Questions on Promised Legislation

A total of 25 Deputies are offering. We have 15 minutes. These are supposed to be questions on promised legislation, not discussions or debates.

Amidst the fantastic celebrations of Pride last week, two events involving very aggravated assaults in Port Laoise and a brick being thrown through the window of Pantibar showed the daily challenge members of our LGBT community face in terms of hatred legislation. Deputy O'Loughlin's Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016 has gone through various committees and pre-legislative scrutiny. Yesterday, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties published its report calling for hate crime legislation to be introduced. Will this Bill be allowed to proceed in the Dáil to deal with and provide for the kind of situations that are happening daily?

I am not aware that the Government has any intention of trying to slow down this Bill. It is a Private Members' Bill so it needs to go through the processes.

I am not aware of any intention on the part of the Government to slow that down. We agree with the sentiments the Deputy has just outlined. There is no place in society and there should not have been in the past for the kind of violent discrimination on the basis of identity or sexuality. I am glad to say that we are a changed country in that regard so we need to make sure legislation is both appropriate and firm and the Garda has the resources it needs to stamp it out.

An ESRI report that will be published later today has found that changes made by the Government to the one parent family payment have led to a reduction in income for lone parents at work. The changes in 2015 meant that lone parents could only receive the one parent family payment until their child reached the age of seven. This was to encourage lone parents to take up work. Given that a significant number of lone parents who took up work saw a reduction in their income, will the Government now look to review the age limit of the one parent family payment and look at more specific measures to assist lone parents into education and work to reflect the fact that the cost of rearing children is significant and that they continue to need that help?

The Government needs to read and study that report before making decisions on it, but I think I can safely say that the Government wants to continue to support lone parents in an appropriate way. They do face challenges that other families do not face and they do need to get additional supports, as they currently do. If there are unintended anomalies because of policy, the Government will have to reflect on that.

As we speak, the British Prime Minister is flying to Berlin to persuade Angela Merkel not to dismiss out of hand what we expect to emerge from the discussion of the British Cabinet tomorrow, which is a hybrid of the two previous ideas - an emphasis on non-existent new technology and some aspects of a customs partnership.

Let us be clear. The bulletproof arrangement that we understood to be in place since last December is not there. The Austrian Prime Minister has announced a pre-October summit to be held in September on the issue of migration because that is the theme of his Presidency. Will the Tánaiste use his good offices to ensure the issue of the Irish Border is included in the September special Council so we do not face into October in a perilous situation?

I spent the day in London yesterday and met five British Ministers who will all be involved in what I understand will be quite an intensive debate tomorrow on trying to stabilise and firm up a British approach towards these negotiations, which we have been awaiting for quite a long time. The issues the Deputy has raised will be part of that discussion but there will also be other elements to the discussion. I think and hope we will have a much clearer picture early next week of the British Government's approach to these negotiations because many of the red lines that have been outlined to date are somewhat contradictory in terms of the solutions we need to find.

Is the Tánaiste telling us he is optimistic?

We can only judge when we see the outcome of the meeting and we should not take anything for granted. There is clearly a divided Cabinet. I believe the meeting of the British Cabinet that takes place tomorrow, which is a day-long meeting on Brexit only, will be a significant discussion. We will have to judge the outcomes when we see what they are.

Tomorrow, workers in Dublin and in many other places will have to take to the picket lines again at Lloyds pharmacies. They are mainly women and they are low paid. They are striking for better pay, for a sick pay scheme that does not exist - imagine that, in a pharmacy - for better work conditions and against zero-hour contracts. They are striking for union recognition, something the Dáil has refused steadfastly to legislate for to support workers because the Government does not want to alienate multinationals from coming to this country. Will the Tánaiste join me in appealing to all workers and all other people to support the strike tomorrow, particularly people who came out and voted for women's rights in the repeal movement-----

This is questions on promised legislation.

------and ask them to boycott Lloyds tomorrow in a one-day show of support for these women workers?

It is not a relevant issue for promised legislation.

It is to do with union recognition and zero-hour contracts legislation. You let every Tom, Dick and Harry talk about other types of things.

That is not correct, Deputy.

And I am not Dick or Harry.

It is about laws to help workers.

What I can certainly respond on is the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was published by the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, before Christmas and is expected to be on Committee Stage in the coming weeks. The Minister certainly responded on this issue on Tuesday and stated she is very anxious to try to progress this legislation before the end of the term.

It does not deal with union recognition.

The unwinding of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation has been initiated for all public servants. They are due two pay increases this year and two next year. FEMPI has not been unwound for contract holders, however, including general practitioners. When FEMPI was applied to general practice, it was disproportionately applied because it was applied to the gross fee, which was reduced by 38%. Now, the financial model of general practice is broken and non-viable, and we have huge difficulties in recruiting general practitioners. When and how does the Government intend to unwind FEMPI for general practitioners to save general practice?

I will ask the Minister for Health to come back to the Deputy directly but my understanding is there is ongoing consultation with GPs in this regard.

The Tánaiste spoke earlier about promised legislation in respect of open disclosure and the need to avoid an adversarial environment in regard to the CervicalCheck issue. We heard from the solicitor for Vicky Phelan this morning that there are delays in regard to the HSE agreeing a protocol to release slides for the women concerned. When the HSE is behaving like that, the women have no choice but to take legal action. Will the Tánaiste ask the Minister for Health to intervene to stop this foot-dragging by the HSE and to release the data that are required and requested by the women?

In some ways, there are two different issues here but they are both very fair questions. With regard to the releasing of slides, which essentially allow women to access their full medical records, including slides as part of that, there should be no delay in that.

There is a delay in regard to the protocol.

I accept that. There should not be a delay in that and I will raise it directly with the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the HSE. On the protocol issue, my understanding, from speaking to the Department of Health before coming in this morning, is that the idea is to put a new protocol in place when we have the Scally report finalised so we have a fully informed process around putting new protocols in place rather than trying to put something temporary in place. That should not, however, prevent individual women and families from accessing their full medical records, including slides.

I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality briefed parties last week on the proposed referendum on removing the article in the Constitution on supporting women in the home. Unfortunately, our party was not invited to that but I hear on the grapevine that the Government seems intent on moving towards simply deleting the existing provision rather than considering alternative wording. Our party has had a very consistent role in saying that caring work matters. We would like to consider, and would support, the option of an alternative wording so that we would maintain within the Constitution an aspiration and a direction towards supporting work that is outside the paid economy.

We have a very tight timeline in the context of an October referendum. Will the Government consider a proper consultation process rather than going straight ahead and making a decision, which may be being made as we speak, on having a referendum which will be a simple deletion, thereby ruling out the option of alternative wording which we would propose and support?

That is a discussion that has been taking place at Cabinet during this question time. My understanding is that the legal advice available to Government makes a clear and strong recommendation that the most appropriate way to deal with this is simply to delete the section from the Constitution. Of course, there is a recognition that the discussion and debate around the importance of caring, the role of the home in Irish society and the recognition of a modern family structure, and all the diversity that should be recognised in that context in today's Ireland, is something the Government is anxious to deal with. Whether we can deal with that with a new wording in the Constitution in time for a referendum in the autumn is very unlikely.

What is the rush? It has been there for 80 years.

I believe the appropriate course of action is a simple deletion but also to put a process in place to deal with the other issues that have been raised.

Under the Government and HSE strategy for mental health, why is A Vision for Change implemented in a different way in County Roscommon than in other counties? Athleague hostel is closed, St. Joseph's in Ballaghaderreen is closed and there is now the situation regarding the Rosalie unit, to which the Tánaiste referred. The families have not been consulted in a proper way and the clinical assessment has not been made. Will the Government intervene to ensure the future of this home for its many residents, bearing in mind the level of dementia per head of population in that county and also in County Leitrim? Will it show the HSE what needs to be done?

My understanding is that a Topical Issue matter on that will be dealt with later today so the Deputy will probably get a more detailed answer then. I would refer to what I said earlier on this issue.

As a former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Tánaiste, more than most, will realise the Government has invested a lot of money in housing and homelessness. However, we have a number of serious problems. There are families who are struggling big time to pay their mortgages to the bank and to put food on the table and clothes on their children.

In fairness to the Government, it has looked at mortgage interest relief and extended it until 2020. Husbands and wives have to work and pay for crèches. These families are struggling in a major way. If we do not look after them, they will end up homeless and on the social housing list. There are a lot of problems here. Can we get a commitment from the Government to look after the people who are out working? They are working-class people who need a bit of help. There is no point waiting for next year or the year after. It is now that these people need help.

This seems more like a Topical Issue matter, Deputy, than a question on promised legislation. I call the Tánaiste.

It is a very relevant issue that the Deputy raises. We have repeatedly introduced new thinking and new policy to support people who are struggling to pay their mortgages. We have done so through the Abhaile system, which provides free legal support and financial advice to people, mortgage interest relief, which lightens the burden somewhat, and a range of other supports which allow people to restructure debt into affordable repayments.

A new section of the Tánaiste's Department has been established to implement the Global Ireland initiative and I welcome the Government's attempt to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. I refer to the recent advertising by the Government in this regard. It has had 200,000 views on Twitter, 30,000 on the Merrion Street YouTube channel and 60,000 on Facebook. This seems to be targeted at Irish citizens. How does targeting Irish citizens have anything to do with the voting intentions of member states voting on the seat on the UN Security Council?

There is a very easy answer to that one. Irish citizens want to know what is going on and they want to know what Global Ireland is all about. We are going to commit substantial public resources to expanding our diplomatic network of consulates and embassies. We will commit substantially more resources to our development aid programme in Africa and across the Middle East. The public has a right to know about foreign policy as well as domestic policy, but I am not sure it has received the coverage it should given the global nature of what it is to be Irish. Many Irish people see themselves as global citizens having spent a lot of their working lives abroad.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. I note that 14 Deputies were not reached.

Can we extend the time for Questions on Promised Legislation?

If the Deputy wishes to bring that to his Whip, I am sure the proposal will be brought to the Sub-committee on Dáil Reform.

It should be half an hour.