Questions on Promised Legislation

I wish to raise an issue Deputy O'Dea has also raised. It concerns the Government's plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole whereby solvent companies are walking away from their responsibilities and obligations in terms of defined benefit pension schemes. There are over 600,000 workers currently in defined benefit pension schemes. I refer to workers, pensioners and deferred pensioners. We have had a recent illustration of this issue in Independent News & Media in that workers have essentially had their pensions wiped out or significantly reduced, with no recourse to anybody. In other jurisdictions, particularly the United Kingdom, there are legislative provisions to stop this. I refer, in particular, to companies that are solvent and do not need to do what I describe. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach could indicate whether the Government has any plans in this regard or will press ahead with pension legislation, which has been long promised but not delivered upon.

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister has met the Attorney General in respect of the chairman of the Pensions Authority. It is not a loophole. Were legislation to be introduced, it could not be made retrospective. That is the advice we have received. In that context, it is not an issue. The Minister has sought advice from the Attorney General on whether he might be able to do something on this issue in the public interest, but it is not a case of introducing legislation and making it retrospective to cover these difficulties.

There are more coming down the tracks.

It is not a loophole.

Obviously, the recommendations being made by the defined benefit scheme companies show that 60% are in order, while the others have plans to rectify the position. Obviously, in some cases it is a serious challenge.

Almost two years ago following the discovery of new evidence and my raising of the issue in the Chamber, the Government agreed to take the case of the hooded men back to the European Court of Human Rights. That was the right decision. The 14 men involved had been tortured for seven days by the British army and the RUC special branch using brutal, in-depth interrogation techniques. The two organisations had lied about it over and over again. They had also claimed that they had banned the use of the five techniques in question in 1972 and, in 1978, pledged to the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe that they would not use them elsewhere, but that also was a lie, as the techniques were used by the British army in Iraq. The Government's decision to defend the rights of citizens and challenge the use of torture was the right one. The deadline for it to make its submission to the European Court of Human Rights is next Tuesday. Will the Taoiseach confirm that it will meet the deadline? Will the Government provide the men concerned and their legal representatives with a copy of the submission? Will the Government publish it?

The Government did make a decision in this regard. I do not have the actual details for the Deputy, but I will confirm them for him. It was the clear decision of the Government that we lodge an appeal. I had consulted the Attorney General in that regard. The Deputy is right to point out that the issue of human rights and the torture of the people involved - seven died in a situation where the truth was not told - swayed the Government at the time to lodge an appeal. When the Deputy speaks later today, he might refer to the human rights of Mr. Brian Stack and put the evidence before the House.

That will be useful to the hooded men. That remark was beneath the Taoiseach and his office.

What is the difference between being hooded and in a van with blacked-out windows?

You are the Taoiseach.

Please, Deputies.

On 27 September the Government published its legislative programme for this session. On that day the House was informed that 25 Bills had been given priority and listed for publication. I do not want to take up the time of the House in announcing each of them, but how many have been published?

Six have been published; three have been approved for publication, while work is ongoing on the others.

Regarding the legislative programme and the Dáil's business schedule, how will the findings of the Citizens' Assembly be handled? At the weekend it was reported in the newspapers that there had been an argument about whether they should be dealt with by the health committee or, as the Taoiseach told us when questioned, an all-party committee on which all parties and groups would be represented. Groups affected by the issue, for example, Terminations for Medical Reasons, are concerned that it be an all-party committee and specialist committee, one that would allow each group to have a say, unlike the health committee which is burdened by many other matters. When will the committee be convened? We should not sit and wait for the Citizens' Assembly to revert to us. It has until June next year to report. Groups are calling for the committee to be convened now in order that it could meet.

Since next week will be the last sitting week, will the Taoiseach tell the House whether the issue of Traveller ethnicity will be dealt with before or after Christmas?

I am sorry, but only one issue can be dealt with.

The Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, is working on the latter subject raised by the Deputy. There would be no point in setting up a specialist committee now because the Citizens' Assembly has not reported and is not due to report for some time, but it will be a special committee, an all-party committee of the House.

There are other things the Taoiseach could do.

When the report, with whatever recommendations or proposals are made, is received from the Citizens' Assembly, it will be transferred seamlessly to the all-party committee for consideration and will be brought back in due course for a decision to be made by the House.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine might be aware that in the coming days the Revenue Commissioners will write again to struggling farmers on patronage shares and this time demand specific amounts of money. That is outrageous. I know that the Minister is acutely aware of the issue, but the Government should intervene and explain to Revenue that what it is doing is blatantly wrong.

That has nothing to do with promised legislation.

-----because it pertains to the section on farming and the Government's commitment to sustain family farms. This is a direct attack on family farms that Revenue is targeting in an unfair way.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, might comment on the matter for the Deputy.

As the Deputy is aware, Revenue is independent in terms of its interpretation of the tax laws which in the context of this specific issue have not changed. Revenue officials are due to appear before the Oireachtas finance committee this afternoon to discuss the topic.

Maidir le clár oibre an Rialtais agus go háirithe maidir le haidhmeanna an Rialtais ó thaobh na Gaeilge de, an féidir leis an Taoiseach ráiteas a dhéanamh ag eascairt as cinneadh údarás Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, deireadh a chur leis an riachtanas Gaeilge a bheith ag an gcéad uachtarán eile, in ainneoin gur champas dátheangach é an campas, in ainneoin gur chathair dhátheangach í cathair na Gaillimhe agus in ainneoin go bhfuil an ollscoil agus an chathair ar thairseach na Gaeltachta? Is mór an náire é, dar liom, go bhfuil an cinneadh seo déanta. An féidir leis an Taoiseach ráiteas a dhéanamh, go háirithe maidir le na dualgais atá ar an ollscoil faoi reachtaíocht éagsúla?

Cé go bhfuil an t-ábhar sin thar a bheith tábachtach, ní dóigh go mbaineann sé le reachtaíocht atá i-----

Tagann sé díreach faoi chlár oibre an Rialtais ó thaobh na Gaeilge de.

Sílim go bhfuil an ceart ag an Teachta go bhfuil conníollacha leagtha síos. Tá brú ar Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, amháin Gaeilge agus dátheangachas a bheith acu. Níl a fhios agam faoin gcinneadh atá déanta acu, ach tá brú agus dualgas ar Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, an Ghaeilge a bheith acu agus a bheith acu go líofa. Breathnóidh mé isteach ar an rud atá ráite ag an Teachta.

There is a lot of concern about Bus Éireann. Will the Government ensure there will be a public bus service to serve rural communities, including in County Kerry, in order that especially those who can avail of free travel in places such as Killorglin, Killarney, Castleisland and Kenmare will have access to public transport? They have a right to use public transport just as much as those in Dublin who can use the Luas and other modes of public transport. Will the Taoiseach ensure the service will be continued?

The Deputy is aware of the rural transport scheme, to which the public service obligation, PSO, applies. He is also aware of the difficulties being experienced by Bus Éireann in the Expressway service. The company has asked Grant Thornton to look at the issue and it expects to make proposals in January. These are matters for the company which will report to the Minister in due course.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the progress made in meeting a commitment given in the programme for Government, specifically on page 97, which reads: "We will transfer responsibility for Criminal Legal Aid to the Legal Aid Board who will have new powers to compel criminals to pay a contribution". I presume it is a contribution towards the cost of rectifying the damage they have done. What is the status of that commitment? I assure the Taoiseach that criminals in Limerick will be well able to afford to pay as they are now in the dog racing business.

You can bet on it.

I am pleased that in this case some of the dogs have been recovered and are intact, which is good.

I will advise Deputy O'Dea of the progress being made in this regard by the Minister for Justice and Equality.

On a point of order, I asked the Taoiseach several times to send me a letter on the Government's position on the tenant purchase scheme.

That is a separate matter.

I will send the Deputy information about that.

It was promised six weeks ago.

My apologies for that, I will send that information to the Deputy.

I got no reply about a Topical Issue I raised with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform concerning the Citizens' Assembly. He gave a commitment to come back to me but he did not do so, Could the Taoiseach ensure that this happens?

That is not a matter on promised legislation.

I am reminding the Taoiseach that the matter is two weeks old. In respect of the commitment to the greyhound industry and agriculture in general, to which the Taoiseach just referred, I am delighted that Clare's Rocket, which is trained by Graham Holland of Riverside Kennels and was reportedly snatched from Tipperary, is back safe.

That is not a matter on promised legislation.

It is. We always hear bad new stories. I compliment Garda Superintendent Pat O'Connor, local Garda Eddie Nugent and everybody involved in returning that prized animal to his home.

This is not the time or the place.

We might put up a monument like that to Master McGrath in County Waterford.

The Deputy should resume his seat.

I am very surprised that some of the anti-coursing people were not out shouting about this dog and his treatment in captivity. He was not treated the way he was treated in the proper greyhound kennels.

Budget 2017 provides for medical cards to be allocated to all children in receipt of domiciliary care allowance once the necessary changes to the legislation have been made. When will these children receive these medical cards and what is timeframe for the legislation because it needs to happen sooner rather than later?

On the same subject, the Minister for Health confirmed that the legislation would be published this session but we need to hear from the Taoiseach about whether the Government will be able to make good on that commitment and whether it will come straight to the floor of the Dáil or need to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. When will the first child receive the medical card because they are in desperate need? We have already discussed this in the House.

It was approved by Government last week and I expect it to come before the House early in the new year and be effectively dealt with and finished by the first quarter of next year when children will be able to get those cards, all 10,000 of them.

The Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors have approved the Labour Court deal on Garda pay and payment is due to begin next month. However, there is no allocation for such payment, which the Department of Justice and Equality has costed at €50 million, in either the Department Vote or any other Vote. Will a Supplementary Estimate be introduced next week? Will this money come from within the Department Vote or will it come from other Votes in Government?

There will be no Supplementary Estimate. The Appropriations were signed off by the Cabinet yesterday. In the first instance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is talking to the Minister for Justice and Equality about this.

For the past two weeks, I have been questioning bankers before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. Could the Taoiseach address the issue whereby collectively, these banks have robbed their own customers of hundreds of millions of euro? The figures now stretch into 9,000 customers who have been denied tracker mortgage rates. We see banks that are owned completely by the State, 99.9% State-owned in the case of AIB, which took the homes of 14 of its own customers - more people than are sitting on Government benches - and bankrupted others. Where will the accountability rest? None of these bankers will be held accountable for the taking of hundreds of millions off their customers, wrongly taking homes off their customers and bankrupting them. This is happening across the board. In the case of AIB, it involved 2,600 customers while it involved approximately 1,000 customers in the case of KBC, approximately 2,000 in the case of Ulster Bank, approximately 1,800 in the case of Bank of Ireland and 1,372 in the case of Permanent TSB. Their customers have taken these banks to the Financial Services Ombudsman and the courts. This is not an historic issue. Up until last year, these banks were denying it. They were fighting their own customers all the way to the Supreme Court. We need accountability and for the Government to stand up as the majority shareholder, particularly in the case of AIB and Permanent TSB, and use its influence to make sure these bankers are held to account.

The Minister for Finance will respond to this. I am glad the truth about these banks was found out in respect of this matter and their customers.

There is no accountability. We need to hold those responsible accountable.

The Deputy should resume his seat. That concludes questions on promised legislation. My apologies to the five remaining Deputies who were not called.