Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 7, motion re membership of committee; No. 8, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Decision 2005/681/JHA establishing the European Police College, CEPOL, back from committee; and No. 19, statements on the Government’s priorities for the year ahead (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 7 and 8 shall be decided without debate; and Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 45, Protection of Residential Mortgage Account Holders Bill 2014, Second Stage (resumed), shall be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 19, statements on the Government’s priorities for the year ahead (resumed).

Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 7 and 8, motion re membership of committee and proposed approval for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council back from committee, without debate, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

When will we have an opportunity to debate the Health (General Practitioner Medical Service) Bill, to allow free GP service for those under six years of age, even though it will be at the cost of discretionary medical cards for children over six? In the contract issued to GPs there is a gagging order, which will prevent them from advocacy, speaking out and articulating their views about the public health system. Why does the Government seem intent and determined to deny our GPs the right to free speech? When will the legislation be published?

It is an appalling provision. I do not know why the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte is smiling. It is in the contract for GPs who have worked autonomously for many decades. They speak out on health matters, which is important in a democracy. There seems to be a continuing determination to prevent people, particularly in this context, GPs, from speaking out. That is wrong. The sooner we can discuss this Bill, the better.

The Bill will be published in this session and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy White, is conducting comprehensive discussions and consultation on the contract with doctors and members of the medical profession from all over the country.

What about the gagging clause?

Ba mhaith liom dhá cheist a chur ar an Taoiseach, ceann amháin a bhaineann le reachtaíocht atá fórógartha. I have raised the Children First Bill a few times. The heads of the Bill have been published but we have yet to see the full Bill. In January the European Court of Human Rights found in favour of abuse survivor, Ms Louise O’Keeffe. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, put in place a review to deal with other cases. Ms O’Keeffe has expressed disappointment at the time it is taking the Department of Education and Skills to address the claims of other victims. I understand the Minister updated the Cabinet on this yesterday. When will the review be completed and when will the Dáil have sight of the Children First Bill? Would it be pertinent, prudent or timely for the Minister to make a statement on his review to the Dáil at the earliest opportunity?

Last July, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that the Walsh report on symphysiotomy would be published soon. The Minister had it for two months before that and almost a year later it has not been published. Last November, the Government appointed Ms Justice Murphy to examine symphysiotomy and to bring closure to the many women who suffered this barbaric practice. That was to be completed in eight weeks. When will it be published? We all know, from having met the victims of symphysiotomy, how barbaric the procedure was. Many of the women are elderly, some are in poor health and these issues need to be brought to closure promptly and effectively. When will the Murphy and Walsh reports be published?

I will have to advise Deputy Adams on those later. I do not have the information here with me.

The Children First Bill was first committed in 1999 and again in 2009. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, informs me that the Bill is complete and will be brought to Cabinet very soon, in this session.

What is the status of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill? Will it include the right to collective bargaining, as the Labour Party insisted it should?

We do not deal with the content of Bills.

In his long speech yesterday, the Taoiseach announced the construction programme. Can he confirm it will include a social housing programme? A theme common to all the Deputies who have had a chance to speak on the Government programme has been the incredible seriousness of the housing crisis. Even The Irish Times, which was a cheerleader for the abuses in the housing market up to the crash, realises there is now a massive housing crisis. Will the Taoiseach be making an announcement? Will the Government start to build homes and apartments for the 100,000 who are suffering now?

The industrial relations (amendment) (No. 2) Bill will be brought forward in this session. I do not want to speak about the content of a Bill.

I have advised the Chief Whip that next week we should have statements from Members on the construction and housing sector. This is a real problem. The Government will be able to finalise its strategy across the construction sector shortly after St. Patrick’s Day. The statements will be next week.

Growers in Lusk and Rush and other parts of north county Dublin are anxiously awaiting promised legislation to put the code of conduct on supplier-retailer relationships on a statutory basis and to reduce the power of retailers. When will the Consumer Protection and Competition Bill come before the House? It is long overdue and often promised.

The Government has cleared this Bill and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is working out details. It will come before the House in this session and it is not far away.

Will the forthcoming Health Reform Bill contain provisions to increase the number of child psychologists within the HSE? The current moratorium is having a damaging effect on families, some of whom have to wait up to a year for assessment with little or no follow on.

That will come before the House in this session.

The draft contract for GPs is unworkable and the Taoiseach refused to answer Deputy Martin when he asked him about the gagging order contained in that contract. That is one item.

What item of legislation is that?

Legislation is required.

Is it promised?

It is the Health (General Practitioner Medical Service) Bill.

That is one item. The second item is-----

The Ceann Comhairle need not ask me about the second item.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, will draft regulations to allow for an exemption to Statutory Instrument 366 of 2008, Road Traffic (Construction and Use of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations, 2008, to allow for the transportation of fodder. He has stated in this House this will apply only to hay and straw. Surely it should also include round bales of silage. This will be a very important matter to many.

Round bales of silage, Taoiseach. I thank the Deputy. He has had a fair run.

The devil is in the detail.

The devil is in the detail. That is true.

In Deputy Healy-Rae’s part of the country would they call fermented hay silage?

I have studied it.

Taoiseach, we will not have a conversation about this.

I have studied it. If the Minister does what he says it could affect many farmers to their detriment. It is an important issue and I would like the Taoiseach to consider it because the Minister clearly stated hay and straw only.

Maybe the Deputy should table a Topical Issue matter on this question.

The first one is this session. Perhaps we should chew on the second one to find out what is the best thing to do. We do not want to have lower trailers and higher bales but the transportation of fodder is an important issue around the country and there are implications for lower bridges where high loads can get caught. I will ask the responsible Minister to clarify the issue. We do not want a discussion about the relative value of hay versus silage.

I welcome the Action Plan for Jobs. Job creation is the only way we will get out of the recession. However, I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the fact that one of his Ministers of State is holding up hundreds if not thousands of jobs. I refer to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

The Deputy should just ask his question.

She has not yet brought proposals to the local authorities on allowing people to apply for home improvement grants and housing aid for the elderly. Under the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure that guidelines are sent to local authorities so people can apply for grants to renovate their houses and create jobs?

This is an important matter and I am glad the Deputy raised it. There are two grants, as the Deputy is aware. One is for home improvements and the other is for energy efficiency. They can be run together in terms of the claim for a rebate over two years. They will involve smaller local contractors and where they are registered, obviously the work can proceed. I expect a significant level of take up of the grants and I will advise the Deputy on the state of play in terms of when they are open to applications.

The climate action and low carbon development Bill underpins Government policy on climate change, mitigation and adaption. When can we expect this important Bill to be published? The mineral development Bill aims to modernise and consolidate all mineral development legislation. When can we expect that Bill?

The mineral development Bill is this session and the low carbon Bill will be towards the end of the year. I would say November but I cannot confirm it.

In regard to victims of crime, their rights are obviously infringed but there are few supports for them. The criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill will strengthen rights for victims and their families. When will that Bill be introduced?

I apologise to the Deputy but I cannot give him a projected date for publication of the Bill. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to advise him on it.

The sale of loan books to unregulated third parties Bill will cater for the sale of loan books by regulated financial institutions to unregulated entities. Our focus has been on IBRC and its liquidation but other banks, including Bank of Ireland and AIB, are also involved. I am concerned that what Deputy Healy raised during Leaders' Questions-----

We cannot debate the issue.

I am concerned about the overlap between the events that have led to these outside investors making whopping profits and the distress of the customers-----

We cannot debate the issue. This is about promised legislation.

----- whose loans could be sold to unregulated entities. This is a mess.

When is the Bill due?

In the case of NAMA-----

The Deputy has had his say.

-----connected loans-----

We cannot have a debate on the issue. When is the Bill due?

The Ceann Comhairle must understand-----

I understand perfectly. If the Deputy tables a Topical Issue matter I will consider it for him. He cannot discuss it on the Order of Business.

A significant proportion of the connected loans in NAMA were-----

He is being unfair to other Deputies.

-----transferred at a nil value when they came into NAMA because-----

Please resume your seat. You have had your say.

-----they were inoperable.

When is the Bill due?

There may also be inoperable securities in the household loans.

I ask the Taoiseach to reply.

It is due next year.

As the Taoiseach will be aware, there are plans to merge the penalty points systems in the North and the South. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport recently stated he had encountered serious legal difficulties in this regard. Can the Taoiseach indicate whether these problems can be overcome? Will the proposed merger be provided for in the road traffic Bill and when will that legislation be published?

The road traffic Bill is next year. The issue to which the Deputy referred pertains to the veracity of serving a summons. Elsewhere, if a summons is sent by post it is received, even if it is by registered post. Down here it is different because summonses have to be served. In other countries the way of dealing with that can differ. The discussions between here and Northern Ireland have not yet concluded and the Minister is trying to arrive at a compromise that will be acceptable. Issues also arise in regard to the courts.

What is the current status of the bail Bill? The harbours (amendment) Bill will, among other provisions, transfer control of certain harbours to local authorities. There are ambitious plans for a new port in Galway to serve the west and the aforementioned legislation will have an impact on these plans.

I am aware of Deputy Walsh's interest in the new development in Galway. The harbours (amendment) Bill is not due until next year. I have responded to Deputy Durkan on a number of occasions regarding the bail Bill. As there are a number of complications with the legislation, it is quite a while away.

I am sorry to hear that. I have a constant interest in the Bill because it is fundamental to our justice system that it be brought before the House as a matter of extreme urgency.

I ask about the Red Cross (amendment) Bill and the housing Bill, which are promised. Given that the Opposition is now aware of the inadequacies of the housing situation, and bearing in mind that the housing policy pursued for the last 15 years was a complete failure -----

What is the current policy?

It was a complete and absolute failure. There were no loans issued by local authorities.

How many families will be forced to stay in Dublin hotels tonight?

Please, we are not having a debate.

It is no wonder they are cackling over there because it is an absolute disgrace. The party Deputy Keaveney joined recently should be able to tell him where it went wrong.

Stop the blather.

I ask Deputy Keaveney to stop interrupting. Deputy Durkan cannot make speeches.

I am not making a speech; I am bringing to the attention of the House the urgency of the housing situation -----

There will be no more speeches on the Order of Business.

-----and I am asking that, in the context of the housing Bill-----

Go away, you windbag.

We know about the Bill.

I ask the Taoiseach to answer the question.

Please resume your seat. There will be no more speeches on the Order of Business-----

-----and no more interruptions from Deputies.

We have not yet had an opportunity to speak on the Order of Business.

I call Deputies in the order in which they indicate.

We have not been called.

We are feeling neglected.

Deputy Keaveney was interrupting.

The Red Cross Bill is next year. The housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, containing 42 heads, was approved by the Government on 17 December 2013 and will be published this session.

It is not my fault if Deputies are slow to raise their hands. I call Deputy Butler. I am calling Deputies in the order in which they indicate. Deputy O'Dea will be next, followed by Deputies Kirk, Ó Fearghaíl, Shortall, Heydon and Collins. Are Deputies happy?

I ask Deputies to refrain from speeches. Keep it to the bare minimum.

When is it expected that the reform of appeals process of tax matters will be published to provide for amendments to existing legislation on the appeals process?

I do not yet have a date for that.

The Taoiseach will recall that he promised nothing less than a constitutional revolution. Two weeks ago I asked him about the following commitment in the programme for Government: "We will also deal with the related problem of legislation being shunted through at high speed and will ensure that Dáil standing orders provide a minimum of two weeks between each stage of a Bill". When I asked the Taoiseach when that change would be introduced to Standing Orders he told me he would have a bit of a chat about it. Has he had the chat and when will the change be forthcoming?

The row with Deputy O'Dea and his colleagues last year was about Bills being guillotined. I understand that no Bill has been guillotined thus far this session and there is no intention of guillotining any of them. It is always a case of attempting to comply with Standing Orders and allowing a decent period between Second Stage and Committee Stage. I spoke to the Chief Whip about the matter. I am sure Deputy O'Dea will join me in congratulating his wife on the birth of her baby yesterday. That is why he is not here. I will have to resume the chat when he returns and will advise the Deputy accordingly.

In recent weeks, we have had some bad experiences with ambulance response times in the north east. In a response I received from the HSE, it indicated that there would be a review of the position of the ambulance service generally in the transformation programme. In view of the bad experience that there has been, I wonder whether the issue of the review could be accelerated in some way.

Ambulance services are vital. One really needs them in emergency situations. It is unsatisfactory to say the least to have delayed responses.

This is true. The National Ambulance Service is preparing a report on the incident there where it took 57 minutes to transport the patient to hospital. The objectives are that a patient carrying vehicle, an ambulance, should be there within 19 minutes for 80% of calls and the unfortunate case Deputy Kirk mentioned is the subject of an incident report being sought by the National Ambulance Service.

The programme for Government clearly commits the Taoiseach to addressing the plight of the 32 survivors of thalidomide and it is an issue that has been raised here on a number of occasions over the past three years. Is that matter being progressed and, more important maybe in the short term, has the Minister for Health engaged with the two agencies that represent the 32 survivors?

Finally, having regard to some of the earlier exchanges and on the issue of Dáil reform, could I ask the Taoiseach if, perhaps, at the weekly meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, he might put down an item on legislation so that his own members could question him on legislation and, therefore, would not be obliged to come in here to repeatedly raise issues?

Every Deputy in this House who is elected, irrespective of what party he or she is a member, is quite entitled to ask a question on the Order of Business on when legislation is promised or due. Let us not get involved in Government and Opposition here.

I cannot confirm whether the Minister has spoken to the two groups involved in the 32 persons surviving from thalidomide. I will advise Deputy Ó Fearghaíl on that.

I am not sure from the Deputy's second question whether he wants to attend at a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting or not. If he does, he would be welcome.

It is approximately a month since I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the widespread street dealing and abuse of benzodiazepines. This is now the substance of choice in the case of many with substance abuse problems. No doubt it is a serious issue. At the time I stated that new regulations had been drawn up 18 months ago and the Taoiseach undertook to check what had happened to those regulations to tighten the prescribing, possession, etc., of benzodiazepines, but I did not hear back from his office. Does he know at this point what is happening in this area?

The second issue I want to raise with the Taoiseach is the successful conference held on Monday on the question of this country's unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Given that the issue of alcohol sponsorship has been kicked to touch to a large extent and put into a process, what is the timescale for the long-promised public health alcohol Bill? When can we expect to see that?

The issue of alcohol sponsorship has not been long-fingered. I have decided that we should look at this element of it in a different way and under the Department of the Taoiseach, this will respond within 12 months from when we made that decision.

The Bill, as Deputy Shortall will be aware, is being worked upon by her successor, the Minister of State, Deputy White, who has done a great deal of work on this. On the publication of the Bill, I do not want to give the Deputy an exact date, but it is now practically completed.

In so far as the regulations about the prescribed drugs Deputy Shortall mentions are concerned, I am not aware of what progress was made but I will ask for a response to be sent to Deputy Shortall on this.

May I clarify one point on the alcohol Bill? Is the Taoiseach saying then that the Bill will be published without any provisions for dealing with the issue of sponsorship?

We cannot deal with the content of the Bill. It is only about when the Bill will be published.

Will that be the case?

We cannot deal with the content. We can only talk about when the Bill will be published.

It is pertinent to the question I asked.

Then Deputy Shortall should put down a parliamentary question rather than raise it on the Order of Business.

They will not be tackling the issue of sponsorship in legislation.

I said I have decided to look at that in a slightly different way. Under my own Department, there will be a response and a decision made on that over the next period ahead. That does not interfere with the work already done by the Minister of State, Deputy White, in respect of alcohol and the publication of that Bill.

It will not be in the legislation then.

In light of the comments by some farming organisation representatives yesterday in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the bull beef crisis that there is market manipulation by processors and retailers, and also mindful of a potential price war on milk that seems to be breaking out in the United Kingdom where Tesco is selling four pints of milk for £1, I was going to ask under the consumer protection and competition Bill about the need for a statutory code of conduct for the grocery sector and the need for an independent adjudicator, which has never been more apparent than it is now. I accept the Taoiseach's earlier answer.

What Bill are we talking about?

The consumer protection and competition Bill; I acknowledge the Taoiseach's response earlier to Deputy Ryan.

Then there was no need to ask about it a second time.

They do not hold parliamentary party meetings any more.

My second point, if Deputies Ó Fearghaíl and Dooley do not mind me asking questions and acknowledging the mandate that I have to be here, relates to the gambling control Bill. Following publication of the Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013, the gambling control Bill is to update and consolidate law on betting and gambling and the Taoiseach might outline when that is due.

That will be published early next year.

The Protection of Residential Mortgage Account Holders Bill is currently being discussed in Fianna Fáil Private Members' time. It is a Bill introduced by Deputy Michael McGrath. The Government stated that it is not opposing the Bill which, in my view, is a slick way to confuse people. Is the Government supporting the Bill and will it progress the Bill to Committee, Report and Final Stages as soon as possible to clear up the issue?

That is a matter for Private Members' business.

Deputy Niall Collins's leader yesterday said that the Bill would be voted down by the Government. I had to correct him on that and say that the Government accepted the principle of the Bill. However, the Bill is flawed in a number of ways and the details of where the flawed areas occur-----

The Government could amend it in committee.

-----will be pointed out.

Would the Taoiseach repeat that?

I call Deputy Troy.

I just missed the last bit of what the Taoiseach said. Will the Government allow it proceed to Committee Stage?

There will be a vote at 9 o'clock and the Deputy can call a vote or not call a vote. I am sorry, but the Deputy cannot discuss that now.

It offers no additional protection to the mortgage account holders other than what is already there.

Why does the Government not amend it on Committee Stage?

Sorry, we are not having a debate on it now.

Deputy Niall Collins should bear in mind the Government accepts the principle of this Bill.

I have two questions. Last week the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, confirmed to the House that he would establish a cross-departmental review on the support of the post office network countrywide. Will the Taoiseach's Department be involved in this review and could the Taoiseach indicate to the House how long the review will take and when it will be brought before the House for discussion by all Members of the Dáil?

My second question relates to the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. Currently, local authorities the length and breadth of the country are hamstrung in terms of who they can put on the housing list because of an anomaly in the Act. Where a husband and wife separate and one moves out of the family home, he or she cannot get approval for inclusion on the housing list and therefore cannot get rent allowance. It is leaving already vulnerable persons in an extremely vulnerable position. When can we expect to have this legislation brought before the House so that we can address some of its anomalies?

As I have already pointed out, that legislation will be published this session.

The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, made it perfectly clear the Government has no intention of closing any post office. The cross-departmental group will be set up by him and will report when its work is completed. Obviously, there are clear opportunities out there for post offices to do business in new areas and new dimensions of work, and that is what the cross-departmental group will examine. As far as I know, my Department is not involved in that. If necessary, obviously, we will be informed about what is going on.