Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 1, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 2, Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 155, motion re agricultural industry.

Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 6, Workplace Relations Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage and No. 2, Protection of Children’s Health (Tobacco Smoke in Mechanically Propelled Vehicles) Bill 2012 [Seanad] - Second Stage.

As there are no proposals to be put to the House, I call Deputy Martin.

On health legislation, I asked the Taoiseach a detailed set of questions on a raft of legislation on the Order of Business some weeks ago that was to underpin the introduction of universal health insurance. I referenced the legislative basis for universal health insurance, when public hospitals would be given autonomy from the HSE, the hospital insurance fund, the patient safety authority and a raft of other measures. The Taoiseach said he would write to me and give me an answer to every item I instanced but I have not received his letter. I would appreciate a comprehensive response to those questions.

On the health Estimates that are coming up and the budget next week, I have asked that there would be a much more transparent budgetary process in regard to Estimates, something that was committed to in the programme for Government. We know what was going on from last year's correspondence between the HSE and the Department; we have learned now 12 months later what was going on then. If we had known on budget day last year what actually was going on behind scenes between the HSE and the Department and Minister, there would have been hell to pay here because it was shocking. Patient safety was raised by the HSE as a big issue at the time. A false budget was put before the House last year in terms of health. There is no other way of describing it. We were given the false figures on the day. I have asked the Taoiseach will he commit to publishing the correspondence and engagement between the HSE and the Department of Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the health Estimate - that is a week to go - in order that we can make a reasonable assessment as to whether that health Estimate is a valid one in terms of the needs of the health service into 2015? We do not have any sense of that even now days before the budget.

In that context, I asked on the Order of Business last week would there be a debate on the report of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council in terms of the budget. It is incredible, and it is a sign of considerable disrespect to the council, that we will not have a debate about its very considered opinions in advance of the budget. The entire Oireachtas, essentially, is ignoring what everyone agreed was an integral and essential part of our fiscal and policy framework. We do not even have an opportunity to debate it.

Thank you, Deputy.

It is clear that we will not get that opportunity now. There has been no contact to suggest that we will; our Whip has been told that it will be after the budget. Again, that shows the undermining of Parliament and the fact that it is a peripheral body to what is happening in terms of policy formulation. Will the Taoiseach elaborate as to when we will have a debate on the fiscal council's report?

On the national cultural institutions Bill, we have had huge difficulty, as the Taoiseach knows, with the appointment of a person to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government is prepared to allow the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to come before the Dáil to answer questions on that specific issue and to make a statement on it? It is extraordinary that on an issue that has commanded so much public attention the Minister has not been in a position to come before this House.

That is not on the Order of Business.

When will that Bill come before the House?

On the universities (amendment) Bill, which deals with the university sector, the latest reports unfortunately indicate that some of our universities have lost their positioning within the top 200 league table. Clearly, university funding is a core issue. Will the Taoiseach indicate when that Bill will be published?

It is projected that the universities (amendment) Bill will be published in the middle of next year.

In regard to the national cultural institutions Bill, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will be in the Seanad this evening to take a Private Members' motion and also an Adjournment matter.

The Estimates have not been finalised yet in respect of a number of Departments. The discussions between the Ministers involved and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will be taking place this week.

Deputy Martin raised the Fiscal Advisory Council report and Deputy Creighton raised a question with regard to it, the IMF report and the European Commission report and I have agreed that we should have a debate but I do not think we will have it before Wednesday of next week. We will allow for people to give their views on all of these matters.

You could not make it up.

You could make it up - very much so.

A Deputy

The Deputy was around for long enough.

I have a two and a half page reply in respect of the list of questions the Deputy asked last week. It is dated today, 7 October. I can give the Deputy a copy of it now before he leaves the Chamber if he wishes. He raised a point about the Department of Health having initiated a consultation process on the White Paper, that an independent thematic analysis of the submissions was under way and that the report should be finalised by the end of September 2014. Crowe Horwath was the company selected by means of competitive tender. It submitted the final report on independent thematic analysis of submissions in response to a public consultation on White Paper on Universal Health Insurance to the Department of Health on Friday, 3 October, and that will be published later. I will give the Deputy a copy of this reply.

On the provision for mental health services, the programme for Government commits to ensure early access to more appropriate services for adults and children and improved integration with primary care services. In respect of A Vision for Change, in the programme for Government, the Government commits to ring-fence €35 million from within the health budget to develop the mental health teams and services. I know from my own business and from my constituency that there is a dearth of proper provision for people who are suffering with mental health problems. Can the Taoiseach indicate the timeframe for the full implementation of A Vision for Change?

On the crisis in housing, the programme for Government commits to a staged purchase scheme to increase the stock of social housing. In 2013-----


My apologies, a Cheann Comhairle.

I think we need a new one.

The Minister sounded good on it.

I know the Minister did not mean for it to happen.

I am talking about the issue of the housing crisis and the Government's commitment to a staged purchase scheme to increase the stock of social housing. In February 2013, the homelessness policy statement committed to eradicating long-term homelessness by 2016. Could the Taoiseach tell us what is the timeline for acquiring the necessary housing stock? Could he give us an update on the homelessness policy statement and on what measures the Government is putting in place?

On the Deputy's last question, this is a matter of considerable priority for the Government, both the demand for houses, the question of social housing and the issue of homelessness and those who have been put out of dwellings because of an increase in the rent. I want the Deputy to understand that the Government will respond here next week by setting out a series of proposals in regard to housing, social housing, homelessness and so on as part of the budgetary decisions.

The Deputy asked about the mental health review and the Mental Health Act. The review was in two phases, the first phase of which saw a steering group produce an interim report in June 2012. An expert group was set up in August 2012 to examine the recommendations made in that interim report and it was originally intended to produce a final report in 2013. That deadline was extended in part to allow the group to consider the implications of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 for the future in terms of mental health legislation.

The Bill has completed Second Stage and was referred to the select committee last December. A final meeting of the expert group took place on 16 September, work on finalising the report of the group is continuing and it is expected to be presented to the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, in the near future.

Does the Taoiseach know when it will come before the Dáil?

No, but I will update the Deputy.

I am obliged to say that I am a postmaster of a small post office. Will the Government implement the Grant Thornton report on our post office network? This week our postmasters have been informed of a reduction in their incomes of up to 25%. I ask this under the postal services (amendment) Bill and the Government's commitment to retain our vitally important post office network. I am sure the Taoiseach appreciates how important our post office network is.

The Bill is due for early next year. The previous Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, wrote to all Departments recommending a series of actions that could increase business for post offices and we are aware of the challenges they face.

Does the Taoiseach support our post office network?

We cannot deal with it.

I call Deputy Kirk.

I would like to hear him say it.

Not on the Order of Business.

Some 300 post offices closed a number of years ago but that has been seriously reduced and we have recommended a series of actions whereby business can increase in post offices.

The Government has not. The new water charges must be paid through a bank account. Did the Taoiseach know that?

Deputy Healy-Rae is raking it in. He has the Independent Member's allowance and a post office.

I never bought a Minister's house.

The post office is excluded.

Deputy Martin, a senior member of your party wishes to make a point. Deputy Kirk is on his feet. Would you stay quiet?

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which passed through the Oireachtas some time ago, made provision for the introduction of a tenant purchase scheme. Will it be necessary for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to introduce a ministerial order or a statutory instrument to give effect to the primary legislation?

The Minister has given consideration to it as part of the housing situation and will more than likely address it in his proposals next week.

When will the education (admission to schools) Bill come before the House?

It is well advanced and I will advise the Deputy as to the current state of play.

By acknowledging the central role the Garda Síochána has played in providing security to the State and the people of Ireland since its foundation, there is much public concern about our bail laws and the number of people who commit crime a second and third time while out on bail. This undermines public confidence in the system. When will the bail Bill be introduced to improve the integrity of our system?

Although the draft heads of the Bill are at an advanced stage in the Department of Justice and Equality, I cannot give the House an assurance as to when it will be published.

Progress is being made.

When is the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill due to come before the House? Legal aid cost €50 million last year and a new EU directive is instructing that criminals be allowed to have a solicitor present when they are being questioned by gardaí or on identity parades. Instead of decreasing, legal aid spending will increase. Funding is there on demand, and while some of our more vulnerable people in other areas seem to be under pressure for funding, there seems to be no restriction on legal aid spending.

It is due for the middle of 2015.

On promised legislation, I am sure the Taoiseach will join me in welcoming this morning's jobs announcement in Limerick. The maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill is No. 10 on the A list. When will it come before the House? The Bill is to reform the planning system in place in our harbours and estuary areas. Some of the existing legislation and regulations are regarded by those in the business as preventing the creation of badly needed jobs in places such as Foynes in County Limerick.

It is progressing very well in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and is expected to be published in this session.

Regarding the proposed social welfare legislation which will arise following the budget, letters that have gone out from the Department of Social Protection regarding the water charges contain a clause asking people to authorise that all future payments due from the Department of Social Protection be paid directly to a financial institution, thereby bypassing the An Post network. I encourage the Taoiseach, ask him and demand that he withdraw this clause and ensure any legislation coming before the House-----

What legislation is the Deputy asking about?

The social welfare Bill. I ask that the clause be excluded from the legislation and any future legislation.

In all these cases the choice is the person's.

No, the person has no choice.

We cannot debate the issue.

If the Deputy gives me a copy of it I will examine it. I am informed by the Minister for Social Protection that when people are asked whether they want their allowances paid into a post office or a bank account, the vast majority nominate a bank account.

There is no choice.

To follow up on Deputy Martin's point, last week the Taoiseach advised the House that there would be a debate on the report of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, which specifically deals with the budgetary outlook for 2015. It contradicts much of what we have heard from the Government in recent weeks regarding its budget plans. It seems extraordinary that the Taoiseach seems to have changed his mind and is now informing the House that a debate will take place after the budget, which would be pointless and futile. Perhaps the Taoiseach could clarify.

As the Deputy well knows, the details of the budget have not yet been finalised. The arrangements for a debate depend on the availability of the Minister. He has a very packed schedule between here and the presentation of the budget next week, as the Deputy is well aware. It is not due to any reluctance to have a debate, but simply a question of time and availability. The Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have hectic schedules for the next few days.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council report is irrelevant.