Questions on Proposed Legislation

There are reports in the media this morning that Deputy Josepha Madigan is to introduce a Private Members' Bill proposing to reduce the waiting time for divorce to two years. According to the reports, the Bill has the support of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. Does the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, also support the legislation? Is it the Government's position that it will support the Bill? Will the Minister confirm that the legislation will be introduced and indicate whether a referendum would be required on the matter?

Following media reports, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, formerly known as An Bord Altranais, commissioned outside experts to carry out a review of the organisation. The review concluded that management structures were in need of significant reform and did not comply with guidelines on procurement and the employment of staff. This is unacceptable, given that the board sets standards for the professional development of nurses and midwifes. The report states the unit within the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland which deals with fitness to practise issues is unfit for purpose and makes recommendations that the relevant legislation be reviewed.

We cannot have a debate on the issue now.

Is the Minister aware of it? Will he confirm that the relevant legislation will be reviewed? What measures will the Government take in the matter?

While I have read the reports to which the Deputy refers on a Private Members' Bill, I have not seen the Bill and it will be a matter for the Deputy in question to present it to the House. The Government will consider the legislation and decide its position on it at that stage. It seeks to encourage more Deputies to introduce Bills and it is good to note, therefore, that this opportunity is being taken.

On the investigations into the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland or rather the assessment of its operations, this was done at the request of the Department of Health following a protected disclosure. If additional legislative changes are necessary, they will be undertaken. I understand many of the proposed changes relate to governance and financial procedures in the board. A new president and interim chief executive officer have been appointed to it and the post of director of finance and corporate services has been advertised. Considerable action is being taken to ensure the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland which has fully accepted the findings of the report that has been prepared will execute them.

The Minister's response in the case of Ibrahim Halawa was entirely inadequate and it is not the first time the response on the issue has been entirely inadequate. When does the Taoiseach intend to intervene in this case and make direct contact with the head of the Egyptian state to set out categorically that we will no longer tolerate the lack of due process and justice and the absolute abuse of an Irish citizen, a young Dublin man, who has now been held for three years? It is utterly outrageous.

We are taking questions on proposed legislation.

My question is to the Taoiseach. When will he intervene in this matter because his intervention is required?

On a second issue, the report on the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation has been laid before the House, but as yet no provision has been made for a debate on these matters which were also raised earlier. Rather than asking the Minister about promised legislation, I feel I am asking about threatened legislative proposals when I request that the Government ensure gardaí and teachers will not be penalised because they refused to succumb to the wishes of this Government and the previous Administration.

It must be borne in mind that the FEMPI legislation was designed to protect our capacity as a country to strike the necessary balance between the demand for new public services and the restoration of public pay over time and in an orderly manner. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has made it clear that the cost of reversing the FEMPI legislation in full would be in the order of €1.4 billion. That is far in excess of what will be available in the forthcoming budget - indeed almost two budgets - to achieve the ambitions Deputies on all sides advance in housing provision, the health service and many other areas.

The FEMPI legislation and the Lansdowne Road agreement is an orderly way in which people are having their pay restored and that is important.

It is the business committee of the House that decides the order and it is up to the business committee, which is not controlled by Government, to decide what is debated in the House. That has to be borne in mind.

I answered Deputy Ryan's question on the Government's position on the case of the Ibrahim Halawa. I assure Deputy McDonald that the Government will do everything possible. Regardless of all the difficulties and frustrations we have, the reality is the Government cannot directly interfere with a trial in another country. We have to use our diplomatic and consular support for the family and provide legal advice and support, and that is what has been done. The Government will do that through the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I wish to associate myself and my party with the comments of several Deputies in respect of Ibrahim Halawa. I hope we can have a collective initiative on this in the next week or so, because what we have been doing to date is not working.

Will the Minister respond on what formal arrangements the Government is putting in place to involve the Opposition parties in the coming phase of interaction with the European partners and the United Kingdom in respect of Brexit? All of us have cross-party links with the S&D group, the ALDE group, the EPP group or others. It is important to have a formal structure to involve all of us in what is an important common national endeavour. I would be obliged if the Minister would outline that.

Will the Minister confirm that the Christmas bonus is to be paid this year?

I agree with the Deputy on the case of Ibrahim Halawa. If there are initiatives that can be developed, there is no doubt that we will be keen to support them.

I have just suggested one.

Yes, indeed, but there has to be something that has been thought out and that has a likelihood of success. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will be happy to discuss initiatives that can be taken.

I agree with the Deputy that it will be important that all political parties in the House are actively involved in the process that is about to start when the British activate the relevant article, especially if the existing structures are inadequate for the House to consider how to deal with it. At this point we do not know the precise framework of the negotiations. There will be issues, no doubt, as we go through the process. For example, in the energy area undoubtedly there will be sectoral issues that will be of concern to Members, in particular Members of the Oireachtas committee in the energy area. The same applies throughout the agenda. We will be keen to engage with all parties and I know the Taoiseach met parties and has underlined his belief that there is a role for all parties involved.

I will alert him to Deputy Howlin's concern. If there are structures that we could put in place that would assist, I am sure he will support them.

I asked a question on the Christmas bonus.

I am not in a position to say. That will have to be tabled to the relevant Ministers and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I have seen newspaper reports on the subject, but I am not in a position to say.

We are keen to add our voice to points raised on the need for a far more urgent approach and urgent action in respect of the case of Ibrahim Halawa.

The main issue that I wish to raise is the issue of the renewal of the financial emergency legislation. It is somewhat strange that financial emergency legislation is being renewed at a time when there is no financial emergency in the State. This legislation underpins pay and pension cuts for hundreds of thousands of public service workers.

It is also legislation that underpins the two-tier wage rates, with lower rates of pay for new entrants into the public service, which is widely seen in society as-----

Does the Deputy have a question, because we cannot debate the legislation?

I do. I have a number of questions.

Would he put them, please?

I was about to make the point that the two-tier wage scheme is widely seen as a scandal and discrimination against young people.

The business committee discussed the possibility of a debate in the House on this. Do we have any information on if and when a debate is to be scheduled on the matter? How can the Government justify emergency legislation at a time when the Government and the Fine Gael Party has been talking up the economic recovery with election slogans such as "Keep the Recovery Going"?

Does the Minister not feel that a serious issue is looming for the Government here? It could not face down the water charge protests and it was not strong enough to face down the bin charge protests. I have a copy of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, legislation. What makes the Minister think the Government will be strong enough to face down organised workers, organised trade unionists, sections of the organised working class movement in this country-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----when so many people feel this legislation should be ripped up and put in the bin?

I thank the Deputy.

The Government is penalising young people-----

Can the Deputy conclude, please?

-----with new entrant rates of pay-----

-----which mean that young teachers will lose up to €250,000 in the course of a working career.

Deputy Barry, can you please resume your seat?

The Government is penalising young people-----

Deputy Barry, can you please resume your seat?

-----who are working alongside older colleagues who started work before this legislation came in. They are doing the same work in the same workplace.

Deputy Barry is not in order at this point.

They are doing the same work-----

Will you please resume your seat?

-----in the same workplace-----

That is all very valid, but this is not the time or the place.

-----yet one group of workers is being paid less.

This is not the time or the place for this debate.

It is total discrimination in that regard.

Will you please resume your seat?

Does the Minister not accept that it is totally discriminatory against young people?

Would you please resume your seat?

My final question a Cheann Comhairle-----

No. You have asked numerous questions at this stage. You should resume your seat.

In a sneaky way this legislation is to be placed in the Library and that is considered sufficient that it is passed by the House without having had an opportunity to debate the matter. Does the Minister not agree that it is totally undemocratic?

This is not Leaders' Questions. The Deputy is completely out of order.

They are out of order for not bringing this to debate in the House.

Deputy Barry has taken time that might otherwise be available to other Deputies.

It is vital that we debate it.

I call the Minister to deal very briefly with the specific questions.

I understand Deputy Barry is a member of the business committee and so he ought to know what is being transacted there. Negotiations under the Lansdowne Road agreement have been pursued by the Government. The majority of public service trade unions and public service workers have signed up to that agreement, which allows-----

And those who did not are to be penalised by this legislation.

Deputy Bríd Smith is not in order.

-----for the orderly restoration of pay under the FEMPI arrangements.

They have a right, as trade unionists, to refuse it.

As I indicated, that agreement will provide for €884 million of-----

Sorry, Minister. Deputy Bríd Smith is not in order. This is not a television studio. I ask her to restrain herself.

This is a very serious issue.

Please, Deputy. I implore you to restrain yourself.

I will restrain myself, but this is what I think of the Bill and so do tens of thousands of workers.

You can tear up all you like, but please resume your seat.

She should sit down and grow up.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

It is disgraceful and Government Deputies are sitting over there giggling about it.

Resume your seat, Deputy, please

They are disgraceful.

I ask the Minister to conclude.

In addition, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has indicated that the Government supports the orderly and negotiated unwinding of the FEMPI agreement to end that. However, it will be done in an orderly way-----

The Government bailed out in an orderly way.

-----and the first item will be a public service commission which will look specifically at the issue Deputy Barry raised, namely, the difference in entrants' pay affecting those who were restricted in recent years.

The Government is leaving them for three years.

There is an orderly process here that allows the Government to manage our affairs in a way that allows us to invest in badly needed public services, which was a major issue in the recent general election campaign.

I thank the Minister.

We have to strike that balance.

Why are we not debating it?

Young teachers cannot pay their rent.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy on the same issue.

On the same issue-----

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Very briefly, I will take you-----

Surely the Minister is not telling us that the Government will extend this emergency legislation - this draconian, anti-trade union legislation - that introduced swingeing cuts to pay, pensions and conditions of employment of public servants without a debate in this House.

I thought we were supposed to have new politics in this Chamber. This is old politics. This is the Government bulldozing through legislation without any opportunity to discuss or vote on it.

The Deputy has made his point.

We are entitled to debate and vote on this legislation today.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

On the same issue-----

I want to raise the same issue.

I want to raise it also.

There was a discussion about this issue at the Business Committee and there was a demand for a debate. It should not be presented as something other than this. There continues to be a demand for a debate on the issue. It is not something the Government - a minority Government - can present as a fait accompli. At the very least, we need to debate the issue.

I add that the treatment of Ibrahim Halawa has been outrageous, rather than merely "disappointing" as the Minister suggested earlier. In that context, we endorse the points made about trade and the need to bring the Australian experience to bear.

Both points have been made.

Diplomacy is not working.

I will allow a very brief response.

On the same issue-----

No. I am sorry, Deputy, but we are out of time.

We want an answer from the Minister.

Will the Deputy let him answer?

Are we going to have a debate on this issue?

The Minister is ready to answer.

This is totally anti-democratic. It is outrageous that this draconian legislation is being pushed through without a debate.

Please, Deputy.

It is not your fault, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Chair is on his feet.

We do not want to disrupt proceedings, but it is not on. We want a commitment from the Government that there will be a debate on this issue before the legislation is pushed through.

Will the Deputy, please, restrain himself?

They are like children.

May we have a brief response from the Minister?

On a point of order, please-----

No. Time is up.

With respect-----

No, there is no point of order on these matters.

With respect, I signalled very early on-----

I am asking the Deputy to resume his seat.

-----in order that I would have an opportunity to come in on the issue. Five Members who did not signal were allowed to come in on it.

This is a rather futile exercise.

I am sorry, but with respect-----

We have no other way to register our protest, a Cheann Comhairle.

We either have-----

The Deputies opposite need to sort it out among themselves.

How do we get to discuss the issue?

We have no other way to do it.

We represent public sector workers.

We either have an orderly and fair way of asking questions or we do not.

I am afraid that I will have to suspend the sitting if the Deputy does not resume his seat.

With respect, I signalled before many of those who came in on the issue.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

We need a debate today.

We are entitled to one on the issue.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to listen to what I am saying.

No, I will not listen to what the Deputy is saying because time is up.

So much for new politics.

Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?

We cannot let this go.

I will suspend the sitting for five minutes.

Sitting suspended at 12.53 p.m. and resumed at 1.02 p.m.

I bring to the attention of Members that when the business committee met on Wednesday last, the FEMPI issue was discussed and it was a very important issue raised on the floor. It was decided that time would be made available for a debate in the Chamber on it. It was further indicated that the Dáil would sit on Friday next and on the following Friday, and that, if necessary, on either or both of those days, time would be provided for a debate on the FEMPI legislation. There was no disagreement with that proposal and both of the parties that have been raising concerns today were represented - very well represented - at that meeting.

Three parties raised concerns, as did one individual.

I am sorry. The individual was not represented but that was the situation at the business committee-----

With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, that was not the point I raised. My point was that I signalled very early on to come in on that issue, and six or seven Deputies who had signalled afterwards had the opportunity to come in but I did not. The Minister did not answer the question on those who were outside the Lansdowne Road agreement and what will happen to them subsequently.

If what is being said is that a debate is now definitely being scheduled, as opposed to the possibility of a debate being scheduled, that is a step forward. However, the point here is not about the idea of having a token debate, after the fact, on the issue of the financial emergency legislation, which will penalise workers and especially young workers. The key point - we want to register this point and we will leave it at that - is that it is outrageous that the Government has the power to put through this legislation without a vote in the House. That is very wrong.

The House agreed two years ago to pass the legislation.

If we do not have the power to oppose it strongly in the House, I have no doubt trade unionists will oppose it very strongly, on the picket lines if needs be.

To clarify, is the Ceann Comhairle telling us that the Government is prepared to defer the renewal of this legislation until after the debate in the House?

I am not telling you that at all.

Then what are you telling us? A debate in a week's time or a fortnight's time is of very little value if the legislation is already extended, if young teachers, gardaí and nurses cannot even pay for their rental accommodation-----

You have made your point.

-----and if we still have a two-tier pay structure in those professions.

Resume your seat, Deputy Healy.

Young people are going to lose hundreds of thousands of euro across their years of service. Can we have clarification that the Government is prepared to defer the renewal of the legislation until after the debate?

To be helpful, there are two separate issues. The unwinding of the FEMPI legislation and a debate on it is one issue, but the issue of those who came into the public service post-2011-----

We all understand the issues.

No, sorry, you do not understand them, with respect, because-----

I am afraid we do.

Sorry, you do not. If you leave me make my point. This was not as a consequence of FEMPI. It was introduced in 2010 outside of FEMPI-----

-----because it did not require emergency legislation. We need to have a debate on both of these issues-----

-----FEMPI and those who came into the system in 2011.

That matter can be raised by Deputy Cullinane's very competent representative at the Business Committee when it meets next week. It is the Business Committee and not the Government that will fix the business.

The Government is pushing it through.

Does the Minister want to make some brief reference to the legislation?

My understanding is that under the FEMPI Acts the Minister is obliged to review the FEMPI legislation and provide a report, which he is required to lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas, as to whether it is his opinion that the measures in the Act are still required. He has conducted this review and has laid the report before the House in accordance with the legislation.

So that is it.

We must proceed now to the Au Pair Placement Bill 2016.

So the Government will cut teachers' pay with no debate in the Dáil.

We are proceeding and I call Deputy Anne Rabbitte.

There will be no vote.

It is completely undemocratic.

Even the Irish Congress of Trade Unions-----

Please have respect for your colleagues.

If the Minister showed some respect for low paid public sector workers.

If the Government showed some respect for the Dáil.

The Deputies have made their points. Deputy Anne Rabbitte has the floor. Some mutual respect would be helpful.