Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 8, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Teaching Council Act 2001 (Amendment of Nominating Bodies) Order 2012, considered by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education on 25 January 2012; No. 9, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on criminal sanctions for insider dealing and market manipulation, considered by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education on 1 February 2012; No. 10, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America on enhancing co-operation in preventing and combating serious crime, considered by the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on 31 January 2012; No. 11, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of Ireland’s accession to the memorandum of understanding concerning the principles for the establishment and operation of a battle group, considered by the Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on 31 January 2012; No. 13, Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2011 — Order for Report and Report and Final Stages; and No. 14, Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad] — Second Stage (resumed).
It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that Nos. 8 and 9 shall be decided without debate, and the proceedings on Nos. 10 and 11 shall each be brought to a conclusion within 20 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, and shall not exceed five minutes in each case. Private Members’ business shall be No. 39, motion re community employment schemes.
Deputy Micheál Martin: On proposed legislation, in terms of the governance of the health service I am extremely concerned with what I would perceive to be an absence of overall governance and some serious issues emerging as a result. I instance today the situation regarding the delay in medical card applications and particularly the renewal of medical cards. I ask the Taoiseach to update the House on when we can expect to see the Bill on the governance of the Health Service Executive since the changes the Minister announced. In the interim, while we await that legislation, will the Government take immediate steps to come to the assistance of those who are chronically ill and depend on their medical cards for life-saving medication in that while their applications are in for renewal they would continue to receive cover for the medication they require? It is an urgent issue. Deputies across the House are getting calls about it. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene directly on that specific issue while we are awaiting the HSE (amendment) Bill on the governance of the health service.
The Taoiseach: I ask the Deputy to give me the details of the case to which he refers. If we set in train a system to provide answers to applications for medical cards, I do not understand the reason that cannot operate in the way it should.
The Taoiseach: I want to help the Deputy. If he gives me the details of the chronically ill patient he referred to I will have it taken up directly with the Minister for Health. If the Deputy or one of his Members wants to put down a Topical Issue——
The Taoiseach: I would like to see that happen with the applications for all medical cards. Some may be granted and some may be refused but that does not mean the system should not operate effectively.
The Taoiseach: It is not the only problem we have come across in health, Deputy Martin. Let us see if we can fix it. It is not the only problem we have come across in this system or across the structure of health governance in general but it is one that must be fixed to ensure it operates in the patients’ interest. Either they get them or they do not but at least they deserve an answer quickly.
Deputy Gerry Adams: A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I was waiting for you to read out motion No. 11. I may be remiss but I want to put it on the record that this effort to put together participation in the European Union battle group with a 20 minute debate is not sufficient. Sinn Féin has consistently placed on record our opposition to Irish involvement in these EU battle groups. There are clearly elements within the EU who want to move towards a European army model.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Following on from the programme for Government and with respect to promised legislation on airports, will the Taoiseach comment on the serious situation pertaining in the Cork-Swansea ferry service?
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Yes. This involves some 78 jobs, a potential loss of €30 million to the south west region and during a period of 18 months that service brought 150,000 passengers into the south west. I appreciate that the Taoiseach knows not only every highway but every byway in the south west because he is a regular traveller to the region. He will appreciate the importance of that service to the south west region.
The Taoiseach: I was in Cork last weekend and this matter had come to a conclusion the night before I arrived. I commended all those who had put up their money to see if that proposal would work. There were a small number of staff in permanent jobs in the business and a sizeable proportion of the staff were agency workers who pay their taxes in another country but, be that as it may, it was undoubtedly a fact that the local spend from this service in the Cork-Kerry region was of the order of €30 million and a substantial number of persons were carried on that ferry.
I met some other people who might have views about re-attempting another programme there, but this is a case of where, clearly, State assistance could not be given in one case and not in another. While I commended those who put together the proposal and raised, by all accounts, serious money, it just was not possible to see it through. The position regarding the workers is that the number of permanent employees was small and the remainder of the staff were agency workers who pay their taxes in a different country.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: In light of the Cabinet’s approval today of a limited number of assistant Garda commissioners, when will approval be given for the appointment of the front line positions of Garda sergeants and inspectors, who are badly needed on the ground to co-ordinate all daily and nightly operations.
The Taoiseach: The Cabinet approved this morning the appointment of 33 senior personnel and I expect that the Commissioner, in looking at the rostering arrangements and appointments to different localities around the country, will see to it that the appointments made today, 33 in all, will add greatly to the stability and the importance of the gardaí being able to do their jobs in protecting citizens from criminals.
Deputy Michael McGrath: The arrival of the Minister for Finance is timely. Given that the heads of the personal insolvency Bill have been published, will we have a comprehensive statement by Government on the strategy for dealing with mortgage arrears? The Taoiseach had said all along that the personal insolvency Bill was the reason that was not forthcoming. We have been assured that work is going on in the background since the Keane report was delivered at the end of September last, but can we now have a statement from the Minister setting out the strategy, in its totality, for dealing with the problem?
The Taoiseach: In respect of the personal insolvency Bill and the implementation of the Keane report, the Minister for Finance outlined in some detail the schedule ahead for that. The heads of the personal insolvency Bill have been published. A detailed press conference was given by the Minister for Justice and Equality, who will take the Bill, and by the Minister for Finance. I can confirm that there is an implementation group in the Department of Finance dealing with work on the Keane report. It is part of a package which needs to be right and comprehensive to deal with the very many varied cases that exist. As the Deputy is well aware, they are not all the same, those concerned all have different circumstances with which to contend. We need to get it right. The Minister will continue to update the House as the process evolves to the point where we can legislate and get on with attempting to ease the pressure and stress on the many thousands of families affected.
Deputy Sandra McLellan: Will the Taoiseach instruct the Whips to facilitate a debate on the crisis in the health services with regard to the exodus of about 8,000 staff? I support what Deputy Martin said about the issuing of medical cards. We have all encountered serious problems trying to resolve it and the issue is much more serious than just one of paperwork.
The Taoiseach: This request was made a few weeks ago and we had a special debate on the HSE and the situation in the health services in the House last week. I do not see why we cannot have evidence from Deputies of all parties about particular cases in respect of medical cards.
The Taoiseach: If there is a system in place, it should operate and the people who apply for medical cards should get an answer as to whether they are entitled to them or not, but they should not be left in limbo. I take into account what Deputy Martin said. I have such cases raised with me and it is not very nice when somebody feels they have been thwarted by the system, and if they need medicines, they deserve to have them made available to them, and the Minister for Health stands by that. It is a case of finding out where is the blockage in the system and releasing it in order that everybody who applies for a medical card can have a response efficiently, competently and professionally. As these issues are all about patient care and attention, we could consider that. I am not sure that the Deputy wants another debate on health, we had one last week. We could have such a debate at the Joint Committee on Health and Children in a short while if Members wish to raise the issue again at that committee.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I wish to raise another health matter and one that is the subject of promised legislation, the health insurance risk equalisation Bill, which concerns quite a number of people. When is it likely to be published and have the heads of the Bill being discussed? To what extent has the scope of the Bill been decided on by Cabinet and when is it likely to come before the House?
The bail Bill, to be taken by the Department of Justice and Equality, is to consolidate and amend the bail laws. There is some considerable body of opinion to the effect that the bail laws, as currently constituted, are not adequately updated to deal with the level of recidivism and general increase in crime. The Taoiseach might be able to indicate when that Bill is likely to come before the House and if the heads of it have been discussed in that context.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: The Taoiseach outlined on Leaders’ Questions today that the Minister for Health has published detailed plans in the context of universal health insurance but will he outline exactly at what stage are those plans? To date we have been unable to gather any information with regard to detailed plans. All we have is a commitment to set up an implementation body to oversee the Minister’s opaque views on the whole issue of funding of the health services. That leads to the question raised previously by Deputy Martin in the context of medical cards. If Members on the other side of the House are saying there is not an issue, they are not listening to the many thousands of people who contact all our offices on a daily and weekly basis who have been refused medical cards. It is a crying shame that we all have had cases brought to our attention of——-
Deputy Billy Kelleher: ——people who are dying as we speak who cannot get medical cards. If the Taoiseach wants the details of those persons’ queries, I will give them to him and I will give him the details of many more as well.
The Taoiseach: I did not say the Minister has published details plans in respect of universal health insurance. I said it is the intention of the Government to introduce a universal health insurance system at the end of this Oireachtas which will mean everybody will have medical attention made available to them on the basis of their medical requirement as distinct from their income. The Minister has set up an implementation group and it will meet very shortly. His intention is to produce a White Paper which will be properly discussed. It will not be implemented this year. As I said, it is part of the programme for Government to introduce it towards the end of the lifetime of this Government. The medical card situation here seems to be similar to the passport problem we had some time ago.
The Taoiseach: That was dealt with and the medical card problem will be dealt with as well. There is a difference between not getting a medical card and being granted one. The system that operates should be professional, competent, efficient and up to date, and if a person applies for a medical card and complies with all the conditions on the application form, there is no reason he or she should be left in limbo. That is an issue we will take up to see if we can sort out the problem. If Deputy Kelleher wishes to give me the details of that particular case, I would be happy to take them from him.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: During the statements on Dáil reform last week, the Minister for Justice and Equality made a personal attack on me when I was not present in the Chamber, although I was about the only one present in the environs of Leinster House other than the few who were participating in that debate.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: The Tánaiste was playing pool down in Galway and the Taoiseach was in my fine county of Cork, yet I was the one accused of not being here. Just to let everyone on the Government side know, I was here. I did sign on in the one-stop shop and was witnessed by very competent officials, so for anyone to insinuate that I was not in the Chamber is untrue.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: When can we hope to see the companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill? The Taoiseach met the workers in Vita Cortex last Friday, on which I commend him. Also yesterday, Members of the Oireachtas from Cork city, including Deputies Martin, Michael McGrath and me, along with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Lynch, met the workers, who have been protesting for more than 50 days. The promised legislation is aimed at strengthening and improving the enforcement of company law. I hope we will see it before the House soon because the workers at Vita Cortex are suffering today. I know the Taoiseach met them on Friday and I thank him for that, but we need to see legislation that will prevent people who have given a lifetime of service from being treated badly.
The Taoiseach: That Bill is due late this year. I can confirm that I did meet representatives of the union and workers at Vita Cortex last week in Cork. I found them to be a very real and honest group of people, and what they are looking for is respect. One of them has given 47 years service to this company. I met the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, today. Clearly, this is a difficult problem. The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement cannot find sufficient grounds with regard to the company. The workers’ case is that everyone else who left Vita Cortex was given a redundancy payment of 2.9 weeks per year. The Minister for Social Protection has been processing the applications for redundancy by these workers. I hope to meet again with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to see what assistance, if any, can be given from here.
The Labour Relations Commission is, of course, available and continues to be available to facilitate talks. I intend to write to the commission following my meeting with the Vita Cortex workers. As I said, what they are really looking for is a sense of respect based on the many long years of service they gave to the company, including, I might add, facilitating the release of sophisticated machinery for overhaul in recent months in order that the company could meet its targets and objectives, and they feel very aggrieved at the way this is turning out.
Deputy Peadar Tóibín: Will the upcoming Finance Bill resolve the serious issue whereby the Tara Mines pensioners have been forced to bear the burden of the Government’s previous pension levy? Will it ensure that those pensioners do not have a significant proportion of their pensions taken from them in future?
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: As far as I am aware, we will not be proceeding with the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2010, which is currently on Committee Stage, and the Government is planning to publish a new immigration Bill. When is that likely to be published?
Deputy Brendan Griffin: Will measures be included in the forthcoming Finance Bill to tackle the major issue of lost revenue to the State due to the illegal smuggling of tobacco and illicit tobacco products? Will there be measures to increase fines for those involved in that practice?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Finance is well aware of these two issues, which are of considerable importance to our economy. We recognise the scale of what is going on here. I advise the Deputy to wait until the publication of the Finance Bill, when these matters may be raised.
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