Questions on Proposed Legislation

There is a commitment in the programme for Government that in advance of, and in preparation for, the 2017 review of the capital plan, the Government would undertake a national hospital bed capacity review, recognising the need to increase the bed stock. That is from the programme for Government. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, ward watch figure for this week shows a spike in trolley numbers for the second week in July. It shows an increase of 38% compared to the same week in 2015. The figure was reduced for the month of May by 14% and the month of June by 24%. However, last week's figure confirms that 1,839 patients admitted for care were on trolleys compared with 1,336 for the same period last year. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this bed capacity review has commenced, and if not, when it will commence?

The issue of numbers in general is of importance to the Minister for Health. He met with the HSE last Friday regarding measures to tackle waiting lists and hospital bed capacity. The Minister requested the HSE to prepare an action plan setting out specific measures it will implement, in conjunction with hospitals, from now to the end of 2016 in order to tackle waiting lists.

The bed capacity review is part of the overall presentation of where we want to be with the health system over the next ten years. I am glad that most Members and the parties here generally buy into what kind of health system we want to have over the next ten years. I will give Deputy Micheál Martin an update on the commencement date and progress that is being made.

Tá ceist agam maidir le clár an Rialtais. The programme for Government makes numerous commitments about the management of hospital referrals. However, the MRI unit in Cork University Hospital recently sent letters to Dr. Nick Flynn, a general practitioner in Hollyhill, Cork, detailing the patient referral system operating in that unit. The letters say that patients referred to the unit by a GP will not receive an appointment. Referrals have to be made by a consultant in order to obtain a scan.

However, one of the letters goes on to state that GP referrals would be accepted where the patient was willing to self pay or had health insurance. Therefore, wealth, not health, is the decisive factor. As the Taoiseach knows, in some cases the waiting time is two years. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Health to investigate this downright offensive act of medical discrimination whereby vulnerable patients are not given their scans or referrals as required?

Bed capacity is obviously an issue there as well. The Government wants the best outcome to be made available for all patients. That is why the universal health system should apply to all. The Minister for Health is focusing on a ten-year programme. In addition, the €300 million which was put into the budget last year and the extra €500 million this year will go to deal with many of the more difficult issues that have been in the health system for some time. I am sure the Deputy welcomes the announcement yesterday of legislation on medical cards for recipients of the domiciliary care allowance.

As regards GP referrals, we have had a two-tier health system for so many years. That is why the Government's emphasis is on providing a universal health system that applies to everybody. In that way, people can have medical attention as close to them as possible when they need it. That is where the Minister's focus and priority will be.

Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Health to investigate this issue?

Definitely.

As the Taoiseach is aware, the last Government published the heads of the adoption Bill that included vital provisions relating to information and tracing. The point of those provisions was to provide a legal basis for people to trace their natural parents where possible. There is a growing consensus in the House that it is the right thing to do. The Taoiseach will remember that this matter was championed by the former Deputy, Anne Ferris, and was supported by Deputy Joan Burton.

I understand that the Government has decided to separate these provisions from the remainder of the adoption (amendment) Bill in the legislative programme published to date. Can the Taoiseach give the House an assurance that the provisions on tracing will be brought before the House, and when that will happen?

A great deal of work has been done on this and, as the Deputy knows, it has been quite complicated. The work will continue over the summer and it is expected to have the Bill in September. I hope this timeframe can be adhered to.

As the Taoiseach is aware, the Low Pay Commission issued its report and recommendations yesterday. The recommendations show that the commission's name is apt and well-earned. It is, indeed, the low pay commission. In any case, there has been talk in recent times of leprechaun economics and here it is - pots of gold for tax-evading multinationals and insulting pay recommendations for the little people.

I have a question on promised legislation as follows. My understanding is that there is a requirement to amend minimum wage legislation in order to change the rates. Is the Government prepared to reject this recommendation and go for something which would take low-paid workers out of poverty? These are poverty pay rates, so is the Taoiseach prepared to go above that and settle on a rate which is far more in line with what low-paid workers need?

The House's budget committee-----

We cannot get into a second issue.

Is this issue the property of the budget committee? Does it have rights in terms of debating this issue?

The Low Pay Commission was set up by the previous Government to bring about a proper, structured and objective way of examining minimum wage recommendations. The Deputy will be aware that, before his time here, the previous Government reversed the cut to the minimum wage and increased it subsequently. The Low Pay Commission has made its recommendations, taking into account its view of the economic road ahead, including the consequences of Brexit.

Yesterday, the Government agreed to give approval for publication of the report, and I expect it will be discussed here. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has three months to respond and will consider carefully this recommendation from the Low Pay Commission. The Minister will return here in September, as is required under law, in respect of the proposal she will make to Government arising from the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission.

There was also a minority report as part of the recommendation. The reason for establishing the Low Pay Commission was to have an objective, structured way of recommending increases. Work should be seen to pay, so it is important to have that incentive for people to go to work. Clearly, however, when one increases the minimum wage, it has a knock-on effect further up the line for those on low pay.

There are a number of omissions from yesterday's housing programme published by the Government. I refer to one in particular, security of tenure for people who are currently subject to repossession proceedings. When will the new court be in place? The Taoiseach has promised a new court in the programme for Government to deal with these sorts of cases. What is the position concerning people who are currently the subject of repossession proceedings before the courts? Will their cases be stayed until such time as they can get the benefit of appearing before the new court, or will the new court only be set up when these people have already been evicted, which will not be much good to them?

Arrangements have been made for hearings exclusively in courts for repossession cases, with judges appointed to deal with them. That is taking place at the moment.

On a point of order, the Taoiseach specifically promised a new court that would deal exclusively with repossession cases. When will that court be in place? At the moment, there are thousands of repossession cases before the ordinary courts.

Deputy O'Dea has made the point.

There are repossession cases being dealt with exclusively by courts as well.

Despite the Government's best intentions with regard to improving the rights and protections offered to victims of crime, many people still feel they are not sufficiently dealt with or supported. In this context, when can we expect the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill to be brought before the House? Anyone who has been a victim of crime in the past knows that we need to support people much better in their time of need.

That legislation is very well advanced, so it will probably be in the next session.

The programme for Government includes a promise to increase the number of occupational and speech therapists. In fact, the promise is to increase the number of speech therapists by 25%, bringing the number to over 1,100. I raised this matter a couple of weeks ago with the Tánaiste. On that occasion, she informed me that a lot of money was being put into it and it was hoped to make progress. However, the problem was that they could not find adequate and properly qualified people available.

Since then I have been contacted by many people who tell me they are on a HSE panel for speech therapists. That panel has over 300 speech therapists on it, but the problem is that they are not being sanctioned for recruitment. That is the case all over the country.

In my particular area, many people are waiting for speech therapy services, including preschool children in particular, but they cannot get them because there are no speech therapists since they are not being recruited. I want a commitment from the Taoiseach and the Government that before September speech therapists and occupational therapists will be recruited.

I understand there are more than1,000 of them on a HSE panel waiting to be appointed but these appointments are not being sanctioned by the Government.

I will advise the Deputy of the progress made.

Have the heads of the sex offenders (amendment) Bill, which has been promised for some time, been approved or agreed, and is the Bill likely to come before the House in the near future?

Work on the Bill is ongoing in the Department. I will have a discussion about it, following which I will advise the Deputy what stage it is at.

I welcome the action plan for housing and homelessness. If it is anywhere near as successful as the Action Plan for Jobs, we will see a serious improvement in the under-supply in the housing sector.

What is the status of the landlord and tenant law reform Bill, which seeks to streamline the relationship between landlords and tenants? As we all know, trying to work through individual cases with the Private Residential Tenancies Board can be a cause of huge frustration at times for people on both sides of the argument. The landlord and tenant law reform Bill would certainly help to streamline that process.

The heads of that Bill have been approved and it is moving through the process.

In response yesterday to a question from the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in regard to the terms of reference for the north inner city task force, the Taoiseach committed to writing to him. Thus far, no correspondence has been received. Will the Taoiseach commit to ensuring Deputy Howlin receives that correspondence today?

The Labour Party is getting very persistent about looking for same-day replies.

What we considered is not final, because I have to meet a number of other groups as well.

In regard to the new housing strategy, I am disappointed with the Taoiseach for blaming the local authorities and saying they lost their way in terms of house building. That is incorrect. The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government also blamed the local authorities in that regard, but the local authorities were not given the money to build houses.

The Deputy must ask a question.

He is getting to the question.

The Taoiseach has again said that money is being provided. Are the blockages in the Department that prevented local authorities from accessing funding going to be removed?

In 2013, the Government promised €1.2 million for Kerry County Council but the council could not access that funding. It also promised the council €62.5 million in 2015, which again it could not access-----

The Deputy will not get an answer if he does not give way.

-----because of blockages in the Department. The Taoiseach is now unfairly blaming the local authorities, which I regret very much.

As I said, local authorities used to build sizeable numbers of isolated houses in town schemes for many years. They lost that capacity for whatever reason.

The Government did not give them the money.

There is more money being made available now for local authorities. We met with the county managers and chief executives and they have been given their timelines, objectives, numbers and the money. They are getting incentives to access sites that are currently unavailable to them-----

They are out of practice.

-----to ensure they get back to what they did very well for many years, which is providing houses for people. I hope that they take up this challenge in a real way, including Kerry County Council.

Remove the blockages.

Has the Government any plans to bring forward legislation regarding child care costs in this country? Child care costs in Ireland are the most expensive in Europe. For many families, this cost is the equivalent of a second mortgage. Ireland spends approximately one quarter of the amount spent by other countries on child care. In France, a person can access a child care place for approximately €200 per month. In parts of Dublin and elsewhere that cost is approximately €1,000 per month. Does the Taoiseach not see this as a burning issue for the Government? This was a huge issue in the election campaign, yet I have heard nothing about it since.

Deputy Coppinger will be aware of the second preschool year now being made available, the increase in paternity benefits and the free access to GPs for children under six. These are elements that help in respect of dealing with the cost of rearing families these days.

They have nothing to do with child care costs.

The Government is very focused on this issue and I do not accept the Deputy's assertion.

Those issues have nothing to do with child care costs, in respect of which, obviously, the Government has no plans.

There is not one of us in this House who does not come across the tragedy of suicide in our communities on a weekly basis. In light of recent scandals and so on, when will legislation be introduced to deal with the issue of suicide and the delivery of services in that regard, including intervention services specifically tailored to families and victims?

The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is working hard on a programme in this area.