Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 4, Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 16, statements on philanthropy and the arts. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 16: the opening statements of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' business shall be No. 61, motion re addiction services (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 16 agreed to? Agreed.

Some 70,000 variable rate customers of AIB face another mortgage hike of 0.5% on top of a previous rate rise of 0.5%. There is a paragraph in the programme for Government directing any mortgage provider in receipt of State support to present Government with a plan of how it intends to cut its costs, over and above the existing plans and in fair manner, by a sufficient amount to forego a 25 basis point increase on the variable rate.

Deputy, this is the Order of Business, we have finished Leaders' Questions.

This is in the programme for Government. Is there any impending legislation regarding this commitment in the programme because mortgage holders are in distress and more of them are falling into distress on a continuing basis? Is there legislation in place to bring about this commitment?

Yes. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter has introduced legislation. It has passed Second Stage and is at Committee Stage. It will deal with the personal insolvency service to provide for people who are struggling with their mortgages. I share the Deputy's concern about mortgages. Some 70,000 mortgage holders will be affected by this increase that was announced by AIB today.

Tá ceist agam faoi reachtaíocht atá geallta. On promised legislation, yesterday on the Order of Business an Teachta Pearse Doherty asked the Taoiseach about the legislation that is required for the strategic investment fund which the Minister will recall was announced just one year ago last week. To date his Government's policy on jobs has been an epic failure. Last year 33,400 jobs were lost and 87,000 people have emigrated.

Deputy, this is the Order of Business.

The figures released yesterday show that there has been an underspend of 17% in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It is astonishing yesterday that the Taoiseach could not give a date for bringing forward legislation on this important issue. Is the Minister in a position to give a firm indication as to when the legislation will be brought forward?

All I can say to the Deputy is that work is ongoing within the Department of Finance on this measure but legislation is not expected until next year.

The national newspapers report again today on the Government's continued commitment to sell off the harvesting rights of 85% of Coillte forestry, a decision some of us-----

Deputy, will you ask a question about legislation?

-----believe is criminal and stupid economically and in every other way. When will we get to debate the forestry Bill and the issues surrounding it? Will the Minister give a commitment that we will have that debate before the Government moves ahead with the sale of harvesting rights on Coillte lands?

The forestry Bill is due this session and all the issues the Deputy has raised can be debated during its passage.

I know the Minister shares with me a strong desire to reform our housing system. Given the commitment in the programme for Government to introduce an incremental purchase scheme for local authority tenants and to allow those in voluntary housing to purchase their homes, when will the housing Bill be brought forward to address the chronic social housing need in this country?

I am told that the housing Bill per se will not be ready until next year but if the Deputy has specific questions regarding aspects of it I suggest he puts down a question to the Minister responsible.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has committed to proposals for local government reform, which is also set out in the programme for Government. These were to be brought forward before the recess and immediately afterwards it was indicated that there was to be an announcement this week, but I understand that is not now the case. Can the Minister advise what is the exact position on local government reform and when the proposal will be announced to the Chamber?

I am sorry to hear that the Deputy has parted company with his colleagues.

I gather Deputy Ross is going to stay beside the Deputy and keep him company.

They will still be voting together against the Government's budget.

With regard to the reform of local government, discussions are ongoing and I gather progress is being made and the matter will be brought in as soon as possible but we have no precise date yet for it.

Before the summer break the Taoiseach promised he would provide time for a debate on the report of the pyrite panel. Last Sunday was a deadline the Minister, Deputy Hogan, set for all the stakeholders in this incredible disaster in that if he had not got some action from them he would take unilateral action to try to help people living in pyrite infected homes. Is it the intention of the Government to provide time for a debate on the report of the pyrite panel and for the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to come into the House? He told me last week that Sunday night was the deadline for builders, auctioneers and insurance companies involved in this disaster and that he would come into the House and present us with a programme of action. Will that happen?

I am aware the Deputy was one of the first Deputies in the House to advocate this issue and he has been doing it for a long time. I consulted briefly with the Chief Whip. Time will be found, with the agreement of the Whips, to have a discussion on this matter and the Deputy will be able to explore in detail the issues he has been pursuing for a long time.

The Government's legislative programme also includes, as Deputy Healy mentioned, local government reform but the only reform the Minister, Deputy Hogan, seems to be interested in is the amalgamation of South Tipperary and North Tipperary county councils.

Sorry, we are not dealing with-----

There are major fears in south Tipperary regarding this reform in terms of the financial position, jobs and amalgamations.

What we are dealing with is promised legislation-----

It is promised legislation in the programme for Government.

-----not the content of the legislation.

This is the only content we seem to get from the Minister. Apart from this and septic tanks, we get nothing else.

When will the local government reform Bill be ready?

(Interruptions).

We had a night in Kilkenny the other night, and it was not a nice night.

The Deputy must have been there.

(Interruptions).

Have they taken the Deputy back yet?

Would Members desist in order that we can hear the answer?

With regard to local government reform, the legislation to give effect to the education and training boards, which will unite Tipperary north and south, will be taken in this House in the next few weeks, unlike what was promised when the Deputy was supporting the party in opposition which intended to divide Tipperary into two.

I am proud of my past, although the Minister might not be proud of his.

To indicate the joined up thinking within this Government, local government reform will be undertaken in tandem with vocational education committee reform in order that the same geographical entity will apply for local government and VEC-education and training board purposes.

The Minister should speak to Senator Denis Landy.

With regard to legislation relating to the environment in conjunction with agriculture, everybody welcomes the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine last week about the reintroduction of the agri-environment options scheme. However, the exclusion of hedgerows, which was an integral part of the old rural environment protection scheme, from the scheme is a huge issue-----

Will the Deputy table a parliamentary question about it?

Hedgerows have always been a feature of our landscape and heritage and agriculture is a huge industry. Will the Minister contact his ministerial colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and ask them to reconsider the scheme because there will be huge job losses?

What exactly is the Deputy looking for?

Hedgerows in Kerry.

This is not in order on the Order of Business.

Hedgerows are an integral part of the scheme.

The Deputy should table this as a Topical Issue debate and I will consider it.

Government Members are looking for hedges to hide behind.

At the recent summit of EU leaders in Greece, it was decided to accelerate payments into the European Stability Mechanism, ESM. On foot of that, Ireland will pay €508 million on 23 October, which is the same day the European Court of Justice, ECJ, will hold hearings on the legality of the mechanism. Will the Dáil be informed when the payment is made? If the ECJ rules against the ESM, will be the money be refunded to the State?

Perhaps a parliamentary question will sort out the Deputy's problem. It cannot be dealt with on the Order of Business.

Is it the Government's intention to publish the water services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? There are two issues. The local authority professional officers body estimates the cost of water meters will be €1.2 billion and the installation date has been moved three times.

The Deputy cannot discuss the detail of the legislation.

But this is relevant. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government gave a date of 2014.

We do not deal with that on the Order of Business.

Bord Gáis has said it will be 2015 and the date is constantly moved.

Perhaps we will find out when the legislation is coming in.

I want the Minister for Education and Skills to talk to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government because he is not listening to me when I raise this.

The Deputy should table a parliamentary question and he can have a direct conversation with him.

In Britain, ten or 12 years after their introduction, the meters still have not been installed by the private companies. Is it intended to continue with this Bill?

The Deputy should resume his seat.

The legislation is due early next year and all the complex issues the Deputy has correctly raised can be addressed during the debate on it.

They are more complex than the Minister realises.

I refer to the criminal justice (sexual offences) Bill, particularly in light of the shocking abduction of a little girl in Wales in recent days. The Bill should be brought forward as a matter of urgency to ensure the protection of vulnerable persons against sexual exploitation and abuse.

Has the Minister a date for the legislation?

All of us have compassion for and understand the anguish that this community is going through. Proposals relating to the legislation referred to by the Deputy were brought to Cabinet in July but the final text of the Bill will not be ready until next year.

I have asked this question a number of times and I have been promised a note by the Taoiseach. When will the legislation relating to the strategic investment bank be forthcoming? The Strategic Investment Fund is supposed to be a forerunner for legislation but the House has been informed that this legislation relating to the fund will not be coming forward until next year at the earliest, despite it being announced last year. Will the House see legislation relating to the establishment of a strategic investment bank? If so, when will the heads of the Bill be published?

The second question I have on legislation relates to The Gathering. Next year is titled the year of The Gathering. The Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht signalled a year and a half ago that he would release the 1926 census to encourage the diaspora to come home and trace their roots. Legislation is required to release the census and it is late in the day. I still have not received a detailed answer as to when legislation will be forthcoming to allow this census to be released. If this does not happen, the promotion and advertisement of The Gathering will not reach its full potential.

With regard to the second question, I share the Deputy's concern. I imagine it requires short enabling legislation, which basically changes a date in the context of the privacy factor relating to the census. I will look into that because I have a deep interest in it and the Deputy's concerns are legitimate and shared by everybody else in the House.

The legislation relating to the strategic investment bank is taking longer for two reasons. The first relates to the formulation of the structure and design, which is a matter for the Department of Finance and others. The second relates to getting it through the legislative process in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I will make direct inquiries and write to the Deputy in regard to both matters.

There are almost daily leaks from the Government to the media concerning the property tax, which are causing huge anxiety among hard pressed people in regard to the additional burden this austerity tax will mean. With regard to the legislative schedule, is it the Government's intention to publish the finance (local property tax) Bill before the budget when we are told some details about the tax will be announced, after the budget or in the new year?

The Minister for Finance has the Thornhill report, which deals with all these issues. Will the Government publish the report forthwith and have an early debate in the House to tease out these issues in order that those of us who represent hard pressed working people, pensioners, etc., can point out how absolutely intolerable this new burden will be?

The Deputy can do that if a debate is granted.

The Government is not leaking anything relating to this matter. There is a lot of speculation but it is not as a result of Government leaks. I assure the Deputy that the only decision the Cabinet has made on this matter is that we authorised the Revenue Commissioners last July to be the agent of collection after they sought a decision to give them resources and authority to put in place a collection mechanism. I assure the Deputy and the House that there was no discussion at Cabinet about the shape, form or content of the property tax. Anything that is in the newspapers is simply speculation that in a free country with a free press will inevitably happen from time to time but there has been no leaking about the tax.

My understanding is the decision on the property tax will be announced in the context of the budget and the legislation to give effect to it will follow that announcement.

Will that be before the budget?

It is not normal. We will have a debate afterwards but the decision will be announced in the context of the budget.

When will the Thornhill report be published?

The Deputy should table a question to the Minister for Finance on that matter.

In the context of crime prevention and combatting organised crime, have the heads of the proceeds of crime Bill been discussed by the Cabinet? Similarly, have the heads of the legislation relating to the creation of a DNA database been discussed? When are these Bills likely to come before the House? Will they be brought before the House at the earliest possible date?

I am assured the second Bill to which the Deputy referred will be taken this session. There are ongoing discussions with the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, about the technicalities surrounding the seizure of the proceeds of crime so as not to provoke a constitutional challenge.

Last week, the workers in the veterinary section of the agriculture office in Clonakilty were told they are to move almost immediately to Cork city from a building that had been refurbished by the Department at the taxpayer's expense to a building that is being rented by the State.

Can the Minister try to justify-----

No, he will not be able to do so on the Order of Business.

-----the irresponsible action in order to transfer people from a coastal community?

Deputy Ferris will have to find some other way of raising the matter. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

I have submitted a topical issue but it has not been accepted.

Deputy Ferris has been looked after in respect of topical issues.

I have had one issue accepted in the past six weeks.

Deputy Ferris was speaking on a topical issue last week.

That is the one.

Deputy Ferris should try again.

The Government has decided to introduce a new targeted voluntary redundancy scheme in the public service. When will details of the scheme be made available in respect of the numbers involved, the savings involved and when it will be operational?

The matter was brought before Cabinet on Tuesday. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has identified a number of sectors where there is a need for a voluntary early requirement scheme. In order to get the benefit from it and to provide certainty for everyone, the details will be accelerated as quickly as possible but I cannot provide a date.