Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

The Ceann Comhairle has left three names to be carried over from yesterday: Deputies Durkan, McConalogue and Eugene Murphy. I will take the leaders first, however. I think we will get them all in, providing they abide by the time limits.

I note news of the new coalition between Fine Gael and Deputy McDonald's party in Seanad Éireann. They are introducing a guillotine on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I wish the new coalition well. May it have happiness and prosperity.

Fianna Fáil is getting jealous.


Deputies should not be inviting interruptions.

In the context of promised legislation, is it the Government's intention to reintroduce the guillotine, or will it get permission from Deputy McDonald to do so, in this House for future legislation?

I have never been a fan of guillotines. In my six years as a Minister in three Government Departments I never used the guillotine once. There does come a point, however, at which a filibuster is under way and a minority in either this House or the Seanad are preventing a democratic decision from being made. I do not know how many hours of debate that Bill had. I think it was 70 or 80 hours.

One hundred hours.

Any Deputy or Senator who cannot make his or her argument in 70 or 80 hours-----

It is a new coalition.

-----would probably have difficulty getting elected to this House anyway, whatever about the other one. There comes a time when the use of a guillotine or limiting debate is merited, and that is when debate has gone on for four, five or six days and people are just repeating themselves or deliberately using filibustering tactics to prevent the majority from having its view. However, as the Government does not have a majority in either the Dáil or the Seanad, we cannot decide to use a guillotine. We will be able to curtail debate only if the majority of the House wants that to be done.

It is not a matter for the Taoiseach to decide on a guillotine. I have been here for many years when a guillotine has been used. It is a matter for the House on the Order of Business to decide to use a guillotine. It is a matter of custom and practice.

Deputy Calleary sounded decidedly clingy in his contribution. The Taoiseach may wish to reassure him after this sitting that all is well with Fine Gael and its partners in Fianna Fáil.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is preparing legislation to provide lawfully for the phased forensic excavation of the Tuam mother and baby home. The commission's report into the burial arrangements of mother and baby homes makes completing this legislation all the more urgent. The report finds that the burial chambers in Tuam were not a recognised burial ground and did not provide for the dignified internment of human remains, and the House should note the importance of this statement. I am sure all our thoughts today are with the families whose loved ones remain interred in Tuam. Requests for voluntary DNA samples must be advanced and time must be set aside for the Minister to come before the House to discuss this report and set out a timeframe for the excavation in Tuam. Will the Minister therefore come before the House to make a statement and take questions on this matter immediately after the recess?

I am sure the Minister, Deputy Zappone, would be happy to do that. I will speak to her later as to whether she can do so when the Dáil resumes. The fifth interim report of the commission was discussed at Cabinet yesterday and published today. It makes gruesome reading, even if many of the facts were known to us already, and gives us a further insight into a very dark part of our history, a time when women and their babies were appallingly treated, often simply because the mothers were not married or because they were poor. They were badly treated by the State, the church, their own families and wider society. This happened at a time when infant mortality was very high and there were few vaccines, no antibiotics, very poor public health and sanitation and huge numbers of people living at close quarters in congregated settings. However, none of this excuses the indignity of the way in which these babies were treated in death and as a society we inherit a deep shame for what was done back then and we must now endeavour to learn, to atone and to put things right. This is the guiding approach of the Government and the Minister, Deputy Zappone. As I said, I am sure she will be happy to make a statement and to answer questions when the Dáil resumes.

People are once again queuing overnight to be in a position to buy a home. Last year we saw a large group waiting outside a development at Hansfield, in Dublin 15. This was a common feature during the Celtic Tiger era and was often seen as a tactic to drive a frenzy and allow for further price rises, even in the middle of a sale of a group of houses. Last Friday night and into Saturday morning in Ballincollig, in Cork city, 14 prospective buyers slept in their cars overnight in an effort to buy affordable homes. By the morning, this number had swollen to 100 people queuing to put down a deposit. Our local Labour Party candidate, Ciara Kennedy, very aptly described this as The Hunger Games for housing, so desperate are people there to secure homes. Surely there is a better way of doing this. What can we do to stop such a frenzy and stop seeing people's homes - or their visions, their dreams of homes - evaporate? Are there plans to ask the Property Services Regulatory Authority to draw up a code of conduct for estate agents and developers to nip this trend in the bud if it is going to be a feature into the future, as it was in the past? A simple online queuing or ticketing system should be put in place and, as a last resort, perhaps we need to amend the Property Services (Regulation) Act.

The Deputy is absolutely right about this. This is unusual practice but does happen. It is not the norm but is very much a tactic, a marketing device, used to create attention for a particular development. It happened in times of copious supply; it is happening at a time of limited supply. It is often the case that there are more bidders for a house than can buy the house, even a single house, but one does not ask people to queue up outside. That is not a good way to treat people. I am not sure if we can do anything under the regulations but I am aware of the issue, as is the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We will examine any proposals around consumer protections that might be able to stop this practice from happening again.

I now move to Deputy Connolly, on behalf of Independents 4 Change.

Deputy Paul Murphy rose.

Let me make this very clear. There are those who think they should be allowed to speak in advance of others. Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, Independents 4 Change and Solidarity are all parties. After them, we have the Rural Independent Group, which is a technical group of seven Deputies, one more than Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Independents 4 Change is not a party.

If the Deputy can wait another few minutes and if he is not in a rush, he will be given an opportunity. I just want to-----

To be helpful, Solidarity has always been before us.

I am in the Chair and that is what I have.

I am just being helpful.

That is fine. The Social Democrats have the final spot. I am just clarifying the situation.

Following on from Deputy McDonald's comments on the mother and baby homes report, I also request a full debate and not just questions and answers. The Taoiseach has spoken about this as if it in the past. It is not in the past. I spent two hours reading the report and I will go back and read it in detail. The report states: "The Commission is surprised by the lack of knowledge about the burials on the part of Galway County Council and the Sisters of Bon Secours." That was published just today. The affidavit sworn in respect of Castlepollard, Sean Ross and Bessborough by the congregation "was, in many respects, speculative, inaccurate and misleading."

I could give many quotations but I will not in the interest of brevity. I will just state again this is not in the past. It is the present where the commission has to use discovery orders and is surprised at the lack of knowledge and the failure to hand over documents. I ask the Taoiseach to please stop talking about this matter as if it is in the past. Let us get this issue into the Dáil and have an open and frank debate. That debate should not just be on the bodies hidden in sewage in chambers under the ground but on knowledge that has been hidden as well.

I meant to say that these were events that happened in the past. All of these institutions are closed and have been closed for quite some time now. It is still, of course, a real issue, a live issue and a lived experience for those who were in those institutions. I join the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in calling on anyone who has information that would be of use to the commission of inquiry to come forward with that. The fifth interim report published today is not the final say on this issue. The work of the commission is ongoing and it expects to produce a final report next spring. We must allow the commission to do its work without political interference. Those who have information, however, should bring it forward and allow the commission to analyse it.

We now go to the Solidarity party. Being the humble person that I am, I have to apologise because Solidarity is ahead of Independents 4 Change in the ranking order, for some reason.

That is fine and I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. A Programme for a Partnership Government refers to the introduction of universal healthcare. How does that tally with the news that the VHI will provide access to new cancer drugs that will not be available for public patients? Does the Taoiseach agree that the very notion of two-tier cancer treatment is horrific? Does he also agree that it means embedding a deep inequality within our health service and that it brings us closer to the horrific model of private healthcare in the United States? In reality, this will mean that those able to afford access to VHI will be able to get different treatment and, ultimately, potentially a better chance of surviving cancer than those relying on public health services. It will result in a further undermining of our public health system and an extension and deepening of the two-tier nature of that system. It will take us away from what we stand for which is the idea of a properly funded one-tier national health service.

The Government's commitment to universal healthcare is a very real one. It is evidenced by the fact that prescription charges for people with medical cards are going down and by the fact that prescription charges for those who do not have medical cards are also going down through the reduction in the drugs payment scheme, DPS, monthly cap. It is also evidenced by the fact that we are extending general practitioner, GP, care without fees to more and more people. It will first be extended to those aged under six and over 70, then to those in receipt of carer's allowance and carer's benefit and then to children with severe disability or cancer. This month there has been an increase of 10% in the income limits for free GP care and that will mean that more low-income working families can qualify next year, including children aged seven and eight. That is what is happening from the Government's side to deliver on universal healthcare. It is happening in a slow way but in a way that meets and matches capacity. The decision made by the VHI is a decision made by one insurer and I do not believe the others are following suit. That decision is also in respect of private patients in private hospitals and not public hospitals. I understand that under a Solidarity system private medicine would be banned and private hospitals would be closed down.

There would be no need for them if a proper healthcare system was put in place.

That is not something we are proposing to do. As far as public hospitals are concerned, however, all patients will continue to receive the same medicines whether they have health insurance or not and no matter who they are insured by. The best system would be a single system of approvals, with the European Medicines Agency, EMA, deciding on a European-wide basis which medicines are approved for use and setting a fair price as to reimbursement.

I am sure that the Taoiseach is aware that the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Michael Gove-----

Is this a question on promised legislation?

It is, of course. It is on very important legislation about our future after Brexit. Secretary of State Gove has expressed the view that tariffs should be imposed on Irish exports, especially beef, lamb and dairy products. This is very concerning. I hope the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and his Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine are aware of this in the first instance. This a vital issue and a very worrying one for the thousands of families involved in agriculture whether at the farm gate or in the associated spin-off and export industries. Will the Taoiseach make a statement on this matter and will he challenge Mr. Gove? We are told that we will be waiting for Hallowe'en for an outcome on Brexit but this statement has been made.

The Taoiseach can answer if he feels this is an appropriate matter for questions on promised legislation.

I do not think that it is but that is a decision for the Chair.

I will decide on it and it is not appropriate for questions on promised legislation.

Other questions have included the Tuam babies and everything else and nothing was asked about those.

I think Deputy Mattie McGrath is a good example to lead on.

This is very important issue.

The Taoiseach wants to take the question.

I believe in the European Union and in free trade and not in tariffs, quotas or rules of origin. That is why I am not in favour of Brexit. I am in favour of the European Union because that is one of the things it is all about.

Deputies Durkan, McConalogue, Eugene Murphy and Buckley are left over from yesterday. I call Deputy McConalogue, who is present.

I address this question to the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English. It is in respect of the lack of progress with a mica redress scheme. Approximately 5,000 homeowners have been affected by this issue of mica in concrete blocks in Donegal and Mayo. Those people are at their wits' end waiting on this scheme that the Government committed to introducing as part of the budget before Christmas. The Minister of State indicated last week that he hoped it might go before the Cabinet yesterday. I do not believe that happened. Will he outline, once and for all, the situation regarding this scheme and give a commitment on when it will come into effect? Will he also make it clear that this scheme will be 100% funded as happened with the pyrite redress scheme on the east coast? Homeowners cannot wait any longer and it is totally unfair that they are living in this situation.

We naturally want this scheme to be fully confirmed at Cabinet but the most important aspect was Cabinet agreement for the scheme to happen. That happened last September or October. All the groups involved know that it will take some time to put this scheme together. We moved quite fast on this in the past year and a half based on the expert report because we understand people need help fixing their homes. The Government is prepared to do that. It was hoped the scheme would go before the Cabinet this week but I understand it is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Cabinet and will be dealt with there. I am not at liberty to give details of a scheme until the Cabinet has agreed it. Deputy McConalogue will be aware of that and most people understand that is the process of Government decision-making as well.

My question is in respect of A Programme for a Partnership Government. I am sorry the Taoiseach has left the Chamber. I wish to raise a matter regarding health services in County Roscommon, and in particular, an issue I have brought up repeatedly, the Rosalie unit. I know this is not the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment's area but tomorrow morning one patient, and perhaps a second, will be forcibly removed from the Rosalie centre in Castlerea in Roscommon. Our brothers and sisters, human beings, will be taken out of what has been their home for almost 30 years. This is an absolute, total and utter disgrace. When the Taoiseach was Minister for Health, he and the former Deputy and Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, gave a commitment that this centre would not close. It is a centre for 34 people who do not have advice and who are very vulnerable. There will be a major protest outside the centre tomorrow morning and people intend to prevent this happening. This is a very urgent matter.

I want answers. I want the Minister to immediately give a message to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health to instruct the HSE to back off this now.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, can answer if he is in a position to do that.

I unfortunately do not have access to the information-----

I am sorry for interrupting the Minister but other Deputies have questions on this same issue as well.

It is the same issue.

It is also the same issue.

Deputy Martin Kenny does not have to elaborate.

It is on the same issue and I will be very brief. This seems to be a position that the HSE is adopting all over the country. It is closing down units like this, moving people out into the private sector and leaving these units empty for years.

These people have lived in this facility for decades and it is their home. They are being turfed out on the street, which is totally inappropriate and wrong.

It is a disgrace.

The Taoiseach, who left a few minutes ago, had a written letter to say this would not happen.

The Government has completely turned its back on these people.

The Minister to answer, if he is in a position to do so.

Unfortunately, I do not have access to the full information on this. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, was in the House last week to answer questions and I am aware from conversations that he is making great efforts to find a solution. All I can do is alert him to the continuing concerns of Deputies. I can well understand the concerns they are expressing but I know the Minister of State has been trying very hard to find a solution.

The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health need to take it on.

Order. I call Deputy Buckley and I know he will be brief.

The programme for Government contains a commitment that no child should be admitted to an adult psychiatric ward or unit. According to a recent newspaper article, however, a lack of beds is forcing Wexford children into adult psychiatric units. The paper reports that children with severe mental health problems are being admitted to adult psychiatric wards due to the lack of age appropriate facilities and that concerned parents in County Wexford say they are in a living hell. When is the Government going to take mental health seriously and stop this practice once and for all? When will it put proper facilities in place for these young people?

I call the Minister.

The newspaper quotes a single father whose 16 year old son first attempted suicide at 14 and who says his child has been denied essential treatment.

There are ten other Members I am trying to accommodate. Is the Minister in a position to answer?

That any child should be inappropriately placed in an adult psychiatric hospital is clearly a matter for concern. Notwithstanding that, special provision has been made every year since 2011 to extend budgets for mental health services and that has seen the opening of new beds, the creation of new primary care services and the extension of employment in the service. However, the need continues to grow at a pace that often outstrips the extra resources being provided. It is an explicit target of the HSE to eliminate this problem and it reports monthly on the progress it is making.

I refer to the programme for Government and Rebuilding Ireland with specific reference to the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. Last week, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government indicated when questioned about the home loan scheme that it remained open, was not frozen and that all local authorities had been advised to continue to receive and process applications. I was very happy with that response and informed a constituent of mine who, unfortunately, wants to move out of the Dublin area because it is unaffordable to buy here, even with the scheme. She approached a local authority and her response is as follows:

I have just got off the phone to Meath County Council which says it is not accepting any applications until they receive their allocation for 2019. They will not receive applications by post. All meetings have to be face to face and they will not be booking them in until the scheme is reopened.

I reflected then on the content of the Minister's statement. He said that local authorities had been "advised" to continue. I ask the Government now to instruct local authorities to receive applications. This is a State-run scheme which they are facilitating and they should not be in a position to refuse.

The Minister restated those remarks at the joint committee this morning and I reaffirm that it remains the position. I will ensure there is correspondence to local authorities to confirm that as well.

I raised this issue last week in the Dáil and I hoped the Taoiseach would be here to address it today. While the programme for Government says that there should be better public services, there is a 12, 14 or 16 week waiting list now for carer's allowance which is causing huge problems for families. We are interacting every day with families making decisions on the provision of care in their own homes for loved ones who get sick. They are looking for the carer's allowance but it is not forthcoming. The whole of Government must address this desperately serious issue and apply the resources through the Department to ensure applications for carer's allowance are determined in a timely manner and within two or three weeks.

I am not sure if the Deputy was here last week for Oral Questions, but we have extended considerable new resources to look at carer's benefit and carer's allowance payments. We have reduced the waiting period from 19 weeks last year, which was wholly unacceptable, to 14 weeks this year. That is the direct result of the allocation of extra staff resources to the Department and of the new form we worked hard on in conjunction with the Irish Carers' Association to simplify the process. The fact remains, however, that it is a medically assessed scheme and it is a different matter to apply to it than to apply to some of our other schemes. A great deal of the information we require is medically difficult to ascertain and adjudicate on and that is why it takes a long time. However, we have reduced the waiting time from 19 to 14 weeks and will not be happy until we reach the target of 12 weeks.

Where stands the Local Government (Rates) Bill which passed Second Stage months ago and now languishes somewhere in the cellars of the committee room area? While the Government fails to move in any meaningful way to reform the rates system, businesses are going to the wall. That is not idle talk. We saw last week the report on the cost of doing business in Ireland. Right across Cavan and Monaghan over the last two weeks, businesses have received letters from the Valuation Office, largely to inform them of massive hikes in commercial rates. One business reports an increase of 344%. Anyone could tell the Minister that it is unsustainable for any business. How does the Minister intend to intervene? Cavan-Monaghan faces Brexit around the corner and is barely surviving after the recession.

Where stands the Bill?

It is my understanding that it is down to the committee to order its work.

It is before the committee.

If it is not on its work programme, that is a matter for the committee. The Government will facilitate committee deliberations on any Bill.

The programme for Government refers to supports for independent living for older people. So far this year, Louth County Council has dealt with 460 applications for housing adaptation grants for older people and people with disabilities. This includes 138 applications from last year which could not proceed due to a lack of Government funding. Of those 138 carried over applications, 76 were deemed to be priority 1 applications on the part of seriously ill people. Louth County Council has recently received its Government allocation but it is nowhere near adequate. In fact, it is totally inadequate.

When the Fine Gael-Labour Government was removing public long-stay and respite care beds from the college hospital, its excuse was that it wanted to support independent living for older people. We now have a situation in which seriously ill priority 1 applicants cannot access basics like stair lifts and wet rooms.

Deputy Munster, please.

Will the Government please increase the funding given the avalanche of applications? When will it do so?

We have increased the funding for the last two years and are committed to increasing it every year for the next couple of years. We recognise it is a very important area. The allocations provided to local authorities a few weeks ago will provide for the adaptation of 11,000 houses, which is a major improvement on the 8,000 adapted three years ago.

It will not cover the half of it.

I understand the issue was raised in relation to Louth last year also. There is some difficulty with matched funding locally, which is a matter for Louth County Council. For our part, I guarantee that every local authority has received increased funding. We also seek to adjust funding based on population. Local authorities such as that of Louth and those with increased populations should see that reflected in their allocations.

We have the response. I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

I raised the fair deal scheme two weeks ago and referred to the slow rate at which funds were being made available to Cork and Kerry. The Minister denied there was a problem but it was in the newspapers yesterday and the leader of Fianna Fáil also raised it. That is because it is an issue. Hundreds of farmers came here yesterday. Where is the legislation for the fair deal for farmers to put a cap of three years on the percentage of assets required to fund a place on the scheme?

This has taken so long that there seems to be a total disregard of and discrimination towards farming communities.

We have the question.

I just want to say one other thing. Why is the Government still-----

The question is simple - where is the legislation on the fair deal scheme for farmers? There is no need to elaborate.

I am just asking the question.

I am filtering it.

Why is the Government still insisting on assessing the entire value of a farm instead of just the dwelling? This is discrimination. It appears that farmers are paying for the fair deal scheme for the rest of the country.

Does Deputy Scanlon wish to raise an associated issue?

Yes. I support Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. According to yesterday's edition of the Irish Independent, a farmer who has expended all of his savings because his wife is in a nursing home must now sell land. I am dealing with the case of a young man with three children who took the deferred option. He has 60 acres and is in receipt of farm assist. His bill is €60,000. To pay it, he will have to sell his farm. The heads of the Bill were agreed in December and are with the Government, but it needs to be introduced in the Dáil so that we can deal with an issue that is causing hardship for many.

Where stands the legislation?

I understand, and the Deputies are right. The proposed policy change is to cap contributions based on farm and business assets at three years where a family's successor commits to working the productive assets. That has been approved by the Government and the heads of the Bill are expected in May.

I wish to again ask about the publication of the national Traveller health action plan and the status of the planning advisory committee on Traveller health. I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week. He stated that he did not have an update but that he would raise the issue with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, and try to get a better reply. I have heard nothing from the Taoiseach's office, the Minister or the Minister of State since.

I also raised the related issue of the failure of the State to support the two surviving children of the Carrickmines fire of October 2015, in which ten of their family members died - their two parents, three siblings and five others. In recent months, I have pursued this issue with six different Ministers. There has been no evidence of any willingness on their part to help these children.

The six Ministers, including Deputies Bruton and Regina Doherty, have failed to respond to reasonable questions on Traveller health and welfare. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle advise me on the failure of Ministers to respond to questions? What is the status of the planning advisory body on Traveller health and the Traveller health action plan?

I am afraid that I do not have a briefing on the Traveller health action plan, but I will seek to have the Ministers provide the Deputy with an update on it. In respect of the Carrickmines fire, the families have had interactions with a number of Departments, but I will seek more information-----

The children still cannot get to school or obtain the support they deserve.

They have been left entirely.

The Minister knows better than to refer to interactions with Departments.

I do not know the details of what was requested.

I talked to him about the matter as well.

This is Questions on Promised Legislation and, obviously, I do not have a briefing on the details. I will seek to assess where the matter stands and then revert to the Deputy.

Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle advise on this dilemma of written letters and questions? The response the Minister has given is exactly the same as that which I obtained from the Taoiseach last week.

The Deputy can judge the Minister over the next few days. I am sure that he will follow through.

That is all I can do for the Deputy. There are other means available to him, for example, tabling a Topical Issue matter and allowing the Ministers to answer-----

I have done that.

Perhaps a reply is coming from the Taoiseach. The Minister will ensure-----

On page 21 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to increasing significantly and expediting the delivery of social housing units. This is not happening in Limerick city. Last September, I informed the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that there were more than 70 council houses boarded up across Limerick city. Today, the bulk of those properties remain boarded up. At the time, I specifically mentioned No. 55 Shanboley Road. A family was told that it would be allocated that unit, but the house is still empty. No. 13 Lee Estate has been boarded up for three years. No. 65 Scanlon Park in Castleconnell has been boarded up for two years.

A question, please.

Shamefully, these properties and many others are lying idle while 3,000 people in Limerick are on the housing list.

Ceist. This is a statement.

The Government's housing plan is failing dramatically. When will something be done to address the large number of empty council houses, not just in Limerick, but across the country?

Two types of properties are involved. Under the regeneration scheme, properties might be deemed to be lying idle for the purpose of regeneration works. I recognise that some of those properties in Limerick have been brought back into use early on in that scheme. Regarding voids, I have made it clear a number of times that funding has been made available to Limerick. Limerick City Council was told last September that, if it needed more money to tackle voids, we would provide it. There is taxpayer's money available for that. More than 9,500 void properties have been brought back into use, building on the work done by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and the Government. There should be no long-term voids left. Resources are available. If Limerick has houses that can be brought back into use, the money will be made available.