Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

In the context of children, the programme for Government refers to "an opportunity to change our approach from expensive reactive interventions to proactive supports and long term planning starting from birth". This commitment must be a long way from being realised in light of the report in today's edition of The Irish Times by Kitty Holland about the long queue of families, most of them mothers with babies and toddlers, endeavouring to access the Capuchin Day Centre in order to obtain help with the very basic necessities of life. The photograph that accompanies the article tells 1,000 very depressing stories. Over 600 mothers are registered with the Capuchin Day Centre to get free infant formula and nappies. They travel from the city centre and from homeless centres in Drogheda and Dundalk. Many are accommodated in their parents' homes and so on. These people are not included in the statistics relating to homelessness but they are living in very stressful circumstances nonetheless. In line with comments made earlier, there is an urgent requirement to focus on the needs of homeless children and to reduce the necessity for the Capuchin Day Centre to have to continue to intervene at the level and scale at which it is intervening in order to prevent poverty and destitution. The State should be investing more.

We all acknowledge the enormous charitable work of the Capuchin Day Centre and how it assists people. Government assists people as well. As stated earlier, there a been a significant increase in the number of people at work and this has helped to reduce poverty in general and also child poverty. We have increased welfare payments. Further increases targeted at people on low incomes and with children are due in March. There will be an increase in the qualified allowance for children, improvements in family income supplement and improvements for lone parents. People who cannot get by, even with their welfare payments, have the option of going to community welfare officers to seek exceptional needs payments or urgent needs payments. Those supports are available directly from Government but I appreciate that people may, for their own reasons, not wish to avail of those supports and go to voluntary organisations instead, many of which - including food banks - are funded by Government.

Not the Capuchin Day Centre. The amount it gets is pitiful.

It is mindboggling that the Taoiseach just ignores what is happening on the streets of our city. The real casualties in the fiasco of the national broadband plan are the 500,000 households that have been left without high-speed broadband. It is six years since this plan was announced and we do not even have a commencement date - never mind a completion date - for it. Initially, it was to be completed by 2020. That will not be the case. The entire process is chaotic if not farcical. The Taoiseach mentioned that there are two evaluations taking place and that these will determine whether the bid can proceed. Can the Taoiseach outline to those who want this broadband delivered as quickly as possible - whether they be households, businesses or communities - when it is likely to be delivered to them? If the bid cannot proceed, what is plan B? Does the Government have a plan B?

This has been a very complex and ambitious programme. We are seeking to provide high-speed broadband to every premises in the country bar none. It will be 100% coverage and that involves over 500,000 premises. This has not been done by many other countries and it is an ambitious programme. I agree that the process has been complex. There was a competitive dialogue whereby anyone could come forward with whatever technology. We are now in the final stage of that. A final tender was submitted in September. That has to be carefully evaluated, apart from the subject matter we are intending to discuss later in the week. It has to be evaluated from the points of view of governance and value for money, all of the elements of which the Deputy would want to be assured. We are in the final stage of that process, which must come to a conclusion before we consider other options. It is important that we provide the time and opportunity for this bid to be properly assessed. That is what I intend to do and before coming back to the Government with an assessment. That is where matters stands.

What is the schedule?

Until a decision is taken, there cannot be a schedule of investment.

It is impossible to set out a schedule of investment until one decides whether one is going with the tender.

Tackling homelessness and dealing with the housing crisis is the stated priority of the Government and the House. A raft of legislation has been promised to deal with these issues, but where is it? The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government promised to ensure the Bill to deal with short-term lettings would be enacted before Christmas. We have yet to see the publication of the Bill on the national regeneration and development agency. Where is the legislation promised to deal with the issue that is our social imperative?

I thank the Deputy for the questions. On homelessness and the imperative to deliver more social housing homes, I received agreement from the Cabinet earlier for supplementary spending on social housing this year additional to what was announced in next year's budget. That funding will increase the stock of social housing homes this year, which is welcome to help families and individuals.

The Government cannot spend the capital this year.

We can through acquisitions. On the Bills the Deputy asked about-----

How much money is it?

On the Bills the Deputy asked about, the Land Development Agency is up and running-----

How much funding was it? Will it buy houses between now and the end of the year?

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Let the Minister answer.

The Minister made an announcement.

If we can let him answer.

He has not announced much.

Please let the Minister answer.

The Land Development Agency is up and running. The heads of the Bill to establish it on a statutory funding in order to capitalise it with Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, funding will be published in the next week or two. The intention has always been to get the Bill through Second and Committee Stages next year with the draft heads published this year, which will happen.

On the regulation of short-term lettings, draft regulations have been prepared for the joint committee. The approach will involve a change in regulations and a one-line amendment to primary legislation. Those new laws will come into effect on 1 June 2019, which means we have time to give effect to them. The important thing is that people know changes are coming in seven or eight months to allow them to get ready for them to come into effect. My hope is that the joint committee can look at the draft regulations as soon as possible. They are drafted and there will be a standing period for them to come into effect. The last matter is the rent Bill which I hope to bring to Cabinet next Tuesday.

The Taoiseach just told Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan that Ireland was a country of business and enterprise and that incomes were at an all-time high. Will he please tell that to nurses, 37,000 of whom were threatened by the Minister for Finance last weekend that if they went on strike, they would lose their increments? Not only would they lose their increments, they would lose a lower pension levy and the paltry pay rise proposed in the Public Services Pay and Pension Act 2017. When we had a financial emergency, the Government introduced the FEMPI legislation. After that, the Public Services Pay and Pensions Act was brought in. These Bills set out to penalise workers who were striving to improve their incomes but who were held back by the financial emergency. Where is the financial emergency now and why are workers being trapped in the conditions that resulted from it? In particular, I ask about the 37,000 nurses on whom we will all rely so heavily throughout the coming winter, as stated by the Taoiseach recently in his comments on the winter initiative.

As the Deputy knows, average pay for nurses in Ireland, including overtime and allowances, is more than €50,000 a year, which salary is well deserved. They earn every euro of that. The Deputy will know that we have passed legislation in the House to repeal the financial emergency measures and are phasing out all of those public pay cuts over time in a way that is affordable for taxpayers, starting with the lowest paid and ending with the best paid.

The Government has not removed the punitive measures.

Allow the Taoiseach to reply.

Under that legislation, any basic pay reductions will be fully reversed by the end of the year for those earning under €40,000 and by 2020 for those earning under €80,000. Increments are being paid every year and there will be two pay increases next year as well as an increase for new entrants. It is not punitive for people to contribute to their pensions. People should contribute to the cost of their pensions. It is not punitive at all; it is common sense.

The Taoiseach has deliberately not answered my question. I asked about the punitive measures being used against nurses.

Please, Deputy.

Without interruption.

I encourage-----

All I am asking the Taoiseach to do is answer my question.

If I am permitted to, I will.

It might be better to move on at this stage if people will not stay quiet.

The Taoiseach will not answer any questions.

I ask the Deputy to please stop interrupting the House. I call Deputy Michael Collins.

In response to questions I asked in the House in 2017, and in March of this year, during my engagement on Leaders' Questions with the Taoiseach's stand-in, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I was told the Department of Education and Skills had given a green light on 2 December 2017 to four mainstream classrooms and two resource teaching rooms for St. Brogan's college, a secondary school in Bandon, and that in the interim temporary classrooms would be approved immediately.

Were the people of Bandon and its surrounds misled? Not a shovel has been turned or a temporary classroom put in place in this project thus leaving a similar crisis for parents and staff in St. Brogan's college this year, where dozens of children will not be accommodated. The people of Bandon and its surrounds want an honest answer today. When will St. Brogan's college see the temporary classrooms put in place and why has no progress been made on the four mainstream classrooms and two resource teaching rooms as was promised to the people in 2017?

That is a parliamentary question.

I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to provide an answer to the Deputy in writing.

In May 2017, the Minister for Health asked for a month in order to resolve the issues of public concern about the ownership and ethos of the proposed new national maternity hospital. The Minister was trying to square the circle of the proposals in the Mulvey report and how to provide for the type of hospital that would be publicly owned with a non-religious ethos. Some 18 months have passed since that date and no progress has been made. Can the Taoiseach tell us where things stand on the proposed new national maternity hospital and can he give an undertaking that any proposed agreement on ownership of that hospital will be brought before the House before being signed off by Government?

The Government is committed to the national maternity hospital relocation project which involves the development of a new maternity hospital on the campus of St. Vincent's University Hospital at Elm Park. The new hospital will be funded by public money and is included in Project Ireland 2040. The development will represent a flagship project as part of the national maternity strategy and will constitute the largest single investment ever made in maternity services in Ireland.

It is vitally important that the legal and governance arrangements associated with this significant State investment are robust. A draft legal framework is currently being finalised and that will ensure that the State investment in the new hospital will be protected and that the new maternity hospital will be clinically and operationally independent of St. Vincent's University Hospital. Once finalised, the proposals will be submitted for consideration to the Government, the national maternity hospital and St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. The Minister for Health wants to assure the House that patient care in the new hospital will be delivered without religious, ethnic or other distinction and that any medical procedure that is legal in this State will be carried out there.

The Taoiseach's Government and the last Government set up Irish Water to provide a better service but many people are being let down in one aspect of the new set-up. When trying to resolve bills, people have to go through the number 1850 178178, punch in their account number and punch in their water point reference number, WPRN, but they can never get through to the same person twice. It is like talking to someone on the moon and if they get cut off, they never get back to the same person. To compound this, people are being phoned up, are being told to pay their bills and are being threatened with legal action.

I spoke to an elderly man yesterday who is 87 years of age. He was told by a girl who he could barely understand that if he did not pay his bill he would be taken to court-----

I will have to cut the Deputy off because his time is up.

He said to me that he never owed a shilling to any person in his life and that he paid his bills all of the way. He is being billed €1,300 for water, which he did not-----

Do not cut him off he will never get back again.

-----owe. He cannot resolve the problem. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure there is a human face on Irish Water in local authorities or somewhere where someone can go in and discuss the issue in order to sort out their bills but that service is not available.

The Deputy is taking up other Deputies' time.

There is no human face to Irish Water in any county where people can go in and sort out their bills.

I call Deputy Brassil on the same matter.

I point out at the start that I have no vested interest in Irish Water. I do not have any contracts with it or carry out any work for it. My question is on the Glenderry water scheme which is in my parish of Ballyheigue. Irish Water is planning on closing it and switching over to the Ardfert central scheme which provides a far poorer quality of water.

Will the Minister ask his officials to examine this decision with a view to reversing it?

I call the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

In case that it a dig at me-----

That was not-----

-----I do work and my company, which is a small one, does work for Irish Water but I am entitled to represent the people of-----

Yes. The Deputy has made declarations on that front, so he is all right. Do not worry about it.

I never said anything about-----

Please, Deputy. Do not turn this into Ballymagash.

I thank the Deputy for his question. I take it he is talking about the payment of commercial bills.

That is it, but many small property owners-----

-----with only one acre or a half an acre are being metered and they are the people who are in trouble.

For the love of God-----

Irish Water is doing a very good job to facilitate the easy payment of all bills from all customers in a timely manner. There is a dedicated service to work with customers to make sure that any issues like that can be resolved.

It is not working.

This is the first time this matter has been raised with me and if the Deputy wants to give me individual details, I could see if there is a problem in the system.

Deputy Healy-Rae can give the Minister the information.

I can give the Minister hundreds of them.

The Deputy has raised a separate issue.

What about my question?

The Minister will write to the Deputy. I call Deputy Brady.

There is a commitment under the programme for Government to deliver new schools. On that basis, I raise the crisis facing North Wicklow Educate Together school, whose pupils will be homeless come 30 April next year. That is an immediate crisis facing that school and this Government, but that school also faces a long-term crisis. A dubious decision taken from by ex-chief executive officer of Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, KWETB, and the Department to colocate two educational facilities on a site on Novara Road in Bray was overturned by the board of the KWETB this morning and it has asked for a review of that entire process. Therefore, the school faces the immediate crisis of 180 pupils being homeless come 30 April next year and 60 of those pupils will sit their junior certificate next year. What will the Taoiseach do to ensure temporary accommodation is immediately provided for this school and that long-term accommodation will be provided for it?

There is no legislation promised on this matter but I will ask the Minister for Educate and Skills to provide-----

There is a commitment in the programme for Government.

It is not mentioned in the programme for Government either but I will ask the Minister to provide the Deputy with a written answer.

Regarding Project Ireland 2040, I refer to yesterday's announcement of funding allocations under the urban regeneration and development funds and, first, I want to welcome the specific funding allocation for Dundalk's Long Walk Quarter. While the inclusion of Drogheda's Westgate Vision is very welcome I have serious concerns that no specific funding has been allocated to it despite the fact that Drogheda has been identified as one of five regional cross-Border drivers along with Sligo which got a specific allocation of €5 million, Letterkenny which got a specific allocation of €1 million and Dundalk which got a specific allocation of just over €0.5 million. However, there was not specific allocation for Drogheda's Westgate Vision. The Taoiseach can understand our concern given that he and his Government have relegated Drogheda to third tier status in their plan. Can he clarify for the people of Drogheda what funding will be allocated for Drogheda's Westgate Vision and when we will get it? What is allocated funding?

The Deputy has made my day.

That is the first time I have heard her welcome anything ever, so I am really pleased-----

The Taoiseach's policies are hard to welcome.

-----she has welcomed the announcement made yesterday to provide funding for Dundalk and Drogheda.

There is no funding for Drogheda; that was my question.

It was done in different tiers. Some projects have an allocated amount against them, with the biggest single one being for Waterford of €6 million. There are projects in Ballina, Castlebar, Kilkenny and Dundalk. A number do not have an allocation against them yet and it is intended that will be allocated next year.

Approximately 5,000 farmers have not received their first payment under the single farm payment scheme for 2018. This has been an extremely difficult year for farmers’ incomes, with falling prices and weather conditions. I ask that extra resources be put in place to ensure that those 5,000 farmers will be paid before the Christmas recess.

I thank the Deputy for his question.

I will mention that to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We obviously want to ensure that people are paid what they are owed as quickly as possible and that farmers receive their payments well before Christmas.

The programme for Government contains a firm commitment to end discrimination against small farming families and small businesses. I understand that changes to the fair deal scheme were approved in July in the context of a three-year cap on farming and business assets. Where does this matter stand? Farming families in my constituency are really struggling, as are families involved in small businesses, to pay nursing home costs. When will the proposed changes come into effect? They need to do so as a matter of urgency.

We are keen to make those changes in order to make the fair deal fairer for farmers and people who own small businesses. We anticipate that legislation will be brought forward in the next session.

When is the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill likely to come before the House and be progressed?

That legislation is still on Committee Stage in the Seanad.

There are commitments in the programme for Government relating to home care packages and home helps or home care assistants, as they are now called. Why are the HSE and Department of Health insisting on new contracts being negotiated with home care assistants? What is the logic behind this? It is a tried and tested plan. The home helps have delivered a fantastic service, in both urban and rural areas. What is the thinking behind the Government, the HSE and the Department of Health changing the contracts of those providing home care?

I have no information on contracts and no involvement in the matter. If the Minister for Health does, I will ask him to provide a reply to the Deputy. Contractual matters are generally not dealt with at ministerial level.