Questions on Promised Legislation

In view of the debacle surrounding the application by Apple for planning permission for a data centre in Athenry, I remind the Tánaiste of the undertaking given by the Government to introduce an amendment to the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. Yesterday delegates from IDA Ireland told the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that they had received large numbers of expressions of interest in investment in the development of data centres. When can we expect the amending legislation to be brought before the House?

Report Stage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 has been ordered to take place in the Dáil this week. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, proposes to introduce an amendment in the Seanad that will include provision for data centres as part of the strategic infrastructure element of the Bill. We are working with the Whip's office to see if we can get the legislation through both Houses before the recess.

The programme for Government includes a pledge to recognise the state of Palestine. The Tánaiste referred earlier to the recognition by the President of the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his declared intention to establish the US embassy there. Israel's claim that Jerusalem is the complete and united capital of its country is in violation of international law. I remind the Tánaiste that this Sunday, 10 December, is the third anniversary of the Dáil unanimously passing a motion to recognise the state of Palestine, with east Jerusalem as its capital. We have had complete inaction on that motion. Will the Tánaiste give us a date for when the Government will move to recognise the state of Palestine?

We will move to do so when we consider it will helpful to do so.

It would be helpful to do so now.

That is the Deputy's interpretation.

It is a fair interpretation.

The Deputy must allow the Tánaiste to respond.

The programme for Government states our desire to recognise the state of Palestine in the context of a negotiated agreement.

That is our position. We want to see a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process whereby Palestinians have a state of their own-----

-----and Israel's security concerns are addressed. We certainly would like to see the very difficult and sensitive issues of Jerusalem addressed in a way that is fair to both sides in that agreed settlement. That is why we are so uncomfortable with what happened yesterday because it recognises the ambitions of one side and not the other. I do not think we should be responding to what happened yesterday, and it would be seen as that, by formally recognising the state of Palestine. That potentially drives the two sides further apart.

It might balance things up a bit.

We are waiting for, and want to support, a new peace initiative that can get people around a negotiating table to get an outcome that both sides can live with.

It is not waffle.

That is shameful waffle given what has happened.

The fact that the Deputy cannot accept the answer says a lot.

That is shameful waffle. The Tánaiste could do better than that.

The Deputy also does not know what is going on in the region.

The Tánaiste should not let himself be provoked.

My question is directed to the Minister for Health. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health recently carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the children's health Bill 2017 which will establish a statutory body to provide paediatric acute services in Dublin at the new children's hospital. The general scheme, as published, did not include a name for the hospital. We now see there is going to be legal action from the state of Arizona concerning the use of the name Phoenix. Many of us would like to call it the national children's hospital. Some have suggested it be appropriately called after Dr. Kathleen Lynn. That would be a fitting tribute.

I suggest that we have a national competition, aimed at those who will use it, the children of Ireland. The Minister might consider organising a competition through the school system so that children can have an understanding and appreciation of the hospital and a validation through the children of an appropriate name for this vital infrastructure.

Deputy Howlin and I would agree that naming the hospital is not the most important thing. The most important thing is building the hospital.

In the wrong place.

Thankfully that is now under way after long years of stalling and not getting on with it. We are now getting on with it.

I made clear yesterday that I am going to reflect further on the name. The Deputy makes a very good suggestion. Children were involved in this name, as were staff working in the health service, but I will work with colleagues across the House when I bring forward the legislation to come up with the best mechanism.

On 1 December last year the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 that I tabled passed Second Stage and on 9 November 2017 it was agreed that it would go to Committee Stage.

Last week, I received two documents on the same day, one from the Ceann Comhairle, for which I thank him, and one from the office of the Minister for Health stating that the Bill will be stifled on a money matter. It is pretty outrageous that people are playing politics with people's lives. The Minister will acknowledge that families, such as Vera Twomey's, and other individuals should never go through the torture that the Twomey family has gone through. They should not be medical exiles in this country. People should be prescribed medication in Ireland.

I think the Minister for Health is on our side in some ways and he should let this Bill go forward to Committee Stage. Let us amend it together because it is not perfect, to help citizens of this country.

The most appropriate person to decide whether any patient in this country should access any form of medical product, authorised or other, is a clinician and any time a clinician has sought a licence for a product such as medicinal cannabis during my time as Minister for Health it has been granted, including in the most recent case.

In respect of the Deputy's Bill I understood from the debate I participated in here that he had undertaken to do a lot of work to make that Bill acceptable to a majority of this House which it is not now. I know the Deputy will liaise with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health in that regard and that is where it should best proceed.

It is about the money message.

It is the money message.

The Deputy needs to do his work first.

The Tánaiste comes from a farming background and there is a commitment in the programme for Government to support our agricultural industry. The banks, especially AIB, are persecuting and not engaging with farmers and contractors who have serious borrowing issues and are before the courts. They refuse to deal with people like me and other Deputies or any intermediary. They want to drag people through the courts at enormous expense. I know a farmer from north Cork who has been dragged through the courts over a couple of years and wants to make a settlement but the bank will not engage or talk and will not accept a mediator. This is totally unacceptable. It has been happening to numerous farmers and business people. We own the blooming bank. Why can we not put some kind of manners on it? It is not getting much solace in the courts but will not listen to mediators. Where offers are made it will not engage. It is waiting to sell to vulture funds. What is going on is scandalous.

It is impossible for me to comment on a case that I do not have any detail of.

Countless cases.

All I would say is-----

-----that the Government has taken initiatives recently and again in the budget to try to provide low-cost finance to support cashflow for farmers, particularly in the context of a response to Brexit. We will continue to work with the banks on issues like that.

There is an urgent need to bring the Central Bank (consolidation) Bill before the House with a view to curtailing the activity of lenders which are now aggressively pursuing home owners and small business people with the intention of repossessing, and dispossessing them of, their houses, adding to an already serious housing situation. When might we expect that Bill to come before the House?

My understanding is that it is being drafted but I will try to come back with a more accurate date.

It is stuck in a bog.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to reduce hospital waiting lists and to examine where things are working well and learn from that and bring that forward in other areas. People in Cork with cataracts are waiting unreasonably long times, many over 18 months or two years. There are 6,900 outpatients waiting in Cork University Hospital, CUH, and there are a further 1,000 ahead of them in the South Infirmary inpatients unit. Their health is deteriorating as they wait. Those with reduced mobility are in danger of tripping and injuring their hips and hands. They are also isolated.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, is helpful but it is not dealing with the root cause. The eye care plan considers using the Sligo model but it has not been implemented. How soon will people in Cork see the results and reduced waiting lists? When will the process speed up and when will there be a lasting solution, for example, through the eye care plan?

The Deputy is correct the NTPF is working to reduce waiting times. In April there were over 1,600 people waiting over 15 months for cataracts in this country. That is now down to 412 at the start of December. We need to keep on doing more. The Deputy is correct that the primary care eye review is absolutely the way to go. I recently met with Billy Power, the clinical lead ophthalmologist, in respect of this and expect to enact it as part of the 2018 waiting list plan. We will move on that as part of the service plan.

The drug and alcohol strategy is operating against the background of drug feuds and murders, open drug dealing in many areas, intimidation, increasing drug-related deaths, children being used as runners and increasing numbers of suicides and there is significant pressure on the health and mental health services. Drugs task forces are on the front line co-ordinating a response to this growing problem. Now, in the middle of December, there is no agreement on the budgets for these task forces. This is impacting on staff who should be put on protective notice, community projects and making it impossible to plan for next year. Does the Minister for Health have any comments or can he update us on the budgets for these task forces?

Before the Minister for Health replies I would like to use the opportunity, as Deputy Niall Collins did earlier, to recognise the role of An Garda Síochána in responding to organised crime and the drugs trade, and the serving member of the force who was shot this morning. I am glad to say his injury is not serious but it is a reminder to us of the extraordinary work the force is doing. An Garda Síochána has come in for some criticism in this House in recent years but this morning's incident is a reminder of the vital work it does.

On the budgetary issues I will ask the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to respond directly to the Deputy unless the Minister, Deputy Harris, wants to add anything.

I have a question on the programme for Government relating to care and delivery of services for our elderly. I will address it to the Minister for Health if I can since he is present. Is the Minister aware that a parliamentary question was submitted on 21 September which was chased up with his Department on at least four occasions but which still has not been responded to?

That is not relevant to promised legislation.

It is the only place I can raise it. It is about the care and delivery of services for our elderly. It is in the programme for Government.

If the Deputy has a problem with a parliamentary question, I would be more than happy to assist her, but this-----

I would like to raise this with the Minister because it is the only avenue I have-----

It is not appropriate for Questions on Promised Legislation.

The question was asked 11 weeks ago and related to the number and costs of fair deal beds, the number of contracted beds in private nursing homes in County Louth and on a county by county basis. It also asked for a breakdown of additional costs for contracted beds, county by county. Is it information that the Department does not want to put in the public domain, is it just sheer gross incompetence or does the Minister have another explanation as to why an elected Member of this House has waited for 11 weeks for a response from the Minister's Department and is still waiting? What does the Minister propose to do?

The Deputy's time is up.

Has the Minister lost control of his own Department and-----

The Deputy's time is up.

It is not responding to elected Members.

Deputy, please.

The HSE responds to elected Members on a regular basis but if the Deputy is having a particular difficulty, I will ask the HSE since the question would have been referred to it to respond to the Deputy directly. I thought the Deputy was standing up to welcome the new emergency department in Drogheda which I recently visited.

The programme for Government includes specific recommendations and promises related to education, specifically primary school education. Rumours have circulated in recent days that the minor works grant scheme for schools will not go ahead in 2018. I am glad the Minister is here. I am working with three school principals. They contacted me yesterday evening and this morning to say that if this happens in 2018, it will create serious difficulties for them. Will the Minister confirm or deny if the scheme will go ahead in 2018? I am representing those schools and know that many other schools around the country are in the same predicament.

The minor works grant scheme is a discretionary scheme that is paid most years. It is paid for the school year, between September and June each year. As I confirmed this week, the payment for 2017 to 2018 will go ahead. I indicated that the payment for the 2018 to 2019 year will be conditional on availability of money, as it always is, and there is a possibility that it will not be paid within the calendar year of 2018 but would still be provided, as always, within the school year of 2018 to 2019.

I thank the Minister. That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Ten Deputies were heard. I apologise to the six who were not reached. We must now move to Further Revised Estimates for Public Services.