Questions on Promised Legislation

There are reports and newspaper coverage this morning on the upcoming EU budget. I refer in particular to comments by the budget Commissioner, Günther Oettinger on the requirement for cuts in the EU budget as a result of Brexit and also for cuts in the CAP budget or, alternatively, that other finances would be found to plug the hole following the UK leaving the EU.

It is estimated that between 7% and 9% of the CAP will be lost as a result of the United Kingdom leaving the EU. It is crucial from the point of view or rural Ireland and the farming community, where 70% of net incomes are made up from European payments, that we do not see a reduction in that budget. Could the Tánaiste give a commitment that the Government supports maintaining the budget and ensuring there is not a reduction in CAP payments following Brexit?

I assure the Deputy that Ireland continues to regard the maintenance of a strong, effective and well-financed CAP that contributes to public good as a priority into the future. As the Deputy said, Commissioner Oettinger has today published a reflection paper on the future shape of the EU budget. That was to be expected. Reference was made to it in the newspaper article. A co-decided amendment would be required to change the regulations and the figures. I assure the Deputy that Ireland will argue very robustly for a strong CAP budget in any negotiations.

The proposals from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, regarding the creation of a new charging regime for waste collection means that commercial operators will themselves choose which option to take. This gives far too much leeway to private companies and far too little to the consumer. The proposed annual support of €75 to assist those with lifelong medical conditions that cause incontinence is totally insufficient. Regardless of which option is taken by the companies - per-lift or per-kilogram charges, by-weight bands or by-weight allowance charges - people with lifelong or long-term medical conditions that cause incontinence will have more waste and will, therefore, have increased charges imposed on them. This is totally unacceptable and unfair.

Will the Deputy please put his question.

There are, however, no provisions in place for low-income families or lone parents who will not be able to afford any of these additional charges.

Does the Deputy have a question for the Tánaiste?

How will the people who cannot afford these charges be assisted?

More than half of households will be unaffected by the phasing out of flat fees. For those on flat fees, waste collectors will have an alternative usage option in place before the phase-out.

It is about low-income families.

This measure is targeted at helping everybody in the State to make a contribution to ensuring that we protect our environment. These are very important changes and families-----

It is good to do that, but I am talking about low-income families.

-----or households can contact their existing service providers today to find out what their charges are and discover if they will be affected by the new arrangements. The new system will commence in the autumn after the Department has implemented the regulatory changes. The phase-out will be over 12 months. In the meantime, families will be able to see the existing charging options and what news ones are to be offered over the summer. A family will only have to make a decision when their existing flat-rate contract expires between autumn 2017 and autumn 2018. There is plenty of time for people to get in contact, examine the options and go for the most efficient and effective one for themselves. By their own behaviour they can impact the charges that will be before them.

They are at the mercy of private companies.

Last September, I published a Bill to propose the regulation of crisis pregnancy counselling in Ireland. The need for legislation in this regard is clear to all by now. As I have said repeatedly, women in crisis pregnancy situations are being abused by charlatans who lie to them. Those rogue agencies are still operating in this city although they have been condemned by those on all sides in the House. Here we are coming to end of another Dáil terms and no action has been taken to shut the agencies down. I accepted the bona fides of the Minister for Health when he assured me that he was moving to regulate counselling in these areas. At a meeting for International Women's Day, officials from his Department gave the Labour Party a commitment that the statutory instrument to do so would be brought to the House before the summer recess. Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Harris, said that no such commitment had been made and that regulation would not happen before September at the earliest. This is not good enough. The Labour Party did not press its Bill because we were assured that action would be taken. When will action be taken, as promised by the Government and the Minister for Health?

I recognise the work done by Deputy Howlin on this issue. I join him in condemning these services, which have effectively abused women who are pregnant and have given information that is not truthful or objective. The Minister has been working on this. There has been a consultation. On foot of this, the Minister is proceeding with a designation of the two distinct professions of counsellor and psychotherapist under the Act. Each will have its own register under one registration board. This is necessary in order to deal with rogue counsellors or rogue psychotherapists.

When will it happen?

The Minister will be in a position to do that in September.

The Government gave specific commitments in the programme for Government in respect of measures to tackle elder abuse. We have heard many reports and we are all aware of cases. What measures has the Tánaiste taken or where stands the Government regarding the introduction of legislation or the taking of action in respect of elder abuse. This abuse often happens in homes and within families. It is often in the form of financial abuse, but there can be many other types also.

Elder abuse is an issue that needs to be recognised. One of the initiatives that help hugely in recognition of this is, for example, the proper supervision by HIQA of nursing homes. If there is elder abuse in any situation and if anybody is aware of it, then it needs to be reported and action taken by the relevant services. I am not aware that any legislation is planned on it. It is primarily a practice and care issue-----

I have a Bill on it.

-----that people need to recognise and ensure that action is taken to prevent it or interrupt it.

Reference to increased State support for older people is made on page 82 of the programme for Government. During the hustings relating to his party's leadership election, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, published a document on 22 May in which he committed to the restoration of the bereavement grant. Members will recall that this was when he was still Minister for Social Protection. As Minister, he also re-centralised the information section of the Department, with 35 positions being transferred back to Dublin from Sligo. When will the bereavement grant be restored in line with the pre-election commitment of the Taoiseach? What stage is this commitment at? When will the grant be restored? Are staff being recruited for the Sligo office to administer this plan as it was before and can the Tánaiste inform the House in this regard?

I have no doubt that this will be considered in the context of the budget. I pay tribute to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell who recently published a very comprehensive study on the issues relating to bereavement.

A number of weeks ago, the Taoiseach said that the water services (amendment) Bill 2017 would be published at the start of June. July is almost upon us and that has yet to happen. Will the Tánaiste inform the House if it is still the Government's intention to publish the Bill and have it passed before the recess? If it is delayed, will the Tánaiste explain the reasons?

I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with Deputy Ó Broin on that. It is my understanding that the legislation is still being worked on.

In light of the recent exposure around the very poor governance in many of our universities, will the Tánaiste tell the House when the universities (amendment) Bill will be introduced? The purpose of this legislation will be to ensure compliance with Government guidelines on remuneration, allowances, pensions and staffing numbers in the university sector, all issues that were the subject of much recent publicity. I fear that if the correct legislation is not in place, continued poor governance will prevail. The heads of the Bill were approved in October 2012, which is nearly five years ago. We really need action on this.

I understand that amendments to the legislation are being worked on by the Minister but that the process in this regard will not be completed before the recess. The Bill will proceed later this year.

Perhaps the Tánaiste could set out in more detail the Government's proposals for the religious criteria relating to school admissions. While the Minister for Educational and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has set out - in little detail - his preferred solution, he has said that there is a lot of work to do on the proposals with the Attorney General. What is the reality of these proposals if the Minister has simply given a policy preference that has not been worked on by the Attorney General? What are the chances that the proposals will ever appear in legislation? I do not recall any other situation where a Government Minister has come forward with a policy that, as he admits himself, must be worked on by the Attorney General. It is extraordinarily strange to do this on such a major issue. Will the Tánaiste outline if there is any practical reality of legislation being introduced in this area?

The Minister has been extremely clear on this measure. I understand that Committee Stage proceedings in respect of the relevant legislation took place yesterday. Ongoing consultation with the Attorney General on an issue such as this would not be unusual.

On the programme for Government, the retention of the proposed Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal as a project of common interest status, is of paramount importance. The proposed LNG project is vital to north Kerry and west Limerick. I want the Government to remain in line with the programme for Government. This project is of paramount importance and I would like the Government to continue to pursue it and to honour the commitment contained in its programme.

I will ask the relevant Minister to liaise directly with the Deputy and bring him up to date on what actions are being taken.

The matter I wish to raise relates to inspections that farmers must go through. Many farmers are the victims of farm inspections taking place around the country. In the programme for Government there is a commitment to introduce a "yellow card" scheme, which means that when a farm inspection is to take place, the farmer may be told of two or three problems that must be dealt with so they can be remedied before inspectors return a week or so afterwards. This week we had farmers from north Tipperary before a committee who feel they are the victim of overly zealous farm inspections. That is happening all over the country. Fair play as the yellow card scheme is in the programme for Government but we are nearly a year and a half into this Government's term and nothing has been done. When will the yellow card scheme be introduced for farm inspections, as it would relieve many of these matters?

We might get a yellow card system here. It might not be any harm.

We could have a black card system.

I do not have the date and I will have to ask the relevant Minister to get back to the Deputy on it.

The Garda Síochána compensation (malicious injuries) Bill is very important promised legislation, given the ongoing comments about the Garda, the difficult job gardaí do and the risks they take. When is it expected that the Bill might appear before the House? Has the full analysis of all the legal niceties been examined?

I am glad to be able to tell the Deputy that the heads of that Bill were cleared at Cabinet on 9 May. I assume it will now go for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The programme for Government makes very clear commitments on the extension of the BreastCheck programme. How does the Government stand over the fact that 143 women in Donegal who have been referred by their GPs to the systematic breast disease clinic have been waiting over a year for appointments and another couple of hundred women have been waiting six months? This is simply unacceptable. As a woman and somebody with a leadership role in the Government of this State, will the Tánaiste indicate what action the Government can take to ensure these women are not waiting extraordinary lengths of time for an appointment in a breast clinic after being referred by their GPs and presenting possible symptoms of breast cancer?

I recognise the importance of the matter and it is very important that BreastCheck has been extended for women aged between 65 and 70. Timely access to BreastCheck is very important and I absolutely agree with the Deputy in that respect. There is a system in place so if there is an urgent referral from a GP, such as outlined by the Deputy, arrangements can be made so the person can be seen quickly, as opposed to the more routine referrals. I do not know the particulars of the cases in Donegal but sometimes when there have been delays in BreastCheck it has been due to the lack of availability of staff such as radiologists. I will ask the Minister the precise reason for those delays in Donegal. I will ask him to revert to the Deputy with the details as it is a serious matter.

I thank the Tánaiste.

Last but by no means least, I call Deputy Madigan.

My proposed divorce Bill is due to be discussed by the justice committee on 12 July. What timeframe could be expected for it to return to the House for final approval? In that vein I inquire about the family courts Bill, which has not yet gone to pre-legislative scrutiny but is of utmost importance to litigants going through divorce, separation and other family law matters.

The family courts Bill must go for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Deputy asked about the timeframe for her own Bill. Once the pre-legislative work has been done it will be a matter for the Business Committee to determine the precise timetable around it.

That concludes questions on proposed legislation. I congratulate the Tánaiste, the leaders and acting leaders because today is the first day I can recall when we have concluded Leaders' Questions and questions on promised legislation within the allocated time. We completed them with three minutes to spare.

It is new politics.

She is a very good Tánaiste.

I cannot claim the credit.

She is very effective.