Tuesday, 29 January 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Today's business shall be No. 11, motion re amendment of orders of reference of special Joint Committee on Climate Action; No. 12, motion re Minamata convention - referral to committee; No. 33, National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, resumed; and No. 54, Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017, Deputies Rock and Donnelly - Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be Second Stage of No. 55, No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 33, resumed; No. 8, Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 54. Private Members’ business shall be No. 208, motion re juvenile crime statistics and lack of follow-up thereon, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 34, Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Fifth Stage; No. 35, statements on child and adolescent mental health services, to adjourn, if not previously concluded; No. 54; and No. 8. Private Members’ business shall be Second Stage of No. 56, Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2017, Deputy James Browne.
I refer to the report of the Business Committee of 24 January 2019. In relation to today’s business, it is proposed that Nos. 11 and 12 shall be taken without debate and any division demanded on No. 11 shall be taken immediately; the order of the Dáil of 31 January 2017 that Second Stage of No. 54 be taken in Private Members' time be discharged and that Second Stage be taken in Government time; and Second Stage of No. 55 shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that No. 34 shall be taken immediately following Questions on Promised Legislation and shall be followed immediately by the weekly divisions. Regarding No. 35, statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes, and the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
I will not oppose the Order of Business, but not for the first time, questions to the Minister for Justice and Equality directly clash with a select committee meeting. While a Minister may send a Minister of State to one or the other, it creates a problem for the rest of us who have to either pose questions or vote in the select committee. I ask that in future the Whip's office and the Business Committee examine clashes between departmental questions and select Oireachtas committees. It is not the first time this has happened.
It is obvious that we are facing into a strike of national historic importance tomorrow. The Dáil must be given an opportunity to discuss this strike and question the Government on its tactics. While some people had the opportunity on Leaders' Questions, that does not apply to the entire Dáil. If the strike goes ahead tomorrow-----
I am sorry, I am making a proposal that if the strike goes ahead tomorrow and is not averted that Dáil time be allocated to it. Some of the statements the Taoiseach made today are frankly laughable and daft. It sets the Government on a suicide mission with the nurses. We need an opportunity to discuss it.
On my own behalf, I express our sympathies to the ten people who have lost their lives on Irish roads in the past week - a frightening figure which needs further reflection at a later date. It culminated in the horrific tragedy in Donegal with the deaths of four young men, four friends i nGaeltacht Dhún na nGall. Déanaim comhbhrón leis na clanna agus leis na gaoil na leaidanna go léir a fuair bás. Is olc an scéal é agus tá sé dochreidte.
The heads of the miscellaneous provisions withdrawal of the UK from the European Union legislation have been published. I believe the Taoiseach indicated that the full Bill will be published on 22 February. Given the comments of the European Commission's spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will be a border and the necessity for border checks, notwithstanding the at some level admirable contortions of the Minister, Deputy Creed on "Morning Ireland"-----
The Minister, Deputy Creed, would have loved to have been as simplistic as the Taoiseach who spoke the following day to an international audience about the Army on the Border. Given all the mixed messages, there might be a need for a calm exploration in the House of what it all means. When one considers the very calm presentation by the Revenue Commissioners to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach, they are a long way off where the Taoiseach was-----
The programme for Government commits to enabling citizens to overcome barriers they face. The Government made numerous commitments to introduce measures to protect women and children from abuse and violence. People will have faith in such commitments in the future only if the State makes good on wrongs of the past. The Tuam Home Survivors Network called today for the collection of DNA samples as a matter of urgency to ensure there is no delay in returning human remains to identifiable relatives for dignified burial. When the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, announced last year that there would be a full forensic examination of the site, the Tuam survivors felt a real wave of relief and hope.
However, as a result of the decision to grant another 12-month extension to the commission of investigation, members of that network state that they have lost faith in the process.
I assure the House that the fact that we have given the commission an extension of one year to finish its work will not impact on the timeline for the excavations at Tuam. They will happen on the basis of the timeline indicated previously. The Minister and I heard what was asked for by some of the elderly former residents of the mother and baby home in Tuam and will certainly give it consideration. In order to take DNA samples from the remains, we require legislative authority and that will require the passing of legislation in this House. While that does not apply to adults voluntarily providing DNA samples, we need to make sure that we have the science right. We do not want to take samples from people and then find out that they cannot be used later on. There is a scientific issue around laboratories and so on but on the face of it, the request appears to be a reasonable one. People are getting on in years and are afraid that they will pass on before this is done. We understand the request and are sympathetic to it but we need to make sure that it is doable and that we do not end up taking samples that cannot be used.
My Labour Party colleagues and I join other Deputies in expressing our sympathy to the families of those people who died on our roads in the past week.
On page 43 of the programme for Government, it is clearly stated that the Government will set out a list of priorities in respect of the development of the Atlantic corridor. There is also a commitment to a 50% increase in capital expenditure on roads. In light of the recent statements he made regarding the re-profiling of the capital expenditure programme and comments to the effect that some projects will be deferred, I ask the Taoiseach to provide an assurance that the M20 motorway between Cork and Limerick will be developed in a timely fashion. In the interests of ensuring proper regional development, I ask him to give a concrete commitment that the M20 project will not be put on the back burner and that other projects relating to it, including bypassing towns such as Mallow, will not be forgotten. I seek assurances from the Taoiseach on this matter.
I can absolutely give the Deputy a commitment that it is full steam ahead with the Atlantic economic corridor and improving our road infrastructure between Cork, Limerick, Shannon, Galway and on to Sligo. Much of the work has already been done, as the Deputy knows, including the Gort to Tuam section and south, beyond Limerick. This morning, the Cabinet approved the upgrade of the Castlebaldwin to Collooney section of the N4, which will improve the road link to Sligo. The Cabinet also gave Sligo County Council approval to sign the contracts for that project, which is really important in terms of improving road access to the north west. It really speaks to our vision in Project Ireland 2040 to develop Sligo as a major urban centre for the north west.
The programme for Government refers to improving health. In that context, it is vital that the health service is able to retain nurses. The Taoiseach has suggested that the nurses' action is very unfair on patients but he must know that patients will blame him, not nurses, for what will happen tomorrow. The idea that appointments were never cancelled before, until nurses went on strike, does not wash with the general public. I want the Taoiseach to answer for his accusation that their action is unfair on other workers. In reality, the rising of one set of workers benefits all workers. It is time for a living wage and a pay increase for all workers after ten years of austerity and pay cuts. As for the accusation that the nurses' pay claim is unaffordable, the top five wealthiest people in this country have €35 billion. The Government could introduce a millionaire's tax on anything over €1 million.
It could also introduce a corporation tax in line with that of other countries or a financial transactions tax. The idea that we have a little pie to choose from will not wash. The Government is heading for a confrontation it cannot win.
I am not sure if this relates to Questions on Promised Legislation. We had an opportunity on Leaders' Questions already to discuss the impending nurses' strike and I am sure we will have other opportunities to do so in the future. The Deputy is correct that appointments are cancelled for any number of reasons but 10,000 specialist appointments and 1,000 operations cancelled for tomorrow is a lot.
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I sympathise with the shocking loss of life in Donegal and on other roads around the country over the weekend.
The programme for Government is strong on its commitment for rural proofing legislation. The Taoiseach committed in Dáil Éireann to the establishment of a task force to look after Tipperary town and its environs. Last year, on a bleak November day, 5,000 people protested on the streets of Tipperary but little other than the promise of a task force has happened since. The Taoiseach also promised collaboration and co-operation. Groups such as March for Tipp and Jobs for Tipp want to co-operate and collaborate but they are not being engaged with. March for Tipp recently polled 774 people and 96% of them had no confidence in the county council to head up the rescue plan. Will the Taoiseach insist that an official from his Department be put in charge of this process and that all groups that are ready, willing and able to help be allowed to do so? There cannot be a solo run by the county council. The people came out onto the streets because they do not have confidence in Tipperary County Council, unfortunately. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, properly addresses this issue and that he meets the groups he has committed to meet because he has not yet given me a date to meet them?
The Minister of State, Deputy English, is working on that particular issue. I will ask him to provide the Deputy with an update. The Deputy will be aware that we have organised a major jobs and employment fair for Tipperary town, which is happening on Friday. Nine hundred invitations have been issued and two Cabinet Ministers, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, will be there.
According to the weather forecast temperatures will drop to between 0oC and -3oC over the next two days and snow and freezing conditions are also possible. Has the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, engaged with homeless agencies and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive on a national contingency plan to get rough sleepers off the streets and is there sufficient accommodation available for them?
I thank the Deputy for her question. In short, yes, I have. I received a warning over the weekend about the cold weather snap that is approaching, off the back of which I engaged, through the national directorate for fire and emergency management of my Department, with local authorities regarding initiation of their cold weather teams. There is a place for everyone who needs one. Additional outreach teams will be working to encourage people into accommodation in anticipation of the cold weather snap that is expected over the coming nights.
Last week in the Seanad, the former Minister for Health, Senator Reilly, was critical of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in regard to the lack of progression of the Bill dealing with the national autism strategy which was unanimously passed in the Seanad. The inadequacy of autism services is an issue raised continually with Members in their constituency offices. This is not an area in respect of which remedial action can be taken as, very often, there is a window of educational opportunity. Why is the Bill not being progressed? If it were progressed in isolation from the resources would it make the difference as stated in Senator Reilly's remarks?
As the Taoiseach will be aware, in his and my constituency, Dublin West, there have been meetings of hundreds of parents who have children affected by autism and behavioural disorders. We have put a proposal to Government regarding provision of a special facility for children on the high end of the autism spectrum who, by and large, cannot find places in the ASD special classes because their needs are at a very high level.
Has the Government any proposals to address the needs of these parents and children who need very good services so that they can be facilitated in their education and in their capacity in terms of language and other issues?
I understand the legislation to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred is awaiting Second Stage. For reasons of which the House will be aware, we have only been able to prioritise six items of legislation for this session through to the end of March. The decision in the Department of Health, which I believe was the right one, was to prioritise the legislation on CervicalCheck and establishment of the tribunal to hear cases. That is being given priority in terms of health legislation.
On the issue of a special school in Dublin 15, the National Council for Special Education has examined this and has formed a view that a special school is warranted in the Dublin 15 area. The exact form that should take is still a matter for discussion in terms of whether it should be autism-specific or for all children who have profound special needs and cannot be accommodated in the existing schools.
Page 24 of the programme for Government states that the Government will request NAMA to review its business plans to encourage it to be more ambitious in the area of housing delivery. It is something of which NAMA always reminds us in its annual report. Last week a receiver notified residents in Riverwood Hall in Carpenterstown that they would be evicted, that is, nine households and up to 30 residents. It is shocking that has occurred in our constituency. Over the weekend, one of the residents was notified by the receiver that NAMA was one of the main parties to this eviction. It is highly inappropriate that NAMA, as a State agency, is circumventing the law, in the context of the Residential Tenancies Act and the Tyrrelstown amendment, is undermining the legislation the Taoiseach and his Government enacted and is deliberately evicting residents. It undermines everything that is in the programme for Government.
I want to know everything the Government intends to do to address this and what the Taoiseach's view of NAMA is given that it is circumventing legislation introduced by his Government and is central to an eviction process which will turf out residents from their homes where they will face homelessness. This shows a dysfunction in housing policy that is occurring on our doorstep.
I thank the Deputy for the question. On NAMA, which comes under the Department of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, its latest quarterly report came before the Cabinet this morning. It talked about the many thousands of new homes that have been built on NAMA-indebted sites throughout the country. More than 2,000 social housing homes have been provided to local authorities as well. This is to note some of the good work that NAMA is doing.
On the specific situation referred to by the Deputy, I am currently in conversation with the RTB on the Tyrrelstown amendment. It was tested recently at the RTB and that threw up a couple of issues. We are in discussions with the RTB around the issue of evictions. The law is clear. It was the legal advice at the time around the number of properties at any given time. However, the spirit of the law has to be observed. If it is not being observed, that is exactly what we will look at.
I welcome the approval for the N4, from Colooney to Castlebaldwin, and I thank the Taoiseach and Cabinet for approving that. The Taoiseach, as Minister for Transport, was the first Minister to give approval for funding. For the past 20 to 30 years, this roadway was promised by successive Governments. As a Deputy for Sligo, who was lobbied over many years for this funding, I am delighted we can start this project. The Taoiseach might give me an indication as to when this project will start. For the people of Sligo and the north west, this Cabinet approval is vitally important. Could we have a timeline as to when this project will start?
I thank Deputy McLoughlin for raising this important issue and recognise his advocacy down through the years in campaigning for this important road project to go ahead. The N4, from Castlebaldwin to Colooney, is one of the most dangerous roads in Ireland and a road on which many people have lost their lives. This is about road safety but also about economic development and bringing more economic opportunities to the north west. It very much speaks to our vision of developing Sligo as one of the growth centres for Ireland into the future.
I am very pleased the Cabinet took the decision this morning to give that project the go-ahead. Sligo County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland can now sign the contracts. I do not know the exact date for works to begin but it will be sooner rather than later. I will certainly get a date from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
Earlier, when referring to the proposed strike action on the part of nurses, the Taoiseach indicated that he was not aware of any Government failing to implement a Labour Court recommendation. In 2008, the Labour Court made a recommendation that FÁS supervisors be paid pensions. That decision was endorsed by a Dáil Private Members' Bill last year, when a more than two thirds majority voted in favour of implementing the Labour Court recommendation. When will the Government honour that Labour Court recommendation, honour the Taoiseach's commitment today and pay FÁS supervisors their pensions, which are much deserved and long overdue?
In that case, the State is not the employer. The employers of these supervisors are charities, NGOs and private bodies. It is, unfortunately, one of those areas - there are quite a number across the public service - in which the Government is not the employer but instead funds, or is the major funder of, the body that employs the people.
Working principals in primary schools have been campaigning strenuously to have one administrative day per week to allow them the flexibility to carry out their duties as principals. Does the new Minister for Education and Skills have plans to advance their justifiable claim and to give working principals in primary schools one administrative day per week to carry out their duties?
I understand, from the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, that the hours were increased but that it has not yet reached that threshold. I will ask the current Minister, Deputy McHugh, to provide a more detailed response.
People have lost confidence in both the health system and the Minister of Health. Indeed, they have lost confidence in all four Ministers in the Department. There are scandals whereby people are dying. I will just mention the CervicalCheck scandal whereby women are dying unnecessarily. There is now the escalating cost of the children's hospital, whereby the Government is going to pay €500,000 for another report to find out what happened. Where were the Ministers for Justice, and Equality, Health and Finance when this was happening? In March 2017, our little group highlighted that the proposed site is the wrong location in which to build the hospital. The reason we provided in that regard related to the fact that the cost of getting the materials in and out of where the hospital is to be built will drive the Government's projected cost up to the moon.
When will the new appraisal for capital projects be done? Where is the new community hospital for Killarney on that capital project list? When is it going to happen? We were promised it would happen in 2021. Where does the matter stand?
Everybody is talking about this matter but for the wrong reason. The new children's hospital is expected to open in August 2022. The projected cost is €1.73 billion. I accept that we need the children's hospital. On 18 December last, the Taoiseach informed the Dáil that the project would cost €1.43 million. In 2017, I was informed that it would cost €983 million. In 2016, when planning permission was granted, we were told that the project would cost €650 million, which is one third of the current estimate. My big fear - I do not say this lightly - is that there is a cartel holding sway here. The €650 million in 2016 was 20% cheaper than the second quote. There is something serious going on here. Someone has taken his or her eye off the ball.
The Taoiseach is the leader of the country. Deputy Harris is the Minister for Health. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board is responsible for the new children's hospital. I reiterate that someone has to take responsibility. The Taoiseach should not forget that it was taxpayers who got this country up and running again. What is the problem? Could the Taoiseach please confirm whether the consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, are being paid €450,000 to review this dog's dinner of a situation for which someone is responsible?
First, I cannot confirm the figure. Second, the Minister is before the Joint Committee on Health taking questions on the matter. That is where Deputies will find him if they are looking for him.
Last week, I received a report commissioned by former Educational Building Society, EBS, agents into the behaviour of that entity and Allied Irish Banks, AIB, management. The investigation into this matter was conducted by a former chief superintendent at the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The report alleges criminality. Those agents have a common denominator. They all followed the Central Bank code of conduct. The agents acted with honesty. They put their customers first. For their troubles, many of them had their service terminated on a no-fault basis. What action does the Taoiseach intend to take on receipt of that very important report, which alleges criminality at the heart of the banking sector? The matter must be investigated further. In that context, there must be a follow-up by the Minister for Justice and Equality. What does the Taoiseach have to say about the matter? I am sure he has heard of the report and that he has seen it.
I wish to ask about the reciprocal arrangements for social insurance schemes between England, Ireland and the North and the impact a no-deal Brexit will have on them. We are constantly informed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that it is carrying out a deep analysis of all possible scenarios on a scheme-by-scheme basis. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has committed to sharing the analysis at the appropriate time. For the 120,000 people living in Ireland who are in receipt of English pensions, the appropriate time is long past. When will the analysis be shared and could we have a timeframe for it?
As I informed the House last week - I will reconfirm it this week - a convention was agreed between myself and the then Minister, Esther McVey, in April of last year. That convention was subsequently reaffirmed by me and the new Minister, Amber Rudd, when she took over in December. It will be signed later this week. The convention will ensure a double lock in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The heads of the Bill for which I am responsible were published last week and will be presented to the House on 22 February.
I am not sure whether I can do that. I will do my best. The programme for Government contains commitments on pensions for people who paid PRSI contributions. In the past week to ten days, letters issued from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to people predominantly in their late 60s, 70s and 80s informing them that if they want a review of their contributions or if they have gaps in their contributions, they should go online. In the name and honour of God, those people do not have the skills to go online. I ask that application forms be included with the letters rather than asking people to go online. We went online yesterday-----
Figures recently published by the EU show Ireland that, together with Slovakia, have the joint lowest rates for operations to remove cataracts. Both countries perform an average of two cataract operations per 1,000 individuals each year. In total, 4.5 million cataract operations were performed in the EU. The Irish College of Ophthalmologists which represents more than 200 eye doctors, stated that there are not enough eye specialists employed in the Irish healthcare system. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I have been taking hundreds of people to Belfast in recent months. These are individuals who worked hard all their lives and who require access to an urgent, 15-minute procedure. They are being allowed to go blind by the State. Does the Taoiseach realise that those people from west Cork and Kerry are mainly in their 80s and 90s? How does he intend to stop the suffering of those people and resolve the crisis relating to the performance of cataract operations?
The proposed VAT increase on health food supplements is difficult for many who continue to do their best to look after their health. I refer to calcium and magnesium tablets and Eskimo fish oil for joints. The list is endless. Older people whose eyesight is affected by macular degeneration, for example, take a product called MacuShield, which is not available on the medical card and costs €25 for a month's supply. The increase in VAT will give rise to a €5.75 increase in price. It seems that there is not much support from the Government for those who wish to look after their health.
I wish to speak on the same issue. I call on the Taoiseach to reconsider the VAT increase on health supplements. When one thinks about growing obesity level, in this country, it does not make sense that we charge 13.5% VAT on fast foods and that we are going to charge 23% for food supplements.
Decisions on the VAT rate are made by Revenue, they are not the responsibility of Government. We need to make a distinction between food supplements in respect of which health claims that are backed up by science are made and those that are backed up by pseudoscience. This is an issue we will be discussing a great deal more.
Never, a Cheann Comhairle. They are not interested in the answers. The Ceann Comhairle knows that as well as I do. I will check out the situation with folic acid but I repeat that the decision is made by Revenue, not the Government.