Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 4, National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and shall adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members’ business which shall be No. 57, motion re confidence in the Minister for Health, and shall take place on the conclusion of the opening speeches of No. 4 or at 7.30 p.m. whichever is the later, and shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes.

Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. agreed to? Agreed.

The Fiscal Advisory Council has published a weighty and substantive report on the current situation of the economy and, in particular, on debt sustainability and policy regarding consolidation of the public finances. It makes serious, if somewhat unpalatable, recommendations. What concerns me is that the only response from the Government to date has been to the effect that it is not bound by the council's decisions. We are all agreed that in the current climate the establishment of the Fiscal Advisory Council is welcome in terms of providing objective independent advice to the Government and the Oireachtas. Would the Taoiseach agree to a structured debate on the report by putting it before the House and inviting Members of the council to the relevant committee in order that members could flesh out the content of the report in greater detail?

It is somewhat disconcerting that there has been an almost nonchalant dismissal of the report because it raises serious issues in regard to our current trajectory. Whatever one's perspective, we need to discuss it.

Will the Taoiseach indicate when he will publish the Thornhill report on property tax?

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government confirmed that it has been with the Government since June. Given the significant debate on the matter in the media and among the public, the publication of the report would be of benefit.

Can the Taoiseach confirm whether the order to delegate ministerial functions regarding primary care has been laid before the House? If not, when does the Taoiseach intend to lay it before the House in order to delegate responsibility for primary care matters to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall? We were all under the illusion that had happened and that the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, had been delegated statutory authority, but we have learned, from freedom of information documents revealed to The Sunday Times, that she had asked on numerous occasions for such delegated authority only to be denied it by the Minister for Health. Can the Taoiseach tell the House when that ministerial order will be laid before the House?

I would have no objection to the Fiscal Advisory Council report being debated here and reported to the joint committee. That debate would be worthwhile. It could be tied into an economic debate in the House about circumstances as we move ahead.

The Thornhill report has been with the Minister for some time. It will come to Government with the Minister's recommendations and the decision to publish it will then be made.

Could it not be published now?

I will keep the House informed as to when that will be. The Minister will come to Government first with his recommendations arising from the Thornhill report.

So much has been published by the Government, through leaks and otherwise, about this tax. The Government announced something else today. Surely, the easiest thing would be to publish it.

I am not nominating a date for its publication.

This is obfuscation again.

I will have the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, confirm the position regarding the delegated statutory authority for primary care. That is a political decision for the Minister and the Minister of State.

It is a matter for the Government.

It is a political decision.

It is not a political decision. It is a definitive governmental decision to delegate authority to a Minister of State.

The Minister informs the Cabinet.

When the Taoiseach announced the members of the Cabinet and the Ministers of State, he appointed Deputy Róisín Shortall as Minister of State with specific responsibility for primary care.

There is no need for Deputy Martin to explain that.

The Taoiseach made a wrong statement. He said this is a personal decision for the Minister for Health.

The Minister notifies the Cabinet and that is the way it applies.

It is a Government decision and the Taoiseach is the Head of the Government.

He should not try to push the decision down the line.

Neither should the Deputy try to put words in my mouth.

Why has it not happened? Deputy Kenny is the Taoiseach. The Government has been in office for 18 months.

It is a political decision. The Minister delegates a function to the Minister of State.

No. It goes before the Cabinet.

I said I will have the Minister confirm the position in the House.

The Cabinet has to agree the decision.

It is extraordinary that a Minister of State, in writing to her Minister, says she has asked, time and time again, for delegated authority and has not been given it. The Taoiseach is the Head of the Government. He knows the responsibilities he allocated to each Minister of State when he appointed them. Now, a year and a half later, we find that one Minister of State has no delegated authority to discharge her duties and is being attacked by her Minister for failure to deal with budgetary overruns even though she has no delegated authority to deal with them.

The Deputy is making a mountain out of a molehill.

I am not making a mountain out of anything. The Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, has put this in writing to her Minister. It is in the public domain, thanks to freedom of information legislation.

The Labour Party does not really matter in all of this.

The Minister, Deputy Reilly, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Shortall and Lynch, will not renege on their responsibilities in the Department of Health as Deputy Martin did.

That is the usual old rubbish from the Taoiseach. He should have some respect.

There was report after report.

Deputy Kenny is the Taoiseach. When will the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, be delegated statutory authority by the Government?

We are driving on.

I leith reachtaíochta atá fógraithe, I welcome the fact that the Government has concluded its position on the referendum on children's rights. It was a good thing to establish the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and that Deputy Frances Fitzgerald was given the post of Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Deputy Ó Caoláin has done work on this issue over a long time and Sinn Féin has co-operated with the Minister on this issue. I hope I will not be disappointed with what comes forward.

It would have been better if the Minister's briefing had taken place before the public announcement. I am not quibbling about this. I simply say it would be better to have some coherence on an issue on which we all agree. At least, we all agree about the need to protect our children.

Earlier, the Taoiseach asked about Sinn Féin's ideas on protecting citizens. One way of protecting citizens is to grant them legal underpinning. That goes for a range of people. In a republic, citizens should have legal entitlements. I welcome today's decision and I look forward to scrutinising what the Minister has brought forward.

My question refers to another issue about which there has not been clarity. Can the Taoiseach give the House an update on the Government's plans for the Seanad? When does the Taoiseach plan to publish legislation for a referendum and when would he expect such a referendum to take place?

I thank Deputy Adams for his comments on the referendum on children's rights. It is out of courtesy that I informed the House that the Cabinet this morning finalised its decision in respect of the wording of the constitutional amendment and decided to publish the adoption Bill simultaneously with the referendum Bill. I will not give any further information, because the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has already briefed Opposition parties and will continue to do so. She will give a briefing tomorrow morning on the wording of the amendment, the adoption Bill and the person appointed to chair the commission. Today, I simply wish to give the House the date of the referendum. I will make no other comment about the wording of the amendment or the content of the referendum Bill.

When will the referendum take place?

On Saturday, 10 November.

Agus an cheist faoin tSeanad?

There is no proposal to publish that legislation yet.

Has there been a secret statutory instrument to give county councils the right to threaten students seeking third level grants over whether their parents have paid the household tax? I ask this because the Minister for Education and Skills scandalously, and quite disgracefully, championed this bullying of students instead of championing the right of students to their education. Has the Minister been reprimanded for his encouragement of this bullying of students by Clare County Council?

The Minister for Education and Skills was very clear. Clare County Council, on its own initiative, must process applications for third level grants.

It is not on its own initiative.

It is quite in order for the council to seek to find out if households which have lodged applications for assistance in respect of third level education are in compliance with the legal requirement to pay the household charge.

There is no legal requirement.

There is no legal basis for the council's action.

It is outrageous.

The same applies if a disabled person applies for a grant to build a back kitchen and must produce a C2 certificate.

That is a house application.

That is quite different.

Questions are always asked about the payment of the non-principal private residence charge. This is nothing new.

What has that do to with students?

Deputy Higgins might not like this but it is unfair to the majority of people who have paid the charge to suggest that others should not make the effort to do so.

The Government has the means to deal with non-payment.

Clare County Council, on its own initiative, is entirely in order in doing what it has done

Some 50% of people have not paid the tax.

Deputy Higgins wants to have everything and pay for nothing.

Deputies, there are other ways of raising this issue. It is not in order to discuss it on the Order of Business.

I do not want to be disorderly, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but it is appropriate on the Order of Business to ask if there is a legal basis for the county council demand. Unless some statutory instrument has been laid by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, there is no legal basis for it. The Taoiseach has confirmed there is not. In that case, neither the House nor the Government should condone any agency engaging in behaviour that has no legal basis, irrespective of our views on things. We should not condone that.

Clare County Council is processing applications for third level grants. The council wrote to applicants to identify whether their households had paid the household charge. It is a legal charge.

There is no secret statutory instrument that has a legal basis for the collection of it. This was a voluntary payment and a significant majority of people have paid the household charge. There is a legal requirement to do it. The county council is entitled to ask applicants for further assistance and will pay third level grants if those households have paid the charge. That would be in order. There would be no legal basis to say we can force a person to do this because Clare County Council has pointed out it does not want to see any further delays in the processing of applications.

Could this be dealt with in some other way?

It should be pointed out that it is only fair that everyone pays the household charge because it is used for facilities like processing applications for third level grants.

Did Deputy Dooley pay the household charge?

Will the companies Bill be dealt with in the current session and will it pass all Stages before the end of the session? I have particular regard to the concerns expressed about non-observance of company law by the retiring Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The companies Bill is expected to be published this session.

Is there a possibility it will pass all Stages before the end of this session?

We must see how it gets on when it is introduced in both Houses.

If it is like the banking debt, it will go a bit further than that.

The Deputy should not be so pessimistic about that.

There will be no seismic shift.

When will the Charities Act 2009 be implemented?

The Taoiseach is aware that on 24 October, thousands of television screens in the country will go blank. I raised the issue before the summer recess. Touring groups are going around the country to give advice in areas that will be badly affected and, unfortunately, no technicians accompany those groups to advise people on technical solutions for their difficulties.

That is not related to promised legislation.

Yes, but I have raised the issue before and it is a very important issue to thousands of people.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is driving round south Tipperary in his van advising people what to do with their televisions.

I advise them on more than that.

I would like to hear what the Taoiseach has to say about this.

The Deputy is looking well since I met him in the street in Killarney. The Charities Act has been in operation since 2009 but the conditions are the subject of a debate in the Seanad tomorrow. The Minister supports that and I will have a response for the Deputy on the implementation of the conditions.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, has carried out an extensive information campaign about the switch-over from analogue to digital television. I assume the Deputy is speaking about particular areas of the country that have had difficulty in getting television signals. This requires some technical adjustment. I will have the Minister's technical personnel address that question for the Deputy in respect of those areas, such as the Black Valley and a few others.

Thousands of people currently have a service and on 24 October, they will not. We are not talking about those who had a problem in the past but who will have a problem after 24 October.

I am glad the Deputy raised the issue because Deputy Rabbitte does not have any control over this. The television screens across Europe will go blank on the analogue system on 24 October.

The Taoiseach will not be able to see Angela.

That is why well known personalities have been out to advise people to change over now in good time so that for those who follow television, the arrangement can be made and when the switch-over comes, they will have Saorview and if they want to go further, they will have other options.

We have all seen the report on the taxi industry and the recommendations in it. Some of them have been introduced but others are more contentious. There is a serious over-supply of taxis in Dublin and many people are struggling in the industry. Some time this year, the taxi regulation Bill is to appear before the Dáil. I welcome the chance to debate this and would like to know when we can expect this Bill and when it will go before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications. This is a serious problem faced by the industry as a whole.

This matter was the subject of the presentation by the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly at Cabinet some time ago. Given the range of legislation that had to be prioritised in the last session, it did not make it through but the Bill will be published early in this session. This is an important debate because we must ensure the cowboys in the industry are removed from it and prevented from taking away from the legitimate activity of taxi drivers. This matter is of great interest to many people and the Bill will be published in the early part of the session.

I ask Deputies to be brief because many Deputies are offering.

Can I ask the Taoiseach if there has been any progress with the human tissue Bill? Have informed consultations taken place with all stakeholders or will that happen soon? When can we expect the heads of the Bill?

There is no date for the publication of the human tissue Bill. I will send a report to the Deputy on the work underway on that legislation.

I would like the Taoiseach to correct the record of the House. During Leaders' Questions, I asked about health and the Taoiseach responded by telling a story that he met with a company in Kiltimagh called Home Care Medicals that stores unused equipment. He gave a misrepresentation of the work of that company that seems to arise from a misunderstanding the Taoiseach had with the owner of the company and with many other companies in terms of the success of SMEs in procuring contracts from the State. In essence, the company never complained to the Taoiseach about inaction by the HSE on anything. It is a very successful small company employing 90 people who are involved in recycling medical technology and equipment. The Taoiseach has a tendency to come in here and make up stories. He should correct the record of the House relating to a third party about whose business the Taoiseach seriously misled the House when answering a question I asked during Leaders' Questions.

That is not for the Order of Business.

It is. It relates to a correction of remarks about a third party.

I visited this company yesterday. On a county by county basis its warehouse is full of equipment that is decontaminated, wrapped, bar coded and ready to use. There are people across the country waiting for beds, hoists and wheelchairs who cannot get them while this warehouse is full of such equipment. The reason for that is the structure that was set up in the beginning was on a county basis so a person from Carlow looking for a bed cannot have a bed from the warehouse if it is not in the Carlow section. That is the most stupid bureaucratic administration I have ever come across. There is at least €3 million of equipment in there. I met the owner, his wife and the staff yesterday and they do a superb job.

On a point of order, if the leader of a party has spoken on the Order of Business, can he come back in again? I am curious because I do not know the rule on this.

Under the strategic infrastructure Bill, I asked several times before the recess about the disappointing weather conditions we had all year, particularly since the spring, and the damage that has been done to crops for farmers. When we have a flood in a small area, a special committee meets to deal with the issue. This is a huge issue that affects the rural population that is dependent on agriculture. It will have huge consequences for the winter if some action is not taken to look at this. It falls under the legislation for strategic infrastructure. The Taoiseach knows what I am talking about.

This is not a laughing matter. Deputies would not be laughing as much if they represented agricultural voters.

I am not sure what the Deputy is getting at but the Minister extended the slurry spreading season by two weeks. Clearly, the issue of poor weather in the early part of the season had a direct impact on farming incomes. I am glad that towards the close of the season, the weather improved, and great work was done, both day and night, to gather crops as farmers always do.

They had huge losses though.

When will the report of the special advisory group on the X case legislation be brought to the House? It is well overdue, as it was supposed to be before the House prior to the summer recess.

Will the Taoiseach check the legal status of what Clare County Council is doing? It is only administrating an education grant to students who are not home owners. This is absolutely wrong and the Government and the Minister for Education and Skills should encourage local authorities to-----

That was raised earlier.

The committee dealing with the A, B and C v. Ireland case was granted an extension to provide its report, which I understand is towards the end of September.

As I said in reply to earlier questions, Clare County Council is merely inquiring from applicants for third level grants whether their households have paid the household charge.

Why? What does it want to know for?

When does the Taoiseach propose to bring the mental capacity Bill before the House?

This session.

Can we get some clarity from the Taoiseach because he has attempted to answer this question on a number of occasions? Is he saying it is appropriate for Clare County Council or any other local authority-----

We have had this already.

With respect, is the Taoiseach saying it is appropriate for a local authority not to pay an education grant on the basis of whether the household charge has been paid? If so, he is clearly setting a dangerous precedent. Would he find it acceptable if the postmistress refused to pay children's allowance on the basis that a household had not paid the television licence? If he does, when will he bring appropriate legislation before the House to devolve the criminal justice system to the agencies of the State outside of the well established principles of the courts? Is he suggesting that local authorities can go ahead and enforce laws without them ever having been seen in this House? If he finds that a democratic approach to running this country, it says a lot about him and his Government. Can I have a straight answer on this?

The Deputy should go back to Kilbaha and clear his head. There is no promised legislation on this matter.

Clare County Council has queried applicants who have lodged claims for third level grants as to whether their households have paid the-----

So has South Tipperary.

Is that in line with the Data Commissioner's request about information?

There is no promised legislation. That is what the Deputy is supposed to raise on the Order of Business.

That is not democracy.

When will the heads of the proposed mineral developments Bill be published? Will it incorporate the issue of transparency and accountability in the granting of exploration and extraction licences?

The Bill will be published this session. There is clarity and accountability about the granting of licences and anything beyond them in respect of the development of natural resources.

I understand from comments made by the Minister for Finance that the Government will introduce a separate finance Bill to deal with the property tax around the time of the budget. Will the Taoiseach confirm the Government will not make any announcement or provide any details on the property tax until then? He confirmed earlier that the tax would come into effect in July next year. I am sure he has dealt with the question of whether in 2013 people will be required to pay half the charge or a full annual charge. If he could at least clarify that matter now, it would be of assistance.

There will not be any comment from the Government until it has made its collective decision in respect of the property tax and that will deal with the matters the Deputy has quite rightly raised.

Setting aside our different views on the morality of what Clare County Council has done and the precedent it may set, has the council legal authority to refuse third level grants to students whose parents have not paid the household charge?

Nobody is refusing anything.

The council is refusing to process applications.

I thought the only legal basis for refusing third level grants is failure to meet the eligibility criteria. Has anything changed legally? In other words, it does not matter and people will get the grant.

The Deputy is wasting time.

Could we have clarity on that?

The second issue I wish to raise, which I have been doing for the past year, is the housing Bill. When will it be brought before the House for discussion, given the atrocious situation where 96,000 families continue to rot on housing waiting lists for up to ten years in a State with almost 250,000 empty houses? The Taoiseach claims the State does not have any money but we have plenty of empty houses. Can we have a debate around that Bill, which would allow us to move that situation forward and deal with the unacceptably lengthy housing lists?

There is no date for the publication of the housing Bill; it is quite a distance away.

In respect of the Deputy's first question, Clare County Council has never suggested refusing anybody a grant. It inquired as to whether the household charge had been paid by the households of applicants.

The Taoiseach cannot believe that.

It never made any suggestion about refusing anything.

The Taoiseach does not have to answer the question about the household charge.

I do not know whether the Taoiseach has seen the letter from Clare County Council but it states clearly that to process the application, it is seeking proof of payment of the household charge. That is unacceptable and it is not good enough for him to come into the House and wash his hands of it.

Should people break the law?

It was also not good enough for the Minister for Education and Skills to support the move by Clare County Council this morning. The Taoiseach and the Minister have a responsibility to ensure that people have access to education and they should not support moves by any county council that prevent access to education. The Taoiseach's comments are not good enough.

In light of the recent display of paramilitarism at a funeral in Dublin, does the Taoiseach believe the Offences Against the State Acts is robust enough to deal with these goings on? Are there plans to amend this legislation?

This matter is being dealt with by the Garda Commissioner who is well aware of the implications of this incident and of the comments of the Minister for Justice and Equality who found these actions reprehensible in the extreme.