Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

Some 27 Deputies have indicated so far. I ask them to adhere to the time of one minute per question. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.

I acknowledge the presence of representatives from Irish Rural Link, with 90 people, mostly women, in Leinster House today, and the Next Chapter women's caucus, which is funded by the European Union PEACE IV programme. I look forward to engaging with some of them later.

It is a year and a half since the CervicalCheck scandal broke. Will the Taoiseach indicate the timeline and the progress expected during this session regarding the suite of promised legislation relating to open disclosure and to extend HIQA's remit to private hospitals in the context of patient safety?

That will be in the patient safety Bill, which is on what used to be called the A list, and will be published this session.

Paul Graham, a survivor of the Bethany Home, has challenged the Government to explain why it has refused to pay redress to the home's former residents. The wrongs of Ireland's mother and baby homes are accepted by all in this House. Many of those who survived horrific treatment during their younger years are now elderly and in ill health. Sadly, in the case of the Bethany Home, they are increasingly few in number. In 2016, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes stated in its second interim report: "Logically, children who were resident in the named Mother and Baby Homes and all County Homes should be eligible [for the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme]". Another Bethany Home survivor, Derek Leinster, has described the Government's refusal to extend redress to the survivors until the commission concludes its final report as a "delay and deny until they die" policy.

The Deputy's time is up.

It is difficult to disagree with him. Understandably, the exclusion of Protestant-run homes-----

Please adhere to the time, Deputy.

-----from redress has left the survivors of the Bethany Home and the Westbank Home with a sectarian aftertaste. The blame for this lies squarely at the Government's door.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Will the Taoiseach provide Paul Graham with the explanation he needs?

I thank Deputy Brady for raising this important matter, which I know is of concern to many people. No legislation on it is promised. However, we will have to assess the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes when it produces its report. That will not be until the first quarter of next year. We will take the matter from there.

In January of last year, my party published the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which was debated in Private Members' time. The Bill was broadly welcomed and it contains some good initiatives. During the past 18 months or longer, we know of many cases which have been exemplified in the media whereby harassment is continuing at a level that is quite frightening. This is having certain impacts on young people and very negative impacts on a range of others. It is giving rise to mental health issues. The Department of Justice and Equality committed to coming back quickly on this matter but it has not done so. It committed to coming forward with amendments. Will the Taoiseach indicate the position in this regard? We have been waiting for too long for these amendments to be tabled.

I spoke to Deputy Howlin about this matter yesterday. The Bill is on Committee Stage. We are keen to work with the Labour Party to get it enacted during this session. The Department is still working on amendments to it. I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to prioritise their drafting with a view to having the legislation enacted by the end of the year.

The housing crisis has become so crazy, the laws on rent rises are so toothless and so much power has been left in the hands of landlords that we now have a situation where sex for rent is becoming a reality for many tenants. We do not have data in this country but the Shelter organisation in England reports that 250,000 women have been propositioned by landlords in this way. A young woman who was renting a property that was a bedsit in all but name in the Rathmines area was a victim of this. I would like the Taoiseach to listen to some of the messages she was sent. When she said she had to leave because the rent was too expensive, the landlord asked if she was coming to live with him in his house. She asked if he was being serious and he replied "Yes" and that he thought she was beautiful. He suggested that she could stay there for two months at half the money and that they could go for dinner and see what happens. When she rejected this, he said he would make her a better offer and that she could stay for free until Christmas if they could agree something. I have the text messages here and I think it is high time that we collated data of this sort. The Government has allowed a situation to develop where a young woman in a vulnerable position - thankfully she was able to move on - could be put under undue stress and pressure-----

The Deputy's time is up. She might table a Topical Issue matter.

-----because landlords rule in this Dáil and the Government has done nothing to change that.

I thank Deputy Coppinger for the question. On her initial point about protections for renters, earlier this year, we enacted the most substantial reform for protecting tenants that has been enacted since we brought in rent controls in the first place. Implementing those protections had the support of a majority of this House because they are so important.

The specific case that the Deputy talked about sounds disgusting and a horrible thing for someone to have to go through. It is absolutely a criminal matter for the Garda. I hope it has been addressed in that way.

Under what law should it be addressed?

With regard to the Deputy's wider point and research carried out in the UK, I will talk to the Minister for Justice and Equality about what might be possible to address the situations in which women might find themselves. What happened is reprehensible.

Yesterday, many of us attending a briefing in the audiovisual room, supported by, among others, the Rehab Group, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland. These groups expressed their anger at the decision of the HSE to scrap the rehabilitation, training and employment allowance of €31.80 a week for students who go on to participate in training schemes. How much lower can the HSE go? This is clearly a case of the HSE trying to cover up for its ineptitude and for its finances being out of order by attacking this vulnerable sector. We all want those people to be supported and to go into further education. We have been getting harrowing stories over the summer since this broke. Can the Government please have some compassion and show empathy towards these people? It claims to support them but this is the meanest, leanest cut of all. It is unbecoming of the Government to do this to the group of people in question.

I ask the Minister to call on the HSE to suspend its plans to implement this cut. It is shameful in light of the fact that we ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities only a few years ago, which should have happened long ago. It is disgraceful and targets the most vulnerable in society. I call on the Minister to show some compassion and decency to these people who want to further their career and go through our education system.

I raised this issue in the Dáil two or three months ago and, at that time, the Taoiseach was not aware of this cut. It is having a serious effect on the most vulnerable people and I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider it. I ask him to speak to the Minister for Health and ensure that this cut is not made. It is €31.80 per week for vulnerable people. It is a job for them and something to get up for. The allowance means that they get a few euro for themselves. What is currently proposed needs to be addressed and changed.

This is a matter for the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, so I will ask him to correspond with the Deputies in a bit more detail. I checked up on it and I was advised that it would not apply to anyone who currently receives that payment but would only apply to new entrants. A difficulty arose in that some people were getting the grant and others were not, and there is an inequality in that. The decision was taken, instead, to use the money to provide better services for people with disabilities, and the money was diverted to services from cash payments.

Before the recess, the Taoiseach met the Stardust relatives and victims committee and an indication was given that the Attorney General would come back with a decision on the report which they and their solicitor, Mr. Darragh Mackin, had compiled in relation to the call for a new inquest. The Minister of State indicated many dates in the past ten months for when a decision would be made and the latest seems to be this Friday. When can we expect a decision from the Attorney General on the vital matter of the call for a new inquest into the Stardust disaster?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which I know is of great interest to him, as it is to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and I was very affected by what the families had to say in the meeting. It had been intended that the Attorney General would be in a position to make a decision before the summer recess but that was not possible. The last time I checked with him, he was anticipating making a decision this month but I have not checked back with him for a week or two so I will double check with him again and get back to the Deputy.

We will now move to the Deputies whose questions were carried forward from yesterday. The first is Deputy Eugene Murphy.

Some weeks ago we had a crisis in my part of the country when 78 seasonal workers in Bord na Móna were laid off at the Mount Dillon works in Lanesboro. Many of those workers have been left throughout the summer without any social welfare payments. Some of them got their payments yesterday, after nine weeks. The Taoiseach can imagine any worker left without a weeks' wages and, knowing some of those families, I can assure him some of them had to go without this summer. Some had to borrow money for family members. This is a disgraceful situation. I do not expect the Taoiseach to have the knowledge about Mount Dillon today but I ask him to ensure that, in a crisis like this where temporary workers are laid off, they do not have to wait eight or ten weeks for social welfare payments. It is simply not right and is morally wrong. We should correct it in this House.

I agree with the Deputy that this should not happen. These are people who are paying their taxes and PRSI and should be entitled to jobseekers benefit within a week or two, and to have it backdated. If the Deputy wants to pass some of the information around this case on to me, I will make sure the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, looks into it and advises him directly.

I will do that.

There is a funding crisis in disability services at the moment. Younger people and older people with disabilities and their families and teachers are being very much let down. My colleague, Deputy Micheál Martin, raised the issue relating to problems in education and the Joint Committee on Education and Skills has shone a light on reduced timetables. In early intervention, the supports and resources that are needed are falling down and people are not getting them.

The issue I want to raise was highlighted to me on Monday by CARE and Muiríosa services in Kildare and relates to the residential spaces that are needed, as well as to respite care. One mother, a widow, told me her child needs a 2:1 ratio in the services they use. There also needs to be a special bus with a driver and companion but this lady is left without any respite outside the time her daughter is in the service. In another family, the dad is 90 and the mum in her mid- to late 80s. They have a daughter with intellectual disability and with huge behavioural issues. These families and many more are living in fear but they feel huge guilt for telling me, or any Member, about the situation they are in as they feel they are letting down their son or daughter by talking about the situation. This is an absolute crisis and it needs to be dealt with. I would like to hear what the Taoiseach's proposals are.

I appreciate that this is an important issue and one that is close to the Deputy's heart, but the best way to raise it would be as a Topical Issue matter to the Minister of State with responsibility for disability services.

I have put it in but it has not been taken.

In the local and national news this morning, we heard about the deplorable attacks on Mr. Kevin Lunney, the director of Quinn Industrial Holdings. This is the most recent in a spate of attacks on the staff working there. We have seen bombs planted in Wattle Bridge and Cavan and Monaghan are under severe pressure from this type of criminality. In light of the recent announcement by the Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris, on the realignment of Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, can the Taoiseach assure me that gardaí will have the proper resources to deal with this type of attack and to bring an end to them?

As the Deputy will be aware, the resourcing and organisation of the Garda are a matter for the Garda Commissioner. When he was appointed the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and I gave him a commitment that we would support him in making the changes to the organisation of the Garda force he felt were necessary. We fully support him in the work he is doing. The plan he has is about making sure there are more resources on the front line, fewer chiefs but many more policemen and policewomen on the ground. There will be an extra 2,000 on the front line over the course of the next two years as a result of the reforms he is making, and because he is taking out management layers and duplication. I hope everyone in the House will support the reforms which he is driving through.

Deputy Imelda Munster has had to leave. Deputy O'Keeffe is next.

In May 2019 the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, and the chairman of the Fine Gael party, Deputy Martin Heydon, announced an increase in funding to the National Transport Authority from €12.2 million in 2016 to €21 million, which was for the provision and continuation of LocalLink services. This was to ensure the continuation of existing services at least. The Minister said that "[p]eople in rural Ireland need to be able to get from A to B; to work, to socialise and to ensure that their communities thrive and prosper in every way." The Minister has failed in his promise. Mallow College of Further Education is very strong and I recently saw colleagues graduate from the college but its success, under the auspices of Mr. John Healy and Mr. Paul Murphy, has led to greater demand from applicants from north Cork and even Limerick. In the past year and a half, LocalLink provided a transport service from Mitchelstown and Fermoy to Mallow but this service has now been cancelled. I ask the Taoiseach to reinstate the service.

I can make inquiries about the specific route. We are committed to spreading the benefits of the LocalLink service to as many communities as possible. I piloted a community car initiative in Kerry, which has been hugely successful because we have carried almost 3,000 passengers since last February. It is volunteer led and is working very well.

We are keen to address the deficit of transport services in some rural communities. This should have been done over the past decades but it has not been done. Nevertheless, we are determined to do it now and that is why we have been pumping more money into LocalLink. We do not decide the route plans of the various LocalLink companies but I would be happy to investigate the Deputy's case and get back to him.

On page 67 of A Programme for Partnership Government, it states:

Accessible and informal mental health services can play a vital role in connecting with young people. We will extend these services, such as Jigsaw...

For some time, we have been aware that the Jigsaw service offered in Clondalkin has been part of a review for the south County Dublin area, but we have recently learned that it is to close from January 2020, with the services being relocated to Tallaght. The service that had been in Clondalkin will now be offered on an outreach basis, if a premises can be found, for one day a week. This is insufficient. I do not expect the Taoiseach to be able to sort this out here and now but I would like him to have a word with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and to ask him to suspend this proposal until an adequate service can be provided. Can he also ask the Minister of State to meet with local representatives?

This is a service that had been in operation in the area for many years but it is now to be removed. The area is one of high need. The local community is concerned that this is just one of a number of cuts. It feels abandoned in terms of other support services. Specifically, there has been no increase in core funding for drugs task forces. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, has closed the RAPID programme. Could the Taoiseach liaise with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, to suspend the decision until we negotiate to put in place a meaningful replacement programme?

I wish to echo Deputy Curran's comments. The situation is now critical. Deputy Curran, Deputy Gino Kenny and I met the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, some months ago on this. He guaranteed there would be no reduction in the service provided to the community of north Clondalkin. It is an area with very high levels of deprivation, social and economic inequality, self-harm and, unfortunately, suicide. We were promised by Jigsaw when Deputy Curran, Deputy Gino Kenny and I met that there would be widespread consultation before any decision would be made, and then we were told in writing that the service was closing and that outreach would be provided. There is no budget for this outreach, however, and there was no premises secured. The Jigsaw premises is due to close early next year. Like Deputy Curran, I urge the Minister to take closure off the table. All we ask for is consultation on the entire future of this project so all views may be considered before a final decision is made.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. As they will be aware, there has been a phenomenal increase in resources for mental health in recent years. The budget is now almost €1 billion, if not more. I do not know the circumstances of the particular Jigsaw service the Deputies mentioned. I am at a disadvantage as none of the four health Ministers managed to make it here today. I will be meeting the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, on a different matter this evening and I will tell him what was raised today. I will revert to the Deputies after that.

There could be a perceived conflict of interest on some of these matters. As I have done before, I remind the Taoiseach that his remit does not stop at the Red Cow roundabout. There was much about rural-proofing Government policy in the programme for Government. In the past, the Taoiseach came in here and attacked our beef industry. He has abandoned our health service. University Hospital Kerry, for example, is continually having its status as a university hospital attacked by stealth. The Taoiseach should know a lot about rural general practitioners and other doctors. Owing to Government policy, they are finding it impossible to carry on servicing rural communities. Our pubs and pub culture are on their knees. Our post offices are hanging only by a thread because the Department of Employment Affairs Social Protection is still continuing to encourage people to get paid through the banks. All the Government is doing about housing is attacking a core of people who are doing their best to provide accommodation to others.

I thank the Deputy.

I am only at 36 seconds.

The help-to-buy scheme has to be extended. No assurance has been given on that. The sick and dying are finding it impossible to get a medical card. These are all things-----

The Deputy has one minute to ask one question about one matter.

Yes, I will do that, so. I will condense my remarks into my next point.

The time is up.

During the negotiations for the formation of the Government and in the programme for Government, much was made about rural-proofing Government policies. The Taoiseach has done nothing to rural-proof the policies because what the Government is doing is attacking rural Ireland. The Taoiseach and his Ministers are attacking-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae wants to make a point on the same matter.

I do not want to wrong anybody. When I look at one man on the Government side - I do not want to run everybody-----


When we asked for the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, to do things, particularly in County Kerry-----


I cannot look at the Minister of State and say he let us down. I will not do that, or I would not do that to him.

I thank the Deputy. I appreciate that.

The Deputy is over time.

The Taoiseach will have to remember there is more to Ireland than Dublin. I ask him to remember that.

I thank the Deputy.

The Taoiseach agrees.

One of the things on which I insisted was that the local improvement scheme be included in the programme for Government. I appreciate that it was but, although there were 800 applications submitted before April 2018, funding has been received for only 26 to date. At that rate, it will take 30 to 33 years.

The Deputy wants it hurried up.

I want money for that scheme.


There is just one other point.

The Deputy may ask only one question.

The people on the roads in question, who are paying their property tax, motor tax and every other kind of tax, are as entitled to a road to their door as the people in Dublin 4.

The Deputy is not being fair to the other the Deputies who wish to contribute.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. All Government policies are both urban-proofed and rural-proofed because Ireland is both urban and rural. It is wrong to try to set different parts of the country against each other. What has the Government done? It has established a Department of Rural and Community Development, with a dedicated Minister for rural affairs, backed with a fund of €1 billion. A huge investment in rural Ireland is happening through that. We have restored the local improvement scheme and we intend, by the end of the year, to sign the national broadband contract, which will result in a €3 billion investment in rural Ireland, perhaps the greatest investment in rural Ireland since the investment in rural electrification.

Both Deputies were present for the negotiations on the formation of this Government, a Government that is now entering its fourth year, and they chose not to be part of it. They could have had influence but they chose not to have it.

Under the health section of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to provide quick access to innovative drugs. I wish to raise the issue of the drug Tagrisso, which is used for non-small cell lung cancer as a second line treatment. It has been in the system since 2016. It was not approved in March but positive approval was given in May. About 96% of patients in the European Union who are eligible for treatment are getting the drug. The only ones who are not are in Ireland. I understand it will become available in early 2020. The reason for raising this is that there are currently 11 patients in the system awaiting the approval of the drug. It is literally a life-saving drug. As the Taoiseach can appreciate, any drug that can successfully treat non-small cell lung cancer is of extreme importance. I ask the Taoiseach to liaise with the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to get a drug that I understand is already approved funded for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020. The cost is between €200,000 and €250,000. When talking about saving the lives of 11 people, I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

I understand that, as of September, 29 new medicines have been approved for reimbursement by the HSE. I do not have information to hand on the medicine that the Deputy raised but I will say to the Minister that it was raised today in the Chamber. I will ask him to reply to the Deputy in writing.

My colleague, Deputy Micheál Martin, raised last night the issue of the "Prime Time" programme on the twins in the Milne-Bolger family. The family's horrific experience is shared right across the country. We have all heard such stories many times. The family spoke about home tuition and Deputy Martin spoke specifically about that case. Notwithstanding the fact that home tuition numbers have increased, which really means an increase in the number of children who cannot get a place in school, I understand there are considerable delays within the Department in dealing with applications for home tuition grants. Many children are idle at the moment because they do not have teachers. The teachers who provide home tuition are losing patience and are not willing to continue to provide the service if the Department continues with the delays. It is the ultimate insult to the children with special needs. Those who cannot find a place in school are suffering from further delays because the Department will not deal with the home tuition applications.

The Taoiseach spoke very clearly on this issue in terms of investment and commitment. Legislation to compel schools to provide classes was introduced on 3 December last year and was enacted on 18 April. There has been considerable consultation with schools on this to ensure what is desired happens. I am not going to go down the road of using the big stick to tell schools what to do. The consultation is working. We will have a positive set of circumstances emerging in Dublin 15.

With regard to home tuition, if parents want to get their sons and daughters into schools, that is our focus.

If we can improve the administration of applications, we will, but a concerted effort is being made to deal with this issue. The Deputy's party leader used the word "inertia" today. There is no inertia on the part of the officials in the Department of Education and Skills. They are prioritising this. There is no inertia on the part of Government either; €1 out of every €5 is going into special education. We will continue to work on that.

The Minister should tell that to the kids sitting at home.

There have been protests outside our beef factories for as long as a month now. Men and women, the farmers of this country, have spent 24 hours of every day trying to get a simple message across, which is that they are working at a major loss which they cannot sustain. These people, whom I meet and speak with daily, are mystified as to why the Taoiseach and the leader of the main Opposition party have been silent throughout these protests. I ask the Taoiseach to personally intervene in this crisis and to fight for a proper base price for these farmers' cattle. The protection of the factory owners and large retailers in this country must end. This can be done if the Taoiseach comes out and supports these struggling farmers today.

This issue was debated at length last night. There have been two rounds of negotiated talks and last weekend an agreement was reached between seven organisations and the meat industry. It needs to be allowed a chance to work. As I said here last night, we need everybody to take a step back from the brink, to take a leap of faith, and to try to develop a level of trust that would allow the mechanisms and component parts of this agreement to work. As the Deputy knows, it is not legally possible for the Taoiseach, the Minister, or anyone else here to discuss price, but we have approved the first producer organisation, and we hope to approve many more. These can discuss pricing in a calm environment. If farmers get together they will be in a position of strength to influence the direction of this industry. I ask everybody to accept what was decided and agreed over the weekend and to give it a chance to work. It is the best chance we have for the future of this industry.

Six Deputies were not reached, beginning with Deputy Aylward. Those Deputies will be given priority tomorrow.