Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 18, motion re Standing Order 107I, and No. 43, Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill 2014 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that in the event that 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. 180, motion re child care, shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes; and the proceedings on No. 18 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 25 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed five minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; and the speech of a Minister or Minister of State who shall be called upon to make a speech in reply shall not exceed five minutes. Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 1, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 [Seanad] - Second Stage.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 18 agreed to? Agreed.

With regard to legislation on the Order Paper - namely, Deputy Clare Daly's Bill on fatal foetal abnormalities - it was stated earlier that there was no precedent for the putting of the Attorney General's advices before the House. However, my understanding is that in 1983, the then Minister, Mr. Barry Desmond, read into the Dáil record in full the Attorney General's advices on the legislation relating to Article 40.3.3°. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm whether the members of the Labour Party are being briefed on the Attorney General's advices on the Bill before the House. We read in the media that they are to be briefed. If one group of Deputies is being advised on this matter, all Deputies should be briefed. The Taoiseach might confirm the position for me. It would be a good day's work for transparency if the advices were published.

With regard to the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill, the rolling out of free GP care to under sixes is in jeopardy as hundreds of GPs across the country are refusing to sign up to the Government's plans. The National Association of General Practitioners, which comprises a very large body of GPs, is now calling on its members not to sign up to the Government's proposals. We are all aware of the position of children over six. I am aware of a very sad case of a child with very severe cancer who is being refused a medical card by the HSE. Other cases, which were before the House last week, involved children with significant conditions and complications who have been refused medical cards. The difficulty people have is that children under six who are healthy will be getting medical cards while those over six who are very severely ill will not. When can we expect the Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill? When can we see the commencement of the scheme for under-sixes?

The Deputy raised two questions, the first of which was on the Attorney General's advice. Obviously, the Attorney General was asked formally at Cabinet about Deputy Daly's Bill. The Attorney General confirmed that, in her opinion as legal adviser to the Government, the Bill is unconstitutional as framed. Obviously, I do not speak for any Minister briefing the members of the Labour Party in terms of making sure that briefing confirms what the Attorney General actually said to the Government, namely, that the Bill is illegal.

The important point is that if one group of Deputies was briefed, all Deputies should be so briefed. It would be extremely unprecedented if there were a special briefing for one group and not the others. I believe the Taoiseach accepts that point.

I was not there but obviously the briefing confirms the Attorney General's advice to the Government.

So there was a briefing.

Could we all see it?

So there was a briefing?

I do not know. I am not at the Labour Party meetings and I do not know. I have seen the reports myself to the effect that the party was to be briefed.

Could we see the advice before we vote?

I have told anybody I met that the Attorney General briefed the Government to the effect that the Bill is unconstitutional.

I am saying that publicly.

On a point of order-----

This is not on the Order of Business.

The Bill is on the Order Paper and Deputies have asked for the Attorney General's advices.

I have pointed out that for very many years-----

Why should some get the briefing when we do not?

It would be extraordinary if one group of Deputies got the advices while another group did not.

We all have to vote on this.

The former Minister Mr. Desmond may have read something into the Dáil record. For very many years, however, it has been consistent policy not to publish advice given by the Attorney General.

So the Taoiseach gets to see it and we do not.

The Labour Party is getting to see it.

I do not propose to do that-----

Hold on a minute. This is the Order of Business.

-----except to confirm that the Attorney General gave formal legal advice to the Government that the Bill, as framed, is unconstitutional.

So the Taoiseach is hiding-----

He will not show us the proof.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is not the Government.

We have got to vote on it. How are we supposed to do so if we do not see the evidence?

In respect of the rolling out of GP cards for under-sixes, the negotiations are proceeding very well. I have seen some of the reports in respect of one group of doctors. Deputy Martin should note that €37 million in extra money, over and above everything else, has been allocated for this particular reason. The Minister is confident that he can have this introduced by summertime.

Under Standing Orders, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, as one knows, is empowered to provide legal advices to the House. A very unusual set of circumstances has arisen in that, according to the Taoiseach, certain Deputies are being briefed. That is now definite and has been confirmed.

Sorry; we are not getting into that.

No one else has been briefed in regard to the Bill. In future, the Ceann Comhairle might call all Members of the House-----

The Deputy has had his run.

-----with regard to the capacity of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to have independent advices provided to the House.

To clarify that, I am confirming that the Attorney General confirmed to the Government that the Bill, as framed, is illegal. That is the only briefing that has been given to Deputies.

I want to make the same point as Deputy Micheál Martin. If, as we read in the newspapers, the Labour Party Deputies are being given a briefing on the Attorney General's advice, the rest of us deserve the same briefing.

I wish to refer to the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, the related international protection Bill, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill and the priorities set out by the Minister for Health. I asked last week about the timeframe for the completion of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill but I did not get a clear answer. I later received a letter from the Minister for Justice and Equality in which she explained that, because the Bill is expected to take some time, she has decided to fast-track a separate international protection Bill to meet several particular and immediate concerns. I thank her for that letter. However, I would like to know from the Taoiseach when he expects the general scheme of the international protection Bill to be published. When does he expect the Bill itself to be published?

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 was a hugely important Bill, the purpose of which was to update and reform the outdated law governing decision-making by those whose capacity may be impaired. It was intended that it should replace the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, on which much of our current system is based. The significance of this was underpinned recently by the allegations of abuse which featured in the RTE programme on the Áras Attracta home in December last. What is needed is a clear legal framework which guarantees that citizens with impaired mental capacity have rights. The 2013 Bill would bring the State into greater compliance with international best practice. It is hugely important. The Bill was introduced 20 months ago, and passed Second Stage on 11 December 2013. It was sent to the committee on 12 December 2013, but it has never been discussed. There is an issue with regard to why progress has been so slow. When does the Taoiseach expect this to be taken at Committee Stage, and does he realistically envisage that it will pass all Stages and become law before the term of this Government is finished?

To return to my previous question, the Minister for Health promised that he would extend the remit of HIQA to other health and social care sectors, commencing in 2015 with private health care providers. I would like to know when that is envisaged. Given that HIQA has written telling me that the Government has failed to act on its recommendations, when will the Government implement the recommendations made by HIQA in its reports on Tallaght hospital and other facilities?

Deputy Adams raised the matter of the immigration Bill last week and the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, replied to him yesterday in a detailed letter about that. Amendments are being prepared on the section that she is fast-tracking, and that will come before the House in the not too distant future.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 is awaiting Committee Stage. The Department of Justice and Equality, together with the Attorney General's office, are working on amendments. They are conscious of the importance of this. After these have been concluded, it will come before a committee here in the House.

I will come back to Deputy Adams with an up-to-date position on HIQA and its extension to other agencies and organisations.

With regard to promised legislation, the Taoiseach may remember an issue that I raised with him on a couple of occasions - that is, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. I am interested to know the current status of that. Like many Members, I know a small number of persons who committed minor offences a long time ago, and that can have a significant impact on their lives in terms of travelling abroad, for instance, which can prevent them from meeting their families. It is an important piece of legislation that will affect the lives of many.

Deputy Keating raises an important matter. The Bill is awaiting Report Stage. There are a number of issues that were raised on Committee Stage and the amendments are being considered. I can give Deputy Keating an update on when it is expected that this might be concluded.

The new children's hospital establishment Bill is promised legislation and is inching its way towards us. I ask the Taoiseach whether he expects that we might see the evidence of that before the House at an early date, preferably for passage before the end of the present session.

I will have to come back to Deputy Durkan with a more accurate date for this. I cannot give him a specific date now.

In relation to the vote we have to take later on Deputy Clare Daly's Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013, the Taoiseach has just indicated that Labour Deputies are receiving a briefing.

The Taoiseach did say a "briefing".

Sorry, Deputy Boyd Barrett.

The Taoiseach said it to me.

One should not put words in my mouth.

I ask out of respect for what goes on in this Chamber, in which we are to vote on a Bill of that level of seriousness. A briefing has been given to some Deputies in this House. it must contain argumentation. It does not merely state in one line that the Bill is unconstitutional. Is the Taoiseach seriously suggesting that is the advice? There must be argumentation in it dealing with the issues that have been raised.

This is the Order of Business.

I am only asking whether Deputies who will be required to vote on this can be given the same briefing-----

They cannot at this stage.

-----that the Taoiseach just admitted is being given to Labour Party Deputies.

Deputy Boyd Barrett has made his point.

The Taoiseach said it.

We were there. We did not get it.

He was mistaken.

Could the Taoiseach tell us precisely when the proposed water services Bill, which the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has promised, will be brought here? Could he tell us the purpose of that Bill, since that has not been made clear, and the timescale?

Could the Taoiseach tell us whether the Minister for Justice and Equality was aware that a small battalion of gardaí was to be dispatched-----

Not on the Order of Business. Deputy Higgins will have to find some other way of raising that issue.

-----to the homes of anti-water charge activists to arrest them yesterday and this morning, and that ten gardaí arrived at the home of a 16 year old boy this morning in Tallaght to arrest him in relation to a protest in Tallaght?

Deputy Higgins will appreciate that he cannot raise that on the Order of Business.

Was the Minister aware that this would happen?

Deputy Higgins will be aware that he is out of order.

Is the Taoiseach happy to criminalise an entire community with this kind of carry-on?

On the legislation promised.

I can confirm that the Government was not aware of the operations of the Garda in this matter. It is untruthful to state that it was or to make any allegation from that point of view. I heard it on the early morning news, just as everybody else in the country did.

In respect of Deputy Clare Daly's Bill, let me confirm here that the Attorney General gave formal legal advice to the Cabinet that the Bill is unconstitutional, and that is what has been transmitted to any Deputies.

Did the Attorney General even give the Government any arguments?

There are no briefing documents to be given to any Deputy other than to confirm that the Attorney General's formal legal advice is that this Bill is unconstitutional.

I would point out to Deputy Boyd Barrett-----

It is extraordinary.

-----that the parameters within which the Legislature has to operate are the same as was the case for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

This is not in order.

The current constitutional position, as confirmed by the Supreme Court, is that termination is only permissible when the continuation of the pregnancy constitutes a real risk to the life of the mother.

Wrong. Obviously, the Taoiseach did not read the PP v. HSE judgment.

Those are the parameters within which the Constitution is framed, and the Constitution is framed by vote of the people.

In the past week, the new 2015-2016 electoral register was published. There have been, again, numerous errors. In one estate in my constituency-----

We cannot go into that here. It sounds like a parliamentary question.

-----there are 28 houses occupied, but only two households have been registered.

Were they not voting for Deputy Bannon? Were they voting for the others?

Deputy Bannon will be aware that he is out of order.

On the electoral commission Bill-----

That is better.

-----I ask the Taoiseach when this Bill will be published.

Deputy Bannon can have his say on that Bill.

I do not have a date for that. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, has spoken about the intention to introduce an electoral commission, which I think would probably be before the end of the year.

With regard to the programme for Government, could I ask the Taoiseach about the Government's commitment to and support for two- and three-teacher schools? Its present policy will mean that many of the small schools will close. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister to give a commitment here that two- and three-teacher schools be allowed to continue in the future, as their parties promised in the programme for Government.

This sounds like a Topical Issue.

I am surprised the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, who is alongside the Taoiseach and who was at the same meeting I was at last night, is not biting the Taoiseach's ear off telling him what happened last night-----

Deputy Healy-Rae is stretching it.

-----because he gave great commitments to the people in south Kerry. I would like to see him give the same commitment here in Dáil Éireann. He was very good last night but I would like him to adhere to what he said. I am doing it on behalf of the people of Kerry.

Deputy Healy-Rae is chancing his luck.

It is time to talk with the Minister and for Deputy Deenihan to say here what he stated at home.

We cannot go into disputes.

I am very sorry. The Ceann Comhairle cannot blame me for being passionate when it comes to children and small schools.

I am aware that Deputy Healy-Rae is passionate. He should table the question for a Topical Issue and we will consider it.

The microphone is off. No one is listening to Deputy Healy-Rae.

The best thing the Minister of State could do is to keep his mouth shut.

The microphone is off. There is no one listening any more.

They are listening to me all right but they are not listening to Deputy Kehoe.

Deputy Healy-Rae's microphone is off.

I call Deputy Ó Fearghaíl.

As we all will be aware, the housing crisis is continuing unabated.

From what the Tánaiste has said to us in recent times, it is unlikely to be seriously tackled in the very near future. The Government has promised a landlord and tenant Bill to address and consolidate the law in the area of private rented accommodation. That is one of the areas that is exacerbating the difficulties at present. Could the Taoiseach tell us when precisely it is intended to bring forward that legislation because if the Government is truly prioritising housing, then this is part of the scheme of legislation that needs to be brought forward to address it?

I cannot tell the Deputy precisely when the Bill will come but I can tell him that the Government continues not just to make this a priority in terms of housing, but to put money on the table to make it become a reality. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is well aware of the pressure in his area in terms of the demand for housing and it cannot be addressed until people start to build houses, and there are conditions and regulations that apply in that regard. The Government has put money in place for social and affordable housing and is encouraging the industry to build proper housing for people given the serious demand for it. I will come back to Deputy Ó Fearghaíl with dates in respect of the proposed legislation.