Ceisteanna - Questions

We are operating under the new regime. Fifteen minutes are allocated for each question or group of questions.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the dates of the last meeting and the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears. [11762/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears in 2016 to date. [12982/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears took place. [12983/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub-committee on housing has met. [14452/16]

Bríd Smith

Question:

5. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach when the next meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears will take place. [14506/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears in 2016 to date; and the proposed dates for any upcoming meetings. [14507/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

7. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on housing is due to next meet. [15851/16]

Paul Murphy

Question:

8. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on housing is due to next meet. [15857/16]

Mick Barry

Question:

9. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on housing is due to next meet. [15863/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears was established by the previous Government and now stands dissolved. It last met on 8 October 2015. The new Government has established a Cabinet Committee on Housing, as committed to in the programme for a partnership Government, to deal with the challenges around housing, homelessness and mortgage arrears. Reflecting the priority that the Government attaches to these issues, this committee is meeting on a weekly basis in its early phase of work. It has met five times to date on 12, 20 and 26 May and on 2 and 9 June. The committee is scheduled to meet again tomorrow, Wednesday, 15 June.

These questions are in the names of Deputies Gerry Adams, Micheál Martin, Bríd Smith, Richard Boyd Barrett, Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy and Mick Barry. I call Deputy Adams.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply.

I wonder did these committees deal with the issues which I raised with the Taoiseach earlier. I asked him how could low income families hope to pay increasing rents and other bills, but he did not answer that question. My view is that he did not answer because he does not have an answer. Regarding the dreadful situation in which people, through no fault of their own, have found themselves, as the Taoiseach said earlier, we must not only talk about addressing it but the Government must take action. I am trying to grapple with the role of the committee in dealing with some of these matters.

I also want to comment on the plan announced today to give up to €200 million to local authorities to build infrastructure on sites already in the hands of the private developers. Was that planned? Was it discussed by the Cabinet Committee on Construction 2020, Housing, Planning and Mortgage Arrears? If so, we need to be told if developers sitting on undeveloped land will be required to pass on the savings in infrastructure to either private house buyers or local authorities. Citizens also need to know if the sites developed with public funds will have social and affordable clauses in order to address the severe housing needs of low to middle income households. Will the Government insert clear conditionality into this capital investment in order to ensure that the return benefits society as a whole, particularly those in housing difficulties and not just the speculators, the profiteers and the land hoarders?

Fifteen minutes has been allocated for these nine questions. Members will have to be fairly brief.

Fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes for the entire block of questions.

It is but it is part of the process that everybody has agreed. The next speaker is Deputy Martin, who tabled one of these questions.

Will the Taoiseach reply to all of us who tabled questions together?

Yes. I think that is best.

It has never worked before.

No. I do not think that will work.

It has never worked before. All right, fair enough, the Deputies want-----

On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I believe you are right with the original proposal. If we are to manage the time, people will have to be brief.

I do not agree.

Deputy Adams had a number of questions.

We are wasting time now. Will the Taoiseach respond to Deputy Adams's questions, please?

I will. The programme for Government provides for increases to rent supplement and housing assistance payments, HAP, by up to 15%, taking into account geographic regions. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and his officials are working on that. It is important to note that the Department of Social Protection currently operates a targeted policy that allows for flexibility where landlords seek rents in excess of the existing limits for both existing customers and new applicants to the rent supplement scheme. More than 8,500 have been assisted under this scheme so far and anybody who finds themselves under that pressure is entitled to contact the Department of Social Protection.

The programme also provides for expanded access to a tenancy sustainable protocol throughout the country. With regard to the HAP, limits were increased in Cork, Galway, Kildare and Meath where flexibility allows for a 20% payment above rent supplement thresholds. For families in emergency accommodation in Dublin city, the HAP payments will be allowed for 50% above rent supplement levels.

We have also committed to maintaining relief for landlords who lease to tenants who are in receipt of social housing supports like rent supplement or the housing assistance payment, and they can avail of 100% mortgage interest relief on their borrowings where they commit to accommodating tenants in receipt of those payments for a minimum period of three years. In addition, from 1 January 2016, a landlord cannot discriminate against a person in receipt of rent supplement, housing assistance payment or any payment under the Social Welfare Acts.

In respect of the Deputy's second question, there will be a requirement for social housing on those sites.

I point out to Deputy Adams that it is not infrastructure on the sites; it is infrastructure to access the sites, be it roads or bridges as the case might be.

We have been very clear as a political party that the housing and homelessness emergency is the No. 1 priority which must be addressed by this Oireachtas. Hence, I support strongly and pay tribute to the special committee on housing which was chaired by Deputy John Curran and which is completing its work this week. It will present its work on Friday. What we have here is an inclusive, comprehensive and energetic process which raises the issues and points towards solutions. In that context, I advise some misgivings about the tendency towards, and disturbing signs of, a return to the old days of policy by leak whereby Ministers plant stories in the media rather than to engage in constructive discussion. We need to avoid that as it can cause damage as it did in the past number of years. We do not need a new strategy every three months. If there is buy-in from all sides of the House to the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness, what we need then is an implementation plan on those recommendations. Therefore, regarding the €200 million that has been announced now, it is essential that whatever is said fits within the overall full policy approach. However, I must say following the contribution of the former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, on Leaders' Questions, it appears it is not new money at all. It is a bit longer put out than one is led to believe from the statements.

When we met the housing officials during the meetings with Independents prior to the formation of a Government, there seemed to be a distinct ideological resistance to building council houses. That needs to stop and we need to build them. It can represent the most effective and speedy way to get some housing stock back within the possession of the State apart altogether from purchasing housing and so on. Down through the decades, some great schemes were built which have left an indelible and positive impact on our communities. For whatever reason, there is a sense of inertia and reluctance to build council housing, which is an approach we need to change in order to start providing them.

I commend Deputy Curran for chairing the Oireachtas committee. I do not yet know what is in his report but, believe me, it will be a very welcome addition to the set of propositions which have come now from the different Departments with responsibility in this area to the Minister for housing, planning and local government. These are the Departments of housing, planning and local government, Public Expenditure and Reform, Social Protection, Justice and Equality and Transport, Tourism and Sport, all of which feed into the development of the strategy the Minister is putting together. Deputy Curran's committee's recommendations will be very gratefully received in that regard. I hope that the Minister for housing, planning and local government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is in a position to bring his draft strategy, an action plan for housing, to the Cabinet sub-committee by the end of the month and that we can develop it into a formal strategy, debate it here and, more importantly, implement it.

On the €200 million, which is double what was committed in the programme for Government for infrastructure development for access to sites, work there will start immediately and the first drawdown will take place in 2017. I agree with Deputy Martin that obviously the practice of building houses by local authorities has drifted over the years. It seemed to morph into the approved housing bodies, which would build houses, but obviously if tenants acquire those houses they can never buy them in the way the Department of the Environment used to provide through the scheme for tenant purchase every number of years so that they could own their own houses. The Minister has already called all the chief executives of the local authorities together and given them their targets and response times. He needs to know what it is they are going to do to start building houses for tenants. He has already made comments that if this does not happen, he is quite prepared to move project managers onto sites to see that it does. This is all about the supply of houses which is the great challenge when one now sees so much commercial activity going on around the country. The housing construction sector has not been able to respond for a variety of reasons. That is now being addressed. I hope Deputy Curran's report on Friday will include some practical recommendations that will be of value here.

Almost everything that comes into my clinic every week involves housing. No matter how much talk we hear from the Government or how many announcements, of which there are many, are made, it just gets worse. This week, I had a woman come into me who had a stroke three years ago, is partially paralysed, suffered a septic aneurysm and septicaemia recently, has epilepsy and is deaf in one ear. Her husband is her carer and they have been living in a car for the last four months. Another case involves a woman with mental health difficulties going to Cluain Mhuire. Her child has been put into care with her mother in order that she would be able to get on the single-persons emergency housing list. She lives in Dún Laoghaire and is told she has to accept a hostel in town, away from her family support network, or find HAPS. Both of these people, and they are just two examples, have no chance of getting HAPS - none, zero. We put a proposal to the local authority that it would set up a specific team to support people like this in finding HAPS, which they cannot find. The CEO of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown just said "I am not doing it, full stop", even though a motion had been passed. Why not? If one believes in HAPS, the least one could do is ensure that teams are put in place to go out and find HAPS for people like that instead of them having to live in cars. I ask for that to happen.

Even if one does that, the average rent for a three-bedroom house in Dún Laoghaire is now €2,200 a month. Even with the flexibility the Government is providing on HAPS, it is nowhere near enough. Forget it. There is no chance that HAPS is going to work. Of the 110,000 housing units the Government proposes to deliver, 75,000 are HAPS. It is not going to happen in Dún Laoghaire at all. That fantasy has to be dispelled with. I appeal to the Taoiseach in that regard because I will not even say what one might as well tell someone who is sick, old, disabled or paralysed as to tell him or her to go out and find HAPS. It is a nightmare that the Government is offering such people. How is the Taoiseach going to get rents down from €2,200 if he is depending on the private sector? It is twice the cost of an average mortgage that people are being asked to pay. It is not just a question of rent certainty. We must go further than Sinn Féin's proposal. There must be rent control that is linked to affordability. This is impossible.

It is time to go back to the Taoiseach for an answer.

I am asking the Minister that and I am also asking for the following basic thing. People who are in the absolutely desperate situations I have described must get every support and resource and the staffing necessary to deliver for them within the local authorities. They must have help to find something dignified rather than to just be thrown to the wolves and told to go out and find something themselves.

Can we go to the Taoiseach because we are practically out of time?

I do not have the details of the case Deputy Boyd Barrett raised. I always struggle to see - I think the Deputy said they were three years in a car-----

They have been in a car for four months but she has been very ill for the last three months and in a housing crisis for the last three years.

This is not acceptable at all. The Deputy asked the valid question as to how rents will come down. The answer is to deal with supply. The more houses one has, the less pressure there is on the housing stock whereby rents increase. The Government is committed to providing extensive student accommodation which every year takes up a couple of thousand spaces in apartments or other accommodation in the larger urban areas in particular.

The Government sees as an absolute priority the provision of social housing and private sector housing so that one can deal with the situation where so many people do not have access to housing and where one is required, by virtue of numbers, to bring in schemes that have helped over 10,000 people now to be able to stay in the accommodation that they are in by virtue of the housing assistance payments or the increased rent subsidy.

I take the point that the Deputy raises about the scale of rent levels in Dún Laoghaire or in other locations, particularly in Dublin, but this is an issue that is being discussed both by the Cabinet sub-committee and by the relevant Departments. Hopefully, all of that will come together in the action plan for housing, which I expect the Minister will be able to publish within the 100 days that he set out. It will take into account the question of the recommendations from the Oireachtas housing committee and from the other Departments and other people from around the country who have raised very practical suggestions as to how this particular challenge can be met. I hope that everybody working together can deal with this in the coming period. It will not happen in six months, but once one gets a stream coming through where houses are being built, where people know they are going to be accommodated, it provides the opportunity to deal with it once and for all.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Gerry Adams

Question:

10. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the dates of the last meeting and the next meeting of the Cabinet committee on health. [11763/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee on health in 2016 to date. [12985/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the Cabinet committee on health took place. [12986/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet sub-committee on health has met. [14453/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee on health in 2016 to date; and the proposed dates for any upcoming meeting. [14508/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

15. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on health is due to next meet. [15852/16]

Paul Murphy

Question:

16. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on health is due to next meet. [15858/16]

Mick Barry

Question:

17. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet sub-committee on health is due to next meet. [15864/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 17, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on health met on 12 May 2016. The Cabinet committee has met once in 2016. The next meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, 16 June.

Does the Taoiseach believe that, given the emergency in our health services, this number of meetings - one, if I understand properly - is sufficient? The €500 million in additional funding, which is welcome, will not deal with anything other than just keeping the system upright. It will not address the core issues of funding for new services or improvements in existing ones, the availability of new drug treatments, staff recruitment, etc. According to the delayed report from the HSE in respect of January and February, 2,700 patients aged over 75 years spent more than 24 hours on trolleys in emergency departments. In my constituency, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital still scores among the top three hospitals with the longest trolley waiting times. Some 9,381 patients were on trolleys, an increase on last year and double the March 2008 figure.

I do not know whether Cabinet sub-committees deal with the next issue I will raise, but how could they if they are not meeting? The Taoiseach regularly denies in the House that there is a moratorium on recruitment. However, in a letter from the HSE to Sinn Féin's health spokesperson, Deputy O'Reilly, the author wrote that a temporary recruitment pause was in place. That is a moratorium. We can play with fancy words and games of Scrabble with all of this, but in the meantime the patients suffer.

Another major issue is one that has been in the news recently, that of the availability of immune therapy treatments to cancer patients. Recently, I told the Taoiseach about a constituent of mine who had been on a clinical trial since 2013. She is now in remission, so her story is a very good one, but others are not receiving these treatments. Negotiations are under way, but has the Minister placed a timeframe on them? If the drug companies do not respond in a satisfactory way, will the Government use the 2013 legislation to set the price of drugs unilaterally?

I will ask my final question, since we are trying to work in a new mode. Will the Taoiseach clarify when the Minister for Health is expected to provide more details on finalising his proposals on the necessary expansion in bed capacity in services for the forthcoming autumn and winter periods?

The Minister for Health has outlined his initial priorities for the first 100 days. These include reactivation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund with a more targeted implementation; the examination of whether minor injuries units and clinics can have their opening hours extended; to establish an all-party Oireachtas committee to develop a long-term vision for health care, for which I understand he has been given approval by the parties; to establish a youth mental health commission, which will link with the action in the Civil Service renewal programme; launch a review of A Vision for Change; publish a national obesity strategy; restore the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to the Order Paper; finalise the cancer strategy paper; look at the question of starting the planning for a cystic fibrosis unit in Beaumont; progress emergency departments in Galway and in Beaumont; and look at other issues like cardiac care in Waterford and so on.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has now increased by €500 million the allocation to health. This is €800 million more than just over a year ago. Deputy Micheál Martin has raised this on many occasions. It represents an increase of 6% in spending. I wish to make it clear that it is not possible for any Minister to continue to go to that well as if nothing ever happened, so those people who are in charge of management of hospitals and who have budgets to manage had better understand that we cannot have a situation arising when there are no further Supplementary Estimates available to meet them. There has to be effectiveness in terms of the way taxpayers' money is being spent.

These are all very important cases, but everywhere I go, I hear the same story - that one can manage the impact of the moneys being allocated to a much greater extent in the interests of the patient. I hope that the allocation given last week of €500 million extra for the health area will, in the words of the HSE, stabilise this position and will allow for the very best level of treatment to be given to patients. I have to say that the vast majority of people that I meet, once they go through the health system, have nothing but words of commendation and praise for those who work in the service. It is always the blockages in the accident and emergency units or the waiting lists that cause all of the difficulties, and there are ways of dealing with these. I hope that in a situation where the Minister for Health is now speaking to each of the managers in the hospitals, particularly the acute hospitals, there will be an understanding here of getting the best effect in the interests of the patient for the moneys that have been allocated.

We do need to look at the reforms that are necessary in the health area in general, of which there are many. I hope that with the approval of parties in the House, we can focus on a ten-year strategy and a vision for the health service. Where do we want Ireland to be in terms of its health service in 2026? Issues to be addressed include a growing population, an ageing population, more home care packages, more primary care centres and more community-based facilities for people who should not have to go to hospital in the first place.

There are so many things that need to be worked on here. I have allocated, with the approval of Government, four Ministers of State to the Minister for Health dealing with specific areas like mental health, obesity, the national drugs strategy and another issue - it escapes me at the moment - so that, in the interests of dealing with what is an enormous challenge for the country, I hope that we can get best effect out of what is now a budget in excess of €14 billion.

Next I will call Deputies Micheál Martin and Mick Barry.

The Taoiseach did not answer the question on the difference between a moratorium and a temporary pause in recruitment.

Maybe when the Taoiseach rises to-----

There is no moratorium in respect of the budgets that they have. They can recruit away. Even beyond that, front-line service staff can be recruited.

I put it to the Taoiseach that the previous Government's Cabinet sub-committee on health was in many ways a place to which policies or initiatives were sent in order to avoid any action. The clear evidence of this was its one publication, the White Paper on health insurance, the status of which is unknown. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether that White Paper remains official policy or whether it has been taken off the table? Has the Government abandoned it and gone back to the drawing board?

On the chaos in emergency departments, we were promised an action plan by the end of the year. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether that is the total agenda of the Cabinet sub-committee in terms of the emergency department-----

To what is the Deputy referring?

Having an action plan for emergency departments by the end of the year.

Let me refer to the restoration of the National Treatment Purchase Fund which I initiated back in 2002. Over a sustained period it brought down inpatient waiting lists for adults to six months and for children down to three months. It was, however, more than a matter of the allocation of funding which was obviously very important; it also involved a new way of dealing with waiting lists in public hospitals, through utilising excess capacity in the private sector, in addition to using capacity within the public hospital sector effectively to reduce waiting lists. There is a great opportunity for the new Minister to achieve real action if he draws on the expertise that was available under the older treatment purchase scheme. There was a reluctance about this proposal on the part of some on the Fine Gael side during the talks on the facilitation of a minority Government and only €15 million was allocated, but more than that sum will be needed over time. Believe me - the method proved to be very effective in ring-fencing funding that went directly to the patient waiting on a list. We got rid of the era in which people were waiting for two or three years for a hip or cataract operation, for example.

My third point on the Cabinet sub-committee is related to drugs pricing and the policy on the pharmaceutical industry. On the one hand, we encourage pharmaceutical companies to come here through foreign direct investment initiatives and say we want Ireland to become a centre of pharmaceutical activity, industry and research, while, on the other, we have in recent years been very poor on new drugs and technologies and having a proper model for them.

The Deputy is running down the clock.

There is a need for the Cabinet sub-committee on health to engage with enterprise and the Department of Finance to bring about a coherent policy on pharmaceuticals, both from a pricing perspective and the perspective of attracting inward investment. No one knows where we stand on this issue. The recent developments in the use of Pembro and new cancer drugs were unacceptable. The new Minister did respond, but, unfortunately, his predecessor did not, despite the pharmacoeconomic unit having agreed as far back as last February to the release of Pembro. We need a proper policy on new drugs and technologies. It is essential. We need a coherent attitude on the part of the Government to the pharmaceutical industry and new drugs and technologies. I ask the Taoiseach to comment.

We had better bring in Deputy Mick Barry because we are running out of time.

Last night I attended a heartbreaking public meeting organised by the parents connected with Cara junior school on the Banduff Road, just outside Cork city. I was given to understand it was the only autism-specific primary school in Cork. They were the parents of 60 children, some of whom are autistic and some of whom have learning disabilities, allergies, epilepsy and sensory and behavioural health issues. They explained that the teachers and special needs assistants were brilliant but that there were no more resources available. There are no speech and language therapists in the school, nor is there an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist or a nurse. The parents have been thrown from Billy to Jack, or between the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health, for a considerably long time. They have got so tired of this that they have brought the matter to their local Deputies and I am bringing it to the attention of the Taoiseach today. My question is simply this: what is intended to be done for the parents connected with Cara junior school and their children and also for parents and children in similar circumstances throughout the State? Those affected in Cara junior school are not alone.

That is a question to be raised as a Topical Issue when I am quite sure the Minister would give the Deputy a detailed response. This morning, on the recommendation of the Minister for Education and Skills, the Government approved a further allocation of over 800 special needs assistants, bringing the number to 12,900, the highest number ever. There will, I believe, be a need for a further 115 next year. However, it is not just a case of making appointments of special needs assistants, whose job it is to look after the physical needs of children; it is also a case of dealing with the intervention process and meeting the needs of children at a much earlier stage. These requirements could be related to speech and language therapy services or psychological services. There could be a range of other needs. In making provision for what is a very extensive number of special needs assistants the Minister has commissioned, through the National Council for Special Education, an analysis of the outcome of expenditure and the numbers employed in this area. In other words, can more be done? Should there be a different intervention at an earlier time, or has it just become a call that the special needs assistant is a very important entity, which is the case? Should something be done at an earlier date? I do not know the details of the case the Deputy mentioned, but I am quite sure the Minister would respond to him.

The priority is to focus on universal health care and have it provided through home care packages, community facilities and primary care centres and to keep people out of hospital when they do not have to be there.

The Minister has set out his stall on waiting lists and trolleys in emergency departments. I do not see why we cannot have in the public health sector diagnostic centres that would be the match of anything provided in the private sector. Some time ago I opened a privately run unit that is open from 7 a.m. until midnight, with two facilities operating in parallel all day, every day. The number of scans that can be carried out is enormous. There is no reason, in endoscopy units and the public health system, we cannot have really effective diagnostic capacity and centres that do not close at 5 p.m. If we are serious about having an impact on waiting lists of individuals awaiting scans, we should be able to achieve this in the public sector also. There is spare capacity in many hospitals where consultants and doctors could see patients not on their own waiting lists in order to make progress.

Deputy Micheál Martin made a point about drugs. This is important. The Minister has made it perfectly clear that the trend has been to leave the decision, or the perception of it, to the Minister for Health of the day. Some weeks ago I listened to Dr. Barry talking on the radio about the reasons clinicians turned down a drug based on its effectiveness. It is at the clinical level that the discussion needs to take place. The clinical discussions on the effect on quality of life, at the cost level set by the companies, have to be dealt with in the first place by those who know what they are talking about in terms of the clinical outcomes and clinical analysis of the drug in question. The Government decides afterwards whether it can provide the funding for many of them. We know that in the next ten years there will be a range of as yet unpatented drugs to treat particularly challenging conditions. They will be very expensive. The Minister is clear that the discussions should, in the first instance, be between those who can carry out a clinical analysis of the impact of drug X or Y on the quality of life of a patient. If that is determined, the Department and the Minister can, on behalf of the Government, decide to act. Deputy Micheál Martin's point is valid, but I have outlined where the discussion should occur in the first instance.

We have only nine minutes remaining for the last batch of questions, Nos. 18 to 25, inclusive.

Cabinet Committees

Gerry Adams

Question:

18. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he established, or will establish, the Cabinet committee on justice reform and the dates of meetings already held and of planned meetings. [11764/16]

Micheál Martin

Question:

19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when he established, or will establish, the Cabinet committee on justice reform. [12874/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

20. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings of the Cabinet committee on justice reform in 2016 to date. [12987/16]

Gerry Adams

Question:

21. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the Cabinet committee on justice reform took place. [12988/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

22. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his plans to establish a Cabinet committee on justice reform; and, if so, when it will meet. [14509/16]

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

23. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice reform is due to next meet. [15853/16]

Paul Murphy

Question:

24. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice reform is due to next meet. [15859/16]

Mick Barry

Question:

25. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on justice reform is due to next meet. [15865/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 to 25, inclusive, together.

The Government re-established the Cabinet committee on justice reform on 24 May. Meetings of the committee will be scheduled shortly. The Cabinet committee on justice reform established by the previous Government met on 12 January.

I ask the leaders to be brief.

I seek an update on the Taoiseach's commitment to meet activists, community leaders and others in the Dublin north inner city following the brutal killings of seven people in the area. I do not know if this matter was discussed by the Cabinet committee on justice reform.

I am also concerned to learn that the Minister for Justice and Equality has failed to act on a recommendation made to her by the Garda Commissioner on 19 May to refer allegations about Sergeant Maurice McCabe to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. While the allegations may have been referred to GSOC in the intervening period, I would like to find out if the matter has been dealt with. Last Wednesday, the Minister confirmed in reply to a parliamentary question tabled by the Sinn Féin spokesperson on justice, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, that she had not yet made the referral. She also indicated that the Garda Commissioner had provided her with more detailed information. What is this information?

I welcome the re-establishment of the Cabinet committee on justice reform. The lack of action and inertia within Government and the system in general in the past while have been somewhat disturbing. I met representatives of a north inner city group approximately one month ago in the context of the appalling gangland crime in the area. Much of the conversation and discussion focused on the impact on young people, the lack of a co-ordinated policy initiative in areas such as the north inner city and the withdrawal of many supports, including concerns that Tusla would reduce funding for the young people's facilities and services fund introduced by my party in government more than a decade ago.

They also referred to the Misuse of Drugs Act and noted that prescription drugs were the drugs of choice in the locality where young people were earning large amounts from distributing them. However, the Garda has told the group that its hands are tied in terms of being able to do anything about it. While I welcome the decision to earmark legislation to tackle this issue, why has it taken so long? Deputy Róisín Shortall has confirmed that the issue was raised three years ago when she was a Minister of State in the Department of Health and that it was crying out to be dealt with at the time. With the new configuration in the Dáil in the aftermath of the general election, one gets a sense of urgency on some of these issues, but one must ask why there has been such a delay in amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to deal with a critical issue that is causing death and destruction and the disruption of local communities.

Likewise, in respect of proposals for a mini-Criminal Assets Bureau, community activists and organisers on the ground identified this issue some time ago. However, it has taken the recent murders to witness legislative action on that front, which begs the question as to why there has been such a delay and a sense of inertia at the heart of justice policy.

While I do not wish to pre-empt the decision of the Minister on the matter, my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, has a progressive and constructive parole Bill before the House. I would like the Government to examine the legislation constructively with a view to signalling its support for it. The purpose of the Bill is to depoliticise the process of parole, modernise the statutory basis for parole and give the process greater objectivity. This is the type of constructive legislation that should garner approval across the House.

Is the Taoiseach satisfied that the Policing Authority has the necessary breadth and depth of powers required to discharge its functions?

I confirm that this morning the Government decided not to oppose the parole Bill proposed by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan. The Bill has quite some merit and while there may be issues the Government and the Minister will discuss, the Government will not oppose it.

If the independent Policing Authority requires further powers or instruments, I am sure the Government will want to see to it that it can do its job completely independently. The authority has set its standard already in this regard. It has been very clear on where it sees the path ahead and has had engagement with the Garda Commissioner. I am sure that if the chairperson and members of the authority find that their powers are restricted in some way, the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will be happy to engage with it.

Deputy Micheál Martin asked about the delay in introducing legislation to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act. On 31 May the Minister for Justice and Equality briefed the Government on measures to tackle organised crime in the north inner city and elsewhere. At the meeting the Minister for Health offered to expedite the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill which had originally been scheduled to be introduced in the autumn of 2016. The Bill was being prepared on the basis of Government decisions resulting from the so-called Bederev challenge to section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and Statutory Instrument No. 180/2010 and 2042 of 15 December 2015 on the establishment of supervised injecting facilities for chronic drug users. The Minister decided to truncate and bring forward a shortened version of the Bill, which will deal with a range of drugs, namely, Z-drugs and so-called "Clockwork Orange" substances. I also have a list of names that are difficult to pronounce, including hallucinogenic drugs, zopiclone, zaleplon, lizdexamfetamine and phenazapam, all of which are being dealt with.

Why has it taken so long?

The scale of-----

The Garda apparently alerted people to this issue a long time ago.

Until head shops were completely eliminated, substances that had been banned were made available again when slight changes were made to their ingredients or composition. Action is now being taken.

I met a number of Ministers yesterday to discuss a response to inner city crime. I know that Deputy Micheál Martin also met them, as did others. I want to meet public representatives of all parties separately. I am visiting the area this evening to meet community leaders and local people to hear what they have to say and understand their needs, concerns and demands as to how they think the general issue and general position on infrastructure, facilities, education, opportunities, training, apprenticeships, investment, dealing with drug trafficking, the sale and position of drugs outside the local crèche and whatever else can be dealt with. This is separate from the Garda Commissioner's commitment to have a specific task force with links with the community to deal with crime in Dublin. Gardaí, school principals and community leaders have great experience and a great deal to offer in trying to put this together. I hope that, following my meeting with community leaders this evening, we will be able to engage with public representatives from the area to try to put together a strategy that will be backed by investment which will make a difference to the communities and people of the north inner city.

As the time for these questions has elapsed, I ask the Taoiseach to refer to the questions asked by Deputy Gerry Adams.

In the first instance, people want to be comforted by the knowledge that they are safe on the streets. The visibility of the Garda through community policing is very important. Gabh mo leithscéal, what was Deputy Gerry Adams's question again?

Has the Minister for Justice and Equality referred the complaint passed to her to the Garda Commissioner? It relates to the allegation made by two Garda officers to the effect that Sergeant Maurice McCabe had confessed or admitted to them that he had behaved with malice. She was asked to refer that to the Garda Commissioner. She had not done so as of recently. Has she now done so?

I cannot confirm it to Deputy Adams in my answer here, but I will confirm it shortly one way or the other to him.