An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The business this week shall be No. 13, motion re Sectoral Employment Order (Construction), referral to committee; No. 1, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, amendments from the Seanad; and No. 9, Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

In relation to today’s business, it is proposed that No. 13, motion re Sectoral Employment Order (Construction), referral to committee, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and No. 57, Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, shall conclude within two hours.

In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that No. 14, motion re Sectoral Employment Order (Construction), back from committee, shall be taken without debate; and No. 16, motion re Service by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2017 and 2018 annual report, back from committee, shall commence after Questions on Promised Legislation, and conclude within 45 minutes and shall be followed immediately by the weekly divisions. Speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, for a period not exceeding five minutes each, with a five minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.

Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.

On several occasions, I have raised with the Taoiseach and the former and current Ministers for Education and Skills, Deputies Bruton and McHugh, the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, judgment in the Louise O'Keeffe case and its aftermath and the degree to which victims have been shamefully, cynically and cruelly treated by the Government in recent years. The ultimate cruelty is to announce a redress scheme knowing that in effect the victims will never pass the test of prior complaint. That is the cruellest thing to do to any victim of sexual abuse and someone who has been through that trauma. Essentially, that is what has happened despite it having been pointed out to the Taoiseach and to the Minister time and again.

When will Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill's report be published and sent to the Minister? When will the issue of prior complaint be removed once and for all? It is an appalling insult to suggest that the only way a person is worthy of inclusion in a redress scheme is for someone who had been abused previously to have reported it to the authorities. It is reprehensible.

There is no worse crime than one against a child and there is no worse form of crime or a crime that is more unspeakable than child abuse. On this particular issue Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill is examining about 20 cases and the wider issue as to whether the interpretation of the Louise O'Keeffe judgment is too narrow. I do not have a date yet for that but I have requested one. I understand there may be a separate judicial review which may hold up Mr. Justice O'Neill's work. I appreciate what the Deputy is saying. A scheme in which all applicants are rejected is one which is not working. We need to review that and Mr. Justice O'Neill is reviewing the issues for us. Fundamentally what is behind this is whether the State could have acted in some way and did not do so. I do not have the term which is used to hand but it is on the basis of a failure to act when it could have done so.

The ECHR judgment was on the basis of a systemic failure by the State.

We will review the judgment.

Yesterday the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in response to the publication of the latest quarterly report from said that rents are rising at a slow rate. Meanwhile in the real world, average rents are in excess of €1,300 across the State, an increase of 8% on the same time last year, and average rents stand in Dublin at over €2,000, a situation that is scandalous.

Ten counties in the latest Daft report showed double-digit rent increases, including Waterford, a rise of 16%, and Galway, an incredible rise of almost 17%. All counties bar Dublin saw rent inflation of at least double the rent pressure zone cap, while Dublin rents rose by 7%. The Minister is at best being disingenuous but in reality is being deliberately misleading.

I thank the Deputy. The time is up.

In fact, the rent pressure zone legislation is doing nothing for renters - that is the fact - who are facing rents of between €1,300 and €2,200 on new homes.

The time is up.

It is clear that we need new measures that will work. What we need immediately is a rent freeze. I am asking if the Taoiseach will finally accept that his plans have failed and act definitively to protect renters.

I thank the Deputy for the question. I am afraid it is Sinn Féin which is misleading the public on this issue. We know rents are unacceptably high. That is why last week we prioritised in this House legislation that will extend rent pressure zones and rent caps in time but also in geography, that will take away important loopholes that people were abusing, and will for the first time bring in large institutional landlords under rent pressure zones where they were not beforehand.

It is disingenuous of the Deputy to state that rent pressure zones are not working and at the same time support me in extending and improving them. While the Deputy thinks it might be easy to call for a rent freeze, we know from other jurisdictions that while a rent freeze will freeze rents, it will also freeze supply. We have a supply problem in the rent sector, and that is what we are working to address through Rebuilding Ireland. As we fix that supply problem, we are bringing in all these important measures to protect tenants who cannot meet the rents today.

The Minister is not protecting them.

That is what we are doing. We will finish that work in the House this week.

In the spirit of new politics and harmonious relations between Government and Opposition, I acknowledge that the Government will progress the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017 that passed Second Stage here in January 2018. I also welcome the fact that the Cabinet has now approved a number of amendments to that Bill and will present them to the House. I am sure that, like myself, Deputies will have received many queries from concerned parents and young people about the urgency of getting this legislation passed. When will the Bill proceed into Committee and would the Taoiseach share my ambition of seeing this Bill enacted by the summer?

We do not have a day yet but we are keen to work with the Deputy and get this legislation passed. We should set the objective to have it enacted before the summer recess and if we can work together on it, we would be happy to see that done.

On a separate vein, I was able to sign the money message for the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 yesterday. I recognise the role of Deputies Shortall and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats in that. We also agreed to grant a money message today for a Seanad Private Members' Bill in relation to people who have gone missing for seven or eight years for whom there is trouble getting a death certificate. These are three examples of Opposition legislation that we are keen to progress. There are others too.

The school student climate strikers have chosen 24 May, the same day as the European and local elections, for their next major mobilisation to demand emergency action on climate change. While they are delighted that a climate emergency has been declared, they want to see the action follow the symbolism. The need to do so has been further underlined today by the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii showing that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have reached all time highs. There is now more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been for 3 million years and at any time in which human life has existed on the planet. We are way beyond emergency levels.

I suggest to the Taoiseach that before 24 May the students would welcome a signal from the Government that it takes this emergency and such shocking news seriously. In that context, I suggest the Taoiseach signal before then that he will drop his opposition to the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 which seeks to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The Taoiseach should not say that will not make any difference because we are merely one small country.

All right. We are way over time.

This is a global issue. Ms Greta Thunberg's first response to the climate emergency declaration here was that she concurred but that we have got to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Will the Taoiseach agree to that?

We have already passed legislation on fracking, for example, and keeping the gas that may be underneath the land of Ireland in the ground. We take a separate and a different view when it comes to offshore natural gas because we appreciate that natural gas is a transition fuel. While we can go from 30% renewables to 70% renewables, and we will do that by 2030, we will still need natural gas under certain circumstances, for example, when the wind is not blowing fast enough, when the sun is not shining bright enough and when batteries do not provide adequate storage. Everyone appreciates that we will still need to use natural gas to a certain extent for the foreseeable future. The question is, if we have our own, do we use our own or do we import it instead from the United States, the Middle East, Qatar and other parts of the world and then take the environmental risk that arises from transporting it? On balance we believe it makes more sense if we have natural gas, recognising that it is a transition fuel, that we should use our own.

Going back to the programme for Government, I would like to thank the Minister, Deputy Josepha Madigan, for her interest and the work that she and her officials have done with regard to Moanveanlagh Bog in north Kerry. A couple of weeks ago an official in her Department asked for information which he was duly given and which has not been acted upon yet. It relates to a specific landowner who is very co-operative in wanting turf cut in that particular section of bog. There is a right of way issue and all the information has been given to the Department. All we want is for the officials in Minister's Department to continue the good work they have been doing. I am not being critical of them but I am trying to give them one final push because the weather is very good and whether one knows it or not, it is ideal weather for saving turf.

Does the Deputy expect the Minister to go down and foot the turf herself?

No, not right now but her officials can help us in getting the men ready to start work on the turf. All I need is for the officials in her Department to take the information that we and the locals have given them, use it and put in place the measures needed to allow us to get on with the work. I am pleading with the Minister on the record of the Dáil. She was very co-operative until a couple of months ago. I know she has a lot on her plate but given that the sun is shining, I am asking her to approach this in a workperson-like way and to allow us to do the work we want to do and get the turf cut again in Moanveanlagh Bog in Kerry, because it should never have been stopped in the first place.

The Deputy is aware of the difficulties and challenges facing this particular part of Kerry in respect of turf cutting. I will take the Deputy's concerns back to the Department and, in particular, to Niall Ó Donnchú whose is dealing with this matter on the Deputy's behalf. I am sure we can find a way to move forward.

I raise an issue in respect of the local government funding baseline review commenced last year. My understanding is this review has reported but the report has not been published. Will the Taoiseach confirm if this report has been received and say when it will be published? Areas have been frozen in time for the last 20 years in respect of population. No account whatsoever has been taken of increased population over the last 20 years in terms of the funding of local authorities. It is urgent that this report is published and that we the make a change to that. Essentially, parts of the country are trying to function with their hands tied behind their backs.

I am aware of the difficulties some local authorities are facing because they are tied to the last baseline which was set in 2014 and when we introduced the local property tax, LPT. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has led a review of funding allocations to local authorities which is almost complete. The heavy and substantial work has been done but it is linked into the work we need to do on the local property tax itself. The two are not independent of each other. When we arrive at finalisation of that piece, we can then finalise the allocation of funding to each local authority that would make up their baseline, which can be added to through the LPT.

I do not know if the Taoiseach's party or other parties have had a similar experience to my party in regard to online advertising for the European Parliament and local election campaigns. It has been chaotic. The authorisation, approval and oversight process is far from satisfactory.

I looked at, where one is supposed to be able to get a sense of how much different parties are spending. The Taoiseach's party has apparently spent under €10,000 so far in this campaign but to be honest, it is as clear as mud as to what is happening with online advertising. We should not rely on Facebook to regulate our online advertising, which is central to our democratic institutions. How many elections will be allowed to pass before we put in place regulations for full transparency for all online advertising ourselves? When will that change? The current system is chaotic. It is not transparent and it is not democratic so it needs to change. When does the Government intend to introduce such regulations or could we, as a House, organise that collectively?

I thank the Deputy for the question. He had a specific point around advertising and a group being led by the Department of the Taoiseach has been working with my Department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and others to see how we might address this area as we also address offline advertising. The more important piece of work is the establishment of an electoral commission. Public consultation was conducted earlier this year and it has concluded. A report is being finalised and will come to me with recommendations on the establishment of a statutory electoral commission and the different functions and powers of that commission.

Will we have it in time for the next general election?

I have a question for the Taoiseach in his capacity as Minister for Defence. I corresponded with the Taoiseach's office on Easter Tuesday regarding wildfires in west Donegal over Easter, specifically on Good Friday and Easter Monday. I received a response to that correspondence. Homes and outhouses were burned and thousands of acres of land were destroyed. I also wrote to the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence. Have the Taoiseach and the Minister of State reviewed the matter of the delay of seven hours in mobilising a helicopter from Baldonnel to west Donegal? The local authority made an emergency request for it at 9.30 a.m. and I made one at 10.30 a.m. directly to the Minister of State. At 1.30 p.m., I understood the aircraft was not coming but shortly afterwards we were told it would come. It arrived at 5 p.m. I give full credit to the crew that arrived at Carrickfinn Airport and saved the village of Kincasslagh. Prior to its efforts, the efforts against the fires were led by the Donegal firefighters, the Civil Defence, gardaí and a private helicopter that the council had arranged from early in the morning. Thousands of volunteers put their lives at risk to ensure that the fire could be contained on the day. All the fire services and other bodies played a major role in containing the fire.

The Taoiseach must establish why it took seven hours for the helicopter to arrive, although the crew did an exceptional job when it arrived and should be given full marks. Let us learn from the incident. What protocols are in place and has the Taoiseach requested a full written review of the circumstances of that day?

I have requested a report on that through the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe. I received it the other day and I would be happy to share it with the Deputy if it has been cleared. I recognise the efforts of the local community in Donegal, the local authority and the fire services, as they did phenomenal work to ensure the fires did not spread and more damage was not done. With regard to the response to fires, the Air Corps is not a standby service and those crews are not waiting for a call-out in the way the fire brigade does. If these crews get a request for backup - and it is backup - the Air Corps would have to assemble equipment and crews, which will always take some hours. There is also flying time to consider.

In the programme for Government, there is a commitment to providing and prioritising protection from and a reduction in crime by giving proper investment to An Garda Síochána. Last week, I attended a public meeting of a Louth policing committee to discuss threats against a local family. I commend that family on the courage it demonstrated in standing up to the thugs who have already attacked the family home. Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan told us Louth does not have enough gardaí. He said he did not have enough gardaí recently to secure a crime scene.

He also stated that he is unable to open some stations, such as Ardee, as often as he would like. He further stated - I know this and have raised the matter many times here - that there are not enough resources for drug addiction services, including mental health services, in the area. He then stated - and I wrote this down - that if we do not tackle this, we will lose a generation of our young people. Negotiations on the next budget will commence shortly. Will the Taoiseach commit to providing a significant increase in Garda funding in the next financial year? Will he ensure that the State stands shoulder to shoulder with citizens such as those in Louth who are making a stand for themselves and for the rest of us?

I understand that an additional 20 or 23 gardaí are being assigned to Drogheda and County Louth as a result of the crimes that have been committed there recently. I very much welcome this, and I know that Deputy Adams will too. Deputy O'Dowd has been very active on this issue as well. The way in which gardaí are deployed is very much a matter for the Garda Commissioner, as should be the case. The Government's job is to provide additional resources for the Garda: first, to run the economy in such a way that produces additional resources; and, second, to ensure that some of those resources are assigned to security and the Garda. We are recruiting all the time. An additional 600 gardaí will be recruited this year. The Garda budget of €1.5 billion for 2019 is the highest ever. However, there will always be a need for additional resources. Such resources will be provided in the next budget but to the extent that we can afford.

Is the Taoiseach aware of a crisis in the provision of home care packages throughout the various community healthcare organisations, CHOs? It seems that industrial relations commitments, including the provision of expenses for travel, have hoovered up most of the additional funding allocated by the HSE to CHOs. Many CHO areas are now in a position whereby they must cease issuing home care packages for several months. I am informed that there are waiting lists of 300 people in some areas. This is obviously causing serious distress to the system, where acute beds are being taken up, and among families and patients. To give just one very good example, a 92 year old gentleman in Sligo University Hospital was admitted for just seven days, and some 70 days later, having been approved for home help, he was not in a position to be discharged because the home help was not available due to pressure on budgets. Will the Taoiseach instruct the HSE to provide additional resources to each CHO area to ensure that they have adequate money to issue home care packages or, if necessary, produce an appropriate supplementary budget specifically to deal with this matter?

I call Deputies Scanlon and Martin Kenny on the same matter. I expect it will be a raised as a Topical Issue matter.

Yes, I hope to raise it later as a Topical Issue matter. I do not know what the situation is in other areas, but in the CHO 1 area there are terminally ill people on a waiting list for home help to allow them to return home. Deputy McLoughlin is aware of this as well. It is very serious issue. I ask that the decent thing be done. The Government should inform the people that there is no home help and that there will not be any or else it should put some structure in place regarding these necessary cases of very sick people in order that will be home help for them. The Government should at least put funding in place such that those to whom I refer can be assisted in remaining at home, which is where they need and want to be.

This is turning into a situation in which very many elderly and sick people feel they have been abandoned by Government, that they have paid taxes all their lives and that in their hour of need when they require a little help, it is not there. As everyone in this House knows and as the general public is aware, any cost-benefit analysis will indicate that home help services and home care packages represent probably the best value for money of all Government spending because they keep people out of hospitals. They are the stitch in time that saves nine, yet we continually come in here and raise this issue to no avail. Since my election to this House, I and many other Deputies have pleaded with Government to provide more money for home help services and home care packages. We continually get the same result. When we go back and talk to our constituents about this, they inform us that their district nurses have stated, "Sorry, there is no money available. You will have to wait."

I thank the Deputy. He has made his point.

Then they must pay for the service themselves. Even if they are prepared to do so, the service is not available. The Taoiseach really needs to intervene.

I support Deputy MacSharry. In the past two weeks, Dr. Donal Murray, a consultant cardiologist, highlighted the case of one of his patients in Sligo University Hospital to Oireachtas Members.

I support what my three colleagues have said regarding a person having to spend an additional 70 days in Sligo University Hospital when he or she could have been at home if the appropriate services were in place.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. Additional funding was provided in the budget this year for home help and home care packages. I am afraid I do not have details on how it is being distributed around the country or on individual cases. I understand, however, that there will be a Topical Issue debate on this issue later today. I imagine the Minister for Health or a Minister of State in his Department will be present and may be able to give Deputies a more detailed answer.

Councillors met in Waterford on Friday and voted on Project Ireland 2040, the national planning framework. One of the key points in that plan is the rejuvenation of town centres. An Post took a decision in recent weeks to move the post office in the centre of Thurles to a location in a shopping centre 700 m away. We heard today of a town in Laois where the company has made a similar decision. Is the Government going to stand idly by and allow a State agency to make decisions that fly in the face of its national planning framework? Will this be allowed to continue?

What was the question again?

The question concerned moving a post office service from one location to another.

I am sorry but the Government does not have any role in where post offices are located in a particular town.

Does the national framework plan not have a role to play?

When it comes to where post offices are located I am afraid it does not.

I have raised on many occasions decisions by the Health Service Executive, HSE, to close down centres which are looking after vulnerable people. I have made particular and frequent reference to the Rosalie centre in Castlerea, County Roscommon. The centre was catering for 30 people but the HSE has slowly but surely whittled down that number to about ten. It has now decided to close the unit. I have posed this question to the Taoiseach on many occasions but these are vulnerable people. I would like to think that the Taoiseach, as leader of the country, would be a voice for those people. Will he intervene and ask the HSE not to do this to people who have lived most of their lives in these centres and know the people who look after them well? This is causing distress to patients and their families. One person, who is a ward of court, was taken out of the unit and placed in a private nursing home before Easter. The HSE will tell us that it is the expert in this area. Some of the people concerned have asked not to be moved. They made that request to me last year. It strikes a chord with me and is very upsetting. Is the Taoiseach prepared to tell the HSE to stall this process until a better way is found?

This issue has been raised a number of times in Topical Issue debates that I have taken on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. I have spoken to the Minister on the matter and there seems to be a lack of communication regarding how this process has developed. I have discussed the concerns raised with the Minister and I understand the patients and their families have been informed that the reason for the transition is to provide better care and improved safety for patients. I will raise the issue again with the Minister when I meet him this afternoon.

The Taoiseach gave a commitment that he would not allow this to happen when he was the Minister for Health. I am not being smart in stating that.

I assume the Minister for Health will be asked to communicate with the Deputy. Is that possible?

Yes, I will ask the Minister to do that.

Considerable concern has been expressed in recent weeks regarding insurance cover for many sensitive institutions and organisations all over the country, including some that cater for children with special needs. Given the urgency and seriousness of the matter, will some intervention be made with the insurance companies to ensure that a catastrophe does not occur as a result of the quadrupling and more of premiums in some cases?

For reasons of time, I ask Deputy Michael Moynihan to pose his question now.

Irish Community Rapid Response has located an air ambulance service in Rathcoole, which is near Millstreet in County Cork. All the appropriate statutory regulations have been complied and a service level agreement has been entered into with the HSE and Department of Health. However, the documentation is still on the desk of the Minister for Health and this is causing a delay in the commencement of operations. This service will be crucial for the south of the country. Does the Taoiseach know why the Minister has not signed off on approval for the service? Does the Minister or the Government plan to sign off on the project shortly?

I call the Taoiseach to respond to the two matters raised.

On Deputy Michael Moynihan's question, I am aware that the new air ambulance service for the south of the country is awaiting approval but I am not sure of the details as to why the Minister for Health is unable to approve it at this stage. I will certainly let him know that the Deputy has raised the matter and ask him to communicate with the Deputy directly. We are all keen to see that service up and running as we would then have two services up and running, one for the northern part of the country and the other for the southern part. It is important to get this service right, and I know the Deputy is also keen for that to be the case as well.

On insurance, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is working very hard on this issue. We are aware of the cost of insurance and how it is impacting on people and businesses, particularly in respect of public liability. We have enacted three items of legislation in the past year to bring about changes and improvements in respect of insurance but it may be a while before we see those efforts translate into lower premiums. The next step is the Judicial Council Bill 2017, which is currently before the Oireachtas.