Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Over the past number of weeks, many Deputies have raised the issue of Spinraza and the stress the parents of these 25 children are under while awaiting a decision. The stress these families and their children are under is intolerable, knowing that this drug has huge potential for their lives. At this stage, given that we signed up to this deal with the Benelux countries, surely there is a better way of making decisions like this. I plead with the Taoiseach to try to make a personal intervention and to try to get a decision as soon as possible in order that we can alleviate this dreadful stress on these 25 families.

I am mindful of the concerns and worries of the families affected, one of whom I had the opportunity to meet with a week or two ago on a visit to another part of the country. It is important to reiterate that the Oireachtas decided that decisions on which drugs are reimbursed should not be made by politicians. The European Medicines Agency and the Health Products Regulatory Authority decide which medicines are licensed, and the HSE and the national drugs committee decide which ones should be reimbursed. When the cost and effectiveness of this particular medicine were examined, the best scientific advice was that the cost outweighed the benefits by ten to one, or even 20 to one in the case of older patients. "No" never means "No", however, and it is always open to the company to return with more data demonstrating that the medicine is more effective than had been thought, or to return with a new pricing offer, which would change that gap between cost and benefit.

Unfortunately, even in a wealthy country that is spending a record amount on healthcare the budget will always be limited. We must be sure that we fund those treatments which are the most effective and are fairly priced.

The programme for Government acknowledges that significant Exchequer resources will be invested in capital spending in the education sector yet issues surrounding these publicly procured projects show a series of errors. Following the collapse of Carillion and Sammon there remains a myriad of outstanding issues relating to school building projects including in my constituency. As we discussed earlier, we now learn that there are significant structural and safety concerns relating to 40 schools built by Western Building Systems over the last ten years. Three schools have already faced closure and there is no clear plan from the Department on alternative accommodation.

Does the Taoiseach agree that this latest debacle reflects a significant and unprecedented failure in Government procurement and regulatory frameworks? Will he clarify what specific actions the Minister for Education and Skills has taken or will take to ensure appropriate alternative accommodation is provided for the pupils and teachers affected by this?

I answered these questions to the best of my ability when Deputy Calleary raised them earlier. When we spoke of Carillion and Sammon previously, the Deputy was very critical of PPPs and zeroed in on that as the reason why there was a problem with buildings, however these were not PPPs, they were design build, which indicates that problems can arise in the structure of buildings through all sorts of models. Things have changed since then, since building regulations were changed in 2014-2015, and more recently, in the last couple of years, the Department of Education and Skills now has a clerk of works on site every day. That does not mean that there will not be problems but we will have to check on the schools built after 2014 and 2015, to get a real sense of the extent of this problem.

At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that 22 cases of pregnant women being sacked or discriminated against by employers heard before the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, so far this year. Those 22 cases are only the ones that have made it to the WRC. In one case, the adjudicating officer of the WRC expressed frustration at not being able to award a substantial sum to the woman who was sacked after management simply found out she was pregnant. Does the Government plan to change the law to address this concern and ensure that women are protected in the workplace and where there is such obvious discrimination that there is adequate compensation?

The WRC works independently from my Department even though it falls under it. If it has any suggestions that it wishes to bring forward to me, I would be happy to look at them.

Last week I met with a woman, Michiko Tsukamoto, who is a survivor of the horrific nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, which together with the bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 amount to an act of gratuitous mass murder by US imperialism, which was responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people and the injuries of many hundreds of thousands more. They were acts, not designed to win a war that was already effectively won, but to send a chilling message around the world and to the Soviet Union in particular. She was here as part of a delegation from the Peace Boat, supported by Irish anti-war organisations, campaigning for the ratification of the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Their demand is for Ireland to ratify as soon as possible. Will the prohibition of nuclear weapons Bill be brought before the Dáil before the end of the year?

That legislation is listed for the current parliamentary session.

I refer to the programme for Government and the roads programme. Some 5,000 people marched in Tipperary town on Saturday. They are a wonderful crowd of people and some wonderful community activists. The N24 bypass on the road from Limerick to Waterford was planned but following considerations from the Government is now to go from Limerick to Cork under the next capital investment plan. Yesterday, the Taoiseach mentioned that €1 billion was available to small towns like this. Can any of that be used for a short bypass to be built to motorway standards around Tipperary town in order to alleviate the problems caused by chronic traffic, particularly lorries, and allow the people some space to redevelop their town? There is no point in saying that all this money is there if it cannot be used for projects such as this. We badly need a bypass or ring road for the town but we are put on the hind tit, even though it is saving €400 million by going from Limerick to Cahir and then going to Cork or Waterford, however, because of political influence, the Government chose to go down the other corridor to Cork city.

We chose to link Cork and Limerick along the N20 because it is the most direct route. Not only that but it also bypasses towns including Charleville, and helps bypass Adare and Buttevant. All the people in Cork and Limerick, not only in the cities but in the counties, will support that decision.

We do not begrudge them.

On Tipperary town, it is not possible to draw down funding from the rural fund for road projects, however the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has a very large capital budget for the next couple of years and a bypass could certainly be considered in that context.

Tá mé ar ais arís san áit ceannann céanna agus an cheist cheannann chéanna á cur agam. Cá bhfuil Bille na dteangacha oifigiúla? Guím gach rath ar an Aire Stáit nua. An féidir leis a dheimhniú go mbeidh an Bille foilsithe roimh dheireadh na bliana seo, go háirithe agus muid ag caint faoi Bhliain na Gaeilge?

Táimid ag déanamh chuile iarracht go mbeidh an Bille sin foilsithe roimh dheireadh na bliana. Tá sé á phlé in Oifig an Ard-Aighne faoi láthair. Tá mo Roinn ag teagmháil leis an oifig sin faoi chuid de na céimeanna lena gcaithfimid leanacht ar aghaidh.

The programme for Government clearly has a line committing to tackle waiting lists. However, as we all know, waiting lists are not declining although there may be small progress in some areas, mainly because of this side of the House's insistence on the national treatment purchase fund being allocated extra money. I will give another example today of what is happening, in relation to a lady for whom I am trying to make representations. She is ten years suffering from gall stones. She has tried to progress the matter over the last three years, and recently was given an appointment for Portiuncula hospital, but this week was subsequently issued an appointment for an ultrasound for April 2019. This is totally unacceptable and it beggars belief that three years on she is still being told that she must wait a further six months for a simple ultrasound. This woman is in chronic pain and desperately needs to have the matter progressed. This is happening over and over again. There is a total failure in the health system. In a budget of €15 billion why is this type of thing happening? This woman is in desperate pain and what is happening is totally unacceptable.

I am very sorry to hear about the long wait being suffered by the Deputy's constituent. It is not possible for me to comment on individual cases, I do not have access to individual patient information, nor should I, however more generally we are making a lot of progress in reducing waiting times for people waiting for operations and procedures in our hospitals. They have been falling consistently for about a year and the number of people waiting more than three months for an operation or procedure is now slightly lower than when this Government came to office. I will give some small examples. The number of people waiting more than three months for a cataract operation last July was nearly 8,000 and is now down to 4,000.

That is no thanks to the Government.

The number of people waiting on hip and knee replacements last summer was 2,400 and is now 1,717. The number waiting for tests, such as angiograms, which was 1,940 waiting for more than three months last July is now down to 920. There will always be many people waiting less than three months, such as four, six or 12 weeks, however those waiting more than three months for a procedure or operation is now consistently falling which is very welcome.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the geothermal energy development Bill, which has been stalled now for a number of years. Given all the debate about energy over the past number of weeks, the advancement of this Bill should be addressed.

I live in a town in which mining is one of the largest employers. More than 600 people are employed in Tara Mines, which is the largest zinc mine in Europe. The former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Mr. Pat Rabbitte, had discussed plans for a multi-million euro geothermal energy project for Navan backed by Tara Mines. We have heard no more about that project. Zinc is a finite resource and will run out over the next decade or two. Suddenly hundreds of families will be left without employment, including 600 families connected to that mine. I am sure the Taoiseach would agree with me that starting a conversation now about having alternatives in place before we reach the cliff edge is more favourable than standing outside the gates of a closed mine when the inevitable happens, and that advancing those alternative energy generators and employment options deserves to be spoken about in this Chamber. We should have that conversation now.

Work on developing the geothermal energy development Bill has been deferred until other legislative priorities have been dealt with. The immediate priority includes fully transposing EU environmental impact assessment legislation into existing minerals legislation to ensure the compliance of national legislation with EU requirements. The other priority is the full commencement of the Minerals (Development) Act 2017, which provides for a modern legislative and regulatory framework for the exploration and production of minerals in Ireland. The commencement of the Act requires the preparation of several statutory instruments and guidance documents to enable proper implementation of the new Act and its operation by the mining industry, which will take approximately 18 months. In that context, the work on the geothermal legislation will include reviewing the proposed geothermal regulatory framework to ensure it is compatible with the Minerals (Development) Act 2017 and the underlying policy in the context of the White Paper on Energy from 2015, which included a geothermal Bill in the programme and which may have led to some confusion as to when the Bill will be published. It is another item that will appear on the agendas of the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Canney.

Farm incomes are at their lowest level in eight years. Indeed, they have reduced by 30%, and it is expected they will drop by 30% this year. At the same time, there has been a 60% increase in the number of farmers who have failed inspections. We are asking for a change in the inspection regime under the new common agricultural policy, CAP, where the farmer would be given the chance to rectify any problem identified in each year. We are asking that Ireland, if it participates in the new CAP, would be given discretion in this regard to allow farmers to rectify any problems identified rather than penalising them.

The new CAP will not come into effect until 2021, but I am sure that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine can take the views of the Deputy on board as we negotiate between now and then.

On page 73 of the programme for Government, a commitment is made to provide access for early years and educational needs. I want to address the lengthy delays children and their parents are facing on the waiting list for assessments of need, AON. In Cavan-Monaghan, 177 chlidren are waiting for an AON. The rule is that once the application is made for an assessment, the services should be put in place within six months. One little boy who is only seven years of age but who is in school, is waiting for his assessment and has been told that the estimated timeframe for this is four years and eight months. Another little boy is waiting to hear from his occupational therapist. I have a letter from the child development team in Cavan-Monaghan, which states in black and white that this child will wait four years and five months for occupational therapy services. The children are not going to get their physiotherapy or speech and language therapy, and this particular child will not get a special needs assistant, SNA, which he badly needs. Those waiting lists are outrageous for any children in any year.

I cannot comment on individual cases, but I will say that we have more SNAs than ever before. There is provision in the budget next year for a further 950 bringing us to a total of 16,000 SNAs.

The problem is with the AONs.

We are also piloting a new system of speech and language therapy in schools which I believe will lead to improvements.

I do not deny that.

There is funding in 2019 for additional assessments of need.

Perhaps the Deputy could raise a Topical Issue matter in that regard.

My question is on promised legislation and refers to what the Taoiseach said to Deputy McDonald earlier. With the announcement yesterday regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam, the Taoiseach said that bespoke legislation would be required. Will we need to amend legislation or will new legislation be drafted? Does the Taoiseach imagine that it will be fast-tracked in the first quarter of next year in order that it can be run in tandem with outsourcing the work that has to be done? The legislation should run parallel to this so that the people at the centre of this matter, who are aging, do not have to wait much longer for results.

This will be done by way of new primary legislation, which may involve amending some existing legislation. We want to avoid a situation where nothing happens until the legislation is passed, so we will try to do the things that can be done without legislation in place. Those areas requiring legislation will have to wait. Unfortunately, fast-tracking any legislation in the world of new politics is difficult. A lot of legislation is being held up because we do not have a majority Government, but that is the will of the people.

The Taoiseach could issue a few money messages; something might happen then.

Page 82 of the programme for Government states: "We will improve supports and services for older people to live independently in their own home." Yesterday, the Care Alliance noted that 6,000 people are now waiting for help at home. To compound the issue, this number has increased by 30% in the past three years. We have an aging population, and it is essential that funding is ring-fenced in the service plan as a matter of priority for home help hours. In the long run, this would be cost-effective, because if the care was provided at home it would free up bed capacity in the acute system.

During the 70 plus days of negotiation in the formation of this Government it was correctly identified that caring for our older people is important, and that the best place to do that, if possible, was in the home. Clear commitments were given about a home care package, or a fair deal, so that people could remain in their own homes. We have the fair deal in nursing homes. When will it be provided so that people can be kept and cared for in their own homes?

On the first question, about the home help service plan, the Deputy is aware it is being negotiated at the moment with the HSE. Last year, there was a provision for 17 million home help hours. We hope to see an improvement and an increase on that, but I cannot commit to that until the service plan is agreed.

Regarding the bigger picture and Deputy Healy Rae's question about a fair deal-type scheme for home care packages, public consultation has concluded, and my officials are now drafting a new scheme of home care. I said at the outset that it would probably take up to three years to bring this about. We are approximately halfway through that process at this stage. It should be borne in mind that the fair deal scheme took seven years to be finalised. I hope to do this within three years. We are making steady progress on that, and I am happy to keep the House and concerned Deputies updated.

My question is for the Minister for Justice and Equality and concerns Carndonagh Garda station in north Inishowen, and the need for a new-build station on a greenfield site to replace the one that is there at the moment. Garda management has indicated that it believes the current building has a short future, and as such it is essential that a new build is put in place to ensure that Carndonagh can remain the anchor for policing in north Inishowen. Will the Minister ensure that it will be funded if the request comes forward from the management of An Garda Síochána?

This is a question primarily for the Garda Commissioner and his team. I am happy to update the Deputy once I have the appropriate information on the individual Garda station.

In the programme for Government there was a commitment to bringing down the costs of motor insurance. Young people have been treated like road hogs over the past three years, given how the costs of insurance have increased. They are not road hogs, but good citizens of this country, and they need their cars to get to work, particularly those living in rural areas.

They have now targeted new victims, namely the elderly. I have had many contacts from elderly people, pensioners and people aged over 70, who are supporting young families by bringing children to school and to sports, where their car insurance has doubled. This is wrong and should not be allowed to happen. It is time we had more competition in the insurance market because people are being ripped off. It is unfair to do this to elderly people. They have never had an insurance claim in their lives and have been driving safely for 50 years, yet their premiums have doubled.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. The cost of motor insurance is one of great concern to his constituents and mine.

The Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, is leading the Government's action on this and has done much work on it. Motor insurance premiums rose all the way up until the middle of 2016. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, they have fallen about 20% since then. I know that is not the case with every individual’s premium but in the round they have fallen 20% since the middle of 2016. We want them to fall further, however. Accordingly, the Minister of State is implementing the recommendations from his action plan with 58 of the 71 completed. That will continue.

I agree more competition would be welcome in the market.

The programme for Government has several commitments about improving public transport. In fitting with this, there are plans to improve the No. 220 bus service in Ballincollig, County Cork, and increase it to five times per hour. This was expected earlier this year. While the National Transport Authority, NTA, and various authorities are in agreement about it, people are still waiting for the service to improve and still waiting for up to an hour for a bus.

I know the Taoiseach will not have an instant answer on this. However, can he determine what is the roadblock and why this fix has not been brought forward? How soon will the improvement to the service be brought into effect?

Ordinarily, I would tell the Deputy that I do not have any information about the No. 220 bus service from Carrigaline to Cork. However, as it happens, my sister’s childminder, who is attending UCC, uses it regularly. I am advised that it is slow and, as a consequence of traffic, often gets stuck. It will be significantly improved and made more frequent in the next several weeks. I will pass on the reply to the Deputy because it was a favourable one.

My question relates to the regulation of short-term letting platforms. We have thousands of children and homeless families living in hotel rooms every night. At the same time, tourists, visitors and corporate business are accommodated through short-term letting platforms in homes which are suitable for homeless families. We raised this at an Oireachtas committee more than two and a half years ago, which then did a detailed report on the regulation required in respect of these platforms. A month ago, my colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, asked the Minister a direct question on this. The Minister replied:

I am about to finalise proposals on this. Had this question come this day next week, I think we would be talking about the changes that [we] would have already been made.

That week is well gone. The month is gone and we still have no regulation of short-term letting platforms.

I understand the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will outline our plans to the joint committee which is meeting tomorrow. It was discussed at Cabinet on Tuesday.

Essentially, it will bring about a change to planning regulations, whereby it will be still okay for somebody to rent out a room in their own house through Airbnb or to rent out their own house through Airbnb for up to three months. However, somebody with a buy-to-let property, for example, would need permission to do that. The Minister will outline in detail what is intended and how he would propose to implement it to the committee on Thursday.

Will the Taoiseach provide an update on the deployment of a modular unit at University Hospital Limerick, UHL? Two weeks ago, we learned there was an objection to this from An Bord Pleanála, which it has, thankfully, dropped. We need to move this as quickly as possible. Will the Taoiseach give a specific timeline as to when this modular unit could be put in place to alleviate the backlog in the emergency department in UHL?

I do not have that information for the Deputy. I know there have been considerable improvements and considerable investments in UHL in recent years, such as the new emergency department and the Leben building which will provide additional bed capacity. Unfortunately, this has not led to significant improvements in overcrowding in the hospital and we need the modular build. I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to provide the Deputy with more information on that. Perhaps it demonstrates once again that relieving overcrowding in our emergency departments is as much about clinical leadership and efficiency in management as it is about bed capacity.

Will the Minister for Justice and Equality provide an update on the progress report on the detail between the OPW and the Department of Justice and Equality on the new regional Garda headquarters in Sligo?

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that matters are progressing with the new Garda headquarters in Sligo. I would be happy to provide the detail to him at the earliest opportunity.