Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Foreign Policy

Leyla Güven, an imprisoned MP for the pro-Kurdish HDP Party in Turkey, has been on hunger strike for the last 69 days. Leyla has been on hunger strike in a Turkish prison against her unjust detention since 8 November and is now in a critical condition. She faces over 31 years in prison for simply being critical of the Turkish regime, after she rightly condemned the Turkish invasion of Afrin and other human rights abuses. Over 260 Kurdish political prisoners have now joined her on hunger strike in Turkish jails. They are calling for her release and for an end to the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. We know that prisoners on hunger strike have been attacked in their cells. Cell confinements and harsh disciplinary punishments are worsening the situation in the jails.

As Leyla's condition is now deteriorating it is imperative that the international community acts to save her life. Will the Minister of State urgently raise this case with his Turkish counterpart and the Turkish authorities? Last weekend, Sinn Féin's MEP for the North, Martina Anderson, travelled to Turkey and met with Leyla's daughter and her lawyers to extend our solidarity and discuss her condition. Along with other international observers, she attempted to visit Leyla in jail. They were denied entry to the prison by the Turkish authorities and there were tense scenes outside the prison after they were refused entry. They witnessed at first hand the tactics of the heavily armed Turkish police when they visited the headquarters of the HDP Party and saw lines of police in riot gear when they left the building.

It is clear that ending the illegal policy of prison isolation is key to advancing the peace process. The solitary confinement of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and other political prisoners is a gross violation of their human rights. Any form of isolation or solitary confinement is strictly prohibited under the United Nations minimum rules of the treatment of prisoners, also known as the Mandela rules, which were adopted by the UN in May 2015. What is happening to this prisoner is wrong and he is a key to unlocking the conflict between the Kurds and Turkey.

Our own history has many examples of hunger striking prisoners. We are remembering the centenary of An Chéad Dáil this month and one of the Deputies elected to that historic assembly was Terence MacSwiney, who later became mayor of Cork and who died on hunger strike in 1920. I remember vividly Bobby Sands, MP, and Deputy Kieran Doherty dying on hunger strike in 1981.

At this critical time for Leyla Güven I urge the Minister of State to raise the circumstances surrounding her arrest and imprisonment urgently with the Turkish Government and join the international action to try to save her life. It is crucial. After 69 days on hunger strike, the woman is at a critical phase. We need to raise our voice. She is facing a long prison sentence merely for going on social media to raise the issue of the illegal invasion of Afrin and other legitimate points of view in respect of the situation in Turkey and the impact it is having on the Kurdish people. The Irish Government needs to raise its voice and condemn what is happening in Turkey and particularly to this woman.

I wish to thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

Ireland is very concerned with the hunger strike of the Kurdish prisoners, in particular that of Ms Leyla Güven, the deputy of the People's Democratic Party, HDP, who has been on hunger strike since 7 November 2018 and is reportedly in a critical condition. It is our understanding that over 160 Kurdish prisoners in 36 prisons are now on hunger strike.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have in the past conveyed our concerns to the Turkish embassy in Dublin in regard to the arrest of HDP MPs, along with other elected politicians, journalists and academics over the past two years. We are well aware of the challenge faced by Turkey in July 2016, with the attempted coup d'état, but the state of emergency is over and the rule of law and freedom of expression must prevail.

We are worried at the reports of a serious deterioration in Ms Güven's health and would strongly urge the Turkish authorities to take urgent measures to alleviate the situation, including her immediate transfer to a hospital where she can get adequate medical attention and treatment and enable contact with her lawyers and family. It is of particular concern that the delegation of MEPs and lawyers who sought to meet with Ms Güven on Saturday were denied entry.

Ms Güven's hunger strike is specifically related to the rights of lawyers and family members to visit Abdullah Öcalan, the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party, and it is our hope that the decision over the weekend by the Turkish authorities to allow Mr. Öcalan a visit from his brother for the first time in two years will be the start of a process leading to the resolution of this particular crisis.

On the wider Kurdish issue, it is clear that this can only be addressed through dialogue aiming at establishing a peaceful, comprehensive and sustainable solution. Ireland has called for the resumption of such a dialogue to allow the political process to resume and we continue to support efforts to maintain contacts between the Kurdish and Turkish sides through our funding of the Democratic Progress Institute's Turkey programme.

On the wider issue of rights within Turkey, we have been consistent in expressing our grave concern at the disproportionate scale and scope of measures taken by the Turkish authorities in the wake of the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Together with our European partners we have conveyed our concerns on the backsliding on the rule of law and fundamental rights, the deterioration of the independence and functioning of the Judiciary and the restrictions, detentions, imprisonments and other measures targeting parliamentarians, journalists, human rights defenders and others exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms.

I want to assure the Deputy that the Irish Government will continue to monitor developments in Turkey on the specific issue of the hunger strike and also on the wider issues of human rights, freedom of expression, rule of law and democracy.

Since the abandonment of the Kurdish-Turkish peace initiative in 2015, Turkey has intensified its military war and political repression of the Kurds. The suppression of political parties and the jailing of Kurdish political leaders has become the norm as Turkish democracy has descended into authoritarian rule.

There are now an estimated 260,000 political prisoners in Turkey. Human rights organisations are reporting that human rights violations against prisoners are on the increase. The Government needs to raise its voice against gross human rights violations. The Turkish Government must stop the torture of prisoners, respect freedom of speech, uphold the rule of law and respect the role of democratically elected representatives. It should also respect its own laws and release the MP, Leyla Güven, and embrace an opportunity to advance the peace process.

Does the Minister of State agree that the only long-term solution to the Kurdish issue is through peaceful and democratic dialogue, not isolation and imprisonment? In any country where parliamentary democracy functions properly, Members of Parliament and leaders of political parties are not put in prison for their political beliefs. Yet that is the day-to-day reality in Turkey and there is now the real possibility that an MP might die on hunger strike. I again urge the Minister of State to urgently raise Leyla Güven’s case with the Turkish Government and join the international acts to save her life.

I again thank the Deputy for raising this important question. I also thank all others who have made contributions. We share the concerns expressed over the Kurdish prisoners' hunger strike and it is clear the issue needs to be urgently addressed before it deteriorates. As Ms Güven's condition is most serious, I reiterate that the Turkish authorities need to take urgent measures to alleviate the situation, including immediately transferring her to a hospital where she can get adequate medical attention and treatment, and enable contact with her lawyers and family.

The Deputy also raised the wider Kurdish conflict. I repeat that there can be no security solution and the matter can only be addressed through dialogue - something which we are all familiar on this island - leading to a peaceful, comprehensive and sustainable solution. That dialogue needs to resume.

As I stated earlier, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have conveyed our concerns on human rights issues to the Turkish Embassy in Dublin in the past and we will continue to raise our concerns about any Turkish Government actions that fall short of the international standards and obligations to which Turkey has subscribed and committed itself.

Turkey remains a key partner of the European Union and as such when Ireland along with our European partners raise these human rights issues, we do so out of a desire to see a strong, secure and democratic Turkey in which all can find their place and make their individual contributions to the country's future.

Housing Issues

Is the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, taking this matter?

Yes. We are honoured.

It is a bit surprising that no Minister from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is available. I thought we had a Brexit crisis, but seeing the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, here, I wonder where the Government's priorities are.

Anyway I return to my own issue of importance. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this Topical Issue matter. When I was elected to this House in 2016, on top of the dilemma of a Government being formed, the first thing Oireachtas Members did was to create a committee to investigate policies and articulate ways of going forward in the development of housing.

I live outside Mitchelstown, which is a planned historic town. It is ideally located just off the M7, the Dublin to Cork motorway. It also filters traffic on to Mallow and Killarney via the N73. The other place we are discussing today is Glanworth, which is also a renowned historic village. It is also within commuting distance of Cork city. Employment is being created in the area and, as I said, both are close to Cork city and Fermoy so it is a good location for people to live and rear families.

We have a major problem. The provision of housing has been an area of contention for the Government. It has launched programme after programme to get construction under way.

The elephant in the room, which is a big issue in north County Cork, is Irish Water. Over two years or more there have been many planning applications, some granted and some pending, but none of them can end up giving the key to the owner of the house because we have a major problem. The wastewater treatment plants in Mitchelstown and Glanworth are closed to the granting of licences for new applications. It is causing a major hindrance and is affecting the development of these two tremendous locations in north County Cork. It is a disgrace. Irish Water gave commitments that it was about to do up these plants.

The local authority has granted one developer planning permission, and although he can proceed to the stage of having the houses ready, he cannot connect to the sewer until Irish Water has its projects completed. How on earth can any small-time developer build houses and not be sure when he will be able to hand over the keys for these properties? Many of those involved can be on bridging loans attracting higher interest rates and it is unfair. It is creating problems in Mitchelstown in particular. We have seen some growth in employment with people seeking accommodation to rent or buy. It is hindering the growth of Mitchelstown.

I do not know what the Minister of State will tell me, but I hope she can provide some clarity as to when Irish Water can give a timeframe for the works to commence. Even the planning authority is weary of Irish Water's letters of comfort at the moment. There are a couple of cases at the moment where the local authority will not even acknowledge the planning applications because it is not too sure if Irish Water will go ahead.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am taking this on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who sends his apologies for not being able to be present.

I will first outline the work that Irish Water has been doing, which is important to set the scene for what we are discussing. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has had statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. Irish Water as a single national water services authority is taking a strategic, nationwide approach to asset planning and investment, and meeting customer requirements.

Irish Water is working with all the local authorities to support housing development as a priority including in north County Cork. Furthermore, it has established a dedicated connection and developer services function to work with developers through a pre-connection inquiry service.

It delivers its services in accordance with its water services strategic plan published in October 2015. This sets out a high-level strategy over 25 years to ensure the provision of clean safe drinking water, effective management of wastewater, environmental protection, and support for economic and social development.

In addition, the first ever national water services policy statement, prepared in line with the Water Services Acts, which was launched on 21 May 2018, outlines a clear direction for strategic planning and decision making on water and wastewater services in Ireland. It identifies key policy objectives and priorities for the delivery of water and wastewater services in Ireland up to 2025. It provides the context within which necessary funding and investment plans by Irish Water are framed and agreed.

On 7 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, approved the Irish Water strategic funding plan for 2019 to 2024.

This sets out Irish Water's multi-annual strategic funding requirement of €11 billion out to 2024. This comprises €6.1 billion of investment in infrastructure and assets and €4.9 billion in operating costs. This significant multi-billion euro investment programme aims to ensure the continued operation, repair and upgrading of the country’s water and wastewater infrastructure to support social and economic development across the State and continued care of the water environment, including the projects to which Deputy O'Keeffe referred.

The strategic funding plan is now subject to economic regulatory review by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, which will consider the efficiency of the investment proposals together with submissions from Irish Water on its detailed investment plans for the third regulatory control period from 2020 to 2024. The investment plans will set out Irish Water’s financial planning for capital investments to support its strategic objectives to deliver improvements to water services where they are needed most.

I will outline to the Deputy the situation with regard to planning applications in my follow-up response.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I acknowledge that there is liaison between developers, the planning section of the local authority and Irish Water. However, engineers in Cork County Council are getting frustrated at this stage. They are reluctant to even consider planning permission applications at the moment because they feel that the commitment from Irish Water has not been copper-fastened. Regarding Glanworth, for example, the local authority is in discussions with a developer and has committed to taking possession of a number of social houses, which is welcome news. It also takes away the fear that the local authority might buy houses on an ad hoc basis. Projects have been shovel ready for two years or more. In 2016, issues relating to wastewater treatment at Mitchelstown and Glanworth came to a head. At the same time, we had good news for Mitchelstown regarding the opening of Ornua's butter plant, which would be a major discharger of effluent.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government must provide assurances to Cork County Council that Irish Water's commitment to upgrade these wastewater treatment plants is sufficiently robust to allow developers to go ahead with building houses. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the commitments given by Irish Water in this regard will be accepted by the local authority. As it stands, the planning section of Cork County Council is reluctant to accept commitments received in correspondence and emails from Irish Water. We are talking here about three lovely developments in Mitchelstown. There are no ghost estates in Mitchelstown but we could end up with ghost estates because houses will be built that will not be occupied. I ask the Minister of State to relay my concerns to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I appreciate that this is a matter of major concern for him, although I understand that he is not just talking about his own community and county, and that this may well be an issue in other areas as well. That said, I assure the Deputy that Irish Water is trying to develop and implement a long-term investment perspective to strategically address significant deficiencies in the public water and wastewater systems. This is a long-term issue that it is trying to fix and when one is trying to fix something that has been broken so substantially for such a significant time, it will take some time to do so. Irish Water is working with all of the local authorities to support housing development as a priority. I assure the Deputy that this is a priority not just for Irish Water but also for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. The utility is implementing its capital investment programme, which prioritises investment decisions to ensure that it utilises available funding most effectively by making investments that deliver the best improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure and services while maximising value for money.

I understand that the upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant in Mitchelstown is currently at the planning and design stage, with construction expected to commence in the latter part of 2019 for completion in 2021. That is the timeline that has been given to me but if that differs to that given to the local authority, I ask the Deputy to inform the Department of same. In the case of Glanworth, I understand that Irish Water’s plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant are being advanced as part of a bundle of projects that are due to be tendered for in 2019, after which a definitive timetable for completion will be developed. Irish Water anticipates that the works will ultimately be completed by end of the first quarter in 2020. These projects are a priority for the company and for the Department. If the Deputy or other Members have further queries, they can use Irish Water's dedicated Oireachtas helpline. If what I have outlined is not what council officials have been told, I ask the Deputy to make me aware of that and I will bring it to the Minister's attention.

National Children's Hospital

I raise the issue of the runaway bill for the new children's hospital and the impact that will have on other health projects. The original bill was €650 million but the Taoiseach said yesterday that the final project cost has now risen to more than €1.4 billion or €450 million higher than the figure approved by the Government in 2017. It has been reported that the Minister for Health warned the Cabinet that the project could cost up to €1.7 billion, although there will not be a single extra bed for this extra money. This massive overspend demonstrates a clear and grievous failure of competence that will have a dire effect on the delivery of other necessary health projects throughout the country. Projects may now be significantly delayed at a cost to patients' health. It is patients, ultimately, who will lose out. Concerns have been raised, for example, regarding the provision of a second catheterisation laboratory in University Hospital Waterford and the development of the National Forensic Mental Health Service in Portrane.

Why should we believe these new figures as opposed to previous ones? How will the additional costs be funded? How much will be taken out of the existing health capital budget? When will the Minister for Health set out the projects that will now be delayed and the length of delay involved in each case? I ask the Minister of State to confirm that neither the catheterisation laboratory in Waterford or the National Forensic Mental Health Service will be delayed.

I am concerned on behalf of my constituents and the people of the mid-west that the planned 96-bed inpatient block and the 60-bed interim accommodation solution, both promised for University Hospital Limerick, could be put at risk or delayed because of the overrun in the national children's hospital capital project. Our hospital was consistently at the top of the list for numbers of patients on trolleys last year. It was the only hospital in the country that had more than 10,000 people on trolleys in one single year. It is at the top of the list again to date in 2019. This cannot be allowed to go on and I want an absolute assurance that there will be no delay, prevarication or hold up in the appointment of staff because the current situation is intolerable for patients and their families, as well as for the people who work in the emergency department. Statistically, the mid-west has been under-served with beds in comparison with other regions, as illustrated by figures published recently. That is why Limerick is consistently at the top of the list when it comes to trolley numbers. This issue must be addressed and prioritised. I want a clear answer to the effect that progress on both projects will be maintained to deliver the beds that are so urgently required in the mid west.

I want to know where the Minister for Health is today. Where is he hiding? We were told that this project would cost €1.433 billion, which is €450 million more than what was advised to the Government in April 2017. I warned the House about this. Indeed, the Rural Independent Group tabled a Private Member's motion in the House a month before the decision was made to go ahead with this project. The parties whose representatives are raising this matter today, namely the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil, supported the Minister of Health and did not support our motion. We warned Members of this very issue. The reply I received today to a parliamentary question on the matter is staggering. I am as concerned about South Tipperary General Hospital as Deputy O'Sullivan is about Limerick University Hospital, which serves the other part of County Tipperary. A 50-bed unit there is in jeopardy. Every project in the country will be delayed.

The staggering costs involved are outrageous. Apparently €319 million of the additional costs relate to construction cost overruns, while the balance of €131 million, including €50 million in VAT, relates to costs associated with staff, consultants, planning and design teams, fees, risk contingency and management equipment services. This is an appalling vista but we warned Members about this project. It will not stop at €2 billion because the wrong site has been selected. The group Connolly for Kids warned the Department about this. There was a site available at Connolly Hospital. There will never be a maternity hospital co-located with the new children's hospital as promised because there is no room for one. Nurses cannot get in or out of the hospital. There are no parking spaces and the site is totally unsuitable. One cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. This is an appalling vista on the watch of the Minister for Health and this Government, as well as the parties that supported them, despite the warnings. Those parties are now crying crocodile tears.

I thank Deputies for raising this issue.

The new children’s hospital project includes a state-of-the-art facility being developed on the campus shared with St. James’s Hospital and the associated two outpatient and urgent care centres on the campuses shared with Connolly and Tallaght hospitals. The new hospital will become the single national tertiary-quaternary centre for highly specialised paediatric care for children from all over Ireland and will have the critical mass necessary to deliver best outcomes. Together with its two paediatric outpatients and urgent care centres, it will provide all secondary, or less specialised, acute paediatric care for children from the greater Dublin area.

The health capital allocation in 2019 is €567 million for the construction and equipping of health facilities. Following the publication of its national service plan for 2019, the Health Service Executive, HSE, is developing its capital plan for this year. The latter will determine the projects that will progress in 2019, having regard to the available capital funding, the number of large national capital projects under way and the relevant priority of each. In this context, the Deputies will be aware of the increased capital costs associated with the new children’s hospital and the approval by the Government of the investment to proceed with the building of the facility. In developing its capital plan for 2019, the HSE must consider: the amount contractually committed in 2019; its annual requirement to meet risks associated with clinical equipment, ambulances and healthcare infrastructure; and the total capital Exchequer funding required for the new children’s hospital in 2019. The Government has agreed that the project will proceed in 2019 to completion in 2022.

The impact on non-contracted capital commitments for the health services is that a selection of health capital projects and programmes will be delayed to contribute to funding the increased capital cost of the new children’s hospital project from within the existing health capital allocation. Health capital projects, including the development of additional beds at University Hospital Limerick, will be considered in the context of developing the HSE’s capital plan for 2019. The additional costs associated with building the new children’s hospital are of grave concern to the Government. While it fully supports this project, the Government must have assurance that construction will be delivered within the current budget and timescale. The Government will work to minimise the effect of the increased costs of developing the hospital. We must remember, however, that we are developing a world-class facility which will support the implementation of a new model of care for the children of Ireland. It will have a profound impact on all paediatric services when open.

I am dissatisfied with the Minister of State's reply. When the project was officially launched by the Minister, Deputy Harris, in 2017, there was outrage at the suggestion that it could be the most expensive hospital in Europe. Little did we know that the Minister was far more ambitious than that. It now appears that the hospital will be the most expensive ever built in the world. The Minister has the authority in this regard. He controls the Department of Health and he is responsible for addressing the capacity crisis in the health service. He must accept that his performance in the delivery of the children's hospital has not been good enough. We need accountability in healthcare provision and the Minister needs to ensure that value for money is delivered in the context of the expenditure for which he is responsible. The Minister is politically responsible and accountable for this matter. Thus far, however, his response has demonstrated that he is neither.

The Minister of State's response was alarming, particularly where he stated that his "selection of health capital projects and programmes will be delayed to contribute to funding the increased capital cost of the new children's hospital project". He indicated that it will be delivered within the budget and timescale, but that other commitments were made. The Minister went to Limerick and gave a commitment on the timescale for the interim 60-bed unit and the 96-bed unit. I reiterate that Limerick has the highest numbers on trolleys in the country week on week. The units are urgently needed. If the children's hospital is to be delivered within the timescale, the other commitments made by the Minister must also be delivered in that way.

I will pursue the matter to ensure we in Limerick receive the beds we need because people, often elderly people, are in pain on trolleys for hours and hours with no beds for them to use. It is entirely unacceptable. There is an expectation that the beds will be delivered on time, and that must happen.

I am not surprised by the Minister of State's response. It is as clear as the nose on one's face that the money will not be available for projects such as that at South Tipperary General Hospital, Limerick hospital and many other locations. It is galling to have to endure the belated and disingenuous bleating of all the other groupings and main political parties in the Dáil, when those of us in the Rural Independent Group, working with Connolly for Kids and the Jack and Jill Foundation, clearly laid out in our Private Members' motion the likelihood of this exact scenario coming to pass in March 2017, a full month before the Government signed off on the original estimate. Not one member of those parties supported us. They were all in bed together, putting the matter aside, and now we have the mess and trauma of people sick and waiting on trolleys and so on.

I have zero confidence that the national paediatric hospital development board or the Minister are capable of ensuring that phase B of the project will be delivered. Similarly, the national maternity hospital was meant to be developed alongside it. Sick children need to be rolled in from the maternity hospital to the same campus, but it will not happen. There is no helipad. Rather, there is only the side of a building. There is no access by car because of chronic traffic. There is no safety for nurses or retention of nurses, and we are unable to get nurses to work here. It is a fiasco over which the Government is presiding with the support of the political parties of the House. They can all cry wolf but it is too late.

Perhaps it is to be lamented that more members of the Rural Independent Group did not accept ministerial responsibilities when they were offered to them at the formation of the Government because they have an answer for everything.

We would not have this mess anyway. The Government has Independents but it cannot handle them. It has the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross - an Independent - and he is wrecking the country.

Sometimes the Deputy should listen.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is in with Deputy Ross. Deputy Ross is one of Deputy Mattie McGrath's.

Deputy Ross is not one of mine. I would not touch him with a barge-pole. He spent Christmas Eve canvassing until 9.30 p.m., instead of stuffing his turkey at home.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is normally orderly and does not invite interruptions. The Minister of State has a minute and a half remaining.

I apologise for being provocative.

The Minister of State started it. He wanted the distraction.

While the Government fully supports the project, the additional costs associated with it are of great concern and we must have assurances that phase B of the construction project will be delivered within budget and timescale. Accordingly, the Government has approved the commissioning of an independent review of the escalating costs and the effective management of public funds. Arrangements for the commissioning of the independent review are under way. The hospital development board will be required to provide ongoing assurances that phase B of the project is being delivered within budget and timescale.

Development is also well advanced on the two paediatric outpatient and urgent care centres at Connolly and Tallaght hospitals. Works at Connolly are on target for practical completion of the building in spring 2019, with the opening scheduled for July 2019. Works at Tallaght are under way with a target handover date of July 2020, while the main hospital is to be completed in 2022. Integration of the three existing paediatric hospitals, the opening of the outpatient and urgent care centres and the transfer of services to the new hospital facilities represent a highly complex project in its own right. The recent establishment of Children's Health Ireland under the Children's Health Act 2018 to run the children's hospital supports the major programme of work of service and clinical integration required to run integrated services on the existing children's hospital sites and commissioning required to achieve a successful transition to the new facilities when they open.

International Conventions

The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is one of the most serious and pernicious problems that any society faces. Unfortunately, with the development of the Internet, that problem is being further aggravated. We are now aware there is a serious problem with the Internet being used by criminals for the purpose of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The Topical Issue matter that I raise concerns two of the international conventions that Ireland has signed to protect children from abuse on the Internet, but which we have not ratified. I refer in particular to the Budapest Convention, signed in 2001, and the Lanzarote Convention, signed in 2007, which have yet to be ratified by the State. These instruments should be ratified.

There are ways of dealing with the abuse and exploitation of children on the Internet, but that can be done only through international co-operation. A number of international agreements seek to deal with the issue. On the most general basis, there is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the right of children to be free from abuse and exploitation. Since then, a number of conventions have been signed and brought in by the EU and the Council of Europe. I refer again to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which was signed in 2001, and the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Ireland has signed both of these conventions but has ratified neither. This will not come as a surprise to the Minister or the Government because Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the special rapporteur on the protection of children, brought this expressly to the attention of the Government - lest it needed to be brought - in his report of 2014 in which he stated:

Ireland has signed both Conventions, but has ratified neither. In order to ensure the highest standards of protection for children, and the highest level of international cooperation in this area, it is imperative that both Conventions are ratified without reservation.

This is what the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection said in 2014 and regrettably Ireland is still in a situation where the Government has ratified neither of those conventions.

It is important to be aware of what the conventions expressly provide for. The Budapest convention deals specifically with individual actions of production, possession, distribution and solicitation of child abuse images. It does not deal with the issues of grooming or soliciting a child to engage in activity that could facilitate the production of pornographic material but it provides very important requirements for states to introduce to protect children.

The more recent Lanzarote convention was signed in 2007 and deals specifically with the issue of child pornography. In a development of the Budapest convention, this convention stipulates that member states must criminalise the intentional act of "knowingly obtaining access, through information and communication technologies, to child pornography". The explanatory report to the convention clarifies that this is "intended to catch those who view child images online by accessing child pornography sites but without downloading and who cannot therefore be caught under the offence of procuring or possession in some jurisdictions". Those conventions were signed, respectively, 18 years and 12 years ago. The Government has not ratified them. I am pleased the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is in the Chamber to take this matter. It is such an important issue that it demands his presence. I want an answer from the Government as to when these crucial conventions will be ratified by Ireland.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue on these two important conventions. I will first provide an update on ratification of the cybercrime convention, otherwise known as the Budapest convention, which Ireland signed in 2002. Much work has been done on implementing the provisions of the convention in the meantime. I acknowledge some unforeseen delays along the way, but these were largely reflective of developments at European level. The vast majority of the provisions in the cybercrime convention are provided for in Irish law. The Deputy will be aware that it is necessary to give effect to legal provisions in international instruments in national law before the ratification process can be finalised. The most significant development towards ratification of the Budapest convention was the enactment in 2017 of the first Bill in this jurisdiction specifically dedicated to dealing with cybercrime. The Criminal Justice (Offences Relating to Information Systems) Act 2017 gave effect to an EU directive on attacks against information systems. The key provisions of the directive mirror the key provisions of the cybercrime convention. The new legislation, therefore, also gives effect to provisions of the convention relating to offences against information systems and their data, and search and seizure powers in respect of such data. It was originally intended that this legislation would also cover any other outstanding elements of the convention - mainly relating to production orders for computer data and subscriber information - but that was not possible due to an imminent transposition date for the EU directive.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the current Government legislative programme makes provision for the drafting of a new cybercrime Bill to give effect to those remaining provisions of the cybercrime convention not provided for in our national law in order. This is to ensure that we can ratify the Budapest convention. A new area of responsibility for cybercrime has been established within my Department and one of the key priorities of this new area is to progress ratification of the convention. Officials recently attended a meeting of the cybercrime convention committee in Strasbourg and held discussions with the Council of Europe secretariat to progress outstanding issues for Ireland in respect of the Budapest convention.

I turn now to the Lanzarote convention, signed by Ireland in October 2007. Significant progress has been made towards ensuring that Ireland is in a position to ratify this convention. The Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has been enacted, Part 2 of which strengthens the law relating to the sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, and criminalises the use of information and communication technology to facilitate such exploitation. This legislation ensures the State’s compliance with criminal law provisions in the convention. My Department has carried out a detailed review of compliance with regard to other elements of the convention, in consultation with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and other stakeholders such as An Garda Síochána and the HSE. Information was sought regarding the child protection, prevention and victim support aspects of the convention. While the Department now has most of the information required for ratification, some stakeholder work is still required to ensure that Ireland is fully compliant in all areas of the convention. Once that work has been completed, and the Office of the Attorney General has been consulted, I assure the Deputy that steps towards formal ratification can be taken. I trust that the significant progress made in the lifetime of this Administration, not least through enactment of recent legislation, strongly demonstrates this Government’s commitment to ratification by Ireland of these two important international treaties.

I cannot accept that. The Budapest convention was signed 17 years ago and the Minister has said that much work has been done on it. He cannot, however, give a date as to when Ireland is going to ratify the convention. We are aware that certain steps have been made in respect of it and that it has been partly implemented in domestic law, but that is still not an answer to the plea made by Dr. Geoffrey Shannon in 2014 that the conventions be ratified. It is not as though the Department or the Government have not been put on notice of the failing of the State to ensure the provisions are implemented so this important convention can be ratified.

On the Lanzarote convention, which was signed 12 years ago, the Minister said that "significant progress has been made" but, again, we have not been given an indication as to when we are going to have full ratification of this crucial legislation. When one considers the Lanzarote convention one will note there is a significant number of important provisions contained within it that we have to ensure we bring into our legislative scheme. We need to recognise that the creation of images of non-existent children contributes to the sexual objectification of children. I am aware that this is a complex area, but it has to be dealt with under the Lanzarote convention. I regret that it is an area the Government has not yet dealt with. I am conscious that the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar's Government has been in place for nearly two years, but Fine Gael has been in power since 2011. During the eight-year period between 2011 and 2019, the Government has had significant time to do work in respect of both of these crucial conventions to ensure they had been ratified and to ensure that the provisions required under the conventions had been fully transposed into domestic law. That has not been done. I ask the Minister once again if he will let the public know when those crucial conventions will be ratified fully in domestic law.

I listened carefully to what the Deputy said and I agree with him on the importance of the completion of the appropriate legislation to allow for full compliance. He fails, however, to acknowledge the progress that has been made towards ratification of these important international treaties. The Bill to which I referred earlier is, in essence, landmark legislation that was enacted in recent times, which was within the timeframe of this administration. I assure the House of my commitment towards ratification and my recognition of the importance of these two conventions. I look forward to bringing forward further cybercrime legislation that would provide for the outstanding provisions required to ratify the Budapest convention, which is included in the current legislative programme. It is my intention that this legislation will be advanced within my Department and, ultimately, formally drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, following work on urgent legislation relating to Brexit and subject to the legislative priorities under which we all work according to the weekly schedule of the Houses.

On the Lanzarote convention, I am keen that the remaining work on the input from relevant stakeholders can be completed as soon as possible to facilitate ratification. I assure the Deputy and the House that I am determined that the long-held aspiration for Ireland to ratify both conventions will become a reality in the not too distant future, thereby building on progress that has been made and bringing to fruition the significant work undertaken by the Government in these areas in recent times.

The legislation is subject to the Dáil timetabling and the priorities in my Department. Deputy O'Callaghan is all too well aware of the pressures involved in drafting legislation. I am committed to ensuring we will have the appropriate legislation to allow for formal ratification at the very earliest opportunity.