Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Donal Hickey who has been a senior usher in the service for more than 13 years is due to retire tomorrow. I am sure every Member of the House will want to join me in wishing him a long, healthy and happy retirement and thank him for the distinguished service he has given to us.

I wish Donal every success. It is unfortunate that a Kerryman has to retire on the weekend of a Mayo-Kerry match. We wish him health and happiness.

For some time my party leader has been trying to get information from the Taoiseach on checks in the event that there is a hard Brexit. The Taoiseach has consistently said there are discussions under way, but there are no notes, yet on page 6 of the Financial Times this morning, if the Tánaiste wants to read it, there is a detailed report in which Irish Government figures are quoted as conceding that there might not be any way to avoid controls. When will the Tánaiste be clear with the House? There will be a vote, possibly tomorrow, such that before this House meets again, there may or may not be some pathway to Brexit. When is the Government going to be clear and honest with the House on the scenario facing Irish business and the Irish people in the event that there is a hard Brexit?

The Government has been very clear and honest. We had a long stakeholders' meeting again yesterday at which all parties who wanted to be were present and we discussed the issue. The Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit was there and understands the position clearly. There is no magic plan that will resolve the all-island economy issues in the context of a no-deal Brexit. It will require further conversations with the European Commission and may also involve conversations with the British Government if it looks like we are approaching a no-deal Brexit. I suggest the Deputy speak to his party's spokesperson on Brexit who is well briefed on the issue.

Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Ceann Comhairle ó thaobh Donal Hickey de agus é ag éirí as a phost amárach. Gabhaim buíochas leis ar son Pháirtí Shinn Féin as an chúram a thug sé do Theachtaí agus do Sheanadóirí na Tithe seo agus do na daoine a rinne freastal ar na Tithe seo ar feadh blianta fada. Go n-éirí an t-ádh leis san am atá amach roimhe.

The fall-out from the CervicalCheck scandal has had significant and huge implications that have continued for many months. In the midst of the crisis the Minister for Health offered repeat smear tests to all women who wanted one, but he never ensured there would be the capacity to deliver them. We now know that it has resulted in up to 78,000 women having to wait up to six months for their results. Yesterday it was reported that just 7% of resubmitted smear tests had been checked. That leaves 2,400 women waiting for repeat test results, despite having been promised priority in testing and results within four to six weeks. If the US laboratory, Quest Diagnostics, cannot deliver the results on time, the Minister needs to resource laboratories in Ireland to carry out this testing. What are his plans to have this issue sorted as soon as possible on behalf of all the women who have been left waiting?

I should have said earlier that I also wanted to wish Donal Hickey well. The ushers are very much part of the make-up of Leinster House and how it operates. The relationship between the ushers and Members is a very friendly one. Donal has been a huge part of that relationship and I really do wish him well in his retirement.

With respect, I think Deputy Pearse Doherty is mixing up two issues. The issue that was the subject of media attention yesterday was specifically related to Quest Diagnostics. The Deputy is right, there is retesting for reassurance purposes. Many of the women concerned have not received their results within the timelines that would have been outlined for them. I am told that Quest Diagnostics is stating it will have the results within the next two weeks for the remaining women involved. I could perhaps send him more detail, if he wants to receive it.

They are interconnected; they are both about capacity.

Though interconnected, they are separate issues.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish Donal Hickey and his family every happiness in his retirement.

Given his previous portfolio, how concerned is the Tánaiste about the fact that today there are almost 4,000 children homeless out of the 10,000 people who are homeless? In the Dublin area and I think parts of Cork, where a lot of people are renting, landlords are increasingly selling their houses because they have come out of negative equity and the bank may well be forcing them to sell. The consequence is that very often there is no place for the family and the children to go to, except into homelessness. I am really shocked by Fine Gael's failure on this issue, that notwithstanding the fact that in my constituency there are many homes being built-----

How many houses did Labour Party build when it was in government?

-----they cost between €600,000 and €700,000. Is there any sense of action on the part of Fine Gael to address the issue of homeless children?

We had a long debate on this issue earlier. It is an issue. People whose properties have increased in value may no longer be in negative equity. Many landlords who may only have one rental property are looking to sell back into the market. As a result, the tenants are struggling to find alternative and affordable accommodation. We are considering the issue. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will bring legislation to provide increased protection for tenants to the Cabinet next week to try to respond to the issue.

We may have to bring back the former Minister, Deputy Kelly.

We brought 5,000 boarded-up houses back into use.

The programme for Government states: "Our approach to governing will be clearly seen in how we address the issues of housing and homelessness". Never was a truer word written. I would have liked to address my question to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, but he does not seem to be here on the morning after we found out that there were more 10,000-----

The Minister of State, Deputy English, is here.

I am talking about the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who should be in the House this morning to take questions on what we learned last night. I will instead address the question to the Minister of State, Deputy English. Does he agree that a Government which allows the number of homeless persons go over the 10,000 mark does not deserve to remain in power?

Will the Minister of State comment on my view that the 18 May Raise the Roof national housing demonstration should be built into a massive anti-Government protest, given the scale of its failure on the housing and homelessness issue?

I want to be clear on this because I have addressed these protests before. The main aim of these protests, listening to their demands, are that we get to a stage of delivering 10,000 social houses per year. We are at that this year because the Government started a plan over two and a half years ago, so we are already getting to the figures that are being demanded. The main demand of that protest is being met. The issue is-----

Does the Minister of State support it then? He should and come join us.

He will be a hero.

-----to continue the delivery to make sure that people who are homeless can get a house. Again there is reference to the number of people and families who are homeless. To be clear, the budget this House passed for housing just a few months ago makes sure that more than 5,000 adults plus all of their children who are part of those homeless figures today will be leaving that situation and going into a house in the months ahead this year. That is because the Government has a step-by-step action plan to deal with this. The rest of the Members do not have that. We are all sympathetic but a plan actually has to be put in place to deal with it-----

Has the Minister of State any shame?

-----and that is what we are trying to do.

I acknowledge that the housing crisis has reached more than 10,000 homeless. On the other hand, Tipperary County Council has spent €371,000 per unit on houses in Cabra in Thurles for Traveller families that have been lying idle since last October. The Minister of State, Deputy English might answer this question. The average price of a house in Tipperary is €167,000. These have cost a staggering €371,000 per house and the families are refusing to move into them. They have horses grazing on the lawns. Are we going to review the Traveller accommodation plan? A councillor had a motion down at a meeting yesterday and the director of services refused to attend to deal with it. This is causing great anger and angst all over Tipperary and beyond. If we give in to a set of preconditions for people to move into state-of-the-art houses, built at enormous cost and which are almost three times the cost of normal houses, we will set a very bad precedent in Tipperary and I do not want that. It is time this was resolved and I ask the Minister of State to intervene with the county council. This is the cost to date, not the full cost. The reply I have got says it is the cost to date. There is subterfuge going on here. There is a €500,000 increase on what we knew at first. I want to know if this will be allowed to continue. It is farcical when people throughout the country are waiting for houses and sleeping on the streets.

The Tánaiste will answer the Deputy.

We need to be careful with how we speak about and debate issues around Traveller accommodation when it comes to social housing because it is easy to move into dog whistle territory here if we are not careful-----

It is not a dog whistle.

-----with the kind of questioning that the Deputy is posing here today.

It is not a dog whistle. It is an honest question and the sooner we deal with it the better.

Dealing with the housing demands of the Traveller community in Ireland is complex, difficult and at times very political. Local authorities have difficult challenges to meet in this regard without us making it more difficult for them.

There is no accountability.

To be singling out a small number of houses-----

It is public money and there is no accountability.

-----and specifically painting a picture of a problem with the Traveller community is something that the Deputy should reflect on.

I resent that lecture. I resent it totally. We are in a housing crisis.

It is true.

I resent that lecture from an arrogant Tánaiste who cannot build a henhouse not to mind build a doghouse for people.

On behalf of my Independent colleagues I would also like to associated with the good wishes to our colleague, Mr. Hickey. I again appeal to the Tánaiste to accept Deputy Ó Broin's very reasonable Bill which we will discuss later on this evening.

I want to ask the Tánaiste about a programme in his Department for the Uighur nation in China. I have asked the Tánaiste about this several times and about the fact that concentration camps have been established by the Chinese Government over recent years in which up to 2 million Uighur people, who form a central Asian nation that should be independent, have been incarcerated by the Chinese Government. This is happening on the Tánaiste's watch. We know the history of concentration camps on our Continent and we know about the outrageous events that happened in the past, most recently in the former Yugoslavia. There are concentration camps right now in north-west China in the Uighur nation, which, like Tibet beside it, should be an independent country, but this Chinese dictatorship that illegally took over those countries in the late 1940s continues to do this and to incarcerate a very significant section, particularly the young men, of that nation, which is mostly an Islamic nation. Is the Tánaiste doing anything about this which is happening on his watch? What sanctions are the Tánaiste and the European Union going to take?

These issues were raised recently in Brussels when the Chinese foreign minister came and spoke to EU foreign ministers. There was an open and quite constructive debate on this issue and these concerns and he responded in quite an open manner.

A green card is an internationally recognised insurance document which provides proof of the minimum compulsory motor insurance coverage required by the country a person is visiting. This green card demonstrates to relevant authorities that a vehicle being driven in their jurisdiction has valid motor insurance. At present, there is no requirement to have a green card when driving in Northern Ireland because vehicles that travel within the EU are covered under the terms of the EU motor insurance directive.

I come from Dundalk, a Border area, and as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, many people from Dundalk have been travelling to and fro for work and education to name but a few matters. Some insurance companies are giving the green cards but most insurance companies are not giving them. In fairness, the Tánaiste maintained that if there is a no deal exit, everybody will get a green card. All the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross is saying is that he expects the insurance companies to give green cards. Nobody wants a no-deal Brexit but the only certainty we have is that the Government can put pressure on insurance companies to issue green cards to every person in Ireland who could be crossing the Border.

The insurance industry has a responsibility to its customers and that is why the industry as a whole has given a clear signal that green cards will be available to people who ask for them. Some companies have sent them out to people just in case. My understanding is that about 1 million of these green cards have been printed. I would like to see a situation where we can agree an approach with the European Commission in terms of contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit that would not require the use of green cards on the island of Ireland, but that is not agreed yet so we have to proceed with caution in the contingency planning that may be necessary.

I have a question for the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly. It relates to the future of St. Joseph's Community Hospital in Stranorlar as well as Ramelton Community Hospital and Lifford Community Hospital. There was a march last Saturday at which many hundreds of people in the Stranorlar and Ballybofey area came out to march about the lack of prioritisation by the Government of funding for St. Joseph's Community Hospital because, as the Minister of State knows, the Government indicated back in 2016 that it was its plan to close all three hospitals. Will the Minister of State update us today on the funding commitment towards those three hospitals? Will he also give us an assurance that an allocation will immediately be made in the HSE capital plan for those three hospitals? Will he further give a commitment that the design phase, in particular for St. Joseph's Community Hospital and Ramelton Community Hospital, will commence immediately to ensure that they are brought up to the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, standards and that the long-stay residential beds there will continue for those communities into the future?

A Topical Issue matter was supposed to happen on this yesterday and it did not happen, which I regret. I am not sure how many more times I can say the same thing to the Deputy. He was at the meeting a couple of months ago where I gave him and all his colleagues the up-to-date position on that, which was all positive news and everything is progressing as outlined. I cannot get involved in the politics in Donegal. I do not follow them and they are unusual to me, but if somebody up there decides to say that I am a liar-----

(Interruptions).

-----I cannot really get involved on that level. I have told the people what the situation is and I have told Deputies Pearse Doherty and McConalogue. I cannot keep repeating it. The story is as it was the last time. I can give that to the Deputy again in writing or I can say it again if he wants.

The Minister of State should withdraw that remark. That is a big slight on the hundreds of people who turned up.

I am withdrawing nothing.

I refer to an issue with A Programme for a Partnership Government, in which there is a reference to new medical consultant contracts, in particular to the pay disparity that has developed between consultants who were appointed pre and post 2012, which is now at 30%. Consultants are working side by side and doing the same work but some are being paid 30% less. That has resulted in one in five consultant posts being vacant, so this is affecting every community and hospital in the country. It is impossible to recruit consultants and part of the reason for that is the pay disparity.

I would like to know the Government's view on this issue. Many countries facing similar problems have taken proactive actions to address the issue. What is the Government going to do to address it? It is leading to gaps in our service, longer waiting lists, as was mentioned this morning, and unmet need for our patients.

The Government's view is that it agrees with the comments of the pay commission that this disparity is having an impact. We would like to see it addressed. That has to be done on a phased basis because of the economic impact. We already have made very significant strides in addressing the issues affecting consultants' pay, with very significant investment in trying to bring that up to speed. We want to address the new consultants issue but it has to come on a step-by-step basis as we are addressing the nurses' and general practitioners' issues. We cannot do it all in one quick-fix solution. The Government has expressed its desire to see that issue addressed but we have to do it within the terms of the existing pay agreement. We cannot work outside that. We have to do it within the infrastructure that is available to us.

We have ten further Deputies offering. If we can be quick, we will get through everyone.

In Sligo at the moment, 13,600 people are on a boil water notice because of cryptosporidium. It is causing hardship and costs for families, businesses and hotels. It needs to be addressed. Irish Water has made an application for planning which has been forwarded to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I understand a special case has to be made under imperative reasons for overriding public interest, IROPI, legislation. It needs to be dealt with immediately. I know it is with the Departments. The Minister, Deputy Madigan, is in the Chamber and I ask her and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to deal with this as urgently as possible. It is causing a lot of hardship for many people and there is always the threat of health being affected.

In support of this matter, I have been in contact with the Ministers, Deputies Madigan and Eoghan Murphy, and their officials over recent weeks. This is a very serious issue and it has been going on for quite a while. Many people are on boil water notices in the Lough Talt area. Both Ministers have given me an assurance that this will progress but perhaps we will get an update from the Minister now.

I thank Deputy Scanlon for his question, which Deputy McLoughlin has also raised with me. It is primarily a matter for Irish Water, as the Deputy acknowledged in his contribution. However, I will be working closely with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who has written to my Department. I am liaising with officials and we will come back to the Deputy about it.

In the recent debates on Brexit in the Dáil, the Government assured the public that the cross-border health scheme, which has enabled thousands to get urgent cataract, hip, knee and other operations, would continue no matter what kind of Brexit unfolds. This indeed was good news for the people, but the HSE cross-border team has been advising those looking to go to the North of Ireland for operations under the scheme that if they do not have a consultation before 12 April, it is not guaranteed that they will be reimbursed after that date. There might be a little bit of confusion out there. I have a number of buses heading to the North of Ireland in the next weeks. Will the Tánaiste clear this matter up? Will the patients be reimbursed after their operations?

My understanding is that the intention here is to maintain the provision of cross-border health services as they are today through a no-deal Brexit, should that happen. We have legislation in place now that can be commenced to do this. To be sure, I will ask the Department to come back to the Deputy on the specific question he has asked.

Over the past while, in the context of the challenges facing the entire beef industry and agriculture sector, many farmers have been exiting the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS. They had been promised that there would be a new green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, that they could enter, but it now seems there is nowhere to go until the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations are complete, and they are a movable feast. Has the Government any plans to open an agri-environmental scheme in the short term to accommodate those who have been coming off the AEOS scheme over recent months?

The Government introduced a new scheme specifically for the beef sector as well as other supports in the previous budget. I think the figure was about €78 million or so in extra expenditure on supports for farmers. I am not aware of a new environmental scheme, although obviously in the context of a new CAP I am sure we will see a whole range of new schemes being designed. That is, of course, still to be negotiated.

The Government has said it is disappointed that the homeless figure has exceeded the symbolic number of 10,000. I can use much stronger language than that. It is at least a national scandal. Wicklow is no different from any other county in the State. From December to February, the number of those in emergency accommodation increased by 25%. In December in Wicklow, 12 beds were opened in the cold weather initiative, which essentially is emergency accommodation. There is actually a waiting list for people to get into that accommodation. This Sunday, the premises will close because the funding expires. The funding was only in place until the end of March. I listened to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, say funding is not an issue when it comes to addressing homelessness, but clearly it is. These people are going to be evicted by the Government back onto the streets because there is no alternative accommodation for them. Will the Tánaiste give me categorical assurances today that those 12 individuals and the others who cannot get in there will not end up on the streets-----

Time is up, Deputy, please.

-----and that the funding will be put in place to ensure that the premises can continue to keep its doors open to meet the need of homelessness in County Wicklow? I want an assurance here today from the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy English, that the doors will not close come Sunday evening-----

Please, Deputy.

-----and that they will not be evicted by this Government back onto the street.

It is important to be very clear on these situations. In respect of the provision of additional emergency accommodation, if the local authority requests funding, it is available, absolutely. It is its choice locally how it wants to spend that money or what beds it wants to open. If it judges that it needs that and it requests money from our Department, the money will be there.

I would like to raise the issue of CervicalCheck. In January of this year, 4,500 women were invited to have a repeat smear. The test was ordered on foot of samples taken between 2015 and 2018 which were not tested within the 30-day recommended timeframe. Since the start of February, 2,500 repeat smear test samples have been sent to the Quest Diagnostics lab in the US. The HSE confirmed yesterday that only 200 women have received their results so far. This delay is causing undue stress and worry for a system in which women are losing confidence. Women are being informed that the test they undertook in 2015 has to be redone four years later. What plans has the HSE to deal with these unreasonable delays? The scale of the crisis seems to be running out of control. Women need to feel confident in this screening service but we are lurching from crisis to crisis.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which Deputy Pearse Doherty also raised. I would like to read into the record the official position to respond, we hope, to the concerns that exist. The HSE reports that since 8 February, 2,572 repeat smear test samples have been received incrementally by Quest Diagnostics and more than 200 results have been reported in the past week. The anticipated timeframe for reporting the results of these tests was four to six weeks and clearly some test results are now slightly beyond this timeframe. However, the HSE has advised that the vast majority of women awaiting results for these repeat tests remain within the four to six-week timeframe committed to by the lab. A small number of women are, regrettably, waiting longer. The HSE has reported that the establishment of an ICT system for dealing with these repeat tests took longer than anticipated. The HSE has also stated that the laboratory is confident that remaining results will be reported to women within the next two weeks and that future samples received will have results issued within the stated four to six-week timeframe. I hope that within the next two weeks we will get reassurance and clarity on these issues.

I wish to raise an issue I have raised twice previously, relating to Milford hospice and its palliative care services for north Tipperary. The last time I raised it, I got assurances that Milford hospice was providing a comprehensive palliative care service to north Tipperary. Last weekend I came across a factual example showing that is not the case. Milford hospice has withdrawn some palliative care services from north Tipperary. I want assurances that the Minister of State will contact Milford hospice again to ensure that the full palliative care service is restored to north Tipperary.

I can confirm that I am happy do that for the Deputy and revert to him.

In response to the last two questions I raised with the Tánaiste on Questions on Promised Legislation, he promised to get back to me but I am still waiting. Today I will direct my question to the Minister for Education and Skills. It relates to the provision of State contracts for the construction of schools. What is the Government doing about contracts awarded where the contractor is not meeting the completion date even though there are no extenuating circumstances? The Minister visited a school in Mullingar yesterday - I understand in a personal capacity, whatever that is meant to mean - to see why a school that was due to open in September 2018 has yet to be opened. The contractor continues to extend his completion date. It is having a severe effect on the students who are using a facility that is not fit for purpose at the moment.

There is grave concern in the wider community over this.

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

In light of his visit yesterday, will the Minister tell us what he is doing to ensure the contractual obligations are fulfilled and that the school will open with the new scheduled opening date?

I confirm that I was in the school yesterday and I met members of the board of management, the principal and the clerk of works. As the Deputy knows, Westmeath County Council has a service level agreement with the Department to ensure the project is completed. People are anxious to ensure the project is completed before September. I was there because I was invited down by Deputy Peter Burke. We are also anxious that this project finishes. I will not get into the detail of a contract. I have no prerogative in that regard. However, people's minds are focused to get something completed. I was there yesterday and the men were working on site.

Did the Minister meet the contractors?

The men were working on site. We met in a venue adjacent to the site. We were not on the construction site so I did not meet the contractor. I know from the enthusiasm and goodwill on the part of the clerk of works, the board of management and the principal that all minds should be focused on ensuring that this project is completed.

Their minds are focused, but the contractor's is not.

Please, Deputy.

Westmeath County Council is keeping the public updated. As recently as last week it stated it is aiming for a July completion. Let us hope that is realised.

The contractor has failed.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Five Deputies have not been reached and we will attempt to give them priority on Tuesday.