Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

2:02 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputies for raising these issues. Deputy Ó Laoghaire asked about the issue of childcare. In the last budget, very significant additional funding was allocated for childcare with a focus on enhancing pay and conditions for those working in the area. Discussions are to take place between employers in the childcare area and representatives of workers with a view to reaching a joint labour committee agreement. My understanding is that September is the deadline for that but I can double-check the timelines. The allocation in the budget for the latter part of this year and the full year of 2023 was very substantial because there is no question but that childcare is a big issue for many people. The costs are very significant and place great pressure on many young families. There is also the issue of retaining people in the childcare sector and encouraging people to pursue career pathways in that field. That is why the Minister took the decision to seek resources in the last budget round in respect of the career pathway aspect, conditions and making the situation more attractive for those working in childcare.

Deputy Bacik raised the same issue although she added a point on specific offerings for disadvantaged areas. I will discuss that with the Minister. There are already some provisions in that respect but a DEIS-type approach to childcare in disadvantaged areas is something that we could pursue and which could support communities. We already offer significant support but we will certainly examine the Deputy's proposal.

On Deputy Murnane O'Connor's point, these are exciting times in Carlow, particularly with regard to the decision that the grounds of Carlow College can be made available to South East Technological University. That is significant. The Deputy's more immediate request related to Carlow County Council's application for a new county library, costing around €12 million. This is progressing. It is on stage 3. I will engage with the Minister in that regard because a modern library would be worthwhile infrastructure for the general population of Carlow and not just because of what is transpiring at third level.

On the Aughinish Alumina plant and the campaign of Pat and Nuala Geoghegan, I have not gone over all of the documentation recently but, if my recollection is correct, there was significant work by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. I do not have the documents Deputy Paul Murphy says he has with regard to the Industrial Development Authority, IDA Ireland. The issue was examined from a health perspective and by the EPA at the time. These are issues that should be examined by independent agencies with expertise and competency in the field. That campaign has been going on for a long time and there have been quite a number of reports and reviews.

Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about the cost of living. The Government has responded to the cost-of-living issue in a very significant way. I do not agree with the Deputy's analysis of the Government's response. More than €2 billion has now been provided if you take into account both the budget and more recent efforts. We hiked the weekly fuel allowance and paid an additional lump sum of €125 in March. A further special payment of €100 will be paid to 370,000 households in receipt of the fuel allowance. As a result, the fuel allowance paid in the full season from 2021 to 2022 totals €1,139, an increase of €404 or 55% on the previous year. We have reduced the excise duty on petrol, diesel and green diesel until mid-October, saving motorists between €9 and €12 each time they fill their tank. We have reduced VAT from 13.5% to 9% on gas and electricity bills until the end of October resulting in estimated annual savings for households of €50 and €70 respectively. We have given households a €200 energy credit and will cut the annual public service obligation levy of €58 to zero by October 2022. We have launched a national retrofitting scheme that provides free energy upgrades for those at risk of energy poverty. We have introduced new grant rates that will cover approximately 80% of the typical cost of attic and wall insulation. We have reduced caps on school transport fees for multiple children and cut public transport by 20%, with an additional 50% cut in fares for young people. We have lowered the threshold for the drugs payment scheme to €80 per month, benefiting more than 17,000 families. We have brought forward the working family payment increase announced on budget day from 1 June to 1 April. We have agreed to abolish the inpatient charge of €80 per night for all children. We have capped annual rent increases at 2% and launched a cost-rental scheme with homes available at 40% to 50% below market rents. We have also introduced significant support packages for the hospitality industry, including the 9% VAT rate, and for the haulage and tillage sectors. I could go on. Significant efforts have been made.

Deputy Carthy raised a similar issue to that raised by Deputy Paul Murphy in respect of Askeaton. As I have said, there have been a number of reports and reviews and these can be re-examined but that is the position as it stands today.

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