Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 6, Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to adjourn after two hours if not previously concluded; and No. 6a, Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage, Second and Remaining Stages.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn on the conclusion of No. 6a; the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 6: the opening speeches 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 15 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and such Members may share their time, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the Second and Remaining Stages of No. 6a shall be taken tonight and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after three hours and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on the Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours, the opening speeches 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 20 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and such Members may share their time, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after one hour 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 Health; and Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 70, Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Voting) Bill 2014 – Second Stage, shall not be taken today and shall be taken at 6.30 p.m. tomorrow evening and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after three hours on that day.

Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 6, Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 - Second and Remaining Stages (resumed); and No. a11, motion re Statement for Information of Voters in relation to the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a11 shall be taken on the conclusion of No. 6 and shall be decided without debate.

There are five 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. 6, Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 6a, Second and Remaining Stages of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business tomorrow agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11, motion re Statement for Information of Voters in relation to the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, without debate, tomorrow agreed to? Agreed.

I thank the Whips for agreeing to all of that under the circumstances. It is the right way to do business.

And the Independents also. Do not forget us.

I thank the Members opposite for the agreement they have reached in regard to the health Bill.

Will the Taoiseach give Government time to discuss a very important matter, the right of the Oireachtas and the public to hear about the circumstances surrounding the removal of the former Garda Commissioner? It has been 12 months since the Dáil was advised that this was to be the subject of a commission of investigation, along with other terms of reference dealing with telephone recordings in An Garda Síochána and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality asked that the matter would be dealt with in eight weeks and in public. We have seen a variety of media reports and selective leaks to certain media outlets about what is going on in respect of conflicting evidence from senior civil servants and witnesses, and the letter that emanated from the chairman of the tribunal to the Taoiseach some weeks back. It took six weeks to put the interim report on procedural matters on the web. It is completely unacceptable that we have been kept in the dark for so long on a matter of such public importance. This could have been dealt with if, from day one, the Taoiseach had given straight answers to some questions on Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil. The Taoiseach should make a statement to the House on this issue. I ask him to give Government time to statements on why a Garda Commissioner had to resign and the circumstances surrounding his departure. It is unacceptable that we have been kept in the dark for a full 12 months and are likely to be kept in the dark for an indefinite time.

That is not really a matter for the Order of Business.

I am sure the Taoiseach would agree that is entirely unsatisfactory. Commissions of inquiry were never intended to keep basic truths from the public.

Can the Taoiseach confirm the wording for the Irish language version of the marriage equality amendment to the Constitution? I thought there would be a statement to the House on that issue. It was the subject of correspondence from Bruce Arnold among others. My understanding is that the Government is disposed to change the Irish language version. Could the Taoiseach outline how the Government got that wrong at the outset, its implications and the need to remedy the wording?

In regard to the latter matter, the Government, at its meeting on 21 January, agreed the text of the proposed wording in English of the Thirty-fourth amendment. That text was subsequently translated into Gaeilge by the Rannóg an Aistriúchán, which is the translation service in the Oireachtas, and included in the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. Some questions have been raised publicly regarding the Irish version of the text. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Attorney General examined that issue with the support of Rannóg an Aistriúchán and legal and linguistic experts. Their view is that the Irish version as produced is robust and encompasses a right to marry for both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples.

The Government, however, does not wish the Irish wording, as opposed to the key question in the referendum, to be the focus of any debate in the referendum campaign and in the interests of ensuring absolute clarity as to the intended effect of the amendment, it decided to amend the Irish wording and replace it with a more literal translation of the English wording. An Rannóg an Aistriúchán has worked on a new wording. Its recommendation, which the Government accepted, is that the revised Irish wording should be: "Féadfaidh beirt, gan beann ar a ngnéas, conradh pósta a dhéanamh de réir dlí." This is a more literal translation of the English wording, which is: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” The Minister will introduce the proposed wording as a Committee Stage amendment to the Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015 tomorrow. That amendment, if approved by the people, would be inserted into Article 41 of the Constitution as Article 41.4. No changes are proposed to the existing provisions of that article.

In response to the Deputy’s first question, I do not propose to do that.

I have already answered questions here on this.

No, the Taoiseach has not.

The Fennelly commission was set up following information about extensive recordings made of members of the public in telephone calls to Garda stations over many years. Subsequent to its being set up, the Oireachtas committee dealing with matters relevant to justice, which includes members of the Deputy’s party-----

The Taoiseach should stop trying to abuse the committee.

This is not a matter for the Order for Business but I am being tolerant.

-----recommended unanimously that the commission also be allowed to review and investigate the matters the Deputy mentions.

The Deputy sat on this side of the House when the legislation went through and he will be aware that it is illegal for somebody to comment on matters relevant to a commission of investigation.

It is not illegal for the Taoiseach to comment.

I have absolute faith in Mr. Justice Fennelly and in his integrity to do the job given to him by the Government. Deputy Martin should withdraw his comments, which have undermined the integrity of the commission he heads up by suggesting he should do certain things. That is beyond the Deputy's remit and certainly beyond mine.

Rubbish. What is the Taoiseach talking about? What propaganda is he putting forward now? His spin doctor has spun that.

Mr. Justice Fennelly should be allowed to do his job.

We have had a good innings on this matter. This is not in order.

The Taoiseach should have answered questions in the Dáil in a very simple manner but he refused.

The Taoiseach is saving it for after the next election.

We do not need any help from Deputy Healy-Rae.

It is some democratic revolution. He obfuscates and he hid behind the truth.

The Deputy should calm down.

I have three cheist. The first is on the prisons Bill, in which Deputy Durkan also has an interest.

We have a mutual interest.

The second is on a review of the fair deal system and the third is on promised insolvency legislation. In November the inspector of prisons, Mr. Justice Reilly, said:

Prisoners forfeit their rights to freedom. That is all they forfeit. They are entitled to all other rights and privileges that you and I enjoy.

We have 300 prisoners on lockdown for at least 19 hours and some on a 23 hour lockdown. Some 304 prisoners still have to slop out from their cells and, for a brief time, that included five women who were arrested and imprisoned for non-payment of fines including fines relating to the television licence. When will the prisons Bill be published to bring the penal regime here into line with human rights and UN practice?

The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, said last week that the review of the fair deal system was on the Secretary General's desk. The programme for Government contained a commitment to provide additional funding each year for the care of older people and it is very clear from the crisis in our hospital system that not only do older people deserve this, it would also assist in freeing up hospital beds. The Minister said there was a €30 million gap in funding so can we have a definitive timeframe for when this review will be published? Will the Government allocate time to debate it?

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, said the promised insolvency legislation would have to be changed. He said banks must be forced to engage in insolvency arrangements and the Government had to act. We all know about the huge increase in people who are subjected to intimidation during repossession actions by the banks and the Government has encouraged this because there is not enough legislative protection. If the Minister is heralding the fact that he is going to put in protections and take away the veto the Government has given to the banks, that would be a very good move. When does the Government intend to amend the legislation and will there be Government time to discuss it?

I can confirm preliminary work is under way in respect of the prisons Bill though I cannot give a date for when it will be published. The review of the fair deal is still with the Minister for Health. There will be time to debate it when he publishes it and I understand that is not too far away.

I have already answered questions on distressed mortgages today. This will be the subject of a number of measures being brought forward by Government in April following a review of the personal insolvency agency and a range of other issues that have arisen. Some 100,000 cases have been settled effectively and satisfactorily but there are 37,000 cases out there where we need to take some further action and Government will deal with that in April, when there will be an opportunity for Members to discuss it.

I have questions on two pieces of promised legislation. Last week the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced that he would reform the planning laws relating to one-off family homes. Is this a promise to bring in primary or secondary legislation? What is the timeline?

It has been disclosed today that 400 convicted rapists and paedophiles in the UK have gone missing, three of them in Northern Ireland where the PSNI is looking for them. It is likely that some are in this jurisdiction. Back in 2009 the then Minister for Justice, Deputy Dermot Ahern, told the House that the failure to modernise our sex offenders' law would lead to Ireland becoming a safe haven for convicted sex offenders. What is the timeline for the criminal justice (sex offenders) Bill? In light of the fact that we have already approved Second Stage of the child sex offenders (information and monitoring) Bill, will the Minister fast-track it through committee so that we can close off at least some of the gaping loopholes in our sex offenders' legislation to protect women, children and vulnerable adults from these sex offenders and any others who have gone AWOL?

Planning legislation for more than one-off houses is a matter for the local authorities, the planning offices and the planning appeals board.

The Minister promised a change in the law.

I think the Deputy is referring to the update of building regulations, which make it very costly. The Minister has done quite a bit of work on it and wants to make an intervention which will not affect the planning position of local authorities.

Is there a timeline? A lot of people have already started.

The Minister is anxious to move on it very quickly because the costs for people who get planning permission are pretty exorbitant.

The heads of the Bill on sex offenders were approved at Government level a year ago. A great deal of work has been done on it and it is being prioritised. I think it will be one of the first Bills to come in on the next session of the Dáil. As to whether it will be fast-tracked through committee, pre-legislative hearings have been held but it will be a matter for the committee members how quickly they want to move it forward.

On the issue raised by Deputy Gerry Adams, I am glad to hear it is proposed to introduce legislative change in the area of prisons. I wish to ask about two other pieces of legislation in this area. Quite a number of people are being threatened with repossession of their homes, many of whom have continuously made the maximum payments they could afford over the past five or six years. Resolution does not mean the same for everybody as in many cases what appears to be resolution is actually repossession, which means unfortunate people being put out of their homes. In the context of unregulated third parties who bought distressed loan books, is it possible that a distinction can be made so that they are brought within the rigours of our regulations and so that they do not pursue people on the basis of a quick fix, having bought the loan book at a reduced rate to capitalise on the unfortunate situation people are in?

I believe it is necessary to bring the banking consolidation Bill before the House as a matter of urgency in this context.

I do not have a date for the banking consolidation Bill. It is a complicated Bill on which work is ongoing. The Bill on unregulated third party loans which have been bought is awaiting Committee Stage and it is a priority for Government. I agree with the Deputy that a solution for one is not a solution for another.

Our national monuments are an important part of our heritage and indeed our tourism industry. They are the glue that keeps communities together and they give places a sense of identity. I am sure everybody in this House is aware of heritage horrors that have occurred in their parish, community or region. When can we expect the national monuments Bill to come before the House? What is the situation with the heritage (amendment) Bill, which will have elements that will give each local area its identity?

They are two important Bills. I can inform the Deputy that I have spoken to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Office of Public Works about this, and both of these Bills are expected later this year.

In regard to the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, when will the ministerial orders and regulations be brought in? I wish to be specific and pragmatic. It does not give me any pleasure to say this, but the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill is coming into the House as rushed legislation. Last Friday, we had Deputy Michael McGrath's very worthy Bill, which addresses the issue of the 40,000 mortgage home loans that are in distress. That number equates to three Aviva stadiums full of human beings in deep human distress.

Deputy, we cannot discuss that.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

We cannot discuss a Bill that has now been put to the House.

The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, coupled with the insolvency legislation, have been an abject failure in dealing with the problem that has been highlighted in red and orange lights since 9 March 2011. The Taoiseach might ask how I know that. I know it because I was one of the people who said that to him. Will he please address this tsunami? We are in our offices with green paper and yellow paper-----

Deputy, please.

-----coming at us like a blizzard, and different ministerial sections of different Departments are coming at us such that we cannot even think and measure the problem. We will not solve a problem unless we understand the cause.

Deputy, we cannot discuss this on the Order of Business. The Deputy should table a Topical Issue matter and I will consider it.

The banking inquiry is taking place down in a committee room at present, but this is the banking inquiry that needs to be solved - the 40,000 mortgages that are-----

Thank you, Deputy. Will you resume your seat?

-----staring us in the face.

Thank you, Deputy.

All we have to do is to take Deputy Michael McGrath's Bill and Deputy Willie Penrose's suggestion, merge the two of them and get them through this week.

Deputy, I will not ask you again. Will you please adhere to direction of the Chair?

It would be better legislation than these two items that have failed.

Will the Deputy stop his display in the Chamber?

I am only telling the Ceann Comhairle the reality. The Taoiseach has been let down by the people who should have been doing their jobs, but they have not done so.

Deputy, will you show some respect to the Chair and sit down?

The Ceann Comhairle is always telling me to sit down.

Will you sit down? You are out of order.

I am helping the Taoiseach. I am bringing to his attention things that need to be done.

Not on the Order of Business. Will the Deputy please sit down?

I do not enjoy doing this.

Will the Taoiseach answer the Deputy's first question?

I ask the Taoiseach if we could have a quick turnaround-----

If the Deputy does not resume his seat, I will have to ask him to leave the House.

-----and a commitment to take Deputy Willie Penrose's Bill and-----

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

-----Deputy Michael McGrath's Bill forward this week.

I will not call the Deputy again if he behaves in this way. I assure him of that.

I do not enjoy doing this.

Well, you should not do it. You could put down a Topical Issue matter. Sit down, please.

Excuse me. May I stand up for a moment?

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

May I speak in a moment?

No. Resume your seat.

I want to ask a question.

In future, if the Deputy wishes to raise an issue, I ask him to do as everybody else does and submit a request to raise a matter as a Topical Issue, not on the Order of Business.

I have tabled Topical Issue matters previously and they have not been selected.

Thank you. I call the Taoiseach.

The Land and Conveyancing Bill was passed in July 2013.

The eviction Bill.

The question of the insolvency issue is one that will be dealt with in April-----

On 1 April, I would say.

-----with a number of other measures being brought forward by the Government. I dealt with this issue this morning. I will point out for Deputy Mathews that 115,000 mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014.

With respect, that is absolute rot.

Deputy, will you please resume your seat?

I have been involved in-----

Each of these is now in a satisfactory position-----

Deputy, will you please leave the House?

-----and 30,000 accounts were restructured in 2014.

The Deputy will get covered on Vincent Browne's show tonight.

In regard to the taking of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, the reason is that the Court of Appeal struck down the protection given by ministerial direction for certain drugs to have them declared illegal. That now requires primary legislation, which must be dealt with this evening and tomorrow in the Seanad.

We have peace at last.

With regard to tenants of local authority houses - I have raised this matter here on a number of occasions-----

To what Bill is the Deputy referring?

The Government has made a commitment-----

What Bill is it?

-----to introduce a mechanism whereby the tenants of local authority houses may purchase their homes. The Government is to send a directive to local authorities stating the scheme that will be put in place. Has the Minister with responsibility for housing done any work on this since I raised it here previously?

The tenant purchase scheme.

From time to time, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government offers tenant purchase agreements. This has been raised by a number of Deputies in the past number of months. I will advise the Deputy of what progress, if any, has been made by the Department in putting together a tenant purchase agreement, if that is what the Minister proposes to bring to the Government. A good deal of work is going on there.

It is a very serious matter.

To follow up on what Deputy Mathews said about the-----

No, please do not. To what Bill is the Deputy referring?

-----personal insolvency legislation-----

You cannot go into that.

I am not going into it. Countless numbers of people are before the court who are due to have their homes repossessed. The Taoiseach and Ministers have conceded that the personal insolvency legislation-----

What Bill is the Deputy talking about?

-----is not working as promised. When will the Government confirm that 37,500 people are in arrears of two years or more and run a real risk of having their homes repossessed? Can the Taoiseach confirm when comprehensive legislation will be brought forward to remove the banks' veto and ensure that people are protected?

I have raised the mobility allowance on numerous occasions, and on each occasion the Taoiseach said it was not precluded to those who are currently availing of the scheme, which is true-----

Only three minutes remain and other Deputies are offering.

-----but it is precluded to new entrants. When will the new mobility allowance be introduced so that new entrants who have a serious disability will be able to avail of the new scheme?

For the fifth time today I say that the Government will bring forward a number of measures in regard to mortgages in distress in the month of April - that is, next month. The mobility allowance situation is a work in progress, and it will be later this year when something is published.

This is National Brain Awareness Week. The Taoiseach is probably conscious of that. In the context of the health information Bill, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the neurological charities. This time last year their funding was to be cut. The Minister, Deputy Kelly, then announced an extension, saying they were to have funding up to the middle of this year.

The Deputy knows that is not in order.

It is in the context of the health information Bill.

Two reviews have been carried out in the intervening period. Can the Taoiseach tell us when we will know the outcome of those reviews, and can organisations such as the Neurological Alliance of Ireland be guaranteed funding into the future?

I understand it will be later this year. I do not know the date of publication of the two reviews, but I will advise the Deputy.

I do not want to repeat myself-----

-----by asking the Taoiseach a question six times. I will ask it in a slí eile. Will he introduce legislation-----

Is it promised legislation?

The Deputy knows as well as I do that it is only promised legislation he can ask about.

Thóg mé ón leabhar é, ón programme. Tá sé anseo. I have it here. I got it out of the book, the promised land. It is the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill. If we had some of that regulation we would not have half the shenanigans that are going on, with the banks threatening and intimidating people. With that legislation, they would have to behave.

We have been through that.

It is very important, because 47 cases are listed for Clonmel court this week.

On the judicial council Bill, I ask that we put some mechanism in place to allow appeals to be heard against decisions, so that if there are injustices, something would be done. It is fine for the Taoiseach to say he will bring forward many measures. These are legislative measures that are promised in the programme for Government.

Thank you. The Deputy has made his point.

They are in this current programme, but we do not see any sign of them.

Maidir leis an gcéad ceann, tá sé sin os comhair an choiste faoi láthair. Tá an obair sin ar siúl. Maidir leis an dara ceann, an chomhairle faoi na breithiúna, beidh sin ag teacht isteach an seisiún seo.

Go raibh maith agat.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the landlord and tenant Bill and the need to reform and consolidate the law around landlords and tenants, particularly at this time, when there is significant pressure for those who are renting and also for landlords, some of whom are in difficult circumstances.

I believe the Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill is due to be introduced in this session. It had been hoped it would be introduced before now, but I am hopeful that it will be introduced in this session.

The Horse Racing Ireland (amendment) Bill will be dealt with in this session. In regard to the landlord and tenant Bill, discussions and conversations are going on between the Minister, the Department and the associations about this. I cannot give the Deputy a date for its publication, but work on it is ongoing.