There are commitments in the programme for Government to tackle the overall cost of living. We are all aware of the extraordinary cost of car insurance for many, particularly young people. There have been increases of over 40% in some cases. I think it demands urgent intervention by the Government. It has been reported that an Oireachtas committee could recommend that drivers be able to access car insurance elsewhere in Europe, or that there be a European dimension to this issue. Obviously, strong regulatory provisions would be required in the interests of protection, etc. I put it to the Taoiseach that when this happened in the mid-2000s, there were dramatic reductions through the introduction of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and the acceptance of the recommendations of the Motor Insurance Advisory Board. Will the Government introduce legislation to implement its commitments in the programme for Government? Will it take action to reduce car insurance costs dramatically?
Questions on Promised Legislation
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to explain the work he is doing in this area.
We will get a better idea of what the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach is recommending tomorrow when it publishes its report on its investigation into the cost of motor insurance. The working group that the Government set up during the summer under the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, published its emerging recommendations earlier this week and will publish a report next month setting out the 40 or so actions it intends to implement to reform the motor insurance sector. Legislative changes will be made as a result in areas such as the Injuries Board, the Road Traffic Acts and the Civil Liability and Courts Act. The action taken in 2003 was a response to the particular issue of the impact of road accidents on the cost of insurance generally. We are seeing different factors contributing to the spike in premiums that we have seen in the past 12 months, in particular. We will not be able to go back to the cheap premiums we enjoyed in previous years, but we can make legislative changes and bring additional transparency to how the insurance industry works with the aim of stabilising the current volatility in prices and, as the recommendations work their way through, bringing prices down over time.
The programme for Government included a commitment to undertake a hospital bed capacity review to establish the number, type and location of beds required for the future. Just last week, we learned that the review had not commenced. The Minister for Health has admitted that he has not moved beyond the preliminary work to determine the terms of reference for the review. It is taking so long to agree to the terms of reference that it is no wonder the health service is in the crisis it is in. Will the Taoiseach bring some clarity to the matter? Will he tell us when we will finally see the terms of reference for the bed capacity review? Will the review be completed by next year, in time for inclusion in the 2016-21 capital plan?
The Minister is working on the review. I noted this morning that the number of patients on trolleys in special delivery units had decreased since yesterday. Norovirus - the winter vomiting bug - is causing a problem in St. Vincent's University Hospital and the hospitals in Wexford, Letterkenny, Waterford and Cork. Some of these hospitals have had particularly high attendances. Tallaght Hospital continues to have 20 beds closed owing to the CRE bug. There has been a surge in the number of orthopaedic patients and medical admissions because of the adverse weather. Norovirus is having a serious impact on hospitals. I will have the Deputy apprised of the work the Minister is doing on the beds issue.
The Taoiseach will remember very well the formal Government decision to establish a transparent process for the filling of vacancies on State boards through the Public Appointments Service. As a result of that decision, such vacancies are now advertised - it is open to every member of the general public to apply - and the Public Appointments Service shortlists people it independently deems to be appropriate. Has the previous Government's decision on appointments to State boards been changed? Has any member of the Government indicated to the Taoiseach that he or she has a difficulty with the transparent process now in place?
There is an obvious answer to that question.
The position is that those who believe they have sufficient qualifications or experience to serve on a particular board can apply to do so. As Deputy Brendan Howlin knows, Ministers are not aware of who applies now.
The names of those who are vetted and assessed by the Public Appointments Service and deemed to be eligible, qualified and have sufficient experience are sent to the relevant Minister. Of course, it is up to a Minister to say, "I have set down the criteria and the following are qualified." If a Minister considers there are too many names on a list, he or she can certainly have the group interviewed in order that recommendations can be made about who should be selected from the list.
The guidelines specifically allow a Minister to determine the number on the list.
If the problem is selecting from among those listed as being qualified and eligible, the remedy is to have them interviewed by a smaller interview board and accept its recommendations. That option is open to every Minister.
Who fears to speak of the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross?
The programme for Government allows for the establishment of an Oireachtas committee on water services. We are given to understand the expert commission will hand its report to the committee next Wednesday, 30 November. I watched the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, on the television last night. As he sought to defend water charges, he said, with an arrogance that was reminiscent of Phil Hogan, "drink all the rainwater you want." That is what it reminded me of. As ordinary people are determined not to pay, the Government must choose between abolishing the charges or facing the mother of all battles.
The Deputy should ask a question.
The Ceann Comhairle is right on time because I am about to ask my questions.
How long will the expert commission report be with the committee and how long will the committee meet? When it has concluded its deliberations and presented its report to the Dáil, how long will it be the property of the Dáil? In other words, when are we going to have the vote on whether to abolish the hated water charges?
I point out to Deputy Barry, who perhaps lives in a different world, that ordinary people all over the country have been paying for and contributing in respect of water for very many years.
Through their taxes, yes.
A great number of ordinary people, as Deputy Barry terms them, want to continue to be able to contribute for the water they receive and for waste water facilities nationally. I heard people this morning talking about the quality of the water off our coasts. Are we to continue with a situation in which raw effluent continues to be pumped into the lakes, rivers and seas?
Not at all.
I say "no". The vote will be held in March 2017. The committee will be expertly chaired by Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh. Everyone will have an opportunity to have a say.
A matter that is in the programme for Government is the commitment of the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on a compensation package for farmers whose lands were affected by the hen harrier issue. The package was to be put in place, but it has not materialised. These farmers are now held up very badly. They cannot get planning permission for their land and there are a lot of other hold ups on foot of the hen harrier issue. When will the Government honour the commitment given by the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in a place called Rockchapel where he announced the scheme which now seems to be gone by the wayside?
I will ask the Minister to answer. He is dealing with it now.
I was there in Rockchapel on the day the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announced that he would introduce a scheme for farmers whose lands were designated for the protection of hen harriers. The Department has gone to tender on the process in recent days.
The programme for Government undertakes to introduce and fast-track legislation to provide for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, including the introduction of electronic tagging. A commitment was given to draft the legislation as a priority during this session. Where is the legislation?
That will be dealt with, I understand, in the bail Bill. I reported progress on that in the House before.
The programme for Government stated that we would support farming incomes. However, the Revenue Commissioners have recently attacked farmers' incomes by way of a retrospective policy of charging tax on shares given to them by Kerry Co-op. Instead of attacking the farming community, can the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine assist grain and beef farmers who are severely hit and impacted this year? Is there any fund from Europe that we can access to help them? They will not survive until next year, especially the grain farmers, if something is not done to help them.
Is there anything in the programme for Government on that matter?
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, introduced in the budget a gap year in particular to help farmers caught with grain this year where they could not get anything out. I will ask Deputy Creed to respond to Deputy Healy-Rae's second question.
On the issue of beef and tillage, the Deputy will be aware that one of the things we have done has been to bring forward the early payment of the single farm payment. Most farmers have received that at this stage. The balancing payments will issue shortly. On the grain side, we have a number of initiatives, including access to low-interest finance that was one of the asks from the grain forum I convened post-harvest. It wanted access to low-interest finance and we have established a loan fund of €150 million, which includes European funding of €11 million and Exchequer funding of €14 million. It is available to the livestock, tillage and horticulture sectors.
The programme for Government outlines a full review of public transport policy and we saw yesterday an undercover investigation in Dublin around rickshaws and the act of drug dealing. Some examples of that were shown. Is it the intention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to develop a regulatory policy with the National Transport Authority around rickshaw licensing, insurance and other matters? It is important to provide a framework for what is a mode of public transport.
They are two separate things. Dealing in and selling illegal drugs is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána, which has a particular expertise in this area through the drug squads which are funded by Government. Obviously, the Minister will look at the question of mobile vehicles of one description or another. They seem to change every so often. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will reflect on the scale of rickshaw movement throughout the city.
Can the Taoiseach provide me with an update on the progress of the broadcasting (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? I am sure he agrees this new legislation is needed to introduce a new level of accountability in respect of how taxpayers' money is spent by RTE.
I ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to respond.
I thank Deputy McLoughlin. We are actively working on the Bill and I hope to bring a memorandum to Government soon. The joint committee is also looking at the issue currently and held hearings on it yesterday. It is a complex area with which we are trying to deal by way of a two-strand approach. Initially, there will be some short-term measures to deal with the challenges we currently face, but we will also put a longer-term plan in place. The joint committee is actively working on that and I look forward to receiving its report.
Teachtaí Gerry Adams agus Micheál Martin raised this morning the recent number of suicides in Cork and the Taoiseach referred to some of the interventions which were made afterwards. I am from the communities to which the Taoiseach referred. Those interventions were actually sought and initiated by the community. While I commend the HSE and the services that assisted and provided that, the reality is that there is no off-the-shelf approach to deal with spikes like that by way of community interventions. Will the Taoiseach demand from the task force that it establishes a standard procedure to deal with spikes like that to allow communities to respond rapidly to put an end to and halt any possibility of a knock-on effect?
There is no set procedure here, but where a phenomenon like this has occurred and where there are, as unfortunately we have had in the past, what are termed "copycat arrangements" or "copycat outcomes", work such as that now being undertaken in Cork is done to deal with this spike and phenomenon. What I outlined to Deputy Martin earlier deals with the work the community and those who are expert in this area are now putting in place. I mentioned the national task force. Obviously, Cork will be the recipient of the facilities of Jigsaw in 2017 also.
My apologies to the six Deputies who have not got in, but time has now elapsed.