Questions on Promised Legislation

Some 23 Members have indicated. Can we please adhere to the one-minute time limit?

I wish all the staff a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

We are going to be around for a few days yet.


Deputy Martin is obviously not going to be here tomorrow.

I will not be here tomorrow for Leaders' Questions. I will be in the House but I will not be taking Leaders' Questions. I thought it was okay to take the opportunity.

It is of course.

I wish the same to all my colleagues in the House as well. We just had the penultimate Leaders' Questions and my last of the season. I put it to the Taoiseach that the programme for Government committed to publishing a new updated action plan for educational inclusion with a particular focus on DEIS schools. Emphasis was to be put on a broad-based package of measures, which would encompass all aspects of education impacted by disadvantage. One learns from today's edition of The Irish Times that 250 schools across the country that applied for inclusion in the DEIS scheme were excluded and that only 79 have been added to the scheme. Will the Taoiseach indicate why that happened? Why was there an absolute lack of transparency in respect of those particular schools being excluded from the DEIS programme? Children from a disadvantaged background are essentially being refused inclusion in a scheme that could assist them in their educational achievements.

I am happy to clarify that. No school applied and no school was excluded. The situation is that we provided €15 million extra for disadvantaged schools in this year's budget, in line with the plan we had published. As a result of that we have provided for 79 additional schools to join those schools already in the disadvantaged category. We have expanded the number of schools in the programme. In the context of planning for the future, my Department looked at the possibility of further extensions to the disadvantaged programme. That is where the figure the Deputy has quoted came from. It was in a reply to a freedom of information request. The Department was looking at possible scenarios, one of which was to extend the scope of disadvantage to provide for additional schools.

These schools have met the deprivation index criteria.

No, that is not the case. The criteria which were set for the inclusion of new schools were the ones that brought in the 79 new schools. We have taken no schools out of the disadvantaged category, we have only added to the number of schools within the scheme. In the future-----

Will the Minister publish all documentation on this issue?

-----we can, of course, consider additional schools. That is exactly the issue. We were looking at the possibility of expanding this programme in the future. I hope I will have the Deputy's support for such an expansion.

I call Deputy Adams.

This was discovered through a freedom of information request. The Minister was not transparent on this issue.

Please. I call Deputy Adams.

This was absolutely transparent at all times. These were documents which were prepared.

Will the Deputies respect their colleagues and allow them to ask their questions? Deputies should please respect the time provided by the House or they should change the rules.

I return the festive greetings to the leader of Fianna Fáil. I also share them with the Ceann Comhairle, with everybody else, including the staff, and especially with the Taoiseach. I am still basking in the warm afterglow of his praise for me as a revolutionary socialist. I thank him for that comment.

It was not intended as praise.


It is Christmas.

The Taoiseach should not change his mind now.

I am delighted the Deputy outlasted Mugabe. I congratulate him on that.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach. I also intend to outlast him, but there we have it.


The House is getting giddy.

My question is a serious one. It is about the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Taoiseach will know that hundreds of young people are in some form of mental health distress and are on waiting lists to see a psychiatrist. Some 2,500 young people are waiting for mental health services. Some 317 have been on waiting lists for more than a year. Can the Taoiseach imagine being on a waiting list for more than a year? There are no child and adolescent mental health services available in the north Louth area. People under pressure in the Ladywell facility are doing exceptional work but the facility is not fit for purpose. Will the Taoiseach commit to the provision of fully staffed and adequately funded mental health services? Will he provide 24-7 mental health services? Will he update the Dáil on the status of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill?

The Bill is on Committee Stage.

I will return to the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017. We have had discussions in this House, and I have had discussions with my former Department, in respect of section 39 organisations. Staff in those section 39 organisations, who took cuts mirroring those in the FEMPI legislation, have a legitimate expectation of pay restoration at the same rate and at the same time as the rest of the public service. I understand that there are difficulties in ring-fencing money to do that, although there has been an additional general allocation to section 39 organisations. As a matter of public policy, will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform make a declaration that, where workers in section 39 organisations suffered reductions mirroring those in the FEMPI legislation, their pay will be restored at the same time and at the same rate as all other public sector workers?

There has not been only a minor allocation in funding to these organisations. Over the past number of years, the total amount of additional funding which has been made available is more than €1 billion. It is nearly €1.2 billion.

So the organisations should pay the increases then.

Section 39 organisations responded to the changes in our economy in different ways. Some did cut wages-----

The Minister should make a declaration.

-----others cut numbers and some did not make any changes at all. Of course as the former Minister, Deputy Howlin, well knows, the reason I cannot make a declaration is that I am not the employer of these individuals. We provide funding to the companies or organisations which employ them.

As a matter of justice, would the Minister not make a statement?

The reason I cannot make such a declaration is the same reason that Deputy Howlin set up a forum on the community employment sector, as opposed to making any statement in respect of it.

On a point of order, I never heard the Taoiseach's response to my question.

These are questions on promised legislation. I have answered the question.

The Deputy said that he did not hear the response.

The Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 is on Committee Stage.

I thank the Taoiseach.

On this historic day, as the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution reaches its conclusion and votes on the proposals before it, one of the things we are all dying to know - particularly mná na hÉireann and the young people of Ireland - is whether we will have an early referendum in May of next year? We will have issued our report on time and will have done so in a comprehensive and clear fashion. The necessity for holding an early referendum was discussed in the House previously. It would allow for young people, particularly those in college who might leave to take up employment elsewhere, to vote next May. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether we are on course to have an early referendum in May 2018?

It is my intention that we would have a referendum in May 2018. As I unfortunately do not have a majority in this House, and as the guillotine no longer exists, I cannot promise that it will happen. We do not control the House. It will be in the House's hands. Obviously a number of things need to be done. A referendum Bill must be passed; legislation, or at least heads of legislation, must be published; a referendum commission needs to be established; and time is required for a campaign. A date in May is achievable, but only with the co-operation of the House. I ask for that co-operation.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach is marching on with Deputy Ross's Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill in order to please him or to pay him back for making up the numbers. It is not for the work he has done or for what he has achieved as a Minister.

I welcome that more rural bus link services have been announced by Deputy Heydon. They will be a help to towns and villages at certain times. However, 38 buses will not service all of rural Ireland. I am amazed that Deputy Heydon, being from County Kildare, claims to be a rural Deputy. If I were to take him and the Minister, Deputy Ross, to rural Kerry and leave them in the Black Valley or the Pocket in Glanmore without satnav, neither would arrive in Killarney in time for their Christmas dinner. The service discussed by Deputy Heydon is only a camouflage. Members of Fine Gael are supporting the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill and sacrificing the people in rural Ireland. I ask the Government to drop the Bill because it is not rural-proofed and does not explain how those it will make more lonely and isolated will manage. The Government has no proposal to deal with that. Deputy Heydon said the Bill was to ensure that when people such as the Deputy and his wife go to Kerry, they will not get hit by a driver who has had three or four pints. I want the Deputy to withdraw that remark because no driver does that in Kerry.

Deputy Healy-Rae, please.

If that is the Deputy's reasoning for the Bill he is in the wrong box. I ask him to apologise to the people of Kerry because what he said in this Chamber is not a fact.

In the programme for Government and thereafter, promises have been made by the Government that all Bills to come before the Dáil would be rural-proofed. After listening to the contributions of several speakers from the Government side and across the floor, it is clear that no rural-proofing has been done in respect of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill brought forward by the Minister, Deputy Ross. As I said, speaker after speaker has admitted that we need a proper rural transport service, which we do not currently have. In light of that, will the Taoiseach stand by the people of rural Ireland and ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to withdraw the Bill until it has been properly rural-proofed?

There are many nice towns in the great county of Kildare------

------but there are also large rural parts, as Deputy Danny Healy-Rae knows.

Those are not what I call rural areas.

They are not remote but parts are very rural. The legislation is before the House and it is for the House to accept, amend or refuse it. I do not agree that the Bill has not been rural-proofed. The facts indicate that the vast majority of those who die on our roads are not killed in Dublin or Cork city centres or in our towns and cities. People who die on the roads in Ireland tend to die on the roads in rural Ireland. If rural-proofing means saving the lives of people in rural Ireland, the Bill has certainly been rural-proofed.

Those deaths are due to the condition of roads in rural Ireland.

I accept there is also an issue in regard to rural isolation and the lack of good transport in rural areas and Deputy Heydon is working on that. However, it is not solely about people getting home from the pub at night but, rather, better rural transport for people doing many things other than drinking.

The programme for Government acknowledges the commission of investigation into 14 mother and baby homes and ancillary issues. In March of this year, the discovery of juvenile human remains in significant quantities in sub-surface chambers on the site of an historic sewage system was reported. Following that discovery, an expert technical group was set up on 1 June. Commendably, it reported with its options at the end of June and gave its full report at the end of September. It is now December and this is the first time that Members have had sight of the report, notwithstanding that the report itself outlines that transparency is of the utmost importance, that a culture of transparency should be cultivated and so on. It also acknowledges that in spite of the good efforts of the Minister, Deputy Zappone, no agency, Department or organisation has an acknowledged role in co-ordinating the work. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify why it has taken so long to publish the report, given that the options were available to him at the end of June and the full report at the end of September. I ask him to confirm that the issue will be tabled for discussion in the House in the interests of openness and transparency.

I may be mistaken but I am relatively sure that only this week the Cabinet gave approval to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to publish the report. We are in her hands as to when it will be published. The ordering and timing of a debate in the House is a matter for the Business Committee.

I wish to again raise with the Taoiseach the plight of the many home owners whose homes were built using defective concrete blocks. There are several thousand such home owners in County Donegal. The blocks are defective as a result of a mineral, mica, being present in them. As the Taoiseach knows, an expert panel was established to consider the issue and it reported to the Government. I have raised the issue with the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy English, in the House. The Minister of State committed to home owners that he would revisit County Donegal before Christmas to update them on progress and to specifically report back on social housing options for many of those worst affected whose homes have become unsafe to live in. I also asked the Taoiseach when the report would be discussed at Cabinet and he committed that would be done before Christmas. Has it been discussed? Has a decision been made by the Government to deliver a compensation scheme for the affected home owners and, if not, how many Cabinet meetings remain to take place before Christmas? I ask the Taoiseach to ensure the commitment is met and that affected home owners do not see more broken commitments in terms of the Government handling of the issue.

The Minister of State, Deputy English, committed to the report being completed by the end of the year and that will be done. It will be brought to Cabinet early in the new year. Senator Michelle Mulherin, Deputy Joe McHugh and several other colleagues have raised the issue with me and with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has met affected residents and home owners. The report will outline the potential issues involved and the options for response. The Government has responded to similar issues in the past, such as the measures put in place to deal with homes affected by pyrite.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce electronic tagging for those on bail in respect of whom that is requested by the Garda. The commitment is supplemented by a promise to fast-track the related legislation. The programme for Government was published 19 months ago, in May 2016, and problems in that regard have considerably increased since then. When will the legislation be published?

The electronic tagging scheme is under way on a pilot basis. The plan is to further expand and develop the scheme in accordance with appropriate resources.

On a point of order, I asked when Members can expect to see the legislation promised in the programme for Government.

The legislation providing for electronic tagging is already in place. As regards further legislation, I refer the Deputy to the Criminal Justice Act 2017, which is now in force. I am unsure what further legislation he is referring to as regards the programme for Government. I will be happy to assist if he identifies the legislation.

A Programme for a Partnership Government states:

We will transfer responsibility for Criminal Legal Aid to the Legal Aid Board who will have new powers to compel criminals to [make] a contribution. We will also introduce a more rigorous and objective means testing process for such applications, as well as increasing the sanction for false declarations and improving prosecution in cases of abuse.

It goes on to mention the introduction of a public defender system. I raise this matter and ask for an update on it because many Deputies receive people into their clinics and offices, in particular vulnerable women, who are seeking to access the free legal aid system for civil matters. As the Taoiseach is aware, the vast majority of the budget in that regard is consumed by the demand for criminal free legal aid. I ask the Taoiseach to update the House on the matter and confirm what stage that promised legislation has reached.

As far as the reform of the criminal legal aid scheme is under way, I assure the House that preparation of this legislation is at an advanced stage. Discussions between my Department and the Attorney General's office are ongoing, with a view towards publication sometime early next year.

I congratulate the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and our diplomatic corps on their recent success in the Brexit negotiations. On this basis, does the Taoiseach agree that, despite the ongoing EU negotiations, the Irish Government should continue its attempts to encourage the Conservative Party and the DUP to reconsider the UK in its entirety leaving the EU customs union and the Single Market? In addition, as a Deputy from a Border constituency, I ask him to ensure that the Border counties of Ireland have the Government's full support in this regard.

To answer the second of the Deputy's questions, of course we will do everything we can for the Border counties and to avoid any new barriers to trade or movement between Northern Ireland and Ireland. It is, of course, the United Kingdom's decision to leave the customs union and Single Market, albeit one we regret.

My question concerns the continuous delays we see in the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the progression of legislation in this regard. We have seen a flurry of Cabinet activity reported in the media in recent days. Will the Taoiseach give an indication as to the timeline for ratification early next year? When will we see this finally progressed?

The Government decided this month to ratify the convention with reservations. It is intended that a memo come before Cabinet in January, and then parliamentary ratification will require a vote of the Dáil and Seanad in February. There are some complicating factors, but that is the indicated timeline.

In the programme for Government, there is much commitment to people with disabilities. The National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire receives a vast amount of public funds and does tremendous work. However, there is an anomaly particularly for people who have prosthetic limbs, and there are such people in my constituency. If such a person gets a prosthetic limb from a private company besides the one that is contracted to the National Rehabilitation Hospital, the hospital refuses to give him or her the intensive physiotherapy he or she requires. A company called Mobility Ireland seems to have this contract, and no one else can get in on the game.

This is not about promised legislation.

Under the programme for Government, there is a commitment to ensure that people with disabilities retain their rights.

It is very hard to-----

People with prosthetic limbs cannot get physiotherapy, and this needs to be dealt with.

The Deputy should table a parliamentary question or Topical Issue on the matter.

Under the programme for Government, a commitment is given to improve respite care and facilities for people with disabilities. I note that the Minister, Deputy Harris, this morning announced the provision of a further 12 new respite facilities. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that the facility in Kilmorna, Listowel, is one of these 12 and that the service will be funded on a seven-day, 52-week basis, as opposed to every second weekend, which was the last proposal the Department made. I will accept an answer later in the day if he does not have one now.

I cannot give the Deputy confirmation of that at present. As I mentioned earlier, the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, will provide the details of the 12 new respite centres as soon as he can.

Regarding something I said earlier, I have received a message from the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to say that the report, the press release and the questions and answers regarding the Tuam report have now been published on her Department's website. I can also confirm that the community employment scheme was established in 1985 under a Fine Gael-Labour Government, the Taoiseach being Garret FitzGerald and the line Minister being Ruairí Quinn.

Given the Taoiseach's commitment to mental health, will the Government commit to having a debate on the National Youth Mental Health Task Force report 2017 published this week?

That is a matter for the Business Committee.

I wish to raise an issue that was also raised by our leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, regarding DEIS schools and the commitment that was given in the programme for Government in this regard. The Department of Education and Skills this morning, in response to a freedom of information request, indicated that 257 schools met the qualification criteria for DEIS but have not received any funding, including a number in my constituency, among five in Tipperary town. These schools have not yet got any satisfactory answer as to why they did not receive funding, even though it now seems they met the criteria.

I have already answered this question. I assure the Deputy that no school was excluded. What happened this year was that we expanded the programme to bring in 79 additional schools. No school in the scheme was withdrawn; we have expanded the scheme. We have considered extending the scheme further in future years. This was the subject of the freedom of information request, and it was in the context of the possibility of extending the scheme that the number the Deputy mentioned arose. No school is being excluded from any criteria. The existing scheme is upheld in all respects. The new scheme that we introduced brought in 79 additional schools. We will examine the new 2016 data to see whether there are schools that would qualify at that high level of disadvantage that did not get in among the 79. If there are such schools, we will include them, but a wider extension is a matter for future years.

I wish to bring the Taoiseach back to the programme for Government, specifically the strong emphasis it puts on balanced regional development. I know he has spoken to me before about this previously. Recent Central Statistics Office figures show that 700 people living in County Roscommon must get on a train or a bus or into a car every day and travel to Dublin for work. Imagine if the Taoiseach were to announce today the opening of one enterprise or two or three enterprises with 700 jobs in Roscommon. It is shocking that so many people from rural Ireland must travel constantly to Dublin, where the whole place is-----

Is the Deputy talking about promised legislation?

I refer to the programme for Government. In fairness, I do not break the rules. This is in the programme for Government. We are over 20 months into this Government, but very little has happened on regional development. The Taoiseach talks about it the whole time and constantly says it will happen, but it is not happening in our county or many other rural counties. When will we see real jobs coming to the regions? These people have to get up at 4 o'clock and 4.30 in the morning. I know the Taoiseach likes people who get up early in the morning, but if they could get up at 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock, it might be better for them.

As the Deputy will have heard me say before, unemployment has fallen and the number of jobs has increased in every county in Ireland; 80% of the new jobs created in the past year or so were created outside the Dublin area. Obviously, people make decisions for many different reasons. I appreciate it is a very long way to travel from Roscommon to Dublin, but there are people in other rural counties who choose to commute and who want to live in rural areas and commute to work. One cannot assume that if 700 jobs were provided in Roscommon, all these people would necessarily give up their jobs in Dublin and take up the jobs in Roscommon.

I compliment the great work done in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. However, last Sunday a mother and child travelled up here, stayed in a hotel and went to Crumlin for their appointment on Monday only to be told, because of staffing issues, that they had to go home and come up again on Friday. One can imagine the distress, hardship and anxiety this caused the mother and child. This happens regularly. While I compliment the great work done in Crumlin, why are so many appointments being stopped at the last minute because of what are called staffing issues? Surely this is a very serious situation and the Minister for Health should be involved in rectifying it.

The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on any individual case. I do not have the full information on the case to which he refers, and even if I did, I could breach confidentiality in commenting on it. Nonetheless, I understand the distress that would be caused to anyone making a long journey for an appointment only to find out the next day that it has been cancelled. Staffing levels in our health service are at their highest for many years, but I am not in a position to explain why in this particular case there was a cancellation.

In the programme for Government, there is a commitment on the provision of resources for effective policing, including a capital plan which refers to new and refurbished Garda stations. It has been a number of years since plans were announced to build a brand new Garda station in Macroom. A new station is much needed. The current accommodation is inadequate not just for the gardaí to carry out their business, but also for the public, victims of crime and people who want to go to the Garda station, whether they have plucked up the courage to make a statement or whether they wish to meet gardaí for other reasons.

They need to know there will be an adequate building and facilities that will afford privacy and so on.

A site has been available for well over a year and the project is ready to proceed to planning and design. No progress has been made, however, because Macroom station is bound together with a number of others, including those in Clonmel and Sligo. Is it possible for the Macroom station project, which is well advanced, to be released from that bind so that it may proceed to planning and design?

The Minister for Justice and Equality visited Clonmel Garda station, which I appreciate, when he went to the town to participate at a think-tank. The conditions in Clonmel station, for both gardaí and the public, are appalling. We have had announcement after announcement that work on the building would commence but, as is the case with Macroom station, there is a hold-up because of the bundling with Sligo. Will the Minister ensure work commences on the four stations in this bundle? Clonmel is the largest inland town in the country but its Garda station is more suited to Cromwellian times. It is unfair to expect gardaí to work in such a hovel or the public to use it. I ask the Minister and the Taoiseach to put their shoulders to the wheel to get these projects off the ground and at least progressed to tender.

I acknowledge the need for new Garda stations at Macroom and Clonmel. It is my intention to have both projects commence at the earliest possible opportunity next year. There are some outstanding conveyancing issues with this bundle of stations, but I expect them to be dealt with in the coming weeks. My intention is that the next bundle of Garda stations will commence construction in the course of 2018 under a public private partnership arrangement.