Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement Reports

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue for debate. Two weeks ago during Leaders' Questions I raised with the Taoiseach the ODCE report on the mishandling of the investigation into the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Mr. Seán FitzPatrick, and his annual warehousing of personal loans from the bank. I said I had seen the ODCE report and that it was a whitewash. I wish to correct the Dáil record. It was not the original ODCE report that I had seen but a Government account of the investigative failures of the ODCE identified by Judge John Aylmer and the steps being taken to address them. The Minister published that account today. We saw it two weeks ago and I have read it twice. I am sad to say it, but it is a whitewash. In the introduction to the document the Minister wrote that the aim in publishing the account was to present the facts surrounding the investigative shortcomings identified by Judge Aylmer, learn from them and take measures to address them. Where in the document is that done? The document prepared by the Department that I have seen does not do that.

The ODCE report on the collapse of the FitzPatrick trial was requested in May 2017 by the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation under section 955 of the Companies Act 2014 following a direct request from the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. Section 955 requires the director to give information to the Minister and, when requested, account to a committee of the Oireachtas. This is a reporting requirement. The Minister is now telling us that, owing to section 956 on confidential information, she does not have the power to publish the report. I do not accept that. Section 956 does not relate to reports requested under section 955; rather, it deals with protecting confidential information the director has accumulated while performing his or her functions which are set out in section 949. The power contained in section 955 is not a function of the director but a reporting requirement.

The ODCE report is 250 pages long. It has been on the desk of various Ministers in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation for 17 months. On the opening pages of the original report the Director of Corporate Enforcement wrote that no information or document had been omitted from it on the basis that it would prejudice the performance of any of his functions. How can the Minister refuse to publish the report when the director has stated nothing in it would interfere with his functions? I do not understand the Minister's argument.

The way the Government has dealt with the issue raises many questions. One of the key areas on which the Taoiseach focused during his leadership battle with the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, was white collar crime. He said he would make it a priority, but he has done nothing about it since.

If it is a priority, why will the Government not publish the ODCE report? It makes no sense.

There are many unanswered questions about the FitzPatrick trial, the ODCE's handling of it, the Garda's involvement and the decision to pursue a second trial. I may be cynical, but it seems that this suits the Government because it wants the issue to go away and is happy to hide behind the Attorney General's advice not to publish it. As legislators, we will be expected to sign off on a new body - a beefed up ODCE - in the near future, but how can we consider the new legislation when we cannot even see where the problems arose in the past? Does the Minister not believe that, in the interests of democracy and in the public interest, it is crucial that the Government publish the full ODCE report as soon as possible?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. One of the most complex and largest investigations in the history of the State commenced in 2008 with the investigation by the ODCE into Anglo Irish Bank. The trial in the case ended when Judge Aylmer directed the acquittal of the defendant on all charges. Following Judge Aylmer's ruling on 23 May 2017, the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation requested a report from the Director of Corporate Enforcement on the issues arising from the trial. The report, to which the Deputy is referring, was delivered on 23 June 2017 to the then Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

There has been extensive engagement with the Office of the Attorney General on the publication of the report. It was hoped initially that it would be possible to publish it. However, prior to making a final decision on publication, further consideration had to be given to the confidentiality obligations concerning information in the possession of the director, as there was a public interest in ensuring ongoing and future investigations would not be compromised by the disclosure of details of an individual investigation and the investigative process.

Owing to section 956 of the Companies Act 2014, I am prohibited from publishing reports prepared pursuant to section 955 of the Act. While it is not possible to publish the report, I have this afternoon published an account of the investigative shortcomings identified by Judge Aylmer. My aim in publishing the account is to set out the factors that led to the shortcomings in order that we can learn from them and take measures to address them. The focus of the account is on the ODCE's role in the shortcomings identified, not on the other parties involved in the case. In the interests of balance, it is important, however, to emphasise that the shortcomings in this instance should not overshadow the ODCE's track record in previous investigations and prosecutions which led to successful convictions. I accept that the standard of investigation in this case fell below appropriate standards. This happened between 2008 and 2012. The judge's findings point to the need for a broader skills base, a greater range and depth of knowledge and experience within the office and a greater appreciation of the necessity to employ appropriate procedures and manage risk.

Now that we know the factors that led to the shortcomings, our focus has shifted to ensuring we use the lessons of this investigation, note the steps already taken to address them and identify further measures to enhance the capacity of the ODCE to tackle corporate wrongdoing. Since the time of the investigation, the director has implemented multiple reforms within the ODCE that address many of the issues that led to the investigative shortcomings outlined by Judge Aylmer. The drafting of the companies (corporate enforcement authority) Bill to establish the ODCE as a stand-alone agency will build on these reforms and ensure the ODCE is better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law. Furthermore, as part of the process of preparing the Bill, any further power identified as a requirement for carrying out the functions of the agency will be considered, as appropriate. I have secured an additional €1 million for the ODCE in 2019 to assist in its transition to a stand-alone agency.

The Minister's report does not give us the answers for which we are looking.

The Minister is defending the director, but I am not attacking him. I had a meeting with him last Friday. I do not know how often the Minister has met him.

I had a meeting with him last Friday and I found him to be an impressive individual.

And so does the report.

The Minister would do him a favour by publishing his report. Not publishing it is not doing him any favours. The Minister's report does not outline any of the investigative failures or shortcomings that Judge Aylmer identified. I can tell the Minister that 15 pages of his report after he threw out the case are far more informative - 20 times more informative - than her account. The Minister's report ignores the fact that there was a deliberate attempt to build the case rather than investigate it independently and impartially. At this stage, I am convinced that we need a full independent inquiry if we are to get information and understanding and find out where we are going. We are talking about forming a new entity. That is fine. I do not have a problem with that because we need to do something serious about tackling white-collar crime but it does not stack up for the Government to hide behind the Attorney General's advice and not publish the ODCE report. I do not believe the Government can continue down this road without a full independent inquiry.

It is interesting that the House of Commons had a vote today about the British attorney general's legal advice. The British Government has just been defeated and the British attorney general will be censured in the House of Commons for refusing to publish his legal advice regarding Brexit. He also hid behind the public interest when it is in the public interest for the Government to be transparent and open. If we want transparency and openness about what happened since 2009 concerning how the FitzPatrick case was dealt with from start to finish, we need a full independent inquiry. For starters, we need to see the publication of the ODCE's original report, all 235 pages of it. I have outlined with regard to the different sections why even the director of the ODCE has pointed that there is no obstacle to publishing this report. The Government is hiding behind it.

I am not hiding behind it. If I could publish this report, I would happily do so but if I did, I would be breaking the law and I have no desire to break the law. That is fact.

There are leaks from Cabinet every day.

This investigation is now historical. It is crucial to understand the factors that led to the shortcomings identified by the judge so we can take measures to address them. Does Deputy Wallace know the measures we must take to address them? They involve strengthening the ODCE and giving it increased powers. This was the largest investigation that took place between 2008 and 2012. At that time, it was one of the most complex investigations in the history of the State. It is clear that the investigation was not up to the standard required and the ODCE did not have the skills to take it on. In 2008, the ODCE did not have one forensic accountant - not one. In fairness to the current director of the ODCE, he has upskilled, got further resources and has brought in expertise. He now has eight forensic accountants, one digital forensic scientific specialist, two enforcement portfolio managers and two enforcement lawyers. The ODCE has been put on an independent footing and will have more autonomy to get the people it needs and more money. There will be an extra €1 million for it. This will help the ODCE to do the job it must do, which is to ensure companies-----

Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring threw out the case in 2015.

It will have more powers such as search and entry powers and powers that enhance its ability to gather evidence that is held electronically. The legislation will bring about improvements in the supervision of liquidators and more simplified systems when the ODCE is going to the High Court to access phone records. I want to make sure that what happened will not happen again.

Cancer Services Provision

I acknowledge the progress that has been made with regard to breast cancer and prostate cancer. Survival rates are 92% for prostate cancer, 83% for breast cancer and 63% for bowel cancer. However, when it comes to lung cancer, the statistics are stark with a survival rate of 18%. More people are killed by lung cancer than by any other cancer. More people have died from lung cancer than have died from breast cancer and colorectal cancer combined. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Ireland. The lung cancer mortality rate in Irish women is the fourth highest in Europe - more than 50% above the European average - and is still increasing. Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the most common cause of death in Ireland as the population grows. This translates to 1,865 deaths per year. The incidence of lung cancer is expected to increase dramatically by 119% in the next 25 or so years.

There are very significant statistics relating to health inequalities in Ireland. Lung cancer rates are 60% higher in socio-economically deprived groups than in the least deprived groups. Survival rates are also significantly lower in poorer socio-economically groups than among the better off. The statistic relating to urban and rural areas is interesting. The rate among males in urban areas is 36% higher than it is in rural areas while the rate for women in urban areas is 38% higher than it is in rural areas. We are talking about over 2,500 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed every year. We know the economic cost but that does not take into account the cost to individuals and their families and loved ones when a diagnosis proves to be fatal. Lung cancer research gets lower levels of funding compared with other common cancers.

Research also shows that Ireland is falling behind other EU countries with regard to patients having timely access to the most innovative treatments. For example, in 2016, only 20% of new cancer medicines that had been launched in the previous two years were available in Ireland. The figure in Portugal was 40% while the figure in Germany was 76%. Lung cancer has the fourth highest percentage of emergency presentations at 25% of all cases. We know about the association with smoking but 20% of people with lung cancer will never have smoked. We know early detection is vital. Treatment can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and cancer medicines. There are new treatments. Research indicates the potential of immuno-oncology to improve survival rates. Immuno-oncology medicines can be used as first-line and second-line treatment, on their own or in combination with other treatments like chemotherapy. There have been developments in biomarker testing, which means that doctors can identify which lung cancer patients are likely to benefit from these new immuno-oncology treatments. Again, this is progress and Ireland needs to be part of it. At the moment, we are falling behind other EU countries with regard to timely access to the most innovative techniques. In fact, we are last out of 13 western European countries when it comes to bringing new cancer medicines to patients. This is a shame when we think of the progress made with regard to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

What is the Government planning to do to make sure those with lung cancer have access to the innovative new treatments, include immuno-oncology therapy and combination therapies? These are the treatments that are making a difference to survival rates of those with lung cancer in the countries that offer those treatments. Lung cancer patients in Ireland need and deserve the same.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for raising this issue. I know she has been a strong advocate in respect of cancer in Ireland for many years. I welcome the opportunity to speak on lung cancer. On average, 2,500 patients are diagnosed with lung cancer in Ireland annually with over 1,800 deaths each year attributable to this disease. However, much work has been done to address this. Survival rates for lung cancer are improving. In the last two decades, lung cancer five-year survival rates have increased from 8% to 16% in males and from 9% to 21% in females.

Prevention is a cornerstone of the national cancer strategy for 2017 to 2026. It is estimated that the proportion of cancers attributable to lifestyle and environmental risks that can be modified is in the region of 30% to 40%. It is vital that we are effective in getting the message across to the population that each person can impact significantly on their level of risk in developing cancer. Effective health promotion and disease prevention initiatives result in less chronic disease. The Government has already initiated policy to improve our nation's health through the Healthy Ireland programme. The Healthy Ireland programme takes a whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach to improving health and well-being with a focus on prevention. With at least 85% of lung cancer attributable to smoking, Tobacco Free Ireland, the national tobacco control strategy, is an important initiative in reducing the incidence of lung cancer in Ireland.

It has the key goal of making Ireland tobacco free by 2025. There is evidence that past changes in behaviour with regard to smoking have led to current better health for individuals and this is something which can be built on to promote further behavioural change.

Increasing the number of cancers diagnosed at an early stage is a key aspect of the cancer strategy. Cancers that are diagnosed at an earlier stage are generally more likely to lead to better treatment options and improve survival outcomes. Raising awareness in people that unusual or persistent symptoms need to be checked out is a critical step in the early diagnoses of cancers.

Recommendation seven of the national cancer strategy states that the HSE national cancer control programme, in partnership with the HSE's health and well-being directorate and voluntary sector, will develop a rolling programme of public awareness campaigns aimed at the early detection of specific cancers. Work is now progressing on the development of such a campaign for lung cancer.

Rapid access clinics for patients with suspected lung cancer have been established in eight designated cancer centres. These clinics seek to ensure that lung cancer is diagnosed and patients enter treatment as soon as possible. So far this year, 87% of patients referred to these clinics have been seen within ten days. With the ongoing implementation of the national cancer strategy, I look forward to increasingly successful prevention measures for lung cancer with early diagnoses and effective treatment leading to further improvements for patients.

It is probably opportune that the Minister of State is taking this himself because of his own personal interest in this topic as a smoker.

We have to acknowledge the different rates for those with lung cancer and I think stigma is an issue. While there are common denominators for all cancers, we know lung cancer is predominantly linked with smoking, in spite of the fact that 20% of those with lung cancer have never smoked. The stigma is also reflected in a survey which showed that 30% of those surveyed thought that non-smokers should have preferential treatment for lung cancer over smokers. Is stigma preventing people from presenting earlier, especially in lower socioeconomic areas? It is very serious because we know how vital early intervention is.

Lung cancer needs to figure more prominently in the Healthy Ireland strategy. There will be a cancer patient advisory committee and expressions of interest for membership had to be in by 19 October. It is important that all cancers are represented there. I hope that tackling stigma and early intervention would be part of the work of the committee.

I have previously raised the issue of the heavy workload and pressure on nursing staff in the oncology wards in hospitals in Dublin with nurses, some still in their training years with no oncology treatment training, administering the medicines. We have a national cancer strategy, so how will the steps to increase the number of lung cancer specialist nurses be implemented?

We also need a patient advocacy group for lung cancer. We need more of the "I am lung cancer" campaigns. We know that BreastCheck has been effective. We also need a lung check campaign. The social inequalities associated with lung cancer could be looked at by the cancer patient advisory committee.

We need to look at the cancer strategy with a checklist on the recommendations and the timeline. We also need to take into account the facts about lung cancer which indicate that it needs more attention and work. In his reply, the Minister of State said that 87% of patients referred to the clinics have been seen within ten days but we do not know what that is 87% of, or to what that translates in numbers.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for raising these issues and I take her point that I am vulnerable on this issue as somebody who is addicted to nicotine. I acknowledge the points she makes and will bring her views back to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris.

I totally acknowledge the points that the Deputy raised in the debate. Through initiatives under Healthy Ireland and Tobacco Free Ireland, it is hoped that we will see a reduction in smoking levels and a consequent decrease in the number of people diagnosed with lung cancer. I am very committed to the implementation of the national cancer strategy 2017-2026 which was launched last year. We are focused on preventing cancer, early diagnosis, the provision of quality treatment and the health and well-being of those living with and beyond cancer. Our efforts, in recent years, have led to significant improvements in survival. The five-year survival rate for lung cancer now stands at 16% in males and 21% in females. I am confident these figures will continue to rise.

Through the implementation of the national cancer strategy, I look forward to increasing successful prevention measures for lung cancer, with early detection and diagnosis leading to further improvements for patients. Of course, I will bring the other points Deputy O'Sullivan raised back to the Minister.

Transport Infrastructure Provision

I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to hear what I have to say. I will make it brief and to the point. We need to have ambition and vision for the greater metropolitan area of Cork. We now have a situation where the south link road is effectively at capacity with about 87,000 vehicles using that stretch of road every day. About 70,000 cars are using the Jack Lynch Tunnel every day. The Minister will come back to me and point out that the Government is going to invest a large amount of money in the Dunkettle interchange. Of course, that is not planning for the future, that is catching up with the present. These issues are a result of the demand that is now placed on the Dunkettle interchange. It is clear and obvious that Cork needs an outer, northern ring road and it needs to be planned. Initial planning was sought for this a number of years ago, however it was shelved in the downturn.

We are now in a strong upturn. We need to put in place solid, coherent plans to address the issue of the imbalance in Cork city and the Munster region. We need an outer, northern ring road from Killydonoghoe, north of the Glanmire bypass, stretching right across the periphery of the northern city, over Kerry Pike and down to Poulavone. We should now bring about the plans that were there and enact them quickly to ensure sustainable planning and development is put in place that will not diminish the chances of us actually building a northern ring road.

All of this is in the context of the expansion of the city boundary. We are going to have all this particular area inside the city limits so it is appropriate now for the Minister to use his office to show his imagination and vision and his capacity to look beyond the local issues of the Stepaside Garda station and plan for real regional development. The region and city is completely dependent on the tunnel at the moment. If anything happens to it, or if there is a catastrophic accident in the tunnel, or it is closed for a long time because of maintenance, or if there was major structural damage done to the tunnel which meant it closed for a long time, the region would stop. It is the only major arterial route across the River Lee from north to south. The deep water port and the airport are in the south. All the hospitals and universities are in the south, as is the institute of technology. It is the gateway to the broader south-west region. We are completely dependent on the tunnel for traversing from north to south.

A northern ring route should be developed to ensure we are not dependent on the tunnel. That would stimulate sustainable development over the short and medium term. Nearly all of the industrial development in the city is now taking place south of the river. It is almost impossible to get major multinationals or large companies to locate in the IDA centres on the northern side of the river. Kilbarry is a ghost town. There is now barley planted in it again. It is one mile from Patrick Street and it is growing barley. That is the contribution that park is making to development on the north side of the city.

For many reasons, we need a northern ring route. I implore and urge the Minister to be imaginative, like in the old days when he had the land use and transportation study, LUTS, which clearly marked out a vision for the future in planning and sustainable transport. We need the Minister to step up to the plate and ensure that we revisit the national plan including the northern ring road.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address this issue in the House.

As he is aware, the national development plan, which was published earlier this year in conjunction with the national planning framework as part of the Government's Project Ireland 2040 plan, sets out the major transport investments that are planned over the next ten years. I understood from the Topical Issue matter that was furnished to me that the Deputy was seeking to discuss the need for me "to carry out a full assessment of transport needs for the greater Cork metropolitan area in consultation with both local authorities and Transport Infrastructure Ireland". The Deputy will forgive me if I answer the question he tabled.

The national development plan makes it clear that the Cork local authorities, in partnership with the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, are finalising a Cork metropolitan area transport strategy. The national development plan includes a number of commitments in respect of transport in Cork. These commitments will be included in the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, which will contain proposals relating to all modes of transport, including road network improvements; a revised, more extensive and higher-capacity bus system; enhancements to the commuter rail service, including additional stations; a future light rail corridor; and a number of bus-based and rail-based park-and-ride sites. The Deputy referred specifically to investment in roads. The national development plan proposes various major roads projects for Cork, including the N20-M20 scheme, which will link the cities of Cork and Limerick with a high-quality transport corridor. The Deputy mentioned the Cork north ring road, which will be examined as a part of the overall planning and design of the M20 scheme. The M28 project between Cork and Ringaskiddy and the N8-N25-N40 Dunkettle interchange upgrade scheme are also being pursued.

On the public transport side, the national development plan commits to the Cork BusConnects programme, which will deliver a revised bus network for Cork city. It will comprise the delivery of crucial bus corridors, enhanced services, cashless fares and account-based ticketing. As part of the delivery of this programme, a network of park-and-ride sites, serviced by the more efficient bus network, will be put in place. The Cork BusConnects programme has enormous potential to transform the bus system in Cork radically by making it much more efficient, reliable and attractive to new passengers. The national development plan also provides that the Cork transport strategy will include an evaluation of a light rail corridor to serve the increased population growth up to 2040 that is envisaged by the national planning framework.

The objective of the Cork transport strategy will be to provide a long-term strategic planning framework for the integrated development of transport infrastructure and services in the Cork metropolitan area over the next two decades or so. It will be used to inform transport investment levels and investment prioritisation over the longer and shorter terms. It will also inform sustainable integrated land use and transport policy formulation at strategic and local levels. The transport strategy is at an advanced stage of preparation. I understand that a draft is expected to progress to public consultation early in 2019. Feedback from the consultation process will be taken into consideration in the finalisation of the transport strategy for the Cork metropolitan area. As the Deputy may be aware, the Southern Regional Assembly is finalising a draft regional spatial and economic strategy for public consultation. Officials from the Department, the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland have worked closely with the regional assembly on the transport elements of the regional strategy. The strategy will include a metropolitan area strategic plan for Cork, as set out in the national planning framework.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There is a small problem here. The northern ring road is mentioned on just one line of the national planning framework. The plan talks about the development of a motorway linking Cork and Limerick, which we would all welcome. The fact of the matter is that it is planned to build a motorway that will run into 19th century roads. We have no proper orbital route on the north side of the city. Such a route is needed for many logical reasons, most importantly, the greater development not just of the north side of Cork city but of the region as a whole. The region depends completely on the tunnel as the only way of moving from north to south. As I have said, all of the main infrastructure - the deep water ports and the airport - is in the southern part of the region. If anything were to happen to the tunnel, it could have catastrophic consequences for the economic development and the continued growth of the area. All of the Minister's eggs are in one basket. If we are to be brave and visionary, we need to accept that a north ring road needs to be developed to link the Dublin Road to the Poulavone area of Ballincollig. This is an essential infrastructural requirement for the greater good of the region and for the more balanced development of Cork city. The Minister knows the city well. Anyone who visits it will see quite clearly that the north side is unable to attract industry because of a lack of access. It needs to be opened up. I implore the Minister, in the interests of local and regional balance and for the sake of ensuring we do not continue to depend on the tunnel, to provide that the north ring road is included in any assessment of infrastructural development requirements in Cork in short and medium terms. There is a one-line reference to this project in the national development plan as it stands. It is mentioned in the context of the development of the M20 into Cork city.

The Deputy has made a very strong case.

I thank the Minister.

I am not questioning his familiarity with this issue. As he has said, the national development plan includes a reference to the Cork north ring road. He has described this as "a one-line reference". According to the national development plan, the scheme will be examined as part of the overall planning and design of the M20 Cork to Limerick scheme in the context of future linkages that might be "complementary". I have mentioned the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, which will cover the period up to 2040. It is expected to identify the need for schemes such as the Cork north ring road, as well as the possible timelines for such schemes. This project is not off the agenda. As the Deputy can see, it is being considered. There is a reference to it in the national development plan, which says it will be examined. I am not sure that the Deputy can ask for much more than that, especially in light of the phrasing of the Topical Issue matter as submitted to me. It might have been better if he had referred specifically to the Cork north ring road, on which he concentrated throughout his remarks. I understood that we would be debating the need for "a full assessment of transport needs for the greater Cork metropolitan area in consultation with both local authorities and Transport Infrastructure Ireland".

As the Deputy is probably aware, such an assessment is already being done. I think he has made a strong case. I am not qualified to argue with it on the floor of this House at a minute's notice. The Topical Issue matter that was notified to me addressed something else. I will refer what he has said to my officials in the National Transport Authority and I will give him a more comprehensive answer thereafter.

I thank the Minister.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is about autonomy and independence. Yesterday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The full implementation of the UN convention, and the essential optional protocol that must follow it, would allow disabled people to have freedom, choice and control over all aspects of their lives. It would allow them to participate fully and as equals in an inclusive society. This act of empowerment will require resourcing, primarily through personal budgets, and the employment of personal assistants directly by disabled people to allow them to carry out tasks that their disabilities will not allow them to do independently. This year has been a significant one for disability rights. We need to make 2019 the year of delivery and implementation. Mr. James Cawley and Ms Shelly Gaynor of Independent Living Movement Ireland made a presentation in the Oireachtas audiovisual room this lunchtime. All of the members of the movement deserve the delivery of their rights and of equality, as does everyone represented by Inclusion Ireland, the Disability Federation of Ireland and Rehab Ireland. Representatives of those organisations were also in attendance at today's event. I urge the Government to make speedy progress with the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and to ratify the optional protocol.

I will focus on education. When can we expect the right to education to finally become a universal right for all children, including children with additional needs and children on the autism spectrum? We know there are long waiting lists for diagnosis. This means children are being left behind. Obviously, this has a major impact on their education. I would like to mention a particular case in Thomastown, which is in my constituency, as a living example of what we are talking about. A young girl who has been diagnosed with autism is being treated extremely badly by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. She was supposed to start primary school in September 2018, but due to her diagnosis and the non-availability of school places, she will be unable to do so until September 2019. The Department has said that she is not entitled to any more years under the early childhood care and education scheme because the two years to which she is entitled under the scheme have elapsed. I understand it is possible for overage exemptions to be made under the scheme, but the Department seems to believe she does not qualify. This means she is being as a second-class citizen. Why is her right to education being affected simply because she has autism?

I will send the details of the case to the Minister of State and ask him to deal with it.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, in March 2007. In March 2018, following many years of tireless work by campaign groups, disability advocates and wider civic society, the Government ratified the convention, the purpose of which is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect of their inherent dignity. At the core of the convention is the realisation of rights that have long been denied to people with disabilities. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 is at a standstill. The failure to ratify the optional protocol is yet another setback. The protocol has to be progressed. On 9 November 2017 Deputy McDonald and I introduced the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2017, which will promote and ensure the rights of people subject to the Mental Health Act. We need to move forward in order that Irish citizens will never be denied their rights, dignity and the capacity to make choices for themselves. We need a new mental health Act that will meet the standards of the UNCRPD.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach as ucht an ábhair seo a phlé. Today, at a briefing organised by Teachta Ó Caoláin, Shelly Gaynor and James Cawley from Independent Living Movement Ireland, Sarah Lennon from Inclusion Ireland, Cathy Moore from Rehab Ireland, Allen Dunne from the Disability Federation of Ireland and Joan Carthy from the Irish Wheelchair Association told us that, without adequate services, citizens living with disabilities were like prisoners. In County Louth I work with many groups and individuals who advocate for services for people with disabilities such as Parents and Friends of the Intellectually Disabled, the Louth respite group, WALK PEER and others, all of which I commend. They have fought a battle a day with successive Governments over the lack of funding, planning and resources, which is contrary to the UN convention. It took 11 years for the Government to ratify it, which was not good enough.

I welcome the increase in the medical card earnings disregard for persons in receipt of disability allowance. It will benefit employees with disabilities but not business owners with disabilities. I have been contacted by a business owner in receipt of partial capacity benefit who will see absolutely no benefit as a result of the changes announced. Changes in medical card assessment should be totally inclusive of all persons with a disability, whether they are an employee or an employer. It is time we made rights real for all.

I thank Deputies Ó Caoláin, Funchion, Adams, Buckley and Brady for raising this very important issue. I am grateful to have the opportunity to update the House on progress to deliver on the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since it came into force in Ireland on 19 April 2018. It is something of which we are all very proud in government. It was ratified at the United Nations in New York and I attended to represent Ireland.

The topic is particularly timely, given that yesterday, 3 December, was International Day of Disabled Persons. I attended a number of events with a lot of families and disabled people. We are making good progress in making all of the convention’s requirements operational in Ireland in an appropriate manner. Considerable progress has been made to overcome the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland’s full implementation of the convention as set out in the 2015 roadmap. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed into law on 30 December 2015 and is a comprehensive reform of the law on decision-making capacity. Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 was reformed through a 2017 Act of the same name to facilitate the full participation in family life of persons with intellectual disabilities and the full expression of their human rights.

Two further priority implementation issues were raised by the Deputies. They are the enactment of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and the commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. I am pleased to announce a date for Committee Stage of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 has been set - 19 December - when it is proposed important amendments will be brought forward to enable an increase in the target for the employment of persons with disabilities in the public sector, from 3% to 6%, on a phased basis by 2024. As the House is aware, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. New administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the decision support service within the Mental Health Commission, a body under the aegis of the Department of Health, must be put in place before the substantive provisions of the Act can be commenced. Every effort is under way to ensure the decision support service will be ready for business as soon as possible. While the director of the decision support service is working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act in early 2020, the situation will be kept under review as the preparatory work for implementation moves forward.

The Deputies spoke about resources. Budget 2019 provides for an allocation of €3 million in the Vote for the Department of Justice and Equality for the establishment of the decision support service. A sum of €3 million was also provided for the service in the Vote for the Department of Justice and Equality in 2018. I promised that we would ratify the UNCRPD and I am delivering on that promise with the support of the Government.

There was some mirth when the Minister of State announced that the date for Committee Stage of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 had been set for 19 December. As I set that date, the Minister of State is a little late, but I welcome him on board. We will ensure Committee Stage is completed. It is critical that Minister of State ensure Report and Final Stage will be scheduled as early as is humanly possible following the resumption of the Dáil in January. No dilly-dallying in taking those Stages on the floor of the Dáil will be acceptable. This is very important and I hope the Minister of State will afford himself the opportunity, in responding to me at the conclusion of the debate, to confirm that is exactly his intention.

On the decision support service, it is absolutely unacceptable that the main or critical elements of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act will be commenced in 2020. That is not what we were told previously. When officials from the Department of Justice and Equality appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality just over a year ago to discuss the legislation, we were told, to our shock and horror, that they would be commenced in 2019. Now we are looking at their being commenced in 2020, not in the coming year, which is absolutely shameful. Whatever the reasons for this protracted and further delay, the Minister of State is in the position to make sure it will continue no longer. I ask that he take on board the very important need to move on the promise made in respect of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act to ensure the decision support service will be fully up and running.

The Minister of State made no mention of the optional protocol. When he appeared before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality 12 months ago this month, he indicated that the UNCRPD and the optional protocol would be ratified in tandem on the same day, but that has not happened. He has since appeared before the committee again when we addressed this issue. I ask him to match his words with deeds.

I thank the Deputy for his comprehensive response. I do not do dilly-dallying and will drive the legislation forward. That is my clear objective.

On the issues raised by the other Deputies, Deputy Funchion mentioned a child with autism who had been left behind. She should give me the details and I will follow up on the matter.

Deputy Brady made a point about business owners being left out, the medical card and employment. We will also look at those issues.

My objective is to include as many people with a disability as possible in the employment sector.

I welcome the remarks from Deputy Ó Caoláin. I appreciate his support and that of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I welcome the debate in the House because it brings the disability issue into the mainstream of politics. I will reflect on the remarks made by Deputies.

It is important to remember some points when we are talking about rights and human rights. I secured an additional €150 million in budget 2019 for disability services. I continue to drive through a wide range of practical reforms to improve the lives of people with disabilities and to focus on their ability. We are making consistent moves toward the full implementation of all the requirements of the convention. Considerable progress has been made this year and we have effective structures in place. The structures include the national disability strategy steering group, assisted by the disability stakeholders group, which holds the Government to account. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is in the process of constituting its monitoring committee. This will complete another piece in the jigsaw.

Of course it is important that we acknowledge the need for services for people with disabilities. I will set out five examples. We have restored the carer's grant to €1,700 for 101,000 families. We have brought in the medical card extension for children in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance. A total of 11,000 children have benefited. We have given an extra €10 million through the Ability programme. We gave an extra €10 million in 2018 for the respite care houses. The last of the 12 houses is being completed next week. The past three budgets have seen a €15 increase in the disability allowance. We are moving along. Do we want to move faster? Yes, absolutely, and I will drive this legislation. I will drive the disability agenda forward with respect for human rights for all citizens in the country.

I thank Deputies for their succinctness and for sticking to the times.