Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

The Minister mentioned earlier that the Government will establish a rent register. It is absolutely crucial it is established particularly given the report this morning. It has been promised on many occasions. When exactly will renters in this country have access to that rent register and to the information? Will they have access to it before the end of this year?

I will raise the issue of overcrowding. Last month, 8,000 sick and injured people were left without a bed, an increase on the previous year. Scandalously, 30 of them were children. Letterkenny University Hospital is top of the list in terms of the number of patients on trolleys and in wards. This morning as we speak there are 27 people on trolleys in that hospital. Every day last year there were on average 19 people on trolleys in that hospital. What is scandalous is that there is a ward with 19 beds lying empty because the Government will not provide the necessary resources which the hospital management asked for one and a half years ago and instead we have patients lying on trolleys as a result. Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and I have launched a campaign. There has been a huge response with thousands of people signing a petition demanding action be taken and that we give dignity to all people instead of having them lying on trolleys and that we open the ward that has 19 beds. I have raised this time and time again. Will the Government make the necessary resources available to open the ward, which has been lying empty year after year, and to take patients out of the corridors and have them treated in the ward?

I acknowledge that anybody waiting on a trolley is in a stressful situation and anything that can be done to alleviate that stress should be done. This morning's TrolleyGAR number is 284. That is 284 people too many but it is a 17% reduction on this time last year. An extra €608 million of taxpayers' money was allocated to the HSE last year. The HSE service plan, which promises to deliver 4,500 additional beds and the 2,600 step-down beds, needs to speed up. The Sláintecare team probably needs to work more closely with the HSE in delivering a service plan next year.

The programme for Government commits the Government to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which sets out equivalency of rights protections for all citizens North and South. The Taoiseach said any rights or freedom that an Irish citizen has in Ireland or rights that a British citizen has in Britain should be enjoyed by British and Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and that applies to matters such as marriage equality and abortion rights. The Minister will be aware that scores of Members of these Houses and the UK Parliament wrote an open letter last July calling on both Governments to ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and that human rights of women in Northern Ireland are fully vindicated. What is the Government's response to that strong call from parliamentarians of these islands to ensure that reproductive rights are given to the women of Northern Ireland?

Personally I feel that the rights enjoyed by a person on one part of the island should be enjoyed by every person on the island of Ireland but the only way that we can assist in asserting those rights in Northern Ireland is to do everything we can to help the reinstatement of the sharing of power in Stormont. That is what we have been doing for the past number of months and that is what we will continue to do so until it is reinstated.

Contrary to the Minister's earlier assertions that the Government respects the incredible work and dedication of nurses in our public health system, the response from the nursing unions and the nurses at their recent special delegate conference suggests that they do not feel the Government respects them whatsoever and that its latest pay offer is an insult that will do nothing to address their concerns about the miserable levels of pay enjoyed by nurses, who are the worst paid health professionals, by a considerable margin. The Government's failure to offer the full re-establishment of pay equality for nurses and teachers and other public sector workers and to bring nurses' pay up to the level of other similarly qualified health professionals has led them to say they have no choice but to consider industrial action. Does the Minister not think that we need to listen to what the nurses and their representatives are saying about the need to restore their pay and establish pay equality?

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 that was commenced many months ago resulted in the proposals being made to all unions this week. It provides a fair, affordable and sustainable – which is probably the most important aspect for the country – path to managing the €200 million of costs associated with reversing the measures introduced since 2011. The agreement provides for two interventions at points 4 and 8 on the pay scale and will have the effect of bypassing these points on the scale, reducing the time for those professionals having to reach the maximum point. If they are accepted, the measures will apply from 1 March 2019 and each applicable entrant will reach the scale point much faster than they would today. The measure over time will benefit more than 60,000 new public service entrants since 2011. I very much wish all the unions well in their deliberations and encourage them to take a lengthy look at what is on offer.

The programme for Government is loud in its claim that it would support agriculture. I am glad the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is beside the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The suckler herd is diminishing and this will have a devastating impact on our rural economy. Deputy Creed has been the Minister for almost two years and has done absolutely nothing. The farmers were promised funding which they have not got. There is a massive fodder crisis to compound the problem this year. In July, the Minister told me he would do an audit in September and report back. September is almost over and there is no more fodder available because there was a major drought, although thankfully not as bad in some parts of the country as in others.

The farmers have not seen a cent of the low-cost funding that the Minister was to make available in this year's budget. How will they survive and be sustained and sustain our economy, as they always did for decades? The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, met us yesterday. The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, and other farming organisations are telling us that the Minister is doing nothing for the farmers and is blatantly ignoring them in respect of the suckler herd, the low-cost funding and the fodder, which he said he would count in September. I do not know if the Minister is able to count because a blind man could see there was no fodder in July or now.

I recall my conversation with the Deputy in the closing weeks of the summer session of Parliament and the discussion of an audit.

The Deputy rubbished the idea of an audit then. That audit was concluded and, at that stage, indicated a deficit of almost 30%. The most recent audit, which the Deputy is obviously unaware of, showed that we had, through a series of initiatives, including a tillage initiative, an imports initiative, extending the chemical and organic fertiliser deadlines, flexibility around the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, and a stakeholder group working to deliver messages to farming individually, closed that the gap to 11%. The critical message between now and the end of the growing season and, fortuitously, we are enjoying something of an Indian summer-----

There is frost every night.

-----is that we maximise the opportunities between now and then to close further the deficit in fodder.

There is frost at night.

I am confident that will happen given all the initiatives we have taken.

What about the suckler herd?

On the issue of-----

No, we cannot go into it. The Minister's time is up.

The Minister made it with waffle. He waffled. The Minister is a waffler.

Can we let the Members ask their questions please?

On page 105 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to ensuring that every young person is enabled to reach their full potential. I have written to the Minister for Health regarding the provision of the drug Spinraza for children suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, SMA. The HSE has acknowledged that the drug works well and it is now solely an issue of cost. Some of the affected families attended a demonstration at the gates of Leinster House last week. One was from my county, Kilkenny. The family is waiting in desperation for an answer on this drug, which will make a significant difference to the life of their young son. Can the Minister instruct the HSE to engage with Biogen regarding the provision of the drug? Can the Minister engage with these families and provide them with an up-to-date status report on the process? I understand the HSE is meeting tomorrow to discuss the drug and now is the time for the Minister to intervene.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter because I know many young patients are waiting for a positive outcome on this. We do not need to direct the HSE to do anything because, as the Deputy said, a meeting has been organised. There is a standard procedure for authorising drugs in this country and it is independent of Government and of politics for the very reason that the debate on some drugs can become emotional. We need to take the emotion out of it. The health service needs to deliver for all of our patients as best it can. The Deputy and I are aware that meeting is happening later this week and I wish both parties every success.

The Garda Commissioner last week announced a ban on Garda overtime causing concern among gardaí, the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the public. That is with three months left in the year. Due to a lack of front-line gardaí, overtime has become a fact of life and an essential part of keeping a station and district functioning. Much of the recent success the gardaí have had in tackling the scourge of serious organised crime had to do with significant overtime. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality meet the GRA and the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, to allow them outline the significant impact this will have on front-line policing and to examine alternative sources of funding instead of tying the hands of the gardaí behind their backs with this blunt instrument?

I have been approached by Garda officials as well to say that Commissioner Harris has introduced a ban on overtime to the end of the year. The programme for Government contained targets for resources to be put into fighting crime. Whether it is dealing with the incidence of drug-related and serious crime in urban areas, or crime in rural areas where rural gangs have resurrected themselves, this ban will greatly reduce the effectiveness of An Garda Síochána in all these operations.

After some difficult years for An Garda Síochána, the public's confidence is beginning to return under the new Commissioner, Drew Harris, and morale is beginning to lift in the force itself. Numbers are still not at the desired level and in their absence the facility of overtime is needed. Introducing a blanket ban for the remaining months of 2018 is a blunt instrument that could have devastating effects. I ask all parties concerned, the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Government and the Garda Commissioner, to review and reverse this decision and to allow the confidence growing in the force to continue.

The Garda budget is of the order of €1.6 billion. Out of that, less than €100 million is the bill for the overtime budget. The Garda Commissioner said in his initial public comment three weeks ago that he was going to look at the Garda budget. That is what he is doing. I keep in regular contact with him and with the Garda representative associations. I look forward to completing the ongoing ambitious programme for recruitment in An Garda Síochána. With the reopening of the Garda training college in Templemore, which was closed when Fianna Fáil was in office, I expect that by the end of this year we will have 500 new, ambitious, energetic and fully trained gardaí on our streets. The Garda budget is a matter primarily for the Garda Commissioner himself.

In A Programme for a Partnership Government, under the residential care capital plan 2016 to 2021, it was proposed that an amount of €2.67 million be allocated for the refurbishment of a 38-bed community nursing home refurbishment in Youghal, County Cork and €10.3 million was proposed for a new-build community nursing home on the grounds of Midleton Community Hospital. It is now 2018 and the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is yet to register the current buildings this year. It is likely that these hospitals will face a number of bed closures until the completion of these projects. Will someone tell me when these projects are going to start?

I am not in a position to give that information to Deputy Buckley right now but I will come back to him before the close of business today.

There are three Deputies remaining. I will take them if we can do each question in 30 seconds. I call Deputy Michael Moynihan.

This is within the remit of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. There is an anomaly in the system of farm assist and social welfare payments. I refer to farmers who have set up a partnership. The declining health, because of one disease or another, and resultant incapacity of one of the partners to sign off can block the other partner from getting farm assist. Low-income farmers are mentioned in A Programme for a Partnership Government but there should be something done in the regulations within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. These people comply with all of the regulations on income and everything else but it is a partnership and the herd number is in both of their names. The Minister might look at it for me.

What Deputy Michael Moynihan might call an anomaly is something that we call a condition of application to the scheme. I am not 100% familiar with the anomaly mentioned so I will look at the conditions of the farm assist scheme and respond to Deputy Moynihan later today.

Approximately 4,000 gardaí have been injured in the course of their duty over recent years. The Garda Síochána (compensation) Bill has been listed. When is it likely to come before the House for full debate?

It is unlikely that item of legislation will be prepared in time for this term. I will keep Deputy Durkan fully informed of developments.

The €75 annual support for householders for pay-by-weight charges has not been introduced. I had asked about this.

Perhaps the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, might correspond with Deputy McLoughlin on that important matter. I thank the Deputies for their co-operation. That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation.