It is proposed to take No. 2, Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. 2: the opening speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, AAA-PBP, Independents4Change, the Social Democrats, the Green Party or a Member nominated in their stead, and a non-party Deputy shall not exceed 30 minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes; and Private Members' business shall be No. 3, Central Bank (Variable Rate Mortgages) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, and the proceedings on the Second Stage thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 18 May 2016, and the following time limits and sequence of speakers shall apply: proposer, 40 minutes; Government, 20 minutes; Sinn Féin, 20 minutes; non-group, 25 minutes; the Labour Party, ten minutes; proposer, 30 minutes; Government, 20 minutes; and proposer to reply, 15 minutes.
Order of Business
There are two proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 2 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal regarding the arrangements for dealing with Private Members' business this evening agreed to? Agreed.
In the context of the programme for Government and in various discussions prior to the formation of the Government, there was considerable discussion on the issue of the casualisation of the workforce and the downward momentum in pay levels generally, particularly in the private sector and some elements of the public sector for new entrants. The circumstances of Tesco workers are particularly worrying. Tesco is endeavouring to change, and is in the process of changing contracts for employees who have been working with it for more than 20 years. It is symptomatic of what is happening in many enterprises. There is a dumbing down, in many respects, of the quality of employment and terms and conditions for people who have given loyal and committed service. It is very unfair on the workers concerned. At various times, various trade unions will endeavour to enter into negotiations to obtain lump sums, for example, but essentially the jobs themselves and their status are essentially being undermined. It is a worry in terms of the growing gulf in income levels in society. Will the Tánaiste indicate whether the Workplace Relations Commission is considering intervening in that dispute? More widely in terms of the programme for Government, when can we expect some concrete measures to deal with this issue and issues like it?
Second, with regard to the public sector pay commission, which is committed to in the programme for Government, will the Tánaiste indicate to the House when it will be established? Will there be consultation with the Dáil prior to its establishment? Will debate be facilitated with the relevant committee and with the House itself during plenary session? Will the membership of the commission be the subject of consultation and engagement?
Third, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to the development of a second cath laboratory in Waterford University Hospital subject to a favourable recommendation from an independent clinical review of the needs of the region to be carried out within six weeks. Will the Tánaiste confirm when this review is due to commence and who the members of the review team will be?
I thank Deputy Micheál Martin. On the first issue raised, there was a report on zero-hours contracts and there is also the report I have mentioned in regard to Clerys. They will obviously be considered by the Minister in regard to the issue the Deputy raised.
I accept the point the Deputy made on casualisation but we have to put it into the context of the growth in the number of full-time jobs and of Ireland being the fastest growing economy in Europe, with GDP growth of 7.8% in 2015. That is the background. We saw 1,000 jobs being created every week in 2015 and 135,000 jobs were created since the Action Plan for Jobs was launched in 2012. There was a very welcome drop in unemployment, down to 8.4% from the peak of 15.2%.
The casualisation of the workforce.
Nevertheless, the issues the Deputy raised in regard to Tesco ones to be considered. He mentioned the Workplace Relations Commission. The programme for Government contains reinforcement and support for the work of the commission.
With regard to the commission to be set up, I do not have the details yet but it is intended to establish it in the next couple of months. I can give the Deputy further details when the Taoiseach meets the Ministers, as he intends to do in the next two weeks, to work out the priority programme of legislation. Obviously, the House will then be in a position to examine the precise priorities. I have no doubt that the establishment of the commission will be one of those priorities. The timetable will be seen at that point.
With regard to the laboratory in Waterford University Hospital, it is stated in the programme for Government, as mentioned by the Deputy, that the review will be completed within six weeks. The decision was that there should be an outside expert in the area of the particular services that need to be developed.
Cardiac services. I assume it would be an expert clinician who would carry out the review but that is to be determined by the Minister for Health. No doubt, the details of that review will be announced in the coming days.
Tá dhá cheist agam, ceann amháin faoin equality-disability miscellaneous provisions Bill agus ceann eile faoin Lucht Siúil agus an gealltanas i gclár an Rialtais faoin national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. Leanfaidh mé ar aghaidh leis an gceist faoin Lucht Siúil ar dtús. The Government signed up in November 2000 to the European Social Charter, including Article 16, which covers the rights of the family to social, legal and economic protection. In the last programme for Government, there was a commitment to deliver on the principles of social inclusion for the Traveller community. The current programme for Government makes a similar commitment and that includes a commitment to publish a national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy this year.
The report of the European Committee of Social Rights and the treatment of Travellers in the Dundalk area of my constituency in January and again in the past week provide evidence of the failure of this commitment. When will the Government publish its Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy? Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that the strategy will take into account the landmark judgment against the State on these issues? Will she also give a clear date by which the distinct ethnicity of Travellers will be recognised by the State? Some 19 months ago the previous Government gave a commitment to do this within six months. Will the Tánaiste also urge the Minister for the Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to use his authority to prevent further evictions of Traveller families?
On the Equality (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill, the State signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. Despite a commitment to ratify the convention in law in the previous programme for Government, ratification did not proceed. The new programme for Government contains much of the same rhetoric as its predecessor and commits to the introduction of enabling legislation. Five and a half years after this commitment was made, the relevant Bill has not been published and did not even make it to the most recent list of priority legislation. The new Minister of State with responsibility for disability services stated the UN convention would be ratified within six months and the programme for Government includes a commitment to bring draft legislation before the Oireachtas before the end of the year. When will the legislation be introduced and when will the UN convention be ratified? The new super junior Minister indicated it would be ratified within six months.
It will be done.
To answer Deputy Gerry Adams's final question, I confirm that Ireland will be able to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the next six months on the basis that the capacity legislation was passed towards the end of last year. That was the final significant Bill that had to be passed before Ireland could fully implement the convention. Some further changes to a number of Acts will be necessary to fully comply with the convention. The heads of the amending Bills were brought to the Cabinet towards the end of last year. The relatively minor changes required are being drafted and once they have been implemented, we will be in a position to ratify the convention. Ratification is overdue and the Government has given a commitment to take this necessary step. I expect it to be done within the next six months.
The Deputy also raised the issue of Traveller and Roma inclusion. I confirm that a new revised national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy aimed at improving the lives of members of the Traveller and Roma communities will be in place by the end of the year. Work on the strategy is under way and a special working group will be established to audit the current delivery and implementation of local authorities' Traveller accommodation plans and consult stakeholders in key areas of concern. The working group should report on a plan for the delivery of safe, culturally appropriate accommodation.
I note that the Deputy referred to the report issued by the European Committee of Social Rights. It is important to read the report in full as it recognises much of the work done by previous Governments, including the most recent, on the issues it examined. Several complaints were examined by the committee and it is reassuring to note that it found that Ireland was meeting its international obligations in the context of the adequacy of the legislative framework in place and the delegation of statutory responsibility to local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers. It did not find any violation of Article 16 in that regard. It recognised the progress made in a number of areas, while identifying that further work needed to be done on the issue of Traveller accommodation.
The committee found against the Government.
Its findings were mixed. It found in favour of the Government on a significant number of the issues it had addressed. It also found areas where there was no violation and some areas where there was. I am merely highlighting that the report's findings on how we are meeting our obligations in that area are mixed.
On Traveller ethnicity, this issue will form part of the discussions on developing a new Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy.
Is the Tánaiste aware that, from September onwards, every employer is supposed to offer new fathers two weeks' paternity leave following the birth of a child and that the time to make legislative provision for this welcome and progressive measure is fast running out? When will the family leave Bill 2015 be brought before the House? As the Tánaiste is probably aware, the proposed scheme is insurance based and unless the legislation is passed in good time, it will be impossible to implement the measure by 1 September, as promised in budget 2016.
My second question is also linked with social protection. When will the Health (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill 2016 which amends the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 be brought before the Oireachtas? I understand the failure to progress this legislation has delayed measures that would bring Ireland into compliance with the EU directive of 2014. We were promised that plain packaged cigarettes would be the legal norm from 1 January 2017. It appears, however, that the delays, including in the formation of the Government, and perhaps changes in the views held by members of the Government have caused the legislation to be put on the long finger. Ireland may amass fines as a consequence, but, more importantly, many more people will become attracted to smoking through its packaging, thereby running the risk of serious disability and death. While we all sympathise with people who have an addiction to nicotine, we do not want children, through seductive advertising on the packaging of cigarettes, to be brought into a web of addiction that would be extremely damaging to their health.
There are no costing figures attached to the programme for Government which includes a wide variety of aspirations and proposals. A number of specific local promises have also been made to various Independent Deputies who are members or supporters of the Government. When will a costed programme for Government be put before the House and when will the Dáil have an opportunity to debate it?
It is an awful pity the previous Government did not cost its programme for Government.
We were saving the country.
The health costings would have been enormous.
We went in the right direction.
The Labour Party is moving commendably fast.
The Deputy's legacy amounted to €64 billion.
We will have one speaker at a time. I ask Deputies to restrain themselves and allow the Tánaiste to reply.
On the necessity to complete legislation on paternity leave in a timely manner, I am aware that Deputy Joan Burton was very committed to the Bill to which she referred, as is the Government, and I have no doubt that it will be passed in a timely manner. As the Deputy noted, an insurance based scheme must be in place if the payments are to be made later in the year.
On compliance with the EU directive, I do not have a timeframe for the introduction of legislation on tobacco packaging.
Departments are currently familiarising themselves with their portfolios and the commitments in the programme for Government and a legislative programme outlining Government priorities will issue in the coming weeks.
We have made contact with Departments regarding the restoration to the Order Paper of Bills that lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil and the Seanad and hope to have that information in full in the coming weeks. The costings for the programme are within the €6.75 billion envelope and the whole programme is within the fiscal rules.
The clocks appear to have stopped operating, but I am sure that has nothing to do with the length of the contributions made by various Members.
I wish to make a brief point on behalf of the AAA-PBP regarding the Order of Business. Our grouping has not been included in Leaders' Questions this week nor are we included for next week. I understand this is because the House is currently operating on the basis of what we would call the old Standing Orders. We have been offered the facility of a technical group as an opportunity to contribute under Leaders' Questions. However, we are here as AAA-PBP rather than as a technical group and that offer is not satisfactory. It has been explained to us that the new arrangements arising from the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform will be in place the week after next and we welcome that. We feel that to be fair to all sides of the House this change is necessary and that provision for it must be in place by the end of next week so that we start fresh the week after next with our full rights and entitlements in the House.
We are operating on Standing Orders dating from 2002, but I understand the issue the Deputy has raised will be addressed by the proposals and work done on Dáil reform. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle can confirm that work is ongoing to deal with the points the Deputy has raised.
I congratulate the Tánaiste on her reappointment as Minister and on her elevation to the role of Tánaiste and wish her good luck with that role.
She may be aware that the local authority tenant purchase scheme that has been introduced debars 82% of local authority tenants from applying to purchase their homes. The programme for Government tries to address this, but I am concerned by the seriousness of the situation that 82% of people living in a local authority home who wish to purchase that house are automatically debarred from doing so because of how the scheme has been set up. I call for somebody in government to look at this issue with a view to addressing it. The problem is serious and should be taken on board. We tried to ensure it would be included in the programme for Government, but it must be tackled by the relevant Minister urgently. Letters are being issued offering people the opportunity to purchase their homes, but people realise that they cannot actually do so. This is very serious.
I will ask the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Coveney, to liaise directly with the Deputy on this issue and on the current approach. I am aware of the issue, which is a long-standing one that has not been dealt with. There are a range of barriers against people who wish to purchase their accommodation. A significant proportion of people in local authority housing would like to purchase their homes but cannot do so currently.
I too congratulate the Tánaiste and wish her well on her elevation to that office.
I want to ask about a matter relevant to the new Minister with responsibility for jobs, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor. Today, Suir Pharma Ireland in Clonmel closed without notice with the loss of 134 jobs. Will the Tánaiste ask her office to intervene in that situation to see if something can be done for these workers? I note the Minister for Health is present in the House. An important mental health institution in Tipperary town, run by the Friends of Mount Sion, is threatened with closure. This is a vital institution for rehabilitation and long-stay patients who suffer with mental health issues. We have had debates here on these pressing issues. Will the Tánaiste please urge the Minister for Health to look into that situation also?
I am loth to interrupt Deputy Mattie McGrath or any other Deputy, but I wish to point out that we are dealing with promised legislation or the programme for Government.
It is all in the programme. Tá sé ansin.
Fair enough if it is in the programme for Government.
Everything is covered in that document.
It is comprehensive.
Is Deputy Mattie McGrath in or out?
Please do not respond to that provocation.
I wish to reassure Deputy Mattie McGrath that the Minister has been briefed in regard to the job losses he mentioned and her Department is aware of the situation. I am sure she will take the appropriate action.
In regard to the facility the Deputy mentioned, I am sure the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, will be in touch with the Deputy on the matter. I do not have the details on it.
It is Anam Cara, Tipperary.
I am looking forward to the debate on Thursday in regard to the changes to the Order. Perhaps we will need to look again at page 27, when we have sanctions for Ministers who refuse to answer questions, and provide that this will extend to Leaders' Questions, given the Tánaiste's refusal to answer simple questions on the Higgins report.
When is it anticipated joint committees will be formed, which will allow for legislation to be considered? We are discussing forthcoming legislation here, but it appears, judging by the number of moving parts, that it may be from four to five weeks before committees are established and can get down to dealing with committee work on legislation that will be resubmitted on the Order Paper and which is ready for Committee Stage. Can the Tánaiste give us an indication of the timeframe in that regard?
On the commitment in the programme for Government to bring forward legislation to suspend the application of water charges, will the Tánaiste outline to the Dáil when it is intended that legislation will be brought forward? A commitment was made to do it within six weeks, but will she elaborate on that commitment? When is it intended this legislation will have passed both Houses of the Oireachtas? Given the six weeks for bringing forward the legislation, this leaves only four weeks before the summer recess. It appears very ambitious that this legislation will be enacted before the summer recess. Therefore, this will allow another two full cycles of Irish Water billing to take place in the meantime. Will the Tánaiste inform the Dáil on these two issues?
The establishment of the new committees is linked with the Dáil reform programme which contains proposals on the number and range of committees we need in place. The Whip assures me that work is ongoing on the establishment of the committees, but that will take a number of weeks.
On the legislation in regard to Irish Water which is expected shortly, I expect and it is the intention that it will go through the Dáil before the summer recess.
And through the Seanad?
Yes, that is the intention.
Last week we had an enlightening debate in the House on the issue of crime. While Deputy English, as Minister of State, was in the front bench, I and a number of other Deputies raised an issue regarding the allocation of free legal aid. I asked then if time could be allocated for a debate in the House on what I and a number of Deputies see as abuses relating to the allocation of free legal aid.
I refer specifically to the situation where free legal aid can be allocated to a Member of Dáil Éireann whose salary is in excess of €85,000 per year and it is perceived by the courts that the individual in question does not have means. People up and down the country are outraged by the abuse of a system originally designed to ensure people were allocated representation before our courts when they did not have means and by the idea that people can siphon off part of their income to a political protest movement to avoid being captured by the means test process.
Are there proposals within the Department of Justice and Equality to bring forward amending legislation or other legislative measures to deal with this? Will the Whips agree on this? There was universal agreement in the House that there should be a debate on this and I raised it in the last Dáil in 2014. Some €50 million in taxpayers' money is being spent on free legal aid. If people on salaries of more than €85,000 per annum are going to be allocated aid by the Courts Service, there is an immediate need for amending legislation, some legislative measure such as regulations or policies to ensure this is not allowed.
I will not comment on a particular judicial decision on the granting of free legal aid but my Department is looking at changes in the legislation on free legal aid. There are constitutional issues over access to free legal aid and these have to be respected but if it is possible to amend the legislation in some way to ensure a person who is in a position to make a contribution to the cost does so, that should happen. We are also looking at issues around the transfer of responsibility for legal aid. I would welcome a debate in the House and the chance to hear the views of Members. There have been changes in the UK recently and I would be happy to hear the views of Members of the House to see if improvements can be made to the scheme.