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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 Dec 2019

Vol. 991 No. 4

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The business this week shall be as set out in the first revised report of the Business Committee dated 16 December 2019.

In regard to today’s business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' Business. Private Members' Business shall be taken for two hours on the conclusion of No. 16, the motion re the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019, or at 9 p.m., whichever is the earlier, provided that if a division is in progress at 9 p.m., Private Members' Business shall be taken on the conclusion of the division; No.15, motion re amendment of orders of reference of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, shall be taken without debate. In regard to No. 11, Appropriation Bill 2019 - all Stages, the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and any division demanded on the conclusion of Second Stage shall be taken immediately; speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister or State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed five minutes each, with a five minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time; the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 15 minutes by one question, which shall be in relation to amendments, including only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

No. 16, motion re National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Act 2019, shall commence not later than 8.15 p.m. and shall conclude within 45 minutes. Speeches shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons of parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed five minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State. All Members may share time.

In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit at 9.30 a.m. to take No. 12, Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. The debate on Second Stage of the Bill shall not be resumed that day and, in any case, shall be adjourned not later than 10.30 a.m. Where there are no further speakers offering, the debate shall be adjourned and the sitting shall be suspended until 10.30 a.m. No. 16a, motion re presentation and circulation of Revised Estimates 2020, shall be taken without debate. No. 37, statements post European Council meeting of 12-13 December, pursuant to Standing Order 111, shall commence immediately after Taoiseach’s Questions and shall be followed by the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 25(1) for one hour, and shall conclude within 1 hour and 45 minutes, if not previously concluded. Statements of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time. Notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 70(2), the weekly division time shall be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill 2017 - amendments from the Seanad. No. 38, annual transition statements on climate action and low carbon development, shall adjourn within two hours. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed ten minutes each. A Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 30 minutes, with a ten-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

The Dáil on its rising shall adjourn until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 January 2020.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to "fundamentally change the relationship between Government and the Oireachtas, and with it the relationship between the Irish people and their parliament". It is more than two weeks since former Deputy Dara Murphy formally resigned as a Member of the House. He effectively retired from serving the people of the northside of Cork about two years ago when he accepted a role as campaign manager for the European People's Party, something the Taoiseach congratulated him on and wished him well. Last Saturday, the Taoiseach said in an interview that he would find a way to have an independent investigation into former Deputy Murphy's performance and his role as a Deputy. Despite a number of attempts by the Taoiseach to say to the Dáil that there were different mechanisms that could be used, within an hour of him saying them, they all turned out not to be based on any solid foundation. Under sections 9(3) and 9(4) of the Ethics in Public Office Act, there is a facility whereby the former Deputy could refer himself to the Committee on Members' Interests. Given all that the Taoiseach has said on the subject over the past while, has he actually asked his former colleague to refer himself to the Committee on Members' Interests under that legislation? If not, will he so do?

When the Deputy raised the issue of reform of the Oireachtas and restoring the people's trust in it, I thought he might have referred to Deputies Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins or Dooley, or perhaps even Senator Clifford-Lee, or some of his own party's Senators-----

Or Deputy Naughton, the Chair of the committee.

-----who featured in an RTÉ investigative report only last week.

Perhaps he will come back and comment on that at a later stage. They are all sitting Deputies and some of them will even be candidates in a general election for Fianna Fáil, which says a lot.

They are not double-jobbing.

In respect of the former Deputy, Dara Murphy, I am aware the provision exists-----

He kept it to himself.

-----and we have had some discussions with him about it.

Did the Taoiseach ask him?

I call Deputy Pearse Doherty.

I will come back to the Deputy on that.

I did not ask whether the Taoiseach was aware of the provision but whether he had asked the Deputy.


He has not asked him.

I asked a simple question and am entitled to an answer. Did the Taoiseach ask him or not? He is aware of the provision-----

But he did not bother asking.

The Taoiseach has been asked publicly about the matter, as has his party. I am asking him formally in the House whether he has asked Mr. Murphy to avail of the mechanism. It is a "Yes" or "No" question.

Does the Taoiseach wish to respond?

Both I and my advisers have discussed with the former Deputy, Dara Murphy, a number of options as to how an inquiry can be carried out. That is one of the options we have discussed with him and it is still a work in progress. There should be an inquiry and Mr. Murphy has agreed to submit to one. He should pay back any expenses if the inquiry finds against him.

I would like to know from Deputy Martin, given that I have answered his question-----


This is our time.

I asked the question.

-----in respect of sitting Oireachtas Members who are under investigation by our ethics committee-----

I thought Deputies O'Dowd and Rock asked the questions.

-----such as Deputies Lisa Chambers, Dooley and Niall Collins or Senator Clifford-Lee, who still has not apologised for some of the remarks she made-----

Can we all ask a question on the issue?

The Taoiseach is here to answer questions.

-----whether they will be ratified as Fianna Fáil candidates in the next general election, when there is still a cloud of suspicion over them and when they are still under investigation. Will you, sir, answer that straight question?

"Will you, sir".


A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can we all take part in the debate now?

No, the Taoiseach is here to answer questions. I call Deputy Pearse Doherty.

There were two sets of back and forth. Can we all take part?

Unfortunately, we will be subject to much of this until the general election. I have a seven year old and a nine year old at home, and if they behaved the way the two leaders in the House did-----


I asked a simple question. The Deputy should not be so disparaging.

-----I would take them into a corner and have a good talking to them.

At least I asked a question.


I want to go back to an issue-----

The Deputy has a lovely soft-spoken voice.

I have never believed in the process of kneecapping people before asking questions.


I am not talking about Deputy Doherty but about the movement that he supported for years. That was its modus operandi when asking questions.

That is absolutely scandalous. Maybe if the Deputy wants to talk about where Fianna Fáil put the donations it received from the dodgy developers, I will give way.

Deputy Doherty, to pose his question.

Deputy Martin should withdraw his comment. It was scandalous.

It was unbelievable, scandalous.

Deputy Doherty, without interruption. Please, Deputies.

I want to return to an issue that concerns parents throughout the State in respect of where their children will go on 1 January. There are serious issues in the childcare sector. There have been reports of crèches operating without registration, of staff taking up positions without qualifications and of crèches that will be unable to open their doors on 1 January because of the insurance crisis. This disjointed sector is overseen by a number of Departments, is seriously dysfunctional in the way it is monitored, funded and so on, and has led to the crisis we face.

As the Taoiseach will be aware, Tusla was given powers in 2016 in respect of re-registration, the deadline for which was 12 December. I understand that many crèches have not re-registered and that there could be as many as hundreds. There is an issue with insurance. The Taoiseach stated earlier that crèches will not need insurance for 2020 to register. Is he suggesting in some way that crèches should operate without insurance on 1 January? There is a serious crisis, about which neither the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has found the time to have a conversation.

The Taoiseach dismissed my call earlier for a Cabinet sub-committee. He can forget about me. What parents and workers in the sector expect is the Government to intervene where there has been a serious failure and that is clearly the case at this point. Many operators will be worried as they close the doors this weekend, as will many parents and employers, because of the important role that such centres play.

The Government is very much aware of these issues. We know that many parents are concerned that their child's crèche or childcare facility may close in the new year, or that they may find a steep increase in the charges they have to pay.

We want to ensure that no crèches close in the new year, unless it is for a very good reason, such as, for example, as a result of issues relating to the health and safety of children. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, is aware of this and is working on it. I will meet her to discuss the matter later this evening.

I thank party leaders and other Members of the House who have expressed condolences to the family of Cormac Ó Braonáin, and to the Labour Party given that he was the chair of Labour Youth, following his tragic passing in a road traffic accident last weekend. We are very grateful for that.

When the Labour Party was in government earlier in this decade, we were very keen to advance the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, which has since become the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. It was signed by the President in October 2018. I am concerned about the lack of progress in implementing this legislation since its enactment. As the Taoiseach knows, the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol is one of the central measures provided for in the Act. Under the Act, the "minimum price per gram of alcohol ... shall be €0.10". As half a litre of strong beer with an alcohol strength by volume of 5% contains 20 g of alcohol, it should have a minimum price of €1.98. This would not have an impact on premium brands, craft beers or the average bottle of wine. Two of the categories of people on whom it would have an impact are young people involved in the binge drinking of cheap alcohol and those who are addicted to consuming high volumes of spirits. When will the Taoiseach set out a timeframe for the full implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018?

Before the Taoiseach responds, I would like to express sympathy on behalf of the House following the tragic, untimely and sudden death of Cormac Ó Braonáin. In paying tribute to this young man, we extend our sympathies to his family and to the Labour Party. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam uasal dílis.

Go raibh maith agat.

I would like to be associated with those remarks and to offer my condolences and those of the Government to the Labour Party, Labour Youth and the wider Labour family on the loss of Cormac Ó Braonáin following a tragic accident. It must be an impossible time for his family and friends, particularly at this time of year. Some of those who attended the vigil that was held the other day told me that it was a very moving experience. I extend my condolences to everyone who knew him.

Some elements of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, which is now the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, have been enacted, particularly those relating to advertising and promotions. A key element of the legislation relating to minimum unit pricing has not yet been enacted. The Government's policy is to implement the relevant provisions at the same time that similar provisions are implemented in Northern Ireland. We do not want to encourage cross-Border purchases of alcohol. If people are crossing the Border to buy cheap alcohol, this measure will not work economically or in public health terms. Talks with the Northern Ireland parties are now under way. We would like a date for the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Northern Ireland to be part of any agreement among the parties there. We could then agree to do it on the same date. We cannot wait forever. If it does not prove possible to adopt the approach I have set out, we may need to go ahead with the introduction of minimum unit pricing unilaterally. We would have to bear in mind the consequences of such a decision.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the fire services Bill in the context of the issues that more stringent fire safety regulations are posing for childcare facilities and community centres. He will be aware that the community centres in Hartstown and Huntstown are facing substantial bills because of these regulations. If they do not find €100,000 each, they will be under threat. On 1 October last, when I asked the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions whether he would establish a national fund, he stated that it was a good idea and that he would consider it. Unfortunately, he has not established such a fund. He stated in October that "Funds are available" and that "the amount for Hartstown has been settled". The latest news is that these two community centres can claim from the Dormant Accounts Fund and get approximately 20% of what they need. Does the Taoiseach think it is acceptable that hard-pressed communities have to raise €200,000 in funds to meet 80% of the cost of keeping community centres open? We spoke earlier about an absentee former Deputy who was double-jobbing for two years and who rocked up to the House in order to save the bacon of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

His two years' wages would sort this out. Will the Taoiseach guarantee to the communities of Hartstown and Huntstown that these will be sorted out very quickly and that it will not be left to them to raise the money?

On promised legislation, no fire services Bill is promised. On the other matter the Deputy raised, on my initiative and that of the Minister, Deputy Ring, an allocation has been made from the Dormant Accounts Fund for community centres that are not in public ownership to apply for money to carry out essential works such as fire safety works. It is news to me that it is limited to 20% of what is required. I do not think that is quite correct, but I will check that out.

It is €20,000.

I am glad that both the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice and Equality are here. The implementation of the general data protection regulation, GDPR, has gone stark raving mad. There are situations in Tipperary, in Clonmel town, Fethard, and many other towns which have funding approved for, or in some cases have, state-of-the-art for CCTV cameras. It is a very effective tool in protecting against crime. Our chief superintendent told us last week that the Garda cannot access this vital piece in the battle against crime and vagabonds of all sorts and against violence on our streets. This is farcical. I want the Taoiseach and Minister for Justice and Equality to amend the legislation immediately to ensure that An Garda Síochána can walk in and access the footage and use it without getting the permission of the county council. The council will be off for ten days at Christmas. It is a joke that GDPR can have such an effect on the security of our State and our people. The Minister is shaking his head but that is what we have been told.

I do not accept what the Deputy has said that there are insurmountable obstacles to the scheme. Of course there are a number of conditions and there are regulations. Only yesterday, I approved some schemes around the country. I am happy to speak to Deputy McGrath to iron out any confusion his group has, but I have no intention-----

It was the chief superintendent.

Sorry, Deputy, the Minister is being helpful.

-----of introducing amending legislation.

I gave a commitment last week, so I call Deputy Tony McLoughlin.

Will the Minister for Justice and Equality give an update on the regional Garda station in Sligo?

The new Garda station in Sligo is one of the priorities in a forthcoming public private partnership bundle of three Garda stations. I hope that real progress can be made early next year.

We discussed the issue of insurance at length today, but specifically on childcare, on page 75 of the programme for Government it is stated that commitments on quality affordable childcare will be prioritised. Does the Taoiseach actually realise the scale of the issue we are facing now and this sector is facing? For example, last year, one crèche in Swords had an insurance premium of €729. This year it is €3,710. Six preschool providers in my area have said they will not open in January if this is not attended to. That means hundreds of childcare places, both preschool and after-school, that will not be available, and potentially thousands nationwide. Not only is this an insurance crisis, it is a childcare provision crisis. What specifically will the Taoiseach say to the Minister, Deputy Zappone, this afternoon? I was astonished that she said yesterday she was surprised this had come about. It should not be a surprise to anybody. What has been done and what can be done to let parents know they will have somewhere for their children to go after Christmas?

I call Deputy Thomas Byrne on the same issue. He does not have to repeat the points.

I have constituents in touch about insurance as well. On childcare, is the Taoiseach aware that houses are being developed across my constituency and there is no childcare available for parents, particularly in south County Meath? This is replicated in different parts of the country. Buggies are now being brought, with babies, on commuter trains into Dublin where there is not enough room for commuters. The Government has singularly failed to provide childcare. What is its response to this? Is it going to do something and make an emergency intervention apart from the crèches that will close because of the insurance issue?

If the Deputy has concerns about planning on Meath County Council, he should take it up with Meath County Council. Plenty of local authorities require that childcare facilities be provided as part of new major residential developments. If the Deputy had told me about it, I would have raised it with the Fianna Fáil mayor of Meath, whom I met only yesterday.

On childcare, we are trying to assess the scale of the problem. The issue only arose in the past 11 days when one of two insurers pulled out of the market. We are assessing the scale of the problem. We are very aware of the concerns that parents have that their crèche may close in the new year or they may face a major hike in fees.

The Minister is assessing the situation and we will discuss it further later today.

We learned in the past hour that the FAI is once again refusing to come to an Oireachtas committee meeting. That organisation is responsible for the administration of football in the country. Many people and clubs rely upon it, and it may come to the State seeking a significant bailout. In that context, it is insulting to the many fans of football and to communities that the FAI will not come before the committee. People have legitimate questions and they want answers. What is happening is not good enough. Will the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, provide an update on his meeting with the FAI to the House? Will the Government join me in urging the FAI to attend tomorrow’s meeting or a meeting in public in the Oireachtas as soon as possible?

I share the Deputy’s disappointment. I would like to see the FAI appear before the Oireachtas joint committee to answer the questions that need to be answered and give the people of this country the answers they want to hear. The Minister and I, along with officials in our Department, met a delegation from the FAI last night and discussed a number of issues. According to the KOSI report, it is quite clear that the FAI is not fit to receive public funding at present but we are trying to find an alternative mechanism for channelling moneys to the front line in the context of youths football. We have already done that in respect of the international ladies' team. We are doing our best to try to support the players at every level, volunteers, the staff of the FAI and supporters, but there is a very long way to go for the FAI to get back to any degree of normality.

The family courts Bill is promised legislation. It proposes to establish a family court system within the existing structures. Where stands the Bill and when is it likely to come before the House?

I am almost in a position to bring a memorandum to Government. I would expect to do so if not before the final Cabinet meeting of this year, then certainly at the first or second Cabinet meeting early in the new year. The Bill is a priority for me and my Department.

I thank the Minister for that.

There is a reference on page 98 of the programme for Government to the protection of all our citizens by preventing and reducing crime. In that context, I refer to a recent incident in Waterford. The parents of three teenagers injured in an acid attack that happened in Waterford in May reacted with fury to the decision that the alleged perpetrators would not be facing criminal charges. The families are shocked and disappointed and they intend to fight the decision. I accept that the Taoiseach and the Minister cannot comment on this case. However, the question I want to ask relates to what message this sends out to young people. One young teenager stated that it was like having a lighter to his face when he was attacked with a corrosive substance. How can a decision like this be justified when three young lads have been left scarred for life?

Is the Minister in a position to answer?

I have spoken to senior gardaí in respect of this matter. I have received a full report. I understand that there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter and, as Deputy Butler will appreciate, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment on it.

Will the Government introduce new legislation to counteract the High Court’s suppression of statutory instruments introduced earlier this year, which had sought to allow the horticultural sector to harvest peat on foot of Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, licences? If such legislation is not brought forward, there will be no harvesting come March and 4,000 more jobs associated with the harvesting of horticultural peat in particular will be lost.

It is my understanding that, under the ruling of the courts, the options available are to apply for substitute permission from An Bord Pleanála-----

There is not the time for that.

-----and that would be the arrangements through which operators would regularise their activities.

So the Minister will not bring forward legislation to counteract the decision. That is all I want him to tell me in order that I can relay the relevant information to those people who will be affected by his inaction. Is that the factual position?

I call Deputy Buckley.

I have answered Deputy Cowen's question.

The Minister has answered my question in the negative.

I raised with the Taoiseach the winter plan for the emergency department in Cork University Hospital, CUH, a few weeks ago. The information I received was to the effect that the plan was to open an additional 20 temporary beds in CUH. However, I have been told that no staff are available and that there are also 50 vacancies at the hospital. Has the Government any contingency plan to address the staffing shortage at CUH?

Will those extra 20 beds be opened over Christmas?

I will ask the Minister for Health to provide the Deputy with a more comprehensive response, but the winter plan has a number of elements. Opening additional bed capacity where it exists is only one part of it. Other measures are being put in place to reduce overcrowding, including more home care packages, more funding for the fair deal scheme, aids and appliances so that people can be discharged and preventative measures so that people do not have to be admitted in the first place.

Last week, I asked the Taoiseach about the programme for Government's commitments to investment in railways, specifically the Rosslare rail line. The Taoiseach informed me in his announcement that there would be trains for everywhere and the 48 new carriages would include carriages for the Rosslare rail line. In correspondence with Deputy Pat Casey and Wicklow County Council, Irish Rail has stated that none of the 41 new rail carriages will be provided to the new Rosslare rail line. What assurances can the Taoiseach give that there will be improvements to the rail service on the Rosslare line and the problem of overcrowding at peak times will be dealt with?

This is really a question for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Can the Taoiseach ask that Minister to respond?

The 41 carriages are for the greater Dublin rail network, for Drogheda, Maynooth and-----

I specifically asked the Taoiseach about the carriages.

The Taoiseach is not the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

I did say that the €1 billion allocated to Irish Rail under the infrastructure manager multi-annual contract, IMMAC, over five years will cover the entire railway network, including the Wexford line.

Page 127 of the programme for Government sets out that Ireland will become a leader in the take-up of electric vehicles. To do that we will need a network of charging points across the country. While people are willing to switch over, range anxiety is a major issue. I recognise that there are grants for the installation of chargers at home. As I have raised recently, however, businesses throughout the country want to take the initiative and put chargers in place, including small and medium-sized enterprises, shops, restaurants and so on. They are willing to support the Government's efforts. Can they be given grant aid? This could extend the network right across the country to areas that are not otherwise commercially viable and which councils may not consider either.

We are running out of time. The Minister may give a brief answer if he is in a position to do so.

We made provision in the 2020 Estimates to double the number of public chargers. They will be rolled out by both the local authorities, which will provide 400 chargers next year, and the ESB through a cost-sharing initiative under the climate action fund. As the Deputy is aware, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has also announced an initiative to provide chargers at taxi ranks and other significant transport hubs. However, support for individual companies is not proposed. In 2025, there will be an obligation on people with more than 20 parking places to provide a charger. We are not proposing that the State should wholly subsidise the extension of the network.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government regarding home help services. I know of the case of a 97 year old woman in County Laois. She was born on the day Michael Collins was shot dead and was hospitalised in July. She had a home help prior to that. She had two weeks of respite care and was released from hospital and sent home on 26 July. Since then, I have done everything to try to get home help for her but I have not been able to do so, despite the fact that she was allocated five hours and put on a waiting list. I have made numerous representations since then. She has recently been hospitalised again and still does not have home help. I am told by HSE officials that only palliative care cases are being granted new home help hours. I made representations to the chief officer in the HSE. I will just read two lines of the reply.

Please, no. The Deputy should submit this case as a Topical Issue matter and I will consider it.

The letter states that although she is deemed to require assistance, the quantity of service is limited to available budgets. He adds that he regrets that his response cannot be more favourable. This woman was born on the day Michael Collins died.

We heard that earlier.

We put more than €17 billion into the health service this year and we cannot get five hours' home help for this woman.

There is no need for repetition.

She is in hospital and cannot come home because she does not have home help.

I call on Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony on the same issue. She should not expect the Taoiseach to answer. It is a question for the Minister.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to keeping people in their own homes for as long as possible. Obviously, home help is a part of this. Last week, I broached the issue of people who are not getting any home help over Christmas. Many of these same people in west Cork have received letters saying that no holiday cover will be provided. If their home help carer is off, there will be no cover. This is causing huge concern.

We heard that last week. I call on Deputy Carol Nolan on the same issue. She must be brief. There is no need for repetition here.

I also wish to raise the home help issue. It is a scandal that elderly people who have paid taxes all their lives are being left without adequate home help hours. The same is true for people with disabilities. I, too, have made many representations on behalf of people across counties Laois and Offaly over the summer months. They are still left without services. If the home help carer is sick, they have no replacement. This needs to be sorted out because it is a national scandal.

These are really questions for the Minister for Health or the HSE, but the Minister can respond if he so wishes.

I thank the Deputies for raising the important issue of home help. As they will know, no politician has any role in deciding who gets home help or how many hours they get. Those are decisions for clinicians and managers. However, I can say that this afternoon the HSE will publish its service plan for 2020, which was approved by Cabinet this morning. It has a budget of €17 billion, the highest ever. For the first time, there will be more than €1 billion in funding for mental health and more than €2 billion for disability. It will provide for 3,000 extra staff to be hired next year as well as extra beds, additional funding for voluntary hospices, 40,000 extra personal assistant hours and 1 million extra home help hours.

St. Joseph's Foundation in Charleville is a section 39 organisation which in essence provides State services for people with intellectual disabilities. It is a valuable service to users right across south Limerick and north Cork. As I have raised directly with the Taoiseach several times, the foundation's insurance premium has gone from roughly €120,000 three years ago to €526,000 now. This is despite the fact that the foundation does not have an open claim at the moment. It is paying more than €500,000 for the insurance premium to keep an organisation going that is essentially providing State services. I know there was an initiative whereby the State Claims Agency would cover organisations that are providing State services.

As far as I am aware, the State Claims Agency only covers public bodies. It would not be possible for it to take on the liabilities of private organisations, whether they are charitable organisations or private companies.

The Taoiseach just said that the Government has no say in the allocation of home care packages.

Is this the same issue?

No, it concerns the issue of home care. The Taoiseach is the Head of State. Does he think it is right that a citizen and child of this State, Hannah Donnelly from Drogheda, has now spent 19 months in hospital waiting for a home care package to be approved? This is not the first, second or third time I have raised this matter. To this day she is still waiting. There are eight days to go before Christmas Day. Her family are crying in sheer and utter distress, wondering if Hannah's home care package will be approved so she can go home to live with her family at last. She has spent the last two Christmases-----

We are trying to make progress. I will make a suggestion.

This is beyond belief. She has spent the last two Christmases in hospital. She is medically fit. The medical opinion was that the best place for Hannah was at home with her family. Will the Taoiseach, as Head of State-----

He is not the Head of State.

-----make sure that Hannah Donnelly does not spend a third Christmas in hospital waiting for a home care package?

It is a very sad case.

Will he ensure that this Christmas is special for Hannah and her family?

Will the Deputy allow the Taoiseach to answer? We are out of time.

No Government worth its salt-----

I know it is important for Deputies to raise issues, but it is also important for the public to hear the responses.

-----would inflict that sort of thing on any citizen of this State, let alone a child. Again, it has been 19 months.

I am sure if the Deputy refers this particularly tragic case to the Taoiseach, he will pass it on.

I certainly will and I have already done so in the past. I should point out that I am not the Head of State.

The Taoiseach is the Head of Government.

The Deputy is a legislator and as a legislator, she is paid to know what the legislation is. The Health Act 2004 states that the Minister cannot make a direction to the HSE to favour any individual or approve any medical card or home care package. It is important that as a legislator, the Deputy is aware of the legislation.

The Taoiseach is full of compassion.

I hope that Hannah's package can be approved in the coming days so that she can return to her home before Christmas and not in the new year.

As the Chair of this House, does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle think it is reasonable that the Taoiseach should be familiar with every application for a home care package from every constituency in the State?

That is what we are hearing here for the past half hour.

I have raised this four times.

I do not disagree with the Minister.

In terms of fairness.

Nineteen months for a child is exceptional.

If Deputies want the answers, they will not get them from the Taoiseach because he is not in a position to give the specific answers.

They do not want the answers.

It is important for some people just to ask questions. Sorry, Taoiseach.

We have chased it up about ten times.

I have been there and done that and I realise what it is like to ask the questions, but if the Taoiseach or the Ministers cannot give answers, then there is another way and I am always very agreeable to that, and so is the Ceann Comhairle, when it comes to raising Topical Issues or tabling parliamentary questions. I do not disagree with the Minister, but I should add that some Ministers and the Taoiseach preface their remarks with the comment that they are glad the Deputy asked them that question. I wonder then if they are pleased that the Deputies have asked the questions.

That is just their innate politeness.

I am in a no-win situation. I call Deputy Troy. He should be brief.

I will. This is surely a question the Taoiseach can answer. In reply to parliamentary questions tabled both by me and Deputy Michael McGrath on the number of times the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Finance met the heads of the insurance companies in Ireland, I was surprised to learn that in the past 12 months, despite the problem insurance presents for so many industries and businesses, none of the responsible Ministers have thought it worth their while to sit down with the CEOs of the insurance companies. The report of the cost of insurance working group was published, and unfortunately it included a set of recommendations with no timeframe for implementation.

Deputy Troy should ask a question.

Given the crisis across so many sectors concerning insurance, will the Taoiseach review the recommendations that have been published by the cost of insurance working group-----

Okay, we have got the question.

-----and introduce an accelerated timeframe for their implementation to give people an opportunity to see their insurance premiums reduced?

I have some good news for Deputy Troy.

The Minister is glad he asked the question.

Later this afternoon we will officially launch the terms and conditions of the Judicial Council Act. I can also inform Deputy Troy that the personal injury guidelines committee-designate has met on a number of occasions. After this evening it will be officially-----

When will the Judicial Council report?

Deputy Troy should allow the Minister to respond.

-----and legally constructed. I expect that all of the sections of the Act will become operable at the earliest opportunity.

At the earliest opportunity. That is another good timeframe.

A report on the impact of reduced rates on young jobseekers was due to be published in 2016, as per the commitment in Pathways to Work. More than three years later and, quite coincidentally, on the same day that I submitted a freedom of information request to the Minister on communications with her Department relating to the report, the report landed on the Minister's desk. That was on 3 December. The Minister has refused to publish the report because she says she wants to read it and discuss it with her officials. She has not published the report, as was committed to. She said she would furnish the report to the committee. That the Minister has to read the report does not stop her publishing it.

We have got the question.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that this report, which is more than three years late, is published without delay? Unless it contains something to hide, it should be published straight away.

It is a legitimate question.

Will the Taoiseach commit that the report will be published today?

I will certainly ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, about it this week. If there is no good reason not to publish it, then I am sure it will be published. I should point out that unemployment today in Ireland is at its lowest level in 13 years, and there are more people at work than ever before, so we must have been getting some of our employment policies right in recent years.

There is still discrimination against young jobseekers.

There are a lot of young homeless people as well.

I will take Deputies Curran and Neville and I will take Deputy Michael Collins tomorrow unless it is a fire brigade question. We are just over the time.

I regret having to raise this issue again. It concerns the plight of 25 children who are suffering with SMA. The Taoiseach will be aware that in June last year, a decision was made that the drug, Spinraza, would be made available for those children. We are almost at the end of the year, six months on, and the vast majority of those children have not started their initial treatment nor have they been given a date for when it will happen. I have met the Minister for Health and his officials and, unfortunately, we have not been given firm dates. The families of those children are looking at their condition deteriorating. Time is of the essence and there is a sense of urgency. Will the Taoiseach work with the Minister for Health to try to give some clarity to when those children will be given a date for initial treatment?

I am afraid I do not have an update but I will let the Minister for Health know the matter was raised again today in the Chamber and ask him to provide Deputy Curran with an update.

On page 59 of the programme for Government, there is a reference to a cystic fibrosis, CF, model of care. Last Friday, Cystic Fibrosis Ireland stated on its website that the HSE had approved the treatment of the underlying cause of CF for 80% of the CF population. Trikafta is the first approved treatment that is effective for CF patients aged 12 years and over, with at least one Delta-F508 gene mutation, which affects up to 80% of the CF population in Ireland, as was stated. This is subject to approval of the drug by the European Medicines Agency. Once the approval has been sanctioned, will the Taoiseach indicate the timeline that will be put in place so that we will see patients availing of this drug?

I thank Deputy Neville for his question. I know he has a real interest in cystic fibrosis and improving services for CF patients. I do not know the timeframe but I will check it out and make sure the Deputy gets a reply.

Let me say to those who are here and those who are not here, that those who had questions today will not be top of the list tomorrow. Deputy Crowe will be in tomorrow.