Questions on Promised Legislation

The Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act 2004 was passed through this House in 2004 and quite a significant number of sections have not yet been commenced, sections which deal with the rights and entitlements of children in terms of their entitlement to an education assessment for example, the development of a statutory individual education plan, the delivery of detailed education services on foot of this plan, an independent appeals process and so on. Over a year ago I asked about this issue and I asked again subsequent to that for an update from the Taoiseach on the commencement of those sections of the Act because unfortunately people have become too familiar with announcement after announcement, passage of legislation and no follow through in any meaningful sense. I would like an indication from the Taoiseach, in line with the programme for Government, on where the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act 2004 stands and those sections which have not been commenced and what is the Government's response in terms of what it will do about it.

I recall that Deputy Micheál Martin raised this some months ago and I committed to providing him with an update on the sections of the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act 2004 that have been commenced and those that have not and why that is the case. I apologise if he did not receive that and I will make sure that he gets it.

The situation facing parents and guardians of children with scoliosis who are waiting for corrective surgery is incredibly difficult and that is before we take the excessive waiting times, cancelled surgeries, abandoned action plans and broken promises of the Minister and Government into account. Recently, parents who are part of the scoliosis advocacy network have raised concerns that the HSE is managing the waiting list. They believe this is done through the issuing of letters asking the parents whether they still seek an appointment for surgery for their children which gives them an impossibly short window in which to reply. This means they are removed from the public waiting list because they cannot reply in the time that is allotted and I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that this is worrying, or maybe he will not. Can he confirm that this practice will stop, that we will see the added investment that is required and that there will be an immediate corrective surgery action plan with definitive times and commitments so that we deal with this issue once and for all and that we no longer have to have a situation where children wait for up to three years for their first appointment and assessment?

I thank Deputy Pearse Doherty for raising the issue. Specifically on the validation of waiting lists, I will check to make sure they are in accordance with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, protocols but the NTPF, as a statutory agency, sets down strict protocols on the rules that should be followed to ensure accurate waiting lists. We have made significant investment in the area of scoliosis. In the last budget there was €10 million more of an investment in paediatric orthopaedic surgeries. This will see additional recruitment which is already under way in terms of an additional consultant post and importantly we have been working with the advocacy groups and the clinicians to put a new scoliosis co-design plan in place, which I expect to be published in the coming weeks.

I want to raise a matter of secondary legislation with the Taoiseach. Members will be aware that the report of the local government boundary commission was published last week. It was my understanding that the Government had made a commitment to the former boroughs that they would be stand-alone municipal districts. Subsequent to the publication of the plan I have had discussions with the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, and he has confirmed to me my understanding that when the statutory instruments are drawn up the former boroughs will be constituted as stand-alone municipal districts. I ask the Taoiseach or the Minister for Housing Planning and Local Government to confirm if that is the Government's intention.

I can confirm that is the intention with the statutory instruments when they come.

The abortion legislation is being drafted and a lot of us do not want to table amendments because we want to see it being progressed. However, vital issues have to be incorporated. There is speculation that three visits will be required to be made by a person who may be pregnant and wants to have an abortion - two at the beginning and one afterwards. That is completely unnecessary and it would add to the cost. It would also be unnecessary medically. It must also be trans-inclusive, as we are drafting legislation in an era in which there is better understanding of gender. Conscientious objection must not prevent any pregnant woman from having access in a region or a geographical location. There should be an opting out, rather than an opting in. On the issue of safety, pregnant women in hospitals are being picketed. This will certainly be an issue once we legalise abortion. We have to be mindful of the need for a buffer and safety zone around hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, not to prevent industrial action or legitimate protest but to protect people's safety, including staff.

I thank the Deputy for her constructive engagement on this issue. Yesterday there were issues about when we could introduce the legislation in the House. After the marriage equality referendum the Marriage Bill could not be introduced in the Oireachtas until 15 September, when applications for leave to lodge petitions to challenge the result of the referendum were finally determined on appeal. Leave to lodge a petition had been refused on 30 July. We will prepare the legislation and be ready to go as soon as we are legally able to do so.

Will it be published?

We will publish it before the summer recess, but we cannot introduce it here until the legal issues are resolved.

Will it be in July or during the summer recess?

We will publish it in July, but the legal advice is that we will not be able to introduce it in the Oireachtas. That is line with the marriage equality legislation, as well as the Adoption (Amendment) Bill which was not introduced until 3 May 2015. The Bill will be transgender-inclusive and we will also be dealing with the issue of exclusion zones. Other matters are for inclusion in the clinical guidelines, but I will welcome submissions in that regard.

I wish to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government about the differential rent scheme in County Tipperary, a matter I have already discussed with him. The county council has written to over 1,000 tenants telling them that they are facing huge increases in rent of 50%, 60% and 70% and threatening to charge them the maximum rent unless they engage. Does it need a statutory instrument to do this or can it do so without notice? In letters received on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week they were told that the increases would take effect on 1 July. It is a very ham-fisted way for it to deal with the issue as it strikes fear and terror into people living in rented accommodation. In the context of the housing crisis, it is totally insensitive. Surely manners could be put on council officials who cannot do this willy-nilly.

A national review of the differential rent scheme is under way. I asked the Deputy if he could show me some written evidence of what was happening with the tenants to whom he referred in order that I could progress the issue with the local authority and see what the exact position was.

Is there any update on the review of legislation to reform or replace the current criminal injuries compensation tribunal scheme? It appears that there are real issues with the scheme, as it stands, not least with the fact that victims of domestic abuse are not covered and the current excessive waiting times for decisions. A man in my area was brutally beaten up 14 years ago on coming out of The George on George's Street because of his sexuality. He developed neurological problems and has been waiting 13 years for compensation, despite the fact that the solicitor has given all of the information the tribunal needs. It is not acceptable.

I cannot say to the House with any certainty that this issue will be dealt with between now and the summer recess, but I will be happy to communicate bilaterally on it with the Deputy.

It was announced that there would be a number of constitutional referendums later in the year, including one on Article 41.2.1o on women in the home. My understanding is the Government's preference is to delete the article, but a lot of bodies, including the National Women's Council, are of the view that it provides the possibility for a wider discussion on families, family formation, caring relationships and so on and that it would be a good opportunity for us to have a national debate. There is a strong case to be made for having a broader article to better reflect the inclusive modern Ireland. Is the Government open to considering that idea? Does the Minister have an open mind on the possibility of inserting a replacement article, instead of simple deletion?

While the referendum to deal with issues under Article 41.2 of the Constitution falls within my remit and that of the Department of Justice and Equality, the issue rightly raised by the Deputy is part of a wider conversation that will embrace a number of Departments. I will be happy for that conversation to take place and arrange to meet appropriate groups. However, there are issues beyond the Department of Justice and Equality and I am very keen to ensure the commitment in the programme for Government on the deletion of what I regard as a somewhat offensive reference to women in the Constitution will be dealt with at the earliest opportunity.

Last week the chairman designate of the DAA, Mr. Basil Geoghegan, was before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. He said there were significant issues which still needed to be addressed regarding the new runway. He said, "We need clarity urgently on the new system for noise regulation at the airport." He went on to say the current restrictions could cost the economy over 17,000 jobs by 2037. For 18 months the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, has been promising legislation to deal with the competent authority for independent noise regulation at Dublin Airport and failed to deliver. As a consequence, the Government has failed to deliver much needed legislation on independent noise regulation at the airport. It is a serious issue.

The Deputy's time is up.

When is the Taoiseach going to take the Minister in hand and ensure he will his job instead of that of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in dealing with the Judicial Appointments Bill? If he spent more time in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport-----

The Deputy is spending too much time in asking his question.

-----in dealing with legislation relevant to his brief, that is, legislation which is much needed for the development of the economy and the country, we would be far better off.

The legislation to allow Fingal County Council to become the noise regulator at Dublin Airport has been promised and is expected to be published in the autumn session.

It has been promised for 18 months.

In the meantime, it should not cause the DAA to defer its plans to begin construction on the new north runway, work on which should begin immediately.

My question is related to page 160 of the programme for Government which deals with local authority reform. Last week the people of west Cork received a draft of the new local authority boundary changes and I sincerely hope it is a draft. Submissions which other representatives and I, as well as local communities, have made have been totally ignored as areas such as Courtmacsherry, Timoleague, Butlerstown, Ring, Darrara and Lislevane have been mysteriously taken out of the Clonakilty council area against the will of the people. Many believe this suits the Government, but the Taoiseach may be able to end these thoughts if he clarifies, on behalf of the communities concerned and the majority of public representatives in the areas affected, that they can be kept within the Clonakilty council area. What is the procedure to stop some of the plans from being implemented?

The redrawing of local authority boundary areas for the local elections next year was undertaken by committees independent of me in line with terms of reference agreed to by the Government. The recommendations they have made are for the boundaries in question and will be implemented without change.

I listened to the Taoiseach in welcoming the announcement of 1,000 jobs to be created by Amazon and agree that it is great news. It shows again the importance of foreign direct investment to the country, but, despite being promised in the programme for Government, there is a lack of balanced regional development. In my constituency of Roscommon-Galway there have been no jobs announcements and only for LEO-----


-----there would be little in the way of an increase in employment. LEO stands for local enterprise office; it is the same as the Taoiseach's first name.


It is a serious matter. As I pointed out to the Taoiseach previously, thousands of people are leaving the constituency to find work. Up to 1,000 come to Dublin each day. That is no life for families. I will ask a straight question. When can we expect to see real jobs being announced for County Roscommon and the Galway part of my constituency because it is not happening?

I may quote the Deputy on that in the future. I may even include it in my leaflets, particularly those for consumption around the country.

The announcement of 1,000 jobs by Amazon in Dublin is extraordinarily welcome. It is a real vote of confidence in the Irish economy. Realistically, jobs like those provided by major tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and so on will only happen in big cities with a critical mass. If those jobs had not gone to Dublin, they would not have gone elsewhere in Ireland. They would have gone to Tel Aviv, San Francisco or Amsterdam. We need to realistic about that.

That is not to say, however, that we cannot have foreign direct investment, FDI, in all parts of Ireland. We have had many positive job announcements around the country and very much outside the Dublin region. I will give the Deputy a few recent examples of job announcements. There were 350 by Abtran in Sligo, 200 by Combilift in Monaghan, 200 by Avery Dennison in Longford, 187 by Crowley Carbon in Wicklow, 220 by Netwatch in Carlow-----

There has not been much for Roscommon.

-----400 by WuXi Biologics in Dundalk, and 600 by Edward Lifesciences in Limerick.

There is still none for Roscommon.

One thousand jobs have been announced for Dublin.

I do not have an example to give the Deputy in Roscommon, but-----

There is none there.

-----we are working on it.

We are out of time. Thank you, Taoiseach.

I know the Deputy will want to welcome the fact that unemployment in County Roscommon has fallen from 4,347 to 2,377. That must be welcomed.

That is due to the fact that people are leaving to work elsewhere.

In the programme for Government under the heading of greater access to mental health services in primary care, the Government made three specific commitments, namely, building further capacity in child and adolescent mental health services, more 24-7 service support and liaison teams, and mechanisms to attract and retain staff in this area. The Taoiseach will be aware that Dr. John Hillery, president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, described the current system as shambolic and nothing short of a disgrace. He said he had to resign over the executive's inaction on mental health issues. It was reported in The Irish Times on Monday that in the past year more than 300 Irish doctors this year have obtained working visas for Australia. What will the Government do to attract and retain staff in this area of the health service before it crumbles?

I thank the Deputy for his question. He rightly identified there is a major challenge with the retention of consultant psychiatrists and psychiatry staff. As he will be well aware, this is a major challenge not just for Ireland. There is also a chronic shortage of staff in this discipline in Europe, America and Australia.

The Deputy asked a direct question, namely, what the Government will do about it. The future for this area lies in telepsychiatry where we will have to start delivering these services online and making better use of consultants' time, thereby ensuring they are doing exactly what they should be doing and not ancillary work that does not have to be done. That is where the future lies in this area. I am exploring that with the Department and the HSE. I have seen telepsychiatry in action in other countries where telepsychiatry machines are used to deliver psychiatric services. It is one of those disciplines that can be delivered online. Many physical health services cannot be delivered online. Telepsychiatry is the future in this discipline that is the direction in which we have to move. I appreciate the Deputy's frustration about this. We cannot keep having the same conversation about there being a shortage of consultants. We need to look beyond that.

I have raised many times the issue of our bail laws and their efficacy in dealing with those who reoffend. Is the bail (amendment) Act, as administered by the courts, effective? Is it making a difference or are further amendments needed?

The Deputy will be pleased to know that the 2017 bail legislation is being implemented by the courts. I do not have any form of official report official report nor has there been an official review of it, but I would be happy to keep the Deputy informed of my interaction with the Courts Service on this important issue. The issue of further amending legislation is being kept under review.

As my colleague, Deputy Troy, outlined, a number of outstanding items of legislation in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are awaiting consideration. Will any of those items of legislation include a provision to deal with the situation whereby only slightly more than 10% of those who have been disqualified from driving hand in their driving licence, despite having been ordered by the court to do so? Only a handful - I believe it is fewer than ten - have been prosecuted.

Only two have been.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister, Deputy Ross, will include a provision in one of the forthcoming items of transport legislation to deal with this scandalous situation? It would certainly be more relevant than some of the legislation he has forced the Government to put through recently.

I will have to check that for the Deputy. I do not believe that is a legislative issue. If I recall correctly, we passed legislation, either during my time or that of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, requiring people to bring their licences to court so that they could be taken off them. This is a problem around enforcement. What is required is better enforcement by the Garda, and it is being given the equipment it needs so that gardaí at the roadside know, when they stop a car, that the person no longer has a licence to drive.

The cost of fuel, diesel and petrol, has gone through the roof, especially in the past six months and since the last budget. I understand the Exchequer's revenue take is now at least 20 cent more per litre of diesel or petrol. I ask the Taoiseach to forgo that massive revenue take increase and give some of it back to the poor people. Hauliers, ordinary people who drive to work and farmers are being driven into the ground with this additional cost burden. Surely, the Government can forgo some of this revenue and reduce the cost of petrol and diesel on behalf of all the people who have been affected by these massive price increases.

In recent budgets we have put in place measures to give particular support to the haulage sector in recognition of the pressures those in that sector face and the likely charges that will happen as a result of Brexit in the future.

On the question of seeking to reduce prices further, the Deputy and his colleagues are on their feet every day seeking more investment in public services and for us to deliver better services to their constituents. We need taxes that enable us to pay for those. We will ensure, through the passage of the next budget and in everything we do, that we give all the support we can to working families, but we need to ensure we have a tax base that can deliver the improved public services the Deputy and his colleagues call for every day.

The Government is not being fair with respect to what is happening.

The issue I wish to raise follows on from the discussion on the apology with respect to rights last night. Under the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, difficulties are being experienced by same-sex couples in obtaining children's birth certificates, passports and other State documents. Is there a timescale for when that matter will be resolved? It probably involves a number of Departments. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is dealing with the issue which is impacting on many families. We have all been lobbied on it. Can it be dealt with sooner rather than later?

I call Deputy Mitchell on the same matter.

It is three years since the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 passed through the Oireachtas. This was truly an historic Act, ensuring the same parental rights for same-sex parents under law. The Government has yet to commence Parts 2 and 3 and section 99 of that legislation, which means that many families are facing serious difficulties. It was reported in the media last week that the Minister, Deputy Harris, hoped to bring forward legislation to Cabinet in the coming days and that he intended to introduce the legislation before the summer recess. Will the Taoiseach give us an update on the position?

I call Deputy Ó Laoghaire on the same matter.

During the debate last night, which was quite significant, there was much discussion on the need for the apology to be more than symbolic and to be part of ensuring full equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The lack of legal protection in this area is causing huge difficulty with respect to birth certificates, passports and kinship rights, which can arise when people are in hospital and so on. It is vital that this be addressed. I hope the Minister can respond positively in this regard.

On the same matter, I advise the Taoiseach and the Ministers that it would be difficult to underestimate the level of grief and difficulty being caused for families and individuals by the failure to enact this legislation.

I am sure the Minister will appreciate that as children grow older families want to holiday abroad and in many cases their parental status puts their ability to do that, as a family and with their children, completely in doubt. They feel much discriminated against, notwithstanding all the good progress we all rightly celebrated last night.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I assure all Members that the Government shares their sense of urgency and wants to resolve this matter. The Deputies are entirely correct. I intend to go to Cabinet shortly with a view to bringing about a legislative solution on which I hope we will work, on a cross-party basis, with a view to passing it by the summer recess. There are two vehicles through which we could do this, either through a simple stand-alone Bill or by including it in other legislation that will come before the House before the summer recess.

I raise with the Taoiseach the commitment to protect the environment in the programme for Government. Perhaps he saw the recent "RTÉ Investigates" programme, "Ireland's Wild Waste". It is more like the Wild West. The side by side competition and privatisation model in Ireland is chaotic and has been shown to be failing in protecting the environment. Ireland has one of the best records for separating waste in Europe. Householders are doing their piece and paying dearly for having their waste removed. However, some waste companies are involved in criminal behaviour. All sides of the House are concerned about this, as we should be. The maximum fine of €2,500 is akin to fining a Member of the Oireachtas €10. The culprits are laughing because there is no penalty or substantial deterrent in place for waste companies. I raised this issue with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten. I now put it to the Taoiseach that we need greater local authority control over waste management. We also need to streamline enforcement, which is currently a patchwork.

The Deputy's time is up.

I will conclude. We need to give powers to the Environmental Protection Agency and local councils to get on with controlling the waste industry.

I will not be able to call on other speakers if Deputies do not keep to time.

I am not sure I agree with the Deputy's analysis. When these matters were solely controlled by local authorities and councils, there was no recycling and everything was dumped in landfills. I know all about it because the biggest dump was in my constituency. The Deputy's ideological analysis does not stand up to reason. The penalties under the Waste Management Act are substantial. There is a fine of €5,000 on summary conviction, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, and a maximum fine of up to €15 million on conviction on indictment, and-or imprisonment of up to ten years. These are stiff penalties. We need to see them enforced and applied.

Chapter five of the programme for Government deals extensively with investment in the health service and local hospitals. Naas General Hospital in my constituency serves 200,000 people across County Kildare and west Wicklow. One of the units most under pressure in the hospital is the endoscopy unit. I recently visited the unit which is located in a prefabricated building in an old part of the hospital. Under a previous agreement, the hospital's endoscopy unit was to be replaced with a new unit. I understand the tender has not yet issued. While some progress has been made, the new unit, which has been repeatedly delayed, is now needed urgently. Perhaps the Taoiseach or the Minister for Health will give an update on the status of the project.

I thank Deputy Lawless for raising this issue. Having visited the facility in question on a visit to Naas General Hospital in the not too distant past, I am very much aware of the urgent need to progress it. The Government is determined to do so and the Health Service Executive is working out its capital allocation for the next number of years. I will revert to Deputy Lawless directly on the matter.

With regard to the programme for Government and improving the lives of people with a disability through housing adaptation grants, the total budget allocated to Louth County Council this year is slightly less than €1.5 million, which is almost €500,000 less than last year. These figures are replicated in other counties. We are only halfway through the year and the council has already received 267 applications. It also carried over 95 applications from last year, bringing the total to 362. Louth County Council will only be able to deliver on one third of the applications with Government funding. It would need a further €1.8 million to clear the remaining applications. Will the Government continue to deny vulnerable people the basic home supports and housing adaptations they need to live independently-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----or will it release the additional funding needed to clear the applications, including last year's carryover?

Deputy, please.

This was a commitment in the programme for Government.

I thank Deputy Munster for the question.

My Department and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, recently announced an increase in allocations for housing adaptation grants for this year. Funding for housing adaptation grants has increased this year. Later this week, we will announce additional funding for these grants to help in this area. The number of grants is increasing because more funding has been provided for this area. If the Deputy would like me to look at the specific unresolved issues in the local authority in her constituency, we can discuss the matter after questions.

We welcome the summer economic statement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and we note the change in the funding strategy for Irish Water. I have raised this issue before. Could Irish Water be asked to update its strategy for the upgrade and development of wastewater treatment facilities in Mitchelstown and Churchtown where a nursing home development has been put on hold because of the upgrade of the sewerage facilities? Mitchelstown has not had any new housing built in recent years because Irish Water has stalled all plans for housing development. I ask the Minister and the Taoiseach to intercede. It is a disgrace. Mitchelstown is the economic corridor to the south east. People travelling from Dublin to Killarney or Mallow must pass through Mitchelstown. We cannot build one-off housing in the town because of Irish Water. I contacted the Minister and the Taoiseach previously about the need to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities in Mitchelstown. The facility in Churchtown also needs to be upgraded.

I thank Deputy O'Keeffe for the question. Between now and 2027, more than €8.5 billion will be invested by Irish Water in key infrastructure, the majority of which will go into wastewater infrastructure because it is so important. Obviously, because Irish Water sits in my Department and I also have responsibility for housing, we can co-ordinate investment to ensure houses are built with the necessary infrastructure in place, including clean water going in and wastewater going out. If the Deputy is concerned about a delay on a specific site or project because the necessary investment has not been committed, he should give me a note and I will examine the issue immediately.

I have done so, and it is the whole town-----

I ask the Deputy to do so again.

Mitchelstown is on a very valuable route from Dublin.

That concludes questions on promised legislation and many other issues.