Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 11, motion to rescind order of referral of the Health (Amendment) Bill 2013 to the Select Sub-Committee on Health; No. 12, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 (Restricted Electrical Works) Regulations 2013 (back from committee); No. 1, Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 18, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture entitled, Report on Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration (resumed), to be taken on the adjournment of Private Members’ business and adjourn after one hour, if not previously concluded.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and adjourn on the adjournment of No. 18 which shall adjourn, if not previously concluded, after one hour; Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, shall be decided without debate; and Private Members' business shall be No. 111, motion re distressed mortgages, which shall be taken at the conclusion of the opening speeches on No. 1 or at 7.30 p.m., whichever is the later, and adjourn after 90 minutes.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

With regard to the funding of the health service and the commitment on page 6 of the programme for Government to ensure significant cost control, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has highlighted concerns about further overspending by the Department of Health. Will the Taoiseach clarify the position?

I refer to health priorities in the programme for Government. When will the national Alzheimer's disease and dementia strategy be introduced? Where is it now? Will the Taoiseach indicate progress on the extension of BreastCheck to 65 to 69 year old women? Where is the Government in regard to discussions with the Irish Thalidomide Association on further compensation for the victims of thalidomide? There is also a commitment in the programme for Government to legislate to clarify the law surrounding assisted human reproduction, including the law relating to parental relationships arising from assisted human reproduction. Where is that Bill? The programme for Government further states: "We will legislate to regulate stem cell research". Where is that Bill?

The Deputy asked a series of specific questions. I am sorry, but I cannot give him precise information on them. The Minister for Health has had discussions with the thalidomide personnel and I understand good progress has been made in that regard. I am not yet sure of the conclusion.

The profile of spending by the HSE and the Department of Health is much better this year than it has been for some time. The Department and the HSE attend before the Cabinet sub-committee on health. The next meeting is in two weeks when we will have an up-to-date profile of spending. The Minister for Health has been involved in the Presidency and a number of other health matters for some time.

I will have to get the Deputy an update on the Alzheimer's disease legislation, the extension of BreastCheck to women aged between 65 and 69 years, assisted human reproduction and stem cell research. I will send the information to him.

Will the Taoiseach correspond with me on these issues?

I thank the Taoiseach.

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur faoi reachtaíocht atá geallta. The Government yesterday committed to introducing legislation to provide for mandatory personal locator beacons on small fishing boats. I very much welcome that initiative. There have been too many tragedies, with 55 fishermen dying in the past five years. The Taoiseach is very much aware that fishermen are finding it harder and harder to make a living and, therefore, the best protections are needed. Will he update the House on the progress of this legislation? Will he also ensure the personal locator beacons for small vessels will be fully funded by the Department?

This arose following the tragedy last year in Union Hall, County Cork. The Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Transport, Tourism and Sport attended the launch. There have been sophisticated digital communications developments in this field. If fishermen carry the device on their life jackets and, unfortunately or tragically, end up in the water, the beacon will go off. The same applies to the locator for the vessel. These developments have progressed greatly in the past few years. Both Ministers outlined work, training and funding programmes, with 60% for smaller boats and 40% for larger boats. Clearly, the requirement for fishermen to engage in training on a five yearly basis speaks for itself. We all recall the most recent tragedy involving the Bolger family off the Waterford coast. It is hoped yesterday's launch on a beautiful day in Union Hall, poignant though it was, which was different from the occasion on which the tragedy occurred, will lead to lives being saved. As these developments improve, they are becoming seriously sophisticated in terms of GPS location. I hope the programme to have them used well will save lives and bring a sense of comfort to families. Unfortunately, tragedies like this happen and people are lost overboard. The work programme is set out and will be followed through in detail.

I very much welcome this initiative but my question was whether the Government would consider funding in full the cost of such beacons for smaller vessels. The Taoiseach is bound to know fisherfolk-----

Unfortunately, that is not really a question for the Order of Business but for a parliamentary question.

The priority is smaller boats, on which the vast majority of such accidents occur. The current funding element is 60% for smaller boats and 40% for bigger ones. Depending on economic circumstances, we will see what the take-up is and the matter can then be examined. The Minister is clearly prioritising smaller boats, where most of these unfortunate accidents occur.

I refer to the water services Bill and the proposal by the Taoiseach and his Government for what I would call a torture technique, namely, reducing water pressure to the homes of people who are unable to pay the Government's new water tax.

Where are we going with this?

My question is in the context of the water services Bill, which provides for what I would classify as a torture technique - the reduction of water going to the houses of people who cannot afford to pay the water tax.

The water torture Bill.

Yes. It is shocking, and I would like to get some information.

I will get the information for the Deputy.

The Opposition signed off on this.

I am asking this of the Taoiseach. Deputy Kehoe will have a long wait to be Taoiseach.

The Chief Whip knows all about torture, given the events of the past week.

Water torture is an international crime and is banned.

The Taoiseach is engaging in it.

When I had the privilege of travelling beyond Killorglin with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, on Saturday I saw the mobile torture van. The Healy-Rae van was parked, by coincidence-----

-----at a corner. I was going to arrange for a docket to be put on it on the grounds that it was a distraction, which causes its own form of torture.

It is for resuscitation.

Not in Killarney.

I have to respond. If the Taoiseach must know, that van was giving out water and bananas.

A Deputy


That Bill has not yet been drafted and anything the Deputy reads at present is speculation.

So it is not true.

The Constitutional Convention recently voted overwhelmingly to have a referendum on the issue of marriage equality. Only a fortnight ago we had a massively successful Pride festival which brought tens of thousands onto the streets of Dublin from all over Ireland and further afield. The LGBT community is clearly a positive part of our society but its members are still not treated as equals before the law.

Hold on, Deputy, please.

The Government has a clear mandate to let the people decide on marriage equality. When will this happen? Will the Taoiseach set a date for a referendum? If he is not prepared to do that yet, will he outline when he might do so? Ireland is ready for marriage equality.

That was a nice speech the Deputy made, but not on the Order of Business.

I was asking about a referendum, as I am surely entitled to do.

The Deputy is not entitled to, unless it is promised.

I asked if it was promised.

Is there promised legislation, Taoiseach?

In respect of the reports from the Constitutional Convention, the Government stated there would be a response within four months. If it accepts any of the recommendations it will give an indication as to when this might apply. The first and second reports are in, with a third to come shortly. This morning the Government considered the first report from the convention. We accept in principle its recommendations and will set out to deal with them before the end of 2015.

The specific point raised by Deputy Ellis is the subject of the second Constitutional Convention report and is not due to be considered by Government until the second half of the year. The Government will make its decision about the recommendations of that and the third report at that time.

Is the Taoiseach aware of the press release issued by Louth County Council within recent hours to the effect that the plans for the Narrow Water bridge between Omeath and Warrenpoint have been put on hold because the tenders submitted are way out of kilter with the financial provision for the project? There is a real danger that this extremely worthwhile project may not proceed at this time. Some reassurance from the Taoiseach would be very welcome.

Perhaps not on the Order of Business.

This project has been under consideration for quite some time, with moneys provided from Europe, Louth County Council, the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. I am aware that tenders have come in. This matter must be reflected upon because of the conditions set out. I do not believe the local authority where the Deputy resides would be in a position to meet the shortfall that applies in this case, and I am not sure what can be done about it now, given the scale of the bridge and the size of the preparatory entrances on either side. We strongly support this facility; we have had a lot of engagement on it and would like to see it happen. Clearly, this is a setback in terms of the scale of the tenders that have come in, which must be examined with regard to the scale and design of the bridge. I am sure the county council will talk to the consultants about that.

I read in the programme for Government, with some disbelief, a commitment to expand eligibility for the back to education allowance. In view of the fact that eligibility for this allowance has been restricted twice - the opposite of expanded - do I take it this commitment has been abandoned?

I also notice there is a specific commitment to exempt from VAT service companies that export more than 90% of their output.

That is more like a parliamentary question.

These are specific commitments in the programme for Government. Three budgets later, is this a case of another one biting the dust?

It is like four down and four across. The Deputy should submit a couple of written questions and he will get up-to-date information.

Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

Given the ever-increasing evidence of the number of crimes, sometimes a multiplicity of crimes, being committed by persons while on bail, might it be possible to bring the bail Bill before the House with some urgency? Similarly, I refer to the proposed legislation to deal with corporate crime. Both Bills are required as a matter of urgency. When might they appear before the House?

I spoke to the Minister for Justice and Equality on the last occasion the Deputy raised the bail Bill. There is a great deal of pressure, given the amount of technical legislation in the Department of Justice and Equality. The corporate crime Bill is due later this year. I will ask the Minister to respond to the Deputy in regard to the extent of the completed work in respect of the bail Bill.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I hope the Taoiseach had a successful trip around Kerry. I am disappointed he did not take some of the free water and bananas offered by Deputy Healy-Rae for the sustenance of the people.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about a very serious issue of which he is aware, as is every Deputy in this House - namely, that of Garda vetting. This is out of all control. I refer to this under the criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. Something must be done, especially for voluntary groups. People have to wait four or five months to be vetted and if they move from one scheme to another they have to be re-vetted.

Submit a parliamentary question, Deputy.

I have done so, and I have also raised the matter in Topical Issue debates. This is killing voluntary groups and other agencies.

I have a second question, regarding the Credit Review Office, which is totally toothless. I refer to the Central Bank (consolidation) Bill. Can something be done under its provisions? The office exists and one can write to it and engage with it, although many people do not want to do so because they believe any letter will sit on the steps of the bank. People are not getting a fair hearing and the Credit Review Office is toothless. We need an effective mechanism to tackle the banks and ensure they are lending to small businesses, farmers and everybody else.

The Central Bank (consolidation) Bill will not commence until the completion of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill in the Seanad. The criminal justice (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is due later this year.