It is proposed to take No. 36, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 35, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages (resumed). 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 shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 185, motion re self-employed and SME sectors, and which shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes. Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions, shall be No. 35, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. 7, Statute Law Revision Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Order of Business
Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed to? Agreed.
The programme for Government was initially very strong on the need for transparency in terms of how the Government conducts its business and protects the taxpayer. The phrase the Taoiseach used was, "Paddy likes to know".
Paddy is very confused at the moment.
Unfortunately, that is not how it worked out. During Leaders' Questions, we raised the issue of the sale of Siteserv. It is interesting that it has taken so long for very basic details to come out. The Comptroller and Auditor General will not be able to deal with all aspects of the concerns the civil servants in the Department of Finance had, particularly the decision to allow the same process to be run by Siteserv's advisers, the timing of the exclusivity period when there were other bids outstanding, the decision to exclude trade buyers from the process and the payment of €5 million to existing shareholders. The Taoiseach proposes to have a very narrow framework for an inquiry into one aspect of the deal, whereas the material from the Department of Finance cries out for far more transparency regarding how this was conducted. There was concern at the large number of transactions that have been poorly executed by IBRC. I did not say this; the civil servants at the Department of Finance said it. It is a very grave and serious issue and, with the greatest respect, the Taoiseach has been trying to play politics with it this morning to far too great a degree. All I asked for was a proper independent inquiry at one remove from everybody so the public can have confidence in what did or did not happen. The Minister did not pursue such an independent review, and we do not know why, other than that the chairman, Alan Dukes, persuaded him not to go ahead with an independent review. We are in an appalling situation. In the name of the programme for Government, does the Taoiseach intend to have complete transparency on the issue and the concerns of the Department of Finance?
When will the Government publish the international evidence review on independent hospital trusts undertaken by the health research board at the request of the Department of Health? The new children's hospital establishment Bill is meant to establish a statutory body to provide paediatric acute services in Dublin at the new children's hospital, taking over the services currently provided by Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin, Temple Street and the paediatric services in Tallaght Hospital. When will the Bill be published?
A great deal of work has been done on the new children's hospital establishment Bill and it is moving ahead very well. I will come back to the Deputy with an approximate date for publication. The Minister will respond to the question on the international evidence review on independent hospital trusts. I will have him give the Deputy the information. Regarding the first issue the Deputy raised, we have dealt with it. The Government got rid of Anglo Irish Bank, changed the framework whereby there was no mandatory requirement to-----
No, it did not. That is not what happened.
We cannot have a rehash of Leaders' Questions.
The Government also changed the Freedom of Information Acts so that these questions could be asked and information given.
That would have happened anyway, for God's sake.
The chairman and chief executive assured the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that it represented value for money for the taxpayer. Deputy Martin respects the independence of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the assurance given to the Minister. The Minister has nothing to hide.
Does the Comptroller and Auditor General have the legislative basis to do it?
Yes, he has a constitutional responsibility to determine and adjudicate on value for money for the taxpayer, and that he will be asked to do.
While I do not want to repeat the questions I asked during Leaders' Questions, what the Taoiseach proposes is inadequate. However, I will ask three questions on the Order of Business.
The criminal justice (spent convictions) Bill is a step in the right direction, because it allows for sentences of 12 months or less for certain types of offences to be considered spent. It has passed Committee Stage in the Dáil and all Stages in the Seanad. When is it expected to go to Report Stage and will it be enacted by summer?
Two years ago, the Government published proposals to replace the current television licence fee with a public service broadcasting charge. We were told it would be a blanket levy on every household, even those with no television, and would come into effect at the beginning of this year. Now, we have been advised that, because of the impending election and the uproar over water charges and property taxes, it is to be postponed. Given that we get much of our information from the media, much of which could be inaccurate, can the Taoiseach confirm when the broadcast charge will be introduced and when the broadcasting (amendment) Bill will be published?
If the Government is re-elected.
Yesterday, Alcohol Action Ireland held a conference in Dublin entitled "Girls, Women and Alcohol: The changing nature of female alcohol consumption in Ireland". The speakers outlined the serious impact of too much alcohol on women, especially on those who are pregnant and their babies, and warned of the link between alcohol and cancer. At the weekend, we learned that cancer survival rates in the State are among the lowest in Europe. These all require the speedy introduction of legislation. The public health (alcohol) Bill has been dithering for a very long time. Can we be told when it will be published?
The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill is on Report Stage and a number of amendments have been tabled for discussion. Hopefully, it can be concluded reasonably quickly. The public health (alcohol) Bill is at pre-legislative scrutiny stage with the Oireachtas committee, which has already considered some elements of it. It will meet again tomorrow to consider the matter further and it is moving through the system.
Yesterday, the Government considered the report from NewERA in respect of RTE and matters relevant to it. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was very clear that a replacement for the television licence will not be introduced in this Government's time because great consideration must be given to the fact that our country has become multimedia in so many respects and we are not dealing just with television. Anything to be done there would be a replacement for a television licence scheme. The Bill will not happen until proper consideration has been given to the reports on public broadcasting and how taxpayers' money is used for it and the implications for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Minister will bring a memo to the Government in due course when RTE reports to him following the publication and debate of the two reports that were published.
A number of weeks ago the Taoiseach promised that he would introduce legislative changes to help the hundreds of family who are hauled before the courts on a weekly basis and face the real danger of losing their family home. He said the measures and proposals would be brought before the House before the end of April. When will the Government finally wake up and realise that hundreds, if not thousands, of families risk losing their homes? When will it bring forward legislative changes to ensure that these families are supported? I hope infighting between the two political parties in the Government regarding legislative changes and proposals is not stalling this. Every day and night of delay means another family could lose their home, which is one too many. People are suffering and they need the Government's help, but the help the Government has provided to this section of society has been negligible thus far.
I did not see the Deputy's sign in Ballymahon welcoming the €300 million investment there.
That is private enterprise. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Government.
The Government is very much aware of the catastrophic situation-----
The Taoiseach did not know it was coming.
-----in which the Deputy's party left the country.
The Taoiseach would get lost in the woods down there.
It is very much aware of the hundreds of thousands of families that were put into negative equity and are in despair and disillusionment because of the mess and incompetence created during its years in government.
The Government has done nothing about the variable interest rate and it cut mortgage interest support.
Deputy Troy, you asked the question.
The spring economic statement will issue next week and in the following week the Government will bring forward a number of options for dealing with distressed mortgages where it is necessary that something extra be done. I made the point previously that the Government's priority is to ensure that people do not lose their homes. There is a requirement for sustainable solutions to be brought forward in all of these cases, and this requires decisions to be made in a practical way. The Government will bring forward a number of measures in the week after next in that regard. I hope the Deputy will contribute constructively to the debate when it takes place.
Mary O'Rourke went to the park last week, but Donie did not.
The Deputy is obsessed with those two people. Does he know they are retired from politics?
The most cost effective, best and nicest way to take care of our elderly population is to take care of them in their own homes. The Taoiseach's response yesterday on letters that have been sent about cutting home help hours has caused more confusion instead of answering the question. With regard to home help hours and our elderly, will the Taoiseach give an assurance to our honourable elderly people, whom we adore and respect, that every person who wishes to stay in their own home and to receive home help and home care will be able to do so, and that they will not be forced into a more costly means of care by sending them to private or State nursing homes?
The Deputy could raise that in another way.
I am asking the question with regard to the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I recall what the Government stated in the programme for Government about taking care of elderly people, so this is the place for the Taoiseach to answer the question and to allay their fears. They are ringing Members on all sides of the House about it. The Taoiseach does not need the Chief Whip to tell him how he should reply.
The Taoiseach is well able to answer.
He can answer it without the Chief Whip telling him how to.
On this matter, if it was a journey from Killarney to Killorglin, the Deputy is only at Fossa and Deputy Fleming is crossing the bridge into Killorglin. Deputy Fleming raised this yesterday and I gave him a full and comprehensive reply.
I said that, but the Taoiseach gave a poor answer.
Of course I agree with the sentiment that elderly people have the right to be able to stay in their own homes as long as possible, for both their dignity and their comfort. However, in many cases there comes a time when that is no longer possible because of the extent of care required and the complexity of their situation. I said yesterday that 100,000 people receive home care packages and that the Government made a further €75 million available early this year for the fair deal scheme and home care packages. We stand by that principle. Everything cannot be done at once but as the economy improves and as our population ages, it is important that our elderly are given that sense of comfort and dignity in their own homes where that is possible.
Why are the letters going out now?
They are being threatened.
I do not know why the Deputy was not present yesterday. Deputy Fleming was on the ball quickly and raised the matter.
That is not answering the question.
Is the Taoiseach aware that the Wildlife Act is being breached on the North Bull Island in Clontarf? No hares have been seen on the North Bull Island, which is a beautiful nature reserve, since June 2014.
What is the legislation?
The Wildlife Acts. The fact that no hares have been seen and that they are now extinct means that this natural resource in Clontarf is being severely damaged. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to consider the idea of restocking the island? I realise people such as Deputy Mattie McGrath have no interest in hares and rabbits, but I have.
I have lots of interest.
I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that the Wildlife Act is not breached. Second, will he restock the island? It is a beautiful island and nature reserve, and we want our hares back.
I want to mind the old people, not the hares.
I had the privilege of walking the strand on the island on many occasions. It is a fabulous resort for the people of north Dublin and of the country generally. The Wildlife (Amendment) Act was enacted in 2012. I am not sure of the extent of the ganntanas, as we say in Irish, of the hares and rabbits at present. I will ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to seek a report on this-----
She might visit the island.
-----to ascertain whether an essential part of Bull Island can continue for the future. The Minister will discuss this with the wildlife officials.
The compensation for malicious injuries Bill is promised legislation. Has it been discussed in the Cabinet and is its arrival to the House imminent? Can we expect it to be passed in the current year?
I realise there were difficulties with the Central Bank Consolidation Bill due to awaiting other legislation to be passed, but is it intended to bring that Bill to the House before the end of this year and preferably before the summer recess?
The heads of the Garda Síochána Bill to which the Deputy referred were cleared, so that is being progressed. I expect the legislation to be ready later this year. I do not have a date for the Central Bank Consolidation Bill. As we discussed previously, there are some complications in that regard.
Given the alarming rate of consumption of e-cigarettes and the expansion of e-cigarette shops at present, and bearing in mind the potentially serious harm being done by these items, when can we expect the Public Health (Retail Licensing of Tobacco Products) Bill to be brought before the House for debate? It will seek to introduce a much needed licensing system for e-cigarettes in Ireland.
It will be later this year. If the Deputy tables a Topical Issue, the Minister will respond in greater detail.
Tá dhá cheist agam. The first is about the Referendum Act. The Taoiseach is probably aware that the Supreme Court is to give its decision in the Joanna Jordan case on Friday. I ask that the Government abide by that result, unlike in the case of the children's referendum when the Government did not abide by the Supreme Court's decision on the misappropriation of funding. I seek a commitment that it will abide by the decision.
Second, with regard to the Central Bank Consolidation Bill, when will the Government rein in the banks? The Taoiseach saw how they gave the two fingers to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and everybody else regarding variable rate mortgages. There is no code of conduct for receivers and security companies - thugs, in other words - going onto people's property at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. dressed in balaclavas and with Alsatian dogs. They are mobs. As I said yesterday, it would not happen in Libya. The Government is standing idly by and allowing this to happen in a democratic state.
It is an indictment of the Government that it allowed this to happen, mar dhea under court order. When the woman of the house asked for the court order, the superintendent was unable or unwilling to provide it. It is shameful that this should happen.
I ask the Taoiseach to reply on the Central Bank consolidation Bill.
The Supreme Court is due to make a decision on Friday in respect of the Referendum Act referred to by the Deputy. Of course the Government will abide by the decisions of the court, as it always does.
That did not happen the last time.
In respect of the code of conduct, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl raised the question of house repossessions yesterday. I am looking into this. I have spoken to Deputies Heydon and Wall about it. Where a system has gone through the court and a repossession order has been given, I do not agree at all that it should be carried out in this fashion. Perhaps we should consider an amendment which would regulate these orders and ensure they are carried out in much more appropriate circumstances.
I thank the Taoiseach for saying that.
In some cases, we have evidence of extraordinary activity by personnel. It is not right that people arrive at 3 a.m. to do this.
Repossessions that are ordered by the court should be orderly.
I am looking for brevity from Members. I call Deputy Neville.
I would like to ask the Taoiseach about the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013, which deals with decision-making by very vulnerable people and evaluation of the assistance they might need in making decisions. Much of this relates to the personal freedom of many people who could have some input into the process of making decisions on their positions.
I know Deputy Neville has had a specific interest in this matter over many years. This Bill is awaiting Committee Stage. A number of amendments are being drafted before it goes back to Committee Stage. I do not know the extent of that, or the numbers involved. I will come back to the Deputy with renewed information.
One can initiate action when noise reaches a level at which it causes annoyance. We need to extend and improve the power available to the enforcement authorities to prevent, reduce or abate noise emissions by allowing for fixed payment notices and providing for mediation between neighbours. In that context, when can we expect the noise nuisance Bill to be published?
I do not have a date for that. I will update the Deputy on the progress being made with it.
It is apparent from the focus of today's Leaders' Questions and now the debate on the Order of Business that, notwithstanding the look back into the past with IBRC and Irish Nationwide, etc., we have a far greater duty to concentrate on the present and what we can do for the 300,000 mortgages that are managed by what I would refer to as a duopoly rather than as the pillar banks. It is wrong that they are earning 2% super-profits on variable interest rate mortgages. The number of people on Bank of Ireland's board or court of directors has decreased from 14 to 12.
That is not a matter for the Order of Business, as the Deputy knows. It is on legislation.
Its annual general court will take place next Wednesday, 29 April. It is important because the person who had the most influence on that court for two years and ten months was Wilbur J. Ross, who made a profit of €500 million on an investment of €350 million. He is gone.
The Deputy should find some other way of raising this.
The Taoiseach has said that the Government will introduce measures to deal with the mortgage interest rate problem.
What is the Deputy's question?
Who is the public interest director in the bank in which the people of Ireland have a 14% stake? There is no such director at the moment, because Joe Walsh unfortunately died several months ago.
Okay. The Deputy has asked the Taoiseach about that.
The current policy is ignoring the plight of large numbers of households in this type of mortgage interest situation.
We cannot have a debate now, in fairness.
It is not a debate.
Does the Taoiseach want to say anything on the public interest director?
It overlaps with the three-year bankruptcy issue that we discussed yesterday. When a person is bankrupt, he or she is bankrupt. It does not matter if it takes three years or one year to tidy up. In fact, it is better to have one year to tidy up. There is no point in having three years. This is something that must also be addressed. Deputy Penrose is right when he says we should be turning up the Bunsen burner flame on this.
Thank you, Deputy.
It is a must-do before 21 June - midsummer's day - which is the target date. It should all be in place by then.
I would like to see the Deputy raising that in some other way.
There is no other way. There is nobody here for Topical Issues. It is an empty House. The Taoiseach is here now. This is the way to get something onto his agenda.
Deputy Mathews is very good at raising these matters. He will be aware that the Minister for Finance has met the Governor of the Central Bank. Obviously, he has yet to meet the banks themselves in respect of their variable mortgage interest rates. It is not fair, it is not equitable and it is not just.
It is wrong.
It is wrong that banks are continuing to charge interest to variable-rate mortgage holders at rates that are very much above the rates at which they are borrowing the money themselves. We have made this case. The Deputy is aware from his long experience that the Government does not want to be in the position of setting interest rates. Clearly, the engagement with the banks goes on in respect of the 300,000 people in question.
We should instruct them.
I agree with the Deputy's sentiment. We are doing everything we can in that regard.
There have been many incidences of people driving under the influence of drugs. We have heard anecdotal evidence that it is on the increase. I wonder when the road traffic Bill will come before the House to deal with this alarming phenomenon.
That is due later in the year.
Can I ask the Taoiseach about the broadcasting Bill? I understand the aim of this legislation is to introduce a broadcasting charge. I gather from media reports that the Minister is now looking at the possibility of deferring it. Would it be possible to have a debate in the House on the current definition of public service broadcasting, which excludes every commercial and community-based radio station across the country? Given that these stations provide an invaluable service, would the Taoiseach consider allocating time in the House for such a debate? At the moment, some €240 million is raised through the television licence fee, of which RTE gets €180 million.
We do not want a debate on it now.
No. That is what I am getting to, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I wonder whether the Taoiseach might consider allocating time for a debate in the House on the whole construct of public service broadcasting in 2015.
I have answered this already. For Deputy O'Donovan's information, the Government considered a number of reports yesterday in respect of RTE. The Minister has been speaking this morning about a replacement situation in respect of a broadcasting licence. That will not happen this year. I would expect that RTE will be called before the Oireachtas committee arising from the reports. If the Minister wishes to have a debate here in the House arising from those reports, there will not be any objection to that. Maybe the Whips could arrange that at an appropriate time.
I would like to raise two issues. First, what is the current situation in relation to the bail Bill? Has any progress been made with it? Second, when does the Taoiseach envisage that a decision will be made by the Cabinet on the potential sale of the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus? Will it be made in the coming weeks?
Regarding the bail Bill, the Minister for Justice and Equality has made a number of recommendations on two particular issues. It has been proposed that limitations be imposed on bail where consecutive burglaries, or small numbers of people doing repeat burglaries, are concerned. It is proposed that this would apply for consecutive sentences. The draft heads of this Bill are at an advanced stage. It is quite complicated. That will be separate from the measures taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality recently.
I would expect the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to be able to brief the Cabinet on the conclusions in respect of the International Airlines Group inside the next two to three weeks.