Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

In addition to the six leaders, ten Deputies are offering. As we have only 15 minutes for questions on promised legislation, our success will depend on how expeditiously the matters are dealt with.

Two weeks ago, I raised with the Tánaiste the issue of Spinraza, a life-changing drug on which 25 families are waiting for a response. He committed to get back to me but has not done so. More important, the 25 families still have no information as to when a decision will be taken. Even though proposals were submitted to the Health Service Executive, HSE, in July, with a much lower price being quoted, there is still no information available for these families and their children. Will the Tánaiste give an indication of when they can expect information?

As the Deputy knows, a process and an evaluation must conclude before a decision can be finalised on that. I will ask the Minister for Health to come back to him on timescales.

We hear in media reports today that a special savings scheme for housing is under consideration by the Government. Not surprisingly, this is the brainchild of Fianna Fáil. At a committee meeting last week, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, completely ruled out the idea of such a scheme. He bluntly answered "No" when asked by Deputy Broughan whether one was under consideration. We know these schemes increase the value of homes and undermine the Central Bank rules. The winners in these schemes are developers and the banks, while the losers are families and working people who are trying to get on to the property ladder. Britain intends to abolish its scheme because it created a direct transfer to the most wealthy and fuelled property prices. Will the Tánaiste be as clear as the Minister for Finance was in the committee last week when he said such a scheme was not under consideration? If it is under consideration, will he explain the reason there has been such a U-turn in recent days?

This is a matter for the Minister for Finance. The Deputy will get his answer next week.

I ask the Tánaiste about the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, with which he may be familiar. This is a Labour Party Bill dealing with the important issues of cyberbullying and online harassment and the real damage being done online, particularly to younger people. There was strong support for it across the House, including from the Government benches, when I introduced it and the Bill was passed in the Dáil last June. I spoke to the Minister subsequently and a promise was made to give the Bill a fair wind. When is it likely that we will see progress on this very important measure?

I understand there is some work ongoing on a memorandum of understanding on how we bring forward and progress Private Members' Bills because many such Bills have been passed. It is also my understanding that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is, in principle, supportive of what Deputy Howlin is trying to do in his Bill.

So he told me, yes.

I will revert to the Deputy with a timescale from the Minister.

I raise the issue of medical cannabis, which I have raised more times than any other issue in the two and a half years since my election. I just received a telephone call from a parent who is utterly confused about the position on medical cannabis. Three options are available, namely, to go through the licensing system for medical cannabis, to go abroad to obtain medical cannabis, or to obtain it illegally, as most people are doing. In January 2017, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, made a recommendation on establishing a medical cannabis access programme. That was 19 months ago, and nothing has been done. Will the Tánaiste give a timeframe for having the access programme up and running? I ask him not to give another stock answer because I get the same old answers all the time.

I know the Deputy has done a good deal of work in this area. The last time I answered a question from him on this issue it received a negative reaction, which I had not intended to provoke. What we are trying to do is have a streamlined licensing system that can allow families to access appropriate drugs under the supervision and support of a consultant doctor. It will mean those decisions being made quickly in a streamlined way to ensure appropriate medicines can be accessed and licensed to be brought into Ireland for patients. That is my understanding of what the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is committed to. As far as I know, he has not refused any licence that has been requested and has the support of a consultant doctor in terms of the management of the case for the patient concerned. There is a commitment to try to streamline that process to ensure decisions can be made more quickly for the families concerned.

The Tánaiste spoke glowingly about our Naval Service and Army personnel, on which I totally agree with him. I have been in touch with him about the scandalous situation where up to 60 Army personnel who have been on peacekeeping duties for the past six months in Syria and elsewhere are trapped because of some bungling in the Department. I will not name the Chief of Staff but I want to know who in the Army bungled the travel arrangements to get those people home. They are stuck in airports and we believe they will not return for two weeks. This is due to inertia or bad management by a senior person in the Army. Will that individual be held accountable? Some of these people had booked holidays. They have been on duty for six months and missed a good summer here with their families. There is some talk of a sop of €1,000 compensation being thrown to them. They want to be home with their families. They are waiting to come home, while others wait to go out to Syria. It is utter confusion. The Tánaiste has a duty, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to sort this out. He should name and shame the individual who bungled this matter in such a way.

It is not that straightforward. Military flights require specific diplomatic clearance from all countries through whose airspace they fly. These clearances require due notification, are time limited and must all be in place and aligned to allow a flight to proceed. In the case of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, additional clearances for the transit of military forces through Lebanon and Syria, and across the Syrian border, are also required. We are talking about Irish peacekeepers in Syria, one of the most complex environments on the planet in terms of a conflict zone.

This is not the same as flying home from Los Angeles or somewhere.

I never suggested it was.

I caution people to show some understanding that the complexities of travel arrangements for military personnel-----

Does the Tánaiste not think the whole thing is a mess?

-----in such a complex environment can sometimes be difficult. In this case, that is what has happened. We are fixing the issue and the personnel will be home, albeit two weeks after they were supposed to be home. I do not believe that individual personnel are at fault. The complexity of the environment in which we are operating-----

It is a well-travelled course.

-----is the reason for the delay.

We heard the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, say this morning that the Government had given the go-ahead, effectively, for the North-South interconnector, which I welcome. This is vital infrastructure for the all-Ireland energy market. I understand there is a difficulty on the Northern side of the Border, and I hope the Tánaiste is well placed to answer this question. Under a recent court decision in the North on a separate government issue, proceedings were put on hold because of the absence of the Assembly, Ministers and the administrative system. This means it is legally uncertain whether the project will proceed. I understand this may apply to the Northern part of the interconnector, which cannot now proceed at the same time, North and South. Can the Tánaiste confirm if that is the case? What is the Government doing to try to have the project start in these difficult circumstances without the Assembly?

A report was done on this issue and that report has now come back. The Minister simply stated the facts and reality that neither he nor the Government has a function in this issue. There is a permit being sought and planning permission has been granted. EirGrid is now trying to manage the way in which it will build a North-South interconnector, which is a very important piece of grid infrastructure for the all-Ireland energy market. Issues in Northern Ireland are a bit more complicated because we do not have devolved Government there. It is difficult, therefore, to understand the political management of this project North of the Border. However, if it would be helpful, I will have a note done on the issue, which I can send to the Deputy.

In the programme for Government there is a commitment to sustainable employment in rural parts. Sinkholes have emerged along with significant land subsidence in Magheracloone on the GAA grounds. We learned this morning that they could be waiting five years before they can move back in. It has caused significant disruption to the local community and particularly to local employers. It has to be said that Monaghan County Council and the Garda have dealt with this very effectively. Has the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation engaged with the likes of Doran Motors, Treacys Hotel and Gyproc, the company most affected, to ensure there are no job losses as a result of all of this?

As Minister of State with responsibility for natural resources, I visited the site on 25 September following the mine collapse. Gyproc is a very important employer in the locality and I know there is inconvenience with regard to roads being closed. This is a health and safety matter. My Department's mining division and Geological Survey Ireland have visited on a number of occasions and have advised Monaghan County Council on the best approach. This is a health and safety matter. We are very conscious of the disruption to locals and the need to ensure that the best advice is taken. An independent tactical survey is taking place in respect of the causes of the collapse and what lessons can be learned.

There is a commitment on broadband on page 46 of the programme for Government. The process is in disarray currently. Of the three bidders, ESB-Vodafone and Eir have pulled out. There is only one bidder left and that consortium is basically in pieces because Enet, John Laing and SSE have pulled out of it in recent weeks. There is now only one investor left in it.

Was the Cabinet aware that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment was meeting that one investor in New York recently at a private dinner hosted by the investor? What was the purpose and outcome of that meeting? It seems the Government is squeezed between two venture capitalists, the French investor that owns Eir and this investor from the United States. Will the Tánaiste forward the minutes of that meeting to me? When will the 542,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland have the broadband that was promised to them by 2020?

As the Deputy should know, there is a tendering process under way in which the Minister has no hand, act or part.

There is one bidder. The Minister is after meeting that one investor.

There is an evaluation process that involves an independent assessment team, independent of the Minister's office. When that investment team reports, the Government will be able to make decisions.

The Central Bank (Amendment) Bill is promised legislation which will in some way regulate the various issues of enforcement and accountability, which are a moot point at the current time. When is it likely to be before the House?

I am afraid not this session and we do not have a date at the moment. I am sure the Deputy raising it in the Dáil will mean it will come onto the radar.

It might lend it some impetus.

In the programme for Government, a very specific commitment is given to improve women's health and well-being. Given this country's very poor record in dealing with such matters historically, I wish to bring the Tánaiste's attention to an issue in respect of the drug Cariban. It is available for hyperemesis during pregnancy. It is very effective but unfortunately it is unavailable on any scheme - general medical services, GMS, the drugs payment scheme, DPS, or the long-term illness scheme, LTI. The HSE has published clinical practice guidelines for hyperemesis which state that if there are no improvements following a selection of treatments recommended, then Cariban should be given, one in the morning, one in the afternoon and two at bed time. It is actually recommended by the HSE's own guidelines yet is unavailable to women suffering from this very serious condition. The cost, depending on the dose, is between approximately €1,500 and €3,000 during the course of a pregnancy. The matter needs to be looked at immediately. If it is recommended by the HSE, it should be covered under the payment scheme.

I will have to ask the Minister for Health to come back to the Deputy on that. He has outlined the case very clearly.

There are serious concerns in my home town of Dundalk that Authentic Food Company Dundalk, formerly known as the Heinz factory, is in trouble. The company has stated that the environment is challenging. As the situation stands, there is no production planned past 26 October. The parent company in Manchester refuses to confirm closure. There is no communication whatsoever with the employees. There are over 180 employees there and those families are panicking at the moment.

Is there any chance the Tánaiste can get the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to come to Dundalk? Today is 4 October and the families are afraid of their lives that the factory is going to close at the end of the month. It is great coming out and announcing jobs. Dundalk has had plenty of jobs in the last years. However, it is even better to save jobs. I am not asking the Government to throw a load of money at it. I am asking it to come down and see can it help keep the factory open and keep 180 families at work. I urge the Tánaiste to help us please.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is clearly an important one for Dundalk. I am sure the Government and State agencies will do everything they possibly can to work with the company. If there are difficulties that we can help with, I am sure we will be very proactive on that. I assure the Deputy that I will raise the issue personally with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, for him and will come back to him.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Seven Deputies have not been reached.