Thursday, 15 July 2021
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I echo the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's sentiments and thank everybody for their assistance over what was a challenging time for all workplaces but no less for the Dáil as we operate in two different sites. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I thank all the staff. I also thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle for keeping the show on the road. I am sure none of us will miss the convention centre, as the Dáil will reconvene in Leinster House in the autumn.
The mica and pyrite scandal has touched the hearts of people throughout the State. The Tánaiste is well aware of families seeing their homes crumbling around them as a result of light-touch regulation during the Celtic tiger era and knows of the campaign for justice and 100% redress. The motion passed by the Dáil on 15 June mandates the Government to deliver 100% redress. With the working group due to report in a fortnight's time, is it still the Government's intention to deliver on the express will of the Dáil and ensure 100% redress to these families?
I join the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in expressing my thanks on behalf of the Fine Gael Party and the Government to all the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and of the convention centre for their work over recent months in what have been unprecedented times, trying to operate across several different sites both virtually and in person. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said, the Dáil is going into recess but we are certainly not all going on holidays. The Oireachtas will continue to function. Offices and Departments will remain open. While some Members' constituency offices might close for two or three weeks to facilitate leave, they will be open for most of the recess. I wish all staff and all Members a decent and well-deserved break over the next two months, although I would not be surprised if we are required to come back here at some point over the next two months but hopefully that will not be necessary given the volume of legislation that was passed.
In response to Deputy Doherty's question, the working group is expected to report by the end of the month and the Government will respond to that with an enhanced scheme to assist people in Donegal and other counties whose homes are affected by mica. I am not yet in a position to say what that scheme will be, but it will be a significant improvement on what is currently in place.
I join the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in expressing thanks to all the staff and on behalf of Labour I wish staff, Members and colleagues a well-earned break.
Last week the Oireachtas passed the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill to provide for the linking of rent increases with the rate of inflation. Since then a number of cases have come to my attention and the attention of my colleague, our housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan, of landlords issuing notices to tenants of rent reviews in advance of the new rules coming into effect. For example, a tenant has been given notice of a rent review to take place under previous rent-pressure zone, RPZ, limits and there are reports of landlords seeking to implement 4% rent increases, including from constituents in my home constituency in Dublin Bay South. Many renters have been in contact with me seeking clarity as to the legality of such a move. I ask the Tánaiste to confirm whether this practice is legal and whether guidance has been provided to the Residential Tendencies Board. Is it legal for landlords to serve notice for rent increases, which are not due to come in for months, above the rate of inflation to get around these measures?
I know the feeling; it is hard to know where one is at times given the amount of changes we have had to make.
I will check up on that issue. As the House will be aware, the legislation links future rent increases to the consumer price index, CPI, but it is not retrospective. Legislation of this nature cannot be. I understand the point of the Deputy is raising and I will get advice from the Minister as to whether what she describes is legal.
On behalf of the Social Democrats, I join other Deputies in thanking all the amazing staff in the Houses.
I continue to hear from distraught expectant mothers and their families about ongoing restrictions in maternity hospitals. When I last raised this issue with the Tánaiste in early April, he said that bringing unvaccinated people into a hospital is a risk. Last week we learned that the HSE will not allow fully vaccinated partners to come in. The goalposts keep shifting. The Tánaiste and the Minister for Health assured me that this issue would be resolved, but it is not. Months have passed and society is reopening but many people must still endure labour and potentially tragic appointments alone. I ask the Tánaiste to help resolve this. Even back in December, the HSE reclassified partners as essential accompanying persons for the purposes of the 20-week scan. Therefore, the HSE could reclassify partners as essential accompanying persons for the entire maternity journey. That could happen immediately. I ask the Tánaiste to help.
Before we rise, I express my thanks to Deputy Cairns for facilitating the Minister, Deputy McEntee, through a pairing arrangement during her maternity leave. I know she is grateful for that, as we are too. Let us ensure in the next Dáil session we put in place some more permanent arrangements. In future I hope many more Cabinet Ministers will give birth while in office. I look forward to seeing the Minister, Deputy McEntee, return in October or November.
I will follow up the issue with the HSE and the Minister for Health. The national guidance is that partners should be able to attend the labour ward and the neonatal intensive care unit, NICU. They should be able to attend important scans such as the 20-week scan. As partners, fathers in the main, increasingly become fully vaccinated over the next few weeks, this really ought not be a problem anymore. Certainly, by the time we return after the summer recess, all partners should be fully vaccinated. Let us try to get this sorted over the next couple of weeks.
I join in thanking all the staff for all the work that has been done over the past seven months in very difficult circumstances.
For years, People Before Profit has called for an end to Ireland's tax haven status. We have pointed out that not only is it immoral but it is completely unsustainable. The Government has continually responded over the years by saying that it cannot take action unilaterally and it cannot take action at a European level but it must be as part of a global process. We now have a global process to establish a 15% minimum corporation tax rate. In my opinion that is completely inadequate, but it is a global process. Where does the Irish Government find itself? It finds itself with Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and other tax havens in a small minority of countries opposed to it. Speaking on the radio this morning, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, was fighting the corner for the 12.5% rate. Why should massive corporations pay taxes at a lower rate than that of workers?
I neglected to acknowledge the Labour Party for facilitating a pairing arrangement with Deputy Dillon. Deputy Dillon had a baby last week and I insisted that he take his two weeks paternity leave. I am grateful that the Labour Party is covering for that.
I point out to Deputy Paul Murphy that our low corporation profit tax rate is one of the reasons we receive so much in corporation profit tax.
We take in about €10 billion a year in corporation profit tax, which is roughly double what the average European country takes. Some people are seized by a high tax ideology, who believe that higher taxes always mean higher revenues. That is not always the case. This is an example of where lower taxes mean higher revenues, which we use to invest in health, education, welfare and other things. We do not want to jeopardise that.
What is going on is not just about tax justice or big companies paying their fair share of tax, which they should. It is also about big countries trying to get a bigger slice of the pie at the expense of smaller countries. The United Kingdom has negotiated a carve-out to protect the City of London and the US has negotiated a carve-out so that the EU drops the digital tax. We need to defend our position too.
On behalf of the Regional Group, I echo the comments of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle regarding the staff working in the Houses.
My colleagues in the Regional Group and I worked closely with the Government to pass the Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Act, which sends a clear message to anyone engaged in legal proceedings that they must tell the truth. When commenced, the legislation will mean fines of up to €100,000 or up to ten years' imprisonment for lying in court. It was signed into law by an Uachtarán last month but it still requires a commencement order from the Minister for Justice. When will this vital legislation be commenced?
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I too wish all the staff of the Houses well, from the Garda Síochána outside and inside through to Peter Finnegan. I also thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Ceann Comhairle for their forbearance. It was not easy.
The Clonmel Garda station project is still languishing. We have a lovely site, planning permission and a wonderful design. Another Deputy raised the Sligo Garda station project during the week. Sligo, Clonakilty and Clonmel Garda station projects were in a public private partnership, PPP, package. Sligo has fallen off the partnership. We cannot allow Clonmel Garda station to fall off this public private partnership because we need to get a proper station for Superintendent William Leahy, former superintendent John Courtney and all the excellent gardaí. Clonmel is the biggest inland town in the country and has such a Dickensian Garda station. I believe the Tánaiste visited it. The project is badly needed. The problem is so bad that the issue has been raised here for 60 years. The station is not fit for purpose for gardaí to work in it or for the public. We have to get funding, get builders on site and get a new Garda station in Clonmel. It is badly needed.
I know the issue of Clonmel Garda station has been raised several times in this House. Senator Ahearn has raised it in the other House. I do not have an up-to-date briefing on it at the moment unfortunately but I will make sure that I get it and will pass it on to the Deputy.
I join the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in thanking the staff of the Oireachtas. I also thank the staff of my constituency office, who have worked hard over the past 12 months.
France is introducing similar legislation to Ireland with regard to access to indoor hospitality. I disagree with it here as I disagree with it there, but at least in France, non-vaccinated people will be able to access it through the use of antigen testing. I raised antigen testing with the Tánaiste several times before Christmas. We are still talking about commissioning reports and we are doing little. I raised indoor ventilation with the Tánaiste a couple of weeks ago. My question is about schools. Over the summer, will we introduce ventilation works in schools or will we have children returning to schools wearing masks and coats in poorly ventilated buildings, freezing in the middle of an Irish winter, with the windows wide open?
Greece is doing something similar to France. Two or three weeks ago, people were saying that Ireland was an outlier in not opening up indoor hospitality to everyone. As the weeks go by, we look like less of an outlier, as some countries reimpose restrictions and others are going down the route that we are going down with a health pass, because it will be the only way to stay open.
The matter regarding schools is under consideration. We accept that schools will need better ventilation in September and October. The issue of carbon dioxide monitors is part of that. We have asked the expert group on rapid testing to advise us on applying antigen testing both to indoor hospitality and to schools when they reopen in September.
On behalf of the Green Party, I echo the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's thanks to the staff, who have done incredible work in a difficult situation. The programme for Government contains a commitment to promote more physical exercise among all sections of the community. I have two queries about that. We are all aware of the positive physical and mental well-being benefits of support, as well as how it brings communities together. I have had numerous representations from groups here in Dublin Central about getting access to more space. As an example, Na Fianna GAA club is nearing the point where it may have to start limiting the number of children who can attend training due to the lack of space. Another example is the campaign to keep Tolka Park stadium as a sports facility. We need to get more girls and marginalised communities into sport. We heard from representatives of the Traveller community at the Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health this week about the total lack of access to green space and sporting facilities that our Traveller children are experiencing. We need funding and good planning. Will the Government provide additional funding?
I agree with the comments the Deputy has made. A new round of sports capital funding will open for applications later in the year. I am not sure of exactly when. It will probably be in September or October. That will provide grants to sports clubs and sporting organisations to improve their facilities. When we are working out the criteria for that, we should take account of what the Deputy has said about facilities in urban areas where land is scarce, including facilities for women, girls, Travellers and other people who may not have access to facilities in the way they should.
Children under the age of 12 will shortly be able to return home from holidays without a vaccine, PCR test or antigen test. They will soon be able to go for family dinners indoors in a restaurant without a vaccine, PCR test or antigen test, but they cannot go to summer classes, schools or camps, dancing classes, stage schools or coding workshops. They cannot be indoors with their friends who, just a few weeks ago, they shared classrooms with. It is mixed messaging for parents, children and this sector. What can we do to provide them with a roadmap to get children back to being happy with their friends, socialising and gaining the skills and confidence that they get through these summer camps?
The Deputy's point is well made. I always say that in a pandemic, the easiest thing to do is to shut the country down or to fully reopen it and the hardest thing to do is everything in between because it always involves anomalies and inconsistencies. We will ask NPHET to review two things over the next two weeks. One is how we might safely provide for religious ceremonies over the summer, including christenings, confirmations and communions. We will also ask it to look again at the issue of indoor summer camps and whether they could be done in September with the same precautions as we apply in schools. We have asked NPHET to consider both of those things and advise us on them within the next week or two. The difficulty that we face is that the virus has changed. The Delta variant is different and in the last week or two there has been a surge of cases among children, including secondary school children, teenagers and unvaccinated adults under 35. That is very different from the pandemic we experienced when it started in March 2019. We have to have regard to that too.
I raise the concern that taxi drivers have about the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. They have heard directly from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, that the PUP will be extended until February 2022 and that self-employed people will continue to be able to earn €960 after expenses over an eight-week period while retaining their full PUP entitlement. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, is telling them that a phased reduction will start on 7 September and as PUP recipients go onto the €203 rate in each phase, they will be transferred to standard jobseeker's terms. Many taxi drivers are already on the €203 rate, some of them because they invested in new cars in the weeks and months before Covid hit, for which they are suffering as a consequence. Others will move onto the €203 rate in the coming phases. They are not jobseekers. They are worried and concerned. Will the Tánaiste spell out how they will be treated in the weeks ahead? Will they stay on the PUP?
I will have to seek confirmation of this but I understand the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is correct in this regard. I will double-check that and let the Deputy know for sure. The best thing we can do for taxi drivers is to reopen our economy and society safely.
That is part of what we decided to do yesterday, in opening up indoor hospitality and, potentially, other events and activities down the line. In that context, using a health pass is probably the best thing we can do for taxi drivers so they are busy again, as they want to be.
Gabhaim buíochas don fhoireann uilig as achan rud. I have brought up the issue of the crisis we are facing in public liability insurance with the Tánaiste previously. I welcome that he will work alongside Deputy Doherty on the Judicial Council (Amendment) Bill. While payouts and claims are down, premiums are up. I will mention Blackrock Community Centre, which was charged €11,000 for a single year's premium. A GoFundMe campaign sorted out this year's premium but that is not sustainable. We need to do much more work to get more underwriters back into the market but alongside that, when will the heads of Bill on dealing with the duty of care issue be sorted out? We need a timeline and delivery on that. I also welcome what is being done regarding the perjury Bill.
We expect heads of Bill to be published in the next session. The Minister for Justice is working very hard on that. This Bill could be particularly beneficial to sporting and community organisations in rebalancing the duty of care and in expecting a bit more personal responsibility from people not to put themselves at risk or injure themselves.
Like others, I congratulate and thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Chomhairle, Oireachtas staff in the House, our office staff and members of An Garda Síochána, who were directing traffic outside the House when it was almost 3 a.m. It was a challenging time for everybody and everyone should take a bow on having successfully concluded the past 18 months.
I raise the issue of bullying, which I raised previously, in particular bullying through use of the Internet, whether it is targeted at children, women, vulnerable groups or whatever. There is still a need to update our legislation in line with requirements to stop bullying in cases where menaces are extended to various people, including vulnerable people, on a basis that is totally and absolutely unacceptable and that very often ends tragically.
I agree wholeheartedly with what the Deputy said on the issue of bullying, both traditional bullying and the new form of it that is online and can follow you everywhere. It is definitely an issue we will pay more attention to in the next session when the House returns in September.
I will raise the issue of school transport and the school transport scheme for rural schools in particular. Last year, there was a terrible situation where some children did not get a seat on the school bus until Christmas or after it. There has been a review and the interim report arising from it was published in the last three or four weeks. It has recommended that post-primary or secondary schools can look to the second nearest school. That needs to be extended to primary schools as well. We need clarity around all of that.
The portal where families can pay for the bus ticket is now open. It is closing at the end of July and I understand that will be a very firm closure. If people are late in paying, unlike other times in the past, they will not get a seat on the school bus. We need clarity on what exactly will be in place and how the scheme can be expanded to be inclusive. It should not be something that is about denying people a service, which has been the experience up to now, but trying to provide one. I welcome the review and I hope it will be published in time to provide people with an adequate service this year.
I am afraid I do not have any information to hand on that matter. This is a major issue every year, particularly in constituency offices and for rural Deputies. I will let the Minister for Education, Deputy Norma Foley, know it was raised by the Deputy today and will ask her to talk to him directly.
I re-echo the Tánaiste's words in thanking Oireachtas staff and members of an Garda for all their work. I wish them and their colleagues well over the coming few weeks. Just over a year ago, a major landslide occurred at Shass Mountain, Drumkeeran, County Leitrim. Leitrim County Council did sterling work in ensuring that bridges and roads were secured. About two or three months ago, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, guaranteed that basic payments would continue for this year under force majeure.
However, that is only for this year. In a couple of months' time, I will be back in the House asking about the situation and that cannot continue. The long-term issue of compensation for land that is rendered useless, and we are talking about 170,000 tonnes of peat that was deposited across lands in Leitrim, is completely up in the air. There have been similar schemes previously when land was destroyed, for example, in Inishowen, but, so far, there has been nothing about the situation in Leitrim. I ask the Tánaiste to look into this matter.
I was contacted by a man called James Sugrue, from Ballybunnion, and I will raise his story with the Tánaiste on his behalf. He and two of his brothers were boarded out at the mercy of the State and abandoned at the county home in Killarney where they suffered a horrendous experience. Mr. Sugrue spoke to An Taoiseach a few months ago and was promised that his case, and the cases of people like him, will be looked at. People who were boarded out were not part of the mother and baby inquiry and were not subject to the Ryan report or the Kennedy review, but the case for recognition and apology to them and for legislation that will, eventually, lead to redress is unanswerable. I ask the Tánaiste to look at this matter to see if he can progress it to redress the great injustice done to Mr. Sugrue and his brothers, one of whom is deceased.
We will look into that matter. I am sorry to hear about Mr. Sugrue's experiences. The mother and baby report has been much maligned but one of the things that really struck me as I read it was how much people who were boarded out during that time suffered, not just those who were boarded out as an exit path from mother and baby institutions but those boarded out for other reasons. Boys were often used as farm labour and girls as domestic servants. They were not cared for or looked after and often did not get their education. This is an issue that the Government cannot ignore. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, feels the same.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, her office and all the staff for their hard work during the year. I agree with the Tánaiste's statement that this is a very fragile moment in the reopening of our society. What is the public health advice that underpins the decision to reopen English-language schools, with in-person classes for 10,000 students? Most of the tutors and people participating in these classes will be under-35 years of age and, as the Tánaiste stated, this group is unvaccinated. I am concerned about the risks. What measures have been put in place to ensure tutors and students are secure and safe?