I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.
Order of Business
The arrangements for the business schedule for Tuesday to Thursday, 28 February to 2 March 2017, as agreed by the Business Committee on 23 February, are as follows. Today's business shall be No. 7, motion re extended take back date for report of services by the Defence Forces with the United Nations, without debate; No. 8, motion re reasoned opinion, without debate; No. 9, motion re capital carryover, without debate; No. 1, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 4, Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 2, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage, selected by the Labour Party.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 1, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage; No. 4, Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 5, Mediation Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.
Private Members’ business shall be No. 88, motion re Insurance Industry, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Thursday’s business shall be No. 4, Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 5, Mediation Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. No. 24, Residential Institutions Statutory Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016, will be debated in the evening slot.
I refer Members to the Business Committee dated 23 February 2017. In relation to today's business, it is proposed that motions re extended take back date for report of services by the Defence Forces with the United Nations, reasoned opinion, and capital carryover shall be taken without debate; and the proceedings on Second Stage of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 [Seanad] shall be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m., if not previously concluded.
There is one proposal to be put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's Business agreed? Agreed.
I remind Members that questions should relate to promised legislation or the programme for Government. Apart from party leaders, 20 Deputies have offered and I ask all to please observe the one minute rule. If we do not get to all speakers today, I will past the list on to whoever occupies the Chair tomorrow.
The two reports published at 11 a.m. today on the failures in a foster home in Waterford, where 47 children were placed over two decades until 2013, are utterly shocking, as has been said. They have been correctly described by the Irish Examiner as 20 years of horror for one of the children, Grace, a young woman with profound special needs who was left in a foster home for almost 20 years. It is an extraordinary and appalling situation. There was no intervention or interaction with Grace in her foster placement and various people who were directly involved in her case failed to discharge their duty of care to her.
There are many commitments to child protection in the programme for Government. It is important that the House takes time to debate the two reports in the most meaningful and fullest way possible. The HSE has already offered an unreserved and heartfelt apology to all of those affected by the significant failures of the former South Eastern Health Board. There is an issue of culture regarding the protection of children, who does what and when and protecting people despite reports. There is a governance issue.
Fundamental issues that go to the heart of protecting children in our society should be debated by the House. I ask that time be put aside next week to facilitate such a debate, taking on board the commitments in the programme for Government around the protection of children and improvements to our child care protection system.
In preparing for that debate, adequate time should be provided to all Deputies, in particular those from larger parties, who want to make a contribution to such a debate. I welcome the establishment of a commission of investigation, which was a good decision, but it should not preclude the fullest debate possible taking place in the House.
The reason the commission of investigation was established was due to the gravity and seriousness of the allegations, issues and incidents that arose. It might be very appropriate to have a debate next week because I expect that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, will bring the terms of reference for approval by Cabinet. If they are approved, they could be rolled in for discussion here because they would have to be passed by the House.
It would also be appropriate to have an opportunity to discuss the two reports in a meaningful way, and with a degree of preparation by those who want to contribute. The Whip will consider that and the Business Committee will make its arrangements. I do not object to such a debate.
The programme for Government claims that the Government is committed to sustaining the progress to date on waiting lists. That beggars the question of what progress. The number of children on the scoliosis waiting list is growing. December was the worst month on record for citizens waiting on trolleys and 2016 was the worst year on record.
The Government's inadequate response to all this is to build prefabs. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, grandiosely described these as temporary modular buildings but, regardless of how it is dressed up, a prefab is a prefab. It is already clear that the Minister will not have the nurses to staff them and the failure to retain and recruit nurses is one of the factors for the nurses' strike next week. Prefabs were to be a temporary measure in schools in our education system, yet over my years of public service I have noted that some of them have been in situ for up to 40 years. Is it not self-evident that the crisis in our health system is clear evidence of the failure of Fine Gael and its partners in government in Fianna Fáil to deal with the crisis in our health service and that the Government has failed in terms of the commitment in the programme for Government?
I disagree with Deputy Ó Caoláin. At 8 a.m. today the HSE TrolleyGAR system indicated that nationally 355 patients were waiting on trolleys in acute hospitals, which admittedly is too many, but it is down from 411 last week and 463 on this day last year. There is no doubt that the number is too high and the HSE's special delivery unit continues to work with all hospitals to identify what can be made to improve patient flow. Emergency departments under pressure this morning included University Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital, which have both been identified as particular priority sites under the Department's winter initiative. Each site has a specific plan in place and is undertaking mitigating actions that can improve the situation. The Minister visited Galway last week.
Everyone in the country has this vision of prefabricated buildings as being what were supplied in schools 40 years ago and which rotted after a particular time. The Minister for Health visited Mayo General Hospital and saw the structure of the existing emergency department. In consultation with the staff, a modular building in close proximity to the existing emergency department presents the opportunity to relieve all the pressure and stress experienced and the staff will be very happy with that. The terms "prefabricated building" and "modular building" hark back to a time when prefabricated houses were provided throughout the country and prefabricated buildings were in schools. The world has changed and so has the quality of the accommodation.
This is my first opportunity to join with colleagues in expressing my own and my party's sympathy and sadness on the passing of our dear and much loved colleague, Peter Mathews. We send our sympathy to his family.
I want to raise an issue raised in this House before and which refers to a motion that was passed in the House on 7 July last year on Ibrahim Halawa. As a result of that motion, an all-party delegation travelled to Egypt and met a number of influential people, including the Egyptian President, and came back with some degree of hope that the case would be resolved. Unfortunately, that has not proven to be the case. Ibrahim's trial has now been adjourned 19 times and last week we saw a statement from his family indicating that he is now on hunger strike and has been moved to the prison hospital. Like others, I gave a commitment to continue to press this case and I think that is the view of all Members in the House. Will the Taoiseach raise this issue directly with the Egyptian President? It has gone on far too long and Ibrahim's health is suffering. He is an Irish citizen who has been detained in an Egyptian prison since he was 17 years of age. Can we take another initiative to ensure that what was hoped for, which is the release and return home of Ibrahim, will happen?
I am concerned about this matter. The Ceann Comhairle led an all-party delegation to Egypt. I have spoken to the Egyptian President on two occasions, personally face-to face and by telephone. There have been 55 consular visits to Ibrahim in the prison. He is the only European in this situation and the President made it perfectly clear that he is quite willing to use his power of presidential pardon but that there has to be a conclusion to the case, which is where the difficulty lies.
The Government is obviously concerned about this case. The Irish ambassador in Cairo attended the most recent hearing on 14 February. Deputy Brendan Howlin is correct that the case has been postponed on many occasions for different reasons.
It has been postponed 19 times.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has been in touch with the Egyptian ambassador on many occasions. As I pointed out, our consular services in Cairo are in frequent contact with Mr. Halawa. I met Mr. Halawa's brothers, sisters and father and will be happy to raise the matter again with the Egyptian President and I am sure his response will be the same as that given to the Ceann Comhairle and his delegation to Egypt, namely, that he is prepared to use his presidential powers but there must be a conclusion to the case. The Government supports the legal action being taken by the Halawa family and will continue to make every effort to see to it that this young man can be brought home as soon as possible.
I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett who I know will conform.
I pass on my condolences and sympathy to the family of the late former Deputy Peter Mathews. I was shocked to learn of his passing, which is a terrible loss for his family. He was a very decent and genuine man.
The Taoiseach will be familiar with the case of Ava Barry who suffers from the debilitating and traumatic condition of Dravet syndrome which causes regular traumatic seizures. Ava's mother, Vera Twomey, believes she has been forced to commence a 250 km walk from Cork to Leinster House as a result of a decision by the Health Service Executive to refuse to license medicinal cannabis based products for her daughter, despite the fact that an Irish registered doctor made the application on behalf of the family. This underlines the need for Deputy Gino Kenny's Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill to be passed as a matter of urgency. It appears a legal chill factor is preventing the licensing of products that would make a major difference to young children such as Eva and many others who are suffering from chronic pain and severe medical conditions. I want to know about the process regarding the legislation because we are in uncharted territory with this Opposition Bill and whether it will proceed to Committee Stage. We need a commitment that it will proceed to Committee Stage-----
On promised legislation.
I am referring to a Bill and asking whether it will proceed to Committee Stage. I ask the Government not to seek in any way to restrict access to these products for Ava Barry and others with chronic health conditions who urgently need products to which they are being denied access.
A number of Deputies wish to ask questions on the same issue. I ask them to confine their remarks to one sentence. Deputy Michael Collins will speak as the leader of his group.
I would like a response to my question.
Deputy Michael Collins wishes to raise the same issue.
In the past couple of years the State has blocked a mother's efforts to keep her daughter alive and free from suffering. Vera Twomey will reach the border between counties Cork and Tipperary today. She is highlighting this issue at a critical time. I ask the Taoiseach to personally intervene in the matter.
I raise the same issue which could be addressed by either of two Bills. The Bill discussed in the House before Christmas could be advanced quickly if it were to be allowed to proceed to Committee Stage. Will the Government allow it to proceed? The Minister for Health also gave a commitment to introduce legislation on the issue. Will one or other Bill be advanced to ease the current difficulty?
I will allow Deputy Michael Moynihan to ask a brief question before we move on.
We need a short roadmap for advancing on this critical issue which is being raised in the House for genuine reasons. We do not want a lengthy timeframe.
A commitment was given before Christmas in regard to this legislation. We are now approaching St. Patrick's Day and there is still no commitment from the other side of the House as to how these issues are going to be advanced.
May I ask a question on the same issue?
Everybody wants to know when this legislation might be------
I am not asking about the legislation, rather I would just like to make a short point.
It will need to be very short.
I have been involved with others in this case for about a year. As a Parliament, we must be honest. I do not think the legislative issue is going to resolve this situation.
That is not true.
Deputy Boyd Barrett cannot speak twice.
I am only interested in the child getting access to the best treatment.
Deputy Martin, I agreed to a short question.
We need paediatric neurology in this country to come to grips with this issue and to make some presentation on a pathway towards medical people dealing with the evidence in relation to it. We also need a response to the recently produced report which suggests a pathway to the application of medicinal cannabis for Dravet syndrome.
Accept the GP's recommendation.
I call Deputy Sherlock on the same question.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his latitude. The question that arises is whether a pathway can be provided within existing legislation. We need an answer to the question of whether or not it is the case that a medical practitioner can apply for a licence to administer the specific medication that is deemed to be required in this case. It would be very helpful to the family in question - the Twomey family - if the Taoiseach could clarify the position.
The change in the way that we do business in this House-----
It is more efficient.
-----resulted in Deputies being able to bring forward pieces of legislation, as in the case of Deputy Gino Kenny. It also means that these are not, in the main, objected to and they form part of the line of legislation to be prioritised by the group that puts them forward. The Business Committee has a role in that regard. The Government cannot choose what Bill will be dealt with. There are a number of Bills that are backed up and people now have to make a decision on which ones they want to progress to Committee Stage.
On the question raised, the Minister for Health is not the prescribing Minister for medicinal cannabis. The Minister can only act on the basis of a prescription written by, in this case, as pointed out by Deputy Micheál Martin, a paediatric neurologist.
Where is that written down?
The application has been lodged.
Where is it written down?
The Taoiseach without interruption, please.
The Minister has already approved medicinal drugs on the basis of a prescription. I met with the child's mother in Cork recently to discuss this matter. The Minister will introduce a compassionate formula for the delivery of drugs of this nature but whether he does or does not, he still requires a prescription to be issued by a clinical expert.
A application was made by a registered doctor.
Deputy Boyd Barrett, please. There can be no bilaterals here.
There was an application made by a registered doctor.
The Deputy may not want to hear it but the Minister for Health does not write prescriptions for the allocation of drugs.
There was an application by a registered doctor.
Within existing law, if the clinical person-----
I will ask the Taoiseach to bring his remarks to a conclusion if Deputies do not listen.
-----writes a prescription for the drug to be allocated to the child in question the Minister can then act.
I now call the leader of the Rural Independents Group, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, whom I ask to lead by example and ask a question about promised legislation or the programme for Government.
My question is on promised legislation. The previous Government, led by the Taoiseach, closed many Garda stations around the country. People are suffering because of that. Many homes in Glenflesk and other rural parts of Kerry were plundered and had valuable items taken from them in recent times. There is hardly any Garda presence in the entire Kenmare Estuary to defend communities against criminals coming on-shore along the southern side of the Kenmare river.
A question on promised legislation please, Deputy.
On promised legislation, the Government has committed to the opening of six Garda stations. Has the Taoiseach met the Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, to agree the six Garda stations to be opened?
Will some of these be in south Kerry, especially since the whole 55 mile stretch from Kenmare to Caherciveen is left without a Garda station? Will some of them be restored? Will Kilgarvan station be reopened?
On promised legislation.
The Taoiseach promised he would open six Garda stations. Where are they being opened?
I believe that concerns the programme for Government.
I hope you are not doing after hours down there when the gardaí are not around.
If there is room for a late one, I-----
Please. The Deputy got his opportunity.
In any event, the Garda Commissioner recommended that particular stations be closed. The Government did not pick from a list and say it was closing certain stations. Obviously, what happened in many areas where a station was closed was that the superintendent or chief superintendent in the area used the time the gardaí would have been in the station in question to travel around the community to make himself or herself known and engage with the community and give it a contact number if ever it needed assistance, day or night. That has been a useful addition in many areas of the country. I am not sure what the recommendations of the Garda Commissioner will be. It is in the programme for Government that six stations, urban and rural, will be opened. Obviously, the Garda Commissioner will form a view on that in consultation with her people.
I am not sure about what the Deputy says about the north side of the river in Kenmare. That seems to be all right but the south side seems to be in difficulty, according to the Deputy's question. He is aware that we provided serious money to the gardaí to deal with Operation Thor, which put a lot of the gangs involved in burglaries out of business. That action continues to keep people safe in their homes. We hope communities will stay alert in notifying gardaí if incidents happen.
I want to make it very clear that I wrote down the names of those who indicated they wished to contribute after Leaders' Questions. They are Deputies McConalogue, Breathnach, Munster, Ó Cuív, Curran, MacSharry, Brady, Rabbitte, O'Loughlin, Michael Healy-Rae, Chambers, Troy, McLoughlin, Pearse Doherty, and Nolan.
Deputy Eugene Murphy was the first, actually. He will soon be allowed to contribute.
We want it now.
That may be but it will have to be a matter for the reform committee.
Was the Leas-Cheann Comhairle reading out a list of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party?
I cannot even be partial when it comes to my favourite constituency colleagues. We are starting with Deputy McConalogue. I will pass on the list to the Chair tomorrow.
Deputy McConalogue is from the same constituency.
My question is for the Taoiseach and Minister for Education and Skills. There is a commitment in the programme for Government that the Government supports an annual application process for the summer works scheme. As the Minister for Education and Skills and the Taoiseach know, there are many schools across the country that are eagerly awaiting a decision on that scheme. When will the announcement be made considering that tomorrow is 1 March? The work will be commencing in many of the schools at the end of June. Given the specific nature of the commitment to support an annual application process for the summer works scheme, will the Minister allow new schools to apply this year? A number of schools have had new projects arise that were not in the ether last year. Will the Minister allow them to apply given the specific commitment in the programme for Government to allow for an annual application process?
I ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to respond to that.
The summer works scheme has been a valuable part of the support to schools to maintain the fabric of schools. As the Deputy knows, the last application process was for a two-year period and the applications were received in November 2015. We are continuing to work on that programme. It has ten items under which applications were made. A number of those have been fulfilled. This year, some of the balance will be considered on the basis of urgency. Obviously, the programme for Government envisages what we hope will be an annual scheme. At present, however, the application covers two years. A number of priorities were dealt with last year and we will move on to the other cases. Nearly half the schools in the country have applied under the scheme.
On what date will an announcement be made?
We obviously have to review the applications and make a decision based on priority.
We were promised the heads of a commercial rates Bill were being prepared. Many of us are celebrating 12 months in this House and many of us were members of a local authority for many years. Therefore, we are aware commercial rates payers are absolutely crippled with an archaic and outdated method of commercial rate setting. It is time that a fair assessment system, based on ability to pay and business turnover, was introduced.
My county has the worst commercial rate payment level in the country, yet the Valuation Office continues to value property county by county using a system that needs to be changed urgently. The Taoiseach referred to prioritising Bills. This is a priority Bill, and I am fed up listening to words such as "preparation", "into the future" and "shortly". What are the timelines and when can we expect the Bill to be before the House?
I think it is fair to say that ratepayers were always a target of local authorities over very many years, and that is why the Government introduced the devolution of authority to local authority members to have an opportunity to reduce rates by up to 15% if they so desired. Second, that is why property taxes were introduced, not only to bring in income to Government, but also to reduce the burden on commercial ratepayers who always took the brunt of an attack every year.
I expect that the heads of that Bill will come to the Government during the month of March. It is deemed to be a priority and we expect to have it put through the process in the House then.
I wish to raise the issue of social and health care provision under the programme for Government, particularly in respect of respite services at St. John of God, Drumcar, County Louth, which now only accepts one wheelchair user at any given time. The reason given is that the service only has one hoist. This respite and residential service provider is in receipt of €130 million of State funding per year, yet it will not give wheelchair users access that is equal to what it gives non-wheelchair users.
Does the Taoiseach believe that wheelchair users and their families are not entitled to equality of access? Is it satisfactory that €130 million per annum is paid to this service provider?
On what legislation?
Wheelchair users do not have equality of access. What does the Taoiseach plan to do to rectify this situation?
With respect, this is a period for asking questions about legislation-----
And the programme for Government.
-----or matters from the programme for Government. The Deputy is asking a very detailed question. In principle, of course everybody supports the right of access for disabled people to all public buildings, and that is a matter for the company that is receiving State money to provide for equal access for those who are disabled and those who are not. Obviously, the Minister for Health will reply to the Deputy, but I would say that it is not a legislative question and it is not a factor that is in the programme for Government except as a general principle.
Ceadaíodh cinn an Bhille do Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) sa mbliain 2014. Sin beagnach trí bliana ó shin. Cén uair atá i gceist an Bille féin a fhoilsiú agus a chur faoi bhráid na Dála?
Ní raibh aontas ann faoin mBille a cuireadh tríd an Rialtas agus a tháinig os comhair an Tí. Tarraingíodh é sin siar arís. Tá obair ar siúl ar Bhille nua. Cuirfidh mé scéal chuig an Teachta Ó Cuív-----
Má tá sé curtha siar, cén fáth go bhfuil sé ar an liosta?
-----faoin am a bheidh an Bille nua tagtha os mo chomhair.
Legislation is promised.
The programme for Government on page 124 commits to facilitating the development of social energy projects. Recently, I asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, who passed the question on to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, whether there were intentions to introduce guidelines for the development of solar farms. In his reply, the latter stated that there were no specific guidelines in place and he was satisfied that the planning code was sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning applications for solar farms.
At the end of January, An Bord Pleanála made a majority ruling of five to three refusing a development. Its reasons for and considerations in doing this were specifically the lack of guidance at national, regional and local level in respect of the appropriate location, scale and distribution of future proposals for solar power. Solar power has the potential to deliver, but we want that done in an organised way in order that it does not become a blight on the landscape.
Is legislation promised?
Will the Government commit to introducing meaningful proposals and guidelines to allow for the development of solar power?
The local authorities themselves, in terms of their statutory responsibility in putting forward their five-year programmes, set out their individual projects. It is important to note, as Deputy Curran raised, that An Bord Pleanála, which is completely independent in the way it gives its adjudications, has pointed out that, from its perspective, there is not a sufficient wealth of information available for it to make a judgment. The Minister will study that decision by An Bord Pleanála and be in communication with local authorities in respect of their plans. It is a valid point to raise. I thank the Deputy.
Pages 59 and 64 of the programme for Government refer to cystic fibrosis patients and the provision of breakthrough drugs, respectively. Unfortunately, some weeks ago the Taoiseach was poorly briefed when he responded about the provision of Orkambi and referred to the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics. He was obviously behind the curve. Is the Minister, Deputy Harris, also behind the curve? I ask because yesterday he stated he needed more time and space to conclude these issues. I cannot help thinking that this reflects the fact there will be a national protest on this matter tomorrow.
How much time does the Government need? On 15 January, Vertex renewed a proposal with a substantially lower price tag than the one the Taoiseach applied two weeks ago. Under the proposal, drugs that were in the development pipeline would also be provided in the long term. There has been no contact between Vertex and the HSE since 3 February. Yesterday, the Minister falsely gave the impression that substantial negotiations were ongoing. What space do we need? Is it to consider the Fine Gael leadership-----
Deputy, I want to allow other colleagues to contribute.
-----or to provide Orkambi to the people? As I pointed out to the Taoiseach two weeks ago, children grow sicker and some will die while we procrastinate.
I thank the Deputy, but some of his colleagues wish to contribute.
Will the Taoiseach be specific and accurate regarding the timeline for a decision on this issue?
I think that Pat Rabbitte referred to Deputy MacSharry one day regarding the Deputy's comments. I will not go down there, as they say.
I was not behind the curve when we made the-----
"When you're in a hole, stop digging" might be a message for the Taoiseach.
Deputy, allow an answer from the Taoiseach.
I was not behind the curve when we briefed the Deputy on the previous occasion, nor was the Minister, Deputy Harris. I am well aware of the protest that is scheduled for Wednesday, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, has been in touch with the organisers of that. He stressed today that he expects that this process can be concluded in a matter of weeks, but his overriding priority is to make sure that any agreement that is reached is not just for now, that it would provide certainty for Irish cystic fibrosis patients on the provision of Orkambi and on the provision of Kalydeco and other drugs now and in the future, and not just the instant decision that we would need for the moment.
Which Vertex has been offering since 15 January.
What he is looking for is the longer term, Deputy MacSharry, that all of the drugs-----
The Government has had this information since 15 January.
That is there.
I am moving on. I want to accommodate the-----
Lift the phone. Take the decision.
Deputies, there are more Members in the House. I am moving on.
-----that are involved - Orkambi, Kalydeco and any new drug-----
Which are included in that offer.
-----that comes on stream-----
I call Deputy Eugene Murphy.
New drugs are included in that offer.
Yes, but Deputy MacSharry thought that I did not know that.
I know that-----
I might be able to accommodate other contributors if all Members have respect for the-----
The Taoiseach did not know last week.
What I am trying to do is do a deal on a package for the future for-----
-----but the Taoiseach is misleading the people.
Have respect for colleagues.
-----all cystic fibrosis sufferers.
Take the decision.
The Minister expects that it is now entering a critical phase finally.
"Critical phase"? Lift the phone to Vertex-----
I call Deputy Eugene Murphy.
He is focused now-----
-----and tell it-----
-----on concluding the process in the interests of all the cystic fibrosis sufferers, not just for now, but for the future, with-----
Taoiseach, please. I can accommodate others if the Taoiseach and other Members respect the time.
-----Orkambi, Kalydeco and any new drug that comes along.
I call Deputy Eugene Murphy. There will be short, snappy answers. The Deputy can accommodate those who have been waiting here all day.
Page 151 of the programme for Government refers to the reform of appointments to State boards and the Government's intention to put the system of appointments introduced in November 2014 on a statutory footing by the end of 2016. Time and again, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has failed to deal with this issue. The Taoiseach can smile all he likes, but it is a fact.
A question, please.
People have told me it is important that these appointments be made. How many positions have been filled on such boards and how many vacancies are there? I want clear answers.
I cannot answer that question for the Deputy. The fact is that, under the Public Appointments Service, PAS, people apply online for positions that may become vacant in any of these. They are assessed and identified independently as to the conditions, the experience and the competence to do a job. Recommendations are then sent to the Minister of the day in order that he or she can pick from those. I will find out for the Deputy how many of these positions need to be filled and whether they are being applied for and responded to under the PAS system.
The programme for Government commits to tackling the most pressing challenges facing us in health. A number of weeks ago during statements on waiting lists I urged the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to reinstate the simple scoliosis checks for children. He said it was a logical thing to do and that he would have a look at it in tandem with the HSE's action plan on scoliosis, which he committed to publishing before the end of the month. We have yet to see an action plan for scoliosis. What is the status of the action plan and will checks for scoliosis by primary health care nurses be reinstated? It is a very simple check and it was previously carried out.
Three paediatric hospitals provide scoliosis services, with the most complex cases being dealt with in Crumlin, as Deputy Brady is aware. As of 31 January 193 patients were awaiting spinal procedures in Crumlin, of which 143 are for new spinal fusions. I am not sure whether the simple test to which the Deputy referred has been reinstated but I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to confirm the position to Deputy Brady.
No, they have not been reinstated.
My question comes under promised legislation. Over the weekend it was reported in the newspapers that €15.2 million was spent on the guardian ad litem service, and in 2015 the sum of €8.9 million was also spent on the same service, an increase of 90%. When will the child care (amendment) Bill be brought forward under the spring-summer programme for 2017? The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, specifically said she would address the guardian ad litem issue.
The heads of the Bill were cleared in January and the Bill will go for scrutiny in March.
My question is also about promised legislation. It is 39 years since Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born. Since then, more than 5 million babies have been born through IVF and have given much joy and delight to their parents. It is more than a year since the then Minister for Health said legislation would be introduced to help support the many women in this country who suffer from fertility issues. The condition can cause physical, mental and emotional problems. The cost of IVF in this country is very expensive. It is almost €6,000 for every cycle. In the Czech Republic the cost is as low as €2,500. Ireland is one of only two countries in Europe, along with Lithuania, that does not give any support to those seeking support and help with fertility issues. It is vitally important that we do something to help. Many other EU countries provide between one and six cycles of IVF. What are we doing in this country in that regard?
The Minister has referred to the issue on a number of occasions. It is a source of great stress to couples who find themselves in that position. I understand the heads of the Bill will come before the Government in the coming month of March.
The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has referred the Technological Universities Bill to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills. Could the Taoiseach confirm when the Bill will come back to this House for a vote? I support the Bill, which is very important, especially for places such as the Tralee Institute of Technology that is seeking to complete its merger with Cork Institute of Technology to ensure its future viability.
As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is aware, it would not do for us to try to short-circuit the committee's deliberations on the Bill. I will ask the Minister to provide more detail on the issue.
The work on the Bill is ongoing. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is aware, the Bill reached Committee Stage previously and it ran into a number of difficulties both in terms of industrial relations and also issues relating to the colleges, although not in the case of the colleges to which the Deputy referred. Work is going on with the colleges to define the spectrum of colleges that will proceed to technological university status and there are also some other issues to iron out before we come back to committee. I am anxious that those issues would be fully worked through so the Dáil and Seanad can be in a position to pass the legislation, which is an important statement for the future.
Before I call on Deputy Jack Chambers I wish to indicate to Deputies Troy, Tony McLoughlin, Pearse Doherty, Carol Nolan and Éoin Ó Broin that I will ask the Ceann Comhairle to give them priority tomorrow because they have waited in vain to be called.
If they are here.
I note the Minister for Education and Skills is about to leave. He made a recent announcement about DEIS schools. My query relates to whether there is an appeals mechanism. Surprisingly, a number of schools were excluded from the list in spite of their extreme sociodemographic profile. Will the number of designated schools be increased in the future? Could the Minister outline his plans in that regard?
I assure the Deputy that the recommendation of the schools that are included on this occasion was based on independent analysis. Issues that were considered included the unemployment rates, the educational achievement of parents, the socioeconomic class, the occupancy of the houses in terms of overcrowding and population decline. It was a very fair and objective set of criteria.
Could the Minister circulate the list of criteria?
It was only the schools with the very highest levels of disadvantage that were agreed at this stage and they represent 2% of all the schools in the country.
Deputy Jack Chambers is correct; this is a first step and we plan to refine the process and we will consider other schools because there are undoubtedly schools that have a high level of disadvantage that could not be included on this occasion. It is a big improvement on the process of identification that previously existed. Schools can seek a review but it will be based on the model I outlined. Political considerations will not be brought into play.