I call on the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and rapporteur for the business committee, Deputy Regina Doherty, to announce the business for the week and to move the proposals regarding arrangements for the taking of that business.
Order of Business
Tuesday's Government business shall be No 10, motion re Fifth Report of the Committee of Selection without debate; No. 11, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil, without debate; and No. 4, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 21, Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016 in the name of Fianna Fáil.
Tomorrow's Government business shall be No. 4, Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Second Stage resumed, if not previously concluded; and No. 1, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage. Private Members' Business shall be No. 76, motion re mental health in the name of Sinn Féin.
Thursday's business shall be No. a12, motion re Houses of the Oireachtas Estimates without debate. Thursday's Government business shall be No. 12, motion re parental responsibility in the matter of child abduction - back from committee without debate; No. 13, motion re appointment of member of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority - back from committee without debate; and No. 1, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 [Seanad] - Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded. Second Stage of No. 22, Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014, will be taken in the afternoon slot.
The proposed arrangements for the week's business are as follows, and I refer Members to the report of the business committee of 29 September 2016. There are two proposals in respect of today's business. It is proposed that No. 10, motion re Fifth Report of the Committee of Selection, and No. 11, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil, shall be taken without debate, and that No. 21, the Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016, will be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m., if not previously concluded.
There are two proposals in respect of Thursday's business. It is proposed that No. a12, motion re Houses of the Oireachtas Estimates, No. 12, motion re parental responsibility in the matter of child abduction, and No. 13, motion re appointment of member of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, shall be taken without debate, and that Question Time shall be taken at 1.30 p.m. or, in the event that the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 has already concluded, on the conclusion of the weekly divisions.
There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. There are no proposals for Wednesday's business apart from what the Minister of State announced. Are the proposals for Thursday's business agreed to?
Before we proceed with that, would it be possible to get agreement to have either statements or an agreed motion on the war crimes that are currently taking place in Aleppo? It is time for the Parliament in its entirety to make a statement on this matter and, at least from a moral perspective, set out where it stands in respect of it.
I understand that the process of agreement makes that proposition. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be present on Thursday. We might fit it in an appropriate time if the Deputy so desires.
Can this be taken up at the Business Committee?
I think so, yes.
If they make that recommendation we will be happy to accept it.
I want to indicate the Labour Party support for such a motion.
It will be taken up by the Business Committee.
We would support it also.
We would be happy to do that.
The Members are favourably disposed to it but it will be decided by the Business Committee. The proposals for Thursday's business have been agreed.
Sure we might as well not be here at all. Why would we debate it?
I said we support that debate.
What difference will it make? What is the point in having a motion-----
There is agreement on the Order of Business.
On the Order of Business, the Taoiseach----
We are not dealing with the Order of Business now but with promised legislation.
No. With respect to other business, the Taoiseach earlier in response to a leaders' question said that there would be a meeting of party leaders on the Brexit issue, which is a good move. I was going to ask for that this evening. I assume that will be added on to the 7 p.m. meeting in relation to the Monaghan bombings. We have not had details of it. The Scottish Parliament is organising a series of sectoral debates on the Brexit issue, which I believe we need now following Prime Minister May's snub of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday. We were saying that we want the North to have special status but she seems to be-----
There will be further opportunities for the Deputy to raise that matter. The Taoiseach has responded to his first question.
Can the Taoiseach confirm that there will be a meeting of party leaders at 7 p.m. and that this matter will be debated further then?
It will be at 7 p.m. and that matter will be added on.
The other matter Deputy Martin raised, for which there is almost full support across the House, will be discussed by the Business Committee.
I do not know if the Taoiseach has read the report in today's Irish Examiner on whistleblowers being strategically undermined and under attack, both their personal and professional reputations, at the instigation of senior Garda management. Disclosures have now been made to that effect by a senior officer of the force, who has said that essentially this campaign involved dissemination of texts across a range of gardaí and the opening of an intelligence file on the whistleblowers, undermining the whistleblowers with regard to their character. In essence, it was a character assassination attack, that was organised and the people who engaged in it were engaging in it under instruction. I note that this matter is being passed to the Minister but it demands a fairly dramatic response from the Government. It cannot just be allowed drift into a process. There have been calls to the effect that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission needs greater powers and legislative change. There is an amendment to the Garda Síochána Act with respect to GSOC to deal with some of the issues that Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring raised regarding complaints in respect of Garda whistleblowers and the investigation of them. Can the Taoiseach not only confirm that these amending powers will be granted but that the Government is taking this report very seriously? It is above and beyond just a GSOC investigation. It is above and beyond an investigation into wrongdoing. It is at a very high level of wrongdoing, if I can put it that way to the Taoiseach, without pre-empting any inquiry. It seems to be something that is of the gravest import, if it is true. Disclosures have been made and I believe it is extremely serious. Will legislation in this area be brought forward?
A report appears in one of the daily newspapers today claiming that attempts were made to undermine a Garda whistleblower through encouraging officers to attack his character, creating an intelligence file on him, monitoring his activities on the PULSE system, making false allegations about his character and briefing elements of the media and selected politicians in a similar vein. I am aware of these media reports alleging a concerted campaign by senior Garda officers to undermine the credibility of a Garda whistleblower. Let me confirm for the House that the Tánaiste has recently received correspondence from members of the Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, which is now being considered. The maintenance of confidentiality in respect of protected disclosures is absolutely fundamental. In these circumstances and in line with the statutory obligations under the 2014 Act, the House would not expect me to go into detail about who has made these disclosures or the nature of the allegations contained in them at this particular time. The Tánaiste will consider now how best to proceed in respect of these protected disclosures and take whatever action may be deemed appropriate. Our determination to deal with the protected disclosures properly is underlined by the new arrangements under the 2014 Act.
The Tánaiste has referred the issue of what should be best practice in An Garda Síochána for how whistleblowers are dealt with to the Policing Authority, which is now independent and which will be reporting on this matter when it has concluded its work.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. There is the protected disclosures process but we are looking at activity here which goes beyond that and cuts to the very heart of how a police force should be operating.
It was received by the Minister for Justice and Equality under the Protected Disclosures Act.
I accept that.
It protects the anonymity of the person who has made the disclosure but the activity that is disclosed calls for a wider approach to something that goes to the very core of what we expect from a police force.
The Minister has the report and she is considering it. It is a matter in which, under the Act, confidentiality is absolutely fundamental. In a general sense, the Minister has referred how whistleblowers should be treated under the Act to the independent Policing Authority. It will make its views known. The report has been received by the Minister and she is examining the contents. The 2014 Act kicks in here. The Minister has to decide what is the best thing to do following examination of the information. I have not seen the correspondence or the report but it may well be the case that there are matters here beyond what would be a normal GSOC analysis or investigation.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the Defence (Amendment) Bill. This legislation will revive existing legislation on the deployment of military personnel overseas. One key issue of concern to military personnel subject to overseas deployment is the use of the anti-malarial drug, Lariam. Lariam was developed by the US army in the 1970s. Three years ago, on the back of increasing evidence of its psychiatric side effects, the US army said it is only to be used as a drug of last resort. The US Special Forces command has banned its use. Last month, the former head of the British army apologised to those soldiers who had been prescribed Lariam. The drug has now been withdrawn from sale to the public in a number of countries, including this State. PDFORRA states the Government is ignoring UN advice which recommends that an alternative drug be made available. Given there is now a substantial body of evidence on the harmful side effects of this drug, will the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence withdraw it from use? Will the Government give an undertaking that at the very least it will abide by UN guidelines in this respect?
Is there promised legislation?
There was none on the previous item so, with the greatest of respect, we will hear the Taoiseach's response.
I am interested to hear Deputy McDonald quoting the head of the British army. It makes a change.
The Taoiseach is in bad form. This has nothing to do with where we were on Saturday.
The health of the men and women in the Defence Forces has always been a matter of priority for the Government. The choice of medication for overseas deployment, including the drug Lariam, is a medical decision made by medical officers in the Defence Forces having regard to the very specific circumstances of the mission, the individual members of the Defence Forces and where they are to attend. Significant precautions have been taken by the Defence Forces medical officers in assessing the medical suitability of members of our Defence Forces to take any anti-malarial medications. It is the policy of the Defence Forces that personnel are individually screened for fitness for service overseas and for medical suitability. Deputy McDonald is well aware that malaria is a serious disease which killed approximately 438,000 people in 2015.
Up to 90% of deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, as reported by the World Health Organization. Today, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, is in Cork meeting PDFORRA, the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, and will address this matter somewhat further.
There are no plans to withdraw Lariam from the range of anti-malaria medications available to the Defence Forces. The use of and the information on these medicines are kept under review all the time. It is just one of a number of anti-malaria medications used by the Defence Forces. The choice of which medication to use is a medical decision. When a person is sensitive to Lariam, they are generally not deployed for service in sub-Saharan Africa. However, if for operational reasons an individual who has a specific skill-set which might be fundamental to a mission’s success but who had previously demonstrated sensitivity to Lariam or had a difficulty with its use, then one of the alternative medicines would be used. If during the course of deployment an individual developed sensitivity to Lariam, they would be advised to cease taking the medication and provided with a substitute. That individual would be monitored and, if their case was serious enough, repatriation might be necessary. Obviously, there are several cases being taken. They are medically screened.
The legislative programme published by the Government lists the judicial council Bill for priority in this session. In the list of Bills to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny this session, the programme includes the judicial appointments Bill. I take it that these will be taken as two separate Bills. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has told us, via The Irish Times, that we have appointed the last judges under the old system and that no more judges will be appointed until the judicial appointments Bill has been passed into law.
Is it the case that there has been Cabinet agreement to that effect? Does it impact on the time we can spend critiquing and amending these important Bills? Is the Government seriously proposing to do nothing while vacancies accumulate in the Judiciary? Will trials be delayed in order that, first, the House can properly debate and examine the merits and demerits of the new system, second, the new regime is put in place and, third, the new appointees are put in place? Are we content that up to 12 months of leisurely refection should pass while at the same time we wait for a backlog of serious cases, certainly in our superior courts, to be denied justice?
"No" is the answer to that question.
That is very heartening. That is two Ministers in successive weeks.
The Attorney General has reported on the progress being made in respect of this difficult matter. There are quite a number of complex issues which the Attorney General is working through. Deputy Howlin will be aware from his time in government that vacancies were filled in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal was put in place and all other courts vacancies were filled. I understand there is a substantial backlog in the Court of Appeal and a case being made for a subset of that for further judicial appointments to deal with it.
So appointments are going ahead then.
This is an issue that concerns us. There are a relatively small number of appointments that need to be made now. The balance is against when the material relating to the appointment of a judicial council can be put together. Clearly, we cannot have a situation where, if this were to be delayed too long, cases would back up in every court. That is a matter we have to consider. The intention was that the last batch of judges to be appointed was to be the last under the old system. However, because there is no judicial appointments commission or judicial council in place, we do not want a situation either where the judicial system cannot work because of retirements or whatever.
I am not saying that now. We need to look at the progress being made so that we can possibly balance it.
On a point of order-----
What is the point of order?
Deputy O'Callaghan is quite literate and learned in the law. His Bill, which has been published, would solve the whole problem if the Government accepted it.
I have indications from Deputies Danny Healy-Rae, Mick Barry, Bernard Durkan, Eugene Murphy and Aengus Ó Snodaigh. I ask Members to remember that we have two motions to deal with and ten minutes left so I ask-----
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has one from me as well.
Yes, but the Deputy swapped for a second.
Specific assurances were given under the programme for Government that flooding across the country would be dealt with. It is hard to believe it as the sun is shining here today but parts of County Kerry have had incessant rain for the past 24 to 36 hours. Waterville is cut off from Cahirciveen. The reason for this flooding across the country is because all our rivers are clogged up and blocked. There is a problem relating to Inland Fisheries Ireland that needs to be dealt with. Consultation and dialogue needs to take place between Inland Fisheries Ireland, the OPW, the local authorities, farmers, property owners and CFRAM. I ask the Taoiseach to arrange this dialogue because it is not happening at all. It is too slow and Inland Fisheries Ireland is not allowing work to clear out our rivers to take place. This cannot be allowed to continue. I put people before fish any day. People in rural Ireland must be able to live in and access their homes and to be kept free from water.
Is there promised legislation on flooding?
I was going to say that the sun always shines when you win an All-Ireland, as the Deputy knows well down in Kerry, and it might be shining in Dublin. According to his analysis, it is the man above who is responsible for the rain and not climate changes made by man. What is needed down there first of all is an analysis of what needs to be done to drain away that flooding. The area needs people with good machines who know what they are about and who can drain land and direct surplus water to lower levels where they can take it away.
The Taoiseach, without interruption. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.
The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and the OPW are doing great work in many areas that we know were, unfortunately, flooded last year and some years previously with great damage done to houses, buildings and farms. The people of south Kerry are perfectly entitled to have roads on which they can travel safely. I am sorry that the road between Cahirciveen and Waterville is blocked. I am not sure of the point at which it is blocked, although I know the road well. I am sure the local authority, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the OPW are all willing to work together to see whether a solution can be arrived at. I hope that the torrential rain of last evening does not continue to cause further flooding.
Bearing in mind that there are others who-----
I will be brief. In 2014, the Council of Europe upheld an earlier ruling that members of An Garda Síochána should be permitted to strike and participate in trade union activity. In our view, such human rights legislation should also permit gardaí to refuse to be used against trade union and community campaigns such as we saw with the water charges campaign. Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce legislation that might confer the right to strike and if so, is he prepared to bring it before this House in advance of the November strike days decided upon by members of the Garda Representative Association, GRA?
No, I do not intend to introduce such legislation and I am very glad to note that the GRA and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors are having meetings with the Minister for Justice and Equality about their difficulties.
Given the growing importance of climate issues, when does the Taoiseach expect to bring the green climate fund Bill before the House? Is it likely to be during this session or will the pre-legislative debate take place between now and Christmas?
It will not be during this session.
We were promised that an independent reporting commission Bill would be brought before the House for pre-legislative scrutiny. When can we expect it? It must be dealt with from a northern and southern Ireland perspective.
While we do not have a date for it, we expect to have the pre-legislative examination of it during this session.
I am delighted the Taoiseach brought up the all-Ireland final. Although I was not going to mention it, I am glad to have the opportunity to say "Well done" to the Dubs.
Is the assisted human reproduction Bill delayed because we are awaiting the report on funding options? If so, could the Taoiseach tell us when we will receive the report? If not, could the Taoiseach tell us when the heads of Bill will be published?
The heads of the Bill are being worked on and progress has been made. However, I do not expect the heads of the Bill to be published until spring.
Whatever might be done for first-time buyers in next week's budget, we all know that the real problem is supply. In view of the fact that there are suitable vacant sites throughout the country for the construction of houses, has the Taoiseach considered bringing forward the vacant sites levy by one year - to next year - in order to activate such sites, particularly those in our cities?
The Government has published the most comprehensive housing programme ever produced to deal with the supply issue and a number of other relevant matters. We have not had a proposal to bring forward the vacant site levy. The Minister is first of all focused on dealing with homelessness, rough sleeping and the use of hotels for emergency accommodation for families, which is unsuitable. The initiatives being implemented include the €200 million local infrastructure fund to open sites that are inaccessible to local authorities, which could have the impact of creating 11,000 to 15,000 houses.
The vacant site levy would also achieve that.
A range of issues are focused specifically on supply.
In the programme for Government clear commitments were made on the future of An Post. However, some very disturbing situations are arising regarding the company. In some of our major towns, An Post is seeking agents to run the post offices it previously operated itself. Recently, a committee of the House asked questions regarding which Department is in charge of An Post. I would like the Taoiseach to outline his plans for An Post, where the Bobby Kerr report is and whether the Government is committed to this matter. There is confusion. I would like the Taoiseach to point out clearly which Department is now responsible for An Post. A critical situation exists and we need to deal with it. We have an An Post network throughout the country and I would like an answer.
The Government is committed to the retention of the postal service and has made every attempt to provide new facilities and initiatives for post offices throughout the country. The Kerr report, initiated by the previous Government, set out a number of options. One of these was to introduce a basic bank account for post offices. This was accepted by the Government and work is ongoing on it. The Minister of State with responsibility for regional economic development, Deputy Ring, has chaired a number of meetings with the postmasters and postmistresses and those dealing with this matter. The Government is completely focused on wanting to provide a range of opportunities for post offices in order that they can continue as an essential part of every community.
Many of the smaller post offices have had a range of challenges over the years. Some have closed down without any interest being expressed by anybody else in localities in taking them over. It is a social issue, but it is one that the Government is focused upon. The Government is working with the postmasters and the postmistresses to bring about a situation where whatever facilities can be provided will be provided.
Tá ceithre phíosa reachtaíochta faoina bhfuil mé ag iarraidh roinnt eolais a fháil. Is é an national monuments Bill an chéad cheann. Táimid fós ag fanacht air le tamall maith de bhlianta. Bhí sé os comhair an Rialtas dheireanaigh agus an Rialtas roimhe sin. Bhí sé luaite go raibh sé ag teacht os ár gcomhair. An bhfuil aon dul chun cinn déanta?
Bhí an official languages (amendment) Bill os comhair an choiste ag pre-legislative stage sa Dáil deireanach. An bhfuil sé i gceist dul ar aghaidh leis nó an bhfuil athdhréachtú le déanamh ar an mBille sin?
An tríú cheann ná an digital hub development agency. Táimid ag fanacht ar sin ó 2011 agus níl cuma air go bhfuil sé ag teacht os ár gcomhair. Tá sé ag cur baic ar an dul chun cinn gur féidir a dhéanamh i gComhairle Cathrach Bhaile Átha Cliath, ach go háirithe.
An cheathrú cheann ná ceann atá an-tábhachtach anois agus muid ag tnúth le dul chun cinn ar an ospidéal bainteach leis an new children's hospital establishment Bill. Considering that works are in progress on the site, it is strange that the new children's hospital establishment Bill, which will set up the committee and organisation to run the hospital, has still not been laid before the Dáil. When is its pre-legislative stage intended?
Tá ceithre cheist ansin. Iarraim ar an Taoiseach freagra gairid a chur ar achan cheann acu.
Tá cinneadh déanta faoi na príomh-phointí den Bhille sin ach ní thiocfaidh sé isteach sa Teach go dtí an chéad seisiún eile.
In respect of the Digital Hub Development Agency, I expect those heads before the end of the year.
The Deputy asked me about the national children's hospital. Work is proceeding on the heads of that particular Bill. I will advise the Minister to let the Deputy know when it is expected. What was the fourth Bill?
The national monuments Bill.
The heads of that Bill were approved quite a long time ago. Work is proceeding on them, but it will be the new year before the Bill comes in.
The programme for Government states:
One in four of us will develop a difficulty with our mental health at some stage in our lives. The mental health budget will be increased annually during the lifetime of this new Government.
I do not believe that the Government, in the first term of the new Dáil, has done enough for people who suffer from mental health issues or has got to grips with targeting these issues from a young age. I call on the Taoiseach to ensure that, in budget 2017, funding is vastly increased to this sector and additional services are provided.
As the Deputy knows, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is dealing with this specifically. There is a Private Members' motion tomorrow in the House and I am sure that there will be a good discussion on that. Please understand that this remains an absolute priority for the Government. The Deputy is right, in that the figures indicate that one in four people will at some stage during their lives, or on more than one occasion, suffer with the challenges of mental health. It is an issue that is widespread throughout the country and affects every community and every sector. Obviously, the Deputy might have an opportunity to contribute on the debate tomorrow evening in the House.