Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Broadband Services Provision

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

1. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will estimate the number of small and medium enterprises that do not have access to fibre based broadband across the State. [41606/12]

Os rud é go bhfuil an Taoiseach as láthair, tá mé ag freagairt na ceisteanna seo thar a cheann agus thar cheann an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Kehoe.

The information requested by the Deputy regarding the number of small and medium enterprises which do not have access to fibre-based broadband across the State is not available. The CSO collects data on six different types of connections to the Internet for enterprises, as required by Eurostat under regulation, namely dial-up modem, broadband connection, DSL broadband, other fixed internet connection, mobile broadband using at least 3G technology, and other mobile broadband connection. As such, the data collected do not make a distinction between fibre and non-fibre broadband.

The table to be circulated with the Official Report outlines the findings of the types of connections to the Internet for small and medium-sized enterprises in the State in 2012. Enterprises may also have multiple connection types to the Internet.

The survey on e-commerce and ICT used to compile these data is a sample of enterprises with ten or more employees. The survey does not cover what the CSO term as micro-enterprises, which are those enterprises employing fewer than ten persons. For the purposes of the survey, the CSO classifies small enterprises as those having between ten and 49 employees and classify medium-sized enterprises as those having between 50 and 249 employees. The most recent survey on e-commerce and ICT was the 2012 survey which was published in December 2012. The 2013 survey is due to be published in December 2013.

Small-sized Enterprises

Medium-sized Enterprises

Combined Small & Medium

Dial-up Modem

15.3%

15.3%

15.3%

Broadband connection

89.6%

96.0%

90.7%

DSL Broadband

74.4%

78.0%

75.0%

Other fixed internet

connection

25.8%

48.8%

29.5%

Mobile broadband using at least 3G technology

43.1%

62.4%

46.3%

Other mobile broadband connection

20.1%

35.6%

22.7%

The reality that broadband is not available in parts of rural areas to the extent required by small and medium-sized enterprises. Poor quality and expensive rural broadband is inhibiting Ireland's recovery. I ask the Minister of State to request the CSO to carry out a survey of whether access is via fibre or by other means. If we had that we could at least deal with the question properly because fibre-based broadband is superior to other broadband supply.

Last week, the Government took on board some of the Sinn Féin proposals on using the National Pensions Reserve Fund as a stimulus. Three years ago we suggested that part of that money be used to deal with the roll out of broadband throughout the country. We suggested that €2 billion be used to roll out next-generation broadband, which would obviously be concentrated on fibre. This would take us out of our position at the bottom of the league in Europe and in OECD countries. Will the Government take on board the Sinn Féin approach and invest in fibre-based broadband infrastructure to assist small and medium-sized enterprises and homes in general in accessing this much-needed technology? The future recovery of many of these companies needs to be based on that facility through the use of the stimulus package that is at long last coming on board with investment from the National Pensions Reserve Fund on something that will pay dividends to Ireland. We should invest properly in next-generation broadband.

I would be happy to bring the Deputy's point on the type of survey done to the attention of the CSO. The national broadband plan was launched by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, on 30 August 2012.

The targets include having 70 megabytes to 100 megabytes for at least 50% of the population, with the majority having access to the latter, to be delivered by 2015 through the commercial sector. Further, at least 40 megabytes per second, and, in many cases, much faster speeds for a least a further 20% of the population and potentially to 35% of people in smaller towns and villages will be delivered through a combination of commercial and State investment. There will be an absolute minimum of 30 megabytes per second available to all irrespective of location in the State.

Several actions are also outlined in the plan including investment by the telecommunications industry and implementation of State-led investment in areas where the commercial sector will not provide high-speed broadband. In other words, where it is not being provided commercially, the State will look at investing in that area. Other actions include the publication of a national digital strategy aimed at stimulating businesses and consumer demand, a review of radio spectrum policy and regulation to clarify the role of the State-owned assets infrastructure in the deployment of broadband services and the removal of barriers, including planning issues and road opening, which can impede investment.

The investment in broadband is significant from companies, including Eircom, which bring fibre to the cabinet in my constituency. This means there will be significant increases in fibre to the cabinet. This means the copper wire will continue to run from one's home to the telecommunications cabinet but there will be a significant increase in broadband in many homes throughout the country, depending on the distance from one's home to the cabinet. UPC is spending approximately €500 million on improving Internet connectivity throughout the country. There have been significant developments in private investment and more are expected.

We are not at the bottom of the league in Europe. I can provide the statistics if the Deputy seeks further detail, but we are in fact doing well. According to EUROSTAT, in 2011 throughout the 27 EU countries, some 94% of all enterprises with ten or more employees had access to the Internet, with 94% of small enterprises, that is, those with between ten and 49 employees had access. Some 99% of medium-sized enterprises, that is, those with up to 249 employees, had access, while 100% of large enterprises, that is, those with greater than 250 employees had access. In Ireland in 2012 up to 94% of all enterprises with ten or more employees had access to the Internet, while 93% of small enterprises had access and 98% of medium-sized enterprises had access. Fully 100% of large enterprises had access to the Internet. Notwithstanding all the issues we have, we are doing remarkably well and the national broadband plan and strategy is in place and is being funded. Private and commercial companies are also investing and participating in this plan.

I believe it should always be a national priority to have infrastructure in State hands. If the private sector is investing, it is for a good reason. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, referred to some figures. I will offer some further figures and perhaps the Minister of State can deny them or explain why there is a difference between them and the Forfás Cost of Doing Business in Ireland 2012 report, which compared the cost of broadband in various countries and found that the average price in Ireland was 7% higher than the OECD average and 27% higher than the euro area average. Ireland's Competitiveness Scorecard 2012, also published by Forfás, indicated that Ireland ranked poorly in terms of fibre connections and that it significantly lags behind other countries in terms of upgrading broadband access. There may have been a change since the report was produced but the report also stated that Ireland had only 0.5% fibre connection compared to Japan, where there is 61% connectivity, and South Korea, which has 57% connectivity, while the OECD average is 10.3%. The figures appear to contradict each other.

We all look forward to the realisation of the 2015 strategy, but by 2015 we will still need substantially greater investment than that which has already been proposed by private companies. This is where State funding needs to set in, especially once we move beyond the eastern coast. In rural areas there are small companies in small villages that are not getting proper access to fibre-based connections. State funding would make the future of these companies more feasible or at least allow them to complete on a level playing field with other companies located in some parts of this city and which have the best possible access. However, even in the city there are pockets that do not have the proper speeds required for doing business.

Before you reply, Minister of State, I will let Deputy Ó Fearghaíl in.

This is not an area in which I am particularly expert but we all accept the interconnectivity between broadband availability and employment generation. Three things arise for me: price, speed and availability. These are matters of major concern, as has already been highlighted by Deputy Ó Snodaigh. Can the Minister of State give us an indication of how the plan announced by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, in 2012 differs substantially from the previous metropolitan area networks, MANs, programme or does it differ significantly from it? Is the Minister of State optimistic that the type of roll-out of e-fibre we need to see in the coming months and years will take place expeditiously? Is the Minister of State satisfied that the agencies that should be involved and that should be in the foreground of assisting the Government, us and the commercial agencies in this process, including local authorities, for example, are not putting impediments in the way of the fast roll-out of e-fibre throughout the country?

The MANs project involved fibre optic investment in many locations throughout the country. In several places in the west, for example, and in other parts of the country the MANs were never lit up. This was because while the fibre might have been in the community there was no connectivity back through the country to Dublin or no proper connections. This meant it was in the ground and deemed to be a stranded asset and no one could actually use it, or, if one sought to use it, one would have had to pay up to between €6,000 and €10,000 per business connection. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources have been active in respect of what they call lighting up the MANs. A significant number of MANs have been lit. In other words, they are active and are being used. We can get the Deputy the figures after the discussion today.

The second issue related to the question of business investment. If companies are in competition with each other then costs will come down. Let us consider the offers for mobile telephone, fixed landline or broadband connections. There is a good deal more competition now and it has been led by private investment. When businesses see an opportunity they will invest. It is in areas where no one will invest that State investment should be particularly considered. In communities where in the past there was no service it is incumbent on the State to ensure there is no regional or local variations in that respect.

Reference was made to jobs and enterprises and the Deputy provided several statistics. In terms of the percentage of all enterprises with ten or more employees with a mobile broadband connection to the Internet Ireland ranked 13th in the European Union. For enterprises with between ten and 49 employees Ireland ranked 13th for mobile broadband and for enterprises between 50 and 249 employees in terms of mobile broadband Ireland ranked 10th. Therefore in terms of mobile broadband we are well connected.

The other important point raised by the Deputy related to NewERA, the Fine Gael programme under which we campaigned during the general election and the Irish strategic infrastructure fund. One of the areas where there will be significant investment is broadband. NewERA will be working with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in this regard. I expect there will be significant developments in respect of getting more efficient and faster broadband for more people, homes and businesses throughout the country. There is a table I can ask to have circulated showing where Ireland ranks in respect of the different types of broadband connections, if that is helpful.

Third Level Participation

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

2. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Taoiseach the numbers of students who are currently studying or hold a degree based on the socio-economic groups as defined in the most recent census; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51336/12]

Information on the number of students by socioeconomic group is available from the census of population which was taken in April 2011. The results show that there were 156,599 post-secondary school students in Ireland at the time of the census, of whom some 24,187 hold a degree or higher qualification.

The following table shows the breakdown of students by age and socioeconomic group. The data in the table show all post-secondary school students aged 16 to 23 at the time of the census. A total of 11 different socioeconomic groups are set down by definition on the Central Statistics Office, CSO, website. The statistics were not compiled by the Minister. They are an independent socioeconomic group breakdown. The student data refer to post-secondary school students only, namely, those who have completed their leaving certificate. The table provides details of the total number of students in each category and shows where a degree or higher has been obtained. I will revert to the Deputy with further information which I have available.

Highest level of education of post-secondary school students by socioeconomic group

Age

All socioeconomic groups

Employers and managers

Higher professional

Lower professional

Non-manual

Manual skilled

Semi-skilled

Unskilled

Own account workers

Farmers

Agricultural workers

All others gainfully occupied and unknown

Total

Total

156,599

24,679

8,196

15,753

24,662

6,893

7,362

2,612

4,048

3,799

272

58,323

Non-degree

132,412

21,329

7,222

13,752

21,272

6,007

6,387

2,339

3,472

3,128

233

47,271

Degree or higher

24,187

3,350

974

2,001

3,390

886

975

273

576

671

39

11,052

16

Total

3,788

510

136

329

720

266

307

180

135

93

15

1,097

Non-degree

3,788

510

136

329

720

266

307

180

135

93

15

1,097

17

Total

8,689

1,270

311

822

1915

649

705

359

285

224

26

2,123

Non-degree

8,689

1,270

311

822

1915

649

705

359

285

224

26

2,123

18

Total

21,902

3,461

987

2,205

4,164

1,311

1,407

529

719

616

57

6,446

Non-degree

21,902

3,461

987

2,205

4,164

1,311

1,407

529

719

616

57

6,446

19

Total

33,621

5,874

1,915

3,622

5,548

1,527

1,612

508

938

827

56

11,194

Non-degree

31,881

5,587

1,858

3,502

5,219

1,443

1,503

481

870

761

55

10,602

Degree or higher

1,740

287

57

120

329

84

109

27

68

66

1

592

20

Total

31,645

5,236

1,743

3,338

4,746

1,304

1,301

398

738

765

42

12,034

Non-degree

28,108

4,727

1,649

3,053

4,168

1,116

1,117

351

644

645

37

10,601

Degree or higher

3,537

509

94

285

578

188

184

47

94

120

5

1,433

21

Total

26,257

4,071

1,477

2,628

3,639

853

952

285

605

668

30

11,049

Non-degree

20,314

3,242

1,280

2,162

2,769

650

667

215

453

476

21

8,379

Degree or higher

5,943

829

197

466

870

203

285

70

152

192

9

2,670

22

Total

18,778

2,743

1,030

1,799

2,436

625

692

217

402

379

25

8,430

Non-degree

11,743

1,756

718

1,158

1,512

383

444

144

240

214

13

5,161

Degree or higher

7,035

987

312

641

924

242

248

73

162

165

12

3,269

23

Total

11,919

1,514

597

1,010

1,494

358

386

136

226

227

21

5,950

Non-degree

5,987

776

283

521

805

189

237

80

126

99

9

2,862

Degree or higher

5,932

738

314

489

689

169

149

56

100

128

12

3,088

It is a pity I do not have the table to hand because it would be interesting to examine the statistics, but I understand the table will be circulated with the reply in due course. Data released in March by the Higher Education Authority showed the greatest increase in those entering third level are from families with jobs that tend to be better paid. The findings also show a drop in college entry from people from less wealthy backgrounds. That is unsurprising but it is worrying. In my area there is particular concern not only about third level education but also second level. It has been found that Traveller children are dropping out of education at a very early age once again, despite the cycle having been broken. The same is true of those who in recent years were encouraged to continue until the leaving certificate and, thankfully, due to grants, were able to continue on to third level. We find that there has been a drift backwards.

What steps could be taken to ensure statistics are updated continually because the gap between each census is a long one? How could we address the issue, other than relying on the Higher Education Authority? Could we take other steps to ensure that data from the colleges are analysed every year by the Central Statistics Office to confirm or deny the recent trend, which is reverting back to where we were before the boom?

The figures show that a much higher percentage of persons classified as being in the employers and managers socioeconomic group - 77.6% - were pursuing post-secondary school education compared with those classified as semi-skilled - 40% - or unskilled - 39.1%. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh correctly pointed out, a lot more people from a home with greater income or professional status are studying in post-secondary school education.

Improvements have been made to ensure students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds get into college. One of the main factors, going back a long time, was free education, which levelled the playing field for everyone. The grant system for third level was extremely helpful in helping students from disadvantaged communities to get into college. Although the non-manual group was the largest group in the country among the age group provided, it accounted for the second largest group of students in absolute numbers, with 24,662. However, 33% of persons in the non-manual group were students compared with, for example, 77% of those in the employers and managers group. The number of those studying was highest for those aged 19, with increasing percentages of those with a degree or higher as one moves up the age groups. Of those studying aged 23, nearly half had a degree or higher qualification, with higher professionals and farmers having more persons holding a degree or higher than those holding no degree.

Progress had been made and now society, but in particular the Government, is undoing the good work that had been done. That will have dire consequences unless it is addressed. There are a number of reasons for the decline in the number of people from lower income socioeconomic groups going to college. One reason is less disposable income. The statistics bear that out. The Minister of State referred to students from the socioeconomic category of non-skilled or manual being less likely to go to university. In some cases it is due to lack of hope and the desire to emigrate. Traveller groups and the long-term unemployed are other groups of concern in that regard.

Representation was made to me by a 21 year old woman who is going into her third year in college. She will be totally dependent for the duration of the summer on her parents who are unemployed. She has no access to any income. The difficulty she faces is trying to survive and to hold on to go back to college. She is from Ballyfermot, one of the areas that has had the lowest third level attainment for many years, and the cycle there was starting to be broken. She is trying to find a solution. The maintenance grant stops at the end of the university term. There is no encouragement for her other than the desire to continue to educate herself. She must try, like everyone else who is unemployed, to find a job. Some method must be found to address the competing demands on a young woman such as I outlined whose course of study would benefit community and society in terms of preventative therapies for children at risk, to which I referred earlier, and to help combat suicide. She was wondering whether she could afford to go back to college because she will have to spend three if not four months without any income. That is an illustration of the competing demands. In the past, at least one parent in a household might have been working and could have sustained a student during the summer, but the more the Government cuts, the less disposable income is available to families and the more likely it is that there will be a greater degree of drop-out from people among that cohort in society who are unemployed or in disadvantaged communities. Does the Minister of State have statistics on the number of students who drop out of college and their socioeconomic breakdown?

I regret that I do not have the figures the Deputy sought but I understand the Central Statistics Office will be happy to liaise with him on any further data it might be able to provide to him. It was incumbent on the office to answer the question asked but it would be happy to provide further information.

I agree that we must ensure particular supports are available to disadvantaged groups and minorities in society who have traditionally not participated fully in education.

In my constituency, an integrated Traveller programme for the county will be launched shortly, to which we have all been invited. It is very important for Members to be aware of this point of view for and, on behalf of groups of which the Deputy speaks, to be part of the progress they wish to make and to assist and help them in every possible way, given the difficult circumstances many of them are in. However, I will pass on the Deputy's comments to the Ministers concerned and to the Central Statistics Office.

All Members are seriously concerned about the plight of those who are less privileged, those lower income categories to which Deputy Ó Snodaigh has referred. It is good that on occasions such as this, Members have an opportunity to discuss what are the real impacts of the changes on the education system. I commend the Minister of State on his acknowledgement that successive Governments over the years have focused seriously on the area of educational disadvantage, in the realisation of what could be done were this challenge to be tackled. Equally, notwithstanding the pressures the Government is under at present, all Members must ensure the area of educational disadvantage is prioritised and they must consider the impact policies are having. There is no doubt but that the curtailment of the guidance service is having an impact, particularly on those who are less well off. Student fees have an impact, albeit perhaps not as much on those who are really disadvantaged as their eligibility for grants is pretty evident fairly early on. However, the speed at which the grants are being processed by the new agency was a problem last year and I believe everyone will agree to hope it will not be a problem in the current year. Larger classes are a problem, particularly for children who have learning difficulties and who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Moreover, difficulties are being encountered and problems are arising nationwide with the Youthreach programme and with the vocational training opportunities scheme, VTOS, and I will concentrate on the former. In areas of particularly high levels of youth unemployment, Youthreach provides an opportunity to deal with it in a constructive and positive way. Moreover, all Members have found the outcomes from the Youthreach programme predominately have been successful. The schemes have had a great level of success and many of them have encouraged their students to go on to third level education of some form. The point I am trying to make is notwithstanding the difficulties the Government and the Department of Education Skills are under, one must consider critically the real progress that was made in recent decades. Moreover, a superhuman effort must be made to ensure that, to paraphrase an old saying, we are not cent wise but euro foolish in respect of what is being done in this regard. It must be realised that were Ireland to continue to invest in people who are going into the education system from those sectors of society that are experiencing real difficulties by maintaining them therein and keeping them there into second and third level education - whatever the format of third level education might be - it would serve society's interests and would do a great deal to enhance the personal satisfaction the individual person will have, as well as the way in which he or she will be able to live his or her life into the future. While I acknowledge the Minister of State is committed in respect of this area, it is a subject the Government must consider afresh.

While it is not in the question, education research shows that for those from disadvantaged communities in particular, the preschool year and the associated additional education and resources put into it are the most important resources to those children and those homes. Moreover, the outcome from a significant investment in preschool, particularly for disadvantaged communities, is extremely significant. I understand the academic and research evidence shows that where this happens, and there has been significant investment in Ireland in preschool year, this has a significant outcome in bringing up that cohort of people to be the same as any other community. The Government and obviously the Minister for Education and Skills will be very interested in the comments made in this Chamber and I will make sure they are brought to his attention. However, if one can invest in preschool, one gets quality education for those who obviously would not normally be in a position to benefit therefrom. This is the key to the issue and is where significant progress will be made in the years ahead.

Dáil Reform

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the progress made on the commitment in his Department's Statement of Strategy 2011-2014 to restrict the use of the guillotine motions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2352/13]

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the commitment in his Department's Statement of Strategy 2011-2014 regarding ensuring a minimum of two weeks between each stage of a Bill except in exceptional circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2353/13]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he expects to bring forward proposals for reform of the way business is conducted in Dáil Éireann. [25202/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, together.

The programme for Government sets out an ambitious Oireachtas reform agenda, which includes a referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, the enhancing of the Oireachtas committee system and the reform of Dáil Éireann. A restricted use of the guillotine and a minimum period of time between each stage of a Bill’s progress through the Dáil, except in exceptional circumstances, are both part of this reform agenda. While it is impossible to abolish the use of a guillotine or fix minimum periods of time before stages of a Bill in every case, it is the absolute intention over the lifetime of the Government that both the use of the guillotine and the accelerated passage of legislation increasingly will be less of a feature of the work of the Oireachtas.

The Government Chief Whip, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, along with Dáil Whips from all the political parties and the Technical Group, the Ceann Comhairle, the chair of the working group of committee chairs and officials in Leinster House have been involved in developing the second phase of Dáil and Oireachtas committee reforms. The Dáil Reform Sub-Committee of the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges has discussed detailed reform proposals which will expand the role of the committee system, allow for an improved Topical Issue system and expand the amount of debate time allocated to legislation in the Dáil. The Government Chief Whip proposes to bring forward this second phase of Dáil reform in the coming months with the new procedures in place by later this year. The process of Oireachtas reform is ongoing and following the introduction of the second phase of Dáil reforms, consultation on further Oireachtas reforms will take place involving all the Dáil Whips.

The Government has already made progress in a number of areas of Oireachtas reform. In July 2011, after four months in office, the Government introduced the first phase of Oireachtas reform with a package of Dáil reforms that included an additional Leaders' Questions session, taken by the Tánaiste, on Thursdays, the introduction of Topical Issue debates, Friday sittings to give Deputies the opportunity to introduce their own Bills, thereby enhancing the legislative role of Deputies, and a procedure to allow Deputies raise issues regarding replies to parliamentary questions with the Ceann Comhairle. Moreover, in 2011, a new Oireachtas committee system was established that introduced a number of programme for Government reforms designed to enhance the committee system. First, the number of Oireachtas committees was reduced from 25 to 16. Second, Bills can now be referred to Oireachtas committees before publication in order that they are involved at an early stage in the development of legislation and, third, a Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions, chaired by a member of the Opposition, was established.

In June 2012, the Oireachtas committee system was further re-structured with the establishment of an Oireachtas committee on jobs to focus solely on this area of Government priority, the establishment of an Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to deal with the increased workload in this area in light of changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and the merger of the role of Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with that of the Irish Co-Chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

The programme for Government has committed to increasing the number of Dáil sitting days by 50%. The Government already has reduced the length of Dáil breaks at Christmas, at Easter, after bank holidays and during the summer and has introduced regular Friday sitting. A comparison of sitting days between 2008, the first full year in office of the previous Government, and 2012, the first full year in office of this Government, shows an increase from 96 sitting days in 2008 to 123 in 2012.

On 5 June, in line with the programme for Government, a Bill was published to allow for the holding of a referendum in the autumn on the abolition of the Seanad. As part of that announcement a set of Dáil reform proposals was outlined, which included reforms that are desired for the move to a unicameral - one chamber - system. These include expanding the current system of sending heads of a Bill to committee for consideration before the Bill is published; the introduction of a new pre-enactment Stage to allow for extra consideration and scrutiny: each Bill will be referred back to the committee that considered it at pre-legislative and Committee Stages for a final examination after Report Stage before the Bill is passed by the House; Ministers will come before the relevant select committee within 12 months of the enactment of a Bill to discuss and review the functioning of the law and to allow for a debate from members and stakeholders as to whether the legislation is fulfilling its intended purpose; the establishment of a new Oireachtas committee system with 14 Dáil committees: four strategic committees on issues of major strategic and political importance including the Committee of Public Accounts, Finance and EU scrutiny, seven sectoral committees to shadow Government Departments, and three thematic committees which will focus on specific issues such as the Ombudsman and petitions, the Good Friday Agreement and Members' interests. It is envisaged that each committee will have 12 members and will invite external experts to provide specialist input to its work; the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill will enable Oireachtas committees to undertake parliamentary inquires into certain matters of major public importance. A separate administrative system will ensure they function smoothly; and the d'Hondt system will distribute chairs of Oireachtas committees on a proportional and equitable basis across parties.

It is hard to know where to start on this one. I will refrain from saying anything about the Seanad because we will have a debate on that in the course of the week. I have to admit that over a period there has been some active engagement between the Government Whip and the assistant Whip and the Labour Whip, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, Deputy Catherine Murphy and myself. I read some weeks ago on the front page of The Irish Times that the Chief Whip had stated it was the Opposition Whips who were holding up progress on reform. We were glad to be told by the Chief Whip subsequently that this was a misrepresentation of his position and that he acknowledged that the Opposition was not doing that.

I acknowledge also that in the introduction of the Topical Issue debate some significant progress has been made but I will come back to that because the topical issues are not everything they are cracked up to be.

I accept that the Friday sittings, which provide an opportunity to address Private Members' business, is a positive development but if we were to say that Friday sittings of themselves constituted radical reform of the Dáil, we would be fooling ourselves on a number of fronts, not least because it is a specific sitting aimed at dealing with an item of Private Members' business which is dealt with in the space of two hours, with a quorum of ten Members present, and where the normal business of the day is not to be transacted. When we consider extending the sittings of the Dáil to include Fridays we will have to have a debate related to what went on at the Constitutional Convention recently when it discussed the need to involve people in politics who are not currently finding politics attractive, and not least the need to attract women into politics.

In the course of the fairly lengthy debate that took place at the Constitutional Convention one of the issues that arose was that our work practices are not attractive to people, particularly those charged with raising families. It should not be only women who are raising families. I am sure many fathers would want the opportunity to spend more time with their children but if the Government's idea of reform is that the Dáil will sit for four days per week and that on some occasions it will sit from 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. or 12 midnight and at the same time try to encourage more people to become involved in politics, I do not see that happening. Something will have to give.

The Topical Issue debates got off to a great start but recently we have found that the Ministers charged with responsibility to come into the House to address the topical issues do not turn up. Some Ministers are very good at turning up but others are appalling, given that they rarely attend. On many occasions we find that the topical issues, which are selected by the Ceann Comhairle, are dealt with by Ministers of State who have no hand, act or part in the process under deliberation. They come in here and virtually apologise to the Member raising the particular matter because they will read out the prepared script but they are not in a position to address the concerns the Deputy has outlined.

Those are the two great areas of reform the Government is championing mid-way through its term of office. As I said, I am resisting the temptation to get involved in any debate about the Seanad but we are expected to believe that following on from that huge reform, as it is described, we will have huge reform. For example, we will make the committees more effective. The Government had to come back with a proposal to change the structure of the committees, as amended in the aftermath of the last general election, because it found that the procedures it put in place did not work and that the committees were being less effective rather than more effective. I do not know where the Government is going in terms of its current proposal to take a third bite of the cherry, so to speak, and examine committee reform.

We have particular difficulties with the issue of guillotining. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was in the Chamber earlier and in answering every question he told us what the previous Government had done. I will put up my hands and say there were far too many guillotines in the past but the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and the Government came to power with a programme for Government that promised far fewer guillotines. The reality is that we have far more because 57% of the 90 Bills brought before the House by the Minister of State's Government have been the subject of guillotine. What gives us all displeasure is that the guillotines tended to not always be necessary because we ran out of speakers before the point in time was reached. In other instances they were about areas of particular importance where the need to tease out legislation in great detail was obvious. Dozens of amendments to Bills have been left undiscussed. It could be claimed that we are not fulfilling our parliamentary duty when amendments put before the House are brushed aside because the Government has decided that a guillotine will be applied.

The other issue is the two weeks between each Stage of a Bill except in exceptional circumstances. Again, that has been abused. We have not seen it happening in terms of many of the Bills that have been brought before us. Exceptional circumstances will arise where it will not be possible but it is happening far too frequently, and particular difficulties arise. That is not the fault of the Minister of State. He is charged with getting NewERA off the ground and therefore this is not his particular responsibility but for those whose responsibility it is, the type of progress promised is not being realised. The reform that has been championed on so many occasions is not being seen, and some of the reform will have the effect of making politics a far less attractive career for people than it is even at present.

There has been significant change from the time the Deputy's party was last in government. Regarding the sitting days, I gave the Deputy the comparison. Taking 2008 as the previous Government's last full year, and 2011 under this Government, the fact is that we are sitting much more often than was the case under the Deputy's Government. Obviously, times were difficult for the previous Government in terms of the economy.

The additional Leaders' Questions session on a Thursday is clearly established and is for the benefit of democracy.

The Deputy referred to the introduction of Topical Issue debates and I agree it is a problem if the Minister is not present. The Deputy has the issue of concern to him selected, the Ceann Comhairle selects it in the proper way but the Minister is not there. I understand there are discussions under way that will allow for an option where if the Minister cannot make it, the Deputy can insist the Minister responds in a given period of time, such as within a week or two weeks, so there will be accountability from the line Minister back to the Deputy if his or her issue is selected.

The Friday sittings of the Dáil are very important. This is the first time in any Parliament since the foundation of the State that time has been given to backbenchers to put a Bill before the Ceann Comhairle, which is then selected for debate. That gives much greater power to elected Members who are not on the front bench for any party to introduce legislation that is important to him or her.

How many of those Bills have found their way into law?

I will be happy to get the Deputy the answer to that.

Frequently, there are sittings on Fridays and progress in that area.

When there is a dispute, as I used to have when I was in opposition, with a Minister about the answer to parliamentary questions, there will now be a process where there will be transparency about what happened and the Deputy can discuss all those issues with the Ceann Comhairle.

Are we sitting more often? Yes. Is more legislation coming through? Yes. Is there a commitment to reduce the use of the guillotine? There certainly is. I agree with the Deputy entirely on that. The work of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the very important debate on the protection of maternal life will be the benchmark for how we will do things. An idea will go to committee, the committee will discuss it and it will then come back here. That will give the committee a much more important role than it had in any Administration until now. Committee reports are currently launched in the AV room and the media might or might not turn up. The proposal now is that these reports will be debated in the Dáil, giving the committee reports more power and status. Those are significant changes. The key issue is to secure consensus on all sides for change.

Bills come into being when a Minister makes a commitment to introduce legislation in a particular area. Notwithstanding that commitment, which might have been in a programme for Government, the preparation of the Bill can take some time, longer than was thought perhaps, because of complex legal issues identified by the Attorney General. Part of the process must be that where a commitment is given to introduce legislation, there must be a clear timetable. A Minister will not be able to say he or she will do work of legislative importance without having done the preliminary work. Sometimes a Minister promises to deal with a Bill by September but it has not been done by the following June. The Bill is then introduced just before a recess and is lashed through the Oireachtas. That whole process is wrong. If the process is working properly, there will be due consideration before a Minister says anything about legislation. There will be a timetable for publication and greater clarity and accountability. If we can achieve consensus on all sides on changes, which is what Whips' meetings are all about, we will have a better Parliament that is more accountable, more attractive and doing more business.

I take the point about hours. We may be moving to extending some of our days to earlier times in the morning so there are many issues in the melting pot for consideration. People ask if Deputies and Ministers ever see their families and that is important. We must have more family friendly hours in here and some of the changes that have been made and some that will be made will be helpful in that regard.

It is an interesting debate we have had on a number of occasions since the Government was formed. The problem is that outside of the few changes that have happened, there has been a lot of talk on Dáil reform but we have not got down to the business of major change. The original criticism of the Adjournment matters is the very same criticism people make of the Topical Issue system, other than the fact they are at a different time of the day. The Ministers in question are often not the people answering the issues so it has fallen back into the same routine that brought it into disrepute previously, where Ministers read from a script and cannot engage because they are not the line Minister.

The guillotine is a key area. It is fine to say it will change; we were told that when the revolution in democracy was being announced. We may be in emergency circumstances now but some of the legislation that has been guillotined is not urgent. I am still waiting to find out the urgency in passing the Social Welfare and Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill last week. The Thirty-second Amendment of the Constitution (Abolition of Seanad Éireann) Bill is the same. The only reason it is being rushed is because the Government picked a timeframe but that is a moveable feast because timetables are adjusted on many issues.

I argued with the last Government and this Government about the use of the heads of Bills. The Joint Committee on Health and Children was mentioned as a yardstick but it should be the case for every Bill, other than emergency Bills that must be produced overnight, that the heads of a Bill that have passed Cabinet should be published to allow the committee to do its work. That will give greater urgency to the committee work, along with greater focus. It is a problem in committees that some of the members do not turn up. I do not know how to address that when committees are not given due consideration and support by all Members of the Houses. How often have we had to sit at committees, waiting for a quorum so we can start a meeting and get to grips with legislation or other business? I am one of those who believes there should be more committees because the best work is done by this House in committee, particularly on legislation, albeit it is ignored unless some huge statement or controversy occurs. The committees are ignored by the media, including those who do "Oireachtas Report". The hard work of being a Deputy is often ignored. I am not blowing my own trumpet; I have seen those who have sat at committee for a whole day and it is not for the love of the media. It is because it was what they were elected to do.

Last year, the Minister for Social Protection, during the guillotined debate on the Social Welfare Bill, gave a commitment that the explanatory memorandum would be published in both Irish and English. She argued that she could not produce the legislation in Irish and English at the same time but said she would try to get the Government to produce explanatory memoranda bilingually. It is not beyond the capacity of the Government to do that and it would allow Members of the House to carry out their business in both official languages.

The views of Members opposite are valuable. The debate between the Whips will continue and suggestions that were made will be passed on to the Chief Whip.

The point is to make the Oireachtas more accountable and to make Ministers more accountable, both in committee and in the Dáil. On the timetable for legislation, if it is clear when it is published and, given the nature of it, that some pieces of legislation will be exceptional, one will know exactly what is going to happen, when the Stages will be taken, the role of the Committee and the importance of the interaction with the legislation.

I can remember in the past, in the previous Government, that a long Bill, perhaps with 120 pages, would have been introduced to the House on a Monday and be dispatched by the following Wednesday. Nobody even had time to read it, never mind understand what was in it. I doubt if the Minister knew because sometimes one gets dozens of amendments coming in, even on Report Stage. Inefficiency is at the heart of that. The good aspect was that we trusted the Civil Service and the legal advisers on what was in that legislation. Notwithstanding that we did not have due time in the Oireachtas to deal with it, there was a significant element of trust, which is a strong plus in terms of the advice we receive.

There needs to be greater scrutiny of legislation and greater scrutiny of Ministers. That is good and positive for democracy and this Government is ensuring that.

I will be brief because I accept the junior Minister of State's personal bona fides in this matter. Basically, what he saying to us is, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

No. Tá an lá tagtha.

Tá an t-athrú ag teacht.

I agree with what was said by the Chief Whip in The Irish Times in the past fortnight where he indicated that the lack of reform was deplorable on the part of the Government. I accept that when the Chief Whip and all the other Whips meet we can work out an agreement. We can come up with proposals. However, the Chief Whip is a creature of Government and the difficulty is that when he goes back to the Government he has to do what the Government tells him. Clearly, the Government tells him to talk about reform but under no circumstances to deliver any reform.

The Minister of State spoke about the deliberations of the Joint Committee on Health and Children over the six days that it met on the heads of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. Great credit is due to Deputy Buttimer for the manner in which he conducted the hearings. People came in, they had their say, there was dignity, there was mutual respect on all sides but at the end of the day what was said at the inquiry had no impact, good, bad or indifferent, on the legislation that was produced.

That is not true.

Committees will only be effective when, after their deliberations, some significant impact on the legislation that comes before them can be seen. If the public is aware that they are discussing legislation day in, day out for weeks on end but if, in effect, at the end of the day there is no amendments to the legislation, then one wonders what is the exercise about at all. It all comes back to a Government that is determined to implement its agenda, which includes putting out a positive spin on a host of matters and then doing its own thing.

Once there is progress, that is okay. Having sat here in two previous Dála looking over at the serried ranks of Fianna Fáil as they were then, the uniqueness of the Fianna Fáil seats was there were only two of them who were not a Minister, a junior Minister, a Chairman, a convenor, a Vice Chairman or whatever - all on the public purse and in some way doing Oireachtas business as they saw it. That has utterly and radically changed. All of that has gone now or significantly changed. This Oireachtas is far more efficient than previous Oireachtais. With respect, we cannot take a lecture from Deputy Ó Fearghaíl. The previous history stands for itself and the arguments of Governments in the past are clear.

Returning to the point I was making, change by consensus, the Whips sitting together and coming up with an agreement across all parties of the House, will lead to greater efficiency, better performance, more accountable Ministers and better debated Oireachtas issues. It is clear what the Government, particularly the Chief Whip, has announced so far.

How can the Minister of State possibly tally his commitment to Dáil reform and to allowing for proper debate and scrutiny on key legislation, as the Government was promising, with this week's guillotine of a Bill which deals with probably the most substantial change to the Constitution that we have seen? It is inexplicable. I could not believe it when I went to the Technical Group meeting this morning to discover that the Government is guillotining the legislation dealing with Seanad reform. It is beyond comprehension. Could the Minister of State explain that contradiction?

I am not aware that we are. I am not quite clear on it but I will get an answer to Deputy Boyd Barrett from the Chief Whip. I am sorry. I was not at that meeting and I do not know.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.