Questions on Promised Legislation

The Minister has just repeated that he has full confidence in the director general of the HSE, however there were leaks from Cabinet last Tuesday which suggested that other Ministers apparently wanted the nation to know that they do not share that confidence.

These are questions on promised legislation.

I am getting there. I note that it is apparently a criminal offence to leak from Cabinet. The Taoiseach leaked that last night. Perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality might want to copy that message to all his colleagues in order to avoid a major Garda raid on the next Cabinet meeting. Will the Minister outline the progress being made on the commitment in the programme for Government to collective Cabinet responsibility and to "an enhanced approach to government"?

The Deputy is well aware of the legal framework and precedent in respect of discussions which take place at Cabinet. This Cabinet had conducted many discussions on many matters over the last two years that have not reached the public arena and not been the subject of inquiry and debate. The Taoiseach has, on a number of occasions, outlined the responsibilities of Cabinet members in respect of discussions. With the support of the Deputy's own party in proving to many that the arrangement we have in place is capable of responding to both the challenges and opportunities facing Ireland, I assure him that the Cabinet collectively lives up to its responsibilities and responds with action to many of the issues the Dáil wants us to deal with.

The recent rental price report for the first quarter of 2018 shows us that rents across the State have risen by 11.5% over recent months. In north County Dublin they have risen by even more. The increase there is 11.9% which gives us an average monthly rent of €1,761. Rents across the board are now 23% higher than their peak in 2008. The Minister does not need me to tell him that rents are badly out of control and are creating severe affordability issues for those who are trying to access the private rental market. This issue cannot be left unresolved. Will the Minister accept that his rent pressure zone legislation is the latest policy failure from this Government and is not doing what it was supposed to do? Will he introduce real rent certainty by linking rents to an index such as the consumer price index as part of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018?

I thank the Deputy for the question. She asked it earlier in the week and I addressed it then but, to repeat what I said at the time, what the report tells us is what we already know, that is, that rents are increasing. However we in Government actually rely on the reporting of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, because it relies on a greater data set which is based on rents agreed rather than rents sought. In its report from the fourth quarter of last year we saw that the increase in rents in areas where the rent pressure zones, RPZs, have been in place, which are in Dublin, was down to just above 3% between 2017 and 2016. Therefore, the rent pressure zones are working in those areas. There is more we can do to strengthen the Residential Tenancies Board. That is why legislation to strengthen the RTB is coming, and coming quite quickly, to the Dáil, to be passed with the agreement of the Oireachtas as quickly as possible. A review of the rent pressure zones has also been conducted. It has been completed and I hope to share it with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government ahead of meeting with it on Thursday of next week.

Ireland has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but there is legislation to follow. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, was here earlier. There is legislation to follow in order to allow people who have a disability to exercise those rights. When does the Minister expect to introduce that legislation?

I understand that the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, if that is what the Deputy is referring to, is on Committee Stage currently. I understand a number of amendments are being prepared and that work is under way on those amendments currently.

I believe there may be other legislation but this is further clarification.

My question is on the commitments given in the programme for Government on collective responsibility. There have been many quotes from Emma Mhic Mhathúna here this morning but one thing she said was that this Government is totally incapable of minding us and that it has to go. I would like the Minister's response to that. I would also like to know what happened to the promise given to the Joint Committee of Health by the HSE that it would give us a breakdown of the figures on the 2018 outstanding false negative tests and from what labs they came. We learned from questions tabled this week by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett that all ten legal cases arose from tests carried out in an American lab. We need to know where the 208 tests were carried out. We were given that commitment by Tony O'Brien last week. We still do not have the information. I believe this information will show that most of the botched tests were carried out in America and that the root of this problem and of the deaths of these women is the outsourcing of our health service to the US when that was strongly warned against in 2008. The previous Minister for Health, James Reilly, was the most vehement opponent of the measure brought in by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government of the time to outsource women's health. The Government outsources us to Britain to have abortions. Our smear tests are being outsourced to America----

Can we have one question on one matter please?

----where the labs have made a bags of them.

There is no evidence currently available to us that there is any difference in how different laboratories are performing in respect of the analysis and reviewing of these tests.

We were promised the results.

On the question Deputy Smith has put to me, if the HSE made that commitment to the Deputy or to an Oireachtas committee it should supply that information. After these questions I will contact the HSE to see where it stands. On the broader charge the Deputy has put to us in respect of how we mind our citizens and how we mind the health of women today, I have already outlined to a number of Deputies this morning the actions the Government is taking to respond to the grave questions raised about our screening programme. However, I put all that in the context of the fact that we have programmes in place in respect of the health of men and women in our country and how they deal with cancer that have worked, saved lives and improved health.

It was Emma Mhic Mhathúna who called on the Government to go, not Bríd Smith, and she did say that it was incapable of minding her and the rest of the female population.

I note that the Minister has again expressed his confidence in Mr. Tony O'Brien today and I think that is incredible. Can the Minister assure this House that Mr. O'Brien had no involvement in the awarding of the CervicalCheck contract to a US company? Furthermore-----

That is not a valid question on promised legislation.

In the context, of course it is.

Of course it is.

This is very important. Can the Minister also-----

Of course it is very important, but these are questions on promised legislation.

Of course it is, and this is the most important legislation of all.

It is not a question for this section.

Are we going to let our citizens die? It is the healthcare of our women, children and families. Can the Minister further assure the Dáil and myself that neither Mr. O'Brien nor any of his family members were investors involved in that same US company? Will he call in the fraud squad to investigate this if he is not sure and certain about the answers, because this is beyond belief and the fraud squad should be in? These people should be forensically investigated.

Deputy Mattie McGrath has just made a number of charges about Mr. O’Brien.

I asked questions.

It is up to the Ceann Comhairle to adjudicate on whether they are appropriate and are the kinds of points that should be made on the Order of Business. I will leave that with him.

With regard to how we are dealing with these matters, we are interested in trying to understand further what has happened here.

We are trying to deal with issues regarding the safety and health of our citizens, the women who are scared today. That is the agenda of the Government.

We are talking about corruption.

It is not our agenda to stand up here on a daily basis seeking to gain political advantage from great private tragedy and anguish.

We are looking for the truth.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to consider making progress on a public banking model, the sort of model promoted by Irish Rural Link and based on the experience of the German Sparkassen model, where there is real expertise in developing SME and business lending in regional areas. The advantage for regional development is that deposits raised in a region are spent in that region. I understand the German organisation has been making presentations to the Minister’s Department for the guts of three years now, and it has been doing so in detail for the past year and a half. It is very willing to work with other actors, be it An Post or the credit unions, to bring public banking business lending expertise into rural Ireland. When will the Department come forward with an answer to Irish Rural Link, as committed to in the programme for Government? I am sure it would reflect the enthusiasm of the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, for such a key factor in regional development. Why has it been stuck in the Department of Finance for so long? When will the Government live up to its programme for Government commitment in this area?

What always seems to be missing every time this issue is raised is the fact that, as part of the proposal being put to the Government, those who are interested in making what is proposed happen require a significant degree of capital to do it. This is at the heart of why the Department of Finance has to consider this matter very carefully. It is not stuck; it is being reviewed and analysed, as the Deputy would expect. In answer to his question, in the next few weeks the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, and I will be bringing a joint memo to the Cabinet on the matter.

On the programme for Government, specifically public sector reform, the process to deal with inequality in the public service in respect of pay for new entrants has commenced. It was agreed that the Public Service Pay Commission would investigate and report in June on difficulties over recruitment and retention, with specific emphasis initially on the health service, consultants and the Air Corps. The INMO believes it has assurances that resolutions and recommendations, which could deal with pay, have been agreed, and that this element would be agreed during this phase, after June, and commence, if necessary, in 2019. That is its understanding. What is the Minister's understanding of what the INMO has agreed and what it believes is a pathway to resolving these two issues, rather than any one in isolation?

My understanding of what will happen is laid out in the text of the public service stability agreement. It states the Public Service Pay Commission has given an undertaking to issue a report on recruitment and retention issues, focusing initially on the health service, as the Deputy said. The Department of Health and I have made a submission to the commission, as has the INMO. I expect the report to be published towards the end of June or in early July. When that report is published, the Government will engage with the INMO on its content.

What about the recommendations? I am looking for clarification, if possible.

The Deputy may not contribute again. Only one question is allowed.

My question was not answered.

I cannot oblige the Minister to answer more than he has answered.

Maybe he will clarify the position with me immediately afterwards.

Would he, please?

Page 119 of the programme for Government states we will support and enhance the management and conservation of inshore stocks of fish. The Lough in Cork city is a well-renowned beauty spot and a vibrant location for wildlife and fisheries. Since last Thursday, some 400 dead carp, many up to 20 years old, have been removed, resulting in a significant amount of concern given the value locals attach to the Lough. A bacterial or fungal infection is suspected but tests are continuing. Will the Government ensure that Inland Fisheries Ireland and Cork City Council have all the resources required to ensure the infection is managed and that the lake is restocked, as required, to maintain it as a vibrant urban wildlife and fisheries location?

It seems like a topical issue that the Deputy should table.

I know this is a very important matter but I am not in a position to give a full answer to the Deputy on it today. Perhaps if he tables a topical issue, with the consent of the Ceann Comhairle, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine can deal with the matter.

Page 54 of the programme for Government states home help hours and home care packages will be increased every year. However, there are totally unacceptable circumstances in Laois and Offaly, where there are very lengthy waiting times for people waiting on home care packages. There are 650 people in Laois and Offaly waiting for at least 18 months. That contradicts exactly what is said in the programme for Government. Last year, there was a 27% cut to home help hours. I would like to know how the Minister will tackle this problem. What provision will be made in the upcoming budget? I have seen at first hand how elderly couples are really struggling to cope. It is a very unfair burden to place on the shoulders of carers, who save this State millions of euro every year.

First, there was not a 27% cut to home help hours last year. I am not sure where the Deputy got that figure. I assure her there was an increase of 754,000 hours of home help as a result of the budget last year. I do not know where the figure came from.

The Deputy will be aware that we are trying to introduce a new scheme, under statute, to guarantee home care delivery. We have a consultation process concluded. The report is due on my desk in the next week or two. I intend to put the associated measures into place as soon as I can with the co-operation of Members.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Ten Deputies have not been reached, unfortunately.