Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Already, 29 Deputies have indicated, including those carried forward from yesterday. It is unlikely that we will reach everyone but maximising the number we reach depends on Members being fair and using only the minute allocated.

I gather the Taoiseach is in Los Angeles today. I hope he takes time to note that rents in Los Angeles are cheaper on average than rents in Dublin. Average rents in Dublin today are €1,713 a month, which is an increase on this time last year. The ESRI stated this morning it has reduced its projected figures for the number of house completions this year. The notion that the Government is catching up with supply is once again being proven to be wrong. The ESRI is particularly asking for a much more aggressive approach to taxing and following up on vacant sites. Does the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government agree with the ESRI assessment this morning? Is the Minister hanging his head in shame at the growing level of rents in this city and his inaction on it? In particular, has the Minister any plans to tackle vacant sites?

The Minister should answer one question only.

I thank the Deputy for that one question with different parts, which I will address in my answer. I was able to speak to this issue this morning because we were announcing new capital funding of €30 million for Dublin Simon to help with a new detoxification facility on Usher's Island. The reason we can provide that funding is both because of the priority we have made of housing and because the different things the Government is doing in the economy enable it to spend that funding in areas that need such support.

Rents in Dublin are too high. People cannot afford the rents that they are being charged. That is precisely why this House introduced new laws earlier this year, which the RTB has stated it is now implementing, which is welcome. However, there is more that we could do, particularly on affordable home ownership and continuing the supports that we have.

In relation to the ESRI projections, these have now been revised in line with the Government's own projections on housing. I welcome that those two figures - those of the Government and those of the ESRI - are in line.

As for vacancy, there are too many sites still vacant. That is why we introduced the vacant site levy. That is having some impact but we are currently looking at ways to see if it can have more. I can speak about that next month.

On the same issue, the data released today by the Residential Tenancies Board for quarter 2 of 2019 show that the rent pressure zones have been breached in 22 out of 26 counties. In six counties, renters are experiencing double-digit increases. In Dublin, rents are now on average €1,700 per month. That means that a renter in Dublin city is paying €1,600 more this year than he or she was this time last year. That is what is happening with the inertia of the Government. Outside Dublin, Limerick city experienced rent increases of 10.2% while in Waterford, they were 14.1%. Carlow and Offaly experienced the highest rental inflation last year, thereby showing that the rent crisis is neither unique nor confined to urban centres or the commuter belt. The rent pressure zones are failing and have failed dramatically.

Has the Deputy a question?

My question to the Government is this: will the Government now do what Sinn Féin called on it repeatedly to do, namely, implement a three-year rent freeze and introduce a refundable tax credit equivalent to one month's rent per year during this period?

As I stated in my previous answer, rents are too high. We introduced rent controls in 2017. We have independent research that says that rent controls are working but we need them to work better.

Let the Minister answer.

The Minister is nearly as laughable as Boris Johnson across the water.

A Cheann Comhairle?

If Deputies will not let the Minister answer, perhaps the Minister should resume his seat. We will not have an answer if Deputies will not take it. Deputy Pearse Doherty should resume his seat. The Deputy asked the Minister a question and should allow him the courtesy of answering.

Can we have a serious statement?

On a point of information-----

A brief point.

-----the Deputy's party supported the strengthening and expansion of rent controls earlier this year because they are working. That is exactly why it supported them.

I thank the Minister. I call Deputy Howlin.

The Deputy is a hypocrite.

The Minister is provoking the Opposition.

Deputy Howlin, without interruption.

The Government has prioritised the payment of wages Bill for this session. My party agrees with the proposal to outlaw tips being used to make up a person's basic pay. It is a fundamental issue. It is quite clear that tips are given by people as a gratuity, which should be paid above and beyond normal basic pay.

We also agree with the proposed requirement for employers to display their tips policy. The most basic requirement of the legislation should be to ensure that staff are the beneficiaries of all the money people give as tips and it does not go into any baseline profits for the restaurant or for the business. My question is, when will the Government introduce and advance this important legislation and will it ensure that the new payments of wages law requires every cent of the tip - 100% of it - be passed on to the employees, as is intended?

This legislation is on the priority list and it is the intention to have it this session. I will convey the Deputy's particular concerns to the Minister who is completing the drafting work.

News of the 1,200 job losses at Wrightbus in Ballymena follows on from news of job losses in the Gallaher Group, Michelin and Harland and Wolff, where the workers are fighting back and are sitting in. It is clear that there is devastation taking place in Northern Ireland's industrial base. Particular questions need to be asked in this circumstance about the £16 million in charitable donations given largely to a Christian evangelical church. The case for nationalisation of the company to defend jobs and to defend green public transport is powerful and unanswerable. We want to express our full solidarity with the workers affected here. There are talks taking place with the British Government and with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In that regard, there is discussion about the all-Ireland economy. Will the Government raise the issue and press the issue of nationalisation to defend these jobs in the North of Ireland?

That is neither a programme for Government nor a questions on legislation matter but the answer is "No."

I ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and, indeed, the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has arrived in the Chamber, what the Government have against County Tipperary. It has taken our local councils and our Army barracks. It has taken our mental health services but now proposes to move our Garda divisional chief superintendent's office to Ennis. It will be 125 miles away from people in Tipperary. The Government is treading down on the people, worse than what Cromwell did to the people all those years ago. This Fine Gael Government is punishing the people of Tipperary because they have not returned a Fine Gael Deputy. They will never have one if the Government keeps doing this. Tipperary will fight back against this and its people are entitled to some modicum of security. There is a proud Garda Síochána record of service there. We want to keep it and we want to support them. We will not take this lying down. Will the Minister state that the Commissioner is able to do this off his own bat? There is accountability to the elected people here in Dáil and the Commissioner must be held accountable. It is not a runner and it will not happen.

Deputy Tóibín on the same matter. There are a couple of Deputies indicating.

Meath has seen a radical increase in crime and anti-social behaviour recently. Towns are being hammered with drug dealing and petrol bombs have been thrown at the courts. Attacks with hatchets have happened in broad daylight. Sexual assault is on the rise in County Meath. Restaurants are closing early because of anti-social behaviour. Currently, in rural areas, people are sleeping with knives under their pillows. People walking home from nightclubs are being attacked and are waking up in intensive care the next morning.

Meath has already got the lowest number of gardaí per capita in the State and now, shockingly, it will lose its Garda divisional headquarters. This Saturday, at 1 p.m., people in Meath will march in numbers in Navan to demand an increase in the number of gardaí and to protect the Garda divisional headquarters in Meath. Will the Minister reverse this decision?

The Minister was in Cavan, in Ballyconnell, when this announcement came out.

To remove the divisional headquarters from Monaghan to Drogheda comes as a significant blow to Cavan-Monaghan. We would assume that Monaghan should be at the centre of all that. This is also in light of the heinous crimes we saw committed only last week against Kevin Lunney, while we have also had consistent and very organised crime with the destruction and removal of ATMs in the whole area. This is all against a backdrop of a possible no-deal Brexit, which will undoubtedly cause chaos along the Border region. We had an announcement of a Garda station over five years ago in Bailieborough. It is has never happened. In Blacklion, the Garda station has never been reopened. There is real discontent and worry with the announcement to remove the headquarters to Drogheda.

A recent front-page headline in one of the newspapers local to us Lily Whites told us that Kildare has one of the highest levels of burglaries in the country. That is coupled with the fact that Kildare consistently has the lowest number of gardaí per head of population in the country. Those two statements are absolutely not unrelated. To hear yesterday that Kildare is losing its divisional headquarters was an absolute shock. Kildare has twice the population of Laois and Offaly but the Garda headquarters and all its resources on a regional level is moving to Portlaoise. Cynics might say that is because there is a Minister in Laois-Offaly and there is none in Kildare. I say those cynics are right. We have not had a Minister in Kildare to be able to shout for and demand those resources. It is absolutely wrong that Kildare is losing this key area of responsibility.

There have been four questions from different parts of the country expressing concern. I want to assure all Deputies in respect of Tipperary, Cavan-Monaghan, where I was yesterday, and my neighbours in Kildare, and Deputy Tóibín who informs us he is organising yet another march-----

The Minister should not give us reasons to organise marches.

I advise the Deputies that they are mistaken. The whole purpose of the new policing plan, which has the support of Government, the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, the Independent Policing Authority and the independent Garda Inspectorate, is that the new operating model-----

What about the people?

The new operating model for An Garda Síochána-----

What about the people?

Deputy McGrath does not want to------

This is bullying.

The Minister without interruption.

That is bullying.

The people do not matter at all.

We are not going to get an answer if we are going to keep interrupting the Minister. I call Deputy John Brady.

It suits Deputy McGrath to come in here repeatedly and shout people down. He can go on his local radio then and claim it as something of a victory. I have news for Deputy McGrath. As a result of the implementation of this plan, we will see more gardaí on front-line duty in Tipperary, not fewer.

The Minister is codding nobody.

If the Deputy is going to keep interrupting Ministers, I will ask the Minister to take his or her seat and we will proceed to the next question.

Drugs task forces play a critical role in assessing the extent and nature of drug problems in their areas. They are also critical in conducting actions at local level to tackle the scourge of drugs within those communities. However, there is a real crisis in our task forces. In Wicklow we have two task forces, namely the Bray local area drugs task force and the east coast drugs task force. They have two vacancies, for a co-ordinator and an outreach worker. The position of co-ordinator for the Bray local area drugs task force, a key position, has not been filled for two years. I am informed interviews were held in April and an individual was offered the position but it has not been ratified. There is effectively a recruitment embargo and it is impacting directly on the ground in tackling the scourge of drugs right across Wicklow and indeed the State. I ask the Minister of State for categorical assurances that these positions will be filled with immediate effect.

I acknowledge the work that is being done on the ground by task forces and the extra funding that has been given in the last number of weeks of over €1 million to identify different scourges of drug-taking and the influence of drug and alcohol addiction with young people right across the board. In relation to Bray and the co-ordinator, I know there are problems there. The interviews have been held and somebody has been chosen, they just have not been put in place. I am pursuing that.

It has not been ratified.

I have been pursuing it since the beginning of September and I intend to make sure that the position is allocated as soon as possible. The Deputy and those in Bray task force, who I have spoken to and visited, know my sincerity about having a co-ordinator in place as soon as possible. There have been difficulties in recruitment so let us be very clear on that. There is somebody now who-----

They are waiting since September to be ratified.

That will be carried out as soon as possible.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I refer to an issue I raised before the summer regarding Tagrisso, a drug for lung cancer treatment, about which I have been engaging with the HSE over the last number of months. The HSE indicated to us after a meeting on 9 July that it would try to fund it at the latter end of this year. The HSE has now confirmed that there is no money there for it. This is a drug that would make great difference to people who have lung cancer and it is urgently needed. We are now told it is going to have to wait until 2020, like everything else in the HSE. There is going to be some magic formula in 2020. I ask the Minister to ask his colleague, the Minister for Health, to intervene urgently because I believe it is a very small number of patients who urgently need this drug treatment in 2019.

The briefing I have is that this year there are 29 new medicines and 29 new indications that have been committed to at a cost of €220 million, and that 3,000 patients will benefit. That has committed the allocation for 2019 for new drugs so it probably does await budgetary consideration of how that scheme can be extended into the future. That is the information I have here but I will convey the Deputy's concern to the relevant Minister.

I want to raise the alarming fact of declining passenger market share being experienced at Shannon International Airport. The Minister of State will be aware that his Government in 2012 separated Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority. At the time, that policy decision was described by the Government as historic. The aim was to increase passenger numbers at Shannon to 2.5 million passengers per annum. The project has failed dismally. Passenger numbers have not reached anything near that figure. In fact, they are at just above half of it. We have had a number of airlines pull their routes from Shannon. Again yesterday, Ryanair pulled three routes. At the time of that decision, dissenting and questioning voices were rubbished by the Government and others. SIPTU raised very valid questions and the Taoiseach went so far as to say that it was a defeatist attitude. The facts speak for themselves. The market share of the Dublin Airport Authority in 2011 was 78% and it is now 86%. The market share of Shannon Airport in 2011 was 7% and it now stands at 4.4%. Can the Minister of State point to anything in either the programme for Government or legislation which will arrest the decline of Shannon Airport and other regional airports?

I thank the Deputy. Certainly the approach of Government is to try to ensure that there is balanced regional development. In respect of aviation policy, all of our airports on the west coast are critically important, from Cork right up to Donegal, including Kerry, Shannon and Knock. It is a very challenging environment at present for Shannon, particularly with the loss of Norwegian Air as a result of the Boeing MAX issue, which was another blow for the airport. I am working very closely with the aviation section in the Department and Tourism Ireland to see how we can improve the situation at Shannon. Since 2011, we have seen huge growth overall in terms of routes into and out of Ireland. That was also helped by the Government's decision to scrap the airport tax, which had been a very regressive move. We have maintained that this has been very helpful in terms of growing aviation in Ireland. We will continue to work and try to put more money in. I am currently campaigning to get more funding to support all of our airports, particularly our airports outside Dublin, in sourcing new routes and supporting the existing ones.

From 1 December until the end of last week, there were 225 patients in Kerry University Hospital on trolleys. On Monday this week, there were 30 patients on trolleys and 70 in the waiting area waiting for a trolley. Circumstances are so bad that the eight beds in the medical assessment unit were being used for patients waiting to be assessed. The situation was chaotic this Monday and Tuesday, so much so that the staff in the hospital were at breaking point.

When is the Government going to take seriously the situation regarding capacity and the shortage of staff at Kerry University Hospital? I have been raising this on Topical Issue matters as well as on Questions on Promised Legislation but nothing has been done. When is the Government going to take it seriously and provide the services the people of the area require?

The Deputy will be aware that, each year in recent years, we have expanded the budget of, and the number of staff in, the HSE. This has involved nearly 500 additional consultant doctors or registrars and 500 additional nursing staff. Every day, we have 7,000 people in our hospitals to have procedures completed who then leave the hospital. Every day, 4,500 turn up at our emergency departments and are treated. There is no doubt there is pressure on the system and there is growing demand from an ageing population on existing capacity. We have to invest not just in additional staff but in expanding capacity. That is why a significant capital budget has been put in place for the health service so we can build capacity. People are working to the very best of their ability within the health service to provide and deliver a high-quality service but there is pressure. Additional resources are being put in and that will continue. The investment strategy is in place.

Over the summer, there was a fair bit of discussion in regard to online safety. Every time the issue comes up, the Department and the Government respond as if the idea of an online safety commissioner is a new one. The background is that it was recommended in a Law Reform Commission paper in 2016 and a Private Members' Bill that I proposed was passed a year and a half ago, although it is stuck in committee, not through the fault of the committee but due to the lack of a money message. The Minister keeps talking about his proposal but we have not seen it and he has not published the consultation documents. When are we going to see movement on this? When are we going to see the heads of a Bill? When is legislation going to come before the House? Is this going to be continually re-announced without any legislative progress? This is a massive issue and there is major concern about it but we are not seeing anything apart from talk from the Government.

The Deputy is inaccurate. First, a consultation document has been published, we have had detailed consultations and we have received many submissions on that legislation. We are now working to provide draft heads of legislation that will go to the Oireachtas committee in this session. The Deputy recognises there are tricky issues in defining what is harmful online content and we need to do that in a way that is robust. That is challenging from a drafting point of view.

What is the timescale?

We will produce draft heads in this session for the committee.

I acknowledge that the programme for Government put significant money aside to deal with flooding events, which are occurring more and more because of climate change. One of the areas that came to prominence in recent years because of flooding was Lough Funshinagh in Roscommon, which is continuously overflowing. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, is in the House.

An independent inquiry was established last July. We are now told nothing can be done in regard to this flooding, which is affecting 40 to 50 families, has destroyed fodder and land and has been a threat to householders and flooded roads. I find it incredible that the Government and its agencies cannot find a solution to a flooding problem and cannot build a drain from the lake to the River Shannon. This could be done years ago. I am sure that, at this stage, the Minister of State has read the report. Has he any news? Is there any way we can crack this nut and do something for those families? It is not acceptable.

I have visited the area with the Deputy and Deputy Denis Naughten, and I met the people there. I then issued money to allow a report to be carried out and that has been carried out. The elected members have seen it but I have not seen it and am still waiting for it.

Has the Minister of State not seen it?

I have not seen the report. In fairness to the local authority, it carried this out and got the consultants on board. We have to look at it and evaluate it. Many Members made promises regarding Lough Funshinagh. I went down and I delivered the money for the report. Let me at least look at the report and make a statement on it afterwards.

There are an unusual number of community care homes in counties Kilkenny and Carlow that offer a completely different type of service to the commercial nursing home. All of them are under financial pressure and deal with a deficit at the end of every year. Will the Minister examine the services being provided for people in their own community through these community home care settings and ensure they get the appropriate funding to allow them to deal with the deficit and to plan their services for the coming year? Will he fund an analysis of the value of the services they give in order that the Government can factor in the possibility of expanding the services and improving them?

Fulfilling the HIQA regulations is a serious difficulty because it is about money coming from voluntary sources. Will the Minister set aside a fund that can be drawn on to fulfil the HIQA regulations so they do not impact on the services?

I will have to refer this to the Minister responsible. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has been doing a lot of work on developing new, more flexible interventions to support people who are seeking to remain independent. However, it would have to be for the Minister of State and his Department to evaluate the particular service the Deputy is referring to.

Last week in the Chamber, I welcomed the Government's plan to introduce 1 million electrically propelled vehicles by 2030. However, I complained about the lack of the power points around the country, with approximately 1,200 installed at present, and I also complained about the cost of installing these operation points. ESB ecars has received €37 million since 2010, which works out at approximately €30,000 per power point.

I have been contacted by many people who drive electric cars. Currently, there are approximately 10,000 electric cars in this country and at least 1,500 need new batteries. Their owners have been quoted between €10,000 and €12,000 to replace the batteries, which can be bought in the USA for approximately $3,000. There are grants available for new batteries. In the forthcoming budget, we need to encourage people to buy electric cars. There is a shortage of electric points and batteries are a serious cost. What is Minister's plan to encourage people to buy these electric cars?

There is no doubt we need to expand the number of public chargers. There are currently approximately 700 and I have made commitments not only to upgrade them but to increase the number to 1,800 through both the local authorities and the ESB, and we have made financial provision for that.

The issue the Deputy raises about financial support for new batteries certainly has not been considered. We have committed to examine a scrappage scheme. There are generous supports for the purchase of an electric vehicle and these include a grant of €5,000, a VRT reduction of €5,000, a home charger subsidy and a discount on tolls. We are seeing a growing adoption of these and it is important we continue. I will look at that but I cannot hold out hope that we will support grants for second-hand batteries.

The Minister for Finance has announced on several occasions that his Department has recruited additional customs staff and that those staff require training. First, how many of the staff are now trained and in place, particularly in the Border area? Second, in the context of the horrific attack on Kevin Lunney-----

The Deputy can only ask one question.

-----has there been any exploration of using the Belfast agreement for an all-island arrangement in regard to customs? Frankly, many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, are terrified about what is going to happen in the event of difficulties with the Brexit arrangements.

Please, Deputy.

The Government is not doing anything to help them.

Its courses and town hall meetings are not cutting the mustard when it comes to meeting the real needs of businesses, particularly smaller ones.

I thank the Deputy for raising that matter. I reassure her that we have a broad suite of supports available to help businesses. We have held numerous events and had numerous contacts. My Department, through the Companies Registration Office, sent 220,000 emails to businesses outlining the supports available. There are nine steps they can take.

Regarding Border checks, as the Deputy knows, we do not want to see any infrastructure again on the Border. We do not want to see a hard border, but we know that there will have to be checks. As soon as we have information on where the checks will be made, we will let businesses know. Other than that, there are many things they can do. They can look at their supply chains, avail of the two Brexit loan funds-----

How many customs officers are there?

Customs officers have been employed.

How many? Does the Minister know?

I do not have the figure off the top of my head, but I think there are 200 Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine officials. I think an additional 400 customs staff have been employed by Revenue.

Are they in place?

Are they in place?

The cross-Border scheme acts as a great release valve in dealing with the chronic public waiting lists, yet patients who avail of the scheme are left waiting for a long time to be reimbursed. The average waiting time is approximately 20 weeks, having risen from four. I have raised this issue a number of times on the floor of the Dáil, including by way of parliamentary questions, and each time I have been assured additional resources are being allocated to deal with the increased number of applications. I am told that the additional resources are additional telephone lines that have been provided in the office for the processing of applications. It is actually compounding the problem-----

The Deputy is over time.

-----because it is taking staff who are in short supply away from the processing of applications to answer the telephones. Will the Minister answer me today? If he cannot do so, will he give an undertaking that the relevant Minister will come back to me to tell me how the Government will deal with the increased workload for the workers who are processing claims under the cross-Border scheme-----

Please, Deputy. I call the Minister.

-----in order that those who are borrowing money to access treatment abroad because they cannot access it in their own jurisdiction will not be left waiting for in excess of 20 weeks to get their money back?

I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Minister concerned.

We have not reached ten Deputies today. If Deputies do not abide by the rules of the House which set out that each Deputy has one minute in which to ask a question, it is very hard to reach everyone who is offering.