Insurance is another matter about which the Government is putting its head in the sand. What plans are there to deal with the Qudos Insurance situation? What plans does the Government have to ask the Central Bank to take a hold of the insurance industry and give stability and certainty to policyholders?
There are between 40,000 and 50,000 policyholders here whose insurance policies are underwritten by Qudos operating under the name Patrona Underwriting limited. On its website today, the company makes clear that people who have insurance with it should contact their brokers. The insurance industry has been in contact with brokers to ensure that people can transfer, free of charge, their premiums from Qudos to another insurance provider. Companies and individuals should do that without delay because Qudos has indicated it is not paying out on insurance claims. The actual issue around claims must be clarified, including whether the claims can be covered under an Irish or Danish compensation fund. The company is regulated by a Danish regulator rather than an Irish one.
Licensed moneylenders are currently permitted to charge anything up to 188% of interest, excluding collection charges. When collection charges are included the rates of interest increase to 287% per annum. There are an estimated 330,000 customers of these moneylenders and approximately €153 million on loan to them in Ireland. This represents around 2% of the overall market. Those statistics come from the Social Finance Foundation, which carried out a report and sought a cap on the interest rate for moneylenders. Today, I will move a Bill to introduce a cap on these extortionate charges, and next week we will use our Private Members' time to bring the Bill to Second Stage. Given the remarks of the Taoiseach last week, is Fine Gael disposed to introducing a cap on moneylenders to ensure this is the last Christmas that hundreds of thousands of people will be ripped off by these extortionate rates?
I share the Deputy's concern that some people are effectively being ripped off with extraordinarily high interest repayment rates to access money. We have to make sure that people are protected in that context. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, is looking at this issue and I am sure he will respond to the Deputy's Bill accordingly. I cannot commit him to a course of action, but we are certainly taking this issue seriously. It is under review in the Department of Finance.
Will the Tánaiste comment on the commencement of the remaining Parts of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which has passed but has not been fully commenced? Will he address specifically the issues around same-sex couples which involve recognition of both parents as the parents of the child? The Minister for Health indicated that the Act would be fully commenced by the end of October, but it has not happened yet. Will the Tánaiste assure us that it will be fully commenced before the end of the year?
I will ask the Minister for Health to revert to the Deputy directly on that. I do not have an exact date but I do not see why this should not move forward quickly. If there is a blockage, we will find out what is causing it.
The programme for Government refers to the need to keep families in their homes. So bad is the crisis that not only are families not being kept in their homes but, incredibly, families who are in transitional housing from homelessness - own-door accommodation - are facing eviction from that transitional housing back into homelessness. A large number of families in Tallaght Cross, who are in accommodation provided by Túath Housing and are in various phases of having received notices to quit, are being pursued through the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. They moved from the nightmare of living in hotels night after night and having to commute to schools to the slightly improved position of having own-door housing. They have been unable to find housing assistance payment, HAP, accommodation because of the crisis, and are now facing having to go back into homelessness. Does the Tánaiste or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government agree that no families in transitional housing should be pursued through the RTB? Do they agree that these eviction notices should be withdrawn from the families in Tallaght Cross?
The housing provided for these families has been a very secure source of accommodation for them over an 18 month period. A commitment has been given that no family will be evicted into homelessness from emergency accommodation.
I attended a very pleasant function this morning at which the Ceann Comhairle honoured Brother Kevin Crowley, the Capuchin friar, for the work he does with the homeless. What is the Tánaiste or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government doing for the families who have found that their mortgages were sold off by Permanent TSB to vulture funds in recent times? Two members of a particular family in Tipperary work in the Defence Forces and one of them is very sick with cancer at the moment. They are scared stiff as to the protections they have. What protections do those families have? This Government will not build houses, yet is allowing these terrorist vulture funds - that is what they are - to purchase family homes and mortgages. The Government's attitude is to hell with the people. People like Brother Kevin and others are left to feed them. It is happening more and more, and it is a vicious circle. The Government has failed abysmally. What protection is being put in place for these families?
I have raised this matter on numerous occasions in the past. The Central Bank consolidation Bill could be a suitable vehicle on which to attach a specific item to deal with the matter, given that the banks were forgiven by the people and bailed out by the Government. It is now time for them to offer a similar accommodation to those who owe them money.
This is a significant issue. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has responded in some detail to the issues which have already been raised about the transfer of mortgages from Permanent TSB to another service provider.
However, the Central Bank rules will continue to apply. We are also committed to introducing new legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Boxer Moran, has been central to the thinking behind that, which aims to protect people in their homes more effectively. The Deputy's accusation that the Government is not building houses is simply not true. We are seeing a dramatic increase-----
We are seeing a dramatic increase in the building of new homes across all levels, from the purchase market to social and affordable housing. If the Deputy cares to take the time to look at the numbers, he will see that.
The Milford Care Centre provides palliative care services for patients in Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary. This week, at a meeting concerning that facility's hospice care centre, a decision was made that from 1 January, all physiotherapy services, occupational therapists and social workers are to be withdrawn from the north Tipperary region. We have mentioned cancer and cancer treatment many times here this morning. It is just unacceptable to reduce the service that is available. This is being focused on north Tipperary. Obviously it is being done for budgetary reasons, but I ask the Minister to get the HSE to reverse this decision.
I am not aware of the issue. This is the first I have heard of it. I would be surprised if it was done for budgetary reasons prior to the new year, but I will undertake to find out what the story behind this is and come back to the Deputy.
This is a question to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. It relates to the development of a mica redress scheme for homeowners in Donegal who are affected by defective concrete blocks. As the Minister will know, following an announcement on budget day the Government made a commitment to develop a scheme by the end of this year. Unfortunately, this process has seen too many missed deadlines. Can the Minister give an assurance that this will not happen again and that the Government is on course to have a scheme agreed by the end of the year, with the remediation of houses beginning in 2019?
I am aware of the concerns raised by the Deputy and the commitments that were made at the time of the budget following consultations with Deputy McHugh, the Deputy and other Members. A scheme has been designed. A scheme for next year has been agreed and will be announced this year. I will be meeting with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Taoiseach to discuss further details around that scheme today.
Perhaps the Minister for Education and Skills could take this. The programme for Government contains a commitment to promoting excellence and innovation in our schools. I want to raise the issue of St. Brigid's national school in Meath Hill, Drumconrath, County Meath, a wonderful school with 100 students and four teachers. Unfortunately, the school does not have what I would consider basic facilities. The students are in very cramped and inadequate classrooms. They have no PE hall, no storage, no principal's office, no general office, no library and no disabled toilets. The school has applied for additional accommodation funding and has been unsuccessful. Does the Minister think it is acceptable that these pupils are without what I would deem the basic facilities for providing a good education? When will he be in a position to ensure that Meath Hill has adequate facilities?
I am happy to check this particular application out. The Deputy mentioned a sports hall. As we move towards 2020, when PE will be on the curriculum, I am getting several representations from around the country asking about the investment trajectory. Next year we will have an extra €200 million in capital spending within the Department. There are a lot of pressures. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, is coming under a lot of pressure to agree to expenditure and to show prudence. We have to marry the demand with the supply. There is not a parish in the country where schools are not looking for extra facilities or extra rooms. Obviously there are different population pressures. Within the ten year capital plan there is an allocation of €8.4 billion, and within that a plan will be mapped out to find the best way forward. I am happy to check that specific application out for the Deputy.
Page 144 on the programme for Government states: "Our active membership of the UN is an important aspect of our foreign policy". Does Ireland intend to sign the UN migration pact, and if it does, with what new conditions will Ireland have to comply?
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is travelling next week. It is Ireland's intention to support the UN in introducing a new compact on migration. The idea is to try to build consensus across the UN structures to strike a balance between treating migrants in a way that is consistent with international law and recognising that countries have a right to manage their borders appropriately, and to ensure that those issues are dealt with as consistently as possible across the world. Migration, as the Deputy knows, is a huge challenge for many countries. This is a very good effort to try to do that. Not all countries in the UN will support it, but I am glad to say that Ireland will be one of those that will support those efforts.
My question was similar to the one that has just been answered concerning the UN migration pact which will be signed next week by the Minister for Justice and Equality. I wished to ask what the benefits and obligations for this country will be, but the Tánaiste has outlined that.
I wish to raise the issue of Spinraza again. My colleague, Deputy Curran, raised it yesterday and the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, responded. It is my understanding from speaking to the families that the decision is due next week. It is imperative that all members of the Government do everything they can to ensure that the right decision is made and the children are provided with the medication they need to have a proper quality of life. If the wrong decision comes next week there will be severe difficulties within this House, and certainly among all of the families who are affected.
It is expected that there will be a decision next week but that is not guaranteed. As the Deputy knows, this is a function independent of the Government. The Minister does not decide. The decision is made by an independent body. However, we do hope there will be a successful outcome.
I would like to know the position of the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017, which has passed Second Stage in this House and on which a committee report has been sent to the Minister. Like many Opposition Bills, the problem of a Money Message is hanging over it. I would like to know the position regarding that Bill and indeed all the other Bills in that position currently.
I am grateful to the other party leaders for raising the delayed diagnosis scandal in Kerry. I am sorry for the four families, but they do not want our sympathies. What they want is action. Yesterday I raised the issue of a lady who had a smear test in June. In November she was told it could not be read. Delays of this type have led to disastrous circumstances where people have lost their lives through misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. Surely the Government will have to bring the HSE to book on this matter. It cannot be allowed to continue.
Page 48 of the programme for Government concerns rural post offices. Athea post office in County Limerick serves 400 to 500 people. It is approximately 13 km from the nearest post office. I would like to propose a solution. I have asked the Government to impress on An Post that a post-and-pay point should be established as well as a post point. This could provide international mail and weight mail services, as opposed to just TV licences and stamps. This is a solution that could be brought forward for any post offices that are in this kind of halfway house, post offices which are quite commercially viable. I ask the appropriate Minister to put pressure on An Post in regard to this.
As the Tánaiste and many others in this House well know, legacy issues from the Northern Ireland Troubles continue to impact on many families. I refer not only to the Dublin-Monaghan or Dundalk bombings, but also to many individual cases that have had an impact both North and South. It is an issue that persistently comes up in the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. There is huge frustration among the affected families with the lack of response, particularly from the British, and the lack of progress in finding solutions to this issue. I want to ask the Tánaiste, genuinely, if any progress is being made and when we can see some success in giving these people hope of closure on their issues.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae raised the issues in County Kerry which are the subject of a report published this week. The report raised very serious questions to which we need to respond comprehensively, and that is now being done.
Deputy Neville put forward a proposal to address a concern relating to a local post office in west County Limerick. I will ensure that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is made aware of his suggestion.
Deputy Breathnach is absolutely right that legacy is a huge part of reconciliation in the context of the work we all need to do in Northern Ireland between communities and families. There has been a reasonably successful public consultation process on legacy and the implementation of new legacy structures that have been agreed between the two Governments. That will require legislation in Westminster which not be introduced until well into next year. We continue to raise the issues of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings with the British Government in regard to releasing information that has not yet been made available. We will work in partnership with the British Government, particularly Ms Karen Bradley and her office, to ensure that the consultation that has taken place with all political parties in Northern Ireland and with many victims' groups is reflected in new proposals, whether through legislation in Westminster or new legislation that the Government will introduce in this House to ensure that we play our part in future legacy inquests.