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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 15 Dec 2016

Vol. 933 No. 2

Questions on Promised Legislation

As 17 Members are offering, I ask them to be brief. I call Deputy Kelleher.

First, I would like to wish everybody in the House a happy Christmas. It might be my only opportunity to do so.


Tomorrow is the day for that.

Order, please.

I extend good wishes to Members on all sides, to the Ceann Comhairle and to all the staff. Will the Tánaiste confirm whether the House will sit tomorrow?

I understand the Government Whip will make the order later.

The Whip will outline the details of the arrangements for later today and tomorrow shortly.

Nollaig shona, Tánaiste. Happy Christmas to you-----

-----to the staff and to your little helpers, the elves and gnomes of Fianna Fáil.

This is from the teddy bear party.

You never know, you could get a little bit of mistletoe and kiss and make up.

I wish to ask the Tánaiste for an update on the all-party motion that we passed to accept 200 unaccompanied minors from France. Will she give the House a sense of the timeframe for this process? I know she has been active on it. I heard it reported that the Attorney General advised that a special legal programme might be necessary under the Refugee Act. Will she briefly give the House a sense of where all that is at?

A very happy Christmas to you, Deputy. I hope that was not an afterthought.

I met the French Minister on the motion passed in the Dáil. A group of officials will be travelling to France shortly to have discussions on the programme. It is possible under the Refugee Act to designate a special programme to make sure there is a legal mechanism for unaccompanied minors to come into this country from France. French officials are identifying unaccompanied children in France, who will be mostly between the ages of 16 and 18 and primarily from Eritrea, Somalia and Afghanistan. The Minister for Children and Youth affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, will be working with Tusla to see what provision can be made here for accommodation for those young people. Obviously, the programme will have to start with a smaller group and see how it develops.

I also wish the Ceann Comhairle, all the Members and all the staff of the House a very happy and restful Christmas, as we reinvigorate ourselves.

On a matter of secondary legislation, which would be familiar to the Tánaiste, when will the transfer of powers to the Policing Authority to make appointments in the ranks of senior Garda occur? We have been waiting for this to happen for many months. I understood that initially the statutory instruments were drawn up six months ago, but the transfer has not happened yet. When will this particular secondary legislation be signed by the Tánaiste and when will that power transfer so the outstanding appointments can be made?

The regulations will go to Cabinet next Tuesday.

Why could the transfer not have happened before Christmas?

There were a lot of legal issues which needed to be dealt with and they turned out to be more complex than originally envisaged. The regulations will go to Cabinet next Tuesday and the power will transfer, as was always envisaged, on 1 January.

When will the Government introduce legislation, which is really needed, for real rent controls? We know the Government's proposal in this regard but we still have not seen the white smoke from the two parties on what they will agree on later today. We need something a lot more serious than this, however.

I would like to send the Tánaiste a Christmas message from a mother of two which I just received on my phone. She wants to thank the Government for giving her landlord a licence for an upward only rent review, which is basically what the Government has introduced for Dublin and Cork where rents have reached saturation point. In fact, most rent increases are now in Meath, Kildare and the Dublin commuter belt with an average increase of €225 per month on Nothing is being proposed by this Government. We real need real rent controls at 0% in Dublin and Cork, which is the real rate of inflation. Is the Government that beholden to the landlords in this country? Does it seriously think rent controls are an infringement against the market?

Thank you, Deputy. Time is up.

I already clarified the goal of the legislation in question. It is to protect tenants and to provide a stable rental market. These initiatives are targeted at doing this. I hope they can be agreed later today.

I wish the Ceann Comhairle, the Tánaiste, everybody here and the staff a happy, holy and peaceful Christmas. I realise the staff work all night trying to get Bills and things arranged. The Business Committee agrees on something but it is torn up the morning after.

I acknowledge the new Garda force in Dublin and the new equipment and recruitment for Templemore. The Garda station in Clonmel is Dickensian and not fit for purpose. A new station for Clonmel was announced some years ago by the Minister's predecessor, Alan Shatter, but nothing has happened. In the largest inland town in the country, gardaí are expected to work in a station not fit for human habitation or for public use. There are no proper rooms in which statements can be taken. I asked the Tánaiste to visit and see it at first hand. The Department of Justice and Equality has acquired a site of an old Army barracks from the county council. Will the Tánaiste do something to make Clonmel Garda station better for the gardaí serving under Superintendent William Leahy, as well as for the public?

I reassure the Deputy there is an investment programme of refurbishment of Garda stations. I met recently with the Office of Public Works to ensure that programme is accelerated. I will communicate with the Deputy directly on Clonmel Garda station.

I understand the Minister for Education and Skills promised the review of the DEIS programme would be published before Christmas. Foolishly, I thought it was this Christmas. Will the Minister for Education and Skills confirm that I have not been foolish and it will be published before Christmas? If so, when? Happy Christmas too to all.

It is in the final stages of preparation and we will be publishing it in the coming weeks.

As the Tánaiste knows it has been a difficult year for the farming community across various sectors. The tillage sector especially has suffered much pressure this year, particularly those tillage farmers who lost crops along the western coast due to the wet weather during the harvest. I have raised this several times. Tillage farmers continue to raise the need for a crisis fund with the Government. There is spare funding available in the Department's current budget, which the Minister will use to forward pay some World Food Programme moneys for next year. The capacity is there to provide a crisis fund but, unfortunately, the political will is not. Will the Government consider a crisis fund, accede to it and put it in place before the end of the year?

The programme for Government has a commitment to protect farm incomes. Tillage farmers in south-west Cork are actually at crisis point due to a period of bad prices and, more particularly, because of the wet September we experienced in west Cork. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment today as to whether these farmers will be compensated or not?

I will ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to communicate with the Deputies directly on any action he is intending to take. I am sure he is well aware of this issue.

Under the Irish Aviation Authority Act, has the Government agreed a proposal this year to grant a permit for Santa Claus to travel the length and breadth of the country? As chairman of the children's committee, I have been contacted by numerous concerned parents and children who are keen observers of the new politics in this House and the tendency of the Fianna Fáil Party to water down the Government's proposals. I have been asked to clarify with the Tánaiste if the Government has had negotiations with the Fianna Fáil Party on the proposal to grant a permit to allow Santa Claus to travel in Irish airspace. Has the Fianna Fáil Party an agreed position on that proposal? Has it agreed not to oppose the proposal? Indeed, has it agreed not to insist on watering it down which would result in partial delivery to households throughout the country? If the Tánaiste could confirm that for the House, it would be appreciated.


That is certainly an interesting question, Deputy.

They will make it slippery for him.

Typical of Fine Gael making a joke about it.

There will be no difficulty with Santa Claus's permit for travel this Christmas. No objections have been put in by anybody.

It is time the victims of crime are given full recognition in the criminal justice system, as well as their rights to information, advice and other appropriate assistance. For the first time, the victims of crime will be given statutory rights, as well as support and protection for themselves and their families, under the victims of crime Bill. When can we expect publication of this Bill?

That Bill is going to Cabinet on Tuesday and will be published shortly afterwards.

I wish everybody, including your good self, a Ceann Comhairle, happy and seasonal greetings and good wishes for the coming year. I began the year with questions about the Bail Bill, that old stalwart.

And the Deputy has not stopped talking since.

It is as important as ever. I know the Tánaiste has good news for me in that regard. The timeline for it is already agreed and we will see it early in the new year. I would like confirmation on that.

It is great the Deputy can ask and answer his own question.

The Bail Bill was published on 8 December. It is up to the Business Committee to decide when it can come through the House. I am sure it will be a priority.

The programme for Government commits the Government to implement in full the maternity strategy. I refer specifically to the clause in the strategy which states, "All women must have equal access to standardised ultrasound services, to accurately date the pregnancy, to assess the foetus for ultrasound diagnosable anomalies as part of a planned prenatal foetal diagnostic service, and for other indications if deemed necessary".

As it stands, access to these anomaly scans is a bit of a postcode lottery. Women really need to know they will be able to access this. The Government has given them a commitment but, as ever, its words seem to have very little meaning. When will we see the routine availability of 20 week scans? They are not offered routinely now nor are they available in every maternity hospital.

There is dedicated funding for the development of the maternity strategy in the HSE service plan which was announced yesterday. The original strategy, when it was announced, envisaged a programme of investment over a number of years.

We have had much debate in the House about housing over the past couple of hours which will continue tomorrow. I am concerned that many homeless people, including hundreds of families, are in hotels throughout the country. In Dublin city and every provincial town, there are families in hotel rooms. Many of these hotels will close for Christmas in the next week. Has the Government or Department done any assessment on what will happen, how many people are in this situation or how they can be dealt with? In effect, the State is providing this housing for them and it will be taken away. Is there any plan in place to ensure these people will be housed over Christmas?

It will be the responsibility of the various local authorities to work for those people where accommodation becomes a problem and if it is a problem over the Christmas period. As the Deputy knows, every effort is made by local authorities to ensure housing, whether it is in hotels or elsewhere, is permanent. Where there is a change in that, every effort is made to work with a person to find alternative accommodation. The overall goal of this Government is clearly that people would not be in hotels in the first instance. The strategy that has been outlined by the Minister is to ensure we will cease to use hotels for people who become homeless. It is worth pointing out the number of families this year alone that have exited homelessness, left hotels and got permanent accommodation.

Earlier this summer the dispute on the pay-by-weight domestic waste collection saw a deferral and, significantly, a price freeze was agreed. There was a commitment for legislation if the prize freeze and deferral were not working. Householders have told me they are seeing an increase in their bills as a direct result of the pay-by-weight system. Clearly there are companies that are not respecting last summer's agreement. To protect householders who have seen their bills increase, how advanced is the legislation to ensure the price freeze commitment is honoured?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. There was an agreement between the industry and the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, that there would be a price freeze put in place for a 12-month period to allow for a new pricing structure to be introduced. Last week, I announced the shadow invoicing that was planned to come in on 1 January 2017 will not come in because we have not finalised how that pricing structure will be put in place. The objective behind that is to ensure everyone, whether they are a low or high generator of waste, has an incentive to reduce the volumes of waste that are going into landfill. On the issue raised, if the Deputy furnishes details of specific instances to my office, we will investigate them and bring them to the attention of the contractors involved.

Given the Christmas spirit that is prevailing and the fact there are only a few members left, we will take them very quickly.

Seasonal greetings to the Ceann Comhairle, all the staff and Members of the House. Will the Tánaiste give an update on the progress of the rates Bill? I ask this because there is great interest in my constituency in Sligo and Leitrim county councils which have some of the lowest levels of commercial rates revenue in the State.

The Bill is expected early next year.

Guím Nollaig shona ar an gCeann Comhairle agus ar fhoireann na Dála go léir. The Minister for Education and Skills is present. Today the Joint Committee on Education and Skills will discuss the issue of schools admission and the Equal Status (Admissions to Schools) Bill that is before us. The Minister promised as part of the baptism barrier issue that 400 multi-denominational schools would be established and that by the end of this year a pathway to see how it could be dealt with would be published. It is a bit like the DEIS scheme that Deputy Connolly raised. It has not been published yet and only four of the 400 schools promised by the Government up to 2030 have been delivered. What is the position of these schools? When will they be delivered? When will a plan be announced?

The two items the Deputy raised are entirely separate. The DEIS scheme is for disadvantaged schools and the report will be published in the coming weeks. The commitment with regard to the development of non-denominational options is proceeding. We are developing a plan. It is for 400 schools by 2030 so it is a long-term plan and we are looking at options. We are working with the education and training boards and the other bodies. There is new school patronage. In second level virtually all of them went to non-denominational patrons. The same is true of the primary schools announced this year and there are four further schools for which patronage is being sought. We are making progress. It is not fast enough but I ensure the Deputy we are working on it.

Guím beannachtaí na féile ar gach éinne, agus seinnfidh mé ceol ag an am céanna. Maidir le ceist atá níos dáiríre, an important and alarming report was left on my desk which suggests there are dangers to workers and Members of the House from exposure to asbestos in the former RTE studios upstairs. What actions will be taken to ensure that when we return-----

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, will be very exposed so.

-----from the break, all asbestos in this House is removed, given how dangerous it is not only for us but for the workers in this House? It was left on my desk and it was from last Friday's Irish Daily Mail. There is a photograph of signs and the title is "Danger in the Dáil". We understand some of the dangers but these are the lurking hidden dangers.

It is not a matter for the Tánaiste. It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and the Office of Public Works, OPW, I suspect.

The Deputies should turn off their ties because they might interfere with Santa's flight path. The Tánaiste has been working very hard on the legislation to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and had hoped to have it done for the end of the year. There is consultation with other Departments but will the Tánaiste give us some timeframe because people expected it would happen before the end of the year.

The legislation that is necessary, which is the disability and inequality legislation, was considered by the Committee on Justice and Equality this morning and it did its legislative scrutiny on it. We are very close to finalising the legislation. I hope to have it published before the end of the year.

I hope everyone has a good Christmas too.

Except for NAMA.

We found out from a freedom of information request yesterday that 850 children under ten are in direct provision. Will the Government consider doing something a little special for them before Christmas?

We had a report on direct provision. What is really important for the families in direct provision is that the recommendations in that report are implemented, such as those on self-catering. Work is being done on that. More important, the big issue that was identified was the fact that families were spending long periods in direct provision. In the course of the past year, the cases of the vast majority of families who were in direct provision for a long period were dealt with. The International Protection Act will be in force from 1 January 2017 which will ensure families and children move very quickly through the process of determination on whether they are entitled to refugee status.

Guím Nollaig shona ar gach éinne fosta. As with the previous two years, 2016 saw dramatic increases in motor insurance for drivers. Last month, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, committed to producing the Government's report on the insurance industry before the end of the year. Given that we are in the last days of the Dáil's sitting this year, will the Government inform the House when the much anticipated report will be published and if the commitment given in the House will be met?

The report will be available early in the new year.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation.