It is proposed to take No. 45, Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014, Report and Final Stages (resumed); and No. 46, Customs Bill 2014, Second Stage (resumed). The Friday fortnightly business shall be No. 73, Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013; and No. 74, Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (No. 2) Bill 2014.
Order of Business
There are no proposals to be put to the House today. I call Deputy Charlie McConalogue.
I have a question regarding the forthcoming Retention of Certain Records Bill 2015 and the plans by the Department of Education for an ongoing development of an online database for primary schools. As the Tánaiste is aware, the database will require the collection of a lot of information about pupils, including information on their special needs, psychological reports, and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Reference is also made to the fact that this information may be used for the purposes of allocating teachers and finances to schools. If parents refuse to provide certain information for this database, will the Department of Education reduce the number of teachers being allocated to a school or indeed funding to a school? Can the Tánaiste please clarify that?
The information on the characteristics, general needs and numbers of the pupils is being collected in order to allow for good long-term planning for the schools. It does not have any implications for resource allocation to schools other than the total number of children in a school and the features and attributes of those children. These aspects are taken into account at present for existing allocations.
It does not propose any change in that regard. It is simply providing a more up-to-date information technology-based system for schools that will allow better and faster collection of data, subject, of course, to data privacy and protection controls, as set down by the Data Protection Commissioner.
I have asked the Tánaiste before about outstanding matters arising from the Constitutional Convention. She has indicated, as has the Taoiseach, that the Government does not intend to bring forward legislation, much less hold a referendum, on proposals agreed to by the Constitutional Convention on the position of women in the Constitution and the reference to women within the home. The same applies to the proposal on the extension of the franchise in presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State, including the North. Will the Tánaiste confirm if, in fact, that is the position of the Government? Will it bring forward legislation or hold a referendum on these matters? I would appreciate absolute clarity on this point.
I understand the Cabinet sub-committee on the centenary of the Easter Rising met for the first time on Tuesday evening. It is, of course, chaired by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys. Will the Tánaiste explain why the first meeting of the sub-committee is only occurring now, a little over one year from the centenary in Easter 2016? It seems to be remarkably tardy. I know several people, not least because of the ongoing controversy about the Moore Street monument and the proposed development, are concerned that the Government appears to have been so slow in convening a meeting of the sub-committee.
On the contrary, a considerable amount of work has been ongoing during the past year on the significance and importance of the commemoration of the 1916 Rising and how it should be addressed. I imagine the Deputy is aware that there has been a great deal of consultation with a committee of Deputies, as well as wide consultation with all Departments, on this significant anniversary and the events that led to the foundation of the Republic. It is an important date in our history. The sub-committee to which the Deputy referred is under the chairpersonship of the Taoiseach, not the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I attended the meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee and there was input by me and a significant number of other Ministers. Of course, detailed information was provided by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is our intention to ensure the widest possible participation by all citizens of the Republic to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. We intend to do so in a way that looks to and celebrates our past, as well as looking forward to the future, and in a way that will involve the men, women and, in particular, children of the country.
The Government has made its position clear on the question on referendums. The citizens of the State will have an opportunity to vote in two referendums this year, one on marriage equality and the other on the age of qualification to stand for election as President of Ireland. That is what the Government has proposed. It deals regularly with the reports of the Constitutional Convention, but our proposal is to hold these two referendums.
The Government has committed to establishing a low pay commission. When will it be established and what sectors will be included? As we know, workers in the early childhood care sector have no security of employment and often are on low wages.
Please do not go into too much detail.
Some people with a degree are only earning a little above the minimum wage. Will this sector be included in the remit of the low-pay commission?
Before Christmas the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, gave a commitment to bring forward legislation on asylum centres. As we know, 61 people, including 16 children, have died in asylum centres since they were founded. When will the Government bring forward comprehensive legislation to deal with this issue and to ensure a maximum timeframe will be put in place for those in asylum centres?
Legislation was brought to the Dáil before Christmas to require valid national car test certificates for all vehicles. This move is notable and only right. However, there is a four to five-month waiting list in many centres throughout the country. Motorists are unsure whether they are insured to drive their cars or whether they will be subject to penalty points. What is the Government doing to ensure what I imagine was an unforeseen implication will be addressed?
I expect the news on the low pay commission to be announced in the coming weeks. If people working in the child care sector have issues in respect of low pay, I imagine they can bring them to the attention of the commission or raise them through other industrial relations procedures.
Will the sector be covered by the commission?
Its purpose is to look at the issue of low pay.
Is the answer "Yes" or "No"?
I expect the commission to be established in the coming weeks. The Minister has made a commitment that the commission will produce an initial report sometime during the summer. I do not as yet have the detailed terms of reference, but, as the name suggests, the purpose of the commission is to look at the issue of low pay.
There is a group working on the matter of asylum centres under the leadership of the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It is looking at all issues related to asylum. I imagine any future legislation will reflect the work of the group. I do not have a completion date for its work, but I know that a great deal of work has been undertaken, including extensive visits to asylum centres throughout the country by the Minister of State and other individuals, parties and groups with a specific interest in asylum issues.
Deputy Tommy P. Broughan is next. May we have brevity, please, in questions and answers, as there are many Members offering?
When does the Tánaiste expect to set up the universal retirement savings group? When does she expect to bring forward legislation, in other words, will it happen before the Government's term ends? Was it not the case that a paper was prepared in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that called for a cap on or a cut in the State pension?
Will we have an opportunity to engage in a wide-ranging discussion in the House on Aer Lingus, given the interest of what Mr. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair calls mere backbenchers, particularly in the Tánaiste's party, in the future of the airline?
The Deputy has referred to what people might or might not have suggested in terms of reducing the retirement pension. It is a little like child benefit. There are many views and many people would like to see core social welfare payments reduced. Certainly, a lot of advice was proffered to me as Minister for Social Protection and all I can say is that I resisted all of it.
The Tánaiste did not. She should ask all of the under 25 year olds who have been affected.
Stop it, please.
In fact, as recently as last week, people from the IMF suggested we reconsider the universal payment of child benefit. People are entitled to their views and there is a range of them. For example, the same people advised Fianna Fáil to cut basic social welfare payments by €16.40 per week.
Fianna Fáil accepted that advice. I did not. We maintained the core social welfare payments, the weekly rate.
Except that the Tánaiste cut the allowance to under-25s by €50 a week and the lone parents' allowance was cut by €88 a week. Is the Tánaiste forgetting about that?
We are out of time now.
The Tánaiste must have a selective memory.
The Deputy is in very bad humour. Cool it.
On the universal savings plan-----
Oh dear Jesus.
-----as Minister I commissioned the OECD to do a report to look at the situation of people who only have the State retirement pension. It is a relatively good retirement pension by comparison with most countries, but it is a tight income for those who retire only on that. The OECD recommended that we establish, as has been done in Australia and New Zealand, either a mandatory or a soft mandatory, opt-in or opt-out, universal pensions savings scheme. The group is going to look at the nuts and bolts of how we would do that. This has been done in Australia, New Zealand and, in recent years, in the UK. It has been the subject of successive reports, particularly to previous Ministers in my Department, in Green Papers and White Papers. I hope we will be able to undertake this. We could only undertake it as the economic recovery gets under way and people's income improves because essentially people would be saving additional money for their retirement and those structures must be established.
On Aer Lingus, it is a matter for the Whips if there is to be a debate on that. The Whips can arrange a discussion on that.
The Istanbul Convention aims to prevent and combat violence against women. We have a deplorable record in this country of addressing this issue over the generations. We are in a happy and positive situation at the moment where we have more women around the Cabinet table than ever before. I see that as a positive development. Yet, the Tánaiste's Government has not tackled this issue in a comprehensive and holistic manner to date. The Minister for Justice and Equality has made some positive sounds about the Istanbul Convention. Will it be signed shortly? Has it been discussed by Cabinet? Is it correct that the Taoiseach gave previous undertakings to have a Cabinet sub-committee investigate this and has it been examined at all by a Cabinet sub-committee?
My colleague, Deputy McConalogue, quite correctly raised the issue of the primary online database, POD, system in the Department of Education and Skills. As a parent, I was astonished to discover that one of the questions on that questionnaire is whether the child is of white Irish, black Irish or Asian origin. What in the name of God has that issue to do with the data that must be collected around educational disadvantage?
Violence against women is a very important issue. The most important step that has been taken this week in that regard, in my view, is the agreement by the Cabinet to have minimum pricing legislation for alcohol, because alcohol is cited in a significant number of domestic violence cases.
Jesus, four years later.
In practical terms, reducing the below-cost selling of alcohol will assist in reducing consumption and encouraging sensible and moderate drinking. I will have to go back to the Minister on the Istanbul Convention, but she takes a very detailed interest in the issue of violence against women. I will ask her and come back to Deputy Ó Fearghaíl.
On the POD database, I think what happened there was that the descriptions were taken from the 2006 census rather than the 2011 census. I would not find the term acceptable either. I understand the term has been changed and I agree with the Deputy that such terminology reflects a much older time. Now that we have a much more diverse society, with people from many countries living here and becoming citizens, it is important that we update our language to reflect that we are an inclusive society.
Have we an exact date for the horse racing (amendment) Bill to come to the House? I have asked before and I was told we are under starter's orders and it is out of the traps and all that great stuff, but can we have an exact date? The reason I am being nosy about it is that there is a position on the board that has been vacant for a year and a half and which directly affects the owners' representation, so it is unbalanced, and we are not going to make any appointments to the new board until the legislation is passed.
I understand the report from the pre-legislative process is awaited shortly and that legislation for the next stage will begin before Easter.
Can the Tánaiste give some indication as to when the adoption (information and tracing) legislation that is promised is likely to come before the House? Will it be possible to have it passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the current year?
The postal services Bill excites the Opposition in general when it is mentioned. Would it be possible to reassure the Opposition and bring that Bill before the House as a matter of urgency, in an effort to be helpful?
There has been a significant amount of work and extensive discussion on the adoption (information and tracing) Bill. I understand it will be published before the end of this year. The postal services legislation came before Cabinet on Tuesday and the heads have been published.
When is the family law Bill expected, to consolidate with amendments all family legislation?
The alcohol control Bill is being introduced. When is publication of the gambling control Bill expected, to update and consolidate the law on betting and gambling? We have a serious problem with online betting and addiction. Serious restrictions have been introduced in Britain and we should look at it because everyone now has a mobile phone and an iPod and it is a serious problem.
I do not have a date for the family law Bill yet. The heads of the alcohol control legislation were brought to Government this week and have been published. The gambling control Bill is expected later this year.
What is the current status of the criminal justice (legal aid) Bill? It is No. 51 on the Order Paper.
That Bill will be published later this year.