Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 5, Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage. Private Members’ business shall be No. 73, motion re health service cutbacks (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight if not previously concluded.
Deputy Enda Kenny: I have three questions on the Order of Business. Will the Taoiseach confirm the date on which the Government intends to publish the budgetary profiles for the next four years? Second, I understand it was revealed this morning that vulnerable young people with serious problems are being treated in the south east in an adult psychiatric ward. This is completely contrary to the Mental Health Commission guidelines. It is further reported that because of staff cutbacks, at one stage just one nurse was attempting to take care of more than 30 patients. Is the Taoiseach aware that these kind of placings are taking place on a systematic basis as distinct from being exceptional? Can he confirm that legislation will be introduced later this year to outlaw this practice which is very dangerous in many cases and should not be happening? Third, I understand from an announcement by the National Roads Authority that it is proposing to impose a swathe of new tolls across the country, including on the M50. The impact of this decision, particularly where the taxpayer has paid for motorways or dual carriageway development, will be to drive motorists and commercial traffic back on to single carriageway routes through towns, villages and housing estates.
Deputy Enda Kenny: My questions are about legislation. The Ceann Comhairle is a patient man and if he will allow me to finish, he will find that my questions are related to legislation. Is it intended to implement the tolling proposal referred to by the National Roads Authority? Will this require the introduction of legislation to give effect to that proposition, particularly in the case of where the taxpayer has paid for the road in the first instance?
The Taoiseach: I am not aware that legislation would be required for such a proposal were one to emerge. These are issues which are considered by the NRA when evaluating factors such as proper traffic management, road investment needs to support economic competitiveness, safety issues and implementation of Government policy in areas such as smarter travel. In any event, such issues or initiatives when they arise are considered by the Minister for Transport in due course.
In answer to the Deputy’s first question, it is expected to have the four-year budgetary framework prepared by mid-November. The date for the budget is 7 December. We have indicated this as a result of the decision taken last week. We expect mid-November to be the time when we can do that. The pre-budget outlook can also be provided at that time.
On the second question, I do not know if specific legislation is involved, but I accept it is inappropriate to admit young people to units providing care and treatment to adults. However, recognising the absence of an alternative, such admissions are sometimes necessary for the safety and treatment of a child. In arriving at a decision to admit a young person to an adult unit, due consideration is given to the risks of not admitting him or her and the potential adverse effects of such an admission. During 2009 the bed capacity for children and adolescents almost doubled, bringing the total number of inpatient beds to 30. That capacity will be further increased to 52 following the commissioning of two new units in Cork and Galway later this year. The opening of a new 20-bed purpose-built unit at Bessborough in Cork later this year will provide for the inpatient needs of the Waterford area in the future.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: I wish to raise two matters with the Taoiseach. Last week, an additional €2.7 billion was allocated to Irish Nationwide Building Society, bringing the total amount for that institution to €5.4 billion. Last April, Irish Nationwide Building Society appointed Ernst & Young as forensic auditors to look back over the lending practices of that institution. Has Ernst & Young yet presented its report and will the report be laid before the House as, in effect, this is a publicly owned institution?
Yesterday, An Bord Pleanála granted permission to Dublin City Council to compulsorily purchase land required for the incinerator to be built at Poolbeg. Does the Government accept the An Bord Pleanála decision?
On the first question, the Government has a special investment share in Irish Nationwide Building Society. Any reports will have to go to the board in the first instance before going anywhere else. I am not aware the report has yet been put before the board.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Taoiseach will be aware that three years ago the Government gave a commitment to reduce the unnecessary cost of compliance by business by €500 million. The halfway stage has now passed and the Government has delivered just 4% of this sum. I suggest that €500 million is a sum which is crucial to small businesses and they cannot easily do without it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: This is exactly my question. This involves a series of both primary and secondary legislation in order to move this logjam and nothing is happening. No one is driving the agenda effectively.
Deputy Richard Bruton: The Taoiseach is responsible for the co-ordination of Government. This is a matter of cross-governmental responsibility, involving the Departments of Justice and Law Reform, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. We are perfectly entitled to ask whether the Government will propose initiatives to drive this programme. Businesses are doing without €500 million which they can ill afford to pay out.
The Taoiseach: The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation has taken initiatives to seek to reduce bureaucratic costs for business. It has identified four or five areas in which it is seeking to reduce by 25%. I do not have the details in front of me but I will ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to convey them to the Deputy.
Deputy Seymour Crawford: In light of the difficulties in the health service and what has been revealed today about the loss of money, when will the health information Bill, long promised to this House, be introduced? It is No. 32 on the legislative programme.
With reference to the issue of Garda personnel and the need for gardaí to be diverted to the right areas of operation, much Garda time has been taken up in dealing with anti-social behaviour. When will the sale of alcohol Bill be introduced in order to bring some control to the way the sale of alcohol is dealt with?
Finally, but by no means least, before the summer recess I asked for time for a debate on agriculture. The payments situation is in crisis and there is also a crisis in the pig industry where prices are falling and the cost of feed has risen.
The Taoiseach: Both of those pieces of legislation are due in 2011, with the sale of alcohol Bill likely to be published before the health information Bill. A debate on agriculture is a matter for the Whips to decide. The Food Harvest 2010 report has set out a development path for the agrifood industry over the coming five to ten years and in my view this would merit a debate in the House. This year there has been a substantial increase in farm incomes due to increased commodity prices and reduced input costs. Talking about crisis in that context is not a fair reflection of the experience of the agribusiness sector this year.
The Taoiseach: This Government worked very closely with the pig industry to deal with a serious problem that merited significant funding by the taxpayer to ensure the pig industry was retained in the aftermath of the serious health and safety problem last year. The pig industry continues to be very competitive. On trade missions as far away as Japan last year I met pig industry representatives seeking to sell their wares and doing so successfully. If the Deputy wishes to have a debate, we should do so if the Whips can arrange it. In respect of payment systems, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been very adept and has been deemed to be one of the most efficient in terms of the timeliness of the single farm payment, which is so important to farm household income.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: During the passage of legislation on NAMA, the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach indicated to the House, under pressure from the Opposition parties, that legislation would be introduced to support those in mortgage arrears. There are now some 40,000 such cases. At the same time, many of the people affected are unemployed and in negative equity. What efforts have been made to bring forward the legislation in recognition of the commitment given by the Taoiseach and the Minister on that occasion?
The Taoiseach: There are a number of initiatives, none of which involved the preparation of legislation. We tried to come forward with some practical initiatives that would help mortgage holders with specific issues to deal with and to support those in difficulty with mortgages. It is worth recalling that the Government has already provided help to over 16,700 families with the mortgage interest subsidy scheme. We increased the advisory services offered to them through the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, introduced a statutory code of conduct on mortgage arrears for all lenders, extended the six-month moratorium on legal proceedings to 12 months, refocused mortgage interest relief on those who purchased their homes at the peak of the market with extensions up to the end of 2017 and established a mortgage arrears and personal debt expert group to make recommendations in line with our commitments under the renewed programme for Government. An interim report has already emerged from the process. The Law Reform Commission, under the aegis of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, is addressing the issue of debt management and enforcement. We will consider further initiatives in this important area.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I do not want to prolong the debate and I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply but there is something missing. Mortgage arrears are increasing on a monthly basis. The IMF——
Another issue of promised legislation is the legal costs Bill, which has been on the Government legislation programme for approximately four years. An indication was given that this would be pursued with some intent. It is still on the “must do” list, with publication expected. What discussion has taken place on the preparation of the heads of the Bill? Has it been discussed in Cabinet and has it been discussed between the various——
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I am entitled to ask about the preparation of a Bill, whether the heads of the Bill have been prepared and whether discussions have taken place relative to the preparation of the Bill. We need to know the answer now.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: In view of the fact that one third of all instructors on privately contracted FÁS courses are not approved by FETAC, the standards authority, when will the qualification and quality assurance (education and training) Bill be before the Dáil? Of those courses, 55% of course organisers are not in full compliance with regulations. Does the Taoiseach agree this is a scandal that must be addressed by the legislation coming before the House as quickly as possible?
Deputy James Reilly: I refer to two matters of promised legislation. The House is debating where cuts should be made in the health service. A quote from the Minister for Health and Children suggests there will be 6,000 redundancies in the HSE. We have heard this year on year. Is there any legislation to accommodate this and will legislation be needed in order to achieve this goal that has been long spoken about but is yet to be achieved?
A second matter concerns the freedom of doctors to move throughout the EU. The anomaly is that doctors from English-speaking countries such as the USA, Australia and South Africa must undertake an English language test while doctors within the EU do not have to do so. Many doctors from Lithuania, Poland and various other places do not have English. We must ensure quality of care——
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Legislation to provide for the establishment of the VECs as patrons at primary level was published and circulated last Tuesday or Wednesday. It is not on the list of promised Government legislation but has been promised for some time. When is it proposed to take that Bill?
Deputy Emmet Stagg: On the matter of Dáil reform and the legislation required arising from it, a package of Dáil reform was effectively agreed between all parties prior to the summer recess. The then Chief Whip, Deputy Pat Carey, informed the Dáil reform committee that he could not proceed any further. In other words, the Government, or the Taoiseach personally, had vetoed the package. No meeting of the Dáil reform committee has taken place since before the new Chief Whip was appointed. The issues we are dealing with are archaic and outdated procedures, which everyone agrees need to change, poor organisation of the time we have available, the need for extra time and Adjournment debates where a Minister of State comes into the Chamber with a bundle of scripts he has not seen and then reads them out. He does not take any heed of what the Member raises on the Adjournment debate. It is a form of insult to the House.
The issue of quangos, which has been raised by the Minister for Finance, who described government by quangos as not being government at all. I refer to the need to have responsibility in the House and the democratic deficit that arises from the widespread use of quangos, and the exclusion of the matter of the public moneys used to fund them from being raised in the House. These issues and many more need attention. Can the Taoiseach indicate when the Dáil reform committee will meet again? All members of it are available to meet whenever required. Is the veto on Dáil reform put in place before the recess still in place?
The Taoiseach: I understand the Chief Whip has discussed issues with individual Whips since his appointment. The possibility of getting cross-party support is still a matter for consideration. If some people adopt an all or nothing approach——
Deputy David Stanton: We had agreement on that but we cannot get movement from Government. We want to change how things are done but the Taoiseach will not engage with us himself. It is his fault. Let us stop misleading the House.
The Taoiseach: I have given an indication that we are looking at legislation to deal with the bookmakers situation and the funding of racing. The question of any other move beyond that is part of an ongoing consultation process.
Language is very important in terms of drafting legislation on mental health. The use of the word “insanity” has a stigma attached. Perhaps those who draft legislation would consider the use of the word “insanity” in law.
The Taoiseach: I understand the mental capacity Bill will be introduced in this session. Other legislation on mental health is due next year. I accept what the Deputy has to say. Sometimes there is difficulty with legal definitions in terms of amending legislation in that the question of insanity is a legal term in legislation.
The Taoiseach: I understand that point. Perhaps it is an issue that could be raised on Second Stage for consideration on Committee and Report Stages. If one is amending existing legislation it is very difficult to avoid the use of such terms in order to ensure one moves to a new more modern framework by amending the existing terminology.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: When will we see the road traffic (amendment) Bill? The Taoiseach is aware that it is intended to implement a key part of the road traffic Bill. Has he had a chance to do anything to help taxi workers? I sent him an e-mail on the issue again last night to see whether there are any steps he could take to try to assure taxi workers that, for example, they might not——
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