Questions on Promised Legislation

Twenty-five Deputies are offering. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

I want to return to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. It deals specifically with the issue that has been revealed. It is important we would get an explanation and a statement at some stage as to why that Bill has been delayed. I understand there are policy issues that still have not been resolved, notwithstanding the fact the Bill has been published since 2016. Essentially, the key issue is balancing the constitutional right to privacy with the right to one's own identity. It is time the Legislature bit the bullet on that. This Bill has been going around for about five or six years, there having been various drafts of it internally and so on. As I outlined earlier, the policy issues were well articulated by Senators in the Seanad quite some time ago. One would have thought if the Bill was published that the policy issues were resolved. They should not be delaying the passage of the Bill. It was unfair of the Taoiseach to suggest that someone here was going to delay it. This legislation has been widely welcomed-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----and requested by Members of the previous Dáil as well as this Dáil. We need to get a timeline for it.

I thank the Deputy for his question. As he will be aware, we do not have a majority in the Seanad, therefore, in that context, it has been more difficult to move this legislation through. In one sense though, it is not necessarily a bad thing. I have met Opposition and Independent Senators extensively regarding the policy issues. The Deputy is correct, it has to do with balancing the rights to privacy and identity. On the basis of those meetings, my Department and I have crafted many options to go back and forth with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in order to resolve that balance in a way that is constitutional. We have not been able to resolve it completely in a way that it is constitutional to the satisfaction of some of the Seanad Members. That is still where we are at.

The issues that have been raised today and discovery that has been made about which we are speaking creates an imperative for us to look again at the Bill, move through it and effectively agree on it but it seems compromises will probably be needed in order to move some of the amendments in such a way that they are constitutional.

In the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal, officials from the HSE and CervicalCheck appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts and in evidence CervicalCheck's programme manager, Mr. John Gleeson, denied that anyone in CervicalCheck has misled the State Claims Agency by informing it that the women who are the subject of the audit had been informed. This happened in the context of preparation for Vicky Phelan's trial.

The State Claims Agency has now informed members of the Committee of Public Accounts that Mr. Gleeson's assertion, to use its phrase, does not tally with the facts. It says that it was in fact told by CervicalCheck that all of the women subject to the audit had been informed. We know that this was not true. It also emerges that, in fact, it was Mr. John Gleeson himself who had given this misinformation to the State Claims Agency. We can only conclude that Mr. Gleeson did not tell the truth to an Oireachtas committee. Indeed, Vicky Phelan's solicitor has described all of this, as the Taoiseach will know, as a "cover-up".

Excuse me, Deputy. This is not a law chamber. We cannot make the sort of assertions that the Deputy has just made against somebody outside the House. It is contrary to the well established precedence of the House.

Just so the Ceann Comhairle understands-----

I perfectly understand what the Deputy is saying and it is perfectly out of order.

Let me perfectly give the Ceann Comhairle another piece of information to accompany what I have said to the Taoiseach. It is that the response from the State Claims Agency, to which I have referred and in which it said that the assertion made at the committee does not tally with the facts, is on the record and in the possession of a committee of the Oireachtas, so these are not facts or assertions of my making. Can I put my question to the Taoiseach?

Please, put your question.

Thank you. A question then arises on the investigation being carried out by Dr. Gabriel Scally. How can Dr. Scally have confidence in carrying out a thorough investigation in the spirit of transparency that we were promised when it now emerges that CervicalCheck and senior officials, far from acting in a spirit of transparency, are, in fact, it seems continuing with what Vicky Phelan's solicitor described as a "cover-up"?

I understand there is a dispute about the facts here. CervicalCheck believed that the information had been passed on to the patients because it had been passed on to their treating clinicians. We know now that in most cases the information was not passed on, but it was in some, whereas the State Claims Agency asserts that it was informed that the information had been passed on to all patients. Where there is a dispute about the facts, we need an inquiry. That is precisely why we established the Scally inquiry, the terms of reference of which were agreed and welcomed by all the parties. I appeal to the Deputy to allow Dr. Scally to do his work and carry out that inquiry. The Deputy has form in making false allegations in this Chamber and I would encourage her not to do that.

Yes, you do.

We hear a great deal of chatter in this House about rural jobs. When will the Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016 go to Report Stage? Many of the Taoiseach's Deputies, some of whom are sitting behind him, are big supporters of this Bill which I originally drafted. It went to Committee Stage from the Department of Justice and Equality in February. That industry needs this Bill to progress and be concluded by the summer because there are commitments on a range of works to create 1,000 jobs across Ireland and investments in capital infrastructure and in a range of marketing programmes. The Bill had the unanimous support of this House on Second Stage. I would appreciate it if it could be progressed to Report Stage as soon as possible to allow it be passed by the Seanad before the summer recess. Many people across the country in this growing fledgling industry are dependent on this legislation being passed soon.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, was in touch with me this morning. He cannot be here as he is attending a conference but he mentioned to me that the Deputy might raise this matter and asked me to pass on two messages. Essentially, he is very supportive of the Bill. The Government believes it is a very good Bill and it is keen to work with the Deputy to have it enacted. The Minister has sought and received a date in June for the Remaining Stages, so all other things being on schedule, there is no reason that cannot be enacted before the recess.

The justice and crime section of the programme for Government states that the Government "will continue to support ... the enhanced role of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) in providing independent oversight of complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána". I do not know if the Taoiseach watched "Prime Time" last night, which covered an investigation into the killing of Shane O'Farrell in 2011, whose mother, father and sister are in the Gallery today and are calling for an open public inquiry. Six years and three months after GSOC took on this report, put that family through agony and dragged their guts along the ground - Lucia O'Farrell has been heroic in investigating this matter solo and raising all the issues concerned - it has come back with what is nothing short of a cover-up.

The commitment in the programme for Government is not good enough unless the Government now institutes an open public inquiry into what happened to Shane O'Farrell in 2011, why his killer was allowed to stay free having breached bail conditions 18 times and no Garda thought of picking him up and putting him behind bars.

I wish to explain to Deputies that the party leaders are entitled to ask their questions without other Members contributing. I will take the same question from other Members later.

I have the same question.

Yes I know. I am sorry but the tradition is that the party leaders ask their questions and other Members do so subsequently.

I extend my sympathies to the family of Shane O'Farrell who have suffered such a terrible loss arising from the road traffic incident in 2011. We all know that his tragic loss of life could have been prevented and he would still be with us today had some avoidable errors and events not happened. We are also aware, sadly, that no investigation can bring Shane back. A Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, investigation was independent and it took many years.

It was not an investigation.

Often these investigations take time, and public inquiries and commissions of investigation also take many years.

It is a cover-up.

Often they do not produce-----

It is a cover-up.

-----the results or the outcome that people may want. We know this experience also.

I understand that the investigation is now complete and the report has been received by the O'Farrell family, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner. GSOC intends to publish its report in the coming days. It is appropriate to allow this to happen so that people can read it before there is a further discussion in the House. The report examined 56 specific allegations, many of which were found to be incorrect, while some have been upheld. GSOC found that there was no conduct by members of the Garda that would constitute a criminal offence. Nevertheless, it has identified conduct that requires further investigation-----

I thank the Taoiseach. We will come back to this-----

-----to determine whether there were breaches of the Garda-----

It is a cover-up.

-----disciplinary code.

Deputy Smith, please.

I refer to the programme for Government commitment to look at a ten-year vision for our health service and to deliver a health service reform on the basis of it. The Joint Committee on the Future of Healthcare met for 11 months and produced the Sláintecare report. This is the first anniversary - 365 days - of the publication of the Sláintecare report and the Government has not yet delivered a response to that report. The response was to be delivered in December, in January, before Easter, after Easter, at the end of May and now by the end of June. The Government is deconstructing Sláintecare and reconstructing it in line with Government policy. The Sláintecare report, however, challenges Government policy. That was the whole purpose of the Sláintecare report.

Sláintecare has attracted international interest around how healthcare reform can be delivered in other countries but in Ireland we have not delivered a response to Sláintecare. There is no plan B. Sláintecare is the plan.

The Deputy must put a question.

The Government is losing the trust of the medical profession and the people. Are the HSE and the Department of Health the biggest vested interests in delivering a response? Is the Government deconstructing Sláintecare and reconstructing it according to the Government's own policy?

Will the Taoiseach be brief, please?

I assure the Deputy that Sláintecare is Government policy but it does require an implementation plan. It lacked such a plan and the Minister and the Government have been working on this for quite some time. I also assure Deputy Harty that the greatest vested interests in healthcare are not the HSE or the Department of Health. We can talk about this another time if the Deputy wishes.

In the absence of the implementation plan the Government has taken ten actions. The Sláintecare programme office has been established and a director will be appointed shortly. The legislation for the establishment of an independent board for the HSE, as recommended by Sláintecare, has the approval of the Government. The independent review called for by the Sláintecare report to look at separating private and public practice has been set up, is chaired by Donal de Buitléir and has started its work. The call by Sláintecare for the hospital groups and the CHOs to be aligned and for public consultation on the geographic alignment has commenced. We have published the health service capacity review that recommends the number of additional beds that are needed. Negotiations have commenced with GPs on a new contract. Prescription charges, as recommended by Sláintecare, have been reduced. Free GP care and medical cards have been extended.

The Taoiseach is out of time.

Project Ireland 2040 sets aside €10 billion for investment in healthcare, building, equipment and ICT. These are just ten examples of implementation that are happening.

I wish to follow up on Deputy Harty's question. The Health Reform Alliance had a press conference today on the calls by health and social care groups on the Government to publish the Sláintecare implementation plan, and to express the groups' frustration with Sláintecare's stagnation one year on. It has been recognised that some policies have been put forward, which the Taoiseach has named, but there is a big fear that it is being delivered piecemeal. Unless the implementation plan is brought to the Dáil for Members to discuss as a whole policy, there is a great fear that the Government is losing the medical profession with regard to the implementation of the Sláintecare plan as the only health policy in town.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that the implementation plan comes before the Dáil before the summer recess? One year on, we are still waiting for it. It is crucial that we see it as an overall plan and not a piecemeal plan. Mandate and the Communication Workers Union have endorsed Sláintecare, and if the implementation plan is not brought onto the floor of the Dáil, there will be calls for civil society to-----

I am sorry but if Deputies do not adhere to the one-minute speaking time, we will not get through the questions.

The Ceann Comhairle should say that to everyone.

The Sláintecare plan does not have an implementation plan. It is being developed by the Minister for Health and the Government. We have taken ten concrete actions already to implement it.

Both of the Deputies are a little bit naive about losing the support and confidence of the medical profession. There are many members of the medical profession who are not very enthusiastic about separating public and private practice but we have set up the Donal de Buitléir review to do exactly that.

That is allowed to happen in a vacuum.

The Deputy has made her point.

There are many in the medical profession who are not very supportive of the proposal to extend free GP care to an extra 250,000 people per year. People are very naive if they think that the medical profession is fully behind this because it is not.

Many of us shared the relief expressed by Deputy Clare Daly in the House yesterday on having got through the recent referendum. Perhaps the last thing we might want to face is the prospect of another referendum in October but that is what the Government has committed to on the wording around blasphemy in the Constitution, the role of women in the home and an instruction for a plebiscite for directly elected mayors in Dublin and Cork. When does the Government intend to decide on these potential referendums? What is the timeline for getting wording accepted and acceptance around running with the plebiscites? Has the Government made up its mind in this regard or when does it expect to do so?

We propose to have a number of referendums concurrent with the presidential election, if there is one, in October of this year and a number of referendums concurrent with the local and European Union elections, which I believe will be held next May. We have a bit of time yet to agree the wording but that remains our plan.

On the death of Shane O'Farrell, I acknowledge that Lucia O'Farrell and the family are in the Visitors Gallery today.

The Taoiseach referred to the report. I have read the report and it is a sham. This was a failure across many of the agencies of the law. The report backs away from failure at every opportunity. On a number of occasions it accepts, as gospel, the words of An Garda Síochána. The report does not test it. It was many things and it took six years but it was not an investigation. I would be glad to take the Taoiseach through the individual failures in the report. It is clear to me that it should never have been a matter for GSOC because it went beyond An Garda Síochána. It is also clear to me that it is now time for a public inquiry to investigate the failures of An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions and other agencies.

In his reply to Deputy Bríd Smith the Taoiseach said that Shane O'Farrell would be alive today if avoidable events had not happened. Let us put it directly; he would be alive today if gardaí did their job. We have no less than 24 pieces of criminal justice legislation currently under consideration in this Dáil session. We will have a lot of extra laws but in this case we are talking about enforcement.

The Taoiseach referred to the publication of the GSOC report. I have read the GSOC report; it is in the public domain but to put it mildly it is a joke. The Taoiseach knows that anybody who reads the GSOC report will readily conclude that the only way to the bottom of this catastrophic catalogue of failures is with an independent public inquiry. The Taoiseach's predecessor did not rule this out. Will the Taoiseach rule it in? Will he commit to an independent public inquiry?

I welcome Lucia O'Farrell, her husband and family in the Visitors Gallery. They held a press conference this morning, at which they highlighted the fact that the man who had killed Shane O'Farrell had had 42 convictions. He had never been in prison for anything. On the night in question, the registration number of the car was flagged on the Garda's system. The driver was uninsured and the car had no NCT certificate. The people in the car who were known to the Garda were all under suspicion. I am asking for a public inquiry. Twenty Deputies attended the press conference and all agree that there is a need for a public inquiry. The Taoiseach has referred to the dark secrets in the country's history. This is another dark secret, one that tells a story about a catalogue of failures from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions all the way down to the investigating gardaí. If the Government ignores it, it will be ignoring the failures of the State to the O'Farrell family.

I call Deputy Gerry Adams.

The death of Shane O'Farrell uncovered a litany of failures within the Department of Justice and Equality and the justice system.

The Deputy's time is up.

I appeal to the Taoiseach to agree with the 20 Members and establish a public inquiry.

Cuirim fáilte roimh theaghlach O'Farrell fosta. I commend the O'Farrell family, in particular Lucia for her resilience and tenacity. Like many other citizens who have suffered an injustice, the O'Farrells have had to take on the State and been put through the wringer for the past six years or so. The Taoiseach is aware of the case. In a letter to me last September he wrote that, once GSOC had completed its work, the Minister for Justice and Equality would consider what action would be open to him. When the family met the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, he did not rule out a public inquiry once GSOC's report had been completed. The O'Farrells have, rightly, rejected that report which they did not receive until a year after it had been completed. Will the Taoiseach meet the O'Farrell family? Will the Government establish a public inquiry? Thirty Members of the Oireachtas support the establishment of such a public inquiry. The role of the Director of Public Prosecutions is key, just as it was in the case of the killing of Garda Tony Golden.

Deputies Eugene Murphy, Declan Breathnach, Niamh Smyth and Mattie McGrath are next.

I wish to ask about the roll-out of the national broadband plan. There were so many announcements-----

I am sorry, but does the Deputy wish to discuss this matter?

Then we will have to revert to the Deputy. I call the other Deputies on the same matter, please.

The word I would use for the O'Farrells is "forensic" because of way in which they have investigated the issue. Having read the GSOC report and examined it forensically, I do not doubt that the House needs to establish an independent public inquiry. A number of Deputies across the House have stated their desire that they wish to see it happen. Nothing will bring back Shane O'Farrell, but his family are endeavouring to ensure justice will be done and that what happened will not recur. As a Border Deputy, I would be concerned if people could walk in and out of the jurisdiction willy-nilly, a situation that will be compounded by Brexit, because the justice systems, North and South, including the Garda and the PSNI, did not share details of cases and convictions. That is at the heart of the issue. Deputy Gerry Adams referred to the case of Garda Tony Golden If this issue is not dealt with now, it will have a major impact on the child abuse and other cases that are coming down the tracks. Give the O'Farrells the public inquiry they deserve in order that we can get to the truth that they have already established.

I welcome Lucia and her husband and daughter. Their lives have been consumed not only by the death of their son and brother but also by the failures of the State and its justice system. Will the Taoiseach give one hour of Government time to debate these failures? The O'Farrells have been failed in the most abysmal and catastrophic way possible. Given that the family are present, will the Taoiseach set time aside to debate the matter today?

I welcome Lucia and her family. I thank and salute her for her bravery and tenacity over many years. It is appalling that citizens have to go through that. I include in my comments two young men from County Tipperary - Mr. John O'Brien and Mr. Pat Esmonde - who were killed off Helvick Head seven or eight years ago, a matter I have raised in the House. There was no proper investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board or the Garda and no appeal for witnesses. Their families have been left languishing as a result. It is a disgrace. As such and not meaning to take away from the death of Shane, if there is a public inquiry, a number of other cases must be included. It was a tragic accident. What is happening is unbelievable. As for GSOC, we might as well have Tom the cat because it is not investigating properly. Ms Anne-Marie O'Brien cannot get answers from An Garda Síochána. The families have been promised deadline after deadline but given no answers. Ms O'Brien is seeking justice for her brother and his friend.

First, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, is independent of the Garda and the Government. If, as a House, we do not believe GSOC is independent, we will need to have a separate debate about that matter and a much more serious one. It is my understanding GSOC intends to publish its report in the coming days. Of course, after it is published, it can be discussed-----

It has been published.

It is out there.

-----but I suggest that it be published before people-----

It has been published.

Will Deputies, please, let the Taoiseach answer?

It is my information that it has not been published. Certainly, that is the information I have.

The Taoiseach's eye is not on the ball.

GSOC has-----


I would like to answer, if I may.

Please, Deputies.

GSOC has concluded that there was no conduct by members of the Garda that would constitute a criminal offence. Nevertheless, it has identified conduct that requires further investigation to determine if there were breaches of the Garda disciplinary code. It will now move on to a phase 2 investigation. It is in train and needs to conclude. I can, however, reiterate the commitment given by the previous Taoiseach that, once the GSOC investigation is complete, the question as to whether issues remain that require further investigation can be considered. We are certainly not ruling out a public inquiry. However, I point out that public inquiries and commissions of investigation also take very many years to complete. If we were to add the cases suggested by Deputy Mattie McGrath, it would take many more years, would not necessarily get people the answers they want and certainly would not bring anyone back.

What is the alternative?

What about a debate?

Will we have a debate today?

That is a matter for the Business Committee, as everyone knows.

Will the Taoiseach allow one hour of Government time today? He has been asked that question.

For two years it has been a matter for the Business Committee. Why do I keep being asked-----

We will ask the-----

The Taoiseach has been asked that direct question.

That is not the----

It is a matter for the Business Committee.

As I said, it is a matter for the Business Committee.

Will the Taoiseach ask the Business Committee to meet today?

I will ask the Business Committee whether it will set aside one hour today for a debate.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

We will arrange it immediately after this session.

I should say the Minister for Justice and Equality is not available today.

The Taoiseach and the Government have been advocating that Irish emigrants should return home to complement the workforce. However, many cannot start work once they return home because, for example, they have fallen sick before finding employment. They are being denied the jobseeker's allowance, carer's allowance and the disability allowance. Even though they have spent the majority of their lives in this country, they are being denied these basic rights. Why is the Government doing this? They are our flesh and blood. We are trying to attract persons of every other nationality, but, will we, please, look after our own also?

I ask the Taoiseach to reply on the issue of habitual residence.

I will ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to send the Deputy a brief explaining why the habitual residence condition needs to apply.

I apologise for coming in on the O'Farrell issue. I fully support the family, as I have in the past.

I wish to ask about the commitments made in the programme for Government and in a number of announcements by my constituency colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to provide broadband. The lack of a proper broadband scheme throughout the country is causing difficulties for communities, small businesses and families. The debate has died, but I do not know why. We need to deal with the issue. Is the Taoiseach able to give me a commitment as to when we will see the roll-out of the national broadband plan?

The Deputy will have to acknowledge that when the Government that includes Fine Gael and Independents took office, just over 50% of premises in the country had access to high-speed broadband.

That is over two thirds and will be at approximately 80% by the end of this year. Much progress is being made. On the national broadband scheme, we are down to one final bidder and that is currently under negotiation. We are confident we will be able to sign that contract this year.

Last year, as Minister for Social Protection, the Taoiseach approved the publication of the general scheme of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill. It was hoped to progress Second Stage before the summer recess last year. It did not conclude until October of last year and there was a real sense of urgency. There are obviously huge difficulties with defined benefit schemes. There are serious delays now. The committee is waiting to get it for Committee Stage. We allocated time on a number of occasions, including tomorrow, only to be told that the Minister and her amendments are not ready to move to Committee Stage. A flag was raised by Government last year. It sent out a message to many businesses of the intentions of Government, many of which are actively winding down defined benefit schemes, none more so than Irish Life, which is watching this in the hope that this will pass before its scheme closes on 30 June.

I thank the Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to the staff in Irish Life and all the other people whose defined benefit pension schemes are actively being wound down as we talk about this? Will the Taoiseach give categorical assurance-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----that this will move to Committee Stage without any further delay?

I understand that is now listed for June.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. Ten Deputies were unfortunately not reached.