Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I remind the House that we have only 15 minutes on Thursdays for questions on promised legislation. I ask Members to pose questions rather make statements.

On 20 September last, I raised the issue of Spinraza with the Tánaiste. It is a miracle drug that will give a future to 25 children and their families. Almost three months later, we are no further on in giving assurances to those families about the availability of Spinraza. I ask the Tánaiste, as deputy head of Government, to intervene and inject some urgency into this process. I acknowledge the work of my colleagues, Deputies Lisa Chambers and Curran, in consistently raising this issue. I ask the Tánaiste to inject some urgency into this process in order to give certainty and hope to the affected families this Christmas.

As the Deputy knows, a recommendation on the use of Spinraza must be made by the rare diseases technology review committee. My understanding is that the committee is unlikely to make a final recommendation on Spinraza until January. While I know that this is not what the families want to hear, I am just giving the Deputy the most accurate information available to me.

As the Tánaiste knows, Permanent TSB, a majority State-owned bank, is selling on over 6,000 loans. The mortgage holders involved are fully meeting their restructured arrangements. The bank is doing this contrary to the Central Bank's code of practice on the transfer of mortgages. That code holds that a loan secured by a mortgage on residential property may not be transferred without the written consent of the borrower. Does the Tánaiste support the suggestion made by the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that best practice dictates that the code be applied by all institutions to all classes of residential property? Will he support me in making sure that this code is mandatory for all lenders when I introduce legislation on same in the new year?

If and when the Deputy introduces legislation, it will get fair consideration from the Government and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will respond to it. This is a sector that is regulated by the Central Bank. Loans that are transferred from one lender to another maintain the protections for borrowers that the Central Bank imposes through its codes and rules.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the proposed new national maternity hospital. These concerns centre on ownership and services to be provided at the hospital. We have also learned that if work does not commence by the end of the year, we may have to begin the planning process all over again in order to ensure that the building meets new environmental standards set by new building rules. These are all very legitimate concerns for a national facility that everyone wants to see built. On the status of the building, compliance with the energy performance rules and the concerns that we may have to go back to the drawing board, I ask the Tánaiste to clarify when building will commence and to confirm that the hospital will be completely publicly owned. Does the Government have a contingency plan to ensure the swiftest possible delivery of this really important national resource?

We are anxious to get on with this infrastructural project, which will be the largest ever investment in the maternity area in Ireland. The Minister for Health is very anxious to progress it as quickly as possible. A team of people is working on that right now across the relevant hospitals as well as in the Department. I will ask the Minister to send a note to the Deputy providing an update.

Two weeks ago I asked the Tánaiste what steps he was taking, along with other EU Ministers, to identify and prosecute the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi. Last night, very serious allegations were made against the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who has extensive interests in this country. It is alleged that his daughter was kidnapped in the Arabian Gulf and has disappeared. A video of this very impressive young woman was released wherein she pleaded for assistance from the West. Will the Tánaiste and other EU Ministers take action against these barbaric, medieval Middle East regimes who treat women and other citizens so badly?

That question might be more pertinent as a Topical Issue.

I raise it because the Tánaiste is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I am well aware of some of these issues. Like many others, we were shocked and remain very concerned about the murder of a journalist, which was clearly planned and organised clinically. That murder took place in the embassy of a third country. We, like many other EU countries, continue to ask searching questions about that murder which are not going to go away.

Yesterday, Noreen O'Neill returned from Barcelona having filled a prescription for medical cannabis for her son Michael but the medication was taken from her by customs officials in Dublin Airport. Unfortunately, Noreen is not the first and will not be the last parent to go through this. On a weekly basis, parents are travelling to other jurisdictions in order to access healthcare for their children. This situation is completely untenable and shambolic. Two years have passed but the Government has still not acted on the cannabis access programme recommended by the Health Products Regulatory Authority. The Government has failed to act on an issue affecting so many families who have to travel abroad to obtain health care for their children and who are breaking the law in doing so. It is totally unacceptable.

I acknowledge the work that Deputy Gino Kenny has done on this issue although he and I have had arguments and disagreements on it in this House. What those of us on this side of the House want is a system that is as seamless as possible and that allows parents to access appropriate health care treatment for their children. However, this must be done under the supervision of a medical professional to ensure that the drugs or treatments being used are appropriate and are supervised. That is why the access programme for medicinal cannabis products is based on a licensing system whereby a consultant requests that a drug be imported. No request from a consultant has been refused by the Minister to date, as far as I know. I contend that the way not to do this is to send people abroad, knowing that when they come home the drugs will be confiscated.

There are hundreds of families-----

Instead, we need to work to try to help families to get the medical treatments that they need.

Family Carers Ireland launched its annual scorecard report for 2017 earlier today. While some improvements are recorded, the overall performance is abysmal, particularly in the area of family respite care. It is almost impossible to get respite care in this country. I know of a woman whose 21 year old son has been in hospital since August. She is trying to get him home but has only been offered four hours and even within those four hours, she must be present at all times. She has been caring for her young son 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She is an excellent mother whose son is severely disabled. I ask the Tánaiste to do something about respite care because the lack thereof is clogging up beds in hospitals and is adding to the crisis in emergency departments too.

Significant increases in funding have been made to support carers and to increase respite hours but I accept that there is still more work to be done.

I wish to raise a matter in the context of references in the programme for Government to the protection of communities from crime. This morning, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is visiting the Garda station in Drogheda. He is meeting Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan to discuss the excellent work being done by gardaí in their efforts to deal with a powder keg situation that is ongoing in Drogheda, namely, a drug-related feud. Since July, gardaí in Drogheda have been dealing with shootings, kidnappings, intimidation, petrol bombings and incendiary devices. Earlier, the lives of two named gardaí were threatened. The situation is getting out of control, despite the best efforts of An Garda Síochána. When will An Garda Síochána be in a position to deal with pressure-cooker situations of this type which, as I have stated previously, are happening to a lesser degree in towns and villages across the country?

I want to know what we are doing about it.

The examples which the Deputy has provided are why the Minister of Justice and Equality is speaking to senior gardaí to ensure they have the resources and powers they need to be able to act. An Garda Síochána has shown itself to have the capacity to deal with dangerous feuding criminals. It has done that in Limerick successfully, and it will also be able to do it in Drogheda. The Government will work closely with it to ensure it obtains any resources or increased powers it needs to be able to do that job.

This morning, the national carers' strategy scorecard for 2017 was published. In the section that deals with the review and update of the transport sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005, the plan receives a black mark and a score of "regressive". In the explanation, a number of concerns are cited. The scorecard expresses disappointment at the ongoing failure of the Department of Health to introduce the long-awaited transport support scheme to replace the mobility allowance and motorised transport grant, which were withdrawn in 2013. It also says the failure to introduce the transport support scheme has left people with disabilities and their families unable to access transport links essential to their ability to live full and independent lives.

When will the long-awaited transport support scheme finally be implemented?

I do not have an exact date but I will revert to the Deputy.

Page 108 of the programme for Government, in the section on agriculture, states: "The priority for agriculture must be to reward farmers for producing quality food." It was recently revealed that factories have been fined 21 times this year for excessive carcass-trimming. This trimming is carried out before carcasses are weighed to calculate payments to the farmer who owns the cattle. Yesterday, farmers from throughout the country, including west Cork, held a sit-in in Agriculture House, and they are asking one question: why will the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine not name the factories which have carried out this illegal practice?

The Department will begin to name them in January.

The Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Health and Education) Bill 2018 is winding its way through the Seanad. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills had anticipated it would conduct a stakeholder engagement but because the Government moved it into the Seanad quickly, unfortunately, that could not happen. What are the Government's proposals for this legislation? We are not satisfied with the protections offered to teachers in the language college sector in the Bill, and nor are we satisfied with the Government's level of engagement on this issue.

In that case, why did Fianna Fáil abstain on the Bill in the Seanad?

Will the Government agree to a full stakeholder engagement in the education committee before the Bill comes before the Dáil? We will not support the passage of the Bill without that stakeholder engagement.

I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to revert to the Deputy directly on the matter.

The Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, is present.

As the Deputy will know, I often attend the Seanad and I will return for the next Stage of the Bill. I apologised for what happened but it was a misunderstanding. We will certainly discuss the matter with the committee before it comes before the Dáil.

Is that a commitment to stakeholder engagement?

Absolutely, but passing the Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill is a priority. It has hung around for years and we need to pass it. I will try to ensure we have that engagement.

We will insist on it.

Tá Acht nua na Gaeilge geallta le tamall. Tá mé féin agus mo chomhghleacaithe tar éis ceisteanna a chur arís agus arís eile le féachaint cathain a bheidh sé ullamh. Thuigeamar ón Aire i mí na Samhna go rabhthas ag ullmhú chuig na reachtaíochta, go raibh an Roinn agus an Ard-Aighne tar éis an reachtaíocht a scrúdú agus go raibh a ndícheall á dhéanamh ag na hoifigigh leis an mBille a bheith réidh roimh dheireadh na bliana. Táimid anois ag druidim le deireadh Bliain na Gaeilge. An bhfuil sé fós i gceist Bille na Gaeilge a fhoilsiú agus a thabhairt chun cinn le linn Bliain na Gaeilge? Cathain a bheidh sé ann?

Tá an obair sin ag dul ar aghaidh faoi láthair idir Oifig an Ard-Aighne agus mo Roinn. Tá na hoifigigh ag déileáil le cuid de na cinnteidil faoi láthair. Tá naoi gcinn foilsithe ón Roinn chuig Oifig an Ard-Aighne. Tá siad ag leanacht ar aghaidh leis na cinnteidil eile.

My question is in the context of the forthcoming Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill. As the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will know, a number of families in transitional accommodation in Tallaght were recently issued with notices to quit from the voluntary service provider. As the Minister will further know, the provider issued these notices to quit because under section 25 of the Residential Tenancies Act, the exemption for approved housing bodies for transitional accommodation for Part 4 tenancy rights allows for a period of up to 18 months.

In regard to the Bill that will come before us in the next number of weeks, will the Minister consider a Committee Stage amendment to it to try to resolve this anomaly? It is clear that when the original legislation was drafted, people had not spent 18 months in transitional accommodation. He could fix this problem simply, and if he tables a Committee Stage amendment in this regard, we will be happy to support it.

There is a section that addresses that anomaly, but we might have to examine the details to see if it addresses exactly what the Deputy wants it to address.

On the issue raised by Deputy Pearse Doherty, will the Tánaiste comment on whether it would be possible, through an amendment to the promised legislation on the Central Bank or otherwise, to encourage the creation of a code of conduct applicable to primary and secondary lending agencies that are in the course of repossessing large tracts of household property all over the country, which is exacerbating the serious housing problem?

That matter is under review by the Department of Finance, as is the issue of moneylenders. I suspect, therefore, that the Minister of Finance will revert to the Deputy.

In the light of the challenges faced by Brexit, what efforts is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade making to grow our international relationship with other EU countries?

There are many challenges as a result of Brexit. Without the UK, the EU will be a weaker Union in many ways, economically and politically. It will also be a very different Union, and Ireland will need to forge new strategic alliances, a process which is well under way.

I thank Deputies for their co-operation. It was a slight improvement.