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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Feb 2018

Vol. 966 No. 2

Questions on Promised Legislation

I wish to raise the criminal law (sexual offences) Bill in the context of the Garda Inspectorate report on child sex abuse cases. It is quite appalling to read about the level of lethargy and inaction in that regard, particularly the lack of implementation of previous reports in 2012 on this serious area of crime prevention. The report showed a 64% increase in Internet-based offending yet there is no legislation to allow a garda, for example, to have the power to seek a password from an alleged offender to search his or her computer for illegal images. It is exceptionally frustrating for everybody who is concerned about child sex abuse and child pornography to learn there is still a poor relationship between Tusla and An Garda Síochána. The relationship is described as inefficient and worse. That is unacceptable. There are also recommendations on the lack of training of gardaí in such situations. In addition, sex abuse victims must travel to Dublin to be medically examined. It is six years since recommendations were made on this issue and we are still at discussion stage. I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to meet urgently to respond to this report. It is a damning indictment of the State's response to vulnerable young children who are victims of sex abuse. It is incredible.

I assure the House that action is being taken. The pace of implementation of previous reports is unacceptable. Yesterday, the Cabinet agreed on the establishment at an early date of an implementation group. We have had strategies, reports and fora but we need implementation. That group is being established. It will involve people from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and will ensure we have an action plan that is time-targeted. I spoke to the chair this morning and I assure Members that we will see a targeted focus, which will be monitored by the Government by way of quarterly reports to a Cabinet committee. I will be happy to update the House at a convenient time.

I ask the Minister to do that-----

You cannot. I call Deputy McDonald.

It is important we have this discussed at the earliest opportunity because it is a very serious issue.

Please, Deputy.

The Minister himself said it is unacceptable.

Deputy, you are being disorderly.

I am trying to be constructive, a Cheann Comhairle.

I will return to this matter in a few minutes. I call Deputy McDonald.

There was only one proposal put to the Taoiseach yesterday in respect of the cold weather and our elderly and vulnerable citizens, which is that the Government would pay a double week of the fuel allowance. Nobody on this side of the House gave advice to the elderly to leave heating on 24-7. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, when he said that I took it that he meant it as a reassurance or an encouragement to older people to keep themselves warm. The Taoiseach is being a little disingenuous and unfair to the Minister of State in suggesting that it was a concrete proposal to have heating on 24-7. The public heard it in a different way. In any case, I am glad the Taoiseach has agreed to that measure, that measure being the double fuel allowance not the heating on 24-7. Can he clarify-----

Has the Deputy any spare fuel herself?

The Deputy is absolutely hilarious. I am sure people who are cold in their homes are only rolling around laughing at him. He really is a comic.

You can have the comedy afterwards. We will have a question and answer now.

Can the Taoiseach confirm the date of the payment of the double week? That was not clear from the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty's, announcement. Is it 12 March? Will the recipients who receive the allowance in two lump sums also be included in the payment?

The reason there is no clear date of payment is that this is not a stand-alone payment. People do not receive it in isolation. It is a top-up payment for a number of schemes. People in different schemes receive their payments on different dates. Some scheme payments to be paid next week have already gone through the banking system and the Department's IT system so those people will not get their payment until probably the week after. However, everybody will get a double week payment assigned to this week, but they will get it either next week or the week after depending on the day on which they receive their scheme payment. The disability payments might be paid on a Tuesday and jobseeker's allowance might be paid on a Wednesday so there is no one date on which everybody will receive their payment, but everybody will receive a double week fuel payment in the coming week or two weeks. That includes people who have chosen to take their payment in two lump sums, but they will get an individual extra week.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to examine the potential of a rapid response unit under the Office of Emergency Planning led by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which could be deployed when necessary to co-ordinate offers of help and assistance to those experiencing hardship following a severe weather event. Can the Taoiseach give us an update on that proposal? I ask that in the context of compacted snow on roads and footpaths which are quite treacherous, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Is there an intention to deploy snow ploughs on all major bus and commuter routes in Dublin? Will local authorities and, possibly, the Defence Forces be deployed to clear paths in urban areas, particularly in areas where there are shops, post offices and health care centres? While there is salting and gritting, they do not deal effectively with compacted snow. Many of the footpaths in Dublin today are like ice rinks. What is the status of the programme for Government commitment and what will done on the footpaths and roads in Dublin?

The Defence Forces are available to be deployed at the request of local authorities. Local authorities, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, and many other bodies have snow ploughs and salt is stockpiled. Nobody can say whether that will be enough because we do not know the amount of snow that will fall, how long it will last or what blizzard conditions there will be. However, the equipment exists and the salt is stockpiled. It may be difficult, however, given the amount of snow we expect to fall and the conditions we expect. We must bear in mind that people's safety must come first. We are not going to send soldiers or local authority workers out in blizzards to clear snow. We must think about their safety as well.

The programme for Government commitment is being examined by the Office of Emergency Planning, but the difficulty arising is that having a rapid reaction force is not straightforward because all emergencies are different. A storm is different from a flooding event or a snow event or a chemical-related disaster. It is not as simple as just having a single rapid reaction force. One would potentially need a different one for each type of emergency.

The Government reportedly will support the Fianna Fáil Private Members' Bill extending some rights to those who have their loans sold to vulture funds, a testament to the pressure they feel from the public. We support the Bill as well. However, regulation is not enough and must not be used as political cover to allow the sale of these loan books to vultures. Ultimately, a regulated vulture is still a vulture. If these vultures get their claws into people, the same aggressive behaviour that was seen at Tyrrelstown in Dublin and Leeside in Cork will be seen once again, adding to the housing crisis and people's distress.

Will the Government introduce legislation to block the sale of loan books to vulture funds? Will the Taoiseach agree that the process of the privatisation of banks should be reversed and, instead, we should have a public banking system which can be utilised as a public utility with mortgage write-downs, as well as used as a lever to provide funding for public housing?

The Government believes that a banking system, which in the long run is owned by the private sector, is the best way to meet the needs that the Taoiseach described earlier. It will ensure we can provide loans to families and businesses, as well as ensuring deposits can earn a decent rate of interest. Crucially, it will make sure the kind of link which caused such a catastrophe in our country in our recent past is firmly broken, namely, where the link between the taxpayer and our banking system is gradually reduced over time.

As the Deputy knows, I do not have the legal power to intervene in the decisions made by the board of a bank. We went through a period in which our regulators either did not have enough power or the power available to them was not sufficient. All this conspired to create such difficulties for our economy and society. Fundamentally, several of our banks are now being given guidance by an independent regulator to act in a certain way to improve the quality of their balance sheets and reduce their non-performing loans.

The Government must strike the balance between improving the financial affairs of our banks to deal with potential difficulties which we could encounter in the future, while ensuring people are treated fairly and concerns are recognised. We have been successful in doing that to date. We have seen a huge reduction in mortgage arrears and non-performing loans while avoiding-----

I am afraid we cannot go into great detail on this matter, Minister.

I will conclude on this point.

At the same time, we must avoid the greatest fears many have had for a while.

In addition to the measures to which the Government is committed, I have also asked the Central Bank to give me an independent assessment of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears.

While we all support Deputy Michael McGrath’s and other people’s Private Members’ Bills to deal with the sale of loans to the vulture funds, will the Taoiseach support the Bill submitted by Deputies McGuinness, MacSharry and myself last week, the National Housing Co-Operative and Fair Mortgage Bill, compiled by Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan? We saw what happened in Balbriggan to the Smith family who were terrorised by people from abroad, ex-British soldiers. The Taoiseach asked me to put it in writing. I have two letters here, one for the Taoiseach and one for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. I will give them to the usher to hand to them.

Ex-British soldiers beat this family. We have a short memory. In September 1920, Balbriggan was sacked and looted by the Black and Tans and two people were killed that night. The local barber, James Lawless, and John Gibson were both beaten to death by the Black and Tans. They are back again and this has happened under the Government's watch. It is a shame on all of us to allow this go on last Monday morning in Balbriggan. I have the information here and I want the Government to act on same. I also want the Government to support legislation to stop the vultures getting their grisly claws on any more loans.

We are aware of the responsibilities we have to our citizens. That is why we strengthened personal insolvency legislation over the past several years. That is why we set up the Abhaile organisation. We have put in place measures through, for example, the Central Bank, to ensure mortgage arrears are dealt with in the best way possible.

They have all failed utterly.

While I am always aware of the concerns people have on how this issue is dealt with, we must recognise that several years ago this country faced a major crisis in mortgage arrears and non-performing loans. In all those areas, progress has been made. A framework is in place which tries to strike the fairest balance.

At the expense of families.

I will wait to see the Bill to which Deputy Mattie McGrath referred. The basic questions the proponents of the Bill must ask is where is the money to fund it going to come from and how can we ensure it is not at the expense of many existing arrangements which are serving our citizens well.

The independent review of the handling of critical emails in the Department of Justice and Equality, which related to the disclosures tribunal, was carried out by senior counsel, Michael Collins. It was due to be submitted to the Minister by last Friday. Will he confirm if the review has been received and when he intends to publish it?

The consultation and interview process has now been completed. The report is at an advanced stage of drafting. I expect it within a matter of days.

When will it be published?

I will look at it first and then I will give the matter further attention.

Yesterday, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment sent its report on the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, which included a recommendation that RTÉ would be given the right to set transmission fees for cable and satellite operators. It follows on the earlier Oireachtas committee report before Christmas which set out a range of measures, including that one, and to provide a pot of €50 million for Irish media, not just RTÉ, changes to the licence fee system among other measures. RTÉ is just publishing its new strategy and Irish media, local radio and newsprint, as well as other television stations, is in real crisis.

Does the Government believe it needs to change the nature of funding for public service broadcasting? Will it act on it quickly and bring the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill back into the Dáil to ensure we can include this and other measures to change the nature of public service licensing? What is the Government's commitment to that and its sense of urgency on how we fund Irish media?

The legislation is due for publication in this parliamentary session.

The programme for Government stated that the Government will drive down the cost of providing new treatment drugs either through national or European initiatives. One of these treatments is Respreeza. It is a therapy which has been proved to slow down the progression of genetic emphysema in patients with severe Alpha-1. Two of the 21 people taking part in a clinical trial of Respreeza died before Christmas when the HSE stopped funding the administration of the therapy.

CSL Behring has agreed to continue to provide the drug free of charge until the new clinical trial begins in June or July 2008. All 19 patients are back on the therapy, which has been administered, as before, by Point of Care. After Marion Kelly's death, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, met the family and committed to ensuring the negotiations would restart between CSL Behring and the HSE.

As of today, Alpha One told me it has not yet received an update from the HSE as to when negotiations will start. This is a matter of life and death for many people. Negotiations must resume immediately between the HSE and CSL Behring to agree a mutually acceptable price for the therapy. Administration of Respreeza should not be included in the price of the drug.

Will the Taoiseach give me a commitment today that the HSE and the Government will resume talks with CSL Behring to ensure that this vulnerable group of Alpha-1 sufferers has access to Respreeza?

This morning the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health published a report on orphan drugs, of which Respreeza is one drug. It is a summary of three meetings which we held on orphan drugs. Orphan drugs are different from other drugs, yet the process of looking at them is the same. They need to be treated differently. The quality process of comparing cost-benefit analysis needs to change. Undoubtedly, legislation will be required to change how orphan drugs are treated. In the meantime, I believe the quality and cost-benefit analysis needs to change for drugs such as Respreeza, Translarna and Kuvan which is forphenylketonuria.

I thank Deputies Michael Collins and Harty for raising this important matter. To fulfil the programme for Government commitment referred to, we have taken two distinctive actions. The Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform led a process on behalf of the State where we reached a new drugs pricing agreement with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA. It will save the State a fortune in hundreds of millions of euro and it has pretty much stabilised drug prices. We spend €2 billion a year on drugs. Two weeks ago, the Government agreed to formally join the BeNeLuxA Initiative group in terms of working with four other European countries in jointly horizon scanning, sharing information and, possibly, even procuring drugs with them.

Regarding Respreeza, the Deputy is right. I had a useful and informative meeting with the family of the late Marion Kelly. I am grateful to the family members for their time. I have asked that the HSE and the company re-engage and I have been informed that will happen. I intend to meet the Alpha-1 Foundation shortly. I will continue to make the point that the way the company ended the clinical trial without any consideration for its patients was unethical, disgusting and a breach of the Helsinki agreement. The company should re-engage with the HSE and work out a way forward.

Regarding orphan drugs, the Chairman of the health committee is correct. When I spoke at the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA, dinner a few months ago, I announced a process whereby we would work with industry, patient stakeholders and our procurement people on how to put in place a better system for procuring orphan drugs.

I wish to ask about legislation relating to a capital project that has been announced by the Government every six months or so, most recently in Project Ireland 2040. When will the children's health Bill appear before the House? Pre-legislative scrutiny was completed last October. The Bill, which is meant to set up the new children's hospital, is needed, given that building works are well under way and planning for the amalgamation of the three paediatric hospitals are continuing apace. Is it intended to continue with the title that was announced and was ridiculed in the media?

The Deputy must be mistaking us with our predecessors. We did not just announce the national children's hospital. Rather, we are building it in the Deputy's own constituency. I welcome that fact.

You are your predecessor.

I am his predecessor.

No. The predecessor before the Taoiseach. Those ones.


As to the two serious issues that Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised regarding the legislation, it will be before the House this session. It is important legislation and I look forward to getting it under way. I have decided not to proceed with the hospital's name. I do not want the name to cause confusion or controversy in what is a major infrastructural project for our citizens. I will outline a suggested process for deciding the name when I table the legislation. For the moment, "National Children's Hospital Ireland" seems apt to me.

Pages 96 and 97 of the programme for Government reads: "Building a visible and familiar policing presence is vital to...deterring crime." This has been replicated all over the country, but I will raise an example of something that is happening in the Chief Whip's constituency in Donegal where a Garda station, despite being scheduled for a €2 million upgrade, which is on the never-never like so many other jobs, is going from a 24-hour station to a part-time service. That area covers Inver, Frosses, Dunkineely, Killybegs, Kilcar, Glencolmcille, Donegal town, Drimarone, Ardaghey, Barnesmore Gap, Laghy and Ballintra. This is against the backdrop of our launch of Project Ireland 2040 in Sligo, which cost €45,000. What message are we sending? It is one thing wheeling everyone down for a €45,000 Goebbels-style launch. It is another thing when in reality-----

The Deputy should withdraw that slur.

-----we are cutting services and-----

That is a disgusting slur.


If I could finish.

Yes. Order, please.

It was a reference to Goebbels.

That €45,000 could have quite easily-----

The Deputy is belittling the Holocaust.

He may want to reflect on it.


Please, Deputies.

If I could finish.

Can we let the Deputy finish? Then we can respond.

As the Ceann Comhairle knows, it was a political charge and drawing an analogy with an actual event in history is fine.

It was an anti-Semitic slur on politicians.

It was not in order.

The Government might not like the fact-----

Deputy MacSharry's time is up.

The last person to make that statement apologised to the House.

If I could just get the same level of leniency-----


Deputies, please.

If I could just get the same level of leniency afforded to other Members, I would be most appreciative. The reality is that it will take an awful lot of the €1.5 million that the Government will spend on these candidate promotion events-----

The Deputy's time is up. Thank you.

-----in newspapers throughout the country to undo the damage and destruction the Government is doing to rural Ireland.

Please, the Deputy's time is up.

On a point of order, a comment like that previously was withdrawn.

The use of this money in this way is tantamount to theft from the people.

Your time is up.

It is stealing taxpayers' money, and Fine Gael should refund it.

Your own party would know about that.

Apart from that, what is the Government's proposal for the people of south Donegal-----

Deputy MacSharry, please resume your seat.

-----in terms of its downgrading of their Garda station?

He will be on Sky News again. He wants to go international.

Will the Deputy please resume his seat?

It was an anti-Semitic slur.

The references to Nazis are completely and utterly out of order.

Will the Minister of State resume his seat? I do not-----

They are completely and utterly out of order.

He should apologise.

A former Minister used that name in the House a number of years ago-----

Resume your seat.

-----and apologised the following day. This is the second time I have heard a member of the Opposition using that name this week in reference to this Government. It is despicable.


Hear, hear.

Resume your seat.

Deputy MacSharry should apologise and withdraw it. It was anti-Semitic.

He is just wasting time.


The Minister for Justice and Equality will respond.

It was a metaphor.

You are a disgrace.

It was an anti-Semitic slur on Holocaust survivors.

The only people Deputy MacSharry is letting down are the members of his own party.

It was a slur on the Holocaust.


You are stealing the people's money.

Will Deputy MacSharry-----

Deputy MacSharry is in a hole. He should put down the shovel.

It was an outrageous remark.

Deputy Pearse Doherty, please. Is it on the same matter?

Deputy MacSharry should apologise.

It was an anti-Semitic remark.

I did not say anything about that.

It is on the same issue. I am glad to support what Deputy MacSharry said about the Garda station in Donegal town, which is going from a 24-hour service to a six-hour service. This is on the back of many Garda stations having been closed in Donegal as a result of Deputy MacSharry's party closing down the recruitment of gardaí via Templemore-----

-----which has devastated Garda services in our county and across the country. That being said, we are where we are.

Why is this being contemplated now? Is it the fact that the Chief Whip does not have the same clout as the Minister, Deputy Ross? Is it quid pro quo, with one station getting opened in one part of the country through the sacrifice of rural Ireland? The people of rural Ireland are very annoyed at the fact that one of the few 24-7 Garda stations we have is being downgraded to six hours per day. The superintendent has told us that the Garda cannot ensure that it will be open even during those limited hours because gardaí will have to attend to call-outs. This is something that we see across County Donegal and much of rural Ireland, namely-----

I thank the Deputy, but his time is up.

-----a depletion of services time and again. At a time when we see record numbers of gardaí going through the training college, will the Minister ensure that the necessary number of gardaí will be provided to Donegal for us to keep our Garda stations open?

Deputy, please.

Of the 1,700 new gardaí of recent years-----

Deputy, I am asking-----

-----only 40 have made their way to Donegal.

Deputies Pearse Doherty and MacSharry will both be well aware of the fact that these operational issues are quite rightly matters for the acting Garda Commissioner-----

-----and the leaders of An Garda Síochána. I am sure-----

Maybe we should put questions to the acting Commissioner instead of to the Minister.

Maybe you could stay quiet, Deputy.

Maybe Deputy MacSharry would first like to apologise for the remark he made a while ago.

It seems that the overexcited state of Deputy MacSharry from time to time has been noted in Sligo as well as here.

And on Sky News. He has gone international.

I would like to inform the Deputy-----

Maybe the Government could take out an advertorial.

Please, Deputy.

-----that I had the pleasure of visiting Sligo recently.

We know that. We saw it.

Of all the people who were gathered on the occasion, Deputy MacSharry was noted for his absence from the announcements.

Not for the first time either.

I took the opportunity-----

I was shoved down the back.

Deputies, please.

I was there, though.

Fine Gael candidates were put up front.

There was no space for us.

A Cheann Comhairle, will there be an apology for the remark?

He will not apologise for it.

It was an anti-Semitic slur.

How about an answer?

Deputies, you are bringing the House-----

It was anti-Semitic and the Deputy will not apologise.

You are bringing the House into appalling disrepute.

Withdraw the comment.

On a point of order-----

There will be no point of order.

It is on the record that he will not apologise.


I will suspend the House if Members do not-----

Please, resume-----

It is a genuine point of order.


A Member of this House previously had to apologise when making the kind of reference-----

-----that has been made to another Member of the House. I deem that what has been said in the House - the reference to Goebbels - is out of order and a smear-----

A Cheann Comhairle, we have yet to make it to speaker No. 4.

-----not only on the perpetrator-----

The Deputy's point is made.

-----but on the House in general.

Deputy Durkan's point is made.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Just wait a second. The Deputy-----

I was in the course of delivering a reply.

The Minister had sat down.

You were, and I will let the Minister do that in a minute, but I will respond to Deputy Durkan's point.

I might opt not to-----

The Minister sat down.

-----given the state of disrepute into which a Member has brought the House.

The weather is bringing the country to a standstill and Deputy MacSharry will bring the Dáil to a standstill.


The Minister should please resume his seat. I have every intention of allowing him to respond to the points raised. Regarding the point of order, which referred to the Goebbels remark that has come from Deputy MacSharry, it was not directed, as I heard it, at any individual. If it had been, I would consider that to be deeply offensive.

It was a collective remark, which was worse.

It was a political charge-----

Excuse me. It was a broad political charge-----

It was directed at the Government.

-----using the type of phraseology-----

It was an anti-Semitic slur.

-----that Deputy MacSharry uses from time to time.

It was an anti-Semitic slur directed at every-----

I do not consider-----

It is not acceptable, a Cheann Comhairle.

It was anti-Semitic.


Please, I would-----

It was an anti-Semitic comment.

One cannot make anti-Semitic charges in the House.

It was not anti-Semitic. It was a political charge.


Resume your seat, please.

It was anti-Semitic.

We want to hear the Minister for Justice and Equality.

It was an attack on the Jewish community in Ireland and the victims of the Holocaust, and it should be withdrawn.

The Government is filibustering now and wasting time.

Deputies, please. Allow the Minister for Justice and Equality.

A Cheann Comhairle, I do not accept your ruling that the comment is not worthy of withdrawal.

It was despicable.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle as Chair and as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members to ask Deputy MacSharry to withdraw his remark.

An anti-Semitic remark.

The Minister was answering the question.

It is an anti-Semitic remark.

I am not changing my ruling. My ruling has been made. If Deputy MacSharry wants to be helpful in the circumstances-----

I am very disappointed.

Well, maybe you might be.

I am very disappointed.

It is shocking, actually.

I am very disappointed.

It is offensive.

We are being accused of being anti-Semitic.

It is absolutely shocking.

It is an anti-Semitic slur in the Dáil.

If the Deputy wants to withdraw his remark he can.


Will the Deputy sit down?

On a point of order.

A point of order.

My understanding is that the ruling of the Chair is final-----

-----and it cannot be challenged by Members so perhaps the Minister would desist.

Does Deputy Shortall believe it is acceptable?

It does not make it right.

An anti-Semitic slur.

There is another place where the Minister can challenge that.

Is Deputy Shortall supporting it?

Does Deputy Shortall support that?


Deputies, please.

Will the two civil war parties please-----


This is not about the civil war. It is about the Holocaust.

Minister, please.


The House stands suspended for five minutes.

Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 1.18 p.m.

We will proceed with questions to the Taoiseach.

A Cheann Comhairle, is-----

The time is gone.

For clarification, has the time for questions on promised legislation expired?

Yes, the time has expired.