Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 11, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending regulation (EC) No. 861/2007 establishing a European small claims procedure and regulation (EC) No. 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure; and No. 1, Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 11 shall be decided without debate; Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 45, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 February 2014; and tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 1, Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed if not previously concluded) and No. 4, Roads Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

There are two proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11 without debate agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed.

Extraordinary damage has been done across the country to many families, homes and businesses, particularly in Limerick, Galway, Cork and Clare, and the various coastlines. There has been an extraordinary degree of damage across the board and there is great concern out there about people's capacity to insure and reinsure their property and maintain their insurance in all these locations. In the UK, legislation was passed which obliges insurance companies not to discontinue insurance policies with households, entities and business people in such situations. Many people and businesses are potentially facing ruin if this question of insurance is not adequately addressed.

The Government has promised an insurance Bill. Could the Taoiseach indicate when that will be published and whether it will deal with the issues concerning the level and degree of insurance and reinsurance in cases of flooding and severe weather damage? In the context of the Finance Bill, people are getting tired of hearing annually from Ministers after flood damage or weather events that funding will be made available, and then a couple of months later nobody can find the funding or access it. That happened last year. We need to know how much money, in addition to what was already provided in the annual Estimates, will be made available and whether a Supplementary Estimate is required to put flesh on the bones of the Government's response to these appalling situations.

As I said earlier, there have been capital works worth €250 million over the last four years. The humanitarian amount is €15 million, pending assessment, for immediate response to the humanitarian issues. We hope to have a full-scale analysis presented to Cabinet next Tuesday from the local authorities, the emergency planning group within the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the OPW, etc. Perhaps it might be appropriate for the Dáil to debate the outcome of that next week. I am sure the Whip could make arrangements for that. Deputies could give their views on what we must do. We must deal with the immediate, interim and longer-term challenges. Insurance is an issue. I do not have a date for the publication of the insurance Bill as listed, but let us see the full-scale report before Cabinet next week. That can be published and can determine elements of the debate that we can have next week.

One of the Taoiseach's Ministers has prepared a memorandum of understanding to be signed by the Irish Insurance Federation. It falls short of a legislative remedy for those families that cannot get insurance for their homes, but I welcome the Taoiseach's sentiment expressed here today that perhaps when that legislation is introduced, the matter of some form of State guarantee or fund for those householders might be considered. It is long overdue.

Today the Taoiseach discussed the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in the Louise O'Keeffe case. When does the Taoiseach propose to make a full and formal response to that court judgment? Does he propose to reiterate his apology to Ms O'Keeffe here in this House? Does he intend to extend it to all other survivors of abuse in primary schools? Does he propose any new legislation in the wake of the Louise O'Keeffe judgement? Is the Government minded to provide time for a debate on the very far-reaching consequences of that judgement?

On the adoption (information and tracing) Bill, I do not know if the Taoiseach had occasion to hear "Today with Seán O'Rourke" on RTE Radio 1 this morning. It had very compelling and moving testimony from a now-adult man and his birth mother and their particular experiences in the mother and baby home in Bessborough, County Cork, the removal of the child from his birth mother and all that transpired since. The Taoiseach and I both know there is a huge story to be told about these institutions. We have not even begun to shine a light on these issues.

It is essential and urgent that this legislation is published and that adopted persons and parents searching for their children have the opportunity to access records, because currently they are frustrated in their efforts.

This Bill is listed for publication this year. This is an enormously sensitive issue for those involved and there are legal and constitutional issues that must be clarified before the Bill can progress further.

In respect of the case of Louise O'Keeffe, I was glad that Ms O'Keeffe accepted my apology and that of the Tánaiste for the horrendous experience she went through as a young girl in the school she attended. The Government is mindful that it should follow the binding ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and make the payments due under that judgment. It has six months to submit a reply in full detail to the Council of Europe, which will be presented by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. All of the issues raised by Deputy McDonald here will be dealt with in so far as possible in preparing for that presentation.

As the House is aware, the judgment is one of exceptional complexity, given our High Court and Supreme Court determine the clarity of what Irish law means. In terms of our legislation and jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in that regard. The difference between what it decided and what the European Court of Human Rights decided is a matter that must be considered in the preparation of the report that is to be submitted within six months to the Council of Europe. The issues the Deputy raised and others will be dealt with in the context of the preparation of that report. For now, the Government accepts the binding nature of the ruling and will make arrangements, through the Minister, to make the payments due quickly and speedily and will then move on to deal with the broader implications of this complex report.

I understand that time will be provided tomorrow for No. 23 on the Order Paper, statements on the current situation in Northern Ireland. Does the Taoiseach propose to allocate time to discuss the findings of the Smithwick tribunal report? It was published several months ago and is now in a vacuum, which may be unhelpful in the long term.

Yes, I propose to provide time for that debate, but not tomorrow when we will have general statements on Northern Ireland. We committed to a full scale debate on the Smithwick tribunal and it will take place within the next couple of weeks.

Recently, the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, stated that the Irish Coastal Protection Strategy Study was currently mapping the coastline. It will have to map it again because the coastline has changed as the events of the past couple of weeks have done so much damage. Does the Government intend to source funding from the EU solidarity fund as a matter of urgency to help the poor people who have been hurt, whose homes have been destroyed and whose towns have been ravaged?

That is an important issue, but I suggest the Deputy should submit a Topical Issue because it is not in order on the Order of Business.

Will the Taoiseach please comment on this and the EU solidarity fund.

The Deputy is asking the Taoiseach to breach the rules of the House.

With the greatest respect, like everybody else, he is allowed to deal only with what is allowed on the Order of Business. We cannot have debates on the Order of Business. I now call Deputy Butler.

I wish to ask about two Bills. When will the trust Bill, which will reform and consolidate the law relating to trustees and require them to deal better with and protect trust assets, be published? Also, when will the family leave Bill, which will amend and consolidate all family leave legislation, be published?

Both of these Bills are listed for next year. The trust assets Bill will be published later next year and the family leave Bill will be published early next year.

It is now almost 12 months since access to the mobility allowance was closed for new applicants. When will this matter be resolved and is legislation promised to deal with the issue? Citizens have been affected by this as they rely on the allowance to be able to go to work, to access education and so on. Twelve months is a more than reasonable time for a resolution to be found. When will the issue be resolved conclusively and has legislation been promised to deal with the issue?

The health (transport support) Bill, which will deal with the issue of the mobility allowance, is due this year.

When is the Red Cross (amendment) Bill due for publication? This Bill will repeal the Red Cross Act 1938 and put in place a new legal framework for the Irish Red Cross.

That Bill is due next year.

When will the harbours (amendment) Bill, which will amend the Harbour Acts 1996-2009 to allow the transfer of control of certain port companies to local authorities and amend existing provisions regarding board membership and repeal the Harbours Act 1946 and provide for further related matters be published?

That Bill is being considered, but is not due until next year. Significant discussion has yet to take place between the relevant port authorities.

In light of the recent report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, calling for a statutory code of conduct for the grocery goods sector and for an ombudsman, as have been put in place in the United Kingdom, will the Taoiseach update us on progress on the consumer protection and competition Bill?

That Bill is due shortly. Work is well advanced on the Bill and I will update the Deputy on the current position.

In light of the reforms the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is introducing in the area of local government, what recommendations are to be included in the planning Bill following the Mahon tribunal report to the Dáil? When is it expected the planning Bill will come before the House?

I do not have a publication date for that Bill, but I will send the Deputy a note on the current position regarding the work on the Bill.

I wish to raise two topical matters. What progress has been made on the Teaching Council (vetting and protection of children and vulnerable persons) Bill? Have the heads of the Bill been cleared and when is the Bill likely to be published and brought before the House?

The climate action low carbon development Bill has also been promised. In view of recent events and the urgent need for this, will the Taoiseach give some indication as to when this Bill will come before the House?

The climate action Bill has gone to committee for observations. The heads of the Teaching Council Bill were cleared in December and it is due for publication this session.

In regard to an earlier response, is it the intention of the Government to include in the forthcoming insurance Bill, whenever it is produced, a provision along the lines of legislation which is going through the British House of Commons currently, to compel insurance companies to insure against flooding? Also, will the Taoiseach confirm or deny that the Government has signed or intends to sign a memorandum of understanding with the insurance industry?

I do not want to comment on the potential content of a particular Bill. We will have a debate next week on the implications of flooding. The insurance Bill is not due for quite some time, but these matters will be raised. I am not in a position to comment on whether a memorandum of understanding is about to be signed. Deputy McDonald brought this to my attention, but I do not have information to hand on that.