Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 2 Apr 2014

Vol. 836 No. 4

Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 24, Companies Bill 2012 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; and No. 22, Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) (Amendment) Bill 2013 [Seanad] - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that in the event a division is in progress at the time fixed for taking Private Members' business, the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and Private Members' business, which shall be No. 146, motion re confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality, and Defence (resumed), shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes. Tomorrow's business after Oral Questions shall be No. 24, Companies Bill 2012 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, if not previously concluded; and No. 25 – statements on the supply of social housing and the Government's homelessness policy (resumed).

There is one proposal to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed. I call Deputy Martin on the Order of Business.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Settle down. We are not going anywhere. You have plenty of time.

I was just putting up my hand to get on the list.

You will be on the list. I could not miss you.

The ranking might be a problem.

I was trying to get in early because the early bird catches the worm.

You are not a leader yet. Keep hoping.

We are all winners.

The Government has belatedly published the White Paper on universal health insurance. I am not clear about its exact status. Is it a Green Paper or a White Paper?

No, it is coloured white with black ink.

In terms of the substance contained within the paper, it is very shallow. It has no costings. One might suspect that many aspects of it are being deferred until after the local elections. Obviously, a substantial number of people will either face significant extra taxes or charges arising from it, or will have their existing level of cover restricted or cut back. Will the Taoiseach facilitate a debate in the House on the White Paper as quickly as possible, given the importance it potentially holds for many people? There is a need for clarity regarding the taxation issue. It is inevitable that a sizeable proportion of people will have to pay extra charges. Ultimately, universal health insurance is no more than a funding model. Nothing is free at the end of the day. Someone has to pay for the heath service. The model of funding is the key issue here. Now that the White Paper has been published - shallow and all as it is - I believe it should be debated in the House.

Can the Taoiseach tell us when the health (general practitioner medical service) Bill will be published? The Bill is necessary if the Government is to follow through on its commitment regarding GP care for those aged five years and under. Will that legislation cover those who continue to have their medical cards taken from them in a random fashion? The elimination of discretionary medical cards is one of the scandals of this Government. It has hit hardest those who are sickest. I refer particularly to children with special needs and multiple conditions and to people with motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis. When one knocks on doors and people come to one to complain that medical cards have been taken from them in such circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend. It reflects very badly on the Government. We need some legislative response to that in the context of the forthcoming Bill.

I will facilitate a discussion in the House on the White Paper. It is a White Paper. It requires real consultation with people throughout the country.

Does the Taoiseach know what we do with a Green Paper?

The intention is to move from a two-tier system to a single-tier system in which everybody is treated the same. I think people are entitled to know what this will mean for them. For instance, under UHI, for the first time, people who are paying for private health insurance at the moment will have primary-care facilities covered by that package. To be truthful about it, it is not costed because it is necessary to work out the exact system of the basket of services that will be provided under the insurance companies-----

So it is not a White Paper; it is a Green Paper.

-----in respect of which people will have a choice and there is a process to be put in place leading to that. The first part of the process is already under way with the free GP care for those aged under six. Legislation for that will be in here in a couple of weeks, driven by the Minister of State, Deputy White. We will facilitate a discussion here in the House on UHI and I am sure Deputy Kelleher will have some very complimentary remarks to make about it-----

I will have observations anyway.

-----and will have some worthwhile views for us to hear. It is a White Paper, but in fairness it requires a deal of consultation with people around the country.

Regarding the consultation, will the Government publish the memos from the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Noonan, who had some very important things to say about it?

Did the Deputies opposite not have those already?

I think that the internal Cabinet disagreements would be important in the public consultation we will have.

The UHI paper is the agreed position of the Government. It is one of substance. There are issues of cost constraint in there - it cannot cost any more than the two-tier system that it will replace. There are requirements to come back to Government, and the Minister of the day with Government authorisation will make the decisions in respect of the baskets that are in there in terms of the services so all of that can be discussed.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom a rá go seasaim leis an gCeann Comhairle maidir leis an méid a dúirt sé faoi anti-Semitism. Aontaím leis faoi sin. Táim sásta fosta go mbeidh díospóireacht againn faoin White Paper on universal health insurance. Tá sin an-tábhachtach. An féidir linn ceisteanna a chur ar an Aire ag deireadh na díospóireachta sin?

Maidir le reachtaíocht atá fógartha faoi chlár an Rialtais, and the consolidated domestic violence legislation, the programme for Government promises to introduce reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence and to do so in a manner that provides protection to victims. When will the legislation be published? At this time women's aid refuges are being closed, including one in Dundalk, which will leave Drogheda women's aid centre as the only refuge for victims of domestic violence covering Louth, Cavan and Monaghan. In addition to the legislation we also need the Government to really help the victims of domestic violence by ensuring that funding for these refuges continues.

Tá mé buíoch den Teachta as ucht an méid atá ráite aige faoi dhaoine atá ag cur ráiteas amach agus maidir leo siúd atá i gcoinne chreideamh na nGiúdach. Aontaím leis an Teachta agus gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht an méid a dúirt sé faoi sin.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children will also have an important role in respect of UHI. It will hold hearings in locations around the country so that people can give their views for or against so that we can come back and make this as complete and comprehensive as possible.

In respect of domestic violence, Deputy McDonald was notified on 21 March, I think, of the Government's commitment to consolidate and reform domestic violence legislation. Work is under way to update the 1996 Act. It is planned that the reformed legislation will include provisions on emergency barring orders and safety orders. The reforms will facilitate Ireland ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Combatting Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence under what is known as the Istanbul Conference. The general scheme will contain provisions necessary to give effect to the EU regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters. It is hoped to publish the general scheme before the summer recess. Once that is considered by the Attorney General, it will be submitted to Government for consideration. We can update the Deputy as the process moves along.

There are 240,000 mortgages for buy-to-let properties in the country of which 35% to 40% are now in distress and thousands are facing insolvency. This affects up to 60,000 or 70,000 tenants who may be paying their rent but could face eviction because their landlords are insolvent. Where is the legislation to update the receivership guidelines to give some protection to tenants with families who have paid their rent and have a right to expect security of tenure of the roof over their heads, but who through no fault of their own face the possibility of being thrown out on the street, as is happening as we speak? They are being forced on to housing lists when no local authority houses are available. They are even facing the prospect of their families being thrown into emergency housing accommodation. Where is the legislation?

The Deputy should make his contributions during tomorrow's debate on the matter, which is part of the continuing discussions the Government has agreed to with regard to housing, homelessness and pressure on people in a variety of sectors. I would be glad to hear him expand on the detail to which he has already referred. Obviously, when the Minister replies there will be an indication of when amending legislation or whatever is necessary can be drafted. The Government also intends to bring forward a comprehensive response to the construction crisis given the necessity to provide housing for so many people where pressure has built up in recent years.

Today at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold's Cross a memorial stone will be unveiled to mark the spot in which 221 babies and young children, who died in the Bethany Home in Rathgar between 1922 and 1949, are buried. The State has consistently turned away from the small number of survivors of this home. They have been refused recognition, have received no apology and have been consistently excluded from any redress scheme the State has introduced. When does the Government propose to introduce legislation to give effect to these victims' rights and bring them within the net of a redress scheme? When does the Government propose to give them the recognition they so desperately need and deserve? Does the Taoiseach propose to make an apology on behalf of the State to these children, who happen to come from Protestant churches? Many of them believe they have actively been discriminated against because of their faith beliefs?

Is there promised legislation here?

There is not any legislation promised in this area. It has been the subject of ministerial discussion and decision over the course of a number of governments, but no legislation is promised here.

What is the status of the regulation of lobbying Bill?

Two probation Bills are proposed, the criminal law probation supervision mutual recognition Bill and the probation services Bill. They both relate to European directives to be transposed into Irish legislation. When are those Bills likely to come before the House? When are they likely to be passed and come into law? The decisions go back as far as 2008.

The regulation of lobbying Bill will be published in this session. The heads of the two Bills in respect of probation were approved in January so they will be published later this year.

The health (general practitioner medical service) Bill will fulfil the Government's commitment to support young families, protect children in their critical early years and improve the overall health of future generations by providing free GP care to children under six.

This is a Bill the parents of young children support and are waiting to see published and passed. When can we expect publication?

We expect that within the next couple of weeks. The Minister of State, Deputy White, has done a great deal of work on this and it is practically concluded.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a petitions system in this Parliament along the lines of what happens in the European Parliament. What is the position in that regard?

There is a proposal in the programme for Government to have at least a fortnight's delay between different Stages of legislation. What is the latest status of that given it will require a change to Standing Orders?

I will have the Whip respond to the Deputy on that. I do not think we have had any row about Bills being guillotined since we came back. It takes a while to get the process of pre-legislative hearings by the committees back to Government and then moved back into the House and the Seanad, as the case may be.

This was promised three years ago.

In any case, we have had no Bills recently.

Do not worry. Deputy Martin will have plenty of them before too long. As I said, I had to take the lead out and things are moving.

What about the petitions?

I will come back to the Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach have investigated the provisions of the fair deal nursing home support scheme, which are continuing to discriminate against farmers?

He cannot do it on the Order of Business.

It is under the Health Service Executive (Financial Matters) Bill 2013. Elderly farmers are made pay for all the time they are in a nursing home whereas ordinary people only pay for three years. It is discriminatory against elderly farm owners.

We cannot get into the detail.

I have ceann amháin eile.

Ceann amháin eile.

Under the same scheme, GPs are charging full medical card holders for blood tests, sick certs and everything else. I hear evidence of this every day of the week in my office. People are being charged even though they-----

I suggest the Deputy get in touch with the Minister's office about that. Is there any help the Taoiseach can give the Deputy?

That HSE Bill is awaiting committee. On the first point, the Deputy might send details of what he is talking about. I am not sure if he is talking about the new legislation because that has already gone through.

It may need to be adjusted. The Deputy might supply the details.

When can we expect publication of the immigration, residence and protection Bill which, among other things, will introduce measures to deal with those families and individuals who are trapped in the direct provision system, in many cases bereft of hope and without any light at the end of the tunnel? While I know the numbers in the direct provision system have fallen sharply in the past three years, this is something that is needed.

Thank you, Deputy.

We cannot accuse the Minister, Deputy Shatter, of being shy in introducing legislation given he has been churning out legislation since he assumed office, but this is extremely important for those in the direct provision system.

The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill was published back in 2010. However, there are substantial amendments to it which would alter the effect of the Bill completely. I believe the intention is to publish a new Bill on immigration. I will send Deputy Walsh the details concerning at what stage the progress towards publication of a new Bill actually is.

I understand the Government has announced emergency legislation which is due to be enacted before the Easter break. Therefore, it is in the next two weeks that it will bring forward an electoral (amendment) Bill to scrap the provisions whereby, if one is bankrupt, one cannot stand for this House, the Seanad or the European Parliament. I welcome that. However, I have a concern about rushed legislation. I understand this is because of a High Court challenge. This is the second electoral (amendment) Bill that has resulted from a High Court challenge, the other being my own challenge in the by-election case. I put the Taoiseach on notice that there will be further challenges unless we deal with this. For example, local elections taking place on islands which are accessible all year round------

We cannot debate the issue now.

This is an emergency Bill so we will not really get time-----

You should deal with it through the committee.

The issue of bankruptcy will be dealt with. Will the issue of Oireachtas Members having to give tax clearance certificates within nine months also be scrapped because it falls into the same remit of one's financial circumstances? Obviously, any Member of this House or the Upper House who does not furnish that can be suspended for an indefinite duration. Is it the intention of Cabinet to get rid of both measures?

We cannot discuss the content of Bills. We want to know when they are coming in.

The Cabinet is responding to a court case in respect of bankruptcy. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform deals with the other matter. The Government yesterday cleared the issue of bankruptcy but there was no reference or decision made in respect of the second matter raised by the Deputy.

In response to Deputy O'Dea's earlier question, I understand the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions is up and running and dealing with petitions every week.

The Children First Bill has been repeatedly promised by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, by the Tánaiste and by the Taoiseach as far back as before the summer recess last year. As recently as at the launch of the new Child and Family Agency, the Taoiseach promised it would be before the Oireachtas within two weeks. That agency was launched eight weeks ago and we are still waiting to see the Bill before the House. Will the Taoiseach please give a definitive timeframe for when that legislation will be before the House? Children are being left in vulnerable situations as a result.

The second Bill was alluded to earlier, namely, the health (general practitioner medical service) Bill. The Taoiseach said that will be in within two weeks. Will that deal with the inequitable situation that currently exists?

We cannot deal with the content of the Bill.

I am dealing with an 18 month old child with leukaemia who cannot get a medical card.

There are other ways of raising these issues.

I am three weeks dealing with this situation.

Thank you. Please resume your seat.

Her parents are facing enough anxiety and worry. For three weeks-----

Please resume your seat.

-----they cannot get a medical card for an 18 month old child with leukaemia. Does the Taoiseach think that is fair? Does he think it is right?

We are not dealing with the content.

Will that be dealt with when we bring this legislation before the House? I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle. I do not do this often but it is a very serious issue of an 18 month old who cannot get a medical card.

The Deputy can table a Topical Issue matter or try some other way but not on the Order of Business.

I expect the legislation will come before Cabinet next week.

On the social welfare and pensions Bill, last week ISME and the Self Employed Alliance attended a meeting of the joint committee. Everyone is in favour of-----

That is very interesting. What are we talking about?

It is the social welfare and pensions Bill. Everyone is in favour of a new stamp for the self-employed. The big question is whether it is going to be voluntary or mandatory. Will the Government move on this over a period of time? The Minister has said she will not introduce a stamp of 1.5% and that she will bring it in in stages of 0.25%. It is a huge issue.

I know it is a huge issue.

I just want the Government to move because-----

Deputy Butler is in government.

The Deputy can have a chat with the Minister.

-----the previous Government did nothing.

Will the Deputy resume his seat?

Let us recognise the self-employed people through social protection.

It is an important matter. I expect Deputy Butler will have an opportunity to debate all these issues in May of this year when that Bill comes before us.

All these are very important issues. However, there is a place and a time to discuss them and it is certainly not on the Order of Business.

When will the Higher Education Authority Bill be before the House?

That is next year.

Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 2.10 p.m.