We only have 15 minutes for these questions. In addition to leaders, there are 11 Deputies who wish to contribute. With co-operation from speakers, we can accommodate all of them.
Questions on Promised Legislation
Fuair an tOllamh Donnchadh Ó Corráin bás inné. Scoláire iontach agus staraí mór le rá ab ea é. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. The highly distinguished Irish historian, Professor Donnchadh Ó Corráin, died yesterday. Professor Ó Corráin was an outstanding expert on medieval Irish history. I had the pleasure of spending some time in his company and he was as entertaining as he was informative. On my behalf and on behalf of my leader and party, I express condolences to his family.
When will the commercial rates Bill be published? This Bill is very important for businesses and there is anxiety on the part of my party to see it before the Dáil.
The heads of the Bill will be published during this session.
Early this month, Diageo announced major development plans to regenerate or refocus much of the company's land. One of the sites in question lies adjacent to the Digital Hub, a State agency which was supposed to be transferred into Dublin City Council under the previous Government. The legislation to facilitate this move remains on the legislative programme for this year. When will it come before the House? The Digital Hub may have an opportunity to secure additional land when the Diageo lands become available.
I will ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to respond.
The drafting of the legislation is ongoing in the Department. The Deputy is correct that there may be opportunities to further expand the Digital Hub. This resource has been a massive success and we would like to see replicated in other parts of the country.
The Taoiseach has set out a series of seven referendums to be held over the next two years.
I will not list them all. It is certainly the most comprehensive series of referendums proposed in a set timeline. How will we deal with them? The Taoiseach is talking about a stand-alone referendum on the eighth amendment but the others will be grouped. We need to carry out a lot of advance preparation because each referendum will require a referendum commission and a degree of debate. In the past, when we have often tied referendums to, say, a presidential election, as we did once upon a time, the referendum was lost. I am asking for some mechanism to deal with these issues in collaboration and discussion with the Opposition so that there will be proper debate and an opportunity for all the matters to be teased out well before we put them to the people.
I will bring the Deputy's remarks to the attention of the Taoiseach because the amount of detailed work that needs to be done in advance of referendums is very obvious from recent events, as we have seen in other countries. I will ask the Taoiseach to liaise with the Deputy and the leaders of the Opposition regarding the plans for referendums in this country.
We now move to the Rural Independent Group Deputies. I call on Deputy Mattie McGrath.
We are not arguing which is the bigger group. I just called on Deputy Mattie McGrath.
If there is an issue-----
There is an order.
If there is an order, Deputy Boyd Barrett can ask a question but he should bear in mind that there is an order.
The pathetic, meaningless and mealy-mouthed apologies from bankers over the tracker mortgage scandal are prompting nothing but fury and frustration among the victims of that scandal and the wider public. The Tánaiste has said that pending reports, the Minister for Finance will look into the possibility of legislation in this area if it is needed. What people out there want to know is whether as a matter of urgency, the Government is going to look into whether legislation is there to ensure that if a fraud or theft was committed by the bankers, they will go to prison. The reason people are asking that question and the reason the Minister needs to answer it is because to date, bankers guilty of fraud and theft have not gone to prison. I point out for his information that even though by any definition what the bankers have done in the tracker mortgage scandal accords with the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act's definition of fraud, it is then neutralised by provisions in the Central Bank Act that essentially allow the regulator to impose administrative sanctions and for no criminal prosecution to take place.
Has the Deputy a question relating to promised legislation?
In other words, in Irish law, there is one law for bankers and one law for everybody else. The Government needs to address that.
Is there promised legislation?
The problem is that there is no legislation.
If there has been a criminal act, clearly, the criminal law and An Garda Síochána must investigate that. People in the banking sector have been before our courts previously so what Deputy Boyd Barrett is saying is not accurate. There is a law there. If a fraud has been committed, clearly, the normal rules of criminal investigation must be undertaken and put in place.
I call on Deputy Mattie McGrath to ask about promised legislation.
It is promised legislation; it is the programme for Government. It concerns the national children's hospital, its development and the sorry saga whereby the cost is now €1.25 billion. I am glad that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is here. The national children's hospital was deliberately designed to be-----
Has the Deputy a question?
The question concerns how the hospital was designed to be 10 cm lower in height than 30 m to circumvent sprinkler requirements to avoid having to install a sprinkler system for fires. This is not a claim made by me. I am reporting a claim made by Dublin Fire Brigade. The developers, the board of the national children's hospital and Dublin Fire Brigade spent 12 months discussing this. We are going to have this iconic building that has been called a world-class hospital when it is a fire trap. Are we going to allow this to carry on just to save money for developers? This is outrageous.
That is circumventing but it is not-----
It is not circumventing. It is a national issue. Our children-----
Building this hospital is in the programme for Government. The cost has gone from €400 million up to €1.25 billion and now they are keeping below the required height just to avoid putting in safety measures to prevent fire.
If the Tánaiste can identify that as promised legislation.
Let us be very clear that everybody who has been involved with this project, including the Government, holds the strong view that safety is paramount with regard to this project to ensure that children, parents and staff operate within a safe environment. The board has also indicated that the provision of fire sprinkler protection planned for the new children's hospital will exceed the number set out in the fire safety regulation legislation. A statutory process is under way regarding a number of conditions and, of course, whatever An Bord Pleanála has to say by year end. The development board will comply fully with any fire safety requirements. That is quite obvious. We are providing a state-of-the-art children's hospital and are not going to compromise on safety, including fire safety.
Yesterday, I raised the Central Bank (Consolidation) Bill, which I believe is the appropriate vehicle to discuss some of the issues that others in the House have raised. It will cover the activities of third-party lenders that have acquired distressed mortgages from businesspeople, householders and a multitude of others who are now being subjected to appalling pressure by people who call themselves businessmen and are there for short-term gain only. Is it possible to bring that Bill before the House as a matter of urgency?
Are there any plans?
Yes, work on that legislation is under way. I will convey the Deputy's concerns about its urgency to the Minister for Finance.
I notice that the Minister for Rural and Community Development is not in the House today and I cannot really blame him. Some days, he must wonder whether he is really a Minister at all because he has a Department without function and money-----
An mbaineann an cheist seo le reachtaíocht?
No, the question does not relate to legislation but it is germane to the House. Interestingly, the Minister is not even listed for oral questions. I have seen the list until Christmas and he has been a Minister since 26 July; well he was a Minister before that but the Department was set up at the end of July. For some reason, the Government does not treat him as a senior player. He is not considered a senior hurler and the Government is not giving him any questions. He is chomping at the bit. He told me he is absolutely crazy to come in and answer some questions.
We get the principle.
My question is when does the Government propose to allow the Minister to act like the rest of the Government - like a senior player - and come in here and answer oral questions at Question Time.
There is no better man to answer the point the Deputy made and no doubt he will be on the rota for the Order of Business. As the Deputy is aware, a separate committee has been established to deal with the issues that come under the remit of his Department.
The programme for Government contains specific commitments regarding promoting and protecting the well-being of children in this country. However, a building acquired some time ago in Carrick-on-Shannon has been awaiting redevelopment by Tusla for a very long period. What is the update? I was given a commitment that this work would start in September and I think it is vitally important that this work starts as a matter of urgency.
I will ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to answer that question.
The board of Tusla approved a commitment to develop this site in July. The board had hoped that this work would begin in September. I will discover the next scheduled time.
The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act commenced in 2004. Section 10 of that Act allows a C note to designate a school as being particularly suitable for an individual child. However, that section has not yet been commenced. When does the Government intend to commence that section?
I will ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to liaise directly with the Deputy regarding that matter. I do not have that date.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by the Government in 2007. I, like the Tánaiste, am anxious that we fulfil our commitment in that regard and enact the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill as soon as possible.
It passed Second Stage in February 2017 and I am curious about the progress that has been made on enacting it.
It is a priority for us. Very detailed work has been done by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Department of Health working with the Attorney General to deal with the outstanding issues which will allow us to move ahead. I understand the work is progressing satisfactorily. Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we will be in a position to progress the Bill.
I am sure the Tánaiste is as concerned as I am by the enormous slow-down in the schools building programme particularly for older schools that are due to be completely rebuilt. We have children facing into the rest of the winter in freezing cold conditions in old buildings, which are no longer fit for purpose, and prefabs. Last year the capital programme for schools was €334 million. This year the Government has only provided €338 million. It is an increase of €4 million or €5 million and perhaps a few million more by the end of the year. DEIS schools and traditional parish schools are being buried under a welter of new technical provisions with no help from the Department. Often they do not have the resources or technical expertise in the school community. Will the Government help these schools out of the hole they are in? They are seeing new schools in Dublin 15 and Lucan, yet they are staying in old schools that are not fit for purpose.
Over €330 million is being invested in state-of-the-art new buildings and large-scale extensions.
There has been no addition.
There is €80 million-----
It is less than last year.
-----being spent on classroom extensions in existing schools and up to 20,000 replacement places are being provided, which is approximately 18,000 additional places.
It is less than last year.
There are five Deputies who I am trying to accommodate. They are Deputies Neville, Buckley, Ellis, Doherty and Kenny.
Page 78 of the programme for Government states we will introduce a new system to support and expand quality after-school care for school aged children. Page 41 outlines the revitalisation of rural Ireland. What is the rationale for Broadford Community Childcare - I stress the words "community childcare" - being refused funding for a purpose built facility? As a result of the refusal, an after school service for 20 children and their siblings will be lost in a small rural village.
I thank the Deputy for the question. I will ask my Department to provide the reasons for the refusal.
When will the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act be commenced? We are aware there are a number of Bills on the Order Paper which refer to the Act. One was passed in the Dáil and is now with the Seanad. The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also outstanding and needs a bit of attention and action.
The recruitment has begun for setting up the assisted decision-making service. I am sure as soon as it is completed it will happen. I understand satisfactory progress has been made on it by the Department of Health and as soon as the appropriate people are in place I expect the Act will come into play.
I have already dealt with the issue of the disability legislation. Once the outstanding issues are finalised and dealt with by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Health it can be fully signed and ratified by us.
There is a prediction the population of the country will increase by between 400,000 and 1.1 million by 2030. Currently, the M50, especially at peak hours, resembles a large car park and is virtually, if not already, at its peak. Throughout Dublin, traffic congestion now poses a real threat to economic development and growth. In the programme for Government, under the heading of public transport investment, works are due to commence on Metro North in 2021. The resumption of consultation has not yet begun. Will the Tánaiste outline when it will start, if it is still a priority and if the project could be delivered on a faster timescale to address the imminent crisis?
That is precisely the reason we are publishing the national infrastructure plan in association with the national planning guidelines so challenges such as the transport issue the Deputy has outlined can be dealt with over the next number of years. I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with the Deputy on the precise timescale.
I want to raise the issue of SI 349/2017. The Tánaiste is familiar with it because it is the statutory instrument that appointed her three special advisers and was signed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on 18 July. There is no problem with that. He backdated the appointment to the date of the reshuffle on 14 June. On what legal basis were the Tánaiste's three special advisers appointed and their appointments backdated?
That was dealt with in the House yesterday. The detailed answer was given yesterday.
No, it was not.
It was in accordance with procedures.
On what legal basis was the appointment of the Tánaiste's special advisers backdated?
It was in accordance with procedure.
Leo asked us to inform on cheats-----
Deputy Martin Kenny.
-----so I want to know if there was a legal basis to do what the Government did.
The programme for Government states very clearly the Government wants to deal with the housing and homelessness crisis across the country. While homelessness in the city of Dublin in particular is very evident because we all see it in front of us, homelessness in rural counties such as Leitrim, where I come from, is just as big a problem but is not so apparent. We have people coming into my constituency office every day who are sleeping on couches or staying with parents, which is inappropriate for their time of life. Families are moving back in with grandparents. We have this sort of thing happening because we do not have a sufficient level of social housing being provided. In addition, we have a whole lot of landlords who refuse to accept tenants under the HAP scheme and use every excuse they can to stop people from getting housing. When will the Government deal with this issue in rural Ireland and ensure an adequate number of social houses is provided?
The Minister has made it very clear that the commitment of the Government is that the budget will be available over the next number of years to deal with the issue the Deputy has outlined. It is a priority for Government to provide more housing in both urban and rural areas. The purpose of every act and initiative the Government has taken on housing is to ensure we have the type of housing which the Deputy has outlined is needed.