Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, said he would oppose and do everything he could to thwart the Mercosur trade deal. This is in the context of the programme for Government. The Minister said he would look at ways and mechanisms to do so. That is a contrary position to the messages I heard from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, when I raised the matter during Leaders' Questions last week and from the Taoiseach also. I refer to the matter in the context of climate change. Last week when the Taoiseach met his colleagues at the European Council, they had extensive meetings, albeit on the question of nominations to fill various positions in the EU institutions. What is surprising and worrying is the degree to which the European Union seems to have sold the pass on climate change. The election of Mr. Bolsonaro as President of Brazil has ushered in a rapid and reckless acceleration of the deforestation of Amazonian rainforest which will have significant negative impacts on the climate. With all of the rhetoric and plans in Europe, it is extraordinary that this was not a show-stopper for Mercosur. This reckless deforestation, as evidenced by the media, is an incontrovertible fact and its aim is to make way for the beef that will find its way to Europe. Areas of rainforest are being cut down at a rate of 1 ha per minute and the European Union is incentivising that behaviour. The only way to disincentivise it is to tell leaders in South America, in particular the Brazilian leader, that EU Heads of State and Government say there will be no deal unless they stop what they are doing immediately. Any talk of signing up to the Paris accord is nonsense. The reality is much different. Has the Taoiseach had that discussion with EU Heads of Government?
I have had that discussion with some of my colleagues at the European Council. There is a common view among a number member states, including Ireland and France, that if Brazil pulls out of the Paris accord and fails to honour the climate obligations it has accepted, the Mercosur proposal will fall.
That is our strong view. There is a two-year period between now and the finalisation of the legal agreement. We will see what happens in that two-year period, how President Bolsonaro behaves and whether he will honour the Paris commitments to which he has signed up.
I want to ask the Taoiseach about Brexit. The Tánaiste has described a hard Brexit as an ugly outcome and he is right. We are all very well aware of the potential catastrophe that could visit our island in such a scenario. We all agree that we cannot countenance an economic border on the island, that there can be no hardening of the Border and that the Good Friday Agreement must be protected, with our progress and peace. Therefore, I am very troubled to hear that the Tánaiste would even countenance the idea of checks on goods from the North to the South as it would fly in the face of our collective objectives. I put the following direct question to the Taoiseach and would appreciate a very direct answer. In the event that there is a crash, with no withdrawal agreement and no backstop, how will the Government ensure there is no economic border, no damage to the Good Friday Agreement and no damage to the progress we have made in the past 20 years?
We will do everything we possibly can, as we have in the past two years and will for the next three or four months, to avoid a crash-out, no-deal scenario. We have negotiated a withdrawal agreement and a backstop and will continue to work towards its ratification. However, I would not be telling the country and the House the truth if I said if we have no deal and the United Kingdom crashes out, I could somehow promise that we would not end up in a difficult situation and a scenario none of us wants. That is why we have to secure a withdrawal agreement and ensure we will not end up in a no-deal scenario, but I cannot make a promise that is not true.
I asked how, in the event that there is a crash, the Government would attain the shared objectives of there being no economic border, no hard border and no damage to the Good Friday Agreement, but we heard no straight answer.
I want to stay on the issue of Brexit and focus exclusively on jobs. For most people reading the estimate published by the Government yesterday, the most stark and shocking figure in it was that between 50,000 and 55,000 jobs would be lost in the event that there was a hard Brexit. It would be catastrophic for us. One of the key lessons we learned from the economic collapse was that it is much easier to preserve jobs than to try to replace them. The Taoiseach will remember the phrase Mario Draghi used which gave those of us in government at the time great heart, namely, that he would do whatever it took to preserve the euro currency. My question is about the preservation of jobs. Will the Government do whatever it takes to preserve jobs in the event that there is a hard Brexit? Specifically, what level of funds has been identified for schemes to support businesses and workers through whatever difficulties will arise in the coming months and years? Has the Government had preliminary talks with the trade union movement on altering work practices to preserve jobs, as happened in Germany during the crisis? Now that the prospect of a hard Brexit is looming as a reality, what level of resources, in cash terms, will the Government deploy to ensure the 55,000 jobs will not be lost?
I will deal with that matter as the figures to which Deputy Howlin refers were published in the summer economic statement and referred to again by the Tánaiste yesterday. It is worthwhile making it clear that the same document highlights that we will still have over 2.1 million people at work in the economy. Of course, as the Deputy said correctly, the loss of any job presents a great difficulty and problem for the person who loses it and his or her family. Even though there are still high levels of employment within the economy, the Deputy is right that we have to mobilise all of our resources to keep people in work and ensure that, if citizens lose work, the loss will be temporary. In budget 2020 we will outline the resources that will be available to achieve this. There will be a combination of options. We will use the surplus we are aiming to generate next year and, if it is not sufficient, I have already indicated that we would be willing to run a temporary deficit to respond to the very issue the Deputy has identified.
The section of the programme for Government relating to youth mental health provision refers to extending "these services, such as Jigsaw, which is free to access and does not require GP referral". Earlier this year, Jigsaw decided to pull out of Clondalkin, where it was covering a huge area for young people, including Lucan and Palmerstown. That decision was a huge mistake and Deputies Curran and Ó Broin are saying that too. Hundreds of young people will gather in Clondalkin tonight to protest against the decision that has been made by Jigsaw. Young people want to know what provision will be made for mental health services in Dublin Mid-West if Jigsaw moves away from Clondalkin.
I understand that since the programme for Government was agreed three years ago, Jigsaw has been extended in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. The budget for mental health services is now approaching €1 billion, the biggest ever, to meet the enormous need for mental health services. I do not know the exact situation in relation to Clondalkin. That is a matter for the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health. The Deputy may wish to raise this matter with him as a Topical Issue. Alternatively, I can ask the Minister of State to correspond with the Deputy.
Maidir le reachtaíocht atá geallta, chuir sé gliondar i mo chroí nuair a chuala mé an Taoiseach ag rá an tseachtain seo caite go bhfuil Bille na dteangacha oifigiúla réidh. Níl a fhios agam cén dáta atá i gceist. An féidir leis an Taoiseach soiléireacht a thabhairt dom, mar Chathaoirleach ar Chomhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán? Cén uair a fhoilseofar an Bhille?
Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall. The Government's 2040 plan for huge investment in Thurles town has been hailed. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is here. I refer to a letter from Mr. Hugh Ryan that was sent to the Chairman and members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government this morning about an illegal development being carried out on behalf of An Post which is moving from the square in Thurles to the shopping centre. It got a warning letter on 30 May, but it is still continuing to carry out these works in breach of conditions Nos. 1, 8, 14 and 17, among many others. There is health and safety and fire safety issues and lack of ambulance access: it is outrageous. The Minister smirked at me when I raised this with him a week ago. Will An Post be allowed to act as a cabal with big business? I am told this shopping centre is owned by a fund and no one knows who they are.
Does the commitment not to sign the national broadband contract until the contract has been put before the Dáil for interrogation still stand? We were given a commitment some time ago that we would have sight of it. At the same time, we were told the aim was to have the contract signed before the autumn. Is there a doubt about the availability of finances in the context of a hard Brexit?
Work on completing the contract is ongoing between the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the preferred bidder. Under that contract, certain issues will have to be nailed down in law and finances will have to be provided. The contract will not be signed unless those are delivered. The House has held hearings through the Oireachtas committee. I understand those hearings are continuing. My officials have made themselves available to explain exactly why this contract is the best approach to the delivery of broadband. We will take all views into account to ensure we are satisfied that when we sign this contract, it is being signed in the best interests of the people of Ireland.
When will the HSE capital programme be announced? There was a great development in recent days when planning permission was granted for Millstreet hospital. Millstreet and Kanturk hospitals are both on the capital programme. When is it going to be announced? We are heading into the second half of the year. We have not yet received an indication from the HSE of anything with regard to the capital programme.
One of the last questions I asked the Taoiseach before the Christmas recess related to the HSE capital plan for 2019. As we all know, the Dáil will rise for the summer recess tomorrow. I ask the same question again. When will we have sight of the capital plan for 2019? When will we have clarity and commitment in relation to capital projects in hospitals throughout the country? Every time the estates section of the HSE is contacted, we get the same answer, which is that it cannot sign off on projects until it has sight of the capital plan. It is beyond ridiculous that in July 2019, we have yet to see the HSE capital plan for 2019.
I thank the Deputies asking about the capital plan, which is still under negotiation between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Minister for Health. The non-publication of the plan does not, in itself, prevent capital projects from going ahead. No capital plan at all was published last year, yet the Dunmore wing was built at University Hospital Waterford and new wings were built in hospitals in Limerick and Clonmel, to give three examples. Those who are saying that the non-publication of a capital plan prevents projects from going ahead need to look out their windows and see the projects that have gone ahead.
We have heard an awful lot of talk about public transport since the recent publication of the Government's climate action plan. My colleague, Deputy Cassells, raised the question of the Dublin to Navan railway line in this Chamber last week. There is a railway line in place between Navan and Kingscourt. I ask the Taoiseach to work with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to commission a feasibility study. I have been informed by Iarnród Éireann that this would be one of the easier projects it could do across the country because it owns the Navan to Kingscourt line, which means no compulsory purchase order would be needed to buy land. It would be a fairly straightforward project if there was a commitment from the Government.
I strongly support the extension of the railway to Navan. It would benefit my constituency because services on the Dunboyne line, which crosses through my constituency, pick up passengers there.
To date, 226,851 people have been referred to two private companies, Turas Nua and Seetec, under the JobPath programme. Some 27,476 people have been referred over for a second year. Some 354 people have been referred over for a third year. This means they are doing the same thing for a third year in succession. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection informed me that 51,548 of the 226,851 people who have been referred to these companies have commenced employment. Just 6% of those who have been referred - 14,617 people in total - have been sustained in employment for a year or more. I imagine that many of those people found employment independently of Turas Nua and Seetec, only for those companies to claim that they had assisted them in finding employment in order to get sustainment payments. Will the Taoiseach recognise that this project, which has cost the State €182 million to date, has been a complete failure? Will he honour the mandate provided by this Dáil when it supported a Sinn Féin motion in February that sought to stop referrals to Turas Nua and Seetec with immediate effect? Will he ensure the referrals stop and this failed project is binned once and for all?
The Government's employment policies have been an enormous success. We see employment at a record high and unemployment at its lowest in over a decade. This includes youth and long-term unemployment. Part of the suite of policies that has made this possible are programmes such as JobPath, the work of the Intreo offices and local employment services. If somebody cannot get a job, one does not stop trying to help him or her. One keeps trying to help him or her and this may mean a second referral to JobPath, a local employment scheme, Intreo or a community employment scheme. One keeps trying to help that person. The policy is working.
I acknowledge that there is a lot of money in the programme for Government for health - up to €17 billion. Despite that, there are serious issues, as the Taoiseach knows, up and down the country. I received a response recently from the HSE to a parliamentary question. I found out that there are 975 people on the waiting list for ear, nose and throat, ENT, outpatient services at Roscommon University Hospital. Some of them go back to May 2019 while 310 go back to November 2016. There are 645 people on the waiting list for routine services, some of whom go back to November 2015. This will be four years in a couple of months. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that in respect of ENT services, it is very important that those outpatient clinics are looked after. The management and staff at that hospital are doing a fantastic job and the hospital has many successes, which I acknowledge. They tell me the problem concerns resources. They do not have the resources. Can the Taoiseach do anything for a hospital like that with such a waiting list in the ENT area?
The motorised transport grant for disabled people has been closed to new applicants since the decision of the Ombudsman many years ago. I have continually raised this issue in the Dáil and have been continually promised that the Government was working on a scheme to either restore or replace that grant. Meanwhile the number of people who would qualify for it if it was in operation is increasing week by week. Can the Taoiseach give a definite timescale within which this will be either replaced or restored?
I have been asking this question for six years since the Government scrapped the motorised transport grant and the mobility allowance. In the most recent response I received, I was told that the Minister for Health and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, brought proposals for a new transport support payment scheme to the Cabinet in May 2018. They then withdrew it. There has been no explanation. They said they were going to come back with a revised proposal but, again, there was no timeframe. There is a commitment in the programme for Government that has not been acted upon. This issue has been sitting in the Government's legislative programme for years. How much longer will it be before this Government produces a scheme and a Bill, and a timeframe to introduce it?
The Minister of State is still working on that. It requires new primary legislation to establish a new scheme. That scheme must be affordable from the point of view of the taxpayer so it has run into quite some difficulties. He is still working on that but I cannot give a timeframe for the legislation.
The programme for Government committed to a new national spatial strategy to deliver Project Ireland 2040 and the urban regeneration and development fund. Waterford City Council has submitted an application for funding to facilitate the North Quays development. I know the ask is for significant State funding of €105 million. This is to fund the access road into the development, a new pedestrian bridge and moving the train station on to the new North Quays as a new platform. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, along with Deputy Butler and I, had a high-level meeting with the developers. The difficulty is that all of these ducks must be lined up for this project to go ahead. My understanding is that the council hoped that the entire envelope of money - €105 million - would be delivered through the urban regeneration and development fund. It now seems that the part relating to moving the train station may need to be funded from the Department or from a different source, which complicates and potentially slows down the process. I asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government recently when we would get certainty with regard to the funding in terms of timescales and the next round of funding. Can he give a commitment that all three elements of this in terms of infrastructural ask, including moving the train station, are supported by the Government and the funding will be delivered?
I thank the Deputy for his question. It is a very significant project. If I recall correctly, under the urban regeneration and development fund, it received one of the largest allocations of funding under the first round of funding but it was just a first round. There are subsequent rounds to come over the period of the fund - €2 billion over ten years. The project has a number of moving parts, as the Deputy outlined. Funding has been given under this first phase for particular aspects of the project from the fund. A delivery board is in place to drive that forward so I will consult with the local authority to see if there are any obstacles in the way at present, but there should be no obstacles with regard to the drawdown from the urban regeneration and development fund.
There two proposals for liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals in Shannon and Cork. I was interested in finding out the Government's position with regard to supporting that. Did President Trump raise the issue during the Taoiseach's recent discussions with him in Doonbeg in Clare? Have there been any meetings involving other representatives of the US Government? Have there been any meetings with other industry people promoting such developments? What is the Government's response? Is there a Government view about whether we should have LNG terminals in Cork or Shannon?
Individual applications are matters for the planning authorities.
On the wider issue of whether LNG could contribute to energy security, there is no doubt that as we move away from and close down peat and coal production, security of supply of gas will become an issue. LNG is one of the options put forward to deal with energy security. Having access to LNG supplies also has support within the EU as an item of strategic potential. This issue is primarily for the planning authorities but the principle of LNG has a role in energy policy.
In light of comments earlier during Leaders' Questions, I, again, ask for an update from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding when the planning applications for Adare bypass and the Limerick-Foynes motorway will go to An Bord Pleanála. We were given the expectation that they would go to the board by the end of June and I am still seeking clarification on that. As a Limerick Deputy, this motorway for the development of Shannon Foynes Port, which is a Tier 1 port and requires this development, has my full support.
I again thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. The Government is very committed to the Adare bypass project and connecting Foynes to our motorway network. I am not aware of any delays in the project but I will check it out with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and get back to the Deputy.
The Taoiseach met the Stardust relatives and victims' committee approximately six weeks ago. As he will be aware, a detailed report was submitted last November requesting the Attorney General to reopen the Stardust inquest. Is a substantive reply expected next Tuesday from the Taoiseach and the Attorney General about whether hat inquest will be reopened?
I met the Stardust families approximately six weeks ago and was very impressed by what they had to say to me but this is a decision for the Attorney General, who is considering it. I am not sure when he will be in a position to make a decision but I know he is giving it very careful consideration.
Workers were informed yesterday that 65 jobs are to go at the Coca-Cola plant in Drogheda. This is a devastating blow for the workers, their families and the local community because Coca-Cola has been part of the fabric of Drogheda for decades and has been a mainstay of employment locally. To be frank, the people of Drogheda are genuinely sick and tired of what they see as the lack of commitment and effort on the part of the Government and IDA Ireland when it comes to attracting investment and jobs locally. We have been overlooked too often and have lost out too many times. What are the Government's plans to attract investment and jobs to Drogheda?
I acknowledge those who have lost their jobs at Coca-Cola in Drogheda. All of the supports of the State will be made available to them. I have also arranged with Deputy O’Dowd to meet the Chamber of Commerce in Drogheda shortly. The Deputy can rest assured that there is a strong focus on Drogheda.