Dáil debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

 

12:40 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I remind the House, including leaders, Members and Ministers, that this is questions on promised legislation and that questions on constituency issues are not to be asked unless they are relevant to promised legislation. There is a long list of prospective speakers and I am trying to accommodate as many of them as possible.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have looked at my contribution in the House on 1 May 2018. In keeping with the Taoiseach's approach from time to time, he quoted very selectively from that contribution and suggested that I attacked people and so on. I raised very legitimate questions at the time, specifically about the issue of non-disclosure. I did not cast any aspersions on the CervicalCheck screening programme. I raised questions as to who in the Department of Health knew and, indeed, the lack of communications with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, by his departmental officials. I made the point that the communications and frenzied reaction from the State and its agencies had caused much distress to women across the country. I raised questions about non-disclosure. I am today entitled to seek that the record of the House be corrected.

In my view, officials of the Department of Health were advised by the clinical director via officials in the screening service that the decision to offer free smear tests should not proceed because it would fundamentally undermine the programme. That is a serious issue. Rather than trying to divert from that core point, questions asked in the House should be answered comprehensively. I ask the Taoiseach to ask the Minister to come to the House and correct the record in respect of that matter.

In that context, when does the Taoiseach expect the new HPV test to be rolled out and introduced? Its accuracy and precision is superior to the existing form of screening.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Once again, the Deputy is being a little bit disingenuous. I did not say that he criticised the programme; I said that he criticised senior people working in CervicalCheck. He stated that they were cold and calculating and suggested they may have been involved in illegality. He went on to subsequently suggest that they may have been involved in a conspiracy. I am not saying that he said that about the programme; I am saying that he said it about senior people in CervicalCheck. If the Deputy wishes to clarify that, perhaps he will tell the House exactly to whom he was referring-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is on the record of the House.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----when he made those comments in order that everyone can know. I am unsure what specific aspect of the record the Deputy wishes to have corrected. Certainly, if it needs to be corrected, the Minister will do that. I am not quite clear exactly what the Deputy is saying needs to be corrected.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Taoiseach is very clear in that regard.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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On the Deputy's final point regarding the HPV test, I cannot give a date for its roll-out. The policy decision has been made by Government to introduce the test and the money has been allocated, but that now needs to be operationalised by the HSE. Having missed the deadlines that were previously committed to-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Because of the Government decision.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----I cannot, hand on heart, state in full confidence on what date that will be done.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Page 55 of the programme for Government commits to timely access to orthodontic care. More than 7,500 children who availed of public orthodontic services in Dublin are to have their files reviewed. Many of these children were left irreversibly damaged after services were withdrawn in the mid-1990s. A report commissioned in February 2015 found that patient safety was put at risk and recommended a wider review, which is now under way. Experts at the time worked under the agreement that the report would be published in full, but that has not happened. In reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy O'Reilly in December 2018, the Minister committed to releasing an update on this issue in February 2019. It is now April 2019, but no report has been published to date. Will the Minister, Deputy Harris, publish the 2015 report and the wider review in full? Will he give a date for publication? If not, why not?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I cannot currently answer those questions. They are probably best raised directly with the Minister for Health. I understand it is a report of the HSE and not the Department of Health, so it may not be within the authority of the Minister to publish it. Obviously, as is always the case with reports, if they pertain to certain individuals there may be issues with their publication. I am advised that the HSE has initiated a comprehensive audit of more than 7,500 patient files available from that period and that dedicated funding and personnel have been allocated by the HSE for that work.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to ensuring a strong and visible police force in every community. Yesterday, there was a shooting outside a school in the constituency of the Taoiseach and my colleague, Deputy Burton. It was an outrageous incident involving a gunman shooting at a man collecting a pupil from the school. It is incredibly lucky that such a reckless assault did not result in fatalities or serious injuries. It follows on from recent incidents in Drogheda and elsewhere. According to my colleague, Senator Nash, there appears to be a clear lack of resources in Drogheda. There has been an escalation in such shootings and other gangland crimes, which appear to be happening with impunity. We must not allow this to become the norm. What is the Government specifically doing about this? Will it take on these escalating attacks? We need to know whether this is a resource issue. Has the Government discussed that with An Garda Síochána? How will the Government and the Minster for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, respond?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I too am very shocked by the shooting that occurred yesterday outside Riversdale Community College on Blanchardstown Road North in my constituency. My constituency agent is visiting the school today to see if there is any way we can help or any additional supports we can provide. I hope to visit the school in the coming days. I know it well and know people who attended it. It must have been a very frightening occurrence for its pupils. I very much commend the principal and staff for taking swift action to lock down the school. It is a blessing that nobody was hurt in the incident and that the gunman did not succeed in entering the school grounds.

The incident is related to an ongoing feud, as the Deputy will be aware. There is a turf war involving drug dealers in the area. Yesterday, I sought a report from the Minister for Justice and Equality, who told me that significant inroads have been made in tackling this feud. There are high visibility controls in the area and have been for some time. Specialist Garda units, including the Garda dog unit, have carried out searches in Corduff with the assistance of the armed support unit for the region. The searches have resulted in the seizure of five sawn-off shotguns as well as other weapons and a quantity of controlled drugs. This is a significant operation and the Garda will continue to monitor and disrupt the activity of these criminal gangs. I encourage anyone in the area or elsewhere who has information about the incident to, please, contact the Garda and pass on the information in order that it can be dealt with.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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For one and a half years, the residents of Leeside Apartments in Cork fought attempts by their vulture fund landlord to evict them into homelessness. Late last week, the residents discovered that they had been victorious when news broke that the apartments had been purchased by the Clúid housing association and that in addition to those 13 families keeping a roof over their heads, a further 59 families are to be taken off Cork City Council housing waiting lists and provided with new homes at Leeside.

The programme for Government promises improved tenants' rights. This was discussed by the residents when I met them last Friday night. They sent messages of solidarity to the residents of Exchange Hall in Tallaght, who are facing similar circumstances, and they asked me to send a message to the Dáil. The message is simply that they wish that no other group of residents should ever have to go through what they have gone through with their families and children over the past eight months and that the Dáil should, as a matter of urgent priority, pass legislation to ban the practice of evicting people, including families and children, into homelessness. What does the Minister say in response to the residents' appeal, request and message?

12:50 pm

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for relaying that message from his constituents.

I welcome his acknowledgement of the excellent work done by Clúid, as a housing body, in taking people off the local authority housing list and putting them into homes. I do not believe the Deputy recognised before that it is an important player in the provision of social housing up and down the country. As the Taoiseach has said before, we use every means at our disposal to get people into homes, be it through local authorities, housing bodies, Part V arrangements, leasing or taking homes out of vacancy. What those coming off the housing list or out of emergency accommodation want is a home and they are not going to become ideological about who is providing it, be it the local authority or housing body.

With regard to issue the Deputy raised on protecting tenants' rights, the Taoiseach alluded to our agreeing at Cabinet yesterday a significant number of new measures to protect tenants in accommodation. The document will be published with the amendments as they go before the joint Oireachtas committee before Committee Stage next week. We are taking a series of steps, not just in respect of rent pressure zones but also under section 34. I refer to the notice to quit, how it is enforced by the Residential Tenancies Board and the extended notice periods. The information will be published very shortly.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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There is no favouritism from the Chair. I call the leader of the Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The programme for Government gives explicit recognition to the right of employees, especially State employees, to freedom of expression. Yesterday, I met ambulance drivers striking in Tipperary. They want to change union. They want to leave SIPTU and join the Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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On promised legislation.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is promised legislation. Why, in this day and age, is SIPTU allowed to block this? What is going on? Big Jim Larkin and James Connolly would turn in their graves over this. The ambulance drivers are entitled to freedom of expression and to join the Psychiatric Nurses Association. They are entitled to do what they want. They provide front-line services and respond to all calls, as they did yesterday during strike time. Why are they not allowed to determine what union represents them?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The question is clear. The Taoiseach may answer if he so wishes.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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People are free to join any union they wish to join. I understand this dispute is of a different nature. It involves union recognition. The HSE already recognises three unions representing the National Ambulance Service staff and paramedics. It also relates to the fact that the HSE is not willing to deduct, from wages, dues for the union in question. No employer, either public or private, should be required to collect union dues directly from somebody's wages. It is a decision for the staff member if he or she wants to pay them.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Three Members had a good meeting yesterday with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. One of the issues we were talking about was political advertising. I am keen to hear the timeline of the Government for the introduction of legislation to regulate and fight for transparency in political advertising here. Before the legislation is introduced, will the Taoiseach ask each Member of the Dáil, including each Minister, to commit to being fully transparent about what he or she, and each party, has spent on the online social media networks over the past year or two so we will live up to what we promise, not only in word but also in deed? Will the Taoiseach commit to transparency on expenditure on social media networks here? When does he expect legislation to be introduced?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I do not have a date for that legislation. On the question of transparency on advertising online, I understand each political party, in its SIPO returns, produces the relevant information.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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No.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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This was raised before and I checked it. Maybe all parties do not provide the information but some do. It is entirely appropriate that what political parties spend on advertising be listed. Money spent by Departments cannot be used for political purposes.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Many are debating the issue of housing. The Minister and Minister of State responsible for housing are in the House. The public is very cynical about any progress on this issue. The Central Statistics Office told us that, in 2016, in excess of 12% of houses were vacant. We are approaching local elections. Anybody who examines 100 good houses in any housing estate, in my constituency or elsewhere across the country, will see that one in 12 is unoccupied. Those living on either side of a vacant property say the residents have gone away. Most of the properties are owned by the banks, which are sitting waiting to make more money on the backs of the people. I have asked the Minister and Minister of State on several occasions when they will take a leaf out of the book of the local authority in Louth. It acquired properties that belonged to the banks through compulsory purchase order and there was no challenge taken constitutionally. I challenge anybody in this House who is out canvassing to identify why any 100 houses are unoccupied. It is time we got to grips with this issue. The people are laughing at those of us in this House who are not challenging the Government on the issue of good vacant houses.

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for the question. We are aware that the CSO numbers from 2016 include homes that were for rent or for sale and holiday homes. Therefore, the statistic does not give the true number of vacant homes in the country. We now have a vacancy team in each of our 31 local authorities. The teams submitted their plans to my Department and are doing a deep dive to find out whether homes are truly vacant or whether they are just homes for sale or holiday homes. To get vacant homes from banks, we do not have to issue a compulsory purchase order, although we do in some instances. We actually engage through the Housing Agency with each of the financial lending institutions to take their vacant homes and bring them into social housing use. It is happening in every local authority area.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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The health section of the programme for Government states: “We will fund hospitals and other healthcare providers for the work they do rather than on the basis of historical budgets”. There is also a reference to creating greater facilities for older people. The Minister for Health came to Longford the other day and had good news for St. Joseph's hospital but he took out the bata mór and gave Opposition Deputies a right lash for raising concerns about proposed health projects. He said we were deliberately using the over-expenditure on the children's hospital to raise such issues. That was a bad statement, bearing in mind that I do not always disagree with the Minister. If one considers Fine Gael's promises in the programme for Government, one notes that, in my locality, there was to be a 50-bed unit for older people in St. Patrick's hospital, a 50-bed unit at Sacred Heart Hospital, Roscommon, and a 50-bed unit at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, where there is absolute chaos in the accident and emergency department. Management and others have asked me to plead with the Minister to get the projects up and running. The Government has already delayed them so they are late already. When will Taoiseach announce the projects? Can we see genuine progress on them as quickly as possible?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has raised three specific projects in his constituency. I do not have in front of me the schedule indicating when they will start but I will ask the Minister for Health to provide the Deputy with a detailed reply. I did not hear the Minister's comments but I can confirm that there are those around the country trying to make out that any time a project is delayed, even one that does not yet have planning permission, it is because of the overrun on the children's hospital. That is, of course, false. It is not right that people should be so disrespectful of their constituents to make those kinds of claims.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The home help service is vital to help elderly and vulnerable people to remain in their homes for as long as possible. Everyone will agree this is the most cost-effective way to care for the elderly. The Kerry and Cork budget for this vital service has been cut by €3 million, however. Some genius of an official did not include travel in the costing. The home help staff do not have wings and cannot fly from house to house. I ask the Taoiseach to examine the budget. The Government is saying the Exchequer returns are strong.

On top of that, there is an issue with the fair deal scheme. No money was provided last week to Kerry and Cork for the scheme. What is going on?

1 o’clock

Is the Taoiseach asleep? Is the Minister for Health asleep? What are they doing? It is no wonder there was an overrun in the children's hospital.

1:00 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Right. The Taoiseach will answer.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The travel costs of home help people in Kerry were not budgeted for.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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No one has a right to the ownership of this.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Taoiseach will answer the question.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am asking him to answer it.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Nobody has the right-----

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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What is happening?

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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There has been no cut to the budget for home help hours in the Cork-Kerry area. I can confirm for the Deputy that there has been a significant increase this year in the overall allocation of home help hours made available for the Cork-Kerry CHO 4 area, which is the area I happen to represent as well. I can tell the Deputy that there has been no cut and no reduction. There has been an increase in the number of hours made available.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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That is not true.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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As regards funding for the fair-----

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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There is a reduction of €3 million.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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There is no reduction in the allocation of home help hours for this area. There is an increase in the number of home help hours there this year.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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At the end of February, the HSE decided not to reimburse Spinraza at its then price. It said that the company involved had 28 days to make further observations or submissions. Has there been an engagement between the company and the HSE during that period? If so, what is the current state of play? If no progress is being made, what steps can the Government take to review the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013? This drug is available to children in every other European country. We cannot make it available because we are caught up in our own red tape. If the process is not working, can we look at reviewing the 2013 Act?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for focusing on promised legislation.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has raised two questions, one of which is the broader question of whether we should review what we do and, if so, how we should review it. As Deputies are well aware, the current process is independent of politicians. Under the Act, the Minister of the day does not decide whether drugs are approved. As the Deputy knows, the timeline for the negotiations was extended. The company has re-engaged with the HSE. We are awaiting the outcome of those negotiations to get the latest update.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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Is there any timeline?

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I do not have a timeline or a specific date to bring an end to it.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I know Deputy O'Dea will be very brief.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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The Government's summer legislative programme contains a commitment to introduce a patient safety Bill. Is the Taoiseach aware that 81 people were languishing on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick this morning? There were 52 people on trolleys in the emergency department and 29 people on trolleys elsewhere. I am raising this question in the context of last week's closure of a 17-bed ward. When will the patient safety Bill be introduced? Will that legislation bring an end to, or outlaw, the cavalier attitude towards patients' health, welfare and safety that is presently being demonstrated by the authorities at University Hospital Limerick?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I believe the patient safety Bill is on the A list for publication in this session, over the course of the next 12 weeks. I am aware of the long-standing problem of severe overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick. I do not know the details of the reason for the closure of the 17-bed ward mentioned by the Deputy. I know that 60 additional beds are being provided in Limerick. That work is now under way. The Deputy will be aware that although things have deteriorated in the past two or three weeks, so far this year the number of patients who have had to spend time on trolleys has been at a five-year low. Regardless of whether the HSE figures or the nurses' figures are used, it is clear that between 3,000 and 4,000 fewer people have had to spend time on trolleys this year by comparison with last year. I accept that it is still far too many. We are making progress. Evidence shows that the provision of additional beds is not enough on its own. As the Deputy will be aware, University Hospital Limerick has a new emergency department.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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There are no beds in it.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It also has a new block in the Leben building. I hope the 60 beds that are being provided will make a difference.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I remind Deputy Michael Healy-Rae that other Deputies are waiting to speak.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the Government's support for regional airports. Kerry Airport has a unique location in Farranfore because there is a train station in the village and there are good roads to Tralee, Castleisland and Killarney, which are a stone's throw away. On 3 May 2017, I raised the possibility of an international PSO for Kerry Airport with Amsterdam, which was brought to me by the Tralee Chamber Alliance. At the time, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, said it was a positive idea. Is it something the Government will look at seriously? It would open up Kerry to a whole new range of business. It would lead to connectivity with an international hub from which one can go anywhere in the world. I ask the Government to support this sensible suggestion.

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy knows, the Government supports Kerry Airport with the Dublin-Kerry PSO funding, which is critically important for that route and for the viability of all the other routes in and out of the airport. We also support the airport through capital expenditure and operating expenses funding, which is critically important for Kerry Airport and the wider economy. I have sought advice on the idea of an international PSO to see whether there is an avenue to pursue it. I know that Edmond Harty of Dairymaster, who is a very successful businessman in the county, is very passionate about this. I am seeking advice on the matter currently. As soon as I receive that advice, I will get back to the Deputy with it. This interesting proposal may well be of benefit to the Kerry region and other regions as well.

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thought I might be falling over in anticipation today when I would be asking this question because the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was actually in the Chamber. As usual, he absconded before we could actually get to the promised legislation in order to avoid answering any questions. During our schooldays, if we had been able to shoot the breeze and fist-pump and high-five our friends about a summer trip to North Korea or a grant to get Granny more money, we would all have enjoyed ourselves. It is high time for the Taoiseach to talk to the Minister of State and his Independent Alliance colleagues to ensure they come to the Chamber to account for their actions. In an interview with the Sunday Independentat the weekend, the Minister of State created a fine mess for himself and the Government. He was not brazen enough to fail to appear here today, although he subsequently removed himself from the Chamber. The Taoiseach might be willing to tolerate this as long as the Minister of State does not raise any heckles about his use of the office of the Taoiseach to write fan mail to Kylie Minogue, or indeed about the Government's performance in health or housing.

My question today relates to the Bluestack Special Needs Foundation in County Donegal and the ICARE Centre for Autism in Buncrana. When the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, met those involved with these organisations in the past, he promised he would look at making funds forthcoming to assist them. He has not done that. They have received small funding from the HSE from local funds. The Minister of State has not ensured funding has been forthcoming to support them in their work. As he is not here, I am calling on the Taoiseach to ask him to follow up on his promise. Perhaps the Taoiseach could also ask the Minister of State and his Independent Alliance colleagues to attend this Chamber to be held to account for their performance.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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That was a long contribution.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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It was very entertaining.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It did not include a question on promised legislation or the programme for Government. I suggest that Deputy McConalogue should submit a written question to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. Alternatively, the Deputy could turn up for oral questions when the Minister of State is present.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The question of Ministers being in attendance in the Chamber is a decent one.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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As the Taoiseach knows, the House debated autism last night. I am raising this matter in the context of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, which was agreed in December. It is estimated that one in 65 people is on the autism spectrum. There are 11 primary schools in my constituency that make provision for children with autism. No primary schools in my constituency make such provision. Just 18 secondary schools in the whole of Dublin cater for children on the autism spectrum. When will we start to see secondary schools or other schools being established throughout the country under the 2018 Act to deal with the establishment of autism units? The Minister is not here.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I will allow Deputy Pearse Doherty, who is on my list, to ask a similar question.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is on the same matter. We had an excellent debate last night to mark World Autism Awareness Day. April is World Autism Month. Excellent contributions to yesterday's debate were made by Deputies on all sides of the House. Our motion was supported by all parties and Independents. The establishment of an-all party committee on the development of an autism empowerment strategy was central to that motion. I ask the Taoiseach, as the Head of Government, to state clearly that he supports the establishment of such an all-party committee so that we, as legislators, can come up with an autism empowerment strategy within six months. Such a strategy would support many of the issues being faced by children and adults with autism and their families.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I would be very happy to support the establishment of such a committee. I am not sure what the exact mechanisms are to make that happen, but I would be very happy to support it.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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A number of other Deputies are offering. I will be able to get them all in as long as their questions are brief and relevant.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Taoiseach is still answering.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I thought he had finished.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It is okay. The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 has already been enacted. The best way to ask about a specific school is to table a written question, a private notice question or an oral question to the Minister for Education and Skills.

Informed though I am, it is not just possible to be informed of every constituency issue.

1:10 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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My question was not about specifics.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I tried to indicate at the outset that there other means by which Members can raise questions.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The programme for the Government contains a promise to protect fishermen’s incomes. Last week, the Dáil rushed through the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Bill, which was supported by the Government, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, did not undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. It had been sidelined in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for two years. The haste in the past several weeks to get it through the Dáil has left many unanswered questions. Legal experts have since found loopholes in the Bill, the effect of which may be to allow foreign vessels from outside Northern Ireland, as well as vessels registered there, to now fish within the six-mile fishery zone limit. If this were to happen, it would have devastating consequences for inshore fishermen. Will the Taoiseach guarantee fishermen that this will not be the case?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I call the Taoiseach on the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, which may already have been enacted.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Again, I am familiar with the legislation, the purpose of which is to restore the voisinagearrangement which existed prior to 2016. I am not sure, however, that I am in a position to give any of the specific guarantees requested by the Deputy. I will certainly advise the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, that this matter was raised. I am sure he will want to reply to the Deputy in more detail.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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My question relates to the programme for Government and public transport, which we all agree is significantly important in keeping cars off the roads. It was useful to meet representatives from Irish Rail yesterday in order to examine the company's plans for services after 2027. I want to deal with the here and now, however. Public transport should be affordable, accessible and have appropriate capacity. Thousands of commuters take the train at Newbridge, which is in my constituency, every day. However, the price of the fare from Newbridge is twice what it is from Sallins because of the short-hop zone arrangements. This results in many people driving to Sallins to take the train from that station. There is also a capacity issue and it is not safe. Last Monday, the head of the National Transport Authority informed a meeting in Kildare that while it realised the price arrangement is unfair, it would not reduce them because it does not want to encourage people to use the trains because of capacity issues. We need new carriages on these train serves.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Deputy have a question?

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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The efficiency and frequency of train services is quite good but there is also an issue with the stations. Toilets are not open when trains are delayed, for example.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The Government does not have any role in setting fares for public transport. That is covered under the Dublin Transport Authority Act and the National Transport Authority. On additional carriages and capacity for the rail network, I have been advised by Irish Rail from my own queries that additional carriages are being renovated and others are on order. That will improve capacity on our rail services but it is not possible to give an exact date for that.

Photo of Bobby AylwardBobby Aylward (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The programme for Government states we should use our strengthened economy to become a leader in the provision of world-class education and skills. Members of Carlow Institute of Technology students’ union, along with staff, staged a walkout in recent weeks calling on the Government to invest in the future of higher education. They did so to raise awareness about the key issues facing students today. Ireland will have the highest third level fees in the EU after Brexit. Will the Taoiseach outline the Government’s plans to address these key issues? Will it take a more active role in engaging with students’ unions?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am afraid the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, are not here. I will advise them that the Deputy raised this issue and ask them to provide him with a reply as soon as possible.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I want to raise the issue of the cost of classroom placements for student teachers. It is compulsory for student teachers but they are unpaid for the three weeks they spend doing it. A recent survey by the Union of Students in Ireland found that it cost €160 per week for travel and materials without taking in the cost of accommodation. In addition, most student teachers have to go for Gaeltacht placements and these involved a significant cost. There was a grant of approximately €650 a week but it has been taken away. Many who want to do teacher training find it is only open to those who are affluent and where the bank of mammy and daddy step in. That is an unfortunate development. There are two points to be raised.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy does not have to elaborate.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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The grant for the Gaeltacht placement should be restored. Some level of payment, perhaps a percentage of a teacher’s payment, should be given for the duration of the school placement.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Again, the Minister is not here, unfortunately. I will advise him that the Deputy raised this matter and ask him to provide a reply without delay.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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The latest available data from the HSE indicates that the 2018 national targets for access to child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, are not on track. Up to 2,453 children and adolescents are waiting for CAMHS appointments. Of those, 1,400 are waiting more than three months and 313 waiting more than 12 months. This fails to meet the HSE target that no young person should wait more than 12 months for a CAMHS appointment. What is the Government doing to address these waiting times? As the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is aware, Cork has nearly doubled its waiting time figures this year.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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We have made significant progress with CAMHS. Up to 83% of young people who wanted to access psychiatric care in the community, free of charge, were seen within 12 weeks. We are making significant progress, notwithstanding the challenges we face. I would love to preside over a 100% success rate but that utopia still escapes us. We will continue with our endeavour to improve the service.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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We still have people waiting 12 months.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I remind Members to ask questions on promised legislation. I call Deputy Neville.

Photo of Tom NevilleTom Neville (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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The HSE in the mid-west, in conjunction with its CAMHS consultants, is considering the best way to respond to unplanned appointments. It has experienced challenges in maintaining a full 24-hour on-call service. It is continuing to respond to emergencies by day and hopes to be able to produce a final plan shortly. Will the Minister of State clarify the position in respect of the review? Why are these services not fully provided? Will he give me an answer on this and seek to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible?

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I am aware of this review. The issue underpinning this is that the number of people who sought the service out-of-hours last year was 14. We have to look at available resources and see if that is the best use of them. We are engaging with the consultants on this, as well as patients, their families and the HSE, to see we are deploying our resources in the most appropriate manner.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps the Whips should look at this arrangement. The Taoiseach is not even in a position to answer questions about constituency issues. Perhaps Members could make better use of parliamentary questions. This is an abuse of the system. I call Deputy Lawless.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I assure the House that the matter I am about to raise does not relate to my constituency.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I was not reflecting on the Deputy.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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That is okay. I accept I do it on other days but not today.

Deputy Eamon Ryan has already alluded to the meeting that he, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton and I had yesterday with Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook. It was a good meeting. Among the issues discussed were those of integrity and transparency in electoral campaigns and the threat to democracy worldwide which social media poses. Mr. Zuckerberg outlined some of the measures which Facebook is implementing voluntarily at European level in advance of the forthcoming European Parliament elections. I do not agree with Mr. Zuckerberg on everything but he made a strong point when he said it is up to governments and parliaments to regulate, legislate and lead in this matter.

My Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill was introduced in 2017. It has gone through detailed scrutiny and been the subject of expert evidence. A long list of stakeholders came before the relevant committee. It has done its work and discharged its duties. We can now add Mr. Zuckerberg to that long list. We missed introducing this legislation for the repeal the eighth amendment campaign and the presidential election. The writ has been moved for the local elections and the European Parliament elections will be held in a month’s time.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I call the Taoiseach.

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill be enacted prior to the European Parliament elections? Our Parliament has done its job. It is now over to the Executive.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Taoiseach understands the question.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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This requires both regulation from the Government and at European level, as well as responsibility from the platforms of the digital companies themselves. One can only regulate and legislate so much. I am advised that we are still awaiting the pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Bill from the committee.

1:20 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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There is also a money message.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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We will conclude with a short question from Deputy Burton.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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The shooting incident at Riversdale community college-----

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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We dealt with that.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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-----was preceded six or eight weeks ago by similar episodes at the primary school in the Corduff area. Will the Taoiseach commit to Dublin communities, which have been racked by an upsurge in drug crime and which do not have enough community policing? Community policing seems to have vanished. We have lost our community policing inspector in Dublin West after the previous incumbent was not replaced.

Thankfully, no one was injured at the other shooting at the primary school in Corduff but what will happen next time?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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That school has a limited counselling service for pupils. The young pupils, their parents and the teachers are terrified because the kids are going to and from schools where there have been shooting episodes. The counselling service has been threatened with withdrawal. Will the Taoiseach undertake to use his office to ensure that the schools in our constituency, such as the one in Corduff, which has a small counselling service can keep it and that it will not be taken away?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Taoiseach wish to expand on his earlier response?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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That is very much a constituency question but an important one nonetheless. I visited Ladyswell national school last week and met with the principal and the board of management. We discussed issues around its counselling service, which I understood had been shared between Ladyswell and Corduff, but was being funded out of the school completion programme. There seemed to be an issue with funding counselling out of the school completion programme but I am having this examined.

The number of gardaí is increasing all the time. The force is now over 14,000.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I asked about community gardaí.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It is a matter for the Commissioner to decide how those 14,000 are best deployed.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Let me say again, there are ten minutes. The parties and groups should look at this and not abuse this segment.