Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 11, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the fight against fraud and a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on Europol and repealing Decisions 2009/371/JHA and 2005/681/JHA; No. 12, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Financial Resolution; No. 19, Health (Amendment) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 20, Construction Contracts Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn not later than 11 p.m.; Nos. 11 and 12 shall be decided without debate; the Committee and Remaining Stages of No. 19 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Health; Report and Final Stages of No. 20 shall be taken tonight and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 11 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance; and in the event a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 44, Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, Standing Order 121(3) shall not apply and Private Members’ business shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 July 2013.

There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn not later than 11 p.m. agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 11 and 12, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the fight against fraud and a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on Europol and repealing Decisions 2009/371/JHA and 2005/681/JHA and the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Financial Resolution agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 19, Health (Amendment) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Committee and Remaining Stages, agreed to?

It is not agreed to. I will not force a vote on this. I again want to articulate our disquiet at the frequent use of guillotines in regard to such Bills. This is an important Bill which will have a very significant impact on many patients and people who will have to attend our public hospitals in the coming months and years. It merits significant debate on Committee Stage, in particular, as well as on Remaining Stages. It will receive very limited time today.

In the context of overall Dáil reform and the democratic revolution which was promised, day by day and week by week the actual experience of Dáil business, in terms of its scheduling and organisation, is falling far short of what was promised. It reflects the frustration of the Chief Whip who, two weeks ago, described the Government's performance as deplorable in regard to the reform of the Dáil.

It was four weeks ago.

In the four weeks since things have become worse in terms of reform procedures. We see the evidence of that all the time.

No. 19 is an important Bill which will have the effect of increasing charges on public patients and the contributions paid by clients of long-term residential care. It needs full discussion. I will not press it to a vote but, as I said to the Taoiseach many times, what I have seen since I was elected to the House has not involved reform or doing business better, but has been about cutting debates short.

This is a matter of considerable importance. The Minister for Health has engaged with insurance companies about reducing their cost base. The preparation of this Bill is an important element in the consideration of the conclusion of those negotiations. The main Opposition leader sought extra time on the courts of appeal Bill last Thursday and there was only one speaker from that side. Second Stage of the Health (Amendment) Bill concluded in less than two and a half hours. It is necessary that it be passed with a commencement order to start. It is a short Bill. No other speakers were involved on Second Stage and the Minister is anxious to have the matter concluded so that, in the interests of patients, we can have the reduction in the cost base envisaged under the private health insurers.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 19 be agreed to," put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20, Construction Contracts Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, agreed to?

I very much welcome the Bill, which is good and has been eagerly awaited by small contractors. I rest my case; it is the same point I made earlier.

I understand spokespersons met with officials after Committee Stage last week and worked on the 20 amendments which were tabled. I understand there was a great deal of discussion about that. The Bill has been around for some time. It did not come before the House because of the necessity to work on amendments. It is important, in the interests of sub-contractors and related issues arising, that this be dealt with.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with No. 20 be agreed to," put and declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 5, Private Members' business, agreed to? Agreed.

I wrote to the Taoiseach on 3 July in regard to the delay in filling the position of Secretary General-Clerk of the Dáil post which is to become vacant on 5 August 2013. The Clerk will retire tomorrow and we might have an opportunity to speak on that issue.

I wrote a lengthy letter to the Taoiseach in which I pointed out that the process relating to the appointment of the Clerk or Secretary General of the Dáil should be transparent and accountable. In December 2012 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, gave a commitment to amend the Staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act 1959, which he described as being outmoded and in need of change. His predecessor in the Department of Finance made similar comments in 2009. During a Topical Issue debate on 15 May 2013, the Minister stated:

I believe the objective in filling top posts of the Houses of the Oireachtas service should be to employ professionally organised and independent competitive selection mechanisms such as those that exist throughout the wider Civil Service to ensure the best possible person is selected from as wide a pool of talent as possible to lead the parliamentary service in future.

I accept that the nomination of a suitable candidate for appointment by the Taoiseach rests solely with the Ceann Comhairle, following consultation with the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. In light of all of the pledges made in respect of public and transparent selection processes and in view of the way in which the House has modernised and evolved to date, will the Taoiseach indicate the current status of the legislation in respect of which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, made a commitment? Is it the Taoiseach's intention that the process relating to filling the position in question will be as wide-ranging and transparent as possible and that it will reflect the spirit of the programme for Government? There have been commitments from those on all sides to the effect that as wide as possible a range of people should be in a position to apply for consideration under the selection process.

The Deputy has made his point.

This is a very important issue.

I am sure it is, but we are on the Order of Business and Deputies should inquire about promised legislation.

This is the final opportunity I will have to raise the matter prior to the summer recess.

The existing legislation bestows responsibility and roles in this regard on both the Ceann Comhairle and the Taoiseach. Deputy Martin can take it that the process which will be put in place will be open, transparent and accountable.

Will the Taoiseach write back to me?

Of course I will write back to the Deputy.

It has been a month since I wrote to the Taoiseach.

I will write to the Deputy at length and in good time.

This is a serious issue.

We are not discussing letters here. The Taoiseach provided the Deputy with a reply.

Members would like to know how the key administrative position in the House is going to the filled.

Exactly, and it will be filled.

We are not going to be informed as to how it will be filled. That is contrary to everything which has been said to date.

The Deputy inquired about legislation and the Taoiseach provided a reply.

It is also contrary to everything the Government indicated would happen.

The Deputy is suggesting it will not be open, accountable and transparent.

We have had no transparency from the Taoiseach on it and no proposals have been forthcoming.

I shall write to the Deputy.

We have no sense of what is going to happen and this is despite all the commitments given by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin.

I shall write to the Deputy and explain all.

Legislation was promised and it has not been forthcoming.

Deputy Martin should resume his seat.

What is happening is regrettable. The House is being badly treated.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a cultural plan for future commemorative events such as the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016. This morning a number of other Oireachtas Members and I visited Moore Street and the buildings there which have been deemed to constitute a national monument and which stand in a state of considerable decay. The Taoiseach visited the same location and described it and the surrounding area as the "laneways of history". There is a clear view that this entire battlefield site should be preserved. I understand the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, brought a memo on this matter to the Cabinet this morning. The relatives of the signatories to the 1916 Proclamation who were with us on the plinth outside the Houses earlier were not informed of this fact or given any notification in respect of it. The memo was given to the media, which is unfortunate. Will the Taoiseach provide the Dáil with the detail of the memo?

This is an important issue which has been discussed in the House on many occasions. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht brought a memo to Government this morning and a decision was made in respect of it. As the Deputy is aware, the national monument comprises Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. No. 16 is the location at which the final council of war took place and is owned by a company which is in possession of planning permission from Dublin City Council for a very extensive development.

It is owned by NAMA.

The Minister is concerned that buildings to the rear of Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street, which were in existence either in 1916 or beforehand, should not be demolished. He is also concerned with regard to the proposal to put an underground car park in place beneath Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street. For that reason, he recommended to the Cabinet that approval be given for the element of the development for Nos. 14 to 17 Moore Street - including conservation, presentation, interpretation, etc. - in respect of which there is no difficulty but that he would refuse to allow the demolition of buildings to the rear and the installation of an underground car park. The Government accepted the Minister's recommendation.

It is a mistake of historic proportions to give a developer who was part of the inner circle relating to the former Anglo Irish Bank permission to develop a shopping mall adjacent to a site of historic importance.

The Deputy can raise this matter in another way.

I have raised this matter on a number of occasions and the name of the relevant Bill has changed on a couple of occasions. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill will come before the Cabinet, when it will be published and when it will be introduced in the Dáil?

That legislation was cleared by the Cabinet last week and I expect it will be published this week.

As I am sure has been the case for other Deputies, I have been contacted by many GPs in respect of the new attack launched against them. As everyone is aware, GPs provide a tremendous service. Not all of them work in primary care practices and they are being obliged to deal with successive cuts. Some of them literally cannot continue to operate. In the context of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 (amendment) (medical indemnity insurance) Bill, it must be recognised that GPs constitute one of the only functioning aspects of the health system at present. These people work independently to provide employment and valuable services to their communities.

We will obtain an answer in respect of the Bill for the Deputy.

They are coming under such pressure that they are being obliged to close their practices. They are being obliged to let staff go and they are also being forced out of small towns and villages. As stated, they represent the only part of the health system which is functioning.

The legislation was on the A list and was due for publication during this session. However, this will not now happen. A great deal of work has been done on the Bill - it has virtually been completed - but it will not be published before the House rises for the summer.

When will the pyrite levy Bill be introduced?

Later in the year.

When will the data sharing Bill, the purpose of which is to underpin better risk-based enforcement, efficiency and co-operation in business regulation by allowing specified public bodies to share specified data relating to businesses, be published?

There is not yet a date for publication. I will inform the Deputy of the work which has taken place since the previous occasion on which he raised the matter.

I wish to declare a personal interest in the matter I wish to raise. Earlier today, the House heard statements on the report, Promoting a Sustainable Future for the Post Office Network. I thank the Government for allowing that important and informative debate to proceed. In the context of the programme for Government, will the Taoiseach indicate the legislation that is going to be put in place in respect of securing the future of the post office network? This matter is vital to every town and village throughout the country in which there is a post office.

I do not have a date in respect of that matter.

The Taoiseach should have a date in respect of it.

I know. According to the Deputy, I should have a date for everything.

That is not a good answer.

Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Garda Síochána (compensation for malicious injuries) Bill is likely to come before the House? Have the heads of this legislation been discussed or approved? When is it likely that it will be passed into law? Will the Taoiseach also indicate the position with regard to the planning Bill, which will provide for the implementation of planning recommendations in the report of the Mahon tribunal and other matters? Have the heads of this legislation been approved and when is it likely to be published and brought before the House?

The planning Bill, which relates to the Mahon tribunal, is due this year. The heads of the Garda Síochána (compensation for malicious injuries) Bill were cleared last July and it is due for publication later this year.

I thank the Taoiseach.

The proposed industrial wind turbine development is a highly controversial issue across the midlands. The Taoiseach may or may not be aware that public meetings are being held in every parish across the midlands on this issue. We are still working under the 2006 guidelines for wind turbines. It is an issue that-----

Is there promised legislation on this?

Politicians across the board are being called on to have a moratorium on such development until the guidelines are changed. Perhaps new guidelines for wind turbines could be covered under the common arrangements that will apply under the gas or EirGrid legislation. It is an issue that has been promoted by the Government since it took office.

Thank you, Deputy. You have made your point.

People want a stay on such developments until new guidelines are drawn up.

There is no date for the publication of those Bills. The Deputy has raised this issue on a number of occasions. I will have the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources contact him. This is not all within the Minister's control. There are planning applications, environmental impact studies and all of that. I will have the Minister consult the Deputy.

When is it expected that next the Bill regarding the setting up of Irish Water will be brought before the House? I am conscious of the fact and have been led to believe that lucrative contracts for water metering will be announced next week when the Dáil will not be sitting. I thought we might have been informed of the content and extent of those contracts during this week when the Dáil is sitting.

The water services Bill is to be introduced later on in the year. The contracts, as I understand this - I will have the Minister contact the Deputy - are for the major regional contractors who in turn will employ subcontractors to do the work on numbers of houses.

They are not compelled to employ subcontractors.

No, but they have at their discretion the option of employing pretty significant numbers of local contractors and unemployed persons from the construction sector, competent persons in the plumbing business and so on. I think these tenders are in; they are probably known at this stage. The announcement in respect of the regional contractors is to be next week, as the Deputy pointed out. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to let the Deputy know about that.

If I might revisit the Narrow Water Bridge project, as the Taoiseach will know there is huge disappointment north and south of the Border about the fact that the project appears to be on hold because of a financial shortfall. In view of the fact that the Minister for Finance is along with the Taoiseach today, I suggest this project be considered with the projects intended under the National Pensions Reserve Fund development structure. Given the symbolic and strategic nature of this project, it would be great pity if it did not proceed. It is shovel-ready and the Taoiseach has the structure in place to get the necessary finance to augment what is already there. I exhort him to give this suggestion serious and sympathetic consideration.

There is no promised legislation on this.

No, there is not. This is a matter that has the support of Europe in the sense that an allocation of €16 million has been made available for it and there are also contributions to be made from Northern Ireland, Louth County Council and the Government here, but the tenders are very seriously in excess of the amount estimated. The local authority is in discussion with the designers and the consultants here. I am not sure of the extent of the scale of the bridge that is planned for the tender that came in. We do not want a situation where tenders of any size can come in and the taxpayer is expected to foot the Bill at the end of the day. It is a matter, as Deputy Kirk is aware, and Deputy Fitzpatrick has brought this to my attention also, that the local authority is now talking to the consultants about the scale and the preparatory work in respect of getting to the point where the bridge will be constructed. There are serious developments involved on either side of Narrow Water.

If needs be, the Taoiseach could consider it in terms of the National Pensions Reserve Fund.

I have repeatedly raised on the Order of Business the plight of the 32 survivors of thalidomide. Last Tuesday, responding to a similar question from my party leader, Deputy Martin, the Taoiseach indicated that the Minister for Health had discussions with the organisations representing the thalidomide survivors. It is my information having spoken to the bodies during the course of last week that the Minister for Health has had no discussions with them. I am sure the Taoiseach's information was inadvertent but will he set to rights the record of the House and indicate when the Minister for Health will meet the bodies involved?

We are straying from the Order of Business.

This is in the programme for Government.

I would not want to give anybody the impression that I was misleading the Dáil. My words may not have been entirely accurate. I had been speaking with the Minister for Health and as I understood it the discussions that had taken place had been progressive. I take the point that senior officials from the Department of Health and not the Minister met both the Irish Thalidomide Association and the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society - there are two groups representing the 32 survivors.

The German foundation is set to increase substantially by between 150% and 500% its monthly payments to thalidomide survivors, including Irish survivors, with effect from 1 August 2013, backdated to 1 January 2013. The State does not wish to take any action which would have the effect of jeopardising current or future payments to Irish survivors by the German foundation and, as such, the Department has requested the State Claims Agency to meet the German Ministry and report back in regard to the implications of the issue that was raised concerning the application of German law to the payments made to Irish survivors of thalidomide. Both thalidomide organisations will be kept informed of developments. The Minister is obviously interested in this. If I inadvertently gave the impression that he had been meeting the associations, clearly, it was senior officials from his Department who met them and I correct my words in that regard.

When is publication expected of the customs Bill to consolidate and modernise national legislation relating to the administration of customs by a single piece of legislation?

That will be later this year.

In regard to the Seanad abolition referendum, does the Taoiseach intend over the summer to bring forward legislation on reform of this House to give it strength and powers like other unicameral Legislatures such as New Zealand or Sweden? Will he spell that out clearly to the public, in other words, to people who would say they would vote for abolition of Seanad if the Dáil was reformed? Is that the Taoiseach's plan of action?

I hope to set out those changes for next week.

Will legislation follow or will the changes require legislation?

It may be necessary in some cases but I think we can make the vast majority of changes and run the place far more effectively without legislation.

It speaks volumes that they are to be set out when the Dáil will be in recess.

The Deputy's party used to do the same thing.

The Taoiseach can text all the changes to us.

He can get the new Clerk to deliver it.