Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 15c, motion re revision of ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; and No. 5, Sport Ireland Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 15c shall be decided without debate.

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15c, motion re revision of ministerial rota for parliamentary questions, without debate agreed to? Agreed. I call Deputy Cowen on the Order of Business.

Is it proposed that the contents of the forthcoming health practitioners Bill, which is listed in section A of the Government legislation programme, will be cognisant of any new agreement that may be reached with general practitioners following the breakdown of what was previously proposed by the former Minister for Health? Can we be assured that the new Minister will meet GPs with a view to drawing up a schedule and agreeing ample legislation to reflect their views and aspirations for the trade, as well as those of the Minister?

The legislation on the A list relates to the availability of medical cards to people over the age of 70. I understand the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has indicated he will meet GPs and their representatives. That process is probably already under way in the Department of Health and in the context of the HSE.

Some of the survivors of mother and baby homes who were outside the Dáil gates earlier this morning were in the Visitors Gallery for Leaders' Questions. I acknowledge their presence. We were supposed to have the terms of reference for the inquiry before the summer recess. We were then told we would see the terms of reference in September. We are still waiting as September draws to a close. I am sure the Tánaiste will appreciate and acknowledge the anxiety and expectation among survivors of mother and baby homes, the Bethany Home and other institutions across the length and breadth of the country. They are waiting to see the terms of reference to ensure they measure up, are fully inclusive and will facilitate the telling of the full story and the unearthing of the true facts about what happened to mothers and their young children in these institutions. When I was coming in here for Leaders' Questions, some of the survivors said they would like a minute's silence to be observed in the Dáil Chamber today in recognition of them. While I do not believe today would be the appropriate time for that, I want to reflect to the Tánaiste the anxiety of survivors as they await these terms of reference and the absolute need for full acknowledgement of the experience, trauma and violation of rights of these women and their children.

When we spoke at length about this last week, I said that this is a certain part of the hidden history of Ireland. I have had a long personal involvement in this issue. I know many people who were in these homes and institutions. I told Deputy McDonald last week that Judge Yvonne Murphy has been appointed by the Government to conduct an inquiry. Rather than rushing the terms of the inquiry, it is important for us to get the terms right. I said last week that I believe the terms should be comprehensive. A number of significant issues relating to mother and baby homes have been raised by individuals and groups. I advised the Deputy last week of what has been happening to date. Individual records of institutions around the country have been made available in cases in which requests have been made to the registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Records relating to Tuam, which is one of the best-known cases to have been highlighted in the media, have been made available on foot of the work of a local historian.

The second is the case of the records of the very large mother and baby home is Bessborough in Cork. As I pointed out to Deputy McDonald previously, there was an extensive interdepartmental interim report on the state of knowledge of the various issues that have arisen to date in Ireland's quite sad history in this area. It is important for the sake of the people who were in mother and baby homes that we have whatever expert assistance is required from people like historians, archivists and so forth in order that the records are retained. The state of the records varies enormously. Some of them were handed over to the HSE while others remain with the original bodies involved, both adoption societies and individual institutions. It is essential, from the point of view of those who were in mother and baby homes, that their records are maintained, for themselves, their children and grandchildren. As the Deputy knows, this does not just affect people who were brought up in Ireland or the UK. It also affects several thousand people from mother and baby homes who were brought up in the United States of America. We heard testimony from Ms Philomena Lee at a recent conference on adoption about the importance of being able to access the records. I look forward to the terms of reference coming-----

I cannot give the Deputy an exact date because the work is ongoing, but it will be as soon as possible. It is important that we get the terms of reference right because this is part of the story of hidden Ireland in the 20th century. We want to try to address all the relevant issues. There are some issues which can probably be addressed in other legislation such as, for instance, tracing rights. Indeed, Deputy McDonald has also raised that issue previously and I responded to her on it.

Subsequent to the recent independence referendum in Scotland, the British Government has indicated that it is going to devolve additional powers to the Scottish Parliament. Obviously that will have implications for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Assembly in Wales. Has there been any briefing from the British Government to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or to the Government generally as to what its intentions are in that regard?

I am looking forward to the North-South meeting scheduled for the end of next week, in the context of the outcome of the referendum in Scotland and the ongoing debate in the British Parliament at Westminster about the implications of the result for the different regions in the United Kingdom. The North-South meeting will provide a timely opportunity to hear the views of people from the North and of the parties in the Executive on these issues. There have been continuous contacts between the Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and their British counterparts. I look forward to the resumption of the North-South meetings next week.

I wish to ask the Tánaiste about the commitment in the programme for Government to open up the budgetary process. There has been very little progress made on that. It is still a highly secretive process which does not serve the people very well. The Taoiseach made a statement recently that the budget priority for the Government is to cut the top rate of tax, which will do nothing at all to help more than 80% of people in this country. In light of that statement and the Tánaiste's role as Minister for Social Protection, will she give consideration to reinstating the poverty-proofing exercise on the budget that was formerly carried out by the Combat Poverty Agency? Unfortunately that agency was abolished, but will the Tánaiste undertake to poverty-proof any proposed budgetary measures to see exactly whom they impact upon?

Deputy Shortall may be aware that there is a social inclusion division in the Department of Social Protection which publishes extensive material on poverty and inequality both before and after budgets in Ireland. That material, much of which is prepared in conjunction with the ESRI, is widely available and I have appeared before the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection on several occasions to discuss it in some detail. I also appeared before that committee in the past two weeks to discuss the social welfare Estimates for this year and the priorities for 2015.

On the question of equality in the context of social welfare, Deputy Shortall will have noted the recent publication by the ESRI and the statements by Professor John FitzGerald which found that the level of income inequality in Ireland has decreased since the onset of the economic crisis. The ESRI has set out in considerable detail how those decreases in income inequality have come about. Professor FitzGerald has also acknowledged in the aforementioned publication that the maintenance of our social welfare system in Ireland, notwithstanding the crisis, has been one of the hallmarks of how we dealt with the economic crash in contrast to many other European countries.

I will make available to Deputies copies of the most recent publications by the social inclusion division on this year's budget. Unfortunately, I cannot share with Deputy Shortall the contents of the forthcoming budget. She will appreciate the long-standing practice in this House whereby we learn the contents of the budget when the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announce it in the middle of October. That said, I would point out that in the agreement between myself and the Taoiseach on the revised priorities for the Government for the remainder of our term, we said very explicitly that, in the context of any relief that becomes available, our objective is to improve the situation for middle and low income families. We also specifically set out a number of measures aimed at assisting older people and those on social welfare.

Cutting the top rate of tax will not-----

I ask Deputy Shortall to resume her seat. We are not having a debate on this issue. The Order of Business is about promised legislation.

The budget is promised legislation.

A mediation Bill has been promised to deal with disputes between neighbours on issues such as overgrowing trees blocking light and so forth. At the moment, people in such disputes must go through the civil courts process and the mediation Bill is intended to deal with such cases. Can the Tánaiste indicate the progress made on that legislation?

I also wish to ask about the building control Bill. In light of Construction 2020 and the focus on ensuring the construction of more houses in the years ahead, putting the construction register in Ireland on a statutory footing is important in order that all builders are fully compliant and that we have no more Priory Halls. Can the Tánaiste update us on the status of that legislation?

The mediation legislation should be ready early next year and the building control Bill is also expected next year.

The geothermal energy development Bill is on the list of promised legislation. Is that Bill a priority for the Government? Have the heads of the Bill come before Cabinet for approval yet and when is it likely to come before the House? It has been promised for 2015 but perhaps it will be ready before then. I wish to ask the same question about the sale of alcohol Bill, which deals with an issue that has been much discussed in recent years. Have the heads been approved by Cabinet and when is it likely to come before the House?

The geothermal Bill will be published late next year. As Deputy Durkan will be aware, the minerals Bill is coming through in this session.

On the sale of alcohol Bill, the heads of that Bill were cleared by the Government some time ago but I expect it will come back to Government again before coming before the House.

In response to Deputy Kirk's question, the Tánaiste mentioned a North-South meeting next week. I presume that is a North-South Ministerial Council meeting rescheduled in view of the cancellation of the July meeting. Could the Tánaiste assure us that at that meeting she will have on the agenda the need to establish the civic forum and also the need to progress the proposed Irish language Bill, Bille na Gaeilge? These are both important issues and commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and St. Andrews Agreement. It is important that progress is made on those particular issues.

I do not have the detailed agenda to hand but I will come back to Deputy Smith separately.

I have two matters. There is a sense of urgency about the children (amendment) Bill in relation to the commitment given on St. Patrick's Institution.

On the moves being made by the Tánaiste's colleague, Deputy Noonan, to spend €35 million or €40 million on various stock market consultants in flogging off a large portion of AIB and EBS, will the House have an opportunity to discuss that proposal or is it something that will come forward in the Finance Bill? Is it the settled policy of the Tánaiste's party that we should sell this State asset, which cost the people in excess of €20 billion and which devastates the budget?

Deputy Broughan is straying a little.

Is it the Tánaiste's settled policy-----

We do not deal with party policies.

-----that we will flog off AIB and EBS, which lost its independence as a mutual through a stroke pulled by the former Minister, the late Deputy Brian Lenihan, and that Fianna Fáil Government? Is that the Tánaiste's policy?

We do not deal with policy on the Order of Business.

Will the Tánaiste give us a chance to discuss it?

That is another issue. There are other ways to raise it.

The children (amendment) Bill is for this session. On the recovery of funds from the banks and the financial institutions in the context of the banking collapse, as Deputy Broughan will be aware, strong progress has been made in renegotiating some €40 billion in savings from the national debt and very significant savings in interest from the different arrangements which have been entered into. That is a considerable saving. It is one of the reasons the economy is entering a recovery period. I would think Deputy Broughan would welcome that. On whether the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will discuss that with the House or, if a Bill is appropriate, bring it before the House, I am sure the answer on both issues is "yes".

On the outstanding reports of the Constitutional Convention, the House was told earlier this week that there would be an item to deal with this on the business for next week. In fact, the Whips have now been told that will not happen, albeit that the report on blasphemy is ready.

My real question is about the fact that the Government set a series of timeframes for the Constitutional Convention itself to do its work and the convention adhered to that timeframe. Other timeframes were set by the Government for the Government to consider the reports and to bring them before this House. None of the timescales set by the Government have been met. It would appear, from what we are being told at Whips meetings, that the delay is arising in Departments not feeding back the necessary responses to the reports.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl will appreciate we cannot have a debate on this.

I do not want to. I just have a final point.

There is only a minute left.

That indicates that the Ministers in control of the various Departments do not attribute the same priority to the convention as the Government appeared to attribute to it when it was initiated.

As I understand it, there is a memorandum coming to Cabinet next week on this matter. As Deputy Ó Fearghaíl will appreciate, there have been a number of changes in terms of officeholders and the new Ministers have had to come to grips with their new Departments. I expect the memorandum will come before Cabinet next week and will come before the House at an appropriate time subsequently.

By decree of the Government, in only seven days' time it will have another punitive tax on ordinary people in the form of water charges. Is it not incredible that we still do not have the information from the energy regulatory as to what exactly the Government will demand from households? On the social welfare Bill, will the €100 grant the Tánaiste proposes for some categories of welfare recipient be provided for in that?

We cannot discuss the content of Bills.

Does the Tánaiste realise how insulted people feel that she thinks that makes up for the complete breach of a promise she made at the election that there would be no water tax when, for a family of four, it will be €500 a year? What does the Tánaiste say to people who are fearful of what is coming down the line?

The Tánaiste might be able to think about it but she cannot say it on the Order of Business.

Deputy Higgins asked, on pending legislation, would the measure for the 410,000 households which will benefit from a quarterly payment of €25 or €100 per annum be legislated for after the budget, and the answer is "yes". While he may wish to disregard it, many feel that is an appropriate and helpful assistance.

Then the Tánaiste is completely out of touch.

It will assist 410,000 households, including pensioners, carers, those who have a child on a domiciliary care allowance and those on disability. It will also be of significant assistance in reducing their water charges bill. As Deputy Higgins will be aware-----

We cannot have a debate. We are over time.

-----the best way to reduce water charges is to reduce consumption.

The Tánaiste is a disgrace.

When people are able to be advised of their consumption, we will have a significant opportunity to reduce expensive water usage.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Higgins should sit down. He is out of touch.

That completes the Order of Business.

(Interruptions).

Will Deputy Higgins resume his seat?

Deputy Higgins is a bully.

Deputy Higgins knows he is out of order. He is long enough around here.

It is a disgrace.