Saturday, 27 June 2020
Ceapachán an Taoisigh agus Ainmniú Chomhaltaí an Rialtais: Tairiscint - Appointment of Taoiseach and Nomination of Members of Government: Motion
Alan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
I am sharing time with Deputy Ó Ríordáin. I want to congratulate formally the Taoiseach on his appointment. It is an extremely special day, particularly for his wife, Mary, his children and wider family, and definitely his community. During his contribution earlier I could feel from the emotion in his voice how important his community is. I am sure he is looking forward to getting back among them in the coming days and I wish him well, sincerely.
The Taoiseach brings huge experience to the role given the length of time he has spent in different ministries. I am someone who very much admires the legislation he introduced in 2004 on the smoking ban. It changed a great deal of health and social issues in Ireland, it changed thinking and was very formative and ahead of its time. More of that thinking would be really appreciated in these difficult times. The Taoiseach also has a special interest in education. He, like myself and unlike his predecessor, comes from a public school background. Indeed, I think that we are in a minority as his predecessor, the leader of Sinn Féin, the leader of People Before Profit, and the leader of RISE all come from private schools. I am glad that the Taoiseach comes from the public school side. It is to be hoped it will bring an increased interest in education. That there are two Cabinet Ministers also shows a determination for the area, which I very much welcome.
I wish to acknowledge the outgoing Taoiseach and current Tánaiste whom I look forward to working with. He is someone I have worked quite closely with in the past. I have not often agreed with him, although I have on some occasions, but he is someone who has always been very direct and straight and easy to deal with. I wish him well in the challenges ahead of him. I wish all the new Ministers the best of luck in their portfolios, many of which I know very well and some that I, and my colleagues, do not. I can assure them we will get to know them very well in the coming months and years.
While Covid has caused this country extraordinary pain and suffering, politically it creates opportunities because it has been a disrupter, and I am asking the Taoiseach to use it. In health, why limit free GP care to under 12 years? Why not just introduce universal care? On Sláintecare, we need public beds quickly. We need to build hospitals, but in the interim, let us nationalise one of the private hospitals. We should radically introduce profound changes in education across primary and third level, something in which the Taoiseach has a profound interest. Why not fast-forward some of the ambitions around climate change that are labour intensive, pushing shovel-ready projects and employment. For jobs, stimulus must concentrate on key areas such as tourism. I have said before that this programme for Government is weak on workers' rights. I ask clearly, as it now comes under the Tánaiste's area of responsibility, that an immediate priority of the Government be an appeal to the Supreme Court of the recent decision on sectoral employment orders that protect tens of thousands of ordinary low-paid workers in many areas and sectors in this country. If it is necessary to introduce emergency legislation, let us do that. We will make it easier for the Government. My colleague, Deputy Nash, who inspired these orders through legislation, has already written a Bill. I ask the Government to please look at it.
There is speculation that the Taoiseach will appoint 20 Ministers of State. This would be his first mistake. I was a member of a Government during very difficult times when 15 Ministers of State were appointed. That was plenty. There were no ministerial advisers either. Taxpayers of Ireland would not appreciate such lavish and indulgent behaviour at this difficult time. I am sure that when the Taoiseach reflects, he will agree. The Taoiseach is rotating with the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance is rotating with the Minister for Public Expenditure, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad is rotating too, but in addition the Attorney General will rotate. That is not good practice. To have an Attorney General rotate in the middle of a term of office because of political preference is not right and will not lead to good, consistent interpretation of legislation for the needs of Government or the Houses of the Oireachtas. I brought in rent freezes, which others said were unconstitutional, yet all of a sudden during the Covid crisis, they were constitutional and were introduced. We need consistency.
I have many questions around Departments but one is glaring. We have a new Government. I congratulate everyone and congratulate the Green Party in particular for being part of it. However, nowhere is there a mention of a Minster with responsibility for the environment. Who has the responsibilities for environment and planning? Who is responsible for all the wider areas of environment outside of climate change? Who, in particular, is responsible for the Environmental Protection Agency and all other planning reform?