Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

2:00 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Tánaiste will agree that over the last two and a half years, since the British public took a decision to leave the European Union without any blueprint laid down as to what that meant, an inordinately long time has been spent on the intractable issue of the withdrawal agreement and its implications. We should always remind ourselves that the withdrawal treaty is the end of the beginning. It is no substitute for a full, mature relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. In the meantime, relationships on all fronts have been damaged as a result of Brexit - North-South relations and the UK-Ireland relationship and there has been polarisation in the North.

The incoherence of British politics has exacerbated the situation, with the failure of the British Parliament to lay out a coherent blueprint as to what it wants. I believe the British Prime Minister has demonstrated good faith in terms of upholding the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border. The documentation published last evening reflects that, as does the withdrawal agreement itself. It is important to point out, and I am sure the Tánaiste will agree, that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for the United Kingdom, Ireland and the European Union and must be avoided. Its impact on livelihoods and businesses, particularly the agrifood industry, would be very damaging. Given the crisis in our beef industry, a no-deal Brexit, if it were to happen, would essentially wipe out the sector.

A no-deal Brexit would also represent a monumental failure of politics on all sides. That is why it was important to compromise and agree to some changes. Taken together, the documentation agreed yesterday, namely, the joint instrument and the unilateral declaration concerning the withdrawal agreement, represents movement on the European Union side. It potentially allows the UK to wriggle out of the withdrawal agreement, albeit in a convoluted and long legal journey. The legal opinion of the United Kingdom's Attorney General is worth reading in full. He makes the point that there is new material and new legal obligations on the EU in terms of the speed at which negotiations should be concluded and that the risk is reduced on the UK side.

However, a legal opinion is one thing, a political decision is another. This is a fundamentally political issue, with which the British Parliament has to grapple. I will not speculate on that. The question I want to ask the Tánaiste is this. In the event of the agreement being rejected, what happens next in terms of developments? Does the Tánaiste agree that yesterday's agreement marks a significant development from December's agreement? In the event of a negative vote in the House of Commons this evening, does the Government support an extension to facilitate further reflection? Is the Tánaiste of the view that every effort must be made to avoid a no-deal Brexit?

2:05 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. As the House knows, Prime Minister May met with President Juncker in Strasbourg last night. They announced at a joint press conference that they had agreed on a number of things - an interpretive instrument on the withdrawal agreement that has legal effect, and a joint statement on the political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Those documents were published last night. The documents are complementary to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, and aim to provide an additional layer of interpretation, clarification and reassurance to the United Kingdom ahead of the vote in Parliament this evening. We are also aware that the UK Government has published a unilateral declaration alongside the two joint documents that were agreed.

The UK asked for further legal clarity on how the backstop would effectively not be indefinite. We were very glad to support providing that clarity yesterday evening. The further texts that were agreed last night provide additional clarity, reassurance and guarantees that were sought by some in Westminster to eliminate doubts and fears, however unreal they may have been, that the goal of the EU, or of Ireland for that matter, was to trap the UK in a backstop indefinitely. This has never been the case and it is still not the case. The reason we were happy to support the wording last night was to try to provide more reassurance in a very real way that puts a legal obligation on the EU to put processes in place that are convincing and that we will work in good faith with the United Kingdom to ensure that the backstop is never used and that if it is ever triggered that it will be temporary. For the first time, there is a clear commitment in a legal document as to how that will be done and the timeframes for it. Also, if one side is not acting in good faith and if there are not best endeavours - in other words, if the EU decides to simply allow the backstop to be the only serious consideration - the UK can trigger a mechanism through arbitration that would have consequences that could potentially lead to the suspension of the use of the backstop.

What is being presented to Westminster this evening is different from the last meaningful vote. That being said, from an Irish perspective the text and content of the withdrawal agreement has not changed. What has changed is the extra language which commits the EU and the UK in a legal document to clear procedures ensuring they work together to try to avoid using the backstop and to ensure that it is temporary if it is ever required. We will have to wait and see, and give the British Parliament the time and space to consider the documents that were signed off on last night. Like others, I have been listening closely to the debate in London so far today.

2:10 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The question I put to the Tánaiste is whether he agrees that yesterday's agreement marks a significant development on that reached in December. I think he used the phrase, "It is different". I am of the view that it is a significant development. Whether it is significant enough or goes far enough remains in question but it is a legal document in itself. I say that because sometimes we have to stand back. What has the argument been about recently? Essentially, people are arguing about how temporary is something that we all agree should be temporary. That is the essence of where matters stand. How can we respect good faith on both sides? It seems that there has been a fundamental absence of trust when we get down to arguing minute points like this in legal documentation. Trust must be restored. I have some sympathy with Kenneth Clarke's view that the real meat will be in the discussions relating to the full agreement and that this, ultimately, will or will not determine the nature of a border. In essence, it is about the trading relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which is so essential to Ireland and to livelihoods and jobs here, and ensuring that the east-west relationship is as close as possible. Ultimately, that has to be our desired outcome, and the avoidance of no deal. In the eventuality of a rejection this evening, does the Government favour acceding to an extension on behalf of the UK, if it applies for an extension, in order to give more time for reflection? It is very important that it is clear on all sides that no deal will be ruinous for everybody.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I agree with the Deputy that in a no-deal scenario, everybody loses. It would be hugely damaging to the United Kingdom on many levels but also it would be hugely challenging for us. We have spent many, many months putting contingency plans in place. We will be finalising the legislation, hopefully with the support of other parties, in the Seanad this week. We continue to work with the European Commission to plan for how Ireland can respond to a no-deal scenario should it happen but all of us need to do everything we can to prevent that happening. That is the reason the EU came forward with a package that is different last night and why I believe the Prime Minister and many others will recommend that the Westminster Parliament support the meaningful vote this evening.

I do not want to speculate on what will happen beyond that because I do not believe that is helpful. However, Ireland has always stated that if the UK looks for more time and if there is a plan to go with that request, it will not be the obstacle to granting more time, should it be necessary, and if there is a plan to try to finalise arrangements during that period.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Since the Brexit referendum result became clear almost three years ago, Sinn Féin has been crystal clear in stating that the approach from the Government and the European Union has to be guided and underpinned by the very obvious fact that people in the North voted to stay in the European Union. That vote has to be recognised and, in our view, respected. My party's approach to Brexit has always been based on ensuring that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, that the rights of citizens and people, North and South, are fully protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld in all its parts.

The withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated - we would say very carefully and, at times, very painfully - between the European Union and the British Government could not be described by anybody in this House as a perfect deal. The Government would say the same because no Brexit is good for Ireland. Any Brexit will have disastrous consequences for people, North and South, socially, politically and economically. That needs to be made clear again today in the context of the withdrawal agreement. No right-thinking person on this island could argue that Brexit is good for the people who live on the island of Ireland. However, the withdrawal agreement and the backstop, or the Irish protocol, go some way towards ensuring that there will be no hardening of the Border, that the interests of citizens will be protected and that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected in all its parts. In fact, it is the bare bones of what is necessary to ensure we protect the Good Friday Agreement. In December, the British Government accepted that position and signed up to the agreement and the backstop and what is known as the Irish protocol, or the insurance policy. Despite what we would argue is the reckless and irresponsible position of some in the Tory Party and the DUP, the fact remains that the agreement must be honoured and a deal that recognises the unique circumstances for our island must be acted upon.

The backstop, in our view, remains the only way to ensure that this is made a reality. It is our insurance policy and cannot be tweaked or nuanced. That is what is required and nothing less is acceptable.

Last night, following talks in Strasbourg, Britain secured additional legal assurances in respect of the withdrawal agreement and the backstop. It is the view of Sinn Féin that those assurances do not alter the terms of the withdrawal agreement and that the agreement agreed by this Dáil in November still stands. That is an important point. The Dáil voted for the withdrawal agreement alone. Is it the Tánaiste's view that there have been no legal changes to the withdrawal agreement? Is it his view that the backstop remains intact? Is it his view that the North cannot be unilaterally taken out of the customs union or Single Market by any British Government in the future?

2:20 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful to the Deputy for the support of his party and, indeed, the support of other parties for the decisions the Government has had to make, working with the European Union to try to protect the interests of Irish people and Ireland, but also to protect the relationship we have with our closest neighbour, the United Kingdom.

It is clear from the text agreed last night that the withdrawal agreement itself is not being changed. That is understood. What we have is a new legal instrument which requires of the UK and the EU a series of processes that reassure everybody that there is good faith on both sides to work towards preventing the use of the backstop in the first place or, if it is ever triggered, that it is temporary.

There are, effectively, four ways of preventing the backstop being used. If the future relationship is comprehensive enough to mean we do not need border infrastructure between the EU and the UK, the backstop will be redundant and will never be triggered. If the alternative arrangements considered under the new mechanisms agreed last night result in an acceptance by both sides that an alternative arrangement can replace the backstop, in full or in part, that can happen. However, those alternative arrangements have to do the same job as the backstop. They do not have to look the same but they have to do the same job in terms of border infrastructure and commitments. There are also review mechanisms if the backstop is ever triggered. Those can be triggered by either side if alternative arrangements come to light that can replace, on a permanent basis, a temporary backstop. That would require to be agreed under the review mechanism in the withdrawal agreement. There is also an arbitration process which the document agreed last night considered in considerable detail. The UK can trigger this if it believes that the EU is not acting in good faith on its commitments around the temporary nature of the backstop or not triggering it in the first place. That arbitration process, which is consistent with the arbitration process in the withdrawal agreement, can be the basis of requiring the EU to either respond in good faith or, ultimately, for the backstop to be suspended should that happen.

There are, therefore, clear ways in which the backstop can be avoided or replaced by both sides working together or, if both sides are not working in good faith, one can challenge the other through the arbitration process to force that. That reinforces the case that the UK and the EU, working together, accept that the backstop is not to be a permanent arrangement but a temporary insurance mechanism that, should it be triggered, would be replaced by something more permanent over time.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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The Tánaiste quite rightly described the joint instrument as a legal instrument which has a legal effect and impact. People outside this Chamber want to know that the legal meaning of the backstop agreed last December and since, on which the Dáil voted and under which the North cannot be unilaterally taken out of the customs union and Single Market unless and until something of equivalence comes along, remains intact.

This is a very clear question. If the answer is "Yes", then we have had no changes to the backstop.

There has been some scrutiny of the advice of the Attorney General in Britain. Are the assurances the Tánaiste is giving to the House underpinned by the Office of the Attorney General in this State? Is it the advice of the Attorney General in this State that there have been no legal changes to the backstop and that the backstop, as agreed in the Dáil, is intact and does what it was designed to do, namely, provide an insurance policy for the people of this island?

2:25 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is important to make a distinction between the legal changes made last night to the Brexit process by adding an extra layer in the legal instrument that was agreed and legal changes to the backstop in terms of what it looks like and how it delivers an outcome. On the second point, there are no changes to the text of the withdrawal agreement or the Irish protocol it contains and, therefore, there are no changes to the backstop in terms of how it would work should it be triggered. What is significant and different and has legal effect is the reassurance - and the processes which deliver that reassurance - on the temporary nature of the backstop. This is an insurance mechanism that nobody wants to use. If, however, it is ever used, both sides will use their best endeavours to ensure that it is temporary. On the first of those commitments, there is now a clear mechanism, with a timeline of one year, for both sides to use their best endeavours to consider alternative arrangements seriously in order to see whether they can replace the backstop. If they stack up, it will be agreed; if they do not, alternative arrangements will need to be continued to be worked on. The test in terms of the replacement of the backstop is still an actions-based test. It would still need to be there if it is ever triggered unless and until something that can do the same job can replace it. The commitment on the processes by which the EU and UK can consider those alternative arrangements were outlined in much clearer language yesterday that have legal effect.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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This morning, the Taoiseach made a statement on his understanding of the latest Brexit developments. He concluded by stating, "for the remains of the day we need to give MPs in Westminster the time and space to consider what is now on the table." That could never be acceptable. We have to be able to scrutinise and debate the new legal documents in order that the Government does not sleepwalk into agreeing a text that could be in any way problematic. That is our job. Just as the British Parliament does its job, we have to do ours. The Labour Party has concerns about the documents agreed last night by the EU and UK negotiators and about the interpretation of the new legal text by the British Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox. In my judgment, and the Tánaiste will agree, it is certain that we will not have a comprehensive trade agreement by the end of next year. Even by the maximum end date of the December 2022, it is quite likely that a future relationship agreement will not have been concluded and that, legally, the backstop will have to be triggered.

I have a number of questions for the Tánaiste about the legal certainty and the guarantees on which we want to be really clear regarding an open border. Does the Government acknowledge that the legal text would require the EU to entertain a range of proposals from the UK Government, including alternative arrangements to replace the backstop, or else face the possibility that the UK might unilaterally break the withdrawal agreement? We have gone through all of these technological issues in the past but now we have a legal basis for the British to act if we do not accept them. Does the Government agreed that the extent of the British Government's legal commitment to ensure an open border in Ireland is only to the extent that is required in the text of the Good Friday Agreement and not the spirit of the peace process nor the existing unfettered trade on the island of Ireland? Does the Government accept the legal text allows for the implementation of alternative arrangements to the backstop on a piecemeal basis? The Tánaiste has said it can be done bit by bit. This would have the unintended consequence of ultimately diluting the efficacy of the legal guarantee of an open border upon which we have relied? There is clear indication in the new documents that any new European law would not apply to the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Does the Government accept that if a new area of European law were to be created which had, for example, implications for the labelling of goods, the UK would be under no obligation to adopt that law? Does it accept that could ultimately have an unintended consequence of requiring border controls on the island of Ireland?

2:35 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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There are a lot of questions there and I will try to address them. First, however, I wish to address the Taoiseach's comments this morning. He stated that for the remainder of the day the Houses should be conscious that another Parliament will vote on this deal this evening and Members should, therefore, be careful what we say. He is correct in that regard. I do not want to see debates in this House contributing negatively to the capacity for a fair deal to be ratified this evening in Westminster. That could easily happen if the debate in this House were to exaggerate or emphasise elements of the deal that may suit our political arguments but may make the political arguments in Westminster far more difficult. We need to deal with the facts rather than try to spin this in any direction. I am not saying that anybody has done so, but that was the context of the Taoiseach's statement this morning.

On whether the EU would give full consideration to alternative arrangements, we have always said we would. That the EU does not accept alternative arrangements does not mean that it is not acting in good faith; it just means that the alternative arrangements do not do the job or stand up to full scrutiny. It may be the case that convincing alternative arrangements will be developed and work. If that is the case and they are agreed between the two sides, they can replace the backstop as long as that gives us the desired outcome of protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and so on. We now have a clear structure and a timeline within which to consider those alternative arrangements during a transition period before a backstop would ever be triggered. In addition, of course, we have the good faith of both sides to continue to work on those alternative arrangements - potentially as technology changes in the future and so on - should the backstop ever be triggered and need to be replaced over time. Of course, the EU will act in good faith, work with the UK side and consider fully alternative arrangements. I suspect it may offer ideas, as it should. However, at the moment, after two years of negotiation, the only backstop, guarantee or insurance mechanism that really works to reassure people on this island that there will not be border infrastructure as an unintended consequence of Brexit is the backstop. That does not mean that alternative arrangements cannot necessarily be found.

On the Good Friday Agreement, the text and the backstop, Deputy Micheál Martin earlier referred to the Prime Minister's good faith towards the Good Friday Agreement. It is important to state that the UK's unilateral declaration is very clear in its final lines about the obligations of the UK under the 1998 agreement in all its dimensions and under all circumstances to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. That is in the context of trying to get out of a backstop through an arbitration process. It is important to recognise that because it is of great importance to this House.

On whether it is possible under the existing arrangements and the declarations made last night to replace parts or elements of the backstop, yes, it is. That is already catered for clearly in the withdrawal agreement whereby a backstop can be replaced in full or in part as long as the outcome of that change continues to deliver the desired effect, which is the avoidance of a hard border. That is already catered for in some detail in the existing text of the Irish protocol of the withdrawal agreement.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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By way of observation, I cannot imagine a British Prime Minister proposing to Westminster that debate there should be curtailed by considerations of what is happening in another parliament.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I did not use the word "curtailed".

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is ridiculous that statements on Brexit will not take place until 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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As the Tánaiste stated last week, we need to accelerate our preparation for the profoundly unwelcome eventuality of a no-deal Brexit. That need is now even more acute. Will the Government undertake to move the €500 million from the so-called rainy day fund into a Brexit fund to support jobs and businesses that will be impacted in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

2:45 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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Our proposal-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The trade union document this morning.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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To be clear, I would never suggest we should be curtailing debate in this House on something of this import. We have statements tomorrow on this and we are happy-----

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow night.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Yes, tomorrow. There is a reason we wanted statements tomorrow and not tonight. We will know a lot more tomorrow.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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There is a whole day tomorrow with nothing.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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To be clear, this was decided by the Business Committee, not the Government.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I know that.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Let us be clear on that. We were open to suggestions from all sides.

On preparations for a no-deal Brexit, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, outlined in some detail yesterday after the Cabinet meeting the financial challenges Ireland will face in the context of a no-deal Brexit and the need to support vulnerable sectors with significant financial support. We are in preparation for that. The Department of Finance is working very closely with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, because this is a hugely vulnerable sector. The food and beef industries were mentioned earlier. We have intensified preparations in that area and will need to take account of that in the financial management of the Exchequer this year, but that is in train. It it comes to no deal, I suspect we will have many hours of debate in this House on how it will be managed.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Tá a fhios agam gurb é scéal an lae inniú an Breatimeacht. Tá an chosúlacht ar an scéal go bhfuil éacht déanta ag an Rialtas agus ag na státseirbhísígh. Tá moladh tuillte acu ach ní mór dom a rá go bhfuil mé beagáinín buartha maidir le cé chomh scaoilte is atá an tearmaíocht atá in úsáid. Cuireann sé i gcuimhne dom réiteach eile ó 1979 - an Irish solution to an Irish problem a bhí ann - nuair a bhí cúrsaí frithghiniúna á bplé. Níos suimiúla fós, téann an frása siar go 1971 nuair a bhí an tAire, Patrick Hillery, i mbun plé faoinár mballraíocht den EEC. Tagann Tadhg an dá thaobh i gcuimhne dom. Is féidir le chuile pháirtí a rogha féin de chiall a bhaint as an gcomhaontú. Neosfaidh an aimsir.

Maidir le mo cheist inniu, le linn díospóireachta maidir leis an mBreatimeacht bhain an Taoiseach úsáid as an meafar go bhfuil na scamaill dhorcha ag teannadh linn. Is maith an rud nach bhfuil siad anois, ach tá scamaill dhorcha eile amach os ár gcomhair go meafarach agus go réadúil. Tá am na cinniúna maidir le hathrú aeráide ag teannadh linn. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta ó thaobh reachtaíochta agus ó thaobh spriocanna, ach níl muid ag baint na spriocanna sin amach. Ar ndóigh, tá na daltaí scoile ar na sráideanna an tseachtain seo ag impí orainn rud a dhéanamh. Sin anuas ar tuarascáil ón Tionól Saoránach a foilsíodh taca an ama seo bliain ó shin. Imní práinneach ó chosmhuintir na tíre beart a dhéanamh de réir ár mbriathar a bhí inti. I measc an 13 moladh sa tuarascáil sin tá moladh faoi leith ó thaobh caiteachais ar an gcóras iompair phoiblí. Moltar tús áite a thabhairt do leathnú amach a dhéanamh ar an tseirbhís seo in áit bóithre nua a thógáil. Moltar tús áite a thabhairt d'áiseanna "páirceáil agus taistil", lánaí bus, agus lánaí rothair.

Sa chomhthéacs sin ba mhaith liom díriú isteach ar mo chathair agus mo chontae féin. Faraor géar, in ainneoin áilleacht agus rathúlacht na cathrach, tá sí ag fulaingt agus ag tarraingt droch-cháile de bharr tranglam tráchta, cúrsaí tithíochta agus forbairt nach bhfuil bunaithe ar an leas coitianta. Anuas air sin, is í Gaillimh ceann de na cathracha atá luaite sa chreathlach pleanála náisiúnta le tuilleadh forbartha agus beidh méadú suntasach ar an daonra. Beidh formhór na forbartha seo laistigh den chathair. Is maith é sin agus tá se le moladh ach, gan plean cuimsitheach inmharthanach atá dírithe ar an leas coitianta agus a aithníonn go bhfuil dúshláin faoi leith againn ó thaobh athrú aeráide de, ní bheidh muid in ann ár ndualgais dlíthiúil a chomhlíonadh. Tá tascfórsa i gceist ó thaobh cúrsaí tithíochta, ach tá plean cuimsitheach a nascann na gnéithe éagsúla le chéile - cúrsaí taistil, cúrsaí fostaíochta agus cúrsaí tithíochta - atá bunaithe ar na freagrachtaí tromchúiseacha atá orainn maidir le hathrú aeráide de dhíth.

Tá cosmhuintir na tíre chun tosaigh orainn agus is í mo cheist dhíreach, shimplí don Tánaiste ná an féidir leis an Tánaiste agus an Rialtas Gaillimh a phiocadh, agus a thógáil mar thogra faoi leith mar chathair ghlas a bheidh ina heiseamláir agus ina threoirphlean do chathracha eile sa tír? Is éard atá i gceist agam deireadh a chur leis an gcur i gcéill agus díriú isteach ar phlean inmharthana do Ghaillimh agus go mbeidh córas iompair poiblí curtha ag croílár an phlean sin, a léireoidh go bhfuilimid i ndáiríre faoi spriocanna atá leagtha síos maidir le athrú aeráide a bhaint amach.

2:55 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for her comments on the management of the Brexit process by the Government. I agree with what she said about climate change. Many people are ahead of the Government and this House on climate change, in particular young people. It does not surprise me that many of them will want to ensure their voices are heard on the need for the prioritisation of a more urgent response to the challenge of climate. We hear that, from a Government perspective, and that is the reason the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is working on an all-of-Government plan to set out the actions that must be taken by every Department and body. The plan should be ready before Easter. For the first time, we will have a climate change plan with real targets that apply to every sector. The Minister is working with colleagues across Government to develop new initiatives in electricity generation, transport, heating and a range of other sectors. That will build on initiatives that have already been introduced.

As the Deputy is aware, €116 billion of expenditure has been committed over the next ten years. Of the money we have committed to spend on capital infrastructure, one in every five euro relates to climate mitigation. We have also launched a €500 million climate action fund for the best projects that generate significant CO2 reductions. The all-party Oireachtas committee on climate change will report next week. The Government will study the recommendations closely and try to factor them into Government planning and try to get agreement on a cross-party level on many of those recommendations, which will be challenging and will pose some difficult choices for this House. We will then be tested on whether the people are ahead of us on some of the difficult choices around the value of carbon and related issues in the future.

I know Galway well, having been Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and traffic is a significant issue for the city. We are planning to grow the population of the city by another 50% in the next two decades. It is clear that we need to invest heavily in public transport to be able to replace the need for cars with sustainable public transport infrastructure. That is the reason we have committed a significant amount of money to the BusConnects programme for Galway, which will rationalise five high-performing cross-city routes and prioritise bus lanes as well as providing for segregated cycle lanes, which are badly needed in Galway. I will follow up on Deputy Connolly's final question when I get a chance to respond for a second time.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Tánaiste ach is í mo cheist ná an féidir leis an Rialtas Gaillimh a phiocadh mar eiseamláir chun a thaispeáint cad is féidir a dhéanamh le cathair atá sáite i dtranglam tráchta. Tá tranglam tráchta, cúrsaí tithíochta, agus cúrsaí fostaíochta fite fuaite le chéile. Táim ag rá leat agus d'aontaigh an Tánaiste liom go bhfuil forbairt i nGaillimh ag leanúint na forbróirí arís. Níl plean cuimsitheach i gceist. Tá neart talaimh againn i gceantair na nduganna, i lár na cathrach, i Stáisiún Ceannt, sa seanaerphort, agus níl aon ghá le fadhbanna i nGaillimh. Is drochphleanáil, easpa físe, agus easpa phlean cuimsithigh atá i gceist chun dul i ngleic leis na fadhbanna. Ba chóir dúinn plean cuimsitheach a réiteach go práinneach. Is é seo an Dáil dheireanach chun dul i ngleic le athrú aeráide. Níl an dara rogha againn. Tá na gasúir óga ar na sráideanna ag impí orainn rud a dhéanamh. Shínigh 22,000 duine i nGaillimh feachtas agus píosa páipéir ag impí ar an Rialtas breathnú ar thuarascáil féidearthachta le light rail a chur ar fáil mar chuid den réiteach. Bhí 22,000 duine ag seasamh sa sneachta ag iarraidh tacaíochta a thabhairt don fheachtas. Mar cheist, an féidir leis an Rialtas Gaillimh a phiocadh mar eiseamláir, an rud ceart a dhéanamh agus a thaispeáint go bhfuil an Rialtas i ndáiríre do na gasúir a bheidh ar na sráideanna an tseachtain seo.

Mar chuid d'fheachtas, shínigh 22,000 duine i nGaillimh píosa páipéir ag impí ar an Rialtas breathnú ar tuarascail féidearthachta maidir le light rail a chur ar fáil mar chuid den réiteach. Bhí an 22,000 duine sin ag seasamh sa sneachta ag iarraidh tacaíocht a thabhairt don achainí. An féidir an Rialtas Gaillimh a phiocadh mar eiseamláir agus an rud ceart a dhéanamh? An féidir leis taispeáint go bhfuil sé i ndáiríre do na gasúir a mbeidh ar na sráideanna an tseachtain seo?

3:05 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We can show those students who will be on the streets in a few days' time that we are serious. For the remainder of this Dáil's lifetime, one area in which the Government certainly wants to see significant change, in the context of policy and delivery, is climate change. We have a new Minister in this area who is preparing to bring recommendations to the Government. We have an all-party Oireachtas committee which will bring recommendations to the House. Accordingly, we will have an obligation to give leadership to both of these initiatives. I expect that we will seek cross-party support on many of the new initiatives.

Galway can become an exemplar. Many of the towns and cities throughout Ireland are thinking ahead in terms of how they plan for sustainability. A transport strategy for Galway city was prepared by the National Transport Authority, in partnership with Galway City Council and Galway County Council, and was signed off in 2016. My concern is that we keep adding new plans but are not actually delivering on previous ones. The Deputy and I know of the frustrations in Galway with regard to housing in particular. That is why we have set up a task force to look specifically at why housing is not being delivered at the required pace in Galway. In the context of climate change, Galway has a natural competitive advantage that it should seek to use. If leadership came from Galway, I am sure the Government would respond.