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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Oct 2014

Vol. 853 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 6, Workplace Relations Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed) 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 (resumed) to conclude at 9 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 1, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed); No. 7, Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicles 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.

There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call on Deputy Martin.

The Taoiseach will recall that I asked a series of questions about the legislative commitment in the programme for Government about the health service and universal health insurance, UHI. I did so in the light of comments made by the new Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, about delaying or deferring the abolition of the Health Service Executive and the officials saying the construct was simply unworkable. I asked about the legislative commitment to the hospital insurance fund, and when the legislative basis for UHI would be enacted. The programme for Government says it will be enacted in the first term and, "The HSE’s function of purchasing care for uninsured patients will be given to a Hospital Care Purchase Agency” and so on.

Where is the Deputy going?

Promised legislation. It goes on, "The Patient Safety Authority will introduce a national licensing system for hospitals, and will oversee the transition of hospitals from the HSE to independent local control".

The reply I received is a masterpiece of penmanship from a system that wants to change track but is hoping people will not spot that. It states that there will be no patient safety authority. For three and a half years I have been asking the Taoiseach about the patient safety authority on the Order of Business and he has assured me that it is coming, it is on the way and so on. The reply states that the Department of Health is not developing any legislative proposals that would establish a patient safety authority on a statutory basis. The HSE intends to establish a patient advocacy agency initially within its own structures.

We will not go into all of this on the Order of Business.

This is important.

I know it is important but not on the Order of Business. That is the big difference.

It is central to the Order of Business because it concerns the programme for Government and we can ask about legislation. The fundamental question is who wrote this because not a bit of it will be implemented. The most honest thing the Taoiseach could do is to at least rewrite and admit that. It states that the Future Health document, which the Government published, referred specifically to the “reform – learn – reform” approach. I love that. It "will allow us to make changes to the proposed approach while simultaneously making progress towards the final structures and delivering tangible improvements as we go". Can someone explain that to me? Is that what the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, said when he was changing the tack set by the former Minister, Deputy James Reilly, that he would take the “reform – learn – reform” approach?

We are not going through the whole programme for Government on the Order of Business.

There is more legislation mentioned here. It states what the Minister and the Department are now doing. That is significant, what they are now doing.

That is all very interesting but perhaps the Deputy would find some other way of relating it.

Will the Taoiseach explain where stands the programme for Government?

There are Members waving at me all over the Chamber wanting to raise issues and I have to listen to a repeat of-----

This is the programme for Government.

We can all read it if we get a copy of it.

Not on the Order of Business.

It is an Order of Business question. It is central to the legislative programme.

The Deputy should respect his colleagues.

There are another 27 minutes to go on the Order of Business, with the greatest of respect, so there is plenty of time.

The Deputy has just taken up three minutes of it.

This is a very serious matter because the health service is crumbling. Where stands all of this, two and a half to three pages of legislative commitments made by the Government? It is a fairy tale. It was an untruth peddled to the people before the last general election and has been peddled for the past three and a half years.

What legislation exactly is the Deputy inquiring about?

It is on the first three pages of the letter.

This letter illustrates that.

I am not dealing with letters on the Order of Business.

It is done in the nicest way possible from the Government’s perspective, whoever put it together. The Taoiseach should please not tell us he is going to do it all in the next five years, or the five years after that because that is the new trick. Whatever the Government could not do in this four years it says it will do in the next five years. It was a con job. The Taoiseach repeated the soundbites “money follows the patient” and the “Dutch model”. Does he remember the Dutch model? The Dutch model has disappeared. She is nowhere to be found in the health system. It is an appalling con job on the Irish people.

I thank the Deputy for his-----

-----response. He asked a load of questions. I answered them in my letter.

The Taoiseach did not answer them.

The Deputy did not mention the section of the letter in which I was happy to report that good progress is being made with many aspects of the reform programme, including the introduction of new governance and management structures in the HSE following the enactment of the Health Service Executive (Governance) Act 2013.

There is no independent board.

The Deputy did not have the courage to stay where she was.

The Minister of State is not even in the Cabinet.

I mentioned that chairpersons are in place for six of the hospital groups, with the role being filled on an interim basis in one case. The legislation for the disestablishment of the HSE has passed through the Oireachtas and will take effect from 1 January 2015. The health care pricing office has been established in the HSE. The implementation of the "money follows the patient" approach has commenced. The Deputy did not refer to any of that.

I ask the Taoiseach to read the next paragraph.

The Government has also decided that the second phase of the roll-out of universal GP care will involve people aged 70 years and over.

He has skipped over it. He should have read the next paragraph.

The Government has approved the drafting of a Bill to provide a GP service without fees to all people aged 70 years and over. The drafting of the legislation in question has commenced.

Their medical cards are being taken away.

Medical cards have been taken from the over-70s.

Discussions on the subject are ongoing between the Department and the Office of the Attorney General. The expectation is that the health (general practitioner service) (No. 2) Bill will be published shortly. The Deputy chose not to mention that. Obviously, he is aware that the Government published a White Paper on universal health insurance in April of this year. The Department initiated a consultation process on that White Paper. An independent thematic analysis on the submissions has been awarded. The Minister will receive that analysis back shortly.

The Department has also initiated a major costings exercise.

It is winding down the clock to the next general election.

It will estimate the cost of universal health insurance for households.

Four years on and there are no costings.

The Exchequer and the Department are working with the ESRI and the Health Insurance Authority. Does the Deputy not think it is appropriate that we should be able to set out the overall costing of the introduction of universal health insurance?

I would have thought the Taoiseach and his colleagues would have had that information before they put this proposal to the people.

I might add that it is not based on the Dutch model.

It should have been done at the beginning rather than at the end.

Sorry, Deputy, would you please respect the Chair?

The Dutch model has faded.

Has it? Hallelujah.

That is a newsflash.

This is an Irish version of universal health insurance for Irish circumstances.

I remember the pre-election debates in which the Taoiseach ploughed on about the Dutch model for all she was worth.

The Dutch model of universal health insurance was never going to be the one that would be suitable for Irish circumstances.

She has faded into oblivion now.

A bit like the Deputy.

We have the Danish model now.

Deputy Martin does not want to acknowledge that a great deal of work is taking place.

Perhaps we will have the Soviet model next.

He asked the questions and I responded to him. It is okay that he is not happy with some of the responses.

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has said he is developing structures to replace the HSE.

A great deal of work has been done.

That is being done after it has been abolished.

If the Deputy is not happy with the responses, I suggest he write back to the Taoiseach.

New structures to replace the HSE have yet to be developed even though the HSE has been abolished. One could not make this up.

The programme for Government promised that universal health insurance would "provide guaranteed access to care for all in public and private hospitals". My presumption is that this includes the right to midwifery services. I want the Taoiseach to give us clarity on this if he can. I have just learned that 25 pregnant women have been told that no midwifery services will be available to them because the HSE has revoked midwives' licences. These women have not been informed of alternative arrangements. Does the commitment in the programme for Government include the right of pregnant women to these essential services?

The section of the same programme for Government dealing with passports, citizenship, immigration and asylum promised to "introduce comprehensive reforms of the immigration, residency and asylum systems" and to set out the "rights and obligations in a transparent way". When will the Government fulfil this commitment? There is anything but transparency for these people. I note that an tUachtarán, Michael D. Higgins, was stopped from visiting an asylum accommodation centre recently. Will some of the Government's time be set aside for the Minister to come to the House to explain why the President was barred from visiting asylum accommodation? I have visited the Mosney centre. Some of the people have been there for more than a decade. Will the Government honour its promise to give certainty to these people, to end direct provision and to close the centres associated with it? We should be given an opportunity to listen to an explanation of why the Head of this State was denied the right to visit one of these accommodation centres.

I want to make it clear what is in order on the Order of Business. Promised legislation is in order. To be clear, the programme for Government is not a catch-all for raising matters on the Order of Business. It is in order to raise items covered in the programme for Government only if they have been elevated to the status of promised business such as legislation. In other words, we cannot have a debate every day on something in the programme for Government. This is not suitable for the Order of Business.

When did that come in?

If the Whips want to come up with some other arrangement for how we can deal with these issues, by all means I will obey those new rules. I have to apply the rules as they are. I ask for the co-operation of Deputies in doing so. I call the Taoiseach to reply.

I would like the Ceann Comhairle to give me some guidance. I am asking the Government to make space on the clár for the Minister to explain why an tUachtarán was denied access to an accommodation centre.

That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

No, it is not.

It is not in order on the Order of Business. It is not catered for.

It is not promised legislation.

There are many other ways for Deputy Adams to raise this issue.

It is called the Order of Business.

He could raise it during Leaders' Questions or ordinary questions.

He could raise it as a Topical Issue matter.

His spokesperson could submit a priority question on the matter. There are numerous other ways to raise this.

It is called the Order of Business.

Please resume your seat.

On a point of guidance, we do not-----

Hold on a minute.

In previous Dáileanna, questions were always asked about programmes for Government.

Many other Deputies wish to raise issues.

That was always facilitated.

I am sorry-----

Questions on programmes for Government were allowed in previous Dáileanna.

Under my chairmanship, I will apply the rules.

That is what I want to find out about. When did this change?

It did not change.

It did. In the previous Dáil-----

Would you please resume your seat?

I just want guidance.

I will suspend the sitting if you do not resume your seat.

With the greatest respect, if we cannot ask questions about legislative commitments-----

Resume your seat, please.

-----in the programme for Government, it is a sick joke.

I will suspend the sitting if you do not resume your seat.

A Cheann Comhairle, I am asking-----

Is the programme for Government in order?

I promise you I will suspend the sitting if you do not resume your seat.

That is up to you, a Cheann Comhairle.

Resume your seat. You are totally out of order.

These citizens are being treated in an awful way.

Sorry, Deputy. You are out of order. Would you please resume your seat and show some respect?

I do not know the details of the 25 good people about whom Deputy Adams spoke.

We are not going into it either.

We are not, a Cheann Comhairle.

It is a major crisis.

Universal health insurance is about providing equal access to medical treatment for all citizens and bringing an end to the discriminatory two-tier system we have now. That is what universal health insurance will deliver. The White Paper and the consultation are all part of the process. It cannot happen until all the building blocks are in place. The effect of universal health insurance is that everyone will be treated the same in respect of their medical needs. It is based on their medical needs as distinct from their incomes.

On the other matter mentioned by Deputy Adams, it would not be appropriate to draw Uachtarán na hÉireann into any debate in the House.

That is correct. Please do not do so.

The Minister did.

My understanding is that there would not be any reason to prevent the President of our country from visiting any place on the island.

He was prevented.

I am not sure the Deputy has the detail of that right.

The Taoiseach can give me that detail.

If the Deputy takes the advice of the Ceann Comhairle-----

It is not in order on the Order of Business.

-----obviously the Minister will be very happy to respond to that. I ask the Deputy to believe me when I say it would never be intended to prevent Uachtarán na hÉireann from visiting a facility on this island.

Can I ask the Taoiseach about some of the responses he has given to Leaders' Questions over the past two days? He mentioned the amalgamation of Ervia and Irish Water. I do not see any proposed legislation to deal with such an amalgamation.

If there is no proposed legislation, the Deputy should not raise it.

The Taoiseach just raised it.

Will the Taoiseach elaborate on this? Is it the first step along the road to privatisation that many of us have feared? Despite our best efforts, we never got to discuss this in the sort of detail that was required. As others alluded to, the Government closed down all proper scrutiny of the legislation that was introduced.

A new board must be appointed to the amalgamated entity, which is to be called Ervia. Discussions with NewERA about the specialist skills that will be required will get under way in order that the amalgamated entity will have absolute competencies in respect of the people who will serve on it and will do a major job for the years ahead.

The Taoiseach just dropped that in. Is that how legislation gets proposed? What is he up to?

I have two questions on legislation, the first of which relates to water charges. We know that for the next nine months-----

That is not in order on the Order of Business. The Deputy knows that as well as I do.

I am asking about legislation.

What legislation?

Will the Taoiseach legislate to give Irish Water access to data-----

No. It has to be promised legislation.

-----in order that it can validate the assessed charges?

Not on the Order of Business.

How else will it establish how many people are living in each house? That is my first question.

I assure the Deputy that it will not be answered on the Order of Business.

My second question relates to the proposed public health (alcohol) Bill. The Taoiseach said on many occasions in this House that the Bill would be ready by the middle of this year.

We have gone beyond that, yet I noticed that it is not on the A or B list. What has happened to the public health (alcohol) Bill and when can we expect to see it?

The latter is in order.

The heads of that Bill are being worked upon. Quite a deal of work has been done, Deputy Shortall. I expect the heads to be published in the not-too-distant future and we will proceed from there to the development of the Bill itself.

Is there a realistic timescale?

I will give the Deputy a time update.

The Government promised to introduce legislation on a mortgage guarantee scheme. That promise was contained in the Construction 2020 document. Under it, the State would guarantee 5% of the loan-value ratio of mortgages, allowing people to take out mortgages at a higher ratio. Given the Central Bank's announcement yesterday of a consultation process on people not taking out loans greater than 80% of a property's value, is the legislative proposal gone and has the rug been pulled out from under the Government or is this legislative option still live?

The issue will be considered in the context of the consultation put out by the Central Bank. Clearly, the conditions announced yesterday by the Central Bank to apply in the future are a consultation document and I have no wish to get into any row with the Governor of the Central Bank, but clearly the Government's proposals in respect of mortgages will obviously have to be considered in the light of that consultation paper. I will advise Deputy Doherty.

Regarding the Water Services (Taking in Charge of Estates by Local Authorities) (Amendment) Bill 2014, the proposed section 12(2A) states: "No delay on the taking in charge of private housing estates by a local authority shall occur as a result of a transfer of property by a local authority to Irish Water." That is not happening on the ground. An extraordinary-----

I am sorry, but the Deputy knows as well as I do that he is not allowed to raise these matters on the Order of Business.

It has to do with-----

We will find some other way of raising it.

The amendment Bill-----

I am sorry, but the Deputy does this every day and I must correct him.

The Deputy can ask about promised legislation.

There are individuals with severe disabilities who cannot access public transport for various reasons. A commitment was given that a contribution would be made to help them offset the significant extra costs. When will the health (transport support) Bill be before the House to address this issue?

That is due for early next year.

I will be brief. An increasing number of burglaries across the country are being carried out by gangs from eastern Europe. I know of one situation in which many of those involved had criminal records in their home countries and one who was on the run.

It sounds like a Topical Issue matter to me.

One had a murder conviction and was in Ireland. When will No. 47, the criminal records information system Bill, be before the House? It is an important Bill.

It is an important Bill, Deputy Grealish, and it will be early next year before it is published.

When can we expect the building control Bill, which will place Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, on a statutory footing and, therefore, provide in law for the registration of builders, contractors and specialist subcontractors, to be before the House?

That is June next year.

Regarding No. 64, does the Taoiseach share my major concerns about a nuclear plant, costing £16 billion, that is proposed to be located 250 km from our coast?

What Bill is the Deputy referencing?

There is a major public safety issue.

To which Bill is the Deputy referring?

No. 64, the energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. My major concern-----

That may be the Deputy's major concern, but we will deal with it some other way.

-----is about a £16 billion nuclear plant that is about to be built just 240 km off the Irish coast.

Resume your seat.

This is not acceptable. It is absolutely-----

Will you resume your seat and stop raising your voice? Cool down.

A lot of people have major concerns about this and we need action. I would like the Taoiseach to respond.

He will not respond to it on the Order of Business. It is as simple as that.

The energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill.

I see the Deputy has a new argument to develop in the time ahead.

At least he has one. The Taoiseach is looking for one.

Deputy Martin does not need to look for one.

I understand that the European Commission gave its endorsement for this particular proposal this morning. The energy provisions Bill, No. 64, is due next year, so the Deputy will have plenty of opportunity to make his case.

There must have been something in the cornflakes this morning. I have never seen such an angry membership in my life.

The cheaper brands are driving them mad. They should go back to Kellogg's Cornflakes.

Deputy Finian McGrath should cool down.

There is something in the water in Dublin Bay.


A Deputy

The ozone is affecting people.

Deputy Finian McGrath is not getting any younger. He should cool down. This is bad for the ticker.


He should go back on the Kellogg's Cornflakes.

There was a full moon last night.

Thanks very much.

Is Deputy Mathews about to make an entrance?

He has not even spoken yet.

Is that why he is calm?

A Deputy

There is a full moon when he is in flow.

In light of the forthcoming Finance Bill and the tax appeal commission establishment Bill, I am sure Deputy Martin will join with me in asking the Taoiseach to raise the importance of our corporation tax rate with other EU leaders-----

The Deputy should have a chat with the Taoiseach after the Order of Business.

-----in the context of the jobs in Cork city at Apple.

No. 11 on the A list is the promised planning and development Bill. When will it be published and will it address the issues raised by the chief executive of the housing agency in the past week? He was quoted as proposing that the size of apartments and local authority dwellings should be reduced.

That is a different issue.

The heads of that Bill were cleared a couple of weeks ago, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl. It is now proceeding ahead for publication and development.

When is publication of the health (transport support) Bill to provide a scheme to make individual payments-----

The Taoiseach just said that. The Deputy is not listening.

-----to people with severe disabilities who cannot access public transport to help with their transport costs expected?

That is early next year.

There is a serious issue with petrol stretching.

It affects the Taoiseach's constituency and many others. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have suffered damage to their vehicles and undue financial pressure through no fault of their own. Petrol stretching is dealt with under the Finance Act 1999. There are penalties if the person who carries out this offence-----

Table a parliamentary question.

-----is caught, but the Act contains no mechanism to compensate those who have been affected.

The Deputy knows that this is out of order.

Does the Government have any plan to introduce amendments to the 1999 Act to ensure that these people-----

The Deputy has made his point.

-----are compensated for the serious damage to their vehicles?

Is there promised legislation?

There is no promised legislation.

The Finance Bill.

The matter can be raised under the Finance Bill.

When is the Finance Bill?

In milder tones, I was happy to be involved in considering a range of issues that were debated at the Constitutional Convention, an important forum that was set up by the Taoiseach and the then Tánaiste. When can we expect some of the recommendations passed by the convention to be before the Dáil, for example, the amendment of the Constitution to lower the voting age to 16 years and the eligible age of candidates in a presidential election to 21 years?

I do not believe legislation is promised on those matters.

There is, a Cheann Comhairle, in the sense that the Government is committed to a number of referenda next year. Ones that we are committed to are two of those that the Deputy raised, so legislation will have to be produced. Obviously, we will have to set up a referendum commission. We also committed, of course, to the marriage equality referendum.

I thank Deputies. That completes the Order of Business.

A Cheann Comhairle.

Wait, a Cheann Comhairle.

I will have to wear a white coat in future.

He has a nice one.

I did not see the Deputy. I normally hear him, but I did not see him.

No one could miss him.

The coat he had was too small.

Even Homer nodded.

Following on from the matter Deputy Pearse Doherty raised regarding the legislation for credit policy that the Government has under consideration, I will offer the Taoiseach an operational template for best lending practice and mortgage lending policy to avoid a credit-fuelled residential property bubble.

The Deputy can have a chat with him after the Order of Business.

I prepared the template approximately six months ago and it could be helpful. It is a one-pager.

Give it to the Taoiseach after the Order of Business.

I am thinking of wearing a lighter coloured coat in future to be more visible in the House.

No, you are all right.

I am worried about it, but I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Normally when the Deputy rises, it signals the end of the Order of Business.

I wish to ask about promised legislation. I have asked this question previously, as have others. The mediation Bill is important and has implications for a wide area.

Can the Taoiseach indicate the present state and status of the Bill, when it is likely to come before the House, whether it been agreed fully by the Cabinet and whether changes are being made in the course thereof?

A couple of weeks ago, I again raised the question of the bail Bill. The bail Bill is also important legislation and while the Taoiseach has indicated previously that there is no definite time for its introduction, given the number of instances in recent years in which different bail laws might have had a much more positive impact to protect citizens of the State, might it be possible to consider again the implications and the importance of the aforementioned Bill and to bring it before the House at the earliest opportunity?

The heads of the mediation Bill were cleared and work is proceeding on it, although it will be early next year before it is published. In respect of the bail Bill, the draft heads are at an advanced stage but I cannot give Deputy Durkan a date for publication. Nevertheless, it is moving in the right direction.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.