An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The business for the week shall be as set out in the first revised report of the Business Committee, dated 17 September. Regarding today's business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit later than 10 p.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Private Members' business, which shall be taken for two hours on the conclusion of the statements on current issues in the beef sector; No. a16, motion re appointment of committee chairs and Twenty-Sixth Report of the Committee of Selection, shall be taken without debate and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately, and No. 36, statements on current issues in the beef sector, shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed 20 minutes each, and each party and group in opposition shall have five minutes for questions and answers, with a ten-minute response by a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

Regarding Wednesday's business, it is proposed that No. 37, statements on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, shall commence not later than 6.30 p.m. and shall conclude within 2 hours 50 minutes, and the statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed 20 minutes each, with a ten-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

Regarding Thursday's business, it is proposed that No. 38, statements on climate change, shall commence not later than 3.50 p.m., shall conclude within 85 minutes and shall be followed by Topical Issues, and the statements shall be confined to a single round for a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties and groups, or a member nominated in their stead, and shall not exceed ten minutes each, with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State, and all Members may share time.

There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed? Agreed. That is a great outbreak of unity.

We move now to questions on promised legislation. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

As a Corkman, I congratulate the men and women of Dublin on their double win last weekend.

What about Tipperary?

I have not finished yet. In terms of the five in a row and so on-----

Do not mention the war.

I am not going to mention the war between Tipperary and Kilkenny. That has gone on for a long time. There was an interesting row over the summer between the Government and the Data Protection Commissioner in respect of a significant report by the commissioner following a two-year investigation into the processing of personal data for public services cards. I get the feeling there has been an attempt almost to demonise the Data Protection Commissioner in respect of her report. The commissioner has a particular remit and responsibility around the collection of data and how it is handled and managed. The Government and the Oireachtas should respect that, even if the commission annoys the Executive from time to time in terms of its objectives and agenda. I always felt it was fundamentally wrong to say it was mandatory to use a public services card to avail of other services. Citizens are entitled to services by dint of a basic entitlement, not because they have a particular card. The Minister at the time said it was mandatory but not compulsory, whatever that meant. The Data Protection Commissioner said basically that-----

It is compulsory here to take one minute to ask a question.

Of course. I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle. The commissioner said that the Government acted illegally. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the report will be published? We are told it is going to be published today. I call for a debate in the House in respect of it.

I thank the Deputy for his kind words of congratulation to the Dublin men and Dublin ladies on making history at the weekend. I would like to add my congratulations to Galway for winning the camogie and Tipperary for winning the hurling as well. It was extraordinary to see 56,000 people attend the ladies' final. I know the Deputy was there too. It was a record-breaking attendance and one of the biggest ever attendances at a women's sporting tournament in the world.

Mná na hÉireann.

It should make us all very proud. In response to the Deputy's question, it is intended today to publish the report of the Data Protection Commissioner and also the Department's response to it. Obviously I have no objection to there being a debate on the matter. That would be for the Business Committee to decide. The Government absolutely respects the Data Protection Commissioner but we do not agree with her findings on the legal basis for the public services card, which has been an extraordinary success. I will speak on that again some other time. It is important that due process and procedures are followed. The legislation passed by this Oireachtas provides for an appeal of any findings with which anybody disagrees. It is part of our democracy and part of our Constitution that there is a right of appeal.

I too commend the women and men of Dublin for an extraordinary eight in a row in total - an eight in a row aggregate is wonderful - and Tipp, of course, for the hurling victory.

The women of Cork did it about ten years ago.

I am sure they did. The Taoiseach says the Department will publish the report of the Data Protection Commissioner on the public services card. The commissioner has found that important aspects of the card are unlawful. I do not think many of us were very surprised by that. I refer to the unlawful retention of the personal data of millions of citizens as well as the Government's planned demand that the card would be used to access State services. It is clear that the lawfulness of the intended use of the card is now seriously questioned. The expertise of the commissioner in this regard should be respected. It has been reported that the Government intends to challenge the commissioner's finding in court, which I find extraordinary. Given that this mess has already cost the taxpayer just shy of €70 million, saddling the public with additional costs of a court case seems like absolute madness. Can the Taoiseach confirm if it is, in fact, the Government's intention to take a challenge in this manner?

Yes, it is. However, no document of legal standing has yet been served on the Government so we have to wait until there is an enforcement order issued by the Data Protection Commissioner before we can challenge any findings.

No findings of legal standing have yet been made, but that may happen in the coming weeks.

The public services card is a good thing. It is a success. The vast majority, more than 80%, of the people surveyed believe the public services card is a good thing. More than 3 million people have one already. The public services card is exactly what it says on the tin; it is a card that enables people to access public services. It was never intended to be just for social welfare services alone. The Data Protection Commissioner has found it is entirely lawful to make it mandatory for services provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, including free travel-----

But it is illegal for the rest.

-----but not for services provided by other Departments. Our view that the finding is in error is supported by the Attorney General and outside legal counsel and the procedures allow for an appeal. An appeal is part of any democratic system of due process. Let us not forget what the public services card is all about; it is about making it easier for people to access public services. Instead of having to fill in forms, go to the chemist, have one's photograph taken twice, sign the back of it, go down to the Garda station, get a stamp, hand in the bank statement-----

The Taoiseach should talk to people applying for a medical card.

-----several times in one's life, one only needs to do that once. That is why people like it.

I thank the Taoiseach. The time is up.

The issue is not the merit; it is about the legality and the Taoiseach is not answering that question.

That is why it has been a success.

Order, please.

It has made it easier for people to access public services. It has replaced duplication and cost. One does not need a free travel pass, a pension book, a children's allowance book or a social services card any more.

The Taoiseach is missing the point. It is illegal.

It is a success. I compliment in particular the former Fianna Fáil Ministers opposite who legislated in 1998 and in 2005 for bringing in the card-----


-----and Deputy Burton of the Labour Party, who was the Minister who brought in the card.

Spread the blame.

I compliment former Fianna Fáil and Labour Party Ministers who managed this project for ten years-----

Collateral damage.

-----for doing such a good job in producing legislation that we believe is robust.

I join with others in congratulating all successful all-Ireland teams this year, in particular the five-in-a-row Dublin team that finally eclipsed Wexford's four in a row. It was said that that was done in the First World War so it is quite a while since Wexford hurlers were that successful.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about legislation. It was reported this morning that the Cabinet considered proposals to deal with new legislation from the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs to provide health and social care benefits to residents in Northern Ireland and British citizens who move to Ireland, arising from a no-deal Brexit. In January and February, as the Taoiseach knows, the Oireachtas spent a great deal of time fast-tracking omnibus legislation to deal with what we understood were all aspects that might arise from a no-deal Brexit. I presume this arose from further examination. Are there other pieces of legislation that might be required? Will we be briefed on anything that has been discovered? I attended all the stakeholders' meetings and it has never been raised there. Neither have we been briefed on any outstanding matters at the political meetings to date. Could the Taoiseach clarify, first, what specific legislative changes have been identified as being needed and if there will be more?

The Brexit omnibus Act covers all the legislative requirements that we needed to deal with no deal. However, subsequent to that being enacted we made a commitment to do all that we could to extend the European health insurance card, EHIC, to all residents in Northern Ireland and also Erasmus+. We found a means of doing that but it is not perfect; it is a bit clumsy. The Minister for Health got approval this morning from the Cabinet to draft legislation. We intend to have that done by 31 October. That means that Irish, EU and UK citizens living in Northern Ireland will still be able to have their health expenses refunded should they require emergency medical services in another part of the European Union. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, also received approval this morning to ensure that UK residents in Ireland will still be able to avail of the national childcare scheme. They are the two legislative changes we decided on today. We believe there may be another one relating to family law, namely, to reduce the minimum living-apart period for spouses applying for a divorce to address the implications of a no-deal Brexit for the recognition of UK divorces. Other than those three, there are no other legislative changes that I am aware of at the moment, but if they arise we will inform the House.

I will not ask the Taoiseach what will or will not be in the budget but I will ask him about the reckless preparation for a budget that it is intended will contain a carbon tax. Priority recommendation No. 3 of the Joint Committee on Climate Action's report, which was reached after painstaking negotiations and debates and having had to return to this issue, states:

Starting immediately upon publication of this report –

a) The Government should conduct a review to be completed by June 2019 into the most appropriate measure of, and the extent and nature of fuel poverty across all cohorts and to include in this review the short, medium and long-term impact on fuel poverty of the options for increasing the carbon tax.

This has not been done. I submitted two parliamentary questions on this matter over the summer and the clerk of the committee has told me there is no sign of any action being taken on fuel poverty. I believe fuel poverty extends far beyond the definition of those in receipt of the fuel allowance. For example, does the definition cover the case of Clare Casey who worked for years cleaning the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and who was told last week by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, that she should not even bother applying for a grant to have her windows replaced because her income is about €10 a week above the threshold that would give her access to the fuel allowance? Tens of thousands of people will be hit by a reckless carbon tax.

The reckless preparation for the budget is shown by the failure to conduct the recommended review, on which there was cross-party agreement. The committee sat day and night trying to agree the wording which I just read out. Not a single thing has been done about the review, apart from the Minister issuing a reply to me that he is involved in a project to develop energy poverty indicators. That reply is meaningless. The budget will be reckless if it does not deal with this issue.

We already have a carbon tax. We have had one for ten or 12 years at this stage.

I am referring to increases in the carbon tax. The Taoiseach knows what I am talking about.

Any increase is obviously a matter for the budget, which will be announced on 8 October. We have committed to ensuring that some of the proceeds of a carbon tax would be ring-fenced to protect those most at risk of fuel poverty, for example, through the fuel allowance.

The Government does not know who are most at risk because it has not carried out the review.

It is disappointing that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has left the Chamber again. The Taoiseach stated a number of times that there were six farm organisations in the room last week when the deal was made. There were seven of them. Is the Taoiseach not acknowledging the Independent Farmers of Ireland group, whose members are the people at the gates of the factories? I want them to be able to move away from the gates and allow the factories, including ABP in Cahir where 700 people are employed, to get back to processing. The Taoiseach must recognise these people and this is part of the problem. The Minister, Deputy Creed, did not recognise that group and had no bilateral engagement with it. Its members were in the room and they had to go back to meet farmers last night and on Sunday night in some places.

Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister to reconvene the group and ensure there is a base price on offer? We can play around with bonuses and everything else until Christmas but there is no faith in that and no trust in the way the beef is graded and checked. People are weary at this stage. The workers have been displaced, including 350 at Cahir with another 180 to go, and the position is the same all over the country. We cannot prolong this issue. The Minister was lacklustre in calling the groups together but he did so last week. Will the Taoiseach recognise the Independent Farmers of Ireland and ensure the group is called back again?

The Minister, Deputy Creed, will be in the Chamber for more than three hours this evening to discuss this matter. I know the Deputy will be here to make his case and ask the Minister more questions. Six farm organisations, representing the vast majority of farmers in Ireland, negotiated this deal and endorsed it.

I understand that, on the night, a seventh organisation, the Independent Farmers of Ireland, agreed to support and advocate for the deal, but some hours later issued a statement saying it could neither support nor oppose it. That is its position at the moment.

As I said earlier, it is not lawful or possible to engage in price-fixing in the Irish economy. That is impossible so it will not happen and we should not mislead people into believing it will happen.

It has been happening for decades. It is a cartel.

What can happen is that the now recognised producer organisations can negotiate with the factories for proper contracts and proper prices, just as producers and business people do in all other sectors of the economy.

Before the recess, when I asked the Taoiseach to set out the up-to-date position in regard to the national broadband plan, he told me a decision was imminent.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment held sittings to discuss the matter and produced a report highlighting quite a bit of duplication. How much attention will the Taoiseach pay to that report and those deliberations? What is the up-to-date position regarding the national broadband plan and any contract? Will he bring it back to the Dáil for discussion and debate in advance of signing?

The position regarding the broadband contract is that the Government has chosen a preferred bidder. Work is now ongoing with that preferred bidder to move to a position where contracts can be signed. We are assessing the report of the Oireachtas committee. I have made it clear that while I will look at the committee's recommendations, I will not consider restarting the whole process, as some have advocated in the recommendations they have made. It would not be fair to rural Ireland to ask people to wait a further five years for another tender process to be carried out. I am proceeding with all haste to try to ensure that all the due diligence that the Deputy would rightly expect me to undertake is undertaken in order that I am in a position to recommend to Government the signing of a contract.

The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment will host an international conference here on disinformation and fake news on 6 and 7 November, which we look forward to. This issue is troubling countries across the world as democracies are under real threat. Clearly, one of the responses to this is a strong media that can tell the difference between what is fake and what is real and tell our people with real clarity, honesty and independence what is happening in the world. In that context, this Government's throttling of RTÉ, with the ongoing decline in its funding model, and the Government's refusal to accept the recommendations our committee set for the proper funding of RTÉ and other Irish media are deeply worrying. We now possibly face the closure of RTÉ's studio in Cork, the closure of Lyric FM or the sale of more RTÉ land as it continues to sell capital assets just to cover current expenditure. When will the Government change its position of trying to kill this sector of the media-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----and instead start building it up, which is what we need to do to protect our whole democratic system?

I think the Deputy is misleading the House. The reality is that the Government has been restoring funding to RTÉ. Last year it provided, I think, €10 million of additional funding to RTÉ as well as additional money to TG4. We believe strongly in the need for public service broadcasting and the importance of broadcasting, be it provided by public bodies or the private sector, and there are many excellent examples of public service delivery in the private sector. The Government established a working group following the report of the Oireachtas committee and I have acted on all the recommendations of that working group. We will put collection of the licence fee out to tender to reduce the rate of evasion and will move in due course to a model that is independent of the particular device a person has. The current model is linked exclusively to ownership of a television. We are acting on the recommendations. RTÉ is looking at the more structural changes that are happening and the Deputy cannot be blind to the fact that there are huge structural changes. If we want to see public service broadcasting delivered to a younger audience, we have to change the structures through which it is delivered. That is the work RTÉ is examining: how it can meet the needs of a changing environment for broadcasters.

Following the group leaders, 18 other Deputies have indicated. Those not reached in the eight minutes left today will be carried over and given priority tomorrow. First is Deputy Butler.

My question is to the Minister for Health. As he is well aware, we have a state-of-the-art facility of which the people of Waterford can be proud, the new Dunmore wing of University Hospital Waterford, UHW, which will have 20 beds for the Waterford hospice. For the past 20 years the people of Waterford and the south east have engaged in massive fundraising to endorse €6 million towards this project. Unfortunately, the opening of the new hospice for the south east will be delayed until next year as the HSE has to allocate a budget to hire staff. This information came in reply to a question from Deputy Cullinane earlier in the year. The reply stated that staffing would happen when the budget was allocated.

Once again, people are waiting and, unfortunately, they do not have time to wait when they are dying.

I will pose my question to the Minister for Health. Local Deputies and I have raised this issue for some time. I commend the fact the building is now there and has been kitted out but the funding for staffing simply is not there. There is a state-of-the-art palliative care unit on the first two floors of this building and the top three floors have 72 acute beds. The problem is that the people who want to run and manage the service do not have the staff because they have not been given any funding to do so. My mam passed away this year in a palliative care unit in Harold's Cross in Dublin. Many people in the south east would want to be able to have their loved ones as close as possible when suffering from something. It is very important to the people of Waterford. How have we ended up with a building having been built, kitted out and provided with capital funding, yet it does not have the funding to recruit staff? Will the Minister commit to do that as soon as possible so that we can open this as soon as we can?

I thank Deputies Butler and Cullinane and the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, for raising this with me. We intend to open three new palliative care facilities: the one the Deputy referred to in Waterford, one in Mayo, which the Minister, Deputy Ring, has communicated with me about, and one in Wicklow. I take the Deputies' points. The facility is there and we need to open it as quickly as possible. I hope that we can progress it this year. In the spirit in which we worked on other issues, I suggest that I meet the Oireachtas Members from Waterford next week, along with HSE officials, and we will see if we can move forward on it.

In the absence of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I ask the Taoiseach to comment on the potential for legislation with regard to the timely publication of reports produced by Tusla in light of the "RTÉ Investigates - Creches, Behind Closed Doors" that was aired earlier in the summer. The Taoiseach may be aware that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla are not in a position to provide parents with real-time information where there are issues with regard to certain childcare providers. Will the Minister or the Department of Children and Youth Affairs be in a position to provide us with information on legislation to come before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs?

I thank Deputy Farrell for raising this important issue. I am not aware of any proposed legislation relating to this matter but I may be mistaken and I will confer with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, later in the day and provide Deputy Farrell with a full response.

Last week saw the announcement of the prestigious European Research Council grants in recognition of basic research and applied research across Europe. Unfortunately for a country that has punched above its weight in previous years, on this occasion, Ireland received only one of more than 400 such grants awarded. This is often seen as a barometer of the domestic system. It is no surprise. This is the inevitable outcome of the deliberate sidelining of basic research over the last decade, since the Government took office and the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government changed the law in 2012. People such as Professor Brian MacCraith of the Irish Universities Association have been to the fore, saying that the research sector is now in crisis. Basic research, primary research and early stage research need attention. The funding profile needs to be rebalanced. If not, we will not have the downstream research following on. Is the Taoiseach aware of these issues? If he is, what action does the Government propose to take?

It is incorrect to say that Ireland's research is in crisis. It is anything but in crisis. In research and innovation last year alone, between private and Government investment, there was approximately €3.7 billion, €700 million more than what was given previously. As the Deputy is aware, most of our funding comes from Horizon 2020. We have taken in €700 million in funding from it. Our funding for research in industry is one of the highest rates in Europe, in proportion to population. I believe that, within the next months, we will have reached nearly €1 billion. Our 17 dedicated research centres are recognised across the world as being some of the best. Ireland is in the top ten for science research. One of our top research groups is in Tyndall National Institute in Cork. The Government has invested €70 million in it and it is now number one in the world for nanotechnology research.

I will come back to the Deputy on the European research grant. I am not aware of the reason we did not compete more successfully. However, Ireland is way above average in terms of being competitive in research and our funding in that regard is among the best in Europe.

This time last year the issue of flat-rate expenses for certain workers was a hot topic. The Government backed away from it because of the intense media coverage it received. The matter in question is back on the agenda now. One group of workers that will be massively impacted upon if changes are made is the 600 miners at Tara Mines in Navan, the largest zinc mine in Europe. These workers carry out extremely dangerous and hazardous work. Unfortunately over the 40 years of operations, some miners have lost their lives in the process of extracting ore. Their flat-rate allowances allow for the reimbursement for special creams and other items used in the course of their work. I ask the Taoiseach to address this issue and to state whether he believes these workers should be supported by the State in the context of their entitlements. I invite him to visit Tara Mines, as some of his predecessors, including Brian Cowen, have done, to see operations for himself and to meet the miners.

This is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners, not the Government. However, I would be very happy if the latter just left matters as they stand.

The Government's handling of the public services card issue and the report from the Data Protection Commissioner has been absolutely shambolic. The report came as no surprise to Members on this side of the House but the Government's response to it has been extraordinary. We have had so many different messages from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection who went into hiding in the first instance. She then refused to publish the report but subsequently stated that she would do so. However, her Department indicated last week that it would not be in the interests of the public to publish the report. It claimed that publishing would have a serious adverse effect on the ability of the Government to manage the economy. We still have not seen the report. The Taoiseach stated that it will be published today but we have not seen it yet. When will the report be published? The Government has also confirmed that it will be taking a legal challenge in respect of the findings of the Data Protection Commissioner and has cited the Attorney General and outside legal counsel in that regard. I ask the Taoiseach whether the Attorney General's report can be published because that would be very insightful, particularly if the Government is going to hide behind it.

The Deputy's time is up.

That would be critical for any debate that takes place in the House because-----

The Deputy's time is up.

-----inevitably that information will be made public.

I will finish with the following point. The undermining of the Data Protection Commissioner has been unbelievable-----

No. These are questions, not statements.

Can I ask a direct question?

Will the Deputy let the Taoiseach answer?

Does the Taoiseach have full confidence in the Data Protection Commissioner given that she has been undermined by the Government and the Minister?

Deputy O'Dea on the same matter.

The Taoiseach stated earlier that he respects the Data Protection Commissioner. However, he remarked in recent days, in the public domain, that anyone who took a quick glance at the law would conclude that the Government was justified in challenging the decision of the commissioner. The commissioner's office was established by statute to advise the Government on data law and data matters generally. The Taoiseach expressed generous praise for this and other parties for introducing legislation but that was precisely the legislation which the Data Protection Commissioner concluded does not allow the Government to act or misuse the public services card in the way it is attempting to do.

I thank the Deputies. I understand that the report will be published today, as well as the Department's response to it. I respect the Data Protection Commissioner and I have confidence in her. However, as is often the case with decisions made by commissioners and regulators, there is a right of appeal. This is a democracy and anybody in a democracy can appeal a decision if he or she believes it to be incorrect. The Attorney General has looked at this matter and we also had third-party counsel examine it. They are all of the view that the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 is robust and allows the public services card to be used as it was intended, namely, for public services and not just for services provided by one Department.

That concludes questions on promised legislation. Members not reached today will be given priority tomorrow.