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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013

Vol. 794 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 35, statements on the report of the interdepartmental committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalen laundries (resumed), to adjourn at 1.30 p.m. today, if not previously concluded; No. 36, Education and Training Boards Bill 2012 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 6, Further Education and Training Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 106, motion re State forestry (resumed), to conclude at 9 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources confirmed yesterday that there will be a new universal broadcasting tax which will apply to people irrespective of whether they own televisions. When can we expect to see the Broadcasting Bill and the legislation to replace the licence fee and give effect to this new tax? Could the Government provide details of the issues surrounding that legislation to the House?

When will the implementation plan for the national disability strategy be published? Given all that has happened and the litany of attacks on people with disabilities, it is clear that coherence is required and some strategic approach to dealing with people with special needs and disabilities is urgently required from the Government.

I agree with the Deputy's last comment. As I said to Deputy Mattie McGrath, that is expected to be published tomorrow.

That is too late for the mobility allowance.

It will set out very clearly how services should be provided in the future with much greater impact and to the benefit to those who receive these allowances. It will not be like what went on in the past as Deputy Martin will be aware.

So the Government is going to cut them. The Taoiseach should acknowledge that what went on in the past ten years was good for disability.

Thank you, Deputy Martin. Can we listen to the answers?

The Taoiseach's predecessor, Brian Cowen, was quite effective in this regard.

Deputy Martin sat over here on this side of the House and refused to do anything about a scheme that was blatantly illegal.

Brian Cowen was the first Minister for Health and Children to bring any improvements to people with disabilities. If the Taoiseach had any generosity in him, he would acknowledge that and stop playing politics all the time.

He stood by those with disabilities.

That is Deputy Martin's record. He said he would stand by his record.

We are on the Order of Business. Would Deputy Martin please cool down and stop getting himself upset?

Does Deputy Martin stand by his record? His record was one of refusing to recognise the facts and to deal with the truth.

Brian Cowen was the first Minister for Health and Children to be acknowledged by people with disabilities to have made improvements for them. The Taoiseach, however, continues to undermine this every day.

I remind Deputy Martin that there is a thing called respect for the Chair, whoever is in it.

There is indeed.

Would he please adhere to the rules of the Chair? If he asks a question, would he allow for an answer? He might not like the content of the answer but that is the fact.

The information plan will be published tomorrow. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has not brought his recommendations for changes in technology and requirements to deal with broadcasting before the Government yet. I will come back to Deputy Martin with an update as to when the Minister might expect to do that.

Tá dhá cheist agam ar an Taoiseach, an chéad cheann faoi reachtaíocht atá forógraithe. There is promised legislation to amend the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009. This was revealed during the December troika review when the troika said the Government was committed to bringing forward legislation to allow the banks to repossess homes. Will this proposed legislation contain safeguards for home owners to protect them from repossessions? I note the banks are to meet twice with the Central Bank on the issue of burden-sharing. Given that a quarter of all domestic mortgages are now in distress, will further legislation be required to ensure the banks engage in debt write-downs for struggling households?

Regarding the mobility allowance scheme and the motorised transport grants scheme, we have been advised by the media that Teachtaí from the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party have already been briefed on this matter. I do not know whether this is true. Certainly, given that this was a matter that an Oireachtas committee was dealing with and commitments on consultation were made, the Opposition should have at least been entitled to have the Minister for Health make the announcement on the schemes here. I do not believe it is a good way to do business if we are reliant upon the media to tell us about Government announcements, particularly when they affect constituents we represent.

The first Bill referred to by Deputy Adams is known as the Dunne judgment. The heads of that Bill will come to the Government shortly. It is expected to be published in this session. It is important legislation because of the context of the pressure on the Government in working with the banks and the Central Bank in dealing with mortgages in distress and the opening of the Personal Insolvency Agency in early summer. This legislation has caused quite a number of difficulties. I expect it to be published in this session.

No legislation is necessary for the banks to involve themselves in write-downs. They have been given sufficient moneys under the recapitalisation programme to deal with an element of distressed mortgages, if they so wish. That has been referred to by several bank chief executives themselves.

The Oireachtas committee will have an important part to play in views being put forward in the consultation with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Ms Sylda Langford and the disability groups to discuss how best to proceed in keeping the moneys intact for the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant but devising a scheme that is compliant with the law.

The Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment Bill) 2013 will be taken on Friday. However, there is an anomaly in that estates classified as category 3 and 4 in the household charge and were deemed ineligible for the household charge tax are now included in the house tax. South Tipperary County Council submitted an estate in my constituency-----

Hold on there, Deputy.

There are probably many others. Now that they have been omitted by the Department in the-----

The Deputy can make all these points when we debate the legislation.

There is a disconnect between the Department and local authorities. Will the Taoiseach clarify the position on this as it is important for the householders who live in unfinished estates?

It cannot be raised on the Order of Business.

It is pertinent to the Bill we are taking on Friday.

On Monday, we heard, with great fanfare, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government announce that 25% of the jobs to be created by water metering would be given to the unemployed and local small businesses. However, I have a letter in my possession from a small business-----

Hold on a second, Deputy. This is the Order of Business.

It seems that to get a contract for water metering, the business must have a minimum turnover threshold of €400,000 over the past number of years.

Put down a parliamentary question about these issues.

I have but I did not get any answer.

The Deputy cannot raise it on the Order of Business.

It is on the Order of Business. The Water Services Bill and Bord Uisce are being rushed through.

What about it?

I am asking the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to be fair and honest with people and not lead them astray----

If it is going through the Dáil-----

-----applying for jobs that they cannot get because they do not have a turnover of €500,000.

Thank you, Deputy.

Is it a big boys' club?

The Government has decided to introduce a local property tax which will be applicable from July. The mechanics of this will be operated by the Revenue Commissioners. In response to Deputy Mattie McGrath's particular question, in so far as housing estates are concerned, those exempted from the €100 flat rate local charge will generally be exempted from the property tax. The Water Services Bill is on Committee Stage today so Deputy Mattie McGrath is entitled to make his case there and refer to the letter he has in his possession.

When is the foreshore and marine area development Bill to come before the House? It is important legislation for port development including the port of Foynes in my constituency.

The consultation process on this Bill began on 1 February and will close on 1 March. Following this, we will have the Bill later in the year.

Will the Taoiseach indicate if any progress has taken place with the sport Ireland Bill or have any discussions taken place at Cabinet about it? This legislation will amalgamate the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority. It is down on the legislative programme to be published in 2013. Will the Taoiseach give a better timeline as to this important legislation's publication?

The heads of the Bill have not yet been finalised and, therefore, it has not been discussed at Cabinet yet. When the heads are prepared, it will be brought to the Government and go back to the relevant Oireachtas committee.

I understand members of the media were briefed by the Secretary General and other staff of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the contents of the Croke Park extension deal for an hour yesterday. Out of respect for the House, does the Taoiseach have any intention to brief the Opposition on the contents and implications of the deal too? I would have thought that would have been the first priority for the officials in the Department rather than briefing the media.

As the Deputy is aware, the document is a Labour Relations Commission document. It was published in full yesterday. The commission has experts available in respect of the minute detail of any aspect of its paper. The unions are now in receipt of the document. They will consider it and ballot their members in the tradition that each union adopts. If Deputy Pringle has any particular queries on the deal, I am sure the Department will be happy to answer them in so far as it can.

If the Department can brief the media, then it can brief the Opposition too.

With regard to the proposals from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to change the existing television licence to a broadcasting charge, it is telling people, even if they do not have a television, that they will have to pay for Internet and broadband access. When will there be proper broadband coverage for everyone?

Are we talking about legislation here?

Yes. Where is the promised broadcasting Bill which will have to give effect to this change?

Is legislation promised in this area?

What is the Government proposing to do?

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources promised it. He announced yesterday that there would be a broadcasting tax.

Will a new Bill not have to be brought before the House?

Sorry, Deputy. Is there promised legislation?

There will have to be legislation to bring it in.

I will ask the Taoiseach to reply.

The Minister has not brought his recommendations in this area before the Government yet. Deputy Healy-Rae will be aware that with changes in technology, people receive information and news in a much-expanded form compared to what they had been used to years ago.

Last November the Dáil was informed that legislation to merge the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency was to be published by the end of 2012. Three months later we have found that the heads of the legislation have not yet been agreed. Will the Taoiseach let us know when the legislation will be published?

That was approved by the Cabinet yesterday and the Minister will report progress shortly.

Can the Taoiseach indicate when we can expect to see the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill return to the Chamber?

I expect it will be maybe eight to ten weeks. I trust Deputy Lyons will not tie me down to a specific date, but we will keep him updated.

When is it intended to introduce a Bill to the House to streamline the functions of the company law enforcement agencies, having particular regard to the concerns expressed by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement? Have the heads of the Bill been discussed in Cabinet? Given the continued urgency and the need for this legislation, when is it likely to come into the House?

It has not been discussed at Cabinet yet. There is no date for publication, although a good deal of work has been done on it. I will keep Deputy Durkan updated.

My questions are on two tranches of pending legislation. The Taoiseach will be familiar with the landmark High Court judgment earlier today in the case against NAMA and Anglo Irish Bank taken by the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information. This was instigated by a request from Gavin Sheridan, who has been a leading light advocating for transparency in the State for many years. The court ruled that NAMA and Anglo Irish Bank were public bodies and therefore subject to environmental information regulation. Will the Taoiseach inform us when the freedom of information Bill will be before the House? Will it deal comprehensively with access to information from NAMA and the former IBRC and Anglo Irish Bank? NAMA and the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information are both public bodies that have been fighting this out in the court. It has been going on for three years now. It is such a complete abuse of public money that there should be a direction or order on the Minister asking him not to appeal it and waste any more money belonging to the State.

Yesterday, the Government published the agreement on how it would take money from low and middle-income public sector workers following a couple of weeks of negotiations. It has been a year and a half since the Government started discussing taking money from higher bank executives - those on €500,000-plus in pay and pensions - but we have not seen the report yet. It is glaringly obvious that although the Government can introduce cuts to the basic salaries of 300,000 public sector workers within a couple of weeks, one and a half years on the salaries of those people who creamed it at the top and who were responsible for the damage to the economy are maintained. We have not seen the Mercer report yet. When will it be published? Given the announcement made by the Government yesterday, it is important that it is published without delay and that action is taken on these vast salaries and pensions.

I have not had time to study the details of the decision of the High Court this morning. However, I can inform Deputy Doherty that work is very well advanced in the Office of the Attorney General in respect of the freedom of information Bill. I expect it will be published this session.

Deputy Doherty referred to the Mercer report. I am informed by the Minister for Finance that it will be published inside the next two weeks.

I acknowledge that we have some good news this morning with regard to our employment and unemployment figures. I acknowledge the reduction in the unemployment rate from 14.6% to 14.2%. This is the first quarterly increase in the number of people in employment since 2008, and it is good news.

Maybe we can relate this to legislation.

It relates to our diaspora. One of the great causes of emigration in the past was unemployment. Last week I tabled some questions, which the Ceann Comhairle will have come across, on the possibility of trying to encourage some of our diaspora to come back to Ireland.

No. I would be more interested at the moment if you would simply ask me about legislation.

Does the Government have any intention of helping to drive a campaign to encourage people to come back to Ireland to retire?

I am sure it has, but not on the Order of Business.

It would introduce a good deal of spending into the economy, and given that there is such good value at the moment in the property market-----


Is there any legislation you are concerned about?

It would make it much easier for people to come back to Ireland and retire here.

Perhaps you should have a chat with the Taoiseach after the Order of Business.

Does the Government have any intention of looking into that idea and possibly tying it in with The Gathering this year?

Thank you very much. That is very kind.