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Order of Business (Continued)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 891 No. 2

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary] She praised its wonderful record and said she trusts what the fire officers say, and so say all of us for all of our emergency services. A number of years ago we tabled a Bill on the protection of emergency workers, which would have applied to An Garda Síochána and all other emergency workers. I raise the issue in light of the increased number of attacks on members of the Garda in recent weeks and months. The Bill was voted down by the Government pending legislation to be introduced by it. That was in 2012 and it is now 2015. Does the Government have any plans to introduce legislation to penalise people specifically for attacking or endangering the lives of anybody in the emergency services?

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Any direct attack on anybody who is part of the emergency services, of the kind described by Deputy Calleary, would be considered a criminal attack and would be a matter for the Garda to prosecute in the normal course of events.

Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary It would be an extra offence.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I will ask for a report and send it to the Deputy. Speaking for my Department, when I became Minister for Social Protection there were a number of urgent issues relating to the social welfare status of retained firefighters around the country. As Minister, I gave priority to addressing the issue. We addressed it as a government as speedily as we could. It had been an outstanding issue for a very long period. Once again, I express my thanks to all the people who work in the fire services around the country. I agree with Deputy Calleary. We have worked as a government, and I have worked as Minister for Social Protection, to ensure in particular that members of the retained services in areas outside of the big cities, whose issues were outstanding for a long time, were addressed by me.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis An apartment block of 68 units has been lying idle for almost a decade in Prospect Hill, Finglas. For the past two years; individuals and families were allocated to them from the housing lists, only to be stopped at the last minute due to fire safety concerns. NAMA and the receiver are in control of the apartments. The Tánaiste and other Ministers have indicated that NAMA will play a bigger role in the delivery of social housing. With that in mind, does the Government intend to bring forward legislation to transfer properties and land from NAMA to local authorities? There is no accountability with NAMA and if the Government were to consider that angle it would deliver a real social dividend.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton My understanding is that NAMA is working very hard on the matter and has already delivered more than 1,500 apartments and houses, which have been used to house families.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis The situation has been ongoing for ten years.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I understand that ongoing issues arise in certain local authorities in terms of whether certain accommodation is acceptable to them. I am not familiar with the detail of the development which the Deputy identified, but it is NAMA's objective, in particular where there are houses and apartments in urban areas where the level of demand is high but it is a bit more difficult in more remote rural areas. In urban areas where there is generally a demand, the intention is to address those issues as quickly as possible, subject sometimes to certain legal difficulties.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I thank the Tánaiste and call Deputy Seán Crowe.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis The Tánaiste did not answer the question about the transfer of the land. Will the Government consider legislation for the transfer of land-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Ellis asked about legislation.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis -----to local authorities from NAMA? That is the big issue. People are becoming homeless following the sale of NAMA properties. That is what we should focus on.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sorry but I must call Deputy Elllis's colleague now.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton NAMA already allows for the transfer of property.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis No, it is not. It is only leasing properties.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am sorry.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are not going to sort out the matter here.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It is allowing for transfers.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe I take this opportunity to raise the case of Ibrahim Halawa who is facing a mass trial this Sunday. If convicted he will be sentenced to death. Will the Government agree to set time aside to discuss the case? Deputy Pat Breen, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, was recently in Egypt on a visit to Ibrahim Halawa, as was Lynn Boylan, MEP. The conditions in which he is being kept in prison are horrific. He is sleeping on a mat. He is supposed to get an hour for family visits but sometimes family members only get four to five minutes. He is an Irish citizen and comes from Firhouse. Aside from having a discussion in this House, could we agree at some stage to provide solidarity to Ibrahim and his family, in particular as they face this weekend?

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am aware that the trial is due to take place and that it should finally go ahead on 4 October. As Deputy Crowe is aware, the difficulty has been that there have been constant delays and adjournments of the court proceedings. The Government's objective in the case of Ibrahim Halawa is to see him released by the Egyptian authorities so that he can return to his family and his studies in Ireland. We are very conscious of the fact that he is a young man who has spent a lot of time in the Egyptian legal system. Our ambassador in Egypt and our consular staff provide constant consular support for his welfare.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe We do not have an ambassador in Egypt.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am sorry, we have consular staff and they have been providing constant assistance to him in the context of him being held in custody. We would like to see Mr. Halawa returned home to Ireland and reunited with his family as soon as that is possible. I hope we will have a speedy conclusion and see him restored to his family.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins In 2012, I was made aware of allegations of improper payments of expenses at the University of Limerick. At the time I sent the information to the Committee of Public Accounts for review and for the committee to investigate the matter further. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, who is sitting beside the Tánaiste will be aware that recently the Limerick Leader reported on similar allegations being made by other whistleblowers, former employees of the University of Limerick.

  A number of issues arise. First, there appears to be a conflict between the protected disclosures legislation and confidentiality agreements which the University of Limerick has with some former employees who are now whistleblowers. The University of Limerick has now issued High Court proceedings against the Limerick Leader and also personally against the editor of the newspaper, Mr. Alan English. That is a very serious development because a State-funded university is using State funding to issue proceedings to gag the media, as I perceive it, on a serious issue of public interest.

  I have spoken to a number of the whistleblowers and I am aware of the allegations. It is an issue which merits proper discussion, scrutiny and investigation in this House. A proposal has been made to introduce the university (amendment) Bill. There is now a conflict between the protected disclosures legislation and confidentiality agreements. We must find out in the public interest whether there is a serious issue at stake, as many allege. One could say that given that so many whistleblowers have come forward to the Limerick Leader they cannot all be wrong. The issue merits serious scrutiny either through the Higher Education Authority, the Garda or whatever other appropriate agency. I would welcome a comment on the matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not know whether the matter is in order.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The University of Limerick is a very fine institution and it has provided first-class educational and development services to students, not only from Limerick but from the entire country. It is rightly recognised as one of our most outstanding third level institutions. It is important to say that about the university, which I have had the privilege of visiting on many occasions.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins I agree.

The Tánaiste: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton In my experience as a former member of the Committee of Public Accounts, the remit would properly lie with it.


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