Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

We believe people should have the right to retire with the State pension at the age of 65 if they so choose. The idea of sending someone to stand in a dole queue at the age of 65 is just wrong. When people have reached that age they have worked their shifts and paid their dues. We are putting a motion before the Dáil tonight calling for the State pension age of 65 to be reinstated. I call on all Deputies to support it.

I know the Taoiseach takes a different view. He plans to raise the State pension age to 67. He also knows that his plan has been strongly resisted by the people so he now says the pension age will remain at 66. However, for that to happen legislation will be needed. I would like the Taoiseach to tell us when we will see that legislation. Where is it? In the absence of legislation the pension age will increase to 67 on 1 January.

On the same issue, I would like to ask the Taoiseach-----

Deputy Bruton cannot do that.

Of course one can do that.

It is not generally allowed.

It is not normally allowed when the leaders are asking questions.

The leaders have had their questions. This is a new round.

That is a new Standing Order.

Deputy Bruton has been in government for too long.

Deputies are entitled to raise questions on the same issue.

The tradition is that the major party leaders are allowed to ask a question and are not second-guessed by second contributors. When it comes to the groups, different rules apply.

I must point out that 20 questions might typically be allowed here. The Ceann Comhairle has allocated 11 of those exclusively to the Opposition while all Government backbenchers have had no opportunity to participate on an equal basis. That is not a reasonable approach. Creating a Standing Order that protects these questions is in the interest of the Members of the House more broadly.

I tried to change that in the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform and it was resisted, including by Deputy Bruton's party.

Can Deputy McDonald get her answer?

I must respectfully say that Deputy McDonald is wrong. The legislation has been published. The pension age will remain at 66. I find her comments extraordinary when to a person, her members of the Northern Ireland Assembly all voted to raise the pension age there to 66. This is an area where the Assembly has devolved authority. Under the changes we are making, no one will have to queue for the dole at 65. We are changing the rules around applications for jobseeker's allowance. The pensions commission has been established to deal with the sustainability of pensions.

I wish to ask about cancer survival rates. A report issued last week by the National Cancer Control Programme stated that at least 2,000 cases have gone undiagnosed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is deeply concerning. We also know that the number of referrals from GPs has dropped dramatically. There are issues across the board, but I refer particularly to cancer diagnosis among men. Will the Government implement a catch-up programme to avoid a trade-off between Covid-19 and issues relating to cancer diagnosis? Cancer diagnosis is very severe. It does not have good outcomes for some people. I have met several people who have received very bad news. What are we going to do to ensure this is addressed?

There is no doubt that a catch-up programme is required in light of what transpired during the first Covid-19 lockdown, when services were essentially mothballed and many people did not turn up for appointments. There has been a significant ramping up of efforts there. Screening programmes have been re-established and non-Covid-19 health services are being protected. There is capacity in our hospital system to deal with cases now. Obviously the required protections against Covid-19, such as social distancing, are having an impact on the volume of services delivered. Investment is the key here. That investment has been made. We must now operationalise that investment and avail of private sector capacity to ramp up activity levels.

Very sadly there has recently been a spike in the number of homeless deaths. In comments to the Dáil last week, the Tánaiste gave the impression that nobody who is sleeping rough is denied access to emergency accommodation. This is not the case. Between a third and a half of the people sleeping rough in doorways and tents are being denied access to emergency accommodation. This includes people who have been sleeping rough for several weeks or months. As a matter of urgency, will the Government issue a circular instructing local authorities to provide emergency accommodation to all homeless people who request it?

Very significant resources are being put into emergency services for homeless people. That will continue. Local authorities are working with NGOs, which are experienced and have been working with the homeless for a long time, to get the best accommodation for people as they require it. The figure of a third of rough sleepers, which the Deputy cites as the number refused emergency accommodation, is a little high. I would like to interrogate it a little bit more. Perhaps the Deputy could engage with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on that. I do not think that is his assessment.

A very welcome process, which the Taoiseach helped to initiate by intervening in the Debenhams dispute, has begun. Tomorrow the parties will be meeting for more talks, with Mr. Kevin Foley as mediator. However, a serious problem has arisen. Commitments were made whereby the workers agreed to relax the pickets on the stores and KPMG undertook not to attempt to remove stock. KPMG has now confirmed to the media that stock has been removed from branches in Newbridge, Tallaght and Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork. Yesterday packers from KPMG were stacking up the stock in Henry Street. This has deeply eroded the element of trust. Both sides committed to hold off until Friday so that a resolution could be attempted. Can the Taoiseach imagine how the workers feel about this lack of good faith and the way they have been disappointed yet again by the actions of KPMG? Will the Taoiseach do something to get this back on track, restore good faith and insist that KPMG desists from moving any more stock?

A mediation process was put in place. We worked on that and we thank Mr. Kevin Foley for taking responsibility. I said in the Dáil last week that space should be given by all parties, including KPMG, to facilitate the conduct of those mediation talks.

A number of credit unions across Tipperary and indeed the country have been in contact with Deputies to say that because of Covid they are unable to hold AGMs. Under regulation, the payment of a dividend to members needs to be passed in advance at an AGM and this is not allowed by virtual means, so the dividend cannot be paid to the members. We are talking about sometimes €200 or €300 at Christmastime, when people have additional costs and expenses and the purchase of gifts, toys and extra food is required. Will the Taoiseach contact the Central Bank to ask it to give a directive to the Irish League of Credit Unions authorising credit unions to pay the dividend this year. All it has to do is make a simple amendment to allow credit unions to do this.

I have been contacted by several credit unions, including Clonmel Credit Union, which is in a very health position. The members ensured a €3.6 million profit this year, €1.7 million of which is to be distributed back to the members. They are the people who create the credit union with the wonderful staff there as well. The Central Bank can change this overnight to allow a virtual AGM to take place. Audit accounts have been submitted since early November but they have not got a result. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Finance to allow credit unions to have their AGMs virtually and to change the Act in order to allow members to spend this money in the towns, which is so badly needed, especially in these times of Covid? This is a simple matter and could be done with the stroke of a pen.

Legislation on the holding of AGMs was completed yesterday in the Seanad and will come before this House, I think, in the next two weeks. I will consult the Attorney General and the Minister for Finance, who can in turn consult the Central Bank to see if this issue can be resolved. The whole idea of the legislation was to facilitate virtual dealing or the holding of AGMs and so on because of Covid-19 and the restrictions it has imposed. I thank the Deputies for raising this.

It is a calendar month and two days since the Taoiseach took possession of the report of the independent commission of investigation into mother and baby homes. Will he please tell us whether it has come before Cabinet? If not, why not? When will it be published? What is the cause of the delay, given that legislation was pushed through the Dáil, passed by majority vote, ostensibly for the primary reason that the Government did not want to delay publication of the report.

The Taoiseach will have received correspondence in recent days from survivors of the mother and baby homes and their relatives in Bessborough, County Cork, many of whom are very concerned, particularly in light of the fact that the report has not been published, about the fact that there are plans to proceed with, or applications for planning on, a site that has not been fully investigated. Many survivors are concerned that relatives of theirs may be buried around the site. It has not been investigated. Is the Taoiseach concerned about this? Will he make a submission himself as a constituency Teachta Dála? Will he ensure that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, meets with the survivors of the Bessborough home in particular?

I have met virtually with the organisation concerned regarding Bessborough. The organisation is very focused and very pragmatic. I am not sure that the land in question is right for development, to be frank, but that is another story.

On the matter Deputy Connolly raised, that legislation was not ostensibly about delaying the publication of the-----

That was the excuse.

No, it was not the excuse, actually.

It was the explanation.

I take exception to that. The rationale put forward by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, was very clear and was to preserve and protect the records in order that people could avail of them. It was not ostensibly about anything or about delaying; it was about preserving the record. That truth will emerge. The bottom line is this: the Minister is in consultation with all the groups and a memorandum is being prepared for the Government. It is quite a comprehensive memorandum, dealing with all aspects of the report and, more critically, the Government's response to the report and the proposed response to it. We want to make sure that all the organisations that represent survivors will be communicated with and consulted with in advance of the publication and announcement.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Nineteen Deputies have not been reached and will be given priority tomorrow.