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 Header Item Business of Dáil (Continued)
 Header Item Council of Europe: Appointment of Representatives
 Header Item Questions on Promised Legislation

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 963 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh] The weekly divisions shall take place on the conclusion of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016 in the Seanad or at 7.07 p.m., whichever is the earlier, and shall be followed by the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage (resumed), and No. 34a, statements on the McCartan report on the Stardust disaster, will take place at 7.52 p.m. for two hours.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is the recommendation of the Business Committee agreed? Agreed.

Council of Europe: Appointment of Representatives

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I wish to inform the House that the following persons have been selected and nominated as representatives and alternates from Ireland to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe until the end of 2018:

Representatives: Senator Joe O'Reilly, leader of the delegation; Senator Maura Hopkins, and Deputies Barry Cowen and Seán Crowe. Alternates: Deputies Seán Canney and Robert Troy, and Senators Rónán Mullen and Colette Kelleher.

Questions on Promised Legislation

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I ask the Members for their co-operation. There are quite a few offering and I am anxious to facilitate everyone, but it is a long day and we only have 15 minutes.

Deputy Michael McGrath: Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I raise the matter of the insurance (amendment) Bill in the context of the ongoing fallout from the collapse of Setanta Insurance. Almost 1,600 claims remain outstanding and policyholders now face their fourth Christmas with this issue hanging over them. In certain cases, people are being informed that they will be held personally liable in respect of any shortfalls on outstanding claims. That is ridiculous and it must be addressed. The Bill, as drafted, will not resolve the issue. We will seek to table amendments that will resolve it when the Bill comes before the House. When is the insurance (amendment) Bill being brought forward?

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney My information is that work on the Bill is under way but we do not have a definitive date for it. I will try to get the Minister to come back to the Deputy on that.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I take the opportunity to wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a very happy Christmas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Yesterday, we received the very good news that the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution had voted to recommend that the amendment be repealed. It was a very positive move for everybody, particularly the women of Ireland. This comes after decades of disaster and suffering to which the amendment, at a minimum, contributed. I hope the referendum vote will come quickly and that we can have a comprehensive, respectful and democratic debate, concluding with the removal of the eighth amendment from the Constitution. It is an opportunity for a new generation to have our say on a matter of fundamental social importance. Can the Tánaiste set out what happens next? What is the timetable envisaged for, on the one hand, the publication of legislation on the repeal referendum and, on the other, the timetable for any heads of legislation on the substantive issue of abortion or termination guidelines and law?

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I also take the opportunity to wish everybody in the House a happy Christmas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Tánaiste will get no extra time if he has not done it for me personally.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan That is the spirit.

The Tánaiste: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney As Deputy McDonald knows, this is a three-stage process to which we, as a Government, committed quite some time ago. The Citizens' Assembly carried out comprehensive work and this led to the establishment of a committee which has been ably led and chaired by Senator Catherine Noone, who has done an extraordinary job on a very difficult issue. The committee voted yesterday on the key issues but it will not publish its report until next Wednesday. People should wait to read the report in full before making judgments. Certainly, I will wait until I have had an opportunity to read the report in full. The Taoiseach has given a commitment - as has the Government generally - to the effect that we want to hold a referendum on this issue as early as May 2018. However, there will first be a need for the report to be debated fully in the House. My understanding is that the debate will take place in January. The report will then need to go to the Government for consideration as to how we proceed on foot of that debate.

The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has made it very clear that he needs to work with the Attorney General to put together the heads of a Bill. That is detailed work which needs to be done to create a context and environment for a referendum. There will also, of course, be a need for legislation to facilitate the referendum itself. My understanding is that the Minister for Health would like to have a lot of that work done by the middle of March. There is a great deal of work to do next year. My appeal to Members is that it is up to the House to give a lead to the rest of the country as to how this issue should be debated and how we should respect different perspectives and opinions which are honestly held so that we create the right atmosphere in which the country can make a decision, as opposed to some of the experiences we have had in the past in the context of this issue.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I welcome the Tánaiste's clarity on that matter and I share his views on the work of the committee and its Chair. I wish to raise another matter. It is six months since the Minister for Education and Skills set out an approach to remove religion as a criterion in the school admissions process. This was after a public consultation process which ran from January until March. It is 18 months since the Dáil debated the Labour Party Bill on the issue which was produced by my colleague, Deputy Burton. Despite taking a year, the Bill passed to the committee last summer but we are halfway through another school year with no progress having been made on this agreed change. In January, schools across the country will finalise the intakes for next year. That means another year will have passed without action. Very simply, when will we see legislation on this matter? Will the Minister advance his own proposals or allow the Labour Party Bill to proceed to enactment?

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton As Deputy Howlin well knows, the admissions Bill developed originally by his party's Minister and then published by the Government did not contain any provision to change the rules on admission on grounds of religion. Indeed, the Bill also did not contain any provision to allow the Department to designate schools which should open special autistic spectrum disorder, ASD, units. The consensus in the committee which discussed the Bill was that we should bring forward amendments in those two areas. I have developed proposals to do so which are currently with the Attorney General. I will bring the proposals to the House at the very earliest opportunity. The Deputy will appreciate that there are complicated constitutional issues involved in the drafting of this legislation and we must be careful to get it right. I assure the Deputy that there is no unnecessary delay.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy To return to the issue of abortion, yesterday's committee votes were historic, particularly those relating to the repeal of the eighth amendment and access to abortion on request up to 12 weeks. What happened yesterday represents a victory for all of those who have fought for decades for the right of women to choose and it takes us to the next step. The Government says it is still committed to a referendum in May. Will it agree to expedite the relevant legislation as quickly as possible? The legislation for repeal is extremely simple. Last year, we published and brought to Second Stage - at which it was defeated - a one-page Bill to delete the relevant Article from the Constitution, which is a simple matter. As opposed to going through this long process, we could debate the relevant legislation in January.


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