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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Nov 2014

Vol. 859 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 20a, motion re membership of committee; No. 20b, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimates [Votes 20, 21 and 22]; No. 20c, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimates [Votes 20, 21 and 22] to Select Committee; No. 36, Finance Bill 2014 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 9, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 37, Workplace Relations Bill 2014 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: (1) in the event a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members’ business, the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and Private Members’ business which shall be No. 175, motion re human rights budgeting (resumed) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes; (2) Nos. 20a and 20b shall be decided without debate, and subject to the agreement of No. 20b, No. 20c (referral to Select Committee), shall be decided without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken forthwith; (3) the proceedings on the resumed Report and Final Stages of No. 36 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7.30 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.

Tomorrow’s Business after oral questions shall be: No. 38, Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 39, Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 9, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Second Stage (resumed).

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 20a, 20b and 20c, motions re membership of committee, leave to introduce and referral of Supplementary Estimates, without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 36, Report and Final Stages of the Finance Bill 2014 agreed to?

I do not agree to that because we have had much discussion about the guillotining of legislation. This relates to the Finance Bill 2014 and I do not think a time limit should be put on it. The motion is that only one vote shall be taken if the debate is not concluded. It is time that the House moved away from unnecessary guillotining of legislation to allow it run its course. It may run its course anyway but as a principle we need to assert that.

The Bill is moving through the House very quickly. I do not have any objection to more time being granted to it.

The Government should remove the guillotine.

If the Government removes the guillotine we will work with the Whips and engage on this.

The Deputies could work with the Whips who are anxious to give everyone an opportunity. We have no intention of requiring guillotines. There are some time constraints which I could read out but perhaps the Whips could discuss this.

I suggest that the matter be reviewed during the day.

The Bill will have to be completed tonight but we can give it more time.

Is it agreed that the matter be reviewed during the day? Agreed.

I congratulate the new Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan on her appointment. I am somewhat concerned at Deputy Wallace’s contribution this morning. Deputies should not in any shape or form attempt to decide who is appointed to a senior public position. I am satisfied that there are independent mechanisms in place to fairly and squarely interview people. People from within an organisation are just as entitled to be appointed as people external to it. I understand the talk about appointing an outsider but it was detrimental to many good personnel inside An Garda Síochána who had a legitimate right to aspire to this position. We need to be very careful not to go all the time for that kind of sentiment. Deputies should refrain from interfering in selection processes for public appointments.

The Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 dealing with the new policing authority, is relevant to this. The heads of the Bill have been published. Is there a timeline for its passage through the House?

When will the heads of the Bill required to hold a referendum on marriage equality in the spring be published? Time is slipping by and it is necessary to appoint a commission to apprise people of the Bill.

The health (transport support) Bill has been promised to provide a scheme to enable people with disabilities get a contribution towards their transport costs when they cannot use public transport. When will that Bill come before the House? It is causing a great deal of stress to many people. It has been promised on numerous occasions since the abolition of the earlier schemes. It is unacceptable that people with disabilities have been left in the lurch for so long.

That is due early next year to replace the mobility allowance. The Minister for Justice and Equality has confirmed to me that very good progress is being made on the two Bills the Deputy mentioned, in respect of the referendum to be held in 2015 and on the independent policing authority. I cannot confirm that they will be published before Christmas but they will be published early in the new year.

I too extend best wishes to the new Garda Commissioner. She will have many challenges. I encourage the Government to bring forward legislation on the independent policing authority with all speed.

I want to discuss the landlord and tenant Bill and the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill 2013. Tá an iomarca daoine ar na sráideanna, páistí san áireamh. Is mór an náire é don Stát agus don Rialtas. Ba chóir go mbeadh sábháilteacht agus cinnteacht ag duine sa teach ina bhfuil sé nó sí ina chónaí nó ina cónaí. Táim ag lorg eolais faoin mBille maidir le landlord and tenant issues.

It is not hyperbole to say and the Taoiseach has acknowledged that we have a housing crisis. Up to 200 people are sleeping rough on our streets. It is very wintry weather. There are people moving from hostel to hostel night after night, families split up and tens of thousands of families in below standard homes. When will the landlord and tenant Bill be published?

I thank the Taoiseach for clarifying yesterday the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. He said that it is not proceeding at present but is being redrafted because there were many amendments to it. The Taoiseach acknowledged that the time spent by some asylum seekers in direct provision is not acceptable.

In October, the Minister for Justice and Equality kindly wrote to me to say she hoped that legislation on the length of time asylum seekers spend in direct provision would be introduced this year. Could the Taoiseach update me on this aspect of the matter? I note that the Taoiseach has written to President Obama on his proposals to regularise the status of thousands of undocumented Irish in the US. While I welcome that, I would like to point out that there are many illegal immigrants in this country. Like their counterparts in the US, they simply want to pay their taxes and live normal lives. When will the legislation promised by the Minister for Justice and Equality to deal with this matter be published?

The landlord and tenant Bill is due in the middle of next year. The immigration Bill that was moving through the legislative process, and to which many amendments were proposed, will not proceed any further. It will be replaced by the international protection Bill, the principal purpose of which will be to reform the international protection, or asylum, system here in Ireland through the introduction of a single application procedure whereby all elements of a person's application to be permitted to remain in this country will be dealt with in one process. The Bill will comply with the UN refugee convention and the related EU directives. The Deputy will be aware that international protection can be offered to a person who is eligible for refugee protection on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her country of origin, or to a person who is eligible for subsidiary protection on the basis of a real risk of suffering serious harm if he or she were to be returned to his or her country of origin. This is a complex issue, as Deputy Adams is well aware. The asylum process in many countries fails because there is no definite period in which a person's application for asylum in a specific country is dealt with one way or another. In many cases, an asylum seeker who went to a country for a period of time is still there 20 or 25 years later without a determination having been made. I would say it will probably be the middle of next year before the international protection Bill is published. It will deal with the principal issues by providing for a single application procedure and complying with the UN refugee convention and the EU directives. It is hoped that it will bring a sense of clarity and certainty to the process. I am conscious of the case that was decided in the High Court by Mr. Justice Mac Eochaidh, whose complex and lengthy judgment needs to be studied carefully.

I wish to raise two Bills with the Taoiseach. Before I do so, I would like to be associated with the words of congratulations to Nóirín O'Sullivan on her appointment as Garda Commissioner. Most Members of the Oireachtas have good working relationships with the Garda Síochána in these challenging times for the force. I wish Ms O'Sullivan well in her new post. On proposed legislation, when Setanta Insurance went into liquidation, 75,000 policy holders lost out on their insurance and had to purchase new policies with alternative companies. Will that issue be addressed in the insurance Bill? When does the Taoiseach expect that the insurance Bill will come before the Oireachtas? I would also like to ask about the health reform Bill. It is unacceptable that over 9,000 people are on waiting lists at University Hospital Galway. I know of a case in which an 86 year old man who is in severe agony has had his operation cancelled four times. When does the Taoiseach expect that the health reform Bill will come before the Oireachtas?

The insurance Bill will be introduced next year. On the health reform Bill, a great deal of work is being done to restructure the health service. It is not acceptable to the Minister or to anybody that there would be waiting lists of the length mentioned by the Deputy. Obviously, the 86 year old person referred to by the Deputy is a case in point. Clearly, the arrangements made for people to access hospital facilities are matters for hospital management. If any chain in that link breaks down, it causes this particular kind of problem. The HSE report was approved by the Government on Tuesday. I think it is being outlined by the Minister for Health today or tomorrow. These matters are being treated as priorities. Patients all over the country should have a smooth system for access to facilities and treatments.

In light of the disastrous handling of the Irish Water debacle, is it now the case that the broadcasting (amendment) Bill has been shelved by the Government? When is it likely to see the light of day?

I do not see the relationship between the two. The Bill in question will be introduced early next year.

Can I get an update on when we are likely to see the climate Bill? How many Bills will be needed to provide for the announced changes in Irish Water? When are we likely to see them? Will a specific social welfare Bill be necessary to remove the PPS number provisions in the existing legislation? Given that an amendment to that effect was ruled out of order during the debate on the current Social Welfare Bill, I presume another social welfare Bill will be introduced to make this change. When are we likely to see that Bill? I would also like to ask the Taoiseach about the symphysiotomy redress scheme. It is proving impossible for some women to abide by the four-week timeline under that scheme. Will the Taoiseach look at extending the deadline of four weeks for people to apply for the redress scheme? It is just not possible to get the medical evidence in some cases.

The redress Bill is being drafted. I will look at the four-week question that has been raised by the Deputy. The PPS numbers will be deleted over a period of weeks between Irish Water and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. It is not actually a social protection Bill.

It is in the Bill.

The numbers as confirmed will be deleted and will be contained in the water Bill. It is not necessary to have a social welfare Bill in respect of that. The PPS numbers that were originally deemed to be required will be deleted. That will be contained in the water Bill. The climate change Bill is being worked on. I expect it should be published before the end of the year.

Two weeks ago, during the debate on child abuse by the IRA, the Taoiseach referred to three legislative items in support of his exaggerated claim that this Government has been the most reforming Government in the area of child welfare and protection. When will the commencement order for the National Vetting Bureau (Children's and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, which he mentioned on that occasion, be signed? Over 12 months have passed since that Act was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, but we are still waiting for the commencement order to be signed. The result of the children's rights referendum, which was also mentioned by the Taoiseach, is still being tied up, two years on, as a direct consequence of the Government's actions in publishing material advocating a "Yes" vote in that poll. Can the Government indicate when the result of the children's rights referendum will be adjudicated on by the Supreme Court? When will the Oireachtas be able to put forward the necessary legislation thereafter? The Children First Bill was promised by this Government when it took office but it was not published for a further three and a half years. The Bill that was debated on Second Stage earlier this year is a much watered-down version of what was originally promised. It contains no sanctions for people who fail to report child abuse.

We cannot deal with the content of the Bill.

When will the remaining Stages of this legislation be taken in the Houses of the Oireachtas? It is important for all Members to have an opportunity to propose amendments to it. I understand the independent rapporteur's report on child protection was lodged to the Government in February of this year. Almost 12 months later, we are still waiting for the report to be laid before the Oireachtas, thereby enabling Deputies and Senators on all sides of both Houses to debate its findings. Can the Taoiseach indicate when that report will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas?

I will come back to Deputy Troy on that. In respect of the Children First legislation, that is awaiting Committee Stage here in the House. The Government made a number of appointments following the recommendations given to it in regard to the Supreme Court. I cannot indicate to the Deputy when the Supreme Court will do its job. It is completely independent in that matter.

I will confirm to Deputy Troy in regard to the commencement order for the vetting legislation. I would point out that while these things can be very complex, the Government did appoint a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, did set up a Department of children, did hold a referendum and is putting through pieces of legislation here-----

And put its results in doubt.

No, the result is not in doubt but the Supreme Court will make its decision, as it will make-----

Is it not before the Supreme Court?

Deputy, please. We cannot debate these issues.

We should congratulate the new Garda Commissioner on her appointment, wish her well in the difficult and challenging job that lies ahead and exhort all Deputies and people in public life in general to offer their support to her and the other members of An Garda Síochána in their respective roles. On an associated issue, the Garda Síochána (malicious injuries compensation) Bill has been promised. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it is likely to be before the House and has it been cleared in preparation?

A Bill on the control and sale of alcohol has been discussed for some considerable time. I understand that a difficulty arose due to a pending court case in an adjoining jurisdiction that, when decided, was supposed to clear the way for the introduction of the legislation in this jurisdiction. When is the Bill likely to be before the House? Have its heads been prepared? Will it be passed in the next session? The time is too short in this one.

I thank Deputy Durkan for his comments in regard to the Commissioner. I would point out that the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the DPP, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner are now all women of very considerable influence and importance. I wish them all the very best in looking after the various areas of justice that they are now dealing with.

The Garda Síochána (malicious injuries compensation) Bill will be in early 2015. The sale of alcohol Bill is due in late spring.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I was happy to be involved in the Constitutional Convention that was set up by the Taoiseach and the then Tánaiste upon assuming office in 2011. It debated a range of issues. The convention's members came from the four corners of the country, including Northern Ireland. It was a wonderful forum and one looked forward to participating in it on a bimonthly basis and getting the views of ordinary people on the ground about how we should be governed, etc.

Two proposed amendments remain outstanding, the first of which is the lowering of the voting age. We saw the enthusiasm created in Scotland when its voting age in referendums was lowered. The second proposed amendment is the lowering of the qualifying age criterion for the office of the President. Both proposals have been on the clár for some time. It would be moderately progressive if they were advanced soon.

Deputy Bannon contributed very effectively to the convention. He mentioned two Bills - the voting age being lowered and the age in respect of presidential eligibility. Both of these Bills have to be published in appropriate time prior to the commitment to hold the referendums. That will be early in the new year, I would expect.

There is a great deal of concern about the use of e-cigarettes. The public health (retail licensing of tobacco products) Bill is to introduce a licensing system and other measures in respect of the sale of tobacco products and medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. People are not sure about e-cigarettes. When can we expect the publication of the Bill?

The Bill is not due until next year. Perhaps with the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence, if the Deputy submits a Topical Issue matter in respect of the health aspects of e-cigarettes, the Ceann Comhairle, in his graciousness, might allow Deputy Fitzpatrick to deal with that matter.