Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 2, Companies Bill 2012 - Second Stage (resumed).

There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Martin.

From this morning’s Irish Independent, it seems the protection of maternal life Bill is circulating around the Government.

This would seem to vindicate The Sunday Times report by Sarah McInerney from last Sunday, which, when I put it to the Taoiseach earlier this week he said he had no idea in the world from where it came. It now seems this Bill has been circulating in the Department of Health. I note and accept that the Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and White, are furious that it was suggested they had been consulted on this Bill. Will the Minister confirm this is the Bill that is circulating?

Not even Deputy Martin is that naïve.

What is Deputy Rabbitte suggesting?

The Minister should get back from Dublin Castle to the real world.

I see the new pope has taken on the mantle of Francis of Assisi. Deputy Martin can no longer go around pretending he is Francis of Assisi.

Will the Tánaiste confirm that this is the Bill which the Taoiseach referred to last week on the Order of Business? He said to me last week that the heads of the Bill in question would be circulated this week. This suggested it was well into its preparation, if not prepared. Is there work under way to produce a new or different Bill? Will he update and clarify the position on this Bill? Can we expect the heads of the Bill next week?

I am delighted to see Deputy Martin has taken up reading. It might encourage him to improve the quality of what he reads.

A Deputy

He was a great one for not reading reports when he was a Minister.

Some of the Tánaiste’s Ministers of State need a bit of help as well. It seems the Minister for Health is sharing nothing with anyone.

What about the stuff the Tánaiste was reading about 20 years ago?

Thank you, Deputies.

The heads of the Bill or the memorandum on it have not yet been circulated. I expect the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to bring the heads of the Bill to the Government shortly. The Government intends to act after 20 years of no action on this difficult issue. Everyone knows this, as well as the fact, the preparation and content of the legislation requires care and attention. I expect the heads of the Bill will be before the Government shortly and the legislation published thereafter.

This morning the European Court of Justice found in favour of the case against the State taken by the former Waterford Crystal workers on the losses to their pensions. The court found that offering retirees half of what they are entitled to is not going to wash. In response to this, what legislation does the Government intend to introduce to give proper protection to workers when they are made redundant, and in the Waterford Crystal case, abandoned?

I am aware of this morning’s ruling by the European Court of Justice on the Waterford Crystal pension schemes. The case follows a reference from the High Court to the European Court of Justice for its opinion on several questions concerning European law in this area. We have not yet had an opportunity to study the full judgment of the European Court of Justice. The ruling will now be the subject of a full hearing by the High Court in the coming months. Until then, the matter remains sub judice and we cannot comment further on it.

I welcome the European Court of Justice decision on the Waterford Crystal pensioners. I raised this issue with Deputy O’Dea on the need for legislation on defined benefits. Since raising this matter, several people have informed me they are taking redundancy settlements to protect their pensions’ futures. At the time when I raised this matter, the Taoiseach said it was an extremely complicated area and it will be some time before legislation comes to the House. This is a matter of urgency and I know there is great pressure on drafting legislation.

Thank you, Deputy.

Can we give this matter priority?

This case was at the European Court of Justice because the High Court referred it there for its opinion. The High Court must now hear the case. It is still under the High Court and is, therefore, sub judice. That said, we will of course be studying the judgment and seek advice on it.

Deputy Patrick Nulty

The Tánaiste refers many times to having reversed the minimum wage cut introduced by Fianna Fáil. However, he will be aware that Ireland is one of only three EU countries, Estonia and Greece being the others, not to have increased its minimum wage to boost domestic demand.

What legislation is the Deputy referring to?

Deputy Patrick Nulty

Has the Government any intention to increase the minimum wage, even by 40 cent, to bring it into line with 2007 levels?

Is there promised legislation? I understand there is no promised legislation.

Deputy Patrick Nulty

Increasing the minimum wage to match inflation requires legislation.

No, we are only dealing with promised legislation. I am told there is no promised legislation. I suggest the Deputy puts down a parliamentary question on the matter.

On the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011, I will not mention names today but we know the bankers who are getting huge pay.

I raise this issue with the Tánaiste because of the actions of the banks. The Central Bank of Ireland does not have a code of practice by which it can restrain what can only be described as hit men who are going out and intimidating people, be they home owners or business owners, on a daily basis. There is no-----

Which Bill is that?

It is the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011. Hit men are going out and threatening people and beating them up.

We would want to be careful.

That Bill has already been published.

It is published and the Deputy has a chance to contribute to the debate on it.

That was a lengthy reply from the Tánaiste.

It is published.

Why is the Department of Education and Skills hiring a consultant to do a job that we pay the quango, the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, to carry out?

The Deputy should ask him after the Order of Business but not on the Order of Business.

I ask this question under the Construction Contracts Bill.

When is the Construction Contracts Bill due?

I want to raise another issue, namely, the woefully inadequate response from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Government to the farmers' crisis in giving €1 million-----

I understand that is an issue, but it is not for the Order of Business.

It is an issue of major importance and the Government should wake up to the crisis that the farmers are facing.

Deputy, you are out of order.

Farmers are under terrible pressure. They are under financial-----

Deputy, please do not abuse the privilege. I call you on the understanding that you are inquiring about promised legislation so do not abuse the privilege.

What are they going to do?

Put down a parliamentary question. I told you to table a Topical Issue.

I did exactly what you told me to do.

I did not see it.

A Deputy

He must have sent it by text.

The Government is doing nothing to help the farmers of Ireland.

Deputy, the Order of Business is about promised legislation; it is not about issues.


What is Deputy Deering being smart about? Has he any interest in the farmers of Ireland?

I am sorry for ruffling the Deputy's feathers.

He should have some manners when he is talking about the farmers of Ireland.

The Construction Contracts Bill has already been published.

Regarding the Minister for Education and Skills, the Minister has taken action to ensure that contractors working on school projects comply with standards regarding employment conditions and safety at work. I could understand the Deputy raising this issue if no action was being taken but raising it when the Minister for Education and Skills is taking action on it is surprising.

What about the consultants?

What about the fodder crisis? He would not give an answer.

Deputy, eight other Members are offering and we have nine minutes remaining. I call Deputy Higgins.

The Deputies should give us all a chance to speak.

First, will the Tánaiste say definitively that the maternal life protection Bill will have passed all Stages by the summer recess?

The Tánaiste cannot give that answer on the Order of Business. The Deputy can ask that question some other way.

It is quite in order on the Order of Business.

Second, as the banks were announcing crippling increases in mortgage payments the Revenue Commissioners chairwoman, on the Tánaiste's behalf, was callously threatening to dip into the social welfare payments and wages of workers who object to his property tax, which is a tax too far. Will he amend the property tax to ensure that does not happen?

Are there any proposals on amending the property tax? Is there promised legislation in this area, yes or no?

First, I have a long reply on the fodder crisis but I was not asked about it on Leaders' Questions.

I raised it-----

I appreciate that, Deputy Martin.

With regard to giving Deputy Higgins a commitment as to when legislation will be passed by the House, that is a matter for the House. The Government has made clear its intention with regard to bringing legislation before the Houses and there is no legislation promised on amending the property tax.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, has set up an expert group to oversee the problems of homes affected by pyrite. In recent months we had the report on pyrite resolution. We were told that process would be moved forward quickly and the Minister indicated at the time that legislation would be required to levy the industries concerned to raise the necessary funds. Will the Tánaiste indicate when that legislation will be forthcoming? Thousands of people are living in sub-standard housing. Serious health and safety issues arise regarding those and we must move quickly on this issue.

The pyrite levy Bill is due to be published this year.

When will the housing (miscellaneous provisions) (No. 1) Bill and the housing (miscellaneous provisions)(No. 2) Bill to further strengthen the regulatory framework of social housing be brought forward? We saw the documentary shown the other night. Many counties, including County Meath, do not have ghost estates and housing waiting lists are very long. We have 7,000 to 8,000 people on housing waiting lists from as far back as 2007. I would like to see houses being bought or built.

The housing (miscellaneous provisions) (No. 1) Bill is expected to be published this year. The housing (miscellaneous provisions) (No. 2) Bill is expected next year.

Many towns in the north midlands are at a serious disadvantage because of the high cost of energy. When can we expect the common arrangements for gas Bill to come before the House to extend gas spurs from the main gas line to those towns? Also, the planning Bill to implement the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal report is long overdue.

There is no date yet for the publication of the common arrangements for gas Bill, which is to amend the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and allow arrangements be put in place to facilitate an all-island gas market. It is not possible to indicate at this stage when the planning Bill, which is to provide for the implementation of the planning recommendations of the report of the Mahon tribunal and other matters, will be published.

When will the Government bring forward legislation to give effect to its intention to increase the number of councillors in Dublin by upwards of 60 or more?

There is a local government Bill.

The Government is carrying out the most fundamental reform of local government since the late 19th century. That reform of local government is long overdue. The legislation to give effect to that is expected to be published this session.

Does that include the huge increase in Dublin?

I ask the Tánaiste about the water services Bill promised for this year. I understand there is a provision in that Bill to give the Energy Regulator the power to set the charges for water. The Government has agreed that water charges will bring in €500 million by 2015 in its programme with the troika. We have 1.3 million households and that works out at a flat charge of €385 per household.

We can discuss that when the Bill is published.

As meters will not be installed, will the legislation reflect the fact that this will be a flat charge on households of on average €385? When will we see the legislation?

The question as to when we will see the legislation is the only one in order. The Deputy can deal with the other part of the question some other way.

The legislation will be published this year. In the meantime, the Deputy should not presume what will be in it.

The Taoiseach has stated that he informed the Chief Justice that referendums will be held later this year and has asked for a judge to be assigned to the Referendum Commission. When will the relevant information to allow us prepare for those referendums be published?

If we are to have three referendums in the autumn, immediately following the recess, what opportunity will we have for debate? Will it be similar to previous occasions on which we had very little time to debate the issues? I understand the three referendums will deal with the patent court, the appeals court and the proposal to abolish the Seanad.

It has been indicated that the Government intends to hold a referendum on the Seanad later this year. No decision has been taken yet as to the number of referendums to be held on that occasion. I expect that issue will be addressed and decided in the near future.

With regard to the proposal on free GP care in the programme for Government, when can we expect legislation? Second, is it intended to introduce any additional funding for home help services? Given that we have all seen horrendous instances of home help hours being slashed for vulnerable older people - the Tánaiste will remember that when he was on this side of the House he would have been jumping up and down about home care services and would have been getting very agitated-----

I thank the Deputy. We will get the information for him on the Bill.

-----and excited about the fact that the then Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government was imposing savage cuts on home help services. It is the Tánaiste's watch now and this is going on. People are suffering.

That is not for the Order of Business.

I just want the Tánaiste to know this. I can give him chapter and verse.

The Deputy could table a Topical Issue.

This is not the type of policy that any Labour Party member would pursue.

I want to allow one other Deputy to contribute, so I ask the Tánaiste to respond in regard to the Bill.

There are a number of health Bills. The consultative process on the health (amendment) (No. 2) Bill is under way and it is expected the Bill will be published this year. Further heads have been approved for the health (amendment) Bill and it is expected to be published this session. The Health (Provision of General Practitioner Services) Bill has already been enacted. A number of other pieces of legislation are expected either late this year or early next year.

I asked previously about the sale and pricing of alcohol Bill and the Tánaiste said progress on it was not as advanced as had been expected. Given that this Bill has implications for a huge number of rural pubs, when can we expect to see the heads finalised and the Bill come before the House?

Work is progressing on that Bill, but I do not have a date for its publication yet.