Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. a10 - Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2012 – Financial Resolution; No.10 - motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the report by the Minister for Defence regarding service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2011; No.11 - motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Decision No. 573/2007/EC, Decision No. 575/2007/EC and Council Decision 2007/435/EC; and No.18 - Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. a10, 10 and 11 shall be decided without debate; and that Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 37 – Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) (No. 2) Bill 2012 – Second Stage, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 November 2012.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a10, 10 and 11 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 37, Private Members' business, agreed to? Agreed.

Just before I came to the Chamber I received a copy of the report of the expert group on the judgment in A, B and C v. Ireland case, as well as the accompanying press release from the Minister. The Tánaiste has promised legislation, while a Fine Gael Minister told RTE that we would be surprised by the speed of the Government's response to the report and that legislation would be taken in the House as early as February. Will the Taoiseach indicate when legislative proposals in response to the report of the expert group will be brought before the House?

On a separate matter, I ask about the Construction Contracts Bill 2010. This Bill was published by Senator Feargal Quinn and the Government promised that it would pass through the Dáil before Christmas. Last Friday I met the Limerick subcontractors who had to occupy a school in Kilfinane to forcibly try to achieve some payments.

I am sorry, Deputy-----

Three subcontractors were owed up to €60,000. They forced the main contractor to pay 40% of the total amount due.

We are not discussing the issue now.

The main contractor went on to win a contract worth €4 million in a separate local authority area. We on this side of the House are willing to facilitate the taking of Committee Stage of the Bill.

It is now 18 months since the general election. I thought most Members of the House were in favour of the Bill. I understand from speaking with Senator Feargal Quinn that the Attorney General is examining certain aspects of it and that amendments have been tabled. However, people are getting very impatient because subcontractors are dealing with a crisis. I was horrified to learn the scale of what they faced in terms of losing payments. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Bill will be introduced?

This issue is a cause for great concern. I read about the incident in Kilfinane and I am aware of the difficulties subcontractors face, about which there is no doubt. They are coming to me also. Owing to the interest in the Bill, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, is working with the Attorney General on a number of amendments which arose during the course of the discussions in the Seanad and this House. The Bill is projected to be ready for Committee Stage early in the new year. I am not sure whether the amendments can be completed in time to deal with the Bill prior to the Christmas recess. I will investigate that matter, but I am aware of the importance of the issue, which is why the Bill is being brought forward in this way. Serious work is ongoing on amendments and I will inform the House further on progress made.

In regard to the report of the expert group on the A, B and C case, legal certainty is obviously required, as are security and understanding, for women in particular, in respect of the standards that apply in maternity hospitals. The report has been published and I circulated copies to Deputy Micheál Martin and others one hour before its publication in order that Opposition leaders and spokespersons on health could read it. We will discuss it in the House on Tuesday, with the agreement of the Whips. I will provide as much time as Members desire. Prior to the recess at the end of the year, the Government will make its view known, arising from these discussions and our own views, on which option it has decided to pursue in order that legal certainty can be given where needed. Early in the new year and before the Dáil resumes in January the Joint Committee on Health and Children will hold public hearings on whatever option is chosen by the Government. Deputies will be aware that we changed the rules for committees to allow them to hold public hearings without having to make recommendations on matters of public interest. It is only appropriate that, for example, the masters of the maternity hospitals should be able to address the joint committee to point to the grey areas which need to be investigated by constitutional and legal people. The issues arising from the comments made yesterday by Dr. McCarthy, a perinatal psychiatrist, can also be addressed. These issues should be considered in the public interest.

As to when the Dáil will see legislation, following on from the option chosen by the Government and the public hearings of the joint committee, the legislative options will be followed through by the Government.

We were promised legislation.

We have not yet decided on an option. We will make that decision before the House rises for the recess at the end of the year.

The Tánaiste and certain Fine Gael Ministers stated legislation would be introduced.

In fairness, the view of the Tánaiste and his party on this issue has been known for a long time. The report sets out a number of options.

We are not having a debate on it now.

Apparently, we are.

This is not just a party issue. I would like to think we can have a calm and rational discussion on the issue to achieve as much consensus as we can.

The Taoiseach provided interesting information about the committee hearings, but one would have to be concerned that they will cause considerable delays.

Only for three days.

I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying the matter.

I ask about legislation promised in the programme for Government to deal with the issue of domestic violence. I do not know if the Taoiseach has seen the latest statistics from Safe Ireland which were released today. They make for depressing and startling reading.

Has legislation been promised?

Women were turned away from services more than 2,500 times.

I am sorry, Deputy, but we are not discussing the issue now. Has legislation been promised?

It is shocking that women are treated in that manner. I ask the Taoiseach about the issue of consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation which I have raised previously with him.

The public hearings at the Joint Committee on Health and Children will take place for three days only, on 8, 9 and 10 January. They will be for the purpose of informing everybody here and in the country at large about the issues arising. They will be about whatever option the Government decides on. I do not want anybody to run away with the impression that this is an attempt to kick the matter into a committee where it will travel down the road again. That is why we asked an expert group to report on the decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

The programme for Government commitment is to consolidate and reform domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a way that will provide protection for victims. I cannot announce a date for the introduction of the legislation, but it has been worked on since last July. This morning I saw the report on the figures which are simply appalling in the context of the fear among and threats to individuals who suffer domestic violence. I will advise the Deputy on progress on the work to date.

The expert group's report was presented to the Cabinet today and we were led to believe until very recently that only the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health had seen it. Did the Taoiseach's Department authorise the cynical leaking of the report last week?

Please, Deputy, not on the Order of Business.

It should have been fully published two weeks ago to inform and focus the debate that has been raging in this country in that time. With regard to the timescale for introduction of the legislation, I listened to what the Taoiseach said about the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the expeditious nature of its hearings. What is the subsequent timeline for the introduction of legislation? It was suggested today by a distinguished commentator that legislation would not be finalised before the second half of next year. Is that also suggested by the Government or can the Taoiseach give us a definitive timescale?

I have little regard for the person or persons who gave elements of the A, B and C report to the media.

Ask the Tánaiste.

It certainly was not leaked by the Tánaiste, the Minister for Health or my Department.

It was the Germans.

On whoever suggested it would be the second half of next year, that is just not true. I want to see a calm, rational and sensitive discussion on the matters involved. Clearly, certain issues need to be addressed quickly.

There are also other concerns we need to address and everybody in the House has a part to play in that. I would like to see this issue dealt with as quickly as is practicable, rather than be forced by pressure from either end of the spectrum here to deal with it. It is a matter on which we must provide certainty, reassurance and clarity for clinicians working in hospitals so there is legal certainty. We must also ensure the concerns expressed around the threat to the life of a mother by suicide is addressed in a realistic fashion. I listened carefully to the words spoken by the perinatal professor yesterday, who said these cases are real, but small in number. However, this is not a box ticking exercise. I am sure the majority of Deputies here, who represent our people, do not want a situation where we have abortion on demand or where it becomes a substitute for contraception.

People on social welfare feel terrorised, harangued and harassed by the suggestion that fines and charges may be taken at source from social welfare payments. When is it proposed to introduce the fines Bill and is it proposed to use that Bill to target these people in the way proposed by the Government?

I did not know the Deputy would be terrorised by a suggestion. The heads of the Bill were cleared on 16 October, but it will be next year before the Bill is published.

What is the timetable for the publication of the health information Bill? Last night I received information that six cystic fibrosis patients were sent home from St. Vincent's Hospital because there were no beds for them in the new €22 million unit. Is the Taoiseach aware six patients were sent home?

That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Six cystic fibrosis patients were sent home and treated in an appalling way. This is unacceptable, particularly when a new €22 million unit has just been opened.

When is the health information Bill due?

It is due the middle of next year.

I raise an issue that is very important to the people of Tipperary, being part of a proud hurling tradition. The Ceann Comhairle would know all about this seeing as his bean chéile comes from Tipperary. There is huge concern among hurlers and hurley makers-----

We are talking about promised legislation.

I am talking about the forestry Bill, in regard to the inaction of Coillte and foresters in the matter of the epidemic affecting ash trees. It would be terrible if we had to play an All-Ireland Final against Kilkenny with plastic hurleys.

I think the Taoiseach has good news for the Deputy.

The forestry Bill is on the A list and will be introduced this session. The Deputy can swing away.

The Taoiseach will be aware of the national substance misuse strategy, which made a number of recommendations with regard to tackling misuse of substances, particularly alcohol. A number of legislative commitments arise from the strategy. What is the current status of the report and where stands the legislation on minimum pricing for alcohol? Also, when does the Government intend to commence section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008, which deals with the separation of the sale of alcohol from the sale of other goods in supermarkets and elsewhere? It is important this section be commenced.

As far as I know, this will be brought to the Cabinet sub-committee by the Minister of State, Deputy White, but I cannot give the date at this time. Significant work has been done on this and I will let the Deputy know when exactly we expect to receive it.

Section B of the Government's legislative schedule indicates the Government will introduce a criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill in mid-2013. Can the Taoiseach ensure that Bill incorporates provision for domestic violence legislation as a way to deal with the statistics produced by Safe Ireland, which he has acknowledged are serious?

We have dealt with that issue already.

That legislation is planned for the middle of next year. However, if we introduce the other legislation into it, that would compound the issues and make the Bill take even longer.

When does the Taoiseach expect the Government to bring forward legislation to give effect to the local government amendments proposed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in the People First document? I am conscious that local development companies and county enterprise boards may need a period of negotiation, if necessary, on those changes in the context of any alterations in work practices.

Does the question refer to the county enterprise boards?

Yes and local development companies, Leader boards and so on.

The Government approved a memo on this recently and I will verify that and give the Deputy a more accurate update on when the Minister will produce his Bill. There are discussions taking place.

On numerous occasions I have raised the issue of Internet bullying and the use of electronic media for intimidatory reasons. Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate whether the criminal justice (cybercrime) Bill could be brought to the House as a matter of urgency, with a view to identifying to what extent the issue can be addressed through that medium? That debate should also enable the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and the transposition of the EU framework decision on attacks against information systems.

The heads of that Bill were approved in September and quite a deal of work has been done on it. However, I do not have a date for its publication as it has not come back to Government since.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a national waiver scheme for waste collection services. However, last week residents across north and west Dublin were told their waivers would be abolished. When will legislation be brought forward to introduce the national waiver scheme the Government has committed to introduce?

I will revert to Deputy Nulty on that.