Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

This morning the Irish insurance industry announced plans to distribute what it calls green cards to motor insurance holders so that they will be able to prove that they have insurance when they travel in the North and across the UK. Could the Tánaiste confirm whether there is a legislative basis for the green cards and what are the plans to deal with practical issues such as insurance for communities who live on the Border or who have to travel regularly into the UK? No specific proposals are outlined in the contingency plans, but given the conversation between the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, it does not seem there is any understanding at his level about anything in relation to Brexit so we should not be surprised.

I will ignore the last part of that question.

Go on, tell us the real version.

Good defending.

I will give some guidance. In my view it is not likely to happen and we will all be working to ensure it does not happen, but should there be a no-deal Brexit, the UK, including Northern Ireland, will no longer be part of the motor insurance directive, which is an EU directive, meaning a green card will be required to demonstrate to the authorities in Northern Ireland and to the rest of the UK if one is driving there that valid motor insurance cover is in place for one's vehicle. What the industry is saying, and what we are saying, is that this is an example of contingency planning. North and South of the Border, and in the UK, the same advice is being given at the same time by the industry, namely, that cars and vehicles that are transiting back and forth across the Border or going to the UK will need to be able to show that they have valid insurance if they are stopped in the other jurisdiction. If they carry the green card, which will be available for them, then they will be covered in that regard.

The situation regarding the overrun on the national children's hospital is a catastrophic failure of the Government and those overseeing the project. To tell the truth, the explanations given to the Joint Committee on Health were absurd and farcical. We know that the original tender from BAM was €131 million lower than the nearest competitor. Did nobody in the Department raise how the tender price came in €131 million lower than what anybody else could build the hospital for? I recall the now Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, suggesting at the time that the project could come in below cost. Given that we know there is an overrun of more than €1 billion, which could increase further, what is needed now is accountability and a full, open, transparent public inquiry into how the project got completely out of control and who is responsible to make sure that it never happens again with public money.

The time is up.

Will the Tánaiste commit to the Government allowing for a full public investigation into this complete catastrophe?

As I am sure Deputy Doherty knows, the Government has approved the commissioning of an independent review of the escalation in cost in determining the adjusted contract sum. The review will commence this month and will examine the contributory factors and associated responsibilities so that any potential weaknesses are identified and comprehensively and speedily resolved in the interests of the successful completion of the project but also to learn lessons for other projects.

The programme for Government commits to a just and fair society and a more inclusive prosperity.

Today, the Fórsa trade union is launching its Support Our Secretaries campaign, calling for respect and fair conditions for all school secretaries. The vast majority of salaries at primary school level, as the Tánaiste knows, are paid through the ancillary services grant, leaving those who are employed as school secretaries with very few legal protections. Only 10% of school secretaries are paid directly by the Department of Education and Skills. Many secretaries work throughout the year but are left dependent on social welfare through the summer holiday period. Many, after working for decades in schools, are left without pensions. Of 681 secretaries surveyed, 66% had no pension entitlement and 27% had no access to sick leave payment. Will the fair and just issues raised by this campaign be looked at by Government? Will school secretaries be paid in the normal way as full-time State workers?

This issued was raised with me by Fórsa representatives on Saturday when they indicated that they would be launching their campaign this week. The matter has been raised by a number of Members across this House over a long number of years. Different schemes have been introduced, including that brought forward in 1978-79, and school secretaries and caretakers are also part of the public service stability agreement up to 2020. I am conscious of this issue but I am also conscious of the fact there are issues regarding nurses' pay and new entrant pay for teachers. These are all in the same grouping. I am very conscious of this issue but I am also conscious of the other demands.

I wish to raise what I believe is the first test case for the new abortion legislation. I have been contacted by a woman who has a fatal foetal abnormality that has been certified by two consultants. It appears that the board of the Coombe Hospital is refusing her constitutional right, that we all voted for, to have an abortion at a time she chooses. Instead, they have told her she must wait another four weeks to see if there is a spontaneous miscarriage.

This is precisely the case that was brought to national attention and that led to pressure and demands for repeal of the eighth amendment. At 13 weeks, this woman went for her 12-week scan. They could clearly see at that point that the organs of the foetus were outside of the body. They brought her back a week later and that was fully confirmed when they got a better image. One doctor, her consultant, and then another consultant were brought in and stated that there is a fatal foetal abnormality. A week later, the matter went to the board and the board overruled that assertion.

The Deputy's time is up.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle's discretion on behalf of this woman. This is a very important case.

It is very important but it is also without precedent that we would get involved in discussing a medical situation.

This is about the law. If the Ceann Comhairle does not mind-----

The Deputy is not describing the law. The Deputy is describing a medical situation that is very distressing------

A main maternity hospital in the capital city of this country is refusing this woman her constitutional right when two doctors certify what is very clearly a fatal foetal abnormality. It would seem that it is because of the chilling effect of criminalisation that maternity hospitals are acting in this way. It should not be forgotten that the Rotunda is only enforcing the law to 11 weeks, a matter about which the Minister has written to the hospital.

Thank you, Deputy.

I am asking the Tánaiste to get the Minister to meet this woman today. She should not have to pay to travel, which is what she is talking about doing if she does not have her constitutional rights affirmed.

I call Deputy Bríd Smith on the same matter.

I spoke to this woman, Emma Connors, last night. She is from Clondalkin and she is pregnant with a much-wanted baby but she has been told by her doctors, "You can go to England". Her words to me were, "This is not what I voted for. I have constitutional rights". What is the Tánaiste going to do about the matter today - not next week, but today?

Thank you, Deputy.

She is finding it hard to sleep, knowing the condition her much-wanted child is in. She wants a termination. She is entitled to it. This country voted for it.

We cannot and will not have in this Chamber a situation in which individual cases are brought up here and Ministers called upon to adjudicate or comment upon medical situations. It is completely----

It is the law. It is the legislation.

The law is one thing. Discussing individual medical circumstances is not appropriate and not in order.

It is the law. This is the first case we have.

The law is now clear in this area. The Government, with the support of many in this House, passed legislation in a way that was consistent with what we promised we would do in the context of the referendum that was held. The law is clear. I agree with the Ceann Comhairle. I do not think it is appropriate to raise a tragic case-----

We should not have a tragic case.

-----of somebody who is clearly under a lot of stress. This case needs to be dealt with appropriately by doctors in a hospital, not on the floor of the Dáil.

They are not implementing the law. That is the point. That is why we raised it.

We would not be raising it if this woman did not want us to. She wants us to. She wants to be named. She wants a termination. Can you imagine what she is going through?

There are patients in hospitals across the country who might want various circumstances that they find themselves in discussed on the floor of the House. However, that has not happened and it is not going to happen now.

They are raised every day. They are constantly raised. This is outrageous. The is the first test case to give women their rights.

Excuse me, you have made your point. You are out of order.

On a point of order, we are entitled to raise promised legislation, including when a law is not being implemented.

You have overstepped now, if you do not mind me saying it. We are entitled to raise new legislation that is not being implemented.

Please. Both Deputies are more than entitled to raise-----

We want an answer.

However, you both raised matters that are not relevant to promised legislation-----

Of course they are.

-----and you took twice the time allowed under Standing Orders to do it.

This legislation has been promised for years. Now we have it and it is not being implemented.

Resume your seats, please.

A Ceann Comhairle, you have had milk sheds and cow sheds and you have had cases raised here every day. This is new legislation that the entire country voted for.

Please resume your seat.

There are problems with it and we are entitled, as Deputies, to bring it up here.

I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

I am amazed that you said that. We are entitled to bring this up.

You are amazed that I said what?

You said we cannot comment on individual cases. Comment on the law. Comment on the law that women are being deprived of - their constitutional rights. Comment on that.

I have commented on the law. The law is very clear in this area.

Is the Tánaiste going to contact the maternity hospitals about implementing the law?

I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Yesterday, I received an email from the general manager of the Freight Transport Association Ireland related to Brexit. It has been writing to the Tánaiste for two years seeking a meeting. With all that is going on, including the exercise with 90 lorries in England, it is astounding that he has not met representatives from this association. How can he understand the real fears of many haulage businesses, which are a vital link for our freight to be transported to and from Europe and beyond, if he has not met them in the past two years? I cannot believe it. I appreciate that the Tánaiste briefed Opposition leaders about Brexit the other night but these are the business people of Ireland, employing thousands of people and delivering our products abroad. We need that continued but the Tánaiste has not met them for two years. Will he give a commitment to meet these people immediately? The general manager of the Freight Transport Association Ireland sent me an email asking for a meeting, which I will send on to the Tánaiste.

A meeting with the general manager of the Freight Transport Association Ireland, Aidan Flynn, took place. I met them and I met the logistics association on apprenticeships only the week before last.

I asked the Tánaiste.

Yes, but the Tánaiste may not be aware of that. We spoke about the skills needs for freight transport, distribution and logistics in the context of Brexit and a further meeting is taking place next week between the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Freight Transport Association Ireland. A meeting did take place to discuss the implications, complications and complexity of Brexit, and the effects this may have on the Freight Transport Association Ireland. We spoke about customs clearance, supply chain management and logistics. A further meeting will take place next week.

They want to meet the Tánaiste.

On the income thresholds for social housing, it is stated on page 22 of the programme for Government, which was drafted nearly three years ago, that the Government will "prioritise those on the lowest incomes and avoid creating social welfare traps". The reality in the case of Laois and Offaly is that hundreds of families are caught in a ridiculous limbo situation, with outdated income thresholds. They cannot get on the social housing waiting list but their incomes are way too low to get a mortgage or a loan under the new Rebuilding Ireland loan scheme.

A couple's income must be below €504 per week while a family of four must have an income below €528 per week. We have the ridiculous situation in which a local authority road sweeper in Laois or Offaly cannot get on the waiting list. People who are working part-time cannot get on it.

I thank the Deputy.

People who are in receipt of family income support cannot get onto the housing waiting list. I raise this with the Tánaiste because I received a reply from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government yesterday.

The Deputy is out of time.

I will just read the relevant sentence. It says that as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility will take place in each area. The Minister goes on to say-----

Please do not go on. The Deputy is out of time.

The reply is a lot of waffle and it does not deal with the situation. It says the Housing Agency is continuing to carry out the detailed statistical work which should underpin the review on behalf of the Department.

Please, the Deputy is out of time.

That is going on for three years while people caught in private rented accommodation cannot get a mortgage or loan under the new affordable housing scheme and cannot get onto a housing waiting list.

Please, Deputy.

I want the Tánaiste to give me a clear answer as to when this madness will change.

I call Deputy Scanlon to speak briefly on the same matter.

This is not just about Laois and Offaly. It affects Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and everywhere else. I have a number of cases involving young families with children who pay more in rent than they would if they had a local authority mortgage. They have been refused and appealed and refused again. It is wrong. They cannot go on the council housing list because their incomes are slightly over the limit. Something drastic must be done.

I recall debates when I was in the Department dealing with the housing issue. As the Minister said in reply to Deputy Stanley, a review is under way. When it is completed, any changes to be made will be brought forward by the Minister to address income threshold levels.

It should at least be moved on.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. Unfortunately, 11 Deputies were not reached today.

On a point of-----

On a point of-----

The Ceann Comhairle showed great latitude, in fairness to him, to people who completely abused the time available for questions on promised legislation. Those of us who sat here and waited patiently for time will not now get in. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow the 11 Deputies to make their points and to provide them with the same latitude he gave previous speakers. Good behaviour in this Chamber is not rewarded very often.

If there were two or three Deputies offering, I would certainly provide that latitude. However, to accommodate 11 Deputies and the replies to them would not work.

Prioritise next time.

The truth is that I inform every Deputy when his or her time is up. I am happy to hear it if Deputy Brassil has an idea of how to enforce time limits more effectively on Deputies, in particular on Leaders who are more assiduous in consuming the time allowed than other Members.

It is very simple. The Ceann Comhairle should not call those who abuse the time limits.

Some of the Leaders would be in trouble then.

On a further point of frustration, I suggest the 11 Deputies on the list before the Ceann Comhairle get priority next time we come to the Chamber.

I can certainly do that.

It is about fairness, equality and Dáil reform.

The problem is that many of those 11 Deputies will not be here next Tuesday.

Is this a new Standing Order protocol, namely the point of frustration?

We must proceed.

The Ceann Comhairle said 11 of us would not all be here next Tuesday, but I note that this is my third day in a row spending more than an hour sitting in the Chamber to wait my turn. I see Members walk in two minutes before they are supposed to speak and get in straight away. The system is wrong and unfair.

It is a capitalist system.

The Ceann Comhairle should start today by saying the 11 Deputies who did not get to speak will have an opportunity when the Dáil meets next Tuesday to come in. It is not very nice to see people walk in two minutes before they speak. Having done so, away they go. It is not fair.

By way of explanation, I would have thought everyone understood the system. The Leaders of each of the eight groups in the House are given an opportunity to raise a question before other Members. I have long held the view that Leaders who have the opportunity to ask questions on Leaders' Questions should not be asking questions on promised legislation at all.

However, the Members' Leaders would not agree to that. I will bring their concerns back to the Business Committee and the Dáil reform committee. Members should remember that we had bingo cards here a while ago.

Bring them back.

People were not happy with those either.