Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Oct 2015

Vol. 894 No. 1

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 6, motion re referral to select sub-committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the intergovernmental agreement on the transfer and mutualisation of contributions to the Single Resolution Fund; No. 17, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 4(7)) (Membership of Council) Regulations 2015, back from committee; No. 9, Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 7, Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 8, Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 42, Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 - Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 16 and 17 shall be decided without debate, and the Dáil on its rising tomorrow shall adjourn until Tuesday, 3 November 2015 at 2 p.m.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 16 and 17 without debate, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 November 2015 agreed to? Agreed.

A report in this morning's The Irish Times made for disturbing reading. Figures from the Road Safety Authority, RSA, show that 521 disqualified drivers have been involved in car crashes that caused serious injury and death. This is unacceptable to us all. In that context, when are the road traffic and database Bills intended to be before the House? I hope the Tánaiste will be able to signal to us when it is intended to introduce legislation that was mentioned by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in recent days to deal with what seems to be a difficulty for the State in seeking drink-driving convictions. I am sure that the Tánaiste was equally concerned when she became aware of the RSA's statistic that some 60% of drink-driving cases did not result in convictions for drink driving.

Will the Tánaiste confirm whether the judicial council Bill will be before the House shortly and whether it will contain a provision allowing retired judges to return to work as barristers?

I agree with the Deputy regarding the RSA. The reports that have emerged regarding drink-driving conviction rates in certain courts are disturbing. I understand that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is examining the matter as a priority. We have seen further reports of people who, having been convicted, were involved in further accidents, some of them resulting in death and serious injury. These are important matters and the Minister will treat them as a priority. He is also seeking the advice of the Attorney General on how, where necessary, the legislation can be improved and the court and IT processes involved can ensure greater matching of data as a priority. No one driving himself, herself or his or her family wants to see people who drink and drive, particularly those who then engage in dangerous driving or have prior convictions, on the roads. They are not only a danger to themselves, but a serious risk to the health and lives of other road users.

Regarding the other two Bills, we expect them this session.

Will the judicial council Bill contain a provision allowing retired judges to work as barristers?

I will have to revert to the Deputy. I understand that the matter is before the courts.

On the matter of data protection, the Tánaiste will be aware of the practice in recent years, with significant changes in respect of some of the financial institutions and some ceasing to function-----

I am sorry, but I am finding it difficult to hear the Deputy.

Can the Tánaiste not?

That is better.

I will have another go.

The Tánaiste is aware that, in recent years, with some financial institutions closing their doors and others ceasing to perform in given areas - for example, mortgages and other lending practices - they have sold, for want of a better description, their loan books or aspects thereof to other financial service providers, including some outside the jurisdiction. There is significant concern among citizens who, having gone to high street financial institutions in years past, provided all of their relevant information and data and legitimately secured their loan applications or mortgages, as the case may be. Considerable data - information on the individuals and their families - were provided to the financial institutions, but now, years later, all of that information is in the hands of other financial institutions, including some that are not registered in this State but are functioning in Ireland in a limited way and have control over the loans in question, including mortgages. This is significantly problematic.

Is legislation promised on this matter?

Yes, No. 64, the data sharing and governance Bill, from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Tánaiste has a particular interest in matters fiscal. We formerly served together on one of the Oireachtas committees in this regard. I am anxious to hear her view on this issue. Have these matters been brought to her attention? Can she give us some sense of the Government's awareness of the practice? I have gone through all of the promised legislation, and this Bill, which is due for publication next year, is the only one that appears to be a fit. I am not sure that it is a neat fit, but I am anxious to know whether it would address this matter. Does the Tánaiste agree that there should be a tightening of the situation, in that data held on citizens and their families by financial institutions should not be readily available for sale on the open market?

Data protection is important to everyone in Ireland. Financial data are some of the most sensitive data that are held on individuals, families and businesses. There was a public consultation, now completed, on the proposed legislative changes. There was also a policy paper. The preparation of legislation would be the next step. I understand that this has commenced, but it will be next year before we see any legislation.

The Central Bank has an overriding supervisory power in respect of financial organisations. As such, the data of customers of various financial institutions or whose loans may be in transition are a matter for the Central Bank. The early stages of the legislation to which the Deputy referred are complete, but I do not anticipate that it will be before the Dáil before next year. In the meantime, the Central Bank has a mandate to oversee the regulation of the types of loan in question, namely, those that are sold on to other entities.

I rise to ask the Tánaiste a question on universal health insurance, UHI, because I cannot get proper information from the Government.

It is a central plank of Government policy that was outlined by the two governing parties in the programme for Government after the 2011 election. We are no further on in terms of seeing any detail on universal health insurance. One should bear in mind it is an essential plank of how we are to fund the health service in the years ahead. We have had reports from the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, stating he is considering alternative options. The ESRI, the Health Insurance Authority and KPMG are all involved in this scoping exercise but we have been scoping for five years now. The Minister is a bit like David Attenborough commentating on a herd of elephants wandering the savanna. There is almost nothing substantial in terms of policy coming from him. Every week, we hear a different view from the Minister on this issue. There was a clear commitment in the programme for Government on how we would fund our health services. We were told it would make our health services more equitable and that people would be able to gain access to health care based on need rather than their ability to pay. Despite this, the Minister consistently gives us mixed messages. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has undermined the policy and said it is unworkable. The Minister for Finance has had a go at it.

With regard to the current position, could the Tánaiste give me an honest answer? This is critical in the twilight of this Dáil as we face an election. The people should certainly know what they will be voting on regarding how we are to fund health care in the years ahead. I have got no honest answer to date from the other side of the House on this central issue. I have heard about universal health care, primary care and other forms of care but I have not heard about a proper, tangible outcome in respect of our position on universal health insurance.

This is outrageous.

We have got the question now.

This is something for which all the Members on the other side campaigned.

This is outrageous.

Is this Topical Issue Matters?

It is now five years on but we are still waiting to find out the position on universal health insurance.

Deputy Kelleher must ask a question now. I want to call the Tánaiste.

I respect the ruling-----

-----but I believe it is time we had an honest answer on this issue. We have had fudge, prevarication and a wandering, meandering view from the Minister for Health on this central issue.

A lot of fudge.

Each and every one of the Members opposite promised only five years ago that if they entered Government, universal health care would be put in place and we would have no problems and a utopian health service.


What we have is far from that.


Other Members want to ask questions and I want to try to facilitate them.

The title of the legislation got a little bit lost in Deputy Kelleher's contribution.

On a point of information, I raised promises in the programme for Government.

On 7 October, the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, wrote a very extensive, detailed four-page letter to the Deputy's party leader.

I invite him to ask his party leader to share the content of the letter with him. Otherwise, I will ask his party leader whether it would be in order for me to give him the letter. It sets out in great detail all the issues the Deputy has raised. Since I am sure the Deputy and his party leader are in fairly constant daily communication-----

-----he must have had access to it.

Among other achievements, it sets out the policy on free general practitioner care for those aged under six and over 70. This has been rolled out as part of universal health care. There was a commitment, which would not have been known publicly on 7 October, to the rolling out of free general practitioner care to primary school children, or children aged 11 and under. It refers to the development throughout the country of primary care centres, which are now providing an alternative to longer stays in hospitals and minor procedures. This is one reason there is such demand for beds but the new models will mean we will be less hospital dependent and more able to provide what is required, particularly regarding procedures at local level. We will also be able to provide free general practitioner care for those aged under six and over 70 and, next year, children of 11 and under. I am sure the Deputy and his party would welcome all that.

I call Deputy Bannon.

On a point of information, I asked about the issue of universal health insurance, not universal health care.

Deputy Kelleher is out of order.

The Deputy should get the letter from his boss.

I believe it is dated 7 October.

I agreed during Leaders' Questions with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Fitzmaurice on cartels at work across the midlands. This is costing jobs in the region. People have contacted me whose jobs are in jeopardy because of what is occurring. Will the Tánaiste indicate whether it would be possible to bring forward the road transport Bill, which is to update road transport operator legislation, reduce the burden on applicants and improve enforcement mechanisms? The issue I raise could, and should, be covered in that legislation, if at all possible. A crisis is developing and lame-duck excuses are being given. It is costing jobs in the midlands.

I attended a dinner hosted by the chamber of commerce in Mullingar very shortly after the budget. The room was very packed and there were many people from the haulage industry present. The Deputy will appreciate that since the dinner was in Mullingar, the people were from the midlands. They were very appreciative of the various improvements that have been made for hauliers and of the specific commitment to training more young people so they may enter the industry. They were also appreciative of the well-paid employment and careers the sector potentially offers. With regard to the legislation the Deputy mentioned, I understand it will not be before the House until some time next year. In the meantime, I strongly suggest to Deputies Bannon and Fitzmaurice that they submit a Topical Issue matter on what is clearly a significant matter of concern to them.

Given what was said here this morning about additional financial resources being needed for the health system, when will the public health (alcohol) Bill be brought to the House? I understand from the Oireachtas health committee, two of whose members are present on the Opposition benches, that over 2,000 patients with alcohol-related illnesses take up beds each night.

I understand it will come before the Dáil before the end of this year.

When is the publication expected of the casual trading (amendment) Bill, which is to bring the Casual Trading Act 1980 into alignment with the provisions of the EU services directive?

That will be next year.

In 2011, nuair a bhí an Tánaiste ina hAire amháin agus ní Tánaiste fós, lorg mé uaithi go mbeadh na meamraim a fhoilsítear le reachtaíocht ar fáil go dhá-theangach. The Tánaiste responded at the time that she did not see a problem with making an explanatory memorandum published with legislation available in both languages. Not one bilingual version has been produced since then. This has hampered my ability and that of others to take part in debates in the House as Gaeilge.

On the legislative programme, the Coimisinéir Teanga expressed concern yesterday that quite a number of State bodies, quangos, companies and other organisations do not fall under his remit and, therefore, he cannot apply the rules and regulations laid out in the official languages legislation. When will the Bill be before the House?

Tá brón orm nach raibh mé ábalta an leagan Gaeilge a fhoilsiú. I apologise that it has not been possible to publish the Irish version as early as the Deputy would like. I agree with the point he is making.

We are under intense pressure to publish the Social Welfare Bill which has, as the Deputy knows, a very good social welfare package for people who rely on a social welfare income, particularly pensioners and retired people. As a consequence, I will be publishing the Social Welfare Bill tomorrow in order that it can come before the House for debate the week after next. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé ábalta an leagan Gaeilge a fhoilsiú.

It was not a criticism of the Minister in terms of her publications.

I know that, but in terms of-----

The promise was to do with all Government Bills and that the Minister would at least look at that. The final one was the official languages Bill.

The control of the sale of alcohol Bill was dependent on a particular court case in an adjoining jurisdiction. In the context of promised legislation, will the Tánaiste indicate whether that court case has been cleared or if the way is now clear for the Bill to come before the House?

The EirGrid Bill is promised legislation. Since EirGrid seems to have changed its priorities regarding requirements, might it be possible to bring that Bill before the House as a matter of urgency?

The legislation on the control of the sale of alcohol and on EirGrid is due for publication next year.

Keeping with the overall reform agenda of the Government, when can we expect the much anticipated judicial appointments Bill, which aims to reform and update the current system for appointing judges, to be brought before the House for debate?

I understand the legislation on the judicial council and appointments will be published next year.