Tuesday, 12 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Is é gnó an lae inniu ná Uimh. 13, tairiscint maidir le ceadú beartaithe ag Dáil Éireann i ndáil le téarmaí Choinbhinsiún Minamata na Náisiún Aontaithe ar ais ón gcoiste; Uimh. 14, tairiscint maidir le róta na nAirí i gcomhair ceisteanna parlaiminte, an Roinn Gnó, Fiontar agus Nuálaíochta agus an Roinn Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionnanas; Uimh. 15, tairiscint maidir le Buan-Orduithe 22, 23, 28, 29A agus 70; Uimh. 16, tairiscint maidir le ceadú beartaithe ag Dáil Éireann i ndáil le téarmaí an choinbhinsiúin maidir le slándáil shóisialach idir Rialtas na hÉireann agus Rialtas Ríocht Aontaithe na Breataine Móire agus Tuaisceart Éireann a tharchur chuig roghchoiste; Uimh. 1, an Bille um an Dlí Coiriúil (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) 2018, ar ais ón Seanad, An Dara Céim agus Uimh. 2, an Bille um Chosaint Tomhaltóirí (Gift Vouchers) 2018 [Seanad], An Dara Céim. Is é Gnó Comhaltaí Príobháideacha an lae inniu ná Uimh. 28, Bille an Ard-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste (Leasú) 2017 ó Fianna Fáil, An Dara Céim.
Is é gnó na Céadaoin ná ráitis comhbhrón maidir le hiarTheachtaí Dála Brendan McGahon agus Seymour Crawford; Uimh. 38, An Bille um Thorann Aerárthaí (Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath) a Rialáil 2018, Ordú don Tuarascáil, An Tuarascáil agus An Chéim Dheiridh agus Uimh. 1 agus Uimh. 2, mura mbeidh siad críochnaithe roimhe sin. Is é Gnó Comhaltaí Príobháideacha na Céadaoin ná Uimh. 215, tairiscint maidir le stailc na haltraí agus na mná cabhracha, Solidarity-People Before Profit.
Is é gnó na Déardaoin ná Uimh. 17, tairiscint maidir le Comhaontú Aerseirbhís idir Éire agus Hong Kong; Uimh. 1 agus Uimh. 2 mura bhfuil siad críochnaithe roimhe sin agus Uimh. 39, an Bille chun Mangaireacht Ticéad os cionn Costais a Thoirmeasc 2017, An Dara Céim (atógáil). Is é Gnó Comhaltaí Príobháideacha na Déardaoin ná Uimh. 216, tairiscint maidir le daoine gan dídean, Independents 4 Change agus Uimh. 59, an Bille um Chumainn Tionscail agus Soláthair (Leasú) 2018, An Dara Céim.
Regarding arrangements for the business for the week, for today's business it is proposed that:
1. Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16 shall be taken without debate and any division demanded on the motion regarding changes to Standing Orders shall be taken immediately; and,
2. No. 58, Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Bill 2018 [Seanad] - Second Stage, shall conclude within two hours.
For Wednesday’s business it is proposed that expressions of sympathy shall be taken after Leaders’ Questions for a period not exceeding 15 minutes each, which shall be followed by Questions on Promised Legislation and contributions shall not exceed two minutes each.
For Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:
1. No. 17 shall be taken without debate; and,
2. No. 216 shall conclude within two hours and shall be taken in Government time; the speaking arrangements under Standing Order 144 shall apply; and the rota for Private Members’ business outlined in Standing Order 143F shall not be affected.
I ask that the Business Committee reconvene to consider the need for accountability on the national children's hospital. A series of memorandums has been sent to the Opposition. We have received 23 memorandums since the questions were asked of the children's hospital project and programme steering group. There are memorandums from September, October and November and more memorandums from the Government. We have the Department of Health report on Department of Public Expenditure and Reform communications in October and November 2018, summary of timeline of escalation of costs, and the AECOM cost benchmarking report. We have received much substantive documentation since the questions last week so there should be an opportunity for spokespersons to question the Minister for Health in the House on the content of these memorandums. I am open to that being considered for today, Wednesday or Thursday given the importance of accountability. As the Taoiseach said, lessons must be learned from this debacle.
There is undoubtedly a need for more scrutiny of the Minister's understanding, and that of other Ministers, on this and time should be available for more detailed questions. My understanding of Standing Order 46 is that it must be a personal statement and that it should not give rise to debate or be argumentative. Clearly, what the Minister has put on the record is disputed. All the information he had at that time was not commercially sensitive. We know that from the minutes. We are not eejits. We had to ask for the minutes and we have seen from them that at that point in August he was aware that there was a crystallisation of a €191 million overspend-----
-----yet the Minister came to the House and made a very feeble apology. He is still trying to suggest that he could not give the information because it was somehow commercially sensitive, as a way to draw a line under this and probably in some cobbled up arrangement with Fianna Fáil to get him over this issue. However, this goes to the heart of accountability. I would have preferred to have had statements after the Minister's contribution, as happened when Deputy Naughten made his statement, but that has not been facilitated. We urgently need space to quiz the Minister on his knowledge, particularly on some of the content he put before the Dáil, which is disputed and which is not allowed under the Standing Order under which he asked to make his personal statement.
It is obvious that the Minister made a political statement. It was not just a personal apology. The Members of the House must be given an opportunity to question him in detail about these costs. The nation is aghast that there is no money for nurses but suddenly the purse strings can be opened endlessly for this project. Time should be allocated during which we can interrogate him further on what he said.
There have been four committee hearings on this matter. Members of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, have appeared before the Joint Committee on Health. The Minister and the Secretary General of the Department have also appeared before that committee.
-----and the Minister for Health and the Secretary General of the Department of Health have appeared before the Joint Committee on Health for their quarterly session. The Minister has spent nine hours answering questions on this matter-----
-----so I suggest that if there is to be a further set of questions, Members should read the questions and answers that have already occurred and only ask new questions.
I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Harris, spent several hours dealing with the matter in the House last week. However, we have received a significant amount of documentation since then. I have the list here. We have received 23 memorandums containing new information from the children's hospital project and programme steering group, the AECOM cost benchmarking report, the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform communications for October and November 2018 and the summary timeline of the escalation of costs. It is reasonable to seek more accountability because lessons must be learned in regard to this debacle.
I have taken a constructive approach to the matter. I often compare the approach taken by Sinn Féin to that seen in Clint Eastwood films of long ago: when the cowboy arrived into town, the first thing he did was to reach for his holster. Sinn Féin's first instinct following a controversy of this kind is to reach for a Private Members' motion of no confidence.
------and continuing to protect the Minister, Deputy Harris. However, I am glad that, at least, some Members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party do not support his position. I appeal to those members to avail of the opportunity to vote no confidence in the Minister because he is clearly out of his depth. Instead of briefing the media, they should put their money where their mouth is.
On the need for further information, the Taoiseach is correct that the Minister, Deputy Harris, answered questions on the matter for nine hours in the House. However, he failed to acknowledge that at no time did the Minister mention that he was aware of a potential overrun of €391 million as long ago as last August.
I ask to be allowed to finish this point. It is because of the drip feed of information that we need further questions answered. This morning, we received the minutes of the development board. We have yet to receive minutes for five sub-committees, but those of the development board clearly show that in June the board knew of overruns. The Minister reappointed the entire board-----
Rather than running from the Chamber, the Minister should be here to answer questions from those who are holding this Government accountable. We will not be told by the Taoiseach what questions we may or may not ask.
------getting value for taxpayers' money. I wish to ask several questions on this matter and there needs to be a process to facilitate that. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform should also be available to answer questions on the matter because it is not credible that his Department was unaware of this incredible escalation in costs.
Does the House agree that there will be a meeting of the Business Committee immediately after the Order of Business to address the issues that Deputies have raised? Agreed. Is the business for today agreed? Agreed. Is the business for Wednesday agreed? Agreed. Is the business for Thursday agreed? Agreed.
I am informed by the parents of children with muscle-wasting conditions such as spinal muscular atrophy that the HSE leadership management team will meet on 14 February and, it is hoped, come to a final decision regarding the orphan drug Spinraza. It is a very difficult situation for the parents concerned. As the Taoiseach is aware, approximately 20 European countries have approved the drug. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration approved it for young children with this very rare condition. Many parents have pointed out the expense incurred by intensive care units and that children with illnesses such as cancer are not refused chemotherapy. Some 25 children in this country would benefit from the medication. The negotiations are ongoing.
Every week is precious to those children in terms of how this drug can improve their capacity to deal with this condition. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach could indicate when a decision will be made on this.
I am afraid I do not have any information on that. It is an independent process, as the House will be aware. I am aware that last year 29 new medicines were approved using this process. Obviously, what has to be considered in all cases is the efficacy of the medicine and whether the price being charged by the company is fair given all the other demands for funding in the health service. About 29 medicines were approved last year and I am sure that, if the case stacks up, a similar number will be approved this year.
In advance of another session of questions with the Minister for Health, could we have copies of all the minutes from the committees that were referred to in the documentation that was issued to us only this morning? Before the Taoiseach starts handing out advice on what questions we should ask, he should first ensure we have all the relevant minutes and documentation. What we have seen in the documentation released only this morning is that there were at least five committees, or substructures, involved as part of this project on which we have no information. We are specifically looking for that information along with any minutes from the small board working group. Could the Taoiseach give a commitment that we will have that information? We have been given commitments before but, as is the style of this Government, information is drip-fed to us, and very often to the media first.
I am unfamiliar with the documents the Deputy has referred to. I ask Deputies to be fair in this regard. The Minister is not a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. He is not a member of any of those committees. It is not reasonable to expect him to account for documents that he did not see and minutes of meetings he never attended.
May I ask a very direct question of the Taoiseach? The public tender process in Ireland is governed by Directive 2014/24/EU, on public procurement. Article 72 of that directive makes it clear that a new procurement procedure, that is, a new tendering process, is required if the provisions of a public contract are modified during the term of that contract. What constitutes modification, including price increases, is set out. Some modifications are permitted if they are provided for "in clear, precise and unequivocal review clauses". If, however, the modifications relate to "additional works, services or supplies" that are "not included in the initial procurement", any increase in price must not exceed 50% of the value of the original contract. The purpose of those rules is obviously to ensure everybody is on a level playing field. Can the Taoiseach tell the House that the procurement procedure for the national children's hospital complies with Directive 2014/24/EU? Can he assure the House that there is no possibility of underbidders taking legal action against the State because of the change in prices that has occurred since the contract was entered into?
I am assured it is compliant with the EU procurement directive but I cannot give the Deputy an assurance that an underbidder or another party will not contest this legally. Anybody has the right to go to court if he believes he has been treated unlawfully. Obviously, I cannot give an assurance in that regard.
Where does the FEMPI legislation now stand in light of the offer to nurses following the strike? Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach stood where he is now and told the entire country there was no money for nurses. With just three days of industrial action by nurses and massive support from the public, a new pay scale and pay offer came about. Nurses and workers everywhere will take note that strikes actually work. No amount of spin from The Irish Timescan cover over what I am referring to. I have spoken to nurses in the past few hours and I noted they are not jumping for joy on the wards over the pay deal.
This strike was about pay parity and retaining young nurses. One nurse from Blanchardstown said to me that if there is not parity, it is not a deal. A student nurse said there is no change in the payscale for them, as far as they can see, the NHS has offered them a job and they still intend to go. We were told about a nurse going to Beaumont Hospital in tears. Can the Taoiseach tell nurses if this is pay parity and will it stop the retention and recruitment crisis?
At least the Deputy is honest. It is a rhetorical question. The Deputy knows full well how this works. There was a hearing in the Labour Court and it heard all sides and came to a recommendation. It will be up to the members of the two particular unions, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, and the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland, PNA, as to whether they want to accept or reject the recommendation of the Labour Court. The Government said this morning that it would accept the recommendation and, if the ballot is favoured by the members of those unions, we will honour it. When this dispute started, the INMO sought two things, the first of which was a down payment, some form of a pay increase this year. The Labour Court has recommended that. The INMO also sought a process that would create a pathway to parity.
It is fair to say the Labour Court recommendation is that.
To answer Deputy Coppinger's final question, and I have said this before, there are many countries that pay less than Ireland does to its nurses and midwives, including most of Europe and most of the United Kingdom. There are many countries that pay more than we do, including Canada, Australia and countries in the Middle East. All those countries struggle to recruit nurses and midwives. This is not simply a matter of pay. There is an international shortage of nurses and midwives so I do not think that pay parity or pay rises, or even matching pay rates that we could never possibly match such as those available in the Middle East, will solve this problem.
Can the Taoiseach assure the House and the people of Kerry and Cork that the commencement of the bypass for Macroom and Ballyvourney, the access from Kerry to Cork, will not be adversely affected by any taking of funds from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to put towards the overrun in the budget for the children's hospital? Can the Taoiseach give an assurance on that specific issue?
Yes, I can. The only funds that have been transferred from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport relate to the A5 project which has been deferred because there is no Executive in Northern Ireland. I will be turning the sod for a new runway for Dublin Airport with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on Thursday. We will be turning the sod for the N4 project in Sligo, which will improve access to the north west. I look forward to coming to the south west to turn the sod on the project Deputy Michael Healy-Rae refers to.
I have absolutely no doubt that all over the country, people will be falsely claiming that projects in their constituencies are being held up because of the cost overruns for the national children's hospital. That is not true.
It may well be the case that projects around the country are held up for lots of different reasons, whether planning permission delays, tender delays, or sometimes because the project itself is over budget, but it will not be because of the national children's hospital.
The High Court in Belfast last week agreed to review the decision to go ahead with the North-South interconnector project. It is a critical piece of infrastructure both North and South. The view in the North is that lights will go out in 2021 unless it is built. The absence of such an interconnector is costing us at least €30 million a year. I do not know if the Taoiseach had the chance to speak to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, about the matter. Has the Government any position on what will happen now with the interconnector? What will be the likely timeline for resolution up North, in the absence of the Assembly, the institutions and a Minister? Does the Government have a timeline? I know many Deputies are interested in the project. Some, like me, want to see it built while others may not want it built.
I am afraid that I do not but I will ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to provide Deputy Ryan with more information if he can.
My understanding is that the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 gives senior civil servants the power to make certain decisions without a Minister for the period up to March 2019 with the possible extension for a further five months if there is still no Executive in place. However, at a court hearing in mid-November, the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure indicated it was no longer defending a judicial review case on this matter.
Earlier in his contribution regarding the national children’s hospital, the Taoiseach stated no one has come up with a suggestion as to how it could be built cheaper. Up to €371 million has already been agreed in increased costs with the contractor. Amazingly, outside all norms in the industry, anything above 4% will also be paid as an increased cost. Currently, construction inflation is running at approximately 8%. Every 1% on €1 billion is another €10 million. Will the Taoiseach instruct the children’s hospital development board and PwC to remove this extra 4% from July 2019? It is not a norm in the industry. It is another example of the contractor getting a significant advantage with taxpayers’ money. We can save at least €10 million, the equivalent to every 1% on every €1 billion, after July 2019. This is a matter which should be looked at urgently.
I have asked several times, as have others, whether PwC is the appropriate group to investigate the scandal of overruns in the national children’s hospital. As the Taoiseach is aware, PwC worked for BAM, the main contractor, at the centre of this issue. It has received up to €34 million in fees for auditing BAM. That is a serious conflict of interest. I do not see how one can seriously expect us to believe that PwC is capable of being independent when it has that long history of a close relationship with the main contractor, BAM. Does the Taoiseach believe that PwC should be removed to ensure another company can provide a genuinely independent investigation and analysis of these scandalous overruns?
Has the Taoiseach informed himself, as the Head of Government, of any potential conflict of interest between PwC, which is carrying out the inquiry on behalf of the Department, and the main construction company, BAM? Has he personally questioned the fact that BAM has PwC on its books as its auditors? Is he satisfied there is no conflict of interest? If he is, will he outline his reasons to the House?
As I mentioned earlier, we now know that the development board was aware of the overruns in June and it discussed at a meeting-----
The Minister appointed the board without asking any questions as to whether this was on track. Does the Taoiseach believe it is appropriate for a Minister to appoint an entire board without even having a conversation with the chairman to see how a project is going, if it is overrunning or if is in budget or without asking any questions of that nature?
My apologies. It was 2015, four years ago. This emphasises my advice to Deputies. Rather than asking the same questions again and again, perhaps they would familiarise themselves with the questions which already have been asked and the answers already given.
On the contract and hyperinflation clause, the Deputy is well aware that no Minister or no Government has the authority to change a contract already signed. Politicians and Ministers are no longer involved in contracts. That practice ended in tribunals many decades ago.
CHO, community healthcare organisation, area 7, in my constituency of Kildare South, has the lowest number of mental health beds per population. In 2016, a commitment was made by the Government that €5.5 million would be spent on the Lakeview unit, beside Naas hospital, which deals with mental health patients.
That building was to start in 2017 and be completed in 2019. In a reply to a parliamentary question I was told that the design team was stalled. Two weeks ago the reply to another parliamentary question advised that a new design team would be tendered for at this point.
I have a real concern that there is a delay in this building because of the overrun on the national children's hospital. I know the Taoiseach said earlier that projects would not be delayed. I am concerned that this building, which is so important to the care of people with mental health issues and the staff, would be delayed. We are now going back to ground zero once again. I want the Taoiseach to give me his reassurance that we will get this vital facility and that it will not be delayed because of the overrun on funding.
I am afraid I do not know the details of that particular project, but I will ask the Minister for Health to provide the Deputy with a reply by correspondence.
I will say this again. There are projects throughout the country, including in my constituency, that will be and are delayed for all sorts of reasons. It might be that they do not yet have planning permission or that somebody has appealed it to An Bord Pleanála. There may be a judicial review or problems with design and tender. The project itself may have come in above the budget allocated for it. I have no doubt that unscrupulous politicians throughout the country will try to exploit the national children's hospital issue to make out in some way that their local-----
The programme for Government promised to support farmers' incomes. The Taoiseach's adverse comments a few weeks ago did not help confidence in the beef industry. However, I ask him to do something about a number of rules and regulations that are causing many beef farmers real concern. The 30-month rule means that farmers are paid less if their animals exceed that. There is no difference in the world between the quality of a 29-month or a 31-month animal. The four-movement rule is absolutely ridiculous.
Unfortunately beef farmers are under extreme financial pressure. Budget 2017 promised us low-cost loans and 18 months later those loans have still not been made available to the agrifood industry. When will those low-cost loans, promised two budgets ago, be delivered?
On support for beef farmers, Deputies will be aware in the next few weeks that we should be in a position to launch the beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, which will provide some additional grants to farmers who are beef producers but who provide necessary environmental information that we request from them. We always try to de-bureaucratise the CAP and the rules and regulations affecting agriculture as much as we can, but they are there for a particular reason.
There are two loan schemes, one that has been announced, issued and fully drawn down. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation on a new scheme which should be ready in the near future.
That concludes questions on promised legislation.
It is really not in order or in keeping with the traditions of the House to accuse Members of dishonesty. I think it goes a little bit beyond the normal political charge.