Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 14, referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the association agreement between the EU and its member states and Central America; No. 42, statements on European Council, Brussels, pursuant to Standing Order 102A(2)(b); and No. 6, Public Sector Standards Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and shall adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members' business which shall be No. 227, motion re: confidence in the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, which shall be taken at 7.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of Topical Issues, whichever is the later; No. 14 shall be decided without debate; No. 42 shall be taken immediately following the Order of Business and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall be made by the Taoiseach and by the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called on in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; a Minister or Minister of State shall be called on to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and to be followed immediately by Topical Issues.

Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 15, Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2015 – motion to instruct the committee; No. 43, Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 44, Public Transport Bill 2015 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 6, Public Sector Standards Bill 2015 - Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in relation to No. 15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after one hour and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech 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 on in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; and such members may share their time.

There are four proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 14, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the association agreement between the EU and its member states and Central America, without debate agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 42, statements on European Council, Brussels, pursuant to Standing Order 102A(2)(b), agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 15, Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2015 – motion to instruct the committee, tomorrow agreed? Agreed.

I have a number of issues on forthcoming legislation to raise with the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach will agree it is very disturbing to read about how a hospital discharged an 81 year old woman who, following a stroke, is unable to swallow. She was deemed clinically unsuitable for PEG feeding and is, therefore, facing the possibility of starving to death. It seems incredible and there must be a proper investigation into how this was allowed to happen. The woman's GP has highlighted the case and is saying what has occurred is unethical. The case, which is a serious and potentially harrowing case, is being reviewed by the President of the High Court. Will the Taoiseach speak to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, in the context of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that he mentioned earlier. Is there any prospect of dealing with this issue via any vehicle? It seems extraordinary that decisions of this kind are now being taken.

The Taoiseach will have read that AIB is offering a one year deposit rate of 1.4% to German savers, which is three times that which is on offer to Irish savers.

Many are asking why AIB is treating Irish customers in a far less effective way than German customers. Why are they being discriminated against? Have there been any discussions between the Government and AIB about this? Has the Central Bank any role?

The third issue concerns the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Act 2015, the Taoiseach's comments on which have been very interesting. He spoke about the importance of press freedom and he is reported in today's Irish Independent as rebuking the watchdog for spying on journalists. He was described as slapping down GSOC for snooping on the phone records of journalists. One could be forgiven for thinking he was commentating on somebody else's legislation but, in fact, this was the Government's legislation. The implication is that the Government is now disavowing the legislation. The Taoiseach has indicated that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald is bringing in amending legislation in this regard. Was the Taoiseach slapping down GSOC for this? Are those reports correct? When can we expect the amended legislation to deal with this issue?

To be helpful, Deputy Niall Collins has drafted and published legislation, which should be on the Order Paper, which would require GSOC to apply to the High Court before it monitors any phones. This would have the desired impact of protecting press freedom while allowing GSOC to pursue its legitimate work. Will the Government give some of its own time to accept Deputy Collins's Bill? It would put flesh on the bones of the comments the Taoiseach was making this morning about GSOC.

I read the report in respect of the elderly lady the Deputy speaks of who has a particular set of challenges, and I note the intervention of the President of the High Court. There is a health Bill, which is published, which deals with the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, the Dentists Act 1985, the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, the Pharmacy Act, and the Nurses and Midwives Act to provide for amendments required for the transposition of Directive 2013/55 EU in an appeal against minor sanctions. I am not sure whether that covers it or not but I will advise Deputy Martin on that.

In regard to the question that he mentioned about AIB, that is an online platform for a different situation. The bank has made a commercial decision to allow for higher interest rates of more than 1% on deposits which would, I suppose, be seen as an attractive introductory market for outside deposits. It is not part of the relationship between the Government and the bank here. It has made that commercial decision itself.

In respect of reports today about the question of the retention of data and the communications therein, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have absolute confidence in Ms Justice Ring, who is the chair of GSOC. It should be pointed out that there is no interpretation that GSOC has done anything incorrect. It has followed the law and has very high standards in this regard. There is oversight by another eminent member of the Judiciary. The Minister for Justice and Equality will make a statement or announcement on this, I think later this evening, in respect of the decision taken by Government to have a review of this legislation.

For the information of the House, there are five areas to which the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 applies: the Garda Síochána, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, the Defence Forces for purposes of safeguarding the security of the State, the Revenue Commissioners in respect of serious specified revenue offences, and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in respect of serious specified competition offences. The Government reflected on the matter this morning and the Minister for Justice and Equality may well have issued a statement by now or otherwise will do so. I want to make it clear that the Government has absolute confidence in GSOC, the chair of GSOC and in the oversight judge.

I am not responsible for headline reports. This is a complicated matter and is not as simple as it might seem initially. The Government has made a decision to look at the legislation. Obviously, this is the House that determines legislation at the end of the day.

On a point of order, during the Order of Business we can legitimately ask for proposed Government legislation. Given the extraordinary headlines and comments this morning, I would have thought the Taoiseach would be in a position to outline what legislation is being proposed-----

That is not a point of order.

-----particularly if the Minister is outside the House right now, perhaps having done it already. Surely that is very regrettable.

That is not a point of order. I call Deputy Adams.

Will the Taoiseach clarify that he did not say he rebuked the watchdog for spying on journalists? He is saying he did not say that at all and that no one on his behalf briefed the newspapers. Nobody on his behalf briefed the Irish Independent in this respect.

No, we cannot have that. I call Deputy Adams.

Will the Taoiseach clarify that nobody briefed the Irish Independent, that he did not say these things and that no one on his behalf said he was rebuking the watchdog for spying on journalists?

That is not a point of order. Resume your seat. I call Deputy Adams.

It is a very important issue. GSOC was rubbished this morning by spokespeople on the Taoiseach's behalf. Someone briefed the journalists. They did not make it up themselves.

I know it is important but this is the Order of Business. Deputy Martin, you have had your turn.

I never mentioned GSOC at all yesterday. I have absolute confidence in the capabilities of the eminent judicial chairperson-----

So the Taoiseach did not slap them down at all

I have called Deputy Adams.

I am not responsible for headlines in papers.

Sometimes you are.

I made the point about-----

Deputy Martin, please remain in your seat.

The Taoiseach has some very capable spin doctors. Let us give them credit. They are very good and they have a very good habit of doing that kind of thing.

Deputy Martin is not too bad himself. He knows a thing or two about spin doctors.

Then the Taoiseach comes into the House and he withdraws.

Deputy Martin, would you please show respect to the Chair?

I will show respect, a Cheann Comhairle, but I think the Taoiseach should show a bit more respect for us as well. We did not all come down in the last shower.

I am not responsible for headlines in The New York Times or anywhere else.

Your people must have been.

Please stay quiet, all of you, and let Deputy Adams in.

Deputy Martin had a fair few spin doctors himself.

Fine Gael has very good ones. I have given them credit. The only thing the Government gets an A mark for is spinning.

Deputy Martin, please show some respect.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Under the Order of Business I usually raise two or three commitments of promised legislation or programme for Government commitments. Today I just want to raise one issue but I want to do it in some detail because of the seriousness of the situation.

Does it concern promised legislation?

Yes, it is around a programme for Government commitment to deliver on principles of social inclusion for the Traveller community and a commitment by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with responsibility for equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, that Traveller ethnicity would be a reality. He rightly said this did not need legislation or a referendum, and his commitment came after the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recommended that we recognise Travellers as an ethnic community. This is supported by the UN and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC.

I set out that stall in light of the evictions of families from the Traveller community in Dundalk, which runs contrary to the Government commitment. This process of evicting Traveller families from a halting site-----

Deputy, you are stretching it. The eviction of Travellers from anywhere in the country is a very serious matter but it does not belong on the Order of Business.

I did try to get a Topical Issue matter on this issue.

If you put the issue down for tomorrow, I will consider it. Please do not raise it on the Order of Business. If I allow you in, I have to allow everybody else in on issues like that.

I also wish to raise the review of fire safety in Traveller accommodation that the Government published in December 2015 following the Carrickmines tragedy which said very clearly that nothing in the fire safety review process was intended to be used to address the broader Traveller accommodation issues in a negative way. Clearly this is not a green light to evict Travellers from halting sites which do not meet fire safety standards, but instead of putting health and safety measures in place, that is exactly what the local county executive is doing, and more evictions are planned for tomorrow.

Thank you, Deputy. I think you have had your chance now.

I ask the Taoiseach, in keeping with the commitments, if he will make a statement before the Dáil ends, as the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, promised, to recognise Travellers as an ethnic group. I ask that he request that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government stop the eviction of these citizens.

I would suggest you raise that as a Topical Issue matter.

The question of ethnicity has not come before the Government for discussion but was referred to at a Cabinet sub-committee and there is further work to be done there.

In respect of the serious matter the Deputy has raised about Traveller accommodation, I would point out that the site in question was unoccupied since 2008 and there was serious deterioration. It was occupied in April of 2014. After an inspection of the site last November, the fire officer formed the opinion that it was dangerous in its manner of occupation, and that is clearly a serious issue. I understand that after notices were ignored, gardaí on Friday attempted to enforce the direction by moving on some of those caravans. The occupants and their representative group have not entered into discussion with Louth County Council, as far as I know.

Yes, they have. I was there yesterday.

We cannot have a discussion on the matter.

That is where this needs to be dealt with in the first instance. We cannot have a situation where a fire officer says this is a fire hazard and it continues to be occupied.

Then rectify it. Do not put them out on the street.

On an issue I have raised before, what is the status of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill? I have outlined its importance for many constituents, who still raise it with me. I would be grateful if the Taoiseach indicated its current status.

Report Stage of this Bill will be taken here next Wednesday. Hopefully, we might be able to conclude it in the Dáil.

Does the Taoiseach envisage that we would have it enacted in the lifetime of the 31st Dáil?

It is Report Stage. If it concludes here on Fifth Stage, it goes to the Uachtarán for signature. If everybody gets together, it will happen. Otherwise, we will have to do it in the weeks ahead.

I am sure the Opposition will appreciate the importance of having it passed.

In regard to impending legislation, when will the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill be brought before the Dáil and will there be sufficient time to deal with it? Obviously, we are near the end of this Government's term. At what stage does the Taoiseach anticipate we will be able to take this Bill? Will there be sufficient time for amendments on what is a very complex issue? Many groups have made submissions on this and are anxious that it would be dealt with.

It is important legislation, as Deputy Coppinger says. It is in the Seanad on Report Stage on Thursday. I cannot say whether the eminent speakers in Seanad Éireann will want to amend it or how long it will take to discuss. When it concludes Report Stage in the Seanad, it will then come here.

The Taoiseach knows when he will call the election. Does he anticipate that all Stages will be taken or just Second Stage?

We will have to wait until it comes here.

I cannot say how long the Seanad will take to deal with Report Stage given there are amendments and Members can have very strongly held views about it. I do not want to do the Seanad's business for it.

Will it be guillotined?

Let us first see when it finishes in the Seanad.

What is the current status of the criminal justice Bill on victims' rights? The universities (amendment) Bill is also scheduled legislation. Are we likely to see it before the end of the current Dáil?

The Criminal Justice (Offences relating to Information Systems) Bill has been published. The universities Bill is a priority for publication. It seeks to give the Minister the power to require universities to comply with Government guidelines on remuneration allowances and so on.

When is it likely to be brought before the House?

It is scheduled for publication and it has priority attached to that. I will advise the Deputy on the state of progress.

The Bankruptcy (Amendment) Act has gone through the Houses and the President has signed off on it. It had to go back to the Minister's Department for some sections to be cleared. When will we see it proceed into law?

That Bill has gone through, as the Deputy said. A number of sections require a commencement order. The Minister for Justice and Equality intends to sign those sections on 29 January. I understand there are other sections that require a commencement order to take place in February but she intends to sign the immediate ones on 29 January.