Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I do not know if you were watching yesterday's proceedings in the British Parliament, a Cheann Comhairle, but the Speaker of the Parliament almost singlehandedly brought sterling down by 0.5%. I look forward to the day your intervention will have a similar impact.

I look forward to the day when my intervention will get people to stick to the time.

You need a mace, a Cheann Comhairle.

Touché. The plans for the new maternity hospital were announced more than two years ago by the Government with great fanfare. The announcement was a long time coming and was warmly welcomed by all, because the Holles Street facility is simply not fit for purpose in any shape or form, given the high volume of births per annum. In certain cases, women with acute and complex births have to be transferred to St. Vincent's University Hospital. It seems to me that since the announcement there has been nothing but controversy and little progress on the site itself. The need is great in terms of the safety and well-being of women. I cannot understand why we are at the 11th hour on the corporate governance issues concerning the hospital, which seem to be impeding the rapid acceleration of the project itself, notwithstanding the Mulvey report. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach could indicate to the House that the project is on track as it is a key part of the programme for Government, that it will get the allocation it needs to proceed and also that he is satisfied with the governance arrangements that have now been identified.

The project is on track and has planning permission. It is ready to go to the initial works, which is the enabling works around the car park and the pharmacy. It is a significant investment, in the region of €300 million to €400 million, to build a state-of-the-art co-located maternity hospital on the campus of St. Vincent's University Hospital, which will be followed in turn with The Coombe moving to St. James's Hospital and The Rotunda moving to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. Given that it is such an important project and that the hospital will be with us for 100 years, if not more, it is important to get its ownership and governance right. The Minister is still engaging both with Holles Street and St. Vincent's University Hospital to get that right but we are confident that we can get there.

Two years have passed.

This morning it emerged that a former senior manager of commercial lending at Irish Nationwide, Mr. Tom McMenamin, has been fined €23,000 by the Central Bank, following an eight year investigation for reckless conduct. As the Taoiseach is aware, Irish Nationwide cost the State and the taxpayer €5.4 billion, so the rap on the knuckles he received is astonishing. Despite the banking and economic crisis a decade ago, reckless lending is still not a criminal offence in Ireland. Making reckless lending a criminal offence was a recommendation of the former Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Patrick Honohan, but it has not been acted on. Will the Taoiseach commit now to legislating appropriately for reckless lending and making it a criminal offence?

I would be happy to examine any proposals the Deputy has on that matter but I imagine coming to a legally robust definition of reckless lending could be difficult.

It already exists in Britain.

It has been done elsewhere.

If it was wrongly done it could result in many people not getting credit.

And bankers going to prison.

It could also result in a lot of people not getting credit, so one would have to get the balance right.

The Taoiseach is renowned for his rhetoric to the effect that he will deliver for those who get up early, such as the low and middle income earners of this country. At the weekend we learned from an ESRI analysis of budget 2019 that a decision not to link changes in tax and benefit rates to expected wage growth will reduce the average disposable household income by 0.7%. It was said that lower income households would see proportionately greater losses than higher income households. It is a bit like the mistake President Macron has made in France where he is looking after the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority.

The Taoiseach should probably learn some lessons from his pal. The need to link the changes in those tax rates to the expected growth in wages is very clear. Otherwise, what the Government is doing is looking after a tiny milieu of wealthy people when other research shows they have made the greatest gains over the past eight years when compared with average workers and low income earners.

I thank the Deputy. Time is up.

Will the Taoiseach commit to linking changes in tax and benefit rates to expected wage growth to deliver what he says he will?

I am delighted the Deputy has raised his matter. I had thought People Before Profit and the Socialist Party were against tax cuts. If we were to index tax credits and tax bands to anticipated wage growth, we would have had to cut taxes by much more than we did in the budget. I had thought the Deputy was criticising us for cutting taxes. Now, it appears her position is that we did not cut taxes enough.

I am pointing out an anomaly in Government policy.

It is rather perverse. I agree with her that we did not cut taxes enough-----

Their incomes will decrease.

We did not cut taxes by enough. If we have more say over the next budget, we will cut taxes more. The answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes".

This is what he calls the squeezed middle.

I thank the Taoiseach. It is better not to get into an argument.

It is an important point. The ESRI report is based on something called the hypothetical wage index budget. There are, of course, other ways to index: one can index against inflation or one can not index at all. Depending on which model is used, one gets a different outcome. Essentially, what the ESRI report says is that there are increases in pensions, increases in welfare, cuts to income tax and cuts to USC, but, because over 1 million people are also getting a pay rise, everyone is worse off. It is a pretty strange index, if one looks at it that way.

I thank the Taoiseach. We are way over time.

The facts are that because of those measures, because of wage increases, including the minimum wage increase, because of income tax cuts and USC cuts and because of pension increases and welfare increases - all in this budget - everyone will be better off in cash terms next year. People will be better off even when we take inflation into account.

The Taoiseach rejects the ESRI report.

No, I understand it. That is the difference.

Further to an earlier question, it has come to my attention that the HSE has lodged a commencement order with Dublin City Council in respect of the proposed new national maternity hospital. Such an order would be made after contracts are signed and when work is about to begin. In this case, the HSE is saying work will begin this coming Friday, 14 December. Surely this cannot be the case in light of what the Taoiseach said earlier - and in view of what he has been saying to me in recent weeks - regarding the need to ensure that all of those important outstanding issues are resolved. I refer to the issues of ownership of the new hospital, ownership of the site and the governance and ethos of the hospital. It seems the Government is not anywhere close to being in a position to sign a contract for work to begin. Will the Taoiseach clarify the position regarding the contract? Can he provide an assurance today he will arrange for that commencement order to be withdrawn immediately so that all of those outstanding issues might be resolved?

The Deputy is well aware I am not involved in contractual matters of any nature, whether they relate to individual employment contracts or contracts related to a building scheme.

He is the Taoiseach.

I will certainly ask the Minister for Health to give the Deputy any information he can. I imagine it relates to the enabling works rather than the main contract.

The programme for Government committed to the recruiting of additional teachers within a reformed and better managed public service. Earlier today, parents in a primary school in my constituency of Dublin Rathdown received a message from the principal stating, "In the new year there will be teaching vacancies in our school. These positions have been advertised repeatedly over the last three months without a single reply." This is an appalling position for a principal of the school to be put in with regard to managing her school. It is an appalling position for the teachers, given the extra pressure of operating in a school that has a shortage of staff. Most importantly, it is appalling for the children who have to attend a school where there will not be enough teachers to properly provide the best possible education for those children.

This school will, of course, continue to try its hardest to fill those vacancies but the fact remains many schools across the country are dealing with the same issue.

Pay inequality is very much part of the problem as students are refusing to join the teaching profession while, for the same reasons, young teachers are walking away from it. What measures is the Government adopting to tackle teacher shortages?

I thank the Deputy. We have managed to recruit an additional 5,000 teachers in the past two years, which is a considerable level of recruitment. That is not to take away from the fact that, on occasion, certain schools will have difficulty recruiting certain teachers. There are difficulties when it comes to certain subjects.

This is a primary school.

In an era of full employment, there are few areas of the public or private sectors where people are not struggling to find staff.

This has been going on for years.

As regards pay, we have a pay deal with the public service which involves full pay restoration for anyone earning up to €40,000 by the end of this year and up to €80,000 by the end of 2020.

I refer to the stressful situation in which some same-sex parents find themselves in the absence of parental rights and recognition. The remaining sections in Parts 2, 3 and 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 need to be implemented to ensure both parents are recognised as parents of their children. Along with this, the general scheme of the assisted human reproduction Bill 2017, which has been considered by joint committee, seems to have stalled. Action is needed on the Bill to support these parents.

A number of amendments need to be made from both a health and civil registration perspective. The amendments to my Bill will, hopefully, come before the House after Christmas and the Minister for Health is aiming to do the same in respect of his legislation.

I refer to the disparity between section 38 and section 39 organisations, specifically those section 39 organisations providing State services for people with intellectual disabilities. Some time ago, section 38 organisations were taken under the remit of the State Claims Agency, SCA, along with all of the associated insurance matters. That transferred a large volume of work in respect of which insurance companies had been quoting. It transpired then that insurance premiums for section 39 organisations escalated. In the case of St. Joseph's in Charleville, the premium escalated from €150,000 to more than €500,000. Some scoping work has been done within the HSE and the Department of Health on the SCA taking over the insurance policies of section 39 organisations dealing with intellectual difficulties. Where is that process and what is happening in relation to it?

I am afraid that I do not have any information on that. The SCA falls under the remit of the Minister for Finance who is in Washington. I will ask him to correspond with the Deputy.

Permanent TSB is in the process of selling €1.3 billion worth of mortgage loans to a vulture fund, Glenbeigh Securities. No one knows who owns the fund. It is completely secret having only been established one month ago. A key issue is that this is now tax free, as it is a section 110 company with charitable status. Despite the fact that the loophole in the Finance Acts 2016 and 2017 was closed, the fund is telling its investors it has found a way around it because Permanent TSB holds a small portion of the economic interest. Will the Taoiseach bring forward emergency legislation to close the loophole that a company holding €1.3 billion of Irish property has found a way around?

The Central Bank (consolidation) Bill is promised legislation. Might it be possible to introduce in the Bill provisions to address not only the matter raised by Deputy Pearse Doherty but also a number of other vulture funds operating with consequences for our constituents nationally.

As I understand it, companies will pay tax where they are resident but I had the opportunity to watch Deputy Pearse Doherty's exchange at the finance committee with an official from Permanent TSB.

I brought that to the attention of the Minister for Finance. If there is a loophole which somebody is exploiting, we will close it if we can. The Minister is examining the matter.

There is a clear commitment in the programme for Government to deal with the issue of insurance, particularly insurance for younger drivers. Where I live in the north west, and in many parts of rural Ireland, when jobs become available. young people often have to drive because there is no other way of getting to work. When they try to insure a car, they find themselves being quoted €8,000 or more. I met one young person who was quoted €4,000 to get on their mother's car insurance as a named driver, which is ridiculous. A programme was set up to examine this issue but we are back to the same position again. Insurance companies are closing down opportunities for young people to get insured and get on with their lives. It is time to take a firm hand with this. Something must be done to ensure that people can get insurance in order that they can drive cars in rural Ireland.

I totally agree with the Deputy that it is important that people are able to get car insurance so that they can go about their daily lives and so that young people, in particular, can access employment. As everyone in the House will appreciate, insurance is a financial service regulated by the Central Bank. Prices are not set by Government nor are services provided by Government. Motor insurance premiums have, however, decreased by approximately 20% since their peak in 2016.

Not for young drivers.

That reflects the work that the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has done and the work done by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, before him. The Minister of State is continuing to implement the actions in his plan to reduce motor insurance costs further.

It looks increasingly unlikely that the March deadline for the UK's withdrawal from the EU will be met. What impact will this have on the European elections in May? Consequently, what impact might it have on the local elections due to be held in this country on the same date, given the number of MEPs who will be directly affected by whether the UK will be part of the EU?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Legislation to amend the European constituencies and to allow for the additional seats to be filled in the European elections due to happen at the end of May is before us. These elections will happen at the same time as the local elections. Both of these elections will go ahead regardless of what happens in the Brexit conversations going on at the moment. If there is a delay in the UK withdrawing from the EU, it will have an effect on the number of seats to be filled in the elections in May. We do not think that will be the case, but if it were, we would bring forward new measures at that time.

On the commitments to education in the programme for Government, there is a €675 million increase in the budget for education for 2019 compared with 2018. It turns out that €147 million of that is for pensions and another undisclosed amount is to deal with demographic changes. Every year for the past number of years a Supplementary Estimate to deal with substantial pension costs has been added on to the education Estimate because the Department of Education and Skills does not know how many teachers will retire. This relates to the question put by Deputy Catherine Martin. It is an issue we have raised on numerous occasions. This year, approximately 2,000 teachers will retire when the Department of Education and Skills had predicted that approximately 700 teachers would retire. What is the Government proposing to do about that in the context of the programme for Government? The Department appears to be the only big-spending Department whose share of overall Government expenditure is decreasing. The share for the Departments of Health, Housing, Planning and Local Government, and, rightly, Employment Affairs and Social Protection has increased but the share for the Department of Education and Skills has decreased. That shows a lack of commitment to this issue.

Spending in all of these areas in increasing. The budget for education will be €11 billion next year, which is the largest budget ever for education. The Deputy's performance today once again demonstrates the dilemma the Government faces. We are being told, perhaps correctly, by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council that we need to rein in spending but every time I come in here all I hear from the Opposition, and the only thing on which it is united, is that we should spend more and more.

I am criticising the Government for not planning its spending properly.

If one Department gets proportionately more than another, the Opposition wants to spend even more again.

Why is the share for education falling?

It is totally irresponsible.

Deputy Byrne needs to go back to school. The numbers are going up, not down.

I want to raise the matter of the change to the name of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital proposed by hospital management without any prior public consultation whatsoever. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital was founded and built by the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

The hospital build was funded by the people of Drogheda over many years through fundraising events and weekly door-to-door collections. The people are outraged by this proposed name change without any public consultation. The hospital manager has stated it was time for real change but surely it would be better to concentrate on and effect real change by curbing hospital waiting lists or providing a second badly-needed X-ray room. The people of Drogheda want to be consulted on this matter. They deserve to be consulted on it. Will the Taoiseach or the Minister for Health contact management at the hospital and ask them to engage in a public consultation process so that people can have a say on their hospital.

I call Deputies Fitzpatrick and Breathnach on the same matter. I ask them to be brief because we are running out of time.

On the verge of the Christmas celebrations, the HSE aims to dispose of the recognisable name of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The name was established through the legacy of its founder, Mother Mary Martin, a pioneer and an instigator of hospital and maternity services in the north east. Changing the name of the hospital revokes the legacy and vision of its founder and her achievements in providing maternity services where none existed previously.

This unnecessary box-ticking exercise - stripping away heritage and culture - has been railroaded through without any consultation with the people of Drogheda and Louth. This attempt to whitewash a legacy could begin a journey down slippery slope to get rid of more historic names, objects and landmarks that somehow offend or are not seen as progressive. Names are powerful and they have meanings. They are a link to past generations and our culture, honour and history. This hospital was named by Mother Mary Martin in honour of Our Blessed Lady and should remain so in honour of Mother Mary Martin and the community that helped to build, run and maintain Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

I will not delay the business of the House other than to say that I fully concur with the sentiments expressed by the previous two speakers. I was acutely involved in the old regime of the health board and directly involved in the purchase of the hospital when it came into State ownership. It is wrong to try to disrespect the legacy of those who founded the hospital and the investment made in it, not to mention the fact that locally it is called the Lourdes hospital, and I see nothing wrong with that as that is the heritage and the history. To suggest we would rename the hospital and spend millions of euro on that - we will be told it will not cost much but a significant cost is involved when there is a change in the paperwork, signage and so on - is ridiculous. It is incumbent on both the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach to call a halt to any suggestion made in respect of this hospital. What is proposed is nothing short of a disgrace.

There is nothing in the programme for Government or in legislation on this matter but I appreciate that it is an issue of great concern to the Deputies from County Louth. No matter what the name of the hospital is officially, it will always be the Lourdes hospital for people in Drogheda. I agree that it would be appropriate for management to consult with local representatives and the community before making any change. A change does not require Government approval but it is a hospital that serves a community and it is only right that the community should be involved in any decision to change the name.

There are only two Members still offering, namely, Deputies Neville and Murphy O'Mahony.

Under the programme for Government and in the context of the enhancement of mental health services, will the Taoiseach indicate if any consideration has been given to extending the term of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care or to putting in place a permanent replacement? The joint committee sat for a number of months and generated a very comprehensive report and recommendations that should be put into practice.

I call Deputy McConalogue.

My question relates to another matter.

The Deputy can proceed with his question.

This is a question for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding the issue of carcass trimming by beef factories. I raised it with him last week and he undertook to ensure that factories will offer recompense to farmers where this has happened. Will he give an assurance that those factories which are found to have over-trimmed carcasses, and therefore deducted unfairly from farmers in terms of their final payments, will be named and shamed and that they will be held to account by him for these unfair practices?

I may be a little biased, and have been known to be, but I firmly believe that my constituency of Cork South-West is the most beautiful and scenic in the country. The the Wild Atlantic Way offers a lifeline to many people. As the Taoiseach is probably aware, a review of the Wild Atlantic Way is due to take place in February. People in west Cork have some concerns that all the areas currently included will not be included in the review, particularly the peninsula from Courtmacsharry to Clonakilty, about which there is great concern. What efforts will be made to ensure that all these areas will be included in the review?

I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to be brief in his response to the question on agriculture.

I thank Deputy McConalogue for raising this issue. In respect of any carcasses that have been excessively trimmed, the farmers involved are entitled to know the identity of the factories concerned. As the Deputy will be aware from our engagement on this matter last Thursday, in the context of the ultimate accountability and the naming of those factories to farmers, any individual farmer where a carcass has been identified as having been excessively trimmed will be notified by that factory of that matter and duly compensated for it.

I call the Taoiseach to respond in respect of the other two matters.

I thank Deputy Murphy O'Mahony for raising the issue of the Wild Atlantic Way. I agree with her that her constituency, Cork South-West, is certainly one of the most beautiful in Ireland. It is always a pleasure to visit, especially during the summer. My understanding is that the review of the Wild Atlantic Way is not about taking any part out or leaving anywhere out but I will have that checked out and I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to confirm the position for the Deputy.

On Deputy Neville's question, I met the chairman of the committee, Senator Freeman, a few months ago. My understanding is that the committee will continue for the duration of the Dáil. Obviously, each new Dáil decides what committees will sit during its lifetime. I will have to confirm that what I have outlined is still the plan.