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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 Apr 2015

Vol. 875 No. 3

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. a12, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. a12 shall be decided without debate; the sitting shall be suspended after the Order of Business and Topical Issues shall be taken at 2 p.m.; and regarding Standing Order 21, the fortnightly Friday sitting scheduled for 22 May 2015 shall take place on 12 June 2015, for the purpose of considering a Private Members’ Bill and a committee report. Friday's fortnightly business shall be No. 63, Industrial Relations (Members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces) Bill 2015; and No. 12, report on land use, maximising its potential.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a12, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil, without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Topical Issues agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Friday sitting scheduled for 22 May 2015 shall take place on 12 June 2015 agreed to? Agreed.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said the Comptroller and Auditor General had the legislative remit to investigate the Siteserv deal. Doubts have emerged about whether the legislative template exists for the Comptroller and Auditor General to do so. I raised it on yesterday's Order of Business and the Taoiseach indicated that it did. I understand the Comptroller and Auditor General is not in a position to carry out such an investigation and I would like the Tánaiste to indicate whether it is the Government's intention to change the legislation regarding the Comptroller and Auditor General to enable him to investigate it. Alternatively, would the Government consider the simpler route, namely, the establishment of a commission of investigation, which has already been provided for under the 2004 legislation, and which would facilitate an expeditious and efficient investigation of the issue and the concerns about other large transactions which the civil servants in the Department of Finance articulated to the Minister in 2012? There is no clarity regarding what legislative template will be used for the issue.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach confused matters by mentioning the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Taoiseach did not seem to be well informed, although I might be wrong. It is important that we get clarity here about whether the Comptroller and Auditor General legislation allows for an investigation into the issue of how IBRC conducted transactions. The Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts is very doubtful about it, as are other Deputies who have checked the legislation. This morning, Government spokespersons, including the Tánaiste, have spoken about some form of independent review and seem to be resiling from the proposal that the Comptroller and Auditor General would carry out the investigation. People do not want scoping exercises, but a very effective, expeditious investigation that will get to the bottom of it. Could the Government be more upfront about identifying the legislative template and the Government's commitment on it?

I have an open mind on exactly how such an investigation would be done, provided it is an independent review by a competent authority. I saw the reports from yesterday and the references to the Comptroller and Auditor General. I do not know whether additional legislative provisions would have to be brought in here to give the Comptroller and Auditor General additional powers. While an investigation by a commission is a possibility, the Government would have to discuss it and make a decision on it. While no decision has been made, the Taoiseach would like the matter inquired into and I have made it clear that I want an independent review by a competent authority. There are several mechanisms that could be used, including the mechanism the Deputy has outlined.

It is very clear that the Tánaiste is not keen on a full investigation. The Comptroller and Auditor General does not have the competence or authority to carry out what the Tánaiste is suggesting. Those are the words from the man's own mouth. The Tánaiste said she was not sure whether there would have to be a legislative change. She should be sure at this stage. It has been said repeatedly, including by the officeholder, that he has no remit whatsoever, high up or low down, in respect of IBRC, full stop. When does the Tánaiste propose to bring forward a motion establishing the investigative mechanism of which she speaks? I strongly urge that she use the 2004 legislation, which exists for this purpose.

I raise the water services Bill every week. Although I never get answers, hope springs eternal, to use a water metaphor. We are told the water services Bill will address outstanding issues reflected in the Government's water package in November 2014. This is jargon or a euphemism for provisions to deduct unpaid water charges from people's wages, welfare payments or pensions. For months, I have raised this proposal that the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, has championed, and I have never received a straight answer. When will the legislation be published?

Before the Deputy asked me about the inquiry and examination review regarding Siteserv, Deputy Martin asked me the same question. I gave him an answer. I do not know whether Deputy McDonald listened to it. I said I had an open mind. I want a competent authority to carry out an independent review and there are a number of mechanisms by which it can be done and the Government will examine it.

When will the Government bring forward the motion?

I said this to Deputy Martin earlier, and I told Deputy McDonald, but she was in her "hunky-dory" world and I do not know whether she was listening to me.

The Tánaiste is just rude.

On the Bill to which the Deputy referred, I will give the answer I gave before, that the matter is under examination and discussion and I do not have a date for it.

I hope I will not be described as being Humpty Dumpty or in a hunky-dory world. I have a very serious issue to raise. On 23 May 2010, two young Tipperary men lost their lives off Helvick Head, leaving young families behind.

They went out for a day's fishing and their boat capsized. I realise the Tánaiste does not have the details but I have written repeatedly to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and he has failed to respond. A public inquiry should be held into this matter. Four new witnesses came forward after the inquests and the investigation. I ask the Tánaiste to consider establishing either a commission of investigation or a sworn public inquiry. It was a tragedy. It was a beautiful day like today, but two young families were left without fathers. It is a serious matter, given that more witnesses have come forward. It was also featured on the RTE "Six One News" during the week. Will the Tánaiste ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to meet the families and to proceed with an investigation?

I appreciate the Deputy raising this matter. It is of great concern to the families involved in view of the loss they suffered. I will raise it with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and revert back to the Deputy when I get a reply.

The Tánaiste will be aware that eel fishing is currently banned in Ireland due to low stocks. The ban was introduced by Fianna Fáil without putting an adequate compensation package or hardship fund in place. Is she aware that Inland Fisheries Ireland is not complying with its part of the eel management plan in respect of stock assessment and monitoring? When can we expect the Inland Fisheries (Modernisation and Consolidation) Bill to be brought before the House?

I do not have a date for that Bill yet.

With regard to the spring statement next week, will there be any Supplementary Estimates for services that have huge backlogs? I refer in particular to the adaptation grants for citizens with disabilities. In the Dublin City Council area there is a two year waiting list. A number of my constituents are desperately in need of housing adaptations. One constituent, Mr. Jack Lynam, is a double amputee who has been treated in hospital and his family must wait for two years, until 2017 or 2018, to get the necessary funding. Recently, the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, managed to secure additional funding. Will additional funding be provided for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and, specifically, Dublin City Council? Our other local authority, Fingal County Council, does not appear to have the same level of waiting list.

I cannot give the Deputy a detailed reply. The spring statement is not a matter for Estimates or Supplementary Estimates. It is a statement on the current position of the economy and the outlook for growth.

It is to give us hope.

The Deputy asked if it would include Supplementary Estimates. It will not, as far as I am aware. The matter the Deputy raised is important. I do not wish to comment on it because I am not familiar with it, although I am aware that my local county council, Fingal, has managed to get through a significant backlog. Perhaps I can make inquiries to assist the Deputy on the matter.

Can the Tánaiste report any progress on the drafting of the Health (Transport Support) Bill? It is almost two years since the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant schemes were discontinued, although recipients at the time are still in receipt of payments under the schemes. There is a lack of clarity on the matter so perhaps the Tánaiste can shed light on what is causing the delay in drafting this legislation.

The legislation should be ready later this year.

When can we expect the much anticipated Gambling Control Bill, which will introduce new consumer complaints and age verification procedures for online gambling, to be debated in the House? What is the reason for the current delay?

I do not have a date for that Bill.

The Government has promised two legislative measures, a planning Bill and a Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. When will they be brought forward? I raise this in the context of the concerns raised yesterday by the chairman of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, Mr. Frank Daly, about the quality of some of the housing in this country. Everybody is aware of the Priory Hall situation but in County Kildare at present the county council is examining an estate, Millfield Manor estate in Newbridge, in the aftermath of a dreadful fire that destroyed several homes. Will this legislation address the quality of the built environment, particularly in situations where public investment and, probably more significantly, public safety might be shown to be at risk?

The fire in Kildare was absolutely dreadful and I extend my sympathies to the families who were affected by it. The planning Bill the Deputy mentions has been renamed the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill. It is due to be introduced shortly.

What is the current position with the Adoption (Tracing and Information) Bill? What is the schedule for its process through the House? Also, has the important Geothermal Energy Development Bill been approved by the Cabinet for publication? Similarly, what is the position with the proposed insurance Bill to provide an alternative statutory regime for insurance companies not covered by the Solvency II directive?

I hope the adoption tracing legislation will be dealt with this year. The geothermal Bill is scheduled for later this year. A huge amount of work has been done on the Minerals Development Bill and we hope to see it within a reasonable period of time. I do not have a date for the insurance Bill.

Regarding the Water Services Bill and water charges, when will legislation be brought to the House regarding council and private tenants and the plans to extract unpaid water bill arrears from them? In addition, when will the threatened legislation from the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, be brought to the House regarding the so-called proposal to fast-track non-payments through the court system, or is this just a figment of the Labour Party's imagination and being used as a fictitious threat against the boycott movement?

Work is ongoing by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, on the Water Services Bill. I am not clear what the Deputy talked about after that. She mentioned flights of imagination. Is that what she wants in the Bill? I could not hear the Deputy properly.

It was reported in The Irish Times that the Attorney General met with the Economic Management Council, which comprises the Tánaiste and three or four other Ministers, to discuss proposals to fast-track non-payers through the courts. I know it is bluster, but can the Tánaiste say if there is any truth in that and when this legislation will be available?

I do not have a date for any such legislation.

It does not exist.

Are there any plans to update the Pyrite Resolution Act in the near future? Is the Tánaiste aware of the problem with many homes in Donegal in respect of mica content in blocks which is causing the homes to fracture and crack? The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, visited a number of the homes recently and the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has been made aware of the problem. It is causing similar problems to those caused by pyrite in homes in the wider Dublin area. The model used to deal with pyrite - establishing an expert panel to assess the problem with a view to reporting to the Minister - would be opportune and appropriate in this instance. Are there plans to amend the Pyrite Resolution Act and is the Tánaiste aware of the issues in Donegal with regard to mica?

Yes, I have seen some reports of the situation in Donegal, which is very difficult for the families and householders involved. However, I do not have an update on that situation to hand. I will ask both Ministers to come back with a response to the Deputy with regard to what he has asked about.