Questions on Promised Legislation

We have 21 members offering at this point. We have 15 minutes available to us.

As the Tánaiste knows, we have a serious shortage of consultants across the country. According to the Irish Medical Organisation, there are 450 vacancies this month. The consultants' contract negotiations are still outstanding. They have not been completed. My understanding is that 127 specialist registrars are now filling these posts. This is relevant to the health (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. A few weeks ago, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly described the practice of putting non-consultants into these posts as "scandalous". The consultants involved in the pay dispute have access to private work. The State is disputing whether many of them have breached the rules in that regard and is pointing out that other public and civil servants do not have access to such private work. The reality is that 500 consultants are taking cases. It is estimated that it could cost up to €700 million.

Does the Tánaiste have a plan to deal with this case and can he confirm that should there be payouts of several hundred million euro, they will not affect services?

The consultant contract negotiations are ongoing. It is difficult for me to predict outcomes.

The shocking revelations in recent days in respect of the extent of illegal adoptions carried out by the St. Patrick’s Guild adoption society, run by the Sisters of Charity, have rightly caused much anger and angst. Successive Governments have known about this and have failed to act despite reams of evidence. The situation persists that there is no statutory basis upon which people can access information relating to their identities and health records. The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, which provides for a legal right of citizens to secure information about their adoptions and gives them statutory right to access their birth certificates, was mentioned yesterday. Sinn Féin supports the aims of the Bill but in its current from it has been subject to much criticism, including by the Adoption Rights Alliance. In the wake of the most recent controversy and even prior to it, there has been a commitment from all parties to progress the legislation. However, it needs to be done correctly. When will the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, meet the various stakeholders and spokespersons to iron out the serious concerns that were raised so that this important legislation can be progressed?

The Minister is seeking to progress the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, which will create for the first time a statutory right for adopted persons and persons who have been subject to incorrect birth registration, birth certificate information and certain other information. The intention is that the Bill would certainly be enacted by the end of the year. The Minister has invited various spokespersons on children to meet her on 13 June, the week after our non-sitting week, to discuss how we can progress this legislation. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, is very anxious to talk to other political parties so we can progress this quickly.

I wish to raise the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. I have been speaking to a number of adopted people who, as is their human right, are looking for information about their birth including their birth certificates. They cannot get them because all the power lies with the adoption societies and their inheritor, Tusla. One women in her 30s has thought long about this and wants to know about her birth. She is entitled to that under the UN and European conventions on human rights. Some four years ago, she filled in forms and made the necessary contacts with Tusla. I presume they have by now put her on a contact tracing register. However, she has heard absolutely nothing. I have been in contact with her for many years. She accepts that it is going to take time. When I was Tánaiste I pursued this matter in private with each Attorney General and each Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The Bill has stalled. Is the Government going to remove the barrier to people tracing their information, as provided for in the proposed Bill?

My understanding is that the reason the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is so anxious to bring this Bill forward is to try to deal with the very issue Deputy Burton is raising. I am aware that the Deputy has raised this before. We sat in Cabinet together and the Deputy has been vocal on this issue for many years. That is why the Minister, Deputy Zappone, wants to work with all parties in the House to progress the legislation, which has been frustrated and delayed - not on the Government's end - for the last months. That is my understanding. It is to be hoped that following the meeting of 13 June we will quickly see some progress.

I raise the legislation for the provision of abortion and in particular the need for access for people in the North. That need has been highlighted by events in Belfast in the last few minutes, where the PSNI has intervened to confiscate abortion pills and a drone that was due to be used for the distribution of abortion pills by ROSA, for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity, activists. Deputy Ruth Coppinger is present there. The authorities and established parties in the North have all opposed the extension of abortion rights. I say to them that repression will not work and will not stop women who need to access abortion services from accessing pills through services like Women on Web. Repression will not stop activists fighting for abortion rights. As was true of the South, it will not succeed in stopping a movement to achieve abortion rights.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Yes, on the legislation for the provision of abortion.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, has been very clear that he wants to bring legislation forward as quickly as possible. That legislation will be consistent with what the Government committed to before we asked the people to vote on this issue. We hope to have a draft Bill published before we break up for the summer. In fact, we hope to have Second Stage concluded before then, so that the Oireachtas committee can deal with the detail of Committee Stage during the summer months.

On the issue of Northern Ireland, we have a very positive North-South relationship on health co-operation. I suspect that women in Northern Ireland will be able to travel freely South across the Border, where our laws will apply, just as many Irish women have been travelling to mainland Britain to have their healthcare needs met for decades. While many of us would like to see legislative change in a number of areas in Northern Ireland, we have to respect the decisions that the devolved Government has made there.

Under the programme for Government, I want to raise supports for special needs education. The Minister for Education and Skills came to Clonmel two weeks ago and announced about 600 new special needs assistants, SNAs. On the same day, the teaching and SNA staff in St. Mary's CBS in Irishtown, Clonmel, were told that they were being cut drastically. That school caters for boys from first to sixth class and has two autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units. Its staff champion the cause of ASD units. Two SNAs are being cut, one with 12 years' experience and one with six years' experience. The school is expected to carry on with children in mainstream classes and in the units without those SNAs. The whole system is totally unfair. The SNAs have to wait every year to see if they will get their notice. They have no job security. The families have no security whose children are attending there and who are grateful for the work the SNAs do. I have raised the matter already and hope the Minister will look into it. It is a sweeping cut. It is the only school in Clonmel with two ASD units. Big announcements are no good; they want real assurance that they will be maintained.

This year is the first time that we have made the allocation of SNAs known to the schools in mid-May. This has been welcomed by schools and by Fórsa, the union representing SNAs, as significant progress in giving greater certainty. We have provided 840 additional SNAs for this coming September, which will bring the figure for additional SNAs in the last three years close to 3,000. We are greatly expanding this.

Of course, in respect of individual schools, the allocation will reflect the children attending the school at the time. That is decided independently by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE. The school will have the opportunity to appeal if it is not satisfied with the allocation. Those appeals will be facilitated by the NCSE.

It is a black day for the environment. This morning it was announced that in the Tánaiste's own Cork Harbour there is to be a 250,000 tonne incinerator. This is completely against modern European policy or any sort of circular economy. This afternoon we are hearing from the EPA that effectively we are going to have no emissions reductions by 2020. Everything this Government is doing is leading towards an emissions rise by 2030 rather than the dramatic cuts we need. Will the Tánaiste support the calls for a special Oireachtas committee to be set up that would take the Citizens' Assembly recommendations on climate change and bring in the Secretaries General from the relevant Departments? By the end of the year, we could see how we could raise ambition to turn around this damning indictment of what is happening in our country.

A number of Deputies are offering on that case - Deputies Michael McGrath, Sherlock, Ó Laoghaire and Buckley.

This really was an appalling decision by An Bord Pleanála. It shows a complete disregard for the views of the local community and the inspector. I want to raise two issues in that context.

One is the decision of the then Minister, Phil Hogan, in 2011 to abolish the incineration levy which the previous Minister, John Gormley, had introduced. Will the Government reconsider that issue?

The local group, the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, CHASE, has called for an investigation into two meetings which took place in March and July 2011 between Indaver, the company promoting this project, and the then Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, for which it would appear there is no record, minutes or documentation. That issue needs to be investigated.

I have to express my absolute disgust at this decision because it flies in the face of the democratic will of the people. Every public representative in County Cork gave evidence before the oral hearing. The people of Cork overwhelmingly did not want that incinerator to go ahead. There were countless numbers of deferrals. It is great that the Tánaiste, who is from the area, is here in the Chamber today. Will the Government give us some commitment that this decision will be fought on behalf of the people of Cork? It flies in the face of the Cork Lower Harbour philosophy of renewable and clean energy. We have been working for quite a number of years to clean up the industries in the area. This is an absolute kick in the teeth for the people of County Cork.

The people of Ringaskiddy and Cork Lower Harbour, as the Tánaiste knows, will be absolutely devastated by today's news. They have been fighting against this incinerator for well over a decade. It is wrong that three attempts were allowed to get to this point. It has been suggested in the last while by the former Senator, Dan Boyle, and my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, that incineration is a technology which is increasingly going out of fashion and is out of line with modern technologies. There was previously a levy on incineration to discourage its use. Will the Government now consider reintroducing an incineration levy?

This decision is detrimental to the whole Cork Harbour area. We are trying to promote tourism. This will be an absolutely diabolical scenario for the whole area of Cork affecting tourism and health. We have a hidden natural gem in the Cork area that we need to promote. People who are vehemently against this incinerator have put up a strong fight. I urge everyone to pull together and keep on fighting. We need to keep a cleaner environment in County Cork and across the country and promote our natural resources, namely, tourism and health.

I happen to live two miles from the site in question which is closer than any other Member, although Deputy Michael McGrath is pretty close to it too. I have been involved in discussions and debates around this issue for over ten years. I believe the decision made by An Bord Pleanála is the wrong one. I am not saying that for the first time. Anybody who wants to look at my views on this issue can check the detailed 40-minute presentation I made to the oral hearing on this issue. What is frustrating is that we won the argument. The inspector who was managing that oral hearing recommended a refusal.

We also need to respect the independence of An Bord Pleanála, however. It is an independent planning appeals body. I do not know the basis for its decision not to follow the recommendation of the inspector and of the oral hearings process. However, that is the decision it has made. I do not agree with it but it is a planning decision.

The main basis of my concern is that it was counter to the Government’s policy on the site concerned. The issue of incineration is a separate debate in terms of waste management and so forth. The site is the issue in this case. The State spent well over €15 million on the National Maritime College and €13 million on the Beaufort Research Laboratory across the road from the site. It has spent between €7 million and €10 million on Spike Island as a tourism project. The Government has committed €70 million to the reconditioning of Haulbowline Island, a large part of which will become a people's park. That was the basis of my objection to this site being chosen for this form of waste management and disposal. I am as disappointed and as frustrated as anybody to hear the outcome of An Bord Pleanála’s deliberations. However, I need to respect its independence. It is important all Members respect it as an independent agent of the State.

With the agreement of the House, we will take five more minutes on promised legislation because quite a number of Deputies are offering and I did not get the chance to call Deputy Shortall as leader of the Social Democrats. Is that agreed? Agreed.

There is much concern among the women affected by the CervicalCheck controversy about the delay in the Government actually following through on commitments made several weeks ago concerning putting in place the kinds of services and supports they require, as well as the response to the handling of legal cases.

The other area of promised legislation where there is concern regards the promise to legislate, on an urgent basis, for mandatory open disclosure. Is the Tánaiste in a place to tell us where we are with the promise to bring in that legislation? At what stage is it? When can we expect to see it? The general expectation is that the urgency of the matter would require that it would be in before the summer recess.

Following on from some of the questions that Deputy Donnelly raised earlier on the support packages promised by the Government, I received a note from the Department of Health. Up to 105 new medical cards have already been issued in this area. All supports in terms of home care packages and 14 counselling and physio appointments have started. The packages are under way in terms of the practical supports and implementations being put in place.

Many women have indicated that they want to consider their needs further and then revert to the HSE outlining what they require. That is understandable having outlined to them what is potentially on offer in terms of available supports. There will be a process of consideration and deliberation around that. It is very much under way.

I will come back to the Deputy with an exact date for the legislation in question. It is a priority and we are going to move it ahead as quickly as we can.

The programme for Government states:

Long durations in direct provision are acknowledged to have a negative impact on family life. [This Government is] committed to reforming the direct provision system, with particular focus on families and children.

Is the Tánaiste committed to supporting children who have become victims of such detention? Does he accept that a 14 year old who has spent 12 those years in Ireland under the asylum system is a de facto Irish resident? Will he agree the deportation of an entire family of two teenage brothers and their widowed mother, who are integrated into Irish society, back to the legal ownership of the mother's brother-in-law will have a negative impact on family life? Nonso and Victor Muojeke and their mother are one such family. Is the Tánaiste committed to stopping on humanitarian grounds the deportation from Offaly of the Muojeke family?

As the case to which the Deputy refers is currently before the courts, I would be most reluctant to make any comment to the House on it. I am familiar with the situation of the case but it would be inappropriate of me to make a statement in the House at this point.

On the programme for Government’s investment in social, regional and economic infrastructure, last year more than 100,000 people in Drogheda, south Louth and east Meath were left without water for eight days and forced to wait on water tankers coming from as far away as Kilkenny and Thurles. Following that, in September, Irish Water announced it had signed the contract to upgrade and replace the pipe which caused the problem. It even went so far as to say work would begin before the end of last year. It never delivered on this, however. That same pipe burst again last night. Once again, the people affected will be without water and do not know for how long.

Despite the mayhem that Irish Water created last year and all that people endured, the company could not even be bothered to prioritise that work. Irish Water needs to get its act together and needs to be instructed to get its act together. Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is coming in as many weeks.

Thank you, Deputy. We are out of time now.

The people of Louth, east Meath and Drogheda need to be assured. We have had enough of this chaos. We need to know this is the last time it will happen.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Irish Water did not cause the mayhem last year, but the company did resolve and fix it.

I met the control group this morning. I was notified of this incident almost immediately it happened. Irish Water staff have been working through the night. They have now gotten down to the leak. It is 4 m down in the ground and 20 m from the location where the leak occurred previously. Thankfully, because of how Irish Water reacted last year, the company ordered a second piece of replacement pipe. Irish Water staff are now hoping to install it to help bring water back as quickly as possible.

Tankers have been deployed. The Army has been notified about the need to deploy additional tankers. We are aware of two festivals coming up that will need to be prioritised for water. At the moment, the priority is for the hospital and other areas. We want to ensure that those who will be without water are without it for as short a period as possible.

The replacement pipe is part of a longer term project that will be completed by the end of the year.

We heard that last year.

The Deputy did not hear that last year. That is not true. That is not what she heard last year.

The Deputy is misleading the Dáil to say that, because that is not what she heard last year. I was at those meetings. It is not what Deputy Munster heard.

The piece of replacement pipe is here. We will be ready to go with it in the coming weeks. It will take a number of months to fully replace the piece of pipe. We are talking about a very old and large piece of concrete asbestos pipe at a high-pressure point at the bottom of a hill. It needs to be replaced and it is priority work.

The Minister and Irish Water have had a year to do it.

It takes a year. We are talking about several metres in length and a pipe of significant size. The work started with the planning. It needs architectural permission as well because of where it is.


Deputy Munster, please.

I call on Deputy Munster not to try to minimise the significance of what is trying to be achieved here by Irish Water. The company will put in a significant replacement for this piece of pipe through the course of this year. However, until then Irish Water staff are working every hour of the day to get this particular break fixed. I will be updating the House later this evening on the matter.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 1.45 p.m.