I call on the rapporteur for the Business Committee, Deputy Mattie McGrath, to announce the Order of Business for the week and make the proposals regarding the arrangements for the taking of that business.
Order of Business
Today's business shall be No. 7, motion re Joint Committee on Public Petitions, to be taken without debate; No. 8, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimates, to be taken without debate; No. 9, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimates to select committee, to be taken without debate, subject to leave to introduce being given; No. 10, motion re Financial Resolution for Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2016, to be taken without debate; and No. 14, Finance Bill 2016 - Order for Report Stage and Report and Final Stages. Private Members' Business shall be No. 23, Local Government Reform (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, introduced by Fianna Fáil.
Tomorrow's business shall be No. 14, Finance Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. 15, Social Welfare Bill 2016 - Order for Report Stage and Report and Final Stages. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 24, Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, introduced by the Social Democrat-Green Party group.
Thursday's business shall be No. 15, Social Welfare Bill 2016 - Order for Report Stage and Report and Final Stages; No. 10a, motion re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimates, to be taken without debate; and No. 10b, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimates to select committee, to be taken without debate, subject to leave to introduce being given. Second Stage of No. 25, Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Neutrality) Bill 2016, will be debated in the evening slot.
In relation to today's business, there are two proposals. It is proposed that:
(1) the motions re Joint Committee on Public Petitions, leave to introduce Supplementary Estimates and, subject to leave to introduce being given, referral of Supplementary Estimates to select committee and Financial Resolution for the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2016 will be taken without debate and that any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and
(2) Second Stage of the Local Government Reform (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016 shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, at 10 p.m.
In relation to tomorrow's business, there are two proposals. It is proposed that:
(1) The Dáil shall sit at 10 a.m. and adjourn at 10 p.m. or at the conclusion of Report and Final Stages of the Finance Bill 2016, whichever is the later; and
(2) Second Stage of the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016 shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, at 6.30 p.m.
In relation to Thursday’s business there are four proposals. It is proposed that:
(1) the Dáil shall sit at 10 a.m., and sit later than 7.48 p.m. if the proceedings on the Social Welfare Bill 2016 have not concluded by 3.30 p.m.;
(2) if at 3.30 p.m., Report and Final Stages of the Social Welfare Bill 2016 have not concluded, the proceedings on the Bill shall not be adjourned, but shall continue until their conclusion, and Oral Questions to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall then be taken;
(3) motions re leave to introduce Supplementary Estimates and, subject to leave to introduce being given, referral of Supplementary Estimates to select committee shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and
(4) any division demanded, which would normally take place in the weekly division time on Thursday, 24 November, shall be deferred to the weekly division time on Thursday, 1 December.
There are three proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.
Under proposed legislation, given the severe pressures on accident and emergency departments across the country, in quite a number of them major incident protocols have been put in place, elective operations have been cancelled and the situation is very severe indeed. The Minister for Health indicated on 19 October he expected that the letter of determination regarding the HSE's service plan would be issued from his Department in the week following 19 October and that the HSE would submit its draft plan. When can we expect to see the Health Service Executive's service plan? When will it be available to Members of this House? Rather than just noting it, will the Taoiseach agree to allocate time to debate the health service plan in this House, particularly in the context of a very worrying and worsening situation in accident and emergency departments across the country? It is very difficult on the ground at the moment and we need an urgent debate on it. When will the HSE's service plan be published?
The Deputy will be aware that the HSE submits the proposed plan to the Minister and he has 21 days to consider that, bring it to Government and send it back to the HSE for implementation. It has not yet come to Government for approval. I will confirm the time to the Deputy as to when that process will play out. I have no objection to the matter being debated in the Dáil when the Government signs off on the programme.
Tá ceist agam faoi the Children First Act. On Friday The Irish Times published a letter from Barnardos, the Children's Rights Alliance and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, expressing concern over Government delays in the commencement of the Children First Act. The Act was enacted this time last year, but only three sections of it have commenced. These groups, which are on the front line in protecting and defending the rights of children, claim that as a result of the Government's inaction, children do not have sufficient legal protection when it comes to their safety. The most recent date given for full commencement is February 2018, more than two years after enactment. I ask that the Government recommit to the safety and security of children as a priority. The Act needs to be implemented in full. Will the Taoiseach commit to an earlier timeframe for the full implementation of the Children First Act?
The legislation has been put through the House and, as the Deputy said, three sections of the Act have been implemented. I saw the letter to which he referred. I do not have from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs a more detailed timeline for implementation. This morning the Government approved publication of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill which took quite a lot of time to draft. We had discussions with Tusla some time ago about the necessary care of children. I will advise the Deputy of the timescale the Minister is considering and see if it might be possible for it to be accelerated, either for sections or the greater part of it.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill, the pre-legislative scrutiny of which took place more than one year ago in September 2015. In particular, I wish to ask about the ratification of the Council of Europe convention - the Istanbul Convention - on combating violence against women and domestic violence. The convention has been ratified by 22 member states of the Council of Europe, by almost all of the progressive states. Will the Taoiseach indicate when Ireland will ratify the convention and when the legislation will be brought before the House?
It is a priority for this session. I will check to see if the Bill is due for publication this session. It includes, obviously, references to the signing of the Istanbul Convention. I will advise the Deputy of the position.
I thank the Taoiseach.
I refer to the section of the programme for Government which suggests there will be better and improved children's health services. Are there proposals to deal with the chronic delays in accessing ear, nose and throat, ENT, services? The waiting lists for such services are over four years long in my constituency of Tipperary. Surely the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health must accept that this is not in any way acceptable and that it is scandalous. When does the Taoiseach think he might employ additional ENT consultants and specialists to alleviate the problem and stop the damage being done to young people's health, especially those with hearing issues? I am sure he accepts that it is a crisis.
The Deputy knows that there is a process in place for the appointment of specialists to work in this as in every other area. I am not aware of the details of applications from Clonmel or anywhere else in these specialties.
The waiting list is four years long.
I will have the Minister for Health confirm the position through engagement with the HSE.
The Taoiseach knows what the position is.
The Technological Universities Bill which was introduced over one year ago proposed the amalgamation of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Institute of Technology Tallaght and the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it is intended to advance the Bill to allow for the co-ordination of the various colleges?
The Bill has reached Committee Stage. Obviously, it is a matter of it being put through the process here.
Last night a constituent of mine, Mr. Davy Glennon, appeared on the "Claire Byrne Live" show and made a powerful presentation on gambling. In 2013 a commitment was made by the Government to draft legislation to deal with the matter. Some 40 months on I wonder when the Bill will be brought before the House.
It is a very complicated issue and the Bill will not be brought forward during this session. The Deputy is aware of how things are with regard to digitisation and how gambling takes place. Work has continued on the Bill for quite some time, but it will not be brought forward during this session. I will advise Deputy Rabbitte of its progress.
Four weeks ago I raised with the Taoiseach the question of the tenant purchase scheme and how it discriminated against those in receipt of social welfare payments. He promised that he would write to me to give me his views on the matter. I am sure he did write to me and as the letter is probably lost in the post, will he send it again?
I will have to chase up that matter. I know that the Deputy opens his post at all times. I will have to see whether anything was committed to paper for him.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, knows.
If it has not, I will have it renewed for the Deputy.
The criminal justice (legal aid) Bill is promised legislation. I ask the Taoiseach the extent to which the Bill has been drafted and when it might be ready to come before the House.
That is a while away. Quite a deal of work must be done on it. It will not appear this session.
In the legislative programme there is continued reference to the geothermal energy development Bill, which has been there for quite some time. In October 2013 a major sustainable energy conference was held in my home town of Navan, attended by the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, and plans for a revolutionary multi-million euro geothermal energy project for the town was brought forward by investors, the local chamber and local stakeholders, with the afterlife of Tara Mines uppermost in their minds, considering 700 people are employed there and it is a constant source of worry. When is this likely to be advanced?
For Deputy Cassells's information the Minerals Development Bill is before the Houses at present and the intention is once this is cleared we will bring in the geothermal Bill. I can advise him on the state of preparation for this. This is the sequential order which apparently is what needs to be done here.
Under the programme for Government and our commitment to support and strengthen our badly ailing agriculture industry, I ask the Taoiseach to call on the Minister for Finance to immediately request the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners to come before the Oireachtas finance committee and explain the out of the blue recent tax demand on farmers in Kerry for Kerry Group patronage shares. This very questionable tax demand will put many farmers out of business.
This issue has erupted regarding Kerry Group shares. It is widely known in the agriculture industry how farmers dealt with Kerry Group. Recently, 400 farmers have been given notice from the Revenue Commissioners of tax demands going back three, four or five years. These tax demands are imposed on farmers who have had a desperately difficult year. It is widely known they will not be able to meet their commitments. The Revenue Commissioners have come down with a very heavy hand on the agricultural industry, and the Minister and the Government should take a proactive approach to it because it is absolutely unacceptable that Revenue is going after farmers in a way that makes no sense whatsoever.
I appreciate the importance of the issue being raised, but there is neither promised legislation nor programme for Government-----
Sorry Ceann Comhairle but there is because I studied it earlier. This is going completely against the programme for Government with regard to supporting agriculture. A total of 400 farmers received a letter, what is called an aspect query. I do not know whether the Taoiseach has ever received one of these, but I know what they are. They received an aspect query from the Revenue Commissioners with respect to Kerry Group shares received under the patronage arrangement. In case the Taoiseach does not know what this is, a milk supplier receives a patronage share for milk supplied. These farmers were of the belief this was not additional trading income to their families so it was not accounted for. Now they are being told they must pay tax on it at a time when our dairy sector and our agricultural sector in general is on its knees. Only yesterday 400 of these farmers received this letter at a critical time.
I am very sorry our legendary Minister for Finance, for whom I have great respect as the Taoiseach knows, is not in the Chamber because I would like him to answer this question. I would like him to come back to us and tell us what in the name of God the Revenue Commissioners are doing writing to 400 farmers out of the blue. It is ridiculous and it is wrong. I ask the Taoiseach to please look into it.
The Minister is currently preparing for Report Stage of the Finance Bill. I point out to the Deputies that while the query is valid, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine does not control, and nor does the Minister for Finance control, the Revenue Commissioners who are completely independent.
Somebody needs to.
Somebody would want to control them.
As the Deputies are aware, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is acutely aware of the difficulties being experienced by farmers, as is the Minister for Finance. This is why, for instance, in the budget there were a number of measures for farmers, including and because of this year in particular for grain farmers, a gap year built into the system to allow for some relief for people who have not been able to get any grain out at all because of the inclement weather and the condition of the fields.
I am quite sure the committee is in correspondence with the Revenue Commissioners.
They need support.
I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance, but he does not direct the Revenue Commissioners to do or not to do something.
In the primary care section of A Programme for a Partnership Government there is a commitment to enter into contract negotiations with general practitioners. General practice is under serious threat because of the workload involved and manpower issues coming down the line. While there is a commitment to the urgent negotiation of a new flexible contract, there seems to be complacency about it. There was a promise before the summer that the contract would be ready to start in September and then in October, but we are at the end of November and nothing has happened. Will the Taoiseach comment?
Deputy Harty and others have made very valid contributions on the requirement for a new contract regime with GPs. The Minister for Health is very interested in it as he sees the opportunity for GPs to do much more work in primary care centres or their surgeries. It was his intention to have started the process of negotiating a new contract and he is anxious that it happen as quickly as possible. I will remind him of the Deputy's comments.
Major flood relief works were undertaken in north Cork in the towns of Fermoy and Mallow and, having been tried and tested in the past 12 months, these defence works have worked successfully, but many householders and businesses have since seen their insurance renewal applications refused and the list is getting longer. When will the promised legislation to deal with this problem be brought before the House? It is very hard for businesses to operate on a daily basis knowing that, should other issues arise, they will have no cover.
The flooding of the past few years has been mentioned on a number of occasions by many Deputies and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has been looking into the issue of rising insurance costs. The problem is exacerbated by defences that are demountable. I know of cases in which people had insurance cover before the defences were put up, but it has since been refused. Discussions have been held with insurance companies about the matter. I remind the Deputy that €1 billion is on the table for a programme to deal with flood defences which I am glad have been successful in Fermoy and Mallow. A huge operation is to go ahead in Cork where the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Seán Canney, was yesterday. I visited Craughwell, County Galway, yesterday. It was badly flooded last year and active work is being undertaken by the OPW and engineering firms which will take three years to complete. I will find out what the position is on legislation. We have had this issue before with insurance companies and need to follow up on it.
There is a commitment in the programme for Government to deal with the waiting lists in many HSE services across the country, particularly for orthodontic services for young teenagers. In my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim there is a waiting list of over two years and, in some cases, three years, for young teenagers awaiting orthodontic services. Many young teenagers will finish secondary school and go on to third level before they will be called to receive treatment. I ask the Taoiseach for an assurance that a review will take place, that additional services will be put in place and that whatever needs to be done will be done to speed up the process. Families are at their wits' end. Up to a couple of months ago a family with a member on a waiting list for a certain length of time could have availed of private orthodontic services and been compensated later, but I understand this service has been withdrawn, leaving many families in the lurch. As youngsters attending college have a lot of expenses, this is a crisis, particularly in County Sligo.
Young teenagers can become very self-conscious of these matters and it causes some of them a great deal of stress and personal pressures. It is not the only place where there are waiting lists for orthodontics. It is a very specialised operation. Sometimes dentists may say that it may have to develop a little more before they could operate.
I understand that. I am not referring to those cases.
We will see what the response will be in terms of the waiting lists across that belt in general.
On proposed legislation, a number of constituencies are concerned about where the Government stands on the issue of wind farms. With respect to proposed legislation, the Government has promised that this would be announced and that there would be a debate on it. Can the Taoiseach give me any indication today as to when such legislation might come forward? A number of people from different constituencies have spoken to me about wind farms. Their issue is the distance a turbine can be from a residence, which, legally, currently is about 600 m or 700 m. Most people, as the Taoiseach probably knows, want that distance moved back to 1,000 m or 1,500 m. Is this legislation that has been promised ready? When will it come before the Dáil? The Taoiseach might be able to give a clear answer on that today.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is dealing with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, in this regard. Some of the guidelines that were mentioned previously would mean that we would not be able to have any contribution from wind to energy creation in the country. If the Deputy considers the targets set for the reduction of emissions between 2020 and 2030, the country faces enormous challenges to meet those. Wind energy would be a particular contributor to that, but the targets set for 2020 originally were grossly unrealistic and that presents a real challenge for the country. I will advise the Deputy as to the progress being made between the two Ministers. I understand they are discussing this and, hopefully, a comprise that is acceptable and effective can be worked out.