Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

A number of Deputies wish to raise issues. I ask all Deputies to ensure their contributions relate to promised legislation or the programme for Government.

On 10 February 2017, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, announced that a compassionate access scheme for medicinal cannabis-based treatment would be established, and he published the Health Products Regulatory Authority's, HPRA, report, Cannabis for Medical Use - A Scientific Review. He also announced he had decided to establish a compassionate access programme. The Dáil has been extremely patient about this, as have people around the country. There were reviews in June and July of this year, but when people will have access to this programme remains a mystery. The numbers using the existing framework for importing medicinal cannabis, based on an endorsement by one's general practitioner, GP, and consultant, is growing all the time. Patients such as Ms Vera Twomey must travel overseas to Europe every three months to secure the medicinal cannabis which has been identified by their specialists and GPs. This cannot go on. The number of people seeking access is growing, and, as the Taoiseach will be aware, the HPRA study identified medicinal cannabis as helpful for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, persons who get sick from chemotherapy, and those suffering from cancer, spasticity or multiple sclerosis.

Nearly two years later, there is no sign of the access programme being established. Can the Taoiseach shed some light on this and give me a timeline - or get the Minister to do so - as to when people will have access to this programme?

The most recent note I have on this is dated 18 September, which I have already read into the record of the House. When I last inquired of the Minister a month ago, the problem seemed to relate to finding a supplier or pharmacy in Ireland which would be willing and capable of providing the product and ensuring it was up to standard in pharmaceutical regulations, safety and so on.

People are going into pharmacies in the Netherlands.

I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to provide the Taoiseach with an up-to-date response.

We are getting an inhumane response.

I raise the matter of the Tuam mother and baby home and the statement which is expected from the Minister, Deputy Zappone. I understand that last night the Taoiseach met three survivor representatives but that no survivor from the Tuam mother and baby home was present. I want to tell the Taoiseach, in case he is unaware, that this has caused some hurt and disappointment.

This morning, survivors awoke to the headlines that the Cabinet will make a decision on the Tuam site and that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would brief groups before an announcement was made. I have had countless calls telling me that no such contact has been made. Will the Taoiseach clarify when the survivor groups will be briefed on the Cabinet's decision, if the Minister will make a statement about the future of the Tuam site to the Dáil and at what time? Will Members of this House be given an opportunity to question the Minister on the Cabinet decision?

This is a very sensitive issue, which we all hope to handle as sensitively as we can. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, will make a statement outlining the approach adopted by Government this morning. Since 1 p.m., she has been trying to contact people to inform them of the Government decision and the plan for how we go forward. In order that it be done sensibly, I would rather not start making announcements in the House now. It is important that she be allowed to speak to some of those involved in the issue first, and then inform the public later this afternoon. I am sure that the Business Committee can make arrangements for her to come to the House at an appropriate opportunity and take questions.

I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. It is questions on promised legislation.

In its programme for Government, the Government promised a humanitarian response to asylum seekers, committed to making Ireland a safe haven for those fleeing from violence, and said it would promote the integration of migrants in this country. The deportation order for Shepherd Machaya is anything but compassionate. He has lived nine years in direct provision, a pretty awful system, but he made an effort to secure a FETAC level 5 qualification before going to DCU, where he completed his first year with flying colours, but now he is being threatened with deportation. Some 13,000 friends, fellow students, the students' union, and DCU, which is a university of sanctuary, are all pleading with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Government to be compassionate, humanitarian and revoke that order to allow Shepherd Machaya to remain here, finish his studies and contribute to Irish society. I do not understand why the Minister would throw out somebody who is studying IT systems and business management when they could contribute to Irish society. I also wish to mention Eric Zhi Ying Xue from Bray, a nine year old who has lived all his life here. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister to show compassion for these two people.

I do not intend to depart from the time-honoured tradition of not discussing the detail of case files on the floor of Dáil Éireann. However, I remind the Deputy that each and every case is given due and careful consideration over a range of circumstances, including age, length of time, family circumstances and family connections with the State.

Having regard to applications for citizenship, international protection and visas, agencies within my Department deal with in excess of 250,000 cases on an annual basis. Of those, I wish to assure the House that only a tiny fraction are subject to deportation orders at the end of a lengthy process.

In February 2016, the national review panel-----

The Minister will not revoke it.

-----was asked to examine and report on the abuse suffered by young children in foster care in east Galway, near Tuam. It is now October 2018 and we still have not had sight of the report. I understand from replies to parliamentary questions that the report was due out this month. It is almost the end of the month now. Given what happened to those children, the exposé on RTE, and the abuse suffered, can the Taoiseach please confirm that the report has been completed, will be published and we can have a copy of it?

I do not have that information to hand but I will ask that the Deputy be provided with a reply in writing.

The programme for Government contains support for provincial towns. I was recently told by the Minister of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, that Tipperary town in west Tipperary was flourishing. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said that it was doing great altogether, and that we should look at Limerick and see how well it was doing. The Taoiseach visited Tipperary town approximately five years ago when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. He saw it for himself. Not a penny has been invested by this Government or the previous Government, and we have had no meaningful visit from the IDA or anyone else. Will the Taoiseach take action and set up a task force to deal with the chronic unemployment and lack of investment in Tipperary town, both in terms of infrastructure, including the main road, and job incentives? West Tipperary is crying out for it. Will the Taoiseach also please ask that his Ministers educate themselves on the facts about Tipperary, especially the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, who is sitting beside him?

The Department of Rural and Community Development has a €1 billion fund to be used for investments and for improving our towns and villages in rural areas with a population of less than 10,000. It is open to community groups, people in Tipperary town and the local authority to apply for funding from that fund.

Over what period can they apply?

We hope to be able to make the first allocations in November and December. When towns do well and flourish, it is often as a result of bottom-up initiatives. If they have not done so, I encourage community groups, businesses and the local authority to apply to that €1 billion fund, if they have not done so already.

They have done so, and they have got nowhere.

A major scientific study released today shows that plastic is ending up not just in the food chain but also inside us, in our guts and other systems.

Is the Deputy referring to the programme for Government?

The European Parliament will tomorrow discuss and debate ambitious plans to cut out waste plastic. I have asked the Taoiseach six times over the past year whether we could have a debate and progress the waste (reduction) Bill introduced by the Green Party almost a year and a half ago. On the "News At One" earlier, I heard the welcome news that the Government will not oppose the motion before the House later regarding the Bill. Without pre-empting the debate, can the Taoiseach confirm that this means the Government will issue the money order we need to have that debate, allowing us to act in the same way as the European Parliament on what scientists are saying we have to do to treat the issue of waste plastic?

The Deputy has asked a simple question.

Will the Taoiseach provide that money order now?

We will be doing four things. We will work with the European institutions to implement a ban and restrictions on single-use plastics. That legislation is being developed at a European level, and we very much support it and want to be part of it. Legislation is going through these Houses to prohibit microbeads. We are also carrying out an examination of the practicalities of imposing a levy on single-use plastics, including plastic coffee cups, that cannot be recycled.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, wants to look at the deposit protection scheme afresh. He is a new Minister and has been in the Department for only two weeks. The previous view of Government was the scheme as proposed by the Green Party would cost between €80 million and €100 million and only reduce the use of plastics by approximately 2%. Perhaps we are wrong and, therefore, we have decided to examine it afresh on that particular point.

If it makes sense, we will do it.

I have 18 Deputies offering. Will each Deputy just confine himself or herself to a question and an answer? I call Deputy Thomas Byrne.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, said he will be looking at things afresh in his new Department. It appears the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is looking at the former education Minister's initiatives afresh too. On Thursday, he announced he will take stock and that he felt teachers were suffering from initiative overload. Does the Taoiseach believe the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, did overload teachers and schools with too many initiatives? What does it mean that the Minister will take stock? What implications will this have for the programme for Government and the Action Plan for Education? Are these to be binned and new proposals put forward?

Will Deputies please think of their colleagues? I call the Taoiseach for a short answer.

One of the good things about new Ministers is that they can look at things afresh. Anybody coming into a Department should do exactly that.

Education is one of the areas in which we have seen enormous improvements in the past several years, whether it is new subjects such as computer science or physical education for the leaving certificate, whether it is the introduction of new subjects such as Lithuanian for the junior cycle, whether it is €11 billion secured for the budget next year or whether it is more people from non-traditional backgrounds entering third level education than ever before. There have been really good results in terms of the performance of children in English and maths. If one judges education in terms of outcomes, our teachers, lecturers, schools, universities and the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, have done an excellent job in the past several years.

Page 44 of the programme for Government refers to enhancing the road network. The M7 carries 80,000 commuters and motorists every day and is the main artery between Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Waterford travelling through Kildare. Necessary works are going on until 2020 to widen the motorway. We need to have an increased level of work in the evening time and over weekends to ensure it will be finished before time.

There have been several accidents over the past few days where motorists have been delayed for up to an hour. When we consider how this might affect 80,000 motorists, there is nothing in place to solve this problem. It is a matter of extreme urgency.

I agree with my colleague. The difficulty that has arisen is that the traffic is diverted and being forced off the main thorough way on to the adjoining roads and villages with disastrous consequences as we have seen from recent accidents. We need to provide improved health and safety facilities on the minor roads and accelerate the work rate on the existing motorway construction.

I am aware of the upgrade and was there myself only last week. I would be misleading the House if I were to profess myself to be an expert on any individual road project happening in the State. The best thing for Deputies to do would be to raise it as a Topical Issue matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The Government committed to provide an adequate and safe water supply and service for all. However, people on group water schemes are suffering because their schemes need to be upgraded. People are waiting for group water scheme connections, as well as group sewerage schemes, but no funding has been made available in this regard. This is a direct let-down for people in rural Ireland. The people of rural Ireland deserve a safe and adequate water supply, the same as people in urban areas. Will the Taoiseach make funding available to local authorities to ensure they can upgrade their group water schemes and allow them to take them in charge because they have not been allowed to do that either?

Okay, we got the question. I call the Taoiseach on the programme for Government.

It is in the programme for Government because I put it in myself.

The Deputy is not Taoiseach yet.

The Deputy should listen to others. I asked the Taoiseach to respond to a question on the programme for Government. I am familiar with group water schemes.

Increased funding has been set aside under Project Ireland 2040 for improvements in the water infrastructure, including group water schemes. We attended a conference recently and went through all the details. That sector is happy with the capital plans. Naturally, we want to get these implemented as quickly as possible.

Funding will be provided. I call on Deputy Cahill.

Working principals in primary schools lobbied extensively prior to the budget with regard to getting extra administrative days. They have a huge workload and a number of retirements have taken place in my county due to the workload. I request that the new Minister look at this to see whether these working principals can get extra administrative days to deal with their increased workload.

I will certainly inform the Minister, Deputy McHugh, that the Deputy has raised this issue.

The programme for Government speaks on the aim of modernising Ireland's visa and residency system. The Minister for Justice and Equality has said he will not comment on individual applications. That is very well but I want to raise with him a report from two days ago on a statement that the Chinese mother of a nine year old boy obtained an Irish passport for him under false pretences. How did this information come to be in the possession of that journalist and newspaper? Surely information of this kind would have been contained in a Department of Justice and Equality or Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, file. How else would it have been received by a journalist? Potentially, this seems to be a very serious data breach. If it is a data breach it suggests officials at the Department of Justice and Equality were briefing against a nine year old. I want the Minister to state whether the information came from the Department or INIS and, if so, will he instigate an investigation as to how it came into the public domain?

Is the Minister in a position to answer?

I have no idea from where the information came and nor do I intend speculating.

You should find out.

The programme for Government details investment in second level education. I have raised the issue of Naas Community College on many occasions in the Chamber. It was instructed to begin enrolment in 2014. It is to have 1,000 pupils when the building is constructed but, for the fourth year in a row, it has an enrolment crisis. The town of Naas is now facing a school accommodation crisis. Every step of the project has been dogged with delays. At present it is at the pre-tender stage. It is urgent that the tender issues because this is recurring again and again. We now have 231 students fighting for 47 available places. The Minister, Deputy McHugh, is new to the job, and I wish him every success, but I hope this will go to the top of his agenda. It is a critical project for Naas.

I do not have any information to hand about any individual school projects but I will certainly inform the Minister, Deputy McHugh, that the Deputy has raised the issue.

In previous contributions, the Taoiseach has spoken about the HSE plan for 2019 that is being drawn up. I have raised a number of issues regarding the availability of respite care, particularly for adults with intellectual disabilities. The shared care scheme was very good but it seems to have evaporated completely, particularly in the south of Ireland. People with parents of advancing years are looking for respite. Will the Taoiseach make increased respite care availability for people with intellectual disabilities a priority in the service plan?

We allocated an extra €10 million for respite last year, which has allowed us to establish a new respite house in each community healthcare organisation area. They may not all be up and running yet but I know are lot of them are and where they are up and running they have made a difference in providing additional respite, something that is so valuable to carers, gives them an important break from their caring duties and allows them to continue. The service plan for 2019 is not yet formulated but the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is committed to respite, home help and home care in particular. Approximately €150 million in additional funding is being provided for social care. We all need to work together to make sure the money goes to the people who need it, namely, the patients and the service users, and not anyone else.

I call on Deputy Michael Collins to ask a short question.

With regard to improving the lives of people with disabilities, only a few months ago Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was positive news for many of those with disabilities who had poor or no services. Since being elected to the Dáil more than two and a half years ago, I have pleaded with the Taoiseach, his predecessor, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister of State with responsibility for people with disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, with regard to transport services for those with disabilities who are aged over 18 to go to their schools and training facilities. While they have a free public transport pass it is of no use to the majority of adults, leading to their parents having to drive them for hours each day to and from their training.

Only last week a newspaper reported on a great young woman from Dunmanway, Sarah Dullea, who overcame the limitations of spina bifida to set up her own freelance business but was told by Bus Éireann that it is unable to collect her at her stop in Dunmanway. Will the Taoiseach promise the people of west Cork that a proper public transport service for all those over 18 will be considered?

Is the Taoiseach in a position to answer?

I am not. Perhaps raising the issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, would be the best way to get a comprehensive answer.

I call Deputy Fitzpatrick to ask a question.

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, please, to allow me one minute to ask my question.

The doubling of the betting tax from 1% to 2% constitutes a 100% increase. It is estimated that between 350 and 400 shops across the industry will close with the likely loss of approximately 2,500 jobs. That would have a serious effect on families, window cleaners, local newsagents, plumbers and others. Many people do not realise that Irish bookmakers fully fund the Dunlewey addiction services charity.

The Deputy should ask his question.

It is a seven-day service which helps people with their problems on a one-to-one basis. In my county of Louth, Boylesports employs more than 400 workers. As the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is aware, we will lose 180 jobs this week.

What is the question?

We do not want a return to betting on the black market and no tax being paid. Bookmakers paid 1% betting tax. Will the Taoiseach meet bookmakers to consider the issue because-----

The question has been asked.

-----the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, maintains that the measure will raise €52 million but it will not do so and, rather, will lead to the loss of 2,500 jobs?

The Deputy must be fair to his colleagues waiting to ask a question. I call the Taoiseach.

The budget has been decided. A resolution was passed by this House and that measure will be in the Finance Bill. I would not like to meet any group which thought for a second that such a meeting might lead to us unwinding the budget. We will not do so. The Deputy may be aware that the betting tax used to be much higher and was reduced on the premise-----

The Government closed all the shops.

-----that that would save all the small betting shops.

I thank the Taoiseach.

It did not and the number thereof declined anyway, largely because of online betting-----

It will close more now.

-----and takeovers by large multiples.

I call Deputy Aindrias Moynihan.

The 1% increase will raise €55 million, which will cover the cost of our increased investment in mental health.

That amount will not be collected.

The programme for Government commits to increasing access to safe and timely healthcare. In spite of that, many women in County Cork are still waiting unreasonably long times for access to gynaecological health services in Cork University Maternity Hospital. Some 354 women are currently awaiting treatment, up from 341 in August. I have raised this issue in the House on several occasions. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was considering governance changes that would make improvements. There were some improvements but the waiting list has grown again. A one stop shop was identified, a vacant theatre was to be opened for the first time and vacant consultant posts were to be filled. Those actions need to be taken. What action will be taken to improve access to such services for women in County Cork?

This is a very important issue for those awaiting necessary services in County Cork. The best way for the Deputy to get a comprehensive response would be to raise it as a Topical Issue with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

Before the Taoiseach was elevated to such high office he used to commute on the train from time to time, as do I. If he did so today, he would understand the serious overcrowding issues on the northern commuter and DART line due to the chronic lack of capital investment in commuter rail services over the past six or seven years. Page 128 of the programme for Government contains a commitment to investing in public transport. What additional capital funds will the Taoiseach and the Government allocate to Irish Rail to improve the chronic situation in the greater Dublin area and particularly on the northern commuter-----

There is no DART service in our area.

No rail service either.

The Deputies will get nothing unless they stay quiet.

I am glad the Deputies to my left are interested in DART services in Dublin.

Deputies, please. Deputy Darragh O'Brien waited patiently for his turn.

It is a very serious issue. Just because it does not relate to Kerry does not mean it is not important. The Taoiseach is aware that it is a matter of great concern for many people. There is dangerous overcrowding. Our capital city is growing and we need investment in these services. I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is not here but I ask the Taoiseach to commit to additional capital investment in rail infrastructure in the city and county of Dublin.

Is the Taoiseach in a position to answer?

I am. The chronic lack of investment in our infrastructure for six or seven years - possibly longer than that - occurred for a reason. It occurred as a consequence of the appalling mismanagement of Ireland's economy in the period before 2008-09. Because the economy is back on track, we have been able to invest in infrastructure again over the past two years. Project Ireland 2040 provides for considerable capital investment in Irish Rail to improve DART services and have them run every ten minutes and to extend the DART to Drogheda and Maynooth and along the Kildare line.

It is running every ten minutes now. That is the problem.

As is always the case with major capital investment, there is a lag time in delivery. Even when new carriages are ordered, it can take two to three years for them to come.

I have a question on the programme for Government on behalf of the ESB Retired Staff Association, which encompasses the Civil Service, RTÉ, ESB, Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis, CIÉ, Eircom, pensions associations, observers from the aviation sector and airport workers. They are seeking an increase in their pensions and see arbitration by Government as the only solution to assist them in their quest. They are coming before an Oireachtas committee on Thursday. Will the Taoiseach and Government look at this group to see if there is any possibility of increasing their pensions because people on the State pension have rightly received an increase since 2018 and this group is seeking the same?

I apologise if I misunderstood the Deputy's question but I think it refers to pension funds that involve companies. The State has no role in increasing occupational pensions paid by companies.

I said they are seeking arbitration.

Is there provision within the programme for Government to place on a statutory basis the length of time An Bord Pleanála presides over appeals? One application that was brought to my attention this week involved applicants who been in the process for three years. Despite the fact that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has said that increased resources and staff are being made available to An Bord Pleanála in this time of national crisis in respect of the housing sector and the provision of housing, it is appalling to think that a one-off house cannot be dealt with adequately within the time assigned by the board. If that is the case, why can the Government not bring forward legislation to put them on a statutory basis to deal with them in a timely manner, which An Bord Pleanála should do so anyway?

There is no commitment in the programme for Government to do that but there is a commitment to strengthen the staff and resources of An Bord Pleanála. It has gone through much reform that has resulted in a lot of success and fast-track planning. It is something we can certainly look at because these issues come up a lot with regard to length of time but the staffing issue must help resolve some of that. However, I am prepared to look at it.

Is there any update on a deadline for the introduction of a national claims information database in respect of the high cost of motor insurance? Could the Taoiseach clarify when this might come through the Houses?

I thank the Deputy for raising that question. The Minster of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, is doing a lot of work to bring down the cost of insurance for people and business. I understand that legislation is going through the House. I do not have an exact date but I will check it out and get back to the Deputy.

The Cabinet has apparently approved gender pay legislation. The World Economic Forum says it will take women 217 years to catch up in terms of pay parity if we wait for employers. Today, 8,000 workers - women and men - in Glasgow are taking strike action for 48 hours to win equal pay. Will the Taoiseach join me in sending solidarity to them because they are home care workers and education workers who provide essential public services - work that is not valued enough? The Glasgow women's strike is something that should be taken up by workers everywhere. Otherwise we will wait 200 years for equality.

I am keen that progress be reported on this issue and I intend at an early date to bring further initiatives before the House.