Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I note the European Commission has published its preparedness document on Brexit so there can be no excuses.
As we discussed yesterday, the cost overruns for the new national children's hospital are of great concern to us all. The Taoiseach said yesterday towards the end of Leaders' Questions that the costs could be higher and it seems the Cabinet was advised the costs could be higher. I ask the Taoiseach to be honest and transparent in that regard. What kind of figures are we talking about? The International Monetary Fund published a public investment management assessment report on Ireland in November 2017 in which it criticised Ireland and said the country pays more for its infrastructure than other countries and uses it less efficiently. It specifically flagged cost problems with the national children's hospital at the time, stating that discussions with Departments, including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, "did not reveal any instances of fundamental review having been undertaken, even though there seem to have been instances where this would seem to have been appropriate, eg in the case of the National Children's Hospital." Will the Taoiseach outline the real story with the costs of the hospital and indicate when the investigations he spoke about yesterday will commence?
It is probably an issue that should be raised by way of a special notice question to the Minister for Health. The cost of the project is €1.433 billion. I gave that figure to the House yesterday, but there are caveats to that, particularly in regard to construction inflation. The programme for Government commitment is to build the hospital and we will build the hospital.
The three hospitals - Temple Street, Crumlin children's hospital and Tallaght children's hospital - will come together as a single hospital on three sites on 1 January, which is only two weeks away. The satellite centre in Blanchardstown is almost finished and children will attend that by the middle of next year. Enabling works have started in Tallaght and the facility will be open in 2020. The main piece, the central campus in St. James's Hospital, will be open in 2022.
As we look forward to spending Christmas with our families, there are many people who will not have the type of Christmas they wished for. For many, it will be the third year they will have spent Christmas Day in emergency accommodation as a direct result of the Government's policies. We see today from the Central Bank report that banks in this State hold in excess of 3,200 properties. When vulture funds are included, the figure increases to 3,715. The majority of these are family homes held by banks in which this State has a majority shareholding. For example, Permanent TSB told us last June that it had 2,000 properties. In anybody's books, it is an absolute scandal and a travesty that State-owned banks have so many empty properties when so many children and adults are in emergency accommodation, so many people cannot find rental accommodation and the property market is out of reach for so many individuals. What will the Government do about this? It is not a new phenomenon but one that has gone on year after year and there has been no action from the Government in that regard.
I thank the Deputy for the question. It is a very difficult time for families in emergency accommodation. The policy responses we are putting in place are to try to get families out of hubs and into homes as quickly as possible. My Department and the Housing Agency are engaging with the banks to take possession of their vacant stock. Almost 1,000 homes will come in through the acquisition programme being led by the Housing Agency, and more on top of that through local authorities. I will have details on that at the start of next year.
My question is for the Taoiseach and perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a matter I have raised many times but I am very conscious of it coming into the Christmas period. Many people, young people in particular, will be subject to online harassment and bullying over the Christmas period. It is a fact that will make life miserable for them. We had hoped in this House that the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 would be law by now. This is an important issue. I had occasion to meet a constituent of Deputy Eoin Ó Broin whose daughter committed suicide after vicious online harassment and who asked that the House name the harassment Bill "Coco's law" in her daughter's honour. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality indicate where that Bill now stands and when he envisages that we will be able to deal with this pernicious and vicious crime?
I thank Deputy Howlin for the question. I agree with him regarding the priority nature of this legislation. I acknowledge a group within my Department that is working closely with Deputy Howlin and others to ensure the legislation, as drafted, can be fit for purpose. I expect progress on this issue early in the new year and I assure Deputies, in particular Deputy Howlin, that I will keep them fully informed of developments. I expect to be in a position to report progress early in the new year.
The programme for Government states the Government would be tested by the way in which it dealt with the housing crisis. As we face into Christmas, the Government's failure to deliver on its promise to address the housing crisis rings particularly poignantly in our ears. All of us were very moved by the case of Amanda and everybody was delighted to see Amanda and her family get keys to her house. The problem is that there are thousands of Amandas. There is Mohammed who has four children, one of whom has autism. Mohammed's wife has just had a very difficult birth and the family has been in emergency accommodation for two years. Gemma, who has two children aged two and five, has been homeless for a year. Ciara and her children have been in temporary accommodation for a year and a half. Elaine, who I mentioned previously, is facing possible eviction before Christmas. There are thousands more like them. Does the Taoiseach not believe he owes them an apology before Christmas for putting them through that and failing to deliver on the promises he made when he came into Government to address the hardship and crisis they and thousands of others face?
I thank the Deputy for the question. I am very sorry that families have to spend this Christmas in emergency accommodation. I have been meeting many of them this week. This is a very difficult time for parents with children, particularly at this time of year. That is the reason we brought about Rebuilding Ireland, which is a five-year plan. I wish we could get return the housing sector to a functioning state more quickly but the plan is making progress. That is the reason people are able to get keys to new homes, as has been happening throughout this year. Next year, 10,000 more homes will come into the social housing stock. Those will be real homes for families. That will not be enough in one year, but it will be progress and will help 10,000 more families, including children, over the course of next year. As we bring those homes into the stock of social housing, we will continue to help families in hubs and other families in need to find other solutions such as the housing assistance payment.
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group I too wish to be associated with the good wishes and thanks to the staff and your good self, a Cheann Comhairle, as well as to all the Members and the press for their efforts during the past year. I wish them all a happy, peaceful and holy Christmas.
I acknowledge the support of the Taoiseach in principle for the creation of a taskforce for Tipperary town and area. The jobs for Tipp group and I have suggested consideration of an N24 corridor similar to the Atlantic corridor. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, will be aware of that project as well as the task force for Westport. We are hoping to get this developed and to develop the infrastructure to attract Irish and multinational investment. We also want to create jobs and wealth in vibrant communities. The modus operandiof jobs for Tipp and myself is to get people, enterprises and communities pulling together in pursuit of common goals. We hope we can do that. Those involved are concerned in case it becomes a task force similar to the task forces for Inchicore or Blanchardstown. They are different places, as the Taoiseach is aware, especially with the investment in Dublin. We would appreciate consideration of a N24 corridor similar to the Atlantic corridor, including the towns, especially Tipperary town, along the corridor.
I think the Deputy is entirely right to call for upgrades to the N24 but the Atlantic corridor is not built yet, and we can only do so many roads at a time. Tipperary already has reasonably good motorway access, whereas other parts of the country do not have motorway access at all. The priority has to be the Atlantic corridor first. It will run from Cork to Limerick and connect Sligo and Mayo to the high-quality road network.
Maidir le hobair an Rialtais, an féidir leis an Taoiseach nó leis an Aire Stáit a dheimhniú do thaifead na Dála cad atá i ndán don aersheirbhís do na hoileáin Árainn? Cad iad na socruithe? Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil socruithe déanta ach níl a fhios againn cad iad agus ba mhaith liom na socruithe sin a fheiceáil ar thaifead na Dála.
Bhí an spriocdháta don phróiseas tairisceana do na seirbhísí éigeandála go dtí na hoileáin Árainn ag a deich a chlog maidin inné agus níl mé chun aon phlé a dhéanamh ar an gcomórtas sin go dtí go bhfuil toradh air.
The Taoiseach told us recently that the national broadband plan is being evaluated currently. We know that it is a critical project in terms of cost and roll-out. We have seen that where there is an inadequate process, there can be problems. One example I can highlight is the national children's hospital and the associated ballooning costs. If we are to avoid something similar with the national broadband plan, can the Government still stand over the Peter Smyth report knowing now how deferential that report was? Does the Government intend to return to the Dáil in advance of the granting or awarding of any tender to tell us what the cost will be and to address the certainty of the roll-out?
I assure the Deputy that great care will be taken in evaluating the tender that was submitted on 18 September to provide a national broadband plan. As the Deputy knows, the Government regards the delivery of high-speed broadband to every home and premises in the country as a high priority. We recognise that the process, as a result of the findings of Mr. Peter Smyth, is robust. Concerns were raised but Mr. Smyth has made it clear that the then Minister was not in a position to influence, and did not influence in any way, the procedure under which the contract proceeded and was evaluated.
We are in a position now to bring to Government as soon as possible a detailed assessment of what is being proposed. This will allow the Government to examine whether it represents value for money, whether the governance is robust and whether the technology is sufficiently robust so that we will be in a position to deliver what has been set as an objective. I assure Deputy Murphy that great care is being taken in this.
The programme for Government commits to an increase in ambulances and paramedics every year as well as to improving response times. I wish to raise with the Taoiseach the case of a local constituent of mine in Bray. The case involves young man with cerebral palsy who was involved in an accident yesterday in his wheelchair. He received a serious leg injury. He ended up on the ground and he waited for 56 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to treat him, even though the ambulance base is located in Loughlinstown, some 5 km away. For 56 minutes he lay on the ground waiting on an ambulance.
I do not believe that is acceptable. Does the Taoiseach think it is acceptable that a young disabled man lay on the ground waiting for care or treatment for 56 minutes? This is not an isolated incident. It is happening day in, day out across Wicklow and the State. What is the Taoiseach doing to address this situation?
I am very sorry to hear that Deputy Brady's constituent had to wait 56 minutes for an ambulance but, as I am sure Deputy Brady will appreciate, the national ambulance service has to prioritise calls. Perhaps the paramedics were out taking another call from someone who was at risk of dying or someone who had cardiac arrest or a stroke. The service has to prioritise. No matter how many ambulances the service has, there will be multiple calls at any given time and the ambulance service has to put priority on life-saving calls and prioritise according to clinical need.
Deputy Brady asked what we are doing to improve the ambulance service. The service plan for next year will provide additional funding for the ambulance service, as it did this year and last year. An extra €4 million will be provided for next year. Obviously, it will be up to the national ambulance service to decide how best to allocate that.
On Monday, Fr. Peter McVerry confirmed that the housing crisis is worse this Christmas than last Christmas and that the Rebuilding Ireland plan is not working. Those were his words. Cavan County Council held an annual meeting with the chief executive on Monday. Those at the meeting confirmed to me that the council target for new houses for 2019 is 25. This is against a backdrop of hundreds of people waiting for houses. They have been waiting for years in some cases.
What is the Government plan for next year to facilitate our local authorities? They do not seem to be able to deliver. They seem to need help and support. How is the Government going to facilitate them? The total of 25 new houses for 2019 is abysmal.
I thank the Deputy for the question. We have given local authorities the resources, policy and funding to increase dramatically the stock of social housing. That is happening in some local authorities, but not every local authority is working to the same speed. We have not yet met with Deputy Smyth's local authority to agree the targets for next year. We are in the process of doing that currently.
In the beginning of January I will publish what was achieved this year by each local authority and set the target for 2019. We will be ambitious with the targets because we have the funding for next year. More money will be spent next year on housing than has ever been spent by a Government in one year. We will do that next year with each local authority.
We discussed the commitments in the programme for Government for public transport last October, specifically the 220 and 220X bus services for Ballincollig. At the time we understood from the Taoiseach that there would be improvements within weeks on the five buses per hour schedule. That was last October. Although the late evening aspect has come through, a large part of the plan has not materialised. People are still standing and waiting for buses in Grange Cross, Rosewood, on the main street and up along the Model Farm Road.
Every agency is seeking to make this happen, including the National Transport Authority and Bus Éireann. I am pursuing them. The Taoiseach has a particular interest in making this happen too. Is there anything that can be said to people who are now standing at those bus stops waiting for an improved bus service? We are hearing of dates in January and possibly even later. Can we give assurance that there will be no further slippage?
My understanding was the same as that of Deputy Moynihan. I understood that the service was to be upgraded before Christmas. I know there have been some improvements in the evening service but not the main improvements that we had anticipated. I will certainly follow up on the matter. I hope it will be January and not any later.
My question is perhaps for the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, as it relates to the summer works scheme. Several schools have benefitted in my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, which includes south Donegal, but I am keen to know the opening date for the new summer works scheme.
We announced the summer scheme, something I committed to doing before Christmas.
I also committed to doing minor works before Christmas to give schools a better lead-in time. We announced €307 million for both primary and secondary schools. I want to give a better lead-in time so we are planning for the summer 2020 works. Applications for both internal and external categories, which cover categories 7 to 10, inclusive, will be open for schools to apply for early in the new year.
I also wish a happy Christmas to all the workers in the Dáil. The ushers and catering staff are fantastic and supportive workers.
For only the second time in the union's hundred year history the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, has voted to take strike action in the new year. The 95% vote in favour was a hugely resounding result, through which they join teachers and psychiatric nurses. It is an inevitable result of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation and other legislation that this Government and its predecessors maintained.
The choice before young public sector workers is one of emigrating or staying here to live a life of very little hope because they cannot pay rent on the wages that young teachers and nurses are being asked to accept. I know somebody who is just qualifying as a psychiatric nurse and her job is already booked in Britain. That is the reality. The Taoiseach has asked where the money will come from. Nurses should take note of what happened today with bondholders but also-----
As I outlined earlier, we have a pay deal with all public servants, not just teachers and nurses, which runs to 2020 and provides for pay increases next year, including across the board pay increases, a special pay increase for those earning less than €30,000, and we have negotiated with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions a further special pay increase for those recruited after 2012. That is the deal that we have done and where things stand.
There are limits to taxation. There comes a point where taxes can be raised so high that no further revenue is gained and wealth is lost. That should be borne in mind.
On 27 November, Deputy Pearse Doherty raised the fact that half the positions in child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, teams throughout the State are vacant and have been for some time. The Taoiseach accepted that CAMHS was not up to scratch in many areas and said he would look for a report on a comparison of its resources, staffing and outcomes. Has the Taoiseach received that report? If so, what are its contents, will he publish it and what action is being taken to ensure the adequate resourcing of CAMHS?
I am not sure of the specific report to which the Deputy referred. I have said that on 25 January, the clinical directors of all the CAMHS teams nationally and the chief executives of the community healthcare organisations, CHOs, will convene at my invitation at the Department of Health. They will review the operation of CAMHS and examine several initiatives on which we have worked during the year to make it more efficient. The issue is not funding, as I have noted before. There are disparities in the list throughout the country where some CAMHS teams are working very effectively and others are not. We are trying to get to the bottom of the anomalies.
The Deputy referred to recruitment. One initiative, which the Deputy's party is not very supportive of, is telehealth which offers a way of providing access to medicine which is used across the world. I am eager to bring that to Ireland in the coming year so that teenagers who require assistance can access the necessary healthcare.
A review was recently undertaken on the area of delayed discharges, the role of homecare and the underfunding of homecare packages. Will that report be published? Will the Government consider revisiting community-based homecare services? Much of the longer-standing, smaller homecare services, which are community based, are being driven out of the sector by the overcommercialisation of homecare service provision. In my constituency there is a service that has operated for 25 years. It does not meet the size criterion for the tendering process, however, which means a very good service with very good people is being driven out of business. Is the Government prepared to revisit that?
The review was published two or three weeks ago and is on the Department of Health website. I share the Deputy's concern about the community-based services where the new tendering arrangement has proved challenging. We are midway through a complete overhaul of the homecare service. We have taken a great deal of consultation on it during which this issue has been raised often. It is something we are aware of while we are trying to devise the new arrangements and a new plan which I hope to publish early in 2020. That should give us a clear roadmap for a service somewhat similar to fair deal, guaranteed by statute and funded in full so that everyone who needs it will get it.
There is a reference in page 6 of the programme for Government to making our older years better years and another reference on pages 38 and 39 to a just and fair society and a more inclusive prosperity. Chapter 4 is on jobs and rural development, while there is a reference on page 46 to protecting local services. Eighteen post offices have been designated for closure in County Galway, of which only one has a serious issue. Those involved with this post office have met the review team, but it has failed to consider that the post office is located in a rural settlement and that a decision on it cannot be based on the parameters such as the population within a speed limit area. I am sure that the Taoiseach's Independent Minister has already made many representations on this as there has been public meeting after public meeting on it. The closure of the post office is contrary to the county development plan as it requires people to leave the county to go to Banagher in County Offaly.
An Post has undertaken a restructuring programme, under which there was an agreement with postmasters, as a result of which a number of post offices will close. It set out a protocol under which it seeks to maintain an adequate level of service and, as the Deputy observed, there is an independent review when post office closures occur. That is entirely independent of my responsibility because An Post is a commercial body. It has suffered a very sharp decline in the amount of business going through the post office network, which has been part of the problem. It is seeking to diversify and expand that. I will bring this case to the attention of those involved but it is an independent process. It works on the basis of seeking to be fair to everyone in how it is administered.
The programme for Government claims, and the Minister for Health has repeatedly stated, that addressing waiting lists in our health services is a priority for Government. However, there is no waiting list more distressing than that of children who await approval for access to a drug that will help them secure a longer life. As we meet on this last day before the Christmas recess, this morning I have received further communication from parents relating to their distressing circumstance, recounting how their child continues to deteriorate physically from spinal muscular atrophy.
Different Deputies have raised this issue but it is very important that, in the month of Christmas, some real hope is provided rather than there being a notion that it will be addressed in the coming year. Each year that passes is further torment for the parents and children involved.
There are only 25 children who can possibly benefit from the approval of Spinraza.
They are also a small adult population of no more than 50. Could the Taoiseach make a statement on this last sitting day before Christmas to give these families some hope?
I am afraid I cannot give the Deputy any information on the approval of that particular drug. As Members know, which drugs are licensed, which drugs are prescribed and which drugs are reimbursed are not political decisions, nor should they be. For very good reasons they have been taken out of the political process. So far this year the HSE has approved 23 new medicines. That is done based on the efficacy of the medicine and whether the cost matches the benefits.
The most challenged legislation on the Irish Statute Book is the Road Traffic Act 2010. The Judiciary, accident victims, advocacy groups and legal representatives have all called for that body of law to be consolidated into one Act. I understand it is a promise contained in the programme for Government. I understand that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, made a commitment to bring forward a new consolidated road traffic Bill, but through the work of RTÉ and a freedom of information request we realised that no work on consolidating that Act has started. Instead, the Minister wishes to complicate this Act further by introducing new and disproportionate penalties. First, can the Taoiseach say when we will see the new consolidated road traffic Bill? Can he also confirm that no further amendments of a disproportionate nature will be inserted into the Act until such time as the new road traffic Bill is brought before the House?
We do not have a date for the publication of the heads of the road traffic consolidation Bill. I agree that it is necessary. We have consolidated company law, tax law and social welfare legislation. Road traffic legislation is among the most highly litigated in Ireland and it would make sense and eliminate a lot of loopholes if we were to consolidate it. I understand that very little progress has been made on that particular project to date. The priority has been on updating legislation. Yesterday Cabinet gave the Minister approval to draft his Bill. However, we decided that two aspects required further consideration, namely the issue of graduated speed limits and the issue of people driving without having their driver licences on them. We acknowledge that the law needs to be tightened in these areas. We want to do it in a way that is appropriate and not draconian. We do not want to deny any citizens the freedom of the road or drive anyone off the road, provided they are driving safely.
When will an inquiry be established to enable the victims of the cervical cancer controversy to have their cases heard and determined by a judge in private? Can the Taoiseach reassure the House that the mandatory disclosures Bill will be before the House early in 2019, so that doctors will no longer be able to withhold information from patients?
Cabinet yesterday endorsed the Meenan report and approved the establishment of a tribunal. The Minister for Health hopes to be able to appoint the judge who will chair that tribunal very soon. It seems that because primary legislation will be required to set up the tribunal it will take a number of months before it is actually established on a statutory basis and is able to operate. We will need the co-operation of the Houses to make that happen.
The Minister for Health is probably best placed to answer that, but we will do everything we can on a non-statutory basis while the statutory work is being done. The Attorney General informs me based on previous experience in establishing tribunals that it can take many months to get it done. I am concerned that this is the case.