Order of Business

Tuesday's business shall be No. 13, motion re changes to Standing Orders, without debate; and No. 19, statements on Northern Ireland. Private Members' business shall be No. 30, the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016, by AAA-PBP.

Wednesday's Government business shall be No. 4, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 20, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage (resumed). Private Members' business shall be No. 86, motion re tillage farming, by Fianna Fáil.

Thursday's Government business shall be No. 4, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage (resumed); and No. 20 - Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage (resumed). Second Stage of No. 31, Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016, will be debated in the evening slot.

I refer Members to the report of the Business Committee dated 12 January 2017.

With regard to today's business, there are four proposals. It is proposed that:

(1) the Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and adjourn on the conclusion of the proceedings on the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016;

(2) the motion re changes to Standing Orders shall be taken without debate;

(3) the statements on Northern Ireland shall commence immediately after Taoiseach's questions, will be followed by questions to the Minister for Finance and will be brought to a conclusion after 130 minutes. The speeches of a Minister or Minister or State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall be not more than 15 minutes each and there will be a ten minute response from the Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time; and

(4) Private Members' business shall take place immediately after Topical Issues, and proceedings on Second Stage of the Anti-Evictions Bill 2016 shall be brought to a conclusion after two hours.

I thank the Minister of State. There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. On promised legislation, we have one minute for each Member-----

Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle.

-----seeking to raise matters. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

I am sorry, but may I raise a question on the Order of Business? I did not realise-----

No, we have just dealt with the Order of Business.

It relates to the second item of today's business.

No. Maybe when I get to the Deputy, but we have dealt with the Order of Business.

I thought that the Ceann Comhairle was just dealing with the first item. I did not realise that it included the second item.

There was only one proposal to be debated, and we have dealt with it.

The medical, nursing and other staff who are working in the emergency departments of our hospitals are under enormous stress working in overcrowded wards and find it difficult on a daily basis to maintain basic health and safety. We read in today's newspapers that the chief fire officer in Limerick has gone to the extraordinary length of saying that there is a fire hazard in terms of numbers being exceeded, that he will need to take enforcement action if matters do not improve and that the responsibility lies with the HSE as the enforcing authority.

The Government has promised in its legislative programme the health and well-being and workplace well-being Bill. It is all well and fine to introduce legislation like that, but will the Taoiseach indicate when it will be published? Will he ensure that staff and patients in our hospitals are meanwhile not exposed to fire hazards and can maintain basic health and safety in such accident and emergency departments?

The health and well-being Bill is not on the priority list and the heads of that are being worked on at the moment.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the Government's commitment to recognise Traveller ethnicity. This morning, the ESRI produced a report on the many disadvantages in education, employment, housing and health faced by the Traveller community. We all know these. Crucially, the report states that ethnic recognition "could be of considerable benefit in ensuring respect for the cultural identity of Travellers in the context of targeted services". I raised this matter with the Taoiseach before Christmas and he told me of the work being done by the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. I commend that work and have spoken with the Minister of State. The Taoiseach stated that the four Traveller representative NGOs would be invited to speak to the Oireachtas committee this month. Could we have an update on this matter and does the Taoiseach expect to be able to report that the Traveller community will have its ethnicity recognised before the end of this month?

The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has done quite a deal of work on this, as Deputy Adams is aware. I have asked the Minister of State to invite the NGOs that represent the Traveller community - all four of them - to attend at a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee in respect of their propositions. I hope that will take place in the next couple of weeks and I will update the House afterwards.

On the legislative list published in the past hour or so, the judicial appointments Bill is promised for the coming weeks. In advance of its publication, will the Tánaiste have discussions with the Chief Justice on this important matter? In advance of finalising the Bill's text, will the Tánaiste have discussions with the parties in opposition?

Obviously, we have discussions with lots of people. The Bill has not been finally prepared yet, but a great deal of work has been done about it in respect of the changes to take place. I expect that there will be discussions with members of the Judiciary.

The issue that I wanted to raise pertained to the Order of Business and many Members may not have been aware of it. The Dáil reform committee has proposed to change Standing Order 156. It is being proposed that this matter will be taken without debate, but we cannot agree to that. While it was agreed at the committee, Members should be alerted to what it means. Speaking times on amendments would be reduced on Report Stage to seven minutes and two minutes, respectively. This is an incursion into Members' ability to give considered opinions on what can be important legislation.

The proposal should not go through without debate and time should be set aside for it. That is what I was going to raise. The other issue-----

No, the Deputy can only raise one matter.

You are being very proper, a Cheann Comhairle.

It is a practical matter. We have had occasions in the past where Report Stage of Bills has drifted interminably, deliberately so. This matter has already been agreed by the Dáil Reform Committee and by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and it is in the interests of everybody to be able to move through Report Stage without hindering people of the opportunity to have their say but to do so in a decent fashion that allows them the time to say what they want to say.

In regard to the Government's preparations for Brexit, legislative or otherwise, and following on from the Taoiseach's comment earlier that the British Prime Minister will visit Government Buildings - I hope you can give me some latitude a Cheann Comhairle - is there a possibility that we could invite Mrs. Theresa May to speak in this House, as there has been a long tradition of various Prime Ministers speaking here? It would be important that she sets out to this House, in a similar way as she did today, what her views on Brexit are. How would the Government or this House for that matter send an invitation for her to speak here on that critical issue? It is important that the Prime Minister does not simply visit Government Buildings and have no engagement with the rest of the political system.

I received a letter from the Ceann Comhairle today in regard to this matter. I cannot give Deputy Ryan a definitive answer but I will act on the letter received from the Ceann Comhairle to see whether that might be possible. When the Prime Minister agreed to come here, a time schedule was set in place and I do not have the details of her day other than the indication of coming to discuss these matters but I will follow through on the Ceann Comhairle's letter.

The affordable child care scheme Bill is on the new legislative programme. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that all childminders would be registered with Tusla. Five counties in the country have no childminders registered with Tusla which means the proposed legislation will be inoperable. The proposal would put undue hardship on people who have cared very well for children, their own and others, in their own home or the children's home. I support crèches and child care groups as well but in this case I refer to people who are caring for their neighbour's children, or other children, in their own home and doing so properly and above board. Now they will be compelled to register with Tusla but I do not know if Tusla has the staff required to regulate the area. If the legislation is introduced the matter will become a significant one.

This matter must be dealt with by September so the Bill will have to be enacted during the course of this session. No doubt Deputy Mattie McGrath will have plenty of opportunity to speak on the issue and to voice his concerns.

Not judging by the Taoiseach's previous comment.

The Bill will be published and dealt with before the House rises in July because it will take effect in September.

In recent days the HSE said it has lost €22 million because of people not attending appointments with doctors and hospitals. How did the HSE bulk up the amount to €22 million? How many people have died while they were waiting for an appointment?

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

I agree that it is very important.

My question is why it is still taking a year and a half and two years for people to have cataract operations. We spoke about the issue many times last year yet in 2017 the same thing is happening and we are getting letters saying people will have to wait for a year and a half and two years. That is not acceptable for the people of counties Kerry and Cork. Why can we not introduce the Sligo model throughout the country and give all the people the same assistance?

Nor is it acceptable that medical doctors and personnel should be left hanging about when people have been notified of an appointment and decide not to turn up for it.

That is something that is very easy to rectify. Any young boy or girl who is going to training, a football match or anything else will not only get a notice but a text to remind them. To put it mildly, it is most unfortunate that people refuse to turn up for appointments with doctors or medical personnel. There are always occasions when this can happen but it is very easy to send a text or message to say that something has happened and that you cannot be there and somebody else can have that appointment. I have seen doctors waiting around in hospitals for a person to turn up but there is no word. That is not good enough either.

Following a visit last week to our county by the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, where he saw at first hand the outstanding facilities and great community in St. Mary Of The Angels, St. John of God Services Beaufort, I again call on the Government to revisit the policy set out in June 2011, Time to Move on from Congregated Settings – A Strategy for Community Inclusion, and ensure that communities like that in Beaufort will remain open. One shoe does not fit all sizes. Many of the people in these homes are only suited to such facilities. Others can go out into communities where they thrive and do better but not everybody can do this. By not allowing more people to go into a place like St. Mary Of The Angels, we are closing the facility by stealth.

I am sure the Minister of State will make his decision based on what he has seen in terms of the sensitivities and personal issues that arise here. It has been a few years since I visited that location. I saw at first hand the wonderful work people do. I will advise the Minister of State to contact the Deputy regarding his question following his visit.

Before Christmas, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government undertook to get the Residential Tenancies Board to carry out some research to ascertain whether rent control would be extended to Limerick, Galway and Waterford. What stage is this research at and will the Minister be able to meet his commitment that the decision will be made towards the end of this month or early next month?

I cannot answer the detail of the question but I will get the Minister to respond directly to the Deputy.

On pages 27 and 28 of the programme for a partnership Government, reference is made to introducing a scheme similar to the existing Living City initiative which would regenerate town centres and villages throughout the country, including in places such as Dundalk and Ardee. This is described as a year 1 action. Can the Taoiseach confirm when we can expect legislation before the House that will underpin this commitment?

I am not sure what stage it is at with regard to the context of the programme that is to be launched next week in respect of rural Ireland but I will advise the Deputy of the progress that has been made in respect of it.

Four years ago next month, people with disabilities, particularly younger people with an expectation, were dealt a serious blow with the scrapping of the motorised transport grant and the mobility allowance. Over the intervening four years, there have been many promises made. In the legislative programme for the spring-summer session for 2017, the health (transport support) Bill is to provide for a scheme to make individual payments as a contribution towards transport costs to people with severe disabilities. What does the statement "work is underway" represent in terms of the final column of the report? What stage is this legislation at? When will we see the heads of the Bill if it has not yet presented? When does the Taoiseach expect the Bill to be formally presented? Can he confirm to the House that what is included in this new legislation will address what has already been lost?

It was difficult to find a way to deal with the issues arising from the suspension of the other scheme to a new scheme. I expect that this Bill will be before the House in a couple of weeks.

In correspondence to me, the Minister for Health advised that he intended to publish the health (amendment) (No. 2) Bill in the last session but that did not happen. For those who are not aware, this gives effect to the budget commitment to extend an automatic medical card to those children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance.

This is long overdue. My constituency office, and I imagine the constituency offices of many Deputies, has been inundated with desperate parents wanting to know when they will be able to access a medical card for their children who have been deemed to have a severe or serious disability. According to the legislative programme, the pre-legislative scrutiny has yet to be determined. I have asked the Taoiseach this several times: when will these people see their medical cards?

Obviously, the publication of the Bill today follows through on the decision of the Government. The heads were approved in December of last year and the legislative scrutiny has to take place on it.

When will the first child get a medical card?

It is a matter for the committee as to when it wants to take it.

There is unanimous agreement in this House. There is no reason for this delay.

The Bill is very clear.

It is cruel at this stage.

It will provide a medical card to all children in respect of whom a domiciliary care allowance is made. The Bill will provide a clear entitlement to a defined group of children with a severe disability and significant needs to a medical card.

I could read that myself. When?

It has to go through. The Deputy should raise the question at the committee. Obviously, it has to go through pre-legislative scrutiny now. I do not control that.

For the past two years Members on this side of the House have continually raised the high cost of motor insurance and particularly how young people are being totally and utterly screwed when they go to get motor insurance. I acknowledge that last week finally saw the publication of the report to tackle the issue. One of the key recommendations is the introduction of legislation on compulsory motor insurance. However, according to today's legislative programme, that is only now under way. When will that be published? We cannot allow a number of these recommendations to be delayed for another 18 months, leaving young people paying exorbitant insurance costs for four years while the Government did nothing for the past two years.

Contrary to what the Deputy has said, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did a great deal of work in the insurance area. The Deputy will be aware of the publication of the recent report. The heads of the Bill will be published in the second quarter and will obviously go for pre-legislative scrutiny at that stage.

Last week, many of us watched the television programme, "The Great Irish Sell-off", which clearly showed how deeply the vultures' claws have gone into the State. The programme pointed out that 90,000 home mortgages had been sold by the banks to vulture funds. Today's Irish Independent has reports that hundreds of farmers are concerned that the vultures are about to swoop on them and repossess their farms. When will the Government clip the wings of the vultures or do they, as the Minister for Finance believes, play an important role in the State? Will the Government take any action to protect the 90,000 home owners and farmers who are concerned that the vultures are about to swoop?

As the Deputy is aware, the Central Bank does not maintain a record of the number of commercial loans, including SME loans, that have been sold on by the original underwriter. However, it has stated that portfolio sales are considered as part of the normal supervisory engagement. More importantly for individual consumers, legislation and regulations implemented by the Oireachtas and the Central Bank protect SMEs when dealing with regulated and unregulated firms. Under the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015, the protections for SME borrowers are in line with those of mortgage owners. In cases where SME loans are sold by a regulated lender to an unregulated firm, the affected borrower retains the same level of protection as they had prior to sale. These regulatory protections are under the various statutory codes, the consumer protection code, the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, the lending to small and medium enterprise regulations, and the minimum competency code issued by the Central Bank of Ireland.

The transfer of a loan from one entity to another does not change the terms of the contract or the borrower's rights and obligations under the original contract. I will bring the fact that the Deputy has raised the issue to the Minister's attention.

I will get the niceties out of the way because I will probably not be nice to the Taoiseach for the rest of the year, but I wish him and his colleagues a happy new year. When will this country ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? I have raised this many times with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath. It is like waiting for Godot at this stage. People with disabilities and other members of the public are awaiting a decision by this Government. The convention has already been ratified by 156 countries and Ireland must ratify it without further delay. A protest will be held outside the Dáil on Thursday at 12 noon by people with disabilities. People are awaiting a decision and they want it now.

I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for his good wishes. The relevant Bill was published before Christmas. It is now awaiting Second Stage and will move through the various Stages. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, along with many others, has done a lot of work on it. I hope it moves through-----

Is there a specific date?

I do not know. It will be a matter for the Business Committee to decide when it comes in here in terms of the ordering of business. Obviously, we must follow through with a number of Bills before we can actually ratify the convention but it has moved into a much better place now.

That is a very poor response.

I will ask the Minister of State to contact the Deputy directly.

As the Taoiseach knows the November homeless figures showed, yet again, a further rise in the number of people living in emergency accommodation, with 6,985 people in such accommodation, including 2,549 children. In addition to the lack of supply of social housing, the lack of adequate private rental accommodation is feeding this crisis. Today in Dublin there are only 1,564 properties available for rent but there are 6,225 units listed on Airbnb. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, gave a commitment in October to introduce secondary legislation to properly regulate this sector to ensure that only properties adequate for the purposes of Airbnb would be considered and the rest would require planning permission. When will this secondary legislation be published and will the Opposition be consulted on its contents?

We have been through this at some considerable length over the past period of time. The action plan allows for the building of 1,500 rapid-build units and 1,600 vacant units have been sourced by the Housing Agency. The expanded HAP scheme for homeless tenancies reached 550 in 2016 and will reach 1,200 in 2017. The plan also includes a 40% increase in homeless funding from €70 million to €98 million in 2017. This year there will be a spend of €1.2 billion on social housing.

I will ask the Minister to give Deputy Ó Broin more accurate details and a date on which he expects the legislation to be published. I would point out that 200 extra beds have been provided at Ellis Quay, Little Britain Street, Carman's Hall and Wolf Tone Quay.

As the Taoiseach is aware, there is a huge crisis in rural Ireland with regard to ambulance services and long waiting times. Recently in Killeshandra Church of Ireland School a child fell ill. The local GP was called to attend to the child but he had to put the child in the back of his own car and drive to Cavan General Hospital because he was told that an ambulance would take 45 minutes. The nearest ambulance was in the Clones area of County Monaghan-----

How is that relevant-----

The same is happening all over the country-----

How is this relevant to the programme for Government?

It is relevant because the programme states that the Government will increase the level of services in rural areas, particularly blue light services. We have a crisis across rural Ireland because dynamic deployment, a management process that has been put in place, means that ambulances are travelling up and down the country rather than being stationed in their own areas. It is not new management that is needed to solve this crisis but more ambulances and staff. The programme for Government commits to doing something about this issue. When will the Government buy more ambulances and employ more staff to ensure that an adequate service is provided?

I do not have the details of the case to which Deputy Martin Kenny refers. When there is an issue with regard to an ambulance, a detailed response is always given in terms of ambulance availability on the day of the incident in question. We are building primary care centres throughout the country so that patients whose cases are not so serious can be dealt with at those centres without the need to go to hospital at all. I regret that a doctor had to put a child in the back of his or her car and bring the child to a primary care centre or to the local hospital. I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to respond to Deputy Martin Kenny directly.

The criminal justice (legal aid) Bill has been promised for some time but it has not yet been referred for pre-legislative scrutiny. Is that process likely to be expedited given the importance of the Bill and its implications for cutting costs in the context of public expenditure?

Work has been under way on this for quite some time. I do not know whether it will be in this session but I will have confirmation sent to the Deputy.

I have another question on the motorised transport scheme which Deputy Ó Caoláin raised earlier. It is a very important issue and we receive many calls from constituents in respect of it. I would like to know the reasons for the delay in the legislation. I was told last term it was to be published in July but this did not happen. It is not good enough. We have thousands of vulnerable citizens and to be left without this scheme is absolutely appalling. We need answers and we need to know why the delay has occurred.

Sometimes it is not as simple as it might look to produce legislation. This was quite a complex issue and it has been going on for a number of years. Obviously the Deputy will be able to deal with all this when the Bill is brought before the House. I hope the work that has been done by a great number of people will bring about a scheme that is effective and practical and designed for those who really need it.

I wish to ask about the commencement of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill which went through both Houses of the Oireachtas before Christmas. I am sure the Taoiseach will be able to answer me because the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has made a public statement on it. In particular, I wish to know about Part 3 which deals with the Tyrrelstown amendment. It is very welcome that The Strand apartment dwellers in Limerick have got a reprieve but others will not be protected until Part 3 of the legislation is commenced. Does the Taoiseach have clarity on this?

The measure in the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2017 known as Tyrrelstown will come into effect once the Minister signs the commencement order, which he will do later today.

I thank the Taoiseach.

In the mid-1960s an agreement between the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, and Terence O'Neill allowed fishermen from the Six Counties to fish in the territorial waters of the Twenty-six counties and vice versa. This was challenged and brought before the Supreme Court prior to Christmas. As a consequence the judgment stated that no legislation was brought forward to legalise it. I understand this legislation is being prepared. When can we have it before the House?

The legislation was cleared this morning on the recommendation of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed. The Government gave approval for the text of the sea fisheries (amendment) Bill which will put the arrangement that has been in place for decades on a legal footing in domestic law arising from the Supreme Court's decision last year.

Two further Deputies are offering and if they are very quick, we will try to take them.

I understand Dublin man Ibrahim Halawa has had his trial date put back yet again. This is the 18th occasion on which this has happened. I understand the Ceann Comhairle led a delegation to Egypt. I have two questions, one for the Ceann Comhairle-----

The Deputy has one question. I do not answer questions.

It is the same issue. The delegation needs to report to the House. What will the Taoiseach do? This is the 18th time. It is a never-ending nightmare for this young Dublin man and his family.

It is, and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for leading a delegation to Cairo, going to see young Ibrahim and speaking to President el-Sisi who said that as soon as a verdict is given he will use his presidential pardon powers. He said the very same thing to me on two occasions. Our problem is there are more than 400 defendants in the case. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and his officials have had more engagement on this particular case and young Ibrahim Halawa than on any other Irish citizen I can think of. I cannot answer Deputy McDonnell as to the reasons the case was postponed today. We have had very intense engagement up to the highest levels and not just from myself but from the speaker of our House, the Ceann Comhairle who led an all-party delegation which met face-to-face with the President, and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for this.

We will circulate a written report to all Members arising from the delegation.

In the programme for Government there is a commitment to support child care workers who are upskilling. Last week, the Minister announced a grant scheme of just over €700 for child care workers doing courses. The closing date for the grant scheme announced last week is today, which means the scheme was only opened for applications for approximately five days. While it was flagged before Christmas, it is a very short time for people to be able to make an application. It is a busy time with new children coming into child care facilities. If anybody is out sick or working a short week it is difficult to submit an application within a five day window. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister whether this can be reviewed and the timeline extended so people can apply for the grant.

I will bring it to the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and I will advise Deputy Moynihan of her view in respect of his proposal.