An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The business this week shall be as set out in the report of the Business Committee dated 14 November 2019.

In relation to today's business, it is proposed that No. 13, Motion re Supplementary Estimates, leave to introduce, subject to the agreement of No. 13, No. 14, motion re Supplementary Estimates, referral to committee, No. 15, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Horse and Greyhound Fund Regulations, referral to committee, No. 16, motion re re-appointment of Ombudsman and No. 17, motion re re-appointment of Information Commissioner be taken without debate, and any divisions demanded shall be taken immediately.

In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that there shall be no oral Taoiseach's Questions pursuant to Standing Order 38(1) and the sos, in accordance with Standing Order 25(1), shall take place on the conclusion of Questions on Promised Legislation; and in relation to No. 42, statements on Mental Health, the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with ten minutes for all other Members and a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

Regarding Thursday's business, it is proposed that No. 17a, motion re Supplementary Estimates, leave to introduce, and subject to the agreement of No. 17b, motion re Supplementary Estimates, referral to committee, be taken without debate and with regard to No. 43, statements on supporting children out of emergency accommodation and into homes, that the statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, with ten minutes for all other Members and a five minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

There are three proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to?

The event held here last Friday, the Youth Assembly on climate change, was a great success and it presented the Government with a set of projects that it believes this House should progress. The Business Committee met last Thursday so obviously we have not had time to discuss it, but is it planned to have a debate in response to the proposals from the Youth Assembly?

That will be addressed at the Business Committee's meeting next Thursday.

Perhaps it could be.

Is today's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the business proposed for Wednesday agreed to? Agreed. Is the business proposed for Thursday agreed to? Agreed. I call Deputy Micheál Martin on promised legislation.

For the information of the House, on 26 July, at the MacGill Summer School, the Taoiseach raised the prospect of changing the Central Bank's rules on mortgage lending, particularly for those paying high rents while also saving for a mortgage deposit. He attacked me earlier, but he specifically raised it.

On a point of information, will the Deputy give way?

With regard to the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, will the Taoiseach confirm the views of the Fine Gael candidate in Wexford, Ms Verona Murphy, that the Road Safety Authority should be abolished, notwithstanding the incredible work the authority has done in saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads? There is no doubt that Fine Gael is a safe house for right-wing politics. Is Fine Gael proposing the abolition of the Road Safety Authority and does the Taoiseach agree with that? Also, will there be a reversal of the drink driving laws the Government introduced?

The Deputy is only allowed one question.

The Fine Gael candidate is openly saying that they have decimated rural Ireland, and apparently-----

Your time is up, Deputy.

-----the enforcement is always on Irish individuals, whatever that means.

I can assure the Deputy that we have no proposals to abolish the RSA, nor will we be repealing any of the legislation we introduced over the past seven or eight years, which has been successful in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads.

On a point of information, there is a big difference between talking about the Central Bank amending its macro-prudential guidelines and creating the false impression that a Government can ensure it would happen, which is what the Deputy said. It demonstrates the extent to which Fianna Fáil's policies on housing are so bankrupt, empty, without substance and paper thin.

They are keeping the Taoiseach in a job.

It is pretending that it can intervene and tell the Central Bank what to do when it comes to macro-prudential guidelines-----

The Taoiseach should read his article in The Irish Times in July.

-----pretending that it can ignore EU law by changing VAT law and then calling for a scheme that already exists. What a lack of substance. It is just unbelievable.

I see that Daz and Surf are at it again, a Cheann Comhairle. My question is in respect of the programme for Government commitment to alleviate pressures affecting household budgets in the area of childcare. I note the launch of the new national childcare scheme this week and the concerns that many vulnerable babies and children will miss out due to gaps in funding. My constituency of Dublin Fingal is the fastest growing area in the State and has the youngest population. Despite this, it faces an ongoing crisis in childcare provision and the reality that the Government has failed to get to grips with it. There are not enough places in Fingal. Many crèches will not take babies until they are a year old, which is impacting on women's ability to return to work. Having secured a place, families then face the equivalent of a second mortgage or second rent in fees. All the while, staff in the early years sector face low wages and job insecurity. The current system is broken. It is unsustainable for staff and financially crippling for many parents.

Thank you, Deputy.

It requires a radical overhaul. Will the Taoiseach agree that wholesale change is long overdue in this area? We must put children's interests front and centre by prioritising quality and improving working conditions-----

Your time is up, Deputy.

-----while at the same time cutting childcare costs for parents. Will the Taoiseach also address the concerns of One Family, a support organisation for lone parents, which runs an early years service for very vulnerable babies and children and states that it is years away from receiving the amount of funding necessary?

The national childcare scheme comes into effect on Wednesday. I encourage people to apply. People who already receive childcare subsidies will see their subsidies increased and some parents will qualify for childcare for the first time. We will have to see how things pan out in the next couple of weeks. As the Deputy's queries are very specific, I suggest she raise them directly with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

I have repeatedly asked the Government to be open and clear on its decision to impose VAT on food supplements. The Minister for Finance has repeatedly hidden behind the Revenue Commissioners on this but, as I have said repeatedly, Revenue does not make policy but implements policy determined by this House. The health food industry is worried about the Minister for Finance's repeated statements that food supplements are not food. In fact, food supplements are recognised as food under Irish and European Union law. Under the food supplement directive, as transposed into Irish law by SI 506 of 2007, the food industry is required to adhere to all food regulations to ensure quality and consumer safety. Will the Government confirm that food supplements are defined in Irish and European law and will it accede to the industry's request that the existing legal definition of foodstuffs be included in the Finance Bill currently before the Dáil?

Far from hiding behind anyone on this matter, I participated in a lengthy debate on it on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill in the week before last. There will be an opportunity to continue that debate on Report Stage. The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed to me that the current status of food supplements cannot continue. In the absence of the action being taken in the Finance Bill, the VAT rate on these same supplements would increase to 23%. As a result of the action I am taking, which I hope the House will support, the VAT rate on them will move to 13.5%.

There are many disgraceful aspects to the Government's ideological determination to force local councils to privatise public land and hand it over to developers who helped bankrupt this country, but the aspect of this on which I would like the Taoiseach to comment is the price the State will pay. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, speaks of stripping councils of their powers. Has the Taoiseach looked at the price we will pay to the private developer to whom we have transferred land at O'Devaney Gardens, and the private developers to whom the Government plans to transfer hundreds of other sites, to buy the units back at market prices? I saw the guidelines issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government which show that the top prices the State will pay can be up to €526,000 for a two bedroom house, €584,000 for a three bedroom house, €704,000 for a four bedroom house, €289,000 for a one bedroom apartment and €335,000 for a two bedroom apartment. Those are the figures in the guidelines issued to Dublin City Council by the Minister at the beginning of the year. Is the Taoiseach seriously suggesting that is good value for money for public land that the Government is handing over-----

Please, Deputy, the time is up.

-----to these developers who wrecked the country only ten years ago?

Is the Taoiseach taking this question?

The Deputy is referring to a document which I do not have before me. My understanding is that we are not proposing to buy these homes at market price from the developer. However, as this is a detailed question about a particular scheme, I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come back to the Deputy on the matter. I think he may have mixed up the Dublin agreement deal with the thing that actually happened.

A parliamentary question might elicit the information the Deputy seeks.

If the Taoiseach sends me his mobile number, I will text him the document.

I raise a matter that has been raised at my constituency clinic every week for the past 12 months, namely, the roll-out of 5G and the apparent dangers surrounding this to our people's health and well-being. Is the Taoiseach aware that the Government of Belgium has halted the 5G roll-out saying that the people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health can be sold for a profit. A legal opinion in Denmark stated the rolling out of 5G is illegal under EU and international law and concluded that establishing and activating a 5G network would contravene current human and environmental rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the EU regulations and the Bern and Bonn conventions. An EU report admits that 5G is a mass experiment and laments that it is not possible to accurately stimulate or measure 5G emissions. The health effects of the higher 5G frequencies, known as millimetre waves, are unknown.

These wavelengths have never been tested for safety according to industry testimony to the United States Senate in February. I am truly no expert and I seek the Taoiseach's advice.

The Deputy is right about that.

The people of Ireland and the world are saying "No" to 5G and are extremely concerned about the dangers of this technology.

Does the Deputy not want it?

Will the Government draw up a report to consider the genuine concerns that are out there with 5G?

It is just a scare story.

We get independent advice about the safety of any mobile network we roll out. The advice we have is that this is robust and safe. If the Deputy wishes to bring evidence to the authorities for assessment, that can be done. Our advice is that this is a safe network. However, it will take considerable time to roll out. While I am on my feet, I should take the opportunity to say that we have today committed to rolling out rural broadband and the Deputy's constituency will be a very substantial beneficiary of that.

He does not want it now.

The programme for Government indicates that the Government supports the introduction of cost-rental housing, which is a critical element in tackling the most acute form of housing crisis that we have, namely, that in the rental sector. It brings down the cost of market rents and provides housing for all our people. The Minister is refusing outright to consider that at the O'Devaney Gardens development. He has overseen absolutely nothing happening at St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore, which was meant to be the first flagship project to show how this will work. When and where, and under what conditions, would Fine Gael ever consider rolling out cost-rental housing as a way of tackling the housing crisis in this city? The party is acting ideologically about this by refusing to allow it in O'Devaney Gardens and by sticking the St. Michael's Estate plans into bureaucratic glue.

The Deputy asked about when and where this would be rolled out. The Enniskerry road project is under construction and the Deputy can take a look at it now.

It is a cost-rental scheme under construction. If the Deputy wants to see a large one, the Emmet Road project at Inchicore is an example.

It is going nowhere.

Those are two projects the Deputy can visit, either now or whenever he wants, in order to see cost-rental being delivered. The scheme at O'Devaney Gardens will be 50% private, 30% social and 20% affordable purchase. My understanding is the Green Party councillors on Dublin City Council voted for that. If the Deputy has a problem with it, he should speak with his party's councillors.

I bring to the Taoiseach's attention a matter I raised before regarding operation of the GP service, or how it cannot operate in many cases. On Sunday night last, in the great town of Milltown, we had a public meeting that was attended by 360 people. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the crisis facing them because it is not sustainable for a GP to provide a service in Milltown. It is a great and fast-growing town in the heart of Kerry and its plight is reflected in places elsewhere, not just in Kerry but across the country. GPs are genuinely finding it hard to continue to provide services With the costs involved in running a service, they are finding it genuinely financially difficult to set up a new general practitioner service, which we all know is so important for older, middle-aged or younger people in our population. Will the Taoiseach tell us what steps the Government will take to create a better environment for GPs to operate in rural areas in particular?

The meeting on Sunday night highlighted Milltown and I ask that the Department of Health and its Minister engage with the community and local politicians to resolve the matter. We had a meeting yesterday in Killarney and that proposal has been progressed somewhat. It is part of the Sláintecare objectives to roll out primary care in every community and Milltown is just an example of one of many rural towns and urban areas that are finding it very difficult to maintain and replace retiring GPs. The matter must be tackled and financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts affecting GPs must be reversed. There is also a need to look at the wider area of supports from the Health Service Executive to encourage GPs to take up contracts. Without primary care services or GPs operating in every town and village, the recovery of the health service will be almost impossible.

I want to add my weight and call on the Government to ensure people in places like Milltown can have a GP service. To give the Taoiseach an idea of the area, there are 8,000 people in that catchment area and Milltown is the heart of mid-Kerry. If we cannot keep a GP in Milltown, there is no hope that outlying places around the coast of Kerry will have a GP of their own. The Government’s policies are wrong. It is not being supportive of GPs who want to operate a practice in these kinds of areas. In Rathmore, where we have ended up with half of a GP service, if people get sick, they have to travel all the way to Millstreet. That is not acceptable. If only half a service is being provided, it means the Government is saying to people they can only get sick when the GP has a clinic.

We will get an answer for the Deputy now.

We need a full-time GP service in Milltown, full stop.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. I acknowledge there are some rural areas, and also some urban areas, where we are struggling to recruit GPs. Often, individual circumstances are the reason that is the case. Much of this has to do with the fact that the world has changed and GPs are much less willing to be single-handed in the way they were in the past. They want to work in group practices and to be able to share weekend and night cover. That makes it much harder to provide a GP everywhere because GPs now tend to work in groups. Notwithstanding that, there are now more GPs in Ireland than ever before, more GPs on the specialist register than ever before-----

Where are they? Are they in Dublin?

-----and more GPs have contracts with the HSE than ever before. What are we doing about it? We have increased the rural practice allowance and made it easier to qualify for that. A sum of €2 million has been set aside for a particular effort to recruit and retain GPs in urban areas. We have an agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, to reverse the reductions in fees, that is, to reverse the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI. We are also increasing the number of training places. I was delighted to see just a few days ago that a record number of young doctors applied for the GP scheme. Never before have so many GPs applied to get on the GP scheme. We will have to increase the number of places again. That we have the highest ever number of applicants for the scheme shows that confidence is returning to general practice, and that is a great.

The Taoiseach is wrong.

The Deputy is entitled to his opinion but there is only one set of facts.

Page 110 of A Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment that farm families and rural communities "must feel the effects of positive economic and social change." Oireachtas Members, including my office, have been inundated with calls from farming families who are currently experiencing extreme hardship due to the non-payment of funding under the basic payment scheme, BPS, and areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme. In excess of 2,500 farmers are awaiting payments and their farms have not been inspected to date. This is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to introduce a mechanism whereby at least 80% of this funding will be paid to alleviate farmers’ credit rating difficulties well in advance of any inspection. If there are breaches of rules, there can be a subsequent clawback. Farming families are in serious difficulty trying to meet their payments. We need action on this matter.

This is an issue I have raised a number of times. Yesterday morning, between 9 a.m and 10.30 a.m., I received calls from four farmers who are desperately waiting for payments. It is six months since farmers applied for payments, which are being held up by satellite inspections. In 99% of cases, these inspections do not make any difference and there is no change. I ask that advance payments in these schemes of 85% and 70%, respectively, be made to farmers. If a deduction has to be made afterwards, there are sufficient funds available for those deductions. These people are desperate. They have bills to pay and we are approaching the Christmas period. When I rang the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday, I was told no further payments would be made until 2 December. If these people do not get their payments on that date, the payments will not be made until next year and they will pay double tax next year because they did not get their money this year.

Is the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, dealing with this matter?

My information is that payments under the beef basic payment scheme are ahead of where they were last year. Based on the figures, there are no delays. As usual, herd numbers are being randomly selected for inspection as demanded by the European Court of Auditors.

These are being expedited. As I said to the Deputy last week, if he knows of specific cases, he should send the details on to the Department. We will then see if there are hold-ups but my information is that there are not.

Between 2014 and 2019, we have seen a 1,700% increase in the numbers of people presenting as homeless in Mayo. A problem that never existed in the area now very much does. We met 47% of our home-building target last year. Mayo built just 38 homes and acquired just 15 last year. In the first six months of this year, 15 homes were built and only ten acquired. We can all agree that this rate of building and acquisition is not at the required level. I have seen a considerable increase in the numbers of people presenting to my office who cannot find rental accommodation because the stock is so low, or who are homeless, particularly in the past year and a half to two years. What is the Government going to do to address the homelessness and housing crises in rural Ireland?

Deputy Chambers's question jars with the remarks her own party leader made not too long ago. She is critical of Mayo County Council for underdelivering on its housing targets. Central government is putting the money in place. The budget for housing was €2.6 billion this year.

That is not what the council is saying. Funding is not-----

Between 10,000 and 11,000 homes will be added to the social housing stock this year, more than in any other year this century. If Mayo is not delivering, the Deputy needs to take this up with her councillors and party leader.

It is the Department.

Some 11,000 homes are to be added. Why are there none in Mayo?

That is a good question.

Last week I raised the issue of funding for the port access northern cross route in Drogheda. The application was under appeal because the initial application for this vital piece of infrastructure, which would also free up land for housing development, had been rejected. On the very day that I raised the issue of the appeal, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government notified Louth County Council that this appeal had also been rejected. A reason for this was not even offered. The Minister says that a new round of funding is to open shortly. Having rejected Louth County Council's application twice, the Government now wants it to apply a third time. I sincerely hope it will be, and it had better be, a case of third time lucky. Will the Taoiseach request that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and officials from his Department meet officials from Louth County Council to resolve any previous issues to give the council the best chance of success in its application for the next round of funding? That is not too much to ask. I hope the Taoiseach will agree to do so.

It is not too much to ask but there is little point in asking me about it. If the Deputy wants to organise a meeting with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I suggest she contact him directly.

Does the Taoiseach agree they should meet?

I hope there is some point in asking the Taoiseach my question. He and his Government have given several commitments with regard to the need for immediate assistance for the approximately 5,000 homeowners in Donegal who are waiting on a Government scheme to help them fix their homes, which were affected by defective blocks containing mica, but they have not followed through on those commitments. Last year, the Taoiseach made a commitment that the scheme would be published by the end of 2018 and that work to fix homes would start by the start of 2019. He has visited these homes and given these commitments himself, and yet here we are, just four weeks from Christmas 2019, and the scheme has still not even been published. Will the Taoiseach update me on the status of that scheme? Will he commit to it being published before Christmas? Will he give a commitment that work to fix those homes will commence in the first months of 2020?

The budget for 2020 includes €40 million for measures relating to pyrite and mica. The full terms and conditions of the scheme are being finalised. The process has to take account of GDPR requirements with regard to data processing arrangements and the Department's current engagement with Donegal and Mayo county councils, which will operate and administer the scheme. The aim is to complete the outstanding work without delay to ensure the scheme can get under way as soon as possible.

According to the INMO there are 534 patients on trolleys in hospitals throughout the county. We have learned that, up until October of this year, in excess of 13,500 people over 75 years had spent more than 24 hours waiting to access a bed.

Yesterday, some of my Oireachtas colleagues and I visited the University Hospital Waterford. We were informed by the manager that the hospital has 21 late discharges. These are people who are in acute hospital beds and who need timely discharges but, unfortunately, they have not been not able to avail of them. Simultaneously, there were 23 people on trolleys in the hospital. This is an issue I have been raising for the past year. Would the Government consider adopting a targeted approach that would look at each CHO and at the people who need timely discharges from care and to be provided with either home care support or access to nursing homes? Some people have very complex needs and it is not as simple as just delivering home care hours. If we look at the number of individuals who are awaiting discharge, however, we will see that it is always in or around 600. The number for those on trolleys is very similar. A adoption of a targeted approach would be a good development.

The Deputy is correct. A lot of what she referred to is being done. She will be aware, on foot of the winter plan published last week, that additional resources are provided for home care, for the fair deal scheme and for aids and appliances. This will enable more people to get home from hospital and more people to be discharged sooner, thus freeing up hospital beds for patients who are acutely ill. As Deputy Butler recognises, there are often complicating factors. Families are allowed a choice of nursing home and this can cause delays. Some patients are wards of court and cannot consent for themselves. Some patients have very complex needs and require an individualised package to be put in place. The Deputy's point is very well made.

The criminal justice (money laundering and terrorist financing) Bill 2019 is promised legislation. Given some of the issues that have been raised in recent times, is it intended to bring the Bill before the House without delay?

I can confirm that the legislation, which relates to the fifth EU money laundering directive, is due to be introduced during this session.

Following on from Deputy Butler's question and the Taoiseach's reply, and in light of a question I raised here some weeks ago on home help, I refer to a patient who has been trying to get some home help in order to be discharged from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire in recent weeks. The HSE is not engaging with the family in the context of putting a home care package in place, even though the HSE in Dublin is looking at the case, has costed it and has given it to HSE South. I appreciate that the Taoiseach does not have the facts in front of him, but it is a very genuine case. The family want to get out of the health system and get their loved one home over the next couple of weeks. I gave the file to the Minister some weeks ago and I appealed to him to look at it. I ask that he look at the case to see what he can do from his side and from the Government's side.

As Deputy Michael Moynihan stated, I do not have the details of the case in question, but I am sure the family would like to have their loved one home before Christmas. That is what the HSE and the Government would like too. Under the law, the Minister is precluded from making directions in individual cases. If, however, the Deputy passes on the details to him, he will certainly make inquiries.

Will the Taoiseach comment on remarks made by Dr. Gabriel Scally at the weekend to the effect that Ireland's adversarial system for dealing with medical error is not fit for purpose? Dr. Scally has suggested the introduction of a no-fault compensation scheme, particularly to deal with screening errors but also with rare serious vaccination consequences. People present for screening or vaccination voluntarily for their own good and also for the common good. Will the Government consider the development of a no-fault compensation scheme to avoid costly litigation and extremely distressing legal proceedings?

Dr. Scally was correct in his remarks. The programme for Government contains a commitment in respect of the introduction of a no-fault vaccination compensation scheme. Mr. Justice Charles Meenan is looking at those issues and we expect his report in the coming weeks. It would make a lot of sense to have a no-fault scheme, as many other countries do, for errors where very often there is no fault, for example with screening errors, vaccine errors and cases such as cerebral palsy. We should not be naive to the limitations, however. Often the facts are disputed and once facts are disputed one gets involved in hearings and once there are hearings, lawyers become involved. It can be hard to avoid that once facts are disputed. Under the Constitution, people always have the right to go to court. Where these no-fault schemes exist in other jurisdictions the kinds of awards given are very modest and are a fraction of what is given in Ireland's courts.

There is a high probability that such a scheme may not have a high take-up in Ireland because people may get much larger awards in our courts.