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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 1 Jun 2016

Vol. 911 No. 2

Order of Business

It is proposed to take to take No. 5b, motion re restoration of Bills to the Order Paper; No. 5c, motion re restoration of Private Members' Bills to the Order Paper; 5d, motion re establishment of special all-party Committee on the Future of Healthcare; and 7, statements on mental health services (resumed). It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 5b and 5c shall be decided without debate; the following arrangements shall apply in relation to 5d: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Independents4Change, AAA-PBP, Rural Alliance, Social Democrats-Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten 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. Private Members' business shall be No. 18, motion re protection of workers' rights (resumed) to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with 5b and 5c agreed to?

It is not agreed.

It is not agreed with respect to the restoration of Bills.

No. I have a significant issue with that. I am been informed by both our Whip and party that there has been absolutely no consultation with anybody regarding the restoration of the Bills. That has been dictated by the Government side alone in terms of what Bills are to be restored. Given the spirit of the new Dáil and what we are meant to be about, there should be consultation with all of the House as to what is to be prioritised. The Labour Party has significant issues with the Admission to Schools Bill. It has been unilaterally decided not to restore it. That is fair enough if the Minister has his position on that but there should have been consultation on what Bills should be brought back and what ones should not be. A business committee is about to be formed under Dáil reform. I would have thought it should have been brought together and that together the Members of the House would determine the priority as to what Bills should be restored and hear arguments as to which ones certain people may not want to have restored.

I agree. There has been much talk about ordering business in a different way and the agreement is that we are not going to do it through the old Whip system and that there will be a business committee which will set the agenda for the House.

There was no consultation with us in regard to what Bills were to be restored. As a precursor to having the business committee, that would have been the normal issue. We have tabled an amendment in the name of the Labour Party Whip to restore the school admissions Bill, but there might be other Bills which Deputies have in mind that have already begun the legislative process in the Houses. It would be useful if prior to the Government Whip simply determining what should be back on the Order Paper, which will probably determine the business for next week, there were some consultation with other parties, as will be the norm when the business committee is extant.

Before I call on the Taoiseach to respond, it was my clear and explicit understanding that all of the parties in opposition were asked if they wanted to recommit Bills and were invited to indicate the Bills they were to recommit. I am satisfied that every party in opposition was contacted and asked to submit their Bills.

That was Government Bills.

Yes. It is obviously a matter for the Government to respond in respect of that.

We are talking about the Government Bills. The education one is gone.

Can the Taoiseach clarify?

These Bills were ones which lapsed with the dissolution of the Dáil. The Deputies tell me there has been no consultation about those Bills coming back on the Order Paper nor has there been any consultation about the Private Members' Bills other parties wish to put on the Order Paper. I do not want to have a row about this. For instance, in respect of the school admissions Bill to which Deputy Howlin refers, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has already indicated that a new admissions Bill will be introduced as part of the programme for Government and he is working on that.

I cannot hear the Taoiseach.

The Minister for Education and Skills has already pointed out that the programme for Government commits to a new admissions Bill and he is working on that. I do not want to have an unnecessary row about this. These were Bills that-----

Is the current Bill dropped? It had reached Second Stage.

It is not being put back as a restored Bill. The programme for Government commits to a new admissions Bill and the Minister is working on that. I assume that significant elements of the previous Bill will be included as there were some very good things included in it.

The Minister for Education and Skills does not agree with the Bill. He made that clear to our spokesperson ten minutes ago. People are entitled to different perspectives on legislation and I do not have an issue with that. It is legitimate, but we should be very straight up about it. It should not just disappear off the agenda suddenly. It was alerted to me about 25 minutes ago that there was an issue around the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. Generally speaking, the Dáil and the business committee should be prioritising what Bills we think are important. We only have six weeks or so before the summer recess. It is 1 June now and we may have two months. Realistically speaking, what Bills are we going to get through in the next two months? Is it not within the capacity of the Oireachtas to decide three or four Bills that will definitely be progressed before the summer recess and take it after that?

To be helpful, I suggest that the Bills that have been listed today be accepted and that there would be further consultation. If further Bills are to be brought forward, they should be listed following discussion at the business committee.

I accept that. I said to Members yesterday that the Cabinet would have a memo next Wednesday on new legislation coming through from different Departments which we expect to be able to prioritise and get through. I accept the Ceann Comhairle's recommendation if the Members are agreeable. We will see that full consultation takes place in future.

Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 5b and 5c on that basis agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 5d agreed to? Agreed. Before I call Deputy Martin, I note that we have had very lengthy contributions on the Order of Business recently which have been more akin to those appropriate to Leaders' Questions or Questions to the Taoiseach. If we could keep them somewhat shorter, more Members could participate.

The commitment in the programme for Government on a new dedicated armed support unit for Dublin, as serious crime requires a serious response, was made in February. The Minister has said that whatever responses are necessary, we will face down the activities of these ruthless gangs. Will new moneys be allocated in respect of the announcements made or is the funding to come from within the 2016 allocation to An Garda Síochána? When can we expect misuse of drugs legislation in respect of the issue of prescription drugs which I have raised consistently over the last two weeks? What is the timeline for the legislation to reduce the thresholds above which the Criminal Assets Bureau can intervene and take action? I think it is to go from €7,000 to €1,000. When can we expect that?

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to build on North-South co-operation for the benefit of both sides of the Border. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and others have given mixed messages about free movement between North and South in the event that the people of Northern Ireland and Britain vote to exit the European Union. Can the Taoiseach clarify his understanding of the implications for cross-Border controls and, ultimately, cross-Border co-operation? Does he agree that if Britain were to exit the European Union, it would have a negative impact on cross-Border economic activity?

Interviews are being conducted in respect of the new task force on crime. An allocation of €5 million has been made available on foot of discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the task force on crime will be up and running as soon as possible over the next couple of months.

In respect of North-South bodies, I would not like to see the return of customs points along the Border in the event that the electorate in Britain were to decide to leave the EU. However, I would not have any control over that, albeit it would be our wish not to see it happen. I listened to the managing director of a company based in Monaghan yesterday saying that much of that company's machinery moves through Britain and that this would mean extra paperwork both into Britain and exiting through Britain which would be bureaucratic, inefficient and cost time and money. Clearly, I have a difference of opinion here with the Secretary of State. If the decision is to leave, it would be our wish in the subsequent two-year negotiation, which would probably be a preliminary period, to avoid that happening. However, one does not have control over it in that the attitude of other countries in Europe towards Britain is unknown. The agreement reached at the European Council on the propositions put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron was done on a one-off basis. If the electorate in Britain decides to remain as a member state of Europe, those changes become effective immediately. If they decide to leave the European Union, we are into a complex and long series of difficult negotiations the outcome of which is uncertain. While I would like to think that we will not end up with border controls and customs points, I find it hard to see how, in that event, one could avoid having some measure of that applying. It is not something the Government would be in control of.

It is inevitable.

Exactly. We would be operating as a member state of the European Union dealing with a country that would have decided to leave.

What is the status of the work of the expert panel which was established in February to examine the issue of defective concrete blocks in the construction of homes in Donegal and Mayo? The panel's terms of reference cover only private housing. Last night, "Prime Time" revealed the profound failure of State regulation of the industry and the very deep trauma this has caused for the families affected. Potentially, hundreds of council homes may fall victim to this.

The Government is insisting on Donegal County Council meeting what could be a major bill. This would impact on the provision of other local services in that disadvantaged county. Will the Government amend the terms of reference of the expert panel to cover publicly owned property? When does the Taoiseach expect the expert panel's report to be published? Will the Government put in place a redress scheme to provide financial assistance for the homeowners affected?

I do not have an exact timetable for the publication of the report. In counties Donegal and Mayo the houses were not affected by pyrite but by mica. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, will travel to both counties to look at the situation at first hand and speak to the householders involved. He will report to the Minister on what we can do here. I know that, when this issue was examined before in dealing with the pyrite problem in the greater Dublin area, it was considered to be outside the terms of reference. The Minister of State is to visit both locations and the Minister will report. We will give Deputy Gerry Adams the details.

Before I call Deputy Brendan Howlin, I should apologise because, when the time came to deal with Leaders' Questions, there had not been adequate communication with his office on that matter.

I appreciate that, a Cheann Comhairle. Thank you.

I wish to raise two matters, the first of which relates to the Revised Book of Estimates. After the announcement of the budget, the Revised Book of Estimates for 2016 was presented to the previous Dáil. Is there to be a further Revised Book of Estimates or will individual Estimates be prepared? Obviously, there must be a unified debate in the House on the overall Estimates. When will the Revised Book of Estimates, if there is to be one, be presented and when will we see the individual departmental Estimates?

My second question relates to Brexit and the worrying opinion poll findings yesterday that indicated that the margin between staying and leaving might be close. Given that this issue is of such importance to us, will the Taoiseach consider tabling an all-party motion next week in the House, one that would be signed not only by all of the parties but by all Deputies also, calling on Irish voters and those with Irish connections in the United Kingdom who have an entitlement to vote, as well as UK citizens living in this jurisdiction, to vote in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union and explaining in a debate how that would be in our strategic interests?

I expect the Estimates to be presented in the next fortnight.

Will there be a new Revised Book of Estimates?

I think it is clear that an adjustment will have to be made to some of the original Estimates.

It is not a bad suggestion to have an all-party motion, but we would want to be careful in considering-----

-----whether to do this and whether it would have an adverse impact. Clearly, people in Britain do not like to be lectured by anybody else, no more than we would. We have been very careful to say that because of our very close association with Britain for many reasons for many years, we have an interest in talking to our own people who live there. Last weekend I asked and encouraged them to make sure they registered to vote by 7 June and to vote to stay in on 23 June. I might just reflect on Deputy Brendan Howlin's offer. It is a suggestion which has merit, but I would not like to think others might take the view-----

We would be talking to our own.

----- that "Here is the Irish Parliament telling us what to do." The Deputy would be very free, as the leader of his party, no less than Deputy Micheál Martin would, to travel to Britain to talk to Irish communities. They can make such arrangements, but I am not sure whether it would be seen in an adverse way. It might not have the effect Deputy Brendan Howlin intended it to have for the right reasons.

When in the next 30 days will the Minister attend the House to attempt to justify the extension of the FEMPI legislation? It must be renewed before 30 June if the Government wishes to renew it. I have tabled a motion which is on today's clár calling for its repeal. On day one when it was introduced in 2009, we were told that we were in a state of emergency and that the Government needed to introduce emergency legislation to reduce public sector workers' pay. I have just looked up whose was the famous quote, "Never let a good crisis go to waste," but it has been attributed to a few people, including Winston Churchill and Rahm Emanuel, both of whom stated one could do things in a crisis that one would not normally get away with. One could argue that we were in a crisis in 2009, but the Taoiseach's party has been declaring since the general election that we are now in recovery. That recovery is being felt by some but not by the majority and certainly not by workers. The repeal of the FEMPI legislation would mark the beginning of what we believe would be payback for workers. If we are in recovery, why do we need emergency legislation and why will we continue to penalise public sector workers after 30 June? The penalties are significant and mean that many of them cannot afford to put a decent roof over their heads during what is an accommodation crisis. There would be a major payback for the economy were public servants to have their pay restored, as they could spend it in the local economy and begin to generate activity. It is important to know, therefore, whether the Government intends to extend this emergency and repressive legislation. If it continues one of its hallmark emergency Acts that is punitive for the public sector while claiming that the economy is in recovery, it does not bode well in seeking to build confidence in the economy.

I thank the Deputy for her comments. The programme for Government is very clear. It states:

We will establish a Public Service Pay Commission to examine pay levels across the public service, including entry levels of pay. We will support the gradual, negotiated repeal of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts having due regard to the priority to improve public services and in recognition of the essential role played by public servants.

As the Deputy will be aware, this is already under way. It is an orderly, negotiated repeal of the FEMPI legislation. I remind the Deputy that, because of careful and prudent management of the economy and not without difficulty, the unemployment figure yesterday was 7.8%, down from just over 15% five years ago, which represents a very significant improvement, but we need to do more. Obviously, as resources come into the economy, one can spend and divert them into areas of disadvantage.

When will the Minister attend the Dáil to extend the FEMPI legislation?

We dealt with this issue before Christmas and are now in the process of an orderly unwinding of the emergency financial provisions Act.

Therefore, the legislation will not be extended.

The school transport scheme appears to be undergoing changes. At this point in the year parents are beginning to worry that there will not be a seamless arrangement in September. Many rely on this service, particularly concession passengers in going to work. Will we be given the information in a timely manner if there are to be changes, in the light of the difficulties this issue can cause during the school holidays?

Given the importance of the Irish Glass Bottle site and the large proposal in that regard, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has indicated that it has concerns. Are alternative sites of a comparable size being considered? Does the Taoiseach share the EPA's concerns?

The Irish Glass Bottle site has been confirmed as a strategic development zone and being an essential part of the programme for Government in the provision of housing, accommodation and for commercial activities. Dublin City Council has to put together a master plan. The question the Deputy raises in respect of the anxieties or concerns people might have is for the city council to deal with in the context of the management plan. Obviously, the Government has made its decision. This is seen as a very strategic development that will improve the opportunities for business and the provision of accommodation, as well as life opportunities for people.

The city council will deal with both the strategic plan and the concerns mentioned by the Deputy.

In respect of school transport, obviously a report has indicated a review is to be conducted in the next school year in regard to implementation, if applicable, in the following academic year. People will say that just because there is a review does not necessarily mean certain outcomes. School transport has been an essential part of the education system since its introduction back in the 1960s. Clearly, the Minister will be careful in his review so students will continue to have the opportunity to travel to school and receive a proper education. It is for some time in the future.

On the same issue, the briefing the Minister got in the Department of Education and Skills pointed out there was significant work under way already with Bus Éireann with a view to making the changes that are proposed. This is even before a review. There was a review announced in the programme for Government but before that announcement there seems to have been significant work going on. Is it likely to happen? The programme for Government refers to a timescale before the budget this year.

The Minister for Education and Skills will answer any questions about this. If the argument is about downsizing buses, there are locations in the country where 50-seater buses may be carrying three or four pupils. It might be on a second run, or otherwise. It is a question of whether there is a way of making-----

The issue concerns concessionary students on those buses.

Is there a way of making it more efficient or effective? It is no harm to carry out a review of some of these elements.

Ten Members are offering and very little time is remaining. I ask Members to be very brief.

At the outset, I have to declare that I have a small company operating in Kerry. I have to make the Dáil aware of this because it could be construed by some that I have a conflict of interest. However, I want to highlight concerns by small subcontractors in many parts of the country who are being put under severe financial pressure and are struggling to survive. Some are going under because large payments of VAT and other taxes due to the principal contractor-----

Does this relate to legislation or the programme for Government?

It is on jobs and rural development, on page 42 of the programme for Government. Large payments of VAT and other taxes due to the principal contractors whom the subcontractors work for are being delayed, in many cases for long periods, by the Revenue Commissioners. The delay is rumoured to be caused by a shortage of staff in the Revenue departments. This is causing a vicious circle whereby the smaller operator at the end of the line is waiting too long for his €2,000 or €3,000 to pay wages to staff or make other payments. Such people cannot survive and are going under.

New regulations from June 2015 mean that subcontractors cannot be paid until the principal contractor logs the details with the Revenue Commissioners. How can one log in, in rural Kerry or other rural areas, when one has nothing to log in to? There is no broadband available there.

Let us go to the Taoiseach. The Deputy has made his point.

Regional action plans for jobs are being implemented. Clearly, they are designed to assist small companies, both start-ups and those expanding their business. If Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has a particular problem with some of the smaller companies in Kerry, he should bring it to the attention of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation so an effective system of early settlement of payments due can be put in place.

I wish to refer to the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and, in particular, the supply and pricing of medical goods under it. Last week, the HSE indicated to pharmacists that it would no longer fund a drug called Camcolit. This drug prevents manic episodes and it is a mood stabiliser for people suffering from bipolar disorder. It arrests aggressive and self-harming incidents. The HSE has recommended an alternative drug called Priadel, which it says is interchangeable. However, eminent psychiatrist Dr. John Hillery stated it is not interchangeable due to the pharmacokinetic differences in the drugs. This is a reference to how the body deals with, absorbs and releases the drug.

This might be more relevant to a matter on the Adjournment. What is the Deputy's question?

The question is on the stoppage of supply of the drug. There is urgency and an obligation regarding the drug as this matter is affecting people. Does the Taoiseach agree that supply of the drug should continue until such time as the matter is reviewed?

That is suited to a matter on the Adjournment, I suspect. Does the Taoiseach wish to say something briefly on this?

I can have the Minister for Health respond to Deputy Browne's question.

I am sorry I was not present yesterday when the Taoiseach outlined the legislative programme. I was at a meeting of the housing committee. With regard to the legislative programme, is the Charities Act 2009 fully operational at present? Have all sections of that Act been signed into law?

I cannot answer that question but I will respond to Deputy Durkan today.

The Taoiseach will remember that, over the past two years, I have asked him repeatedly when the outgoing and current Governments would publish the new wind energy guidelines. Submissions have been sought and thousands have been made to the Department, yet we are still awaiting the new guidelines. In the meantime, the Minister has written to Westmeath County Council refusing to take on board the wishes of the democratically elected members of that council regarding the county development plan, stating their amendments are premature pending the publication of the wind energy guidelines. Two years after promising the publication of those guidelines, we are still waiting for them. Perhaps the Taoiseach will update the House on when we will actually see them.

We might get an answer if the Deputy gives the Taoiseach a chance.

Agreement was not reached between the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Mr. Alex White, and the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. This is now a matter for consideration between the Minister responsible for housing, planning and local government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten and they will discuss it. I hope the guidelines can be published within a couple of months.

When will the legislation announced yesterday on the Criminal Assets Bureau be published? The Taoiseach referred this morning to the terrible events in the north inner city. I agree with what he said. He also said that in Limerick, the problem was stopped by putting in additional resources. Those additional resources, 100 extra gardaí, came after the publication of the Fitzgerald report in 2007. In Limerick, those resources have depleted to a level of one extra garda from the 100-----

That is a matter for a parliamentary question.

The legislation is important to Limerick. When will it be published?

Some of that can be introduced by regulation by the Minister, and some will require legislation. I expect the Minister will bring a memorandum to the Government next week on what she can do by regulation and when, and on the drafting of whatever legislation is necessary.

That concludes the Order of Business. Again, I apologise to those Members whom we have not been able to accommodate.