It is proposed to take No. 30a, statements on the Sixth Report of the Constitutional Convention on Blasphemy; and No. 30, Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed). Tomorrow's fortnightly Friday business shall be No. 53, Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill 2014; and No. 21, report on the review of commonage lands and framework management plans.
Order of Business
As there are no proposals to put to the House, I call Deputy Robert Troy on the Order of Business.
Last week, the Tánaiste dismissed concerns raised by my colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, when he referred to the problem of the illicit drug trade in Dublin city centre. I understand that tonight "Prime Time" is airing a special programme on the serious consequences the drug trade is having on Dublin city centre. One Temple Bar business owner says the problem is beyond tipping point. When will the criminal justice Bill come before the House and when will the Government bring forward measures to tackle this issue?
In relation to the independent inquiry into the mother and baby homes, the Government promised that in advance of the summer recess the terms of reference would be published. I accept that it is important that we get the terms of reference right and that the Government must have consultation with the various stakeholders. However, it is now October and we have yet to see publication of the terms of reference. When will the terms of reference be published?
The information and tracing Bill is legislation in which the Tánaiste has a personal interest. She has alluded to that previously. When does the Tánaiste see this important legislation, which was promised by the previous Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, in May 2011 as one of her priority Bills, being introduced? We are still awaiting its publication some three and a half years later. Perhaps the Tánaiste could update the House.
Very strong progress is being made in relation to the establishment of the commission of investigation on the mother and baby homes and the development of its terms of reference, which are complex and lengthy. The Attorney General advises that the commission's terms of reference will be a critical factor in determining its ambit, length, complexity, cost and, ultimately, success. I am happy to tell the Deputy that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has prepared draft terms of reference which it has now circulated to the relevant Departments. The draft will be revised following feedback from relevant Departments and referred to the Attorney General as soon as possible. I understand the Minister is in close contact with various interested groups and parties including as required and as interested the Members of the Opposition.
The work on adoption information and tracing will be carried out in parallel with the work of the commission. I have said that before. It is intended to refer a general scheme and heads of an adoption information and tracing Bill to the Joint Committee on Health and Children for its consideration during the current Dáil session. As the Deputy knows, there is a range of views on this very important area. As I have recorded, I hope to see Ireland having an adoption and tracing system as many other countries have had over a long period of time.
I ask the Deputy to be more specific in relation to his question on a criminal justice Bill as there is a series of criminal justice Bills in preparation. Can the Deputy outline which element of those Bills he refers to?
It is the illicit drug trade which the Tánaiste said last week was not a problem.
I did not say the drug trade was not a problem at all. What I said was that there were very significant Garda resources-----
She dismissed the concerns raised on this side of the House.
Would the Deputy like to hear the answer? I said significant Garda resources were being devoted to a new policing model in the centre of Dublin, about which I did not think the Deputy's colleague had previously heard. It is a new community policing model, the model that has been found to be the most effective in deterring young people from drugs, identifying where the drug trade is ongoing and dealing with it with the active support and collaboration of the local community. That is what I pointed out to the Deputy's colleague and I will get further details, if he wishes.
I, too, want to raise the issue of the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry into the mother and baby homes. It is welcome that the Tánaiste has indicated that there are draft terms of reference; that is progress. What are the plans to circulate them, not just to Departments but also to survivor and advocacy groups, if that is part of the plan? When does the Tánaiste believe the draft terms of reference might find their way to the floor of the Dáil? I am sure she is aware of the level of anxiety about the ongoing delays among the very many affected by this issue. She is aware also that these groups are of one mind that the terms of reference must be institutionally inclusive, thematically comprehensive and that a half-way house will not do. In other words, this job has to be done thoroughly and vigorously and I suggest to the Tánaiste that the way to ensure that will happen is to circulate the terms of reference in draft form not just to other Members of the Oireachtas but, crucially, to these groups also.
I ask the Tánaiste to update us on the consolidated domestic violence legislation for which we have been waiting. What progress has been made on it?
I raise a third issue which I raised with the Taoiseach, but he did not get to answer. It concerns the ongoing abuse of subcontracting regulations in the construction industry, including on Government building projects such as at Kishogue community college in Lucan, County Dublin. Does the Government intend to bring forward legislation to tighten the regulations and prevent tax avoidance and forced welfare fraud?
Regarding mothers and children who were in mother and baby homes, it is very important that they receive a full account and that the commission be established in a manner that will yield the information, the history and background they desire in a reasonable timeframe. As the Deputy is aware, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has engaged with Opposition party spokespersons and intends to continue the engagement to achieve as much consensus as possible on this very personal, sensitive issue which is of importance to so many families and individuals. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has received over 120 submissions on the terms of reference, both from individuals and groups. Meetings have taken place with a range of interested groups involving the Minister or his predecessors and officials and further such meetings are planned. The draft terms of reference have been circulated to Departments and I will speak to the Minister. I am sure the relevant committee, or several committees, will also wish to be involved in the process. We might arrange for the Whips to have a discussion because I know that there is interest in this issue among Deputies on all sides of the House and I am anxious to accommodate as many Members as possible in these very important discussions. The Deputy might ask her party Whip to raise it, but I know that the Minister will keep in constant contact with Opposition spokespersons and committees, as required.
Regarding the domestic violence legislation, it is for next year. Regarding subcontractors in work being carried out on Government building projects, as the Deputy is aware, Contractors Administration Services, CAS, was appointed to carry out some inquiries relating to this matter on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. I understand discussions are ongoing among different parties. Also, there is a proposal to introduce legislation which is on the A list on, for instance, certain features of industrial relations procedures. In respect of my Department, there have also been inquires relating to sites to ensure those working on them are properly registered for social insurance and taxation purposes.
In the light of the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, is sitting beside the Tánaiste, I want to return to the issue of legislation promised in the Department of Defence included in the B and C lists. Two Defence (Amendment) Bills are listed at Nos. 36 and 65. I refer to that legislation in the light of the fact that in the past two days reports from the PDFORRA national convention have been making national headlines. Yesterday we were told that 20% of members of the Defence Forces were in need of family income supplement. We were told also that five soldiers were sleeping in their cars because they had been impoverished as a result of the changes made by the former Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter. This morning we are told that Defence Forces' members had to borrow uniforms from colleagues to participate-----
The Deputy should refer to legislation dealing with that issue.
Will the items of legislation mentioned address these major shortcomings?
The Tánaiste made reference to the memorandum from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on the appointment of members to State boards. When the Government was established, it set out various procedures and protocols to be followed in the filling of State board vacancies, one of which was that the posts would be advertised. The Minister probably regarded as being closest to the Taoiseach at that time, Mr. Phil Hogan, made 177 appointments to various boards, none of which was advertised. The Tánaiste now refers to a memorandum from the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin. How does it differ from the information we were given when the Government was established and will it be established on a legislative basis?
On the matters pertaining to the Defence Forces, on the suggestion made in the media that the personnel who had been part of the guard of honour at the funeral of the former Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, had had to borrow or swap uniforms, both the Minister and, more importantly, the Chief of Staff and the officer in command have indicated that that was the first they had heard of it. I attended the funeral ceremonies and I was very close to the graveside. I thought the soldiers who took part in the guard of honour and the ceremonies at the graveside were extraordinarily well turned out and behaved. They were present both on the evening before and the morning of the funeral and deserve to be complimented, particularly given the monsoon-style rain. I am a little surprised at people in PDFORRA because I know from my own contacts with family members in the military how proud people are of our soldiers and the work they do in performing ceremonial duties, including guards of honour.
On soldiers sleeping in cars, as the Deputy will know because there is a significant Army presence in his constituency, if for whatever reason members of the Defence Forces are is distress, the normal process in each barracks is to approach senior officers or NCOs.
They would find a supportive response. I do not know the circumstances of the cases described. The defence (amendment) Bill will be taken next year. In regard to the memo for Government, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has asked that within a relatively short period of time each Department will identify the State boards under its remit, which is contained on the website of most Departments, and will set out the skill sets required for each board. The matter will then return to Government for further discussion and there is also the further development of the website in respect of people applying for State board positions. Various State boards are administered by individual Acts that relate to the company. In regard to legislation, some provisions are already laid down. It is for Ministers to describe the skill sets required. That is the first step and each Minister has been asked to do so in conjunction with various boards and the potential appointments within the remit.
I ask the Minister for an update on the universities (amendment) Bill, which has been on the B list for nearly three years. Does the Government intend to proceed with it? With regard to the publication yesterday of the Times Higher Education rankings, the fall of Trinity College Dublin from the top 100 and UCD from the top 200-----
The Deputy can raise that by way of a question or a topical issue.
Will the Minister take action to stop the slide by not cutting third level education funding?
I understand the university (amendment) Bill will be taken in the middle of next year. Perhaps the Deputy can submit a topical issue to receive a detailed response on the various surveys of higher education. In some of them, Ireland scores extremely well but many of them are undergoing constant revision. A topical issue debate, in which people have time to provide the fine detail, would elicit a detailed response.
In 1999, the Irish and British Governments established the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains. Over the years, the commission has been adequately resourced by the Irish and British Governments. Can the Tánaiste give us an assurance that the important work of the commission will continue through appropriate resourcing for whatever length of time it is needed? When the commission was established, its remit was to assist in the recovery of the bodies of 17 innocent people abducted, murdered and secretly buried, mainly by the provisional IRA. In the meantime, none of us can imagine the sense of loss, the hardship and heartbreak of the families. Yesterday, thankfully, remains were recovered in Oristown, County Meath believed to be those of Mr. Brendan Megraw, a young man abducted in 1978 and murdered. His brother, Mr. Kieran Megraw, spoke in a dignified way about the sense of relief for the family. Of course it is a day of mixed emotions but he pointedly referred to bearing in mind the families of the other six people whose remains have not yet been recovered. It is important we give from the Oireachtas a clear message that if anyone has any information that could be useful in identifying a possible location where the secret burials took place, there is an obligation, morally and in every respect, for someone with relevant information to come forward to the relevant authorities. This will enable the very difficult but important work of the commission to be brought to a successful conclusion. None of us can understand the anguish, hurt and suffering of those families and I have known many of them over the years. It is beholden on all of us to assist in bringing those searches to what we might call a successful conclusion.
The Government is committed to continuing to work to ensure the remains of people who seem to have been, for the most part, summarily and brutally executed and buried in lonely sites around the country. It behoves parties whose one-time sister organisations were involved in this to give the maximum support to the moves to recover the remains. Some minutes ago, Deputies in the Chamber from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin raised the issue of people in mother and baby homes. In respect of the family of Jean McConville, most of the children ended up in care and in difficult circumstances for most of the rest of their lives. As we make strides in the Republic to address our past, it is important that parties in this Chamber that have influence over the perpetrators, the people who carried out these brutal executions, particularly when we hear the enormous criticisms made at every turn of every procedure in this part of the island, and it would be welcome to have expressions of regret here in respect of what happened.
If it is confirmed to be the remains of Mr. Megraw, I hope it helps the family to have a proper place of burial for their brother. Both his parents have now passed on but other family members have said that it would bring them some comfort. It is important to say that if anyone out there has influence or knowledge, it would be an act of great mercy and charity to provide information.
Recently, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill passed through the House. Included in it were plans to bring forward a new tenant purchase scheme. Many people are paying far more through rent to local authorities than they would by purchasing their homes. When will the regulations be enacted and a clear and coherent scheme be put before Members and the local authorities?
The Minister has announced changes to Part V, which involves the 20% social and affordable housing given over to local authorities. Fundamental changes are planned and I ask the Tánaiste if can debate them in the House. The Labour Party, Sinn Féin and all parties fought hard for these measures. Any changes that will lessen the contributions of builders must be debated in the House.
This is proposed legislation so, inevitably, it will be debated fully as people require in the relevant committee and during the debate on the Bill in the Dáil. Much of the work has been completed and the proposal of the Minister is to bring it before the Dáil and the relevant committee within a reasonably short period of time.
The maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill will be introduced to the Oireachtas this term before major decisions are made about a fleet of wind turbines in Dublin Bay.
I refer to the Tánaiste's recent comments on the living wage and the proposed figure of €11.45 an hour. She has been encouraging companies to join on a voluntary basis.
Has legislation been promised on this matter?
I will ask that question. Will there be an opportunity in legislation or the budget to be announced in ten days time to offer encouragement to employers to introduce the rate of €11.45?
The maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill has been drafted and will be taken in the House by the end of this session. The Deputy will be aware that I reached agreement with our partners in government following my election as leader of the Labour Party to have a commission on low pay which is a mechanism that has been used very successfully in other countries. The minimum wage and also the number of hours worked have a significant influence on the income earned. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, is working on the matter. I anticipate that he will come to the House to explain the proposals in detail. The commission will need to be established. He has visited the United Kingdom to examine how the commission on low pay works there. In countries and cities in which the living wage has been adopted such as London, employers have identified very significant gains. It is a voluntary measure on the part of employers, but those who have signed up to it see significant gains in company reputation, customer satisfaction and loyalty because people like to know that the workers in the companies with which they deal are properly paid. It is noted that where wages and conditions are good, the level of staff turnover is lower and people are loyal to the company compared to low-wage companies in which it is sometimes the case that the level of staff turnover is constant which results in significant expenditure on recruitment agencies.
I refer to the Government's legislative programme. No. 83 is the insurance Bill which covers that part of the insurance industry which is not covered by the insolvency II directive. Have the heads of the Bill been cleared and when is it likely to come before the House? The purpose of the health (transport support) Bill, No.89 on the list, is to assist those with severe disabilities who are unable to access public transport. When will that Bill be ready? Has it been cleared by the Cabinet and when will it be brought before the House?
The insurance Bill will be before the House next year, as will the health (transport support) Bill. The heads of the Bills in question have not been cleared by the Government.
I refer to the education (admission to school) Bill which aims to make admission policies more inclusive and equitable. It will ensure a structured, fair and transparent approach to school admissions and a school place for every child throughout the country. It should also outlaw such practices as waiting lists lasting for years and the charging of fees for remaining on waiting lists which leads to cherry-picking by some schools. This is very important legislation and I hope it will be brought before the House very soon.
Work on the Bill is at an advanced stage and it is hoped it will be before the House in this session. The Chief Whip met the drafting staff this morning and progress is positive.
What is the position on No. 41, criminal justice (legal aid) Bill to reform the 1962 Act, and No. 57, greyhound industry (amendment) Bill which proposes to reform the 1958 Act.
The criminal justice (legal aid) Bill will be before the House in the middle of next year, as is the case with the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill.
When is publication expected of the criminal justice (proceeds of crime) Bill which proposes to strengthen the powers of the CAB and allow for the forfeit of the proceeds of crime?
I refer to the article in today's edition of the Irish Independent about online gambling. When is publication expected of the gambling control Bill to update and consolidate the law on betting and gambling? Online betting with the use of technology and mobile phones is a serious problem.
Consultations are ongoing on the criminal justice (proceeds of crime) Bill and I anticipate publication next year at the earliest. The gambling control Bill will be published next year.