Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

I remind all Members that these are questions, not statements.

Given Fine Gael's newfound interest in addressing insurance costs and introducing insurance reforms, can the Minister commit that by the time we break for the summer recess in July, the Dáil will have passed all Stages of the Judicial Council Bill 2017 and that the Government will issue a money message in respect of the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018? As he prepares to leave the House, it would be a particularly nice tribute to Deputy Kelleher if we could progress the final item of legislation he introduced here prior to the summer recess. More importantly, progressing the legislation would send a signal that those in government are actually interested in doing something about the cost of insurance rather than just protecting their own political skins.

Deputy Calleary's questions were very appropriate for this slot and I hope others were listening.

It is certainly the ambition of Government that this Bill will pass all Stages. Obviously, we are dependent on both Houses to secure that. I will have to come back to the Deputy in respect of the money message relating to Deputy Kelleher's Bill. I take the opportunity to congratulate Deputy Kelleher on his success. We will have him here for another few weeks.

The rare disease plan recommends that we expand the number of conditions for which newborn babies are screened. Yesterday, in the audiovisual room, at a briefing organised by Deputy Brady, we heard from the fathers of two children whose conditions could have been diagnosed at birth. These children, Cathal and Ciarán, known locally as Cogs and Kiwi, and a baby named Juniper have become gravely ill. Their parents have been to hell and back just to get a diagnosis and to hell and back again to get treatment. This could have been prevented if their children had been screened at birth. Currently, we only screen for eight conditions. The Government's rare disease plan recommends that this should be increased. Does the Government accept the recommendations relating to the rare disease plan, which is nearly six years old, and when will they be implemented? We are not talking about a massive spend but we are talking about a great benefit for these children and their families.

I am happy to take up the matter with the chief medical officer in the Department of Health in order to get a response for the Deputy.

Unusually, my question is not exclusively for the Government. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle might help with the answer. The Government has the largest bloc of Deputies in the House. I am wondering if it has given any consideration to the judgment of the Supreme Court yesterday in the Kerins case, its implications for the operation of this House and how we are going to deal with it. I do not want to have the debate now because we should have proper reflection and obtain legal advice on it. Is the matter going to be the subject of a submission from Government? Will it be dealt with by the reform committee of the House or how will it be addressed in order that we might ensure that the committee system, which is such an integral and important part of the functioning of this House, will continue to operate?

On the same subject, as the Minister knows, earlier this month there was another Supreme Court judgment in respect of our decisions in mandatory sentencing for the possession of guns under the 1964 Act. We have had murderous mayhem in our constituency in the past couple of weeks. I am a member of the Committee on Procedure, to which Deputy Howlin referred in the context of our response and which is setting up a working group. Are we seeing a very serious challenge by the courts to the role of the Oireachtas in making law? We are the law-makers; that is our function under the Constitution. Are we being challenged in the context of our fundamental powers by a non-elected legal elite?

It would be prudent for all of us to study the full terms of the judgment before we draw any conclusions. From newspaper reports that I have seen, there was certainly a recognition by the courts that the Oireachtas has the scope to deal with some of the defects that were found in this case in the context of the arrangements under which we operate here. Fine Gael will participate fully with other parties to secure arrangements that will allow us to do our work in a way that is fair to all citizens and that respects the courts. It would be premature for any spokesman to be drawing conclusions as to the sort of changes that might take place or regarding what are the implications of this judgment. We need to take time for reflection.

Where are the matters to be addressed?

I understand the Houses will provide the forum to address the issue. I assure the Deputy that the Government will support the Houses in any way that it can.

For clarity and as Deputy Broughan is aware, the Dáil Committee on Procedure has decided to set up a working group to report back to the Dáil by the autumn. Of course, the House accepts the decisions of the courts at all times.

What matters will the working group be examining?

Those relating to the Kerins case.

I raise an issue in respect of proposed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Currently, there is no legal exemption under that Act for any amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, a cannabis derivative. It is proposed by the Department of Health in a document which I have here that this will be amended to exempt products containing trace amounts of THC at levels not greater than 0.3%. In the past two weeks, a number of CBD shops around the country have been raided by the police. Their interpretation of the 1977 Act is contrary to what the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, and the Food Safety Authority say about THC products which are at 0.2%.

These shops are not selling anything illegal and the shop owners are not doing anything illegal. Will the Minister give a commencement date for the change in the law? This is important because there is confusion regarding CBD products.

As we do not have a date for the commencement of the law, the existing law remains the law of the land. I cannot comment on enforcement of the law as that is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

There is much confusion on this issue.

We cannot have a debate.

We are well aware of that confusion.

Will the Minister of State give an indicative date of commencement?

I cannot give a date.

I call Deputy Pringle on behalf of the Independents 4 Change.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is not here but perhaps the Minister of State can pass on my question. Ambulance drivers represented by the National Ambulance Service Representative Association, NASRA, will go on strike again tomorrow in protest against the HSE. The Minister has the power to resolve this dispute by asking the Labour Court to intervene to ensure these workers are given a hearing at which the HSE would also be represented. I ask the Minister of State to impress upon the Minister of Health that he should make that intervention and prevent this strike from going ahead and the dispute escalating. Taking that course of action is important for all of the people who depend on the ambulance service and for the workers in the ambulance service. It is important that those workers are represented by a union of their choice. That is the issue at stake.

I am happy to convey Deputy Pringle's sentiments to the Minister. This issue has been raised in the House almost every day this week and the answer remains the same. It concerns union recognition, as the Deputy is well aware.

Is the Minister going to do anything about it?

A Programme for a Partnership Government explicitly expresses support for craft and cottage industries. The Craft Granary, a wonderful centre in the town of Cahir, is under serious threat of closure. A community employment or CE scheme operates in the centre under the auspices of the Southern Regional Assembly. The Craft Granary gives an outlet to many arts and crafts people and hosts many arts exhibitions and craft fairs. There is great concern about the future of the centre and its excellent staff who do a top class job in a wonderful building. The centre gives major exposure to groups in Tipperary. Will the Minister seek reassurance from the Southern Regional Assembly that this centre will be kept open to retain and grow the arts and crafts industries in County Tipperary?

Is the Minister in a position to answer the question?

I am not, unfortunately, because I do not have details of the reasons this CE scheme is in difficulty. I will convey Deputy Mattie McGrath's concerns to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who has responsibility for CE schemes.

Page 70 of A Programme for a Partnership Government states the Government is committed to increasing supports for people with disabilities. The current chronic lack of home care packages and the level of respite care for people with disabilities is shameful. I spoke to many people who attended the recent protest outside the gates of the Dáil to plead for an increase in home supports, home care packages and respite care. People in counties Laois and Offaly are frustrated at the lack of home care packages and respite care. The progress made since the publication of the national carers' strategy in 2012 has been dismal. Will the number of home care hours be increased?

I am taking this question on behalf of the Minster of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. An additional €10 million was allocated to the budget for respite care, specifically home care packages. Disability network managers are also being introduced around the country, as Deputy Nolan is aware. It is hoped that once that recruitment is complete, the services available to people will improve.

On home care packages in general, there is a challenge facing the entire sector and people with all types of care needs, not just people with disabilities. We are spending €450 million in this area this year. That budget has increased from €300 million since the Government took office. That is a significant increase but demand also continues to increase at an alarming rate and it is very hard to keep up.

On the misuse of drugs, the situation with drugs is out of hand. I label drug dealers as terrorists. I have not noticed a television campaign highlighting the dangers of drug use in the same fashion as the campaigns on drink driving and sexual harassment. A similar campaign is required on the misuse of drugs. Its target audience should be those aged ten years and upwards. The agony that drug use inflicts on users should be shown explicitly. The violent torture and death suffered by those who cannot pay for drugs should be shown in all their gory detail. The effects of drug debts being passed on to families should also be clearly illustrated. It is important that we make use of television to educate citizens not only about the damage being done to drug users but also the damage to wider society.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has recognised that we need a comprehensive response to the challenge posed by drugs. She has been driving a strategy to deliver that response. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, stated yesterday, this issue of organised crime, which is at the heart of the drugs business, cannot be resolved with a Garda response alone. The Deputy is correct that we need to develop other responses in the community that can support people, reduce dependence on drugs and prevent people from getting involved. I will alert the Minister of State to the concerns expressed by Deputy Fitzpatrick. She has a strategy in place to address them.

My question is on A Programme for a Partnership Government, specifically its reference to a partnership plan for a fair Ireland in both rural and urban communities. Regarding rural Ireland, Civil Defence has proved to be an outstanding organisation. A group called PHECC - in case anybody thinks I am using unparliamentary language, it is the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council - used to issue medical certificates to members of the Civil Defence. However, that will no longer be the case from July onwards. This will cause major problems for many festivals, including the Roscommon racing festival, which rely on Civil Defence for assistance. There will be serious difficulties with health and safety at many festivals if there is no clarification or resolution of this issue. The Minister may not be able to respond given that the matter is being dealt with by the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. However, I ask him to bring my concerns to the attention of the Minister of State in order that we can get this matter sorted out as quickly as possible and continue to have medical certificates issued.

Deputy Eugene Murphy referred to the opening lines of A Programme for a Partnership Government, which was appropriate given that this is one of the areas on which we have been delivering. I know the Deputy is interested in the delivery of the national broadband plan as well as the rural revival via the €1 billion fund, which is administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development. It is heartening to see that employment is now growing in every region of the country. We are seeing a strong bounce-back in rural Ireland. I will alert the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, to this remaining area of concern.

A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to enhance health services. I want to raise the specific issue of the dreadful overcrowding in University Hospital Limerick. There were 75 patients on trolleys on Tuesday and, overall, there have been 217 patients on trolleys in the hospital this week. I wrote to the Minster for Health, Deputy Harris, asking him to meet Deputies from Limerick and the mid-west to hear our solutions to the problems at the hospital. The Minister did not even bother acknowledging our letter, which was also signed by other Deputies. This further highlights the total disregard he has shown for the situation in the hospital. People in Limerick depend on University Hospital Limerick because not everyone who has an accident runs to a private VHI clinic and a solicitor. Most people in Limerick are forced to wait hours and often days to be seen at the hospital.

We have the gist of the question.

When can we expect the 60-bed modular unit and the 96-bed extension to be delivered?

As the Deputy is aware, as we have debated this issue many times in the House, the timeframe will be confirmed in the capital plan which is being finalised by the HSE. The Minister is awaiting that plan to come from the HSE and it will be published as soon as it ready.

I understand the rare diseases plan only covers eight conditions. The health service in Italy has a screening programme in place and I understand the Minister for Health will meet his Italian counterpart. The difficulty is that in many cases the only way these rare conditions can be detected is if a child misses a developmental milestone, for example, starting to crawl, walk or talk. In many cases, the system only reacts when a child with a serious and rare illness falls critically ill. Yesterday, I met some of the families involved who asked if it would be possible to expand the system in place here.

The Italians say they are saving hundreds of millions.

We have the question.

It is not only saving money, it is saving a child's life and protecting the child's development. It is saving children the heartache of being prodded, poked, terrorised and hurt while attempts are made to find out what is wrong.

We have got the question. It is just a question.

We need to act. The Minister of State will have the collective support of the House if this programme is put forward.

It is a question and the Minister of State will answer it. Colleagues are waiting.

I thank the Deputy. It is an interesting issue. I agree that it does not just save money, it saves lives and protects quality of life, not only for the individual but for the families involved. It has enormous potential. I have undertaken to the Deputy's colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, already that when I return to my office, I will take up the matter with the chief medical officer in the Department and get an update on the possibility of expanding the range of early screenings for newborns.

Page 128 of the programme for Government refers to climate change and flooding. What is the status of an application for minor flood mitigation works for Foynes Yacht Club, County Limerick, which has been in being for two years and going between the Department and Limerick City and County Council. It is currently with the Department. I ask the Minister to convey to the Department the need for movement on this matter as quickly as possible as it has been going on for a considerable length of time. The toing and froing appears to be acting as a delay. We just want to get the job done.

Is the Minister in a position to answer?

Unfortunately, I am not but I will seek a reply for the Deputy.

Under the education heading in the programme for Government, commitments were given on the schools building programmes. Many schools have extra pupils coming in September but no information has been received from the Department of Education and Skills about whether they will get extra rooms or temporary accommodation. It is causing significant issues nationally with regard to timetables and so forth. I presume that if there was good news, it would have been given out before the local elections. I refer in particular to Coláiste Mhuire in Buttevant which has a serious crisis in respect of the space available for the numbers coming in September.

On the same topic, it is a major issue in my county that Coláiste Mhuire has restricted the area from which it is accepting students for the coming year due to uncertainty as to whether it will get improved accommodation. The school is currently using staff quarters and the gym to create extra classrooms. I ask the Minister to come back to Deputy Michael Moynihan and me on the same issue.

On the related issue of primary schools, I refer, in particular, to the position of school secretaries. The Minister will be aware that there is a campaign seeking appropriate recognition of secretaries in primary schools by making them staff of the State and remunerating them appropriately. The secretaries of schools I know are paid poorly from the capitation grant and they have no security. In some cases, secretaries find themselves going between a number of national schools. It is not an appropriate way to manage our education system. Perhaps the Minister has some comments for the House on that issue.

If the Minister is not in a position to answer generally, I do not expect detail.

Generally, there is a major building programme to which schools have access. It moves in stages and people will know what stage they are at. It is dictated largely by passing various requirements in design and development of projects. The Department seeks to assess applications for additional accommodation in a timely manner and to provide responses to schools. In order to take the matter up, I would have to know the particular schools. The best approach is probably to contact the office of the Minister for Education and Skills on individual items. I am aware that trade union representatives have been presenting school secretaries' pay claim, but I do not have an update on where those discussions are.

That is understandable. I call Deputy Michael Collins. I am trying to accommodate everybody and will insist strictly on questions, not statements.

In the programme for Government the Government promised to increase home help hours to provide seven-day cover per week. We learn now that the HSE has issued an embargo directing no new home help hours are to be allocated to new patients. The HSE is also seeking a reduction in the number of hours being rolled out in west Cork. This is shocking news for those in west Cork who have a home help service and for many new families who urgently require one. It is shocking also for home help workers who provide a top-class service under enormous pressure.

We have the question.

Will the Minister of State intervene personally to lift the embargo?

As I said earlier, the demand for home help hours has always outstripped the supply. The biggest challenge for west Cork, which I also represent, is getting people to provide the service. It is not funding, it is getting personnel. When the Government came into office, we were spending €300 million annually on home help whereas we spent €450 million this year. While that is a 50% increase, it is still not meeting the existing demand. I acknowledge that readily. We are trying to introduce a statutory scheme. I have committed to doing it by 2021. Like the fair deal scheme, the availability of home help will be guaranteed by statute. We have many bridges to cross first.

Will the Minister lift the embargo in west Cork?

This is not a debate.

I asked a question.

This is about generalities, not specifics.

We hear today that NAMA anticipates a €4 billion surplus when it is wound up. This is not profit, it is just less of a loss to the people. The housing crisis rages on and our broadband network requires billions of euro one way or another. The Government has been clear that its policy choice is to use this money to write down debt at a time when borrowing has never been cheaper. We need a full debate not just here but also across society on the best use of this money which will start coming in 2020 when €2 billion is due. Will it be put to public use or wasted like the billions already frittered away by Fine Gael on consultants and spiralling costs?

We have the question if the Minister is in a position to answer it.

The position is that it is only in the situation of a winding up of NAMA that resources become available. This is not a pot of money that is sitting there and which could be deployed. There will be plenty of opportunities to debate that issue. It is important to note that the Government has committed to a programme of investment of €120 billion in critical infrastructure in the next ten years. We have used the hard-earned progress the country, its workers and businesses have made to ensure we invest to create the assets we need for the future, including, let it be said, broadband.

The patient safety Bill is promised legislation. Is it progressing on schedule or have issues arisen which might impede its progress?

The Bill is on the priority list and I take it that means it is proceeding according to schedule. I will get back to the Deputy if there is any slippage.

I call Deputy Stanley who I know will comply with the requirement to ask a question.

I refer to the commitment in the programme for Government on home help care, with specific reference to the issues emerging in Laois-Offaly. Some people there cannot get home help care and that is delaying hospital discharges. Over 500 people have been approved for home help hours, but they remain wait listed, sometimes for up to seven or eight months. Some of those who are receiving a service get only half an hour two or three times a week when it is clear that they need more support than that to remain in their homes. A major issue has emerged in the past few months in relation to holiday cover. Three separate cases were raised with my constituency office this morning. When the regular home help provider goes on holiday, no cover is provided. I am referring here to people with high-dependency care needs.

We have the question.

One case involves an 86 year old woman who has an hour twice a day, seven days a week, which is fine. However, next week and the week after, she will have no care. The reply I received yesterday was that in exceptional circumstances where cover is not available, respite care may be offered.

We cannot take a statement.

Respite care is more expensive. The reason I convey this to the Minister of State is that-----

The Deputy has colleagues coming behind him.

-----if a home help service was in place, it could be done cheaper over the holiday cover period.

Does the Minister of State have anything to add to his earlier answer?

I know it is a challenge but it is a cheaper way of doing it. Respite care is more expensive.

I appreciate what the Deputy says and the frustration he and other Deputies feel. I have an issue with the tone of some of the responses that go out from the HSE to individuals. I accept what the Deputy says. There are too many difficulties with the current system. If I adopt a patchwork approach to fixing cases individuals, however, it will take ten years. That is why we want to develop an entirely new, fit-for-purpose home care scheme. I have committed to doing so by 2021. I have put a lot of work into it.

That is our only way out of this mismatch and patchwork service that is in place. I have put my hands up and acknowledged the flaws that are in the system. I will not try to talk my way out of it.

On page 13 of A Programme for a Partnership Government, there is a commitment to an open partnership approach and good governance. The Football Association of Ireland, FAI, board gave a commitment last month that it would stand down in July. This week there has been talk that all members bar one of the current board intend to put themselves forward to sit on the new board. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport assured everybody that we were now seeing the beginning of the end of the old FAI but if these reports are accurate, this means that the new FAI board will be almost identical to the old board. This farcical situation cannot be allowed to continue. What is the Government doing to ensure the FAI adheres to corporate governance reforms previously agreed?

While I have not been briefed on this, I am clear that the Sport Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have signalled their expectations of the way in which those receiving State support would behave and the level of corporate governance that they would have and both those bodies will be alert to ensure that high standards are delivered in this area. I know the Oireachtas committee will be vigilant in ensuring that is the case.

On 7 June 200 new Garda recruits will be passing out from Templemore, which is very welcome. Many of them are needed in many regions around the country. However, many of the Garda recruits, as we are aware, may not be young people who do not have any ties. Some of them are married and have families, mortgages, etc. and they will be allocated to different stations around the country. In the past, the situation was that if, for instance, a Garda recruit from north Leitrim was allocated to a station in Wexford, he or she could apply to have a swap with somebody. That common sense position was put in place. For instance, if a Garda recruit was from some part of the country and needed to be within commuting distance of his or her family home, perhaps he or she had an elderly relative to whom he or she needed to be close, under a welfare system, he or she could move back to somewhere close to the family home. We are told the Garda Commissioner is getting rid of it and that will no longer be the case. It is time the Government made sure the common sense situation that was applied in the past is maintained because it makes common sense in any workforce for people to be able to be accommodated. That is all this was doing and it needs to be restored.

The Garda Commissioner is seeking to implement an ambitious programme of reform. That has come from the commission which evaluated the Garda. We have to put our confidence in the Commissioner to manage human resource issues in a way that is in accord with that reform programme. I am sure he will seek to be accommodating to individuals as best he can but we have set him an ambitious programme of change and we have to give him the support as he gets on with that challenge.

This morning, as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I launched a report on the role of apprenticeships and work permits in addressing Ireland's skill needs. A strong political skill set is vital for the economic health of the country as we approach full employment. However, there is a deep concern I would like to raise with the Minister. There are 14,953 apprentices in Ireland. The figure has grown substantially in the last three years, which is welcome. However, only 2%, or 332, of these are female. This is a deeply concerning statistic and a cross-departmental focus is required across the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills to deliver this. Does the Minister have concerns about the low level of female participation and would he agree that maybe a targeted campaign in transition year would be effective in order that apprentices and apprenticeships are associated with qualifications at levels 6, 7 and 8 and higher?

I am acutely concerned about this issue and it is one with which I am familiar. That 2% is a significant improvement, which is hard to believe. The truth is that we need to develop apprenticeships in a range of new areas. The Deputy will be aware that there are over 16 new areas and what is encouraging is that female participation in the new apprenticeship areas is significantly higher. There is a determined effort, both by SOLAS and by the Department of Education and Skills, to have better pathways into apprenticeships. As we review the leaving certificate approach and carry out that curricular review, the place of apprenticeships and the high standing in which they are held in most other European countries should be at the core of those changes because, like the Deputy, I think this is a valuable way of learning in a practical environment.