Questions on Promised Legislation

The programme for Government includes significant commitments on social housing in particular, for example, a commitment to the delivery of more than 3,300 social houses in 2017. The delivery and execution of that commitment has been abysmal. I put it to the Taoiseach that minimal, if any, social houses have been built over the past 12 months and that progress in this matter is very poor. Ireland's social housing stock is now at 9% of total stock whereas across the European Union, social housing stock is at least 17% of total stock. As the Taoiseach is aware, too many families with children are spending months and years in hotels. Many local authorities across the country did not build one social house last year. Why are councils reluctant to engage in the construction of social houses, which is a very significant factor in the lack of progress on the housing front?

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, in his capacity as Minister with responsibility for housing has dealt with this issue in great deal on numerous occasions. As Deputy Martin is aware, we have an extensive housing programme in respect of which serious allocations of money have been committed between now and 2020. There are planned programmes for the development of houses by local authorities, the private sector, housing agencies and so on. The Minister has previously set out the targets for this year. It is a case of coming from very far back with an industry that had collapsed completely. The Minister has made changes in terms of initiatives such as expediting planning permissions and opening up opportunities to public lands and sites that were inaccessible for buildings and contractors. All of this work is proceeding in parallel and simultaneously. This year, there will be significant developments in the housing sector, including from local authorities either purchasing existing houses or getting into the business of building houses in respect of which they have been allocated funds.

The programme for Government commits to tackling the most pressing challenges facing our society in terms of health provision. One of these challenges is the treatment of cystic fibrosis, CF. This morning, we learned that the HSE drug committee has not recommended the use of the drug Orkambi for more than 550 Irish cystic fibrosis sufferers. I am sure that the Taoiseach will appreciate that this will come as a huge blow to those people with this life-threatening condition. Prior to Christmas, many of us heard distressing first-hand accounts of cystic fibrosis sufferers and their families. Orkambi can dramatically improve the well-being of some sufferers - maybe hundreds of sufferers for all we know. This matter has now been referred to the executive management team in the HSE. If it does not agree to purchase the drug, the ball will rest with the Minister for Health. Can the Taoiseach confirm that negotiations with Vertex have concluded and will he set out the financial gap between Vertex and the HSE? Also, has a cost analysis been undertaken of the procurement of Orkambi versus the money that would be saved by reducing the hospitalisation of CF sufferers?

This is a matter of concern to significant numbers of people. I can assure the Deputy that the suggestions in some media reports that the discussions and negotiations have broken down are not true. The HSE re-entered into negotiations with Vertex, the manufacturer of Orkambi, in December following a decision by HSE leadership that it was unable to reimburse Orkambi at the price offered at that time by the company. The Deputy will be aware of this. The HSE subsequently met with Vertex in December and in January with a view to significantly reducing the cost of Orkambi for cystic fibrosis sufferers so that the State is in a position to fund the drug and provide it for Irish patients.

Following the completion of that negotiation process, I am advised the HSE's drugs committee met last week and considered the manufacturer's latest price offerings. That will now be considered by the HSE at its next available meeting. A decision on reimbursement will be made on objective, scientific and economic grounds under the 2013 Act. I hope for a conclusion to this matter. Obviously, the Minister removed the decision-making capacity from the political process. Decisions are now based on clinical and medical accuracy in light of the quality of life afforded to the patient and the extent of the improvement.

The Taoiseach will recall that when the public capital plan was published in 2014, a mid-term review was promised. The Government announced this week that the review is taking place this year. The existing book of Estimates states that there is €34 billion to be expended between now and 2021. There is an unallocated sum of €2.6 billion. Apparently €5 billion was available last year, and half of this was allocated for social housing. When is the review to take place? What role will the Oireachtas, particularly Members of the Dáil, have in the review? Will the review supplement the money already allocated or are we simply talking about an additional €2.5 billion for expenditure, which would be a very small sum in the context of the capital works needed?

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance have set out the strategy by which this will take place. The Minister informed the Cabinet yesterday that he will contact every Department in respect of its real priorities rather than just the usual endless list that comes in. He is not going to be in a position to do address the latter. The process is under way. Obviously, the relevant committees of the Houses will have an opportunity to air their views on future priorities.

The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is considering the question of what kind of Ireland we will have in the next 25 or 30 years given the increasing population. He is also determining where the expansion in development and infrastructure should be. It is an issue that both Ministers are considering for the medium and longer term.

What is the capital sum involved?

Ministers will now be requested to respond to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on their real priorities in the context of the available moneys, which amount to just over €2 billion. It will then be a matter of considering the longer-term implications for the kind of country we will have in 25 or 30 years.

Are we talking about €2.5 billion or more?

It is just over €2 billion at the moment.

I wish to raise the ongoing crisis in the accident and emergency departments. I received information by way of parliamentary question on health and safety, the health information Bill, and patient safety. There is only one ambulance covering major towns in Tipperary each night. Some towns have no ambulance at all. Towns such as Clonmel, Cashel, Roscrea, Nenagh and Tipperary town have only one ambulance. With the problems in the accident and emergency departments in both Limerick and south Tipperary hospitals, it is often not possible to admit patients. There is chaos. This is surely unacceptable.

The National Ambulance Service has recommended that more staff be acquired for it. We are told we will have to wait for four years. When Nenagh's accident and emergency unit closed, we were promised extra rapid-response vehicles. What is happening is very alarming. Carrick-on-Suir, a town in the very south east of our constituency, has no ambulance at all. Having one ambulance per night is not acceptable because anything can happen. Ambulances can be delayed. It is not good enough for the patients in south Tipperary to have to wait and to have to call a 999 centre in Dublin that does not know the locations of the patients, not to mention all the rural and outlying areas. This is totally unacceptable and deplorable.

That is not a matter for legislation; it is a matter for management in terms of the supply of ambulance services-----

Legislation was promised. I refer to safety legislation.

-----and accessibility, the frequency journeys, etc. I will have the Minister for Health advise Deputy Mattie McGrath in response to his question.

Could I have an update on the health (amendment) Bill, which is to provide a medical card to all children in receipt of domiciliary care? It is vital that the legislation be put in place as a matter of urgency. What is occurring is unacceptable. I am visiting this Friday evening a family in Dundalk with a child with a severe disability. They are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance and appreciate that but they badly need a medical card to pay the doctor, obtain medication and receive other vital services. We have promised this family and others that we will get them medical cards. What can I tell the family on Friday evening when I meet them?

I am glad Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick got in today.

Medical cards will be provided to all children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance. It is a programme for Government commitment and a priority. It was funded in budget 2017 and will be delivered as quickly as possible but it does mean legislation must be introduced. The new legislation will mean all children in respect of whom a domiciliary care allowance payment is made will automatically qualify for a medical card and, therefore, no longer be subject to the medical cards means test at any point in the future while in receipt of the allowance. I can confirm for the Deputy that the legislation is at an advanced stage and will be brought before the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. There are approximately 33,000 children with severe disabilities under the age of 16 who currently qualify for the domiciliary care allowance. It is a monthly payment made by the Department of Social Protection. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick can tell the family involved that work is advancing here. We hope to bring the legislation before the Dáil, and I am sure it will have the support of all the parties.

The decision by An Bord Pleanála on a municipal and hazardous waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy has been deferred now for the third time. In the context of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, does the Government intend to address repeated deferrals of decisions? In this case, the Department of Defence has lodged its own objection because an incinerator at the location in question would impair the usability of the naval base or naval headquarters and could, under certain circumstances, cause it to be closed. There is now growing concern that An Bord Pleanála is preparing the ground to grant permission, which would be devastating for the local community. I am interested in hearing what the Taoiseach has to say.

I am not sure whether Deputy Michael McGrath is asking for a change in the legislation that would allow for deferrals or whether he is asking for a change that would not allow for them. Clearly, An Bord Pleanála is completely independent in the way it goes about its business, with decisions eventually being made by courts and judicial reviews, if necessary. I am not aware of the reasons for the deferrals in each case but I will have the matter examined and perhaps have the Minister advise the Deputy if I can.

As the Taoiseach will be aware, the motorised transport grant, which was for disabled drivers and passengers, has been in abeyance for five years. It was put into abeyance by the Ombudsman because he decided the scheme was not wide enough. For the past five years, the grant has not existed at all. The Taoiseach has been promising us continually that its restoration would be imminent. I noticed that the comment in the legislation programme beside the health (transport support) Bill, the legislation supposed to provide for the grant, is that work is ongoing. For how much longer will it go on? What do we tell all those potentially successful disabled applicants who are queuing up for some sort of transport assistance to which they should be entitled? Are we going to tell them after five years that work is ongoing?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Work has been ongoing for nearly five years. I agree with the Deputy in that regard. The last time this was raised, I said I would take an interest in trying to sort it out. I recall that the advice given at the time was that the scheme was structured such that only those then in receipt of the grant could continue to receive it and that new entrants would not be accepted. I assure the Deputy that a great deal of work has taken place on this matter. I want to find out whether I can give the Deputy a date for when the measure will be approved by the Government so it can be brought back into the House. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. He raised it before and is not the only one who has done so. The matter is quite complicated, I believe, but I assure the Deputy that substantial work has been completed on it. I will advise the Deputy on progress.

Last Thursday in the High Court, proceedings on a case regarding the Magdalen laundries redress scheme were adjourned. This was largely due to the revelation that, on 20 December, the Ombudsman announced he was investigating the Department of Justice and Equality for what was described as maladministration of the scheme. The Minister did not announce that at the time, however, and it came to light only during the case last week. Will the Minister make a statement to the Dáil on this investigation by the Ombudsman and on the reasons she did not declare it was under way sooner?

I suggest that the Deputy raise this as a Topical Issue.

If the Ceann Comhairle allows that to be answered, that is his decision. In any event, I will have the Minister respond to the Deputy.

When can we expect the reformed and consolidated domestic violence Bill to be before the House and have its heads been agreed?

That Bill will be published on Friday and will go to the Seanad first.

The Taoiseach might be aware that there are 35,000 children without direct access to a National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, psychologist. His county of Mayo and mine of Meath are two of the worst affected, with thousands of children having no access. This is not to say that NEPS is not doing tremendous work. For example, it did such work in my constituency on two well-known occasions recently, but this is an urgent matter. Assessments for children with disabilities are referred to in the confidence and supply agreement and it is a commitment in the programme for Government that NEPS would be beefed up. Has the Taoiseach an update for the House in that regard?

Not now, but the Deputy is aware of the change where, instead of having people queuing up to go to private assessments,-----

That does not relieve this situation.

-----the situation will now be that schools will have access to expertise to identify these at a much earlier date. I will have the Minister, Deputy Bruton, give the Deputy the up-to-date position nationally.

As the Taoiseach is aware, the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, does tremendous work. It has 51 offices around the country. The Citizens Information Board has proposed that MABS be regionalised into eight structures with managers in charge of each. To date, management of MABS has been done voluntarily by local committees and its services have been free of charge. It does a great deal for people. Some 80% of the €18 million that it gets annually is spent on the front-line staff delivering its services while the remaining 20% has been spent on office expenses and rent. This model works well but the proposed changes will decimate the service. I do not expect the Taoiseach to be able to intervene directly but could we ensure that this proposal is postponed until there has been a review and cost-benefit analysis? As far as I can see, it is just another effort to place a further layer of management on top of MABS, not to deliver the services being provided to date.

It is not a question relevant to the Order of Business, but will the Taoiseach respond?

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, can bring the Deputy up to date.

This matter is being led by the Citizens Information Board, which has taken the view that being responsible for nearly 100 MABS boards is not the best way to manage the service or ensure good corporate governance and compliance. It is proposing to move to a more regionalised structure. However, that will have no impact on services on the ground. The Citizens Information Board has been clear with me in discussions that the MABS offices will remain where and as they are. This is solely a case of moving from nearly 100 different boards, which are difficult to monitor, to a slimmed down structure.

The programme for Government commits to greater openness and improved accountability and delivery in this era of so-called new politics. In early December, I submitted a parliamentary question to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and all other Ministers asking whether they had used unsecured e-mail accounts for official business. The majority of Ministers responded that they had, but not where sensitive information was involved. In light of a freedom of information request that I made, however, untruths have clearly been told. Sensitive information has been circulated through unsecured e-mails by a number of Ministers.

I submitted a question to be taken orally and had hoped to put it to the Taoiseach today. Unfortunately, it was deemed out of order and I was told that this was a matter for the Cabinet, not the Dáil. Is this what openness and transparency are about? Untruths have been told and unsecured e-mail accounts have been used for transmitting very, very sensitive information.

The Deputy's time is up.

Will the Taoiseach make a statement on the matter?

Questions have been answered on this already. Dáil questions go through the Ceann Comhairle's office. Many Ministers do not see the Dáil questions at all until they are either diverted, refused or allocated, whatever the case might be.

First, Deputy Brady said that it was "sensitive information". Then he said that it was "very, very sensitive information". There are and were no rules against using unencrypted e-mails. That matter is under review, obviously. I am not sure which Ministers the Deputy is talking-----

The Dáil has been misled.

Deputy, please.

I was told that no sensitive information had been sent in this way.

I am not sure which Ministers the Deputy is talking about in respect of what he calls "very, very sensitive information" being sent by e-mail. It depends on what the definition of that is. Obviously, material that I receive myself as a Minister in terms of Cabinet agendas and so on like that are sent via encrypted servers.

The Dáil has been misled on this matter.

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 is on the Seanad Order Paper, but no time has been indicated for the No. 2 Bill, which relates to foreign adoptions. When is it expected to be before the House, have its heads been cleared and is it ready for introduction?

That will not be dealt with until the first Bill has actually been completed. That work is under way, as the Deputy knows.

I am referring to the promised legislation to set up the statutory inquiry into Project Eagle and NAMA. Is the Taoiseach now aware of the identity of the official from within Government Buildings, and most likely within his own office, who last October contacted The Irish Times and told that newspaper that irregularities had been cited by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report into Project Eagle and NAMA? That fabrication provided the justification for a Cabinet decision, in part, on that matter and a subsequent announcement of a commission of investigation. If the Taoiseach does not know the identity of the official, does he believe he should find out who that person is and why that person would act in that manner, particularly in light of what was said on the floor of the House during this morning's statements on NAMA and Project Eagle?

For you, a Cheann Comhairle, there is a question for the House. Should the House not have a concern that an Oireachtas statutory inquiry was decided upon by the Cabinet and announced in large part based on a false and spurious premise?

I do not know the individual that Deputy Deasy is talking about. What I do know is that I met with party leaders last September with a view to hearing their views on the issues of public concern arising from NAMA and Project Eagle. I subsequently received a number of submissions from party leaders on the matter. I met them again on 4 October. It was agreed in principle to establish a commission of investigation under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 to investigate into the significant matters of public concern arising from this in relation to NAMA. This will be based on terms of reference providing for the sale of Project Eagle to be investigated in the very first module of that commission of investigation.

At those meetings, the party leaders also acknowledged that there would be significant limitations on the commission's work given the location of potential witnesses and documentation outside the jurisdiction and the ongoing criminal investigation as well as the likely cost of the commission of investigation. Subsequent to those meetings, the public accounts committee held extensive hearings during the autumn in relation to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report and has heard from many key witnesses as well as from NAMA itself on a number of occasions.

I understand that the PAC hopes to bring forward its report on the matter shortly. My view is that it would be sensible to wait for the PAC to produce its report and have it published and consider its findings before moving to the appointment of a commission of investigation.

I do not know the name of the official that the Deputy referred to.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to reinstate a fully funded local improvement scheme in order to support the maintenance of non-local authority roads. These roads are the last couple of hundred metres of the rural road network and provide shared access for multiple houses. Despite those households paying the same road and property taxes and planning and development charges, no maintenance is carried out on these rural roads.

Last week when the roads funding was announced for all the local authorities across the country, no allocation was approved for the local improvement scheme. In the same week the Government announced the plan for rural Ireland yet there is no money for rural roads. Will an additional allocation of funding be made available for rural roads? Where do rural householders stand this year in terms of the roads?

Traditionally, councils used to make an allocation from the general allocation they received from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as it used to be known. It is a matter that can be considered in part by the review of the capital programme in respect of what allocation may be made for roads to the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Councils have always chosen to make allocations from their Vote for local improvement scheme roads or as Deputy Moynihan called them, non-statutory roads. That process will take its course.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Taoiseach's personal commitment to end the scandal of patients on hospital trolleys. After ten years we deserve to hear how he will end that scandal given that today we have 601 patients on trolleys. They are people whom it has been deemed necessary to admit to hospital but who cannot find a bed and are on hospital trolleys as we speak. Unfortunately, this issue has become normalised. Nobody in this House, bar Sinn Féin, has even raised the issue this morning. It speaks to the fact that it is nearly acceptable that we have hundreds of sick people who day after day and week after week are not able to get a hospital bed and may have to wait hours and sometimes days for one. After six years in office, what is the Taoiseach's plan to come good on the personal commitment he gave the Irish people ten years ago to end the scandal of hospital trolleys to ensure we never see a day like this again when 601 sick, vulnerable patients in this country are forced onto hospital trolleys because there are no beds in the system for them?

First, Deputy Doherty is wrong. According to the HSE TrolleyGAR system at 8 o'clock this morning, there were 458 patients waiting on trolleys in acute hospitals nationally. That figure is much too high. It is not about the allocation of money. At €14.5 billion, there has never been more money allocated to the Department of Health. Clearly the question of patients on trolleys is the top priority for the Minister for Health. He introduced the winter initiative, allocated extra money, opened up additional step-down beds, and other new beds in various hospitals but clearly there are factors that exacerbate the situation such as the flu and the aging population, among others. The number of people on trolleys is monitored throughout the course of the day and the special delivery unit of the HSE is working with particular hospitals where there is overcrowding and people on trolleys in corridors and emergency departments to ensure a reduction.

What about ending the scandal?

I seek an update on the inland fisheries modernisation and consolidation Bill, which was promised in the list of proposed legislation. It is a very important Bill for many parts of rural Ireland and I am very anxious to see what measures the Bill contains. Could the Taoiseach give me any indication today as to when we might see the Bill come to the floor of the House?

I cannot, but the heads of the Bill are expected to come before the Cabinet shortly. It will go from there to pre-legislative scrutiny. I will advise the Deputy when the Minister expects to bring the Bill before the Cabinet.

Yesterday was the deadline for the HPRA review into the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Is the Taoiseach aware of whether the Minister received the report on time yesterday and if he did, when it will be made available to the House?

I cannot confirm that but I will advise the Deputy as to whether the Minister has received the report.