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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Dec 2013

Vol. 823 No. 4

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 17, Supplementary Estimates for Public Estimates [Votes 18, 31 and 35] (back from committee); No. 19, Finance (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. a1, Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed). It is scheduled to adjourn at 7 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded, and the order shall resume thereafter with Topical Issues.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 5.30 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Topical Issues, which shall take place not later than 7 p.m.; No. 17, Votes 18, 31 and 35, shall be moved together and decided without debate by one question which shall be put from the Chair and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; the proceedings on the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 19 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 2 p.m. today 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; any division demanded on the conclusion of the Second Stage of No. a1 shall be taken immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 10 December 2013; and if proceedings on the Second Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2013 do not conclude today, the Dáil shall sit tomorrow at 10 a.m. to resume consideration of Second Stage, there shall be no Order of Business within the meaning of Standing Order 26 and the Dáil shall adjourn not later than 2 p.m.

There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 17 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 19 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with the divisions demanded on No. a1 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for the sitting and business of the Dáil tomorrow agreed to? Agreed.

Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil fadhb mhór againn i Roinn na Gaeltachta tar éis an cruinniú a bhí againn inné leis an gCoimisinéir. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh díospóireacht faoi chad a tharla inné roimh an Nollaig. Ní dóigh liom gur ceart dúinn fanacht go dtí Feabhra chun an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn.

It is clear there is a problem when the Irish Language Commissioner made the remarks he did yesterday. We should schedule a debate on that before the Christmas recess. I got the impression the Minister plans to wait until the commissioner's resignation in February before addressing the issues he raised. There is a sense of urgency that needs to be addressed.

On the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we had very significant positive results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA, studies this week and they were lost in other issues. We should acknowledge how positive they were. The improvements in science subjects and maths pay tribute to everybody involved, the Minister, his predecessors and teachers around the country.

In the context of junior certificate reform, what plans does the Minister have to ensure we continue these results? Also, what plans does he have to consider new subject areas, particularly technology and computer programming?

The issue of a debate or discussion on the Irish language strategy could be raised by the party Whips at the next Whips' meeting, or Deputy Dara Calleary and the Sinn Féin spokesperson could discuss it with the Chief Whip to see whether time could be made available, either tomorrow or next week but certainly before the recess.

With regard to Deputy Dara Calleary's comments on PISA, the results are welcome. We have recovered our previous position, which gives strength to the suggestion that the assessment in 2009 was not 100% accurate. I welcome the improvement which is the result of the literacy and numeracy strategy I launched in July 2011. The strategy had been in draft form, prepared by my predecessor, Mary Coughlan, in response to the revelations and concerns expressed in 2009. The good news is that in regard to the 65 countries surveyed and within the 34 countries in the OECD, we have improved our position considerably. We are in the second from top division but not in the premier league. My aspiration is for Ireland to be in the top division. It is clear from the data that the reformed science curriculum introduced in primary schools in 1999, with a knock-on effect on reform in the post-primary junior cycle, has led to a distinct improvement. The change in the data is significant and according to the professional interpretation of the educational research council, the change in the curriculum has had a positive effect. The fact that change was introduced in 1999 indicates how long the lead-in time is for improvements to take place. I hope we will see a similar improvement with the junior cycle reforms which will commence next September in one subject, English, for students entering first year.

Maidir leis an díospóireacht a thairg an tAire, beidh Sinn Féin sásta an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn amárach, mar go bhfuil géarchéim anseo. Dá dtarlódh seo ó thaobh Ombudsman na bpáistí agus dá mbeadh an Ombudsman tar éis a rá go bhfuil an Stát Seirbhís lochtach, bheadh an díospóireacht againn lom láithreach inniu. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach go dtarlóidh an díospóireacht seo inniu, ámárach nó ar an lá is moille, Dé Máirt. Beidh Sinn Féin sásta a bheith anseo amárach, má tá an tAire féin anseo le na ceisteanna a fhreagairt.

Maidir le reachtaíocht, tá athbhreithniú déanta le dhá bhliain ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, ach cén uair an mbeidh leasúcháin ag teacht chuig an Dáil don Acht sin?

In regard to the Local Government Bill 2013 which deals with reform of local government, I have asked the Minister and the Taoiseach on a number of occasions whether legislation is contingent on the Government announcing the local government fund allocations to local authorities. As we are all aware, the Government promised a bonanza local government fund allocation this year because of the local property tax. An additional €500 million is to be put into the fund to be dispersed to local authorities to do all sorts of things. Some of us believe these moneys will not materialise. It has now emerged that a sneaky amendment has been included in the Local Government Bill by the Government to allow €600 million to be paid from the fund by the Minister for Finance for the establishment of Irish Water. Will the Minister confirm that the funds that will be raised next year from the local property tax will go to enhance local-----

The Deputy knows well that this is not an issue that can be raised on the Order of Business.

Will they go to facilitate the taxation of water services.

The Deputy is not listening to me. He knows well that this is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Will the Chair explain this to me -----

I am not going to explain anything to the Deputy who should find out what is in order on the Order of Business. He knows well that it is not in order to raise this issue.

With respect, on a point of order, if the Ceann Comhairle can inform me which of the two questions asked by Fianna Fáil referenced any legislation, I will be willing to listen to him. I am told there is a precedent and that we have a book which includes salient rulings.

Will the Deputy, please, put a question that is in order?

There was no reference to any matter relevant to the Order of Business in the questions asked by Fianna Fáil. In terms of the debate tomorrow -----

The Fianna Fáil Deputy called for a debate.

The Deputy spoke about education but made no reference to impending legislation.


The Deputy is a spokesperson, but I have been elected Ceann Comhairle. As long as I am here, I hope the Deputy will respect the Chair.

I do respect the Chair.

I ask the Deputy to respect the Chair and be in order.

The Local Government Bill includes an amendment which allows €600 million from the fund to be paid to fund Irish Water. Is this contingent on the enactment of the Local Government Bill?

When is the Local Government Bill due to be taken?

I understand Report Stage will be taken next week.

What about the other legislation about which I asked - Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla?

Let Mary Lou back in; she is much better.

With respect to the hecklers, I asked about legislation, Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, and the review conducted two years ago. As I asked my question in Irish, perhaps the Deputies did not understand what I said. When will that legislation be brought before the House?


Gerry had to send in the Deputy this morning because he did not have Irish.

Is there a Bill due?

It has disappeared.

I understand the heads of the Bill will be sent to the Government shortly.

There are plans for the penalty point systems to be harmonised North and South to make them more effective. People have evaded penalties, penalty points and fines for a number of years and we do not know what this evasion amounts to in monetary terms. The Road Traffic (No. 3) Bill is due for publication. When will it be published? This is an important issue in the context of safety.

I understand the Bill will be published next year and that the heads are being discussed by the Government.

The problems associated with alcohol misuse have been well documented. They include suicide, physical assaults, etc. When can we expect the health information Bill to be brought before the House?

It will be taken next year.

With regard to the health services reform Bill, I have been critical of the centralisation of emergency call centres. Unfortunately, this led to the death last week of a woman in County Kerry. I call for the Minister for Health to have a full inquiry into this matter -----

Perhaps the Deputy might raise the matter as a Topical Issue.

----- because Government policy has led to the death of a woman as a result of the extraordinary delay in the response of the ambulance service.

The Deputy knows this is out of order on the Order of Business.

There is no but; this comes under the heading of the health services reform Bill.

That is uncalled for.

What is uncalled for? The truth is the death of a person because of the Minister of State's party's policies was uncalled for. The Minister of State wants to be smart, but the death of somebody is nothing to be smart about.

When is the health services reform Bill due?

There is no reference to a health services reform Bill, but there are a number of health Bills. Does the Deputy have a specific Bill in mind?

I am looking for an inquiry into the death of a woman in County Kerry because of HSE policy -----

There are other ways of raising the issue. The Deputy should resume his seat.

On two previous occasions I asked about the Adoption Act 2010 and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste indicated that the Government might be willing to bring forward an amendment to the Act to facilitate three Irish families caught in a legal limbo in seeking Russian adoptions. Time is of the essence in these cases. Will the amendment be brought before the House before the Christmas recess?

My colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is working extensively on this complex issue. However, I am not sure whether she can bring a measure before the House that soon to deal with the three families referred to. I will raise the matter with her.

The programme for Government committed to publishing an implementation plan for the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 to ensure a timeline would be provided for each child with special needs in gaining access to an individual education plan. What is the position on publication of that plan? It is distinct from the current review taking place under Eamon Stack of the allocation of special needs hours.

About which plan is the Deputy asking?

The Deputy is referring to the programme for Government and the commitment given in it to publish a plan to implement the part of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 that has not yet been brought into operation.

Perhaps the Deputy and I know more about this area than other Members of the House. I will await the conclusions of the special group examining the reallocation of resources model, which I expect to receive next April. They will give us much greater clarity on how best to proceed to implement as much as we can of the rest of the EPSEN Act which has not yet brought into operation because of resource implications.

The legislative programme includes two references to important Bills on universities, namely, the universities (amendment) Bill which aims to deal with remuneration, allowances and pensions which need to be addressed urgently and No. 76, technological universities Bill, which aims to amend the DIT and HEA Acts. Can we expect to see urgent action on these Bills? Will they be brought before the House within a short timeframe?

On the first Bill to which the Deputy referred dealing with pay and conditions, the matter is at a relatively advanced stage. The second Bill to which the Deputy referred is a large piece of legislation on the third level landscape. It will involve provisions to enable existing institutes of technology to merge, if they wish to do so. It will also provide for the requirements for any merged institute of technology which wishes to proceed to try to achieve technological university status. I expect to have the heads of the Bill within the Department before the end of this calendar year and hope to have it enacted during 2014. On current calculations, it will be at the latter end of 2014.

On promised legislation, when is it expected to introduce legislation to the House to amend the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 to allow for arrangements to be put in place to facilitate an all-island gas market? The education (admission to school) Bill which is also promised will ensure the process of enrolling by schools is more open, equitable and consistent. Has either Bill been approved by the Cabinet? When is it expected to bring them to the House?

The all-island gas market Bill is scheduled for next year. The education (admission to school) Bill is with the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection for consultation with interested individuals. I hope I will be in a position to receive a report from the committee early in the new year, with the intention of debating and enacting the Bill some time later in 2014.

I thank the Minister.

I wish to ask about the consumer and competition Bill which will make provision for a statutory code of conduct for the grocery sector. I understand it will be announced before the Christmas recess. What progress has been made on it? Are we on target to have it announced before the end of the year?

I am reliably informed that it is at a very advanced stage and that the target is to try to have it published before the Christmas recess.

As the Minister knows, the Government spent almost three years working on a housing Bill, but we have no legislative underpinning for the cold weather initiative which lasts from November to March. A total of 140 people sleep on the streets and in parks, often with tragic consequences. Dublin City Council, where the Minister and I began our political careers, has approximately 20,000 families waiting for housing. In my constituency alone 4,000 or 5,000 are waiting. Some people have been waiting for up to 20 years. Given this situation, is it not incumbent on us to have an emergency public social housing programme such as the one the Minister advocated in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s? We need a sense of urgency.

I ask the Deputy for his co-operation.

Given his background, the Minister has a particular interest in the subject and I wonder whether he can have something expedited.

I share the Deputy's concerns about the housing difficulties which have become acute throughout the country but particularly in the Dublin area. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is bringing forward the heads of a housing Bill before the end of the year and it is hoped to have the Bill published and debated in the House no later than next spring.

The Minister is aware that under planning legislation, the wind energy guidelines published in 2006 were to be reviewed by the relevant Minister. The Minister concerned has indicated this review will be completed this week. Will this deadline be met? How soon can we expect the review of the wind energy guidelines to be published?

I do not know whether the deadline will be met, but I will find out from the relevant Minister and have somebody communicate directly with the Deputy.