Questions on Promised Legislation

I agree with Deputy Brendan Howlin that the release of the report on the Department of Justice and Equality by Michael Collins, SC, at 8.50 p.m. last evening could be misinterpreted as a desire to bury the report. I hope I am wrong in that regard. The report and its conclusions are serious. While Mr. Michael Collins says there is no evidence to suggest any deliberate concealment or withholding of material from the tribunal, he concludes, on the other hand, that there was no meaningful explanation provided as to why the initial search for documents did not include email accounts of officials in the policing division or senior officials in the Secretary General's office.

The report raises far more questions than it answers. It illustrates the need for major reform within the Department before credibility can be restored. We should acknowledge that the report highlights the fact that the questions posed by Deputy Kelly at the time in question were very significant in this regard. Over 79 additional documents emerged subsequently.

The time is up. We cannot have a debate; the Deputy should ask a question.

Is the Taoiseach happy that such a major lapse occurred? What are his proposals legislatively in terms of issues pertaining to the Department of Justice and Equality that have arisen as a result of this report?

I welcome the completion of the investigation and the consequent publication of the report. There are issues of some concern raised in the report. These were issues that form part and parcel of fundamental reforms within the Department of Justice and Equality. It must be seen as part of an overall package to include investment in IT systems and to ensure that management functions are co-ordinated in a way that does not allow for the lapse that did occur.

It is worth remarking, in the context of emails and electronic communication, that we are dealing with a four-year period involving 30 million items of correspondence by email. That is a significant number but I wish to assure the House that every effort is being made on an urgent basis to ensure we have the type of fundamental reform recommended in a number of independent reports. I am happy to keep the House and justice committee fully informed of developments in that area.

The Government has just published the scheme of the Bill which will be introduced if the referendum to remove the eighth amendment succeeds. I welcome that and I trust it will provide the necessary clarity on many of the legislative issues involved. Whatever about the level of confusion sown yesterday, there should be no confusion as to the necessity to repeal the eighth amendment. Issues relating to women's health do not belong in our Constitution. There is nothing unclear about that in my mind. I trust that the proposed legislation is humane, compassionate and respects women's health and choices. I appeal to people to consider the matter on that basis. The campaign is now on and we will campaign vigorously for a "Yes" vote. I hope others who similarly take a "Yes" position will do likewise, including the Taoiseach.

When will the referendum date be officially announced? I understand 25 May is generally considered to be the date on which the referendum will be held. Is it possible to confirm that for us today?

I will not be able to assign a referendum polling date until the Bill is passed by the Seanad. I hope that will happen later this afternoon. I will then be able to announce the actual polling date.

I ask for an update on the national review of specialist cardiac services. The Taoiseach will be well aware that this matter is very much to the fore of the minds of all Deputies from the south east. We were to have a review of cardiac services in the south east commencing last August. This has now been subsumed into the national review. There is growing and real concern in the south east on the timeframe for this and what immediate action can be taken to ensure there are adequate and appropriate cardiac services, including 24-7 access to primary percutaneous coronary intervention, PPCI, in the region.

I thank Deputy Howlin for the question. As he knows, I have asked Professor Philip Nolan, the President of NUI Maynooth, to chair the national review, work on which has commenced. The review team is available to brief Members, as appropriate, and will engage in public consultation so that people in the south east and all other parts of the country will have an opportunity to have their say. I am very much of the view that if we have to look at an issue in the south east or elsewhere, we must also look at the whole country and how we distribute cath labs and the provision of expert cardiac services nationally in a fair and equitable way, based on clinical evidence. That work is under way and I am very happy to meet Members from the south east on a cross-party basis in the week the Dáil resumes after Easter.

I ask about broadband and its roll-out in rural Ireland. It is just not happening notwithstanding all the figures which are spun at us. It is having a hugely detrimental effect on students, businesses and the Action Plan for Rural Development because it is not possible to do business today without access to fast broadband speeds. It is just not being delivered even though it has been announced for us. As Deputy Healy-Rae said recently, the Government should buy back Eir because this will never be delivered without a company that is willing to do it. Eir pulled out, however. This is a serious impediment to doing business in rural Ireland, whether one is farming, in business or trying to access data as a student. It is just not fair to people in rural Ireland.

On a commercial basis, broadband is being rolled out across the country at a reasonably rapid rate at this stage and we should have passed approximately 75% of homes and premises later this year. As to the last 500,000 premises in rural Ireland, it remains our expectation to have that contract concluded this year.

Ó thaobh chlár oibre an Rialtais, agus go háirithe an straitéis 20 bliain, de táimid ag fanacht anois ó mhí Iúil an bhliain seo caite maidir le plean feidhmíochta. Nuair a d'ardaigh mise é, ní don chéad uair, i mí Feabhra, dúirt an tAire Stáit, Teachta McHugh, go raibh sé thar a bheith muiníneach agus dóchasach go bhfoilseofaí é taobh istigh de choicís nó trí seachtaine. B'in mí Feabhra. Seo deireadh na míosa seo agus nílimid in ann an tuarascáil sin a fheiceáil. Cá bhfuil sé? An féidir linn freagra a fháil ar cá bhfuil an plean sin, go háirithe toisc go bhfuil Bliain na Gaeilge i gceist agus go bhfuil rún ós comhair an tSeanaid inniu maidir leis an nGaeilge agus leis an ngéarchéim atá ag baint léi?

Tá mé sásta freagra a thabhairt ar an ábhar sin. Dúirt mé ag an am go bhfuil muidne ag éirí níos cóngaraí anois leis an phlean gníomhaíoch cúig bhliain. Táimid ag éirí níos cóngaraí agus beidh fógra ann gan mhoill maidir leis sin. Má tá aon sonraí ann maidir leis sin beidh mé i dteagmháil leis an Teachta díreach.

The UK Government has just announced that it will introduce a deposit refund scheme for glass and plastic bottles and aluminium cans. We are working at the joint committee on progressing the Waste Reduction Bill, which we presented last July and which reached Second Stage at that time. It is slowly coming to its end and I am confident we will have the numbers in the House to support a Committee Stage debate. However, that will require a change in policy on the part of the Government and an end to opposition to the measure by Fine Gael and the Independent Ministers. I expect that we will have to make a call on this in the coming weeks. Will the Government block the legislation or will it provide the necessary money message to allow us to progress to Committee Stage, at which point the Bill may have to be amended? We are on the right track, it is the right policy and we have the right legislation. It is doable and legal and it goes where Europe is going. Every indicator says this is the right thing to do. Why is Fine Gael blocking it and why is it setting us on a course where it charges for green bins and is happy to burn waste or ship it off to China? Will the Government change course and its opposition to the legislation and permit Committee Stage to take place by sending the money message?

I ask the Deputy to accept the recommendations in the Dunning report, which provides us with a pathway whereby we can ensure that legislation is of sufficient quality to advance.

That has nothing to do with the Bill.

Our legislation is of perfectly sufficient quality.

That is outrageous.

If Deputies are unwilling to accept the Dunning report, they should accept alternative proposals. I understand the Ceann Comhairle has been working on those.

The HSE is getting massive sums of money each year and there are five Ministers in the Department of Health. Nevertheless, we do not have enough front-line staff. It has become apparent again in recent days that the HSE is hiring clerical and administrative staff at a 3:1 ratio as against front-line staff. That is where we are falling down. That is why we have queues in the accident and emergency department at Tralee hospital. That is why we had 27 people on trolleys the day before yesterday.

We are supposed to be talking about legislation here.

This is the HSE and the health service we are trying to provide to people who are sick and who need assistance. Will the Taoiseach rein these people in? The HSE is hiring administrative and clerical staff at a 3:1 ratio to front-line staff. This is totally wrong. All through the crisis when the country was in serious trouble, the HSE was still hiring them and it is hiring them again now when there are not enough front-line staff. What is the Taoiseach going to do about that?

We need a root-and-branch review of the recruitment process within the HSE to tackle the chronic lack of doctors, nurses, care assistants and other medical experts to deal with the crisis. At 6 p.m. yesterday, a local GP sent a notice on social media asking people not to attend casualty at University Hospital Kerry unless absolutely necessary because 26 patients were on trolleys at that time awaiting admission to the wards. The notice said there was a 12-hour waiting list and standing room only in the area. That reflects very accurately the crisis we are undergoing. It all goes back to the lack of necessary staff and a root-and-branch review of the recruitment process is long overdue.

The Deputy is referring to an article that was in a newspaper this morning. The article does not deal with all the facts or put them in the public domain.

It clearly focuses in on the increases in administrative staff who make up approximately 16% of the overall staff but one must look at where historically there were reductions in staff. The moratorium put in place in 2009 had a greater impact on administrative staff than front-line staff for obvious reasons and as that moratorium has been lifted, we are trying to bring services back up.

One also must remember the range of services that are undertaken by administrative staff, such as processing medical cards. If we were to cut back on that and hold that back, we in this House would be animated if people were not gaining access to that service. We must be careful what we wish for.

Some of the largest increases in staffing in the medical care sector has been in the area of carers, the number of which has increased from 16,000 in 2009 to 19,000. Obviously, we have encountered difficulties in recruiting some front-line staff, particularly nurses, and that continues to be a challenge and a focus of the HSE actions to deal with that.

Under the programme for Government, on page 60, regarding the waiting lists, the latest figures for outpatient appointments put the HSE figure at more than half a million in the State. The numbers of people waiting in Cork University Hospital, the maternity hospital, the South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital, the Mercy University Hospital and Mallow General Hospital stand at 23,433, 368, 22,383, 4,999 and 3,688, respectively. In all fairness, that amounts to more than 57,000 people waiting for treatment in Cork. Last night, we passed a motion with which the Government agreed regarding people with disabilities. More than 14,500 people in east Cork alone could be affected by this and surely this is a national disgrace. What will the Government do about these appalling figures?

I call Deputy Ó Caoláin, on the same matter.

On a related matter, the in loco parentis clause in home-care nursing contracts was a key element in last evening's Private Members' motion adopted unanimously in this House. The response that is issued in replies to parliamentary questions, which was repeated orally last night, can be summed up as follows: when the national quality assurance process is complete, the national steering group for children with complex medical conditions will review the in loco parentis issue. This, like the reply we have received on the optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, is a case of mañana, mañana, mañana. That is what it amounts to. It is any and every excuse to delay change and progress. Has the Taoiseach seen the "Prime Time" programme of Thursday night last? Is he conscious and aware of the real impact of the in loco parentis clause on parents struggling with very ill children, often with life-limiting conditions? I appeal to the Taoiseach that there be no more consideration and no more delay. It is within the gift of the Taoiseach and the Government to abolish this most offensive clause that is causing massive distress for already hard-pressed and very stressed parents across this land.

I call the Taoiseach, or the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly.

On the first question on waiting lists in Cork, Deputy Buckley asked specifically what the Government is doing about waiting lists. The Government allocated €85 million for a winter initiative this year: €40 million for winter measures; €11.6 million to deal with waiting lists and another €35 million was allocated to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, to outsource some procedures to deal with those waiting lists. A further €5 million was allocated in the aftermath of Storm Emma to try to deal with the waiting lists. One hundred and eighty-nine beds have been opened this winter in a series of different acute hospitals throughout the country in an effort to alleviate that crisis. I assure Deputy Buckley we will continue in our efforts to do that.

Deputy Ó Caoláin addressed a question to the Taoiseach on the in loco parentis clause. I addressed this last night during the aforementioned debate here in the House. I am happy to speak with Deputy Ó Caoláin afterwards and meet him. I am aware the Deputy is clear and passionate on the matter and wants to get more definite information. I am quite happy to sit down with the Deputy and a couple of officials and try to get that moved on, if that is acceptable to him.

We would like it abolished but I will meet the Minister of State.

I refer to the programme for Government. The current waiting time to get tonsils out here is three years. Young children are in pain, suffering and missing out from school because they cannot get their tonsils out. In the past three weeks, I made contact for three people and introduced them to the service in Belfast. Those three people are getting their treatment in Belfast. The irony is - the same as oncology, patients with hips and patients with knee operations - we can refer them to the North, they can go up, have the procedure carried out and fill up the necessary paperwork, and we can return their money when they come back down to the South. It is a scandal that children waiting for tonsil procedures must be sent by us to the North if we want to alleviate their pain and discomfort quickly by having the procedure done even though we have the money to give back to their parents when they come back here. It makes no sense. It follows on from previous questions the Taoiseach was asked here today about HSE mismanagement and the craziness of the situation that is our health service today.

The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Varadkar is the Taoiseach at the end of the day and he is a previous Minister for Health, in case he had forgotten about it.

Is the spotlight on the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, again?

I am an expert on tonsils as well. There is no difference in the waiting list for tonsils or no particular issue arising above and beyond that with any other specialties for which people are waiting.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is talking about people going to Belfast, which is an available avenue. That is a European-wide initiative. Every country in the EU is able to avail of services in any other EU country. That is not unique to Ireland. We are not merely exporting, which is the narrative that is being put out there, these operations abroad. It is the right of every citizen of the EU to avail of a service in any other EU country and we are only fulfilling our obligation under EU law.

A little while ago, I referred to an additional €35 million being given to the NTPF this year to purchase these operations. Many of those are not done abroad but are done in the private sector in Ireland. There is capacity within the private sector to deliver and to help with the waiting lists. Much of the money that is being spent is being spent in our own country as well.

To be honest, that is rubbish talk.

I refer to pages 85 and 86 of the programme for Government on making older years better years. During the talks on government two years ago many Rural Independent Group Deputies highlighted the difficulties with home help being delivered to our elderly, especially with home help not being available over weekends and bank holidays. The Government agreed in the programme for Government to allow seven-days-a-week home-help service where possible but two years later, I see little or no evidence of the seven-days-a-week home help available in west Cork even though workers on the ground are seeking extra hours. This weekend, many of the elderly, who in many cases live alone, will not see a home-help service from Friday until Tuesday. Promises in the programme for Government are meaningless in this situation. When will a seven-days-a-week home-help service be openly available?

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly.

On home help, as Deputy Michael Collins will be aware, a statutory scheme is being developed. Home help, as we acknowledge and have done so on many occasions, is ad hoc and sporadic around the country. It is a demand-led scheme and €408 million is being allocated by the Government this year to meet the needs of home help. There are 50,500 people availing of home help. However, it is not enough and we accept that and we want to do more. That is why the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and I launched a consultation to develop a statutory scheme. That consultation has now concluded. We will have a scheme underpinned by law, which will guarantee the right to home help but it will take two to three years to bring it about in full. We are moving down the road towards it. We cannot click our fingers and make it happen overnight. If the Ceann Comhairle remembers, it took up to nine years to bring about the fair deal scheme. We are trying to bring about a scheme similar to the fair deal scheme that will guarantee access to each and every person on a fair and level basis, irrespective of the geography and the other challenges involved. We do not want there to be a postal lottery involved in this.

Has Deputy McLoughlin a question for the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly?

It is a question for the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. It pertains to the many commitments made in the programme for Government aimed at protecting Ireland from the harmful effects of Brexit. The up-to-date expert opinion is that the Border region of Ireland will be the worst hit region in the country, with many business owners already starting to struggle due to decreased tourism from the UK and a weak pound sterling. On that basis, perhaps the Taoiseach or Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, can advise me as to what the Government is doing to protect small businesses in my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, Donegal and the other Border counties from the harmful effects of Brexit?

Maybe I will give the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, a rest on this one.

Two tangible examples are that the next significant national consultation of the all-island Brexit forum will happen in the Border region, and this morning, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, launched a €300 million loan scheme to assist businesses that will be impacted, potentially negatively, by Brexit. Finally, the Government remains steadfast in ensuring that we will not see the re-emergence of border infrastructure in the Border counties in Ireland or, for that manner, anywhere else on this island.

We are doing a lot to protect the interests of businesses and communities living on both sides of the Border.

There continues to be an almost total vacuum in the regulation of online campaigning. Concerns have been heightened by recent revelations of high profile campaigns in recent weeks. The Taoiseach will be aware of the Bill I introduced last year, the Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017. I wrote to the Taoiseach about it last week and my party leader has also raised it with the Taoiseach several times in recent weeks. The Bill passed Second Stage last December and last night the joint committee on communications considered the Bill and decided to prioritise its passage or ease its scrutiny including extra meetings as required. I also note that Mr. Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach, highlighted the Bill in his report which was published last night, indicating the real issues that it raised and the need for regulation in this area.

As the Taoiseach himself said in relation to another Bill, Report and Committee Stages are the very place for amendments to be tabled, scrutiny to occur and discussions to take place. In light of the very real need for this legislation to be enacted, will the Taoiseach withdraw the Government's opposition to the Bill and engage constructively with myself and colleagues on the joint committee on communications to advance the legislation in a constructive fashion?

I am currently dealing with the Data Protection Bill and I hope to advance matters through the Seanad later today. As Deputy Lawless was reminded last week, this issue involves a number of Departments and there is an interdepartmental working group under the chairmanship of the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. I would be happy to ensure that the points raised by Deputy Lawless, given his commitment to this issue, could be incorporated into that working group and return to the Dáil with a workable and positive report. I look at things from my own Department, namely the Department of Justice and Equality, and would urge Members to acknowledge that this is an area that requires a whole of Government approach, which is what we are doing under the chairmanship of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Tá brón orm nach bhfuil an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna ann inniu. Tá ceist agam faoi Ghaelscoil Chionn tSáile i gCorcaigh Thiar Theas.

I have tried and failed through parliamentary questions to get a timeframe for the new build of the Gaelscoil in Kinsale. We have been given the run around with the answers provided to us. It is very frustrating for the staff, parents and students, in that for the last three years we have all been told that negotiations with the landowner of the site have been ongoing. I do not know of any negotiations that would take three years. Ba mhaith liom freagra a fháil.

There are some sensitive issues regarding land acquisition that we cannot deal with publicly. Cork County Council is working to secure a site for this Gaelscoil but there are commercial sensitivities. The Department cannot go along and announce that it wants a particular site and drive up the price. There are other issues which also have to be addressed around planning, sustainability and access, and these are ongoing. It is not just a matter for the Department of Education and Skills which will provide the funding for it but we are also relying on Cork County Council to facilitate zoning and planning for the site.

The issue of a directly elected mayor has been discussed for many years as part of local government reform. When will the Government bring forward legislation to hold a plebiscite on the idea of a directly elected mayor? A plebiscite does not compel the Government to follow its result but would provide a good indication as to whether the public approves a measure. If the public supports the idea of a directly elected mayor in a plebiscite, will the Government commit to changes in legislation to reflect the public's wishes?

The Government has signalled its intention to hold a plebiscite on directly elected mayors in the autumn. It will require legislation to come through the House. Work is ongoing in my Department to bring a paper to Government. We will make a decision on what options to proceed with on the holding of a plebiscite and I hope to bring that to Cabinet in April.

I welcome the new tenant purchase scheme which will give many families an opportunity to buy out their homes, which is everyone's ambition. I believe there are anomalies in the scheme as it stands in the case where one of a couple whose name would have been on the title of a property previously, whether in the case of a family home, parents' home, or a home from a previous relationship sold following a divorce, for instance, is now in a new relationship. The local authority is able to sell the house to that particular couple but it cannot lend them the money. This arises as a consequence of the incremental purchase charge on the property. These people are then advised to approach the bank for a mortgage but the bank will not lend to these people because of the incremental charge.

There is another anomaly which relates to the €15,000 earned income. This deprives elderly people of the opportunity to purchase their own homes. Everyone wants to purchase their home. These elderly people on pensions are in a position to buy their homes. This relates to houses that will not be returning to the housing stock - that would be a different situation - but they will not. That needs to be changed.

It is difficult for me to speak to individual cases. If the Deputy wishes to give me the details of the case to which he refers, I will look into it. Under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, people who have separated and come from former relationships are entitled to access that home loan scheme. This is the first tranche, related to the €200 million fund. We are reviewing the implications of some of the different policies that we have put around that tranche to see if we need to make changes prior to the second round being announced.

On the responsibility for river maintenance, outside the rivers maintained by the Office of Public Works, OPW, under the arterial drainage Acts, the local authorities and the OPW are facing a limbo where no one has responsibility for maintaining those rivers. It is particularly acute in Donegal where massive damage was done as a result of the flooding in August. Rivers have been very significantly damaged but there is no one to take responsibility for addressing the problem, fixing them or to maintain them in the future. Will the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government tell us what engagement he has had with the Minister of State with responsibility for flooding in the OPW? Action is necessary. What action, if any, does the Minister propose to take to ensure that someone takes responsibility for maintaining these rivers and works with landowners on them, ultimately ensuring that they can be fixed, in the case of Donegal, and maintained on an ongoing basis so that we can protect against the type of massive flood damage that we have experienced on too many occasions recently?

The Department has been doing a lot of work on this area because of its importance not only around flooding but also our responsibility regarding certain EU directives on river basin management plans and river catchment areas. Work is ongoing in the Department to progress that. I am in regular contact with the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW on all these issues as we do share certain areas of responsibility. We are currently discussing how best to manage this. I have provided additional funding to the local offices to do this work and recently spoke to the river trusts conference in Iveagh House which was the first conference it held outside the UK. We discussed other initiatives that can be taken on funding and also support to the groups which manage these different river areas. That work is continuing and I am in constant contact with the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW on this issue in particular.