Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 26, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Order for Report Stage and Report and Final Stages; and No. 1, Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed).

There are no proposals to be put to the House.

I wish to ask about two items of legislation. The Minister will be aware of the importance to the economy of our reputation as an excellent food producer. Will the Government consider amending the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998 to allow for all imported foods to be fully declared? In the context of the recent beefburger controversy, that would enhance our reputation as a producer of excellent food.

The judicial council Bill is promised in the legislative programme. The Bill is intended to deal with complaints made against judges and will allow lay participation in the investigation of these complaints. When is it proposed to publish it?

I understand the judicial council Bill will be ready later this year. In regard to food safety, there are no plans in terms of what has been outlined by the Deputy. However, he will be aware that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has introduced a system of DNA testing that is among the best and most scientifically advanced in the world.

That is what led to the recent discoveries with regard to burger meat. The fact that these discoveries were made in Ireland is testament to how rigorous and scientific our examination is of food. The reputation of Irish food is of tremendous importance and value to the country and the farmers who produce it. This is part of the reason Ireland has such a strong international reputation. With regard to the recent controversy, there are strong indications that all of the companies which have changed suppliers have indicated they will consider sourcing meat and products from other Irish suppliers. This is testament to the strength of scientific food research in Ireland.

When will the report of Professor John Higgins on the establishment of hospital groups be published? It has caused considerable disquiet in the south east, in particular. Has it been given to the Government? When might it be published and when will we have a chance to debate it?

When will the promised consolidated domestic violence legislation be brought before the House?

We expect to receive the report of Professor Higgins shortly, but I do not have a specific date. I do not have a date of publication of the consolidated domestic violence legislation, but I will come back to the Deputy on the matter.

When will the social welfare and pensions Bill be published and when is it scheduled for debate in the Dáil? Will the Minister clarify the Government's plan to deduct at source from the income of social welfare recipients the so-called property tax? Will the mechanics for this be provided in the social welfare and pensions Bill or will there be new legislation from her Department? As a Labour Party Minister representing a constituency with an acute unemployment problem and given the hardship that follows austerity, will she seriously stand over the robbing of hundreds of euro from social welfare recipients and people on the poverty line by way of the new so-called property tax to bail out further bondholders and bankers?

I expect the social welfare and pensions Bill - the second social welfare Bill or the summer social welfare Bill, as it is termed - to be brought before the House early in the summer. With regard to the property tax, the legislation presented to the Dáil by the Minister for Finance and passed provided for a series of payment options, including making arrangements through the PAYE system and also through the social welfare and pensions system. These options will be available should people wish to exercise them.

For clarification purposes, is the Minister saying no further legislation is needed to provide for deduction at source of the new family home tax?

This is not Question Time; we cannot go into the detail of Bills. If the matter concerns separate legislation, I ask the Minister to respond.

The local property tax was dealt with in the legislation brought forward by the Minister for Finance before Christmas. I do not know if the Deputy had an opportunity to follow that debate, but all of the issues to which he referred were dealt with in that legislation.

I wish to ask about two items of promised legislation. First, what is the expected publication date of the Finance Bill? Second, with regard to the estimated number of 20,000 people whose homes are affected by pyrite, when will the legislation providing for the establishment of the pyrite panel be published?

I understand the Finance Bill is expected to be published within the next couple of weeks, but I do not have a specific date. The proposed legislation to deal with the issue of pyrite is being worked on.

Is there an expected publication date?

The Minister is anxious to progress it as quickly as possible and I think he expects it to be published this year.

Have the heads of the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill and the criminal justice (victims' rights) Bill been discussed by the Cabinet and when are they expected to be brought before the House? Will it be this session or later?

The first of the Bills mentioned is expected later this year, while the second is expected before the end of this session.

The Government, because of its policies, is the most anti-rural Administration the country has ever seen.

Does the Deputy have a question?

In the context of the criminal justice Bill, will the Government do a U-turn on the closure of Garda stations? We have solid proof that it will cost more to keep these stations closed rather than open.

That issue could be raised by way a parliamentary question or as a Topical Issue.

In the context of the social welfare and pensions Bill, it is as if people who appeal a decision made on a social welfare payment are sent to purgatory because the appeals process goes on and on. The Minister ignored this issue when she responded earlier. Colleagues, including Members on the Government side, are aware of cases, but they cannot speak out because they must defend the Minister.

The Deputy is going on and on.

In fairness, many other Deputies want to put their questions.

I am asking a question about people involved in the appeals process. What is the Minister going to do to reduce the time spent in that process?

That speech is out of order.

I ask the Minister whether legislation has been promised.

On the Deputy's first question, there are 14 criminal justice Bills and I am not clear on which of them he is referring to. Perhaps he might tell us which one he has in mind.

It is very clear that we are asking the Government to keep the Garda stations open.

That is a different issue.

On the issue of social welfare appeals, I will communicate to the Deputy some of the data I released last week which pointed to significant time reductions with regard to FIS, domiciliary care allowance and invalidity benefit applications. They also set out the figures with regard to disability benefit. I will supply that information to the Deputy. I am happy to say the new IT structures, although it is taking time to put them in place, are capable of dealing with the increased volume of applications under all scheme headings. I am as anxious as the Deputy to see waiting times reduced and have complimented staff in the Department on reducing domiciliary care allowance application times to approximately six weeks and family income supplement application times to a similar timespan.

In view of the discussion which has taken place in the Chamber this morning on criminality, when will we have a date of publication for the legislation which will recognise that the establishment of a DNA database has a hugely significant role to play in solving crime?

I understand that legislation will be available and brought before the House later this year.

I want to ask about the newest industry in town. The Government is talking about job creation. However, the only job creation I see is the expansion of receivership companies. During the week money was paid to KPMG and other lucrative receivership businesses for advice. The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Act 2011 is being used as a cloak. Neighbours of the Chief Whip in County Wexford are being terrorised by security companies which are on private property, even though they have no business being there. They are acting on behalf of Mr. Kieran Wallace.

It was sorted out this morning.

The Minister of State should listen to what I am saying about what is happening in his constituency.

A question, please.

Will the Government do anything to check the legalities and illegal activities of so-called agents acting on behalf of receivership companies? They state it is being done in the public interest, but it is not. It is in the disinterest of the public, to which it is grossly offensive.

I am not clear on the legislation to which the Deputy is referring.

There is not any.

I have mentioned the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Amendment) Act 2011.

I will come back to the Deputy on the matter.

There are plenty of laws in this area already.

I do not have the information to hand.

I thank the Minister.

I want to inquire about the proposed legislation in the free legal aid area. In the past two years almost €500,000 has been spent on free legal aid in criminal cases in County Mayo. This money is being used to fund career criminals and the matter needs to be addressed urgently. We need to support the victims of crime rather than funding the perpetrators of crime.

I understand the legislation in question will be available and brought before the House later this year.

On the sale, consumption and misuse of alcohol, it is widely accepted that the Minister's colleague, the former Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, did extensive work in preparing the sale of alcohol Bill. Last week in the House an attempt was made to suggest the former Minister of State's work was not as extensive as the public had been led to believe. What level of priority is the current Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, Deputy Alex White, giving to this important legislation which has quite a degree of public support?

It is a top priority.

When might we see publication of the sale of alcohol Bill?

The Deputy is correct when he says the former Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, worked very hard on this issue.

That is not what the leader of the Minister's party suggested last week.

Why did the Government not keep her?

Her successor, the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is working equally hard on it.

He would want to be careful in case he is next to get the boot.

He expects to be able to publish the legislation later this year.

The draft heads of the Children First legislation were published in the first half of 2012. When will this important Bill be brought before the House? Is this to be another broken promise? Will the children of Ireland be forgotten, as they were when the Labour Party broke its promise to maintain child benefit rates? Will this important legislation be prioritised in this session?

I am sure Fianna Fáil did not spend 30 years discussing the holding of a children's rights referendum, but it felt like that. I think it was more like 15 or 17 years. Within two years of taking office, the Government held the referendum in which the people voted in favour.

The Minister nearly cocked it up.

The legislation will be brought before the House before the end of this session.

What advice did the Attorney General give on the booklet?

The Government kept that one promise.

We have had significant success in attracting foreign direct investment into the country. I understand that if we are to continue that success, some amendments to the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 will have to be made. Will we see these amendments in this term?

I do not believe they are on the legislative list for this term. However, a great deal of work is being done on them. I do not yet have a date for the Bill in question.

I note that the Committee Stage debate on the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 has concluded in the Seanad. The Bill in question has been in gestation for over one year at this stage. How quickly can we expect it to proceed through the remaining Stages and actually be brought into law?

I understand the Bill is to be discussed at a forthcoming Whips' meeting. Therefore, I do not have a date for it at this point. The Whips will discuss it shortly.

The Minister might advise me on when she expects the legislation to allow approved voluntary contribution policyholders to withdraw a 30% tranche to be enacted. There is a great deal of interest in this legislation because it will make it possible for some people to sort out their debt problems.

The Minister for Finance made an announcement in this regard on budget day. I assume he will deal with the matter further in the context of the Finance Bill which will be published in the next couple of weeks.

I would like to ask about three Bills. First, when is the forestry Bill due for publication? Will it include a provision for the sale of State assets, a matter of huge concern for many? Second, when will the consumer and competition Bill be published? Ar an tríú dul síos, cén uair a dhéanfar foilsiú ar Bhille le leasú a dhéanamh ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003?

The forestry Bill and the consumer and competition Bill are both due to be published before the end of this session.

I also asked a specific question about Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003. When will the official languages (amendment) Bill be published?

It will be published later this year.