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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Jun 2015

Vol. 884 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 37, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 6, National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

Friday's fortnightly business shall be No. 71, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015, and No. 72, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2014.

There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Calleary on the Order of Business.

I wish to ask first about the serious information that has come to light in the past couple of days at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland. It seems that information about Brendan Smyth and his activities was known by various State agencies. Is the Government monitoring that inquiry? Does it have any plans to allow statements in this House about the serious information that has come to light? I am thinking particularly of the details that came to light yesterday about the knowledge within An Garda Síochána and other institutions of the existence of certain information.

I would like to know, on foot of the discussion we had on Leaders' Questions, whether there are any plans to introduce a new health Estimate ahead of the Dáil recess. It is clear that the health service is not just creaking at the seams at the moment - it has broken out at the seams.

What plans does the Government have to deal with that ahead of the recess?

I understand the Tánaiste is out of the House attending the funeral of Lorcán Miller this morning. Our thoughts are with all the families. I want to place on record my party's appreciation of the Ceann Comhairle, the protocol office in the Department of the Taoiseach and everybody involved in St. Ann's Church on Dawson Street for the lovely ceremony that was held yesterday at the Ceann Comhairle's initiative. I think it was very appropriate and dignified. Those of us who were in attendance were genuinely privileged to have been there. It is also appropriate to place on the record once again our appreciation of and tribute to the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade here in Dublin and particularly in Berkeley and elsewhere in the United States for the work they have done in very difficult circumstances over the past seven days.

I thank the Deputy for his concluding remarks about yesterday's service. I join him in commending and thanking everybody who was involved in arranging that service, particularly the protocol staff in the Department of the Taoiseach. I think it demonstrated the unity of the whole House and all the people of Ireland in the face of what has been a most profound tragedy.

The Deputy raised two other issues. In respect of the hearing and the references to Fr. Brendan Smyth, I am only aware of that evidence from what I read in the newspapers. There is no particular proposal for any action to be taken by the Government but if the Deputy has a view on statements or otherwise on it, that could be communicated to the Whips and dealt with in that way.

I do not think the issue of health estimates is a matter for the Order of Business but I am not aware of any proposals in regard to a health Estimate.

I endorse the sentiments of the previous Deputy. It is appropriate as young Lorcán Miller is laid to rest, the last of the young victims of this tragedy, that we once again send our sympathy and solidarity to each of the families, friends and the young people who were associated with, or caught up in, what has been a nightmare for those families.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions recently published a comprehensive report on the direct provision system which concluded that it is not fit for purpose. Last month, the Ombudsman for Children expressed concerns about children in the direct provision system. The Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has repeatedly raised his concern that the State may well be in breach of human rights treaties because of the length of time children are held in the system. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has also produced a further disturbing report on the same issue. We were told that the report of the working group chaired by Mr. Justice McMahon would be published by the end of May, and then we were told we would have it by the end of June. We are now approaching July. When will that report be published? Will the Minister commit to holding a debate in the Dáil when it is published? When does he expect the International Protection Bill 2015 to be published?

The purpose of the judicial council Bill is to put in place a system for investigating claims of judicial misconduct, which will include lay participation. It will also provide for the formal training of judges. A previous judicial council Bill was published in 2010 and the programme for Government undertook "to legislate to establish a Judicial Council, with lay representation". Consequently, the previous Minister for Justice and Equality said a new Bill was being drafted in 2012. It is now 2015 and that Bill has not been published. The current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, indicated some time ago that the Department is working with the Attorney General to finalise this Bill. Given the importance of the issue, the length of time it has been promised and the programme for Government commitment, is it possible for the Minister to give a more definitive response and say when it might be published?

These are two important Bills. Work is continuing on the international protection Bill. There is a real wish to bring it forward as quickly as possible. The next stage will be the preparation of heads and it will then go to the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The judicial council Bill is listed for this session. I am advised its preparation is well advanced. I hope it can be brought forward as planned in this session.

Last week, the House passed Second Stage of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015. It will have a negligible impact on the social housing crisis. The Government has also planned a planning and development (No.1) Bill to support the actions envisaged in Construction 2020. The enormity of the social housing problem is most acute in the greater Dublin area. In Kildare, there are over 6,000 people on the waiting list. How is it, in the context of the legislation, that in a place like County Kildare I cannot say that even one new social house will be built in 2015? A total of 70 houses may be purchased following the actions of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly. Each, however, requires individual approval from the Department.

That clearly indicates a severe lack of urgency on the part of the Government in tackling the social housing crisis.

In respect of the health reform Bill, the Minister read out a litany of financial allocations to address problematic areas in the health service. People want actual improvements in the quality of the service.

We cannot discuss the health service here, as the Deputy knows.

Will the health reform Bill address, for example, the inadequacies in the child and mental health service, which is completely ineffective because it is depleted of staff? In fact, it is not depleted because it never had the staff it required in the first instance to provide the service it was set up to provide.

I always marvel at the fact that there is criticism of a Minister giving details of financial allocations-----

There is no money to back them up.

-----then there is a query about the depletion in staff because the two things are directly connected. The allocation of resources allows us to recruit staff.

The staff are not being recruited. That is the problem.

That is why we indicate the various additional allocations of resources to the House.

In response to the questions on the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015, the Deputy is aware, I think, that it has passed Second Stage and Committee Stage will be taken next Tuesday.

The planning and development (No.1) Bill is incorporated in that legislation. There is no separate Bill forthcoming. Presumably that Bill will proceed to Committee Stage and the Deputy will have an opportunity to contribute to that.

In respect of the health information Bill, is the Minister really aware of the crisis in the disability services and the mental health services? I listened to the Minister’s comments earlier. There have been major cuts in day services for people with intellectual disabilities and cuts in respite places, particularly in July and August. Will the Minister give me the information and ensure that the services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities are not cut for July and August?

Several psychiatric patients, who are at risk, are regularly on the streets of our city. They need beds. We need between 300 and 400 beds yet the Minister told us this morning that everything was hunky dory and gave out figures. There is a crisis in the front-line services and the Government needs to wake up to that reality and do something. Ministers should not come in here and talk about resources when over the next six months the Government will throw money in tax cuts at the wealthier sections of society but will not provide simple things like residential respite services and services for people with mental illness.

The Deputy is aware of the work and everything that is being achieved in this area. Any reasonable observer of what I said earlier could not conclude that I said, or accuse me of saying, everything is hunky dory.

It is completely unfair of Deputy Finian McGrath to suggest that is what I said. I acknowledge the gaps.

I acknowledge the work that needs to be done but I demonstrated to him, as he should know, that far from engaging in the empty rhetoric that comes from him and over there-----

The Minister should listen and stop talking down the clock.

This Government is delivering on these issues because government is for delivery and sometimes, unfortunately, opposition is for empty rhetoric.

We are doing the job we are here to do.

On a point of order-----

The Deputy is like some of his Independent colleagues.

The Deputy is talking down the clock.

The Minister knows that a cross-party meeting on disability was held last Wednesday. The Government has been in power for four years and should wake up and get on with the job.

That is not a point of order.

Deputy McGrath was in government and left it because he did not have the willpower to stay.

When will reformed and consolidated domestic violence legislation be brought before the House for debate? Have the heads of the Bill been agreed and will it come before the House in this term?

While I do not yet have a specific date for the introduction of that very important legislation, I assure the Deputy that work is ongoing in that regard.

What is the position regarding the road transport Bill? What is happening to Irish drivers and hauliers in the Port of Calais is unacceptable. While it is appropriate that the Dáil discuss industrial relations issues such as the position of Dunnes Stores workers, hauliers and drivers are entitled to protection. They are not being protected, which is placing them in peril. Will the Government contact the Irish Road Hauliers Association and engage with our European partners to get some sense into this?

The issue of health reform was raised and the Minister referred to figures obscuring the facts and being misleading. One figure that is not obscure or misleading is that four general practitioners in south Tipperary have signed the GP contract for children aged under six years.

Is the Deputy against free care for children now?

The deadline of 1 July 2015 is fast approaching. People in south Tipperary will have nowhere to go locally and will have to travel to Cork, Waterford or Limerick for GP care for children under six years. As Cromwell said, people can go to hell or to Connacht. The Government is refusing to negotiate with certain general practitioners and the organisation that represents them. It has negotiated with the Irish Medical Organisation and ignored other GPs. It is time it listened to doctors who want to continue to give care. There will be nowhere for children in south Tipperary to go, however, because only four GPs have signed the new contract.

The Deputy should keep the peace.

What is wrong with the Whip? He directs insulting remarks at me every day. He referred to a breach of the peace a number of times. I do not know what he is referring to but he has breached the faith people have in him. He will not jump ship because people will jump ship on him.

Keep the peace now, Mattie.

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to ascertain what the Whip means by that comment. I have never been bound to keep the peace or anything like that. He refers to keeping the peace every day and I want to know what he means. Is he afraid that I will go over to him or something?

It is important to keep the peace.

I ask the Minister to answer the Deputy's questions on legislation.

The Whip should obey the rules of the House.

Keep the peace.

The road transport Bill is expected to be forthcoming later this year. In respect of the other matter he raised regarding general practitioners in south Tipperary and the contract for children aged under six, the legislation providing for free general practitioner care for children under six years was passed in this House and the other House last July. It is the policy of the Government and the decision of the Oireachtas and moneys have been voted to provide this service to children.

Nonsense, sick people cannot get health care.

I hope all general practitioners will see their way to signing a contract in respect of this policy.

They are being bullied.

With regard to negotiations - perhaps "contact" would be a better description - I can state from experience that the Irish Medical Organisation, the long-standing and respected representative body of general practitioners in this country, was consulted on this scheme.

I did not say it was not consulted. There are two representative bodies.

The scheme is now in place and it is up to doctors to come forward and deliver the service we are paying them to deliver.

Perhaps the Minister will send them a tweet.

I have questions on two promised Bills. High-risk sex offenders are roaming the country and gardaí are trying to monitor them with two hands tied behind their backs. At the same time, 60 electronic tags, for which the State is paying more than €100,000 per annum, are sitting in a cardboard box and cannot be used because we are waiting for the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill. When will this legislation be published? The Taoiseach promised me it would be published soon after Easter. The delay is exposing women and children to unnecessary risk. What is the reason for it?

The decision 16 months ago to suspend the motorised transport grant and mobility allowance schemes left people with a disability marooned in their homes as they wait for an alternative scheme to be introduced. The new scheme was promised under the health (transport support) Bill last September, again in the new year and subsequently at Easter. It is now summer. When will the House have sight of this Bill? Will it be given priority by the Government?

The health (transport support) Bill is important legislation which is likely to be forthcoming later this year. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is working hard to ensure it is introduced.

In respect of the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill, which is also critically important, work is well advanced on the legislation and it is expected and intended to bring it before the House in this session.

One of the two issues I will raise is pertinent to the Minister's Department. What level of consultation has the Minister had with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on new wind energy regulations? As the Minister will agree, comprehensive regulations are long overdue. Will he advise the House of the timeframe for introducing them in the House?

On the Education (Admission to School) Bill, a number of parents received letters this morning advising that the school transport scheme is to be withdrawn from St. Kenny's national school in Ballinea and Gaelscoil an Choillín in Mullingar. This decision will leave children who have relied on the school transport scheme to bring them to school in a precarious position and unable to attend school in September. Why is the Government withdrawing concessionary bus routes? Is this a cost-saving exercise?

The Deputy should raise this issue by other means.

I am asking the Minister about the contents of the Education (Admission to School) Bill. We need not worry about how children will be admitted to schools if we withdraw the bus services which transport them to school.

I may be incorrect and the Deputy may be correct but I am not sure the Education (Admission to School) Bill includes provisions on school transport. He and I can both check what the position is, however, as the Bill has been published and is awaiting Second Stage.

As the Deputy will be aware, wind energy guidelines have been in place since 2006 and it is intended to publish revised guidelines. While it may not be germane to the Order of Business, I will, as a courtesy, respond to the Deputy's question. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and I are in close contact regarding the revised guidelines, as are our respective Departments, and it is hoped and expected that they will be ready to be published shortly.