Tuesday, 11 May 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
We have already agreed that the report of the Business Committee will be taken as read but arising from it there are three proposals to be considered by the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to? It is not agreed.
We have all watched with increasing alarm and disgust the events in east Jerusalem and Gaza. We are again witnessing the wholesale flouting of international law by the Israeli state. We are seeing the bombardment of Palestinian communities and tensions ratcheted high in a situation that is increasingly becoming a humanitarian and political crisis. The annexation of Palestinian lands is wrong and is against international law. The collective punishment and humiliation of the Palestinian people are wrong and the occupation of Palestinian land is wrong and against the law. It is beyond time that the international community named this, called it out and confronted Israel with real consequences for its behaviour.
We have the privileged position of sitting on the UN Security Council. I put it to the Taoiseach that we need statements in this House asserting that Ireland will stand with the rule of international law and the Palestinian people. We need statements to that effect and I hope we will have a common and united voice in that regard.
We need the Government to outline how we will use this privileged position on the UN Security Council to ensure that action is taken and that the international community, which for too long has been asleep, negligent and laissez-fairein respect of Palestine, finally acts.
I want to ask the Taoiseach, as I did a number of weeks ago, about the role of An Taisce in planning. At that time, the Taoiseach suggested there were too many judicial reviews. An Taisce had taken a judicial review against the permission Glanbia had been granted by Kilkenny County Council and An Bord Pleanála, with additional licences from the Environmental Protection Agency. Now it has decided, after an overwhelming result against it in the High Court judicial review, to appeal this decision again in the courts. This is costing hundreds of jobs. There will be 100 jobs in the plant and suppliers from throughout the south east and mid-west will supply it. It will be operated by a Dutch company and Glanbia and will manufacture cheddar cheese.
I want a debate on this issue. An Taisce gets €2.5 million annually from various Government agencies and it is causing havoc in rural Ireland. Deputy Kelly asked a question about An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála sided with the application. It involves jobs and the livelihoods of young farmers are at stake. We cannot have a non-governmental organisation, an NGO, causing this kind of havoc and using taxpayers' money to destroy taxpayers.
I also believe we need statements on what is happening in Jerusalem. The particular spark for this event is the fact the Israeli authorities, prompted by settlers, are seeking to evict 28 families from the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem. It is worth saying that these people are already double refugees in that they were driven from Haifa and villages and towns throughout Palestine in 1948. Eventually, they found some home in places such as Sheikh Jarrah with the assistance of UN constructed housing. Now illegal settlers, with the assistance of the Israeli State, are trying to drive them out. Horrendous brutality is being used by the Israeli police against Palestinians who want to protest against this. It is just not acceptable. There needs to be clear statements. We also need the Government to call for actual sanctions against Israel for its horrendous treatment of the Palestinians.
On the same issue, we need to have statements on the ongoing crisis in east Jerusalem. I noted just before Leaders' Questions started that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, has called the Israeli ambassador to his office, which is often a prelude to criticism. I hope that happens and I hope it is stark and full criticism. We need statements on this matter and we need to have a full and common position whereby we can condemn to the fullest extent the atrocities that are happening in east Jerusalem.
I add my voice to the calls for statements on the situation in Israel. We see that the European Union is going along with it. Is this the position Ireland will also maintain? We have to assert our independence at the UN Security Council to add our voices to stating this is wrong and should be stopped.
These issues were not raised by the parties concerned at the meeting of the Business Committee. The Government is extremely concerned about what is happening in the Middle East, with clashes in Jerusalem and the attacks on Gaza. A number of deaths have been reported in Gaza since Monday following the launch by Israeli forces of an operation in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. In eastern Jerusalem, hundreds were injured over the past three days during clashes. As has been said, the Government remains extremely concerned about the evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem. The Government raised this and participated at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council yesterday.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has raised the issue at the Foreign Affairs Council also.
It is not a question that the EU is going along with this. That is lazy commentary which does not do justice to the European Union's commitment to the Palestinians' community in terms of funding supports, in particular, of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA. For far too long in this House, Europe has been cast in a poor light, notwithstanding the extensive supports it provides for Palestinian education, Palestinian human rights and supports.
That needs to be said. I am saying it because there is far too much of a one-sided view of everything in terms of the European Union. We are members of the European Union and we should stand up for the European Union from time to time. The Government has no issue with statements. It may be next week in terms of the facilitation of the House but we should have statements on the issue.
We also should at some stage, maybe next week, have statements on the Ballymurphy inquest. Our thoughts today are with the families of those who were killed unjustifiably in Ballymurphy on those terrible three days in August 1971. The inquest has been clear in its conclusions that all were entirely wrongly killed. All were entirely innocent. I myself toured that area as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I acknowledge the extraordinary perseverance and commitment of the families involved who have waited nearly 50 years to get some sense of justice for their loved ones. It speaks more broadly to the legacy issue more generally. This inquest and its outcome deserves to be debated in this House. Also, the Government has supported the Ballymurphy families for many years and we will continue to stand in solidarity with them. The legacy of violence in Northern Ireland remains a deep wound. We should - perhaps it might be possible early next week - have a debate or statements on that, as well as statements on the Middle East because the House has acted before collectively on the Middle East. We have issued joint statements in relation to the Middle East in the past and the Government will be supportive of such an approach.
My position remains clear on that issue. That project is of immense economic importance to the region and to the dairy industry and the expansion of that sector. It has gone through a lengthy process already. It has gone through the judicial process. I appeal that there be no further appeals against this project, given that the courts have ruled clearly in relation to it and that many jobs depend on it.
There has to be balance in terms of how we all behave in society. We cannot all be absolutist in pursuit of our own objectives to the exclusion of the well-being of others in society. The balance is being tipped in the wrong scale here completely and it will create unnecessary tensions and division.
I was asking to get in on the same issue. I am glad that the Taoiseach understands the necessity to intervene through legislation in regard to this matter. We have a situation where we have vexatious, spurious objections deliberately obstructing and holding up investment by Glanbia, which is impacting on the ability to create jobs, impacting on the company's ability to expand and having a detrimental consequence for the farmers who are supplying Glanbia. This needs to be resolved. It is time An Taisce was reined in. We have to do that here through changing the planning laws to make these laws less available to those who want to continue objecting.
If it is satisfactory to Members, I will try and convene a meeting of the Business Committee this afternoon to see how the issues raised by Deputies can be accommodated, this week or next week, as suggested by the Taoiseach. Is that agreed? Agreed.
All the issues raised by the Deputies will be considered. Are the proposals for dealing with today's business agreed to? Agreed. Are the proposals for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?
I object to No. 9a, a motion re financial resolution on the Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill, on Wednesday's business. This came before members of the Business Committee for answer at 10 o'clock this morning.
It is shoddy treatment of the Business Committee and the Dáil that something would come up at such short notice to be agreed. The principle is wrong and for that reason, we should object to it.
I object to the vote on the national marine planning framework happening at all until there has been proper scrutiny of that framework by the relevant committees. This week, the Government has aroused the ire of people in the context of letting vulture funds run amok in this country and wrecking the housing sector on land. Now, exactly the same thing-----
-----is planned for the offshore by the same types of interests wishing to profit from Ireland's offshore with what are deemed relevant projects. It is not acceptable that this framework would be voted through until we have real and proper scrutiny of some of the investment interests that have grabbed pieces of our offshore and until proper environmental and biodiversity impact assessments are carried out.
On the same issue, I remind the Taoiseach that when this issue was brought to his attention by the Opposition, he said that we had to move on and that it was urgent. Last week, the vote that was scheduled on this was postponed. The Government could have used that week, as the committee requested, to invite representatives of the inshore fishermen and the environmental NGOs to have their say and to try to get this planning framework right. The Government chose not to do so and it wasted a week. I just wanted to put that on the record.
I fully agree with Deputy Mac Lochlainn that the Government has wasted a whole week. The inshore fishermen of this country deserve better. Indeed, the fishermen of Ireland deserve better. They are under severe pressure and the regime of weighing of fish that we are on the verge of bringing in is an explosive issue. We need more time set aside to debate this. I fully agree with Deputy Mac Lochlainn in that regard.
This is a subterfuge and a way for people to create their own Leader's Questions and Order of Business debate to the detriment of other representatives in the House. The issue of weighing is serious but it has absolutely nothing to do with the marine planning framework. Deputy Michael Collins uses that as an excuse-----
Last week we discussed the marine planning framework. A marine planning Bill has to follow that. The Government wants to move on and get things done. There are too many people on the other side of the House who want to stop everything, impede everything-----
They are opposing every housing project that happens. Now we are talking about the marine planning framework, the first ever spatial plan for the marine, which is a good thing. It actually avoids the type of activity to which Deputy Boyd Barrett referred. That is the point. There will be many checks and balances within the spatial plan which will give an orderly and proper regulatory framework to be followed by legislation to protect rights and biodiversity while also enabling proper development within our seas that will be both timely and efficient. We should be much further ahead in the development of offshore wind energy infrastructure. Offshore wind is going to be vital in the context of renewable energy and electricity generation into the future.
-----all of the time. It is "No" to everything, as far as I can see. Every time they stand up, it is about stopping one project or another. That seems to be the bottom and consistent line.
I have to put that on the record. The only motivation we have is to get certain things done in this House and to get certain things going in this country.
It is not agreed. There is still a massive delay in the granting of felling licences. I am calling for a full debate to see if we can do something to help 12,000 people remain in their jobs. This Government has completely failed us in this regard and the forestry department is not doing its duty and is not granting felling licences. I am calling for full debate to see what we can do to help these people. Is the Taoiseach aware of what is happening or not happening? This is a serious issue. The forestry industry is nearly finished. The Bill the Government pushed through in the fall of the year was no help whatever.
On forestry licences, we talk about housing and everything else but we do not have timber. The price of timber is going up daily and the reason is there is a shortage because there are not enough staff in the Department to deal with the issue. I plead with the Taoiseach for additional resources. We need to deal with this. The sawmills are crying out for raw materials which they cannot get hold of. The problem is a blockage caused by obstructions to planning and objections to licences. I would like to get this sorted out as a matter of urgency.
I have some reservations about what has happened here today. The Business Committee met and agreed the order for this week and I was not involved in that. For approximately 20 minutes, Deputies from parties which agreed to the Order of Business have been raising all sorts of issues. I am conscious there was meant to be 30 minutes for other Deputies to raise issues concerning legislation or other business. They have been denied the opportunity to do so because other Deputies got in ahead of them under the pretence of saying there should be a debate for this or that. That means there is a new Order of Business in play here, de facto, in which any Deputy can stand up and say he or she believes we should have a debate on this and, therefore, opposes the Order of Business. That is no way to proceed and it is not fair.
The Taoiseach has not mentioned planning licences once in his response. He only wants to create an argument. I appeal to him to do something about the felling licences not being granted. The Taoiseach would like the Government to brush it all under the carpet. That is all the Taoiseach wants.
I raise the issue of the Ballymurphy inquest announcement. The verdicts have come in and after 50 years, the families and those who have campaigned have been vindicated. All of those who were killed on those fateful days in August 1971 were innocent, innocent and innocent. The inquest also established that there was no effective investigation into any of those deaths.
Today is a day of great relief and one to acknowledge the families and campaigners for their persistence and stamina. I am sure the verdicts will be met with a sense of bittersweet victory.
As the Taoiseach knows, the British Government is proposing to step away from the arrangements in the Stormont House Agreement for dealing with the past and legacy, and specifically those dealing with State killings that have never been properly investigated. How does the Taoiseach propose that this House take a stand in response to the verdict of this inquest?
I can barely hear myself think with the racket down the back. I know my time is up and I am going to sit down but the racket in the back is absolutely wicked, whatever is going on there.
As I said earlier, our first thoughts today are with the families of those killed following the terrible violence and atrocities in Ballymurphy on those three terrible days in August 1971. I recall visiting the site at the time and meeting with the relatives. I was never in any doubt but that these innocent citizens were killed without any justification and that they were entirely innocent, and the inquest has found that. As we heard this morning on "Morning Ireland" and other programmes, there remains enormous personal grief and sense of loss, which is renewed when intensive media attention returns to a case like this. It has been a very harrowing experience for many relatives and there have been many false dawns while trying to get closure and justice. The inquest findings are worthy of some debate in the House, as I said earlier.
On the legacy issues, the Government is very clear that the legacy of violence remains a deep wound. It must be dealt with but the framework for dealing with it is within the Stormont House Agreement, which was agreed by the two Governments and all political parties. The victims must be our priority in the context of legacy issues.
Every week, I raise the issue of partners and husbands of pregnant women in maternity services, and I will continue to do so until it is resolved. Husbands and partners can go to Penneys this week, or buy clothes for their children through click and collect services. They can buy equipment and get their hair cut but they cannot attend maternity services. The Taoiseach, the Chief Medical Officer and the chief executive of the HSE have said that is wrong. The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, said yesterday that there was no good reason for maternity hospitals to restrict visits from partners. Who is in charge? I often hear the Taoiseach say that clinical decisions override everything else, and I say it myself at times, but this is barbaric and wrong. Linda Kelly from Cork said that after she gave birth it was like "being released from prison". She did not say that to be dramatic, because I know her. Last week, I raised the case of Gary Toohey, who stood in a car park looking up at his partner about to give birth. When will we have consistency across the board in all maternity services, with partners and husbands being allowed in at critical moments, as well as for the birth?
I agree 100% that there is no need for these restrictions now at all. I said that last week in this House. The Chief Medical Officer has said that, given the success of the vaccination programme, particularly within healthcare settings, the suppression of the virus among front-line healthcare workers and the high level of vaccination across the country, women's partners should be with them, with proper precautions.
I have already spoken to the CEO of the HSE about telling both the national clinical directors and clinical directors across all hospitals to facilitate such access.
The median age of the population of Gaza is 17.7 years. The size of the population is over 2 million. When bombs are dropped on an area of its size with that kind of population and with such a median age, it is inevitable that children will die. The Palestinian community is crying out for international solidarity and help.
I am not even going to ask the Taoiseach about the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, which Fianna Fáil supported during the period of the confidence and supply agreement and then moved away from when it went into government. I have a simpler question concerning the potential to bring a motion to the UN Security Council demanding that Israel halt settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories. I believe that could be a real sign of leadership. New Zealand, a country of similar size to ours, did it in 2016. Will Ireland take that substantial position to support the Palestinian people?
I agree with the Deputy that it is not possible to bomb Gaza without killing innocent children, teenagers and civilians. I have been to Gaza. I walked through it in the aftermath of a war. It is densely populated, with people at close quarters. Bombing raids cause enormous devastation and killing and grief, and should not be proceeded with. I believe such raids are highly disproportionate to what is happening on the other side in the context of the firing of rockets, which is also wrong and which should not be happening either. Those responsible for the firing of rockets should desist also. You cannot bomb Gaza without killing children, teenagers and innocent civilians.
Ireland has a strong diplomatic record at the UN and at the Security Council. We should trust our diplomats and Ministers in this respect. This is not a situation for making gestures or doing the public thing. Seriously, if we want to make real progress on these issues, we should sometimes have a bit of self-respect for our own traditions of diplomacy, which have stood us in good stead. That is the point I am making.
Late in the day as it is and hollow sounding as it is, will the Taoiseach's claim that housing is now the Government's priority lead to any actual change in the disastrous policy that has led us to the housing crisis we are experiencing? There seems to be a grudging acknowledgement of what an absolute disaster Fine Gael and Labour made by allowing these vulture funds to come in and take over the housing sector. Will the Taoiseach follow through on the growing awareness of what a disaster that was by not allowing those same interests into the public landbank via the Land Development Agency Bill 2021? As it is currently constituted, the latter would effectively let the fox into the henhouse. I refer to the fox that wrecked the private housing sector being let into the public landbank. Will the Taoiseach realise the mistakes of the past and ensure that these vultures and cuckoos do not get into the public landbank through the legislation in question and will he accept amendments to the Bill to that effect?
There the Deputy goes again. He is going to stop that Bill now as well, or try to stop it. That Bill is needed, we need to get it through. Why? It is because we need to use State land to get houses built. Supply is the big issue here. The State is providing the largest social housing programme in its history. This year and over the next five years, we will also support the building, through serviced site funds, etc., of affordable houses. The State will be involved in getting those built for people as well. Therefore, the State is now the big player. I repeat that the State - the Government - is now the biggest player in the housing market. That is the reality, but we have to do more than that and there has to be a role for the private sector. We have to get builders out there building also, because we are not building enough houses.
There were 20,000 built last year. Covid-19 has already stopped us building for three months this year.We might be lucky to get more than 20,000 houses built. We need supply.
I thank the Taoiseach. The time is up. I am sorry, but that concludes Questions on Promised Legislation, with 13 listed Deputies who had every expectation of getting in being unsuccessful in doing so. We may ask the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform to look at the length of time of interventions on the Order of Business, because they are consuming a lot of time.
To be fair to everybody and enable everybody from all sides of the House and from all parties to have an opportunity to raise issues close to their hearts at the time of the Order of Business, would it be possible to encourage those who agree with the Business Committee's proposals to agree to them in the House, thus eliminating the erosion of other parties' time?