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 Header Item Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Commissions of Investigation (Amendment) Bill 2016: First Stage
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2016: Leave to Introduce
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2016: Referral to Select Committee
 Header Item Business of Dáil

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 930 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] I suggest that is the appropriate place to raise the issues he has outlined today on actions the Minister has taken, but I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with the Deputy on the schemes.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick Pre-legislative scrutiny on the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill took place in October 2015. Victims of crime, in particular children, must have their best interests protected at all times. The Bill will ensure this happens. It is also intended that a victim's personal statement will be taken into account when sentencing an offender. Will the Tánaiste provide an update on the current status of the Bill?

The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald The Bill is very close to a conclusion. It is implementing the new EU victims directive. It does signify a sea change which we need to see in terms of implementation across the criminal justice agencies. The Garda is already implementing the provisions of the EU directive and the legislation will be published shortly.

Deputy Frank O'Rourke: Information on Frank O'Rourke Zoom on Frank O'Rourke A Programme for a Partnership Government committed to the full implementation of A Vision for Change. I wish to focus on the area of community-based mental health services. My constituency of Kildare North is without a primary care psychologist for some time. That is a hugely important and very urgent appointment. When will the appointment be made because it is of great importance and significance to the people in the constituency, where there is a major deficit due to the appointment not being filled for some time?

The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I recognise the importance of the point the Deputy made on the recruitment of psychologists and other health professionals. Delays are not always due to budgetary reasons, and in the case outlined by Deputy O'Rourke, for example, very often it is a recruitment issue in terms of the staff being available, be they speech therapists, occupational therapists or psychologists. I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to revert to the Deputy on the situation in Kildare, but it is an issue in areas other than Kildare as the Deputy will be well aware. The issue is one we need to address and we must try to examine what other initiatives might be taken to accelerate the recruitment of much-needed professionals, in particular in the assessment of children aged under five and older schoolchildren as well.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Could I ask the Tánaiste about the long-promised guidelines on wind farms? In the previous Government four Ministers failed to introduce them. The issue is in the programme for Government and it was specified that the guidelines would be introduced within three to six months. The document stated it was a matter of priority. The Taoiseach said in the House the other day that he is trying to reach a compromise. We were told by the previous Government that a row was going on between the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White, and the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and they did not sort it out. What is happening now between the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, who is sitting beside the Tánaiste? When will we see the guidelines? In counties Laois, Offaly, Kildare, and other counties, wind farm developments are pushing ahead. Public representatives like me do not have answers for people as to why we cannot put regulations in place. How complicated can it be to specify set-back distances, noise levels and all of the other issues that need to be addressed. I have heard about reports and consultants. I am blue in the face listening to reasons for the past five years. We need to sort out this issue. The Government is entering its eight month in government. The matter must be addressed.

The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to reply.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I can understand the frustration. There are many communities in various parts of the country that are waiting for clarity in terms of guidelines in this area. I met the Minister, Deputy Naughten, this week on the matter. There is a process that needs to be gone through. There is a commitment that we will provide clarity on the issue before the end of November. Since then, there has been a European Court judgment that requires a strategic impact assessment and a public consultation process as part of it in regard to the setting of new guidelines. We will produce a draft report which we will bring to Government before the end of the year with a view to having that consultation early in the new year. We are working towards finalising a position in relation to the new guidelines and they will be ready, certainly within the first quarter of next year.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Two other Deputies are offering and I will take them if they are very brief.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh I have asked this question before. Is there any progress on the digital hub development legislation to transfer the digital hub to Dublin City Council to ensure that its ability to grow is not hampered in any way?

The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I understand the heads of the Bill are expected later this year.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The mediation Bill is promised legislation. Could I ask the Tánaiste when it is expected to bring it before the House and if the heads of the Bill have been cleared?

The Tánaiste: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald That is important legislation which would be very helpful to many couples in this country and would ensure people do not have to take on high legal costs and get involved in adversarial court appearances. I hope to be in a position to publish the Bill next term.

Commissions of Investigation (Amendment) Bill 2016: First Stage

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 to permit the disclosure or publication of evidence given or the contents of any document produced by a witness giving evidence in private to a Commission of Investigation.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the 2004 Commissions of Investigation Act to permit the disclosure or publication of evidence given or the contents of any document produced by a witness giving evidence in private to a commission of investigation. The reason for the Bill is because in June 2016 the Tánaiste directed the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, to carry out an investigation regarding matters connected with evidence given to the commission of inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice O'Higgins. We learned in October of this year, however, that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission had difficulty in respect of that investigation because it could not gain access to the transcripts of evidence from the O'Higgins commission. The reason GSOC could not obtain access to the transcripts was because of the provisions of section 11 of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. That section states that evidence which is given to a commission of inquiry shall not be published or disclosed. In fact, it makes it a criminal offence to publish or disclose such evidence as it is given.

  There are, however, four exceptions within section 11(3) that allow the disclosure or publication of evidence given to a commission of investigation. They are, first, where it is directed by a court; second, where it is necessary to inform other witnesses coming in to give evidence to a commission of investigation; third, where it is necessary for fair procedures; and fourth, where it is sought by a tribunal of inquiry. The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a fifth exemption, which would be that the material and evidence can be provided to GSOC where it is carrying out an investigation under Part 4 of the Garda Síochána Acts 2005 to 2015.

  I have written to the Tánaiste in respect to this matter and I acknowledge that she replied to me. She stated that she is not inclined to proceed with such a Bill at present because the advice she has been given is that it would be preferable to make an application to court. I have my own concerns in respect of that. I do not know whether the court would adopt such a creative attitude that it would allow itself to broaden out the grounds upon which it can grant a disclosure of transcripts. Irrespective of the Tánaiste's plan to go to court, although I do not know who the parties would be, it would be appropriate if the Bill could be introduced as it would provide a definite mechanism whereby GSOC could continue with this inquiry.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Is the Bill opposed?

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald No.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Deputy Jim O'Callaghan: Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Estimates for Public Services 2016: Leave to Introduce

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move:

That leave be given by the Dáil to introduce the following Supplementary Estimates for the service of the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2016:-
Vote 32 — Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Supplementary Estimate).

Vote 37 — Social Protection (Supplementary Estimate).

  Question put and agreed to.

Estimates for Public Services 2016: Referral to Select Committee

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move:

That, subject to leave being given to introduce the following Supplementary Estimates for the service of the year ending on 31st December, 2016, the Supplementary Estimates be referred to the following Select Committees, as appropriate, pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(c) and 182(3), which shall report back to the Dáil by no later than 8th December:-
Vote 32 — Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Supplementary Estimate) —

Select Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Vote 37 — Social Protection (Supplementary Estimate) — Select Committee on Social Protection.

  Question put and agreed to.

Business of Dáil

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call the Government Chief Whip to move a proposal arising out of today's Business Committee meeting.


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