Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions
I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 to 19, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment first met on 8 July 2020. It has met a total of 15 times, most recently on 30 September. The next meeting is scheduled for 22 November. Membership of the committee comprises the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Employment and Trade, the Ministers for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport, Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Tourism, Culture, Media, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Other Ministers and Ministers of State attend when required.
The Cabinet committee is responsible for issues relating to the economy and investment and had an initial focus last year on developing the July jobs stimulus. It has also overseen the development of the Government's economic recovery plan, as well as the review of the national development plan, NDP. Issues relating to the economy are, of course, regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings, where all formal decisions are made.
I thank the Taoiseach and echo the words of my colleague, Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, in respect of the Taoiseach's representation of the country at COP 26.
My question has a Dublin perspective. Covid has exposed the capital city as having been overdependent, and having grown utterly reliant, on events, hospitality and tourism, which are the oxygen that allows the city to breathe. When the Covid tide went out, many businesses were clearly exposed above the waterline. One only has to walk a couple of hundred metres in the city to see the number of retail outlets that have shut. Thankfully, some of them are opening with different businesses and that is very welcome.
While An Bord Pleanála sees fit under the strategic housing development, SHD, process to grant planning permission for residential developments of 13 storeys in Citywest close to Saggart village, no such residential permissions are being granted in the city core-----
In the context of the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, does the Taoiseach agree that we should prioritise the rejuvenation of the capital city, with assistance in de-emphasising event tourism and business tourism, even though they, along with tourism in general, are important to the city? Does he agree that with the aim of creating a living, breathing capital-----
-----in which people can live, study and work proximate to where they are living, that is one lesson Parliament and the Government have learned as a result of the ongoing Covid challenge that faces the country?
I raise the Mercosur trade deal. Two years ago, the Taoiseach's party supported a Dáil motion that described it as a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet. The Sinn Féin motion also included a provision that this motion be binding on future governments, which includes the Taoiseach's Government.
Let us be in no doubt the Mercosur deal is still a bad deal for Ireland and for the planet. It is a trade deal that has at its core a glaring contradiction to the policies and politics set out by European leaders this week at the climate change conference. It fundamentally and spectacularly undermines climate action targets and actively encourages a hyperintensfication farming model that pushes out family farms. The deal's investment court system is a reincarnation of the much-maligned investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that prioritised global companies' profits above the public good. That public good extends to climate action by the state. Indeed, leading environmentalists, as the Taoiseach knows, have warned that the Mercosur deal will challenge the European Green Deal and others believe it is simply incompatible with European climate commitments as set out.
Speaking at COP26, the Taoiseach warned that the country's economic survival depends on what he called radical climate action. My question to him is, therefore, straightforward. If such radical action is vital to protect the economy from climate change, why has his Government not yet rejected the Mercosur deal?
Any talk of economic recovery is rendered meaningless if the cost of living skyrockets, as it is doing for ordinary working people. The amount of tax relief the Government gave them in the budget was miserable for the average worker, against a background of an increase of between €500 and €1,000 in energy costs for many households, disproportionately hitting the less well off. Moreover, waste charge bills are increasing, private operators are profit-gouging, the price of TV packages is increasing, carbon tax, of course, is loaded on top of that, and rents continue to rise. What is the Taoiseach going to do?
Profits have gone through the roof in this country during this country, exponentially increasing, but the benefit of any recovery is wiped away by inflation and profit-gouging by State actors and private actors through taxes or price increases. What is the Taoiseach going to do? Does it not justify what we have for a long time called for, namely, actual controls on rents; abandoning plans to increase carbon tax and doing something to reduce energy prices; and controlling or even abolishing charges such as property tax, or at least ensuring people are not hit with it, and waste charge increases by private companies?
The UN emissions gap report gives lie to the empty rhetoric of world leaders in Glasgow. In analysing the new nationally determined contributions, it outlines that what has been agreed thus far by various states would mean reducing carbon emissions by only 7.5% by 2030, as opposed to the 55% level that is agreed to be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We are on a trajectory to 2.7°C, which would be disastrous.
The continuation of the widening of the gap between the soaring rhetoric and the disastrous inaction was epitomised by the Government's approach to the methane emissions target. It is quite incredible to say Ireland has a commitment to climate action, with the small print explaining how it is a commitment to climate action by someone else. We are happy to sign up to global targets of 30% cuts in methane by 2030, which is the absolute minimum necessary.
Then, however, the Government literally turns around the next day and says to the agribusiness sector, "No, do not worry, we do not mean you. We are only going to do 10%." Does that not reveal the absolute failure of the Taoiseach's sort of politics to address the climate crisis?
I wonder how many workers might resign their jobs in the next year. A survey was carried out recently, namely, the Workhuman fall 2021 international survey report. It surveyed workers across a range of countries. It found that 42% of workers in Ireland would consider resigning their jobs. The key issues the survey identified were the need for better pay and the need for greater flexibility. This is an international phenomenon. It is being described now as the great resignation. Four million workers in the US recently resigned from their jobs in one month. I am not sure whether it was last month or the month before. It was the highest ever number for an autumn result. This discontent is beginning to give way to other forms of expression. More than 100,000 workers went on strike in the US last month in 178 different workplaces. October is now known in the US as Striketober. A wide range of issues are involved. In McDonalds, pay and sexual harassment were key issues. What steps does the Taoiseach intend to take to address the underlying concerns that have been identified in the poll here in Ireland, particularly the question of better pay and greater flexibility?
I have indeed. First of all, Deputy Lahart tabled this question with other Deputies. I am somewhat taken aback by the intolerance of some Deputies who contributed already this morning in facilitating Deputy Lahart to ask a question.
In any event, I wish to respond to the Deputy's point. He made a very fair point about the degree to which the capital city and, indeed, cities in general across the country have suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of the impact on events, hospitality and tourism. Covid has had a devastating impact on all those sectors and on aviation. As we reopen society and the economy, aviation is coming back to some degree but with nowhere near the numbers of last year. The point the Deputy raises gives rise to other issues that we have to look at in other sectors that can bring life back to the city centre. We have reopened. Cases are still very high. Vaccination has changed the nature of the situation dramatically and has been a key game changer in enabling us to reopen to the degree we have reopened while facilitating hospitality events and more tourism-related activities. As for the future meetings of the committee, the point is a very valid one as to what further steps we can take to support the economy of this city and other cities and urban centres that have suffered most because of this.
I have been consistent in saying that the Mercosur deal is not reconcilable with the climate objectives of the European Union. I have said that publicly so I am surprised that Deputy Paul Murphy posed the question. I have made it very clear. I do not agree with his broader opposition to trade deals. For example, I think CETA, the Canadian trade deal, has proven to be an exceptional deal for small to medium-sized companies in Ireland, growing jobs and growing their exports to Canada. The investor clause issue was dealt with, yet the Deputy's party seems very opposed to that, and that misses the point about enterprise.
-----about deforestation and so forth.
I dealt with the issue of rent controls earlier. To respond to Deputy Paul Murphy's points, Deputy Barry raised similar issues. I accept that a 2.7°C rise is catastrophic. That is why we need to take action. My view, however, is that the Deputies want to take down the world order as it is to solve climate action.
-----in the Deputy's pure definition. The State intervention in Irish economic activity is enormous. You will not solve climate change by trying to take things down every day of every week when governments meeting together collectively is a positive thing. There are positives in COP 26 and there were positives in Paris. People elect different leaders-----
-----who do different things. To pull everybody together in itself is an achievement, and to try to get progress we should try to will it on. Instead, what Deputy Paul Murphy is doing is stoking cynicism day in and day out, which I do not think will advance climate change one iota. He sees this just as another theatre to advance his fundamentalism and his ideological perspective-----