Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Before we move to the formal business of Leaders' Questions, I note the life of our nation has been diminished today by the passing of two men, Noel Whelan and Brendan Grace. They were two very different men but they both made enormous contributions to our nation's political, legal, media, social and cultural life and both have died too young.
Noel Whelan was passionate about democracy and about people understanding and accessing that democracy. Unlike a lot of political pundits, he was not afraid to put his name on a ballot paper and he was exceptionally proud of the history of this country and of its potential and he was never afraid to challenge that potential. His most important and proudest role was as a husband to Sinéad and a dad to Séamus. We think of them today and we think of our colleague, Councillor Michael Whelan, his brother, and of his family in Wexford of whom he was enormously proud.
Brendan Grace brought joy and laughter to generations of people over more than 50 years as an entertainer. He was immensely talented and he devoted his life to sharing that talent to improve the lives of those he interacted with and those he spoke to. He had the unique distinction of being able to connect to generations of much different characters, from Bottler to Fr. Fintan Stack. We again extend our sympathies to his wife Eileen and to his children and grandchildren. Our country is so much the poorer this morning for the passing of these two fine men.
I want to come back to an issue that has been discussed in this House on a number of occasions in recent weeks, and for which we have got no information on the reality on the ground, and that is home help hours and home care packages. We all know and agree that home help hours and home care packages are essential to people with conditions and to families all over the country. They are essential to keeping our health service working well and efficiently because if they are properly managed, they ensure that beds are moving, that accident and emergency rooms should not be full and that people have the right and the dignity to be treated in their homes.
In recent months, many Deputies on all sides of the House have been asking questions about the allocation of hours and the lack of those hours on the ground. The Taoiseach told us there was not a problem but that he did not have the information and the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, came in and took questions in the House on a number of occasions. Their experience and their answers to the questions were utterly different from our realities as Deputies on the ground in dealing with home help and the lack thereof. What we do know is that the home help waiting list has 6,300 people on it as we speak. That is 6,300 families who are waiting hours for their loved ones to be kept at home. That is 6,300 patients, many of whom might be in hospital and many of whom might be in an acute hospital and who would be far better off at home. The only comment the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, added was that there was 800,000 extra home help hours and that he would ensure that they would be fully implemented but that is not happening.
Deputy Butler was given figures last week that show that home support hours are short by over 160,000 hours in the first five months of this year and if that trend continues, there will be a shortage of 400,000 hours by the end of the year. All of our experiences suggest this trend is not only continuing but it is getting worse and the number of people receiving home care is less than what the HSE itself targeted. I do not want the Tánaiste to deny that there is a problem this morning or for him to tell us that he will get back to us because he will not get back to us - today is the last day of the Dáil session. I anticipate that over this recess, there will be a range of challenges to our health service we will have to deal with without having Government accountability.
Does the Tánaiste accept that the HSE figures provided to Deputy Butler fly in the face of the Minister's assertion that all hours committed to will be delivered? Does the Tánaiste accept there are major difficulties and inconsistencies across the country in providing home help hours? Can the Tánaiste lay out a precise action plan the Government has in mind to ensure we do not end up with a shortage of 400,000 hours and to ensure that families whose loved ones need home help will get it in a timely manner and in a manner that respects their loved ones?
I also want to recognise the sad passing of two well-known and much loved personalities. I got to know Noel Whelan well during the marriage equality referendum but I had known him before then as well. He was somebody who had the courage to put his name forward for politics. He had a close connection with the Fianna Fáil Party but that did not determine his commentary and his influence in many social change campaigns and he was somebody who was deeply respected and liked across the political divide. He was also someone who was trusted in seeking his counsel and advice. Dying at the age of 50 is a tragedy for his family. For his wife Sinéad, his son Séamus and other family and people who were close to him, I want to say we are thinking of them today and we recognise the extraordinary contribution he has made to public life in Ireland as a senior counsel, as someone who was interested and involved in politics and as an accurate and respected commentator for many years.
Brendan Grace was also a giant. There are few Members of this House who have not heard, seen or been at a venue when he has been entertaining, singing and making people laugh and where his acting and talent have been a source of extraordinary entertainment for many decades. A lot of people were deeply saddened to hear of his passing this morning. It is important to recognise what were two giants, certainly for my generation as we grew up, in both political discourse and in broader entertainment. They have passed far too early in life and Ireland is a lesser place for that.
On the issues the Deputy raised with home care packages and home help, in truth I will not be able to give him the detail he is looking for today. That is something on which both the HSE and the Minister for Health must provide information and answers. I will, however, give the Deputy some basic information to respond to his questions.
As outlined in its national service plan for 2019, the HSE maximises the utilisation of current resources, prioritising those requiring discharge from acute hospitals. The management of the service and the budget is delivered to improve responses for older people at the most demanding times of the year, particularly in the winter.
In the winter of 2018-19 the immediate focus was on reducing delayed patient discharge through mobilising the additional resources made available and ensuring that social care measures were effectively deployed to enable older people to move to a more appropriate care setting, including step-down or transitional care, or their own home with the supports needed.
Preliminary data for May indicate that almost 7.52 million hours have been provided this year, about 2% below the target, with 6,819 people waiting for a new or additional service. Under the 2019 service plan, 10,980 transitional care funding approvals, approximately 210 per week, have been sanctioned to support patients discharged from acute hospitals to move to private nursing home beds during the year so far. A budget of €28.5 million has been assigned to the services for 2019.
We are aware of the severe pressures on the supports needed to allow discharge from hospital. There are broader challenges with a significant increase in demand for home care packages given the ageing population and the increasing number of people who want support to live as independently as they can at home. We are responding to that by increasing budgets, hours and available resources, but work clearly remains to be done in the area.
While I accept the Tánaiste not having the information, my frustration is this has been a very live issue in this House for the past four weeks. We have had debates and special time allocated. A number of CHOs have advised that home help hours will not be made available to any family unless their loved one has a terminal condition and that must be proved by a letter from a consultant.
Figures provided to Deputy Donnelly show that in June 18,600 bed days were lost because of delayed discharges from hospitals. At the same time one in every ten applicants for home help support is waiting for some hours. The two are connected. The lack of investment, understanding and commitment on the part of the Government to follow the money to ensure that the money the Tánaiste keeps talking about is actually being spent on hours is having an impact on delayed discharges, thus impacting on acute hospital services.
Why will the Government not ensure as a priority that home help hours are made available to those who need them and that families are not put through the trauma of having to go to their consultant and get a letter to say that their loved one is dying so that they might get an hour or two of home help? The Government needs a laser focus to ensure that the money it says is being invested is actually being spent on home help hours because all the figures show that families and loved ones all over the country are not getting those hours, that people are being delayed from being discharged from hospitals and that the system is not working.
The Deputy cannot argue with the numbers for the money being spent. In 2015 the budget in this area was €306 million and is now almost €450 million, an increase of almost €150 million in the budget.
That recognises the challenge the Deputy mentioned, which is the increasing demand with an ageing population. We are trying to prioritise how that money is being spent. As I outlined earlier, improving the capacity to be able to move from hospital to a home care setting obviously also impacts on the hospital system. That needs financial supports, increased hours and supports for families. That is what we are trying to do. However, we also must keep pace with the significant increase in demand in this area from a funding perspective.
On my behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I offer our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Brendan Grace and Noel Whelan, two men who are gone far too soon. Both of them made not inconsiderable contributions to public life.
The members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, have begun an overtime ban. This is happening because of the lack of progress in talks to address the recruitment and retention crisis that is crippling the mental health services. If the service was adequately staffed, an overtime ban would have no impact. It is precisely because of the staffing levels that an overtime ban will have the impact it will. This is the same recruitment and retention crisis that forced nurses and midwives across the State to take to the picket line earlier this year. While members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, concluded a deal with the Government after their strike action, no agreement was reached with the PNA.
For over five months, the PNA and psychiatric nurses have been working really hard to try to de-escalate this situation but little progress if any has been made. All the while its members have been propping up the service using overtime. There is no obligation for them to do this overtime, but as a gesture of goodwill they have been leaving their families and not being at home when they should be in order to work extra hours just to keep the services going.
I am sure the Tánaiste will accept that nurses have shown extraordinary patience as they continue to struggle with staff shortages. In some areas of the service, these shortages amount to a reduction of 20% in nursing staff and there are 700 vacancies nationally. That is not sustainable in a vital area of our health service where demand is growing all the time. This was flagged by the PNA last year in the wake of the resignation of three psychiatrists in the south east due to unacceptable working conditions. The general secretary of the PNA said that shortages were expected to exacerbate significantly. To make matters worse the HSE is adding to the problems by maintaining an effective embargo on recruitment and by not offering permanent posts to graduate nurses this year, something that had been done in previous years but that practice appears to have stopped. At a time of crisis this embargo must end.
There is a premium for overtime: it is more expensive than regular hours. Nurses take their duty of care very seriously. They do not want to be engaged in this overtime ban. They want to do their job of caring for patients. That is what they do best and train hard for. Our psychiatric nurses need adequate staffing levels to protect their patients and themselves. They have been more than patient and the Government has relied on their goodwill for far too long. If the recruitment and retention crisis in mental health is to be addressed and the goodwill of psychiatric nurses restored, it requires a clear demonstration of urgency and commitment from the HSE. I call on the Minister for Health to act with urgency to address this situation. What actions will the Government pursue to ensure this dispute is resolved?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which is a concern. The Psychiatric Nurses Association members have withdrawn their availability for overtime from 7 a.m. this morning for an indefinite period. The PNA has indicated this will not affect child and adolescent mental health services. The HSE has stated that this course of action will have a significant impact on the delivery of mental health services generally. It is assessing the situation on a service-by-service basis. The HSE will make every effort to minimise the impact of this course of action.
For obvious reasons, this decision is very disappointing given that the PNA and health service management are still engaged in conciliation under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. It is important to note that the dispute with the PNA was referred by the Labour Court to the WRC some time ago. Progress has been made in some areas since this engagement started, but obviously agreement has yet to be reached in remaining areas.
I appreciate that there is a degree of frustration on the part of the PNA at what it has seen as very slow progress. I urge the PNA to reconsider this decision to withdraw the availability of overtime and to continue to engage fully with the industrial relations machinery of the State to resolve the remaining issues in this dispute. I am informed that genuine progress is being made although it has been slow. I emphasise that the services are reliant on overtime as the Deputy knows well, understanding the sector as she does. The consequence of this decision is potentially significant for patients.
The HSE, supported by Government, wants to see the outstanding issues resolved as soon as possible. As the Deputy knows that can only be done through the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the consultations that are taking place. There will not be a separate intervention. I encourage the PNA to engage to seek to resolve issues and management will do the same. The decision to withdraw overtime will have significant consequences that those who work in and understand the sector best, as psychiatric nurses do, want to try to avoid. It is a serious development today. I think some were surprised at the decision to go ahead with it but it is a reminder that the outstanding issues need to conclude. I encourage the PNA to think again about the continuation of an industrial action which will have a significant impact on the support for many of the patients they work with daily.
The Tánaiste's response will do absolutely nothing to encourage psychiatric nurses to undertake overtime. It is not the first time they have done this and it should not come as a surprise. I was on my tools the last time they did it in 2007. It did have a devastating impact but it did bring the parties to the table and it brought a resolution. The Tánaiste did not address the issue of the recruitment embargo. We need to get to the heart of this because people on the ground know that there is a recruitment embargo in place. They see its impact every day of the week. If there was no recruitment embargo in place and if the Government had cracked the recruitment and retention crisis they could be involved in an overtime ban every day of the week and it would have no impact. It is having a devastating impact purely and simply because the service is effectively being run by overtime, agency and locum. That is no way to run our mental health services. It is no way to plan for future mental health services.
The Tánaiste did a very good job of describing the situation and said very little about what he and the Government are going to do about it. This is a very serious issue. It requires commitment. They have been five months at the WRC. If progress was being made, believe me, they would be back in work, doing overtime. They have no faith that progress is being made. What is the Government going to do about it?
It is not just management. There are areas where there are staffing pressures of course. The Deputies cannot ignore the availability of financial resources when recruiting. There are targeted recruitment campaigns happening particularly in areas where there is most pressure but they have to happen within the budgets that have been allocated. Otherwise money that is not there will be committed to for extra staffing, as has happened in previous years.
It is not helpful to go into the individual issues under discussion at the WRC to resolve outstanding issues. My understanding is that management is absolutely committed to bringing to a conclusion the issues that have been discussed for quite a long time, I accept that. I understand the frustration of the PNA but I also ask them to consider the impact of their decision on overtime and to focus on the industrial relations machinery that can resolve this issue.
On behalf of the Labour Party and my own behalf I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the sudden passing of two giants of public life in our land. Brendan Grace brought boundless joy to millions of Irish people at home and abroad and indeed beyond the Irish family. He was a talented actor, singer and comedian and he will be sorely missed.
I was shocked to hear today of the passing of Noel Whelan. He was a county man of mine. I have known his family. His father was a distinguished Fianna Fail councillor in Wexford. He came from Ballykillane in New Ross. I have had countless discussions with Noel on public affairs. We did not always agree but he was somebody of great intellect and incisiveness whose views I certainly listened to. He was able to marshal words in writing to great effect. He will be really missed in public affairs in this country, particularly in his native county. He was the driving force behind the Kennedy Summer School, a relatively recent innovation that brought much fresh political thought and intellectual vigour to New Ross during the summer. I hope the summer school will be maintained in his memory.
Bord na Móna has announced the loss of 72 permanent jobs and 78 seasonal jobs at Lough Ree in County Longford. It is talking to the trade unions representing the workers involved. We will see what comes of that process. I want to address the wider question, namely the future of Bord na Móna, one of the most important employers in the midlands, not only in Longford but Westmeath, Laois and all the adjoining counties. The Government's climate action plan calls for early and complete phase out of coal and peat fired electricity generation. Labour agrees that this is necessary if we are serious about cutting our greenhouse gas emissions to 33 million tonnes by 2030. We do not agree on the Government's free market approach to these jobs. Bord na Móna is a cornerstone of employment in the Midlands, in many rural and urban communities. Every good job at Bord na Móna provides demand in the local economy and keeps countless other jobs in existence. Rural Ireland needs these quality jobs but the pattern of job creation is that multinational jobs tend to be highly concentrated in the urban areas, particularly Dublin, Cork and Galway.
The State needs a vision for the role of Bord na Móna in the future low-carbon Ireland. We need to know that industrial peatlands seep massive quantities of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, even when they are no longer worked. We cannot leave brown acidic deserts in our landscape. We need to do everything to ensure that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bord na Móna can, and should, be the future custodian of our peatlands. This should involve the re-wetting of peatlands on a major scale. That is a sizeable project that will require significant State investment. It is a long-term investment in communities as well as meeting the demands of environmental protection. We will face EU fines if we do not meet our greenhouse gas targets and re-wetting our peatlands is one way to make sure we make real headway in that objective we are all agreed upon. What is the Government’s future vision for Bord na Móna?
Will it commit to a major investment programme to rewet the peatlands and a renewal of Bord na Móna's remit as the guardian of the peatlands? Will it commit to expanding the remit of Bord na Móna in order that it can take a leading role in creating new jobs in peatland restoration, wildlife management, nature tourism and recreation? Will it commit to new State-led enterprises in rural Ireland, including the major retrofit now required, to ensure all of the workers who will be disemployed by the requirements of our climate action policies will be re-employed in a beneficial way?
On the news announced today which is impactful on many families, I will give the House an update on the source of the issue and how, I hope, it may be resolved. Last month the ESB shut Lough Ree Power Station in County Longford to carry out planned maintenance. The generating station was due to return to service the week of 6 and 7 July, but the decision was taken to defer its return to service for three months to address an environmental issue linked with an Environmental Protection Agency licence. As a result, Lough Ree Power Station does not require peat supplies from Bord na Móna. This impacts on the Mount Dillon bog which is also located in County Longford. Bord na Móna has been left with no choice, therefore, but to cease all operations on the Mount Dillon bog and place all 148 staff on protective notice, effective immediately. It began informing staff at 8 a.m. All employees will be kept apprised, as one would expect, on a regular basis of how the issue is progressing. I understand the company is also talking to the trade unions. All staff - 72 permanent, full-time employees and 76 seasonal employees - will be on a temporary unpaid lay-off from Thursday, 18 July. It will continue until Bord na Móna is informed by the ESB that Lough Ree Power Station will return to normal operations, which is expected to be in four to 12 weeks' time. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Department are following the issue closely.
On the broader challenges in the context of the future of Bord na Móna, the State has made a strategic decision - it is the right strategic decision - to move away from generating electricity using coal and peat. That policy decision has been in place for some time. Bord na Móna has responded by developing a plan for diversification into renewables, a different type of resource management and aquaculture. Recently, in the climate action plan the Minister, Deputy Bruton, announced the intention to rewet many bogs, some of which has happened. In recent years we have spent approximately €50 million on raised bogs. I am told by my colleague, the Minister, that it costs approximately €2,000 to rewet 1 ha of bog. This challenge is not without cost, but it has an important environmental value through being a secure carbon sink. It is a natural resource that we should use in dealing with the climate change challenges we face.
I am very much aware, as is the Government, of the challenges for Bord na Móna. It will need the State's help in meeting these challenges and changing the very nature of the company, how it employs people and the skill set involved. Bord na Móna will need to be a significant employer throughout the midlands in the future, as it is today. It is also a significant landowner and has a significant resource with which to work. We will support and help it through that transition which needs to be just for the workers and families involved.
I heard what the Tánaiste said about the necessity to support Bord na Móna in what is an extraordinary major transformation, but I did not hear the detail of what the support is to be. Bord na Móna is not to be abandoned as a company that must make such massive changes in the services and work it offers. We must have a national plan in sync with a just transition to a different, carbon-free economy. Today communities are fearful for their jobs. Lough Ree Power Plan will be the start, but many more people will be worried today. Families who have depended, in many cases for generations, on Bord na Móna want to hear clearly from the Government that it will stand by them and ensure nobody will be left behind and that they will be supported with whatever resources are required, not only to do what I have suggested such as rewetting bogs but also to create new carbon sinks, which is an infinitely better solution than paying fines to the European Commission for a failure to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets. Will the Tánaiste give a commitment that no worker will be left behind? We all remember the Norman Tebbit attitude when the coal mines in England were closed and the Thatcherite view to workers was "Get on your bike." Let us not give that message from this House. Let us be clear that every worker in Bord na Móna who will be affected by a new national strategy into which we have all bought will be protected in a just transition and that their livelihood and that of communities throughout the midlands will be protected.
It is a specific environmental issue with licensing, water cooling systems and so on in respect of discharge. It needs to be resolved, but the Deputy is correct that in the medium term the challenges will be significant. Having said that, Bord na Móna has been planning for this and talked to its workforce about it for years. It is already diversifying. Recently it created 50 jobs in the opening of a plastics recycling plant in Littleton. It is, therefore, investing in a workforce that did not previously exist. Through the midlands regional enterprise plan, it's transition plan and regional enterprise strategies for urban and rural funding, much of which is available from the Government, we will work with Bord na Móna, those who work in it and their families in the transition which needs to happen throughout the midlands to move away from peat as a power source and perhaps use it for many other things, as outlined in the climate strategy. The State will support the efforts of the company and its workforce in the years ahead.
I too express our sympathy to and solidarity with the families and friends of Noel Whelan and Brendan Grace.
More than 2,000 children are in US migrant detention centres. They have been separated from their parents and crammed together in massively overcrowded warehouses. In many cases, they are held for weeks in very cold temperatures, with the lights on 24 hours a day and without adequate access to medical care, sanitation, soap, water or food. It is the grossest, most inhumane and depraved expression of President Trump's anti-immigrant, racist policies. The centres meet the definition of a concentration camp. It is the mass incarceration of people, in this case children, without trial. A lawyer recently inspected a facility in Texas and stated:
[The children] were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once [...] The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.
This was a pre-announced visit and one can only imagine the circumstances where there is no warning of such a visit. It is absolutely heartbreaking stuff and it is not an accident. It is being done in an extremely conscious and open way by the Trump Administration to discourage asylum seekers from coming to the United States.
The conditions those people are fleeing from countries in Central America include vicious narcotics gangs, collapsed economies and ecological disaster. To a very large degree, these are the result of the policies of the United States, which has ruthlessly dominated that region for 150 years. That includes dozens of military interventions, support for military coups and the implementation of the so-called Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA.
There is a growing movement of protest targeted against these migrant detention camps. People like Megan Rapinoe, the United States women's soccer team captain, have spoken out against the message from Donald Trump of excluding people. In the most powerful recent message, workers at the Wayfair furniture company in the United States took the lead by walking off the job because their company refused to stop doing business with these for-profit detention camps. That is what solidarity looks like and these are the steps needed to shut down the camps and take down Trump.
The question is what the Government will do about this. A year ago we passed a motion unanimously in the Dáil describing this treatment as inhumane, undignified and unwarranted, and we called for these practices to be reversed immediately. What has been done by the Government and how has it spoken out about this? Was the matter raised by the Taoiseach with Donald Trump or was he able to come to Ireland to play a game of golf while being responsible for these conditions at home, including the death of seven children in the so-called care of the United States immigration agencies? Will Mike Pence be able to do the same in September and will this Government continue with mild hand-wringing and criticism when they are not here but grovelling subservience when its representatives meet officials of the United States Administration?
The images we see from some of the detention centres on the southern borders of the United States make for very uncomfortable viewing. When refugees and asylum seekers cross a border, there are international standards that should be expected and delivered, particularly in the protection of children. The migration challenges and the suffering of children is not solely confined to the camps we see in the United States and the European Union must also look at itself with regard to questions around migration. It is not just the need for generosity to be shown to people fleeing conflict, as there are also international standards and obligations that should be adopted.
Today, across the globe, there are over 70 million people who are either refugees, displaced persons or asylum seekers. It is an enormous number and I hope Ireland is trying to give some leadership in how integration can work. We deal with much smaller numbers than many other countries but the collective challenge for the European Union in terms of migration is one on which we need to focus, as well as offering constructive criticism on how other countries manage migration.
I do not want to shy away from this. Like others, I have been concerned about and critical of the border management on the southern border of the United States. Nobody wants to see children separated from parents and they should not be. This is the source of a significant debate in the United States Congress on Capitol Hill and there are differences of opinion. The European Union and its member states need to consider how we, as a collective, deal with the migration challenge, as well as offering criticisms or observations on what happens abroad.
Will the Government voice those criticisms to Mike Pence when he comes here in September? Did the Taoiseach raise any of those criticisms with Donald Trump was here last month? The conditions are obscene and horrific, and they are well beyond the bounds whereby what is needed is just some constructive criticism. We need clear condemnation by the Government of the actions of Donald Trump and the US Administration. It is what we need and it is part of building international pressure. This will get worse. When we passed the motion a year ago, the conditions were not as bad and there were not as many children affected. Conditions will continue to worsen unless there is a movement for change, particularly in the United States but also elsewhere.
I agree with the Tánaiste's point that the European Union must also look at itself, as it is not a paragon of virtue. The EU outsources its dirty work and the Government agrees with that. For example, it agreed with the deal with Turkey to give that country €6 billion to have the migrant camps there rather than in the EU. The Government agrees with the externalisation of migrant policy by the EU, which means these camps are being set up in north Africa, for example. Broadly speaking, it agrees with the fortress Europe policy that has seen 10,000 migrants die in the Mediterranean since 2015. If the Tánaiste believes that Ireland should be a leader, we should shut down direct provision, as 6,000 people are in that direct provision using for-profit camps.
I accept that and I will stay within the time. This House made its views clear on the separation of children in the context of migration and refugees, and that position has not changed. I am not aware of everything raised by the Taoiseach with President Trump but I certainly hope to have the opportunity to meet Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Ireland later this summer.
The EU policy on migration will be one of the big challenges for the next five years for the European Parliament, the Commission and the European Council. We need to partner with neighbouring countries in trying to manage migration in a way that would not see an increase in the rise of the far right and anti-immigrant sentiment. Providing practical political solutions that are also generous and humane in managing migration is one of the big challenges and Ireland certainly wants to be part of that discussion.
Sula bogaimid ar aghaidh, thar ceann na Teachtaí eile, ba mhaith liom cur leis an rún comhbhróin do theaghlaigh Noel Whelan agus Brendan Grace. Ar lámh deis Dé atá an beirt acu.
Before me move on, ba mhaith liom, thar mo cheann féin agus thar ceann an Ceann Comhairle, ár mbuíochas a chur in iúl do na Baill as ucht an comhoibriú, an chuid is mó den am, i rith na bliana. Ar ndóigh tá a fhios agam nach laethanta saoire a bheas againn. Ní bheimid anseo sa Dáil ach beimid ag obair sa Dáilcheantar. Táimid ag fáil briseadh ó ghnó na Dála. Bain sult as an tréimhse idir anseo agus 17 Meán Fomhair. Go n-éirí go geal libh. Sin teachtaireacht uaim féin agus ón Cheann Comhairle.