Questions on Proposed Legislation

In accordance with the new Standing Order 28, Questions on Proposed Legislation allows for one minute per question. Questions must relate to the Order Paper, the taking of business which has been promised, inside or outside the House, the making of secondary legislation, arrangements for sitting or Bills and other documents. It is not an alternative form of Topical Issues.

Where is the Gambling Control Bill? The heads of the Bill were published in July 2013 and were considered by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, which published a report in November 2013. Large sections of the gambling and gaming industry are either totally unregulated or inadequately regulated. The nature of gambling has changed a great deal since the regulations of 1931 and 1956. All any of us has to do now is pick up the phone and bet as much money as we have. It has been dragging on for more than three years so I would appreciate an update in the context of protecting people.

It is a Bill of 83 heads. The pre-legislative scrutiny process has been completed and the 83 heads have now gone for drafting to the OPC. They already have been approved by Government. There is a lot of justice legislation so there is pressure on the drafting process but I will convey the Deputy's concern to the Minister.

My question is on the Charities Act. In the media today we see that substantial moneys seem to have gone astray from, or been misused in, another charitable organisation, in this instance Carline, which supports teenagers. It seems that €161,000 is in question in respect of that organisation. This follows on the scandals around Console and St. John of God.

To what legislation does the Deputy refer?

The Charities Act. Will the Minister tell us at what stage Part 4 of the Charities Act, which allows for investigations, will be active? Will he also reply in respect of Part 6, which lays down the principles for fundraising?

My understanding is that the Minister has signed into effect the Part of that Act that deals with investigations and recruitment is under way with a view to increasing the staff complement by more than 50% to deal with this. The charities legislation is being gradually rolled out. Registration was the first phase, interim receipt of complaints was the second and the roll-out of investigative powers is now taking place. There is no new promised legislation on the agenda but if new thinking evolves beyond the 2009 Act, which regulates charities, Deputies and the Government will be able to consider whether additional legislation is necessary.

My question relates to an issue in the Minister's own area. Yesterday he put out a statement on an admission to schools Bill but I have not been able to find it on any website. It does not appear to be available yet so can the Minister tell me if this is the case? I have checked on the Department's website and on merrionstreet.ie.

The previous Government published the Education (Admissions to School) Bill 2015 and the reason given for not proceeding with it was that the new legislation would be substantially different. From what I have read in the media, however, it does not appear to be different, nor does it appear to deal with the issue of restricting the percentage of children of past pupils in terms of their right of entry to a school. Can the Minister clarify the position regarding the new Bill, if it is available and whether it deals specifically with that issue?

That Bill was approved by Government this week and it is being published in the normal way. I indicated yesterday that I had obtained approval for the Bill. In terms of dealing with the issue of a ceiling on past pupils, the major change in that sphere is that whereas the previous Bill proposed it would be done by means of regulations, on the advice of the Attorney General that will now be done by way of substantive primary legislation. That will be included as an amendment on Committee Stage.

Today, the consultation on the housing crisis will take place in the Mansion House. A few weeks ago the Committee on Housing and Homelessness submitted its report. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has informed us that in two weeks' time he will respond to the consultation process and the report. Is it anticipated by the Cabinet that there will be some type of legislation - perhaps in the form of declaring a housing emergency, which is how we refer to it because that is what it is - that will bring in radical measures to deal with the problem of housing and homelessness and lead to definite action instead of consistent promises and the failure to deliver and deal with what is an ever-increasing problem? We brought forward an item of legislation on NAMA to give it a new remit in terms of prioritising the building of social housing and providing both social and affordable housing and to use empty properties for social reasons rather than selling them to vulture funds. However, the Ceann Comhairle ruled it out of order. Those who try to legislate-----

I thank the Deputy. Her time is up.

-----to do something about it are prevented from doing so. Has the Government any plans in this regard?

I understand the Minister will bring forward an action plan for housing that will include legislative but also non-legislative proposals. The Government recognises the acute pressure on housing supply, particularly in social housing. As the Deputy knows, he has already - together with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar - increased the rent ceilings. This initiative is designed to deal with some of the pressure that people are experiencing. There will be additional measures and acceleration of some of the existing programmes, as well as new legislative initiatives.

The Minister will remember that during the preparation of the programme for Government, debt resolution and other matters were given important attention in it but where does that leave us in terms of the outrageous action by Army marksmen who shot five cattle belonging to a Monaghan farmer in recent days? That was outrageous. I would say to the official assignee to the bankruptcy case, whom I will not name, a Cheann Comhairle, because-----

It is difficult to relate this to any item of legislation or anything in the programme for Government.

It is in the programme for Government. It was outrageous that our Army was used to shoot five cattle. The Minister should read the story. It was outrageous. It should not be tolerated.

It is for discussion in the Topical Issue debate today.

Those who ordered the people to pull the trigger are a disgrace, not the people who fired the shots; I refer to the people who gave the order. This House should say, "Shame on them." It was a disgraceful, despicable act.

I do not know if the Minister can comment on that matter.

I understand this was done as a last resort for reasons of public safety. I know as well as the Deputy that diseases in our herd can have a huge impact on the fortunes of the entire farming sector if they are allowed get out of hand. This containment strategy must be in place, and it is only as a last resort that something of this nature would occur.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to reopen six Garda stations that were closed by the previous Government on a pilot basis.

Will the Minister indicate when those six stations will be operational and who will select them? Will it be the Minister or the Commissioner? Where will the stations be located - in urban or rural areas? If the pilot is successful, is it the Government's intention to continue to reopen other stations that were wrongly closed down by the previous Minister for Justice and Equality, the former Deputy Alan Shatter?

It is my understanding that such a selection would be made by the Garda Commissioner. Obviously, as it is a pilot, the lessons learned will be assessed in terms of the implications for the best interests of policing in our communities. I am not in a position to give a timeline but I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to convey that to the Deputy.

The mortgage arrears special courts Bill has been promised as legislation. Will the legislation appear in the House before the end of this session and, if not, would it be possible to set down guidelines within which borrowers might be protected in order to prevent an escalation in homelessness in the interim?

That Bill is still under consideration. However, with regard to issuing guidelines, one of the matters being worked on by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Social Protection is the introduction of better support for people who are in mortgage difficulties, so that the various legislative supports - be it MABS, from the Department of Social Protection, or the insolvency service from the Department of Justice and Equality - can be integrated in a more effective way. This would provide support to families at the point at which they need the help, while making sure that any opportunities to achieve viable working solutions are not allowed to slip.

With regard to waste charges and the regulations to introduce a pay-by-weight scheme, we know the Minister reached agreement with the waste companies to suspend the plan pending a review. Unfortunately, at least one of the waste companies, Greyhound, is ignoring that agreement and is now putting the onus on its customers to opt out of a pay-by-weight scheme. Greyhound has gone ahead with the introduction of the pay-by-weight plan and is telling customers that they must choose to opt out, or not, and to engage with the company in doing so, which can be difficult for customers. Would the Minister accept that Greyhound's actions are in defiance in the spirit of the agreement that was reached with the Minister, Deputy Coveney? Will he ask the Minister to make direct contact with Greyhound to request that it suspend those plans and honour the agreement that was reached?

Does Deputy Joan Collins wish to speak on the same matter?

No, but I do wish to speak.

The Minister has indicated that he would be prepared to take legislative action if companies do not agree to comply with the approach that has been worked out. There is no doubt, as the Deputy has indicated, that there are concerns about the activity of one company, and these have been brought to the Minister's attention. I understand the Minister is making contact with the company to seek to deal with the issue.

I will do my best not to be provocative. With regard to the national plan for rare diseases and the concerns raised therein about access to life-saving drugs, will the health information patient safety legislation contain a provision to address concerns raised in a report launched in 2014 by former Minister for Health James Reilly? When will Members have an opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

I understand that the pre-legislative phase of the Bill will be taken shortly. I am not in a position to confirm exactly whether it will deal with that issue. The pre-legislative scrutiny will afford an opportunity for the committee to assess the adequacy of the legislation and whether such an issue can be addressed in that legislation.

Will the Minister please define "shortly"?

It will be down to the committees to order their business, but I understand it is available to do that.

With regard to the Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016, the trade union Mandate issued a press release yesterday which said:

Mandate has now written to all Fianna Fail TD’s calling on them to withdraw their amendment [and] saying any concerns the party may have can be dealt with at the committee stage.

Some of the Fianna Fáil Deputies said that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Mandate trade union had supported their amendment. It is clear that they did not. I ask the House to support the motion and ask the Deputies to withdraw their amendment.

The second question I want to put to the minority-----

The Deputy can ask only one question.

There should be a debate on the Chilcot report next week.

The Deputy is not in order.

Perhaps the minority Government would consider arranging that.

No. I call the Minister for Education and Skills although I do not think he can answer the first question.

No. It is a Private Members' Bill as I understand it.

It was written into the programme for Government that a new independent appeals board for farmers would be set up. In light of the High Court case last week taken by a Tipperary farmer against the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, where a judge tore to shreds our current system for the independent appeals board, will the Government bring forward the new appeals board or is legislation required to do that as quickly as possible? The current system has cost many farmers a lot of money and a High Court judge has ruled on it.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is no longer here. I will ask him to brief the Deputy on that matter.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. My apologies to the five Deputies we were not able to reach.