Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

1:32 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination met last; and when it is next due to meet. [43744/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [44764/21]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination will next meet. [47862/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [47962/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [47965/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met and will next meet. [47973/21]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on Government co-ordination last met. [48202/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 15, inclusive, together.

The Government co-ordination committee last met on 18 October and its next meeting is scheduled for Monday, 1 November. The committee was established to review the activity of Cabinet committees, to review the agenda for that week's Government meeting, to discuss political priorities and to review implementation of a specified element of the programme for Government. I am a member of the committee, with the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party. The Secretary General to the Government, my chief of staff and the chiefs of staff for the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party also sit in on meetings.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The families of Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby, and Ciarán Smith, the brave crew killed when Rescue 116 crashed on a rescue mission in 2017, face significant legal bills as a result of the Department of Transport's review of the accident. The review was taken after the helicopter operator, CHC Ireland, challenged the report into the crash. The family hired legal teams because they had a reasonable fear that there would be an effort during the review to assign blame for the accident to the crew members who died. The families were dragged into the review because they felt that the Department would not defend their loved ones. They now find themselves faced with legal bills of hundreds of thousands. It is scandalous that the Department did not agree to pay the families' costs in the first place. It is more scandalous that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has argued against supporting and paying those costs. I hope that the Taoiseach will agree that this is a horrendous way to treat the families of people who died in the line of duty. I ask the Taoiseach directly if he stands by the Green Party's leader's decision. I hope he does not. If he does not, will he now raise with his coalition partners the urgent need to meet in full the legal costs of these families?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The strategic housing development planning process, which allows developers and property speculators to get around the normal planning process and increase the value of sites that they purchase, has been thoroughly discredited. It was supposedly brought in to accelerate the delivery of the housing that we need to address the housing crisis but, as we know, only one third of strategic housing developments have actually been commenced and we now have the phenomenon of these places that get strategic housing development permission being flipped by speculators to make extortionate profits while delivering no housing.

The Chivers site is a disgrace. They lied to the local community and local representatives. Another one in my area I have discovered is the former Jet garage site in Deansgrange, bought by Hyundai. A vehicle run by Hyundai, Dalton Investments, got an SHD three years ago on a site that has been derelict for more than a decade and have flipped it recently. Yet in the last week or so, the Government has said the plan to abolish the SHD planning process, which was supposed to be imminent, has been postponed. How can the Taoiseach explain that when it is clear SHDs are a mechanism for property speculators to make money, get planning permissions, inflate the value of their assets and, in many cases, flip them? They have nothing to do with delivering the public and affordable housing we need. Why is the Government extending the SHD process, which is completely discredited, has done nothing to address the housing crisis and only benefits speculators?

1:42 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I raise the case of Nadim Hussain, who is on his seventh day of hunger strike. He is living in Cork, where the Taoiseach comes from, and is on hunger strike because the International Protection Appeals Tribunal has affirmed a recommendation of the international protection officer that he should be refused a declaration as a refugee, which has the consequence of threatening him with deportation. He seeks the right to remain here as a refugee. He is a Muslim from India and said to breakingnews.ie:"If I go back to India I will be killed." There is reason for him to believe that because both of his parents were killed in 2018 and he came here in the context of that. They were killed in the context of anti-Muslim violence, which unfortunately is now commonplace in India and is whipped up by the chauvinist Modi regime. Ironically, one of the reasons he is being refused is that he cannot get written confirmation from the Indian police of the circumstances in which his parents died. Given the role of the Indian state in anti-Muslim violence, that is hardly surprising.

There are two issues here. One is the immediate issue of the hunger strike and the danger to his health and life and I appeal to the Government to reach out and make a phone call to Nadim today and promise to take his case seriously. The second issue is his right to remain here as a refugee, given the contribution he has made here, including working in security in hospitals, and given the threat he faces in India.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Yesterday Maynooth University published a report into the experience of non-EEA workers in the Irish fishing industry. This includes workers from countries such as Egypt, the Philippines and Ghana. Many who were surveyed were paid below our national minimum wage. Many reported work days of 15 hours and up to 20 hours. More than 50% of the workers surveyed had experienced racial verbal abuse. The International Transport Workers' Federation, ITF, referred this morning to the "severe exploitation" revealed by the report. The report brings shame on the Irish fishing industry and the country. Clearly, action is called for. Currently, work permits tie theses workers to a particular employer and vessel owner, rather than being industry specific or broader than that. The report, the ITF and the workers all say the work permit system must be radically reformed and the tie with the employer must be broken. What says the Taoiseach in this regard?

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I raise the issue of safeguarding procedures for vulnerable adults. Recently, An Garda Síochána had detailed knowledge of credible allegations of sexual assault against vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. I have raised that with the Taoiseach before. The Garda did not pass this information on in a timely manner to the organisation where the alleged perpetrator worked. This placed vulnerable people experiencing homelessness at continued risk. Will the Government introduce legislation to require An Garda Síochána to pass on, when it has detailed knowledge of credible allegations, such information to relevant organisations where people are working or volunteering? We need legislation in that area because the threshold for what is a credible allegation needs to be defined to give An Garda Síochána certainty and clarity and ensure it is a fair process. The current situation where the Garda has knowledge and does not pass it on, placing people at continued risk, is not acceptable.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will inquire into the issue raised by Deputy McDonald, in terms of the background to this. That was an appalling, terrible tragedy which caused enormous grief for the families. I recall it well. In situations like this, it is important families do not get dragged into a situation where they have exorbitant legal bills arising from situations that are not in their control. The Deputy said the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has argued against paying the legal costs. Has he publicly argued against it? I have not seen those comments but I will discuss this with the Minister, get the background and revert to the Deputy. I prefer to get a full report and get the full background on what has transpired and then I will make a more informed comment on it.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, the Government view has been to move on from the strategic housing development process and cause that scheme to expire. We have initiated a full comprehensive planning review because we think there is a need, legally and so on, to streamline planning overall and to facilitate communities raising issues in respect of developments.

I take the Deputy's point that one third of SHDs were not commenced. That is not acceptable. That was not the reason these were brought in some years back. The idea was to get supply into the housing market and get houses built. If people get planning permission, they should build housing or apartments. If they do not, we will introduce a tax to penalise those who hoard land to secure an increased valuation. We have to disincentivise people hoarding land or endeavouring to increase the value of land through zoning or planning permissions. We want a situation where you use it or lose it, or you get penalised for hoarding land. That is an important measure we took in the budget to try to get a move on in terms of housing supply. That is in addition to the full range of measures introduced-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Why not scrap the SHD now?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister has given a timeline in terms of that-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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He has extended it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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He has not. There are measures relating to the affordable housing scheme, social housing, cost rental, homelessness initiatives and Part V initiatives. There is a comprehensive suite of measures that involve unprecedented State resources to deal with the housing issue.

On Nadim Hussain, I ask that he cease the hunger strike. I do not think he needs to continue with it. I understand the issues. His application has not been successful; however, there are other measures open to the Department, the Minister and officials, such as leave to remain, for example. These issues are being pursued, I understand, and can be decided upon. Hunger strike can cause irreparable damage, so I sincerely ask him to come off the hunger strike.

I am aware of the case and what happened his parents. He has gone through a very traumatic time. I have not read the entirety of the case background, but I take the fact that someone is on hunger strike very seriously. We should make every effort we can to try to help the person in the situation in which he finds himself.

In terms of the report on the work permit system on the fishing industry Deputy Barry referenced, first, there can be no place for exploitation of workers in any industry and there can certainly be no place for exploitation of workers in the fishing industry. I have said repeatedly and consistently to Members in this House that it is extremely important that workers in the fishing industry are protected and well looked after. We have had too many incidents in recent years where cases have arisen in which the rights of workers were clearly not upheld or basic documentation could not be provided or secured in respect of some workers on fishing boats. Where accidents happened or rescues took place, some workers were discovered not to have any documentation at all. That potentially lends itself to significant abuse of such workers.

In terms of work permits being tied to a boat, work permits, generally speaking, have been applied for by employers. We take on board the conclusions of the report and we will engage with the Department, the fishing industry and the Minister involved. The fishing industry is going through a traumatic period at the moment and this is something we cannot afford to allow happen within the sector. It needs to be stamped out.

Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised the issue of safeguarding. He raises a very substantive issue as to whether we should pass legislation to ask the Garda to pass on information it has. That opens up a whole new area. We need a regulatory framework to govern any organisation that is established in an area such as homelessness. We do it for a whole range of other activities. We should use the tried and trusted organisations that are involved in homelessness that have an established relationship with local authorities and the Government. The days are gone when a body can declare itself to be a homeless charity. There is too much of that going on. Some well meaning people do it, but it creates difficulties and challenges. Organisations such as the Simon Communities of Ireland, Focus Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that have long experience of homelessness and that have built up a lot of expertise have done a lot of research and they work collaboratively internationally. We need that informal opinion to inform policy on housing. A variety of other organisations that I have not mentioned do likewise.