Order of Business

I wish the Tipperary ladies the very best on Sunday in the all-Ireland match.

Today's business shall be: No. 8, motion re special meeting of joint committees for engagement with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, European Parliament Brexit Coordinator; No. 9, motion re Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017 - referral to committee; and No. 18, Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed). Private Members' business shall be Second Stage of No. 35, Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017, selected by Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Thursday's business shall be No. 9a, motion re Europol Regulation - referral to committee; No. 18, Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed, if not previously concluded); and No. 36, Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016 - Second Stage, will be debated in the evening slot.

In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that (1) the motion re the special meeting of joint committees for engagement with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt MEP and the motion re Broadcasting Act 2009 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2017 - referral to committee, will be taken without debate and any division demanded on the motion re special meeting of joint committees shall be taken immediately; (2) there shall be no suspension of sitting within the meaning of Standing Order 25(1); Private Members' business will take place at 8 p.m.; and (4) the proceedings on Second Stage of the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 shall conclude within two hours if not already concluded.

In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that the motion re Europol Regulation - referral to committee shall be taken without debate.

There are two proposals to put to the House today. First, is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. The second proposal is in respect of the business set out for Thursday. Is that agreed?

No. We have raised this with the Offices of the Ceann Comhairle and the Chief Whip. It has to do with what is described on the Order Paper as "an exchange of views with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt" from the European Parliament. I understand that the MPs and MEPs on these committees will be denied their right to speak even though they normally have the right to speak in the committees they are part of. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, Chairman of the Committee on European Union Affairs, Deputy Brendan Smith, Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Deputy Kathleen Funchion have all indicated support for the members of their committees who are MPs or MEPs being able to speak at this engagement with the Member of the European Parliament.

I know we may have got ourselves caught up in a technical anomaly here but good sense should prevail. Here is a very clear indication of the all-Ireland aspect of this and the man has come here to see and hear what folks who represent citizens across the island want to say on the very important issue of Brexit.

It would be ridiculous if we prevented these committee members from exercising their right to speak merely because it is sitting in this Chamber. This does not only affect Sinn Féin but also Fine Gael MEPs and others.

I was contacted about this important matter by Deputy Martin Ferris and indicated my support for it. I raised it today at the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs where there were dissenting voices but we knew that it would be raised on the floor of this House this evening and decided we would wait and see what would happen on the matter then.

The Rural Technical Group's opinion is that what Sinn Féin seeks is acceptable and should be allowed and in this important matter it has the support of this group.

I will clarify the situation for Members as I understand it. Standing Order 95 sets out how the orders of reference for the committees in question operate. The joint sittings of committees are regulated by Standing Order 87. Were the circumstances different, we could possibly amend and set aside orders to allow the Members to attend the meeting on Thursday. However, prior to the summer recess, the Seanad agreed a resolution which is at variance with what Deputy Adams wants to do, so that even if we were to set aside the Standing Orders to allow for the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament to attend, we could not do so because the meeting is one of a joint committee of the Dáil and Seanad and the Seanad already made its decision on this prior to the summer recess and we are bound by that. The Seanad will not return before the joint sitting takes place on Thursday and no matter how much we might want to comply with the Deputy's request, it is not technically possible to do so while adhering to our own Standing Orders. Whether we like it or not, we must adhere to our own Standing Orders.

We will be faced with a situation where the three committees will meet together and MEPs who are entitled to sit on these committees and who speak at the meetings which they attend will sit here and not be allowed to speak. Is this not ridiculous? How will that look or seem to anyone? The purpose of this meeting is given as an exchange of views. This has nothing to do with the fact that Sinn Féin is raising this issue. These people are on these committees by dint of their mandates and of the Good Friday Agreement which we are entitled and obliged to uphold. We might move a motion later, but I ask Teachtaí support the right of the members of these committees to speak, rather than the comic nonsense and undermining of democracy which may happen tomorrow if this is denied them.

I very much appreciate the point being made by the Deputy and that it does not apply to Sinn Féin alone but the reality is that the rules are made by all of us here. We set out these rules. If they are idiotic rules they are idiotic rules that we have set out for ourselves and as long as they are in place we must adhere to them. If we had sufficient foresight before the summer recess, the Seanad might have made a different decision.

Are MLAs included in the wording which the Seanad has agreed or may they take part in proceedings tomorrow?

No they cannot.

On a point of explanation.

I am only entitled to call on one Member from each group but I will allow Deputy Ó Caoláin.

I was not aware of the Seanad decision referred to by the Ceann Comhairle. Can he explain to the House how a decision of another House impacts on this House making a decision to facilitate other parliamentary voices?

It is not just from North of the Border. These are MPs from all parts of this island who are entitled, we would argue, to have their voices heard, if they so choose to participate.

The explanation is quite simple. The committees that will meet tomorrow are joint committees, requiring decisions of the two Houses. The other House already made its decision, prior to the summer recess and, with respect, members of the Deputy's party are Members of the other House, where the decision was made.

What was the decision?

The decision made did not provide for the amendment the Deputy has tabled today. Had that amendment been made in the Seanad it would not be impossible for us today to make a similar amendment. In other words, if the amendment was made by the Seanad before the break we could make a similar amendment today, were the Members amenable, but it was not, so therefore we cannot.

None of us knew these MPs and MEPs would be barred until we received notice a few days ago. We did not know.

We cannot do the business of the Seanad for it. The 60 Senators are well capable-----

We can do the business of the Dáil.

Yes, but we are impacted by the decision they made and it is as simple as that. We might not like it, but that is how it is. Can I take it that the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business is agreed to?

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to," put and declared carried.

I call Deputy Martin on the Order of Business. We have one minute for each Member as 23 Members are offering.

I take the opportunity to express my sympathies, and those of my party, to the family of the late legendary broadcaster Jimmy Magee, who was part of the childhood memories of some Members of the House. My first memory of his commentaries was of Cork Celtic versus Shamrock Rovers some time in the late 1960s. Of course he covered many major events, from Olympics to boxing to soccer. He was known as the "memory man" because of his encyclopedic knowledge of all sports. He was a great quizmaster down through the years, involving many sporting clubs. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. He was one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met.

With regard to the programme for Government, there has already been significant overcrowding in our country's hospitals, particularly in our emergency departments. Today, 400 people are on trolleys in emergency departments throughout the State, and this is only September. A Programme for a Partnership Government states, "In advance of, and in preparation for the 2017 review of the Capital Plan 2016-2021, the new Government will undertake a national hospital bed capacity review to establish the number, type and location of beds required into the future, recognising the need for a range of beds including critical care, palliative and day case bed stock."

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether this has been completed or when it will be completed? Will he give us the latest on the new emergency departments promised in the programme for Government for University Hospital Galway and Beaumont Hospital?

The bed capacity review is under way. Obviously it is not just about the number of beds, it is about the type of beds. There is a big difference between an ICU bed and a day-case bed, for example, or a paediatric bed. It is at an advanced stage and will be completed in advance of the capital review. It will be completed before the end of the year. We want to have it before the capital review because, obviously, it will inform what type of health care investments are included in the capital plan. There is already a commitment to build new emergency departments at Beaumont Hospital and University Hospital Galway, and they will proceed anyway. The bed capacity review is separate from this.

Are they proceeding?

They are proceeding to design, yes.

I have a ceist faoi the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016. The Taoiseach knows the UN convention was signed by the State in 2007. More than 174 states out of 193 in the UN have now ratified it, but this State has not ratified it. Yesterday, citizens with disabilities, many in wheelchairs, picketed the Dáil because the Government has failed to honour its commitments to them. The primary purpose of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 is to provide for ratification of the UN Convention.

Sixteen months ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, said it would be ratified within six months. That has not happened. It was referred to the justice committee for debate. That has not happened. As I said previously, this is an issue of rights. When will the Bill be passed? When will the State ratify the UN convention?

Can the Taoiseach inform the Dáil when he expects all the outstanding sections of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, which was passed two years ago, to be fully commenced?

It is our wish as a Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities this year. It is still our intention to do so. We have run into some difficulties, in particular with the enabling legislation and the deprivation of liberty. The Deputy will know that Ireland takes a different approach from that taken by other countries. Other countries sign a convention, ratify it and then introduce the enabling legislation. Countries such as Romania and Italy, which do not treat people with disabilities as well as we do in Ireland, have ratified the convention. Countries do take very different approaches. We are considering the possibility of ratifying the convention pending the completion of the legislation, but that is a matter that requires further investigation. It is very much our desire, however, to ratify the convention before the end of the year, ideally before December, or 3 December, which is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as the Deputy knows.

On the new decision-making capacity service, the director has now been appointed. She is now in place and she is recruiting staff to get the service up and running.

May I ask the Taoiseach about Opposition legislation the Government has promised to support? Second Stage of my legislation to ban rogue crisis pregnancy counselling agencies was passed in this House almost a year ago. In response to the Bill, we were promised a statutory instrument before the summer recess. We have not seen that statutory instrument yet. Second Stage of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill was completed in the Seanad in May. We were promised that the Government would table supportive Committee Stage amendments, but we have yet to see these. These measures have in common that they support women. When will we see a definitive timeline for the progression of these measures?

I will have to come back to the Deputy on both counts. Certainly, in regard to the regulation of crisis pregnancy counselling services, we very much support the approach outlined in the Deputy's Bill. Women who face a crisis pregnancy need to get accurate and impartial advice. It is of great concern to me and the Government that some people may be providing misleading or inaccurate advice and information. I will check with the Minister as to when the legislation can be progressed. He has mentioned it himself in discussions and is keen to develop it.

I will come back to the Deputy on the gender pay gap legislation, which I believe is with the Department of Justice and Equality at the moment. Separately, the Tánaiste, as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, is in the process of consulting industry on carrying out gender-related pay surveys. Key to that is identifying the reasons behind the gender pay gap in various companies and the extent to which it has to do with hours worked, different levels of qualifications and so on. There are often more factors at play than simply gender.

The Bill is about transparency.

In December of last year, this House made a unanimous decision to send the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill of Deputy Gino Kenny to Committee Stage. Shamefully and disgracefully, a joint health committee, comprising members from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Rural Independent Group and some other Independents, has ignored the opinion and advice of the Irish Medical Organisation, which represents the doctors, Professor David Finn, president of the Irish Pain Society, and Professor Mike Barnes, who produced the definitive report on the issue of medicinal cannabis, and it has recommended that the Bill not proceed to Committee Stage. I would like to know, on a matter of Dáil procedure, what standing the recommendation has. It seems that if the Dáil completed Second Stage and agreed to send the Bill to Committee Stage, it has to proceed to Committee Stage or come back here for a decision to be made to reverse it.

What is the attitude of the Government going to be to that? Does the Taoiseach think it is a good idea for the Joint Committee on Health to ignore the IMO and Professor David Finn? As a doctor, does he think it is sensible to ignore what the IMO is saying on this matter, in particular in regard to the 20% of our population who suffer with chronic pain?

As far as I understand it, the committee voted democratically to decide that the Bill should not progress. Whether it comes back to this House is a procedural question and perhaps one best addressed to the Whips or the Business Committee.

Cannabis is available in Ireland as a medicine under certain circumstances and can be applied for under licence from the Minister for Health, but of course-----

One person has got it.

-----what is required is that a doctor qualified to do so determines that it is a medicine which is necessary in those cases. The IMO it is a trade union and, of course, I always listen to the views of trade unions. It is not a scientific body.

Is Professor David Finn a scientist?

When it comes to taking the advice of scientific bodies, one takes a wide range of advice and not just one scientist. One would listen, for example, to the Royal College of Physicians and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

The Business Committee will consider the report from the Joint Committee on Health which has been laid before the House and will consider coming forward with a motion to address the issues raised by the Deputy.

I wish to raise the life-threatening decision taken by the drug company CSL Behring. It is withdrawing the Respreeza drug at the end of September. It is a most serious situation facing 21 people who are citizens of the country. Their health will go into decline at the end of September if this vital drug is taken away from them. It is immoral.

I am not blaming the Taoiseach, the Department or the Minister for Health. Will the Taoiseach use his influence? In no other country in Europe or the rest of the world would patients who are dependent on a life-saving drug have it taken away from them. If I am wrong about that, I would like to Taoiseach to correct me. I understand there is no precedent for this happening anywhere else. I ask the Taoiseach to address this most important matter.

I cannot call on another Deputy on a matter that has been raised by one of the party or group leaders.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I am fully aware that a number of patients have been on a compassionate access scheme for Respreeza which is operated by CSL Behring. Following recent media reports, it appears that the company could be considering terminating the scheme. However, no formal notification has been received by the HSE from the manufacturer of its intention to discontinue access to the scheme which, as the Deputy said, is unprecedented.

It is completely inappropriate and unethical for any company to link reimbursement decisions to a compassionate access scheme and I would consider it unscrupulous if the company was not to honour any commitments which is it has made to patients. The Minister for Health has directed the HSE to seek assurances from the relevant hospital, that is, Beaumont Hospital, that appropriate care arrangements are in place in the event of the access problem being this continue by the company and that appropriate ethical guidelines has been adhered to for this access programme.

The HSE has carefully considered the pricing and reimbursement of the medicine through its decision-making process and there is insufficient evidence to suggest patients would drive a clinically meaningful benefit from this treatment. At the heart of the assessment process is the rationale that decisions about the reimbursement of medicines in Ireland are made on an objective and scientific basis, taking into account expert opinion, as appropriate, and recognising the health needs of the population and other factors.

In an article in the Sunday Independent the Taoiseach set out his vision for the country to 2027. Central to that was the national planning framework which he said would be published shortly. It was a bit of a one for everyone in the audience job which the oldest, cutest Fianna Fáil spin doctor in the past would have said was the right thing to do.

Should we not debate the planning framework before it is published? Will a draft version be published which can then be amended? What is the space for us to have dialogue around the sort of country we are planning? How do we influence the national capital plan? Will the plan be presented, along with the capital plan, with no discussion about the key strategic issues and how we concentrate development in the centre and put sustainability at the heart of everything we do?

That is my concern. We can go into the details of revision but my concern is that the national capital plan and the planning framework will be published and it will be a case of "it is all done" and we will be debating after the fact and will not be able to influence it. This is not the way I thought it was meant to be done. I thought this planning framework would be different and that it would be an iterative process rather than the framework and the capital plan being published and it being a case of, "There you go".

I do not know much about Fianna Fáil spin doctors. I have not had the pleasure of working as closely with them as did the Deputy for five years so perhaps he can educate us. The proposal is that the national planning framework and the ten-year capital plan will be two parts of the same document - that there will be a new national development plan, the national planning framework will be one document and the ten-year capital plan will be the other and they will be published together because it is important that one adheres to the other. There is no point in producing a planning framework that says the country will look like this in 2040 and then producing a capital plan that does not align with that. There has already been public consultation. I understand that there is a procedure in the Dáil under which the national planning framework must be debated and adopted - that is in legislation so there will, of course, be a Dáil debate on it. However, I would not be at all hostile to having an open-ended debate about it in the coming weeks. I think that would be welcome and a good idea.

Page 54 of A Programme for a Partnership Government speaks of the need to build GP capacity to respond to patients' needs. Later in the document, it mentions guaranteeing the future sustainability of rural practice. Last weekend, Our Lady's Community Hospital in Manorhamilton in County Leitrim was left without any doctor on call to service it. Last June I raised in the House the fact that this county will lose 50% of its GPs to retirement over the next seven years. What is the Government's plan to implement the aspiration outlined in the programme for Government? Clearly, it is failing in the context of Leitrim. What will the Government do to ensure that patients in Our Lady's Community Hospital have access to a GP out of hours when emergencies arise for the population of the hospital? What will it do for that county to ensure that it does not lose the benefit of 50% of its current population of GPs over the next seven years?

As the Deputy may be aware, the rural practice allowance was increased and expanded about a year ago so it is now easier to qualify for and there is more funding for it. This has helped to improve the situation somewhat when it comes to recruiting GPs in rural areas. However, times are changing and the willingness of GPs to work as sole traders is not what it was and there is an increasing expectation that people should be able to work as teams, which inevitably means a smaller number of centralised practices. I cannot give the Deputy any specific details on Manorhamilton or Leitrim. I will ask the Minister for Health to respond to the Deputy in that regard. In terms of the bigger picture, contract negotiations are now underway with the IMO, which is the union that represents doctors. I hope they will come to a conclusion quite soon and that we will be in a position to begin funding it from next year.

As has been discussed on numerous occasions before the summer break, the programme for Government makes a commitment regarding the roll-out of the national broadband plan. Could the Taoiseach advise me about its current status because I have been asked by many people in my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, south Donegal and north Roscommon about the status of the plan?

The implementation of the national broadband plan is very much underway. Every minute of every working day, two doors are now being passed with 1,000 megabits per second of high-speed broadband so in the hour we have spent here in the Dáil, an additional 120 premises have been passed in respect of high-speed fibre thus allowing them to access high-speed broadband. Every week, an additional 300 farms are connected. When this Government came into office in April 2016, 52% of premises in the country had access to high-speed broadband.

That is up to 65% already. That is a 13% increase in only a year and a bit. It will be up to 77% by the end of next year. We are making good progress on its implementation. Having gone from 52% last April to 65% now, we anticipate getting to 77% by the end of December and continuing to increase it from there until we become the first country in the world in which every home has access to high-speed broadband.

The statistics and numbers that the Taoiseach has outlined are a result of the commercial decisions of a number of operators in this State, with no reference whatsoever to his Government. He has identified 500,000 premises in the State which are to be covered with State support under the national broadband plan. Will the Taoiseach tell the House when he intends to issue a contract for this work to be done, what the start date will be for the work and when he expects that it will be completed? Will he desist from taking credit on behalf of the State for the work of private companies?

The Government engages with these private companies and facilitates them. One of the particular facilitations has been appointing broadband officers in local authorities to make sure that they get through the planning and compliance that they need.

The contract is, as the Deputy knows, being handled by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and it has to go through all sorts of different compliance and other issues.

The Taoiseach is talking about a few years ago.

We would certainly anticipate that being signed next year.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. I apologise to the 16 Members who had indicated and whose questions were not raised.

On a point of order, it seems to me that week on week, more and more Deputies are being excluded from this process because of the time constraints.

More and more Deputies are indicating.

Is there any way that we can facilitate time in this House for this very important segment? We all have a number of issues to raise. I think it would be appropriate for us to review the practices and procedures of this House.

I am happy to do that if that is what the Deputy wishes.

It would allow for more Deputies to be included in the process.