Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation
I apologise. Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach whether he had spoken to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding a report published in the most recent edition of The Sunday Business Post which detailed interference with the work of road safety officers employed by the Road Safety Authority, RSA, by the president of the Irish Road Haulage Society, Ms Verona Murphy, who happens to be a Fine Gael candidate in the by-elections. The Taoiseach stated the matter had nothing to do with him. I suggest it has everything to do with him. He is the Taoiseach of the Government and road safety is a key priority of the programme for Government. The RSA has been instrumental in saving lives and reducing injury.
The Taoiseach told me yesterday that he would speak to the Minister. He confirmed he read the article but said he did not to know too much about it. Interference with a safety officer is a very serious matter, particularly in the context of an organisation the sole remit of which is to save lives and reduce injuries. Surely the Taoiseach has a view on whether it is okay to spend 45 minutes remonstrating with a safety officer doing his job. Such behaviour is unacceptable and should be condemned.
Page 111 of the programme for Government states: "A strong commitment to ensure sustained profitability in the beef sector will be at the heart of a new Government." In the past three years, it has been business as usual for the beef barons. It is more than six weeks since the task force was scheduled to meet, but no progress has been made in that regard. There has been no plenary session, which is unfortunate. The meeting should have taken place. Sinn Féin agrees that it should not have been obstructed.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has sat on his hands and kicked to touch on this issue by passing it to the courts and the chairman of the beef task force. We need the Government to take a proactive stance. It is beyond doubt that the beef sector is in crisis. The Taoiseach admitted as much in the past two days. We need the beef task force to get up and running and the injunctions to be lifted. We need to improve the toxic atmosphere which is at the heart of the issue. There are outstanding injunctions against two farmers. The Minister made reference in the House to death threats. He needs to set the record straight in that regard. This morning, he claimed that he was told of the alleged death threats by a third party. There cannot be a level playing field between factories and farmers while one side has a legal action hanging over people on the other. We need the Minister and the Taoiseach to engage with the various stakeholders and end the stand-off. They should ask C&D Foods to lift the outstanding injunctions against the two farmers as a gesture of goodwill. The Minister should set the record straight in respect of the claims he made yesterday.
Deputy Stanley has raised this question as acting leader. As such, I cannot allow other Deputies in. I did so yesterday. Perhaps Deputies did not notice as so many were seeking to contribute. We got value for our time. Deputy Tóibín may come in at a later stage.
The Minister, Deputy Creed, was in the House earlier and answered the question as it related to him. We are working very hard to get the beef task force up and running and allow it to meet. We should not forget what happened the last time it tried to meet. It did not meet because some of those trying to attend the meeting were intimidated and assaulted. We cannot allow that to happen again.
Scientists have mapped the probable rise in sea levels if global temperatures rise 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, we are currently on course for an even higher rise in temperatures. For example, if there is an increase of 2°C, Howth in north Dublin would become an island again. Major parts of Clontarf and Portmarnock would be underwater, as would Skerries and Laytown. In my constituency, large parts of Wexford town would be flooded, as would Duncormac. The Government is not giving this flooding spectacle the urgency it requires in light of the investment of money and time that is required to put things right before the rise in temperature has an impact. For example, as representatives in the area know from talking to the public, the Glashaboy flood relief scheme in Cork city is awaiting sanction from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. We must not have any complacency or delay in these matters. When will the Government give the issue of flood defences the resources and urgency required? Will the Taoiseach give a guarantee to coastal communities that will be impacted in the coming years - the affected locations have been mapped for everybody to see - that whatever resources are required to deal with this emergency will be provided?
Significant investment is being put into flood defences. I will ask the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Boxer Moran, to provide the Deputy a more detailed briefing in that regard. Many flood relief schemes are under way around the country.
Many have been completed, such as those in Bandon, on the River Tolka and in many other locations. Other schemes are under way or about to start. The Deputy is quite right that sea levels are rising as a consequence of climate change.
Even with us reducing emissions dramatically over the next couple of decades, sea levels will continue to rise because of the cumulative effect of CO2 in our atmosphere. Therefore, we need to plan for this. Thankfully, it will not happen next year, but it has started already and will happen over the course of the next century. We need to plan ahead for that. In some places that may mean major flood defences and sea defences. In other places it may mean saying to communities that they will have to be relocated. Considerable work is being done on that at the moment. I anticipate that the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, will be able to bring some detailed work on that to a Cabinet sub-committee before Christmas.
Does the Taoiseach have anything new to say or any legislation to offer in light of more news this morning of children unable to crawl or swallow due to being homeless, living in confined spaces and not having a natural chance of development, and the massive physical and mental damage the Government is doing to a whole generation of thousands of children? I have no confidence in the Minister and I will support the no-confidence motion next week, but I have no confidence in the policy either.
On Thursday, 5 December a march to the Dáil will take place. As Deputies, we have been asked to stay and debate policy, but we have done that already. The land is there and the money is available, but there is no political will. Last year local authorities built 1,181 houses. In the Taoiseach's constituency there are 90 acres of vacant land, but 200 kids will be spending their Christmas in bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels in Dublin West. We need a water charges or repeal-style movement to wake the Government out of its lethargy and lack of interest in working-class people who are suffering the brunt of this. While we debate-----
Custom and practice suggests that the Taoiseach takes questions from Leaders, but perhaps the Minister might have more up-to-date information. I call the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The Deputy mentioned the motion, so I think that gives me the right to mention it as well. It is very regrettable that they are using their Dáil time for this stunt. I do not recall ever the Social Democrats bringing forward any legislation to address the housing challenge we face. I do not remember either of its Deputies attending the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government once to quiz me on Rebuilding Ireland when we have the quarterly reports, considering the many times I appear before that committee to deal with those issues. It is regrettable that they have chosen to use their time for a stunt rather than bringing forward an idea that they think might get the support of the House, be passed and do something.
We are constantly working to help families and children out of homelessness. We do that by trying to prevent them entering homelessness in the first place. In Dublin alone this year so far, for every two families that have presented to homeless services, we have found a home for one immediately. So far this year for all of those families and children-----
I am talking about the facts and figures that come from each of the local authorities in Dublin, for which I am responsible. I am also talking about the 800 to 900 families who have exited emergency accommodation and have gone into homes so far this year. Roughly a third of those have gone into new social housing and the other two thirds have gone into the private rental sector. That is not ideal. We are trying to reverse that, which is why we have Rebuilding Ireland in the first place. That is why next year we will build more social housing homes than were built any year this century in any of the boom years.
I gcomhthéacs clár oibre an Rialtais, agus go háirithe rochtain níos éasca do na hoileáin, cuirim fáilte roimh an gcinneadh a rinne an Rialtas Aerfort na Mine a cheannach. An bhfoilseoidh an Rialtas sonraí an chonartha sin agus an praghas a íocfar?
It is on the programme for Government and relates to transport safety. I do not know where the Minister, Deputy Ross, is. Last weekend Cahir scouts, beavers and cubs travelled to Dublin by train. There were 35 scouts and cubs, along with seven gallant leaders who do great work. On the return journey with prebooked tickets, they had no seats. The train did not even have the carriage numbers that were printed on their tickets. They had to sit on tables, under tables, in bathrooms and on the floor, which is highly dangerous. They paid €1,500 for this trip.
I want the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to investigate this because the lives of the children and other passengers were put at serious risk. This is happening regularly but this time it affected 35 small children, daoine óga, and their gallant scout leaders. They paid for prebooked tickets. Two carriages were missing from the train for which they had tickets for the return journey. This is an outrageous situation for Irish Rail. The very least the company can be forced to do is to reimburse the scout troop in Cahir and do something about the safety issues. I am getting calls from all over the country. It is happening regularly. This issue has been aired on Joe Duffy's radio programme and elsewhere. It is outrageous.
If the Deputy could pass them on to me as well, I would be happy to make direct contact with Irish Rail. On the issue of scouting, even though it is a difficult time at the moment we support scouting. Through the sports capital programme many scouting groups throughout the country recently received substantial funding. I recognise the great work they do throughout the country.
On 14 October, we sent a letter collectively, as leaders, to Communicorp asking that it reverse its policy of excluding journalists from The Currencyand The Irish Timesfrom programmes on its radio stations. We got a cursory acknowledgement of the letter but nothing else since. At the same time the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment sent a letter to the company asking the executives to appear before the committee to discuss that issue. Again, the committee has heard nothing back. Yesterday, the committee agreed that we would set aside a date on 22 January where we would again ask company representatives to come to debate the issue.
I ask the Taoiseach to join me and other leaders in this House in asking the company to respond and not completely ignore the unified view of the Oireachtas in this regard. If it fails to do that, would we consider amending the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill which is approaching Committee Stage in this House? Alternatively, it could be amended in the Seanad. It is not right for a company with the public responsibility that broadcasting brings to ignore the views or the interests of this House in the matter. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach would share his views on it.
There are no proposals at the moment to amend the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill. More generally, if any company is invited to appear before an Oireachtas committee, it should accept that invitation and endeavour to do so at a mutually agreed time.
The Government gave a commitment that 40% of foreign direct investment would be allocated to regional areas. In 2002, the Fitzgerald army camp in Fermoy closed and the lands were handed over to IDA Ireland. To this day they have remained unoccupied apart from a few stray horses. Is it possible to get employment into this site? It is a rural part of the country and Fermoy needs some regeneration. As late as last week, the Fermoy Forum was set up to hold consultation on how to progress the image of Fermoy as a vibrant economy locally.
As the Deputy will acknowledge, more than half of the new jobs created in Ireland are now being created outside the Dublin area. More than half of IDA Ireland-supported jobs are outside the Dublin area. I do not have any specific information on the Fermoy site, but I will ask the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to contact the Deputy with an update on efforts IDA Ireland is making to secure an employer for the site. Fermoy is a beautiful town and I have been there many times. It would benefit from an IDA Ireland investment.
The average annual income for farmers at the moment is €8,000, which is below the State pension and below jobseeker's payment. It works out at about €4 an hour. Teagasc estimates that about a third of farmers make a living from the farm, another third of farmers are only making a living because they are working off the farm, and a third of farmers are fully in poverty and in debt.
In September, Deputy Deering, the Fine Gael Cathaoirleach of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, said it was unreasonable for farmers to expect a price that would cover the cost of production. In what other sector of society does the Government think it would be unreasonable to expect a price that would cover the cost of the delivery of its service?
The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Government has no charge over the price of beef. A leaving certificate economic student could tell him that the Government controls the structure of the market and the structure of the market has a massive influence on the price of beef. Given that farming equals poverty for so many, does the Taoiseach not agree that the position of the Minister, Deputy Creed, is now untenable?
Farmers in this country are facing a crisis of enormous proportions. Many of them have looked at other methods of farming. A total of 225 farmers, many of whom are in west Cork, applied for organic status for their farms. There was a significant list of criteria to meet, such as attending courses, joining a certification body and paying planners to draw up plans. Only 55 of these farmers were successful, meaning that 75% of box-ticking farmers were rejected. This is a flawed system that led farmers up the garden path. It is a significant blow to them and to our environment. Will the Taoiseach speak to the Minister, Deputy Creed, and to the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to get the large list of criteria needed to enter organic farming scrapped immediately?
The Minister tried to be helpful and he invited interruptions. Let it go smoothly. Deputies have a right to ask questions until such time as we stick rigidly to that, hopefully, in the next Dáil, as it was in the past. We have strayed somewhat and I am the first to acknowledge it.
I will keep it short and to the point. On the floor of the House yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine gave his statement. Since then, what really happened unfolded on "Today with Sean O'Rourke". Perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality can answer this question and can clarify why Meat Industry Ireland is above the law. Why does it dictate to farmers of this country? It is very unfair that the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine are listening to Meat Industry Ireland and not to An Garda Síochána.
The answer to Deputy Tóibín's question is "No". The answer to Deputy Michael Collins's question is "Yes". I will do that. I might ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he wishes to reply to the other question.
I want to raise the case of Hannah Donnelly from Drogheda again. She has been in hospital since March 2017. In March 2018, medical opinion stated that the best place for her was at home. For the past 19 months, Hannah Donnelly has lain on a hospital bed waiting for a home care support package. Hannah is 18 years of age. She was at home for a few hours last week and was heartbroken that she had to go back to hospital the next day. There is still no discharge date with regard to when Hannah can get her home care support package to enable her to go home to her family. She is desperate to be home with her family. She is 18 years of age and her family are desperate to have her home. There is a local campaign to get her home for Christmas. We want to have her home for Christmas.
I would like the Taoiseach to look at the picture of Hannah I have to hand. She is 18 years of age. Can the Taoiseach tell me when she will get her discharge date and when will she get her home support package?
I will endeavour to be helpful. Once again, I am very sorry to hear about Hannah's case. I hope it will be resolved in the near future. As Deputy Munster well knows, it is illegal for the Minister for Health to make any direction to the HSE to give any individual patient anything, be it a medical card-----
I wish to raise last week's announcement regarding the summer works scheme for national schools across the country, specifically Mullahoran central national school, which submitted an application. The school is devastated that the Department of Education and Skills has rejected its application and has written to the Department to ask it to appeal its decision. The application is for a play area and the surface area around the play area. It is very important. The school's principal, Fionnuala McGahern, would be very anxious for the Taoiseach to look into that.
About 405 schools received funding under the summer works scheme but, as is always the case, it is not possible to fund every application. Perhaps the Deputy would like to raise the matter directly with the Minister for Education and Skills. I am sure he will be able to give her feedback. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle rightly pointed out, he is very friendly and approachable.
The programme for Government commits to developing and enhancing the primary care system. My understanding is that the HSE has proposed cuts to fees for pharmacists, who play a very important role in the supply of primary care. I have been reliably informed by one pharmacist from a rural pharmacy in my parish of Ballyhale, County Kilkenny, who approached me lately that he will have to close his pharmacy because he will lose between €30,000 to €35,000 as a result of this proposal from the HSE. It is also my understanding that the renegotiation of future payments to pharmacies will take place next year. I am asking the Minister for Health to hold off on these cuts, which are to come into force on 1 January 2020, and negotiate next year. Otherwise, we will close pharmacies in the same way as we closed other services in rural Ireland. I ask the Minister to look again at this and to ask the HSE to hold off on these cuts.
I think it is slightly different from the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, measures, as it is a fee-setting process. My understanding is that fees paid to pharmacies approach €500 million per year so it is a very substantial amount of money. The HSE is seeking savings in that context. The number of pharmacies in Ireland has increased in recent years, which is a good thing. These are contractual talks-----
This time last year, the Taoiseach made a statement here regarding the impact of Revenue's review of flat rate expenses. This will affect 600,000 workers, many of whom are low paid. It covers a range of sectors. At that time, the Taoiseach said that no changes would be implemented until 1 January 2020, if at all. He told the House "I will make sure changes are politically proofed before they happen." We are five weeks away from 1 January 2020 and workers do not know if these flat rate expenses will be abolished. Revenue is very clear that the changes are coming in on 1 January. Has the Taoiseach had sight of these changes and has he politically proofed them, as he promised to do this time last year? Does he intend to politically proof them or does he intend to just allow this to happen without any input from the Government? Perhaps he will enlighten the Dáil as to whether the ongoing review by Revenue includes the unvouched expenses that only Ministers and officeholders can claim, notably the €3,500 in laundry expenses that are unvouched and part of the dual allowance. Is the review is just focused on retail workers, nurses, doctors, those within the different professions, bus drivers and all the rest, leaving officeholders and Ministers in this House exempt?
My understanding is that all of these allowances are unvouched. It is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and the latest update I have from the Minister for Finance is that more policy considerations need to be examined and that any changes would not come into effect until the new year. That was a week or two ago, so things may have changed again since then. I will ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to update the Deputy directly.
I will stick to the rules. There is a commitment, on page 140 of the programme for Government, to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the interests of the people north and south of the Border. What is being done in respect of the ongoing and planned projects and innovations in the Border region? What discussions have the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance had with EU officials in respect of cross-Border projects post 2020 in order to ensure that PEACE, INTERREG and other transterritorial programmes will be available in a post-Brexit scenario? Any vacuum or lack of a clear indication of new funding support and delivery mechanisms has an impact on local government, statutory agencies and many community organisations that want to plan, and are planning, many crucial and necessary projects. Without an additional programme, we are in trouble.
Both INTERREG and PEACE funding are of enormous value to Northern Ireland and the Border counties. The question the Deputy has asked is a very pertinent one. We have had initial discussions on the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, which is the next seven-year budget for the EU which will run from 2021 onwards. As part of that, it has been agreed in principle that there will be a new programme called PEACE PLUS, which will replace the PEACE programmes which preceded it. There will still be funding for Border projects and projects in Northern Ireland. I am endeavouring to secure the ongoing inclusion of Northern Ireland, and indeed Wales, in INTERREG. It is very much a part of our negotiating status for the talks on the MFF.
Can the Taoiseach clarify whether the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport received a cross-agency working group report on the illegal use of quad bikes and scramblers? If such a report was received, or if it exists, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has suggested that the cross-agency group recommended that no further actions are needed. Can I be forwarded a copy of this report and the recommendations, if any, that were received?
The programme for Government gives a commitment to improve services for disabled citizens and to improve the lives of people with a physical or mental impairment. Last Thursday, representatives of the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA, appeared before a special sitting of the Joint Committee on Health. They made it crystal clear that if funding for necessary works had been made available, the decision to close the Cuisle centre in Roscommon would not have been made. The health committee has made a formal request in writing to the IWA asking it to pause its decision to close Cuisle this Friday and we should all reiterate that call.
People from all over Ireland use Cuisle, as the Taoiseach probably knows. It offers a unique service. The hotel model being pushed as a replacement is not appropriate and excludes many people. People are very concerned about the closure of this holiday resort. Can the Taoiseach say anything or give any positive news to those families and individuals?
Any decision on this is, of course, for the Irish Wheelchair Association to take. I am told that the Irish Wheelchair Association does not own the existing facility and the lease arrangement in place for it will expire in 2026. Capital investment to upgrade the facility is estimated at a cost of €2 million. The HSE further understands that is a minimum estimate of the costs associated with upgrades and does not include the potential for further works that may arise owing to the current building condition, including the presence of asbestos.
The Taoiseach may have seen reports in the past few days from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which I believe includes our The Irish Timesand Irish Examiner, as well as BBC's "Panorama" programme, in which they have confirmed that there is a vast network of concentration camps in Xinjiang, home of the Uighur nation in north-west China. They have confirmed a massive programme that seems to amount to a form of ethnic cleansing genocide is being perpetrated by the current Chinese regime against the Uighur nation. I have asked the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, four or five times about this issue. Can we continue doing business with a regime that carries out this type of clearly fascist policy? We have also seen the repression of the 7 million people of Hong Kong recently. There are something like 12 million Uighurs. The Chinese ambassador was in this House only last week as part of a friendship group. All Deputies were assigned to different groups, including a Scandinavian group in my case. That was a friendship mission and yet the nation that the ambassador represents seems to be embarked on a form of genocide with this network of concentration camps. What can we do about this at European level and through our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
Ireland has been one of the countries that has taken a very strong position on this and there was a debate on the issue in the UN only last week or the week before that. Ireland was a signatory to a letter of resolution on this and I will make sure a copy of that is passed on to the Deputy.