Order of Business

Today’s business shall be No. 9, motion re Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018, referral to joint committee, without debate; No. 30, statements on the centenary of women's suffrage; and No. 1, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad] Second Stage. Private Members business shall be No. 170, motion re rural broadband, selected by Fianna Fáil.

Wednesday’s business shall be No. 31, National Archives (Amendment) Bill 2017 Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; No. 1, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad] Second Stage (resumed); No. 4, Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and No. 32, statements on the national broadband procurement process. Private Members' business shall be Second Stage of No. 48, Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, selected by Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Thursday’s business shall be No. 1, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad] Second Stage (resumed); and No. 4, Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Second Stage of No. 49, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 will be taken in the evening slot.

I refer the report of the Business Committee dated 1 February 2018. In relation to today’s business, it is proposed that the motion re Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018, referral to joint committee, shall be taken without debate; and statements on the centenary of women's suffrage shall be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes. Statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, of five minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.

In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit later than 10.15 p.m. and shall adjourn not later than 11.15 p.m.; that Second Stage of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, after two hours; and that notwithstanding Standing Order 58, statements on the national broadband procurement process shall be taken at 8.50 p.m. and shall conclude not later than 11.15 p.m. and the order shall not resume thereafter. Statements by a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed ten minutes each. All other Members shall not exceed five minutes each with a five minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time.

There are two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

I suggest a slight amendment that, with the agreement of the House, the proposed concluding of statements on broadband at 11.15 p.m. on Wednesday be changed to adjourning of statements on this issue so as to facilitate the continuation of that business on Thursday and indeed into next week to give Deputies an opportunity speak on the issue, and that Deputies could be given a ten minute as opposed to a five minute slot because there is a need to facilitate the participation of backbench Members across all parties in debates of this kind and not unduly restrict such debates on important issues. There may be other business. I merely propose to keep it on the Order Paper for Thursday and next week and to change what is there from "conclude" to "adjourn".

I do not have any objection to that. Four and a half hours are being allocated this week for Private Members' business and statements on the issue of broadband but if four and a half hours is not enough for everyone to make his or her contribution, I have no objection to the debate being adjourned rather than concluded so that further time can be provided.

There is a second proposal that, where all other Members shall not exceed five minutes shall change to "not exceed ten minutes". Is that agreed? Agreed. Regarding Wednesday's business, statements on the national broadband procurement process shall adjourn not later than 11.15 p.m. and the contribution of all other Members shall not exceed ten minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

De réir Phríomhchigire an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna, tá an caighdeán sa Ghaeilge ag laghdú bliain i ndiaidh bliana, go háirithe ó 2013 amach. Níl dul chun cinn sásúil le feiscint sa Ghaeilge sna bunscoileanna ar fud na tíre. Bhí 26% de na ceachtanna a dhearnadh iniúchadh orthu gan chruinneas agus míshasúil de réir an Phríomhchigire. Gealladh sa chlár Rialtais go gcuirfidh an Rialtas an straitéis 20 bliain i bhfeidhm, go méadóidh líon na gcainteoirí Gaeilge dá bharr agus go mbeidh an Ghaeilge níos sofheicthe i gcúrsaí litríochta agus ar chomarthaí ar fud tuaithe agus sna bailte go léir ar fud na tíre. Bhí díomá ar an-chuid daoine nuair a léigh siad an méid a bhí le rá ag an bPríomhchigire. Cá seasann na gealltanais sa chlár Rialtais anois i leith an mhéid a dúirt an Príomhchigire sa tuarascáil maidir leis an nGaeilge agus a múineadh sna scoileanna?

Iarraim ar an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna an cheist a fhreagairt.

I acknowledge that the report on Irish was different from those in the other subjects where we saw consistent improvement, in English, in mathematics etc. In relation to Irish, there was an improvement at second level but no improvement at primary level and this is a cause of concern raised by the inspector.

In terms of the policy to address this, we have new curricula at both primary level and junior cycle. Currently, we are investing in the support of teachers to adopt these new curricula. They have a much higher emphasis on the communicated language and the oral language, and that is strongly advised as being a key route to improve performance in this area. In addition, we are investing in new routes to both improve the existing skills of teachers, with masters qualifications being tendered for, additional resources in NUIG to support such improvement and a new undergraduate route into post-primary teaching of Irish. These policies are being implemented but, based on those findings yesterday, we will be consulting more widely to ensure the policies we have in place are adequate to address this problem.

Does Deputy Cullinane wish to speak on the Order of Business or ask about promised legislation?

I wish to ask about promised legislation. The Taoiseach will be aware that the programme for Government committed to a second cath lab at University Hospital Waterford. He will also be aware of a report by Dr. Niall Herity, which did not make a positive recommendation. I am sure he is also aware that since then, a mobile lab has been deployed at the hospital. My understanding is that that mobile lab is to come out of the hospital next week. It was deployed for a number of months. The waiting times for diagnostic testing have been dramatically reduced because of the deployment of this mobile lab. The problem is that for those who are then tested and diagnosed and need an intervention, the waiting times for interventions has increased. The reason for this is that the temporary mobile lab cannot carry out intervention work, and all the data show that this spells out the need for a second permanent lab. A meeting is to take place next week, I think, with the Minister for Health and regional Oireachtas Members from across the south east. A protest in Waterford is planned for Saturday, which I encourage people to attend. As the Taoiseach knows, this is a very important issue for people. If the data show, as they seem to do, a need for a second permanent lab, how can he and his Government ensure the appropriate urgency is given to this issue in order that we can get the necessary capacity into the hospital to treat people in cardiac arrest as quickly as possible?

I discussed this briefly with the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the other public representatives from Waterford just last week. It does seem the second mobile cath lab has produced results and reduced waiting times for patients who need cardiac procedures. It seems to me there is a strong case to keep it in place while the other review - a review of the locations of cath labs across the country is ongoing - takes place. If it were to be removed, I think we would just see waiting times worsen again, so there is a strong case to be made for keeping the second mobile cath lab in place while work is completed on the review, which will examine whether to locate a second one on a permanent basis in Waterford. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is working on this.

I wish to ask about a commitment in the programme for Government to more investment in social, regional and economic infrastructure. How does this tally with the news that due to underinvestment over years, a huge proportion of the rail network will face closure unless additional investment of in excess of €460 million is made? Given the verbal commitment on the part of the Government to balanced regional development and given the occasional lipservice paid to climate change, as seen recently from the Taoiseach, will the Government make the necessary investment to develop public transport in general and the rail network in particular or is the Government instead prepared to face significant opposition from workers, unions and communities who will not accept the running down of the rail network?

I understand that report is old news. It relates to a rail review published back in 2016. As I said earlier, over the past three years there has been a 35% increase in the subvention for public transport, that is, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, so we are now increasing the subvention for public transport again. Capital spending is increasing, fares have risen, which has helped the financial position of these companies, and because of the recovery in the economy more people are using public transport, which is bringing in more fares. As I said earlier, if we did not close any rail lines during the ten years when the subvention was being reduced and fewer people were using the railways, we will hardly do it now that the subvention is increasing, passenger numbers are increasing and fare income is rising.

I wish to raise another issue concerning rural Ireland. It relates to roads.

The programme for Government, please.

The programme for Government is strong on its commitment to support roads. The people, whether mothers or fathers, ordinary men or women or youngsters trying to get to school, work or college, must have a car. A significant amount of damage is being done to those cars, including to their wheels and tyres. I wish to raise another issue. These cars must pass the national car test, NCT, which we all support as it is a good system. These drivers get their certificates from the NCT and get their cars passed, their vehicles having suffered huge damage and having got them repaired at huge cost. Now they are being told by insurance companies that if the car is ten years old or older, even though it may have a valid NCT certificate passed only two days or a week earlier, they will not insure them. This is pure blackguarding and an attack on rural Ireland and rural drivers, as well as some urban drivers where the roads are bad. They are doing their best to keep within the law and now they are being told they will not be insured-----

A question, please.

-----despite their cars being perfect and having valid NCT certificates.

What is the Government going to do to rein in the insurance companies? This is "rip-off Ireland" carry-on again and blackguarding of the people of rural Ireland once more.

There is no programme for Government commitment on that matter.

It relates to rural roads and investment in roads.

I thought it was about NCTs and insurance.

Yes. The Taoiseach has no answer for anything.

On page 101 of the programme for Government, under the heading "Crime Prevention, Justice and Equality", there is a promise on the part of the Government to launch a pilot scheme to reopen six Garda stations in urban and rural areas. One of these Garda stations is in Ballinspittle in west Cork. When can we expect the Ballinspittle Garda station to be reopened? It is in a coastal area that has a high number of tourists during the summer. Will the Government also look at reopening the stations it closed in other coastal locations, namely, Adrigole on the Beara Peninsula and Goleen on the Mizen Peninsula?

I understand the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is taking the matter.

The Deputy is correct that six Garda stations are to be reopened on a pilot basis. I can inform him that work is ongoing as far as this issue is concerned. There was an exchange of correspondence as recently as last week between the Garda Síochána and the Office of Public Works to accelerate the process. I expect that we will see further positive developments in the area over the coming months.

I thank the Minister for his brevity.

The Data Protection Bill 2018 was published last week, when, yet again, there was another patient data breach at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Four pages from a consultant's report were found on the street, with the names and personal details, medical conditions and treatment of 18 patients. This is the third patient data breach in as many years. Will the Taoiseach instruct the HSE to meet those patients who are affected and apologise to them? How will the Data Protection Bill address such repeated breaches? Why are public bodies such as the HSE exempt from fines for data breaches? Will this also be addressed in the Bill?

I share the Deputy's concern on the point at issue. However, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I am not in a position to direct anything towards the HSE. Subject to the Business Committee's approval, I would be very keen to have the legislation debated at a very early stage. With this in mind, I hope we can do so by the end of this week. There are a number of issues involved in the legislation, one of which was mentioned by the Deputy, that can be the subject matter of debate. I am very keen that we introduce the legislation this week.

Almost two years ago, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, sought submissions for the national rail review. As with many other reports he has sought, he has failed to act on it. Incidentally, why is the Minister never here for the Order of Business to answer questions? Earlier, the Taoiseach said that the Government will not close any lines because it did not do so in the bad times and it will certainly not do it now. However, it has failed to invest in the infrastructure. There is now a serious capacity issue on all of our rail lines. Trains are bursting at the seams. The CEO of Irish Rail came before the transport committee prior to Christmas and indicated that not one new carriage would be supplied to Irish Rail for a minimum of 18 months. When are we going to get real about public transport? The Government has sought submissions. When can we expect to, at a very minimum, debate those submissions? If decisions have to be taken, they need to be taken.

I wish to speak on the same issue.

Does the Deputy have a card?

I am not doubting anybody but it is no harm to see the numbers because it is not beyond some to turn cards upside down at times.

That cannot be done.

The clock is ticking.

It is no laughing matter for my constituents, particularly in the context of public transport. When they read the newspapers this morning, they will have seen a lot of good news about proposals to electrify the line to Maynooth, Dunboyne and Drogheda, but what my constituents really want to know is what is the Government doing here and now. What is happening today? What is it delivering on now rather than planning for in the next ten, 15 or 20 years? That is the problem. There is nothing for the commuter stuck on a train between Gormanston or Balbriggan and Dublin or between Dunboyne and Dublin or in a traffic jam on the N2 each morning.

There is nothing for them today and perhaps the Taoiseach could enlighten us as to whether there is anything or if they have to wait for the Government's capital plan to deliver in a decade's time or so.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, takes questions every couple of weeks, as all Ministers do.

Every eight weeks.

He is available for Topical Issues and-----

He is never here for the Order of Business.

He has a big party to run.

Please, Deputy Troy.

He takes Minister's questions and he also does Topical Issues. To answer the Deputy's question, as I mentioned earlier, there has been a 35% increase in subvention for Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, and Irish Rail combined in the past three years. There has been a capital investment of €5 billion between 2008 and 2016-----

Journey times are getting longer.

-----75% of which went to Iarnród Éireann. What that has allowed, for example, is the opening of the new station in Oranmore-----

Did the Taoiseach say 2008 to 2016?

-----in Galway, the opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel which has improved services through to Kildare, and linking up the Luas to Broombridge station, which is another option for people on the Maynooth line. There have been increases in off-peak services. Integrated ticketing and real time passenger information have also been introduced so people know when the trains are coming. However, it is evident that we need much greater-----

The trains are getting slower.

Please allow the Taoiseach to speak.

-----investment in public transport in the years ahead. That is the case and we all understand this. Investment in new roads and public transport takes time. It takes many years and we lost ten years.

Go raibh maith agat Taoiseach.

That should be the subtitle to this Government, "it takes time".

We have a lost decade of underinvestment in housing, transport, and health care because of mistakes made-----

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

-----by other people.

A year ago, we had the publication of the costs of insurance working group. One of the main recommendations in that was the establishment of a national claims information database so that, for once and for all, we could get a proper handle on the data surrounding claims. The legislation, which is called the Central Bank (national claims information database) Bill, was to be enacted by the end of last year but it was not.

The Government agreed the heads of a Bill and the database was to be in place by the second quarter of this year. Clearly now, it will not be. Will it be in place this year? Can the Taoiseach confirm when the full Bill will be published and brought before the House?

Heads were cleared by the Cabinet a few weeks ago, as the Deputy mentioned, and it is on the priority list for publication in this session but I do not have an exact date yet.

I am sorry - it is No. 5.

With regard to page 58 of A Programme for a Partnership Government and the commitment to build capacity in our hospitals, I raise again the issue of Letterkenny University Hospital. I have raised this several times before, including last week, and I raise it again because people are still on trolleys. People are still waiting for access to a bed in a hospital and people are still waiting for a response from the Government as to whether bed capacity will be increased at the hospital. I have outlined to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, on several occasions that a request was made for an additional 20 beds to be opened in an empty ward in the hospital. The Government has simply ignored this request. When I raised it with the Taoiseach last week, he listed a number of other hospitals across the country where the number of beds had been increased and he made some throwaway remark about Letterkenny and the need to change practices. Was that a throwaway remark or was a specific request made of Letterkenny to change work practices in order to get additional beds because that has not been communicated to people there? They have simply been ignored and the people of Donegal are being ignored.

The Taoiseach to respond.

It is time for an answer. If we cannot have it today, we need it immediately after this session from the Taoiseach.

I saw the note from the Deputy on that last week and I got a note this morning which informed me that funding to open those beds in Letterkenny had not been approved but it did not give me a reason as to why not. I asked why 170 additional beds were funded in other hospitals around the country and why Letterkenny did not make the cut. I do not know the answer to that yet, but perhaps the Deputy would get a quicker response by asking about it in the form of a parliamentary question or a Topical Issue to the Minister for Health.

I can assure the Taoiseach that is not the case. I have been asking for a month and there is no response. It is simply being ignored.

I have made the request myself to find out why because I would like to know.

Question No. 6 was taken. We will move onto Question No. 7.

I refer to A Programme for a Partnership Government and the delivery of State contracts. There was also some discussion about some Government legislation in relation to State contracts in respect of EirGrid and others which give a company a contract. A road opening licence is given to the company and it proceeds with the contract but it leaves the public roads, paid for by the taxpayer, in a disgraceful state.

The residents in those communities have no redress afterwards. What is the Government going to do? Is there promised legislation? We were told at a meeting in Ballydesmond last night that there was such legislation. Is there promised legislation to ensure a bond is put in place by these companies so that if they do not fulfil the contract to the letter of the law, there is redress for the people living by these roads?

I am not aware if there is specific promised legislation on that. I know from my time on a local authority that where road opening licences were granted to a company the company was expected to leave the road as it found it or in a better state. When it does not do so, local authorities have recourse to the courts at that point.

A commitment was made in the programme for Government to enhance the services of the Department of Justice and Equality. With regard to the modernisation and renewal programme and particularly the protective services unit, when will the protective services unit in west Cork be established? The Women Against Violence group in west Cork was told that the unit would be up and running by the end of 2017. This has not happened. It is yet another missed target and broken promise. Can the Minister or the Taoiseach give a definite date for when the unit will be up and running?

I do not have a specific date for the service in west Cork. However, immediately after this session I will seek a reply and communicate directly to the Deputy on this issue of importance.

The health transport support Bill is to provide for a scheme to make individual payments as a contribution towards transport costs for people on low incomes with severe disabilities who cannot access public transport. What is the up-to-date position with that Bill?

The Bill is currently being drafted. I have spoken to both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and requested that the Bill be published and brought to the House this year so it can be funded in the Estimates for next year.

The programme for Government refers to greater openness and improved accountability. In that regard, my colleague, Councillor Ed O'Brien, recently brought it to my attention that the response from Ministers on issues raised directly by South Dublin County Council has been very poor. In an effort to be helpful on the matter and to quantify it, he made a freedom of information request and provided the information to me. The number of letters issued to Ministers following motions at council meetings from the period September 2016 to December 2017 is 87 but the council has received 43 replies to date, which have been included in the correspondence. The number of replies outstanding is 44, or half. If it would be of assistance we could probably publish, name and shame, but it is not about that. A significant number of replies have not been issued. Can the Taoiseach arrange with his colleagues to deal with this effectively? It is not just one Department, but multiple Departments. I am sure that if it applies to South Dublin County Council, it also applies to other local authorities.

Transparency is very important when it comes to the work of local authorities and ensuring that the questions they put to Departments are answered efficiently. I will take that correspondence from the Deputy, because I have not seen it, and I will talk to officials in the Department to see how we can ensure that every Department replies to questions from local authorities across the country.

The programme for Government states that there will be a gradual improvement in our health services. It also refers to the ambulance service. I wish I did not have to bring to the Taoiseach's attention an incident that occurred in my county about a week ago.

Is this about the programme for Government?

It is part of the programme for Government with regard to health. A 13 year old girl with severe cardiac issues waited an hour for an ambulance in Loughglinn in west Roscommon. Eventually an ambulance from Sligo arrived at the scene. However, only for neighbours and a nurse I do not know if that girl would be alive today. As the Minister, Deputy Ring, will be aware, there is no ambulance in west Roscommon. What is most insulting is that the HSE took over the old Garda station, opened an ambulance base, put the light on in the building and when there is an ambulance available at Roscommon University Hospital, it is parked now and again at the building.

This is not good enough and people are very concerned. When will County Roscommon get a few extra ambulances in order that the lives of people, such as that young girl who had to wait an hour for an ambulance, are not threatened?

It is neither my function nor that of the Minister for Health to determine where ambulances are located. Rather, it is a matter for the National Ambulance Service, which has received a budget increase every year in recent years. It is for that service to decide where it is best to locate new ambulances. However, it is important to bear in mind that it now uses a dynamic deployment system whereby rather than being assigned to specific areas, ambulances operate as a fleet, with the nearest one to a call attending the location. I acknowledge that targets on response times are not being met and the Minister is very aware of that.

On the new mortgage-to-rent scheme that has been promised, some years ago the Government introduced a mortgage-to-rent scheme in respect of which the Government bowed to pressure and gave the banks a veto such that a bank could go after a customer for the negative equity even when that person gave up the title to his or her property. A new scheme is now being introduced. The old scheme was a failure, with only a few hundred people out of tens of thousands, or possibly 1% of intended recipients, benefiting from it. We are now moving to a new scheme and the banks have given a commitment that they will not follow people for the negative equity, although there is probably less negative equity in the market in view of rising house prices.

Having had a similar scheme for years, the Government is now talking about introducing a very limited pilot scheme. Private investors and approved housing bodies want to get involved in the scheme, funding is available and the banks are willing to co-operate. What is stopping the Government from allowing the scheme this progress to full implementation? The proposed pilot scheme will run for the rest of the year and it is possible that only a couple of dozen people will benefit during 2018, following which there is a commitment to review the pilot scheme. The scheme will not be fully implemented for years to come.

I am unclear on the scheme to which Deputy Fleming refers. Is it the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme, the repair-and-leasing scheme or the enhanced leasing scheme?

The mortgage-to-rent scheme.

I beg the Deputy's pardon. We have put out an expression of interest for a new mortgage-to-rent scheme, as referenced by the Deputy, and are currently working on it. Under the previous mortgage-to-rent scheme, we moved to a position with one of the approved housing bodies whereby it would take bundles of loans from the banks and debt would be written off. Under the expression of interest for the new scheme, we will have far more take-up than previously was the case. A review was carried out to identify problems with the former scheme although it is working effectively with one housing body that launched its proposals in the past year. Improvements can be made and that now is being done with the new scheme. The responses to expressions of interest should be back to me within a couple of weeks.