Tuesday, 19 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Today's business shall be No. 13, motion to instruct Select Committee on Health re Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018; No. 14, motion re Ireland's participation in a European Defence Agency project - military search capability building, back from committee; No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 9, Civil Registration Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 54, Management Fees (Local Property Tax) Relief Bill 2018 - Second Stage, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Wednesday's business shall be expressions of sympathy on the death of former Member Donal Creed; No. 14a, motion re presentation, circulation and referral to select committee of Further Revised Estimates; No. 2, Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018 [Seanad] - amendments from the Seanad; No. 34, Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 9, Civil Registration Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 211, motion re confidence in the Minister for Health, selected by Sinn Féin.
Thursday's business shall be No. 34, Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, if not previously concluded; No. 9, Civil Registration Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 34a, statements on fourth interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (resumed); and No. 35, Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed). Thursday evening's business shall be No. 15, motion re report entitled, Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities, from the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I refer to the second revised report of the Business Committee, dated 18 February 2019. In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that No. 13 shall be taken without debate and that any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; that No. 14 shall conclude within 45 minutes, with speeches confined to a Minister or a Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, which shall not exceed five minutes each; that there shall be a five minute response from a Minister or a Minister of State and that all Members may share time; and that Second Stage of No. 54 shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit later than 10.15 p.m. and adjourn not later than 11.15 p.m.; that expressions of sympathy shall be taken after Leaders' Questions for a period not exceeding 15 minutes and followed by Questions on Promised Legislation and that contributions shall not exceed two minutes each; and that No. 14ashall conclude within 85 minutes, with speeches confined to a Minister or a Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, which shall not exceed ten minutes each, with a five minute response from a Minister or a Minister of State, and that all Members may share time and that any division demanded will be taken immediately.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that No. 34, if not concluded on Wednesday, shall take place immediately after Questions on Promised Legislation for not more than one hour and be followed immediately by the weekly divisions.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.
Some 27 Deputies are seeking to speak on promised legislation so it will be very difficult to reach all of them. I call Deputy Micheál Martin first.
It is more than two years since the Minister for Health promised a compassionate access programme to medicinal cannabis. Since then special import licences have been granted to approximately 15 people, if not more. Most are directed to The Hague in Holland by the Department to facilitate this. However, supplies are becoming difficult there because of increased demand. There has been a lack of clarity on the Minister's intentions as to when this compassionate access programme to medicinal cannabis is to be introduced. The UK Government has authorised a new legal framework since last November and the UK will receive its first shipment of medical cannabis from Canada in the next few weeks. I understand the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, has been in discussions with Tilray for a considerable length of time and that it was due to start early this year. It is time for the Minister to give a comprehensive statement outlining when it is intended to bring this medicinal cannabis into the country under the aegis of the compassionate access programme.
I do not have an up-to-date note on that with me so I will ask the Minister to provide the Deputy with a detailed answer by correspondence. The last time I inquired good progress was being made in this regard, but there was some difficulty around sourcing the product and some consideration was being given to growing it here in Ireland.
My question is about the so-called Brexit omnibus Bill that is central to the Government's response to a potential no-deal Brexit. I understand this matter was considered in the Cabinet today. Has the Cabinet now signed off on the Bill? When will the Bill be published and what are the arrangements for taking the Bill through the Houses over the coming weeks?
The Brexit Bill was approved by the Cabinet this morning. Subject to some minor drafting changes it will be published on Friday. However, the Tánaiste will brief party leaders, spokespersons and stakeholders on Thursday before publication on Friday. It is intended, with the co-operation of the House, to take Second Stage next week and to conclude it in the House in the week ending 8 March, after which it will go to the Seanad. Obviously, that will require the co-operation of both Houses.
In September 2016, I published a Bill to regulate rogue crisis pregnancy agencies. Yesterday, journalists Ellen Coyne and Katie O'Neill exposed how anti-abortion campaigners are planning to protest outside healthcare centres so the need for that legislation is underscored yet again. The Government published a Bill today to regulate health and social care professionals but it does not address this issue. As I have said repeatedly in the Chamber, women in crisis pregnancies are being abused by charlatans on occasion and we must protect them. I accept the bona fides of the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I accepted his assurance that he was moving to regulate this area. At a meeting on International Women's Day in 2017 officials from his Department gave the Labour Party a commitment that its Bill would be advanced before the summer of 2017. Where is the legislation? When will we have proper regulation of these agencies?
I wish to raise access to the drug Spinraza for 25 young people in Ireland. A number of Deputies have raised this issue in the last nine months. I understand the HSE leadership met on Thursday to give a final decision for the families. I was speaking to Lisa McHugh Farley in Clondalkin and her son Glen is eagerly awaiting access to this drug. The 25 families want to know what the decision is very quickly because this has been a prolonged process.
I note that neither the Minister nor the Minister of State who often outlines the position on nusinersen, or Spinraza, is here. I ask that the Taoiseach update the House today, given - and, I hope, accepting - that families are going through a very prolonged torment regarding this matter. I ask that he do so not only for the 25 children, but also for the 50 adult survivors across the State, who should have the opportunity to explore the application and relevance of this drug to their condition, namely, spinal muscular atrophy. Not all of them will benefit but a great number likely will, and they are entitled to that chance. I appeal to the Taoiseach to let us know what was the HSE leadership team's decision last Thursday and what will happen next.
Like my colleagues, I will not dwell on the matter but note I have raised it consistently. My colleague here in Fianna Fáil and I raised it last week. Expectations have risen because we were told here last week that Thursday was decision day for the HSE. I have had numerous parents ringing me at the weekend and this week asking what the decision was. Could the Taoiseach let us know what it was so we can offer some relief to these parents and the children who depend on this drug?
As Deputies will know, this is not a political decision; it is made in line with a statutory process under the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013. I understand that the committee met to consider a number of new medicines, including Kuvan, Spinraza and Translarna. The committee must consider the evidence as to whether a drug is effective; if so, how effective; and whether the price charged by the company is fair and in line with charges in other countries. Under the statutory process, the HSE must issue a letter to the company this week formally notifying it of the HSE's proposal. After this, the company has another 28 days to respond and, as is the case with all medicines, has the opportunity to submit revised data on either efficacy or cost.
In the interest of health and safety, I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to acknowledge that the wild deer population in Ireland has dramatically increased and is doing huge damage to farmland and crops. There have been several accidents and near misses on roads and injuries to persons. Hundreds of accidents have been reported to me, particularly in areas of County Tipperary. I refer to the foothills of the Knockmealdowns and the Galtees and the Comeragh Mountains in County Waterford. What is the current status of the Irish deer management forum? I assure the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, it is not a laughing matter at all, . If a deer hits one's car, it is a traumatic experience, particularly with babies on board and so on. When will a chairperson be appointed to the Irish deer management forum? I call on the Departments in question, namely, the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, together with the relevant stakeholders including farmers, the IFA, all the gun clubs, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and the county management committees to implement policies of best practice in every county affected by this issue, and there are many.
There are deer management plans throughout the country. If the Deputy would like to let the National Parks and Wildlife Service know about a particular issue, I ask him to do so through my Department. In addition, the National Parks and Wildlife Service gives out licences to cull certain deer in certain circumstances. The Deputy can bring anything to my attention and I will deal with it.
Many Deputies have raised Revenue's decision to introduce a 23% VAT rate on food supplements on Friday of next week, only ten days away. The Taoiseach has pointed out repeatedly, as have other Ministers, that the Revenue Commissioners are independent. In addition to that independence, however, the Taoiseach himself said on 13 February that the matter was under review. The Ministers for Children and Youth Affairs and Finance confirmed it was under review. Will the Taoiseach please confirm whether a decision has been made? If not, when will it be made? As I said, this is a cause of great distress to those who rely on food supplements, minerals, vitamins, fish oils and so on. The introduction of the measure on 1 March will be really serious, given that we face Brexit and the consequent price increases at the end of March.
The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, stated in the Chamber: "Revenue's position is that food supplements are not food and, as such, they are not entitled under VAT law to the zero rate of VAT." Revenue has stated this is the result of a re-examination of VAT legislation in the light of the recently commissioned expert report. However, the expert report which has just been published states food supplements are food, that they are legally recognised as such and that they are required to be supplied as such in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the proposal will not proceed as planned on 1 March and that people who have due regard to their health will not be penalised in so doing?
It is plainly obvious to all parties and none that this decision was not contained within the Finance Bill, nor is it something that the Government intended as a consequence of the Bill. As Deputy Troy indicated, it is imperative that the Taoiseach give a commitment to the House that the proposal will not proceed on 1 March and that circumstances will revert to what they should be.
I raised the matter with Deputy Gino Kenny in recent weeks. As other Deputies have noted, the Government urgently needs to review and abandon the proposal. It is worth bearing in mind that the revenue which is expected to be generated from the proposal is a miserable €8 million. Given the impact and hardship it will cause the many people who need food supplements, vitamins and so on which, in many cases, have been recommended by their doctors as necessary for their health, it would be a shocking decision to take in exchange for a miserable €8 million. I hope the Government is listening and that it will abandon the proposal.
At the time of the previous budget the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, gave an undertaking that the matter would be presented to the tax strategy group. That undertaking is still in place and the matter will be considered. I expect the Minister to make a statement on the matter soon.
The more than 221 women who have been caught up in the CervicalCheck issue are wondering about theex gratiapayment that the Minister for Health indicated would be in place within a few weeks. That was a few weeks ago. I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware that there is a degree of panic among that group. For example, having the slides tested independently will cost each woman approximately £2,500, but they have been told that they will not be able to claim back the money. Commitments have been given and apologies made to the women. In fact, the Taoiseach gave a commitment that no women would have to go to cour, but there is an ongoing fight behind the scenes on behalf of the women. When will the ex gratia payments be made? Can something be done about some of the costs the women face?
Two separate pieces of work are being done on the matter. The tribunal which will be an alternative to court for women who wish to claim medical negligence is being established on foot of the recommendations of Mr. Justice Meenan. It is one of only six items of legislation prioritised for this session. Work on it is progressing well and we anticipate that it will be brought before the Houses well before the summer recess, provided matters stay on track. The ex gratia paymentscheme which is a separate matter relates to the non-disclosure of the results of the clinical audit. The Minister for Health has drafted a memo, but he needs to identify a judge and make some changes to the terms of reference. I anticipate that the matter will come before the Cabinet next week or the week after. The Minister needs to identify a judge who will be willing to be in charge of the scheme and to ensure the judge will agree to the terms of reference, given that a judge cannot be appointed until he or she is happy with the scheme he or she will administer. In the case of the tribunal, however, a judge has been identified, namely, Ms Justice Mary Irvine.
Three weeks ago I asked the Taoiseach what the Government's plans were for the wording of a referendum to support the work of those who care for people at home.
The Taoiseach said at the time that the Government was due to comment on that issue within two weeks. Does he have an update on what the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Government intend to do in this regard?
Work is proceeding on this issue following the recent completion of a report by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The referendum to which the Deputy refers will not take place in spring or summer of this year.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about live export facilities at the port of Cherbourg in France. As the Taoiseach is aware, there are too many black and white cattle going into beef production at the moment and it is decimating the livelihoods of beef farmers. The programme for Government commits to developing increased live export markets for the beef sector but to facilitate exports, we need extra lairage capacity in Cherbourg. Will the Taoiseach direct the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to bring the key players together to put in place the additional capacity that is now urgently required to avert a catastrophe in the beef sector?
This is a serious issue because significant numbers of calves are exported at this time of year. While the lairage facilities currently in place will manage for ten months of the year, we need additional capacity for these two months. There are serious problems because the regulations relating to the timing for when the animals can be on trucks are rigorously applied and they cannot go to alternative lairage which is a short distance away from there. This was raised at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine too. The answer is for an element of the Government to step in and to ensure that we can put additional lairage in place and rent additional facilities in Cherbourg.
I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. It is very relevant, as we head into Brexit, that we do all that we can to assist the beef industry to diversify into other markets, including France and the mainland market in the EU. I am aware of the problems in Cherbourg. I will certainly tell the Minister, Deputy Creed, that it was raised here and I will have the opportunity to meet with the French finance minister this week. The French foreign minister is in town at present so I will make sure that it forms part of any bilateral discussions.
Page 47 of A Programme for a Partnership Government has a commitment to provide immediate solutions to the broadband and phone coverage deficit. I want to preface my question by saying that I am not talking about the roll-out of the national broadband plan, nor about Brexit. I am asking the Taoiseach and the Minister in charge of the mobile broadband task force what is happening to address the plague of dropping out of calls due to issues with mobile phone coverage. People in businesses and living along the Border corridor are continually disadvantaged and discommoded by dropping out of calls. It is not just along the Border but also along the Irish Sea, especially in the Louth-Meath area, due to connectivity with the Isle of Man, and the ease of roaming in and out of those areas. What steps are being taken to ensure that, regardless of Brexit, an agreement is reached between the Irish and UK Governments that there will be no return to roaming charges and that the shared broadband services on this island will be shared for all in an all-Ireland economy?
Deputy Breathnach probably knows that the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, chairs the task force which was set up to improve mobile and broadband speeds and connectivity around the country. That was discussed at Cabinet this morning. The Minister of State should be in a position tomorrow to publish the report of the mobile phone task force, which will detail some of the actions taking place.
With regard to roaming charges, unfortunately, once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, EU roaming charges will no longer apply.
I raised the issue of pay for substitute teachers three weeks ago. I am still getting queries from substitute teachers who have not been paid proper wages due to what appears to be a mess-up in the Department of Education and Skills. The Minister promised that he would sort it and it has not been sorted. He also promised that he would give information about it. The only information that substitute teachers who are down money have is the information on social media or from when they can get through to the Department or Revenue, which they can find very difficult. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell the Dáil when this will be resolved and when he will pay those wages.
Can he institute a campaign within his Department to let these substitute teachers know what is going on? He is desperate for substitute teachers because there is such a shortage and we should not be doing anything to put them off. They deserve to be paid their wages.
This is a difficult issue for substitute teachers who find themselves in this position. Officials in the Department have been working very closely with the Revenue Commissioners. A new online system is having initial difficulties and there are anomalies with personal public service, PPS, numbers but I am glad to be able to say today that this week 533 substitute teachers and 177 non-teaching staff will be paid. We still have to work through another cohort. I am happy to give the Deputy a daily update because I hope the remaining teachers will be sorted within the next few days.
I also want to acknowledge these substitute teachers who have had to deal with this very difficult situation. They have been in touch with the Department because they needed reassurances to pay rent and mortgages and we were happy to provide them. Teachers are due holiday pay at Easter. We are trying to bring that forward in the next couple of weeks as an acknowledgement and as a support for them having come through financial hardship.
As a result of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018 introduced by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, hundreds of young drivers can no longer drive alone on a provisional licence. A family member must be with them. Parents are strangled trying to bring their children to college or wherever or trying to bring them to and from work. Given that they cannot drive alone on a provisional licence, can the Taoiseach explain to me why the cost of insurance has not come down but has in fact gone up? I appeal to him and to the Minister to bring down the cost of insurance for these young people because they are not driving on their own any more. Fair play is fair play and they are not getting it.
On the same point, drivers are trapped, waiting to do their driver test. They have done the lessons and are very good drivers but many are waiting because there are so few testers. There are only 13 testers for the Cork-Kerry region where almost 11,000 people are caught in the queue. They are waiting for between 20 and 22 weeks. Additional testers need to be brought on stream so that people waiting for the lessons or the test can qualify faster.
The cost of insurance working group has put much work into this to ensure that motor insurance is reduced. The reduction is 23% since the peak in summer 2016. That is the average but some people have not experienced that.
In the main the insurance for young people has not come down because of the number of accidents they are involved in. Insurance has reduced overall but it is not coming down for younger people because of the number of accidents, the awards and the quantity of claims against them.
Following the Supreme Court decision this morning on the North-South interconnector, EirGrid trumpeted on the steps of the court that the project had now cleared all the planning and legal hurdles and issued a press release to that effect. However, the critical issue of access to landowners' property could not be addressed because access routes were never submitted for approval to An Bord Pleanála and so were not part of the decision this morning. Not one single access route has been submitted to local authorities. Not one single official access route has been sent to any landowner and there is no agreement for access routes at landowner level. Nothing has changed on the ground in all the time that I have raised this with the Taoiseach and Ministers. Does the Government echo EirGrid's triumphal statement this morning that all hurdles are cleared and things can plough on through the land where there is no consent from the landowners in County Meath? Does the Taoiseach support the stance trumpeted on the steps of the Supreme Court this morning?
Having been in Cabinet all morning and in the Chamber all afternoon, I have not had a chance to read the judgment or to hear the statement made by EirGrid, so I am afraid I am not in a position to comment on it.
I cannot say before reading the statement and the judgment and I have read neither yet. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to provide the Deputy with a fuller reply as soon as he can.
I direct my question to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Skills. On 4 September a High Court decision was made in respect of pre-qualification tenders for St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin. This has led to long delays for the children, the teachers and the whole school community in Monasterevin. This has wider implications for every single project which has been put out for tender by the Department of Education and Skills because the Department now has to review all its procedures in respect of pre-qualification tenders. When will the Department have new guidelines in place which will allow it to put projects out to tender? Until it does so every single school project in the country will be impeded. This has to be a matter of urgency for the Department.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It has been raised on the floor of this House a number of times. Her colleagues have raised it and I recently met students from Kildare who also raised it. There are ongoing legal issues involved in the matter. I will get the Deputy a full comprehensive update as to where we are in respect of pre-qualification tenders.
The Taoiseach and his supporters thought it was a good idea to introduce legislation to criminalise our young drivers and their parents. That decision targeted young provisional drivers. The Taoiseach directed the Garda, which is now impounding as many as eight cars a day. This is bringing in revenue of €8,000. I hope the Taoiseach is proud of that. It is the hard-pressed parents who have to pay this money. These young people want to be called for driver tests. When will the Taoiseach ensure a realistic and acceptable waiting period for driver tests? The Taoiseach has criminalised these drivers and hurt their parents. The message from this Government hurts them all. Will the Taoiseach do anything practical to help them?
I appreciate that there are very long delays for people who want to take their driver test in many parts of the country. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority are working on reducing the waiting time for tests to less than 12 weeks. It is important to say again that the concept of the provisional licence was abolished a very long time ago. There are no provisional licences anymore and there have not been for years. It is called a "learner permit". It is not a licence to drive. The reason young drivers have learner permits is that they have either not done a test or have failed their test. It is, therefore, not safe for them to drive on their own. Above all this is a road safety measure.