Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

3:15 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I move:

Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Sultanate of Oman) Order 2024 (back from Committee, without debate)

- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Jersey) Order 2024 (back from Committee, without debate)

- Motion re Reappointment of a Member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (without debate)

- Motion re Appointment of An tOmbudsman Póilíneachta (without debate)

- Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 7.19 p.m. or after 3 hours 30 minutes, whichever is the later, and any division claimed to be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage on Wednesday) Tuesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell, selected by Sinn Féin.

Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform entitled ‘Amendments to Standing Orders on Timeframes for Pre-legislative Scrutiny and Consideration of Estimates’ (without debate)

- Motion to Instruct the Committee on the Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 [Seanad] (any division claimed to be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill)

- Statements post European Council meeting of 27th-28th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124 (not to exceed 2 hours 7 minutes, including 20 minutes Q&A and Ministerial response for 5 minutes)

- Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to commence no earlier than 4.30 p.m. and if not previously concluded, to adjourn after 60 minutes)

- Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024 (Committee and remaining Stages) (if not previously concluded, to conclude after 60 minutes)

- Motor Insurance Insolvency Compensation Bill 2024 (Report and Final Stages) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn after 60 minutes)

- Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 [Seanad] (Committee and remaining Stages) Wednesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Adopting a Zero Tolerance Approach to Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, selected by the Social Democrats.

Thursday's business shall be: - Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2024 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn after 3 hours)

- Údarás na Gaeltachta (Amendment) Bill 2024 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 7.30 p.m. or after 2 hours 46 minutes, whichever is the later)

- Statements by TDs who have been elected as MEPs (as proposed by the Ceann Comhairle, supported by the Business Committee) Thursday evening business shall be the Second Stage of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) (Amendment) Bill 2022, sponsored by Deputy Pa Daly.

Proposed Arrangements for this week’s business:

In relation to Tuesday’s business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:
(i) the Dáil may sit later than 10.32 p.m.;

(ii) the time allotted to Government business shall be extended in accordance with the arrangements for that business; and

(iii) private members’ business may be taken later than 6.12 p.m., with consequential effect on the commencement times for Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform and for topical issues;
2. the proceedings on the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Sultanate of Oman) Order 2024 shall be taken without debate;

3. the proceedings on the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Jersey) Order 2024 shall be taken without debate;

4. the proceedings on the Motion re Reappointment of a Member of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission shall be taken without debate;

5. the proceedings on the Motion re Appointment of An tOmbudsman Póilíneachta shall be taken without debate; and

6. the proceedings on Second Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned either at 7.19 p.m. or after 3 hours and 30 minutes, whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Tuesday, and any division claimed on those proceedings shall be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill on Wednesday. In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:
(i) the Dáil may sit later than 9.30 p.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of the weekly division time;

(ii) Statements post European Council meeting of 27th-28th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124, shall be taken on the conclusion of oral Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1);

(iii) the SOS pursuant to Standing Order 25(1) shall be taken on the conclusion of the statements and the House shall stand suspended until either 4.30 p.m., or one hour after the commencement of the SOS, whichever is the later; and

(iv) the weekly division time may be taken later than 8.45 p.m. and shall in any event be taken on the conclusion of proceedings on the Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 [Seanad];
2. the proceedings on the Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform entitled ‘Amendments to Standing Orders on Timeframes for Pre-legislative Scrutiny and Consideration of Estimates’ shall be taken without debate;

3. the proceedings on the Motion to Instruct the Committee on the Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024 [Seanad] shall be taken without debate and any division claimed thereon shall be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill;

4. the Statements post European Council meeting of 27th-28th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124, shall not exceed 2 hours and 7 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply thereto:
(i) the arrangements for the statements, not including the Ministerial response, shall be in accordance with the arrangements agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the Resolution of the Dáil of 20th September, 2023, providing for two minutes for non-aligned members;

(ii) following the statements, questions and answers shall be taken for 20 minutes;

(iii) on the conclusion of the questions and answers, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and

(iv) members may share time;
5. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2023 shall commence not earlier than 4.30 p.m. and shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned after 60 minutes, and shall not be resumed on Wednesday;

6. the proceedings on Committee and remaining Stages of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and

7. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Motor Insurance Insolvency Compensation Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned after 60 minutes, and shall not be resumed on Wednesday. In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that: 1. (i) the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:
(a) the Dáil may sit later than 9.27 p.m.;

(b) the time allotted to Government business shall be extended in accordance with the arrangements for that business; and

(c) topical issues may be taken later than 7.24 p.m., with consequential effect on the commencement time for the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) (Amendment) Bill 2022; and
(ii) the Dáil on its rising shall adjourn until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 18th September, 2024;
2. the proceedings on Second Stage of the Agriculture Appeals (Amendment) Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned after 3 hours, and shall not be resumed on Thursday; and

3. the proceedings on Second Stage of the Údarás na Gaeltachta (Amendment) Bill

2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned either at 7.30 p.m. or after 2 hours and 46 minutes, whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Thursday.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Is that agreed?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is not agreed. I want to raise the emergency case of Tori Towey, a 28-year old, who is living in Dubai. She has been a victim of the most gross domestic violence. Her passport has been destroyed and a travel ban has been imposed on her. She went to the authorities seeking protection many times but to no avail. Following one particularly severe beating in which her husband repeatedly tried to slam doors on her arms and break her limbs, she escaped upstairs and she attempted to take her own life. Unfortunately, Tori now faces charges in Dubai of attempted suicide and the abuse of alcohol. The system over there, rather than protecting this woman, who is an Irish citizen, chose instead to detain her and charge her. She is now under the most incredible stress. I spoke to her this afternoon. Her mother, Caroline, has travelled to be with her. Tori wants to come home. It is as simple as that. She is a Roscommon woman, and she wants to come home. I am asking that, as a matter of absolute urgency, that we have a statement from this House; that the Taoiseach will intervene; that the ambassador is called in and; that it is made plain to the authorities in Dubai that no woman should be treated in this way and that an Irish citizen, an Irish woman, will not be treated in this way.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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We have a concern with the Order of Business in regard to the timing and scheduling tomorrow evening of the Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024. Committee and Remaining Stages are scheduled for 7.57 p.m. Amendments have been tabled by a number of my Labour Party colleagues. We are concerned that there will not be adequate time to debate a number of important provisions in the Bill. We ask that Committee Stage be adjourned rather than taking Committee and Report Stages together tomorrow night. We must have adequate time to debate the amendments on this important Bill, which contains a number of quite disparate provisions within it. I understand from the Business Committee report that no order has been made to adjourn.

I take this opportunity express my congratulations to the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on taking on the leadership of the Green Party.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I met with the National Advocacy Service, NAS, outside the gates today. Its staff have resumed a strike. It is an independent service that deals with clients who were in institutions or inappropriate accommodation, who are very vulnerable people, and the NAS tries to advocate to ensure their human rights are respected. The staff have not had a pay rise in 14 years. They went to the Labour Court some time ago and sought conditions similar to those of others who operate in the same kind of areas.

They were awarded a favourable recommendation some time ago. This has not been respected. We cannot have a situation where we have an organisation in respect of which the industrial relations apparatus of the State is in abeyance. I seek an intervention or even a short debate on this tomorrow.

3:25 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I agree with Deputy Murphy's comments on the NAS. It is vital that we debate it. I also want to raise Committee Stage of the Courts, Civil Law, Criminal Law and Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2024, which is scheduled for debate tomorrow. A request has been made that additions be made to it so that it encompasses the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, the International Protection Act, the Broadcasting Act 2009 and the Judicial Appointments Commission Act 2023. The Bill will have a huge name and will undergo a complete change. It is adding to the Bill and it will not be the same Bill. The Government is putting through all of these amendments on Committee Stage. It is completely wrong and shows disrespect for the House. It is something that should not happen but it is something that happens every July in the House. We see it every year and the Government is completely wrong with it.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I add my voice to the call for a short debate on the situation with the NAS. These workers provide a vital service for people with disabilities. They have not had an increase in their basic rate of pay for more than a decade. They have been forced out on the picket lines because their employers, and standing behind their employers the Department of Social Protection, will not implement a Labour Court recommendation. We got lectures in here last week about the sanctity of the Labour Court and here we have a Labour Court recommendation that the employers and the Department standing behind them are not implementing. The Department should intervene and settle this on the terms recommended to benefit the workers in terms of their wages and their conditions.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am also very concerned on behalf of our group with the amount of legislation being dealt with this week and the amalgamation of three pieces of legislation into one and amendments being subsumed. It is not a way to do business. There is no proper scrutiny of these pieces of legislation. I support the NAS workers whom I met outside the gates earlier. They are out in large numbers on a very inclement day. It is a shocking situation that they have not had a wage increase in almost a decade and a half. It is not acceptable. Of course there have been Labour Court interventions - we have seen this with Aer Lingus - and rightly so. These people have had no increase in comparison to the 17.5% offered to Aer Lingus workers. It is not acceptable that we allow these things to happen in many areas of our country at present in many aspects of working life. If people do not shout or do not have the power to call strikes, they do not have any power at all. We need a debate on the NAS. I object to the Order of Business on that basis.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy McDonald for bringing the case of Tori to my attention. I believe her colleague Deputy Kerrane has raised the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I am not directly apprised of the situation but I am very happy to be directly apprised of it now and to work with Deputy McDonald to intervene and see how we can support an Irish citizen in what sounds to be, from Deputy McDonald has told me, the most appalling of circumstances. If Deputy McDonald would like to engage with me on it, I am happy to engage with her directly on it. I thank her for bringing it to my attention.

To respond to Deputies Bacik, Pringle, McGrath and others, we are happy to give the Bill all the time it requires tomorrow night. We can provide more time on it.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no gap between Committee Stage and Report Stage.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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The problem is Committee and Report Stages being taken together.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The plan is to take Committee and Report Stages-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is no time to table Report Stage amendments.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is the Government's intention to take Committee and Remaining Stages.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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That is the problem.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Government is willing to provide much more time to debate the issue. I have no doubt there will be a vote in a minute so let me at least put forward our view. We are happy to provide more time tomorrow. We are happy to provide longer time. We are happy to provide as much time as it takes tomorrow night. I take the point that we do wish to take Committee and Remaining Stages together and on this we may have a difference of view.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys has been keeping me apprised with regard to the NAS. I want to say very clearly that we understand and recognise the value of the very important work it does for people with disabilities. I understand following intervention - or perhaps consultation - with the Department of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and this is an important point, the board of the NAS and the Citizens Information Board, CIB, agreed to implement the Labour Court recommendation in order to address the pay divergences and ensure staff in the NAS are paid the same as comparable grades in the CIB umbrella companies.

I believe the only item remaining relates to the detail of which grades should be used as benchmarks. In the spirit of being constructive, I urge everyone to get back around the table. Let us reach an agreement, get this sorted, get these people the pay rise they are entitled to and get the services back up and running. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and her Department have engaged on this. The Labour Court recommendation will be adhered to, but the benchmarking needs to be clarified. I hope people can engage on it quite quickly.

3:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Are the proposed arrangements for the week's business agreed to?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Not agreed.

Question put: "That the proposed arrangements for this week's business be agreed to".

The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 59; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hildegarde Naughton and Cormac Devlin; Níl, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Mattie McGrath.

Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Ciarán Cannon, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Neale Richmond, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Níl

Ivana Bacik, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Michael Lowry, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Violet-Anne Wynne.

Question declared carried.

3:50 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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There is not enough time for all the speakers on my list, but it is the last week of term and I intend to get through them all. I ask for the co-operation of Members.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I met with the new British Prime Minister, Keir Starmer, in Belfast yesterday. It was a very good meeting, and I hope that the return of the party of the Good Friday Agreement to government in London will prove to be a turning point and an opportunity to rebuild relationships.

One of the key issues I raised with the Prime Minister was immigration and the clear need for a bilateral agreement and arrangements between Dublin and London in respect of the safe return of asylum seekers. I know the Taoiseach will meet with the British Prime Minister at Downing Street. I ask that the Taoiseach press for those arrangements and that they be made speedily. The British Prime Minister indicated to me an acceptance, an acknowledgment and a willingness to arrive at those arrangements. I urge that that happen very speedily.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy McDonald for raising this issue. I was very grateful to have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Starmer on his first day in office. I am pleased that he had an opportunity yesterday to visit Northern Ireland and meet with the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and the parties in Northern Ireland, including Deputy McDonald. I look forward to meeting him in Downing Street next week. I will obviously have a range of issues that I will want to discuss with him. I look forward to trying to get back to, as the Deputy says, the two Governments recognising their unique roles as co-guarantors of the peace process. So much good can flow from that.

Protecting the common travel area from abuse, including abuse in respect of migration, is a really important element. There has been a long-standing practice in this area. Unfortunately, these matters may have become too politicised in recent years. Protecting the common travel area from abuse is an important framework through which we can consider all of these issues.

3:55 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Earlier today, I stood with Labour colleagues outside Leinster House in solidarity with staff from the national advocacy service and SIPTU members who have been left with no option but to resume strike action because of the failure by management to respect Labour Court recommendations. I heard the Taoiseach's earlier response and I listened to it very carefully. He mentioned benchmarking. I would like a little clarity on that. It boils down to a simple question. The people I spoke to, people who provide a vital service and supports to a great many disabled persons, certainly asked a simple question: is a State-funded body prepared to implement a Labour Court recommendation in full or not? It is as simple as that. We need to see progress on this so that the staff of the national advocacy service can get the fair pay and conditions they deserve and, crucially, so that those for whom they provide services can get those services back.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I have looked into the issue because the service does excellent work and we all want to see this resolved. It is my understanding that, following consultation with the Department of Social Protection, the board of the NAS and the Citizens Information Board, CIB, have agreed to implement the Labour Court recommendation in order to address pay divergence and to ensure that staff in the NAS are paid the same as those in comparable grades in other companies under the CIB umbrella. For clarity, my note tells me that the only item that remains is the detail of which grades are to be used as benchmarks for this purpose. Although the union submitted a proposal, the Labour Court did not specify the grades. Both the workers and the CIB agreed to participate in talks led by the former chair of the Labour Court, Kevin Duffy, to agree this detail. As part of these talks, the CIB agreed to be bound by the recommendation of the independent assessment as to the grades that were comparable. Those talks broke down. With regard to the Labour Court recommendation, we just need clarity on that benchmarking issue. I hope that, if everyone engages in good faith, as I am sure the union side will, we can bring this matter to a final conclusion.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The conviction of taxi driver Raymond Shorten for the rape of two young women and one young child is shocking. This serial predator faces sentencing later this month, which is a matter for the courts. The case has caused significant public revulsion and alarm. Women get taxis at night not just to get home, but to get home safely without having to worry about being attacked. The notion that there could be any prospect of a taxi driver either having convictions for sexual violence or facing trial for such offences is therefore the stuff of nightmares. As the Taoiseach will know, An Garda Síochána regulates taxi driver licences and has the power to revoke licences in certain circumstances. The question I and many other women have is whether those powers are strong enough. Are licences suspended before conviction if taxi drivers are charged with sexual offences? Are licences revoked when drivers are convicted of sexual offences other than rape? Tomorrow, the Dáil will debate the Social Democrats' motion. The Government has said it is not opposing it. Does that mean taxi regulations are now being reviewed?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It means we genuinely want to engage with the Deputy on this issue. Her party has put down a motion in good faith on a really important issue. I was reading through it earlier and know that it touches on a range of very important issues in this space. I accept that the motion was put down in good faith and that the Deputy is not asking me to comment on the specifics of a case that is before the courts. I have been assured that a person convicted of a sexual offence is disqualified from having a licence either for life or for a specified period. That is the law under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. I am very open to having a debate tomorrow and seeing what further measures need to be taken in respect of those regulations. We are happy to engage on this and to see whether there is a need to review the regulations further.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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For autistic kids, early intervention is key. That is what all the experts say. The Disability Act places a legal obligation upon the State to determine within three months whether assessment is appropriate and then to assess within a further three months. I have here a letter sent last week by the HSE to the parents of a child living in Cork city who is just under two years of age. The letter confirms receipt of a referral for the child requesting an autism diagnostic assessment. It then goes on to say that the waiting time for autism assessment is approximately 24 to 30 months. Cara Dermody wants the Taoiseach to give a commitment that the State will be in a position to meet its legal obligations in full within a maximum of 12 months. Is the Taoiseach prepared to make such a commitment? If not, how does he expect the parent of any autistic child anywhere in this State to even consider voting for a Government party at the next election?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I really think this about much more than votes. This is about trying to reform our disability services. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and I are working intensively on this matter. We had a meeting on it as recently as last Thursday. Following a Cabinet committee meeting, we allocated significant additional funding of €6.89 million to provide for an assessment of need waiting list initiative. This will provide a further 2,500 private assessments to be delivered within the next six months, delivering on a commitment the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, made in this House based on the work of Cara Dermody, who was here on that occasion. To be very honest with Deputy Barry and with the parents of Ireland, a key issue here is recruitment. We ran a recruitment campaign and 145 successful candidates have now received job offers to work in this area, 53 of whom are now in the final stages of recruitment. We will run another recruitment campaign very shortly.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I will raise the issue of succession plans for family businesses. The Finance Act 2023 made changes to capital gains tax for small indigenous businesses with assets valued at more than €10 million. I have been contacted by many businesspeople in my constituency who run generational businesses. If these measures are brought in, businesses will either regress or be sold off to multinationals because the owners' children will not be able to come up with the capital gains tax that is required. In a country that relies so much on indigenous family businesses, it is important that this element of the Finance Act 2023 be looked at in detail in the context of the upcoming budget so that we do not put a burden on business and employment in towns, villages and rural areas across the country.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Canney for raising this important matter, which is obviously a cause of concern for small businesses. I will ask the Minister for Finance to take a look at the issue and to revert to the Deputy directly. In the summer economic statement published today, we have indicated that approximately €1.4 billion will be available for new tax measures in the forthcoming budget. We will look at the matter in that context.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach has met Cara Dermody a number of times. It is very unfair that a child of that age has to come up here each week in all kinds of weather with her father - her mother Noelle is at home looking after her two younger brothers - to look for something that is supposed to be provided under the law. The Disability Act clearly states that children must be assessed within a given period of time. How can the HSE and the Department of Health knowingly and intentionally flout the law in respect of children with autism and other special needs all of the time? Cara should be out ag súgradh leis na cailíní óga. She should be playing and having fun rather than coming here every week. My goodness, how long must she do so? Her father has said they are going to keep coming here until they get proper movement. They have met three former taoisigh and many Ministers for Health. Cara's family lives in the village next to me, Ard Fhíonáin. It is time that this issue was looked at with sensitivity and that public bodies such as the HSE are held to account and made to observe the law.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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There is certainly no need for Cara Dermody to wait at the gates of Government Buildings to see me. I have already met her in person and I will meet her again. I want her to be able to enjoy her summer, as I want all children to be able to enjoy the summer. There are very important issues in respect of assessments of need. Cara has already helped to bring about some significant changes including, as I have just mentioned, the decision taken with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to provide extra money amounting to approximately €6.9 million to provide private assessments. We are working to do more on assessments of need and to answer the challenge that Cara has put to us.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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Last month, we saw the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on the horrific and illegal conditions at the Shannonside Foods Limited abattoir in Straffan, County Kildare. The plant has now shut down, which I welcome. Having looked through the record of the committee on agriculture meeting on the matter, I was left with serious concerns as to how this situation was allowed to arise. These concerns were further heightened by the news that the Department of agriculture essentially will be investigating itself with regard to how it failed to realise what was going on despite the fact that it had received repeated reports of animal neglect and cruelty from people living near the abattoir and the fact that there was supposed to be a permanent inspector in the facility.

Will the Government set up an external, independent investigation into the Department of agriculture's action in this case?

4:05 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I will check in directly with the Minister for agriculture on this but my understanding is that the Department has appointed UCD's Professor Paddy Wall to lead a task force aimed at addressing the serious traceability issues identified in the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and, indeed, the approach to approval of such facilities in the future. My understanding is that the expert from UCD, Professor Paddy Wall, is leading a task force. I will get the Deputy more information on that and she will be able to see whether that meets her request.

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I raise the issue of the withdrawal of professional services by barristers practising criminal law. I acknowledge the presence of Seán Guerin, chair of the criminal state bar committee of the Bar Council, along with other members of the profession. I know the Taoiseach is acutely aware of this issue as it has been raised by other members of the Fine Gael Party. He will be aware that there has been a 40% cut in these barristers' fees over the past 20 years. There was a partial restoration of 10% following the original protest back in October. However, there are a further two 8% instalments, plus another 2.5%, that need to be restored. A protest is being held today, with more planned for 15 and 24 July. This protest is affecting victims of crime, as well as other stakeholders who are involved in the administration of criminal justice. I urge the Government to make sure this review is commenced. I do not believe the Bar Council currently has confidence that the Government will deliver on that. It is looking for a binding mechanism to be put in place to determine fees, whether those fees are paid by the DPP or under the legal aid criminal justice scheme.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I, too, welcome Mr. Guerin and some of his colleagues to the Dáil. I begin by reiterating my appreciation, and the appreciation of the Minister for Justice, of the important role played by barristers and solicitors in the administration of criminal justice. We made some progress on this last summer with the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and she secured €9 million to make progress on restoring criminal legal aid fees. There was a 10% increase in that regard but I know there is more work to do, as does the Minister. We want to resolve this issue. We want people to be able to go about their business and not see a disruption to the administration of justice. I hope the move we made is a sign of good faith. We want to achieve more this year. Let me say that clearly. We want to have a process and we want to achieve more.

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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The disability matters committee published its recent pre-budget submission, which contains a number of asks relating to the unmet need in the community. There are a number of issues, such as pay parity for section 39 organisations. The Taoiseach alluded in his earlier contributions to recruitment and retention. There are issues in regard to making sure that kids in particular have access to services, as well the provision of multi-annual funding in order that we do not have to debate it every year. There is a particular problem with kids moving from primary school to second level education. We have seen it throughout the country this year where places are not available at second level education. That is a major concern. In addition, will the Taoiseach outline the Government's view on the optional protocol to the UNCRPD?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I have not forgotten that I want to meet with him as Chair of the disability matters committee. I thank him for the work he does with the committee across government in a range of areas. The Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Naughton, are very much appraised of the issues he raised, namely, recruitment and retention, services, the multi-annual funding and that issue of planning around school places. Changes and reforms are under way in the Department of Education in terms of better forward planning, particularly around second level. We might get the Deputy a note to provide an update on the various issues he raised. I am happy to meet in the context of the budget.

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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We all need a functioning justice system. I, too, acknowledge the presence of members of the Bar Council. I support their call for restoration of the FEMPI-era cuts to their fees.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the direction of An Garda Síochána. Following changes to the management model, a community engagement superintendent is supposed to provide leadership to deal with local crime, antisocial behaviour and road traffic law enforcement but there is currently no such superintendent in counties Longford or Mayo, despite the appointment made today in County Roscommon. There is concern within An Garda Síochána that recruitment targets are not being met. Resignations are high. Some 50% of those who apply fail the fitness test. It has been suggested that should be completed at the end of the course at Templemore. With the increase in the population, the forthcoming EU Presidency and an increasing number of retirements, will the Taoiseach take steps to prevent unprecedented pressure on our police service?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Daly. I will follow up specifically with the Minister for Justice regarding the community engagement superintendents for counties Longford and Mayo, to which he referred. More broadly, we are beginning to see progress on recruitment of gardaí. I do not have the figures in front of me but a class of about 157 went into Templemore in recent weeks. A new class goes in every three months, approximately, with a class coming out around that time as well. The Minister for Justice and the Minister for public expenditure are looking at further measures to address the issue of retention. I will get the Deputy an update on that.

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Last month, data from the latest European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations report showed that just 14% of orphan medicines licensed by the European Medicines Agency since 2019 are available to patients in Ireland. This places us 26th of 36 European countries. One such treatment, ravulizumab, remains unavailable in Ireland since its application in 2019, despite it being available in most other European countries. Separate rare disease pathways are now in place in several EU countries of similar size and economy to Ireland, such as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. The Taoiseach previously served as Minister for Health and he, too, had criticisms of the reimbursement system at that time. We can point to the implementation of a few recommendations in the Mazars report. Realistically, however, when will we see actual reform?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy O'Sullivan, who has taken a particular interest in this issue during this Dáil term. I will ask the Minister for Health specifically in regard to the drugs he mentioned, which seem to be in the process for a long time. The Minister and his Department have been working on access to orphan medicines but I will ask him to get the Deputy the most up-to-date information.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I raise the issue of funding for media and core funding for journalism schemes, which may not have any consideration, and funding for local radio, particular in the context of the public service broadcasting remit. Last month, local radio in my constituency provided absolutely exceptional coverage of the results of the local and European elections. I request that any future proposals on public service broadcasting should ensure substantial ring-fenced support for local radio to allow it to continue to deliver core news and current affairs programming.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We are currently considering how to sustainably fund public service broadcasting. That includes RTÉ, which does a good job on public service broadcasting. It is not the only outlet that does public service broadcasting. With the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, we are considering what a sustainable model of funding for public service broadcasting looks like. We expect to make a decision on that this month.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Last week, I tabled a Topical Issue matter on the need to provide funding a runway extension at Waterford Airport. In 2019, I, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, was part of a delegation that met with the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, who gave a commitment to fund the airport. I know there are processes that have to be gone through and in recent months further clarification and information has been provided by the airport to the Department, but I cannot walk the length of myself in Waterford city or county without people asking me when the decision will be made and the funding approved in order to allow the airport to finish the runway extension and, we hope, get commercial flights operating out of Waterford Airport again. Will the Taoiseach answer that question?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The truthful answer is that I would like to see a decision made on this very shortly. I was inquiring about this myself only in recent days. The Minister of State, Deputy Lawless, now has responsibility for this in the Department of Transport. I will ask him to engage with Deputy Cullinane directly. My understanding is an updated submission from Waterford Airport was received by the Department on 23 April. Some detail remained outstanding until 27 May. Further detail was provided last week, on 2 July, and Department officials are now continuing their engagement with airport management in order to bring all matters to a conclusion. My understanding is that the Minister of State, Deputy Lawless, has an open mind on the issue and is awaiting an assessment of any proposal on that basis. I am well aware that there is frustration around this in Waterford. I will see if we can get the Deputy a timeline.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are outside the time so I ask for the co-operation of the last four speakers. We will take everybody.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The reimbursement for cataract surgery under the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme has been drastically reduced. The original figure of €1,950 has been mercilessly slashed to a mere €863.

This is not just an abuse of power; it is a blatant disregard for our elderly citizens who depend on these funds for essential cataract surgery. The Government's decision is nothing short of outrageous. Hospitals in southern Ireland are already stretched to their limits and are incapable of providing timely surgeries. This could lead to many of our citizens suffering unnecessarily and going blind. The underhanded manner in which this decision was made overnight without any form of consultation or transparency is a disgrace. It paints a picture of a Government that is seemingly content to let the elderly people of Ireland lose their sight.

This matter was raised with the Taoiseach seven days ago. Has he found out since who made this decision? Why was the Taoiseach and some of the Minister and Ministers of State for Health not aware of it? I demand that this Government, with the utmost urgency, overturn this decision immediately and reinstate the amount for cataract reimbursement to the original sum of €1,950.

4:15 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this serious issue. I assure him that nobody wants anyone to lose their sight. There is no political division on that; everybody wants people to keep their sight and to be able to access cataract treatment. I am inquiring about this matter, which raised with me in the Dáil last week. I have asked for an update on it. I expect to have that very shortly. I will get the Deputy an update on it this week.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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There are Members here who think representing Waterford consists of standing up and shouting the odds from the Opposition benches. There are other Members here who think it is not enough to describe a problem and that they have to be part of the solution. They roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. I could talk about the building of the second cath lab or the acquisition of the Waterford Crystal site. I could mention the groundbreaking investment we have seen in the North Quays. I will say this, however. A closed cath lab saves no lives. We have to provide staff in order to increase the opening hours. I believe there is some good news on that matter. Can the Taoiseach share whether there has been any progress on staffing?

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for his question. As a TD representing the lovely city and county of Waterford and as a Minister of State in the Department of Health, I am pleased to inform the House of the position. First, however, I apologise to the Taoiseach that I did not have the information for him. This was due to the fact that it was only breaking news and that I was on a flight this morning that was delayed.

There is really positive news. The general manager of University Hospital Waterford received sanction to immediately commence recruitment to implement weekend cover in the cath lab under the pay and numbers strategy. Recruitment is expected to take approximately three months, with weekend cover expected to commence in October. Five consultant cardiologists will be part of the multidisciplinary teams providing 365-day cover, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. I thank Deputy Ó Cathasaigh and Senator John Cummins, who also encouraged their party leaders to support me while we worked on this for the past 12 months.

Photo of Violet-Anne WynneViolet-Anne Wynne (Clare, Independent)
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I wish to raise the issue of access to risdiplam for adult spinal muscular atrophy, SMA patients. Risdiplam is a lifesaving drug that stops the progression of SMA. It reduces required hospital time, restores motor neuron function, gives back strength and breath control and gives people back a full life. We approved the equivalent Spinraza two years ago, two years after the rest of the EU, and we are still behind the curve with our arbitrary cut-off for over-18s which is not based on clinical reasoning. There are currently 30 adults in Ireland with SMA who missed the cut-off, five of whom received one of these drugs on compassionate grounds. That leaves 25 without access. Ten to 15 would qualify on the basis of their current health status. Right now, they are taking up resources in ICUs and long-term stay wards. This would be entirely unnecessary if the Government was prepared to support citizens with rare diseases. Is there is any plan to move to a health-based cut-off? Why is the Government restricting lifesaving treatment on arbitrary grounds?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Wynne for raising this issue, which I will talk to the Minister for Health about. I remember the Spinraza issue, so I want to get myself up to date on this. I will ask the Minister for Health to come back to the Deputy directly on what I know is an important matter.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I listened to the Taoiseach's various responses on the totally unacceptable situation where workers at the NAS have no option but to strike. At the end of the four-day engagement last week, the highly respected independent chair put forward a proposal that was accepted by the union but not by management. There seems to be real intransigence on the part of management and the Department in not accepting the recommendations of the chair. The Taoiseach raised the issue of benchmarking. Where did that come from? The scales and grades were all in the SIPTU submission, which was accepted by the Labour Court. There was no mention of benchmarking. It seems that management is now introducing this. All the workers are asking is that the four points in the Labour Court recommendation be implemented immediately. Perhaps the Taoiseach or his officials might speak to the independent chair and get this sorted.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Harkin. I definitely want to see this sorted, as does the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. I am relying on my note, which indicates that the Labour Court did not specify the grades. However, let me check based on what the Deputy has said, as I accept she said it in good faith. I am aware that the independently-facilitated talks were led by Kevin Duffy, the former and very respected Labour Court chair, and commenced on 26 June to discuss the implementation of the Labour Court recommendation concerning pay and grades. The talks continued last week and took place over four days in total. I am informed they broke down on 5 July. I understand that there is only one outstanding issue. I do want to see the matter resolved. I will ask everybody to engage in good faith, as I am sure they will. Let us try and bring this to a conclusion.