Questions on Promised Legislation

On page 20, section B of the programme for Government, the action plan on housing is outlined. Is the Government committed to reviewing the pyrite remediation scheme in full? I ask this in the context of the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013 with which the Tánaiste will be familiar as a former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The Act only includes those with category two-level damage. Fewer than 700 houses have been remediated since 2013 under this scheme. Thousands of other home owners with pyrite, whose houses are valueless now and who cannot move on with their lives, are being left behind. The scheme needs to be reviewed. Furthermore, within the scheme itself, there is an exceptional circumstances clause where people can appeal to get into the scheme. Not one application has been approved under this exceptional circumstances scheme. Will the Tánaiste, or someone with knowledge in this area, commit to a full review of the pyrite resolution scheme?

The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, is the political expert on this issue and worked with me on it when I was in that Department. I will ask him to contact the Deputy directly. He is a very pragmatic person on this issue, and if there is a case to be made he will certainly listen with an open mind.

Is the Tánaiste in a position to update the House today as to when the commission of investigation will be established to address the concerns of the victims of Bill Kenneally? This is a very serious issue where concerns have been raised about the handling of this case by An Garda Síochána, the HSE, Tusla and the old health board. I certainly do not want to make politics with this issue. I simply ask the Tánaiste to ensure, for the hundreds of victims of this individual, that this commission of investigation is established as quickly as possible. Is he in a position to offer the House an update today as to when that will happen?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government is committed to uncovering the truth of what happened in this case. We remain absolutely committed to establishing a commission of investigation into the circumstances surrounding the horrific crimes committed by Bill Kenneally. This has always been the case. When the Government decided in May of last year to announce the intention to establish the commission it was based on legal advice from the then Attorney General that indicated there would be severe delays if the commission were to be established at that time. This decision was communicated to the people involved directly at the time. The decision was made on a number of outstanding legal matters, including ongoing investigations into further offences and a concern that evidence adduced at a commission may impact on future prosecutions.

I am advised that criminal investigations are ongoing in respect of a number of such cases. Files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in several instances and directions are awaited. The DPP operates fully independently of Government. It is also my belief and that of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and all my Government colleagues that persons who make allegations of sexual abuse are entitled to have their claims fully investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. I believe it would be entirely inappropriate for the Government to take any action that risks seriously compromising the investigations. I have to hand a long answer that I will forward to the Deputy in order that he has a clear understanding as to where we are on this issue.

As the Tánaiste knows, there is a gender pay gap in Ireland of 13.9%. The Government's legislative agenda, published last week, lists the gender pay dap (wage transparency) Bill, and I welcome that. However, the Labour Party has had a Bill before the Seanad for some considerable time. In fact, it has passed both Second Stage and Committee Stage and is now on Report Stage. What are the Government's intentions? The only difference that has been articulated is a matter of adding numbers into the Bill. The Labour Party's Bill can be easily amended. Is it the intention to allow the Bill that is almost through the Seanad to complete its passage in order that Members can address this matter in a speedy way or is it the intention to wait for the Government itself to legislate in this area?

My understanding is the Government wants to bring forward its own Bill in this area. It is on the priority list, which means we are will try to bring it forward this term. I will ask the Minister to confirm that directly with the Deputy but that is my understanding at the moment.

My question is on promised legislation on repeal and a referendum on the issue of the eighth amendment.

I know the Government is getting legal advice and I want to remind it that the committee I took part in, which weighed up evidence not just over weeks but months, had its own legal adviser who outlined six options for dealing with the issue. There was no support at the committee for an enabling clause, which is one of the options the Government seems to be discussing with the Attorney General. The reason I raise this is because there is no legal certainty with any referendum but the Government could cause more uncertainty by attempting to find a wording that would basically say the Dáil has power to do this. If it seems to be giving special powers to the Oireachtas regarding this particular matter or legislation, I believe there is a danger politically of a referendum getting into great uncertainty and potentially being lost if the Government tries to find a wording for what is a minority viewpoint in the legal profession.

Go raibh maith agat. Tánaiste.

I urge the Government to stick with the recommendation of the Oireachtas committee of simple repeal. It could flounder us in massive delays on this issue.

As I have said previously, we need to read carefully the Oireachtas committee's report. I would say I have read it a dozen times since it was published and as many other are trying to do, I am forming a view and also trying to understand how the Government can act responsibly in terms of bringing forward those recommendations, but it has not made any firm decisions yet. We will have a meeting next Monday solely focused on this issue. The Attorney General is actively looking at legal implications of the recommendations of the committee. While I accept that the committee got its own legal advice, with respect, the Government has to get its legal advice too. When it makes decisions and recommendations in the build up to a referendum we need to make sure that our legal advice is complete. We will make decisions shortly on these issues but I take note of what the Deputy said.

I call the acting leader of the Rural Independents Group, Deputy Mattie McGrath. Is this question on promised legislation?

It is, but on the last point-----

We do not need a preamble.

-----I remind the Tánaiste that there was a minority report too, and one of his own members formulated that report.

During the talks on the programme for Government, the rural Independents advocated for funding for rural roads. The rural roads are decaying by the day and we are inundated with complaints. Any TD from rural Ireland will know that. When will we see some forward investment? We were promised it would be in the latter half of the second or third year of the Government. We cannot wait. Funding for rural roads is needed now. After the frost and the rain this winter they are in an awful state and it is unfair to the travelling public in rural areas who have to repair their cars following the national car test, NCT. They are being knocked about every day. The roads are impassable in many areas. When will the Government act?

Come on. Do you have a question?

Excuse me. I thought Deputy Murphy was a rural TD as well. I am surprised he is objecting to this question.

You are taking up time.

I was not in the House but I know that question was answered by the Taoiseach yesterday. I cannot take it with others because this is Leaders' Questions.

A Deputy

He is a leader.

Yes, but it is Leaders' Questions. The Taoiseach answered that question yesterday.

If the Taoiseach answered the question yesterday I endorse what he said.

It should not be a matter for the Chair but to remind the House-----

It is a major problem-----

(Interruptions).

This is like "Strictly Come Dancing".

The Tánaiste might know something. He travels the roads sometimes. The Taoiseach hardly ever gets down to rural Ireland. He is afraid of the place.

As the Taoiseach outlined yesterday, the roads programme will be announced in the next few weeks.

The local improvement schemes, LISs.

There is a recognition that rural roads in certain parts of the country need priority. I am someone who travels the roads a lot, for obvious reasons, but I am not in a position to announce the rural roads programme today, and I think people will understand the reason.

I asked about funding for rural roads.

To clarify, it was about local improvement schemes and far be it for me to-----

And county roads. They are normally out before the end of January. Are there other Members with cards who have similar questions?

Regarding rural roads, page 44 of the programme for Government states there will be a 50% increase in funding over the lifetime of the Government. I ask the Government to consider some sort of emergency initiatives-----

-----for rural roads because it is the No. 1 issue in rural Ireland we are hearing about. Last night, all the Fine Gael TDs from rural areas spoke about that issue. We want to convey to the public that we are aware of it but I ask that the Government consider an initiative regarding rural roads, outside of the LIS.

I cannot call Members who do not have cards. Does the Tánaiste have anything to add?

This was-----

Deputy, do you have a card? We have four minutes left. We are depriving others-----

I do not like depriving anybody.

What is the question?

Will the Minister make a commitment to ensure that each local authority-----

This is unfair.

-----allocates sufficient moneys to third class roads? That is the issue. It is mainly third class roads. They have not got money for years.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order, there is a card system in the House. Some of us-----

We are trying to avoid people using other people's cards.

(Interruptions).

Hold on, Deputy Collins. It is tantamount to pressing other people's buttons for voting. I will not have that. We will move on after that question, which I believe the Tánaiste has answered. Card No. 1.

You will have to give the cards the red card. The cards will have to go.

John Downing and Laura Larkin reported today on the fix with the pension crisis where pensioners have been denied up to €40 per week. That will be positive for women but, unfortunately, it is reported that approximately 15,000 men, 37% of those affected, will be left behind because they will not come under the umbrella of this fix.

The Tánaiste dealt with that earlier.

I gave a very detailed answer to that earlier but just to say that the contributions that will now be provided for in terms of people who took career breaks to look after children or care for parents will apply to women or men. I outlined that in some detail earlier.

In page 122 of the programme for Government, which deals with seafood and the marine, the Government committed itself to the development of the inshore fisheries sector. In Bantry, there is a proposal to harvest mechanically 1,860 acres of sea water, which not only has the potential to be an environmental disaster but also puts the livelihood of 50 inshore fishermen at risk. This Government can revoke that licence. Will it do so immediately? Other people-----

On the programme for Government, if the Tánaiste has the information.

As the Deputy knows, we have discussed this on numerous occasions. This licence was granted in 2011 by a Green Party Minister in a different Government. In addition to that, in 2015 the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, reaffirmed the licence and over the past year and in recent months we have been working on the conditions of that licence because our job as a Government is to make sure that any work is carried out in a sustainable manner that respects the environment and that is happening.

The Minister could revoke that licence if he wanted to.

We were all very happy when the 9% VAT rate was retained for the hotel industry. All of us supported it.

On the programme for Government.

We did not support it.

The vast majority supported it.

Reasonable people.

Bhí oíche scraicearachta ann aréir i mBaile Átha Cliath, and you have a good command of the Irish language.

Tá canúint difriúil-----

Regarding hotels, last night was a rip-off night in Dublin city. I will quickly outline my situation, and it applies to more people. I found that my usual accommodation was booked out.

A question, please.

I went to several other hotels and in every case the price had increased by €60 or €70. I was heading for home, 150 km away, when, fortunately, I got bed and breakfast accommodation on St. Stephen's Green. The taxpayer was ripped off because the taxpayer pays for our accommodation. That is not good enough. I want the 9% tax rate retained but I want-----

The Tánaiste might deal with the generality-----

-----the Minister and the Government to investigate that and I want a clear message sent to the hotel industry. I was told that because a major conference was coming up-----

Okay. Colleagues are waiting.

-----the prices had increased. That is not good enough and it is no way to sell Ireland.

We cannot deal with Members' overnight accommodation. The Tánaiste might deal with the generality-----

I am making a very important point.

Numerous Government spokespeople have made it clear that in the context of reduced VAT rates we expect that the industry will pass that benefit on to customers and consumers. I will ask Deputy Brendan Griffin, who is the line Minister, to talk to the Irish Hotels Federation about that.

I will take questioners four and five and then we will move on.

I note for the record that this is not just in relation to Oireachtas Members. This goes for everyone. There is no special treatment for us in here, to be clear.

It is important.

I call Deputy Stanley.

I wish to raise the HAP scheme and the commitment on page 21 of the programme for Government to enhance security of tenure, which it states is essential to make HAP an effective means of delivery for tenants. Time does not allow me to go into the other parts of the commitment. The Tánaiste was formerly the Minister responsible for housing, and the current Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Damien English, is in the House. I welcome the fact that he is here. Constituents are receiving letters from community welfare officers which state: "Please be advised that your rent supplement payment has been suspended." Another letter indicates that the landlord of a property is unwilling to sign up to the HAP scheme and that it is therefore up to the recipient to find alternative suitable accommodation by 28 April.

I thank the Deputy.

I will be brief. This is a very serious situation. These families and others face homelessness and the local authority can do nothing for them.

I call the Tánaiste or Minister of State.

They are in the HAP scheme or are being pushed into it. They are on supplementary welfare allowance.

Deputy, we have overrun.

I ask for just one second.

The Deputy's colleague is waiting.

There is no superintendent welfare officer due to the sad passing of the last one who has not been replaced.

I am going to cut the question now and move on.

We have no one to contact and these families face homelessness.

It is the Deputy's colleague who is waiting.

I would like the Minister of State to follow up on that service.

Deputy Stanley normally observes the time limit.

This is homelessness, though.

There is an attempt to move from rent supplement to HAP, which is a better structure for tenants. It provides them with a great deal more certainty and it works. When people are in the HAP system, they like it.

Landlords are not accepting it.

No one is being forced out of a property because of the move from rent supplement to HAP.

That will be confirmed by the Department.

There are letters.

If Deputy Nolan has a short question, I will take it.

Page 55 of the programme for Government states that the Government is committed to ensuring there is timely access to orthodontic care. I have obtained recent figures from the HSE which show that over 1,854 people in the midlands are waiting for orthodontic care. More than 1,000 have been waiting for one year while 500 have been waiting for more than four years. Many families in the midlands and in Offaly in particular have waited years to get appointments for their teenage children. What resources will be put in place to improve this service and how will timely access be made a reality for these people?

I call the Tánaiste.

Is it true that there is one orthodontist between Laois and Offaly?

If the Deputy requires an answer, I must call the Tánaiste now.

I do not have the details on a county-by-county basis. We are now spending more on health care than the State has ever spent in its history. There is, of course, an obligation on the HSE to deal in its service plan with many areas which are under pressure. The availability of resources for health care, however, is higher now than it has ever been.