Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. All of us value the independence of the Judiciary and every measure must be taken to protect that. I appreciate the events as set out by the Taoiseach. The Judiciary chose an informal process of its own and it reported on the matter of Mr. Justice Woulfe's attendance at a golfing event in Clifden. I hear also the Taoiseach's determination that the Oireachtas would take no further steps. However, the Chief Justice expressing no confidence in a member of the Bench remains problematic. I believe there ought to be some mediated solution to this particular issue.
On a wider matter, it is essential for the Oireachtas that the Government is fully accountable and that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, would attend and answer all of the relevant and pertinent questions around the appointment process of Mr. Justice Woulfe to the Bench.
It is in order as far as I am concerned to discuss here the process of selection within the House provided we do not stray into the area of personal suitability that would reflect on any individual that has been selected.
No. The Sinn Féin Whip spoke to the Ceann Comhairle in advance of the sitting to indicate that if the Taoiseach makes a significant statement, the Opposition should get an opportunity to respond to it. I think that is only fair.
With respect, I called the Deputy under Leaders' Questions. I accept that the Taoiseach has made a brief statement and that the Deputy may want to make a brief statement. I am quite happy with that but we need to move on to her Leaders' question.
I have made my case to the Taoiseach. I wish to make it clear that it is essential that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, makes herself available to the House to make a full statement and to take questions.
Last night, an overwhelming majority of Dublin city councillors, including some colleagues of the Taoiseach, voted against transferring public land to a private developer. The councillors took a stand for public housing on public land to meet social and affordable need. They know this is the only way to tackle this city's overwhelming housing crisis. The proposal for Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock was a bad deal. It would have seen a very valuable site gifted to a private developer for free. Half of the proposed homes would have been sold at unaffordable open market prices and the 20% that were meant to be affordable were not affordable. The full cost of these homes would have been €325,000 for a one-bedroom home and up to €380,000 for a three-bedroom house. That is off the wall and it is certainly not affordable for the vast majority of working people. Under this deal, the council would have been paying over the odds for the social homes and, worst of all, the developer would have pocketed full market value of the land, land that it got for free, meaning significant profits for the developer.
This crazy deal represents the very worst of Fine Gael housing policy. It is proof positive that as long as housing policy is directed by wealthy developers, we will never fix this housing crisis. The refusal of the previous Government to fund large-scale public housing developments left councils with few options, but it does not have to be that way. We can move on from a generation having to settle for the box room of their parents' home as a home for their own families, from couples scrimping and saving every spare euro but still not being able to get a deposit together, and from young people being ripped off by sky-high rents. We can get a good deal for people who need affordable housing and social housing. The Government can fund councils to deliver public housing on public land to meet social and affordable housing need.
The Oscar Traynor Road development can proceed in the same timeframe as originally envisaged, but it will need Government support. It needs the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to work with Dublin City Council to secure a long-term, low-interest European Investment Bank loan and a serviced sites fund grant from his Department. In other words, it needs exactly the same deal as the one being used for St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore, Dublin 8. That deal would ensure affordable rents, at approximately €800 per month, and affordable purchases, at €230,000 or less.
Will the Taoiseach support public housing on public land? Will he work with Dublin City Council to ensure all of the homes on the Oscar Traynor Road site are genuinely affordable? Finally, will he instruct the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to assist Dublin City Council to secure the funding that is required to develop the Oscar Traynor Road site as a matter of urgency?
First, by way of clarification, my earlier statement was on behalf of the Government. That is very important. It is a matter for the Oireachtas in its own time to decide how it wishes to proceed. That is an important point. My earlier statement in terms of the judicial issue was on behalf of the Government because the Government has a constitutional duty and responsibility relating to the judicial arm of government in terms of confidence in it. I think I might have inadvertently said I had spoken on behalf of the Oireachtas. I did not. I spoke on behalf of the Government in my contribution earlier. It is a matter for the Oireachtas independently to take its own initiative if it so wishes.
On the question of Oscar Traynor Road, we hear a great deal of rhetoric and there are many fixed ideological positions from different political parties on housing. As a general plea, sometimes we will have to leave ideology outside the room and start building houses in some shape or form. I attended a Cabinet committee on housing yesterday. This talk about developers is nonsense. We do not have a superfluity of developers any more. We will not build 20,000 houses this year because of Covid-19. The ESRI says we should build 33,000 housing units per annum to try to keep up with population growth. We will not meet that target this year because of Covid, and we will not meet it next year. We will try to get to 25,000. Of that 25,000, 12,500 will be State builds or approved housing body builds. It will be social housing. That leaves 10,000 to 12,000 private sector houses being built. We all need to concentrate on the reality. It is grand to say we just want it all one way. Some people want cost rental, which is valid. I have great respect for the cost rental model, but there will have to be a mix in different sites.
This Government has no responsibility for the evolution of the Oscar Traynor Road site, and it is not appropriate that an attempt is being made by the Deputy, and indeed in Dublin City Council in its motion, to enjoin the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as if it is now his problem and he must resolve it. This has been ongoing in its most recent phase since 2016. Dublin City Council's executive had progressed the plan to develop 853 homes on the site, on the basis of 30% social housing, 20% affordable housing and 50% private housing. The approach was agreed by the council's housing strategic policy committee in 2016 and there was agreement by the full council in January 2017, by 58 votes to four. The council executive has contended that the council members' voting down of its own proposal may set this site back five to eight years. The executive said, regarding the council's contention that it would develop the site itself, that Dublin City Council is not a developer or a construction contractor, and the expertise for large-scale construction work of this nature is specific and complex. The council executive is saying that it would take on substantial legal planning and, above all, funding and financial risks associated with undertaking a development of this scale. In any event, that was not the model that the councillors had agreed in January 2017.
Apparently, the site has been vacant since the 1970s. It was prioritised for development via the housing land initiative and the approach was put to the council chamber. The council's executive advice, that is, the city management, is that an exhaustive process has been undertaken over recent years. It considered the most effective way to develop the site in terms of mixed tenure and from the financial perspective. There was a motion to defer the vote on the issue to have further engagement with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the developers selected by the council and Dublin City Council's consultative group. However, the council members rejected that and agreed with the proposal that the council would develop the site itself, and that the executive should write to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for an urgent meeting with regard to developing the site for public housing, referred to as the St. Michael's model. The Dublin City Council St. Michael's site includes 30% social housing and is 70% the cost-rental model, the cost rental element of which is anticipated to be funded via Dublin City Council's borrowing from the European Investment Bank, EIB.
The Minister has asked the chief executive of Dublin City Council for a report on the issues, with a view to engaging with Dublin City Council on what the next steps forward are. That is the current position. The Minister will meet with Dublin City Council, but I do not suggest that this is all going to be simple or that it will all happen next month. The decision is significant.
This is not a matter of ideology, but of pure common sense. That is why I assume the Taoiseach's colleagues on Dublin City Council, or a good number of them, voted down this proposal. It is a matter of proper standards, the right approach to housing policy and a matter of logic that one does not hand over massively valuable sites to private developers so that they can profit and ordinary working people are still left outside the housing market.
The sum of €380,000 for a three-bedroom home is not affordable to the vast majority of working people. That is the reality. The Taoiseach is quite correct: the site is vacant since the 1970s. Let it be recorded that the previous Government the Taoiseach supported by way of confidence and supply refused the fund the proper development of public housing on this hugely valuable site. I am asking the Taoiseach if he will change that policy.
In relation to ideology, it was a general point, not specific to this site, but it is an important point. Our party believes in social housing. That is why this year's budget is historic. Very substantial funding is going to public housing. A record sum of €3.3 billion has been allocated for housing, but we need to get projects going. We need to get houses built as well. I ask people to reflect on the fact that we are still rejecting proposals in 2020 for something that started in 2016, with the potential for 850 houses, no matter who is at fault. We are in a housing crisis and people need houses. That is all I am saying.
Others do not, but we believe in the concept of home ownership in anchoring communities. In any event, there will be a mix of housing. We developed the concept of mixed developments well over two decades ago on particular sites. People need to engage with a view to getting this issue resolved as reasonably and quickly as they possibly can because an awful lot of people need housing at different levels.
The time is up. Before I call Deputy Barry, at the end of Leaders' Questions those leaders who wish to respond very briefly to what the Taoiseach said at the outset will be given an opportunity.
Last Wednesday afternoon at three minutes to two, baby Grace O'Leary, 6 lb 6 oz, was delivered at Cork University Maternity Hospital. Baby Grace is known in Cork as the picket line baby. Her mother, Claire, has been picketing for seven and a half months now at Debenhams. Many people, myself included, feel that it is a real sign of foot dragging on the part of the Government that the dispute is still not settled after nearly the duration of a full pregnancy. Claire's colleagues are forced to picket again today in cold weather and in a lockdown because liquidators, KPMG, refused to give any guarantee that they would not attempt to move stock during level 5. The picket continues, despite a High Court injunction, and the threat of court summonses and even jailing. These workers, overwhelmingly women, want to know if the Government intends to intervene to resolve this dispute in time for them and their long-suffering families to have a decent Christmas.
The Taoiseach told Deputy Gino Kenny last week that he has a difficulty letting some moneys owed to the State from this liquidation go to the workers, as it would "create a precedent that would allow other employers to get off the hook from their obligations". Frankly, this is nonsense. It is a matter of indifference to an employer as to how moneys are divided up from the liquidation of a business. Not a single extra company will go into liquidation should the State intervene to ensure that Debenhams workers get their two plus two.
The fact that the Debenhams workers have been offered €1 million above the statutory redundancy has already set a precedent. The Government has pledged to bring in new legislation to strengthen workers' rights in a liquidation situation and to make sure that there is never again a case like Debenhams. If the Government is serious about that, it need not worry about precedent because surely the Debenhams' case will be the last of its kind. I believe the Government has options here. It can ask the liquidator to put moneys owed to the State towards the workers. It can instruct the liquidator to prioritise payment to the workers from sale of the stock. The stock is valued at a greater sum than the claim being made by the workers.
It can take the road being suggested by the ICTU by increasing employers' social insurance contributions, creating a new pot, and making an advance payment to these workers. Talented civil servants are working for the Government. The Taoiseach can ask them to find an alternative creative solution to this deadlock. Where there is a will there is a way. When will the Taoiseach meet these workers and their trade union representatives? Will the Government put something on the table to resolve this dispute and give these workers the Christmas they deserve?
I congratulate Claire on the birth of Grace O'Leary. I was aware of the pregnancy from my conversations with organisers of the picket over recent months and their concerns for Claire during her pregnancy in what has been a very difficult situation arising from the liquidation of Debenhams and the failure, in my view, to honour the collective agreement Debenhams had entered into with the workers. The workers are not being treated fairly.
I will meet representatives of Mandate to discuss the issue further and see if we can find a way to deal with this. It is not easy, and it is not simple. I have consistently warned that those who claim it is simple and easy are misrepresenting the situation. The idea that in every liquidation in the future the State would offer up whatever it was owed would be a real incentive to rogue employers of the future. Let us not pretend that in the future people could not exploit company law or exploit situations. The Deputy is suggesting setting a completely new precedent which would have significant implications that would need to be examined. We have committed to giving greater parity to collective agreements in future liquidation situations or equal parity to others. That should happen and the Government is prepared to introduce legislation to facilitate that.
In trying to resolve this current row it is about seeing what we can do to try to support the workers over and above what they will be receiving from the State. The State is honouring its role here and meeting its commitments on statutory redundancy. In this case the private sector has not met its commitments. That is the core of the issue. Historically the raison d'êtreof statutory redundancy has been that the State is there to give a very basic level of redundancy to those made redundant in the event of the failure of their primary employers to do so. That is always the context around situations like this.
Notwithstanding the real hardship and difficulties people are going through, it is not that simple to just change what has been established precedent in this matter and also to do so without a range of unintended consequences.
The demand is not for the statutory redundancy but for two plus two as the Taoiseach knows. Once again, he has told the House that it is difficult. No one ever said it would be otherwise, but it is a damn sight easier than standing 222 days on a picket line with winter kicking in and the threat of the law hanging over their heads. Previous taoisigh sat in that seat and grappled with far more complex issues, including armed conflict in Northern Ireland; I could give ten examples. The Debenhams liquidation should not be that hard to sort out. It is not mission impossible here.
I welcome that the Taoiseach is meeting representatives of Mandate. It is important that that meeting includes the shop stewards. Two and a half weeks ago KPMG met the workers at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. KPMG offered less than it did in September. Inevitably and not surprisingly talks collapsed. It is now the Taoiseach's turn. He is meeting the union and he should meet the shop stewards. He must put something on the table if this discussion is to have a chance of success and if these workers are to get what they deserve, a decent Christmas with their families.
I accept the Deputy has consistently raised this. He said that no one ever said it would not be difficult. I beg to differ; the Deputy has always suggested it would be very easy. From the get-go he suggested to the workers and everybody that this is easy and can be solved by Government doing X, Y and Z.
Deputy Barry has been suggesting that it is an easy thing to fix. It is not as easy as that. I have never said that. I have always said it is going to be challenging and very difficult. I respect the workers for the stance they have taken. I also respect the Deputy for the fact that he has consistently raised their case. We are going to see, with other colleagues in government, whether we can engineer some response here. It is extremely challenging and difficult. It is not a question of simply saying that whatever the State is owed in the liquidation can be taken out and given to the redundancy pot. That has wide-ranging implications and, deep down, the Deputy must know that.
I wish to raise, in the context of Covid-19, the issue of publicans throughout the country. In recent days we have heard talk of new legislation being brought in to stop people from selling drink from pubs for consumption off site. This has been looked at and is creating a frenzy within the family of the publicans who do not know what is happening from day to day. The see the reaction to the scenes from last weekend as a knee-jerk one.
If we want a safe environment for people to have a social drink in, the best way to do it is through the licensed premises that operate a safe and controlled environment. I am not asking the Taoiseach to state today whether the pubs will open for Christmas but I am asking him to engage with the vintners' federations to make sure that they know in advance what they need to do if they are to open. Pubs have been open, shut, open and shut again. Publicans have a lot of money tied up in stock and in credit notes with drinks suppliers. They do not have cash to live on. They are saying to me and to a lot of other Deputies that they need to be treated with a bit of respect. They are licensed, compliant and will not open their premises unless they can do so under the strict rules that will be in place. I see that myself right across my constituency of Galway East.
In the interests of having a safe environment for people to have a social drink, will the Taoiseach consider my suggestion? The alternative, as we know, is to have the shebeens, which are in existence, and the house parties, which are uncontrolled with no social distancing. Even this morning I heard on my local radio station of a taxi driver who brought people home to a house from a party in another place at about 7 o'clock this morning in Galway city and they were reeking of drink. This is what is going on and we need to get drinking back to a social, controlled and safe environment.
I had a call 20 minutes ago from a publican in Monivea and he said it is a simple ask. Please engage with the industry to make sure that we can open the pubs, if they are to be opened, and to give them notice to do that. They have difficulties with finding staff and organising things to get themselves up and running again. They are at the end of the line. I ask the Taoiseach to show respect to them. I know it is difficult but they need to be engaged with now rather than being left waiting for an announcement that they will be allowed to open or not and being given very short notice.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government took the decision to move to level 3, which had significant implications for hospitality in general and for pubs, then decided to restrict household visits, moved to level 4 in some counties, and then to level 5 across the entire country. What was the motivation behind all of that? The motivation was simply to reduce community transmission of the virus. Why? We wanted to reduce the number of people who will die from the virus, to reduce the number of people who will have illness and prolonged illness because of the virus, and to reduce the spread of the virus. That is the only motivation for these restrictions. There is no other motivation. Believe me, the Government would like nothing better than to reopen society tomorrow morning or next week if that was possible.
Level 5 has worked. Level 3 had an impact and level 5 has had an impact to such an extent that we are the third best performing country in Europe in reducing the number of cases and the 14-day incidence. In recent days that has gone back up again. Some of the numbers have gone up but we are still third best in Europe. We should acknowledge that.
It is important to acknowledge that due to the hard work and sacrifices of people across the country, we have made significant progress. That is very significant for our hospitals. It is also very significant in terms of keeping our schools open, which has been a significant achievement since September on behalf of all those involved in our school communities. We have kept construction open. We have kept quite a lot of non-Covid health services open as well. That has all been enabled by the restrictions we brought in. It has been enabled by the sacrifices of the people. They have sacrificed a lot, including, for example, not being able to go the funeral of a loved one. That is very tough on people. Restricting people from visiting another household is a very tough sacrifice for them to make. Not being able to go out and socialise is a sacrifice that people are making. Not being able to go beyond 5 km is a very big restriction on personal liberty and freedom.
Juxtaposed against that are the scenes of last weekend and the previous weekend, where large crowds have gathered outside takeaway facilities. It is problematic in terms of the overall messaging and maintaining and underpinning confidence in the sacrifices people have made. We need to acknowledge that. It is why enforcement of existing laws is important, and we will have further engagement with the Garda in that regard. The key point is that this issue needs to be highlighted and it needs to be responded to.
In terms of engagement with different sectors, we will engage with publicans. However, I have to say that Covid thrives where crowds gather. This has implications, and has had implications, for the hospitality sector. When we went into level 5, we said we would try to exit on 1 December into level 3. I will talk to Deputies on this issue later and we will engage with sectors in advance of any decision the Government takes.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. To be clear, I am not advocating that we change anything. I, too, acknowledge that the people of this country have made a huge sacrifice, and continue to do so, and that all the restrictions that are there are necessary. I would also say that what we saw at the weekend, with crowds gathering, is unacceptable and is flying in the face of what the majority of people are trying to do. My concern, and the concern of publicans, is not so much that they want to be open for business but that they want to know, if they are going to open, how they will manage it safely. The engagement with them is very important.
As the Taoiseach says, Covid transmission will thrive where we have people congregating. The fear I have is that if we do not have some sort of social outlet, in a licensed and safe way, over the Christmas period, we will have unofficial, unsafe and uncontrolled gatherings like we saw last weekend. That is a difficulty and I know it is not easy to make any decision. I repeat that I am not asking the Taoiseach to reopen the pubs but just to engage with publicans.
I fully appreciate the Deputy's question and his motivations. As I have said, we will engage with different sectors. We are very conscious of the enormous fiscal intervention that the Government, on behalf of the State, has had to make to underpin as many businesses and jobs as we possibly can during levels 3, 4 and 5, because the impact is very severe. It is estimated, for example, that the wage subsidy scheme, from its introduction last March to next March, will cost some €5.5 billion. There are 350,000 people on the pandemic unemployment payment at the moment and it is costing €102 million a week. The new Covid restrictions support scheme, which assists businesses that have been closed for some length of time or the turnover of which has gone way down, will cost a very significant amount as well. The issue of supporting and underpinning industries, particularly the hospitality, travel and tourism sector, is one that is constantly within the Government's sights. Unprecedented interventions have been made across the board to try to keep the edifice of jobs and business intact during this pandemic.
Today, I am going to concentrate on my constituency of Cork South-West. It is a constituency that has seen little real Government funding for decades. Such funding can, and has been, a game changer in other constituencies. Our roads, such as the N71 and the R586, have seen only pothole and storm damage repair funding down through the years.
The only improvement to the N71 that gave thought to the future was the Skibbereen bypass opened in 2003. Some 17 years later, the promised bypass in Innishannon and the southern and northern relief roads in Bandon have been abandoned by the State as budget after budget has omitted these projects from any plans, just as they have omitted passing bays on the N71 from Bandon to Skibbereen and the R586 from Bandon to Dunmanway and Bantry. These omissions mean that the job-starved west Cork cannot encourage the creation of good jobs as a result of bad roads infrastructure that has been neglected for decades.
Speaking to those who want to develop Clonakilty, I have heard that plans to develop 600 badly needed houses are in real jeopardy due to a lack of funding being spent by Irish Water, which will result in the town facing water shortages in the not-so-distant future. The rural regeneration fund has given out millions over recent years but the only shovel-ready project the council has put forward in years, the Schull harbour development project, which would have guaranteed dozens of jobs in a rural community, has been scandalously overlooked for funding while other projects across the country which were only aspirational received millions. Businesses are being flooded in Bantry town on a nearly weekly basis. They have been pleading for funding from the Office of Public Works for decades to carry out works but have been left to fend for themselves.
The Taoiseach may tell me that these issues arose under previous governments and that change is coming, but his Government had its chance last week with the announcement of €63.5 million in greenway funding, not one brown cent of which came to west Cork to fund great greenway projects such as those proposed to run from Cork to Kinsale, from Inishannon to Bandon and along many other parts of west Cork's old railway line. Greenway cycling and walking routes could have easily been rolled out in these areas and would have been a huge boost to those areas if developed but again the Taoiseach's Government overlooked this opportunity.
The Taoiseach will say that it is easy for me to point out what is wrong in west Cork without seeking a solution. One solution I will put to the Taoiseach today is the establishment of a special task force for west Cork. If set up, such a task force would have to have a clear focus on jobs and funding for our roads and important projects in west Cork, which are overlooked year after year.
With regard to Bandon, in a recent Zoom meeting I had with the Bandon Business Association I saw that its members are full of energy and have many ideas about how to pick up their town after Covid-19, but they need state aid. They need the State to focus on the town's needs. They spoke of the need for the northern relief road and the urgent need to finish the southern relief road if the town is to make any headway. They spoke of a new focus from IDA Ireland on jobs for Bandon. There are serious questions over IDA Ireland. When did it last announce jobs for Bandon? These are all matters on which the task force should concentrate if set up. Bandon has also seen a major lack of investment in its educational needs as children are refused entry to the secondary school. I ask the Taoiseach to set up such a task force for west Cork immediately to put us on a level playing pitch with the rest of the country.
I thank the Deputy for raising a range of issues pertaining to west Cork. He may, at any stage, raise issues with me if he wishes. Deputies Christopher O'Sullivan and Cairns have come to me with individual projects. When the flooding happened, for example, we were able to respond quickly to some of the issues that arose. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, in particular was alert and quick in responding to the needs of the various towns that were flooded.
The Deputy talked about high-quality jobs. I was in Clonakilty in September and the enterprise park in that town has been a particular success, as the Deputy will know, as a result of historic investment. I was there for the announcement of 150 additional jobs by Global Shares, which brings the total number it employs to approximately 500. That company will grow again. It is a very exciting and interesting company. I was at its foundation when I was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It is high-tech and based in Clonakilty. It demonstrates the capacity of Clonakilty and other towns to attract quality companies of that kind because of the good quality of life. As the Deputy will know, there is a very enterprising culture and spirit across west Cork, particularly in the agrifood industry which has grown out of the various co-ops from Carberry to Barryroe. These are high-quality, effective co-operatives that create employment in their localities. Before Covid, the area had thriving food, culture, entertainment and tourism sectors. The tourism sector has obviously taken a very big hit because of Covid and we must do everything we possibly can to help.
I will take on board the road projects the Deputy has identified and I will discuss that with the county council, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the Minister who is involved.
I assure the Deputy that I will leave no stone unturned in doing everything I possibly can to encourage investment into west Cork. In particular, I will see if we can fast-track any State projects that are in the pipeline because much capital has been allocated in this year's budget with €10 billion to be spent next year. The real issue will be the capacity of the State to deliver those capital projects across the length and breadth of the country, including in west Cork. If greenways were shovel ready, there would have been money made available for them. I have no doubt about that. I am alive to the potential for the old west Cork railway line becoming an exciting and interesting greenway project. I would be keen to advance that and Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan has been in touch with me about the Innishannon to Bandon route but again my sense is that it needs a bit more advancement to a stage whereby if funding was allocated, it would be spent on it fairly quickly. I thank the Deputy for raising these issues with me.
The Taoiseach mentioned jobs in Clonakilty and I agree that every job announced is to be welcomed but he should remember that houses are needed in Clonakilty and that funding is needed for Irish Water. Developers are willing to build 600 houses there but they cannot do so because they are running short of water. Funding for west Cork is not getting through.
The Taoiseach talks about projects being shovel ready. The Schull project could have created 30 to 40 jobs in a rural community with rural regeneration funding. It was a county council project that was shovel ready. It was ahead of its time in comparison to any other project in Ireland but it was refused rural regeneration funding. Those funds were spent all over the country but nothing came down into west Cork. In terms of road funding, we are getting zero. I am talking about proper road funding for bypasses that are promised year after year. There is greenway funding of €63.5 million. That is the Taoiseach's opportunity as he is in government but he is saying we should wait and that everything has to be shovel ready. Somebody has to make these projects shovel ready and encourage them along the line.
Funding provided for the promised endoscopy unit in Bantry General Hospital has been left there as has funding for schools in Bandon. The purpose of my question is to ask the Taoiseach to set up a task force to concentrate on communities from Innishannon to Mizen Head and from Kinsale to the Beara Peninsula. Will the Taoiseach consider setting up that task force so that we can focus on west Cork going forward?
It illustrates the potential of that iconic and landmark cable car, which has far more tourist potential than that for which it was originally intended. It was an extraordinary piece of filming and I recommend it to the Deputy. It also illustrated the artistic creativity that to me is the hallmark of west Cork and that will help to drive the area forward.
I asked the Deputy to get those greenways shovel ready and then we will get funding for them.
The Deputy knows the story with task forces. They have been appointed since time began. It is more important to get the projects through. We have county councils and all sorts of bodies that have been created over time so let us work through the existing bodies and get LEADER funding and so on in place.
-----and that is the first time ever they would have gotten minor work scheme grants twice in the one year. That happened in the context of Covid-19 but that will be significant and there will be school projects, like in every other area around the country.
That concludes Leaders' Questions. As Deputy McDonald responded to the Taoiseach's earlier remarks, it is only fair that I give a minute to Deputies Kelly, Catherine Murphy, Pringle and Micheal Healy-Rae to contribute.
I note the Taoiseach's statement earlier and I was surprised by it. The reason I was surprised was that the Taoiseach asked all leaders to come together last Friday. We all came together as an Oireachtas because this was not meant to be a Government versus Opposition issue but the Government has now issued a statement. However, the Government members are also Members of the Oireachtas.
The Oireachtas is going to have to take decisions on this issue. Rather than acting as he has done, it would have been polite and appropriate for the Taoiseach to have had his discussion, but then for him to have asked all the leaders of parties and groups to come together to discuss this issue again and to have formally stated what the view of the three leaders in the Government was. I state that because this approach undermines what we did. I would be reluctant to get involved in another group, if the Taoiseach were to do the same thing on another issue, because it seems as if last Friday was a fishing exercise. Why did the Taoiseach not call all the leaders to come together after today's Cabinet meeting, state what the Government believed and then ask us what we thought? We may have varying views.
I asked the Taoiseach a simple question last Friday, which I do not mind repeating now because I have said it in public so often. I asked for the other correspondence. I see no reason the Chief Justice cannot release the other correspondence, which would then give us a fuller picture of what has happened in this case. The Taoiseach did not even come back to me regarding that issue. I asked him to do so. I ask him to show me where he did.
The central point here relates to misconduct and where the responsibility should fall in dealing with it. The problem is that for so long we have lacked the ability, in the right locations, to deal with things. The judicial conduct committee is not yet in place, or it has not put a framework in place yet. That must be accelerated, as must the judicial appointments process. The issue of that process requires a debate here as a matter of urgency. It is a separate issue, but it is one that is part of our responsibility to hold the Government to account. I believe the responsibility lies with the Judiciary in respect of ethical matters, but it lacks a process to deal with it. That is why we have found ourselves in this situation. However, there must be an urgency about the delivery of those two things - the Bill and the process within the Judiciary.
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, our leader, Deputy Mattie McGrath, stated at the time that he believed a clear separation between this House and the Judiciary was very important. Therefore, I welcome the statement the Taoiseach has made today. It is important to reiterate here on the record of the House that the standard set down regarding the removal of a judge, or anything like that, is a deliberately high constitutional standard. That is so important, and it is important for us to uphold that separation. I take on board what Deputy Kelly has said about ensuring the separation of powers is never misused. I agree that it works both ways.s That is why I believe it is important and imperative that the Minister for Justice should come before the House at some stage that would be deemed to be appropriate to answer questions in a comprehensive way. At the same time, it must be taken into account that it is very important that a transparent and comprehensive process, as has already been stated, is undertaken by the Judiciary. As the leader of Sinn Féin has said, this is a problematic situation. Like every political or constitutional challenge we have ever had, it just takes a bit of common sense and work to work our way through it in a proper fashion.
It is interesting that we know more in this country about the selection process of Supreme Court justices in the United States than we do about the process here. It is interesting as well that we look down on the political manner in which it is done in the United States, and we do not see that manner in this State.
My advice was not to proceed in the manner initially being put forward by the Government. For transparency, it is necessary that the Minister for Justice comes before the Dáil to give a statement on the process by which the selection of the last judge was made.
I agree with comments made by Deputy Alan Kelly earlier. The Taoiseach should have had the decency to come back to the leaders after meeting with us last Friday to discuss the issue. It is interesting that the intervention today puts it back over to the House, which is probably where it should be. Will the Ceann Comhairle clarify what is actually going to be done with regard to the House discussing this issue and bringing the matter forward? It needs to be debated and we need a clear outline on how we go forward with it. We do not need the distraction of how judges are appointed. It is a distraction from the pertinent issue at this point, although that also needs to be addressed and dealt with. It is, however, a separate issue and needs to be treated as such.