Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

One of the commitments of the programme for Government is that the Government will ensure robust protections are in place to protect children while online. There is frightening research published in today's edition of The Irish Times by a company named Zeeko, which confirms that one third of eight year olds and two thirds of sixth class pupils are playing adult games online and that the average age at which children go online is six years old. The former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, said in January that there are gaping holes that are being exploited with sickening consequences and that there needed to be a whole-of-Government approach on the issue. Despite the opposition of the Taoiseach, the Government agreed last January to appoint a digital safety commissioner. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, confirm that this process is under way and that we will have a digital safety commissioner in place by year end?

I can confirm that every consideration is being given to this matter in the context of what is a whole-of-Government approach involving a number of Departments and a review group led by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, under the chairmanship of the Minister of that Department, Deputy Bruton, and comprised of officials from the Departments of Education and Skills and Children and Youth Affairs and my Department, in terms of the criminal justice elements. The matter referenced by Deputy Calleary is under consideration and I expect that the group will report soon.

The departure of Mr. Martin O'Neill as manager of the Ireland soccer team has been a major talking point. The past year has not been an easy one for Irish fans. Irish teams are stronger and better when they are all-Ireland teams. We already have all-Ireland teams in sports such as hockey, rugby and boxing. In sports, we can achieve great success when we operate on an all-Ireland basis. The fantastic result of the Irish rugby team against New Zealand at the weekend is another example in this regard. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, raised this matter a number of years ago when he said that an all-Ireland soccer team should take on England every two years and the money raised should go to charity for children. It does not make sense that our small island would have two separate teams, splitting the pool of talent and the resources that are available. A number of surveys have shown that there are people North and South who support the idea of an all-Ireland soccer team. Does the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, support the idea and will he raise the issue with the Minister of State with responsibility for sport? Is it not time that we started this conversation in light of what has been the case in rugby, boxing, hockey and other sports?

Before asking the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, to respond I would like to comment. I was expecting Deputy Pearse Doherty to blame the Government for the lack of success on the part of the Irish soccer team or the departure of Mr. Martin O'Neill, who I wish well.

Is that all the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has to say on the matter?

Deputy Pearse Doherty is getting two vital responses.

The matter is one for the national governing bodies, the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association, not the Government. I acknowledge that there has been enhanced co-operation between both football associations in recent years, which was evident last week in the context of the international game held on Thursday night and on Wednesday night at the Co-operation Ireland event which was held in the Mansion House. This co-operation is positive and encouraging.

I take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Mr. Martin O'Neill and Mr. Roy Keane for the service they provided over the last number of years. While recent results have been disappointing, it is important to acknowledge that a number of players were injured and unable to play in the last few games.

This is incredible.

What about Cahirciveen and Gneeveguilla?

We have only 15 minutes in this slot.

This is ridiculous.

It is unfair to use the success of the Irish rugby team to hit the Irish soccer team who do us proud every time they go out on the pitch and we should all support them.


Hear, hear.

Rather unusually, I want to ask a procedural question of the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Government. Every week, we have debates in this House and we pass resolutions. Previously, resolutions of this Parliament were meaningful and effective. Increasingly, we pass resolutions and Bills on Second Stage that have no meaning or effect which, if it continues, will undermine people's trust in this Parliament. What procedure is in place to deal with resolutions or motions passed in this House? Are they ignored, as if they were resolutions or motions passed by a college debating society?

Deputy Howlin has raised an important question-----

As were my questions this morning but I got no answers.

----that in the context of the minority Government is one frequently faced by Departments in respect of the constitutional position of Parliament vis-à-vis Government. I assure Deputy Howlin that every resolution and motion passed, and every Bill introduced in this House is taken seriously. However, this presents Government with challenges in terms of following through in a way that is constitutionally compliant and legally robust. Speaking on behalf of my Department, it faces particular challenges in the context of motions being agreed by the Dáil and-or the Seanad on a regular basis, many of which require consultation with the Attorney General and referral for further consideration to an all-party committee. The overriding principle on the part of Government is to ensure that legislative measures leave this House constitutionally compliant and legally operable.

I acknowledge it is an important issue on which I am happy to engage with Deputy Howlin or any other Deputy. Ultimately, Government is responsible for the actions of Parliament and must respond.

One week on from the protests around victim blaming in our courts and from an international spotlight on what is going on in this country with regard to rape, I want to raise two issues. After many years, the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has at last announced that a new Sexual Abuse in Ireland, SAVI, report is to be produced. The Rape Crisis Centre and, I would say, the entire country is wondering why it will take five years to conduct this research. The purpose of research is to have up-to-date information, not information that is six years old. If the Government provided more funding it would get the report a lot quicker. The sum of €150,000 for the first year is too little. The Government must ensure this research is done quicker.

The second issue is comments in court. The Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, made an inappropriate comment on television the other night about a full blooded defence in response to the type of remarks that are rape apology and paedophile apology remarks by barristers, including "only being held down once", "that the perpetrator did not realise the person was not consenting" - a child - and "this man was not violent". How long are these disgusting comments to be allowed? We do not need to wait for a review to tell us that they are wrong.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to respond.

We have to stop apologising for rapists in our courts.

The Deputy raised two issues. First, I acknowledge her welcome for the SAVI 2 report. I assure the Deputy that this is a major piece of work, which will take a number of years to produce. I will not second-guess the Central Statistics Office, CSO, in the context of the timeframe.

I can assure the Deputy and the House that this will be the most comprehensive piece of work ever undertaken in this area and that sufficient resources will be made available to allow the survey take place. I acknowledge the welcome and support of the advocacy groups for this review. I assure them that I will continue to engage with them.

On the second issue, I again assure Deputy Coppinger of my active engagement on the issue.

A working group has been engaged in active work on this issue in recent months under the chairmanship of Tom O'Malley of the National University of Ireland Galway, a considered expert in this area, covering the issues raised by the Deputy today and previously. I expect to have that report within weeks.

There have been numerous ongoing issues with illness benefit payments, which the Taoiseach and Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, assured us had been sorted out. However, many clients are still waiting and being left without payments as a result of simple errors being made by the Department. One such applicant, who has had his payments delayed for three or four weeks, was assured by the Minister's office via my office last Monday that his payment would be issued in two to three working days. His payment was not received this morning and when we inquired about the matter we were told someone had not pressed a button. This is outrageous. This morning, we learn that the Taoiseach has spent €1.74 million on communications and spin in the past 17 months, whereas the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, spent only €116,000 on spin in 15 months. It is all about spin and image. What about the people who cannot get their payments? It is a disgraceful reflection on the Department's performance that someone did not press a button. That is little good to a family that cannot put food on the table, while the Taoiseach spends €1.74 million on his image and spin. It is outrageous.

I assure the Deputy that no one pushes buttons in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

That is what we are told.

We had some serious difficulties with payments for a number of weeks but, thankfully, payments have resumed to normal levels in recent weeks.

Some 50,000 people who are entitled to illness benefit receive their benefit weekly. I reiterate that there will always be instances in which people do not get payments for whatever particular reason.

Some non-payments may be as a result of human error, whether on the part of the person making the application, the doctor issuing a certificate or the employee in the Department.

It is ineptitude and laziness.

There will always be such cases. Thankfully, they are small in number.

There is nothing to be thankful about.

We have resumed normal business.

Just over a week ago, we had an appalling assassination in north Kildare. It was one of a litany of homicides that have occurred week in and week out this year. It is alleged that the number of deaths in one drug-fuelled spree of appalling killings has reached 19. Is the Minister confident that we have the legislation in place and the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, has the resources to reach out and deal with appalling crimes which have been directed from outside the country? Can the Minister ensure this? I raised this matter with the previous Taoiseach. We seem to be having a general breakdown of law and order on the Minister's watch.

My job as Minister for Justice and Equality is twofold. First, it is to ensure that our legislation is updated and conforms to international best practice and, second, it is to ensure adequate resources for the appropriate agencies, in this case An Garda Síochána. I assure Deputy Broughan that an unprecedented level of funding, to the order of €1.7 billion, is available to An Garda Síochána. I acknowledge the police presence in his constituency and right across the country dealing with the challenge of organised crime. I further assure the Deputy that there is a very high degree of international contact between An Garda Síochána and other police forces and services across Europe. I could, if I had time, acknowledge recent successes in this regard but, in short, I assure Deputy Broughan that the important issues he raises are ones that An Garda Síochána is prioritising. Indeed, this issue was the subject matter of a discussion I had last night with Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who has the full support of Government and, I am sure, of the House in his challenge.

Page 44 of the programme for Government states:

The renewal of towns and villages will be a top priority for the new Minister ... as a way to revitalise rural Ireland ... As part of this scheme we will propose to commit additional funding to support the development of rural towns and villages, as a key priority for revitalising rural Ireland.

My question concerns east Cork. People in the village of Rostellan have been asking for road traffic management since 2009. They have been supported by local villages, the Irving Oil refinery, Aghada power station, local gardaí and others. Some 40% of the road tonnage in Cork county traverses the village, which needs traffic calming measures. A recent survey, which was carried out for 12 hours a day for seven days, showed that 43,796 vehicles passed through the village in one week. I have two questions.

Deputies may ask only one question.

Are moneys available for traffic management in the village and is the council drawing down moneys for this purpose?

I remind the Deputy that, following his appointment, one of the Taoiseach's first acts was to appoint for the first time a specifically designated Minister for rural affairs with an appropriate budget. I acknowledge the recent announcement by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, of unprecedented funding under the town and village renewal scheme. I do not have the details of the village of Rostellan before me.

I will pass them on to the Minister.

However, I would be happy to request that an appropriate note be sent to the Deputy at the earliest opportunity. I assure the burghers of Rostellan that every effort will be made to deal with the issue raised.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. Eleven Deputies were not reached.