Questions on Proposed Legislation

Before moving on to questions on promised legislation, I point out to Members that we have recently amended Standing Order 28 to provide that there is one minute per Member on one question on promised legislation. Deputy Micheál Martin has one minute for one question.

There is one minute for one question.

It is in Standing Orders. One minute for one question.

The disenfranchisement of large parties continues. I will say no more.

Excuse me, Deputy. Your party agreed to the amendment of Standing Orders which apply to every Member. The quicker we start, the more Members will be able to speak.

In the programme for Government there is a reference to the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act, which is the legislation dealing with special education. It refers to sections that were introduced on a non-statutory basis, which does not make sense to me. The Taoiseach may not have the relevant information available to him, but I ask him to communicate the various sections of the Act which have been properly and statutorily commenced and those which have not been. I thought it was a very strange phrase.

Will it be possible to get an update before the recess on the progress made in delivering the housing plan?

I will revert to the Deputy regarding the EPSEN Act and the sections that have not been implemented by statute and on a voluntary basis. The Deputy's second question referred to housing.

I did not hear a second question because there is only provision for one. I am very sorry.

On Saturday, protesters took part in a rally on Merrion Square to protest at the rise in car insurance premiums, which have increased by 67% over the past three years. Those involved who have to carry this burden want the Government to establish a task force, similar to the Motor Insurance Advisory Board, MIAB, which was established in the 1990s and whose recommendations led to a 40% drop in premiums. The Minister for Finance has established a task force in his Department to review policy in the insurance sector, but it has not yet begun to deal with the reasons behind the major spikes in premium costs. Will the Taoiseach indicate when he expects the review to be completed? Will he consider establishing a task force similar to the MIAB?

We will discuss this at the next Cabinet sub-committee meeting and advise Deputy Adams of the progress made and whether the outcome is that a task force should be established.

When we called the insurance companies together previously about flooding, many of them commented that fraudulent claims were driving up motor insurance. I have seen that refuted in other areas. The rise in insurance costs is a matter of concern and we will examine the matter carefully.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the commitment in the programme for Government on the National Maternity Hospital. As he is aware, the previous Government committed €150 million for the project and planning permission was to have been lodged in the final quarter of last year. The project is now seven months behind schedule. A mediator was appointed months ago to sort out the problem and was to report back to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. Has the mediator reported back, and when will we see progress on a new National Maternity Hospital?

Deputy Howlin was in government himself when the money was allocated for the project. I find it disgraceful that the situation has not been resolved. As the Deputy is aware, it is not a political problem. The money is in place, a mediator was appointed and people should be able to agree. I have heard so many instances of the inadequacy of the building that has been the National Maternity Hospital for more than 100 years. The details should all be arranged and the project should move on. I will advise Deputy Howlin when I speak to the Minister for Health about the progress being made by the mediator. This is something that is in the interests of everybody.

I refer to the reports that the European Central Bank is seeking to have sight of, and presumably influence over, Opposition legislation in advance of it being discussed and voted on in this House. The European Central Bank is a body with no democratic legitimacy. It is unelected and unaccountable and has played a disgusting role in the course of European crises in various coups in Italy and in Greece. It is reported that the ECB has suggested there would be "potentially very serious consequences" for a failure to comply with its wish to see the legislation. We have no intention of complying with or facilitating the ECB's interference in the democratic process. Is there any proposal for legislation to facilitate the ECB to have access to Opposition legislation in advance of it being discussed and voted on in this House?

This is a sovereign country with a sovereign Government and we are entitled to draft legislation. The changes made here recently allow for that to an even greater extent in terms of proposed legislation from Members of the Opposition as Private Members' Bills. There is no such proposal.

The Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 has been enacted for a full 12 months, yet there is still no sign of the regulatory authority being set up. People are being charged enormous fees and significant issues arise in that regard. When will the regulatory authority which underpins the Act be set up?

As Deputy McGrath said, the legislation was enacted in 2015. I will advise the Deputy when the Act will be implemented.

Page 110 of the programme for Government refers to farm gate investment. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine are well aware that in excess of 70 questions have been asked in this House on the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, programme, and the failure to pay farmers who have been approved. The excuse is that the computer system is not working. When will a commitment be made on a payment date for the farmers involved, many of whom have been offered loans from the banks, which completely defeats the purpose of the scheme?

I do not know anything about the failure of a computer system in that regard but over the years the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Minister, have been very diligent in attempting to have farmers paid promptly. In some cases farmers are paid a portion of the money to which they are entitled in advance. I will follow up on the point Deputy Breathnach raised but he can take it that the Minister is anxious that farmers are paid on time.

I call Deputy Aindrias Moynihan on the same matter.

Does the matter relate to promised legislation?

Some farmers who have expended cash and done the work as recently as last January, who appeared to have approvals, have not been able to collect them. The Minister said the payments would be made in June and July. Up to 4,000 farmers are affected. When farmers try to access the website, they find it is not active and the option of drawing down the payment is not available to them.

Deputy Moynihan's point is made.

In the meantime they are borrowing money to carry out work and making repayments on it.

A parliamentary question or Topical Issue would appear to be the best option in terms of getting a response.

I will ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to note the points made by the Deputies. I am sure there is a reason the payments have not been issued. I will have the point the Deputy raised cleared up.

The programme for Government states that the renewal of towns and villages will be a top priority for the new Minister with responsibility for regional and rural affairs as a way to revitalise rural Ireland. To deliver on this goal, the new Minister will develop a new and improved town and village renewal scheme, with input from the Oireachtas, in time for the budget in 2017. As part of the scheme, the Government proposes to commit additional funding to support the development of rural towns and villages. When will the House learn about this scheme and how much funding will the Government allocate to it?

Finally, I thank the Minister again publicly in this House for allowing "Star Wars" to come to Kerry, because it would not have been there only for that. I give credit where credit is due.

We will not get into the movie industry. Taoiseach - not on "Star Wars", now.

They are following on "Ryan's Daughter," which was years ago.

The work preparing for the various schemes is well under way. The Minister and the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will be very diligent to see that this happens as quickly as possible.

The Select Committee on Justice and Equality had its first meeting this morning, dealing with the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill. However, as I speak, we have no certainty as to when the joint committee will sit. I understand the difficulty is that the appointments to the various Oireachtas committees from the Seanad have not yet concluded. It is absolutely disgraceful, after this long period of time, that we are faced, a couple of weeks before the recess, without even the opportunity of addressing a work programme. This applies to all of the committees. I ask the Taoiseach to establish why there is such an inordinate delay by the Seanad in appointing members to the joint Oireachtas committees, and to ensure that is done as expeditiously as possible so we can progress our programme of work.

I certainly will. I will inquire this morning about that.

Well done on "Star Wars," Taoiseach, but back here on planet Earth there is a commitment in the programme for Government that a working group will be set up to establish whether post offices could be used as a hub for the provision of State services such as motor taxation. I ask the Taoiseach whether that working group could be established before the recess, as this situation has now become very serious.

There have been a number of meetings with Mr. Kerr, who wrote the report, on the issues that arise there. The Government already made the decision some time ago that the basic bank account would be made available to the post offices.

I know that, but what about the work?

Work is going on regarding driving licences, as the Deputy mentioned. As I said, a number of meetings have taken place, but I will advise the Deputy of the progress made. It is a matter that has been discussed a few times.

I ask the Taoiseach about the proposal by the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the effect that planning permission for housing estates of more than 150 units will go straight to An Bord Pleanála and bypass the local authority entirely. The follow-up proposal by Deputy Barry Cowen, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, is to bring that down to 30 units. In built-up areas, that would end planning as we know it. In fact, it would be back to the oldest alliance between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael relating to fast-track planning in the interest of developers.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Can the Taoiseach tell me whether this will result in legislation and when?

I think the Deputy's comment is completely unworthy of somebody who has served in government and who is a former Tánaiste. I reject that assertion completely.

It is in the paper.

I reject Deputy Burton's assertion about going back to the old days between political parties.

I served on the old Dublin County Council. I have a lot of personal experience of this.

We do not need to know about the old Dublin County Council.

I have a lot of experience of it. Do not lecture me about it.

We do not indeed, An Ceann Comhairle. We know enough about that.

Thank you, a Thaoisigh; please deal with the question.

These are matters that will be part of the housing action plan to be delivered in outline very shortly by the Minister for housing, planning and local government. Obviously, incentives are built in there for county councils to move on and for local authorities to get on with the job of providing affordable houses and social houses for the many people who need them throughout the country.

As regards Deputy Ó Caoláin's question, the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges is meeting this week to appoint committees through the Committee of Selection.

As regards the programme for Government and the commitment on health care, a serious issue has developed with a constituent of mine over the past 24 hours. The person was waiting nearly four months for a serious cancer operation only to be informed yesterday that the operation scheduled for today was now being stopped because of the beds crisis in Cork University Hospital. It is disgusting that this operation for a life-threatening condition has been cancelled. I have the facts of the case, but I do not want to name the family involved.

Under the programme for Government and following what our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, said on Leaders' Questions, the crisis in all hospitals is shocking. It is particularly so concerning this issue because what could be a life-saving operation was cancelled at 24 hours' notice. The information given to the family was that it was because of the beds crisis within Cork University Hospital.

It is an issue. If Deputy Moynihan wants a detailed response as to why a life-saving operation was cancelled this morning, obviously it may well be because of bed management problems or due to something else within the medical team. I do not know.

A parliamentary question might help.

I suggest that if the Deputy gives the details to the Minister for Health, he will supply a factual answer. It does not answer the question, though, concerning the patient who needs this operation. I hope that when it happens, it will be a success for the person in question.

Patients in St. Vincent's Care Centre in Athlone were informed last night that they would have to leave that hospital this morning to allow electrical works necessary under health and safety requirements to be carried out. This morning we have a situation whereby families are blocking ambulances taking patients from the hospital. The manner in which the HSE has dealt with patients, their families and staff is nothing short of disgraceful.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that this is a temporary measure and is not an attempt to close St. Vincent's Care Centre by stealth? When will the health information and patient safety Bill come before the Houses in order that all Members of the Oireachtas will have an opportunity to make an input into it? That would ensure a situation such as that pertaining in Athlone this morning will never happen again.

The Bill will go for pre-legislative scrutiny shortly. As regards the Deputy's first question, I can confirm that it is a temporary move. The decision was taken to transfer residents from St. Vincent's Care Centre in Athlone to alternative accommodation because of an electrical report that highlighted a number of risks, including fire and power outages that led to service failures in the facility. They affected lighting, heating and electrical equipment. The transfer will take place on a phased basis over the next two to three days. It is temporary. The patients will be transferred back again when things have improved.

I thank the Taoiseach. That concludes questions on proposed legislation. My apologies to the six Members whose questions have not been reached.