Questions on Promised Legislation

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to support the development of the agriculture and food sector. Every Deputy supports that aspiration, no more than we support the aspiration to look after everyone who gets up early in the morning, let alone those who cannot find a place to put their heads at night. The latest reports citing farming as the occupation with the highest risks for families is something that cannot be ignored by Government. The findings published by the ESRI earlier this week of the analysis of the 2013 Health and Safety Authority's survey on risk-taking and accidents on Irish farms outline how the fatality rate for farming is nearly ten times that of other occupations in the 2009 to 2015 period. It is a startling figure and one that proves a lot more action is needed. There were 11 fatalities last year alone and 138 people died in farm accidents during the past seven years. Will the Tánaiste confirm to the House that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation have agreed to meet to discuss this issue?

Will the Tánaiste confirm to the House that extra funds will be made available to both Departments to ensure every effort is made to address this issue?

The issue the Deputy raises is a very significant one. The issue of farm safety is a very significant priority for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, who has responsibility for the Health and Safety Authority. Farming is the occupation with the highest risk of fatalities in Ireland with a rate nearly ten times the average across occupations. It is a very serious and disturbing situation. The Health and Safety Authority has primary responsibility for health and safety on farms and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working closely with it. There are a number of ongoing initiatives in the Department.

The programme for Government recognises it is not acceptable for families to live in unsuitable emergency accommodation. If a child presents unaccompanied to a Garda station out of hours, there is a clear statutory responsibility on the Garda to contact the Tusla-funded social worker. When a family with a child presents at the same Garda station, there is no statutory clarity in terms of what the Garda should do. Focus Ireland wrote to the Taoiseach two years ago asking for regulations to be introduced to clarify what the Garda must do in such circumstances. The Taoiseach said it was not necessary. Given the events of this week, will the Tánaiste look again at the issue and come forward with regulations to clarify the legal situation in such circumstances?

Gardaí are very clear about their responsibilities in such a situation. For example, a family turned up in Finglas the other night. Every effort is made to ensure they are made aware of all the services. Contact is made with the appropriate services. In this situation we are talking about housing. The Garda works very closely with all the agencies and will do everything possible to ensure anyone with whom its members come into contact is linked to the appropriate service. If there is any question about the safety of the children of those families, there is very clear law governing it. There are child protection guidelines, emergency out-of-hours services and provision for contacting Tusla. Gardaí are very aware of the law and they work to it so there is no need for extra arrangements.

The programme for Government says, "We will end the use of unsuitable long-term emergency accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs, for homeless families". What we heard about here this morning goes much further than people ending up in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, with 12 families and 30 children being sent to Garda stations. I want to follow up on the vacant homes strategy. Will the Tánaiste or the Minister, Deputy Coveney, give us a date when the strategy will be published? The question was not answered when my party leader raised it today. The Peter McVerry Trust has looked at the situation in Britain where every local authority has a vacant homes officer. The Tánaiste said we do not know why they are vacant but that person's job is to go out and look at vacant homes, find out why they are vacant and bring them back into use. It has been really successful so there are models we can use to get a quick win. There are almost 200,000 empty homes in our country while people are sleeping in parks.

I will ask the Minister to communicate directly with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan on the exact timeframe.

In light of the fact that 12 families, 30 children and a pregnant woman turned up at Garda stations last night, will the Government support the Residential Tenancies (Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) (Amendment) Bill 2016 in about ten minutes' time? If not, what legislation will it bring in? Who in the councils is telling people to go to Garda stations and why? What are gardaí supposed to do? They have enough on their hands. Will the Government issue a direction to stop the practice? The fear of having one's children taken away is probably the biggest fear any parent has. I am addressing the Tánaiste, the Government and the Labour Party. This crisis has been going on for three years. We know it takes time. The Government invokes the housing assistance payment, HAP, yet one of the women who was evicted was in a rental accommodation scheme, RAS, property. The Tánaiste knows RAS. It is the thing the Labour Party and Fine Gael told us was the solution to the housing crisis. Unless there are measures brought in to keep people in their homes and to stop them being evicted as a result of the sale of a property or its occupation by a family member of the owner, this will continue. Will the Government support the Bill in about ten minute's time?

The Deputy should wait and see how that debate goes.

We debated the Bill the other night.

Let me absolutely clear, there is no question of a protocol being in place to refer homeless families to Garda stations. That is not the job of An Garda Síochána.

Why are councils doing it then?

Gardaí obviously deal with homeless people and do everything they can to make sure accommodation is sourced for people who come directly to their attention. Clearly, Garda stations are not the place for any family and the Garda does not have any responsibility for providing accommodation. The issue is being co-ordinated by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive.

Regarding the commitments on health care in the programme for Government, I told the Taoiseach a number of weeks ago that I did not want Kerry University Hospital to be turned into a glorified community hospital. Funding is being cut from the hospital and allocated to the South/South West hospital group where it is swallowed up by hospitals in Cork. Where does this leave us given that recent reports indicate cuts of €5.6 million are being imposed on management at Kerry University Hospital who will have to make significant cuts to staff, services and equipment? This could lead to the closure of beds or entire wards? Patients in the hospital are at severe risk. This is a disgrace. Will the Tánaiste give an assurance that Kerry University Hospital will not be downgraded as a result of a lack of funding?

More than €1 billion in extra funding has been made available to the health service to support hospitals throughout the country and the work that takes place day in and day out. I will ask the Minister for Health to liaise with the Deputy directly on the point he raised regarding Kerry hospital.

What happened on Tuesday night when 30 children did not have anywhere to go or a roof over their heads is a blight on a society. These families ended up in Fairview Park and Mountjoy Square. Imagine having children aged under ten years outside at night looking for a safe place. This is an absolute failure on the part of the Government. Mr. Mike Allen of Focus Ireland stated in a radio interview this morning that 200 of the 1,000 families in emergency accommodation must ring around and self-accommodate every day. They do not know from one day to the next where they will be the following night. What will the Government do about this scandal?

I made absolutely clear that what happened to these families on Tuesday night is completely unacceptable.

It is Government policy.

No, our policy will ensure families will have accommodation and our economic policy will allow the budget to be made available.

Why did the Government oppose our Bill?

Order, please.

No one is saying this is acceptable. We never want to see a family in this situation.

The Government should resign and have a general election now.

Deputy Broughan is out of order.

The amount of contingency emergency accommodation has been doubled overnight in order that further accommodation will be available for families who find themselves in an emergency late at night.

This is the result of the Government's policies.

As I stated, there was capacity last night that was not used. The matter will be monitored very carefully, but of course this case was completely unacceptable.

That is not the point. Some 200 families have to self-accommodate every day.

The Supreme Court this morning upheld an appeal by the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland in respect of who would foot the bill for the collapse of Setanta Insurance. It now looks like the insurance compensation fund, ICF, will have to pay the outstanding claims, of which there are more than 1,600 amounting to more than €90 million. Last June, the Government published a report on the motor insurance compensation framework which recommended that the current 65% cap on ICF payouts be increased to 100%. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that the policyholders caught up in the Setanta collapse will receive 100% compensation in respect of their claims and that the 65% cap will be lifted immediately by way of legislation?

I have raised this issue continually as the drama of Setanta Insurance has unfolded. While people will be relieved that the Supreme Court has made this judgment, it will come as a crushing blow to many motorists who are waiting for payouts in light of the 65% cap to which Deputy Michael McGrath has referred and the upper limit of €825,000 imposed on payouts.

Some families have been left in a situation in which they are no longer mobile and the cost of their claims are far in excess of that. The cap would be cruel. Will the cap of 65% up to a limit of €825,000 be lifted and will the Minister direct the liquidator to begin immediately payouts to and communication with those who have been waiting for many years?

This is more appropriate to a parliamentary question.

The decision that has been delivered by the Supreme Court today in respect of the cases outlined by the Deputies removes the uncertainty that has existed since 2014. That is to be welcomed. The decision clarifies that the payments will be made from the ICF, which is overseen by a High Court judge and the Central Bank, as the Deputies will be aware. The payment of 65% of the amount due from each outstanding third party claim or €825,000, whichever is the lesser, will be arranged as soon as possible. The Department of Finance has been assured that this will be dealt with as a priority matter, given the urgent need to compensate people who have been waiting a long time.

It is likely that a significant proportion of the balance of third party claimants' claims will be met from the proceeds of the distribution of assets on completion of the liquidation process. I assure Deputy Michael McGrath that draft heads of a Bill amending the relevant legislation will be brought to the Government shortly.

Will the cap be lifted?

The legislation will reflect today's Supreme Court judgment and the recently published Department of Finance report on the reform of the ICF, which will ensure that 100% of claims will be covered in future.

Will that apply to Setanta?

Will the Setanta claims be covered under the legislation?

No. We cannot have a second bite of the cherry.

According to a commitment on page 86 of the programme for Government, education "is the key to giving every child an equal opportunity in life." The Holy Family school in Cootehill is a special national school for pupils of four to 18 years of age from the entire Cavan-Monaghan catchment area. It caters for pupils with severe to profound learning difficulties, moderate to multiple learning disabilities or autism. More than 160 children attend the Holy Family school and it is the only facility of its kind in the constituency.

It is more than five weeks since Oireachtas colleagues from all parties and I visited the school to meet parents, staff and the board of management to discuss-----

This is not on promised legislation.

It is on the programme for Government.

The Deputy is stretching it. This is for a parliamentary question or a Topical Issue.

Please, let me finish. The other Deputies and I were appalled to see the conditions at the school. My question is simple and we have discussed it with the Minister - when will work on the school begin?

Will the Minister correspond with the Deputy?

The Deputy tabled a private notice question on this.

On page 48 of the programme for Government, the Government committed to securing the future of our post office network. At a meeting that I held in Kerry last week, as well as at meetings that have been held all over the country by my colleagues, it transpired that, despite all of the talk and promises, nothing had been done. Where is the Kerr report? Where is its implementation plan?

Where is the Minister of State, Deputy Ring?

I call on the Tánaiste to tell me that the Government has finally established which Department and Minister have responsibility for securing the future of our post office network.

I will ask the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to respond.

I am the Minister responsible and my Department is the Department responsible. The formal transfer of that decision will come before the Cabinet in the next couple of weeks. I have been engaged with the company. As the Deputy knows, two reports have been completed by Mr. Bobby Kerr and have fed into the restructuring of the company that is under consideration by the board. Significant restructuring is required to ensure the continued viability of the company. It is building on some of the existing strengths, including the nationwide network that post offices and sub-post offices provide. They will be a key part of the reform of the network.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. My apologies to the nine Deputies whose questions were not reached.