Tuesday, 18 June 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business this week shall be as set out in the report of the Business Committee, dated 13 June 2019. In relation to today's business, it is proposed that Nos. 13 and 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Proposed Amendment to the Articles of Agreement of the International Finance Corporation, referral to committee, and motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Regulation (EU) 2018/1727 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018 on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, Eurojust, and replacing and repealing Council Decision 2002/187/JHA, back from committee, shall be taken without debate; No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the deployment of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force to MINUSMA shall conclude within 85 minutes, with speeches confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, of ten minutes each with a five-minute response by a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; and No. 2, National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - Second Stage, which shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed to take No. 36, statements on the pre-European Council meeting of 20-21 June, pursuant to Standing Order 111, on the conclusion of Taoiseach's Questions to be followed by the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 25(1) for one hour. The statements shall conclude within 85 minutes, if not previously concluded, and shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, which shall not exceed ten minutes each, with a five-minute response by a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; and No. 37, statements on the Supplementary Report of the Scoping Inquiry into the CervicalCheck Screening Programme, which shall conclude within 87 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 a Member nominated in their stead, for a period not exceeding five minutes each. Following the statements, each party or group in Opposition shall have six minutes each for questions and answers with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.
It is not agreed. The Government's climate action plan was launched yesterday with great aplomb with members of the Cabinet arriving in a hybrid bus, which I understand is one of very few such buses in the fleet.
Is there three of them?
I would have thought that time would be set aside to discuss this plan, this whole-of-government approach, because the issues are very real in terms of how we transition to a low-carbon society and economy and how we achieve climate justice. A debate on this is very urgent. The Government ought to have scheduled time for it this week.
The Deputy is absolutely right. We would be happy, through the Business Committee, to find time to debate it and that would be entirely appropriate. It is a very big plan with many annexes so perhaps people need some time to read it.
On a point of fact, there are three hybrid buses.
There are six arriving in next week or two and 600 are on order. This is the climate action plan in action. No more high emission vehicles are being purchased by Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann for our cities. Three hybrid buses have arrived already. There has to be a first one. Six more will arrive in the next few weeks and-----
Is the business for today agreed to? Agreed. Is the business for Wednesday agreed to? Agreed.
We will proceed to questions on promised legislation. Twenty two Deputies have already indicated. I call Deputy Martin.
The Government has decided to appeal the High Court judgment in the Ruth Morrissey case arising out of the CervicalCheck scandal. I am conscious that on 11 May the Taoiseach said: "What we propose to do is to offer mediation in every case so women can avoid having to go to court and the trauma of a court hearing." He was asked then if the US lab at the centre of the scandal refused and wanted to fight the case, and he said: "... in this situation ... the State will settle and pursue the lab later". It is very clear the Taoiseach made that commitment. However, it is not being honoured in the context of the Government deciding to appeal this case to the Supreme Court, notwithstanding any mechanisms that may be developed, and we are unclear about those, but also in the context of a tribunal that has been established, which is adversarial in itself and which some people are criticising as being one that will be akin to a court session in private as opposed to one in public. Essentially, does the Taoiseach accept that he should not have made a promise, does he apologise for making the promise, or does he intend to make good the promise and pay Ruth Morrissey the award while the appeal to the Supreme Court goes ahead and then fight the lab afterwards? Is that what the Government intends to do, to fight the lab afterwards, having paid out the award?
The Deputy will appreciate that I do not want to discuss individual cases here in the Chamber. There are discussions ongoing between representatives of the State and representatives of Ms Morrissey with regard to exactly that matter but those discussions should happen not here but with her and her representatives.
I did a year ago. I admitted before that I believed a year ago that it would be possible to settle all of these cases by mediation and negotiation. Many cases have been settled by mediation and negotiation but it has not been possible to settle all cases, precisely because in some cases the facts are disputed and the issue of negligence is disputed, and I was wrong at the time. I did not understand at the time that there would be situations whereby the facts would be disputed and the whole issue of negligence would be disputed-----
-----but we have come up with an alternative recommended by Mr. Justice Meenan, and that is the tribunal. The legislation was approved by Cabinet today and will be published, if not today, in the coming days. That provides an alternative to court. We are not going to take the right away from anyone to go to court but this does provide an alternative.
On the same issue, can the Taoiseach explain to us why it is that Ruth Morrissey discovered the fact of this appeal through the media? Can he explain to us how it was that nobody had the decency or the common sense to contact her directly or to contact her legal representative?
Whatever the legal twists and turns of this appeal and whatever way the Government might pursue the laboratory, can we have a guarantee from the Taoiseach that the award made to Ms Morrissey is secure and indemnified? We need that clarity. Certainly, Ms Morrissey and her family deserve no less than that assurance. Why was there no contact with her in advance? Why does Ms Morrissey read of this news in the newspaper? What about the award made to her? Is it safe? Is it secure?
I am advised that the laboratory has indicated that it would appeal this case in open court some weeks ago. That was reported in the newspapers at the time. State counsel contacted counsel for Ruth Morrissey last Thursday and Friday, which was before the story appeared in the newspapers and contact has been ongoing since then. That contact should happen in private, not here in the Chamber. It is absolutely the intention of the State to give Ms Morrissey and her husband an assurance that no matter what happens as a consequence of any appeal, her settlement will be fully protected and that she will have the assurance that that money will be there for her and her family.
On the appeal itself, it is important to say that because the laboratories have decided to appeal, an appeal is inevitable. No matter what the State does, there will be an appeal.
-----the most important of those being the whole issue and test of absolute confidence. Doctors, scientists and cancer specialists have come to us saying that they have real concerns about the test of absolute confidence. They are saying it could undermine our screening programmes and could lead to more false positives and unnecessary biopsies, perhaps even unnecessary hysterectomies and mastectomies. When cancer specialists, scientists and doctors come to us stating they are concerned about this and clarity is required on what "absolute confidence" means, we cannot ignore that.
I seek an update from the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Department has been working with me on the online harassment, cyberbulling and related offences Bill. There has been more discussion about the Bill because other cases of online harassment have come to light. There is certainly agreement on the urgency of getting it enacted. It was our common objective to have the legislation completed, at least in this House, before the end of this term. Where stands that Bill now and is there any prospect of having it through the Houses by the summer recess?
I am pleased that Deputy Howlin indicated that contact is ongoing. Work is proceeding apace. I am sure the Deputy will acknowledge that there are certain complexities and it is important that we get matters right. There are approximately four weeks left of the session. It is unlikely that the Bill will be enacted by the summer recess but I will work with Deputy Howlin towards ensuring we can make as much progress as possible on what is an urgent and important issue.
Last Wednesday, I tried to raise an issue related to the cannabis access programme with the Taoiseach last Wednesday. On Friday, I received a reply to a query I made to the Tánaiste five weeks ago. He did not get back to me at the time, and I got this reply five weeks later. That is completely disrespectful to me and the people and families who have been campaigning for access to medicinal cannabis. The Taoiseach's behaviour on Wednesday was outrageous. I want to note that.
I seek clarity on this issue. A family contacted me on Thursday in relation to their daughter, Lucia, a five year old from Sligo. They have sought reimbursement for medicinal cannabis but have been turned down and have to sell the family home to pay for the future healthcare of their daughter. It is outrageous what is happening to families and people who are trying to access medicinal cannabis. I ask the Taoiseach again, in all sincerity, when the cannabis access programme will start because the families and the public want to know.
I appreciate the difficulties in this individual case and I am sorry to hear the story the Deputy shared with us. As he will be aware, however, I cannot comment on individual cases because I do not have access to all of the facts. No Minister has the authority to intervene or direct the HSE in individual cases either.
The latest update on the medicinal cannabis access programme, dated Tuesday, 18 June, is that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, will shortly introduce secondary legislation which will allow the operation of the medicinal cannabis access programme to start on a pilot basis for five years. The programme will facilitate access to cannabis-based products for medicinal use which are of a standardised quality that will meet the requirements outlined in legislation. The medicinal cannabis access programme will make it possible for medical consultants to prescribe cannabis-based treatments for patients under their care for the following medical conditions. These are conditions for which there is evidence that cannabis-based treatments are effective as medicines. The conditions are: spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, MS; the intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; or severe, refractory, treatment-resistant epilepsy. It will be the decision of the treating consultant, in consultation with the patient, to prescribe one of these treatments.
Operational guidance for the medicinal cannabis access programme will be available shortly for patients, suppliers, importers, medical practitioners and pharmacists. Availability of cannabis products of an appropriate quality and standard and that are affordable to patients is critical in establishing this programme. Pending the full operation of the programme, doctors may continue to utilise the ministerial licensing route to prescribe medicinal cannabis for their patients. To date, 46 licences have been granted by the Minister in respect of 21 patients.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Cahir Boys' national school and Our Lady of Mercy Convent girls' school have been waiting nearly 30 years to amalgamate. The amalgamation is supported by everyone, including the boards of management, parents councils and the communities. Thankfully, a site has been obtained from the Sisters of Mercy for a new building. The conditions in the existing school buildings are beyond belief. One third of the population of Cahir is made up of newcomers who have been embraced by and integrated into the community. It is fabulous to see children of so many different nationalities taking part in school activities. I ask the Taoiseach to please impress upon the Minister for Education and Skills the need to progress this contract to tender stage. This badly needed facility needs to be operating in Cahir for the many students, families and teaching staff who are awaiting it. The new amalgamation has been delayed for decades and everyone is weary and wants to see progress.
-----commitment in respect of that issue. It is a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills but I will inform him that Deputy Mattie McGrath raised it and ask him to reply directly.
I raise the tragic case of the family who were recommended by the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street to have an abortion without a diagnostic test or without one of the medical practitioners even meeting the mother. The Minister for Health has been sitting on this information for four weeks, the Attorney General has been briefed and the family has sat with the chief medical officer for hours. It has been stated, however, that the Government knows nothing of this matter. It has also been stated that this is a private issue. That contradicts the wishes of the family, who have asked me to bring it into the public domain in order to ensure that it will never happen again. In section 20 of the Government legislation, and I paraphrase, it is stated no later than 28 days after the abortion has been carried out, the medical practitioner who performed it shall forward a record of the abortion to the Minister for Health. The termination of a healthy baby was completed on 14 March. The record should have been with the Minister for Health by 12 April but did not happen. I understand that no record of the abortion was sent by the hospital to the Minister until after the solicitor for the family raised this shocking case. This is another clear breach of the law. What is worse is that the Minister has known about this breach for more than a month and has done nothing to challenge the hospital regarding this illegal act. This leads to a number of serious questions-----
-----a commitment in respect of it in the programme for Government. However, I discussed it with the Minister for Health this morning and I understand that progress is being made on setting up an external inquiry to establish all of the facts.
Following the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday concerning measures to meet our climate change targets, I bring to his attention the fact that engines known as Euro 4 and Euro 5 can still be imported into this country. This is despite the fact that they emit approximately double the amount of CO2that more modern engines emit.
I ask that the Taoiseach examine bringing in an immediate ban on Euro 4 and Euro 5 engines as they are contrary to all good practice with regard to climate change.
This policy and indeed all the hullabaloo yesterday has frightened many people again in rural Ireland. There is a race between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to see who would be greener than the Greens. The headline in the paper was that the Government wants to force private motorists out of their cars. I want to tell the Taoiseach that people in rural Ireland cannot manage without a car.
A lot of the Government's ideas are ridiculous and so are its targets. There are 4.8 million people in Ireland, which equates to 0.06% of the world population. India and China equate to 40% of the world's population. If we were totally emissions free, it would only equal 0.13 of 1% in the worldwide context.
I wish to offer the Deputy an assurance in this regard. It is not the policy of Government to force people out of private cars. It is the policy of Government to move away from petrol and diesel cars-----
I would like to tell the Deputy what the policy of Government is because it is not what he thinks it is. It is the policy of Government not to force people out of their private cars but rather to move from petrol and diesel cars to hybrids and electric vehicles over the course of the next decade. That can be done. People in rural areas can use hybrids and increasingly will be able to use electric vehicles as well. I saw the Deputy brandishing a headline from a newspaper. That is not a quote from the Minister. Unfortunately it is now allowed to put something in inverted commas in a headline that is not actually a quote. That is what we are dealing with these days.
Last week I attended a carers' forum representing carers from the region. They feel totally taken for granted and exploited with the lack of home help hours and respite weeks. The matter I want to raise today is the eligibility of people with a disability for the vehicle registration tax, VRT, for disabled drivers. The scheme is very restrictive and needs to be reformed. I refer also to the motorised transport grant, which the previous Government suspended to new applicants. We were told it would be reintroduced within a matter of months. It is now six or seven years since that grant was suspended. People with a disability cannot have access to public transport, particularly in rural Ireland. When will the motorised transport grant be reopened to new applicants?
The heads of the Bill were cleared by the Cabinet last week. The Bill proposes to amend the fair deal scheme to make it fairer for farmers and business owners. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is now working on the detail of the Bill. I do not have a date yet for it but the Bill is very much a priority.
I have a question for the Taoiseach on the programme for Government in the context of housing lists. The issue is not the fault of our local authority in County Kerry because everybody is aware that Kerry County Council is the finest and hardest working local authority in the State, and that is a fact. Our housing department is second to none, but when local authority houses become available - in other words, when a tenant moves out - there is a long delay in getting those houses turned around. This is due to finance not being made available from central Government to our local authority to do the necessary works to turn the houses around, rent them out again and make them available to the people who are waiting on the housing lists. I ask the Taoiseach to please ensure that when a local authority house becomes available it is turned around, and whatever needs to be done is done to modernised the premises and bring it up to standard, including retrofitting if needed. I ask that this be done quickly so that a family or an individual can go into the house and make it a home again.
It is not just affecting Kerry County Council. Let us be honest; all the local authorities are doing a great job. I echo what Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said. There is a house in my town that has been idle for two years. It had been done up but it still lies idle while we have a massive shortage of housing of any kind in Cork. The issue has to be raised. Municipal district councils must be supported also. There are so many properties lying idle for so long and we are being told that it is to do with funding and so on. There are plenty of cases where, unfortunately, people have passed away and some of those properties are in turnkey condition. It is the locks only that need to be changed. People could move into that house and make it a home. A home is very different from a house. I agree with the Deputy. We must take a realistic approach. I ask the Minister of State for support at local level also.
I will address the second question first. If there is a house in Cork city that has already been refurbished and is lying idle, that should not be the case. It is nothing the Department would be part of. If the house is already fixed then it is not waiting for money. If the Deputy wants to give me the address of the house I am very happy to check that out. That is not something we would stand over. I want to be very clear on that.
The other question related to Kerry County Council and to the other local authorities. A voids programme has been in place for the past three to four years. The guts of 10,000 houses have been brought back into use. They had been lying idle for many years and were brought back into use under Rebuilding Ireland. They have all been refurbished. As late as October 2018 every local authority had been written to to clarify that there was funding available to bring forward any voids and empty houses. There is no excuse for houses to be delayed and it should be possible in most cases to turn houses around in a number of weeks. In some instances, it can take longer due to local operational issues. The funding, however, is available for any local authority. I am not aware that Kerry County Council has an outstanding application for additional funding. If there is, I will have to check that. I want to be very clear that we do not want long-term voids and the money is there.
My question is directed at the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, in particular, with regard to the potential impact and threat posed to Ireland's beef sector by the imminent deal around Mercosur. It has been mooted that up to 100,000 tonnes of beef had been agreed to, and informally agreed at EU level with the three Mercosur countries. I am sure the Minister would agree that if this was to come to pass it will have a massive impact on an already threatened beef sector. Will the Minister give the House an update on the status of those negotiations, and an assurance from the Government that it will not support any deal that involves this level of beef, as it would tremendously undermine an already vulnerable sector in Ireland?
During the local elections the Government announced €100,000 million for beef farmers. Those beef and suckler farmers have had a horrendous time during the past years. There have been huge drops in family farm incomes. Last week the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, said that there would be a roll-out of the €100 million following discussions with farming organisations. Will the Taoiseach indicate if the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has met with representatives from the Beef Plan movement, which now has some 20,000 members directly affected by this crisis?
The problem is that a compensation fund was announced over one month ago during the local and EU elections.
According to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it is all contingent on climate change. Previously it was Brexit problems. When does the Minister propose to make the compensation available to the beef sector which has been badly hit in the past four months? Can he put the cheques in the post to these people?
Deputy McConalogue and I have discussed Mercosur on several occasions. I have been in contact on many occasions, including very recently, with Commissioner Hogan on the matter. It is not his direct area of responsibility. The Taoiseach has been in contact with several member states which share our analysis and has been in direct contact with the President of the European Commission. Every effort is being made to create an awareness of our concerns and I hope that will influence the outcome.
I have met the Beef Plan Movement. On Deputy O'Keeffe’s question, it is our intention, after the Commission finalises the terms and conditions of the funding available, to meet the farm organisations to discuss how that funding will be distributed. After that meeting, a scheme will be designed for which applications will be invited. It is the intention to pay as early as possible.
I remind the Taoiseach of another industrial relations settlement from 2015. I do not know what was going on in 2015 that the Government was making settlements on industrial relations issues but this one is also coming back to bite it. At that time, the Government agreed with school secretaries and caretakers that it would come back this year to discuss their terms and conditions, which are grossly unfair. As I understand it, after much pressure from the Dáil, talks did start but I am led to believe they were a total and utter damp squib and that nothing substantial will happen now, although the agreement that secretaries and caretakers work under expires this year. Will the Taoiseach give me an update on these talks? Will the two-tier pay structure for school secretaries and caretakers, under which some are employed as civil servants and others as contract workers, come to an end as committed to in 2015?
There is no legislation promised on this and I do not think there is a programme for Government commitment on it. I acknowledge, however, that it is an important issue. The Minister for Education and Skills is not here to answer the question but I will ask him to provide the Deputy with a reply.