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Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin There are over 700 defined benefit pension schemes in the State covering more than 100,000 people. These workers thought they had made provision for their retirement but in recent years there have been worrying precedents. The UK has enacted a law to prevent solvent companies from walking away from their obligations to their employees in respect of occupational pension schemes. In October 2017, the Government's Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill was referred to the select committee. Proposals to protect defined benefit schemes were promised in that legislation in response to a number of items of legislation put forward by the Deputies in Opposition. We have been waiting two years for the Minister to bring forward amendments that have been long-promised to protect these pension payers. Tomorrow, the Dáil will debate a Private Members' Bill in the name of Deputy Willie Penrose to achieve the objective I believe there is consensus in the House to achieve. Will the Taoiseach support that Bill?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. This is a problem we have been working on for quite some time. We are struggling to come up with a solution, one that I am very familiar with from my time as Minister for Social Protection. There are many defined benefit pension schemes that currently have very large deficits. The solution, as I understand it from Deputy Penrose's Bill, is to make the employer liable for any deficit. There is a real difficulty in that because we could have a company with thousands of employees that is working well and making a profit but if we load on that company a pension deficit of hundreds of millions of euro, it might become insolvent. In trying to protect the pensions of some, therefore, we may cause hundreds of people to become unemployed.

We have a difficulty with the semi-State organisations as well. Quite a number of them have very large deficits and if those deficits are put on the balance sheets of those companies, they would have to curtail their investment plans. That would include companies like ESB, for example, and if ESB cannot invest in the energy network and renewable energy, we have some serious problems. While I believe the Bill is well-intentioned, the unintended consequences could be very serious in terms of closing down businesses, job losses and us having to curtail our infrastructure plans. I ask the Deputy's party to reflect on that.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I believe there is a way of achieving both objectives. It is not to make companies insolvent but to protect people by ensuring that solvent companies do not walk away from their obligations.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar We do not want to put them in a situation where they have to cancel their capital plans because their balance sheets have changed.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin That is not an excuse to abolish all defined benefit schemes.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar It is not, but it is a complicated matter.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The programme for Government promises improved intervention for children with special needs but the reality is that we have a national crisis, with hundreds of children on waiting lists for years not getting the early intervention that everybody acknowledges is needed. The State is failing families. There are particular black spots. Tallaght and many other areas of Dublin are among those. I will give one example to make this real for the Taoiseach. A young mother came to me a few weeks ago about her son who was diagnosed with autism when he was younger. He was in mainstream school until he was 11. Following that, his condition deteriorated. He became reclusive and has been out of school since May 2017. In the past few months, his condition deteriorated further. He is refusing to eat most food and is rapidly losing weight. His family is extremely concerned that he will starve himself to death. He was under the care of the Lucena Clinic. He was discharged in April. The clinic said it would refer him to the disability services. However, the disability services said they did not the referral. Effectively, this young man is left in limbo and there is no indication of him getting the therapy he desperately requires.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy. I am very sorry to hear about that case. I do not know the details but if the Deputy passes them on to my office or the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, we will have them looked into.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath My question is on mental health services. We were delighted recently to hear the announcement from the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, that Jigsaw would be rolled out in Tipperary. Unfortunately, our delight has dissipated because we are now told that the main hub will be in Thurles, which we accept. Outreach centres were to be delivered in Clonmel and other areas but we are told now that they will be delayed for a year or more. It will be a year before we have the Thurles hub up and running. Towns like Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel, in south Tipperary, and other areas are experiencing a suicide epidemic. I refer to clergymen like Rev. Michael Toomey, Rev. Paul Ward, Fr. Jimmy Browne and many others, and community groups such as suicide watch, the River Suir suicide patrol and Taxi Watch. The number of young people losing their lives to suicide in Tipperary is now an epidemic. We cannot wait for another two years to have these outreach services delivered. We will have the hub in Thurles but outreach services are desperately needed in Carrick-on-Suir, Roscrea, north Tipperary and other areas. I ask the Taoiseach please to act on this because we are losing lives by the dozen year-in, year-out.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Minister of State is before a committee this morning so the Deputy may wish to take his question to him directly in the committee. If that is not possible, I will certainly let him know that the Deputy raised the issue and ask him to reply to him in writing.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan I ask the Taoiseach about Dr. Johnny Connolly's report, Building Community Resilience. The reality is that the Taoiseach is neither tough on crime nor tough on the causes of crime. In terms of the Dublin South-Central constituency, that report is an indictment of the failure of the Department of Justice and Equality, the Minister and policing to be able to keep law and order and protect the youngest generation in that entire region. We could have a similar report on the constituency I represent highlighting a similar type of failure. A particular failure, for which the Minister for Justice and Equality has to answer, is that the report identifies the weakness of the joint policing committee, JPC, system. We have heard about the lack of funding for drug task forces and the weakness of the support for communities that are valiantly fighting back. We have had five unsolved murders in the region I represent. This report lays bare the total failure of Fine Gael and the fact that it is so soft on serious crime.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan On the contrary, I very much welcome the report by Dr. Johnny Connolly. The author of the report was a valued member of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which reported to me last year, and the implementation of which is well under way. Many of the 157 recommendations have been referred to in the report to hand. I acknowledge that not only is this report welcome but it fits very well into the implementation plan and Government policy. I have not had the opportunity yet to read the report in detail but it is of value not only to me but also to the Garda Commissioner, bearing in mind that this House recently voted a record sum of €1.76 billion to An Garda Síochána, an increase on last year.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan You have lost control of the district.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I very much value this report. I look forward to further ensuring that many of the recommendations are dealt with by the Government and not only the Department of Justice and Equality but also the Departments of Health; Education and Skills; and other Departments.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The heads of the communications (retention of data) Bill were approved in 2015 and received pre-legislative scrutiny in 2017. In 2018, I twice asked the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Garda Commissioner about this Bill and I was informed that it had yet to be considered by the Department of Justice and Equality. The 2011 Act requires significant amending following the Graham Dwyer case because it is inconsistent with EU law. What is the priority for this legislation? When are we likely to see it proceeding to the Final Stages?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan We expect that it will be published early in the new year.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna, ach níl sé i láthair. Mar sin, cuirfidh mé an cheist ar an Taoiseach. Under the programme for Government, the Taoiseach committed to enhancing the entire education sector. The provision of secondary school places in Bandon has reached crisis point. There are young boys in Bandon who do not have a school place for next September. One might often hear of that happening in Dublin but it is a first for Bandon. I acknowledge that one of the schools with a large waiting list has been promised four classrooms but, unfortunately, those are to replace four prefabs and they will not be of help in terms of the numbers. I ask the Taoiseach about the long-term plans for St. Brogan's college in Bandon. The four classrooms that are promised will not be enough. I refer also to the need for extra canteen facilities, toilets etc.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher We do not expect the Taoiseach to know the details but perhaps he will ask the Minister for Education and Skills.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as a cheist. Tá brón orm nach bhfuil an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna anseo but I will inform him that the Deputy raised the issue of St. Brogan's college in Bandon and ask him to reply to her directly.

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