Questions on Promised Legislation

As the Taoiseach will be aware, many businesses remain under significant pressure, particularly in the cities and towns across the country. Commercial rates are a significant burden on businesses. They are also an outdated model in terms of garnering revenue for county and city councils. In the era of the Internet, it is particularly noteworthy that it is people with fixed buildings that are paying for all of the services in a given area, vis-à-vis the online developments that have taken place. To a large extent, there is a significant discriminatory element attached to commercial rates in that a smaller pool of people are now expected to pay them.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to implement the Valuation Act so we can get a sustainable commercial rates base for employers and new start-ups in particular. That is what the programme for Government specifies. Will the Taoiseach confirm implementation of the Valuation Act has commenced? When will it be completed? Does the Government have further plans for change?

I did not catch Deputy Michéal Martin's question.

It was about the Valuation Act and the programme for Government commitment to implement it so efficient local authorities can adopt a commercial rates policy that helps sustain existing businesses and encourages new start-ups. I know it is a weighty document and there is a lot in it.

We have a rates Bill, which will modernise commercial rates in local authorities. I will advise Deputy Michéal Martin of the progress being made on it. It is not on the immediate priority list published yesterday.

My question is on the health (transport support) Bill. The Taoiseach will recall the legislation is intended to provide for a scheme to make individual payments towards transport costs for citizens with severe disabilities. Almost three years ago, the Taoiseach scrapped the motorised transport grant and mobility allowance. Interestingly enough, this came on the back of it being found to be discriminatory and in breach of various equality protocols because certain people were not allowed onto it. Rather than opening it up for those people, the Government scrapped it entirely. While temporary arrangements were made for approximately 5,000 citizens, no disabled citizens have had access to any transport scheme since then. I have raised this many times. The Taoiseach promises a new scheme all the time. The Tánaiste told us the heads of the Bill would be published in July but they were not. Will the Taoiseach tell us when the heads of the Bill will be published and when he expects the health (transport support) Bill to be introduced in the Dáil?

I can confirm to Deputy Adams that the heads will be published in this session and it will go for pre-legislative scrutiny to the appropriate committee in this session.

The previous Government established an independent review mechanism to deal with various allegations of Garda misconduct. The overview report was published last July and in five of the 320 cases, the expert panel considered that an inquiry was required and the Minister accepted this. When will we see the terms of reference for these five recommended inquiries, including the allegations made by the former CEO of ISME, Mr. Frank Mulcahy?

I cannot answer the detail of the question for Deputy Howlin but I will advise him. I will speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality. The report was accepted by the Minister and there was a recommendation for five further actions to be taken. I will advise Deputy Howlin and the House on this.

The programme for Government states, in anticipation of Moneypoint coming to the end of its operating life in its current configuration, that national dialogue on climate change will identify as soon as possible the most suitable replacement low carbon generation technology. What plan or strategy, if any, has been thought up for Moneypoint and will a report or statement be issued in the near future?

Not in the near future. The Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment is going to either Brussels or Paris this week to discuss climate change.

There is also an extraordinary meeting on Friday to give consent for Europe to sign the Paris agreement in Marrakesh in November. There have not been any detailed propositions brought forward or considered by the Government in respect of Moneypoint. I will advise Deputy Healy-Rae.

As the Government is aware, page 114 of the programme for Government states the Government will prioritise strategic investment to support modernisation of the greyhound and horse racing sector. In recent days we have had a lot of turmoil, and yesterday evening the Minister appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to discuss this. Two issues are coming to the fore on this. The board of Horse Racing Ireland, supposedly because of a mix-up, inadvertently misled the Minister. There is also the issue that a business case was put forward-----

I am sorry Deputy Kenny, I do not think this is a matter-----

It goes to the very heart of the issue of new government and new politics.

We are dealing here with promised legislation.

Yes, we are dealing with promised legislation and the programme for Government. I have raised the issue on the back of this.

About what element of the programme of Government is the Deputy talking?

A business case was supposed to be brought forward. It was revealed to us yesterday evening that there was no business case and that the business case was simply a letter from the chairperson of HRI to-----

We all know that.

There is no business case. Does the Taoiseach concur that his two Ministers were misled and that they have agreed to the appointment of the CEO of HRI for a third term which, apart from the huge salary the man in question will receive, is in breach of Government guidelines?

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine dealt with this issue at some length before the Oireachtas joint committee yesterday.

On promised legislation, the first item on page 24 of the legislative programme is the public health (sale of tobacco) Bill. It states the heads of the Bill are being drafted. What is the timescale for publication?

Second-----

The Deputy can only ask one question.

It is a continuum. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to set up a special court to deal with cases of mortgage arrears. When will it be established? The link is tenuous.

The heads of the public health (sale of tobacco) Bill are being drafted. I will advise the Deputy of the position on the question of mortgages.

What about my first question?

The heads of the Bill are being worked on and I will advise the Deputy of the position.

With regard to the programme for Government and the upcoming budget, I ask the Taoiseach and the Government not to raise the excise duty and VAT on diesel-----

The Deputy cannot raise that matter on the Order of Business. It is not related to promised legislation.

I know that it is important, but the Deputy cannot raise it.

Working people and transport services cannot take any more and if the Government parties do it, it will hurt every man and woman in the country. I ask them not to do so.

The point has been made and the Taoiseach has heard the Deputy, but he cannot answer the question.

We would like it if he could.

Yesterday, the Chief Whip published the legislative programme for the autumn session. A total of 25 Bills are due to be published. A total of 21 Bills are before the Dáil and the Seanad. Approximately five and a half hours is available on the schedule this week to debate legislation. This session will be 12 weeks long and rather than go through each Bill, I refer to the fact that 46 bills have either been or are due to be published. While I accept that the Taoiseach may not be able to reply to the question now, will he identify the priority list of Bills that he intends to have passed this session?

Clearly, that is a valid question. There is a request before the Chief Whip from the Business Committee for an additional two hours to be granted on Thursdays. That request is being considered. However, this is part of the new politics and the agenda is, in part, determined by the Business Committee which is chaired by the Ceann Comhairle. It is not for me to determine the agenda for the Government and I cannot speak about the contributions Deputies and parties may wish to make as part of the legislative programme and about how long or frequent they might be. I expect all of the Bills we have set out to be published this session. On the ones before the Dáil, committees and so on, it is a matter for Members to decide how they wish to contribute. We have had discussions in the past about not enough time being granted and the debates on Bills being guillotined towards the end of a session. That will not happen now. This is part of the new deliberations under the arrangements brought forward by the House, which I support.

Will the Taoiseach publish a priority list of Bills that he intends to have passed within the time constraints?

As far as the Chief Whip and the Government are concerned, we will publish and present what we think should be priorities as our part of the agenda. Obviously, the Business Committee will deal with the rest.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I asked a question prior to the summer recess about automatic entitlement to a medical card for cancer patients who were terminally ill. The Taoiseach said there was no such automatic entitlement. It now transpires that the HSE has agreed to automatic entitlement for prisoners on release.

How is that organised? Before the summer, the Taoiseach told me there was no automatic entitlement so has there been a change to the legislation? If there are proposed changes to the legislation there should be automatic entitlement for people who suffer from terminal illness.

The Minister is pursuing legislation for the granting of medical cards to those children who are in receipt of domiciliary care allowances. A person released from prison will not, I presume, be in gainful employment any more than a person who loses a job and becomes unemployed. I also presume that income levels relating to eligibility for medical cards would apply.

I understand legislation is promised by the end of the year to provide protections for workers on insecure, low-hour contracts but, given that a publicly-subsidised State-owned public transport company, namely, Bus Éireann, is looking at introducing a low-hour and low-pay regime for those workers in its expressway service, scandalously lowering the terms and conditions of hundreds of workers, can the Taoiseach inform the Dáil as to whether this legislation could be brought forward urgently, and as a priority, in the coming weeks?

The Government has set out the list of legislation for publication this session and it is being worked on. I will advise the Deputy on the state of preparation in respect of the legislation he mentions.

Can the Taoiseach inform the House as to when he expects we will debate the terms of reference of the statutory commission of investigation into NAMA surrounding the Project Eagle sale and other activities?

The country is currently dealing with the increasing costs of car insurance, with a 40% increase this year on top of a 30% increase last year. Everybody agrees there needs to be more transparency in terms of claims for personal injuries, so can the Taoiseach explain how the requirement by the Courts Service to set up a personal injuries register in 2004 has still not happened? The Minister said that it was because it does not have the IT facilities at this point in time. Twelve years later, this has still not been done yet this is one of the things people believe could reduce the cost of insurance. Can the Taoiseach give a commitment that it will happen without delay?

I have received submissions from the different parties following the meeting I had with the leaders of the different groups in respect of Project Eagle on the decision to hold an appropriate investigation in this House. I expect to meet with the leaders again next week and to put forward the best option we have from all the submissions we received. We will try to get consensus on the most appropriate and effective commission and one which will actually work. The Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is working on the area of insurance and he expects to bring propositions back for a Government decision and consideration before Christmas. I will see to it that Deputy Doherty is advised directly on the current status of the register that was supposed to be introduced in 2004.

I ask the four remaining Deputies to be very quick as we are actually out of time.

As part of the programme for partnership Government dealing with Northern Ireland, North-South co-operation and EU supports, on page 142, paragraph 4e, the Government promised to work with the Northern Ireland Executive to agree and implement cross-Border projects with the benefit of EU funding through INTERREG and the PEACE programme. At the meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement yesterday evening, the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, informed us that the £120 million of INTERREG VA funding has been approved through the steering committee. He further informed us that Northern Ireland had matched this funding but stated that the projects would not receive a letter of offer until the authorities in the Republic also matched it. Bearing in mind that the steering committee last met on 27 July, can the Taoiseach inform this House when this funding will be made available from our side as it is pending for various projects around the country?

This is another reason we need an all-island conversation about the relationship between ourselves and Northern Ireland and this will be a matter for consideration at the North-South Ministerial Council to be held on 18 November. The Government has made available moneys for the A5 and we support the development of the Narrow Water bridge project.

When does the Government propose to bring forward the legislation relating to the right of people who have been adopted in Ireland to trace their birth families, which was published during the term of the previous Government? The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs indicated at the start of this Government's term that she would soon do so. What progress, if any, has been made on it?

Deputy Burton is correct. The Minister can confirm that this is well advanced. It is on the Government's priority list of legislation and it will be processed as quickly as possible. I will advise Deputy Burton of the progress on it.

I refer to the universities (amendment) Bill, which deals with staffing issues in universities. The staff to student ratio has reached record levels in this country and is affecting the reputation of our universities abroad. In addition, a professor told me this week that he has to teach 470 first year students in a lecture hall that is built to accommodate 450 people. It is unacceptable if that situation continues. I hope that the legislation, and the funding that is required, will deal with that. It is not sustainable.

Deputy Martin raised the question of third level funding in both the short and medium term arising from the Cassells report. I am aware of students who attend lecture halls with more than the figure mentioned by the Deputy. There are over 500 in some of the lecture halls, depending on the faculty and the subject being studied, as Deputy Thomas Byrne is well aware.

That does not make it right. It is unacceptable.

The question of the short term is a matter for discussion between the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. The Minister has set out his view on the Cassells report, and discussions will have to be held on the medium and longer term.

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Taoiseach faoin Bhille um fhoréigean baile. The enactment of the domestic violence Bill is an important step in the Government's long overdue ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. In July, after a long delay, the Minister for Justice and Equality published the heads and general scheme of the new domestic violence Bill. Can the Taoiseach say when he expects that Bill to be published and when the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill, which aims to strengthen the rights of victims of crime and is linked to this issue, will be published?

Deirtear liom go mbeidh an chéad Bhille a d'ardaigh an Teachta liom - an Bhille um fhoréigean baile - foilsithe ag deireadh an tseisiúin seo. The second Bill mentioned by the Deputy, the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill, should be published earlier in the session. Both are deemed to be a priority.