An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

I call Deputy Brendan Ryan to announce the Order of Business for this week.

Today's business shall be No. 20, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Regulations of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No. 1206/2001 of 28 May 2001 and Regulation (EC) No. 1393/2007; No. 21, motion re parliamentary questions rota swap; No. 22, motion re sittings and business of the Dáil in budget week; No. 1, Mental Health (Renewal Orders) Bill 2018 [Seanad] - All Stages; No. 41, Home Building Finance Ireland Bill 2018 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 42, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage (resumed). Private Members’ business shall be No. 62, Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, selected by Fianna Fáil.

Wednesday’s business shall be No. 43, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 - Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage; No. 23, motion re Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures Order 2018, back from committee; No. 24, motion re Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income and Capital Gains) (Republic of Ghana) Order 2018, back from committee; and No. 42, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage (resumed). Private Members’ Business shall be No. 214, motion re housing, selected by Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Thursday’s business shall be: No. 24a, motion re ministerial order relating to the Competition Act 2002, referral to committee; and No. 10, Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. No. 63, Second Stage of Deputy Jim O'Callaghan’s Civil Liability (Amendment) (Prevention of Benefits from Homicide) Bill 2017, shall be taken in the evening slot.

I refer to the first revised report of the Business Committee dated 27 September 2018. In relation to today’s business, it is proposed that:

(1) Nos. 20, 21 and 22 shall be taken without debate and that any division demanded shall be taken immediately.

(2) The proceedings on No. 1, shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and any division demanded on the conclusion of Second Stage shall be taken immediately. Speeches 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, which shall not exceed ten minutes each with a five-minute response from the Minister or Minister of State and all Members may share time. Proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 15 minutes by one question, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Health.

(3) No. 62, shall commence on the conclusion of the Mental Health (Renewal Orders) Bill 2018 or at 8 p.m., whichever is the later, and shall conclude within two hours and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members’ business.

In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that:

(1) No. 23 shall be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes. Speeches 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.

(2) No. 24 shall be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes. Speeches 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 Thursday’s business, it is proposed that No. 24a, shall be taken without debate.

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

It is not agreed. We have an issue with the motion regarding the sittings and business of the Dáil in budget week. I understand that, as a result of the Business Committee's deliberations, there will be no Order of Business next Wednesday or Thursday. I understand that is included in the proposition. We opposed that proposal at the Business Committee. The Order of Business is an important platform for Members, particularly those from the larger parliamentary parties, and only takes about 30 minutes each day. I do not see the necessity of eliminating it in budget week. I have no difficulty in agreeing to give as much time as Members want to contribute on the budget. However, I do not understand why the Order of Business has to be suppressed next Wednesday and Thursday. As a matter of routine, the Topical Issue debate should also continue but I understand some compromise has been effected on that. I ask that the House reconsider this matter. The Order of Business should be standard in sitting weeks of the House. I do not consider the budget to be a reason to eliminate it, particularly on the Wednesday and Thursday.

The proposal was certainly vehemently opposed at the Business Committee.

We do not have the d'Hondt mechanism for proposals made at the Business Committee.

No, we do not. The logic behind adopting the proposal before us is that it simply replicates what we did last year.

We do not agree with it.

The Order of Business is an important platform for Independents as well.

Yes, it is an important platform for Independents. Do we want to have a-----

I ask that the Business Committee reconsider the matter and add the Order of Business to the business on the days in question. It only takes 30 minutes each day.

The matter can be looked at and we will revert to the Deputy with our proposal in respect of it. Notwithstanding that, is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. Our party Whip has written to the Ceann Comhairle to request that additional time be made available this week, with perhaps a late sitting on Thursday and a sitting on Friday, to discuss the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill. Since the referendum, 1,500 women have travelled for terminations. It behoves us to treat this issue with the urgency that the referendum result demands. We ask that additional sittings be provided and that the Business Committee be reconvened to discuss that proposal.

The Business Committee can discuss that issue as well as the matter raised by Deputy Martin. It was discussed at length and I thought there was more or less unanimity on how would deal with this particular-----

The Ceann Comhairle will have received correspondence on this.

I most definitely have had correspondence.

The Business Committee had agreed to waive pre-legislative scrutiny at the request of the Minster for Health. We will consult on that matter also and revert to the House tomorrow.

The report in the Irish Examiner today about two members quitting the board of governors in University College Cork because of the lack of funding from Science Foundation Ireland is particularly disappointing. I do not know if the Taoiseach is familiar with the issue. Professor Douglas Kell, a UK based biochemist, resigned in August because of what he believed to be an utter lack of transparency in the Science Foundation Ireland process and because UCC did not appeal the decision on the Infant Centre which was set up in 2013. This raises fundamental issues about research and sustainability. The team there had already received awards from the American Heart Association for its groundbreaking work on the life threatening condition of pre-eclampsia. In the overall context of patient safety and patient safety legislation, it defies logic that we would end very valuable research of this quality. Professor Louise Kenny who believes the decision was political stated they had not been given a full explanation as to why their proposal had been rejected. Will the Taoiseach to inquire into this matter to see if he can obtain some satisfactory responses for us?

I understand Science Foundation Ireland decides on how research funding should be allocated and that it does this on a competitive basis. When it does, some universities and research centres receive funding, while others, unfortunately, do not. I do not believe there is any substance to the suggestion that there is political interference, nor should there be. I will, however, ask the Minister to provide a report for the Deputy and Science Foundation Ireland to meet those involved in the Infant Centre to explain why they did not receive the funding on this occasion.

This morning customers of a number of banks did not receive child benefit and other social welfare payments owing to a systems wide banking issue. I appreciate that it was not an error of the Government, but, of course, it has caused considerable concern and anxiety for many who rely on these payments. Will the Taoiseach confirm for the House that the systems error has been corrected and that people have now received their payments and indicate when the investigation by the Department into the error might be finalised and the findings made public?

I believe it was an issue with the EU payments system but that it has now been resolved. All social welfare customers should have received their payments by now, or, if not, they should receive them during the course of the day. The Department is monitoring the position, but if any customer is encountering difficulties, he or she is encouraged to contact the community welfare service at his or her local Intreo office.

Under the Harbours Act, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is planning to saddle Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with liabilities of €33.5 million. As the sole shareholder, the Minister is signing Dún Laoghaire Port over to the council, which is good in and of itself, but the sting in the tail is that he is adding to the council the liabilities of the port that are estimated at €33 million. There is real concern that this level of liabilities will jeopardise a number of schemes which are under way in the council, including in the Cherrywood strategic development zone in which thousands of homes are expected to be built. Will the Taoiseach confirm when the decision is to be made and will the Government ensure this level of liabilities will not accrue to the council, as it would cause such an unimaginable demand and impact on its capital programme?

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, has not yet signed any document.

I understand it will happen tomorrow.

On the outstanding liabilities of the port company, if I understand the statutory instruments correctly, the parent Department - the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport - will still have some responsibility for them.

What does that mean?

It means that all of the figure of €30 million quoted by the Deputy will not directly fall on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

How much of it will?

That question will have to be directed at the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport who is-----

He is not present in the Chamber.

It is incorrect to say that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will be landed with a debt of €30 million. There are several assets in the company as well which have the potential to and do generate funds. I will ask the Minister to reply directly to the leader of the Labour Party on the final details.

I am sure the Taoiseach, like the rest of us, read with horror about the fate of a woman who showed up at the Rotunda Hospital having given birth to stillborn twins and who was in homeless accommodation. Where lies the promise the Government made to have everyone out of emergency accommodation by last summer and what research is the Government doing on the number of pregnant women in homeless accommodation? The #MyNameIs campaign said: "We have spoken about the indignity of treating children as just statistics, but it appears that newborns born into homelessness [do] not even mak[e] it as ... a statistic." The Government does not even keep records. The Depaul charity said 27 pregnant women were sleeping in its homeless accommodation last year. It spoke about these women getting up and walking the streets and having to give birth not knowing what their newborn child would face. I have seen people who have had this experience. There are 18 in the Dublin north-central area affected by homelessness and five born into homelessness. This is an outrage.

No one can say what caused this incident to happen, but if a woman is pregnant and cannot access fresh food and water and is living under stress, she will have problems with her pregnancy.

I express my sorrow and offer my condolences to the young woman and her partner who experienced a stillbirth. It is a very sad moment for any family, and those of us who have experience of stillbirth or miscarriage will know and understand that and will also understand, as Deputy Coppinger rightly points out, that there are many causes of stillbirth and it is not right to jump to any conclusions in that regard. I am sure no one is doing that.

In the past year the Government has lifted 5,000 people out of homelessness and provided secure tenancies for them, but many more become homeless every day. It is a real struggle to keep on top of this issue. The development of family hubs, with more than 20 provided, offers much more appropriate accommodation for families. I know every effort is made to prioritise those who are ill or pregnant.

I cannot answer the question on research but I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, or the Minister of State, Deputy English, to give some details on that.

It is scandalous that the Taoiseach is not able to give statistics on pregnant women in homelessness.

This time next week the Minister for Finance will be well into his budget speech. What will he do to change the tax on stallions, the land tax and the capital gains system that was set up for good reason for family farms and the transfer of land to put some kind of reins – this is not funny - on the horsing conglomerate in Tipperary, especially Coolmore Stud, which is buying up every piece of land? It has amassed well over 20,000 acres. The Government refused to do it last year and has refused to do it for several years. We asked that a land tax might be included in the Finance Bill last year to bring some fairness and equity to the small and family farms in Tipperary and in other parts of the country, and to other conglomerates. I support Coolmore's racing prowess and the employment it gives but someone has to cry halt when it has amassed more than 20,000 acres, buying up land that is zoned for housing in delicate areas in villages and towns and buying cottage plots and acres. It is buying up everything. The Government sits idly by and there are many demands on the budget. There is no stallion tax. It was brought in for good reason by a former Minister, Charles Haughey, long ago but now it is long past the day when it should be changed. There should be some kind of land tax on farms of more than 750 acres. There is no land commission. It is the wild west out there. It is hoovering everything up.

I am afraid the Deputy will have to wait until next Tuesday to know the details of the budget.

We have to wait.

It has not been finalised yet.

I have asked the Government numerous times in recent years to take action on practical actions for homeowners affected by latent defects in their homes. I met the Minister of State, Deputy English, to discuss the strain that homeowners in my constituency of Dublin-Rathdown are under. He indicated that he would meet them but regrettably he subsequently changed his mind and no such meeting will now take place. As the Taoiseach knows, the Green Party has, on many occasions, called on the Government to investigate practical measures to help these homeowners. Nearly two years ago, the Dáil supported a Green Party motion calling on the Government to set up a scheme to remediate legacy defects. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government made a similar call earlier this year. Does the Government intend to investigate this issue at national level? Will it take steps in budget 2019 to mitigate the pain and distress these people are burdened with, or will they remain abandoned?

The Minister of State, Deputy English, is examining proposals in that regard. As is the case in the Deputy's constituency, there are also apartment buildings with defects in my constituency. The cost of repairing those defects, even when divided among the different homeowners or apartments, is very large for one individual or group of individuals to carry. Before we commit taxpayers' money, whether through tax incentives, write-offs or grants, to the repair of private homes, duplexes or apartments, we need to have an understanding of the kind of cost we could be imposing on taxpayers in general and on the rest of society. We do not yet have any calculation of that.

Earlier this year, the lack of rent controls in purpose-built student accommodation was highlighted by students in Dublin City University, DCU, when the owners of Shanowen Hall hiked rents by 27% to €1,000 per month per person. At the time, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, gave a commitment that he would bring student rentals under the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, to be covered under rent pressure zones. A new academic year has started and it seems there has been no progress in that regard. Is anything being done in this area to protect students in this kind of accommodation?

We have draft legislation ready, which will come to the Cabinet soon. I have worked on it all summer.

Two weeks ago, I raised the issue of University Hospital Kerry and the fact that no orthopaedic surgeries or replacements of hips or knees have taken place for over four months. I got a letter from the Minister on 27 September saying surgeries would begin in the next few days. We heard they were to start at the start of September, then the end of September and then yesterday. However, they have not started. We hear that maybe they will start next Monday. We also hear that they may not start until next February. There are many people in pain, including 124 people who have appointments that are not being fulfilled. Many more are waiting to be assessed and are in pain. I ask the Taoiseach to ask the HSE and managers to spread the work around and make appointments in Cork, where there are two hospitals, Limerick and Dublin.

The Deputy may want to spread the questions around.

It is wrong to have people in pain, perhaps until Christmas.

The Deputy's time is up.

Please do something to help people who are in pain.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The first priority is to have theatres back up and running in Tralee hospital. I will pass on to the HSE his suggestion that patients be transferred to other hospitals, whether in Cork, Croom or Limerick, if there is spare capacity.

The patient safety Bill is promised legislation. The heads have been cleared. When will it be introduced in the House?

The Bill is due this term. I think pre-legislative scrutiny has happened.

It happened last week so it will be due this term.

This is the third week in which I have raised the issue of Spinraza with the Taoiseach. Two weeks ago, he said efficacy was an issue.

When I raised with the Taoiseach last week the fact that it was not and that it was an effective drug, he said he wanted to check it and would read the report. Has he read it and can he now confirm to the House that the drug is effective, that efficacy is not an issue and that it is solely down to cost? Families are waiting for a decision from the HSE. The Minister for Health has still not responded to them, despite me asking the Taoiseach on two previous occasions to direct him to do so. Will the Taoiseach now do so?

I wish to speak about the same matter. This day two weeks ago I raised the exact same issue with the Taoiseach. I hope he did not take it out of context, but I did say I hoped the Government was not hiding behind bureaucracy. The programme for Government commits to trying to get these drugs on a European-wide basis. On this side of the House we are finding it very difficult to understand how other European countries with which we are supposed to be working in an alliance have secured this drug for their citizens. There are 25 children in this country in need of it, two of them in my constituency, and the timing really matters. I hope there will be an effort to ensure a speedy response on the issue.

I thank the Deputies for again raising the issue. It is not a matter of giving a direction to the Minister. As a House, we decided in legislation that whether drugs were to be reimbursed should not be a political decision and it is not for good reason. Whether a new medicine is to be licensed for use is a decision either for the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, or the European Medicines Agency, while whether it is to be reimbursed is a decision to be made by the HSE national drugs committee based on best clinical advice. As I mentioned to Deputy Lisa Chambers on the previous occasion she raised the issue, it is not simply a matter of whether a medicine is effective but how effective it is

I know that it is not. The Taoiseach said he would check it.

I have read the report which indicates that the cost of the medicine outweighs the benefits by a ratio of 10:1 or even 20:1. When one measures the cost against efficacy, the ratio is 10:1 or 20:1, which, unfortunately, is not a very good figure. One would expect the cost to benefit ratio to be more like 1:1. but, unfortunately, it is 10:1 or 20:1. However, that does not mean that the medicine cannot be approved. It is always possible for the company to come back with new data and new information to demonstrate that the drug is more effective than the experts believe it is.

The HSE will not respond.

It is also possible for the company to come back with a revised price.

In the programme for Government there is a commitment to maintain close relationships between all communities and the Garda. I bring to the Taoiseach's attention that the complete opposite is taking place in County Louth. One community policing van has to be shared between Drogheda and Dundalk, the two largest towns in the county, while there are only two patrol cars to service the entire Drogheda area which includes Clogherhead, Termonfeckin, Dunleer and Monasterboice. There is no uniformed inspector in the entire county. It has been reported that gardaí have to walk, cycle or use their own cars when carrying out serious investigations or making house calls. How does the Taoiseach propose that rural parts of the county will be patrolled or policed as we approach the dark evenings of the winter? It makes a mockery of what community policing is supposed to be about. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to fund the purchase of Garda vehicles to the tune of €34 million.

The Deputy's time is up.

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether County Louth has been bypassed or exactly when gardaí in the county can expect to receive funding for investment in their fleet?

I support Deputy Imelda Munster. I know that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, visited Dundalk Garda station where he spoke to Chief Superintendent Mangan and when I understand this issue was raised. It is a major issue in the constituency and further exacerbates the problems we face. There have been three murders by stabbing, an issue I have raised in the Dáil as one that needs to be addressed. The issues of the availability of transport and clapped out vehicles, particularly in the context of Brexit as it will impact on the Border region, must be addressed urgently.

I thank the Deputies for raising this issue which is of some importance in County Louth. Deputy Declan Breathnach is correct that I visited the region not so long ago. The amount of money invested by the Government in the Garda fleet is in excess of €30 million and the investment is very much on track. These are operational issues primarily for the Garda Commissioner.

No, there is a commitment in the programme for Government.

An unprecedented sum of €1.6 billion has been made available in the budget of An Garda Síochána.

My understanding from the Garda Commissioner is that in excess of 200 new vehicles have come on stream this year. This issue could be pursued by the local community in County Louth with its joint policing committee. However, I keep in close contact with the Garda senior management team and am happy to pass on the concerns of the Deputies.

Two weeks ago, I questioned the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Naughten, on the independent report into the viability of undergrounding the EirGrid North-South interconnector power line which it is proposed will traverse counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. He stated that he was to bring the report to the Cabinet. Has a memo on the issue been brought to the Cabinet? I ask the Taoiseach to tell the people of counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan whether the report backs undergrounding or promotes overground pylons as the best option. Was the memo endorsed by the Cabinet? Did any member of the Cabinet object to the report?

The memo was today approved by the Cabinet. I understand it has been published. If it has not, that will be done in the next few hours. It will now go to the joint Oireachtas committee for further consideration.

What does it say?

The Deputy is free to read the report. It will take a while to read it. I cannot give the Deputy an answer in two seconds.

I raise the issue of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill which aims to allow public servants work beyond the age of 65. This issue is the cause of much concern and has been raised with me by several constituents, many of whom are approaching the age of 65 and would like the opportunity to continue working. The Bill is currently before the Seanad but I am very keen for it to come before the Dáil as soon as possible. Is there any update in that regard?

I thank Deputy Heydon for raising this issue. The Bill is very valuable legislation which will permit public servants work beyond the age of 66 should they choose to do so. It will be very valuable in retaining the experience and skills of many public servants in their late 60s who often feel they have to retire long before they are ready to do so. The legislation has passed through the Seanad and we anticipate it will come before the Dáil later in this session with a view to it being enacted before the end of the year.