Questions on Promised Legislation

It is accepted that, notwithstanding the very negative impacts of Brexit, one potential opportunity for Ireland was in the area of financial services, particularly relocation from the United Kingdom for companies which would wish to stay in the EU. I know the enterprise section of the programme for Government is very strong on the support of financial services. The Taoiseach will have noted the coverage in The Financial Times recently to the effect that Dublin will not attract as many jobs from the financial sector in London as it could because of the lack of infrastructure and regulatory capacity. That is a worrying comment on the attractiveness of Ireland in terms of financial services.

Nine months have passed since the Brexit result and we still have not addressed some of the concrete issues by which we could actually benefit from the EU in terms of making sure that we attract such business. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has complained about regulatory arbitrage and that other cities are being more aggressive in trying to win business and perhaps moving regulatory considerations to one side. The important point is, what does the Taoiseach intend to do to counteract this negative profiling of our capacity to attract further financial services into the country because of the infrastructure and regulatory capacity issues?

This is not so much about legislation as about activity that is taking place. Today on Bloomberg's "Brexit Bulletin" Dublin is ranked first in respect of 15 cities analysed for conditions for transfer of jobs. I note the comments from some senior chief executives of very big financial houses saying they are going to move. They are not all saying that they are going to come to Dublin but I can confirm that we have met with a number of people over the last three months who are examining Dublin in competition with other countries and other capitals very favourably.

The Central Bank has had quite extensive engagement with banking and financial houses which wish to relocate different sectors of their businesses from London to other locations. Ireland is being considered very favourably in that regard. The Central Bank is the regulator and, as the Deputy knows, the European Central Bank also provides personnel in terms of regulations and licences that might be involved. There is much activity, some of which I cannot discuss publicly. I expect that favourable decisions will be made for us.

Businesses want to locate in a country which is in the Single Market, where the English language is spoken, which has had 40 years or more of engagement with the European Union and which has connectivity between London and Dublin, the second busiest route in the world. Most important is the access to a continuous stream of talent. I will provide the Deputy with further facts at a later stage.

Job creation is at the heart of the efforts of the Government and the programme for Government. In light of that, I want to ask the Taoiseach about ConnectIreland. Reports which suggest that what seems to be obstruction by IDA Ireland took place in the creation of jobs are very disturbing and concerning. We are all now aware that the ConnectIreland initiative will end on Monday. The Taoiseach has repeatedly stated today that a review into ConnectIreland is under way. I want the Taoiseach to confirm when the review commenced, its terms of reference, when it will conclude and what influence it will have on the likelihood of ConnectIreland continuing.

I ask the Taoiseach to clarify that he has not misled the Dáil on the matter of a review. The initiative is due to shut down on Monday, and it is alleged that it is shutting down not least because of the connivance and, it is alleged, bad will of IDA Ireland. The Taoiseach needs to clarify that matter. I ask him to tell us about the review, including when it started and its terms of reference.

The Taoiseach can have one minute for a reply.

I will take 30 seconds. Perhaps Deputy McDonald would refer to the word "connivance" she used in regard to IDA Ireland.

It is just a word.

Maybe she should correct the record in decrying IDA Ireland.

I said the Minister is to carry out a review. I said the board dealt with this last November and that the contract was extended for 12 months, and if the contract were to be extended beyond Monday it would have to go for public procurement. I will ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to give the Deputy specific details on when the review will start and the nature of that review. The Deputy will, of course, understand that litigation is involved.

I want to make sure that everyone understands that there is a legal dispute between ConnectIreland and IDA Ireland. This is unfortunate and a legal process is under way to address the differences. On the last occasion on which I took questions on ConnectIreland, I stated that the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is drafting the terms of reference and guidelines for the review. We will consult the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and I know my officials attended the meeting of that committee yesterday. I had to attend a Cabinet meeting when the committee meeting took place. The committee was informed that I would not be available and the timing was unfortunate.

It is very difficult to carry out a review when a legal dispute is ongoing. We are putting the guidelines together and hope that IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland can come to an agreement. There is a dispute about the number of jobs that have been created. At the moment, there does not seem to be any agreement.

Ireland was described in an article I read as the wild west of gambling due to the lack of regulation of the gambling sector here. The Gambling Control Bill passed pre-legislative scrutiny in 2013. The current Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality when the pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill was completed.

I understand some measures will be included in the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, including age restrictions. However, that is no substitute for the comprehensive reform and regulation measure which is now required. Bizarrely, I am also informed that the plans include increases to prizes and stakes for gambling machines.

In our offices we regularly hear the concerns expressed by parents who are encountering gambling problems, in particular online gambling. We need comprehensive legislation in this regard. When will the Gambling Control Bill, which has passed pre-legislative scrutiny, be brought before the Dáil?

I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to respond to Deputy Howlin.

As Deputy Howlin knows, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, has made this a priority area. Perhaps he would like to comment on the work he is doing.

Since the committee report was produced many changes in the technology around gambling have taken place. We commissioned a report on that, which has been published on the website and which I am sure Deputy Howlin has seen. That has led to changes being required to the Bill, on which we are working very hard.

In the meantime, we have identified a number of areas which will be included in the miscellaneous provisions Bill to which the Deputy referred. It will be brought before the committee shortly for pre-legislative scrutiny. We will be advised by the wisdom of the committee on that. It includes age limits and stakes, which the Deputy mentioned. I am looking forward to receiving the report of the committee on that Bill. I hope to publish it before the summer recess.

What about the main Bill?

I hope to publish the main Bill before the end of the year.

I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of what seems to be a very grave situation, namely, the condition of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa.

No, that is not relevant. This is Questions on Promised Legislation.

I welcome the fact the Government is planning to send a medical expert-----

That is still not relevant on promised legislation.

We normally take a fairly lax-----

No, we do not.

I think we do. Perhaps the Taoiseach could tell us what actions the Government is planning to take in terms of communications with President el-Sisi. Perhaps we could reconvene as the delegation-----

Deputy Murphy will have received notice of a meeting that will take place tomorrow.

I was disturbed by the directly contradictory reports of the condition of young Ibrahim Halawa, who is an Irish and European citizen. For that reason, yesterday the Government made a clear decision to send a qualified medical person, on the recommendation of the chief medical officer, to carry out a medical examination on Ibrahim Halawa so that we have an accurate report of his medical condition.

I read a report which stated he was confined to a wheelchair and was being sustained by glucose injections, by which I was disturbed. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade reported in depth to the Cabinet yesterday on the extensive discussions and visits by the Irish diplomatic services to the prisons involved that have taken place. The Ceann Comhairle led an inter-party delegation. We wanted to have verified for us, from the point of view of an Irish qualified medical person, the medical condition of Ibrahim Halawa.

I spoke to the Egyptian President on two occasions. I cannot interfere in the judicial process of another country. Getting all the defendants involved in the trial together at one time seems to have been beyond the recourse of the system. The case has been postponed many times.

In the context of being disturbed about the contradictory reports, I asked that the Government approve the sending of a qualified person on the recommendation of the chief medical officer to get an accurate medical report on the young man's condition, and that has happened.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is in the House and this question is about the industrial development (amendment) Bill. We have the threatened closure of a Bord na Móna facility - a briquette factory - at Littleton, with more than 70 jobs-----

This is under the industrial development (amendment) Bill.

No, it is not. That would be an incredible stretch of the imagination.

It would not. At least I have legislation to refer to, unlike the last Deputy. It is an important issue. Last week in Nenagh we had Coty's announcement and in that regard I thank the Minister for meeting us yesterday. I want to know what action the Government will take to ensure that the Bord na Móna plant will be secured for the workers in Tipperary. We have had too many hits in Tipperary. In terms of jobs being lost, it is as if we are under siege at the moment. When I put the question yesterday about ConnectIreland, I did not get much of an answer from IDA Ireland once the Minister had left. Something funny is going on. There is not a nice tang off it. I want to talk about "ConnectTipperary". I want to stay connected. I want some answers about the future of the Bord na Móna plant at Littleton.

The question is far more appropriate to the line Minister.

The Deputy can table a parliamentary question.

Yes, but this slot is not for questions on constituency issues. Does the Minister or the Taoiseach wish to comment? We will not be getting into this on an ongoing basis.

The Deputy mentioned the industrial development (amendment) Bill. The draft heads of the Bill were approved by Government-----

Now. Go raibh maith agat.

-----and we expect them in the first half of 2017. On Tipperary, given the Deputy mentioned the Bill-----

I did, as it concerned legislation.

If I may answer the question, the Deputy asked me about Tipperary. I met the Deputy on two occasions along with the other Deputies from Tipperary. I will meet the action group from Tipperary, including the chief executive, along with any Oireachtas Members that wish to attend next week. I assure the Deputy that regional jobs are hugely important to me. I know Deputy Mattie McGrath knows that to be the case.

Show me the money.

IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices-----

-----are all trying to win regional jobs for Ireland, including Tipperary.

A review of A Vision for Change was promised under the programme for Government. Aside from water, health and sexual abuse, mental health has been the most debated subject in this Chamber since I was elected last February. I have asked repeatedly when the promised review will be published. I was told it would be before Christmas. Then I was told it would be the end of February. We are now past the middle of March. Where is the review of A Vision for Change?

I do not have a date for Deputy Connolly for its publication. I will have the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, contact the Deputy.

I wish to raise the issue of commercial rates, in particular the re-valuations that are ongoing across several counties, including County Kildare. This is causing difficulties for high street retailers, in particular, and small traders that have been unduly hit under this re-valuation. Some of them have seen a doubling and trebling of their current rates. On Monday the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government announced his intention to bring forward a Bill on the rates valuation system. He acknowledged serious flaws in the legislation, which dates back to the 1800s, including the fact that the smallest sole trader pays the same rate multiplier as the largest multinational. There are many difficulties with the rates system that are causing significant difficulties for small businesses and high street retailers, in particular. Given the Minister's intention to bring forward legislation, does the Taoiseach consider it wise that the current re-valuation across ten counties should continue? When are we likely to see the proposed legislation in action?

I call Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin on the same matter.

I also wish to raise a query on the commercial rates Bill, which I understand will consolidate the existing legislation. We know that businesses throughout the country are struggling. They are dealing with increases in insurance and rents and now in rates. Last week in my county of Kildare, where there are more than 5,000 of them, all the ratepayers got letters relating to increased rents. I accept that the council sets the rate, but the issue is with the valuation. In almost all of those cases, the valuation has increased. In one situation, where rent of €12,000 is being paid, the Valuation Office is saying that the rent for the area should be €30,000, so the rates have increased from €5,500 to €7,200. This is not sustainable. The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit. We must do everything in our power to ensure that our businesses are sustainable. They are providing employment and services. We must do more on the rates.

I call Deputy Tony McLoughlin on the same matter.

I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that new legislation is urgently needed to improve the outdated rates valuation system. Only this week, some ratepayers in County Sligo received increases of up to 400%. There is quite a lot of businesses in County Sligo. In support of the other Deputies, I say that the increases are quite simply unacceptable. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the progress of the new rates Bill?

There are always problems associated with rates and commercial premises. In terms of retail outlets, everyone should be aware of the double digit increases in online retail sales. Government has set out a series of assistances for retailers, including opportunities to go online with assistance from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin mentioned increases in rents. Those may be related to the issue but they have nothing to do with the legislation itself. The heads of the Bill are due to be brought before Government next month and will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.

In respect of the comments about the hospitality sector, the Government abolished the travel tax, reduced VAT from 13.5% to 9% and maintained the VAT rate at that lower level through the last three or four budgets. The Government has worked with the agencies for Norwegian Air to fly new routes from four airports to the United States. The number of new outlets flying into Ireland for the hospitality sector has greatly increased over recent years. Everyone involved in the hospitality sector can avail of various opportunities. In particular, I mention the Wild Atlantic Way, the midlands region and Ireland's Ancient East, which offer ideal opportunities to the hospitality sector.

The programme for Government speaks about improving the provision of school resources for children with special needs. Yesterday the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, published documentation on resource teaching, learning supports and special needs assistants. Shockingly, there is no longer an appeals process available to parents who are dissatisfied with the number of resources hours and learning supports being provided for their child. The appeals process that was in place has now been abolished, which is an extremely retrograde step. Many people were worried about the NCSE's new model for allocation but were listening to the strong arguments being put forward by it. Many people are shocked that parents no longer have a right to appeal a resource allocation provided, in this case, by the teachers.

I call Deputy Michael Moynihan on the same matter.

This decision is horrendous. I compliment Deputy Thomas Byrne for highlighting it. Allocations had been made to schools and, right up until last Wednesday or Thursday, the Department of Education and Skills was advising parents to wait until the mechanism for the appeals process was in place before lodging an appeal. Those parents were waiting because they were assured that a process would be put in place this week. It now transpires that the Department is putting no such mechanism in place. Surely to God it is the case that these children need the best supports possible. The Taoiseach should examine this matter urgently because, as my colleague stated, it is a disgrace.

I am surprised to hear this. A great deal of work has been done in respect of special needs, both in terms of the provision of facilities and the extent of public moneys available, which is at more than €1.6 billion. I will have the matter in respect of the appeals mechanism raised directly with the Minister for Education and Skills. I am sure he will be interested it.

Today we had a presentation from those who represent people who suffer the dreadful medical condition called cystic fibrosis. They are anxious to ascertain when the Government's proposed legislation on family consent and an opt-out register for organ donation will be introduced. They are also concerned to ascertain the latest position on the drug Orkambi.

I do not have a date for the Deputy on the legislation.

As I stated the last time Orkambi was raised in the context of setting out some sort of certainty for the health system, the discussions centre around Orkambi, Kalydeco and any other new drug that comes on stream. My understanding from the Minister for Health is that it is hoped to conclude the discussions in a matter of weeks. I know I said that the last time the matter was raised but that is my information. This issue is of serious concern to those who have cystic fibrosis and their parents. It is hoped the discussions will be concluded in an overall sense in a couple of weeks. I will revert to the Deputy on the legislation.

Will the Taoiseach send me a note on the legislation?

Yes, I will provide an update on work on the Bill and when it is expected.

I raise the long-promised and overdue revised guidelines for the wind energy industry. The Taoiseach will be aware that in 2016 the European Court of Justice ruled that Ireland will have to carry out a strategic environmental assessment before any revised guidelines are issued. As any planner will agree, the process of carrying out a nationwide assessment takes more than two years to complete and the procurement process could take another year. In light of this ruling, will the Taoiseach confirm that the revised guidelines will not be available for several years and we will be stuck with the current guidelines?

The Deputy seems to be seeking a timescale. All I can I tell him is that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, are talking. This matter dragged on for some time with previous Ministers. I will give the Deputy an up-to-date account on the status of the discussions.

In respect of the commitment in the planning reform section of the programme for Government to promote higher urban housing densities, particularly in public transport corridors, through the national planning framework, are plans in place to simultaneously fund the creation of community centres and facilities for these new high-density areas? The new policy being promoted by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, in a nationwide roadshow has the potential, if not handled properly, to exacerbate problems in urban areas where thousands of families can be displaced from their home town in search of affordable housing, only to find a dearth of community facilities. Are plans in place to reinstate the capital funds previously provided by the Department for the construction of community centres?

That is a matter for legislation and one to which the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will respond in accordance with the statutory plans set out by each local authority. The Deputy will be aware that in respect of special development zones, restrictions and prohibitions apply to the provision of extensive housing unless other facilities are provided in parallel.

We have a special development zone in Navan.

One cannot provide large numbers of houses without providing the facilities that go along with them.

That has happened.

In the past, people sometimes forgot that children were born on housing estates and they need facilities. This is all about proper planning.

We have heard much today about jobs. The south-east region suffered a great deal as a result of the problems the country experienced in recent years. One of the key drivers of the Action Plan for Jobs in the south east was the development of a technological university for the region. Successive Governments set this as a priority. Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the progress of the Technological Universities Bill? Is it still Government policy to develop a technological university for the south east based on parity of esteem and multi-campus technology?

This was one of the first decisions made by the previous Government in 2011 on account of the demise of TalkTalk in Waterford. Since then, the Government has fully supported the concept of technological universities. We are awaiting Committee Stage of the Technological Universities Bill in the Dáil, which should be taken not too far from now.

The programme for Government makes specific reference to the farming community, farmers' income and support for the family farm. In 2009, the disadvantaged payment made to farmers in the least productive land was cut from €4,400 to €3,400. Farmers may now only claim for 34 ha rather than 45 ha. The new ANC payment rate as well as how and where it is paid will be decided later this year. I ask that the €1,000 taken from farmers in disadvantaged areas be restored to farmers who badly miss and need this money because they are struggling. Incomes that were cut in many other sectors have been restored, which I welcome. I ask that the payment be restored to its previous level for farmers in disadvantaged areas when the new ANC payment is being distributed.

While I take the Deputy's point, these are all matters to be considered at the relevant time. Preparations for the 2018 budget will start in due course and the level of grant assistance from the Common Agricultural Policy and Exchequer are always monitored.

While the issue I raise was addressed previously, I have a specific question on the programme for Government commitment to tackling the current challenges in health. Cystic fibrosis is one such challenge. With 1,200 people in Ireland suffering from the condition, we have one of the highest rates of cystic fibrosis in the developed world. Will the Taoiseach update the House on the current status of negotiations with Vertex on the availability of Orkambi and the extension of specialist therapies?

I just answered a similar question from Deputy O'Dea. The Minister hopes the discussions with the companies involved in the manufacture of Kalydeco, Orkambi and any future drug for cystic fibrosis can be concluded in a matter of weeks.

The Taoiseach previously gave a commitment to establish a commission of investigation into Project Eagle. In previous responses to questions asked by me and others, he stated he would hold off on doing so pending the report on Project Eagle from the Committee of Public Accounts. The committee's report has been published and we now have allegations that the National Asset Management Agency sold loans worth hundreds of millions of euro in private, rather than through the proper procedure. A commission of investigation into a range of matters is needed. Now that the red herring of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts has been taken from the water, will the Taoiseach provide an update as to when the terms of reference of the commission of investigation will be published and when the commission will be established?

I agreed in principle, when I met the leaders of the parties opposite on a number of occasions, to have a commission of investigation.

It was not agreed in principle; it was agreed.

I believed it was appropriate to wait until the report of the Committee of Public Accounts had been published. As the Deputy is well aware, the report, which will be the subject of a debate tomorrow, is disputed. I need to hear the views of Deputies on the value of the extensive work done by the committee and the areas a commission of investigation could not deal with, both in terms of documentation and personnel who are available or live outside the jurisdiction. Deputies should give their views as to the value and estimated costs of such a commission of investigation and what it would hope to achieve. I am not resiling from the principle we set out but members of the Committee of Public Accounts and others have valid contributions to make and we should hear those. We agreed in principle to have a commission of investigation and there are quite serious constraints upon that, both in terms of legal areas, jurisdictional problems, evidence problems and the extent of work carried out by the committee, which resulted in a disputed report at the end of the day.