Tuesday, 9 April 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business of this week shall be set out as in the second revised report of the Business Committee dated 9 April 2019. Tuesday’s business shall be No. 13, motion re Electoral (Supplement to the Register of Electors) Regulations 2019; No. 14, motion to instruct the committee on the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018; No. 35, Pre-European Council Statements; and No. 15, motion re Article 4 of the 19th and 21st protocols annexed to the Lisbon Treaty - referral to committee. Private Members’ business shall be No. 57, Thirty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 16, motion re direct election of mayor plebiscite regulations; No. 9, Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 8, Courts (Establishment and Constitution) (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 36, statements on rural and community development; and No. 1, Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 220, motion re housing, selected by the Labour Party.
Thursday’s business shall be Nos. 17 and 18, motions re Article 4 of the 19th and 21st protocols annexed to the Lisbon Treaty, back from committee; No. 19, motion re Revised Estimates, back from committee; No. 37, statements on A Better World – Ireland’s Policy for International Development; and No. 58, Treatment of Cancer (Advertisements) Bill 2018 - Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 59, Finance (Office of Tax Simplification) Bill 2018 - Second Stage.
In relation to Tuesday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) Nos. 13 and 14 shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
(2) No. 35 shall be taken on conclusion of Taoiseach's questions. Statements shall be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes if not previously concluded. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or Members nominated in their stead shall not exceed 10 minutes each, with a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time. Questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government shall be taken on the conclusion of the statements.
(3) No. 15 shall conclude within 45 minutes. Speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or Members nominated in their stead for a period not exceeding five minutes each, with a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time. Any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
(4) No. 57 shall be taken on the conclusion of No. 15. The Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of No. 57, which shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1). No. 16 shall conclude within 45 minutes and speeches shall be confined to a single round of five minutes for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or Members nominated in their stead, with a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time.
(2) In respect of No. 36, statements shall not exceed 10 minutes each for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or Members nominated in their stead, with ten minutes for all other Members and a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:
(1) Nos. 17 and 18 shall be taken without debate.
(2) No. 19 shall take place following Nos. 17 and 18, shall be followed immediately by the weekly divisions and shall conclude within 45 minutes. The Estimates shall be moved together and decided by one question. Speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or Members nominated in their stead, for a period not exceeding five minutes each, with a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.
(3) No. 37 shall adjourn after 90 minutes if not previously concluded. Statements by a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups or Members nominated in their stead shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other Members and a five minute response by a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time.
(4) The order of the Dáil of 12 December 2018, that Second Stage of No. 58 be taken in Private Members’ time, shall be discharged and that Second Stage shall be taken in Government time.
There are three proposals to put to the House. Are the proposals for dealing with today's business agreed? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed? Agreed. Is the business as set out for Thursday agreed? Agreed.
Some 25 Deputies have indicated that they have questions on promised legislation. We are unlikely to be able to get to everyone and some Deputies have been carried forward from Thursday.
In relation to the email, I confirm that it has not been published. It has been refused to the media. We are also awaiting a reply to a parliamentary question we had to table just to get a copy of it. The Taoiseach has a habit of muddying the waters. The email has not been published and I want it to be as we are entitled to see it. For the record, I have confirmed with Deputy Donnelly that it has not been published. Will the Taoiseach commit to publishing it?
I will have to look into the issue. The email is from over a year ago and I do not know why it has not been released. Usually such documentation is released under freedom of information legislation within months, rather than years-----
-----unless there is a particular reason it has not been released. I cannot commit to the email's publication as there may well be a reason it has not been released. It was sent after the announcement and was not to the Minister. The content may have been shared with the Deputy, perhaps through a reply to a parliamentary question.
Is the Taoiseach following events and listening to the increasingly hawkish rhetoric from the Israeli Government? As he is aware, there is an election taking place in Israel today and the Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, has pledged that if he is re-elected, he will annex illegal settlements. As the Taoiseach is aware, the settlements are in contravention of international law and have been condemned repeatedly. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to recognise the state of Palestine. That is now a pressing and an urgent matter and delay only damages the prospects for a viable Palestinian state and, furthermore, encourages and facilitates a hawkish Israeli Government that is intent on frustrating any prospects for Palestinian sovereignty and, in turn, peace and stability in the region.
I also noted those comments which were made in the final days of an election campaign. I expect that it was electioneering, but the comments were certainly unwelcome. I issued a very clear statement on them on behalf of the Government last night.
Brexit has occupied our focus here for nearly three years. As the Taoiseach will recall, when the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, a bid was made to have two UK-based agencies, the European Medicines Agency, EMA, and the European Banking Authority, EBA, relocated to Ireland, but we lost out narrowly to Paris in a tied vote on the relocation of the EBA. It is not too often that the European Union creates new agencies, but in February it was agreed by the Commission, the Council and the Parliament that a new agency would be established, namely, the European Labour Authority. As I understand it, so far only Cyprus and Slovakia have declared an interest in the new agency. Will the Taoiseach support the call made by Sheila Nunan, the Labour Party candidate in Ireland South, to have the agency located in Ireland? It is one of which we have experience and Ireland would make a fine home for it. Is it the Taoiseach's intention to make a bid to have the European Labour Authority based here?
We are giving the matter some consideration, but we will only bid if we think we have a realistic prospect of attaining it. As the Deputy said, we did bid to have the EBA relocated here but, unfortunately, we lost out-----
-----in a tied vote. We already have Eurofound based in Ireland. It is an agency that deals with the matter of a work-life balance and labour rights, but we are also conscious that Cyprus, Slovakia and Latvia have already put in a bid. We also have to bear in mind the politics of the matter.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the progress of the Anti-Evictions Bill, a Solidarity Bill that was passed on Second Stage in December last year. It is similar to a Bill we proposed two years before which, among other things, would ban a "sale" as grounds for eviction. It is becoming clearer every day and week that we need to have such a Bill passed. Does the Government intend to allow the Bill to continue its progress through the House and be passed, or does it intend to seek to block it by refusing to issue a money message? I ask, in particular, in the context of the mass evictions facing many of my constituents in Exchange Hall in Tallaght by the auctioneer, McPeake's, which is seeking to sell with vacant possession by kicking out the tenants before it sells. There was a very effective protest on Saturday outside the building. There was another effective protest on Saturday outside McPeake's offices in Blanchardstown, but the bottom line is that the tenants should not have to protest.
The Government should have progressed this legislation already and no one else should face this situation.
We are concentrating on our own Bill that went through Cabinet last week, with amendments, to help protect tenants in this situation. I believe the Bill the Deputy refers to is in the process of Committee Stage, which is to do with the committee. We will work through our legislation, which is promised and will be committed to in May, all going well.
Will the Taoiseach and the Government react to the appalling situation in the south east, especially in Tipperary, with the trolley crisis in Cork University Hospital, CUH? The number of people on trolleys last week was appalling. The figure for today in University Hospital Limerick, which serves north Tipperary, is 55 and 30 in South Tipperary General Hospital. South Tipperary General Hospital, or St. Joseph’s as I like to call it, is a much smaller building and 30 people on trolleys in that hospital is as bad as 100 in CUH because it is an old building. While I welcome that work is progressing on a 40-bed modular ward, there is no sign of staff being appointed. The winter that has just passed is the third since this was promised and it is still not delivered. This situation cannot be sustained. The staff are at breaking point and people are fearful going into accident and emergency departments. The Taoiseach will say he worked there years ago and in three other hospitals but I am talking about now. I am not complaining about last year or the year before that. It is now spring, we are heading into summer weather and there are no major scares in terms of health issues. The situation is appalling, and the pressure is ongoing on the front-line staff. It is not a good service for the people of Tipperary and I will not accept it.
At 9.20 a.m. this morning, I was contacted by a staff member in University Hospital Kerry who told me that at that time, there was total mayhem in the accident and emergency wing of the hospital. There were 36 patients on trolleys and 12 patients on chairs, some of them since yesterday evening. Subsequent to that, I was contacted by my daughter, Toiréasa, who is a councillor. She told me she had been contacted by relatives of the patients and that there is major concern for their well-being. In the interest of health and safety, would it not be appropriate to call in the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to examine the situation?
The Taoiseach will say we do not give solutions but one solution would be to provide funding for home care for people to allow them be discharged from hospital. It costs approximately €125 a week to keep somebody in their home. It is costing €7,000 a week for a hospital bed. What is happening at the moment is economic madness. I know of people who have received letters stating that they were entitled to home help but that they were on a waiting list. I am aware of people who passed away while on that waiting list. What is happening is absolutely crazy.
I raise again the issue of Sligo University Hospital where 50 people are on trolleys today. There were 41 on trolleys yesterday. In the past week there have been over 30 people on trolleys. Bed capacity is central to this issue. There is a proposal from the hospital to build a new 50-bed unit. Deputy Tony McLoughlin and I met the Minister last week and while he has said he wants to progress that, we need action right now to resolve the problem. As for what can be done right now, there are two advanced nurse practitioners in the accident and emergency department. They carry out work such as treating cuts and bruises and small injuries with which people come into the hospital. The hospital has applied to have two more advanced nurse practitioners appointed and that request has been turned down twice. If that were done, it would relieve the situation immediately in the accident and emergency department in Sligo University Hospital. It is a practical solution to the problem. It will not resolve it but it is something that needs to happen and can happen right now if those appointments were approved.
-----on Leaders' Questions, so I do not want to repeat the answers I gave earlier. I was on my phone to check out the HSE app, which indicates that overcrowding has been easing throughout the day, as it does, and that the number of patients on trolleys now is down to around 350.
I went to see it when I visited Clonmel a few weeks ago. When it is completed it will be staffed but we know from bitter experience throughout the country that merely providing additional beds and additional staff does not solve the problem. We need extra beds. We need to make sure that beds are used efficiently, that the length of stay is reduced and that patients are not waiting days for necessary investigations to see specialists for interventions. A hospital that has a length of stay of six days needs more beds than one with a length of stay of four days but no more people get treated.
The third element which I mentioned is ensuring we do much more in primary care services and the community because in Ireland we do too much in hospitals and not enough in the community. That is why we concluded an agreement with general practitioners last week.
I raise the issue of respite care. In the programme for Government and on many occasions since many commitments have been given on respite care. A service is simply not available. Families who have members with intellectual disabilities have been told by service providers that if they have already received a respite care service over a weekend or for two or three days in 2019 - this is only the second week in April - there will be no further service available to them for the rest of the year. It is absolutely disgraceful and nobody is taking the matter seriously. We are facing a massive crisis. Elderly parents are trying to look after loved ones, particularly children, as best they can and crying out for respite care, but a service is simply not available.
-----to provide an additional respite care centre in each community healthcare area. However, I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to give the Deputy a more detailed reply.
Page 40 of the programme for Government contains a commitment to increase the minimum wage. We are approaching the end of the Government's term of office and the minimum wage stands at €9.80 per hour, a rate on which many workers cannot meet day-to-day costs such as rent, childcare and insurance. In government Sinn Féin will introduce a living wage, with appropriate transition supports for small and medium enterprises, SMEs. That would see workers earn enough to achieve an adequate standard of living. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to introduce a living wage? If not, will he explain to workers why he thinks they should continue to work for the minimum wage, a rate on which many of them cannot afford basic essentials?
In Ireland the minimum wage is set by the Government on the advice of the Low Pay Commission. It takes into account many factors, ranging from the cost of living to risks to employment, particularly in Border areas, should the minimum wage be increased too rapidly. We take the advice of the Low Pay Commission and the minimum wage has been increased by approximately 25% in the last couple of years. While it is modest, it is one of the highest in the world. There is a living wage in the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, which is lower than the minimum wage here.
As stated in the programme for Government, we are very proud of the Defence Forces and the patriotism and professionalism the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps demonstrate, both at home and abroad. While the increased investment in key military infrastructure is necessary, there is also a need to address pay and allowances for members of the Defence Forces. The Public Service Pay Commission process must come to a conclusion sooner rather than later. It must recognise the valuable role played by the Defence Forces. Some specific military allowances must be addressed to ensure more appropriate take-home pay for troops.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. A large number of Defence Forces personnel live in County Kildare. The Government is working on the issue. We have asked the Public Service Pay Commission to examine the allowances paid to Defence Forces personnel, specifically to see if there are targeted measures we could apply to the Defence Forces that would improve pay and conditions but would not have a knock-on effect across the board and that would thus be affordable. When I spoke to the chairman of the commission a few weeks ago, he said he should be able to have a report for the Government by the middle of May. We will act swiftly on it. In the meantime, members of the Defence Forces are benefiting from the pay restoration occurring generally across the public service.
Page 50 of the programme for Government highlights the Government's recognition of the value of rural transport to rural communities, particularly for older people and persons vulnerable to social isolation. The National Transport Authority is forcing a policy change on rural transport service operators. It is splitting functions and stripping away the booking and co-ordination office from transport operations. Let us consider County Clare as an example. The booking office for the Local Link service will now be based in west Limerick, where there is no knowledge, experience or understanding of the geography or terrain of County Clare.
One could not make this up if one tried. There is little doubt that this decision will destroy the Local Link service that has been operated by Clare Accessible Transport for many years and which is a pilot project that is recognised as best in class right across the country. I cannot understand why this policy decision has been changed and implemented. I appeal to the Taoiseach, at this late stage, to try to get the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to stall the process and prevent the signing of the contract in order that we have a chance to hold onto what we have and ensure that a good service is maintained for the benefit of those people.
I thank the Deputy and as I may be out of date on this issue, I will ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to provide him with a more detailed reply. My recollection from my time in that Department is that there is a procurement process that goes out to tender. Different people tender and only one person can win the tender and the contract. I will check into it to ensure that the Deputy gets a better reply.
Tá ceist agamsa faoi the planning advisory committee for Traveller health and the national Traveller health action plan . On 21 February, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, endorsed the national Traveller health action plan in a meeting with Pavee Point and promised to publish the Traveller health action plan this month. Given that the suicide rate among Travellers is six times the national average, and that suicide accounts for 11% of Traveller deaths, I am sure the Taoiseach agrees that this constitutes a mental health crisis, which demands an urgent response and positive action. I welcome the Minister's commitment but ask for an update on the status of the planning advisory body on Traveller health and the national Traveller health action plan.
I thank the Deputy and I acknowledge his long-standing interest in issues affecting the Traveller community ranging from housing to healthcare. I do not have an update on that to hand but I will mention the Deputy's raising of the issue to both the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, and will try to get the Deputy a better reply.
On page 85 of the programme for Government, it promised to work and make our older years better years. Three years into the lifetime of the Government, and after eight years of the Taoiseach's party being in government, the health service is in an unprecedented state of crisis. In Cork, the number of accident and emergency departments has been reduced from five to two. The ambulance service has been restructured and many of our elderly are not receiving sufficient home help hours. Last week, we had a status code black in Cork University Hospital in which eight ambulances were kept waiting for numerous hours there.
Last week in Skibbereen, an 82 year old man fell on the street and suffered suspected neck and hip injuries about which I received numerous telephone calls. This man lay on the street for two hours and 15 minutes while waiting for an ambulance, which eventually came from Cahirciveen, County Kerry. This situation is unacceptable and the Government's policies are not working. Will the Government carry out a review of the ambulance services in west Cork?
I thank the Deputy and I believe the credit for the consolidation of the accident and emergency departments in Cork belongs to the Deputies to his right, not to any Government led by my party. When it was done, however, I am sure it was done for the right reasons.
We increase the budget for ambulance services every year as the Deputy is aware, which has occurred for the past four years. That provides for additional pay for staff, additional staff, new ambulances and ambulance spaces. I do not have any information specifically on west Cork but I will mention to the Minister for Health that this issue was raised here today.
I find myself compelled to once again raise the situation about St. Paul's secondary school, Monasterevin. I am aware that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, was here and has left the Chamber. Despite calls to his office and his Department, we cannot get any update on the court case decision taken on 4 February, where the tendering rules had to be changed. We were told that this would happen at the end of March.
Excuse me, but is the Taoiseach listening to me, or listening to the other Deputy?
I have not finished my question.
At the end of March, the new tender process was to be in place. At the start of April a cast-iron guarantee was given that the new tender would be advertised. Nothing has happened to date on this or on the transfer of the lands from the present owners to the Department. This is an awful situation for the people of Monasterevin who have been waiting for 15 years for this development.
I thank the Deputy. While I appreciate that this is an important local issue, it is a local issue and I am dealing with questions on promised legislation. No legislation is promised on this matter.
The Minister for Education and Skills is currently in the Seanad but I am advised by Deputy Heydon, who is very much across this issue and has been very much engaged with the Minister for Education and Skills on this issue, that those responsible expect to go to pre-qualification of tender very soon.
The programme for Government includes reference to climate change. A controversial decision was taken by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for a large-scale wind farm on the iconic hills around Aughrim. In making the decision, the board used what we all agree to be the outdated wind energy guidelines that go back to 2006 and ignored the views and concerns of the people of south Wicklow, the county development plan and the fact that Wicklow had already refused this on two occasions. The decisions could have been so different for the people of south Wicklow if the Government had kept its promise to issue new wind energy guidelines in quarter 1 of 2018, as promised in June 2017. Where are the promised guidelines?
I understand they will be published in the next couple of weeks. As the Deputy knows, they were held back in October due to changes at European level. The idea is that they will be the most up-to-date guidelines. It is hoped they will be published for an eight-week public consultation in the next two or three weeks. They have been slightly delayed because of legislation to do with Brexit, but they are more or less ready and will be out to be viewed.
My question is for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, but maybe the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, might be able to answer it. Will the concerns, of which there are many, of the local people in Castletownshend be taken into account when a decision is being made on the recent applications for foreshore and aquaculture licences in Castletownshend harbour?
There are reports that the PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the cost overruns at the national children's hospital will be released this afternoon. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this report will be debated in the Dáil so that the House can assess what went wrong and how it can be prevented in future? Will the Taoiseach confirm whether the recommendations require the need for legislation?
The PwC report on the cost escalation at the national children's hospital will be published today. Indeed, it may have been published already. I think it probably has been published in the past hour. Any decision to debate the report in the House will be a matter for the Business Committee. I am sure it would be appropriate to do so although I imagine the best step would be for the Joint Committee on Health to invite in the authors of the report to allow them to set out their findings. I do not think any legislation is required in respect of the recommendations.
Legislation was enacted in December 2017 relating to the national claims information database. Is there a timeline in respect of the collection of data? Where are we at with that timeline? Has any research been done on it? Have any results or outcomes emerged? Some of the cases I have seen in recent weeks in the media have been struck out because of exaggerated claims. I would be grateful for an answer.
I thank Deputy Neville for raising this important issue. I know the cost of insurance is of great concern to people. We have made some progress in bringing down motor insurance premiums and stabilising health insurance premiums, but there is more to be done for public liability and business insurance. I am unsure exactly where we are on the claims database. I met the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy yesterday. He is heading up the Government work on this. He gave me a document to read. I have not had a chance to read it yet but I will ask the Minister of State to contact Deputy Neville and fill him in.
There are many aspects to the housing crisis and the failure of this Government to deal with it. The programme for Government puts a particular emphasis on affordable housing. The Rebuilding Ireland affordable home loan scheme, which commenced last February, is a mess. More evidence of the mess around it was provided by Brian O'Connell on the "Today with Seán O'Rourke" radio programme. We heard of numerous families who had been approved but who are now being told the funds may not exist. We know that a considerable amount of the funds have been drawn down. These funds would have been expected to have been drawn down in the timeline set out for the €200 million.
I have had multiple items of correspondence, which I have raised and will again today, from people being refused the loan for inexplicable reasons. One family was told that they earn too much and that the other reason they were not being given it was because it was not thought that they could repay the loan. It cannot be both. Is the real reason that the funds are running out? Is that why people are being refused and may not get loans even when they are approved?
The Taoiseach spoke about Cork and the challenges that exist. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of affordable accommodation. The Government has made much of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. According to a reply to a parliamentary question that I received, of 262 loan applications assessed by Cork County Council, only 25 have been approved. Of 112 loan applications assessed by Cork City Council, only a single loan has been approved, in an area which one would imagine has the greatest demand. Many people cannot afford to get a deposit for a commercial mortgage and do not qualify for social housing. Very little is being done for them and the current mess with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is creating a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for many people who need help to get accommodation.
The issue of assessing someone's creditworthiness and ability to repay the loan is separate to the funding allocated. There are two procedures there, one local and one national. It is a very stringent process because of the history of loan systems through local authorities.
There are two separate issues here. It is not a mess. It is a significant success. I do not recall any Deputies welcoming it when we brought it out in the first place but it has been oversubscribed and has gone down very well. We are working through the system to see if we can extend the offer because it is a success. I remind the House that it is only one of a whole list of actions to help to tackle the housing crisis. Affordability is very much our focus now because I think people recognise that-----