Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 6, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 20 - statements on the Guerin report (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in respect of No. 20 shall be taken at 4.30 p.m. and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. Private Members' business shall be No. 49, Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed) to conclude at 9 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded. Tomorrow's business after oral questions shall be No. 7, National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20 agreed to? Agreed.

With regard to the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, the terms of reference of the Fennelly commission were announced by the Government on 8 April last. In a recent letter to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, Mr. Justice Fennelly stated that the commission does not yet have telephone or Internet facilities. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this is no longer the case and that the work of the commission will be accelerated?

On the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill, the Minister for Health has given a commitment to change the policy in respect of discretionary medical cards for those with lifelong disabilities, serious illnesses and life-limiting conditions. The relevant Cabinet committee is due to make a final decision on this matter tomorrow. When will the amendments to the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill which relate to changing the policy on discretionary medical cards and which the Minister has promised be forthcoming?

I am not aware of a lack of telephone or Internet connections for the Fennelly commission of investigation. If there is a problem, I will see that it is attended to.

The matter was raised by Mr. Justice Fennelly in a letter to the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality.

Yes. Whatever the sole member requires in terms of the facilities necessary to allow him to do his job will be supplied.

The Cabinet committee to which the Deputy refers will not be making a final decision tomorrow. We recognise that there is a problem and we want to deal with it in a way that is understanding, humane and compassionate. As I have informed him previously, some of the letters sent to people in respect of either themselves or their children were not acceptable in any circumstances. He and I both know that this is not the sort of Ireland we want. We are going to fix this problem.

Will legislation be forthcoming?

Perhaps he will give me some time to get matters right, particularly as I will be obliged to go back to the Cabinet sub-committee before taking the issue to the full Cabinet. The issue will then be brought back before the House. I want these matters to be dealt with humanely.

The Minister made a promise. I do not know how long he will retain his position, but that is another day's work.

Deputy Martin left the then Department of Health and Children in a hurry.

That was not actually the case.

Perhaps Deputy Durkan wants the job of Minister for Health.

That is a remark that Deputy Martin did not need to make. I will advise the House further when we make a decision.

I take it the Taoiseach is not seeking just to tweak the process and that discretionary medical cards will be reinstated for those who possessed them previously.

We cannot debate that issue on the Order of Business.

It is an important issue and the Taoiseach raised it.

On previous occasions I have raised the matter of the Cooke report and inquired as to when it will be delivered to the Taoiseach. We have received different responses from various Members of Government in respect of this report. We were originally informed that it was imminent and then that this was not the case. Is the Taoiseach in a position to indicate when he expects delivery of the report?

We were informed some time ago that the regulation of lobbying Bill would not only be published but substantially progressed before the summer recess.

Yet, it has not been published, despite the fact that the heads of the Bill were published almost one year ago. Can the Taoiseach explain the delay? Like the rest of us I am sure the Taoiseach will appreciate the urgency of the legislation, not least given the high-profile controversies around various lobbyists.

Will the Taoiseach comment on the debates and the Government's official responses to the Constitutional Convention's fourth report on Dáil electoral reform, which was due last December? It is now five months late. What is the response to the convention's fifth report on voting rights for citizens outside the State, which was due over one month ago? Yesterday was the deadline for the Government's response to the sixth report on blasphemy. Can the Taoiseach explain the delay and confirm that these reports will be debated separately in the House?

They will be discussed separately. I expect that in the next fortnight. It is simply a question of pressure of time for dealing with legislation, I suppose, that has caused these things. However, in the next fortnight we will discuss the two of them separately.

The heads of the regulation of lobbying Bill were published almost one year ago. It has been progressed substantially. It is to be published in this session. In order to be fair and to show to her that I am competent I will send Deputy McDonald a report on the current state of preparation of the Bill. Did she hear that?

I heard that. Did the Taoiseach hear me?

The Cooke report is expected. An eight-week period was granted with some flexibility for Mr. Justice Cooke. I have not contacted Mr. Justice Cooke. Obviously, he will send his report when he is ready to do so. I cannot say to Deputy McDonald that it is imminent today or tomorrow. That is the story. There was an eight-week period with flexibility built into it.

As I said to Deputy Martin, I hope that the problem we all have in regard to children who are very sick and who require cards will be addressed and that we can sort this out.

In light of what the Ombudsman had to say this morning is it the intention of the Government to allow him to accept complaints in respect of Irish Water? Is this something the Taoiseach will contemplate when he discusses a new or revised programme for Government with the Labour Party? According to the Ombudsman the current circumstances lead him to believe that we are heading down the road of privatisation.

No, I am sorry. These are not matters for the Order of Business.

My comments are in respect of the legislation.

What legislation are you talking about?

The water services Bill.

When is the water services Bill due?

It will be later this year before that comes in. Obviously, the question Deputy Cowen raised is one for consideration as part of the legislation.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is next.

I have two items, if you do not mind.

Once you remain in order I am delighted to call you.

Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall. I will do my best. My first question relates to the defence (amendment) Bill. Who made the decision to remove the Army from participating in the Arbour Hill church ceremonies and why was it taken? I know the Taoiseach is the Minister for Defence now and I hope he will not get too anxious about all those jobs, but who made that decision? Why was it taken?

You know as well as I do that the question is not in order on the Order of Business.

It is under the defence (amendment) Bill.

Then we will ask about the defence (amendment) Bill, but not the content.

Who made the order to remove the Army from participating?

That is a separate issue altogether.

The Army has been doing it for decades.

What is the position on the defence (amendment) Bill?

The defence (amendment) Bill is due next year.

You have one more Bill, I understand, Deputy McGrath.

I have indeed. I am pleased that the former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the current Minister for Justice and Equality, is in the House. My question relates to the Children First Bill and the whole issue around the Supreme Court decision regarding the funding for that referendum which, whatever way we put it, was misspent or whatever.

Deputy, why not put down a parliamentary question?

I have put down a question and I am reading from it but I am not getting an answer. I have the list of parliamentary questions before me.

It is a matter for a parliamentary question.

The fact that the Supreme Court found that the Government had its hand in the till was never addressed in this House. It misappropriated the money.

Sit down, Deputy, please.

No. These are not my words. I am quoting from the Supreme Court judge.

You are not quoting on the Order of Business, my friend.

Go raibh maith agat. He will not answer anyway.

He will answer what is in order on the Order of Business. That is what will be answered. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is next. Now, listen to this man Deputy McGrath. This man is always in order.

Good. Let us hope I keep up that tradition. The housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill is currently before the House. I understand it is at or about to complete Third Stage. It is an interesting Bill not least because it envisages people currently on rent allowance moving to the local authority-----

Do not stray on me.

-----where they will be in receipt of a housing assistance payment. Clearly, the intention of the Government is to disappear 77,000 people off the housing waiting list.

Under the Bill, as envisaged, those people will no longer remain on the local authority waiting list. Can the Taoiseach tell us when is it proposed to take Committee and Report Stages of that legislation, which has the most fundamental significance for the 90,000 people on the housing waiting list throughout the country?

This is awaiting Committee Stage. The housing assistance payment scheme is designed to help people who move from unemployment to employment. Under the current system, all rights and facilities will be lost. The housing assistance payment is a tapered scheme to provide an incentive and encouragement for people to get back into the world of work. It is a scheme which, I imagine, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl supports strongly.

Under the heading "Protecting the Frontline" the programme for Government states:

Education will be a priority for this Government. It will endeavour to protect and enhance the educational experience of children, young people and students. To that end, it will endeavour to protect frontline services in education, and seek efficiencies in work and school practices, in line with the Croke Park Agreement.

In light of this and in light of the education (admission to schools) Bill, why is it that schools across Longford and Westmeath - I have in mind in particular Edgeworthstown, where an autistic unit is being closed down-----

We are straying now.

This is despite the fact that there has been no decrease in the number of students availing of it.

Thank you. We will get that information.

Special needs assistants are being withdrawn. How is this protecting front-line services, as promised in the programme for Government?

We are not debating the Bill now.

I have a second point in respect of the guidelines for erection of wind turbines. This entire process was designed not to come out until after 23 May.

Hold on a second, Deputy.

The people of Longford-Westmeath have spoken in respect of this issue. They are now anxiously waiting to see when the new guidelines will be published.

That is not for the Order of Business. That is not promised legislation.

The education (admission to schools) Bill is due this session. There has never been a higher number of special needs assistants. I gather the number will reach approximately 11,000 this year. A number of facilities have opened for children who are autistic or on the autistic spectrum.

This one is closing.

I had the privilege of opening one myself recently.

Will the Taoiseach come down and keep this one open?

Please, Deputy.

Deputy Troy commented on the wind energy development guidelines. The Minister is duty-bound to consider the public consultation process that is under way. There are proposed draft revisions to the wind energy development guidelines. Currently, they are expected to be finalised in quarter 3, 2014. Before any decision can be taken the Minister wishes to involve himself and hear the outcome of the public consultation process which, as Deputy Troy is aware, is under way.

What is the current position and location in respect of the health reform Bill? This is a Bill to put in place the new structures for the health service, as set out in Future Health document and the disestablishment of the HSE.

To what extent have all sections of the Charities Act 2009 been signed into law? Are there any outstanding items to be attended to and, if so, when is it likely to be concluded?

My last question relates to the Garda Síochána compensation (malicious injuries) Bill, which has been promised for some time and is eagerly awaited in the obvious places.

The Garda Síochána compensation (malicious injuries) Bill is this session.

The first meeting of the new board created under the Charities Act 2009 takes place tomorrow. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to contact Deputy Durkan in respect of all the documents being signed relating to the charities legislation.

The health reform Bill is on the A list but, to be honest, I am unsure whether it will get through in this session. It is on the A list for this session but it may get squeezed towards the end.

Regarding the deliberate and disgraceful targeting of savings by withdrawing people's discretionary medical cards, the Taoiseach stated that proposals would go to the Cabinet sub-committee tomorrow. Will he clarify whether these will entail primary legislation or will they require changes to secondary legislation or the administrative guidelines? How is it intended to give effect to the proposals?

It depends on the nature of the decision made. Deputy Shortall is aware from her experience in the Department that the law here was never changed. The problem exists and the problem must be dealt with. I would advise her to wait until the proposals are decided upon to see whether legislation is actually involved or required or not.

In fairness, the Taoiseach made a promise in the House this morning.

I call Deputy Walsh.

I am clarifying. Does that promise entail primary or secondary legislation? The Taoiseach has been telling us for some time-----

No, we cannot have a discussion on this.

-----that, under the law, he cannot deal with this issue.

The Taoiseach has given Deputy Shortall an answer.

The issue is not about how applications are being handled. The issue is the relentless-----

Will the Deputy please respect the Chair? I thank her very much.

-----targeting of savings by withdrawing people's discretionary medical cards. The Taoiseach needs to come clean on this matter.

Deputy Shortall, I do not want to have another-----

How will he deal with this or will he deal with it?

Deputy, please recognise the Chair and obey the rules of the House. The Taoiseach has answered the question. Any other question can be dealt with by way of parliamentary question.

I will inform the House when the decision is made.

On promised legislation, I am seeking an update on the geothermal energy provision Bill. As a result of storm damage, the electricity supply to many domestic and commercial customers across the country was severely compromised in recent months. This would be an important Bill in addressing that issue.

I can say to Deputy Walsh that the minerals Bill will be dealt with this session. The geothermal Bill comes after that and it will be later this year.

Regarding Setanta Insurance, which entered into liquidation in Malta, the legal position is that the situation falls under the EU Solvency I directive. A further directive has been promised for 2016 to strengthen the regime for customers. Will there be legislation to cover the gap between Solvency I and the introduction of Solvency II in 2016, thereby preventing what happened to the customers of Setanta Insurance, a non-Irish-based company, from happening to others?

Is there promised legislation?

No, but there is a Topical Issue down today on it.

I am aware of that. That is why I was going to-----

It will be dealt with today as a Topical Issue, Deputy Lawlor.

The spent convictions Bill has been held up for an unacceptably long time ahead of Report Stage. I have raised this matter with the Taoiseach a number of times and was prompted to raise it again with the new Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. Will the Taoiseach please ask her to expedite this matter, as many people are awaiting its progress through the Chamber?

Deputy Ryan is right. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill is awaiting Report Stage. A number of amendments that were submitted are being worked on in the Attorney General's office. I will advise Deputy Ryan of the progress made in regard to those and I will inform the Minister of his question.

The Ceann Comhairle might guide me on my question. One of the schools used for the elections in Dublin South-West was Holy Rosary primary school, but anyone with a physical impairment could not approach the polling station. There is legislation on this matter, but it does not seem to have been implemented. Anyone with a physical impairment-----

The Deputy should table a parliamentary question on that issue.

I could, but a by-election is coming down the tracks. Must the Electoral Commission Bill be tweaked? It was degrading to see people in wheelchairs-----

Maybe the Deputy could submit this as a Topical Issue.

-----not being able to access the polling station.

That should not be allowed.

If the Deputy submitted this as a Topical Issue, I would certainly consider it favourably. That is the best way of dealing with it.

The Deputy cannot ask questions that are not in order. I do not mean to be-----

It related to the Electoral Commission Bill.

-----narky all of the time, but there have to be some rules and regulations.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

I did not see Deputy O'Dea there. I am sorry.

The invisible man. The Taoiseach will be aware that there has been a great deal of speculation about changing or renegotiating the programme for Government or producing a new one, to which speculation he has contributed. Looking randomly at the current programme for Government-----

We are not going through that now, Deputy.

I will not go through it.

We go through promised legislation.

There is a commitment to a tenancy deposit protection scheme, a commitment to allowing local authorities to issue social housing bonds, a commitment to establishing a civilian corps and a commitment to local authorities establishing older persons councils. This is just a random sample. I will not even refer to the strategic investment bank and various other issues. Is it the Government's intention to fulfil these commitments before it renegotiates the programme or produces a new one?

The programme for Government has already been agreed by the Government. The Deputy is quoting from the 10% that is not actually implemented.

Deputy O'Dea is aware that the Government published its medium-term economic strategy following the exit from the bailout programme.

I could go through another few issues tomorrow.

It is in there that, obviously, we have to look at priorities as to how Government can manage in the fairest way possible both to continue stability in the country, grow our economy, provide jobs-----

The strategic investment bank is an example.

-----and, at the same time, understand the message here from the people that they have had a long series of challenges, which were necessary to take-----

It was not necessary to cut respite care grants.

-----but they want now to see some return on the difficulties that they have encountered. That is always the balance, Deputy O'Dea.

Within the medium-term economic strategy, that is where Government will focus on what can be done, what is the priority that should be done, in order to give people a sense of confidence and hope that, after all the challenges, the country is actually moving to a better place.

I thought the Government was supposed to do it all. It is in the programme for Government.

Yes; 90% of it is implemented.

Sitting suspended at 1.06 p.m. and resumed at 2.06 p.m.