Thursday, 4 July 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I remind Members we have just 30 minutes and we have a very tight schedule. We have to revert to the Judicial Council Bill 2017 for Report and Final Stages before we take the weekly divisions. I asked Members to please be as concise as possible. I call Deputy Calleary.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. There are no hands on his shoulders today.
There is a process under way in the Minister's Department to scope the pension claim of community employment, CE, supervisors and she has taken a personal interest in this. Can she update us on where that process is at? Will it be finished before the recess or before of the budget? What kind of direction does she foresee it going in?
We established negotiations a number of weeks ago. I will attend every meeting, and that is how serious I am about fixing it. We agreed that none of us would talk about it until it was done because we all want the same outcome. The terms of reference have targeted a result by 6 September. The Deputy need not hold me to that, but we all want the same thing, so we are going to continue to work over the summer, meeting probably every second or third week to ensure that we reach the landing spot we would like to reach. Currently, we are all on the same page and we all have the same ambitions.
One issue the Government is not on the same page on is the Mercosur trade deal. We have had different Ministers say different things over the past number of days. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and others have, quite rightly, outlined how devastating this will be for the beef sector, and other Ministers have talked up the deal. Commissioner Hogan told us we need to look at this in the round and look at this on balance. The reality is this is a bad deal for Ireland. What Ireland needs is a clear unified line from the Government, wearing the green jersey, making sure that Irish interests are protected and making sure there is a clear, unambiguous, consistent, unified position coming from the Government and, indeed, from across this House, that this deal is not in our interests. That very sharp message has to go back to the European Commission because this is devastating for beef farmers and many other farmers right across the State, including in my own region in the south east, where we have a strong agrifood sector.
One would be at risk of thinking that this was a trade deal just about beef. The Deputy can suggest there are inconsistencies, with some people saying there are good parts of the deal for Ireland, specifically for the drinks, chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries, and others saying there are less good parts, particularly for the beef and poultry industries. That is not inconsistency; that is stating the obvious. This is an enormous trade deal that has major positives for Ireland but also has a very obvious downside for us. The consistent message from Government - from all of us, regardless of when anyone speaks to us or what we say - is that we welcome the good bits and the positives, and we are going to make sure that we negate the bad bits over the next couple of years, while we take the headline agreement and turn it into a legal agreement. We are going to do that in a number of ways and, in particular, to continue doing what we have done with Commissioner Hogan over the past number of years, which is to try to mitigate against the value of the tonnage that is included in the deal, but also to forge alliances with like-minded member states that equally have suffered a negative impact, particularly in the beef and poultry sectors, to ensure our voices heard and that we mitigate the bad parts of this deal.
It has been reported that the Government-established escrow account, into which Apple has placed €14.3 billion, has declined in value by €16 million, which is not an insignificant sum. The loss has been attributed to negative interest rates, difficult investment climate and so on.
If the Government wins the case it is taking against the European Commission, will the taxpayer be required to make up the deficit, which is €16 million and climbing, or will Apple take back the diminished amount that will be left in the escrow account? Will the Government take any action in the interim to ensure that there are not further losses?
Ambulance paramedics from all over the State are arriving at the gates of Leinster House as we speak, demanding that the union of choice for 500 ambulance personnel be recognised. They have just announced their eighth day of strike action will take place on 19 July in opposition to what they rightly see as union busting policy. It is clear that these ambulance workers are not going to go away. Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, instruct the HSE to enter into talks with them?
Correspondence was sent to the Minister for Health, signed by Members of the Dáil from across political parties, requesting a face-to-face meeting to discuss our concerns on this issue and the Minister has not given us the courtesy of anything other than the response, "We note receipt of your letter." Before this Government is out the gap for the summer recess, will the Minister, Deputy Doherty, meet the Minister, Deputy Harris, tap him on the shoulder and tell him to cop himself on and meet a cross-party delegation?
There are four Deputies who wish to be associated with this matter, which they can do in two ways. They can either say they wish to be associated or they can make a very brief intervention. I remind the House that this issue was raised as a Topical Issue yesterday and the appropriate Minister responded. I call Deputy Gerry Adams.
As we sit here, ambulance staff and members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association are protesting outside the gates of Leinster House, demanding their right under Article 40 of the Constitution to join a union of their choice. They are being denied the right to join a union of their choice. This is the eighth protest in the last seven months and a further strike is proposed for 19 July in Louth, Dundalk and other places. Will the Minister, Deputy Doherty, join in calling on the HSE to recognise the constitutional right of a worker to join a trade union of their choice and will she urge the HSE to respond to the invitations it has received from the Workplace Relations Commission to attend talks to resolve this issue?
Iwant to add my voice to that call. I have stood with the paramedics who were forced into taking strike action. It is an action they did not take lightly. I know from a response to a parliamentary question that they responded to over 34,000 overtime calls last year. They do fantastic work and they deserve respect and the right to join the union of their choice.
I will. I was one of the signatories to the letter to the Minister for Health requesting a meeting. The Minister responded in April that he would not agree to that meeting but that he would instruct his departmental officials to speak to the HSE. We raised it yesterday as a Topical Issue but we did not get a satisfactory response. We now have the situation where the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, Mr. Paul Reid, the new CEO of the HSE, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, Members of the Dáil and workers on who are on strike are calling for a resolution. Nobody wants confrontation. The Government has to stop paying lip service, take the reins and find a resolution. I ask the Minister, Deputy Doherty, to instruct the HSE to discuss it with the workers directly or instruct the HSE to go to the Workplace Relations Commission, which has requested three times already that it do so.
These are front-line healthcare workers doing a very important job that is very stressful, difficult and onerous yet their simple request that they can select their own representatives to deal in the industrial relations process is being denied to them. It is beyond time that the HSE and the Government met face-to-face with these people to discuss this issue.
I do. How many times are the workers to be forced to come into the Visitors Gallery to hear the same answers, to protest and to strike for their right to join a union of their choice? The Government should instruct the HSE to stop wasting public money paying lawyers to talk to the workers because it refuses to do so itself. The HSE should sit down with the workers, stop its union busting tactics and stop sending the signal to the private sector that union busting is encouraged by the Government.
I thank all of the Deputies who have raised concerns. None of us wants anybody out on strike. We would love to see a resolution to this particular issue, which is ongoing for a while. I am not, obviously, 100% au faitwith it, but I do not think it is fair to say that people have been denied their constitutional right to join a union. They have joined a union. The difficulty is that the HSE refuses to recognise that union. To be fair to the Minister, he asked his officials to engage with HSE management to explore how this issue can be resolved before we get to the strikes on 19 and 20 July. Those discussions have taken place. Obviously, a resolution has not been found because it if had we would not be having this conversation. The discussions will not stop until a resolution is found.
I want to ask the Minister, Deputy Doherty, whether or not she and other members of the Government approve of a new co-living space in the Dún Laoghaire area which is advertised at €1,200 to €1,500 per month and is called The Orphanage. The marketing blurb calls on people to make it their "adopted home". This Government is presiding over 3,750 children in homelessness. They have no home to go to, whether in an orphanage or anywhere else. Will the Government, which has encouraged the idea of co-living - the monstrous idea of up to 42 adults sharing a kitchen space though not in this luxury development - ask the developers to change the name of the development in Dún Laoghaire, which is a disgrace in light of the tens of thousand of people in Ireland who were in institutions?
The name of a property is not a matter for the Government. The local authorities are engaged with developers on the names which they may call a development.
In regard to co-living, there are guidelines set out. Every application will be judged on those guidelines. They allow a certain type of model of co-living. Decisions already made in this area follow those guidelines. No doubt, they will kick in in this instance as well. As I said, as it is an individual application the name of the property is a matter for the relevant local authority. The Government does not get involved in such matters. I agree with the Deputy that there are better names to call the development but that is not a matter for the Government.
The programme for Government is very strong in its commitment to respect different nationalities, religions and so on. We are passing a lot of legislation to try to give a legal framework to respect different cultures etc. I ask today that the Taoiseach be brought to the House to apologise utterly for what he said yesterday about priests and parish priests in response to Deputy Martin, who can defend himself. In his response to Deputy Martin, the Taoiseach said, "The Deputy reminds me of one of those parish priests who preaches from the altar-----
-----telling us to avoid sin while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin himself."
This is outrageous and utterly revolting to any Catholic or right-thinking person. Brother Kevin, Father Peter McVerry and thousands of priests up and down the country are working daily to enhance all people's lives. The Taoiseach has to come in here to withdraw that scurrilous slur on Catholic priests.
Page 6 of the programme for Government is very clear. It states the Government will "develop a new Integrated Framework for Social Inclusion [outlining] measures to help eliminate any persisting discrimination on grounds of gender, age... race [or] religion." Unfortunately, no was such tolerance or respect shown for the Catholic religion in the Dáil yesterday when the Taoiseach likened the leader of Fianna Fáil to a parish priest telling us from the altar how to avoid sin while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin himself. What a complete disrespect for one religion. Why should my religion be treated like this in the national Parliament? It is simply unacceptable to me. He denigrates the entire Catholic religion. I think today of Fr. Peter McVerry and Brother Kevin of the Capuchins, who are feeding and housing the poor and homeless people of Ireland, a job the Government should be doing. Does the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, condone the Taoiseach's statement yesterday?
The programme for Government commitments will be fulfilled during the lifetime of this Government. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, has worked on equality with a number of measures, particularly relating to migrant and minority communities. He will continue to work on those measures.
I was in the Chair yesterday when the comments about parish priests were made to Deputy Micheál Martin at the end of questions to the Taoiseach. Perhaps I should have raised the issue then but I am not psychic and do not know what one will say. I took the opportunity yesterday and read the transcripts of what was said. I do not think it is a matter for the Minister, Deputy Doherty. Perhaps the Taoiseach may wish to address the matter when he is back in the House next week. I would leave it at that.
I want to raise the issue of a young man in my constituency. I previously raised it on Tuesday last. This 29 year old man has been suffering serious health issues since 2015. He lost his sight in 2016 and then suffered from a tumour in August of last year. He has been in University Hospital Cork permanently since December. Some 14 weeks ago, he was told that he was fit for discharge to move to the next stage of his recovery in residential rehabilitation services. Unfortunately, no place has been found for him in the intervening period. We are told that the budget is in place from the HSE to do it. The 12-month cost of his package is €153,000. I estimate that the cost of his stay since he was deemed fit for discharge is €120,000 for Cork University Hospital.
This is a serious waste of HSE funds. Notwithstanding the young man's ill health, for the HSE to refuse to find him a place in a residential rehabilitation service and to leave him sitting in hospital for 14 weeks is-----
I have noted what Deputy Cahill said. I do not have a specific response for him but I will come back to him after I speak to the Minister. Deputy Cahill might speak to me after this in order that I can get more details.
Given that today is 4 July, it is perhaps apposite that I raise the proposed imposition by the US of tariffs on Irish whiskey exports. We are told by IBEC that this could cost the whiskey industry €400 million in loss of exports. It is vital that this issue is raised by Government with the US Administration. I ask that the Government give a commitment that Irish exports of whiskey products to the United States would be protected and that the Government would seek an exemption for Irish whiskey sales from those proposed tariffs.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I will pass his message on to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. I have no doubt that she will continue to do an exemplary job representing the valuable Irish whiskey industry.
The programme for Government contains a commitment to control spiralling rent costs. While I welcome the extension of the rent pressure zones in recent days to 18 new areas, I want to bring to the Minister's attention that in the first three months of 2019, rents in Kerry soared by 9% on average. Specific areas such as Killarney, Kenmare, Dingle and Tralee have significant tourism pressures and these rents are spiralling out of control. Young local couples find it almost impossible to get any level of rent certainty. Will the Minister look at extending the rent pressure zones to those areas in Kerry where the average increase in the first three months of this year was 9%?
The decisions about extending rent pressure zones are not made by Ministers or the Department. Under the legislation, a combination of local authorities and the Residential Tenancies Board make those decisions. The local authority would certainly be involved in kicking off that process in any specific town or village. I will certainly bring it to the attention of our officials and the Residential Tenancies Board but the decision-making is for the Residential Tenancies Board in conjunction with local authorities. It is based on various rent increases over the past year. I will ask for it to be looked at but the process does not involve ministerial intervention.
In June 2017, the Government introduced a new framework for household waste charges. As part of that, there was supposed to be an annual support waiver of €75 for people who have lifetime or medical incontinence. That was due to be rolled out by late 2017. I do not think it went far enough. It should have been expanded to people in receipt of the working family payment, the one-parent family payment, etc. I raised the issue with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, last December. He stated that there have been problems rolling that out and that he was in discussions with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Here we are two years later and this has still not been introduced. Some of the most needy people in the State are being penalised with this charge. The waiver has not been introduced. Will the Minister update us on where it is and why it has not been introduced?
The last update that Deputy Brady got from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment still stands. We are trying to work together to find a mechanism. We have never found it so difficult to give money to people who need it. A scheme does not exist today that exactly mirrors the people who need to receive this money. I cannot share data with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It cannot establish who the people are. We are trying our level best to make sure that the money gets to the people who need it but it is not as easy as identifying what scheme those people exist on because they exist across multiple schemes. We will keep going until we find a means and it will be backdated, so the money is not going anywhere.
The programme for Government mentions making it easier for people with serious illnesses to access medical care. I again raise the issue of cancer patients looking for medical cards, having gone through the system. This morning, the medical card section came back again about a person who is documented as being terminally ill. It is looking for a letter from the person's consultant rather than the general practitioner. It is documented in the application. Do we have to scream and roar at the medical card section to accept an application from this patient who is terminally ill and about whom the medical profession has provided documentation to the section? It is not good enough.
This is an urgent issue and we are sick and tired of contacting the medical card section on these issues.
There is no point in me trotting out the information that all medical cards are based on means, with the exception of discretionary medical cards. This is clearly a very emotive issue and it does relate to a discretionary medical card. If Deputy Michael Moynihan could do me a favour and give me the person's name, I will take care of the matter myself today.
My question relates to page 58 of the programme for Government and the commitment to improve and expand emergency services. We still have ongoing uncertainty on the future of Portlaoise hospital. On 15 December 2017, along with the other two Deputies for Laois, including the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, who is sitting beside the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, I attended a meeting with the Minister for Health. He promised two things at the meeting. The first was to press the pause button on the downgrading of the emergency department at the hospital and the other was to immediately put in place a consultation process. The Dáil will rise next week but 20 months later the facilitator has not been appointed. Difficulties arise at the hospital because of the uncertainty, one of which is recruitment and retention of staff. There is an over-reliance on agency staff.
My question relates to promised legislation, specifically the position of the education (parent and student charter) Bill 2019. Does the Minister agree that citizens are becoming more assertive about their rights and entitlements, no more so than in respect of education? Parents are now raising concerns regarding school governance, grievance procedures and voluntary financial contributions, among others. They expect openness, transparency and accountability in respect of all aspects of the day-to-day functioning of schools. The Minister for Education and Skills has stated that schools must be accountable to parents and that we need a greater level of communication, engagement and transparency in how schools serve their communities. When can we expect the publication of the education (parent and student charter) Bill 2019?
On the same issue, I support the sentiments expressed by my colleague across the House, and I wish to voice the same sentiments in terms of how the Bill might be brought before the House with a view to having a necessary debate on it, which will be of benefit to the provisions likely to be made in the Bill.
Page 83 of the programme for Government relates to home care services. I wish to raise the issue of a 50-year old man with muscular dystrophy who was admitted to hospital on 3 March last as he was seriously ill. He suffered a stroke on 9 March while in hospital and after staying in the acute stroke unit in Louth County Hospital for some time, his HSE social worker informed him that a home care package was being arranged to enable him to go home and that it would take just a couple of weeks. He was then sent to a step-down facility in the Louth County Hospital and he is still there almost seven weeks later. This 50-year old man is in a totally unsuitable environment for his needs. He has picked up several hospital infections, not to mention his fragile state of mind as he is so long in that environment. His family has repeatedly asked when they can take their son home, to be told they cannot.
The housing and residential tenancies Bill is listed in the summer legislative programme. This week's Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, data prove that the rent pressure zones, RPZs, are not working. We now have nine quarters of data that show that the 4% cap in Dublin has not tempered rents in any way whatsoever. We had a 7.7% increase this quarter. In quarter 1 of 2018 it was 8.7% and in the previous year it was 8.5%. Average rents in Dublin are €1,600 a month. It is now €3,000 more a year for the average renter in Dublin than it was when the rent pressure zones were introduced. Given the abject failure of the RPZs, will the Minister commit to using the forthcoming housing and residential tenancies Bill to give renters some real relief, both for those struggling with high rents and those locked out of the private rental sector?
As the Deputy well knows, the legislation that was debated and passed in recent weeks and months will also have an impact on rent pressure zones and it will strengthen the position in that regard as well. Naturally, the legislation coming forward in the autumn is something we can use to try to strengthen the case. We will look at all options.
I refer to pages 45 and 52 of the programme for Government which relate to heritage and tourism. Could the Minister provide an update on the upgrade and refurbishment of the 12th century castle in Askeaton, which is of paramount importance for tourism in the town and in County Limerick. I would be grateful for an update in that regard. Could the Minister also indicate the prioritisation of the works there?
I thank Deputy Neville for his inquiry. As he is aware, there are many heritage schemes in my Department. There is the structures-at-risk fund and the historic structures fund. I am not sure if Askeaton has applied for either of those but I will let the Deputy know of other schemes that will become available.
I understand that. My question is for the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. Many of today's questions were not. We have had many problems with JobPath, which I will not get into as I wish to raise a specific issue relating to JobPath. A man in my constituency works for a company that put its workers on a three-day week when the hard times came. It did not sack them but tried to work with them. He is continually being sent to JobPath because he is only working three days a week. The rules say that one must work for more than 30 hours a week to avoid that. Some leniency must be allowed in such a situation. This man has worked for the company for 28 years. If he got a job somewhere else he would lose a redundancy package to which he would be entitled in the not-too-distant future. It does not make sense for him to look for a job somewhere else, yet he is continually called back to JobPath. Could the Minister consider introducing some flexibility and reduce the timeframe from 30 hours a week, possibly down to 25 hours a week as it would suit many people?
Could the Minister provide some clarity on JobPath? A constituent came to my office in recent weeks who is on JobPath. He has been offered three or four jobs which he could not avail of as he does not have a safe pass certificate as the jobs were on construction sites. When he went to JobPath he was told to go to the social welfare office but when he went to the social welfare office he was told he must go to JobPath. As a result, he has lost three of four jobs in recent weeks. Who is responsible for getting a safe pass certificate? Does JobPath pay for it or does the social welfare office pay for it?
Two separate issues have been raised. In response to Deputy Martin Kenny, JobPath is there to help people who are unemployed or under-employed. As I do not know the person in the case raised by the Deputy, I assume he is presenting as available for work on the other two days. If he is available for work and is claiming a jobseeker's benefit payment, then we are obliged to help him get work for those two days.
There are nuances in every scheme. If Deputy Kenny will do me a favour and give me the gentleman's name I will see what I can do in the particular circumstances.
In response to Deputy Fitzpatrick, JobPath is a Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection scheme. Part of our activation is to use training to put people through whatever measures will help them to get them closer to the marketplace. Again, if the gentleman or lady in question wants to do a safe pass course then we should be able to arrange it. If Deputy Fitzpatrick wants to come to me personally and give me the person's name I will help with that. It is not a problem.