Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. a7 - motion re establishment of standing committee of selection; No. b7 - motion re membership of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges; and No. c7 - motion re draft final report of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, to adjourn at 3.30 p.m. today, if not previously concluded.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. a7 and b7 shall be decided without debate and the following arrangements shall apply in relation to No. c7: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of each member and substitute member of the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform, who shall be called upon in alphabetical order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; and such members may share their time; the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten 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 five minutes.

There are two proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. a7 and b7 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. c7 agreed?

It is not agreed. It seems a little bizarre that we are speaking about an era of democratic reform but the amount of time being allowed today for non-members of the committee is less than half an hour. We have been largely excluded from the debate about these issues in recent weeks. This week we have seen, quite obviously, the silencing during Leaders' Questions of a large part of the Opposition by not having this slot. There is a real desire on our side of the House to see this matter concluded early but giving ten minute slots in half an hour today to all of those of us who are not members of the committee does not do this. It is not genuine and I strongly object to it. Can we extend the discussion today to take account of this or cut the time allocated to committee members?

Certainly the intention is to see that every Member who wants to participate in the debate has the opportunity to do so.

The debate will adjourn today, so provided there are speakers who want to participate, it will continue next Tuesday. There is no limit.

That is not really the point. The issue is there is a real desire to get the Dáil up and running in a proper way. There is no clarity on our side of the House about how groupings will be formed and how we will function. We do not want this dragging on any longer. It would be far more democratic if the slots of committee members were shortened to allow other Members of the House to have broader participation or if we extended the time of the discussion today.

Given the work all of the members of various groups and parties and individuals have put into this, I suggest we simply extend by two hours today's debate regardless of the time available next week so everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

I thank the Deputy for that helpful suggestion.

I have no difficulty extending the time. We clearly want every Member of the House to have an opportunity to participate. The list of speakers is not that long at present but no doubt this will change. If it continues and we extend the debate by two hours today, there will still be an opportunity to continue the debate on Tuesday.

Is Deputy Daly happy with this arrangement?

An extension of two hours today would be great. That is perfect.

Can I take it, therefore, that the proposal for dealing with No. c7 is now agreed? Agreed.

I wish to ask the Tánaiste about a number of items.

When will the public sector pay commission be set up, how long is it expected to last and when is it expected to report? I ask the Tánaiste to ensure that every Member of the House has an ample opportunity to speak on the O'Higgins report because there will be a large number of Deputies across all parties and none wanting to speak on it.

I want to bring another matter to the attention of the Tánaiste and the new Minister for Health, whom I wish well. This morning I heard from a patient in my constituency who is terminally ill. A GP's letter was sent to the Department of Health or its medical card section with the words "terminally ill", but we have just got an e-mail back in the last half an hour saying that the GP's letter was not strong enough and one must be sent back stating "end-of-life treatment". The way in which the reply was sent is totally disgraceful. I appeal to the Tánaiste and the Minister to take this matter in hand because these discretionary medical cards are not being dealt with properly in a humanitarian way or in any way that would reflect the fears or the frightening situation in which that family finds itself today.

Regarding the public pay commission, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to establish a pay commission. My colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is giving consideration to how to give effect to that commitment and what the necessary steps are, including consultation with the relevant stakeholders, which has begun already. There is also a commitment in the Lansdowne Road agreement to engage with public service unions before the Government decides on any future pay determination mechanism.

I recognise the point Deputy McDonald makes regarding the debate on the O'Higgins report, which is a 370 page document and which deserves full consideration in this House. No doubt the Whips will discuss the precise arrangements, but I recognise that many people will want to contribute.

Regarding medical cards, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to take an ongoing, humane and considered approach to cases such as the one Deputy Michael Moynihan described this morning. Perhaps the Deputy would like to liaise directly with the Minister for Health regarding that particular case, but the Minister is meeting with the medical card section and the people who make those determinations next week.

Over the last number of days the Tánaiste has been asked about the O'Higgins report and the legal direction given by the Garda Commissioner on behalf of an Garda Síochána to her legal representatives. On each occasion she has steadfastly refused to answer very straightforward questions to which the public interest demands answers. I noted that yesterday she indicated that the Commissioner might make further information available in the public domain. So far that has not happened. I therefore ask her again to tell the Dáil whether or not she has received clarity on the instructions given by the Commissioner to her legal team regarding Sergeant McCabe-----

Deputy McDonald, sorry-----

This is the Order of Business.

The Deputy understands perfectly well-----

-----that this is the Order of Business, not Leaders' Questions, so the question she is posing is not appropriate in the circumstances-----

I tell the Ceann Comhairle what I also understand, if I might put it to him this way. In her last response the Tánaiste indicated, as we know, that we will have a debate on the O'Higgins report next week.

She also said quite correctly that it is a very lengthy document, running to some 370 pages, and of course Members will wish to examine all matters in that report very thoroughly. In the meantime-----

Yes, but the Deputy is now taking time of which her fellow Members want to avail under the Order of Business, and what she is raising is not appropriate-----

Bar this interruption, I would have completed what I had to say and put the question-----

Yes, but she would have done so incorrectly because it is not appropriate for her to raise this matter under the Order of Business, so either the Deputy raises something that is relevant to the Order of Business or she resumes her seat because I will not ask the Tánaiste to respond to this matter.

This is relevant, Ceann Comhairle. I ask whether the Tánaiste, working on the assumption that she will put the questions to the Commissioner, will at least receive responses from the Commissioner-----

The Deputy is attempting to frustrate the order of the House. We have a process and a procedure. The Deputy knows perfectly well that what she is trying to introduce is contrary to Standing Orders. Please, I am asking her not to proceed.

Can I ask the Tánaiste to publish responses that she will get, one presumes, from the Garda Commissioner for the information of the Dáil Deputies in advance of the debate next week?

I thank the Deputy.

On a second matter, Ceann Comhairle, I ask the Tánaiste when it is proposed that the Minister for Education and Skills might come before the House-----

(Interruptions).

-----to make a statement - timing is everything they say - on the very troubling brief that he has been given for his Department as he settles into his new role. Page 35 of that brief reflects the fact that the current reduced funding levels create a risk that some schools may not be able to cover critical costs such as insurance, heat and light. The brief continues, "the absence of which could trigger school closures". I am aware that the Minister is taking questions today, but I believe the seriousness of this situation warrants the Minister coming before the House and making a substantive statement on this matter.

I thank the Deputy for her co-operation. Tánaiste, the relevant questions, please.

Could he be any more snide?

I said yesterday that I had no doubt that the Garda Commissioner, where feasible and legal for her to put further information in the public arena, would do so, and that remains my position. I fully support the Commissioner in the difficult job she is doing and I am confident that our discussions will help as much as possible to address the concerns which have been raised, consistent with the principles that I have outlined.

To recap very briefly-----

No, please, let us not have a debate on the issue.

Will the Minister publish the responses? If she will, she will; if she will not, she will not.

I have ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner. When it comes to the Dáil debate next week, consistent with the principles I outlined yesterday that must be observed by both her and by me, I will inform the House fully as to the outcome of those discussions.

I thank the Tánaiste and ask her to respond to the education issue that has been raised.

The Minister for Education and Skills is taking questions today. There is a strong commitment in the programme for Government regarding capitation for pupils, class sizes and other matters concerning education, for example, safeguarding the position of small schools, and no doubt the Minister will respond to the reports which are in the public arena today regarding safeguarding our schools. We certainly will do that.

I want to raise, regarding the programme for Government, the issue of the capacity and power of credit unions to issue micro loans to families on low and middle incomes who are otherwise unable to get credit. This scheme was launched last year by me and by the former Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Senator Kevin Humphreys. It has been an enormous success such that in the case of quite a number of credit unions and their loan limits, which are relatively small, the average loan value is €1,800 but many loans are for amounts up to €500. Both in my constituency and the Tánaiste's there are many large housing estates built by the local authorities where there are literally no banking facilities and where credit is sold door to door or by money lenders. This scheme has resulted in thousands of loans being issued in the 50 trial credit unions which have been using the scheme, assisted by An Post, with a household budgeting facility made available by An Post for repayments. If we could extend the scheme on a much wider basis and countrywide, we would see a significant drop in money lending, particularly in very disadvantaged areas and to people on very low incomes.

In the context of the programme for Government, I merely wanted to ask if the Government would prioritise the rapid expansion of this scheme.

The point Deputy Burton makes regarding the availability of credit to families is a critical one. I reiterate the strong support for the scheme that the Deputy initiated under the Department of Social Protection. That now will need to be evaluated with a view to extension.

There is a strong commitment in the programme for Government to credit unions. The Minister for Finance met representatives of the credit union movement in recent weeks and I can assure Deputy Burton that the type of scheme she outlined has the support of Government. I will ask the Minister for Finance to liaison with the Deputy on the extension and development of such a scheme.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Can I say briefly-----

Deputy Burton cannot, I am sorry.

-----that we do not need another evaluation?

Would Deputy Burton resume her seat?

All the evaluations have been done.

I ask Deputy Burton to resume her seat. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

I have two questions. The Harbours Bill 2015, that was passed shortly before the dissolution of the previous Dáil, allowed for the Minister to make decisions about the status of particular harbours. This morning I heard an alarming report that a decision has been made regarding Dún Laoghaire harbour to establish a new quango. The House should be informed of such a decision on foot of the Act, if it has been made by either the outgoing or incoming Minister.

According to the due diligence report I got this morning a decision has been made. We were informed by the previous Minister that this report would form the basis of any decision and is now available to county managers although it has not been made available to any public representative, either here in the Dáil or in local authorities affected by these decisions. That is completely unacceptable. I want to ask the Minister has a decision been made and will it be brought to this House.

With regard to the Payment of Wages Acts 1979 and 1991 and legislation dealing with public procurement, we have learnt in the past few days that the company Transdev is planning to dock wages for hours worked from Luas workers, which is a breach of these Acts, and to interfere with their sick pay entitlements, which is also in defiance of the Acts. We have heard that Transdev is bidding for bus routes but no company engaged in breaches of the law should be allowed even bid for public contracts. Is the Tánaiste aware of these breaches and does she believe that this necessitates a strengthening of the Payment of Wages Acts and other legislation dealing with outsourcing and public procurement?

I suggest that a parliamentary question would be appropriate in order to deal with the specific points Deputy raised in his first question. I am sure the Minister will respond to it.

On the second issue, there is an industrial relations mechanism in place in regard to the situation at the Luas. There is a strong commitment in the programme for Government to supporting the work of the Industrial Relations Commission and we should support every effort that is being made there to resolve the dispute at Luas with the workers.

That was not my question.

Is it the intention of the Government to reinstate the Technological Universities Bill 2015 at the Stage that it was before the election took place because it is a hugely important issue for many institutes of technology, which need certainty and clarity to proceed with the mergers or processes in which some of them are involved? I met the president of Waterford IT last week and he was adamant the institute needs certainty and clarity. There is confusion as to what is contained in the programme for Government in regard to these processes. Will the Bill be reinstated at the Stage it was at before the election.

Mine is the same issue. We had got the Technological Universities Bill to Report Stage here in this House before the general election and it is imperative that it moves as quickly as possible. For example, the Tánaiste will be aware from her own area that the Dublin consortium needs the legislation to move forward. If there are proposed changes, because, as Deputy Cullinane stated, there is confusion, will that delay the legislation? Getting clarity on this is important to the regions because these proposed technological universities will be engine drivers in terms of the development of a number of regions in the country.

I thank the Deputies. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan will be familiar with this legislation. Of course, she will be aware that there were objections within the House regarding certain aspects of the Bill when she was trying to steer it through, and it reached Report Stage. What the Minister intends to do now, before taking the decision that was asked, is to meet the stakeholders to have further discussions in regard to it to decide what is the best way forward and to have further discussions within the Oireachtas as well. The Minister is actively considering that at present.

That will definitely cause delay, which is of concern.

I call Deputy Troy.

That is not acceptable. I ask that the Deputies would be consulted before outside bodies on this.

That is crucial.

Can we have order, please?

That is what I said.

One would have imagined the Labour Party might have consulted them when it was in a position to influence the universities Bill.

Deputy Troy was against it. The Deputy wants to destroy the concept of the university of the south. We have it in writing.

And Deputy Troy was not on the committee where we had extensive consultation.

Could the Deputies restrain themselves?

Deputy Troy never turned up at one committee meeting.

Not one meeting.

I ask Deputy Troy not to be provocative.

I have questions on two pieces of legislation. First, in the previous Dáil, I proposed legislation for the establishment of a single authority to look after the River Shannon. The previous Government did not oppose it when my party brought it through Second Stage. Will the Government facilitate passage of the Shannon River Agency Bill 2016?

The information and tracing Bill is a Bill with which the Tánaiste is familiar. It was priority legislation for the Tánaiste when she was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and she has been elevated on two occasions since then. I seek commitment that this will be a priority for this Government because what we are concerned with here is giving every human being the fundamental right to identity.

It was discussed in the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016 yesterday.

The information and tracing Bill is long overdue. When will that come before the House?

On the same issue, what we want to see is an amendment to the existing legislation so that we can carry through and give people the right to trace as of now as opposed to the Minister's statement yesterday which appears to kick it out into the long grass, possibly longer than this Government will survive.

In regard to the Shannon, Deputy Troy will be aware of the work that was done by the previous Government in bringing all of the relevant stakeholders together in a forum. It is the first time that has been done effectively. It will be a question for the new Minister to consider whether there needs to be a statutory basis to that authority.

No decision has been made.

Not at this point. The focus, as the Deputy will be aware, has been on bringing the stakeholders together to ensure that the many different agencies involved are working in a co-ordinated, consistent way. That had not been done at a high level previously. This was an initiative that was taken by then Minister of State, Deputy Harris, at that time. It was very much welcomed by all the stakeholders and will prove valuable. As to whether it needs to be put on a statutory basis, no doubt that will arise from the work and discussions being done by the group of stakeholders.

The adoption and tracing Bill, the Adoption (Amendment) Bill 2016, has been before the House in recent days. The issues in regard to tracing have, I understand from Deputy Burton and others, been raised.

Very serious constitutional issues arose, on which when I was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs there were many discussions with the Attorney General. Progress has been made in setting a mechanism in place to protect the rights of both the natural mother and the person seeking information. I am sure the Minister will, with the Attorney General's advice, consider whether it is feasible to introduce it in the current Bill or whether it needs to be introduced in separate legislation.