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Legislative Programme

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 25 November 2020

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Ceisteanna (1, 2, 3)

Mick Barry


1. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38331/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Kelly


2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38077/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [38633/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (14 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

When previously questioned on this matter on 8 September, I informed the House that there were currently no Bills in preparation in my Department and the position is unchanged. The Government legislation programme was published by the Government Chief Whip on 15 September. The programme sets out the Government's priorities for the autumn, reflecting the ambition for legislative change, as set out in the programme for Government. The legislation programme included no Bills in preparation in my Department as there are no legislative matters which require to be prioritised at this time. My Department will continue to play a central role in supporting effective co-ordination and prioritisation of policy and legislative developments across Government, through the Government meetings and Cabinet committee structure and Government legislation committee, chaired by the Government Chief Whip.

The programme for Government makes reference to the possibility of legislation to improve workers' rights in a liquidation situation. The Taoiseach has committed to a process of dialogue on this issue with employers' organisations and trade union organisations. I understand a meeting has already taken place in this regard. Are there terms of reference for this process? Have they been published? If so, where? Which organisations are being invited to participate in the process? How long is it intended for the process to continue? Is it the intention that proposals be put forward at the end of the process?

Many observers doubt this process would even be taking place if it were not for the struggle of the Debenhams workers. Some 15 minutes ago, the Taoiseach asked for space on this issue and he is committed to appointing a mediator. I will comment briefly on that. Despite the fact that he gave a commitment to the workers that he would report back to them early this week on progress in this regard and did not do so, I will respect his request. However, I will make it clear that if there is not progress on this issue by the time we convene next week, there will be a row on the floor of the Dáil about this. These women have a deadline as well. They want Christmas with their families and the dispute solved by then.

They know that the company is trying to get packaging in and high-value stock out this week and is planning to do so at night or early in the morning. This is a disgrace and the company should back off. Please, appeal to them for space on this issue as well.

Given all the controversy, the Taoiseach might tell us when the Government intends to publish a new judicial appointments commission Bill. In 2016, he called on the then Government not to control the Dáil but it seems that, if matters relating to the Business Committee do not change quickly, that will fall by the wayside. At the time, the current Taoiseach stated: "We believe that the new Dáil should not represent more business as usual – that it should involve a decisive move towards a reformed politics."

On the judicial appointments controversy, the Taoiseach has on numerous occasions stated that Deputies should submit questions. I submitted seven questions to his Department. They were pretty basic and I hope to speak to the Ceann Comhairle about them later. They asked for dates and specifics, they were about the process and they were in order, as the Ceann Comhairle has accepted. I asked when the Taoiseach, in his current role, was informed about the proposal to appoint Mr. Justice Woulfe. I asked when he, his Department or his advisers were informed of the decision of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, JAAB. I asked him a range of questions relating to the documentation process. I am not looking for documentation or anything that was said at Cabinet level. I know all about Cabinet confidentiality. With these questions in mind, why is the Department of the Taoiseach refusing to be transparent and answer questions, given the Taoiseach's commentary in the past that Governments needed to be more open? I guarantee him that I will not stop until we get answers to these questions.

Seeing as how, as the Taoiseach suggested in a previous answer, the Government is not busy with any particular legislation at the moment, and given that he is responsible for co-ordinating the response to Covid, may I suggest something for his Department to do? There are many aspects to this, but one that is staring us in the face, is growing more evident every day and will be the key to any kind of return to normality is the need for more doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants to increase the capacity of our health service. On 20 October, the Taoiseach suggested that student nurses should have the pay they received in March and April returned to them, but the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, has not done so. I was shocked to discover at a meeting of student nurses that a huge obstacle to the recruitment of sufficient nurses and doctors is the level of fees they are being forced to pay. Legislation on this would be a good idea. Student nurses working on wards on the front line pay €3,000 in fees. Mature student nurses pay €7,500. Graduate-entry medical students who are training to be doctors, a group of whom I met recently, payi€15,000 per year in fees. All of them said they could barely hang on. There is an active financial disincentive to get the trained doctors, nurses and midwives that we need now more than ever. The Taoiseach should be doing something about this. It is crazy to put financial obstacles in the way of training the front-line healthcare professionals we need. This is putting them through the wringer financially in trying to complete their training.

I look forward to the Taoiseach answering some of Deputy Kelly's questions.

The Government is to legislate to defer the increase in the State pension age to 67 from January, but we have not seen that legislation yet. This delay is causing great uncertainty for many citizens. It should be remembered that the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition first proposed the pension age increase, introducing one of the fastest and largest pension age increases in Europe.

In 2016, we tabled a motion calling for the immediate reinstatement of the State pension transition payment for those who retired at 65 years of age. The age at which someone is entitled to a pension ought to be 65 years in any civilised society that respects its workforce. However, Fianna Fáil voted against that motion. It then went on to commit to the provision that we had set out in the election. Fianna Fáil has been all over the place on this issue. The bottom line now is people need to know when the legislation will be introduced. Will it remove or defer the pension age increase to 67 years? If the Taoiseach can do nothing else today, it would be helpful if he at least clarified that and answered Deputy Kelly's questions.

I thank the Deputies for their various questions. Deputy Barry raised the issue of the process, the dialogue and discussions on company law reform and the need to amend the laws, particularly in regard to liquidations, the rights of workers and the honouring of collective agreements, and also the measures to implement the Duffy Cahill report, which is not directly applicable to the Debenhams situation but nonetheless should happen. It relates to the Clerys situation as well. The Ministers of State, Deputies Troy and English, had good meetings recently. They convened a forum to discuss that with the social partners. That process will continue. The Tánaiste is engaged in his Department with those two Ministers of State on the company law reform process. That is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The issues can be complex enough, but there is a resolve and a determination to deal with them.

I undertook to return this week regarding the appointment of a mediator to deal with the Debenhams situation with a view to seeing if we could bring a resolution to it. I asked earlier for space to be allowed. That included all parties to this. I do not think any moves should be made until this particular process is completed. This has been a very, very difficult dispute, which is not easy to resolve. We had a good meeting. I am very clear about the dangers of precedent and so on, but we do want to resolve this ultimately because it has been a long time on the picket line for the workers in particular. They have suffered a lot in inclement weather and they are under a lot of pressure. I acknowledge that.

In relation to Deputy Kelly's questions, I have said that the Government is committed to publishing the judicial appointments commission Bill as soon as possible. That it will be published quite shortly is my understanding of this. Work is under way by the Minister. I have always said that the system needs reform. As part of the programme for Government, we indicated that we wanted to reform the Bill that was before the previous House to create a better balance that would respect the separation of powers to a greater extent than the Bill that was going through the Houses in the previous Oireachtas did. That is the agenda.

I do not agree with the Deputy on the replies to the questions that he asked. I have answered those questions.

The Taoiseach has not.

I have answered them on a number of occasions, in particular, in the first instance when the Tánaiste said for transparency reasons to me and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan - we were not Ministers at the time - that Mr. Justice Séamus Woulfe had come through the JAAB process.

I asked the Taoiseach-----

Prior to the actual formal Cabinet meeting, I would have been advised by the Minister that she was bringing forward those proposals to Cabinet in the normal way.

That question has been answered before and I have answered it again. My Department has been very transparent on this and has answered the Deputy's questions on all of these issues.

Absolutely not.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of the recruitment of nurses and doctors. I introduced the nursing degree programme when I served as Minister for Health. At the time, it represented a very radical transformation of nursing education, and I put enormous resources into it in order to create the new facilities we have in universities and institutes of technology across the country. Those changes were informed by nurses and the nursing unions. During the period in question, the Department brought in nursing personnel who headed up the nursing unit and engineered the proposals around this dramatic reform, which meant that students moved from the apprenticeship model within hospitals and to instead being students at third level. That changed the model entirely in terms of payments and so on. That was signed up to by the INMO and all of the parties concerned. We transformed postgraduate nursing education and created far more opportunities for nurses. I understand that things move on and that advances are made. However, it should be acknowledged that enormous investment went into that reform and most people did not think it could happen, but it did and on my watch.

The current situation has been under negotiation by the INMO and the HSE at the appropriate fora for quite some time. I wish the matter had been brought to a conclusion, but the various asks have been be made. It is now part of the industrial relations process and has to be resolved through that process.

The postgraduate medical programme was an innovation which was sought at the time so that people would be given an opportunity to pursue medicine. I acknowledge the Deputy's point that it is expensive, but, as a programme, it has been effective for many people who had previously been debarred from going down the medical route. They can now access the postdoctoral process.

The legislation on the increase in the pension age to which Deputy McDonald referred will be published very shortly. It has gone through Cabinet and will remove any increase in the pension age to 67 years. We will take a more consistent approach than the Sinn Féin Party has taken in Northern Ireland-----

We have to move on.

-----where all of its members voted unanimously for the pension age to be increased to 66 years, I believe. Who is all over the place?