Wednesday, 10 April 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
Some weeks ago I questioned the Tánaiste on Dublin Port's policy on cruise ships and the decision to reduce the number of cruise ships from 2021 to 2023 to 80 ships per annum and how that would have a very negative impact on Belfast and Cork in terms of cruise companies deciding to come to Ireland in the first instance. I have tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. On foot of the replies I received, it is very clear to me that the situation remains uncertain. The replies stated that Dublin Port hopes to revert with increased capacity after 2023, when its infrastructure works pertaining to the freight side are completed. There is no commitment in terms of developing a dedicated cruise berth. Cost-benefit analysis is ongoing at the moment.
On the previous occasion, I said that this relates to the Government's programme, the development of tourism, and the retail sector, which is on its knees throughout the country, in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. Has the Tánaiste done anything since then? What commitments can be given to the cruise ship industry that a dedicated cruise berth will be provided and that the negative attitude to cruise ships will end and a more positive outlook developed?
I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Ross, on a number of occasions about this issue, and he has spoken to Dublin Port about it. Dublin Port has a job to do in terms of running its port efficiently, and it has been put under quite significant pressure in terms of capacity in recent months, linked of course to Brexit. In my view it has done a very good job on that. It also has an obligation, however, as the main port of destination for cruise liner business. It is linked with other ports around this island, and therefore the decisions it makes have significant knock-on consequences for ports such as Cork and Belfast. It has an obligation to work collectively with those other ports to be consistent with our national policy of supporting cruise liner traffic, and it must be factored into its plans. Dublin Port faces short-term challenges in the next couple of years in terms of infrastructural investment, but I expect that it will give a medium-term commitment to increasing cruise liner traffic again.
The programme for Government commits that the Government will actively fulfil its mandate as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. Today marks the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. That agreement has delivered peace and fundamentally changed relationships across Ireland and the relationship with Britain. It promised power sharing, equality and the potential for constitutional change, and it was endorsed by the vast majority of people. Sinn Féin supports the provisions of the agreements. We meet our obligations under the agreements. Unfortunately, there are those who continue to oppose the agreement, but they cannot be allowed to undermine the hopes of all who share this island. The DUP, as we know, never signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and consistently opposes equality. The British Government is imposing Brexit and is refusing to honour its obligations under the agreements. The Good Friday Agreement and its institutions are being actively undermined by the actions of an irresponsible British Government and a reckless DUP.
The agreement is an international one between two sovereign governments. What steps is the Government taking to ensure the legal obligations of the British Government will be honoured and the hopes of a generation realised? Will the Government convene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to map a way forward consistent with the Good Friday Agreement?
The Government is absolutely committed to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, both in word and in spirit. I speak to my counterpart in the British Government on a regular basis - in fact, to a number of my counterparts in the British Government - to that effect. I can assure people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that the Good Friday Agreement is a major priority for the Government, particularly in the context of the threats and the strains that come with the Brexit negotiations. We have at all times acted to ensure nothing will happens linked with Brexit that will fundamentally undermine how the Good Friday Agreement operates and what it is meant to deliver by way of a stable peace process into the future. All of us in this House have an obligation to try to work to ensure we can re-establish core elements of the Good Friday Agreement in the coming weeks and months. I look forward to working with the Deputy in that regard.
Yesterday two reports on children were published. We have just heard about one of them, on the cost overrun on the national children's hospital and the additional €400 million to €500 million being incurred by taxpayers as a consequence of the lack of management of the project. The second was on a survey and published yesterday by the charity AsIAm entitled, Invisible Children – Survey on School Absence & Withdrawal in Ireland’s Autism Community. It contains a series of surveys of absence and withdrawal from school of children with autism. This year we are facing a really severe crisis. In Dublin 7 and Dublin 15 in my constituency no school places will be found for an estimated 40 to 60 children with a very high level of need, unless a small autism-specific school is developed for these children who may have not just autism but also other conditions, including behavioural issues. Does the Government propose to do anything about the children being expelled from schools, refused access to schools and having to stay at home and receiving little or no education?
I am not sure what the Deputy is talking about.
On the previous question, I should have said to Deputy McDonald that we were hoping to have a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, in the coming weeks.
To respond to Deputy Burton's question, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is aware of the recent demand for additional special class and special school placements in the Dublin area. The council is actively engaged with schools, school patrons, parents, the National Educational Psychological Service, health professionals and others who are involved in the provision of services for children with special educational needs to ensure each child will have a school placement appropriate to his or her needs in the 2019-20 school year. This work is ongoing and the Department is liaising closely with the NCSE in that regard.
For several years I have asked repeatedly for the income thresholds for social housing to be increased. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has promised repeatedly that they will be reviewed. The failure of the Government to honour its promise to do so is resulting in a cull of working people from housing lists. For example, I have written to the Minister this week about a woman who works for the HSE as an environmental health officer. She is likely to be given a new Brexit-related job with the HSE and if she gets it, she will receive a slight pay increase. If that happens and unless the Minister raises the income thresholds, she will have to resign from her job because she will lose eight years on the housing list and on her income she will have no chance of being able to buy or rent. She is paying over 50% of her income on rent she absolutely cannot afford. This is happening to hundreds, if not thousands, of workers who are being culled from housing lists. When will the income thresholds be increased to stop it?
The PwC report on the national children's hospital is explicitly clear that of the nine organisations interviewed during the process, not one of them included Connolly for Kids Hospital or any of the senior clinicians who have for years campaigned and forensically deconstructed the arguments for locating the hospital on the site of St. James's Hospital. There was not a single interview with the tens of thousands of families of sick children. What is most revealing and worrying about the PwC report is the paragraph which states:
We have considered and agree with recommendations made by Mazars in their reports relating to cost escalation and governance. The recommendations that we have set out below in this report do not replace those...
Effectively, we have paid in excess of €600,000 to find out what we already knew.
Further to Deputy Barry's question to the Tánaiste, the Minister for Health has stated publicly that he wants to see a resolution of the ambulance paramedics dispute, not confrontation. What the Tánaiste has proposed today is not in any way a solution. The HSE is refusing to talk to the paramedics. It has even refused to discuss contingency plans for today's strike action and the previous strike action days. It is the ambulance drivers and paramedics who are implementing the contingency plans in the dispute. The HSE has twice refused to go to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. The Government needs to intervene in the dispute and instruct the HSE to go to the WRC or some labour relations body because otherwise the dispute will not be resolved. Will the Tánaiste instruct the Minister for Health to intervene, as happened with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in the nurses dispute and the psychiatric nurses?
Page 69 of A Programme for a Partnership Government states:
We will develop services and specialties to support people at different stages in life. With a growing older population, it is necessary to build capacity in the psychiatry of later life.
One such facility is Rosalie care home in Castlerea, County Roscommon. The Minister for Health, the Department of Health and the HSE have stated this facility will continue to form part of the health service into the future. However, this morning the HSE has taken a unilateral decision to move 12 mostly older people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia without any decision being made on the future use of the facility. It is disgraceful treatment of residents and contradicts the programme for Government and stated HSE policy on the future of the facility. I want the Government to intervene directly in the issue as a matter of urgency.
I will not repeat verbatim what Deputy Naughten said, but what he said was true. A public statement will be issued later today indicating that the 12 people will be moved, despite in 2016 the then Minister for Health and now the Taoiseach giving a commitment in a letter which I have stating the facility would not be closed down. There are severe issues with the mental health service in County Roscommon. I understand a number of staff have moved because they are not happy with what is going on in the system.
I remind the Tánaiste of the 27 recommendations in the Roscommon report, but virtually none of them has been implemented. People in Roscommon have lost their lives because of neglect in the provision of mental health services. Families will never ever lose the pain they have suffered. I am mindful of those children today who have lost parents. Will the Tánaiste contact the HSE immediately and tell it that under no circumstances is the Rosalie unit to be closed? Will he ask the Minister to inquire into exactly what is happening with the services in Roscommon? I want the Minister to come into the House to answer questions on a Topical Issue matter on this most serious issue.
I also wish to raise this issue and we have raised it on numerous occasions. Our colleagues have attended public meetings there. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin raised this issue directly with Tánaiste as far back as the beginning of July last year. Commitments were given by the current Taoiseach and by the former Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. The commitment was very clear, namely, that those patients who consider the Rosalie unit to be their home would be able to live out the rest of their days there. As of today, this Government has broken that commitment. The Taoiseach has broken his word, the former Minister of State has broken her word, and the Government, which the Tánaiste serves in, has broken its commitment to those individuals. Will the Tánaiste advise Breda and the other 11 patients why those in government have broken their word to those patients who were told they would be allowed to live out their days in that unit now that a decision has been taken to put them out of their home and to ask them to go to different counties, leaving their home county of Roscommon?
I understand that both the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, have undertaken that, no matter what, the building will form part of the future delivery of health services in the area and that will be discussed in the near future, but decisions need to be taken which are focused on patient care. We have to make sure that patients have the appropriate level of care for their needs. That is the only motivation here, as far as I understand.
A commitment was given in the 2019 budget to extend entitlement to jobseeker’s benefit to the self-employed. When will that system come into operation? It requires legislation. When can we expect to see that legislation?
Farmers’ incomes were supposed to be protected under the programme for Government. However, their income has been undermined by the Taoiseach and now the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is supporting An Taisce, which has already inflicted considerable pain, misery and misfortune on young people in rural Ireland who require the basic opportunity of being allowed to put a roof over their heads and which is telling pupils, through their teachers, that they should reduce the amount of meat they eat and the quantity of milk they drink. Good parents provide a square meal for their children when they come from school in the evening and milk and meat were always part of a nutritious diet. Are children now going to say to their parents, "We can't eat this now, Mammy or Daddy, because An Taisce says we can't eat it, and the Taoiseach says we can't eat meat or shouldn't eat meat, and Minister Bruton is saying we shouldn't eat meat or drink milk"?
The ultimate arbiters of children's diets will be children and parents themselves. I have absolute confidence in the parents of the country that they would acknowledge and know that a high-quality dairy and meat content are part of a balanced diet. I have every confidence they also know our farmers are producing those products in abundance and to a high quality.
I have a question for the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Boxer Moran, concerning the limbo in which many watercourses and rivers are in as a result of not being either the responsibility of the OPW, under the Arterial Drainage Acts, or of county councils. It is a particular issue in Inishowen where significant damage was done to rivers and watercourses as a result of the August 2017 flooding. Will the Minister of State provide an update on any plans he and the Government have for introducing a specific body which will work with landowners to take responsibility and assist them in maintaining rivers and watercourses? Is something we can expect from the Government in the near future?
I believe the Deputy is aware that one of his colleagues, along with the Minister Deputy Humphreys, has asked me to chair a meeting in the Deputy’s neck of woods on the subject of the question he put to me. I have agreed to that. As soon as we get a date for that meeting, I will him know and we will work together to see how we can solve this issue.
This week is Parkinson's Awareness Week and last Saturday I attended the launch of a Parkinson’s bus in Bandon heralded by a champion for those with Parkinson's in west Cork, Tony Wilkinson, along with Parkinson's sufferers. Many people assume that Parkinson's affects the older generation but one in 20 diagnosed with the condition is under 40 years of age. The Government does not give any funding to the Parkinson's Association of Ireland. We have only five Parkinson's specialised nurses in Ireland and three of these are based in Dublin. There are 30 specialised Parkinson's nurses in Northern Ireland. Deep brain stimulation is vital for Parkinson's sufferers but this surgery is not carried out in Ireland and patients have to travel to Bristol, Liverpool or Oxford for it. Tomorrow, hundreds of Parkinson's sufferers and their families will travel to the Dáil, not to protest but to highlight how poorly Parkinson's sufferers are treated in this country. How can we as a country address the major shortcomings on so many fronts in treating Parkinson's sufferers?
I have a long note on that issue that I probably do not have the time to read. A small level of funding of €60,000 has been provided through the HSE this year, but a great number of people suffer from Parkinson's disease in Ireland. We have a health system that needs to support them. I can send the Deputy a longer note on the issue and in that way he will have the information.
I have to again raise the issue of insurance costs. Like many other Deputies, I have been contacted regularly by people who have been given exorbitant quotes for insurance cover, particularly those in the child play area and those who provide entertainment both on and off campus. I have a note of a case where the person concerned got insurance cover for €3,000 in 2015 and the cheapest quote that person have been able to get today in 2019 is €23,500. Many fine words have been spoken about insurance reform but nothing is happening about it. Will the Tánaiste commit the Government to addressing once and for all this desperately serious issue and the challenges facing people and do something about it? That man who contacted me about that quote who is providing significant employment in his community will have to close his business if he cannot get a quote under the almost €24,000 he was given.
It is not true to say that nothing is happening regarding insurance. We have acted on a number of reports and there has been a significant levelling out of insurance premiums in certain sectors. That is not to say that there is not more work to do. Specific sectors are facing very significant insurance hikes right now. We had a debate on one of those, namely, child play areas and businesses, either last week or the week before, and it was highlighted that some people are being put out of business because of insurance increases. I am conscious there is more work to do but this is a continuing challenge for the Government on which we are working.
I wish to raise with the Tánaiste the issue of the western rail corridor and the campaign to get it opened from Athenry to Claremorris. I understand that EY-DKM have been appointed as consultants for the Government to carry out a financial and economic appraisal of the proposed track extension. Will the Tánaiste outline to the House when the public consultation phase of that will open? Will he confirm that the Government will give this due consideration? It is a reasonable request that a commuter service for workers between Mayo and Galway be put in place. A considerable number of people travel from County Mayo to Galway. Galway has a significant traffic problem that will not be resolved in the near future. I ask that the Government take this on board and open up the public consultation as quickly as possible.
I suggested it might take up to 12 months to complete the report. I ask the Government to try to reduce that time as 12 months seems to be an unnecessarily long time to prepare a report.
Today representatives of the FAI are appearing before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. While I do not want to get into its deliberations, a serious issue regarding a Fine Gael Deputy has arisen and is widely reported on this morning. It concerns Deputy Noel Rock who, supposedly, sent a text message to Mr. John Delaney in November saying he was happy to push back against a proposal made by Deputy Catherine Murphy that the then CEO of the FAI appear before the committee. Given that Deputy Rock had in the past texted Mr. Delaney about match tickets in March and October 2017, as he has acknowledged-----
It is relevant because the programme for Government includes a clear commitment to political reform. Does the Tánaiste think it is appropriate for a Deputy to behave in this manner and push back against a proposal made by another Member of the House to prevent somebody from coming before a committee?
Page 105 of the programme for Government commits to ensuring every young person will be enabled to reach his or her full potential. Unfortunately, on a regular basis, almost weekly, we raise the issue of the availability of Spinraza to a very small number of children, a couple of whom are in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. There was a trial by the company involved and the relief families obtained for their children was unbelievable. We are dilly dallying on this issue. I understand the Minister for Health is legally barred from interfering in or influencing the decision-making process. However, the point we made to the HSE drugs group was that the affected families had been waiting under a cloud of uncertainty for far too long and that every effort needed to be made to return a decision as soon as possible. I ask the Government to bring the matter to a final decision. I do not want to stand up here week in, week out, on behalf of the eight or nine children in the country who need this drug which has been proved through trials to provide relief for them and their families.
A number of Deputies have repeatedly raised the issue of Spinraza in the House. To update it, the HSE has advised that the company has responded with a revised submission, as it was invited to do. People who have been following the case will understand what I am talking about when I say that. The submission will be considered at the next meeting of the HSE drugs group, following which a recommendation will be made to the HSE leadership team for a final decision. The HSE has assured us that it will give the new representations its immediate attention.
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, of which, as we know, the Government is co-guarantor with the British Government. Unfortunately, the power-sharing arrangement is not functioning at this time because of the denial of rights by the DUP which is in breach of the agreement. The Taoiseach has taken to blaming Sinn Féin and An Teachta McDonald for this. Yesterday he blamed Leas-Uachtarán Sinn Féin, Michelle O'Neill, for the breakdown. The Tánaiste who works with Ms O'Neill knows that this is untrue. Will he have a word with the Taoiseach and ask him to desist from making these misleading and unhelpful remarks and instead fulfil his obligation to have the Good Friday Agreement fully delivered and the rights of citizens of the North upheld? He promised recently that nationalists in the North would never again be left behind by an Irish Government. People in the North listen to what is said in this Chamber. The DUP is encouraged by these remarks, but nationalists are upset, annoyed and embarrassed by them.
In his remarks the Taoiseach referred to Michelle O'Neill in her role as Minister for Health in the last Executive in Northern Ireland. I work with her on a regular basis and have a lot of time for her. We work well together in trying to find a way forward to re-establish the structures of the Good Friday Agreement for the betterment of everyone in Northern Ireland, from all backgrounds and of all identities. I will continue to do so. It is important to recognise that today, 21 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, we are in a vulnerable place in the context of politics and political relationships in Northern Ireland because of the tensions and polarisation that has happened on the back of difficult Brexit negotiations, particularly for many people in Northern Ireland. We - particularly those of us in this House but also people outside it - need to work together to try to put the structures back together.
In the programme for Government there is a commitment on page 144 to protect and promote human rights. As the Tánaiste is aware, the Sultan of Brunei who has absolute control in that country announced that new barbaric capital punishment laws would be introduced, which would include death by stoning or flogging for LGBT citizens. The sultan is one of the world's richest men and owns the exclusive Dorchester Hotel in London. It has in recent days been the scene of a protest which extend to a picket and an international boycott of the hotel, as well as others owned by the sultan. I am informed that the Attorney General will attend the annual meeting of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in the hotel in the next two days. Will the Tánaiste confirm if that is the case? Will the Government ensure the Attorney General will refuse to cross the picket and break the boycott?
It would be inappropriate to do so. The hotel is the locus of the protests taking place against what are absolutely appalling laws brought forward by the Sultan of Brunei. The hotel is in his sole ownership. It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General or any member of the Government to patronise it while the protest is ongoing.
I join the Deputies in utterly rejecting and criticising recent policy decisions made by the Sultan of Brunei. It is barbaric to propose that anybody be stoned, never mind that people be stoned on the basis of their sexual preference or identity. It is a significant retrograde step and we have an obligation to speak out against it, as I am happy to do. As regards the event to which the Deputies are referring, I will need to speak to the Attorney General. My understanding is he has been invited to an event in a private capacity, but I need to establish the full details before I can give the Deputies a more definitive answer.