Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Tráthnóna inné, dhearbhaigh Feidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte do mo chomhghleacaí as Tiobraid Árann, an Teachta Martin Browne, go raibh stad láithreach curtha le scrúdaithe do Covid-19 sna monarchana feola. Sílim go bhfuil sé seo dochreidte, gan chiall agus gearr-radharcach. Tá a fhios againn gurbh iad na clusters sna monarchana seo an cúis ba mhó leis na srianta a cuireadh i bhfeidhm i gcontaetha Chill Dara, Laoise agus Uíbh Fhailí an mhí seo caite.

Yesterday evening, the HSE confirmed to my colleague from Tipperary, an Teachta Martin Browne, that testing for Covid-19 in meat factories had been halted since Tuesday. That is incredibly reckless. It is a short-sighted move that needs to be rectified. Meat factories have been the sites of numerous clusters of infection and were one of the main reasons for the regional lockdowns in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly a few weeks ago. We all know the difficulties that the lockdown caused for businesses, communities and residents of those counties.

There are currently at least four clusters associated with meat factories around the State. Last week, two workers in meat processing plants in Tipperary tested positive for Covid-19. Mass testing of all workers was set to begin yesterday, but instead workers at the factory received a text message informing them that the HSE had ceased Covid-19 testing with immediate effect. No other private industry has had more of an impact on Covid-19 cases than the meat and food processing sector. That is without doubt. Meat factory workers are particularly vulnerable due to the poor working conditions in those factories. Outbreaks in factories lead to increased transmission and risk in the communities where these factories are located and these workers live. That is an obvious fact.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, was on the radio yesterday morning, announcing that serial testing in meat plants had commenced and that the first round would be completed by the end of the week. We now know that these tests had already been cancelled. You could not make this up.

It is more baffling that the Minister for Health answered questions in the Dáil yesterday evening and did not mention this issue even though Deputy Carthy raised the issue of the meat plants with him directly. It would be helpful if the Tánaiste could clear this up for us. Who made this decision? Will the Tánaiste tell us whether the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was aware of this decision when it was made on Tuesday? Was the Minister for Health aware of it? Did he know about it before he spoke in the Dáil yesterday?

We are told, time and again, that there is capacity for 100,000 tests per week. We know that we are not using all of that capacity, so why was this decision taken? That is the real issue at the heart of all of this. The lack of testing is a major problem and getting it right is critical for how we all deal with Covid-19. The Tánaiste knows that the Government has a responsibility to protect the health of communities when it comes to meat plants and these communities and workers deserve better.

Can the Tánaiste answer some simple questions? When was the decision taken? Were the two Ministers aware of the decision? Given that we are not using the full capacity that is available, if capacity for 100,000 tests per week is indeed available, why was a decision taken to not test meat plant workers as scheduled?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for asking this important question and I will do my best to clarify the situation. The HSE commenced a programme of serial testing in meat and food production plants on 21 August. Since then, 13,000 tests have been carried out and 34 cases were detected. The testing of staff at meat and food processing plants has not been cancelled, it has been rescheduled for next week. That decision was made by the HSE. I do not know at what point the various Ministers were informed.

The HSE carries out surveillance testing every few weeks in places where there is a high risk of an outbreak, such as nursing homes, direct provision centres and meat and food processing plants. The HSE is essentially hunting for the virus and testing people who have no symptoms. The number of positive tests that have come back is very small.

At times of high demand, when many patients with symptoms need to be tested, those people have to be prioritised and that is what has happened in the past couple of days. There has been a surge in demand for tests from people with symptoms who must be prioritised. Of course, if somebody in a nursing home, meat plant or direct provision accommodation centre has symptoms, they are also prioritised for obvious reasons.

As we are speaking about Covid-19, I want to take the opportunity to welcome the statement made by the Sinn Féin vice president, Michelle O'Neill, expressing her regret for the Bobby Storey funeral and the events around it. In her own words, it undermined public health messaging in the North. It is late but I think it is timely because it comes at a time when we head into the winter, when Covid instance rates are much higher in Northern Ireland than Ireland and when Belfast has a higher incidence than any other city in Ireland. While I can understand people paying their respects in the streets, I cannot understand or accept the political rally in Milltown Cemetery. This was no graveside oration; Mr. Storey was cremated on the other side of town. It was a political rally in the middle of a pandemic, organised by Sinn Féin and other republicans. Deputy Doherty spoke at that rally and I want to know now if he will apologise for that and whether he will be held to account for it. We have seen a dozen resignations as a result of "golfgate" in the past few weeks. Will anyone in Sinn Féin be resigning as a consequence of this? Does the Deputy believe that Sinn Féin republicans are some sort of higher caste who do not have to obey the same laws as anyone else and follow public health guidance?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I want to go to the core of the issue. Workers in meat plants were supposed to be tested yesterday. A decision was taken at a national level to postpone those tests and they will not be carried out until next week. We know that at least 1,500 Covid cases have been associated with meat plants. We know that the meat plants and the outbreaks within them were the primary cause of the entire lockdown of three counties. Can the Tánaiste confirm that we currently have the capacity to test 100,000 people per week? Of course, people with symptoms should be tested and prioritised but, as the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, outlined in the Dáil yesterday, almost 70,000 tests were completed last week as serial testing continues in nursing homes, direct provision centres and meat processing plants. That means there should be a capacity for nearly 30,000 tests to be carried out in any given week. Why was the decision taken to cancel tests that were supposed to happen in meat factories yesterday and today, given that we know the serious impact that an outbreak in those factories can have on the economy, people and citizens of different counties? Why is a different approach taken to meat plants? There is no transparency. I wonder would the tests in the meat plants be commencing next week if Deputies Martin Browne and Carthy had not broken this story yesterday.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I hope the Deputy will respond to the questions I have asked later in the day. We will be happy to make time for that, or for a debate on the matter.

Testing demand nearly trebled on Monday compared to last week, with a requirement for over 13,000 tests in the community and 3,000 hospital tests, a total of 16,000 in one day. Capacity is approximately 15,000 per day. While demand has fallen since Monday, it remains quite high and the HSE is going to go ahead with the planned meat plant testing next week.

I am informed that we have capacity for approximately 100,000 tests per week, or 15,000 tests per day. The highest that has been done so far is 70,000 in a week and it is something that we will discuss at the Covid Cabinet sub-committee this afternoon.

It is important to point out that, since the beginning of the pandemic, Ireland has done a lot of testing. We have perhaps not done as much as countries such as Singapore or Luxembourg, but we have done much more than many other countries per head of population. We have done more than New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, to name just a few. We are building capacity all the time.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Next week is a big one for the Government. The legislative programme will be announced and the plan for how we are going to live with Covid is also going to be announced and that is very much needed. It is important at this juncture to point out that the public is very much waiting for this and living on every word that is being said by the Government. We need to have a watershed next week whereby all the confusion, messing and internal rivalry within the Government ends. The Government and Ministers must chart a plan, rather than having some Ministers acting as commentators. The Tánaiste is not shy about coming out with statements, to the annoyance of the Taoiseach.

The Minister with responsibility for higher education is, as I have said, acting like an emeritus Minister for Health and the Minister for Health seems to be a spectator in a major game that he does not seem to be a part of. Yesterday, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine did not know testing had stopped in meat factories even though he said it was going on. All of this has to stop. I want next week to be a watershed. The Irish people need it to be a watershed because we are heading into a period that we have never faced before, given the winter. I also want the Tánaiste to cover some things in next week's plan that I think are essential.

I say this in a full and heartfelt way. We need a plan that is elderly proofed. We need to look after our elderly. We are heading into six months of winter, which is a difficult time. We need to ensure that the elderly can live their lives. We also need to make sure that people with disabilities, who are the most vulnerable, are looked after. I am sure the Tánaiste agrees. I ask him genuinely to make sure the plan reflects this. People with disabilities must get their treatments and be able to access their programmes. The elderly, in particular, must be able to get out within health guidelines and have stimulation.

We need to do something about access to sporting activities. We need to allow people to socialise in a limited way, whether that is a game of cards or whatever. The elderly have really felt the restrictions and are facing into a very long winter. We need to prioritise them. That is essential.

As my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, has written to NPHET, we need a plan for the tourism industry and travel. We need to work with our European colleagues to embrace a plan for travel that will work and will give some sort of future to the tourism industry, our travel agents and everybody working in the hospitality sector. I would like that plan to be rolled out as part of this.

I know the issues relating to how we roll out testing can cause difficulties. However, the fact that we stopped testing in meat factories means that we need to show next week that we have a comprehensive testing regime that the public can support 100%. If localised lockdowns are being introduced, that has to be based on a rigorous testing regime so that we know what is going on. That also needs to be outlined.

12:10 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid will meet this afternoon and it will be an opportunity for us to receive an update from the Minister for Health and our public health team and consider a draft of our new plan to live with Covid over the course of the next six to nine months.

In many ways, the first chapter of dealing with this pandemic was about locking down the country, flattening the curve, saving lives, making sure we had time to build up capacity around testing and tracing to prepare our ICUs for what we thought might be a surge in demand, purchasing ventilators and personal protective equipment, PPE, learning how to shield the vulnerable and teaching the public how to protect themselves. We were largely successful in that first chapter.

This new plan is all about the second chapter, which we all know by now is a lot more difficult. It is about suppressing the virus as much as possible while at the same time keeping the country open, including our schools, childcare, regular health services, cancer screening and businesses and employment.

In response to the Deputy's question, I agree that the plan, which will be refined over the course of the next week, will need to have regard to the needs of older people. We need to make sure they are protected and shielded, but we also need to make sure that they are not socially isolated. I know how many older people feel they were socially isolated in the period in which they were asked to cocoon during the first stage of this pandemic, although I have no doubt that saved many lives and reduced morbidity.

Similarly, when it comes to people with disabilities, many of whom also have underlying physical health conditions, we need to make sure they are protected but also that they get the services they need. It is one thing to lose these services for a few weeks or months, but we cannot have a situation whereby people with disabilities get no services for the best part of a year.

The issue of travel and tourism is different. Obviously, there needs to be an economic response to support those sectors. As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I am working to see what we can do in the budget for those particular sectors that are still closed by mandate or are effectively closed as a consequence of the pandemic. While most businesses have been allowed to reopen, including pubs in the next couple of weeks, some sectors are still effectively or mandatorily closed by Government. That includes the live events and commercial art sector, representatives of which I met yesterday. It also includes travel agents, who were out on the streets yesterday.

We appreciate that the sectors which are effectively still closed will need additional help over and above what is being provided to businesses that are at least allowed to open and have a chance to trade. As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, that is something I will be working on with the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath, between now and budget day.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I thank the Tánaiste and sincerely hope he takes on board the points I have made. Another issue I would like him to take on board is the plan next week. From a joined up thinking point of view, it is important that the winter plan to be published by the Department of Health follows quickly and in tandem with the plan being published next week. Non-Covid health issues have been significantly impacted. We need a plan so that members of the public can have confidence that they will engage with our health services and the HSE on all of the different treatments they need.

I want to make two suggestions. I do not think our general practitioners can continue working in the way they are. We will have to move to a process of self-referral for Covid testing, especially in the winter months. The Tánaiste might come back to me on that. The second issue is that we cannot sustain a situation whereby front-line workers, such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, are not doing their jobs and are instead part of the testing regime. GPs cannot sustain what they are doing and we need self-referral. Let us get all of the specialists who are badly needed across the health service out of testing and tracing and back to their own jobs. We should get people we can source to do that sort of work.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. The winter plan is being developed by the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and the HSE. I agree with the Deputy's comments that this needs to be done within the next few weeks and not when winter is already upon us. That is the plan and intention of the Government. We do not know what winter will be like. We cannot know for sure to what extent Covid will be an issue during the winter and whether the current number of cases will continue to rise or fall back. We do not know what the flu season will look like. Indications from the southern hemisphere, where it starts, and the vaccination programme we are introducing will perhaps mean that the flu season this winter will not be as bad as it was in previous winters. We cannot take that risk. A winter plan will prepare for a serious flu season and serious challenges as a consequence of Covid.

On self-referral for Covid testing, it is something we would like to do an ideal world. I am not sure it is something we can do. We need to consider it seriously, but we need to bear in mind that if we allow people to self-refer for tests, there is a possibility that medical scientists in our laboratories, who are working unbelievably hard, may be overwhelmed. I appreciate the hard work that GPs are doing. They are currently our gatekeepers for testing. They are run off their feet. Moving that problem on to laboratory and medical scientists does not solve the problem. We need to make sure we have the capacity to do it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move now to the co-leader of the Social Democrats, Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Getting students back to school has been a major undertaking and a monumental task at individual school level, supported by a subvention of €375 million from the public purse. In addition, this week the leaving certificate results were issued and tomorrow CAO offers will be made. There have been positive Covid cases in some schools and a variation in how they have been handled. All of this has generated queries.

It is easy to miss another issue which has not received sufficient attention. On 18 August, NPHET recommended that school transport for secondary schools students apply the same social distancing as is the case with public transport. That was understood to mean that an additional 1,600 buses would be required.

Because of the requirements being changed so close to school reopening, there was a very short lead-in time. That is almost expired. Even more problems will emerge in the next week or two as a consequence of that. Many people are saying that there was a huge effort and financial resources deployed in getting schools opened but there is a sense of disbelief and frustration that getting students to the same schools is still chaotic. There is no end in sight and it is impossible for parents to get information. The school transport system causes real problems every year but Covid has amplified those problems. For those with a medical card and attending the nearest school, transport is provided. For those who do not have a medical card and are attending the nearest school, if there is spare capacity, they will be accommodated for a charge. These are called as concessionary passengers. If there is no spare capacity, they have to make their own arrangements.

Many of those who are not attending the nearest school are doing so because there is no capacity in the nearest school and they could not get a place. Because of this they are not necessarily entitled to a place on the school bus because they are not attending the nearest school. Schools and parents sometimes organise private sector buses between them. The new social distancing requirement also apply to them and there is no subsidy. To be viable for private operators, they are effectively saying that parents will have to pay for to school places to achieve the social distancing unless there is a subsidy. That is not attainable for some for households with multiple children.

In addition, Dublin Bus normally introduce a school timetable when schools return but they have been unable to do so because the National Transport Authority, NTA, have not funded such a timetable.

Is additional funding being made available to deliver the school transport, including the NTA and the Dublin Bus timetable? What is the timeline for getting transport fully in place? Will a subsidy be considered and provided for those who have to hire additional private buses because of the new social distancing rules?

12:20 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I know that a large number of Deputies, particularly in rural constituencies, are getting many representations about school transport, as we always do at this time of year, but they are of a very different nature this year because of the pandemic. It is absolutely the case that there have been positive Covid-19 cases among schoolchildren since schools reopened. Back in August I said that that would be the case. Some people criticised me at the time and said it was bad messaging or some such stuff. It was not messaging; I was just telling the truth and telling it as it is and making sure that parents would be prepared for the new normal in our schools, in that there will be cases among schoolchildren. So far as there is very little evidence of school transmission, which is really encouraging. We have not had significant school outbreaks. That may yet happen but it has not happened yet. The vast majority of children and teachers are much more likely to get Covid-19 in their own or somebody else’s home than they are in schools, which are very controlled and sanitary environments now, largely because of the very good work that has been done by teachers and school management to make them ready for living with Covid-19.

We are committed to ensuring that schools remain open safely and that school transport will play a vital role in that. We have invested more than €11 million in ensuring that school transport is safe. In line with new public health advice issued on 18 August, we are working to achieve 50% capacity on school buses for post-primary students. However, it was not possible to roll that out on 1,600 routes within two weeks. That change in advice came very late in the day.

We are taking a practical approach backed up with real resources to assist schools. In conjunction with the 50% capacity target, we are also working to accommodate concessionary students. As to the additional funding that the Deputy has asked about, €11.3 million has been provided for additional hygiene, sanitisation and PPE requirements on the school transport scheme. This allowance is in addition to that provided during the period of school closures between March and June, during which the Department continued to pay contractors 50% of their normal rate, even though school transport was not operating. That cost €26 million. The allowance for additional hygiene, sanitisation and PPE requirements will be kept under review and further engagement will take place with Bus Éireann, as necessary, when services resume.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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The Tánaiste did not refer to Dublin Bus and I would appreciate if he would do that. While this is a dominant issue in rural areas, it is not exclusively so. The school route timetables have not been reintroduced and we are being told that they are not being funded by the NTA.

He referred to PPE and sanitising the buses. Is there additional funding for this because these buses are going to be half full? More buses will be needed. Is there money for those additional buses? How will the concessionary passengers be accommodated? I see hundreds of parents in their cars just in my own locality every morning who are doing this because they have no school transport. They cannot go to work and their lives are being disrupted by this as well. This is an investment that requires to be made. The schools are open and the children and students need to get there. When will all of those buses be in place? Surely, there is a plan of action or an indicative timeline. Can the Tánaiste give some information to people, even in a general way, because there is a dearth of information at the moment?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I will have to come back to the Deputy in respect of her specific question on Dublin Bus as I do not have that information to hand.

Among the actions that the Department of Education and Skills is taking is the provision of grant support to parents to help them with the cost of private transport arrangements where they want it. So far just under 1,000 parents or guardians have contacted the Department in regard to seeking a refund.

Under the terms of the school transport scheme, children are eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school as determined by the Department and Bus Éireann having regard to ethos and language. The Government is working with Bus Éireann to ensure that capacity is rolled out at the 50% space and that space is opened up for concessionary students. No tickets will issue to post-primary late applicant payees until such time as routes are rolled out at 50% for those who applied and paid by the deadline of 4 August. As routes are rolled out, if capacity is available, tickets will be allocated at that point to those applicants.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Tánaiste and call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett from Solidarity-People Before Profit.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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For more than 150 days now, more than 1,000 workers have waged a truly inspiring and heroic struggle for a just settlement following the ruthless and cynical behaviour of Debenhams, their employer, to execute a tactical liquidation in order to leave those workers, who had given decades of service, absolutely high and dry without a penny. Due to their struggle, they have forced the issue of the injustice done to them to the top of the political agenda and although we have had sympathy from the Government, it continues to hide behind various excuses and is doing absolutely nothing to resolve the dispute to ensure that those workers get justice.

This morning, the Taoiseach said on the radio that we cannot invent a scheme in order to give justice to these workers. I strongly challenge that. First, the Debenhams’ workers are in the plight they are in because of the failure, specifically, of the Government that the Tánaiste led to address the issues that arose from Clerys and other types of tactical liquidations over many years. The Tánaiste, specifically, and his Department, have a moral responsibility to get a just settlement for these workers.

The claim that this cannot be done is belied by the fact that although KPMG's offer of €1 million for 1,000 workers who had decades of service was absolutely insulting, that it could make any offer at all proves it can be done. If KPMG can offer €1 million, it can offer the €13 million that is needed to give the two plus two solution. It is unconscionable that Revenue, which is owed €20 million, would not waive its position as creditor when it has benefited from the taxes paid by those workers for 24 years. Those taxes would more than cover the cost of putting the Debenhams workers rather than Revenue at the top of the creditors list. The Government could then go after Debenhams, a company KPMG says has no assets but it turns out has €95 million in the bank, a €2.2 billion turnover and, in the past week or two, revealed that it had €50 million more than it thought it had. It was hiding behind subsidiary companies to load debt on Debenhams in order to avoid paying workers a just settlement. The Tánaiste's excuses will not fly. The workers in Cork ended their occupation this morning and have decided to put the focus now on the responsibility of the Government to give them the just settlement they deserve and which it is responsible for, given that it failed to legislate on the Duffy Cahill report during the Tánaiste's years in government.

12:30 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this question. I believe the former staff of Debenhams have been treated very badly by their employer in the way these redundancies came about, and they have our sympathies. Like many people, I have been impressed by, and respect, the campaign they have waged for nearly 160 days. They have shown extraordinary resilience and real strength but it is also the reason I do not like to see them being promised outcomes that we all know, even though some of us will only admit it privately, are not possible to achieve. That is not right and it is not honest.

In terms of the Government's role, we will make sure the legal rights of the workers are fully vindicated. That means making sure they get at least two weeks per year of service of statutory redundancy pay. If the liquidator in the company cannot pay that, we will pay for it out of the Social Insurance Fund and pursue it later. We will make sure they get whatever welfare payments and income support they are entitled to. We will make sure they are given opportunities to retrain, access adult education and help to find a new job.

Anything additional to that - anything extra - could only be secured in negotiations between the union and the liquidator. I believe those negotiations should resume, as the Taoiseach said yesterday. I believe Mandate, the trade union, is doing its very best. I heard the head of the union on a radio programme yesterday saying it will do its best to secure the best deal possible. The best deal possible may not be the best deal and may not be a good deal but it will try to secure the best deal possible. I believe Mandate has acted in good faith in that regard, working on behalf of its members. We continue to engage with Mandate and ICTU to assist in any way we can do so. The Government has had a good engagement with congress in recent days, examining possible changes to employment rights law that might give collective agreements more legal weight in situations like this but that will require a degree of work. The Minister of State, Deputy English, corresponded with Ms Patricia King, the head of ICTU, on this only the other day.

On two other points, it is disingenuous to make a connection between the Clerys dispute and this dispute. Clerys was a very different situation. There was a substantial property asset on O'Connell Street and because of that, the owners of that asset were able to make a settlement offer to the workers. The Debenhams case is very different. The only asset appears to be some stock in the stores, probably valued at approximately €10 million, and the value of that is reducing every day this dispute goes on. There are also many other claims on that asset. There are claims from workers who have unpaid pay and annual leave, claims from other businesses, for example, that have unpaid debts, claims from local authorities for unpaid rates and claims from the Irish public for unpaid taxes. The Revenue Commissioners have no authority in law to waive somebody's tax obligations. This is public money. It belongs to all the people of Ireland. There are times when the Revenue Commissioners are not able to collect certain taxes but they cannot simply waive tax when they are able to collect it. It would be very unfair on the Irish people for the Revenue Commissioners to suddenly be given the power, which they do not currently have and could not be given retrospectively anyway, to say that some companies and some people do not have to pay their taxes. If taxes can be recovered, the Revenue Commissioners have an obligation on behalf of the Irish people to make sure those taxes are paid.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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To be clear, the points I put to the Tánaiste were not points that I dreamed up. They came directly from the Debenhams workers I was talking to this morning. They are their arguments and their proposals, and I agree with them.

I am glad the Tánaiste mentioned Clerys because what the Debenhams workers pointed out this morning is that precisely the same situation operated in Clerys. The Clerys owners tried to do the same trick that Debenhams is doing. There were two companies in Clerys. There was a trading company that had no assets - none - and then there was a property company that owned the building. The workers still got a deal. It was not a very good deal but it was better than the deal they would have got had they not fought. That is exactly what is going on here. The claim that Debenhams Ireland does not have assets is not true. There are assets worth millions in the stores. Moreover, artificial debt was loaded on the company and there is a retail business still operating, all run by a parent company that has massive assets. This is a manipulation of the situation and, therefore, it is right and correct, particularly because of the Government's failure over years to address the issues arising out of Clerys and other disputes, to say that they will secure the moneys necessary to pay the two plus two.

I ask the Tánaiste not to forget the point I made about all the taxes the Debenhams workers paid to Revenue, which give them a moral claim on the Revenue's position on the creditors list.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I have engaged with the workers too. I have met them. I have engaged with Mandate, the trade union, and ICTU. I have spoken directly to Debenhams UK and I have sought advice from the Attorney General. The facts that I have are different from the facts the Deputy has. The basic fundamental facts differ as follows. Clerys was a very different situation. There was a very substantial and valuable asset, a building on O'Connell Street, and its owners were able to make an ex gratiasettlement to the workers. In this case, there are not assets of that value. There is stock that may be worth €10 million, which is diminishing in value every day, and there are many other claims on that asset. Those who have claims will not receive all of the money that they perhaps would like to receive.

I have spoken to Debenhams UK and I have it in writing from the company that it is a UK based company and a separate legal entity in a different country. It says it has put €30 million into Debenhams Ireland over the past couple of years. This company was in trouble for a long time. It was in examinership three or four years ago. Debenhams UK says it has put €30 million into it. It will not get that money back. It has laid off staff in the UK and its UK staff have only got statutory redundancy. While the Deputy says the company has €90 million in the bank, that cannot possibly be the full story because Debenhams UK is in examinership or administration. A company that has massive assets in the bank does not end up in examinership or administration. If it has massive amounts of money in the bank, it must also have massive liabilities and debts.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That concludes Leaders' Questions for today. I understand the Government Chief Whip has a business proposal to put to the House.