Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I recently asked the Minister for Health when he had received advice from his officials on the impact of announcing a recheck of cervical smear tests, if he had held meetings with them at that time, the discussion that took place and if he would make a statement on the matter.

His written reply did not answer any of the specific questions I tabled. I have complained under Standing Order 44 in that regard. I ask the Taoiseach to take this up with the Minister in the context of the CervicalCheck tribunal Bill that is on the Order Paper and on the legislative programme, which is important legislation to follow through on a commitment that was given by the Government. It is equally important to be fully transparent in all decisions that were taken on that issue, the background to those decisions being taken, and the advices received. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that the Minister gives me a full reply to that and indicates when he thinks the Bill will be before the House.

The CervicalCheck tribunal Bill is one of only six Bills on the priority list and our intention is to have it in the House and enacted before the summer recess. I am told that setting up a tribunal of this nature, which is different from previous tribunals in the sense that it will have to assess liability and not just the level of compensation paid, is novel and it will be difficult to do, but I have said to both the Attorney General and the Minister for Health that I want them to prioritise this alongside Brexit legislation, so the timeline is for publication and enactment before the summer recess. It is essentially a six-month timeframe.

On the other matter, I am not privy to that information. I will tell the Minister for Health that the Deputy raised it today but now that the out-of-cycle smears are no longer being provided, as that programme ended towards the end of last year, we would anticipate that there will be an improvement in the time it takes to get results to women. I know a lot of women are concerned about the delay in getting the result of their smear test.

The spring legislative programme includes the mental health (amendment) Bill. As the Taoiseach will be aware, this will implement the recommendations of the expert review group, which were published in late 2014. I am pleased that this legislation is listed but it has been listed in legislative programmes since as far back as autumn 2017 and little progress has been made. Mental health resourcing and services have been raised with the Taoiseach by Deputy Wallace. Could priority be given to the legislation? When might we see the Bill? What are the targets in terms of getting the legislation off a list and onto the Statute Book?

I will have to come back to the Deputy because the legislative timetable is something over which I do not have full control. I will provide an update to the Deputy on the matter.

One of the main objectives and goals of the Government, and of this House, in the past year, in respect of Brexit has been to ensure the rights and privileges enjoyed currently by Irish citizens who have made their lives in Britain are maintained into the future. We had a briefing last night and the Tánaiste then made utterances in the press. It is interesting that he had cautioned us about what we might say about the memorandum of understanding but I had not left the room when I read about his briefing on it. That is fine.

Regarding the memorandum of understanding and the high level agreement that we understand has been reached between Britain and Ireland, will the underpinning legislation form part of the omnibus Bill, or will it be a stand-alone Bill? Will all of the issues be addressed? The Taoiseach will recall that one of the concerns we had about writing down the rights enjoyed under the common travel area was that we would in some ways restrict them because in many ways it was a melodeon set of rights. Because they were not codified and set down in legislation they were perhaps broader than ones that were set out. Could I ask the nature of the legislative underpinning, how it is to be done and if it is to be done as part of the omnibus Bill this side of 29 March?

As a matter of record, we made a point yesterday of briefing Opposition parties first before taking questions from the media and briefing them. I believe that was the right thing to do because we are relying on the co-operation of Opposition parties to get significant legislation through the House in an extraordinary circumstance. The common travel area memorandum of understanding to be agreed between the two Governments will have legislation linked to it as well. The plan is to have that legislation as part of the omnibus legislation to ensure that we get all that we need to get passed before the end of March, should it be necessary to do that in the context of a no-deal Brexit.

In the debate on the Solidarity-People Before Profit Anti-Evictions Bill 2018 just before Christmas, which the Government unfortunately opposed but which fortunately was passed by a majority in the Dáil, to address part of the reason for the current homelessness crisis, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, promised that there would be legislation dealing with residential tenancies that would come in immediately in the new year. He said it would deal with some aspects of the loopholes that allow landlords to mistreat tenants and to evict them. I mentioned a woman called Elaine who yesterday received 20 anonymous texts that were clearly linked to her landlord trying to bully her and her four children out of her house. She is still in that situation. The Minister said legislation would be introduced in January to deal with and improve the lot of tenants in such situations. The Bill is not on the priority list or the legislative programme. Where is it?

All right. Let us ask the Minister.

The Bill is not on the priority list because it was published in the previous term. Second Stage will be taken, if not next week then the week after.

I thank the Minister very much.

Five thousand people went onto the streets in Tipperary last year. The Taoiseach is well aware of the history of all of that. There is a new feeling there. The Taoiseach acknowledged that he would set up a task force under the Minister of State, Deputy English. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister of State and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, to seek collaboration from all the groups, which are many and varied? The Jobs for Tipp action group has been excluded although it has been working hard behind the scenes for three or four years. The groups are ready, willing and able to collaborate. This cannot be a solo run by any group and the county council because people have, unfortunately, a lack of trust in the council. New shops have opened and business has been increasing in Tipperary. There is a feelgood factor and we do not want this to go wrong. If there is a task force, it must be meaningful and engage with all of the groups that are active and interested in collaborating and being involved.

As the Deputy will be aware, we have had a couple of meetings with different people to try to organise the working group. The local authority has been involved as well. I hope that in February we will be in a position to announce the details of who will be on the working group and how we can progress it. We will involve all the Members of the House from Tipperary in how we put the group together. I will link back with the Deputy, hopefully in the next two weeks.

Maidir le hAcht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 agus an Bille nua atá beartaithe, d'fhoilsíodh an príomhliosta reachtaíochta inné agus ní raibh tásc ná tuairisc ar an mBille nua. Tá sé ardaithe go mion minic. Tugadh gealltaí sollúnta dom go raibh an Rialtas ar tí an reachtaíocht sin, nó ar a laghad an Bille, a chur os comhair na Dála roimh an samhradh, tar éis an tsamhraidh, agus arís roimh an Nollaig. Ba é an t-aon bhotún a rinne mé ná níor chuir mé an cheist maidir le cén bhliain. Cén bhliain a bheidh an Bille nua le feiceáil?

An bhliain seo.

Beidh sé le feiceáil i mbliana.

I raised some months ago with the Taoiseach the issue concerning CervicalCheck slides not being provided to women. He gave an assurance that he would go back and talk to his officials. I have pursued this matter with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. I indicated that it was going to end up in the courts. The case was heard in the High Court on 20 December. Commitments were made by the HSE in the court to provide the slides but they have not been provided. The women are back in the court this Friday. This is a disgrace. There is no reason to fail to provide the slides. An unnecessary frustration is being experienced by these women. Could the Taoiseach give an assurance that this nonsense will be stopped and the HSE will be instructed to do what it agreed to do in the court?

I recall that when the Deputy raised the issue previously, I made inquiries of the HSE and the Department of Health about it.

I put across our very strong instruction from Government that a slide should be provided without undue delay. I understand there can be delays at different points before a slide can be sent to a laboratory, and the solicitor has to indicate which laboratory they want to send it to. There is a protocol in place; I understand that the vast majority of solicitors have signed up to that protocol but not all. Delays can happen at different points. It is not always at the point of the HSE or the lab and it can happen at the level of the law firm as well.

What will be the result of the doubling of the cost of the children's hospital in Dublin, which is being built in wrong place? Will it have an adverse effect on places like Kerry, where we were promised a new community hospital, which people are crying out for? Where is this extra funding going to come from? Will it be at the cost of a place like Kerry not getting a new community hospital in Killarney? It is a very serious matter and people are very concerned.

The children's hospital may be located in Dublin but it is a children's hospital for all of Ireland and sick children from Kerry who need specialist care will get that specialist care in that hospital. It will be one of the best in the world, with over 300 beds, individual rooms, rooms for parents to stay overnight, five MRI machines and 15 theatres. It is going to be a hospital of enormous value for all the country and we should never forget that when it comes to this debate.

As a result of the higher cost of building it, it will be necessary to reprofile capital expenditure and that means about €100 million will need to be found this year - €50 million from the Department of Health and €50 million divided across the other 15 or 16 Departments. It is being worked on at the moment by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as to where that is going to fall. We do not anticipate it requiring the cancellation of any projects but it does mean some projects may be delayed.

I want to revert to an issue I raised with the Taoiseach in this House on a number of occasions last year and I regret that, due to a lack of progress, I have to refer to it again. It is the issue of the 25 children who are suffering with spinal muscular atrophy who want access to a drug, Spinraza. If they were in many other European countries, they would have that access. When I raised the matter before, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, indicated there is an ongoing evaluation by the HSE. There had been hope before Christmas that progress would be made and a resolution to this problem found but, unfortunately, that has not happened and the condition of these children is deteriorating. While I support and acknowledge there must be due process, due process cannot go on endlessly. Time has moved on. A solution needs to be found so these children can get access to this drug.

Regrettably, I still do not have a final update because the HSE is still doing the due diligence that has to be done. The background to this is that the cost is extremely high and the HSE has a moral obligation to ensure we do not refuse other people other drugs. There is a limited, finite budget so we have to get that aspect right. It is worth noting that our nearest neighbour, the UK, has not okayed this medicine under the NHS system because it is too expensive. We are hopeful and positive on this but we have to do the due diligence. A decision is due shortly, although I do not want to put a date on it. I know the Deputy's concern and know he is very consistent on this. I am getting daily updates from the HSE but, while a decision is due shortly, I cannot name the date because when one is negotiating, one cannot tie one hand behind the other. We have to be fair to everybody. The Deputy can rest assured that, from a political point of view, and given the efforts of the Deputy and others, this will not be left to dwindle.

I want to ask about the Data Protection Commissioner's report into the public services card, which to date has cost up to €60 million. The report was carried out to examine whether the card and related systems fully complied with Irish law following a number of concerns around the purpose of the card, including the legal basis for its introduction. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which requested the report under freedom of information, was refused it. Why is this report being hidden away from the public? Does the Taoiseach think it is in the public interest that this report is published? Will he ensure the report is published in full? When will that happen?

The Deputy is well aware that the Data Protection Commission had particular issues. It wrote to us and specifically told us not to discuss the report with absolutely anybody. That is the reason the freedom of information request was refused, in particular given this is still ongoing. We have replied, as requested by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, to the concerns it has raised and we await a response. When this is all over and when the final result of the investigation arrives, I am sure both the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Data Protection Commission will issue the report.

According to a response to me from the HSE in September 2018, a review of the Jigsaw service was to be completed in the final quarter of 2018. It is now mid-January 2019 and there is no report. Will the Taoiseach commit to publishing the full findings of this report, given the very important work done by the service and the need to build on and enhance youth mental health services?

I received that report just before Christmas. I am happy to share it with the Deputy and we will publish it as well.

Page 45 of the programme for Government refers to commercial rate valuations. I have correspondence from numerous small businesses in Carlow and Kilkenny which are being crippled by 300% and 400% increases in rates following a review carried out last year. Some of the business owners I spoke to will have to close if the rates keep rising. Fianna Fáil introduced a Bill in the Dáil proposing that the level of increase for an individual business be capped and that increases should be staggered at the discretion of the local authority over a five-year period. This would mean increases are limited and spread over time rather than the current system which involves a single large increase. There is a clear need for a formal appeals mechanism for businesses to the local authority to restructure debt payments on the basis of inability to pay. The Government should also consider a choice of direct debit payments rather than two tranches of payments to help businesses cope with cashflow issues. Turnover and square meterage should also be considered. I hear from numerous business owners who have appealed rates increases that they have not yet heard back from the Valuation Office. What is the status of the commercial rates Bill? Will the Minister include measures within the legislation to address these issues?

Thank you, Deputy.

Businesses in Carlow and Kilkenny now have debt collectors after them. They paid the same rates as the year before. They made appeals but have heard nothing back from the appeals office in 12 months and they are now being pursued for money while their appeals are under way. I told them not to pay the money until the appeal is replied to but they now have debt collectors after them to pay the money and to close them down.

Rates legislation is currently being drafted in my Department. It will allow for rates alleviation and for different measures within local authorities to help businesses and to help promote a certain type of business activity. I will ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to brief the Deputy on the details of the legislation this week.

The Taoiseach might advise the House what is the hold-up in approving the G5 transmitter for type 1 diabetes. It is over nine months since the HSE requested a tender and, to date, no decision has been taken. The transmitter allows parents to monitor a child's blood sugar levels without constantly having to prick their fingers with a needle, and it automatically uploads to a mobile phone, which is a great benefit to the parents. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree it is very important for small babies and their parents that the G5 transmitter is approved immediately.

On the same matter, in Sligo University Hospital the diabetic dietician has at present been allocated to do other work in the hospital to cover maternity leave. There are type 1 diabetes patients waiting to do the Berger course, which they need to do in order to use the pump. One man contacted me who is waiting 18 months. The pump has been delivered to the hospital but he cannot do the course because there is no dietician available to do that course with him. The pump is sitting there and this man is very frustrated. The company has written to him asking him how he is getting on with the new equipment yet he cannot use it. It is one of these situations where maternity leave is being covered but a service is absent because of the way the cover is organised. There is clearly a huge issue. It is part of this problem of retention and recruitment. In a situation like this, it is a false economy to put people's lives at risk in order to cover maternity leave when a service is removed from another part of the hospital.

I do not have an update to hand for the Deputy but I will get one. As I am on my feet, the Bill Deputy McDonald inquired about is almost complete and due to go to the Mental Health Commission for its comments and observations. It will return to the legislative table after that.

It is unfortunate that there is no update.

The Deputy cannot come back in a second time.

I know that but I would like to get some answer.

The Minister of State said he would come back to the Deputy.

While the Taoiseach stated that the increase in local property tax for homeowners will be modest, when one looks at the graph published in the Irish Independent, it is clear the increases will be anything but. Simultaneously, he said during the Christmas period that it was his intention that local authorities would be able to retain all of the local property tax raised in their own areas. If he takes that course of action, there are a number of local authorities whose coffers will benefit. These include large counties like Dublin and, indeed, my own county, Meath. How will the Taoiseach square the circle, however, between what he calls modest increases for homeowners and his intention to allow local authorities to retain all the taxes raised? He has also committed the Government to meeting the budget shortfalls of less well-off counties. Is it the case that local authorities in counties such as Dublin and Meath will experience an increase in funding raised off the backs of homeowners in their own areas while central government funding is taken from them to be sent elsewhere?

I thank the Deputy. This is still a work in progress and no Government decision has been made yet. However, there are two things I can say. I appreciate that there is a feeling out there that because people's house values have increased to such an extent in the past couple of years, they will see a corresponding increase in their property tax rates. That will not happen. We will reform the bands and the rates to ensure any increase is modest. In many cases, there will be no increases at all while some may even see a reduction, depending on the value of their homes. None of these changes will take effect in 2019. Any changes will take effect in 2020 at the earliest. On local authorities being allowed to retain the money paid, many people wish to see the property taxes they pay stay in their counties. That makes sense to me. If we are to provide for that, we will have to continue to have an equalisation fund to ensure less well-off counties do not lose out. However, that could be funded from central taxation rather than the local property tax.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was passed by the House last year and most of us welcome its implementation. Minimum unit pricing was raised during the passage of the Bill and I understand the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is intent on bringing the legislation in that regard into force. I refer to the absence of an assembly in the North of Ireland. It was stated during last year's debate that there was a need for back-to-back, simultaneous introduction of minimum unit pricing North and South to avoid an impact on retailers. I call on the Government to ensure it consults with the representative organisations of retailers and vintners on the impact this will have, particularly in the Border region. That is not about the day-to-day shopping of individuals but rather the criminal activity that will ensue if a significant price difference is brought about by the introduction of minimum pricing here but not in the North. I want the Taoiseach to be cognisant of the loss of trade and revenue.

I will have to speak with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, or Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to get an update on the matter. The Deputy's point is well made. We will achieve nothing if all we are do is encourage people to cross the Border to buy alcohol in Northern Ireland. That does nothing for their health and it damages retailers in counties south of the Border. That does not make common sense. The original intention all along was to do it at the same time as Northern Ireland but that is a problem in the absence of an assembly and Executive there. I will check matters with Deputies Harris and Catherine Byrne but the point the Deputy makes is valid and made well. However, this will not prevent us from implementing many other aspects of that groundbreaking public health legislation.

I understand from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection that quite a bit of work has been done by her Department on reciprocal arrangements for payments of social security benefits between Ireland and the United Kingdom in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Will the Taoiseach arrange for the publication of the results of that research to allay public concern, of which there is a great deal? Will separate legislation be required? If so, will it be possible to pass that legislation before 29 March 2019?

I am not sure what the Deputy means by "research". I have put on the record of the House before and in replies to numerous parliamentary questions the fact that I met Esther McVey last April. We both agreed that our objective was to continue to pay social security payments by way of reciprocal arrangements between the United Kingdom and Ireland in the event either of a deal or no-deal outcome because of the common travel arrangements which have been in place for the past number of generations. Officials of both Departments have been working since last April to provide a memorandum of understanding which will be an international treaty. That awaits signature and will require legislation. Such legislation will be part of the omnibus Bill to be presented next week.

Last night, I attended in Monaghan a meeting facilitated by Monaghan County Council for the residents of Drumgossatt and Magheracloone, and Gyproc. It was a heated debate and I thank the county council for arranging it. It is clear that homes, farms and the local road network have been undermined. Legislation must be introduced to deal with mining and to prevent the flooding of mines such as occurred in this area. People's lives have been changed irrevocably and they want to see legislation introduced to ensure these events do not take place again.

The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, also attended that meeting last night. He will work with the EPA and other responsible bodies, including the local authority, on the matter. If legislation falls to be considered, he will consider it. The parties are working to resolve the matter.

Last Saturday morning, I sent another bus of 24 people to the North for cataract removal as a direct result of the failure of the HSE to provide for same in the South on time and before those people went blind. Given what is happening with Brexit, what comfort can the Taoiseach provide to the many others who are waiting their turn to go to the North to have these operations in circumstances in which we are failing to carry them out on time here? The only hope to save the eyesight of these people is to travel to the North to have their cataracts removed. What comfort can the Taoiseach provide those people if the cross-border health directive fails due to Brexit?

Perhaps the best comfort I can provide is twofold. First, we will work with the European Union to ensure we are part of any agreement with the UK on ongoing co-operation on health. Second, and perhaps most important, I note that our investment in the National Treatment Purchase Fund and in reducing waiting times for operations and procedures is working. At the end of July 2017, 10,000 people were waiting for cataract operations and this figure had fallen by December 2017 to 8,000. By December 2018, it had fallen to 6,440. The numbers waiting three months are down by half and the number waiting more than nine months is down by 87%.

I took 24 off that last Saturday. I am doing more about it than the Taoiseach.

I do not think so.

The Deputy will be aware that the operations are being paid for by the Government, which is to say by the Irish taxpayer and not by Deputy Healy-Rae.

Look at the amount of money increased in the directive.

No, Deputy, there is only one go at this.

It shows how many people are crossing the Border.

Please, Deputy Healy-Rae.

The only reason they are doing so is that we are not doing the operations here. The Taoiseach is ignoring that.

It has been known for years.

I ask Deputy Healy-Rae to resume his seat. There are just three Deputies remaining.

I will take 30-second questions from each of them and we will get answers.

I appreciate that. I raised the rip-off cost of mart insurance on Topical Issues 18 months ago. At the time, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, referred the matter to the insurance industry, which is what he always does. The insurance industry told him there was no issue, but there is an issue. A mart in County Laois which had been in operation for 51 years has had to close its doors because mart insurance premiums increased for the fourth year in a row. Serious concerns are being raised about the sustainability of marts across the country. The Taoiseach has to acknowledge that the Government's plan is not working. I am asking for serious measures and actions to be taken by the Minister of State. He needs to meet mart managers and operators to listen to their concerns and to the proposals they are making. I am asking the Taoiseach to ensure this happens.

The programme for Government states clearly that the Government is committed to a policing service that is visible. We have had many instances of rural crime. I know this is constantly denied in this Chamber. A farmer in Dunkerrin, County Offaly, was recently burgled for the seventh time. There was a similar incident on the Laois-Carlow border in the last week. There is worry and concern. The reality is that these crimes are happening. Although we have a good police service, gardaí are not able to cover large rural areas. I believe that is the problem here. They are doing their best, but they cannot cover the large rural areas. Will the Minister take action? Will he increase the number of gardaí in rural counties like Laois and Offaly?

In view of the discrepancies in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, particularly in Part 9, when will the debate on the civil registration Bill 2019 commence?

Who will take those questions?

I will take the first one and leave the second and third questions to the Ministers, Deputies Flanagan and Regina Doherty.

The Government is very aware of the impact of increasing insurance costs on individuals, households and businesses, including marts. We have had a long-standing engagement with the industry, the Central Bank and the Courts Service on this issue. That was initially led by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, but is now being led by the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. It is showing some good results. The cost of health insurance plateaued and has subsequently fallen a little. The cost of car insurance has decreased since 2016. I appreciate that the cost of public liability insurance is still a problem. We will continue to work with the various groups to try to bring costs down.

I assure Deputy Nolan that rural crime is a priority for the Garda Síochána and the Department. The House had an extensive debate on the matter last evening. An informative amendment that was proposed by the Government during the debate will be voted on tomorrow. There is probably no need for me to assure the Deputy that Garda numbers and policing matters in counties Laois and Offaly are priorities for me.

The Government decided last week to take the amendments to the 2017 Bill out of that Bill. I hope to publish a stand-alone Bill next week. I hope that with the co-operation of Deputies on all sides of the House, we will get that Bill passed in the next couple of weeks.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. Twenty-two Deputies were heard today.