Questions on Promised Legislation

I bring to the attention of Members that we will only be taking relevant questions on promised legislation or the programme for Government. Deputy Micheál Martin is first.

In the programme for Government there is a strong commitment to "Implement the new procedures to ensure more efficient and timely recruitment of nurses". As all Members are aware, there is a considerable shortage of nurses across the country's hospitals. There is a significant turnover of nurses, particularly theatre nurses and nurses working in emergency medicine, because of the absolute and abject failure of manpower and human resources policies in the health sector. The INMO represents nurses and midwives and, giving vent to its frustration at the failure to implement this commitment in the programme for Government, will commence a nationwide work-to-rule from Friday next. That will cause further challenges and difficulties to the health service, not least in terms of elective operations being cancelled and will make waiting lists etc., much worse. Can the Taoiseach indicate whether any moves have been made to ensure this gets dealt with by the labour relations machinery? Can he indicate whether the WRC has been invited to prevent this work-to-rule and what will the Government do about the overall issue of recruitment of nurses?

I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to give Deputy Micheál Martin detail on that.

The Government has provided funding to take on 1,000 additional nurses this year.

The Government has had fruitful discussions on a range of issues in respect of recruitment and retention with the INMO. It was not possible to reach agreement on all issues. I note the comments of the Lansdowne Road agreement oversight group yesterday that both parties should now use the services of the WRC and I appeal to the INMO to enter talks at the WRC. Industrial action is not in the interests of anybody, nurses or patients, and the WRC is available. Health management is available to go to the WRC and I would urge the INMO to meet us there.

My question is on promised legislation in respect of access to medicinal cannabis. Ms Vera Twomey is a mother from Cork who, as we speak, is walking from Cork to Dublin. Vera has met the Minister, Deputy Harris, in the past. The reason Vera is taking this action is because her seven year old daughter, Ava, suffers from Dravet syndrome, a severe and debilitating form of epilepsy. Ava can suffer up to 20 seizures a day. The child is suffering and Vera and Paul, her parents, are suffering too. They set out their case clearly to the Minister. This child needs access to this medicine quickly.

Is this a programme for Government commitment?

This is promised legislation.

Vera tells me that she has had long frustrating discussions with the Minister, Deputy Harris. She feels she is being led up the garden path. She is petrified for the health and safety of her seven year old child. I want to know from both the Taoiseach and the Minister when the Government will make it happen. It is a seven year old girl, who is seizuring up to 20 times a day and whose life is in jeopardy.

The time is up now.

Can the Taoiseach tell me when this legislation will be passed and when this child will get the medicine she needs?

On the same matter, Vera Twomey wants the best for her child who is suffering greatly from the particular condition. I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Harris, this morning. I urge the Minister to take whatever actions he can to ensure that she gets the medical care and the access to the product that she needs.

On the same matter, Deputy Moynihan.

Yesterday I questioned this also and I do not feel that I got a satisfactory answer on it. There are two legislative items on the cards here.

There is the legislation initiated before Christmas that has completed Second Stage, and there is the commitment from the Minister to deliver his legislation. Will one of those pieces of legislation be advanced as quickly as possible to solve this problem for them?

The Minister received a report on medicinal cannabis from the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, on 31 January and at that time the Minister gave a commitment that he would move very quickly on this issue. I am in constant contact with Ava's mother, Vera, even up to last night when I spoke to her, and I reiterate what other Members are saying. This is an extremely sad case but it is not only affecting the child. It is affecting the parents and the extended family. I appeal to the Minister, on behalf of the family, please to make a decision very quickly on this issue.

My question is about the definition of paediatric neurologist. I attended the meeting last week with Vera and the Minister explained the role of the paediatric neurologist. We need clarification on that because there is confusion about it in that in the past a doctor may have signed off on it and looked for a licence. That may be where we need clarification on this matter.

I seek clarity from the Minister with regard to a parliamentary reply I was given by his office last year which states that it can be made available on prescription of a doctor. Could we get clarity on that because this is an issue that is causing grave concern to Vera and her family? Will the Minister clarify who can actually prescribe?

I met with Vera and Paul in Cork recently to discuss their daughter Ava. There are two pieces of legislation from Deputy Gino Kenny and also what the Minister has spoken about. The legislation itself is not necessary to have medicinal cannabis made available but there are conditions under which that can apply, and I ask the Minister to clarify that for the House.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I met Vera and Paul on Thursday. It was my fourth meeting with them, and I was in further contact with Vera yesterday by e-mail. The advice available to me is very simple. The Chief Medical Officer has said to me that it requires the signature and support of a paediatric neurologist. I do not have an application with a paediatric neurologist's support. If I had one, without changing any law, we can make that available through the current system. I believe, however, that we should introduce the compassionate access programme but let me be very clear on that. The compassionate access programme as cited in the HPRA report still talks about the need for a consultant. What I ask all Deputies in the House to do is work with me through the Oireachtas health committee to bring forward this issue as quickly as possible. I wrote to the Oireachtas health committee yesterday. I see no reason why the Oireachtas health committee could not have the HPRA in before it as a matter of urgency to try to progress this issue. I will be happy to meet with the representatives of each of the political groupings in this House to see how we can progress it.

Can the Minister assist with access to that consultant?

I want to raise with the Taoiseach the issue of the assisted human reproduction Bill. He may have seen the stories of surrogate parents reported in The Irish Times over the weekend. It is a reality of modern Ireland that parents are pursuing this option.

In January of 2016, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, commenced large portions of the Children and Family Relationships Act, which was passed in April 2015. However, Parts 2 and 3 of the Act that deal with donor assisted human reproduction still have not been commenced nearly two years after the Bill was passed by these Houses. Can the Taoiseach advise the House when those sections will be commenced? As he knows, cases have been litigated to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice said that this was a matter for the Legislature to deal with. We have passed law but it has not been commenced. Can the Taoiseach also indicate when the assisted human reproduction Bill will be published? It has been promised for some considerable time.

The heads of the assisted human reproduction Bill are expected before Cabinet this month. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to give the Deputy a written update on the developments in respect of the issue he mentioned.

The Taoiseach was asked this question earlier but there has been a development since then. The confidence and supply agreement states that the Government will facilitate the passage of legislation for the implementation of the recommendations in regard to domestic water charges. Deputy Cowen from Fianna Fáil is out on the plinth saying that if the Government does not agree to implement the legislation needed following the recommendation of the committee and of the Dáil, there will be an election. The Taoiseach will still be the leader. I do not know what the people sitting beside him think about that.

Are we into an election situation now because of the refusal of key people in Fine Gael to implement what was a democratic mandate that they were given, whether they like it or not, by the electorate, which is that most of the people in the Dáil were elected on a platform of being against water charges? It looks like a few stubborn heads over there are refusing to implement it. I would not fancy my chances running a general election campaign on water charges if I were Fine Gael with the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, still as leader.

The agreement says what it says, which is that the Government will facilitate the passage of legislation. We also have an agreement in respect of the support of the major Opposition party in passing the budget, which is facilitating the budget without writing it. As I stated earlier, I would prefer to let the committee do its work and let it give its views on the findings of the commission. The agreement also states the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties reserve their right to adopt different positions regarding any consequential legislation or resolutions being debated by the Oireachtas. This is what the agreement states and I am quite happy to allow the committee to do the work for which we established it. It allows for different points of view. Let us wait and see what recommendations it brings forward.

A commitment was made in the programme for Government to review the closure of Garda stations, and as part of the review there is a clear commitment to launch a pilot scheme to reopen six Garda stations, and it states this would be initiated within two months. That was ten months ago.

Since the closure in my constituency of Stepaside Garda station in 2012 the community lives in constant fear, with some residents having been the victims of burglary not just once or twice, but on three occasions. The community is living in hope its station will be identified as one of the six to be reopened. This is why over the past year I have submitted a number of questions to the Minister for Justice and Equality, the most recent being last week, seeking clarity as to when the six stations will be identified, but there is still no clarity or no date given. In the Minister's most recent reply to me last week, she stated she has not received a report on any aspect of this matter from the Garda authorities. Frankly, this admission from the Minister is unacceptable. I ask the Taoiseach to seek this report and shed some light on when the announcement will be made and demand an explanation for the delay and paralysis. At the very least, will he insist on a definite timeline for same?

I assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Ross, and Deputy Madigan, along with Deputy Martin, have been very consistent and persistent-----

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is persistent? That is a bit of an anomaly.

-----about one Garda station in the country, which is Stepaside.

Will it be one of the six?

As a result of the Deputy raising it here, I undertake to speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality to see what progress has been made on the report from the Garda Commissioner. The programme for Government is clear and it will be followed through.

In the programme for Government with regard to the data-sharing and governance Bill, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's mission statement is to serve the country's people and the Government by delivering well managed and well targeted public spending through modernised, effective and accountable public services. In light of this, will the Taoiseach clarify why, when I asked the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to provide me with details of all moneys provided by the State since 2006 towards the development, design and delivery of a national paediatric hospital, he declined the question and I could not go through the Ceann Comhairle? Is this the new politics to which the programme for Government aspires, that we cannot get an answer from the line Minister in the House on a very important issue? We speak about sick children and the need for transparency and the need to stop this runaway train, which has gone from €404 million to almost €1 billion without fit-out or IT.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, will answer Deputy McGrath directly.

Pass the parcel, is it?

He will answer completely and comprehensively.

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is the man who keeps charge of all public expenditure.

I am happy to respond. With regard to the legislation on data sharing-----

Collective government.

It is indeed, Deputy Howlin. The legislation on data sharing is being drafted.

We are in contact with the relevant Oireachtas committee to see if we can secure the time for prelegislative scrutiny of the second matter Deputy Mattie McGrath raised, regarding the national children's hospital. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and I are committed to the delivery of that project.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is commenting on figures that he has not seen.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, will prepare a proposal, on which my own Department will engage, and when we have concluded an analysis of value for money and of what is the right thing for children in our country for the next 50 years, a proposal will be taken to Cabinet at which a decision will be made.

Baineann mo cheist le cúrsaí mheabharshláinte agus an polasaí agus fís A Vision for Change, 2006 go dtí 2016. Mar a léiríonn an tréimhse ama, tháinig sé chun deiridh breis is bliain ó shin. Go mion minic sa Dáil ó shin, tá sé geallta agus deimhnithe go bhfuil athbhreithniú ar siúl. An freagra deireanach a fuair mé ar cheist a cuireadh i mí Feabhra ná go raibh an t-athbhreithniú nua le foilsiú ag deireadh mhí Feabhra. Cá bhfuil sé? Táimid i mí an Mhárta anois, breis is bliain tar éis gur cuireadh stop leis an bhfís iontach sin nár cuireadh i bhfeidhm. Cá bhfuil an t-athbhreithniú?

Tá an tAire Stáit, Teachta Helen Mac an tSaoi, ag déanamh an-obair ar an achoimre seo. Cuirfidh mé scéal chuig an Teachta faoi cé chomh fada is atá sí tagtha leis an achoimre sin. Tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé i bhfad uainn sula bhfoilseofar an fhís nua.

When is the Companies (Accounting) Bill 2016 due to come before the Houses? The Bill seeks to resolve anomalies in the Companies Act 2014 and would thus reduce the compliance burden and costs for SMEs. It is pretty urgent and the non-passage of the Bill would have serious consequences for our indigenous SMEs.

It is on Report Stage and this is expected to be taken in the week of 24 March.

What is the status of the affordable childcare scheme Bill?

We have agreed that Bill and prelegislative scrutiny took place in February. We are moving ahead with it.

In the programme for Government there was a promise that farmers who were struggling to survive would get assistance. A loan scheme was rolled out by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in which banks would give loans at low interest rates to farmers who were under financial pressure. This scheme is not working. To avail of the scheme one must be in the black and a good customer of a bank. The people it was supposed to help, who are in trouble and cannot pay off their loans, will not get the loan at the cheap interest rate because they do not meet the requirements of the banks. I ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to intervene because many farmers are in serious financial trouble. The loan scheme was supposed to help them but it is not working.

The Minister made loans available under the scheme at 2.9%, with flexibility to help farmers in different sectors. We are aware of the loss in value of €500 million in six months because of currency fluctuations in the United Kingdom but I understand the scheme is working reasonably well. I do not know the details of the financial circumstances of the farmers to whom Deputy Healy-Rae refers, or whether they have been in difficult circumstances for some time. The weather, volatility in the market and currency fluctuations have impacted on different sectors, be they tillage, manufacturing, beef or dairy. If the Deputy wishes to send to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine some examples of where farmers were refused on the basis of the conditions of the scheme, I am sure he would be happy to assess them and look at the flexibility of the scheme.

It was not intended as a grant to farmers but as an opportunity to get them through a difficult period. It was a package for that. That is what it was about.

The programme for Government contains various commitments for investment in our health services. At the weekend, there were announcements about Clonmel Hospital. The crisis there, including the shortage of acute beds in County Tipperary, has been well documented. We were told that the hospital will be equipped with pre-fabs to cater for the crisis situation. It is a totally inadequate response. Where will these pre-fabs be sourced from? What is the timeframe envisaged for their use, instead of the essential infrastructure that is needed in Clonmel Hospital?

I will ask the Minister for Health to deal with that question.

As Deputy Cahill knows from my visit with him to Clonmel and Cashel, the HSE has now put in place a national framework for the provision of temporary alternative accommodation. This is just one of a range of measures. We know we need additional capacity in our health service, but it will take time to extend our hospitals. It is a question of what we can do in the short term to provide additional bed capacity and also more space to afford dignity to patients and staff which, quite frankly, they do not currently have in Clonmel. I am eager to progress with temporary accommodation in Clonmel. I will arrange a briefing for all the Tipperary Oireachtas Members so that everybody can be up to speed on that. The national framework is now in place, however, and I expect the HSE to get on with it.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a new Atlantic economic corridor with the aim of providing more balanced regional development in the west. On that basis, will the Taoiseach please advise the House on progress in developing this corridor? Can he also advise how this plan aims to bring infrastructure, multinational investment, jobs and wealth to local communities in areas like the constituency I represent in Sligo-Leitrim, as well as south Donegal and west Cavan?

This is a valid point. First, the Government is currently putting in place an analysis of the capital review programme. Second, the Government will follow that with the efforts we are making to provide alternative funding for many major pieces of infrastructure, for instance, in dealing with the European Investment Bank. Third, the Government has put together a programme for achieving the potential of rural Ireland, which draws together various programmes, including the Common Agricultural Policy.

Fourth, the Government is now in a consultation process looking at Ireland 20 years hence. There will be 1 million extra people and we will have a requirement for 500,000 houses and half a million extra jobs. Schools, hospitals and other infrastructure will also have to be provided.

The first meeting of the Atlantic economic corridor task force takes place on Monday, 6 March. There is an opportunity to tie all of these elements together so that regions and areas can draw from existing opportunities for their own development.

The programme for Government recommends the establishment of a new court to handle mortgage arrears and other personal insolvency claims sensitively and expeditiously. It goes on to state that it would impose solutions, including those recommended by the new service. That was a year ago, yet four repossessions are happening every day. The situation has got out of control and people are losing their homes. They are being forced to surrender their homes voluntarily because they do not have enough support to take on the banks.

The Taoiseach may talk about Abhaile and other services, but as regards that specific commitment in the programme for Government, when will a dedicated new court be established? Is legislation being drafted and, if so, will we see it in the House this year? I am not talking about the Minister's answer yesterday which mentioned a repossessions court. The commitment is not about a court to fast-track repossessions, it is for a dedicated new court that can sensitively and expeditiously handle mortgage arrears. Will this commitment ever be delivered by the Government?

Yes, it will be delivered and work is proceeding on that legislation. The Attorney General's office advised about a number of difficulties with certain elements of it, but work is proceeding on it. I am glad the Deputy mentioned Abhaile. The other changes that have been brought about are helpful to people in mortgage distress.

To answer the Deputy's question directly, the work on the provision of a court specifically dealing with this is under way. They are dealing with some of the observations that have been made.

The programme for Government makes a commitment to increase education spend by €500 million by 2021, including the recruitment of teachers. This week we have heard reports that ASTI teachers potentially face forced redundancies. I would like to know how the prospect of these ASTI teachers facing redundancy fits in with the programme for Government commitment to increase teacher numbers. There seems to be a complete contradiction there. I would like the Taoiseach to make a commitment that no teacher, whether in the ASTI or any other union, will be forced into taking redundancy or forced into that dreadful situation.

The Government and the Department have been very clear about this. The Government wants to works with the ASTI to provide proper education for thousands of students. Government is not in the business of forcing redundancy. Government wants to continue to work with the ASTI and the other teacher unions.

The programme for Government clearly states that its ambition is to create 135,000 jobs outside Dublin. That is very ambitious but it is good. The figures released last week, however, clearly show that there is a huge fall in our exports to Britain, €500 million. That has happened since Brexit. More alarmingly, all that fall is in the food and drinks sector. How are we going to protect those jobs? Jobs are already gone in the mushroom industry and many other smaller food outlets that export to Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England are under serious pressure. We need some type of support from the Government. When will that be forthcoming?

Deputy Eugene Murphy should realise that the figures produced yesterday are the best in nine years. Unemployment is under 6.6% down from 15.2% and the deficit is to be eliminated next year. This is an astonishing performance based on the sacrifices and commitments made by so many people.

The challenge of Brexit.

It is also true to say every sector and every region outside Dublin has shown increased growth in jobs in the last 12 months. The evidence is there before our eyes. Clearly there are challenges in respect of Brexit. We are down €500 million in value in the agrifood sector in six months. That is because of currency fluctuations but firms are managing and beginning to cope with this. Government has considered a range of options to help put together packages that will work with individual companies that operate in different sectors. It is not all about having a pot of money to help company X or company Y. There may be individual circumstances that are different in each case.

They are in trouble.

The commitment stands. There will be 135,000 jobs outside the main Dublin region. Clearly the impact of that action plan is bearing fruit because every region is growing in employment.

We need to protect ourselves.

In the programme for Government there is a commitment to the agrifood sector. Much of that is around Bord Bia, the issue of properly resourcing it and making sure we have proper marketing of our produce, particularly in the context of Brexit which was mentioned by the previous questioner. Yesterday and in the week ending 19 February, the average price for R3 grade heifers in Ireland was 384 cent per kilo. The EU average was 382 cent per kilo.

Deputy, we cannot get into the price of cattle.

It is two cent per kilo above the average in Europe, yet we in Ireland are supposed to have the cream of the crop. We have the best agricultural sector in the world. We have free roaming cattle, grass fed cattle and the family farm, yet we find we are just about or, at times, below average in the price we receive for our produce.

The Deputy is dead right.

We need to ensure we are marketing our cattle in line with the new model of marketing our beef and our meat exports across the world.

The Deputy should table a Topical Issue on the matter.

Are we going to resource Bord Bia and our marketing people across Ireland to make sure that happens? Brexit is going to destroy our farming industry if we do not do something about it.

Deputy Kenny, please. It is not relevant to the Order of Business.

It certainly is relevant.

It is not. I will determine what is relevant. The Deputy will resume his seat. It is not relevant.

This is relevant to pages 59 and 64 of the programme for Government. Deputy Micheál Martin raised the issue of Orkambi during Leaders' Questions. I raised it two weeks ago and again yesterday. The Taoiseach made fun of, giggled over and made comparisons with comments of a derogatory nature by other Deputies.

As of 15 minutes ago, the office of the Minister, the HSE or the Department of Health had not made contact with Vertex since 3 February 2017.

The Taoiseach was correct yesterday when he said the Minister had arranged a meeting with the people associated with the cystic fibrosis campaign on Monday. The essence of that meeting was that the Minister asked them to cancel today's protest. As we speak, those people are assembling outside of the building. The clear message is that they are not going to go away.

Despite waffle about protracted and detailed contractual negotiations, Vertex confirmed to me that the last contact it had was on 3 February. We are dealing with children's health and, in effect, their lives. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Harris, are both gentlemen outside the ring. It is time they manned up, told people the truth and had the decency to tell them what is going on.

I wonder what Deputy MacSharry would say to Vertex. If he has all the answers perhaps he could provide it with a solution to this problem. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to deal with the Deputy's specific query.

With respect to the Taoiseach, in his wisdom he did not make me Minister for Health. If he had, we would not be waiting around for six months to get answers.

Deputy MacSharry, resume your seat.

Perhaps Deputy MacSharry is jealous of his leader making some headway because he had accurate information during Leaders' Questions today. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to deal with Deputy MacSharry's specific query.

No contact has been made since February.

I recognise Deputy MacSharry's genuine interest in this matter, but I would recommend that it is best that Deputies in his company are not passing on messages from Vertex. His interests are the same as mine in making the drug available.

The Minister does not seem to be talking to the company. Some of us have to.

It is the same information as that we received in response to a parliamentary question.

The full and final offer that Vertex put on the table a number of months ago is now a hell of a lot better as a result of the efforts undertaken by the HSE and the people who have the legal power to negotiate. I am going to do something that the House has never done before, namely, make sure that whoever is the Minister for Health in the future does not find himself or herself sitting around another table to negotiate prices for the next cystic fibrosis drug. We need to future proof cystic fibrosis drugs for the next generation. It will take a few more weeks. We will get things done in the next few weeks and are in the final stages of commercial and contractual arrangements.

Will it be one week, two weeks or 52 weeks?