Tuesday, 10 December 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The business this week shall be as set out in the report of the Business Committee dated 5 December 2019.
In relation to today's business, it is proposed that No. 14, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Universities Act 1997 (section 54(3)) (University Authorisation) Order 2019, back from committee; No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2019, back from committee; and No. 16, motion re appointment of a member to the Policing Authority, shall be taken without debate. In relation to No. 38, statements on the OECD report re SME and entrepreneurship policy in Ireland, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other members, a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. Should a division be in progress at 8 p.m., Private Members’ Business shall be taken for two hours on the conclusion of the division, and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ business. No. 64, Rent Freeze (Fair Rent) Bill 2019, Second Stage, shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that No. 39, statements pre-European Council meeting of 12 and 13 December, pursuant to Standing Order 111, shall commence immediately after Taoiseach's questions and conclude within 85 minutes and shall be followed immediately by the sos. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. In relation to No. 41, statements on domestic violence, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other Members and a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. No. 65, Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019, Second Stage, shall conclude within two hours.
In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that No. 17, motion re Supplementary Estimates, shall commence after Questions on Promised Legislation, shall conclude within 45 minutes and shall be followed immediately by the weekly divisions. The Supplementary 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 or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed five minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. In relation to No. 42, statements on racism affecting ethnic minorities in Ireland, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with five minutes for all other Members, a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.
There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?
Last week, Members started to debate statements on Scouting Ireland but the debate was not concluded. I find it unusual that the debate did not flow into the following week, given there are new subjects for statements. Deputy Rabbitte was in possession and three or four Members, myself included, wanted to make a contribution on it. I suspect the matter could be concluded in well under an hour and I ask the Chief Whip and the Business Committee to consider putting it into the schedule.
Is Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.
We have 25 minutes left and when people are thinking about asking questions, they should please consider promised legislation. I do not think I can accept questions that are more suited to Topical Issue matters or parliamentary questions. Members can put the question but if the Taoiseach cannot answer constituency questions, we are wasting time.
On 28 September 2015, there was a banner headline in The Irish Times, "Nationwide ban on smoky coal due within the next year". Last Monday,there was again a headline in The Irish Times to the effect that the Government would take action on the smoky coal ban but when one reads the detail, one will see it is a consultation framework and it is being referred to councils. This is more ducking and diving, dodging of the core issue and failure of backbone or to stand up to the vested interests. In a recent letter to Deputy Browne from the HSE on this issue, the HSE estimates that the cost to the Exchequer of poor air quality and associated health impacts is approximately €2 billion a year. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, confirms the extraordinary impact of the introduction by the then Minister, Mary Harney, of the smoky coal ban in 1990 on air quality. The medical evidence shows a reduction in respiratory illnesses and premature death. Given the overwhelming medical evidence, it is extraordinary that a Minister was able to do it in 1990 but the Government is incapable of doing it. This Government seems to lack the bottle to take on the vested interests in the interest of good human health and air quality.
Several of us have been raising this for well over a year. The reason for that first headline was that the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, made that commitment. It was a legislative promise by the Government. He was in the previous Government. He was followed in office by Deputy Naughten, who made the promise. The former Minister, Deputy Naughten, is going around the place saying that if he was still there, this definitely would have happened. I assume he had access to the same advices that the current Minister has.
I know the Deputy is a lover of conspiracy theories but I am sure he does not really believe that I write the headlines in the newspapers. I have not quite got that kind of power.
The issue of smoky coal is twofold. It is not 1990 any more. That was nearly 30 years ago and things have changed since then. We now know that turf briquettes and solid fuel are just as bad for air quality-----
As the Deputy goes off topic, I would like with his indulgence to briefly go off topic once as well. I want to acknowledge the fact that UN today published its development index which shows that Ireland is now the third best country in the world in which to live.
Page 127 of the programme for Government promises to invest additional capital to fund major public transport projects and to fund additional capacity to meet existing and future commuter needs. Today is the deadline for public submissions on the second draft of the BusConnects plan. Many of us in this House will have made detailed submissions to try to improve the final product. However, the success or failure of the final redesign of bus networks will be wholly dependent on Government funding. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm exactly how much funding has been committed to the network redesign as distinct from the cost of compulsory purchase orders related to the bus corridor project. Will the Taoiseach commit to the additional funding for the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Dublin Bus that is needed to increase peak-time capacity on routes such as the 25, 39 and 18 which are already over capacity?
I do not have that figure to hand but will ask the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to provide it for the Deputy. Assuming we stay in office, I can commit to continuing to increase the capital budget for public transport, as we have done for the last two years. We will continue to do so for the next five years if we are given the opportunity. I know that the Deputy will want to join me in welcoming the considerable investment that has been made in public transport in the past few months alone. We have increased capacity on the Luas green line-----
For years we have heard the argument being trotted out that raising the minimum wage and giving low-paid workers enough money to make ends meet jeopardises jobs and is bad for business. However, this myth has been regularly debunked by organisations such as the OECD, the US Federal Reserve, the University of California at Berkeley and many others. In the Irish context, it has now been debunked by the ESRI in its analysis of the increase in the minimum wage in January 2018 from €9.25 to €9.55 per hour. The ESRI found that this increase had no effect on the average hours worked in the hotel and food industries, where the majority of minimum wage earners work. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to the House, in the run up to Christmas, that in the event of a deal being signed on Brexit his Government will immediately sanction the increase in the minimum wage recommended by the Low Pay Commission?
The short answer is "Yes". However, I would say ratified rather than signed because there is a difference there. Should the withdrawal agreement be ratified, the Government will implement the Low Pay Commission's recommendation to increase the minimum wage to €10.10 per hour. That will be the third increase in three years by this Government and will mean that we have the sixth highest minimum wage in the world.
As someone who played schoolboy soccer for most of my teenage years, as well as Leinster senior soccer, I am well aware of the absolute disgust and revulsion of grassroots soccer players, clubs, supporters and parents at the scandal that has emerged in the FAI. The programme for Government makes a particular promise to improve oversight of spending programmes. Given the obvious incompetence, mismanagement and obscene salaries of Mr. Delaney and his clique in the FAI, the Government must take some responsibility for its failure to investigate what the dogs in the street knew. Those at the grassroots of soccer knew that there was something rotten at the heart of the FAI.
I am looking at an email response from the Taoiseach, when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, which was sent to somebody on 24 March where he was asked by the emailer to investigate the internal affairs of the FAI. His response was that it was not appropriate for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to comment on the internal structures of a national sporting organisation.
He batted off the request for an internal investigation. Is that not just the problem when the Government hands out money to these quangos, which are run like medieval corrupt fiefdoms, and pays no attention whatsoever to the goings-on in entities like the FAI? The grassroots of soccer are now threatened in a very severe way. Indeed, the FAI's very viability is under threat because of a failure in oversight.
I thank the Deputy. The Government does not have powers of investigation when it comes to matters such as this in companies or sporting bodies. The Garda does and the report is now with the Garda. This is a matter for the Garda and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE to investigate.
Ní mór dom a rá a Leas-Cheann Comhairle go bhfuil sé deacair cloí leis na rialacha ó thaobh ama de nuair a ligeann sé don Taoiseach agus do cheannaire Pháirtí Fhianna Fáil dul thar am i gcónaí. Maidir le Bille na dTeangacha-----
Níl sé furasta ach b'shin post an Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
Maidir le Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, thug an Taoiseach geallúint shollúnta an bhliain seo caite go mbeidh sé foilsithe roimh an Nollaig. Thug sé geallúint eile i mí Lúnasa go mbeidh sé foilsithe roimh an samhradh agus geallúint eile fós go mbeidh sé foilsithe roimh an Nollaig seo. An mbeidh sé ag comhlíonadh a chuid dualgas agus geallúintí maidir le Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla agus an mbeidh sé foilsithe an tseachtain seo nó cén dáta a foilseofar é?
Maidir le Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, leagadh é faoi bhráid an Rialtais maidin inniu. Tá áthas orm gur tugadh cead é a fhoilsiú agus tús a chur leis an bpróiseas reachtaíochta san Oireachtas. Is céim mhór chun tosaigh í seo.
Cinnteoidh an Bille nua go leanfaidh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla de bheith ina thacaíocht do gach duine ar mhian léi nó leis seirbhísí d'ardchaighdeáin i nGaeilge a fháil ón Stát.
Creidim féin agus an Rialtas go ndéanfaidh an reachtaíocht difríocht mhór don Ghaeilge agus do shaol na Gaeilge sa tír seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, agus don Roinn as an obair atá déanta acu air seo.
The programme for Government is rich in its support for agriculture and agroforestry. There are huge concerns among farm and forestry contractors and, indeed, many farmer-landowners, over the desperate delays in getting tree-felling licences. This is going on for too long and I believe there is a serial objector out there as well holding it all up. We need to change the legislation here.
Between 2010 and 2018, the number of felling licence applications submitted showed a sustained increase from more than 1,700 in 2010 to almost 6,000 in 2018. This year, the number is way down to 1,800 applications. These people have long-term investments. They need to get the product out. As well as that, there are skilled contractors with huge investment in machinery and they need to be able to work. They will be idle in 2020 if something is not done here. Tá an tAire Stáit anseo. This is a serious situation where we need to amend the legislation to stop serial and frivolous objectors, and allow contractors to do their work.
I thank the Deputy for the question. We are very well aware of challenges that are out there. I believe the Deputy is wrong in his figures of application for felling licences this year. They are up again on last year.
In fairness, due to a European Court of Justice judgment the appropriate assessment process and procedures have had to be revamped. This afternoon, appeals are being considered under the new procedures, which will hopefully speed up the appeals process. The industry engaged last week with the Department and all the stakeholders. I am aware of the case the Deputy mentioned. There is a list of applications which we are trying to process. We are trying to deal with this. We tried to introduce an amendment to the Act, but we will have to do it in a different manner in the new year.
Today we learned about €10 million in funding for investment in broadcasting, with €9 million to go to RTÉ. I welcome the fact that an independent commission will be established to identify the challenges to local broadcasters against the backdrop of content provision delivered globally on global platforms. Is the Government aware of any implications for Lyric FM in Limerick city, which serves the county and the wider mid-west region? It is at the heart of the arts in the mid-west and encompasses the colleges there. What are the implications for Lyric FM?
The Cabinet decided today to provide an extra €10 million for public service broadcasting in Ireland in 2020, with €9 million going to RTÉ and €1 million going to the broadcasting fund. Also, a commission will be established on the future of Irish public service broadcasting, to report by September 2020. The terms of reference include examining how public service broadcasting can be delivered in Ireland over the next ten years, how that work can be funded in a sustainable and secure way and how it can be overseen and regulated having regard to our EU obligations, including the requirements of the audiovisual media services directive. As part of this decision, the Government has given the view that RTÉ should not proceed with the part sale of its Donnybrook site until full consideration has been given to a green field option and that it should defer any decision on removing Lyric FM from Limerick until the commission has reported.
My question is for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and is on an issue I have raised on many occasions in the House, which is the 5,000 homeowners in Donegal whose homes are affected by mica defective blocks. This time last year the Minister gave a commitment that he would publish a scheme to help those who need redress and financial assistance to fix their homes. A year later the scheme has not been announced and no homes have been fixed. This is the second last working week before Christmas. Can the Minister ensure, at the very least, that the scheme will be published before Christmas so homeowners will know they can apply for a scheme in the new year to get their homes fixed?
The Deputy and his colleagues in the constituency have been raising this issue continuously. I have been to both Donegal and Mayo and I have met families affected as well as the council executive. As regards rolling out the scheme, we are finalising the regulations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at the moment. As the Deputy said, there are two working weeks left in this year and it is my intention to have that work finished within the next two weeks so we can make an announcement of an opening date for the scheme.
On page 63 of the programme for Government there is a commitment to provide for new procedures to ensure there will be efficient and timely recruitment of nurses. It is nearly ten months since the public health nurse in Baile Bhuirne retired. That was a planned retirement but there has been a stop-start service in the meantime. Is any effort being made to fulfil that commitment for a timely recruitment of nurses? I have raised this previously and it was highlighted to the HSE.
If the Deputy gives me more details on the specific incidence, I will have it checked. Much of nursing recruitment goes through the national recruitment service which is somewhat cumbersome, but others can recruit independently and locally, which has led to financial management issues. If the Deputy provides me with more information I will have it checked out.
I will avoid referring to the programme for Government. Last Wednesday night, to allay many serious concerns throughout the country the Minister withdrew aspects of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 relating to bingo.
We were assured that was that but, for many genuine bingo players in west Cork, this is not the case. Four public houses in Cork South-West have been informed since last Wednesday that they can no longer hold bingo events in their pubs, a custom they had for many years, raising funds for CoAction and other fundraising events, and, most of all, giving and outlet for people to spend a few hours after a stressful week. The anger in my constituency is palpable and it is too much of a coincidence to be the same week the Government started tampering with the bingo Bill.
So did I. Obviously, there are some people who are never happy. I would be happy to receive a copy of the correspondence from which the Deputy read and to see how we can deal with the issue. I have every intention to ensure there is bingo in west Cork between now and Christmas and well into the new year.
We know the rules. Let us see if we can play by them. With regard to the Taoiseach's response earlier to Deputy Martin, where he indicated he would favour a ban on turf, would he include in that the failure of his Government-----
The Government brought forward statutory instruments earlier this year to address the issue in regard to horticultural peat and its harvesting. The decision of the High Court later in the year left the Government in a position whereby it would need new legislation in order to counteract that. It will face the loss of a further 4,000 jobs in that sector of that industry unless it addresses this in the near future. Can the Taoiseach assure the House his Government will do so?
Because of political pressure from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and others regarding the smoky coal ban, the Taoiseach was considering a nationwide ban on the burning of turf and timber. I am asking him not to stop the burning of turf or timber. Many people in rural Ireland, including Kerry, are very glad and proud to come home to a fire of turf or timber on a cold, wet evening.
I can answer. I am happy to assure the House that neither I nor the Government are proposing that people be banned from burning turf or wood in their own private homes. However, this is-----
However, a ban on burning turf and probably a ban on the burning of wood in people's private homes would be probably a natural extension of the policy that is being proposed by the leader of Fianna Fáil.
It is part of its growing anti-rural agenda. It opposed the massive broadband plan, it wants to re-profile the roads projects and now it wants to ban the burning of turf. This is an anti-rural party.
Today is Human Rights Day. As such, it is the 16th and final day of the 16 days of activism campaign to support survivors of domestic abuse. The campaign in Ireland is led by Women's Aid. The statistics released this morning are quite shocking. More than 53,000 women have looked for aid and support; 3,256 were turned away from accommodation because there was none available to support them in leaving violent homes; and 2,572 children were impacted.
I am asking the Taoiseach. Eleven organisations came together this morning regarding the absolutely awful situation in Dolphin House. I was there about three and a half years ago, not long after I was elected to the Dáil.
I strongly support the import of the Deputy's question. I have met many of the groups to which she referred. I, too, am very keen that progress on the new family courts structure be reported early. The Government has made available a sum of €80 million. I urge the Office of Public Works and the Courts Service to reach agreement early. Yes, I have been in Dolphin House on a number of occasions in the past.
I will lead by example, as always. In the programme for Government and in last year's budget a commitment was given to review the fair deal scheme, in particular for small businesses and farmers. Almost 18 months on, that change has still not been made and small businesses and farmers across the country are still suffering and unable to avail of the proposed changes. Will the Government follow through on the commitment that has been made many times in this Chamber and introduce the changes for those people caught up in this situation?
I will have to check with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, the progress on implementing those changes. We want to do this. I acknowledge we have said we will do it for a very long time and have not done it yet. I will check with the Minister of State how that is proceeding and get back to Deputy Brassil.
The Taoiseach referred earlier to page 127 of the programme for Government and the Government's planned investment in railways, but the one railway line he omitted in his long list was the Rosslare line. I have corresponded in my previous life with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on investment in the Rosslare rail line, particularly as an alternative to the M11. I am aware that the Minister rarely attends these sessions, but perhaps the Taoiseach might ask him what plans are in place to invest in the Rosslare rail line. The Minister in his email correspondence to me has said this is primarily the responsibility of Iarnród Éireann and the National Transport Authority. When I raised the point with him I was not asking him to physically drive the trains; I was asking him to drive rail policy. Will the Taoiseach outline to me, first, whether the Minister is responsible for railway policy and, second, the plans in place for investment in the Rosslare rail line?
The €1 billion over five years allocated to Irish Rail by the Minister, Deputy Ross, only in the past two weeks is for all the lines around the country, including the Rosslare line. As recently as a few years ago we had to seriously contemplate closing some lines. We no longer have to do that. Now, rather than repairing faults as they arise, we will have a managed maintenance programme to ensure we have a well-managed, steady-state railway, something we did not believe we would ever be able to have again as recently as a few years ago. The €1 billion is for all railway lines in the country, not just the ones I mentioned earlier.
Page 57 of the programme for Government refers to a plan for advancing neurorehabilitation services in the country, yet there is no neuro nurse in the south east, which has a population of almost 600,000 people and a level 4 hospital. People with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, acquired brain injury, epilepsy and meningitis among many more conditions would benefit significantly from a neuro nurse. They would see a dramatic improvement to their quality of life and a decrease in suffering. There would also be a decrease in hospitalisations. At present these people must travel to Dublin. It is very difficult for them when they are dealing with these kinds of issues. Can we get a neuro nurse into the south east?
We are almost there. I call Deputy John Brady. I ask him to be very focused. Let me make this clear: the reason I said we are almost there is that all hands go up when I come in and I am not able to get to everyone. I want to ensure I leave no one out. Those who were reached today will not get a chance tomorrow. I will take the remaining names and they will be on top of the list tomorrow. I cannot get to everyone.
Yesterday 150 workers at Rondo Food in Arklow received the devastating news that the facility would close its doors towards the end of next January. It was not surprising news because throughout the 30-day consultation process in which Rondo Food engaged with representatives of the workforce, it undermined the entire process. It had engineers over from Germany measuring up the equipment and machinery to ship it back to Germany. This is obviously devastating news to the workers and their families, particularly at this time of year, but also to the economy in Arklow-----
-----which has been reeling over many years. I have two questions for the Taoiseach. This company has received €400,000 from Enterprise Ireland since 2011. What measures are you taking to ensure that that money is paid back-----
On the same issue, I wish to share my devastation at the news of yesterday's announcement that Rondo Food is closing and moving its facility. This will have a significant impact on the company's 150 workers and their families coming up to Christmas. What was most disappointing about this process was the 30-day procedure put in place. The works committee of the firm put forward practical, credible solutions that would have improved the efficiencies and the operation of the plant. Enterprise Ireland was equally involved in this process and put forward proposals. It is quite clear that this was just a box-ticking exercise by this company and that all it was doing was moving the operation back to Germany. Arklow has an incredible workforce, and it is vital we put a task force in place to deal with potential investment coming down the road that can deal with these job losses.
I join the Deputies in expressing my sorrow and regret at the job losses in Arklow and the company's decision to relocate back to Germany. Since the announcement on 8 November, Enterprise Ireland has been engaging intensively with the company to see whether it was possible to find a solution that would avert the job losses. Unfortunately, it has not proved possible, and the company announced on 9 December, only yesterday, that the factory in Arklow will close at the end of January and relocate to Krefeld, in Germany. The company has confirmed that all staff have been offered redundancy packages which exceed the scale of mandatory redundancy packages.
If the terms of the grants were not met, they must be repaid. Our agencies, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, stand ready to try to find alternative employment and to use the site for such employment for the people of Arklow.
In addition, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Intreo stand ready to ensure that anyone who loses his or her job gets the benefits to which he or she is entitled, the option of retraining and all the range of supports made available by Government to people who have been made unemployed.
My question is on a just transition fund for west Clare, for the imminent ceasing of coal-burning in Moneypoint power station. In budget 2020, there was a commitment to set up a just transition mitigation fund for the midlands as turf ceased to be burned for electricity generation. The Minister committed to set up a fund for Moneypoint. When does he expect to make that announcement? How much money will be in that fund? How will that money be spent to support the local community in west Clare when Moneypoint ceases to function?
It is intended to end the burning of coal to produce electricity in Ireland by 2025. Any decision on a transition fund for Moneypoint would have to be made in advance of that. At least for now, it is intended to continue burning coal between now and 2025.
My question is about Purple House, which is an amazing cancer support centre in Bray. Page 57 of the programme for Government states: "We will ensure appropriate care pathways are in place to improve cancer services." It goes on to refer to fantastic community-based services exactly like this. In short, the service has to leave the premises it is in. It has found a fantastic new premises, which will greatly expand cancer services provision for the community in north Wicklow. The Minister for Health has met Purple House representatives twice and promised that he would make the money available. They received a letter from the HSE today, which seemed to kick that promise into next year and it may or may not happen. I appreciate that the Taoiseach will not be able to answer directly. Will he ask his officials to look at this as a matter of urgency with a view to Purple House getting that funding so that it can secure the premises?
On Saturday, I met approximately 30 farmers from my constituency and the Louth constituency. There have been significant delays in their farm payments from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is causing considerable hardship in the south Louth and east Meath region. Will the Minister give these farmers an answer?