Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

We will now proceed to next item of business, Questions on Promised Legislation, for which 30 minutes is allocated. I note 18 Deputies are offering.

Regarding the implementation of Sláintecare, when will the detailed action plan relating to the report be published and debated at length in the House? There are many issues regarding whether Sláintecare will be followed seriously, given the meagre resources allocated towards its implementation in 2019 compared to its financial implications. The costings of it are significant, even though we have not been given comprehensive costings. A timeline for implementation and a sense of a sincere approach to the implementation of the plan are required because there is considerable scepticism about the Government's commitment to it.

The Sláintecare implementation office has been established, the director has been appointed, the implementation framework has been published and the action plan will be published before the end of the year. A decision on time to debate any matter in the Dáil is a matter for the Business Committee but I am sure we would be happy to facilitate that. There is a perception, which I am sure the Deputy knows is incorrect, that the €20 million set aside next year for Sláintecare implementation is all that is set aside for it. There is a lot more to it than that. There is a big increase in the capital budget and a big part of Sláintecare involves investment in new IT, new capacity such as bed capacity and primary care centres. There is also money in it to reduce prescription charges for people who have medical cards and people who do not. There is money in it to extend eligibility for the GP visit card and increasing the income eligibility limits. There are other investments as well. Nobody should make the mistake of thinking the €20 million is all that is set aside in 2019 for Sláintecare. There is a raft of measures ranging from capital spending to eligibility for medical cards and reduced prescription charges. All of those are Sláintecare measures.

Earlier this morning, questions on the tendering process in respect of the national broadband plan, NBP, arose. Next week, we will have the opportunity to deliberate further on those matters but I want to raise the fact that more than 500,000 rural homes, businesses and farms are due to receive fast-tracked high-speed broadband connections next year. The Taoiseach has confirmed that contract will be signed in January. Will he confirm that again for the House? When will Members and communities receive details of the locations that are to be connected next year? I was in Kerry recently where the Healy-Raes live-----

-----the Healy-Raes' kingdom, in Tralee and Castleisland. The issues facing rural Ireland are manifold. They cannot be reduced down to broadband but there is significant impatience with delivery. While all of this ruaille buaille about procurement and so on plays out politically, people are left without this service. Will the Taoiseach confirm the January date? Can he tell us when we and people outside this House will know the precise locations for connection?

The position is that the final tender, which was at the end of a competitive dialogue, was lodged with my Department on 18 September. That tender is now being evaluated by the Department to examine issues such as the robustness of the technology, the governance of the project, and value for money. I hope to be in a position to bring that to Government for a decision in the near future. It would not be possible for me or anyone else to outline a particular timescale or schedule until a contract is signed and the Government makes a decision to approve a particular proposal. This is at the end of a long process of procurement and we have to wait for a decision before we can indicate the outcome and the particular schedule.

This morning, I had the privilege of meeting a most impressive person, Jackie Fox. Jackie has been a campaigner since her beloved daughter, Nicole, whom she knew as Coco, died by suicide in January of this year after prolonged and vicious online harassment. She was accompanied by another woman whose son is currently enduring similar harassment. The emotion was palpable and there are many people like that who are enduring incredible pressure. The Taoiseach will recall that there was a consensus in this House to enact legislation I brought in last year, the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017. We had co-operation across the House and with the Department of Justice and Equality to introduce this. It is urgent. They have been to the gardaí and the gardaí say there are no laws to address the type of appalling behaviour that drives children to suicide. I ask that we agree as a House, in memory of Nicole, or Coco as her mum called her, to try to enact this quickly.

I support Deputy Howlin. This is a tragic case. The Deputy is correct that there is proposed legislation from the Labour Party but, in practical terms, the passing of legislation needs the Government to engage meaningfully. There is cross-party support on this issue. Last week, legislation relating to vulture funds was initiated here but was largely supported by the relevant Departments. I ask the Taoiseach to do the same with Labour's proposed legislation on this issue and ensure the Government deals with it on a cross-party basis and advances it as quickly as possible.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. I am sorry to hear about the tragic suicide which they described. The Minister for Justice and Equality is committed to working on a cross-party basis to pass this legislation. I understand it is on Committee Stage and he has some amendments. There will not be a difficulty with the money message from my side. Unfortunately, the Minister is not present at the moment. He is in the Seanad where a filibuster is going on with other justice legislation. The truth, whether people wish to admit it or not, is that the ongoing filibuster of justice legislation in the Seanad is causing other legislation to back up, including important legislation such as this.

I raised an issue relating to the degeneration and neglect of Tipperary town with the Taoiseach some weeks ago. Some 5,000 people came onto the streets to march. As many as 3,000 marched last Saturday. The Taoiseach acknowledged that there were issues to be dealt with in Tipperary town and I asked him to look at setting up a task force. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste neglected the town, as did the Minister, Deputy Bruton, through the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme. The people are willing to collaborate and work on this. They are not talking down the town. They are willing to talk it up. There is great community spirit and energy there. Will the Taoiseach please set up a task force to look at this? They hope to get some of the money from Project Ireland 2040. While we got money for Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, which the Government closed, and in Thurles, which we appreciate, Tipperary town and west Tipperary have been neglected. Will the Taoiseach please ask his Ministers to set up a task force to examine it and meet a deputation, trying to work with the people of Tipperary instead of having Fine Gael candidates talk about all they are doing for Tipperary? Nothing is happening there. I ask for a task force to look at the issues and to try to work positively in Tipperary town.

I am pleased that the Deputy has acknowledged the significant investment that has been committed to Clonmel and Thurles as part of the urban regeneration and development fund. I am not sure whether Tipperary town made an application but I know there was no allocation for Tipperary town from either the rural or urban regeneration funds. We would need a proposal to establish a task force. I have not seen any such proposal. If the Deputy wishes to draft one, I will certainly ask the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, to consider it.

My apologies to Deputy Gino Kenny. I should have called him earlier.

Currently, the standard rate of VAT applies to food supplements. However, there is a Revenue concession which allows the zero rate to be applied to certain types of food supplements (vitamins, minerals and fish oils). The practice of zero rating vitamins, minerals and fish oil food supplements has been applied since the introduction of VAT in November 1972 when the marketplace for food supplements was small. However, this concession is proving to be extremely problematic.

Elements of the food supplement industry has made a sustained challenge to the application of the standard rate of VAT to a range of food supplements. There are concerns that while elements of the industry apply the correct rates, others have a competitive advantage by applying the zero rate to products that are properly liable at the 23% VAT rate. Their argument is generally that the products concerned are similar and compete with other products that are zero rated.

There has been protracted correspondence on the issues raised which has raised concerns regarding possible non-compliance in the sector, in particular the zero rating of products that should be standard rated which may result in a degree of unfair competition between compliant and non-compliant businesses.

Revenue’s position is that food supplements are not food and, as such, are not entitled under VAT law to the zero rate of VAT; therefore, the standard rate of VAT applies. The concession in relation to vitamins and the like is proving unworkable as the industry seeks to use the concession to achieve a zero rating for much of the product range in the sector.

After consultations between Revenue, Department of Health and my Department concerning policy options that might be considered in the context of Budget 2019, reservations were expressed by the Department of Health as to the implications a change might may have on the promotion of food supplements in certain circumstances. For these reasons, I decided not to make any changes in this year’s Budget and Finance Bill. However, I have asked my officials to address this matter in the context of the Tax Strategy Group next year.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts from 1977 to 2016, the Minister for Health can issue a licence for cannabis on medical grounds and has done so on 23 occasions for 12 different patients. We are working proactively to make sure this product is available to people who need it and who have a prescription for it. The HPRA advises us that there is a problem finding a supplier. It should be borne in mind that medicines have to be produced to a certain standard. The HPRA says there is a difficulty identifying an appropriate supplier. I am disappointed that the Deputy seems to believe this is some sort of tactic, misinformation or disinformation-----

Two years. It is not an issue with the supplier.

-----from the HPRA. I understand the UK has run into similar difficulty. Given that Deputy Kenny is speaking about misinformation-----

It is not misinformation.

-----a concerned member of the public gave me this poster.

The Taoiseach is a disgrace.

I understand somebody from the Deputy's party or associated with his party-----

The Taoiseach is a disgrace.

-----put this poster up.

The Taoiseach is a disgrace.

The Taoiseach is a disgrace.

Will the Deputy let the Taoiseach respond?

The Taoiseach is a disgrace. That is the lowest thing I have seen here.

Deputy Kenny did not call David McCullagh a disgrace when he showed it to him last night. Why would he call this a disgrace?

The Government has had two years to get this right and has done nothing.

Why did Deputy Kenny not call David McCullagh a disgrace?

Thousands of people are suffering. The Government is a joke.

I have a serious concern about people spreading misinformation on health issues.

The Taoiseach is a disgrace. I want him to withdraw that remark.

I did not make any remark.

I want the Taoiseach to withdraw that remark.

That is out of order.

What remark?

The Taoiseach is making accusations with that poster.

What remark?

The Taoiseach should do what he was about to do.

I think the Deputy protests too much.

I want the Taoiseach to withdraw that remark.

What remark is Deputy Kenny seeking to have withdrawn?

The Taoiseach has not said anything.

The Taoiseach is implying in the poster-----

Implying is not a remark.

Why did he introduce the poster? That was a year and a half ago. It has nothing to do with us.

I cannot even read the poster. In fact, it is contrary to the rules to introduce any posters, newspapers or paraphernalia in here. I call Deputy Broughan.

I defer to Deputy Connolly.

Mar is eol don Cheann Comhairle, tá sé deimhnithe i gclár an Rialtais go gcosnóidh an Rialtas seo muintir na n-oileán ar fud na tíre. Sa chomhthéacs sin, baineann mo cheist le hOileáin Árann. Seachtain ón lá amárach beidh lá na cinniúna ann don aersheirbhís. Beidh deireadh léi seachtain ón lá amárach. Tá ceist dhíreach, ghonta agam. Cad atá i gceist ag an Rialtas? An mbeidh aersheirbhís ann an Aoine seo chugainn? An mbeidh seirbhís eigeandála i gceist?

Táim cinnte go mbeidh seirbhís ann ó 7 Nollaig. Tá a fhios agam gur ceist fhíorthábhactach do mhuintir Árainn é seo. Bhí a lán cruinnithe agam, cruinniú leis an Teachta féin ina measc. Beidh cruinniú eile dé Luain seo chugainn in oifigí na Roinne sna Forbacha le hionadaithe ó na comharchumainn in Árann. Táim cinnte go mbeidh seirbhís ar fáil. Táimid ag déanamh chuile rud chun Aefort na Mine a cheannach freisin. Táimid i dteagmháil le húinéirí Aer Arann agus le húinéirí Aerfort na Mine chun an aerfort sin a cheannach ar son an Stáit.

Last week, we heard of massive amounts of jobs coming to Dublin. So much was promised in the programme for Government on jobs in rural Ireland but I have to point out that from Kenmare to Sneem, Waterville and Cahersiveen door after door has been closed in recent times and there are no new jobs. In one school in Cahersiveen only two children presented to be enrolled this year. I ask the Taoiseach and the Government to set up a task force. We have a new digital hub in Sneem that is all kitted out but is awaiting people. It is the same in Dromid and Mastergeehy. There are lovely new set-ups but no prospect of jobs.

All right, Deputy.

Will the Taoiseach send a Government or State Department to these places to revitalise these communities?

Please, Deputy. The time is up.

All they have had in recent years is a bit of a boost in tourism but nothing by the way of new jobs, be they industrial, commercial or what have you. I appeal on behalf of the entire Iveragh Peninsula. It is decimated.

The Deputy must stick to the one minute limit.

If Deputies do not stick to the one minute I will not call them any more.

The percentage of jobs created outside the Dublin region is more than 60%. The majority of jobs created in recent years has been created outside of Dublin. Unemployment is down in every county, including Kerry. It is down by approximately half in Kerry and employment is up. I am not sure task forces create jobs but we have the rural fund and urban fund and I strongly encourage people who have workable ideas to create jobs and generate economic development to make applications to these funds. Many towns and many areas have already benefitted from the announcements made in recent days.

The numbers are down because of emigration.

The beef industry is in crisis. Farmers' returns are just not viable. We have raised this numerous times in recent months in the House. Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse on a weekly basis. Usually in the run-up to Christmas beef prices increase. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening at the back end of 2018. Cow prices, which are usually the barometer of the health of the beef business, are down one third since July. We have no live exports. As a result we have a kill that is at 40,000 head per week. It is clear we do not have the markets to sell the beef. Help is urgently needed if our beef industry is to survive. Farmers have had enough.

I am afraid the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is not here today. I know there is an ongoing discussion at the beef forum involving the industry, the IFA, other farm organisations and the Department as to what can be done to make sure farmers get a fair price and incomes are protected.

My question is a bit close to what Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked so I hope the Taoiseach does not mind answering a similar question. The programme for Government includes a commitment to create more than 200,000 jobs by 2020 with 130,000 or 140,000 outside Dublin. If we look at the most recent figures, this is not happening. I acknowledge the Taoiseach was on the Roscommon and Leitrim border last Friday, when he opened an extension creating 60 extra jobs and this is good, but many rural areas are really suffering and the only thing we can hope to get into them is employment. I acknowledge there are broadband issues and other infrastructural issues but we need to do something urgently to get jobs into these areas. I will quote a figure I quoted previously, which is that each day more than 900 people travel from my county to work in Dublin. Is there anything the Taoiseach can do to give hope to these people to try in some way to persuade more businesses locating in Ireland to come to some of the rural areas?

I do not mean this in any way to be critical but it is important to look at the numbers and not the headlines. If we look at the numbers they show well over 60% of jobs created in recent years have been created outside of Dublin. The lowest unemployment is now in the Border counties and the second lowest unemployment is in the south west, which is the Cork and Kerry region. To give some small examples of the recent announcements, there were 350 in Sligo by Abtran, 200 in Athlone by Neueda, 600 in Limerick by Edwards, 400 by WuXi in Dundalk, 200 by Combilift in Monaghan, 350 by Chanelle in Loughrea, 175 by Fexco in Killorglin, 500 by Abbott in Donegal Town, 100 by Entekra in Monaghan, 100 by Overstock in Sligo, another 90 by E+I Engineering in Donegal and 80 by Crust & Crumb in Cavan. The list goes on. The whole point of Project Ireland 2040, the investment in transport and infrastructure now under way, the investment in broadband that will start next year and the rural and urban funds is to do exactly what the Deputy suggests, which is to bring economic development to all parts of the country because we have an uneven recovery. We have a recovery everywhere but it is uneven and this is what Project Ireland 2040 is all about.

In the programme for Government under health the Government stated efforts to increase access to safe timely care as close to patients' homes as is possible would be a priority for the new partnership Government. In west Cork, Bantry General Hospital is a modern vibrant hospital providing a wide range of services to 80,000 people in west Cork and many in Kerry. This year, more than 1,600 patients have been excellently treated in the endoscopy unit. A new endoscopy unit and a stand-alone rehabilitation unit were approved at a recent national capital appraisal meeting of the HSE and have been submitted to the Department of Health for funding. When will this necessary funding for Bantry General Hospital become available?

I thank the Deputy. An announcement on the project is imminent.

With regard to promised legislation I want to bring the Taoiseach's attention to an issue on an insurance indemnity scheme for landowners who provide access to the MacGillycuddy's Reeks in Kerry and Mount Gable in Galway. Four years ago, working groups were established in both areas comprising the local authority, landowners, local development organisations and the Department. The key to driving forward this issue is an indemnity scheme by the Department for landowners so that anybody using the land would not be in a position to claim against the landowners. The one thing that has been holding up everything for the past 18 months is, we have been told, that primary legislation is needed to provide this indemnity insurance policy. No progress has been made and draft legislation has not been printed. Will the Taoiseach follow up with the relevant Minister to get this issue over the line for the 2019 season? It has far-reaching implications if landowners refuse to co-operate and provide access in both of these areas and in many other areas throughout the country.

I am afraid I do not have any information on this at present but I will certainly make the Minister, Deputy Ring, aware of the fact the Deputy has raised it and I will ask him to provide a written answer to the Deputy on the progress being made. I certainly share the Deputy's sentiments. The development of greenways and walkways throughout the country has opened it up to recreational walkers and tourism. If done properly and fairly it can be of benefit to landowners also. I will pursue it with the Minister, Deputy Ring.

As the Taoiseach may have heard, in recent days, An Garda Síochána has rolled out numerous speed control vans on the M8 along the section between Naas and Newbridge in the interests of road safety. The purpose is the safety and well-being of the workers on site. Last July, I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to consider the introduction of an average speed camera system, similar to that in operation in the Dublin Port tunnel and which has proved to be a success. The number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 km/h has reduced to less than 0.15%, which is a success for road safety in the Dublin Port tunnel. The reason I ask the Taoiseach to revisit the area is there are people in the speed vans. It is okay at present because people are aware of them but as time progresses their lives will be at stake. The life of a speed van operator is as valuable as that of the workers on site.

I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality review the average speed system in conjunction with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

That is a good suggestion. The cameras are not popular because they work. They are effective because they pick up the average speed somebody travels at over a stretch of road rather than just the speed at the spot check or the moment-in-time speed check one gets with a GoSafe van. I will inform the Ministers concerned that the matter was raised and ask them to examine it.

I wish to again raise the matter of overcrowding at Letterkenny University Hospital. This morning there were 22 patients on trolleys or in hospital wards due to the overcrowding and yesterday there were 43. The HSE confirmed to my colleague, Councillor Gerry McMonagle, yesterday that it will open the ten beds in the short stay ward in January. Has the Government not sanctioned opening the 20 beds in that ward given the current level of overcrowding? Some 4,700 people have been on hospital trolleys or in overcrowded wards so far this year as a result of the capacity issue. The ward and the 20 beds are there, yet sanction has only been given from the Government to the HSE to open ten of them. Can the Taoiseach explain why the people of Donegal are being denied the other ten beds?

The Government does not sanction individual beds in hospitals. We have sanctioned a very big increase of approximately €1 billion in health spending for next year, but the sanctioning of individual budgets for hospitals or parts of hospitals is carried out at either HSE or hospital group level. This morning, once again, there is an enormous variation in overcrowding. There is zero or one in some hospitals such as Mullingar or Blanchardstown and very high numbers in other hospitals, including hospitals that have received extra beds. What we must see in the new year is whether the additional beds in Letterkenny are used to the maximum benefit of the patients and whether overcrowding goes down. If they are used to maximum benefit and bring overcrowding down, it can then be extended further.

Yesterday, a secret memorandum was brought to the Cabinet. Once secret matters are brought to the Cabinet, they do not remain secret, as is evident from the front page of the Irish Examiner this morning. The memorandum relates to Brexit-proofing and Brexit preparedness and, in the context of transportation, Dublin Port, Dublin Airport, Rosslare Europort and other ports and the infrastructure that might be required if the Brexit deal does not go well in the votes at Westminster. If the latter proves to be the case, a hard Brexit is a potential outcome. Have there been consultations with the Attorney General about preparing legislation that could give the Government emergency powers for the acquisition of sites and to circumvent the statutory planning process to ensure that we will be able to move swiftly in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Finally, with regard to our EU obligations, have there been any tentative discussions on the idea of more flexibility with budgets in respect of state aid in view of the potential risks to our economy?

All the reports that have been produced on contingency planning for various Brexit outcomes revolve around what is called a central-case scenario which assumes a withdrawal agreement and a transition period. If necessary, we will produce documents on a no-deal Brexit scenario, which will be more complicated and will put more pressure on the system to deliver. We have been preparing for that for some time. The memorandum mentioned by the Deputy was a memorandum for the Government and should not have been on the front of the Irish Examiner today. It was a development of documents that were agreed by the Government over the summer to give an update to Government colleagues on the levels of preparation in places such as Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and Dublin Airport, where I am glad that a great deal of positive preparation is proceeding.

Yesterday members of the Joint Committee on Climate Action visited Tipperary and saw the good innovative work being done by the Tipperary Energy Agency and Tipperary County Council in conjunction with some of the training being done by Limerick Institute of Technology. What achievements does the Government hope to secure with the climate fund which was launched earlier today?

I thank Deputy Neville for raising the important issue of climate change and I thank him and his colleagues for attending the launch this morning. We must do many things to rise to the challenge of climate change. They will include investment, policies on tax and regulation and lifestyle change. The first allocations under the climate fund were announced earlier. Essentially, what is involved is using new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. The allocations include funding of over €10 million to the ESB for improving the infrastructure for electric vehicles, funding to Gas Networks Ireland for anaerobic digestion and reducing emissions related to agriculture, funding for local authorities to allow them to move to light-emitting diodes, LEDs, instead of existing lights, thus reducing emissions, funding for Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council for district heating schemes, again enabling us to reduce the amount of oil used to heat homes, and funding for Irish Rail to invest in a new hybrid fleet. As we electrify the train lines to Drogheda, Maynooth and Sallins, it can start buying hybrid trains which can operate on both diesel and electricity.