Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 12a, motion re Membership of Committee; No. 3, Euro Area Loan Facility (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Second Stage (Resumed); No. 28, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 29, Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 12a shall be decided without debate and the resumed Second Stage of No. 3 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 48, Education (Welfare) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 – Second Stage (resumed), shall conclude at 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12a, motion re membership of committee without debate, agreed?

That does not represent a purge of anybody like last week, does it? It is agreed.

Is it agreed? Agreed. Second, is the proposal for dealing with-----

I seek clarification on a procedural matter. This is a proposal to remove Deputy Joan Collins from the Committee of Oversight and Petitions and replace her with Deputy Mick Wallace.

On the last occasion there was a proposal like this before the House, the Technical Group actually opposed it. It set a new precedent in opposing such a proposal. If that were to occur now, and the Government was to oppose it, nobody would be appointed to the committees from the Opposition.

They opposed the purging of Deputy Keaveney.

It was bullying.

A Deputy

The Latin scholar from Tuam was being victimised.

The classical scholar from Tuam has walked already.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 3, Euro Area Loan Facility (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Second and Remaining Stages (resumed), agreed? Agreed. I call Deputy Martin on the Order of Business.

(Interruptions).

I ask Deputies to quieten down for a moment. They should not be getting so excited; it is bad for their health.

The Labour Party is excited.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Mattie McGrath has taken up a senior position in the troika so he has to behave differently now.

I am very well behaved, I think.

A report in The Irish Times today states that there have been seven vacancies on the board of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for the past year. For some reason, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has not filled the vacancies despite 25 people applying for them. Last week, we had a serious debate here about horse meat or DNA in beefburgers. It is a grave issue with profound implications for the reputation of one of our major industries.

What legislation is that?

We learned today that the Food Safety Authority, which is responsible for protecting the public, could not even meet since last November because of the absence of a quorum. This is due to the incompetence of the Minister and his failure to appoint members to the board.

Sources are saying that there is a legislative proposal to subsume the Food Safety Authority back into the parent Department. As part of his policy, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has outlined that this is the desired route. I am seeking the Taoiseach's response concerning proposed amendments to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act.

No. We are only dealing with promised legislation here.

Where does that stand now?

We cannot have a second Leaders' Questions debate.

I am talking about the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act.

What about it?

The promised amendments to that Act to subsume the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Is there promised legislation in this area, Taoiseach?

I can confirm for Deputy Martin that the process of filling places on the board has practically been completed by the Minister. I would also make the point that it has no impact whatsoever on the day-to-day working of the FSAI which conducts its business.

So the board is irrelevant.

The board does not have an impact on the day-to-day working of the FSAI. The process of completing the appointments is practically concluded.

They were all Fianna Fáil hacks.

I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.

(Interruptions).

Would Deputies please mind? There is only one Chair here for the moment. I call Deputy McDonald.

The McAleese report into the Magdalene laundries was supposed to have been published in the middle of last year. There has been much foot-dragging since then. Two weeks ago, the Taoiseach's colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, indicated that the report would be made public within a timeframe of four weeks. I know this matter was raised yesterday by Deputy Calleary, but I am raising it now because I am alarmed to hear that the Government has not yet had sight of the report. Can the Taoiseach confirm when he will receive the report, when it will be published and, most crucially, when it is to be made public so that the Government can move speedily towards the apology and redress which is due to the women involved?

As Deputy McDonald is aware, the Government asked Senator McAleese to deal with this report. I can confirm that he has engaged exhaustively with groups, organisations and the women directly.

As I understand it, what is involved now is just tidying up the completion of the report for presentation to the Government. I understand it was Senator McAleese's intention that it might be completed by Christmas but, no more than with any other report, the final drafting can take some time.

So when will the Government have it?

I expect the report will be presented to the Government probably within the next week to ten days. There will not be any delay by the Government in considering it. There will be an opportunity for a debate here in the House. The Government has not yet seen the report because Senator McAleese has not yet concluded its final drafting. That is all that is involved.

That delay is utterly deplorable.

A very significant amount of work was involved in this, including sifting through thousands of pieces of paper and records. It is too facile to say that this is foot-dragging.

I am in contact with the Senator.

The Senator and his small staff have done enormous work in completing the report and it is just a matter of tidying it up. It will be done very shortly.

In the forthcoming finance Bill, does the Government intend to amend the recently adopted local property tax legislation? Many of the Taoiseach's own backbenchers are quite exercised and seem to believe that there will be amendments to that Bill which will change the properties Acts.

We do not deal with amendments on the Order of Business. Is there new legislation?

A few minutes ago, the Taoiseach spoke about the importance of hope and confidence in reigniting employment creation. Does he realise that the lack of credit is destroying hope and confidence?

Hold on a second, Deputy.

Deputy O'Dea has no credit anyway.

I am seeking the Deputy's co-operation.

In relation to a specific commitment, on page six-----

No. We are not dealing with page six or page seven.

On page six of the programme for Government, which we are surely dealing with, there is a specific commitment to create a strategic investment bank to provide credit. When will we see the legislation for this bank?

I did not realise the Deputy was going to get there.

Everybody is agreed that credit is fundamental for the expansion of the economy, job opportunities and growth. As a first step, the Government is completing the legislation in respect of NewERA, which will provide the investment fund, bearing in mind that it can lead to a strategic investment bank. That will be in this session. Clearly, the strategic investment fund will leverage moneys for investment into sound infrastructure projects.

The Taoiseach promised us a bank.

We agree that credit is clearly important. That is why the NPRF made €800 million available two weeks ago in three sectors for small and medium enterprises. That is why the Minister put ten points in an action plan for SMEs. That is why banks are now required to prove their lending and credit availability for SMEs.

So the bank has become redundant.

As regards the first part of the Deputy's question, it will be completed when the strategic investment fund is created, leading - if the Government so wishes - to complete its review for a strategic investment bank later in the year.

That was a guarantee in the programme for Government.

We have changed some, as the Deputy knows.

I call Deputy Durkan.

(Interruptions).

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I was distracted.

There are a lot of people distracted in the Chamber this morning for some reason. I do not know what it is.

I think we should congratulate-----

There is no need for congratulations.

-----Deputy Shane Ross on his new found environment.

On a serious matter, yesterday, along with a number of other Members, I raised the question of the bail Bill.

Did the Deputy get an answer yesterday?

This is in a different context.

It is still the same legislation.

I am referring to the criminal justice (victims' rights) Bill and the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill. In view of the concern expressed by the Taoiseach yesterday on this serious issue, may I ask him again if it might be possible to bring forward one of those Bills as a matter of urgency in order to deal with the serious and compelling issue that has arisen in the past few days?

When are these Bills due, Taoiseach?

The criminal law (sexual offences) Bill is due for this year. I do not have a publication date for the criminal justice (victims' rights) Bill. Arising from yesterday's questions about the horrific case in the newspapers, I am committed that we should have a discussion here in the Chamber about Deputies' views on the future working of the courts system, and that will take place. The Minister for Justice and Equality has established a group to examine penal reform, which includes sentencing. That committee is doing its work at the moment. It might be appropriate to have an interim report from them as part of the discussions that might indicate Members' views.

It is in everyone's interest that we have a system that works effectively. I note there has been a request in the media at least that I should meet Ms Doyle, the courageous victim involved, in this regard. I would be quite willing to meet Ms Doyle and to hear her view, as a victim of unspeakable horror, to get her perspective on how a victim would perceive the court system to be working. I cannot, of course, comment on the judge in question or on the sentence issued but I am very happy to meet Ms Doyle at a convenient time.

The Taoiseach may be able to help me because I have difficulty in squaring the circle. I note the fictional document called the programme for Government states that primary care will be free and available to everyone by the end of the life of the present Government. However, in the factual document that is the HSE's service plan, the Government proposes to withdraw 40,000 medical cards.

Hold on a second, Deputy. This is promised legislation.

The Government has made a promise.

Table a parliamentary question on the withdrawal of medical-----

Legislation will be needed regarding medical card eligibility because there also is a commitment that long-term illness patients would receive medical cards. I have a difficulty in that if one adds it up, more people will lose medical cards this year-----

We will not go into the debate. I ask the Deputy to note that many Members are waiting to speak and we only have a limited number of minutes.

This issue was raised yesterday.

Does the Deputy want to know whether there is promised legislation?

We now have a situation in which cancer patients cannot get medical cards-----

The Deputy is being selective. There will be 100,000 additional medical cards.

Medical cards are being withdrawn. I refer to cancer patients.

We are not having a debate on that issue now. Is there promised legislation in this area?

I have raised this issue previously. The Taoiseach stated he would take it on personally. It is the system that is failing.

Deputy, would you please respect the Chair?

I tried to raise this a number of times.

I know, but this is not the time for questions on health.

I met two people on Monday morning, both of whom were cancer patients.

This is about promised legislation.

One had had a double mastectomy-----

I must ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

-----and cannot get a medical card.

Deputy, are you looking to be thrown out?

At present, there are 1.8 million medical cards issued, which is more than ever before.

That is because of unemployment.

Whose fault is that?

The Government should not make false commitments.

We are dealing with promised legislation. Is there promised legislation?

As for people who lose their medical cards, the vast majority of those who do so will have a doctor-only card. The Minister of State, Deputy White, is working on this area and it is the intention of the Government, obviously over its lifetime, to introduce universal health insurance.

People are dying but cannot get medical cards. They are actually dying

Would you please allow a reply to a question, which is out of order anyway-----

-----and to which I would prefer there was no reply?

The Minister of State, Deputy White, is proceeding with the legislation in respect of primary care.

Yesterday's edition of the Irish News, which circulates north of the Border and in the Border counties, carried a story regarding the bridge over Narrow Water. The story was casting some doubt on whether this symbolic project in the Border counties would go ahead because of the issue of financing north of the Border. Has the Taoiseach had contact with members of the Executive with regard to the project?

The Deputy must deal with that in some other way. I note Deputy Kirk has requested a Topical Issue debate and I will be dealing with that matter for him. Consequently, he should leave it at that.

Yes. Perhaps the Taoiseach might raise the matter in the context of the ministerial discussions.

While the Taoiseach may take note of it, this is not a matter for the Order of Business.

I can confirm for Deputy Kirk that it was raised at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting. There is INTERREG funding available, as well as some funding from the office of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. However, I raised the issue with the Executive directly at the last North-South Ministerial Council meeting and I will follow up on that.

There is real fear among elderly people and all house owners, particularly those living in rural locations, who are subjected to roving criminal gangs who prey on them and who rob and terrorise them. In respect of the forthcoming criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, will the Government change its policy of abandoning rural Ireland?

When is the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill due?

It is due later this year. The Government has no intention of abandoning people in rural Ireland.

It is closing all the Garda stations next week.

One hundred Garda stations have been closed.

When the Deputy referred to roving criminals, I though he was going to mention roving drunks or something like that but-----

This is too serious a matter for that.

Driving around drunk.

I am disappointed there is no sign of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, because I wish to raise the Water Services Bill 2013.

No, he is not on the Order of Business.

That is fine. I know that.

He is about to be put on the Order of Business.

It is the Taoiseach, on promised legislation.

I know that and I am asking-----

No, you will not ask him. You will ask the Taoiseach about promised legislation.

Of course I will ask the question of the Taoiseach. I respectfully ask the Taoiseach about the grant aid the Minister, Deputy Hogan announced for home owners with septic tanks. I would say it is like snow off the ditch as it has gone so fast. When will it be beefed up and when will Members learn what it is? People have been asked to sign up-----

A Deputy

Will it be horsed up?

Horsed up? Horse manure.

What legislation is this?

The Water Services Bill. People are going to be levied and must register. If they are to register, they need to know and have clarity.

It is in the Seanad.

The Deputy is aware the Bill is before the Seanad today.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is going around telling people not to pay.

A troika member like the Deputy would know the Bill is before the Seanad today.

While Members already have discussed the matter of death by suicide, can the Taoiseach confirm whether the new director for the National Office for Suicide Prevention has taken up his position yet? The post was vacant from September 2011 to November 2012.

The Deputy might table a parliamentary question about it.

I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to correspond directly with the Deputy in that regard.

I thank the Taoiseach.

No. 3 on the A list is the child care (amendment) Bill to amend section 17 of the Child Care Act 1991. When will that will be published? In addition, will the Government honour its commitment, while in opposition, to amend section 45 of the Act to provide for a statutory right to after care for young people leaving State care? I note the Taoiseach's party explicitly supported that while in opposition.

That is being drafted at present and I expect the Bill this session.

The abolition of the Seanad Bill is on the legislative programme for 2013. I note a lot of reform proposals have been brought forward.

The Taoiseach answered this one yesterday.

Can the Taoiseach tell me whether this announcement is a measure of his confidence that the referendum will indicate a need for such legislation?

When is it planned to hold the referendum?

When is it planned?

The legislation will be published in the next session and it is expected that the referendum will be held in the autumn.

Before Christmas, I asked the Tánaiste when funding would be made available for critical infrastructure projects for much-needed job creation and he replied that funding would be made available for projects such as the N 7 and N18 in Connacht. However, when I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, who is sitting beside the Taoiseach-----

Where are we going Deputy?

On the road between Galway and Shannon.

I will conclude on this point. The Minister stated that no funding would be made available until State assets have been sold. Can the Taoiseach clarify to the House whether money will be made available for critical infrastructure projects for much-needed job creation?

That is a different issue altogether. We cannot discuss that on the Order of Business but I suggest the Deputy table the matter for a Topical Issue debate and I certainly will consider it.

As the Deputy is aware, it is part of the stimulus package. I assume Deputy Grealish is referring to the Gort to Tuam project, which is of interest to him and which he has raised many times. There are a number of major road projects that are subject to the stimulus package, moving through public private partnerships, availability of money and consideration of the sale of State assets. The first such project is the Newlands Cross project, the second is the Gort to Tuam project and the third is located further south. I expect these projects to make serious headway and it is to be hoped they can commence this year.

When is proposed legislation promised on the criminal justice Bill in respect of proceeds of crime to strengthen the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in respect of forfeiting the proceeds of crime? Many rules and regulations have been introduced on diesel laundering but I believe CAB really needs more powers in this area.

I can confirm for Deputy Butler that consultations are under way with CAB on this issue. I do not have a date of publication, as I wish to conclude the aforementioned discussions that are taking place with the bureau. I can report progress later to the Deputy.