I have a long list of Deputies. I ask all Members to observe the time limit of 30 seconds. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
There are many challenges to the capital plan announced by the Government, particularly after the overspend on the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan. There is a huge difficulty in reconciling what has been announced with what is actually happening on the ground. In that context, one of the major infrastructure projects in the Cork area, which was due to start in 2018, is the upgrade of the Dunkettle interchange, where there has been an unexplained delay in progressing the project. Perhaps that reflects a wider problem with the capital programme, as illustrated by the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, in that famous memorandum on broadband, where he said the figures do not match up.
The point I want to put to the Taoiseach is that there have been rumours to the effect there has been a major overrun on the cost of that project relative to the original estimate. We have tabled parliamentary questions, which are being referred to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, and it was stated "... it is hoped that TII will be in a position to agree and award the contract for the main construction works later this year". This has been going on for quite a number of years and there has been advanced stage preparation, but we are not getting any clarity or transparency in regard to the project. Can the Taoiseach shed any light on why there has been a delay in awarding this contract and getting the project under way? There was enabling work some months ago but that has all been demobilised, the situation seems sterile and there is no progress or movement. Is the Taoiseach aware of the cost escalation? Can he confirm to the House when he believes construction will proceed on this project?
I am afraid I am not but I will make inquiries with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and ask him to provide the Deputy with an update on the project. I am encouraged that the Deputy is in favour of the interchange project because there had been suggestions from many of his spokespeople that he believed the roads programme aspect of Project Ireland 2040 should be reviewed.
No, the only person to suggest that was Senator Jerry Buttimer.
The Deputy has yet to say which projects he wants to be reviewed.
That is very stilly stuff. The people want to know. This has been going on for ten years.
They want to know if the Deputy is going to cancel the roads programme.
They do not want to know the rest. They do not believe in that silly carry-on. It is just because the Taoiseach's press office is on steroids.
He said it should be reviewed but he refused to say which projects he wanted reviewed.
Order, please. I call Deputy McDonald. We have to move on. There has to be order in the House.
Absolutely. There has to be order between the parties of Government.
Ulster Bank's announcement of the sale of €900 million worth of loans to vulture funds, including 3,200 family homes with domestic mortgages, is unacceptable and morally bankrupt. The sale is only possible because the Government has given political cover and support to vulture funds. Fine Gael is as responsible for this sale as Ulster Bank. Thousands of Irish families face the potential sale of their loans to a vulture fund and they need and demand urgent action. The reality is that no loan in arrears or otherwise is safe under the current rules.
Sinn Féin's No Consent, No Sale Bill, put forward by Deputy Pearse Doherty, is making its way through the Oireachtas. I believe this Bill is urgently needed as it would ensure that banks cannot sell on loans without the direct consent of the borrower. Given the urgency at hand, will the Taoiseach assure us and ensure that this Bill will progress quickly, that it is not subjected to delay and that it is not frustrated, because those families faced with this Ulster Bank sale and others require protection. I believe that is the least the Taoiseach could afford to those families. It is high time he sided with families as against siding with the vulture funds.
The Deputy is well aware I do not control this House or the other House so I cannot make any commitments when it comes to the passage of legislation or the speed thereof. What I can say is that Ulster Bank, as everyone will know, is not a State-owned bank and is, in fact, a UK-owned bank. It is really important to point out that anyone whose loan is sold on by a bank retains all the contractual rights that are in their contract and all the consumer protections they originally had. It is wrong to scare people and to suggest anything otherwise.
I pay tribute to Mr. David-Maria Sassoli of the socialist and democratic group who was this morning elected President of the European Parliament. In recent days, we have seen a process of nomination of the leadership team for the European Union for the coming years. It obviously involves a lot of seeking of common ground between a variety of groups, geographies genders, political traditions and so on. I welcome the gender balance of the leadership team. However, I have been very disturbed about how the Taoiseach represented the Government and this country in recent days. He has openly sided with the current leaders of Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, who have set themselves against liberal democracy. By siding with them, he has reinforced the view that those who stand up for liberal, progressive, European democratic values will be punished. The candidacy of Frans Timmermans for European Commission President was, we are told, and I would be interested in hearing the Taoiseach's view, derailed because he criticised European countries which have undermined the rule of law. Just this morning, we have seen the 200-year-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences, an all-sciences institute, come under the direct political control of a director appointed by Viktor Orbán. Does the Taoiseach believe it is acceptable to punish European leaders who defend European values and is that an acceptable message to give to the people of Europe at this time?
As the Deputy knows, my preferred candidate for the position of European Commission President was Manfred Weber, the candidate of my party, and I fully appreciate that the preferred candidate for Deputy Howlin was Frans Timmermans, the candidate of his party. There is nothing wrong with supporting the candidates of one's own party group, and I would do that, just as Deputy Howlin did. However, neither was able to command a majority, either in the European Parliament or the European Council, so we came up-----
The reason given was that Timmermans-----
I am coming to that. We came up with a compromise candidate, Ursula von der Leyen, the first female head of the European Commission, a really good candidate, a really experienced person, and somebody who comes from my own political family and who is known to many of us in government. The reason Mr. Timmermans did not have majority support in the European Council was that 11 countries did not support his nomination. Three or four did not support it for the reasons Deputy Howlin has outlined but the majority had many other reasons.
The Government has said it is committed to universal healthcare and to ending the two-tier health system. However, Professor John Crown highlighted recently the shocking situation where people with cancer, specifically stage III melanoma, cannot get the optimum healthcare - the drug pembrolizumab - and other potentially life-saving drugs because they do not have private health insurance, or do not have a particular form of private health insurance. In the last week, I received an email from a man whose wife has stage III melanoma and who has been told she cannot get this life-saving drug because she has the wrong private health insurance cover.
I think that is utterly outrageous. Does the Taoiseach agree it is utterly outrageous that whether people gain access to the best cancer treatment, potentially life-saving treatment, should depend on whether or not they have private health insurance, or have particular private health insurance?
If the Taoiseach does not think it is acceptable, what does he intend to do about it? The person who emailed me says his wife needs this treatment now. If she does not get it, her life expectancy will be compromised.
It has been the case for a very long in Ireland that when it comes to the reimbursement of new medicines the private system follows the public system and the private sector and health insurers only cover the cost of new medicines after the public system has decided to cover them for public patients. This is a new development. It is certainly not a welcome development. We are analysing what we can do about it. It is difficult to know what we can do about it because we cannot have a situation whereby the private sector and private health insurers are deciding for the State which medicines it should or should not reimburse. At the same time, is it really feasible for us to ban or prohibit the private system and private insurers from offering treatments to their own patients? It is a difficult one to deal with it. I know the Deputy's preference would be to abolish private health insurance and private medicine. I do not think we would go that far but we need to examine it and try to come up with a solution.
What about the medicine?
I call Deputy Catherine Connolly.
Le linn cruinniú de chathaoirligh na gcoistí éagsúla le déanaí d'adhmhaigh an Taoiseach go hionraic go raibh náire air agus mé ag ardú cheist Bhille na dteangacha oifigiúla beagnach chuile sheachtain sa Dáil. D'fhógair sé go raibh náire air agus go ndéanfaidh sé cinneadh maidir leis an mBille. Cén uair a bheidh sé foilsithe? Fuaireamar geallúintí solúnta go mbeidh sé foilsithe roimh an tsamhraidh. Táimid i rith an tsamhraidh anois agus beidh an téarma Dála críochnaithe an tseachtain seo chugainn ach fós níl tásc ná tuairisc air.
Tá an Bille réidh anois. Beidh cruinniú deireanach an Rialtais ann i gcúpla seachtain. Beidh plean againn an Bille a fhoilsiú ag an bpointe seo.
Go raibh maith agat.
I am happy the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is here because I want to ask him about DEIS status in respect of five Tipperary town primary schools and the Holy Trinity national school in Fethard. This matter has been bandied around for a number of years. It is discriminatory to the pupils and families of Tipperary town and County Tipperary. The statistics in regard to some parts of Tipperary town are among the worst in the deprivation index, which is accepted by Government as an independent barometer, yet these schools are failed spectacularly in terms of inclusion in DEIS. These young people are as entitled to DEIS supports as pupils in any part of the country, be that Dublin, Cork or anywhere else. I hope that we will see movement in this regard. There was huge disappointment last year when these schools were excluded from the DEIS programme. These Tipperary schools need to be included immediately.
This is an issue on which I have worked closely with political representatives and school principals. Deputy Mattie McGrath is aware that I met the principals. He is also aware that the Department is carrying out an audit of DEIS status in the main. A lot of people believe the geographical basis of DEIS status is redundant. I agree with that analysis and I am working with my officials on a more targeted approach. In the meantime, we are looking specifically at Tipperary town and we will have a response in that regard in the not too distant future.
The Government has promised for some time to address the issue of scramblers and quad bikes, which are a real scourge in many housing estates. They are becoming an increasing problem. People out walking in recreational areas and facilities and in housing estates are being threatened by the widespread and illegal use of these vehicles. A number of Deputies have been raising this issue for many years in the House. There seems to be no coherent response from Government. Is there any possibility that a Minister might give some thought to this issue and ensure that, as we approach the summer months, action will be taken to enable the proper policing of this highly dangerous activity which has already threatened the well-being and lives of a number of people?
Before the Taoiseach responds, I ask Members - some in particular - to desist from taking calls in the House. There must be some regard for the House.
The Deputy raises a very serious and dangerous activity. It happens in my constituency and, I know, it happens in Deputy Shortall's constituency as well. There has been thought given to it. A cross-agency group was established in April 2018 to consider in detail the laws governing the issue. The cross-agency group has recommended the most effective response involves targeted enforcement measures, awareness raising and youth engagement programmes and these are being progressed at the moment. Rather than there being a need for a new law, this activity is already covered under section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 2004. What is required is better enforcement, education and awareness.
That is not what the Garda is saying.
I now call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and I ask that he focus on promised legislation, as he did yesterday.
I want to give credit where it is due. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, reintroduced the local improvement scheme, LIS. However, Kerry County Council has received over 800 applications for funding under this scheme but it has only enough funding for 28 projects. I appeal to the Minister to give Kerry County Council additional funding for this important scheme.
A question, Deputy, please.
The people who drive these roads pay motor tax. They also pay property tax and most of them have their own water supply. These people are as deserving of good roads as the people in Dublin 4. I again ask the Minister, Deputy Ring, to give Kerry County Council additional funding for the local improvement scheme.
It is not promised legislation.
It is. It is related to the programme for Government. There are roads in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency of Donegal as well and the local authority there will need money for them. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should take my side.
I have to remain impartial.
I was delighted to reintroduce the local improvement scheme. To date, more than €48 million of LIS funding has been spent on roads. I allocated this year's funding in February. Kerry County Council might have already spent all of its funding but there are many local authorities that have not spent the allocation they received in February.
We will take it.
Yes, we will take it.
The programme for Government refers to housing, an issue on which we have had many debates. I want to speak about the mortgage to rent scheme. People who get into financial difficulty and are unable to repay their mortgage can, by way of engagement with the banks and housing bodies, enter the scheme. In this regard, there are a number a of cases on my books which I am trying to advance through the system. I am advised by people in the system that there is a shortage of funding for the mortgage to rent scheme. What is the status of the scheme and how many households are being approved for it?
I thank the Deputy for his question. The mortgage to rent scheme is an important scheme that helps to keep people who have run into difficulty meeting their mortgage repayments in their homes. We reformed the scheme last year and changed the eligibility criteria to allow more people to avail of it. As a result, new housing bodies and organisations have come to the fore to do that work. Arising from what the Government is doing, private entities have come in to do their own schemes. There is no shortage of funding on the Government side for the mortgage to rent scheme. It is a demand-led process. As people apply to either the housing bodies or the Department, their applications are progressed, as long as they meet the criteria. If there are specific examples where this is not the case, I will be happy to look into them. The funding is in place to progress the scheme in every local authority in the country.
The programme for Government states that the development of the agriculture and food sector is a fundamental priority for the future direction of the country and that the priority must be to reward farmers for productivity and producing quality food, which brings me to the Mercosur deal. Many comments have been attributed to the Taoiseach over recent days. I have one direct question for him. Is he going to stand behind rural farming families in regard to this deal?
This is catastrophic. It is not a friendly deal or environmentally friendly. It will clear out small farming families. The Government must face down this deal.
The Taoiseach has given a commitment on behalf of the Government to produce an economic evaluation of the Mercosur deal. Will he follow the example of French President Macron to include an assessment of the environmental impact of this trade deal? Such an evaluation would expose the fact that the carbon footprint of Irish suckler beef is 35 times less than that of beef produced in the Amazon basin in Brazil. This is a bad deal for rural Ireland and for global climate.
The answer to both the Deputies' questions is "Yes" on both accounts. We currently have a political agreement between the EU and Mercosur. It will be about two years before we have a legal text. We will have an opportunity to vote on it but I certainly will not hesitate to vote against any trade agreement that I believe is not in Ireland's economic interest and will form alliances to block it if possible. Whatever happens, we will do everything we can to ensure that the interests of Irish beef farmers are protected. That means making sure that South American beef producers have to meet the same food safety and traceability standards that our farmers do, ensuring that South American countries have to honour their commitments to climate change under the Paris Agreement and compensating farmers for the loss of a market, perhaps by opening up other market opportunities in places such as Japan, Mexico and China. We will do a full economic and environmental assessment on the consequences of the Mercosur deal, recognising the fact that this is a market of 250 million people and while there may be losses for some sectors, there could be significant benefits for others. We need to look at that in the round.
Earlier this morning, the Taoiseach said that his preference was for Irish people to own their own homes and that he supported that. I do not know how he can match that to his complete disregard for the 3,200 family homes that are now being sold to vulture funds by Ulster Bank and the 400 buy-to-let homes also included. These are families that tried to set out to do what the Taoiseach suggested and buy their own homes. They have been restructured on a number of occasions. The Government is not offering those families any support with regard to the restructure that is now required as they are sold to vulture funds. What he said this morning about the protections in terms of the home travelling with the loan is simply not true in practice. The Taoiseach knows this, yet he will not introduce his own legislation to provide that protection. He dismissed the leader of Sinn Féin this morning about Deputy Pearse Doherty's No Consent, No Sale Bill. The Taoiseach could order that Bill to be before this House today if he so wished. The time has come for the Taoiseach to examine the legislation that is there and to bring legislation forward.
Last week, the CEO of a vulture fund told its investors that Ireland is the gift that keeps on giving. By God did they get another gift yesterday when Ulster Bank announced that it was selling nearly 4,000 homes, including 3,200 family homes. There are up to 10,000 real people in those homes whose loans are now being sold to a vulture fund. The Taoiseach simply does not understand what happens when a loan goes to a vulture fund. I stood here and told him what happened with the last sale to a vulture fund by Ulster Bank. The fund sent letters to loan owners to tell them that they had to clear all of their loans, the €200,000 or €300,000, within 30 days. Banks do not do that. Vulture funds do because they only have a short-term interest. The Taoiseach said that he cannot dictate the pace of my legislation, the No Consent, No Sale Bill. Is it not true that the Taoiseach and the Government are doing their damnedest to try to block that using the mechanism of the money message? The Taoiseach's Government has facilitated this sale. The Fine Gael Government met the vulture funds 125 times. These are the same vultures that refused to come before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, to answer the questions of parliamentarians elected on behalf of the Irish people. The Taoiseach needs to act now. We need to stop this type of sale to vulture funds and to protect homeowners who need the protection of the State.
I would be happy to answer the Deputies' questions and charges if I am permitted to do so. The vast majority of people in Ireland own their own home. Approximately 68% of Irish people own their home and I want that to be a reality for people in their 20s and 30s too. That is why our housing policy is all based on the concept of home ownership, increasing supply and allowing people to acquire their own home which would be their home and private property. If a loan is sold on, the person continues to retain the same contractual and consumer rights as he or she had before. We should not scare people by claiming the opposite.
Not in practice and not before the courts either.
We have to consult with the Central Bank about the legislation that the Deputies mention.
It has already been done.
There is a real concern, which should be recognised in this House, that as is so often the case, well-intentioned legislation can be counter-productive. The result might be the shutting down of mortgage lending in the State, making it harder for young people to get a mortgage for the first time.
That is rubbish.
Nobody has even suggested that.
The Taoiseach without interruption.
It would cause mortgage interest rates to rise for others.
The Taoiseach keeps meeting the vultures.
It is about time that the Taoiseach stood up for all the people.
That is a real risk in such legislation.
That is rubbish.
It is well-intentioned legislation that actually hurts many people, making it harder for them to get a loan in the first place. It increases interest rates for those who already have a loan. Once again, when the truth is spoken in this House, they cannot take it.
The Taoiseach keeps on rolling out the red carpet for the vultures.
The Taoiseach is sacrificing ordinary Irish families who try to do their best to make payments to these banks.
Deputy Doherty is being disorderly. I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.
The construction industry has called on the State's environmental watchdog to reclassify for recycling and reuse of demolition rubble that comes from building sites. There is no place in Cork to process crushed concrete. The nearest licensed facility is in Waterford. The Construction Industry Federation, CIF, is asking the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to reclassify crushed concrete to give the industry the option to reuse and recycle the material in a more environmentally friendly way. These products should be reused as an aggregate on existing projects but this is not easy as the current interpretation of regulations does not allow for that. It is allowed in other EU countries. Can we not do the same as other EU countries? It would help the construction industry and would be of benefit to all concerned.
The Deputy will know that the EPA is independent in its evaluation of such matters but I am sure that it will give due attention to the request by the CIF and I will get a reply for the Deputy.
This question is for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Taoiseach might ask him to get back to me about it. I am looking for the results of the public consultation on the new pilot quota balancing scheme for fishing.
It is an important issue. I will see the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine tomorrow morning and will ask him to contact Deputy Murphy O'Mahony with a reply.
The programme for Government addresses insulation of homes in the section under climate change and the environment. People who receive fuel allowance, and those meeting other criteria, can have their homes insulated under the warmer homes scheme. With just half the year gone, the budget for insulation of homes has been totally used up. This scheme is very important to the people of west Cork and throughout the country to help them to cut down on the use of fossil fuels when their homes are insulated. Will this Government provide funding for the much-needed scheme so that it can continue until the end of the year for the rest of the waiting list and so we can meet our environmental targets?
This is a free scheme, so everyone who applies can be considered. It has not used up its budget but nonetheless there is no doubt that there are pressures on the funding and it has to manage its resources carefully to stay within budget. It is a very popular scheme because it is 100% funded by the State. As the Deputy knows, the Government is considering, as part of its climate action plan, an approach that would look at the aggregation of a number of properties so that we would have a better area-based and easier to use scheme in future.
The programme for Government notes that the preferred choice for older people is to live at home safely and securely in the comfort of their own house, with wrap-around supports. That is not always possible. A total of 18% of the older population aged over 85 now reside in nursing homes. I was deeply concerned at the weekend to read in an article in the Sunday Independent written by Maeve Sheehan that up to 45 State-owned nursing homes will fail to meet a deadline to comply with standards enforced by HIQA, putting them at risk of closure and giving rise to questions about the future care of older people. I do not expect the Taoiseach to be able to answer this question now, but I ask him to raise the matter with the Minister for Health. Is he concerned that 45 State homes might not be HIQA compliant? Will adequate funding be made available to ensure they can comply?
The Taoiseach can pass on the question to the Minister for Health.
I read the report too and I share the Deputy's concerns about it. The standards have been in place for some time and they are designed to raise the quality, dignity and standards that exist in public and private nursing homes, moving away from a model of older people spending the last year of their life in a ward towards providing something much better such as their own room or a room for two people. They are good standards. I do not know the exact details but I will advise the Minister that the matter was raised in the House and ask him to provide a more detailed reply.
The Taoiseach has constantly said that work is the best route out of poverty. However, Social Justice Ireland-----
The Deputy should ask a question on promised legislation.
-----informs us that more than 109,000 people, who get up early in the morning and go to work, live in poverty. We also know that in 2018-----
Could the Deputy ask a question?
-----the State paid out more than €431 million in family income supplement and working family payments. That is being used, by and large, to subsidise the wage bills of some of the largest companies in the State that generate significant profits.
The Deputy should ask a question.
Will the Taoiseach introduce a living wage Bill? Will the Government help lift workers out of poverty and stop subsidising some of the most profitable companies in the State through the working family payment-----
The question is whether the Government will introduce legislation.
-----and ensure that they pay their way and workers are lifted out of poverty?
Is there promised legislation?
As I mentioned to Deputy Brady's party leader earlier, we already have the second highest minimum wage in the world. We are waiting for the Low Pay Commission to report on whether it should be increased for next year. Work is the best way out of poverty. We have an in-work poverty rate in Ireland of about 2%. It is one of the lowest in the European Union. The figure of 109,000 to which the Deputy refers includes those at risk of poverty, which means-----
It is a growing figure.
-----earning less than 60% of the median income. It does not mean they are in poverty.
The programme for Government commits the Government to greater openness, accountability and delivery. On 13 June, I raised the report of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said he would correspond with me on the matter but I have heard nothing since. I asked the Minister about the case of Sylva Tukula who died in a direct provision centre in Galway. The Minister of State told me he would also correspond with me on that case but I have heard nothing since. On 20 June, I asked the Tánaiste about the Government's failure to progress the health (transport support) Bill. The Tánaiste said he would come back to me but I have heard nothing since. On 25 June, I asked the Taoiseach about the international motor insurance card. The Taoiseach said he would make sure I got an update but I have heard nothing since. On 19 June, in the Topical Issue debate I asked about a primary care centre for Dundalk. As usual, the Minister for Health did not turn up. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, told me she did not know the answer to the question I raised and indicated the Minister would send a reply. I have heard nothing since. I have given five examples over four weeks of important issues I have raised to which Ministers promised responses which have not been forthcoming. Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will direct the Taoiseach in respect of his accountability and that of his Ministers to this Chamber. Are these examples not evidence of Government incompetence and a lack of accountability?
I cannot direct, I can only request.
I genuinely apologise if the Deputy has not received replies to those queries.
I have not.
There is quite a glut of them. We will use the recess to try to catch up on matters that are in arrears. There may well be a bit of a glut in Deputy Adams's office too because I see that in at least one of the five cases raised, the health (transport support) Bill, a reply from the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, issued on 25 June. Perhaps it arrived in the Deputy's office but has not reached him yet.
Where is the Bill?
The Deputy should read his correspondence.
The Taoiseach should read his correspondence and respond to it.
The last few speakers are very fortunate today because I feel Mark Killilea's hand on my shoulder and I think he is telling me not to cut them off because of him. They can thank Mark Killilea.
My question is to the Minister for Education and Skills on the programme for Government commitment to bring schools up to the appropriate standard. I refer in particular to Moville community college in County Donegal. As the Minister is aware, the project was added to the capital programme in 2013. However, designs have not yet been completed and the project has not gone to tender. The students are working without a gym or canteen. Despite this, the standard of education in the college is exceptional. The students need proper facilities, however. Will the Minister give an assurance that the project will go to tender promptly? Will he also give a date as to when that will happen?
The matter was the subject of a public meeting a few days before the local elections. An issue has arisen with respect to the architect, of which Deputy McConalogue will be well aware. We have reappointed an architect. The design of the school continues apace. We know as well that the standard of some of the prefabs is less than desirable. That is the reason we are committed to carrying out an enhancement job to make sure they are fit for purpose come September. We will ensure that we submit a planning application at the beginning of September. The commitment in that regard is on record. It is one of 15 projects in the county that will continue apace.
I refer to the communications regulation Bill. The local Oireachtas reports provided to South East Radio in Wexford, LMFM Radio in Louth, Northern Sound in Cavan and Monaghan and Galway Bay FM ended on 3 April last. The print services, which Tom Ryan provides to 17 regional newspapers, ceased in mid-March. The services have been running since 2010. The reports compile a summary of contributions made by Deputies and Senators and inform people of the work being done by elected Members in Leinster House on any given day. Radio listenership reached 500,000 and 200,000 people read the reports.
Will the Deputy ask a question, please?
It has been said that the cost of the services does not provide value for money.
He may not make a statement.
If value for money is the issue, what about Oireachtas TV, on which €3 million a year or €60,000 a week is spent?
Deputy Fitzpatrick should be reasonable.
The audience of Oireachtas TV is between 10,000 and 15,000 on sitting days and only 200 on non-sitting days.
We are moving on to the next Deputy. Deputy Fitzpatrick is taking advantage of my leniency.
I am not.
The Deputy is taking advantage.
I am a Deputy and people in my constituency listen to the radio-----
The Deputy must understand that we are discussing promised legislation.
I mentioned the legislation.
Ministers are intelligent people. They know the answer.
Deputies Shortall and Howlin were given an extra minute. I am the only one-----
If Deputy Fitzpatrick wants an answer, we will move on.
Will the Taoiseach answer my question?
If the Taoiseach is in a position to answer, he can do so. It is a local issue.
It is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas.
We hope to produce the Bill shortly.
What does "shortly" mean?
Deputy Mattie McGrath should look after his own interests.
According to a written reply I received last night, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, has forwarded its report on history in the junior cycle to the Minister for Education and Skills. When will history be restored as a compulsory subject in the junior cycle?
I confirm that the report has been forwarded. I am in the middle of reading it and I will consider its findings.
I am thankful for the hand of Mark Killilea on your shoulder, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I am getting another message from him now.
Monday saw the entry into force of the Istanbul Convention or the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. That is very welcome and somewhat overdue. In order to meet the State's obligations, legislation must come into force in a number of areas, in particular legislation concerning efficient and proper data collection and the reporting mechanism, which are necessary changes to protect victims and children. The final one is access to specific and specialist support services.
Currently, Ireland has only one third of the number of domestic violence refuges-----
The Taoiseach or a Minister to respond.
Could the Taoiseach please advise me when we will be able to consider introducing the specific legislation to ensure the true ratification of the Istanbul Convention?
Is the Taoiseach is in a position to answer on the legislation?
I also welcome the fact we were in a position to ratify the Istanbul Convention on 1 July. There is an epidemic of violence against women in this State and around the world, and it needs to end. Our ratification of the convention is part of the effort to tackle it. On the update on the specific legislation the Deputy raises, I will have to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to correspond with her. One thing in particular we want to do when it comes to providing refuges for women and families forced to leave their homes is change things so it is the abuser who gets kicked out of the home. That is the way it should be.
Page 60 of the programme for Government has commitments on improving waiting times for patients. I have raised several times the issue of Cork University Maternity Hospital, whereby large numbers of women are kept waiting for gynaecological services. The inpatient number has doubled to over 1,000 over the past year. The business case has been made by the hospital. The Minister has reviewed the case and made a commitment on it. One of the key aspects is the opening of the second gynaecological theatre, a theatre that has never been opened since the hospital was opened in 2007. There are now over 1,000 inpatients on the waiting list. Can the Taoiseach intervene? Can he ask for the funding to be released and the business case to be approved?
It is a question for the Minister. We have to review all of this during the summer.
I am afraid it is a question for the Minister for Health but I will mention to him that the Deputy raised it. I appreciate that there are very long waiting lists for gynaecological procedures in many parts of the country but I should acknowledge much of the progress that has been made. Just in the past two years, the number of people waiting more than 12 weeks for a cataract procedure, hip or knee replacement, tonsil operation, angiogram or vein procedure is down by more than half. In some areas, we are making some good progress.
Thanks to the Belfast bus.
I cannot deprive Deputies Ó Cuív and Coppinger. After they contribute, that will be it.
I will be very brief. There are two promised Bills on the transfer of sentenced persons. I am inquiring about the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (Amendment) Bill. Could the Taoiseach update me on when it will be introduced in the House? There are many waiting for it because of a Supreme Court ruling.
I am advised the Bills are on the priority list. As the Deputy knows, there is a lot of legislation on that list so I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to correspond with the Deputy with a more detailed reply.
There are further regulations for fire safety, which all of us welcome. There is a problem, however. How are community centres, public buildings, etc., to pay for the emergency renovations? In the Taoiseach's constituency, Hartstown community centre has been faced with such a bill. It faces closure if it cannot carry out the renovations. There was a meeting of 200 people but I do not believe there was anybody from the Government side in attendance. Clubs and two childcare facilities are particularly dependent on the centre. With regard to legislation, some sort of fund needs to be put in place to help such centres to meet the bills. There are residents packing bags to keep a community centre in the Taoiseach's constituency open. Is that appropriate? Will the Taoiseach facilitate a meeting with the Minister and local Deputies on this issue so we can assist and determine how the State can intervene to help? The church owns the land but will not give a lease to the community centre.
The community enhancement programme is one of the schemes in place. I am considering this matter in my Department because it is a problem around the country. Community groups are finding themselves in difficulty over repairs. I need to examine the scheme. My Department will do so.