Order of Business

Today's business shall be No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast), back from committee, No. 30; Technological Universities Bill 2015 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 5, Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 31, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (resumed).

Private Members' business shall be No. 48, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, selected by the Social Democrats-Green Party group.

Wednesday’s business shall be No. 30, Technological Universities Bill 2015 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 5, Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members' business shall be No. 169, motion re shortage of teachers, selected by Fianna Fáil.

Thursday’s business shall be No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018, back from committee; No. 12, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018, back from committee; No. 13, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2018, back from committee; No. 1, Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - All Stages; No. 5, Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 31, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (resumed, if not previously concluded).

I refer to the revised report of the Business Committee dated 22 January 2018. In relation to Tuesday’s business, it is proposed that:

(1) The motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast), back from committee, shall be taken without debate;

(2) Second Stage of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018 shall conclude within two hours;

(3) The Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and shall adjourn not later than 11 p.m.; and

(4) The statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (resumed) shall commence on the conclusion of Private Members’ Business, and the order shall not resume thereafter.

In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that there shall be no oral Taoiseach’s Questions, and the sos in accordance with Standing Order 25(1) shall take place on the conclusion of Questions on Promised Legislation.

In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that:

(1) The motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018, back from committee; motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2018, back from committee, and motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2018, back from committee, shall be taken without debate;

(2) The proceedings on Second Stage of the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours and 20 minutes; any division demanded on the conclusion of Second Stage shall be taken immediately; the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each; all other Members shall have five minutes each with a five minute response from the Minister or Minister of State: all members may share time; and the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes by one question which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Justice and Equality;

(3) The statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (resumed, if not previously concluded) shall commence at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, or on the conclusion of proceedings on the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017, whichever is the later, and the order shall not resume thereafter;

(4) No Private Members’ Bill shall be taken under Standing Order 140A and no committee report shall be taken under Standing Order 91(2); and

(5) The Dáil shall sit later than 7.48 p.m. and Topical Issues shall commence not later than 8 p.m. The Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Topical Issues.

There are three proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to?

I want to ask the Taoiseach if it is correct and allowable that one Minister can press another Minister's vote button. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, pressed the button of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, during the vote for his Bill last Thursday.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business we are dealing with.

Where will this be dealt with? It is totally unfair.

The Committee on Procedure.

The Criminal Courts of Justice.

We will deal with it at the Committee on Procedure.

Will he please come into this Chamber and explain what he was at? He reached across and pressed the Minister, Deputy Zappone's, button.

It is not in order to bring it up here but we will deal with it.

She was also paired, a Cheann Comhairle.

Yes. It will be dealt with by the Committee on Procedure.

Mattie dealt with it.

It is a serious matter.

It is very serious, and everyone is taking a very dim view of it.

I know that. I call Deputy Murphy.

Your teller did not take a dim view of it the other day.

We need to have a debate about opting in to the EU reception conditions directive. I am in favour of the implementation of the directive but we need to have a debate about it, first, because of the conditions of asylum seekers in our country who were treated and continue to be treated appallingly and, second, because all the indications are that the Government intends to implement the directive in such a limited way as to make, for example, the right to work effectively inoperable for a majority of asylum seekers, ruling out 60 occupations, limiting it to jobs that pay more than €30,000 a year and requiring work permits that would cost between €500 and €1,000, so I believe we should have a debate.

We agree. Sinn Féin wants to see a full debate being held on this issue because the Minister needs to clarify his attitude to these matters. This EU directive is long overdue and it seems the Government is taking a minimal position.

I want to add to the voices asking for a debate, particularly on the issue about rights for people in the refugee process to work. The way the Government has managed this is a disgrace. We were given clear timelines by the High Court. We are ignoring them and to we need that debate to try to have a proper understanding of what is happening. I fully agree with the proposal.

I understand the Seanad will have a debate on that matter today and it would be appropriate if time were set aside in this House so that the Members of this House can have an input in the same way because it seems from the presentation made by the Minister that the minimum compliance is to be sought pending determination of the new European regulation. To exclude people from work, and there are only two EU countries that do that, would be unacceptable to a great number of Members of the House.

From our perspective, we have no difficulty with facilitating time for a debate but it is curious that almost every party here which was at the Business Committee did not seem to have articulated that imperative. I am surprised that it has come to the floor of the House and that we have to go back again, but I have no difficulty with that if that is what people desire.

We will make arrangements immediately after this session for the Business Committee people.

Of course it is an issue for the Business Committee as to whether time is allowed for this, but perhaps I can clarify the position because there may be a misunderstanding. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, briefed Cabinet about this matter this morning. We are doing this in two steps and the first step is quite minimalist. It is only allowing asylum seekers who have been here for six to nine months to work, more or less on the same basis as somebody who is applying for a work permit, in addition to that access to self-employment. This is just a first step. We made a previous announcement some months ago that there would be much wider access to the labour market, including employment for positions that pay less than €30,000 a year. It has not been possible to do that, get the procedures in place and notify the European Commission that we are opting into the directive, so we are not going as far as we intend to go. We are doing this in two steps, namely, this rather minimalist step first and then the almost full access, which is what we committed to, and that will be done in June. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, can explain that in more detail but I just want to reassure the House that what is being done now is not the end of it. It is just the first step, and the second step will be much wider access to the labour market.

Thank you, Taoiseach. That is helpful. I take it we can make contact with the Business Committee members this afternoon and see if agreement can be reached on providing time. Notwithstanding that, is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Finally, is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.

On promised legislation, I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

In May 2014, a report of the Internet content governance advisory group was published.

The group was chaired by Mr. Brian O'Neill and was charged with reviewing what had to be done to protect Internet users in Ireland, in particular children who are the most vulnerable group. That was four years ago. Children in Ireland and internationally are being targeted by predators and lured to take part in inappropriate requests which are emotionally and physically traumatic. The report included many recommendations, one of which was the amendment of the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007 to include electronic communications within the definition of measures dealing with the sending of messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the Bill will come before the House and say why? Will he state when a digital safety commissioner will be recruited and appointed and when such an office will be established to ensure that our children are protected as much as possible from these Internet predators? I understand the Government balked at such an appointment before Christmas.

I do not have a date for that legislation currently but I join Deputy Martin and every other Member in expressing condemnation and disgust at the stories we have all read today and on other days about sexual predators and others using social media and online systems to gain access to children. None of these behaviours was created by the Internet but its existence allows people to contact other individuals, including children, with much more ease. I am advised by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, that the next step is an open policy debate on the issue, which will be held on Thursday, 8 March 2018 at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The Minister intends to take further steps on foot of that.

It is four years since the report. The Oireachtas committee addressed it as well.

The programme for Government commits the Government to recognising the state of Palestine. The decision by President Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the announcement by Vice President Pence that the US Embassy will move to Jerusalem have heightened tension in the region. According to the UN, at least 345 Palestinian children have been injured and at least 17 Palestinians have been killed. The Taoiseach will recall that the Oireachtas supported the recognition of the Palestinian state and nine EU member states have already done so. The Government, however, has linked recognition to a negotiated settlement, which hands to the Israeli Government a veto over the right of the Palestinian people to statehood and makes them second-class citizens in their own land. Will the Taoiseach review the Government's stand on this and accept the imperative of its own programme for Government, as well as the wishes of the Oireachtas? Will he also confirm that the Government is willing to increase the €4 million contribution it makes to humanitarian relief in the region following President Trump's decision to cut US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA?

The Government disagrees strongly with the decision of the United States to recognise Jerusalem as the legal capital of Israel. That is the position I took at the European Council and the position we have adopted as a European Union. We continue to believe that the status of Jerusalem should be determined as part of the final settlement and final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

As for Ireland recognising the state of Palestine, that is something the Government wants to do but we have to bear two considerations in mind. First, the Palestinians do not have a state yet. Their lands are occupied and so far, Ireland has not recognised states which do not yet exist. We must consider whether it is wise for us to begin to recognise states which do not yet exist and what other states may fall into that category.

It was put in the programme for Government.

It is also the case that a decision would be much stronger if it were taken at the same time as our European partners take the same step. It would be a much stronger statement if that were done as a Union of 27 or 28 rather than by member states acting individually. While individual acts may get noticed momentarily, they will probably not change anything or be of any real benefit.

The Houses of the Oireachtas want the Government to do it.

I join others in noting that we need to legislate in the areas of cyberbullying and online harassment, in which regard it is the intention of the Labour Party to move its own legislation during its Private Members' time next week.

Two years ago in 2015, we passed a law for a rental deposit protection scheme to be operated by the Residential Tenancies Board. In 2015, some 22% of RTB disputes were about rental deposit retentions. Instead of commencing the legislation, we are now told the Government will review the scheme and possibly change the law again. The reason given is that the interest that would accrue on the deposit scheme might not cover the cost. That is a very lame and poor excuse. What exactly will the Government do on this really important issue?

In September 2017, I signalled that we were embarking on a change management programme with the Residential Tenancies Board to make it a proper, independent regulator for the sector and to find balance for both tenants' rights and landlords' rights. Key to that is the issue of the deposit, as the Deputy pointed out, in terms of the security it gives to the landlord and the money that is owed to the tenant. As part of the change management programme, we are trying to progress a proper deposit protection scheme for tenants and landlords. The Deputy is right to point out that the rates that would be received for such a scheme today would not cover the administrative costs of the scheme. That is one of the reasons that it was deferred. I have put it back on the table because there are enough concerns of people on both sides to make sure there is security around this form of payment. It is important to note that any new system would need to have flexibility so a tenant could get the deposit back in time to put it down as the deposit for the next rental property. Issues like that have to be worked out but it is part of the process we are embarking upon at the moment. Those changes form part of the priority legislation that is on the A table for this session.

Is it new legislation or enacting the existing legislation?

It may be enacted as part of new legislation that we bring in to reform the Residential Tenancies Board.

I add my voice to the horror and disgust of others at the abuse that was outlined in court and offer my sympathy to the victims and their families. I was a bit concerned yesterday to see that on a programme dealing with this issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, said he wants to see the public services card linked to social media accounts in order to verify the identity of users. Does the Government have any plan to bring forward legislation for what seems to be perhaps an ill-thought out and certainly Orwellian and dangerous proposal that would curtail privacy and Internet freedom?

I reassure the Deputy that the Government has no plans to link the public services card to Internet usage, which I agree would be a restriction on privacy and people's freedom. I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Daly's thoughts and proposals were well-intentioned but it is certainly not something the Government is proposing to do.

My question is on reducing waiting lists for X-rays. For the past 25 years, chiropractors have been able to refer patients to private hospitals or take X-rays in-house. On 6 February, the Minister, Deputy Harris, is due to sign into law an EU directive that will see this right taken away from them. Surely this is nonsensical as it will result in a massive surge on the waiting list for X-rays and will mean people with issues such as back pain will be waiting much longer for solutions while in pain. Will the Government amend the directive and allow the existing practice to continue in the interest of common sense? Our chiropractors are providing an excellent service and have been doing so for many decades. Can we please keep the status quo?

We have no plans to do that. Chiropractors are not registered health care professionals. The only people who can prescribe a patient being exposed to radiation should be doctors or specialist nurses.

I heard the Taoiseach speak earlier about the need for local authorities to step up to the plate to manage the housing crisis and I agree. One of the key ways we could do that is to have directly elected mayors in our cities so that the buck would stop with someone who would have the task of managing it. They could also manage the transport crisis we are facing where the lack of co-ordination between the four local authorities and neighbouring councils is leading to gridlock in our city. In that regard, will the Taoiseach outline what is the timeline for the Government in terms of arrangements for a plebiscite for directly elected mayors for Dublin, Cork, Galway or other cities?

We are on a very tight timeline. As I understand, an election would have to take place at the same time as the local elections in May 2019. What is the Government's timeline? When can we expect it to announce the proposal? Will it be part of a plebiscite later this autumn? Does the Minister agree that we are now committed to heading in that direction? The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has indicated that is what is likely to come out of it. When will the Minister announce it and what are the details of his timeline?

No such commitment has been given. There are proposals for local government reform that will come before Cabinet shortly. We should not underestimate the difficulties involved in the type of structural change to local government that would be required if a new layer of government were to be introduced, with a directly elected mayor who would have the powers and the teeth to solve some of the problems that we have in our major cities. Even if there were a proposal to hold an election for a directly elected mayor for Dublin, for example, realistically that office could not be in place and the election for it held in time for the local and European elections next year. This is because of the other administrative changes that would have to be made in each of the local authorities in Dublin were the proposal to extend to the four local authorities, notwithstanding the greater Dublin area where it would have to have some sort of a role for its decisions to be meaningful and have substance.

It will be 2030 or 2040. It is never-never land.

The programme for Government states that the Government understands the divisions and distress caused in local communities which feel that new energy infrastructure such as pylons are imposed upon them and goes on to stress the importance of "community participation in renewable energy". The greatest litmus test of that will come today. This morning the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland approved planning for the North-South interconnector pylon project, despite Sinn Féin's pledge that it would stop it in the North, while in the South, Fine Gael Ministers said that they would get it put underground. This morning, EirGrid welcomed what it called the clearing of all obstacles and it says it is free to plough on.

Is EirGrid free to plough on and destroy the counties of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan and the proprietary rights of the people in those counties or does the Government's promise to respect local communities mean anything to it? I ask that the Taoiseach please not to tell people that it is vital infrastructure or give us the EirGrid spin about listening. EirGrid does enough spinning itself. Will the Taoiseach intercede on behalf of the ordinary people before this is handed over to ESB Networks for construction this summer?

Deputies Thomas Byrne and Niamh Smyth may come in briefly on the same matter.

Has the Taoiseach received or accepted the resignation of his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, who had threatened to resign if this eventuality happened? What are the Minister's plans for civil disobedience, which she also had highlighted would happen if this project got the go-ahead, as happened today?

That is not exactly a matter related to legislation. It is a promise.

It is on the record.

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Cassells. The Taoiseach will know well that EirGrid has shown nothing but contempt and disdain for the communities of Cavan, Monaghan and Meath. I ask him to respond to Deputy Cassells's question and clearly outline what the position is for EirGrid now in the South.

The North-South interconnector is vital energy infrastructure linking the North to the rest of Ireland in terms of energy infrastructure and networks. We await two reports on this matter which are being undertaken but which are not yet complete. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, will make a statement in due course.

I raise the matter of GLAS payments to farmers. Farmers are hit two ways because they are not being paid for GLAS. One of the scheme's requirements is that farmers may not cut their meadows or cut silage until the month of July. What happened last year was that farmers along the west who were in GLAS obeyed the rules but were unable to cut their fodder when they went to do so because the weather had changed. The weather has not improved since. Will the Taoiseach please pay the farmers who are owed their GLAS money and give them some kind of grant to provide fodder for their cattle? Many farmers face ruin and extinction if he does not do so.

I do not have an update on the GLAS payments to hand. They will be paid as soon as they can be. On fodder, the Minister, Deputy Creed, is developing a targeted scheme which may assist with the cost of transporting fodder.

This is a serious problem in some regions and not in others, and anything that is done will be targeted.

Briefly, on Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's query earlier about the Minister, Deputy Zappone's button being pressed, I wish to clarify that I was the co-signature here and if I had been aware that this was the case, I would not have provided any signature.

On the programme for Government regarding road improvements, in the talks on Government two years ago the Government acknowledged that the budget for local and regional roads was still recovering following the crash. Due to the lack of investment, due to the neglect and due to the severe weather experienced since August last, the condition of many of the roads in west Cork is appalling. They are dangerous and are seriously damaged, thus putting lives at risk and causing accidents and damage to cars. The condition of the roads is now a national emergency. Will the Government make emergency funds available to the local authority to meet this crisis? The situation has to be dealt with immediately.

Perhaps this matter would be best raised with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. As I stated earlier on a previous question, it is only January. The budget has only just been set for the year and we are not in a position at this early stage in the year to reallocate funds within Departments or move funds from one Department to another.

The Taoiseach spoke earlier on housing. He spoke specifically about those who want to build their own houses and to develop their own properties. He was talking about regional development within rural Ireland. Is the Taoiseach aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to obtain planning for one-off houses throughout the country? All over rural Ireland, this is becoming an issue. Local authorities are citing regulations coming down from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that are more stringent and stricter. The local authorities have to put these regulations in place, making it more difficult for people, as the Taoiseach stated in his earlier comments, who want to build their own houses in their local communities and have proper regional development. These families, who build predominantly in rural areas, go on to be active members of their community and add to and enhance their communities. The Taoiseach needs to take a serious look at this.

On the same issue, if anybody wants to get planning permission in County Leitrim now, he or she has to spend €50,000 to deal with the effluent treatment. What will happen is rural areas will shut down. It is bad enough as it is, with depopulation and everything else, but it is a crazy situation to expect somebody to fork out €50,000 to facilitate a septic tank. That is what is going on. It is outrageous that this can be allowed to happen. The Government would be as well to put a gate at Carrick-on-Shannon because people will not be able to build or survive in that area.

One point to note at the outset is that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan announced yesterday applies to self-build as well and it will be useful to those who are looking to build homes around the country.

One of the key goals we are trying to achieve with the national planning framework which we are finalising at present is clarifying planning issues around the country. The ambition of Rebuilding Ireland, and in terms of our population projections on where people will live out to 2040, is that 50% of the growth would come from cities and large urban centres but 50% of the growth would come from everywhere else. That means that we must ensure that we have a proper planning framework in place for local authorities to ensure that we can open up doors to parts of the country that were thought to be previously closed. Of course, this is not only about providing planning for homes. It is also about ensuring that we have the right planning for jobs and other key infrastructure.

It is being looked at in the context of the national planning framework.

I welcome the announcement this morning from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection on the changes to the so-called 2012 pension anomaly. I particularly welcome the home-caring credit for up to 20 years. It is an acknowledgement for the many carers out there providing excellent care for loved ones and family members, saving the State millions of euro each year. I also welcome that the Minister stated no pensioner will see any decrease in his or her pension payments with the new change.

There is one serious concern. The Minister is talking about these changes coming in on 30 March with no payments being paid out until the first quarter of 2019. There is no mention whatsoever of the six years from 2012 until 2018, in which more than 40,000 pensioners received a reduced payment. This change is an acknowledgement that those pensioners have had wrong done to them by the Government and the Taoiseach's former colleagues in government in the Labour Party.

Will the Government make a commitment that the 42,000 pensioners who have been wronged will see back-payments to 2012? Will the Minister outline clearly the plans that are in place to ensure they will not see any loss of their pensions and that money will be paid back?

I call Deputy Tony McLoughlin on the same matter.

I support Deputy Brady's comments. We all know that one of the most important things to a pensioner is his or her State pension. On that basis, I ask the Minister to outline her plans to ensure that those affected by the 2012 pension changes will see their cases addressed in 2019.

I thank Deputy Brady for welcoming the changes announced this morning. What was announced this morning is a reform and new legislation. As Deputy Brady is aware, no new legislation can be applied retrospectively. For the record of the House, the reforms we announced today mean that the length of one's working life will no longer be the key factor in determining one's pension payments. One's total contributions, regardless of the number of years worked, is what will be key. The reforms provide for the addition of a credit for home caring. Whether the credit is for caring for one's children or an elderly relative or whatever else, it will be determined once the assessment has taken place. Given that this is new legislation, the start date for the payments will be the same as that for all the other payments that will be increased on the day the budget changes come into play in the week beginning 26 March. No back-payment is being paid. The legislation that was introduced in 2012 will still be the current legislation until I introduce new legislation. According to that legislation, payments to be made will start accruing from 26 March to 30 March 2018, with payments being made in the first quarter of 2019. It is not the case that legislation can be retrospective-----

Go raibh maith agat. Sin deireadh le ceisteanna ar reachtaíocht atá geallta.