Questions on Promised Legislation

Leaders' Questions have run over time by 12 minutes. We have 18 Deputies who have already indicated. The provisions are for a one-minute question and a one-minute answer.

I commend the Taoiseach on the Joycean stream of consciousness we were just privileged to witness.

There have been numerous issues with new drug technologies and medicines coming on stream. We have had one row after another. One of the issues is the lack of ring-fenced funding to enable decisions to be taken with one eye on the current health budget. The most recent case concerns malignant melanoma, for example.

New technology has developed a combination drug made of nivolumab and ipilimumab. This combination has had a dramatic impact on lengthening the lifespan of people with malignant melanoma. Despite this, along with Portugal, we are the only country in the European Union that has not made it available for financial recoupment for patients. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in England has worked with remarkable speed to approve this combination drug. There are approximately 150 people per year with progressive melanoma.

Your time is up, Deputy.

This would have a dramatic impact on their lifespan. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether a provision could be put in place under the health (miscellaneous provisions) Bill to provide a mechanism to deal with this more effectively than what we are currently doing?

I will have a look at that. Malignant melanoma is a horrible ailment when it strikes people. The point Deputy Martin makes is one that will be considered. I will come back to him on that.

I begin by commending you, a Cheann Comhairle, and your office on facilitating the planting of the tree of hope on the lawn at Teach Laighean. I also thank Noeleen Fulham and her group as well as Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, who initiated the project here. It was a simple but uplifting event.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about the Government commitment to review legislation relating to elder abuse. Earlier this week, a Red C poll on behalf of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, found that 63% of people have endured poor provision of health and social services. HIQA's 2016 report, published last month, stated that services are still not adequately providing protection for citizens from harm or abuse. The report recommended new legislation that would enshrine adult safeguarding in law and acknowledge the State's responsibility to protect those who may be at risk.

Two years ago, I urged the Taoiseach to establish a public inquiry into care provision in homes for citizens with intellectual disabilities, including elders. The Taoiseach refused to do that. Now, on foot of these two reports, when will the Taoiseach introduce legislation to safeguard vulnerable adults?

A great deal of activity is going on all the time on this. I do not have the detailed information that Deputy Adams has requested before me in respect of the particular Act, but I will respond to him.

The Taoiseach answered a number of questions from leaders this morning relating to rather disquieting revelations in respect of funds in Templemore. During the Taoiseach's replies, he said that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality would make herself available to answer questions. I do not agree with the Taoiseach's view that this should be left to a committee of the House alone. This is a matter for the full House because little is more important than public confidence in policing in this country.

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Tánaiste will make herself available this afternoon to make a statement and answer questions from Members on a matter of fundamental importance?

That is not for me to direct, as Deputy Howlin is well aware. There are opportunities for Deputies in the House to table questions. If they are approved by the Ceann Comhairle, then that can happen.

The Tánaiste does not have all the details. The Tánaiste referred the report that she got to the Policing Authority. The report from Mr. Barrett is now before the Committee of Public Accounts. It will remain the position that the Tánaiste can report factually on the information she has, but that is not the conclusion. We should not be jumping to conclusions here, as Deputy Howlin is well aware. At the end of the day, the Committee of Public Accounts should be allowed to do its job. There are competent people on that committee and they will follow right through.

Will the Tánaiste come to the House?

The Tánaiste has no difficulty in answering questions, but she cannot give the Deputy the outcome of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts.

We will not ask for that.

It is not for me to direct any Minister to come to the House on any day. Deputy Howlin has the right, as a Deputy, to put a question before the House or to the Ceann Comhairle in this regard, as he is well aware given his long years of experience.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about proposed legislation on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, because a number of people have raised this issue numerous times since I have been here. From looking at the statistics it is almost a national embarrassment. A total of 156 countries have ratified the convention. Ireland signed the convention in 2006 but it is the only country in the EU not to have ratified it.

People are asking, as are many Deputies, why Ireland has not ratified it. I know this is being dealt with on Committee Stage under the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill but surely the convention can be ratified. From my experience here, I have learned that democracy works extremely slowly. Surely we have to give the 300,000 people with disabilities who are waiting for the convention to be ratified an answer before the summer recess.

I explained this before. It is possible to ratify the convention, but then we have to introduce the legislation. We have always taken the view to go the other way, which is to put the legislation in place first and then ratify the convention, as it means something. It was necessary to go through a suite of legislation and quite a number of Bills were dealt with. As the Deputy pointed out, this Bill, which is part of the suite that is being processed, is on Committee Stage. To my recollection, there is a number of amendments to others that must be gone through. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is adamant about this and has raised it at Cabinet on numerous occasions. However, this is a combination of the parliamentary office, the nature of the business of the House and the rights of Deputies to discuss these things at committees and through-----

This could go on forever.

The answer to the Deputy's question is that we have not ratified the convention because we want to put the legislation through first-----

It was 11 years ago.

-----rather than do what other countries do, which is to ratify it and state that they have ratified it but to have no legislation to back it up.

On the residential institutions statutory fund and Caranua, can the situation relating to Caranua's moving into new premises and paying rent out of a fund that is meant for vulnerable people be clarified? If it is so, has the Minister given his permission, pursuant to section 7(7) of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act, and when did the Minister give it?

I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to deal with the question.

The Caranua board has certain discretion as to how it deploys. It is an independent board with an independent chair. It has discretion in that area. I will revert to the Deputy to get her detailed information.

The question was if the Minister had given permission.

Last week I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of armed gardaí that are at our airports. I could not be told. Our airports are not secure. We are no exception to terrorist attacks at our airports. Why do we not have more armed gardaí at our airports? Newspaper reports has the number at fewer than four. I urge the Taoiseach to call in the Defence Forces to protect our airports.

I had a briefing recently with the Garda Commissioner and the national security group. These matters are constantly monitored. It is not information that should be given out publicly. Let me assure the Deputy that the Garda is vigilant in this matter. The Deputy will note the action taken in the past few days to deal with claims of activities of certain people. He will also be aware that the Government provided funds and facilities for special armed units of the Garda to deal with activities, if that be so, of particular groups. This matter is under constant review. Airport police are employed in airports and the Garda is in constant touch about keeping our airports secure. The Deputy will appreciate that, unfortunately and tragically, what happened in France, Paris, Belgium and Berlin were not in all cases occasions brought about by armed terrorists. Conventional vehicles were used to terrorise people, most recently again in Sweden. This is a case of communities being vigilant and our Garda being vigilant, which it is.

When will the mortgage special court Bill, which is also named the mortgage arrears Bill, see the light of day? This was a central commitment in the programme for Government more than a year ago. We have startling data over the period of this Government and the last Government. Since 2013, 5,306 family homes were repossessed through court orders or voluntary surrenders.

There have been 28,917 family homes subject to court cases. We see today that more than 33,000 households are in excess of two years in arrears, and the amount by which they are in arrears is increasing. Where will this special mortgage court take place? When will the heads of the Bill be published? When will the mortgage arrears Bill be published, or is this just another of the Government's false promises last year?

It is not a false promise, but I cannot give Deputy Doherty a date as to when the court will be set up. The legal advice is that there may be some constitutional difficulties with the way it has been proposed. I will advise Deputy Doherty on the progress being made to deal with the matter.

Under the programme for Government, the Government committed to protecting farming income, yet the tillage farmers in west Cork and other areas throughout the country are still awaiting their compensation. Will the Taoiseach give me a date as to when these farmers will receive said compensation?

I am not aware of the number of farmers in west Cork who are out of pocket, nor am I aware of what the problem is. Is it on the application side or the delivery side from the Department? If Deputy Murphy O'Mahony would like to give me the details, we could have them followed up for her. In any event, I will have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine respond to her.

The motion was passed.

The motion was passed in the Dáil.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to tackle education in disadvantaged areas, DEIS schools and applications for DEIS status. I tabled a parliamentary question on this matter for written answer on 3 May. The answer from the Minister tells the schools involved that they are not entitled to the information as to why they did not qualify for DEIS status. In a town like Tipperary, which has substantial unemployment and considerable disadvantage, the least we can expect from the Department of Education and Skills is detailed reasons these schools did not qualify for DEIS status. I hope the Minister will come forward with a more detailed reason and explanation for the schools involved as to why they did not qualify.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to respond to Deputy Cahill.

I assure the Deputy that the criteria used in the selection of schools for DEIS status have been fully published. We were able to include 79 new schools and 30 upgrades in the scheme. Of course, there are many disadvantaged schools that fall outside the criteria. If in future we have more resources, we will of course extend the scheme. I will communicate directly with all schools that sought a verification to clarify the position. Later in the summer, as soon as the 2016 results from the census for small areas are produced, we will review the outcome based on the most up-to-date data. I assure the Deputy that schools will be fully informed of the criteria used and the approach we have taken.

Rents in Louth have increased by over 60% since 2012 and jumped a further 4.3% in the first quarter of this year. County Louth has seen the highest percentage increase in rents in the State. The Taoiseach's indifference and lack of action on this is causing untold financial misery and uncertainty and is compounding the homelessness crisis. I have raised this issue with the Taoiseach several times before, so I ask him not to give me his usual spiel in response because it is clearly not working. What plans has the Government set in place to deal immediately with this crisis, which is now at its highest level ever?

I do not accept at all the Deputy's charge of indifference or lack of action. There has never been more action, more focus or more priority attached to the housing problem. The real issue is supply. I read out for Deputy Adams the other day a list of sites in County Louth where construction is under way or about to get under way. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney-----

Rents, Taoiseach.

-----has made an issue specifically of rent and rent increases. The figures published show a decline in the rate of increase in rents in the Dublin area. Yes, in the greater Dublin area there has been an increase. It is all about supply, though, which is why more money than ever before-----

What about the 50,000 empty houses?

-----more incentive than ever before, more opportunity for local authorities and private developers, the purchase of sites, the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and the rent pressure zones-----

The HAP scheme is a disaster.

The HAP scheme is not working.

-----were all introduced after discussion here. However, the real problem is the supply of houses. I remind Deputy Munster again that in the so-called boom years we were building 90,000 houses a year, a rate of building that collapsed to fewer than 9,000 per year.

That must be rebuilt, which does not happen overnight.

The programme for Government includes an entire section on the rights of local communities when energy pylons are to be imposed on them, yet the terms of reference for the independent review of the North-South interconnector published on Monday do not include any reference, as per the Fianna Fáil Party motion adopted by all sides, to the devaluation of property or land in counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, the impact on tourism and health or a realistic study being done on this issue. The North East Pylon Pressure Group contacted me this morning and issued a statement on what it describes the "terms of preference" as an "irresponsible charade". Does the Cabinet stand over this charade? Can the section in respect of the impact on landscape, tourism and health be included in the terms of reference?

This is not about legislation but about terms of reference. The North East Pylon Pressure Group has been around for some time and I have met members of the group over the years. This is a matter Deputy Eamon Ryan spoke about. I will have the Minister look at the request Deputy Cassells makes regarding the terms of reference.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to reduce carbon emissions, particularly in respect of diesel. Will the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport and Finance carry out an urgent review of variations in diesel prices at the pumps, which, despite the same company supplying the fuel, can be as much as €10 per fill? There is also a concern, which is not related to diesel laundering, that the integrity of the fuel process may be compromised in terms of the supply of fuel to customers. I ask that the Minister for Finance and Revenue Commissioners examine this matter.

I am not sure whether the Deputy is referring to the quality of diesel or interference with diesel, which is a serious issue that has been under investigation for many years. I will have the Minister reflect on the Deputy's comments. Motorists and consumers have at their disposal instantaneous communications about where cheaper prices apply at filling stations. I will have the Minister respond to the Deputy on the question he asked.

The programme for Government refers to access to breakthrough and expensive medicines. While I acknowledge the Minister for Health signed the Valletta declaration with other countries yesterday, my specific question relates to a meeting on 18 May of the powers that be in the Health Service Executive who will decide on the availability of Translarna, a breakthrough drug for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Only two children in Ireland, both of whom are extremely ill, are eligible for this drug. Substantial delays have occurred in the highly obscure process operated between the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics and the drugs company in question. Having taken a decision on this matter in September 2016, the HSE did not inform the company of that decision until January 2017, despite a Government commitment, through the IPHA - Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association - framework agreement, to inform companies of decisions within 14 days. I ask the Taoiseach to use his good offices to make contact with the powers that be in the HSE in order that the two families in question, one of whom lives in his constituency, are not made to wait beyond 18 May for a decision on the availability of this important medicine.

I will have a discussion with the Minister for Health on the matter raised by Deputy MacSharry.

I want to know the basis for the previous and current Governments' dislike of Leader companies. Rural areas have not had a Leader programme since 2013. It takes 18 stages to get a programme going and it is clear we will not have one in place until 2018. Five years without a Leader programme is not good enough. Rural Ireland is being hurt again. I am glad the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, is here as perhaps she will explain what is wrong and why the Government dislikes Leader companies and, likewise, people in rural Ireland.

The Minister is well able to answer the Deputy's question so I will ask her to do so.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The Leader programme is up and running in all areas and €40 million has been allocated towards it in my budget this year. I have arranged a meeting for next week with the CEOs of all of the Leader companies as well as various local action groups and local community development committees. I will meet the CEOs in order that they can outline the issues, which I will then address.

There is no-----

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has continued his habit of vacating the Chamber before questions on promised legislation are taken. It may be because he does not want to account for his inaction on the matter raised by Deputy Murphy O'Mahony, namely, the Dáil's vote on introducing a tillage fund. The Taoiseach indicated that, if we gave him details, he might follow up with the Minister. I will remind the Taoiseach of the details. A Private Members' motion passed by the Dáil on 19 January sought a fund for approximately 250 tillage farmers who had been affected by weather events and lost the majority of their crops. The cost would be approximately €4 million. The Department has the spare capacity to follow through on that. Unfortunately, the Minister has shown a lack of will. He claims that it is down to the process. On the one hand, he hopes that we will have confidence in his ability to deal with the vast challenges posed by Brexit but, on the other, he cannot deal with the challenge of putting together a tillage fund. Will the Government deliver on the will of the Dáil and put that fund in place or will it continue kicking the issue to touch and ignoring it?

I am sorry. I may have misunderstood the first question, Deputy. I will follow that up with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of the vote in the Dáil and the proposition to put together a tillage fund for those who are so affected.

The programme for Government has committed to the full implementation of the national maternity strategy, yet the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, seems confused about something as basic as the current waiting times for the payment of maternity benefit. In a reply to a parliamentary question four weeks ago, he stated that the average waiting time was 17.7 weeks. This morning on the radio, however, he stated that it was between four and six weeks. Some clarity is necessary. Given that the Minister referred to 17.7 weeks only a few weeks ago, why is he only now committing to taking on additional staff and providing overtime to clear these unsatisfactory delays? He seems to be zen about when the Taoiseach will be departing and the latter's long goodbye, but he is also zen about maternity benefits.

This might be more suitable as a Topical Issue.

Advising expectant mothers to sign on for the supplementary welfare allowance is totally unacceptable. Why is there any delay and when will the additional staff be taken on to deal with these unsatisfactory delays?

Deputy Ó Laoghaire, on the same issue.

Approximately 3,000 women are waiting on these payments. It is a time in people's lives when there are considerable extra costs. These women and their families are effectively being left without income. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has pointed to supplementary welfare and exceptional needs payments. In reality, though, and as he knows well, a great deal of these women and families will not qualify for those payments.

Will the Taoiseach commit to taking on the additional staff and directing community welfare officers to exercise additional discretion and give wider latitude in terms of those women who are affected by this unacceptable delay?

I thank the Deputy but I suggest that he table a Topical Issue. Does the Taoiseach wish to comment?

Are they being defrauded by the Department of Social Protection?

I agree with the Ceann Comhairle. Obviously, if there is a scheme in place, people should not be expected to have to wait. I am quite sure that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is acutely aware of this now and will deal with the matter. Obviously, he did introduce the paternity benefits. This is always a time, by and large in the vast majority of cases, of great excitement in a family home. Obviously, to have a scheme, one would expect it to work, so I will discuss that with the Minister and make sure that the facilities are there to pay mothers quickly in respect of their newly-born children.

My colleague, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, raised the issue of the savage attack on that wonderful family in Tipperary. I wish to ask about the bail legislation and the proposals on tagging. These criminals - roving rogues and scurrilous scumbags - have to be tagged.

I have seen an experiment done in England where there was tagging of badgers. It is amazing what can be done when there is tagging and the amount of crime that can be cut by watching on a monitor. They have to be tagged and we have to stop the charade of free legal aid happening once, twice and even ten times. It is just a money machine and the barristers will have to answer for it too. It is not good enough. There was an horrific attack in south Tipperary and in some cases some of them had 80 previous convictions and were out on bail. It is a joke. We need to tackle those laws.

The first thing that has to happen is that, as I hope, these burglars are apprehended and brought before the court. As the Deputy is aware, the facility exists in law at the moment to provide for tagging but, obviously, the punishment meted out for this particularly savage, aggressive burglary is one for the judge and the court to decide.

Why are they not tagged?

I hope everybody co-operates and that gardaí can apprehend them as quickly as possible and bring them before the court where justice can be meted out.

The programme for Government at page 45 references the development of a nationwide greenway network, to which we have already heard reference today. We are well aware of the benefits of tourism, leisure and recreation to local communities. While the Wild Atlantic Way is rightly hailed as highly successful, we cannot forget about Ireland's Ancient East. In particular, I am concerned with the greenways in Kildare, in particular the stretch from Naas, Sallins, Ardclough and on into Dublin city. This is a project that was hailed four to five years ago but it has yet to advance. There seems to be interminable interagency dialogue between the National Transport Authority, NTA, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the county council to an extent and Waterways Ireland, but it has not progressed. I was recently told in correspondence that the Grand Canal was not a priority. Could the office of the Taoiseach or the Government inject some impetus into this project and get the agencies to engage with each other and advance this project, which is very important for tourism and recreation in County Kildare?

These are a wonderful success but it has been a bit haphazard. Money has been allocated to some schemes that have not been able to be moved because of objections and so on. Yesterday evening, I had a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with rural affairs and development. One of the decisions is that we should co-ordinate under the different Ministries a small sub-committee to put together the map of where these can apply, be they blueways, greenways, old railway lines, Coillte trails or other areas, so money that is allocated can be spent on projects that are ready to go. I look forward to the one on the Grand Canal and I thought it would have been finished by now. I think sections of it have been paved and may be suitable for walking but not yet for cycling. Over a period of five to ten years, we will have the entire country, North and South, as a brilliant opportunity for people to come and walk or run, or use buggies and bicycles. I expect that the co-ordination of the three Ministries should provide a real focus on getting money spent where we can, while hoping to deal with the problems that exist in other cases.

The Taoiseach promised there would be legislation in regard to the Citizens' Assembly and to abortion, yet the committee that was meant to be established has not yet been convened. When will it be finalised? It seems the delay is that the Taoiseach's party and potentially Fianna Fáil cannot find enough Deputies to fill their allocation. If the two big parties are not interested, could they allocate the spaces to those parties that have an interest, even an intense interest, and would like to take extra spaces?

They would take an extra space.

This is unbelievable. The names were meant to be given in before Easter. It seems to me that parties that have not done that should forfeit their places. Why should they be allowed on the committee if they did not meet the deadline? As the Taoiseach knows, given the Citizens' Assembly was his brainchild, the assembly reported weeks ago. This committee should have been convened and everyone is asking why it has not been. It seems there is now a row in the Seanad that is further delaying it. The delay seems to be that the two big parties cannot find a Deputy with an interest. We have an interest, if they want to give us their spaces.

The formation of that committee is not a matter for the Taoiseach but a matter for the House through the Business Committee. Does the Taoiseach want to comment?

Deputy Coppinger can make her suggestion but it will not be accepted. I expect that this committee will be formed next week. I remind the Deputy that the Citizen's Assembly completed its deliberations but the report has not been furnished and will not be before the end of June. It is important we have the committee in place to receive that report and it can then start its deliberations. Obviously, out of those deliberations, legislation will be required before the Oireachtas in due course. I have no doubt a referendum on whatever is the nature of the question to be asked will have to take place as well.

Page 70 of the programme for Government refers to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Is the Taoiseach aware that, at this moment, no funding has been released by the HSE to the service providers in regard to respite care services for adults and children with disabilities? We are heading into the second week of May but it has not been released. This is not improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Yesterday, for the 23rd time, the case of Ibrahim Halawa was not finished. What is the Government doing to ensure there is EU monitoring of the case? Is the Government looking at other options in terms of an international legal challenge against that treatment of an Irish citizen, for whose health and safety I fear? Are we considering trade sanctions? What new measures is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade going to take to address this disgraceful situation which has seen our citizen not get a fair trial on 23 occasions?

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, but I had my hand up at the very start of proceedings today. Many people who came into the Chamber since have spoken.

With regard to the modern languages-----

Sorry, Deputy. I have listed everybody in the order in which I saw them.

I am sorry if you did not see me.

If it is an issue, you can come and talk to me afterwards.

I cannot believe the Deputy is impugning the-----

I am standing up for my rights as a Member of this House, as I am entitled to do.

The modern languages strategy was first announced in a consultation in 2014. In 2015, a number of fora were held on the publication of the strategy. In 2016 it was announced in the Action Plan for Education that not only would it be published by the end of 2016 but it would begin to be implemented in early 2017. The Minister for Education and Skills announced the foreign languages strategy on 19 April in advance of the TUI conference, where it was the centrepiece of his speech. Then, on 28 April, the Minister quietly acknowledged in his Action Plan for Education report that the modern languages strategy has not been achieved and is not published. When is it going to be published and why did the Minister announce on 19 April that it was in fact published?

In respect of disability and respite care, referred to on page 70 of the programme for Government, I will have the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, respond directly to Deputy Moynihan. Obviously, there is an extensive budget for disability under his remit.

I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to deal with the Halawa case, and the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to deal with the question on modern languages.

I am very concerned about the ongoing delay in having this matter reach a conclusion. The matter was heard in court in Cairo yesterday. Officials from my Department were present, as indeed they were present on each and every occasion on which the case was heard over recent years. I am satisfied, however, that matters are now moving towards a conclusion. The hearing has been returned for next week and I would expect that further progress will be reported at that stage.

Of all the consular cases in my Department, this remains a top priority. I want this citizen home at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, I am concerned as to his health and welfare within the prison and, again, we are keeping a very close eye on the situation there to ensure all medical and welfare assistance is available to him. I am in regular contact with my EU colleagues and I intend raising the issue once again on Monday next with my EU colleagues. Every effort is being made to have influence brought to bear to have this trial brought to a conclusion at the earliest opportunity.

I agree with Deputy Byrne that modernising our approach to languages is certainly a major priority, particularly in the wake of the decision by the British people, whereby we will need to diversify our markets. We have high ambitions in that area. We will publish over the coming months a policy statement to implement those ambitions, and that is at an advanced stage of development.