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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Vol. 953 No. 1

Questions on Promised Legislation

Some 17 Members wish to put questions so I ask them to be brief.

We sought confirmation this morning that this would be the Taoiseach's last Leaders' Questions. Not surprisingly, we did not get confirmation. I was hoping the Taoiseach and I would have another box off at some stage, perhaps on Tuesday week.

The Taoiseach's reference to fisticuffs brings me to the subject of my question this morning. It relates to the situation of Irish boxing at present, how the Minister of State with responsibility for sport has summoned the elected officials of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association to his office this morning and the comments from officialdom to the effect that boxing is in crisis. I ask the Taoiseach, in his last days in office, to remind Ministers to stand back from involving themselves too overtly in certain situations. Boxing in Ireland is not in crisis. It has had tremendous success in recent years and not only in the Olympics-----

We lost the national coach.

It depends on one's metric. That was wrong. I am not taking sides on this but I am speaking about the hundreds of clubs across the country that have grown dramatically, giving opportunities to young people. Officials need to be careful about language and talking about something being in crisis when it has never been stronger in parishes and communities across the country. That is my point. The sword of Damocles should not be held over boxing officials with the threat that if they do not come to heel their grants will be pulled, with key performance targets being mentioned.

The Deputy is over time.

In the name of God, our only successes in recent Olympics along with rowing have been our boxers. The biggest problem in the recent Olympics was the quality of international refereeing. That was plain for all to see. There should be a little more balance and perspective. I accept there is a need for structural changes and for unity.

Ministers in particular should be very careful about getting involved in selection issues. They should stand back from them. Those in officialdom who are disbursing taxpayers' money should be equally clear that it is not for them to be threatening every now and again that if one does not come to heel in accordance with their diktat, the money will be pulled. A bit of balance and perspective is required. I ask the Taoiseach to give a reminder to the Ministers in that regard.

Having said all that, I wish the Taoiseach the very best in retirement if, indeed, this is his last day taking the Order of Business and Taoiseach's Questions. I also wish well his wife, Fionnuala. I have wished them well previously.

I agree with the Deputy that boxing is not in crisis. The sports capital system has supported boxing clubs during the terms of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments over the years. The number of young boys and girls involved in boxing as a discipline, science and sport continues to increase. On Monday, I was in the north inner city and visited Ballybough Boxing Club. It has brand new facilities and really good coaches and it is doing a wonderful job. I am a big supporter of Bernard Dunne. He is a wonderful example to young people. He rose to become world champion in his weight division. I hope the personalities involved in the matter raised by the Deputy can work this out. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, Irish boxers have been very successful in many Olympic Games. Ireland is recognised by other countries as being outstanding in this regard and one of the top countries in the world. I hope, therefore, that the powers that be, or the personalities within the IABA, along with the Minister of State dealing with this, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, can come to an understanding that is in the interest of thousands of young people and in order that there will be a body that works in everybody's interest. After all, the Deputy's Government and a succession of Governments have put money into the facilities in Dublin and around the country. Through these, young people learn discipline, character formation and the science of boxing, if that is what they love. It is a sport in which they can rise to be world champions in their respective weight divisions. The Deputy's message is one that I fully understand.

I wish the Taoiseach the very best in retirement. We may not agree with him most of the time but we certainly, on a personal level, wish him the very best.

I have a question on promised legislation. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on asylum seekers working is unconstitutional. It has suspended its order for six months to allow the Government and Oireachtas time to right this grave injustice. This constitutional crisis arises in the first instance because of section 9(4) of the Refugee Act 1996, which prohibited a person seeking asylum from entering employment before the final determination of his or her application. This Act was replaced by the International Protection Act 2015. It also prohibits asylum seekers from seeking or entering employment, or being employed or otherwise engaged in any gainful work or occupation. The direct provision system is a bad system that should have been scrapped a long time ago. It keeps thousands of people trapped in a process that is dehumanising and degrading. It is also a costly system, on which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments have spent over €0.5 billion since 2009. An tUachtarán, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, has said the refusal to allow asylum seekers the right to work is heartbreaking and immoral. He is correct in saying that. Will the Taoiseach agree to discuss urgently with the Opposition parties emergency legislation that can be expedited in its passage through the Oireachtas?

This is an important judgment by the Supreme Court. The Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of State with direct responsibility in this area, Deputy David Stanton, have done a lot of work on this. Within the past month, before this judgment, they asked their officials to begin work to identify the options for and the barriers to asylum seekers gaining access to the labour market in particular circumstances. This judgment, therefore, gives this work increased priority. As the judgment has only just become available, as the Deputy is aware, the Department of Justice and Equality officials, together with the Office of the Attorney General, will examine it in the immediate future. It is important to note that the International Protection Act, which introduces the single application procedure for protection applicants, was brought through the Oireachtas by the Tánaiste and commenced on 30 December 2016. That is important legislation. The new Act is specifically designed to address the delays in decision-making on asylum claims. Since the beginning of the year, applications have already been decided with applicants having been recognised as refugees who can access the labour market now. Overall, 92% of the 173 recommendations in the McMahon report are now implemented or partially implemented, or are in progress. That is a significant increase on the figure of 80% in the first audit of progress, which was published last June. One hundred and twenty-one of the recommendations are now implemented, with a further 38 partially implemented or in progress. It includes the key recommendation of the working group, that is, the one on the introduction of the single application procedure within our international protection process.

I do not have any difficulty at all in saying to the Deputy that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, in particular, will be happy to engage with Opposition Members to discuss the outcome of the ruling of the Supreme Court. I expect that once officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and Equality have gone through the judgment in detail, the Minister of State will be very happy to have a discussion with Opposition Members and move on in the context of the findings of the Supreme Court.

As this may prove to be my last question to Deputy Enda Kenny in his role as Taoiseach, I join others in wishing him and his family well in whatever the future holds for him. I am sure this is simply the opening of another chapter considering the energy he continues to display. Our period working together in government will certainly always be valued by me.

I thank the Taoiseach and the Chief Whip for their co-operation in providing Government time today for the Competition (Amendment) Bill. It will become the first Opposition Bill to pass through both Houses. That is a milestone and an encouragement for us on this side of the House. As the Taoiseach knows, the Bill will give trade union rights to freelance workers and define in law for the first time the concept of bogus self-employment. It is an important milestone.

It is exactly 12 months to the day since the Government was first defeated on a Private Members' motion, which was our motion on workers' rights. Much water has gone under the bridge since then. With regard to that motion, will the Taoiseach update the House on the progress made on the decision of the House that day in regard to the promotion of the living wage, the ending of the abuse of if-and-when contracts and the redress of workplace bullying?

I will have to come back to Deputy Howlin on this to give him an update. I will do so today.

The Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Act was signed into law by the President. It has not yet been commenced. I wish to raise general drug policy in light of that. I am finding that the drug treatment teams in communities are closing down. I hope the legislation is not a ruse to distract from that. I would like the relevant Minister to comment on and intervene regarding the following scenario in Dublin 15. The board of the ADAPT drugs team has voted to close down its project. There used to be three community drug projects: Hartstown-Huntstown, Blakestown-Mountview and Corduff-Mulhuddart. They merged into one, which is now closing. Could the Government intervene because there is a huge drug problem in the capital, as we know, and certainly in Dublin West? ADAPT provides an holistic approach. It deals with many aspects, including helping families, and it also runs an around the clock needle exchange in Coolmine. I am sure the Taoiseach is not willing to see the project close without doing something to intervene. I am sure it is a complex issue but I ask the Taoiseach to try to intervene to save the service. A caretaker-director, for example, and a caretaker board could be appointed for now to attempt to keep it open. I would like a comment on that.

I shall ask the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to deal with that.

I thank Deputy Coppinger. I have already spoken to Deputy Joan Burton regarding this matter. We had a long conversation.

We are in discussions in the Department to try to resolve it. The ADAPT programme in Coolmine is very important as, like all projects, it is based in the community. It deals on a daily basis with people with an addiction and, most of all, provides for needle exchange. Nobody, me included, wants to see any service closing down, but there have been a number of issues raised. I have promised the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, that I will come back to her. I will try to get some answer today.

I thank the Minister of State and, by the way, Joan Burton is a Deputy.

On behalf of the Green Party, I thank the Taoiseach for the courtesy he has shown, particularly in the last year, in working with all parties. I wish him the very best in whatever comes next. I was listening to his two young Ministers at the weekend in the debate.

They had an audience.

It was close to being a boxing match on occasion.

They did very well.

There was one issue raised that I want to tease out with the Taoiseach. It is welcome that we have just seen the details of the child care support scheme which was introduced in the budget by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone. However, in the debate the two Ministers acknowledged that the Government had completely forgotten about the hundreds of thousands of parents who would not be able to avail of such a facility. They both committed on becoming Taoiseach to a reappraisal or change of strategy in order that we would start to recognise caring work as important. Will the Taoiseach indicate what discussions have taken place at the Cabinet and what plans there are to back up what the two Ministers indicated on Sunday? How do we stand up for the value and importance of parenting and all care choices? What changes and promised legislation can we expect to see in that regard?

I am glad that the Deputy was listening to the contributions of two very able young Ministers. That is good. It shows that the Deputy is following through on his political decision not to be promiscuous and will support getting back into government-----

Steady now. Do not go too far.

That is very good. The homemaker's tax credit was increased in the budget. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, has commented that she would like to see it increased further in recognition of the value of people caring in the home. I do not want to pronounce further on it at this point. Obviously, with regard to the shape and structure of the new Government, the matter will be addressed in the preparation of the budget for 2018.

I too wish the Taoiseach well. While we had many robust engagements, I thank him for his courtesy and co-operation. I know that he is an iar-mhúinteoir and fluent in both Latin and Irish, but I was intrigued by the comment on the young Turks who will follow him. I wonder to which of the said young Ministers he was really applying that terminology which, thank God, he did not repeat in English. I know that he had a full Cabinet at the start, but they are leaving one by one. Like the primroses, they melted from the ditch when the hailstones came. Are they in it for the long haul? Are they able for it and up for it? I do not know. Time will tell.

I have a more important question. IDA Ireland has only recruited one of the ten staff approved to deal with Brexit. It obtained approval to employ ten extra high-powered and able staff who would know what they were doing, but it has only recruited one of them and I want to know why. It is the same IDA Ireland that is demolishing small businesses in my county. It was very jealous when its sister organisation, ConnectIreland, and Connect Tipperary in particular, were set up. Why has it not appointed the other nine? Most agencies in Ireland complain that they do not have enough resources. IDA Ireland received approval to fill ten places. It is disgraceful that it has only filled one, given the serious implications Brexit will have down the line. I would like to receive an answer from the Taoiseach as Gaeilge nó as Béarla.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. Both Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland were given the resources and the opportunity to recruit extra personnel. Detailed negotiations on Brexit have not yet started-----

This is about IDA Ireland.

-----as the Deputy is aware following Mr. Barnier's contribution in this House. As required, IDA Ireland will identify the particular expertise it needs and where it should be located. That work is under way.

The line of investment into the country is very strong. I will travel to Chicago early next week on a trade mission to continue that work. As the Deputy is aware, the agencies have been very successful. The extra personnel approved will be recruited, but IDA Ireland looks for particular characteristics and qualities in the people it employs.

Would it not give the Taoiseach a job? There is no better man.

I hope more people will be employed by it this year, as well as by Enterprise Ireland to assist companies which are exporting.

The leaders have consumed 18 minutes of the 30 available. There are 11 speakers remaining.

I thank the Taoiseach and wish him and his family the very best for the future. I will be joining him in due course.


I said "In due course."

The Deputy will be running the next time.

Whether he likes it or not.

As the Taoiseach knows, I have raised with him several times in the past few years the question of the restoration of the mobility allowance. As a man of humanity, he will appreciate that the continued denial of the mobility allowance to perhaps tens of thousands of people who should qualify for it throughout the country is both cruel and unfair. He promised me several times that action was imminent. In fact, he wrote to me on a number of occasions about the matter. He also got the Minister for Health to write to me. The letter, dated 23 November 2015 stated: "We fully acknowledge the protracted period since the scheme was first highlighted. However, we believe significant progress has been made and we look forward to the completion of this work shortly. This will allow the Minister to bring proposals to Government in the coming weeks." That was 18 months ago. As the Taoiseach faces the final curtain, will he use his influence to have the legislation published? There are thousands upon thousands of people depending on restoration of the scheme.

Where is Finian?

I admit that we have not brought the matter to a conclusion. I am sorry about that, but let me see what we can do in the time remaining to me. In fairness to the Deputy, he has raised it consistently. I know that there are discussions taking place between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Health on the cost and structure of the scheme, but they have drifted for too long without reaching finality.

I join others in wishing the Taoiseach the very best. We had the opportunity to serve as respective leaders in opposition. Despite the fact that we have very different political outlooks, on a personal level I have always found him to be a gentleman to deal with.

On the processing of legislation, there is a very serious problem because of the backlog of legislation, particularly in the committee system. This is a serious matter, not only in the case of Government legislation but also especially in the case of Private Members' legislation. The issue has been highlighted before, but there is one area that I want to bring to the Taoiseach's attention in his last days as leader and Taoiseach that he might be able to address. During the years legislation has been passed in this House particular sections of which have not yet been signed into active law. It is a major problem that particular sections of legislation that has passed through all Stages have yet to be properly acted on by the respective Ministers. I will reflect on one of the more recent Acts, but there are others on which I could reflect going back a number of years. I refer to the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 which governs a raft of matters of particular concern and interest in the justice area. There is a need to set clear timeframes for the delivery of all the remaining provisions of that Act which have not been implemented.

Time is of the essence.

I will quickly say the introduction of a more transparent legal costs regime, the establishment of the role of practicing barristers, the introduction of a new public complaints regime and the appointment of the legal practitioners disciplinary tribunal are all functions of the newly established Legal Services Regulatory Authority. Will the Taoiseach inquire when these provisions will be signed into active law?

I will inquire about this. It is not just a case of them lying there. There are matters to be attended to before they can be signed off on. I will get back to the Deputy. Let us have an analysis of the entire scale, not just in the Department of Justice and Equality but in other Departments where legislation dealt with has not been commenced.

I join with others in wishing the Taoiseach and his wife Fionnuala well. I have only shared this Chamber with him for a short period of time but it has certainly been a positive experience on my part. I wish to raise maternity services at Mayo University Hospital. I am sure the Taoiseach is very much briefed and aware of the situation there. Staff, unions and management have been to the Workplace Relations Commission as a result of the strike action a number of months ago. They are all in agreement that there is a staff shortage. According to a lady who gave birth just two months ago, when she entered the hospital on 25 March to have her baby, there was one main midwife and two other midwives on duty. She said that as she was having her baby, two other women were having their babies as well. She said that she had just given birth when the midwife had to go running to two other rooms and then another. She said that she felt so sorry for this midwife and that it was lucky that there were no complications with her delivery because if there had been, there was nobody else there to help her. The issue has been ongoing for many months and the situation is not improving. The issue apparently concerns the fact that there are only temporary contracts on offer, which is not enough to entice people to take up those positions. Could the Taoiseach raise this matter with the Minister for Health and ask him to personally attend at Mayo University Hospital to deal directly with this issue?

It might be an issue for the Topical Issue debate.

The situation regarding recruitment has changed. There is a very active recruitment drive with young nurses now being offered permanent contracts. I am not sure of the details of what the Deputy is referring to in respect of only temporary contracts being offered. I will discuss this with the Minister and come back to her. I take her point about the lady who gave birth at the hospital. I am glad her baby is well.

This will my last opportunity to ask the Taoiseach a question. I genuinely wish him well. Unlike others, I have not had the opportunity of working with him - some might say despite the Taoiseach's best efforts. I refer to chapter two of A Programme for a Partnership Government which relates to housing supply and the homelessness issue. This is underpinned by the Rebuilding Ireland programme. When that programme was published, I said that if it was implemented in full, it had the potential to have a significant positive impact. From time to time, we ask questions - I want to be specific about this - and get replies. The problem with the replies is that many of them do not hit the nail on the head. In answer to questions about the ongoing problem - the rate of homelessness is as it was when the report was published - the Taoiseach has often said that it is a supply side issue. The Government has a responsibility to deliver on the supply side by adding new properties. For example, the programme committed to delivering 200 rapid-build units in quarter four of 2016 and 800 such units in 2017. A total of 22 have been delivered to date and 151 are scheduled. This is 173 units out of a potential number of 1,000. In terms of the delivery of new units, this is falling behind. As one of his final acts, the Taoiseach needs not just to highlight it but, along with the Minister, to put down very specific timelines for the new builds so that we can put pressure politically and administratively because we are not moving at the rate which would have been anticipated ten or 11 months ago when that programme was published.

I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, who has the detail of this, to respond to the Deputy's query.

Not in detail, please.

To be helpful to the House, tomorrow or possibly later on this evening, we will publish the updated quarterly report on the delivery of the Rebuilding Ireland plan. We publish where we are on each of the five pillars from homelessness to social housing to increased housing supply to the rent market to vacant properties every quarter. Within the next two weeks, there will be a specific vacant property initiative, which is needed. We have already introduced some initiatives in that area and quite a lot of financial resources but more is needed there. I will happily make myself available in the House to debate the updated situation. A total of 10,074 social units are in the pipeline at the moment. In January, that figure was 8,400. Three months earlier, it was thousands less so we are dramatically ramping up the delivery of social housing and are starting to see that take effect but it takes time to build houses.

I join in the tributes to the Taoiseach and his wife Fionnuala. Those of us who are honoured to be in the House are tough enough to take it but our families are not. The service the Taoiseach has given both to his party and the country has taken a toll on his family. We acknowledge that and thank his family for that. He made an announcement yesterday extending a strategic development zone to the land surrounding Ireland West Airport Knock. Can he outline how much extra funding has been allocated to Mayo County Council and the airport to pursue the development of that zone?

It is not a case of allocating funding for a strategic development zone. As he is aware, strategic development zones mean that there are expedited planning permissions. The detail of the strategic development zone in this case outlines the kinds of development that can take place within the almost 500 acres allocated for the zone around the entire airport facility. The local authority has already produced its local plan, which was the advice received a number of years ago, and the proposition through the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government was that the Government should now back this with approval for a strategic development zone. It is not a case of saying here is a certain amount of money. We now have the opportunity to follow through the development of that local authority plan with expedited planning permissions and business and commerce associated with the airline business, be that hangars or hotels. There is a range of issues that can now be followed through and put in that development zone. It is not a grant system that provides a certain amount of money. It is a case of everybody following the board of the local authority and business interests.

I wish the Taoiseach and his wife and family all the best for the future. We will still look forward to seeing him around Rathanane, Kilcummin and Killarney. While the Taoiseach did not answer every question I asked him, he was a master of answering other questions besides the ones he was asked. We have five Ministers in the Department of Health. A group of people protested outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday to say they are not being treated fairly or being treated at all. They are people presenting with Lyme disease. This disease is becoming more prevalent, in particular in County Kerry because of the considerable number of deer there. These people are saying that they can only get treatment for this disease in Germany and the US and that in respect of blood tests taken here, the system does not recognise it or it does not show up in the testing done here, which is very wrong. These people, who are Irish people, need this problem to be addressed.

We have had some conversations at the Cabinet sub-committee on various viruses and their outcomes. I will get the Minister for Health and the HSE to respond to the Deputy on this matter. I am not sure whether the incidence in County Kerry is any higher than in any other county but it is a very serious ailment and a challenge for a person when they are so afflicted.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. My apologies to the seven Deputies who were not reached because other Deputies took more time.