Questions on Promised Legislation

We only have 15 minutes for these questions. I appeal to leaders and Deputies to be focused on either promised legislation or the programme for Government. Please do not try to circumvent Standing Orders. In addition to leaders there are 11 Deputies who wish to contribute. These are Deputies Breathnach, Stanley, Danny Healy-Rae, McConalogue, McLoughlin, Durkan, Jan O'Sullivan, Brassil, Ó Laoghaire, Carey and Ferris. We can achieve our objective if everybody is reasonable.

I acknowledge the ongoing work of the ESB, Irish Water and local authorities to remedy the damage caused by Storm Ophelia. Will the Minister give an update on power and water supplies around the country? It seems we are preparing for another significant weather event this weekend that will involve much more rain than we had last Monday. There are many communities across the island concerned about the damage that may cause through flooding. What work is under way in advance of that event to assist those communities and local authorities to prepare for this event?

I assure the Deputy that I have the latest reports, although most of this is in the public domain. Power restoration means the numbers without public water are down to 25,000. The number affected by electricity outages is down to 75,000. As Mr. Seán Hogan stated on the radio this morning, the process is now becoming more difficult and time-consuming as we are getting to individual items. The Defence Forces have been out to assist and we have called in resources from many overseas jurisdictions to assist in restoring services as rapidly as possibly. I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, before coming here and there is an acute understanding of the threat in Cork from potential flooding. There is very close monitoring with the local authorities of those events. The emergency committee is still actively engaged in ensuring we maximise our protection and are prepared for all eventualities. That work is continuing and there is a new focus on the particular incidence of potential storm Brian, which is approaching us. There are reports of it representing a significant threat.

In the programme for Government there is much talk of investing in rural Ireland and ensuring it gets fair play and equal access to all services. One of the pertinent matters for most people living in rural Ireland, even in the context of the recent storm, is the ambulance service. This service in many parts of rural Ireland cannot possibly even dream of reaching the target of 19 minutes to get to any incident. Lightfoot Solutions did a report in 2014 and the recommendations were never implemented. One of the key recommendations was to train more paramedics, provide more vehicles and revamp the management structure. When will this be done? When can people living in rural Ireland expect that when they call an ambulance, it will be there if not within 19 minutes then even within 40 minutes? That would be a magnificent improvement for many people living in rural Ireland. Will the Minister ensure this happens?

I do not have access to the detailed planning on the development of the ambulance service. I will have to get the appropriate Minister to respond to the Deputy.

The Minister is aware that in 2011, the agreement between the Labour Party and Fine Gael contained a commitment to explore the establishment of a technical university of the south east. Arising from that commitment, we now have four consortia of institutes of technology seeking university status. The legislation to allow for that reached Committee Stage in January 2016. I know some time was spent ironing out an agreement with trade unions on this matter, which I welcome, but we have still not had publication of the Committee Stage amendments. If the legislation does not progress, those institutions will be further denied the prospect of achieving an objective we promised. When will we see progress on this legislation?

The Deputy will see it very soon as it is nearly finished. The drafter has worked on it and it has come back to the Department. The Department will this Friday send it back to the drafter.

Will we see it next week?

I hope to bring it to Committee Stage and have it through, please God, before Christmas.

The Government would want to speak to us. We have heard nothing about that.

I will speak about a promised report in legislation. When the Social Welfare Bill was passed last year, Deputy Bríd Smith had sought an amendment seeking a report on the inequalities faced by pensioners, which we have discussed this week. That affects 35,000 pensioners who are being robbed of a full pension entitlement. At the time, the current Taoiseach and then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, included an amendment indicating a report on those anomalies would be done within six months. Deputy Smith had sought three months as the timeframe. We are well past the period stipulated in last year's Bill but we still have procrastination from the Government. There are many excuses about how complicated it is but where is the report? When will we get it? This has gone on and on while tens of thousands of pensioners are being robbed of their full pension entitlement because of a failure by the Government to honour the promise.

We have had this conversation about the report before and we might be speaking at cross-purposes. The report agreed to by the then Minister for Social Protection was around a proposal to move to a calculation approach taking in total contributions.

As the Deputy is aware, we will launch a public consultation in November. We all want the information sought by the Deputy in his question. My Department started last week to compile the relevant information with regard to the women, in the main, and men - they are 40% of the cohort - who are particularly disadvantaged as a result of changes in bands because of their average length in working life. It will take us a couple of weeks to do this as the records before 1994 are all paper-based. We need to go through each one of them individually. I guarantee the Deputy, as I did in my speech last night, that as soon as the process is finished in a matter of weeks, I will bring this back to the Dáil. We can then discuss how to rectify the matter.

The Government gave strong commitments to support the agricultural industry. What is going on in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority, RSA? Yesterday the stakeholders, including all the farming bodies and agricultural contractors of Ireland, were told out of the blue that the RSA is implementing a new policy whereby any tractor at 40k or above that cannot travel more than 25 km/h. This is effectively blindfolding and is hugely damaging to agriculture. Indeed, fodder is being transported to the west because of the storms. This came out of the blue, without consultation. I want a moratorium placed on this, because it is going to have a huge impact. It will force older tractors with a lower speed, which are totally unsuitable, on to the roads. It is madness. The RSA has to be reigned in because it is totally out of touch and is trying to destroy rural Ireland.

The RSA is an independent operator, but the Deputy could table a parliamentary question to the Minister and he would deal with the issue.

We were promised legislation on the domestic violence Bill. I want to raise the need for an urgent protocol or procedure at all Garda stations to fast-track victims of violence immediately, through a national manned call line where local facilitation can be organised for immediate privacy and prioritisation, especially where victims of rape and violence feel seriously threatened. Listening to the turmoil experienced by Siobhán Phillips and her parents, Sean and Bronagh, in their reporting to the Garda station in the 24 hours prior to the murder of Garda Tony Golden, highlights the need for a proper protocol to be introduced immediately in order to minimise the chances of a repeat of such an event, especially where the victims of families feel under threat. It should be addressed urgently.

The Deputy is raising a very important concern. I understand the Bill in question is in the Seanad so it will be in the House shortly for consideration. I will alert the Minister in the meantime to the Deputy's specific concern, which may be outside-----

The Deputy raises two points, one of which relates to the domestic violence Bill. It is currently awaiting resumption at Committee Stage, and any further amendments will be given appropriate consideration.

The specific case is the subject matter of two investigations. One is being carried out by the Garda and the other by the independent Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. I am awaiting details and the completion of both reports, whereupon the matter can be considered further.

In the programme for Government, page 121, on the issue of climate action, I quote: "We believe that Ireland should be repositioned to give global leadership in this area. It will fall to the new Government and the Oireachtas to agree the first statutory nation low-carbon transition-mitigation plan". The mitigation plan falls way short. We have international targets that we have to meet by 2020, including a reduction of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency has said in the last few weeks that the best case scenario is that we will achieve 4% to 6%. There was an all-day Cabinet session which met to discuss this issue recently. We have seen the events in Donegal, on the Inishowen peninsula, in August. We have seen the events earlier this week throughout the country. It was felt in County Laois. We have also seen the effects of global warming. The national mitigation plan falls short. It is an aspirational document. We have highlighted this repeatedly. There are no binding sectoral targets. We are facing increased global warming and also fines in the order of €600 million to €700 million per year from the European Union. We need to start putting that money into mitigation and not into fines. Does the Government intend to revise that plan in the light of the new developments?

The national mitigation plan and the national adaptation plan are the subject of a public consultation at present. It is ongoing, and there is an opportunity for everyone to become involved. We recognise, as the Deputy does, that this will require a major cultural change in our attitude to some parts of our activity. As a first measure there were significant announcements in the budget concerning building insulation, energy efficiency and the use of electrical vehicles. The Minister is making significant changes this year, but there is no doubt that the national consultation will require us, over the coming years, to very considerably step up our effort in this area.

I know that I can rely on Deputy Danny Healy-Rae to stay within the guidelines.

The Government aspires to provide services for the elderly, vulnerable and people with disabilities and to protect the incomes of farmers and SMEs. However, services were disrupted this week, and are still disrupted, where people have no power because of trees falling onto lines.

This is questions on promised legislation.

This is promised legislation. All these things apply. Farmers' incomes are being seriously affected this week by the lack of power to milk their cows. It is all because of trees falling onto the lines. It is common sense that the trees must be cut back to a distance that ensures that they will not fall on the power lines. Will the Minister do something about this to prevent it happening again? It is costing the country millions of euro.

This was raised by the Deputy earlier in the week and there was an indication from the Taoiseach as to the capacity of local authorities to plan work in this area. There could not be more effort being put into restoring power at the moment, but as Seán Hogan indicated this morning, some of these breakages involving going to each pole and identifying the fault. That can take greater time, and that is one of the constraints that people are working under. Even with 4,000 people in the field to carry out repairs it will take time to get to all of the breakages.

In terms of the commitment in the programme for Government to invest in our school infrastructure, I want to ask the Minister specifically about the three school college campus in Buncrana, County Donegal, which includes Crana Secondary School, Gaelcholáiste Chineál Eoghain and the primary Gaelscoil in Buncrana. A request went to the Minister from the ETB in May, at the initiation of my colleague, Councillor Rena Donaghey, seeking a meeting to try and establish and prioritise the purchasing of a site to progress that three school campus. The ETB is still awaiting a response and a meeting with the Minister. Can I ask the Minister for an update on the Department's position on securing that site, and to ask if the Minister will commit to meeting the ETB urgently?

My Department is working very actively on this with the local authority. We believe that is the best way in which this project can be progressed. There is no effort being spared in finding a solution to this by the people who are expert in land issues. I am confident that every effort is being put in, and in that context I do not see that a meeting would serve any purpose. Every effort is being put in to find a resolution.

The programme for Government commits to doubling the number of apprenticeships nationwide by 2020. On that basis, given the importance of apprenticeships for creating jobs and retraining for jobs in the north west, can the Minister advise me as to the progress being made, and what sectors in particular are being identified.

Huge progress is being made. Sligo has probably lead the field in that the Sligo Institute of Technology introduced an online delivery of apprenticeships for people working in the insurance sector. It shows what can be done in the area of apprenticeships. It is a level 8 apprenticeship. We are on track to achieve those targets. There will be 1,400 additional apprenticeships this year, and that will match an increase from last year. There have been 77 new applications for new apprenticeships. We will role out another 13 this year. There has been real progress in this area, which commands support right across the House. The development of apprenticeships as an alternative for many people is far more developed in other countries than in our own.

I want to ask the Minister about the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill promised for this term. It is of particular interest to those of us whose constituencies are likely to be changed. Can the Minister give us a date for its publication?

I understand that Bill is a priority for publication.

I do not have a specific date but I think people are conscious of its urgency.

One of the key recommendations of the Sláintecare report is to deliver a new general practitioner, GP, contract, in line with the commitment to delivering a comprehensive primary care service. What progress has been made in the negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, and when can we expect to see progress on this very important matter?

The Government, and the Minister for Health in particular, share the Deputy's concern. This was highlighted by the fact that the Minister for Finance indicated in his budget speech that efforts would be made to agree a contract. We regard this as crucial to the proper development of the primary sector as an alternative to our reliance on hospital treatment and to see that fulfilled by primary care centres with a comprehensive range of services and a wider opening hours' availability to people. Change is crucial to the achievement of our objectives for health services. Both Ministers have indicated it is a high priority.

White collar crime has been treated too leniently to date and it is important that we, as legislators, take a stand against it. When will the criminal justice (corruption) Bill, which aims to clarify and strengthen certain corruption offences, to provide greater clarity on influence offences and specific liability for companies for corrupt acts, come before the House? Was there an increase in funding for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, in the recent budget?

This is under active consideration on the part of Government. It is one of my priorities and I expect to be in a position to publish legislation before the end of the year. I assure the Deputy that appropriate funding has been, and will be, made available to the office as mentioned.

It is intended that the commercial rates Bill will modernise the range of legislation concerning commercial rates levied by local authorities. When will the Bill come before the House?

I think that is going for pre-legislative scrutiny this session.

At a meeting last year of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine about the sustainability of coastal and rural communities an undertaking was given that a pilot scheme for the fishing of spurdog, also known as rock salmon, might be considered in selected areas. We have not yet heard anything about that. I have asked about it several times. Will a spurdog, rock salmon, fishery be put in place on a pilot basis?

I have to admit that I am not in a position to answer. I will have to ask the appropriate Minister to respond.

It is my understanding that the former Deputy and judge, Pat McCartan, delivered his report on new evidence compiled by the Stardust Relatives and Victims Committee on the Stardust tragedy in 1981 to the Minister for Justice and Equality in the past few days. When will the Minister be in a position to publish it and lay it before the Dáil? Will it form the basis of a new commission of investigation?

The Deputy is right. I hope to be in a position to read the report very soon whereupon I will take appropriate action and will be happy to communicate with the Deputy in a matter of days.

Given that more than 1,000 gardaí are injured in the course of their duties annually, when will the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2017 come before the House?

That issue is under consideration. There are several pressing Garda issues and the ongoing programme of reform. I do not have a date on which that legislation will be published but I will keep the Deputy and the House fully informed in the context of overall Garda issues.