Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 3

Order of Business

Today's business shall be No. a11, motion re proposed authorisation by Dáil Éireann for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to instruct legal representatives; No. 30, Social Welfare Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed); No. 5, Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; No. 12, Financial Resolution re Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017; and No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - Second Stage.

Tomorrow's business shall be No. 11, motion re Supplementary Estimates - leave to introduce; No. 11a, motion re referral of Supplementary Estimates to committee; No. 30, Social Welfare Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed), if not previously concluded; No. 5, Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed), if not previously concluded; No. 12, Financial Resolution re Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017; No. 31, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Report Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed), if not previously concluded. Private Members' business, to be selected by Sinn Féin, is to be confirmed.

Thursday’s business shall be No. 13, motion re European Defence Agency; No. 1, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - Second Stage (resumed), if not previously concluded; No. 2, Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 32, Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed). Second Stage of No. 49, University College Galway (Amendment) Bill 2017, will be debated in the evening slot.

I refer to the revised report of the Business Committee, dated 28 November 2017. In relation to today's business, it is proposed that:

(1) the motion re proposed authorisation by Dáil Éireann for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission to instruct legal representatives shall be taken without debate and that any division demanded shall be taken immediately;

(2) any division demanded at the conclusion of Second Stage of the Social Welfare Bill 2017 and the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 shall be taken immediately;

(3) the Financial Resolution re the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 shall be taken without debate at the conclusion of Second Stage of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 and that any division demanded shall be taken immediately;

(4) Private Members’ business shall not be taken and that the sequence pursuant to Standing Order 143F shall continue with Sinn Féin tomorrow.

In relation to tomorrow's business, it is proposed that the motions re Supplementary Estimates, subject to leave being given and referral to select committee, shall be taken without debate and that any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately.

In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that the motion re the European Defence Agency shall be taken after questions on promised legislation and shall conclude within 40 minutes. Contributions shall be confined to a single round of five minutes each for speeches by a Minister or a Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately. All Members may share time. The weekly voting block shall take place at the conclusion of the debate on the motion.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to?

No. Obviously we registered our position at the Business Committee. How can it be acceptable when a Minister resigns or is effectively sacked, another Minister has questions has questions to answer and the Taoiseach himself has questions to answer that there is no place for the matter to be discussed in the Dáil today? Not everybody can participate in Leaders' Questions, but there are also questions for others. The Standing Order that the Ceann Comhairle has indicated is being invoked was not acceptable to Fianna Fáil last week. How can it be acceptable this week?

How was it acceptable for a Minister to come in and answer questions for all parties and why can it not be done this week? I appeal to other parties and individual Deputies not to allow this bureaucratic manoeuvre to quash debate. Clearly, the big two parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, have decided to press down the lid on this matter, but it certainly is not enough for people outside the House. I appeal to other parties not to accept this; it simply is not good enough. Nothing was said about the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, answering questions.

We cannot get into a lengthy debate on the matter.

This relates to the Order of Business. Nothing was said at the Business Committee about the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and his answering questions is not on the agenda. It is not good enough for an apology to be made. There really are serious issues. Even some of the points the Taoiseach made-----

The Deputy is asking-----

He basically excused the Minister and said there had been a feeding frenzy.

The Deputy is asking when the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, will answer questions.

It is utterly unacceptable. We will not allow this matter to rest until it is put on the agenda. Is it not great how Fianna Fáil has handed over its no confidence motion time for Government business? There is nothing to be seen here-----

The Deputy has made her point.

-----but that is not the way the people see it.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, le do thoil.

That is not the way other people see it, and we should not allow this resignation to be used to quash debate.

The Deputy has made her point.

The Taoiseach has said very clearly that there will be an opportunity to ask questions of the Minister, Deputy Flanagan. However, the Order of Business that has been outlined contains no reference to that. There are very clear questions regarding the manner in which information was given to him through his Department and regarding the record of the Dáil in that wrong information was put on the record. There are clearly issues in regard to his Department, the channels of information and all the rest of it. Many Deputies right across the House would welcome that opportunity and it needs to happen this week. The Taoiseach referred to the fact that there has been a drip-drip of information. If he wants to stop that drip, arrangements need to put in place this week - today or tomorrow - for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to answer questions. It needs to be added to the schedule for this week.

I do not know if anybody else would like to have a debate but the Business Committee was called together this morning by the Deputy and the staff and we agreed the Order of Business.

I did not; I objected to it.

I was about to say that the Deputy did not agree to it. He objected to it and we accept that, but everybody else unanimously agreed it.

It was not unanimous if somebody disagreed with it.

Is there any need to have a Business Committee if this group wants to come in and tear it up every time we agree something? I want statements on this as well - we all do - but we have to go forward in some constructive manner.

It was not unanimous.

I think we need to explain democracy to the Deputy.

When all of us agreed to the establishment of the Business Committee, it was to bring a consensus approach to the ordering of business in this House. We understood that there would be a consensual approach but what was announced by the Taoiseach was a bilateral discussion and agreement, in regard to the Minister for Justice and Equality answering questions, between the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fáil Party. I was unaware that offer was going to be made and I want to see when the time and arrangements for that can be provided.

There is often something surreal about this place when we have endless hours of debate about matters of real importance on the airwaves and in the public domain, but we cannot have them here. That disconnect undermines what we do. It would be very helpful if the Taoiseach would simply outline when the statement will be made by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the nature of it in terms of time, and how the follow-through questions that the Taoiseach has already offered are to be constructed. What will be the level of the bilateral discussion that he has also offered between individual Deputies who have tabled questions and the Minister for Justice and Equality? How is that to take place and what shape or form will it take? It would be helpful to have that outlined.

I have a second point that I indicated to the Ceann Comhairle's office. I have asked that the first item on today's business, which is the motion to instruct counsel, would not be taken without debate. I have asked that five minutes be provided for groups because there are important constitutional matters that need to be aired. I ask for the agreement of the House to give each party or group five minutes to discuss that business before we agree to instruct counsel.

On the same subject, since the Business Committee met at lunchtime today, the Taoiseach has offered that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will come in here and make a statement in regard to outstanding questions in the Department. It is up to the House to decide on that matter. I ask the Taoiseach to show his bona fides on this, and that if he is agreeable, to let us schedule that as soon as possible. It really should be today. If he is agreeable to that, I also ask him to confirm that ample time will be allowed for questioning of the Minister to take place after his statement.

I want to clarify again for Members, particularly regarding the point Deputy Howlin made about the debate that happens outside the House and the debate that may happen here, that what may happen here is governed by the Standing Orders that the Members put in place. If any of the Standing Orders that we have are preventing us from doing something that we want to do, it is open to the House to change them, but until they are changed, whoever occupies this Chair must implement the Standing Orders.

I want to make clear in respect of the debate last week that questioning as to the level of knowledge the Minister was given by her Department, what she told the Taoiseach she knew and when she knew it are not sub judice as that does not fall within the terms of reference of the tribunal because that does not involve communications between her and the Garda Commissioner.

However, neither I nor anyone else can allow any debate on communications involving the Garda Commissioner, as such communications are covered by the tribunal's terms of reference and are since covered by Standing Order 59.

Is it not Alice in Wonderland stuff to suggest we cannot deal with these matters because of the tribunal? Why are these matters not before the tribunal?

Deputy, you are here longer than I am.

This is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

If you do not like it, change it.

On this point, Deputies may recall that when we were setting the terms of reference for the tribunal, there was no time. We presented an amendment proposing that the terms of reference would include a review of the role of the Department of Justice and Equality in this whole affair. I believe one thing has to change. If, as the Ceann Comhairle has said, we cannot look into certain areas because they are not in the tribunal's terms of reference, we should be looking to amend those terms. The incredibly narrow terms of reference were set preclude the role of the Department. This was one of the mistakes we raised at the time. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against an amendment that would have allowed this to be included in the terms of reference.

That is not true.

We cannot live by the existing terms of reference if they block us from having a full and proper investigation into what went on.

It was understood at the Business Committee meeting this morning that a substantive motion on the tribunal's terms of reference could be debated here.

Would such a motion allow us to debate the issue I have raised?

This is something we examined over the weekend. Term [h] of the terms of reference for the Charleton tribunal includes media and broadcasting personnel, members of the Government, TUSLA, the Health Service Executive and any other State entity. Obviously, the Department of Justice and Equality is a State entity. We are satisfied from our work over the weekend that the Department of Justice and Equality is covered by the Charleton tribunal's existing terms of reference.

On the Order of Business, as I am not a member of the Business Committee I am not at liberty to set the times or business of the House. That is now a matter for the Business Committee.

The Government Chief Whip is on the committee.

The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has indicated to me that he is keen to make a statement today. He will be happy to do so at 4 p.m., 4.30 p.m., 5 p.m. or later.

Will there be-----

Only one member of each group may raise a point.

Will we have questions and answers?

Can the Taoiseach clarify whether the Minister will answer questions?

Yes, he will.

Yes, the Minister will answer questions.

The Business Committee will have to work out the timings and arrangements. The Minister has indicated his willingness to do this from 4.30 p.m. In light of that, is the proposal for Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed.

I raised a separate matter in relation to Tuesday's business. I said we should be allowed a short debate on-----

We will ask the Business Committee to address that as well.

Okay, but it is the first item to be dealt with.

I would like to raise a genuine question. How can we know whether we are happy with the business for Wednesday and Thursday until we see what is agreed today? How much time will be provided for questioning? Will it be an hour? Two hours are going a-begging in terms of business.

That is a matter for the Business Committee. The Deputy is represented on the committee.

Depending on what the Business Committee comes back with, will we be able to call a vote on the business for Wednesday or Thursday?

No, because we have just agreed the business for Wednesday and Thursday.

I am not agreeing to it until I see today's business.

We have agreed Wednesday's business.

How can we know whether sufficient time will be provided for asking questions?

If the Deputy is unhappy with the arrangements worked out by the Business Committee, she can raise an objection at that stage.

Can we not agree here to use the two-hour period that was to be used for the motion of no confidence? That might prevent dissatisfaction later on.

That is entirely a matter for the Business Committee, on which the Deputy is very well represented.

We can agree it here. We have done it before.

We will move on to promised legislation.

On a somewhat happier note, I have been working for some time with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on an application for the importation of medicinal cannabis on behalf of Ava Barry. The Minister has confirmed last evening that this has been sanctioned. I pay tribute to the courage of Ava's mother, Vera Twomey. As Deputies will be aware, Ava has gone to the Netherlands and is under the care of a Dutch neurologist who has been monitoring the application of CBD-THC in relation to Ava for quite some time. That work, combined with the efforts of doctors in Ireland, has resulted in a successful application. The Minister has in a broader context committed to a rapid access programme.

My understanding is the rapid access programme will not include the utilisation of CBD-THC to treat drug-resistant epilepsy. In the light of this development, I ask the Minister to give this matter consideration as he rolls out the rapid access programme. Will he give an indication of the timeline for the programme? In Canada a clinical trial on the application of CBD-THC for children with Dravet syndrome and drug-resistant epilepsy is under way under an Irish neurologist.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. While I cannot discuss an individual case, I am very pleased that I was in a position to sign another licence allowing a citizen, a little girl, to access a medicinal cannabis product. It is the third licence I have signed since becoming Minister for Health. All applications which have been validly submitted with the support of a monitoring consultant in Ireland have been granted. As the Deputy correctly said, I asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to carry out a review of Ireland's policy on medicinal cannabis. The authority has reported on that review. It has stated medicinal cannabis may have some benefit in treating three specific conditions - epilepsy, where a patient undergoing chemotherapy is nauseated and multiple sclerosis. I have set up a clinical expert group to put guidance in place in that regard. The Deputy is right, there is a clinical debate on the use of CBD as opposed to THC. I will keep the matter under review. I hope to roll out the rapid access programme early in 2018.

I return to the external review which the Taoiseach has said he will establish of the withholding of documentation from the Charleton tribunal by the Department of Justice and Equality. Under whose auspices will the review be established? Who will be responsible for it? Will it require legislation to be brought before the Dáil? Has a criminal complaint been considered in respect of the withholding of such information from the tribunal? As the Taoiseach is aware, it represents a breach of the law.

It is my intention that the review will be carried out under my auspices and those of my Department. I will ask my Secretary General who is the Secretary General to the Government to carry out the inquiry. I do not think it will require legislation. Similar investigations have been carried out in the past by the Secretary General to the Government. I intend to proceed in that manner and to have it done by Christmas. Whether a criminal complaint will follow will depend on the outcome of the investigation.

The census of population was concluded last year and the boundary commission established by the Government reported on foot of its results. It is my understanding legislation is ready to implement the recommendations of the boundary commission. Since it is custom and practice for the House not to amend the impartial recommendations of the boundary commission, although I remember such recommendations being hotly debated in the past, will the Taoiseach specify when the mandatory legislation to implement the changes required by the increase in population will be brought before the House? Can it be done before the end of this session?

It is intended to bring the legislation before the House before the end of the session. Obviously, there is other priority legislation, including the Finance Bill 2017, the Appropriation Bill-----

It could be rushed through because it cannot be amended.

Technically, it could be amended, although it has never actually happened. History shows, however, that for some reason, even though it is never amended and is always just voted through, the number of speakers is often very high. I imagine that is because people like to talk about their own constituencies and use the legislation as an opportunity to do so. The matter has to be discussed by the Business Committee, but it is suggested we schedule a Second Stage debate for some Friday between now and Christmas in order that Members can use all of that day to talk about their constituencies. I presume the legislation would then proceed through Report Stage very quickly on a different day.

Given the political instability and the political crisis created by the Taoiseach's Government, there is huge anxiety about legislation to allow a referendum to be held to repeal the eighth amendment. I have received a huge amount of correspondence on the issue. People were fearful that the Taoiseach's willingness to place one woman's career above all women's rights would lead to a referendum not being held in May and we are not out of the woods yet as the Government is on its last legs. In order to ensure there will be a vote in favour of repeal in May - last week thousands of young people registered to vote - does the Taoiseach agree that a couple of things need to be done? To meet the deadline we need an immediate vote at the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution and to swiftly enact a Bill in the Dáil to allow for a referendum to be held to repeal the eighth amendment. I have a Bill here and it could not be simpler. It should not take long to deal with it. It was done in the case of the banks and now needs to be done for women. If a vote does not take place and the Bill is not speeded through the Dáil, my fear is that, if the Government collapses in January, we will not have a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. As I said, tens of thousands of young people have registered to vote. Will the Taoiseach ensure a vote in favour of repeal will take place swiftly at the committee, leaving aside other issues for now, and that the Bill will be passed through the Dáil?

People who have any fear that there will not be a referendum on this important matter should not fear. In my first speech in this Chamber as Taoiseach I committed to holding a referendum on the eighth amendment. I was the first Taoiseach to do so. When I spoke at the FemFest on Saturday morning, I assured the young women present that the referendum would be held.

Will it be held in May?

I intend to stay in office until it is.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government to support An Post and the post office network. The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment and others have recently suggested responsibility for television licence fee collection be transferred to the Revenue Commissioners. Last week the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, announced a loan of €35 million to support An Post. It is a loan and must be repaid. Does the Taoiseach know what he is doing? One hand is taking food from the other. If we do this, small post offices throughout the country will lose more of their revenue, fail every sustainability test An Post puts in their way and be closed. On the one hand, the Taoiseach is closing post offices and, on the other, letting on that he is supporting them.

I declare an interest in this matter as the postmaster of a small rural post office. The suggestion of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is completely wrong. I really mean it. The collection of a television licence fee by a post office is a transaction. To ensure the Taoiseach is clear on this issue - every post office is paid based on the number of transactions. If we do this, it will cost post offices money. That is not what the Taoiseach wants and it is not what is stated in the programme for Government. The Minister's heart is in the right place. He is doing great work for the post office network. Will the Taoiseach stop this move immediately because it is wrong?

I understand the suggestion is made in a report being published today by a joint committee. It is not a Government proposal and I have not yet read the report. Like all joint committee reports, the Government will consider it and respond to it in due course.

On the review of the e-mails in the Department, it would be a very serious mistake to have the review carried out internally within the Civil Service. It is essential for credibility that it be an independent review. The Taoiseach mentioned his intention to shine a light on dark places. If he is serious, in the interests of accountability, will he request the release of the transcripts of proceedings at the O'Higgins commission in order that we will all know the exact tactics used by An Garda Síochána against Sergeant McCabe and the commission's response to them? It is really important to give us a full picture.

I would have to check the law in that area, but I am fairly certain that transcripts of proceedings at a commission of investigation are privileged and cannot be released. They were released to GSOC following a court order and they were obviously released to the tribunal, but I am almost certain that it would not be lawful to release the transcripts of proceedngs at a commission of investigation. It would go against the whole thing. I will have to check, but it is my understanding transcripts of proceedings at a commission of investigation which by their very nature are held in private cannot be released. That is the difference between such commissions and public inquiries or tribunals which are carried out in public. As I said, it is my intention to ask the Secretary General of my Department, as head of the Civil Service, to carry out the inquiry.

If there are substantive suggestions from Deputies as to an alternative person or body that could carry that out, I am all ears.

Deputy Eamon Ryan.

On a point of order, the Taoiseach is proposing that the Civil Service-----

Deputy Shortall has asked her question.

------investigate the matter and we know that investigation will not be worth anything, but is he at least undertaking to take legal advice on the release of transcripts?

The Deputy may ask one question only. Deputy Eamon Ryan.

In this new era of the Government being willing to answer questions, I ask the Taoiseach, in his new role as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, to answer a question I was not allowed to ask last week as to whether he agrees with the criticism of the Department of Justice and Equality by the IDA in regard to the interception of postal packets and telecommunications messages (regulation) (amendment) Bill? My question on that issue was transferred to the Department of Justice and Equality, which is the last Department I wanted to answer it. I failed to get an answer from the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Fitzgerald, as to whether she agreed with the IDA. Will the Taoiseach and interim Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation commit to answering my question because it is a critical issue, as Deputy Wallace has said? I am being witty about it but the problem is that I was not able to get an answer to a key question regarding digital rights and rules which are critical for the country and, rather, the question was shunted back to the Department of Justice and Equality. Will the Taoiseach answer that question in substantive written form?

I have been the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation for only approximately an hour and am not yet on top of that issue. I will endeavour to ensure the Deputy gets an answer from the correct Department.

Not the Department of Justice and Equality.

The ministerial rota for the taking of oral parliamentary questions to the end of this session was published last week and once again the Minister for Rural and Community Development has been left off it. That means that by Christmas the Minister will have been in his post at Cabinet for six months and for some peculiar reason he will not have had the opportunity to come in and answer questions in the Dáil about his Department. That is unprecedented. I do not remember a Minister being appointed and not being given an opportunity to answer questions to the House during my time as a Member. Why is this happening, what has the Minister, Deputy Ring, done to be put in the sin bin and when will he have the opportunity, for which I know he is longing, to come in and explain why he cannot spend the money with which he has been provided by the Oireachtas?

I have no role in respect of the parliamentary questions rota.

We have been working on that issue and I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Ring in that regard. I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív that the Minister longs to answer such questions in the Dáil. However, that would have meant putting back the other ministerial questions but we now have agreement he will be coming before the Dáil in the next couple of weeks.

My question is for the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, and regards the report on mica in defective blocks in County Donegal. The report was laid before the House six months ago. The Minister of State visited Donegal and at the time he committed to looking into ensuring social housing options would be available for those who must move out of homes that have been exceptionally badly affected. He also committed to going back to the county to update the mica action group on progress before the end of the year. Will the Minister do so and update the House on the issue?

I should be in a position to update the House before the end of the year. The expert panel is progressing well in terms of technical issues and regulations 1 and 2.

As regards those who are in an unsafe house, once they prove they are entitled to go on the social housing list, local authorities can accommodate them. A number of people made applications but did not qualify for various reasons I cannot reveal because of data protection concerns. However, the council has been asked to contact those people and give them specific information on why they did not qualify. If somebody is in an unsafe house in which he or she cannot live and satisfies the means test, he or she can apply for social housing and will be helped by any local authority. I want to be very clear on that. We will engage directly on the report before the end of the year.

Before the controversy over emails in the Department of Justice and Equality there was a proposal to reopen six rural Garda stations. That commitment is certainly in the programme for Government. The Taoiseach has said there is a proposal to open three Garda stations in Dublin but Dublin is not rural. In light of the level of rural crime, I ask the Taoiseach to reopen a Garda station on each side of the Kenmare River to prevent the importation of drugs and progress the apprehension of criminals in that vast countryside.

Rush is fairly rural. It would be worth the Deputy's while to pay a visit to north County Dublin. He would be surprised how rural certain parts of it are. Those six Garda stations are to be reopened on a pilot basis and thereafter their impact on Garda service and crime in the areas will be assessed. There are no proposals to open any Garda stations apart from those six until the pilot scheme is evaluated and we see how the re-openings have impacted on those areas.

I thank the Taoiseach. My apologies to the five Deputies who have not been reached but that concludes the Order of Business.