Questions on Promised Legislation

This morning there are reports that Eir, the biggest telecommunications company in the State, is about to be taken over by its largest shareholder, Anchorage Capital, which is a US private equity firm. Was the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, made aware of this and will there be any legislative issues surrounding the universal service obligation whereby Eir has to provide telecommunications services around the country?

I have not personally been made aware of the situation. On the universal service obligation, USO, any company taking over the ownership of Eir would also be taking over responsibility for any obligations in place. The universal services obligation has been hugely successful in ensuring that people have access to voice telephony services across the State and this will continue. The Deputy will be aware that we are in discussions with the European Commission on the development of universal service obligations in the broadband area such that if after the national broadband plan has been rolled-out, there are people in this city or in other parts of the State without access to high speed broadband the universal service obligation will kick-in.

Yesterday, I raised the issue of the refugee camp at Calais, known as the Jungle. I wish to raise it again this morning. I welcome that time is being provided next week for a debate on this matter. The Tánaiste will be aware of the crisis across Europe in terms of child refugees, some 10,000 of whom it is estimated have gone missing. Meanwhile we are seeing distressing scenes from Calais as the refugee camp is dismantled. As late as last night dozens of unaccompanied minors, child refugees, were left in the camp. Aid workers report that approximately 100 of them slept rough, many of whom were disorientated and wandering around on their own. I am appealing today to the Tánaiste and the Dáil as a whole to act collectively on this matter, by way of a common motion, specifically in respect of child refugees in Calais and that we resolve as an Oireachtas to move speedily to bring to safety 200 of those child refugees.

The Deputy's time has expired.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his forbearance. I will conclude on this point. On the last occasion that there was movement from the camp in Calais-----

This is not the time for speeches. I must ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

I will make this point. I am an elected parliamentarian and I will make my point and then I will resume my seat.

Excuse me, Deputy: resume your seat.

No, I will not resume my seat.

Resume your seat Deputy, please.

Do not speak to me like that, a Cheann Comhairle.

Please, Deputy, I am asking you to resume your seat.

I am about to finish.

Will you resume your seat?

No. I want to make an important point.

This is not the place to make points.

This is not the place to make points. In the name of goodness-----

The Deputy must ask a question.

All the Ceann Comhairle is doing is delaying the proceedings.

Excuse me, please. When the Chair is on its feet, will you please resume your seat?

I will not resume my seat.

That is disgraceful.

I will absolutely not resume my seat.

The Deputy has some history in this regard. Would you please-----

Yes, I do and I will have future history if the Ceann Comhairle persists in speaking to me like that. I was making the point-----

Let me explain.

-----on the issue of 200 children-----

Let me explain. Excuse me, Deputy. There is no special provision made in this House for you. The rules of the House apply equally to everyone.

The rules of the House have been decided by the House. Those rules provide one minute to each Deputy for one question on promised legislation. That one minute was provided to you and you have had considerably more time.

I require time to utter approximately four more words to finish and sit down.

I am asking you to resume your seat.

I am asking to finish my sentence and then I will happily resume my seat.

Please resume your seat. Do not cause the House to be adjourned. I ask you to resume your seat.

I am sure the Tánaiste takes my point notwithstanding the Ceann Comhairle's extremely rude approach.

I am asking you to resume your seat. I will suspend the House if you do not.

The Business Committee decided that there would be discussions and statements on this topic next week, with a view to discussing the possibility of an all-party motion the following week. Like Deputy McDonald, I am appalled at the scenes from Calais. From our own point of view in terms of our commitment to refugees, a further 40 Syrian refugees will be arriving in Dublin Airport today.

We will meet in full the obligations we have made in the programme to which we have committed to take 4,000 primarily Syrian refugees. That work is continuing. We have officers who have just returned from the refugee camps and Greece and we are identifying young people in need of care and protection here. At European and international level, the programme has been delayed by various problems, primarily the fact that most refugees have moved onward to Sweden and other countries. We are now in a position, however, in which refugees are being identified who are coming to this State. By the end of the year, the number brought to Ireland will be close to 1,000 under both the relocation and resettlement programmes. I look forward to the debate in the House next week on this very important issue.

In the programme for Government, there is a great deal of emphasis on rural Ireland and that is rightly so. What I want to raise, however, is the matter of serial objectors to planning applications. There is no good reason in the world why any individual in his or her right mind would have 20 or 30 objections going at any given time.

Is this on promised legislation?

Yes, it is in the programme for Government. I am asking whether the Government intends to bring in legislation. While we appreciate the genuine objection from a person who has a problem with a development in his or her local area, there is no place for serial objectors. If a project is going on in one county, why would somebody in another county want to object to it? It does not make sense. Could the Government look at the situation and see? There is no proper reason for a normal person to want to have 20 objections going at a time, yet we have such people.

To be helpful on that, there are a number of Bills coming forward on planning, one of which is already before the House on Second Stage and concerns the establishment of a planning regulator. Another Bill will be brought to Cabinet next week with the purpose of streamlining planning decisions and putting statutory timelines around those decisions for larger planning applications. There will be a further planning Bill which is about a review of the overall planning system. That review process has already begun within my Department and it is considering a whole series of issues. We will have an opportunity to tease through a lot of these questions which are often linked with planning issues and frustration. My only objective is to maintain the integrity of planning decisions while at the same time providing for more streamlined decision-making so that we can get developments happening in the right place and in a more timely fashion. There will be numerous legislative initiatives which will provide Deputy Healy-Rae with the opportunity to tease through some of the issues he has.

I raise the issue of legislation relating to public services. What does the world see this morning as it looks through the window and into the Irish State? It sees young teachers having to strike to achieve the basic right to equal pay for equal work.

To what promised legislation is the Deputy referring?

The Government should hang its head in shame in that regard.

What is the promised legislation?

Does the Government plan to amend legislation on the public service pay commission to extend its remit to include making definite the restoration of equal pay for equal work?

No one wants to see the restoration of pay more than the Government. That is why we are managing the economy as we are and ensuring that we have a process in place to ensure that we move towards full pay restoration. That is the goal. I have already laid out this morning the way in which we intend to achieve that. We have been through a difficult time in this country and public sector workers, the self-employed and many others have suffered a great deal. We recognise the efforts everybody has made to arrive at a point where we are thankfully in a position to begin and to have begun pay restoration. We have laid out how we can further ensure that there is ongoing pay restoration. Clearly, however, the economy must be managed carefully if we are to continue to be able to do that. That is why the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has laid out very clearly the role of a public service pay commission as a very important part of ensuring we have an appropriate successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement.

One of the welcome announcements in the action plan on housing and homelessness was that transportation would be provided for families and children who are currently in hotels or other emergency accommodation. I have put down a number of parliamentary questions to the three possible Ministers involved in this issue. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, has come back to me to say that work is ongoing in relation to family leap cards. I have raised in committee with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, my concern that school journey cards are to be distributed after the leap cards. I understood they were to be ready for the end of the month so that children would have the cards when they go back after the half-term holiday. In the reply to one of my parliamentary questions, it states that distribution will take place as early as possible following the distribution of family leap cards. I am concerned at this delay and wonder if either the Tánaiste or Deputy Coveney can assure me that the cards will be available for these families so that they can afford to send their children back to the schools they have been attending until now.

A great deal is happening in regard to families staying in commercial hotels on a temporary basis as emergency accommodation to improve the conditions under which those families are surviving. One of those is to improve the ease of transportation between schools and that temporary accommodation. I do not have an exact date, but the plan is to get this done within weeks. I will come back to the Deputy with an exact date after I speak to the Minister, Deputy Zappone.

I call Deputy Stephen Donnelly on behalf of the Social Democrats and Green Party group.

I am on behalf of myself now.

The Deputy is still a social democrat.

The programme for Government contains some very welcome measures for mortgage resolution. They are some of things myself and many others advocated in the last Dáil. Some of this is legislative and some just requires the provision of resources. I asked the Minister for Finance for an update about two months ago but he did not have one. The ambitions are good and what is in there is very welcome but we have not been able to find any timelines on legislative changes and other things. Does the Tánaiste have an update or can she come back to me with one on what is happening in terms of the commitment in the programme for Government around helping those in mortgage arrears?

I will certainly do that. We launched the Abhaile scheme just a couple of weeks ago. It makes provision for supports for people in that situation by ensuring that a voucher scheme is available so that there is no barrier to them accessing solicitors' advice or financial advice. A number of changes are also envisaged in relation to the courts and I can revert to the Deputy on that.

This morning, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, confirmed that we would ratify the Paris Agreement, COP 21, on 4 November. He also committed to producing the mitigation plan before the end of the year. We have serious obligations in that context on public transport. In Galway city, 55 families are going to be left without a bus. I have written to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in regard to this matter.

What is the promised legislation?

It comes under public transport in regard to emissions. Given that Bus Éireann has unilaterally said it cannot afford to provide a service, 55 families whose children attend a DEIS school are going to be left without public transport. That is after 25 years of calling it an interim measure. I would like action on the matter.

I ask the Deputy to send me details on that and I will ensure the Minister responds to her.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to address the staffing requirements of small schools within the first 100 days of the new Administration. This was followed up during the recent budget announcement that more teachers would be hired. It came as a great disappointment to two schools in my constituency, Carrigkerry national school and Ballybrown national school, to receive negative determinations from the primary staffing appeals board in circumstances where they are losing teachers. When will the Government address pupil-teacher ratios and staffing issues in small schools and other national schools in my constituency and across the country given its promises in the programme for Government and the recent Budget Statement?

From September, there is an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools that was provided for in the 2016 budget.

Decisions on the new schedule are taken independently by the appeals board. It is an independent decision and the board makes its decisions independent of the Minister.

On small schools, we were able to make a start this year for some island schools. We will continue to examine this issue as part of the programme for Government as resources become available.

For the information of Members, I should make it clear that I am obliged to call representatives of the various groups represented in the House before I call other Deputies.

On a point of order, we should not allow Deputies like Deputy Mary Lou McDonald to dominate questions on proposed legislation when there are many Deputies who want to speak. Additional time should be allocated if Deputies seek to undermine the procedures of the House.

That is not a point of order.