Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 Dec 2016

Vol. 931 No. 3

Leaders' Questions

In March 1983 the chief prison officer at Portlaoise Prison, Mr. Brian Stack, was shot in the back of the neck. He was the only prison officer in the Republic of Ireland to be murdered during the Troubles by the Provisional IRA. He died in September 1984 as a result of his injuries. It has been revealed that the leader of Sinn Féin, Deputy Gerry Adams, wrote to the Garda Commissioner last February naming four people he said he understood to be suspects in the murder of Mr. Stack. What is extraordinary, of course, is that he claims the sons of Mr. Stack, Austin and Oliver, gave him the names back in 2013. The Stack brothers resolutely deny this. They never gave names to him. If he had the names in 2013, why did he not give them to the Garda Commissioner then? Why did he wait two and a half years to provide the information for the Commissioner if he was anxious to co-operate in a live murder inquiry?

The other key point I ask the Taoiseach to consider is that what happened in 2013 was, in itself, extraordinary. The leader of a parliamentary party in the House took two young men in a van with blacked out windows to an undisclosed location somewhere near the Border to meet an IRA man who told them: "We have carried out an investigation. It was a senior IRA person who authorised the murder of your dad. We have disciplined him." It was not stated how he had been disciplined. The IRA stated it regretted what had happened, apologised and that that should be the end of the matter. Did Deputy Gerry Adams send the name of the person he had met with Mr. Stack's sons to the Garda? Has the name of that individual who clearly has a lot of knowledge about the murder of Mr. Stack been sent to the Garda? Deputy Gerry Adams says he took notes of the meeting and that the individual was a friend of his who knew what had happened. Have the notes of the meeting with the individual in question who, 30 years after the murder, eventually acknowledged the IRA's authorisation of the murder of Mr. Stack been sent to the Garda Commissioner?

It is an extraordinary situation that the leader of a parliamentary party would take two individuals in a blacked out van to an undisclosed location to reveal how somebody was murdered or that somebody murdered somebody, and that the matter should rest there. This is a live murder inquiry.

Does the Taoiseach think that is acceptable? Is he satisfied that full co-operation has been given to the Garda in regard to all the information and names Deputy Adams has in order to bring the murder investigation to a proper conclusion? It is absolutely unacceptable in any normal parliamentary democracy that activity of this sort should continue as late as between 2013 and 2016.

I do not accept that this is in any way acceptable. Nobody can doubt that Brian Stack served this State with honour in his role as a prison officer. The work he and his colleagues did in protecting this State was vital during that very troubled period. His cold-blooded murder at the hands of Provisional IRA thugs was a cowardly, brutal and totally unjustifiable act of pointless violence. It should be properly condemned by everybody.

If Deputy Martin or I were in a situation where an allegation like this was made, where names were given to serving public representatives of those who were allegedly involved in a murder, it would not be acceptable that we could accept something happened and was forgotten about. Kangaroo courts are not, and never can be, a replacement for the laws of the land.

I cannot answer the Deputy's question as to whether the person who apparently is known and is living outside of the country and carried out the murder was ever spoken to or disciplined, or whether the name of the person understood to have carried out the murder was given to the Garda. It is up to Deputy Adams, who is the president and leader of his party, to deal with this.

It is utterly unacceptable that a man was shot through the back of the neck outside a boxing club and died quite some time afterwards. All these years later, we now hear the names of the persons allegedly involved being supplied. I cannot comment on the operational matters involved. This is a live murder investigation under the direction of the Garda Commissioner.

Obviously, the Garda is conducting its investigation. I do not know whether the persons mentioned in the supply of names given to Deputy Adams have been spoken to by the Garda, although I have to accept that the Garda will do its utmost to bring about the truth.

A man was murdered in cold blood. His alleged murderer is still at large. Being disciplined or not by the Provisional IRA is no substitute for the laws of this State. In answer to Deputy Martin's question, it is utterly unacceptable and those who have information should come forward and tell the truth.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I want to refer him to comments made by Austin Stack recently. He said:

Gerry Adams brought us in a blacked out van to see an IRA leader who he said he trusted and was a friend. Adams told us and reaffirmed this in the media last week that he asked this IRA leader to carry out an investigation.

An investigation was carried out internally. Mr. Stack went on to say that "this man told us that he knew who murdered my father, that the perpetrators were still alive and that one of them had been disciplined ".

He continued, "Gerry Adams knows this man and unless he has given his name to the Gardaí then he is withholding information." Clearly, as Mr. Stack stated, this IRA leader reported back to Deputy Gerry Adams on the investigation.

It is, by any measure, extraordinary stuff when one stands back and reflects on it. Imagine any one of us going off and saying we know who murdered someone, we had it checked out, that is, we had someone investigate it and that person had come back to us, but that we did not tell anyone about it for two and a half years. Allegedly, Deputy Gerry Adams had the four names which he says he was given in 2013, but he did not tell anyone until February this year because the issue was raised in the general election. This is a murder. It is not about an election campaign or boxing clever in the middle of it. The Taoiseach said it: a man is at large. The Provos know who did it, but they are not being held accountable in this House and their parliamentary representatives are not being held accountable in it, yet they expect everyone else to be held accountable on every other issue concerning injustices perpetrated on many citizens on this island.

The Deputy has exceeded his time.

They are living in a parallel universe, in which rules apply to one group but not to anyone else. I put it to the Taoiseach that it is unacceptable.

This is not fiction. A man was murdered in cold blood; his killer is at large and people know who the murderer is. It is beyond comprehension that a Member of the House can drive someone in a van with blacked out windows to meet another person to talk about who had shot his father, that the names are given to the Garda Commissioner and that the son of the murdered man says he did not supply the names. Deputy Gerry Adams knows more about this than I do. While the investigation into a murder is ongoing, perhaps he might use privilege to make a statement in the House to clear it up for everyone. I intend to meet Mr. Austin Stack who met the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade last weekend with his family. This is a serious matter that deserves to be cleared up for once and for all. A murderer is at large and people know who he is.

This is not the first time the leader of Fianna Fáil has used, in an opportunistic, a cynical and contemptible way, my efforts in good faith to assist the family of Mr. Brian Stack. I have dealt with the substance of the issue and if the Taoiseach wants to make space for me to do so, as he has indicated, I am prepared to make a statement here again. However, let me be clear that I have never accused anyone of being a suspect in the murder of Mr. Stack because I do not know who the suspects might be.

For now, during Leaders' Questions, I wish to raise with the Taoiseach the report on the future of services at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, which was to be published in September 2015 but which has not been. I am advised that it is back with the Department of Health. However, yesterday HIQA released its progress report on the implementation of recommendations it had made following its investigation in 2014. That report which was published last year followed the shocking experiences of mothers who had lost babies in the hospital and been failed by the health service under the Taoiseach's watch and that of Fianna Fáil. A key finding of the report published last year was that the health service did not act in the interests of patients following the recommendations made in previous reports. There were recommendations which were not acted on last year and the review published yesterday makes exactly the same point. The recommendations have yet to be acted on. It does note that some improvements have been made, but HIQA's director of regulation has stated significant risks remain. The review states, "[The] lack of an overall strategy for the direction of the hospital ... [raises] significant concerns in terms of the sustainability of [the] current service arrangements". It also states the HSE has no plan for the future of the hospital.

While it is good and welcome that maternity services are being provided in a safer way, major issues remain. I am sure the Taoiseach will appreciate that this is of major concern to women who rely on the hospital's maternity services. Clearly, they feel less comfortable or safe in giving birth in the hospital because there has been a reduction in the number of births at the hospital. The report states there has been little change in the infrastructure of the maternity ward and that the outpatients department remains in need of refurbishment. The major issue is staffing levels and the report states the failure to recruit and retain doctors remains a risk to patient safety. The hospital also has major problems in recruiting and retaining midwives, which is a serious problem across the entire health service.

Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

Béidh mé críochnaithe anois, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá a fhios agat gur chuir ceannaire Fhianna Fáil ceist fúmsa.

Caithfidh mise cloí le na rialacha.

Tá a fhios agam é sin. Déanfaidh mé é sin anois.

Having read the report, the core issue is that recommendations which had not been acted on one year ago have still not been acted on. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the ongoing issues in the maternity services at Portlaoise hospital will be addressed without delay? Does he agree that full implementation of all the recommendations made in the original HIQA investigation should be prioritised?

The first thing we should acknowledge is that the reason we have travelled so far in Portlaoise hospital is the courage of a number of women who were courageous enough to come forward with their personal stories about the traumatic effects of losing a baby. That is the reason the advances and improvements have been made in the first place.

The Minister for Health and the Department are committed to securing and developing the role of Portlaoise hospital within the Dublin midlands hospital group. This is an issue of great concern for everybody. The extent of progress made in patient safety measures in maternity services in Portlaoise hospital demonstrates the commitment of the staff and leadership team at the hospital, as well as of the team at hospital group level. This morning I listened to the chairperson of the group speak about the commitment and work rate of the staff in Portlaoise hospital. The services at the hospital are reporting monthly maternity patient safety statements and participating in national data collections, including the Irish maternity indicator system. This has led to confirmation by HIQA that the hospital's services are performing in line with nationally reported rates.

Since 2012 there has been an 18% increase in staffing levels across maternity, paediatric medicine and emergency services in Portlaoise hospital. Funding increased by 15% between 2012 and 2016 and significant patient safety improvements are evident regarding complaints management, incident reporting and implementation of key national clinical effectiveness committee patient safety guidelines. The reported data from Portlaoise hospital indicate that the maternity services are performing in line with nationally reported rates.

There are now six funded obstetrics and gynaecological posts, four of which are joint appointments with the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. Twenty additional midwives were approved for the group in accordance with the recommendations of Birthrate Plus and are in place. Portlaoise hospital is funded to employ 70 midwives and an additional 16 basic midwifery posts and two additional midwifery management posts have been put in place since 2014. A clinical network for obstetrics has been established for the group led by the Coombe hospital and includes Portlaoise hospital. A clinical lead for the integration of obstetrics services was appointed in 2015. The memorandum of understanding between the Coombe and Portlaoise hospitals is in operation in five phases.

The Minister for Health welcomed the report yesterday by HIQA which reviewed progress at the Midland Regional Hospital in implementing the recommendations made by HIQA in 2015.

The point made this morning by the chairperson was that this is an important entity and that it is important we get this right and do not make knee-jerk decisions that would not be in the long-term interests of the patients, mothers-to-be or the staff. A serious improvement has been made, with more to follow.

I do not know how the Minister can welcome the report given it states that the health services failed to act on recommendations. I, too, commend the mothers and the families who have raised these issues about our maternity services. Perhaps the Taoiseach will clarify if the report on the future of services was to be published in September 2015 because it has not been published. I am advised that report is now with the Department of Health and as such it is back in the Government's court. Will the Taoiseach clarify for the Dáil if that report is with the Government and when it is proposed to publish it. Portlaoise hospital is a symptom of the problem of an underfunded and understaffed system which is failing despite all the efforts of committed and hard-working staff. In Limerick hospital, there is a shortage of 24 midwives; in Cork, 54 are needed and in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, there is a shortage of 118 midwives. These are the number of staff required to bring staffing levels up to basic international safety standards. We expect women to put themselves into this position. Will the Taoiseach clarify the status of the report on the future of services and to the development of a specific plan - I am not in this regard asking for a knee-jerk reaction because this plan has been two years in the making - to ensure that staffing levels across maternity services are brought up to basic standard?

The HIQA report has identified a number of immediate issues that need to be addressed. The Minister for Health has asked the HSE to address those issues as a priority and to ensure that the hospital is properly supported in its role by the other hospitals in the hospital group to provide a proper service, as one would expect for the patients in the midlands. It is important that in any changes at Portlaoise hospital patient safety and good quality outcomes come first. Reports on Portlaoise hospital over the years have pointed to the need for reconfiguration of some services to ensure that patients are treated in the best setting and by specialist staff that can safely meet their needs. The group has been working for some time on a draft plan for a new model of clinical service delivery at Portlaoise hospital, which takes account of the need of the hospital to develop services at Portlaoise in the context of developing the service provision model for the entire hospital group. The HSE has submitted the draft plan to the Department of Health and it will now be reviewed in detail by the Department. Any changes to services at Portlaoise hospital, once approved, will be undertaken in a planned and orderly manner and will take into account existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals and the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise hospital in the context of the Dublin midlands hospital group. That work is now received and is being examined in detail by the Department.

On the issue raised by Deputy Micheál Martin concerning the murder of a servant of this State, Deputy Adams has volunteered to make a statement to the House. Will the Taoiseach agree to time being provided tomorrow for that to occur?

In the last few weeks we have been presented with a number of Supplementary Estimates covering a variety of Departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. By the time this Dáil rises for Christmas the Appropriations Bill will have been passed, as is required by law. In Ireland, we have many problems that this House seeks to address week in, week out but I am sure we are all agreed that around the world there are people in much worse situations as we approach Christmas. Wars are raging in Syria and Yemen and hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees, not to mention the thousands of people who have died as a result of war this year. Over the last couple of days we have had reports of 400,000 children at risk of famine in northern Nigeria in areas devastated by civil war and Boko Haram.

As a country, we pledged to provide 0.7% of national income in overseas development aid. In truth, we are not making much progress on that target. The Government claimed on budget day that an extra €10 million was provided for overseas development aid. It turns out, however, that this was just the minimum we had to provide to the EU development budget as part of our required overall contribution thereto. There was, in fact, no increase in the amount of money provided for Irish Aid, the distributor of Irish money provided in this year's budget.

In our worst days, the Taoiseach will recall that we managed to protect our overseas development aid expenditure. Some €40 million extra was provided last year but this year we have taken a step backwards. Our aid budget, as a percentage of our national income, will be less than 0.3% next year. It is falling.

Last week, we heard reports of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, assuring the Fine Gael parliamentary party that there was plenty of money in the coffers to recover the cost of refunding water charges, which I welcome. The Exchequer returns published last week confirmed that tax revenues and under-expenditure are sufficient to give breathing space to some expenditure. In that context, some increase in the latter weeks of this year for the Irish aid budget is appropriate. The Labour Party proposed in its alternative budget an increase of 5%, or €32 million, which is not an inordinately big sum. It is one that we can afford. Will the Taoiseach agree to increasing our aid budget by €32 million, a move that would not only attract widespread support in this House but also among the people?

There is no doubt about the sensitivity and truth of the issues the Deputy raises. I refer to war in Syria, the difficulties in Libya, the hundreds of thousands coming through the Horn of Africa from Somalia and other locations in northern Africa, the difficulties encountered in the many camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and the difficulties in crossing the Mediterranean. I am quite sure the Deputy will join me in understanding what is in our own DNA in terms of humanitarian aid and the extraordinary work done by our Defence Forces personnel in rescuing over 14,000 men, women and children from the waters of the Mediterranean.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine assisted the World Food Programme extensively last year. There was an increase of €10 million given to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for humanitarian aid. This morning, the Government signed off on the Appropriations Bill and agreed all the ceilings, and the changes made in the last period have now been signed off on. I want the Deputy to understand that we remain completely committed to doing what we can as a small country with exhaustible financial resources with which to assist in humanitarian efforts where we can. That is recognised worldwide, as Deputy Howlin well knows. To echo Mark Twain, it seems as if the words of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, have been greatly exaggerated in respect of the third- or fourth-hand report that emanated from a meeting last week.

The Taoiseach's reply is profoundly disappointing. Our corporation tax receipts are nearly €1 billion higher this November than they were last November. The overall corporation tax take is €170 million higher than Revenue planned for this year. This is happening when war is raging across the Middle East and when famine is taking hold across Africa. As we know, Ireland is the headquarters for many corporations, providing European, Middle Eastern and African bases. We use the term EMEA but we forget what it means: companies operating out of Ireland paying tax here are making profits in the Middle East and Africa.

Ireland is doing well as a result. There is a moral case to be made that, as we approach Christmas, a small proportion of the windfall corporation tax from companies operating in areas affected by disasters should be used to give something back. Will the Taoiseach agree to allow this modest 5% increase from windfall taxes as a positive goodwill gesture at this time of year, which would be welcomed by all of the people?

The Appropriation Bill was signed off on this morning by the Cabinet. We have allocated €62 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, which represents a significant amount of money from Ireland. I note, in particular, the practical assistance given to families and the leadership demonstrated by the Dublin football manager, Mr. Jim Gavin, in travelling to Africa and also the development of new breeds of food crops for families in Kenya that yield six times more than indigenous crops. These are practical measures in using Irish scientific knowledge and experience to help families to improve their income and opportunities. We will, therefore, continue to focus on humanitarian aid. I will ask the Minister to look at the issue raised by Deputy Brendan Howlin, but to confirm, we did sign off this morning on the Appropriation Bill.

The housing Minister says he will introduce a package in the House next week to address the spiralling cost of rent. Reports yesterday pointed to splits between senior Ministers on the issue. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that we will see the package in 2016? Why has the housing Minister waited to put the package on the table in the week Deputies will head out the door for the Christmas break? Rents have increased year on year by nearly 12% throughout the State and nearly 15% in Cork city. In the Taoiseach's lifetime, has he ever witnessed more families homeless at Christmas? Kids are waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney in bed and breakfast accommodation or a hotel, some for the second year running.

According to the CSO, clear profits from rent on dwellings came to €1.6 billion in 2010 and rose to €2.7 billion by 2015, an increase of more than €1 billion. That is a large transfer of wealth from the many to the few, from people with no property to a comfortable or even wealthy minority. It is little wonder that the CEO of Ireland's largest corporate landlord operation, I-RES REIT, recently stated: "It's a great market. We've never seen rental increases like this in any jurisdiction that we're aware of."

The country is crying out for a Taoiseach who will say the people's pockets are more important than rent increases for landlords and that strict and stringent rent controls will be the order of the day. The country is crying out for a Taoiseach who will bang the table, turn calmly to landlords and tell them that they have bled the people for long enough and will not increase rents by one single penny more. The Taoiseach does not look like the man for the job. He is the leader of the landlord party. When he attends Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meetings, he must be practically tripping over all of the landlords present. His is the party of the capitalist market. The market is God and nothing must be done to offend the gods. We read in yesterday's edition of the The Irish Times: "Coveney's rental strategy faces resistance from within Fine Gael - Noonan and Donohoe among those opposed to interventions in the rental market". Will the Taoiseach confirm the date for the introduction of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney's package on rents? Will he explain to the House the Government's failure to implement real rent controls?

The challenge in building an economy was to manage it properly in the interests of all the people.

I disagree profoundly with Deputy Barry when he said that people's pockets are more important - it is people's lives that are more important than rich men's pockets.

The balance to be struck is one of increased supply of houses and accommodation, and at the same time to maintain the balance between those who are tenants and those who supply accommodation for tenancy. That is a real challenge. Deputy Barry will recall in recent years the total collapse of the construction sector. The reason the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is deliberating on the issue is that it must be done properly. There was a period of public consultation. I do not know whether Deputy Barry supplied his views in writing but 70 written contributions were received from people throughout the country in response to the public invitation to do so.

We have the housing report.

The Minister will bring his rental strategy to Government next Tuesday and thereafter Deputy Barry will have the opportunity to reflect on, debate and discuss the detail of it. It is about striking the necessary balance. I admit that there are people under real pressure, many of whom have had to leave the accommodation they were in. The fundamental question that needs to be addressed is the supply of houses. Five pillars have been set out in a very comprehensive programme and it is now about moving on to implement it. Part of that is to have a sustainable rental strategy for individuals, people and families and at the same time to deal with the question of supply.

The Taoiseach speaks of balance. Thousands of families are homeless at Christmas time and the clear profit of landlords is up by more than €1 billion, yet the Taoiseach speaks of balance. That is really quite incredible.

Will the package that is published next Tuesday be debated in this House before we break for Christmas, because it should be? The Government currently has a Bill going through the House which seeks to limit to 19 the number of households a landlord might evict at any one time. That is scandalous. The number should be zero. I do not say a landlord should not be allowed to sell a property, but the law should state that if he or she does so, the tenant should remain in place. When the Bill went to the Seanad, Opposition Senators got it amended and reduced the number from 19 down to five. I understand the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, is seriously considering trying to increase the number back up from five to ten. Could the Taoiseach confirm or deny that is the case?

The Minister has made strenuous efforts to deal with the homeless in this city in particular, rough sleepers, those who have been homeless and have needed to stay in hostels and those who have had to move accommodation because of rent increases.

It is clearly not working.

People in some areas object to hostel accommodation and social housing being provided. One has the hypocrisy of parties coming in here shouting about the necessity for those things and at the same time objecting when proposals are made by city councillors and elected representatives to do that. The rental strategy will be brought to Cabinet next week. There will be a debate on the Bill going through the House and I look forward to hearing Deputy Barry's propositions for solutions to the issue of supply and the balance of maintaining the opportunity for people to have decent accommodation at decent rents.

The rent situation is a challenge. Everybody admits that. It will not be addressed without dealing with the question of supply, because the more supply one has the better the opportunity of choice for people.

There is plenty of supply.