Medical cards for children, registration of physiotherapists, a Judicial Council and housing are areas that have been marked as a priority in the Irish Government’s Legislation Programme for Spring/Summer 2017. We examine the key elements of the programme and the improvements these legislative changes are likely to bring about.

The Spring/Summer Government Legislation Programme is ambitious. There are 33 Bills for consideration and 31 Bills for publication as a priority before July 2017. The Government’s main areas of focus this year are primarily in housing, justice and health. The full programme can be accessed here

Justice Matters

Justice matters feature strongly in this programme, as they did in the Autumn/Winter programme 2016. The Heads of the Judicial Appointments Bill were published in December 2016. Pre-legislative scrutiny is still to be determined. The Mediation Bill, a priority last year, has been published and is to be debated. However, the much sought-after Judicial Council Bill, intended to scrutinise judicial conduct and previously earmarked as a priority, has not progressed much further. It remains a priority for this programme.

New additions in this programme expected to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny include the Family Court Bill which proposes to establish a Family Court as a separate division within the existing court structure. The Mortgages Special Court Bill / Courts (Mortgages Arrears) Bill also proposes for a new designated court to be established to deal with mortgage arrears. This will allow for mortgage arrears matters to be dealt with quickly and possibly in private at the request of the debtor. The court may impose solutions on the parties, including those recommended by the new Mortgage Arrears Resolution Service. Currently, such cases are dealt with in the ordinary court structure as a debt and breach of contract.

Health Matters

Health matters also feature strongly in the programme. The Health (Amendment) Bill proposes to provide medical cards to all children in respect of whom a Domiciliary Care Allowance is paid. This Bill is currently making its way through the legislative process. The Heads of the New Children’s Hospital Establishment Bill have yet to be published.

The Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill will provide for the registration of physiotherapists and physical therapists for the first time. The Patient Safety (Licensing of Healthcare Facilities) Bill will provide for a mandatory licensing system for public and private healthcare facilities.

The Health Information and Patient Safety Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny in late 2016. This Bill will create new frameworks for the sharing and usage of personal health information, including for research purposes and continuity of care.

Planning and Housing

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was enacted in December 2016.

The Government plans to build on this legislation with the Housing (Regulation of the Approved Housing Bodies) Bill. This Bill proposes to create a regulatory framework for organisations which provide social housing. It will establish an independent Regulator who will be responsible for setting regulatory standards, approving and registering housing bodies, and overseeing their effective management and financial governance.

Conclusion

The 31 priority pieces of legislation which are to be published before the end of July are aimed towards the improvement of public services in the areas of health and housing.

The creation of a Regulator for approved housing bodies is aimed at regulating social housing standards and assisting the Government in delivering on the Social Housing Strategy 2020, aimed at tackling the current housing crisis.

The establishment of a Special Mortgages Court aims to increase the speed at which mortgage arrears matters can be settled through the courts system in a more sensitive manner.

Much remains to be seen on the debates that will take place in relation to the passage of these new Bills. We will provide further details on the Government’s legislative programme as the Bills progress.