Order of Business

It is proposed to take No. 9, motion re referral to select committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the ratification by Ireland of the Internal Agreement concerning the 11th European Development Fund; No. 10, motion re proposal that Dáil Éireann adopts the EU Scrutiny Work Programme 2014, Joint Committees' Priorities; and No. 21, statements on Europe Week, to be taken on the conclusion of Nos. 9 and 10.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that in the event that Topical Issues have not concluded at the time fixed for taking Private Members' Business, the Dáil shall sit later that 9 p.m. tonight, and shall adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members' business, which shall be No. 146, motion re water charges, and which shall be taken on the conclusion of Topical Issues or at 7.30 p.m., whichever is the later, and shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes; Nos. 9 and 10 shall be decided without debate; the proceedings in relation to No. 21 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 70 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Technical Group and of the Chair of the European Affairs Committee, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes and the order shall resume thereafter with Topical Issues; and the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. tomorrow.

There are four proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members' business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 9 and 10 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21 agreed to?

Is that later tonight?

After the Order of Business.

Is that agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. tomorrow agreed to? Agreed.

I raised earlier with the Taoiseach the shocking situation pertaining to the removal of a medical card from Alex Coyle, the presentation of that issue on "The Saturday Night Show" by his parents, and the subsequent commentary by the Jack & Jill Children's Foundation to the effect that it has come across 300 children in similar situations, and it will have more to say about this later. Annette and Declan Coyle spoke movingly about it, and everybody who saw the programme could not believe what has happened. It would go through one's heart, Taoiseach, and I do not understand it. I am aware legislation has been published on one aspect of this but given the clear decision to eliminate discretionary medical cards it appears that some aspect of the legislation on universal primary care must be moved forward. It needs legislative change. I believe the 1970 Health Act provides for the award of discretionary medical cards. I do not agree with the Minister of State, Deputy White, on that. An attempt has been made, almost in a North Korean style, to write discretionary medical cards out of existence and say they never happened, there was never a legal basis for them, therefore, they should no longer exist. That is the narrative that is emerging. There is a legislative template but if the Taoiseach is not satisfied that is the case or he is concerned about it, why will he not bring in urgent amending legislation to ensure the provision of discretionary medical cards in cases such as that revealed on "The Saturday Night Show" and to children and adults with a terminal illness, particularly people with rare syndromes that, by definition, create enormous and multiple challenges for such children? It defies any rational explanation that we could not do that. Can the universal primary care Bill promised in the programme for Government be accelerated now with a view to making such a provision, and when will we see it?

We can look at this under the existing situation. There were 100,000 medical cards issued in 2013, 23,000 of which were discretionary cards. There are 40,000 medical cards issued for the first three months of this year. I have given the details previously of the discretionary cards that applied two years ago and their current status. It is not true to say that discretionary medical cards are being phased out.

They are. Thousands of them-----

These are extraordinary examples, and nobody likes to see them. I want to examine the situation the Deputy has outlined and that many people have brought to my attention but it is not a case of discretionary cards being phased out. It is how far we extend the flexibility and discretion that is allowed under the Act. We need to look at that.

General practitioners throughout the country are now publishing details of their patients on Twitter at #cardwatch. Many desperately hard cases are emerging from all areas of the country, and it is incredible that the Taoiseach keeps denying it.

As the Deputy is aware-----

The policy has changed, and he is targeting those people.

-----GPs have discretion to say that a case is particularly bad and he or she will not agree with the recommendation.

No, they do not.

Yes, GPs are entitled to continue a card for a period-----

It is a pity nobody told them that.

-----while these matters are dealt with. I am aware they are publishing them.

They do not have that-----

I ask the Taoiseach about the Government's position on the Narrow Water Bridge project. I understand he has said he is now committed to ensuring the project will go ahead to the next round of European Union funding. I have raised this issue with the Taoiseach many times. The project did not go ahead because of the Government's failure to provide the financial investment needed to supplement the funding from local councils and the European Union.

The Taoiseach will be aware that this has the support of all of the parties in Louth, south Down and south Armagh and that the North-South Ministerial Council of last November stated its unanimous support for this worthy project. Perhaps the Taoiseach would update the House on this matter.

Last July, the Taoiseach told me, and more important, the Dáil, that the Walsh report on symphysiotomy would be published soon. Almost a year later, there is still no sign of it. Last November, the Taoiseach appointed Judge Murphy to examine the issue of symphysiotomy and bring closure to the many women who have suffered this barbaric practice. It should be remembered that most of these women are very elderly. The Walsh report was to be completed within eight weeks. I have previously raised this issue with the Taoiseach on a number of occasions. In his absence prior to Easter I raised it with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, who told me he would come back to me on the matter. I then received a note saying that an update would be provided but none has been received. More important, no one, least of all the victims, is any the wiser. When will the Murphy report and, separately, the Walsh report into this cruel and totally unacceptable, sinister and evil practice of symphysiotomy be published?

Deputy Adams knows that the reason Narrow Water Bridge did not proceed is not because the Government did not put up the funds but because of the scale of the difference between the tender and moneys provided under the Special EU Programmes Body, SEUPB and Newry, Mourne and Louth councils. As previously stated, I support this proposal and would like to keep it alive. The issue will be the subject of discussion at the June meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council. I understand that the SEUPB programme is being redrafted and that it is expected the Narrow Water Bridge proposal will be resubmitted. I cannot confirm to the Deputy whether the same proposal will be resubmitted. Suffice it to say that I would like to see this happen and will support it. Obviously, the moneys previously available under the SEUPB were diverted to the rail line and a number of other issues.

On the symphysiotomy report, Judge Murphy commenced her work in December last, which she estimated would take approximately eight weeks to complete and following which she would provide the Minister with a report and recommendations on the next step. The Minister has received that report but has yet to bring it before Government. Following this, the Government will make its decision on the next steps to be taken. This is an issue that has been around for a long time and needs to be dealt with quickly. Obviously, the survivors have had a very difficult time. I will come back to the Deputy on publication of the Walsh report.

Given the importance of energy and security of supply, what is the status of the geothermal energy development Bill? Have the heads of that Bill been discussed in Cabinet and approved and when is it likely to come before the House?

It is proposed to deal first with the minerals development Bill. The geothermal energy development Bill is currently scheduled for early next year.

What is the status of the legislation regarding collective bargaining? Also, what is the Government's position on the proposed financial transaction tax which is being discussed Europe-wide this week?

The legislation dealing with collective bargaining is expected to come before Government in the next week or so. On the financial transaction tax, the Deputy will be aware that the Government is opposed to it on the basis of our proximity to London. Those who wish to proceed with it are entitled under EU rules to do so.

The Taoiseach will be aware that the mortgage crisis continues unabated. Page 14 of the programme for Government reads "...to make greater use of mortgage interest supplement to support families who cannot meet their mortgage repayments, which is a better and cheaper option than paying rent supplement after a family loses their home". How does the Taoiseach reconcile this definitive commitment with the Government's action in abolishing mortgage supplement, which is what it is doing?

The Government has introduced a suite of measures to deal with mortgage distress, many of which have been taken up. The Government encourages people to sit down with their lenders to work out a solution. There is a solution to each case. We have in this regard gone beyond what is contained in the programme for Government.

On the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, when will a social housing programme be announced? The Taoiseach will be aware, in the context of escalating rents and the gap between rent and rent supplement that more families are being evicted from their homes. Approximately 250 families in this city will tonight be living in one room in a hotel or guesthouse accommodation. These people are effectively refugees in their own country. It is shocking. When can we expect action on the housing front?

Next week in the context of debate here on the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which was approved last week by Government.

When will the human tissue Bill to meet the key recommendation of the Madden report that no hospital post-mortem may be carried out and no tissue retained after post-mortem without consent and to address other matters relating to human tissue, including consent arrangements for transplantation and research purposes, be published?

I do not have a date for publication of that Bill. I will communicate with the Deputy on the preparatory work being done on it.