I remind Members that there is one minute per question. If everyone sticks to their time we will get through a good few of the 16 Members who have indicated.
Questions on Promised Legislation
County Laois has been hit very badly by flooding over the past number of days, and 1,000 people have been affected in the Mountmellick area. Does the Government have any proposal to give extra funding to the council in Laois to deal with the crisis?
I can confirm that the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, will visit the area – in fact, he may already be there. He has been actively working with the relevant local authorities and I have no doubt that, as we have responded very quickly in recent times when there has been flooding, there will be a speedy response. It is a dreadful situation for families to find themselves in. The Minister of State is working very actively to ensure that there will be an appropriate response.
The programme for Government makes numerous commitments to older people, empowering women, protecting children and young people and equality and inclusiveness. It appears that when it comes to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries all of these worthy commitments go out the window. Following a comprehensive investigation into the administration of the Magdalen restorative justice scheme, the Ombudsman has today published a damning report into the scheme's failures.
What the investigation has exposed beggars belief. The Department of Justice and Equality administered the scheme in a manner which deliberately sought to exclude women from the redress to which they were entitled. Women who were effectively imprisoned on a single site, working side-by-side with those deemed eligible for redress, were refused their entitlements on the basis of the Department's incorrect administrative interpretation of the eligibility criteria relating to the 12 institutions covered by the State. Given that the State has failed the women twice, will the Government do the right thing and act on the recommendations of the Ombudsman?
The then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, made a commitment in 2013 to the Magdalen women to introduce a scheme for those who were admitted to and worked in Magdalen institutions. The scheme applied to 12 named institutions. To date, €25.7 million has been paid to 684 women under the scheme, which is still open. I understand that the Department of Justice and Equality co-operated fully with the Ombudsman in the course of the investigation. There are a number of recommendations in respect of women who were outside of the 12 named institutions.
The report has just been received. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has stated that full and careful consideration will be given to all of the recommendations. The Ombudsman has welcomed his response. It is an issue which will be considered by the relevant Department, namely, the Department of Justice and Equality. I have no doubt that, in line with previous reports from the Ombudsman, as many of the recommendations as possible will be taken on board.
It was my intention to raise the same issue. It is one which needs to be followed through.
I refer to legislation to alter the boundaries of the local government system. I asked that there be some discussion with the Opposition before any final determination is made because it involves fundamental democratic issues for all of us. When is it likely that we will see the publication of proposed legislation to enshrine new local government boundaries? Will the Government accede to the request to have discussions with Opposition parties before any final decisions are made?
The matter is going to Cabinet very shortly. The line Minister can address the Deputy's point on consultation.
After the event or before the event?
I have another question on women's rights. It is something for which the Tánaiste indicated support in the past. Starting on Saturday, Change the Conversation involves 16 days of action by Women's Aid on violence against women in the home. It has written to all Members and asked them to wear a purple ribbon. Given the Tánaiste's support and indications from most female Members from the Fine Gael Party for the production of a further Sexual Abuse and Violence Ireland, SAVI, report, will she please lean on the Taoiseach to spend the money and come up with a comprehensive report on sexual and domestic violence in the country? The last report was published fifteen and a half years ago.
Sexual and domestic violence has been on the increase and has gone under the radar. We really need a report. The Taoiseach complained a report would cost about €1 million. The women of Ireland, and the most vulnerable women and children of Ireland, are worth that money. I would like to know what the Tánaiste thinks and whether she can play a role, as a woman and Tánaiste, in convincing the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to get out the cheque book and spend money on a much needed report, given that it is Change the Conversation week.
I agree with Deputy Smith that another SAVI report would be very important. We need up-to-date macro information on sexual and domestic violence in this country. The Taoiseach does not need convincing. This matter was discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee last week. The initial scoping work has begun to determine how precisely it will be carried out.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, is not here. Concerns are increasing about the Mercosur deal and the intention of the European Commission to increase the offer being made to the four countries which are objecting, including Paraguay. The European Commission had been offered 120,000 tonnes of beef imports, which would come into Ireland and other countries. If the offer is increased, which seems likely, it will have a detrimental impact on our farming industry, in particular the beef sector. It would be appropriate to take immediate action to ensure that we are not flooded with cheap beef that would destroy our already vulnerable beef industry.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade can answer.
I will happily deal with the issue. I can assure the Deputy that the Taoiseach has made his views on the issue very clearly known. Ireland wants more trade deals put in place, but we have very strong defensive issues, in particular on beef. Any Mercosur deal is very sensitive and the Irish concerns have been very forcefully made by the Taoiseach. We have sought and received support from other countries. The French President has also been very strong on this issue, specifically in respect of concerns from a beef perspective. We have some strong allies. I can assure the Deputy that the concerns he outlined have been expressed very clearly by the Government on a number of levels.
Recently, the Tánaiste and some of her colleagues promised a package of measures to deal with white-collar crime. Incredibly, she proposes to give more powers and resources to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE. I say it is incredible because, given its very poor performance over recent years, especially its bungling of the Fitzpatrick trial, it is hard to understand why the Government is taking this approach. The Tánaiste has had a report on that office's handling of the Fitzpatrick trial for five months. I have asked her on a regular basis when we will get sight of the report. Can she tell us the reason for the further delay? When can we expect to see the report?
I seem to remember that the Deputy welcomed the proposal that the agency should be put on a statutory footing with commissioners in charge of it.
I did not.
I thought I read that she had. It must have been misreported. The Government plans to establish the ODCE on a statutory footing, with commissioners as opposed to the current model whereby it is part of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I am not in a position to publish the ODCE report because I have strong legal advice that it is not within my power under the legislation to do so.
In the programme for Government, with regard to climate change and flooding there is a commitment to plan for flooding that combines a short-term co-ordinated response and a section which states, "Following the unprecedented flooding in December 2015, we will review the response protocols of the State to examine if a more rapid and co-ordinated response to local incidents can be achieved." Laois has been mentioned already this morning but on Tuesday night in Kerry we also had extensive rainfall that caused very bad flooding, particularly in north and mid Kerry. My town of Ballyheigue was flooded, along with premises in Ballyduff, Causeway, Listowel, Tarbert and Ballylongford. One individual suffered over €60,000 of damage to his property. I ask that in light of this, along with any other county that received a heavy rainfall, the Government should not forget to respond to Kerry. Funding should be made available to repair the properties and the local and tertiary roads, many of which were washed away beyond repair.
I understand the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management, CFRAM, plans will be published shortly but the Deputy is correct. Given what we have seen in the past day or so we absolutely must keep this issue and how we respond to it under review. We saw a very good response from the agencies with Storm Ophelia but the Deputy is correct and we must stay targeted on this. If we can replicate the model used during Storm Ophelia, it would be the direction in which to go. The Minister of State, Deputy Moran, is very active on this matter today, ensuring all the resources needed in the area will be brought to bear to help those who have been so directly affected by this flooding.
With regard to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, all of us recognise the need for more consultation with retailers on the matter of how segregation of alcohol in small retail stores can be achieved. Recently, there was a ruling in the UK Supreme Court that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol, and this paves the way for similar minimum price controls in Northern Ireland. Similar price controls will help curb the leakage of revenue through smuggling but will the Minister and the House consider the progression of a Bill stuck in the Bills lottery, the Sale of Illicit Goods Bill 2017, as this would help retailers, especially in the Border region? Surely allowing passage of this Bill to the next stage would help many businesses along the Border corridor and protect much needed State revenue.
I will certainly consider the point being made by the Deputy and I thank him for his support of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. We had consultation in my Department between retailer representative bodies and officials last Friday and they will revert to me in the coming days with proposals to ensure we can achieve what we want, which is a really important piece of public health legislation, without placing an unfair burden on small shops, which is the concern of a number of people. The Deputy is correct that minimum unit pricing saw a very significant landmark ruling and we now intend to introduce minimum unit pricing in this country, as it is a key part of the public health alcohol legislation. I hope to be back in the Seanad to pass that Bill before Christmas with the co-operation of Senators in all parties.
I take the Deputy's point about cross-Border matters. A previous Government made a commitment that it would introduce minimum unit pricing, conscious of the fact it is not currently in place in Northern Ireland. I will keep in touch with the Deputy on that.
The programme for Government deals with the health services staffing shortage and bed capacity. Yesterday, Tallaght hospital, the busiest trauma hospital in the State, was declared by the head of its accident and emergency department as dangerous and unsafe. It is unsafe because it has been reduced to operating from five cubicles, with 16 patients waiting to be seen by the accident and emergency department doctors. There were 140 patients yesterday, which is a 35% higher than usual admission rate. There was a cardiac arrest patient in the waiting room awaiting investigation. Another cardiac patient was in the toilet of the department, left agitated for 32 hours while languishing on a trolley. There are other awful cases, including two people who are 79 years old who were waiting 24 or 32 hours to be seen etc. What can be done to provide extra resources as this is replicated in hospitals throughout the State? We need extra resourcing as this must be tackled now. The patients and staff deserve better.
The Government has committed an additional €40 million for the health service between now and the end of the year to help with winter pressures and the Health Service Executive is currently finalising those measures. Much of it includes extra transitional care beds and extra home care packages to help discharge patients from our hospitals. It is worth noting that whereas one patient on a trolley is one too many and the difficulties felt by people and described by the Deputy is not something any of us would stand over or accept, there are 1,300 fewer patients on hospital trolleys this November as compared with last November. Each and every day this month there have been fewer patients than on the corresponding day last month. It is important we acknowledge that out of respect for the front-line staff and the measures they are implementing.
Deputy Crowe is entirely correct on the matter of bed capacity and we do not have enough beds in the health service. I am due to receive a bed capacity review in the next couple of weeks and that will outline how many beds we need in the health service now and into the future. I will endeavour to progress that through our new capital plan.
I have a question on an application from Letterkenny University Hospital for funding so as to staff and re-open the short stay ward in the hospital and provide 20 additional beds from January. An application was made in the summer but it still has not received an answer. I raised the matter two weeks ago in the Dáil with the Taoiseach and I raised it with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, last week. Both of them indicated it would be brought to the Minister's attention. It is absolutely crucial the Minister gets involved and ensures approval is given. The hospital needs time to get the staff in place so the beds can be available this winter rather than winter 2018.
The Deputy has now raised the matter directly with me. I will revert to the Deputy when I see where it is with the HSE.
I apologise to the nine Deputies who were not reached today.