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 Header Item Questions on Promised Legislation (Continued)
 Header Item Sentencing Council Bill 2017: First Stage
 Header Item Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 937 No. 1

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: Information on Aindrias Moynihan Zoom on Aindrias Moynihan] Last week when the roads funding was announced for all the local authorities across the country, no allocation was approved for the local improvement scheme. In the same week the Government announced the plan for rural Ireland yet there is no money for rural roads. Will an additional allocation of funding be made available for rural roads? Where do rural householders stand this year in terms of the roads?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Traditionally, councils used to make an allocation from the general allocation they received from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as it used to be known. It is a matter that can be considered in part by the review of the capital programme in respect of what allocation may be made for roads to the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Councils have always chosen to make allocations from their Vote for local improvement scheme roads or as Deputy Moynihan called them, non-statutory roads. That process will take its course.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Taoiseach's personal commitment to end the scandal of patients on hospital trolleys. After ten years we deserve to hear how he will end that scandal given that today we have 601 patients on trolleys. They are people whom it has been deemed necessary to admit to hospital but who cannot find a bed and are on hospital trolleys as we speak. Unfortunately, this issue has become normalised. Nobody in this House, bar Sinn Féin, has even raised the issue this morning. It speaks to the fact that it is nearly acceptable that we have hundreds of sick people who day after day and week after week are not able to get a hospital bed and may have to wait hours and sometimes days for one. After six years in office, what is the Taoiseach's plan to come good on the personal commitment he gave the Irish people ten years ago to end the scandal of hospital trolleys to ensure we never see a day like this again when 601 sick, vulnerable patients in this country are forced onto hospital trolleys because there are no beds in the system for them?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar First, Deputy Doherty is wrong. According to the HSE TrolleyGAR system at 8 o'clock this morning, there were 458 patients waiting on trolleys in acute hospitals nationally. That figure is much too high. It is not about the allocation of money. At €14.5 billion, there has never been more money allocated to the Department of Health. Clearly the question of patients on trolleys is the top priority for the Minister for Health. He introduced the winter initiative, allocated extra money, opened up additional step-down beds, and other new beds in various hospitals but clearly there are factors that exacerbate the situation such as the flu and the aging population, among others. The number of people on trolleys is monitored throughout the course of the day and the special delivery unit of the HSE is working with particular hospitals where there is overcrowding and people on trolleys in corridors and emergency departments to ensure a reduction.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty What about ending the scandal?

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I seek an update on the inland fisheries modernisation and consolidation Bill, which was promised in the list of proposed legislation. It is a very important Bill for many parts of rural Ireland and I am very anxious to see what measures the Bill contains. Could the Taoiseach give me any indication today as to when we might see the Bill come to the floor of the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I cannot, but the heads of the Bill are expected to come before the Cabinet shortly. It will go from there to pre-legislative scrutiny. I will advise the Deputy when the Minister expects to bring the Bill before the Cabinet.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Yesterday was the deadline for the HPRA review into the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Is the Taoiseach aware of whether the Minister received the report on time yesterday and if he did, when it will be made available to the House?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I cannot confirm that but I will advise the Deputy as to whether the Minister has received the report.

Sentencing Council Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish a Sentencing Council and to provide for related matters.

Sinn Féin has long called for the introduction of such a Bill. Sentencing councils are not a novel idea. They exist in many jurisdictions across Europe in particular. Such a Bill is timely given that we are seeking to reform how members of the Judiciary are appointed. We would also like to see changes made to regulate the conduct of the Judiciary. As part of a suite of measures, we want to see provision made to ensure there is consistency in sentences that are delivered for criminal offences in the courts. I stress that this is not about telling judges how to do their job. The Bill respects the independence of the Judiciary and would not put any obstacles in the way of judges.

  The most recent research is seven years old at this stage but it shows wide variation in sentencing for similar and the same offences. The research found that the length of sentences ranged from 14 days to five months in assault cases, while the sentences for theft ranged from 30 days and nine months, and between two and 12 months for road traffic and burglary cases.

  We believe it is essential that there is public confidence in the consistency of sentencing and, in part, that could be achieved through regular collation and publication of sentencing data, which would be the responsibility of the sentencing council. A sentencing council could promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing. It could engage in consultation and work with external organisations with relevant expertise. For those reasons, we are introducing the Bill.

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

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar 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 Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

  Question put and agreed to.

Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to reduce restrictions on the power of the Electricity Supply Board to carry out works concerning the levels on the Shannon Lakes (Lough Derg, Lough Ree and Lough Allen), to amend the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1934 and to provide for related matters.

The Bill is part of a broad suite of measures to address the increased risk of flooding. As the junior Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the OPW and flood relief, I am moving the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017 which aims to help address flooding issues along the River Shannon that affect many parts of the country. I acknowledge the help and support of Deputies Barry Cowen, Robert Troy and Anne Rabbitte, the parliamentary party and the party leader.

  We wish to revise the legislation in order to remove outdated water level restrictions on ESB-regulated lakes along the Shannon, which is governed by the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1934, which gave total control to the ESB to regulate water levels on the River Shannon. The River Shannon is an immense natural resource for the country. However, as the frequency and intensity of flooding has risen in recent years, it is clear we need a wide range of measures to help protect vulnerable communities along the banks of the river. We have all seen what people have gone through in recent years - farmers and small business people. Children have not been able to go to school, which is outrageous. That is why we feel this matter should be addressed by legislation.

  The Bill addresses concerns outlined by various community groups and aims to update existing legislation. It will ensure the ESB will not have its hands tied in terms of setting water levels on Lough Allen, Lough Derg and Lough Ree. That will help ensure that decisions on water levels are made in conjunction with relevant bodies without any legal constraint and will help to maintain an adequate, safe water level. Essentially, the Bill removes specific water levels from the legislation and allows the ESB to continue to use its expertise to set the levels in conjunction with other relevant bodies such as Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries and, importantly, local authorities. The Bill offers real and practical solutions to major ongoing flooding problems and includes proposals such as dredging new channels, deepening existing channels, the reconstruction of weirs and the altering, removal or reconstruction of quays, harbours, boat houses and bridges.

  The Bill is not a silver bullet and it will not solve every single flooding problem. However, it must form part of an overall package of measures designed to address the difficulties communities along the Shannon face.


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