On a point of order, today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. On 27 January 1945, the last prisoners remaining in Auschwitz were released. I call on the Taoiseach to lead the House in a minute's silence to remember the 1.1 million souls - men, women and children - who died in Auschwitz. We owe it to those who were killed to remember them in this Parliament today.
Order of Business
I will ask the Taoiseach to deal with that matter in the context of the Order of Business.
I am inviting the Taoiseach to lead the House in a minute's silence.
This matter is not relevant in the context of the Order of Business.
It is relevant to today's events.
I call the Taoiseach.
Yesterday, a very appropriate and moving Holocaust memorial ceremony was conducted in the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor of this city on behalf of the people of Ireland in respect of those who were murdered in Auschwitz during its obnoxious and horrendous existence and those survivors who were freed on this day 70 years ago.
The Parliament needs to remember those who died.
Yesterday's ceremony was a moving, fitting and appropriate recognition and commemoration of what was a truly terrible time for humanity worldwide.
The House should remember those who died. What is the Taoiseach's answer to my request?
It is proposed to take No. 20, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 21, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreements between the European Union and Canada, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, back from committee; No. 49, statements on European Council, Brussels, pursuant to Standing Order 102A(2)(b); No. 22, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the association agreement between the European Community and Georgia, back from committee; No. 23, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the association agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Moldova, back from committee; and No. 24, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the association agreement between the European Community and Ukraine, back from committee. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. tonight and shall adjourn on the adjournment of Private Members’ Business, which shall be No. 189, motion re housing affordability, which shall take place on the conclusion of Topical Issues and which shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn after 90 minutes; Nos. 20 and 21 shall be decided without debate; No. 49 shall be taken immediately following the Order of Business and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: statements shall be made by the Taoiseach and by the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; Nos. 22, 23 and 24 shall be debated together and taken immediately following No. 49, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 20 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed five minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; and the order shall resume thereafter with Topical Issues.
Tomorrow’s business after Oral Questions shall be No. 25, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of free trade agreements between the EU, Colombia and Peru. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings in relation to No. 25 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12 noon tomorrow and the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, and such Members may share their time; the speech of each other Member called upon 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 speech in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.
There are five proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with the late sitting agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 20 and No. 21 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 49 agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 25 agreed to? Agreed.
The Euro Health Consumer Index has been published and it shows Ireland has slipped from 14th to 22nd in its rankings. By any objective standard, a drop of eight places is dramatic and a damning indictment of the Taoiseach's stewardship over key elements of the health service. I refer in particular to the fact that official waiting list data have lost all credibility among the public and patients. From that perspective, the report is deeply disappointing. It marks a serious reversal in patient and public confidence and this comes following a series of crises in our health system. Hospital chief executives have issued warnings about patient safety over the past 15 to 18 months, in terms of both maternity and acute hospitals. There was a trolley crisis over Christmas. With over 601 patients on trolleys, all records were broken. Waiting times and waiting lists must also be borne in mind.
I ask the Taoiseach to facilitate a debate in this House on the report. It is interesting that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has recently changed the targets. The targets keep on changing. Before the Government came into power, the target waiting time for inpatient surgery was six months for adults and three for children, as per the treatment purchase fund operation. In most specialties, the targets were achieved. The former Minister for Health, the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, changed the target back to 12 months, knowing there was a limited number above 12 months. He then wanted to declare a success a year later if he reduced the figure. Then the special delivery unit was set up and it has not worked out. My understanding is that it is now being run down within the Department. No one is in control or in charge of it. Those who were seem to be leaving or have left.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, has now stated the target for inpatient or day-case procedures has increased from eight months to 18 months. Since 18 months is the new waiting-list target, no wonder the public has lost confidence, as is evident in the report.
There is a Bill on the Order Paper that the Government has said it is anxious to introduce, the health information Bill. Can the Taoiseach indicate the exact schedule for that Bill? Clearly, the public has seen through the cynical manipulation by the Government on health and the fact that it has been neglected in recent budgets, and it has been deliberately and in some cases fraudulently undermined by successive Ministers. Does the Taoiseach accept the findings of the report? Will he make time available to discuss its outcome?
The health information Bill to which the Deputy refers is due later in the year. It is fair to say the report deserves further analysis and study. As I stated, it is based on surveys carried out by various organisations. Deputy Martin conveniently forgets to recognise that, even in the survey, Ireland performs very well by comparison with countries such as France, Belgium and Denmark, and actually performs better than the United Kingdom. As I said already, that includes important objective measures, such as those on deaths from stroke or cardiovascular disease, cancer survivors and infant deaths, in respect of which-----
That is because cardiovascular disease progress started well in advance of the Government entering office, and the same applies to cancer.
-----Ireland actually performs very well. We come first in terms of access and appropriate use of medicines, and we are better than average with regard to prevention measures such as vaccination and smoking prevention, which is obviously of interest to the Deputy.
Clearly, the survey, for what it is worth, shows that we perform poorly in respect of access and waiting times, as well as in respect of patient rights and information. These are areas of priority already identified by the Minister. The Bill to which the Deputy refers is due later in the year.
Can we have a debate on it?
The report warrants some further analysis and discussion. I do not object to its being debated here but we have got a lot to do. I am not objecting to it now but the study demands some analysis. Perhaps later on, we will be happy to debate it; it deserves a proper set of replies from here.
I thought Deputy Martin got enough last week or the week before.
Tá trí cheist agam, ceann amháin faoi reform of the direct provision system, ceann eile faoi the public health (alcohol) Bill agus ceann deireanach faoi the water services Bill.
The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, promised legislation last month to reform the current direct provision regime, which he described as "inhuman". He compared it to the treatment of women in the Magdalen laundries. I have been in some of these centres, certainly the one in my constituency. It was not a pleasant experience. Members of the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, chaired by Teachta Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, are today visiting some of these centres. The Taoiseach will know that 4,000 people live in the most difficult circumstances. Almost half have been in direct provision for five years and I understand one person has been in direct provision for 14 years. As someone who has been in prison, I regard it as an open-air prison. There is a constant state of anxiety and stress. The Minister for Justice and Equality has revealed that 61 asylum seekers have died in direct provision since 2002, and 16 of these were under the age of five. These people came here in search of a new life in the same way that Irish people have gone throughout the world. The asylum seekers arrived in this State only to be treated in a most deplorable way. When can we expect the promised legislation to reform the direct provision system?
The purpose of the public health (alcohol) Bill is to provide for minimum unit pricing for the retailing of alcohol products and to regulate the marketing and advertising of alcohol, particularly in respect of sports sponsorship. We all know about the dreadful human and financial cost of alcohol abuse in Irish society. We have recognised for a long time that sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies encourages this culture. When the Government promised to bring forward a plan to break the connection between alcohol and sports sponsorship, there was widespread support but there has been considerable speculation recently that the Government is about to renege on its commitment. Can the Taoiseach confirm whether and when the Bill will be published? When will it end the link between sports sponsorship and the alcohol companies?
The crisis over water charges and Irish Water has taken a new twist with the publication of the draft report by the European Commission, which has raised fundamental questions over Irish Water's financial position as a result of the Government's shambolic handling of this matter. A major question arises in this regard. Deputy Pearse Doherty actually warned about this and asked whether the water conservation grant is, in effect, an Exchequer transfer. If Irish Water fails the market corporation test and EUROSTAT rules it is not independent financially, the future of the company will be in grave doubt. When will the water services Bill be published?
The legislation is being reformed in respect of the question of direct provision. I expect that the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State will bring the heads of the Bill dealing with the question of a single procedure before the Government in the next few weeks.
As Deputy Adams will be aware, there is a working group, under Mr. Justice Bryan McMahon, looking at all of these issues and that will report in March. There has been an increase in applications for asylum of 51%. Deputy Adams will be aware that there are 2,000 cases where a judicial review is being taken and there are 800 persons with detention orders where they cannot be sent back to particular countries.
In respect of the alcohol issue, the intention is to put the existing code of practice on a statutory footing and the question of sponsorship in respect of alcohol is one that is still the subject of discussion between Departments. The question of the existing code being put on a statutory footing will proceed while those discussions continue to take place.
In respect of Irish Water, there is no question of the Government rowing back on its intention to provide the water subsidy grant. The Government is happy to believe that Irish Water will pass the market corporation test. I regard the Commission's intervention here as being unhelpful. It is not a matter for the European Commission. It is a technical matter that is assessed by EUROSTAT. The European Commission has enough to do in respect of directives, red tape and bureaucracy, and getting on with effective progress on issues that affect citizens of all member states. The market corporation test is one for EUROSTAT and the Government is happy that Irish Water will pass that market corporate test.
When will the water charges Bill be published?
In the next few weeks, I would assume. I will advise Deputy Adams.
I appeal for brevity. A lot of Deputies are offering.
I want to ask the Taoiseach a few questions about the motion regarding the proposed commission of investigation into matters considered by Mr. Seán Guerin SC. Given that a commission of investigation can only be established by order whereby the terms of reference must be discussed in the Dáil, am I to take it that the commission has not been established? Can the Taoiseach confirm - yes or no - whether the removal from the Dáil schedule today of the motion regarding the proposed commission of investigation into matters considered by Guerin was as a result of a court order or a letter from Deputy Shatter's solicitor? Can the Taoiseach confirm whether the Government sought and received legal advice from the Attorney General's office as to whether the matter can be debated in the Dáil?
As far as I understand it, this is a matter that is listed for tomorrow. Clearly, the Government decided to have a commission of inquiry and the Government's intention is to set up the commission of inquiry. The Government has approved the terms of reference for the Guerin inquiry. I understand that the Ceann Comhairle has a view on this in respect of Standing Orders, but the matter is listed for tomorrow and the Government fully intends to set up the inquiry as envisaged.
Is there a debate tomorrow then?
I understand the Ceann Comhairle has ruled on this matter. The Government agreed to have a commission of inquiry. The Government put forward its terms of reference. The Ceann Comhairle has made an intervention in respect of the Standing Orders. The intention of the Government is to go ahead with the implementation of the Guerin inquiry.
What is the intention?
There are approximately 150,000 homes throughout Ireland that receive their public water supply through lead piping, which is deemed unacceptable on health grounds. In the context of the proposed water services Bill, is it acceptable that the majority of these residents are now paying for water? When I question the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on this, I am told that there are discussions between the Minister and Irish Water on the replacement of lead piping and the Minister has no responsibility or accountability to this House on it. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister is accountable to answer why residents must pay for water that is coming through lead pipes that is deemed unsafe, and why the only solution on the table at present is to introduce into the water orthophosphate, another chemical costing €50 million a year? All 1.3 million customers in Ireland will have to drink this particular chemical to address the problem.
Deputy Naughten is well aware that one could not have implemented the solution to many of these problems under the old system. For instance, in east Galway and west Roscommon, the solution for the longer-term comfort of the people is to bring water from Lough Mask, and that was impossible under the old local authority system where it was based on county boundaries.
Irish Water has put forward solutions to the question of lead pipes. This is not acceptable. As Deputy Naughten will be aware, it has gone on for years for those in Galway, Limerick and other locations throughout the country. That is why the case is being made, not only to invest to fix but also to invest for the future. I will have the Minister respond to Deputy Naughten on the particular issue raised.
On promised legislation, I ask the Taoiseach the current whereabouts of and prospects for the Garda Síochána (compensation for malicious injuries) Bill, when it is likely to come before the House, whether the heads of the Bill have been cleared and whether it is expected that the Bill will be passed in the current year.
The heads of that Bill in respect of malicious injuries have not yet been cleared but it is expected later this year.
Proper insurance cover is important to many families, whether it be for their car, their property or their home. When can we expect the insurance Bill to come before the House? It has been listed for quite some time. Are there sufficient staff in the Attorney General's office to draft the legislation in the programme for Government?
It is always a challenging issue. There are 41 Bills on the list to be dealt with during this session. Many of those staff are specialist and are involved heavily in very intricate work on a number of these Bills. Deputy Bannon mentioned the insurance Bill. The heads have not yet been cleared but that is due for later this year.
In reply to Deputy Martin today, the Taoiseach outlined the procedures set out by the Government to advise on the sale of its share in Aer Lingus. Can the Taoiseach give us any indication of how long that process will go on for? How long will we be waiting for a decision on this, one way or the other, from the Government? Can the Taoiseach confirm that if the Government proceeds to sell its share in Aer Lingus, legislation will need to be brought into this House to authorise that?
Deputy O'Dea will be well aware that if that were to happen, approval would have to be given by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister briefed Cabinet this morning and has made public comments on this already. Obviously, IAG has made an offer and the board of Aer Lingus has issued a statement to the effect that it is willing to consider the offer. There is a waiting period now. The Minister set up an interdepartmental group. After the completion of tenders this evening, he will appoint specialists tomorrow and they will engage with IAG.
I am quite sure it will take a week or two before the details and implications of what the offer means become fully understood and are analysed. Obviously, the Government has to take into account all of the issues we mentioned today, such as regionality, jobs and future connectivity. From that point of view, I would think one would probably have a report in two to three weeks.
I ask the Taoiseach about the publication of two Bills, the family law Bill to provide for pension adjustments in the context of separation agreements and certain other reforms in family law, and the trust Bill to reform and consolidate the law relating to trustees so as to deal better with and protect trust assets. When is publication expected?
Neither of the Bills to which the Deputy referred is on the list of 41 Bills due to go through the Houses in this session. The heads of those Bills have not been cleared by Government, so I cannot give him a date for their publication, but I will advise the Deputy of progress as we get to that point.
I do not know why the Government did not just say "No" to the sale of Aer Lingus, given the issues of which it is aware in terms of connectivity and slots, among other issues. It is unbearable to listen to the hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil, which sold the majority of the national airline, our flag carrier. Will it be possible for us to have a discussion over a number of hours in this House to allow ordinary Deputies to express their views on the matter?
Second, there is no timeframe for the criminal justice (victims rights) Bill, which is on the C list. When will it be published? I have campaigned in a number of general elections in Dublin North East, now Dublin Bay North. The Taoiseach gave a commitment to meet the Stardust relatives committee at an early date to talk to them about that very important legacy issue. We have addressed many legacy issues in this House, but the Stardust committee feels very strongly that the issue has still not been addressed. Could the Taoiseach meet the relatives in the coming weeks?
I answered the question asked by Deputy O'Dea and others in respect of the Aer Lingus proposition. The Government will be cognisant of all of the issues that must be considered in the context of the offer made by IAG.
The Government must comply with an EU directive on victims' rights by December of this year, and the Bill is expected in the second half of the year.
On Friday, when the Taoiseach was in Davos, the Dáil debated a Private Members' Bill to introduce a section into the Constitution to safeguard every single Member of Parliament, in the Dáil and in the Seanad.
Could we deal with the matter when we vote on the Bill?
The Minister of State-----
I am sorry, but many Members wish to speak. Could we deal with the Bill when we come to the vote?
I am sorry, but this is extremely important.
I know, but it is on the Order Paper.
The Taoiseach had one speaker in the debate, who said in his opening remarks that the Government would be voting against a Bill whose substance he did not even address in his speech. The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, did not address the 27 words in the proposed new section of the Constitution. There are 27 words. Today is 27 January. Today is Auschwitz Day. It was a shame that the Taoiseach missed the opportunity to show one minute's respect for the 1.1 million people who died there.
Deputy Mathews, I am sorry.
I do not enjoy doing this, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
This is outrageous.
I do not enjoy doing this.
Deputy, please resume your seat. The Chair is on his feet.
I do not enjoy doing this.
The Deputy must resume his seat.
I will. There can be no vote on something that was not debated.
We will deal with that.
The Bill was not debated by the Minister of State.
Deputy Mathews, please.
No other Deputy on the Government side contributed to the debate.
Deputy Mathews should resume his seat. We will deal with the matter.
I will resume my seat for the sake of respecting the Houses, but this is actually tyrannical.
I call Deputy Troy. He should be brief, as we are almost out of time.
There is no answer, as usual.
The Deputy should light a candle.
Today, more than 50 nurses and midwives went outside the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar on their lunch break to protest at the conditions in which they work.
The Deputy should ask a question on legislation, please.
They provide an invaluable service. Since the Government has come to power, the bed capacity has decreased, activity has increased because of the downgrading of Roscommon hospital and Navan hospital-----
The Deputy can raise-----
Deputy Troy should stop running down Roscommon hospital. I am sick and tired of hearing him do so.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, could I please finish without interruption?
Deputy Troy has the floor.
Resources have not been increased to match. If they had, 50 people would not have had to give up their lunch break today to protest in the rain at the state of the health service.
What is Deputy Troy's question?
I wish to ask about the health reform Bill. When will the Government introduce legislation and live up to its promise that the money will follow the patient-----
-----and that the health service will improve? What we have witnessed and what has been proven by a report received in the past 24 hours is that the health service has disimproved since the Government came to office. Could I make a comment in regard to the matter?
There can be no comments.
The 50 people who were outside in the lashing rain today were there to take a stand on the conditions in which they must work and the people who are lying on trolleys in corridors with no dignity whatsoever.
Could the Taoiseach respond on the health reform Bill?
That is what the Government has done for the health service in Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar.
Could the Taoiseach respond to the question on the health reform Bill?
Deputy Troy made allegations that people had fallen off trolleys in Mullingar hospital. I commend the nurses on the work they do.
I did not actually say that.
The Taoiseach has an awful habit of doing that.
They are entitled to put forward their views on conditions. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health. Deputy Troy constantly gets quite hysterical on such issues, but that is his right if he wants to play the game at home.
The Taoiseach played the game on the back of a truck before the election in Roscommon.
The Minister's focus is on improving the health services.
In respect of Deputy Mathews, I might say that the President of Ireland, Úachtarán na hÉireann, represented all our people in the Mansion House on Sunday. He represented everybody.
I am talking about doing something in this House.
He was accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is in Auschwitz today as part of the commemoration of the Holocaust.
Why do we not remember them here?
Does Deputy Mathews not understand that according to Bunreacht na hÉireann, Úachtarán na hÉireann represents all our people?
Deputy Enda Kenny is the leader. He is the Taoiseach.
Could I make a point of order?
I dare you to do so, Taoiseach.
That concludes the Order of Business. Tomorrow I will call the Deputies I could not call today, if they are present.
Could I quickly make a point of order? The Taoiseach said earlier, with regard to the motion that was scheduled to be taken today on the establishment of an inquiry following the Guerin report, that there had been an intervention by the Ceann Comhairle based on Standing Orders and that that was the reason the debate would not be held today, and possibly not tomorrow. Is it possible for all Members of the House to get a communication on the reason such a significant debate has been pulled at such short notice? That is proper procedure and practice. We would like to know if something is going on behind the scenes. Was it pulled for scheduling reasons? The Taoiseach said the Ceann Comhairle had made an intervention on the matter. What was nature of the intervention and what are the challenges and problems in terms of having a debate on the establishment of the inquiry? We should remember that the matter was tabled for discussion last Wednesday. We were all waiting for the debate today. I had intended to participate in it and I was not aware of the intervention until now.
The debate was always to be on Wednesday. The question is not about the establishment of the inquiry. It is about the debate on the inquiry. The Chief Whip has informed all the Whips of the discussions and of the position of the Ceann Comhairle in this matter.