Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Le cúpla seachtain anuas, agus ag deireadh an tsamhraidh, bhíomar ag déileáil leis an dóigh atá an Rialtas ag láimhseáil ceapacháin go dtí boird an Stáit. Tráthnóna inniu beidh an Coiste um Airgeadas, Caiteachas Poiblí agus Athchóiriú, agus an Taoiseach; agus an Coiste um Chuntais Phoiblí ag cur tuairisc chun tosaigh ó thaobh na dóighe a rinneadh ceapacháin an Ard-Rúnaí Robert Watt chuig an Roinn Sláinte gan aon phróiseas mar is ceart. Le linn an tsamhraidh, bhíomar ag déileáil leis an dóigh a chuir Fine Gael an t-iarAire Katherine Zappone isteach ar bhord an Stáit fosta. Anois, le cúpla seachtain anuas táimid ag caint ar an dóigh a láimhseáil an tAire, an Teachta Eamon Ryan, ceapachán beirte do bhord an Stáit.

Today, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach; and the Committee of Public Accounts will publish their report into the appointment of Robert Watt as Secretary General at the Department of Health. It is an appointment that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was involved in. There was not any proper process. During the summer, there was the Zapponegate scenario, where Fine Gael was appointing a former Minister into a made-up job paid for the public purse. A number of weeks ago, the Minister appointed two friends to the Climate Change Advisory Council despite a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Climate Action that there should be an open, competitive and transparent process attached to such appointments. Cronyism is at the heart of how this Government does its business. That is without doubt. We have seen it clearly since the summer.

I know that most people would have expected higher standards from the Green Party but that is not what is coming from it. Once the Minister had the opportunity to dole out jobs for his friends, he was shown to be just as capable as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are at doling out those jobs. I know that the two members appointed are eminently qualified. Their qualifications are not in question. That is not the issue. One of these individuals was a former special adviser to the Minister. The other was a Green Party election candidate. These positions are paid from the public purse, at €10,000 per year, with travel and subsistence claims on top of that. They are paid for by the taxpayer. The taxpayer deserves no less than a transparent, open and accountable process but the Minister let the taxpayers down.

Nothing precludes the Government from making sure that all appointments are transparent and open but it has not happened in this instance. We have sought clarity on this for two weeks. We have asked about the appointment process but nothing has been forthcoming. Why did the Minister pull this stroke? Why did he decide to ignore the Joint Committee on Climate Action? Why did he breach his own guidelines on the appointment process? Why did he believe it was right to appoint a former special adviser and election candidate to this position without any due process?

There is a wider issue with regard to this. The Climate Change Advisory Council has an important role to play. It guides the response to the climate crisis. It is vital that it is independent of the Government and that the advice the Government receives is not predetermined or reflective of ideological persuasions. That is crucial for this council. Independent advice is of no use if the Government is simply getting the advice that it wants to hear on critical issues such as carbon tax, which are hitting ordinary families hard while the Government fails to provide alternatives.

Why did the Minister ignore the Government's own guidelines in appointing these two individuals to this State board? Does he accept that this was just an old-fashioned political stroke?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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This council was appointed exactly as is set out in the law. It was appointed in the same way that the previous Climate Change Advisory Council was established. It was appointed after going through all the proper Government procedures, going to the Cabinet, giving advance notice and discussing it with colleagues both within the Department and within the Government. To my mind, this council has that correct mix of skills which not everyone has. They are very specific skills. As the Deputy mentions, these individuals have been recognised by being appointed by previous governments to similar bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. One of the individuals has unique experience in world energy policy and a variety of institutions that brings real expertise to the council. I do not believe this expertise would have been available elsewhere. I know a number of people on that council. If I was to exclude people who I know and have worked with in the past 30 years, it would diminish the skills that we need. We need a balance of different skills.

The Government, the Department and the Minister are best placed, as set out in the legislation, to be able to make that call. If I excluded people on the basis of having worked with me or knowing me in the past, that would not serve the Irish people well. As the Deputy said, the individuals that he mentioned absolutely have the necessary skills. I stand over the process. I believe it was correct and it was followed to the letter of the law. It is a law that was passed by a vast majority in this House, including Deputy Doherty's party, knowing the appointments procedures which we would and did follow. The critical thing now is what this council does and how we work collectively. If Sinn Féin wants to turn climate into a divisive issue, while accusing others of cronyism and so on, I do not think that serves the people in making this leap and incredible change.

The advisory council is well constituted and has done a good job to date. It will serve not just this Government but the next one. I do not believe that it will in any way reflect any partisan or other interests because someone might have worked with me in the past, or because there are 15 people on it from a range of diverse backgrounds. Some of them served on the previous council and I believed it was important to carry over that expertise. Some of them have expertise in just transition and social policy, which I believe it is important to include. Other people, who I have worked with, know the science and were needed. My Department, I as the Minister, and the Government acting collectively, acted correctly and appropriately in how we approached getting that balance and mix of the right people.

I look forward to questions about climate, how the budgets are set, and how we will fund this climate transition. If we do not have a carbon tax, where will we get the €5 billion? I would love to have questions on the substance because that is what people want. They want to know how we will make this leap. I do not think they want it to be turned into a politically divisive issue when the legislation was agreed and the process was followed. Let us sit down and talk about climate and have a real discussion about how we meet this challenge. That is what I would love to have questions about.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The public wants open and transparent government. It wants the old-style politics of sorting out people you know to be finished with. The Minister has seen the public anger at the stroke that Fine Gael pulled in the summer with Katherine Zappone. They do not like it. It should be a thing of the past. We are not calling into question people's qualifications. The Minister might want to talk about something different but he pulled a political stroke. He talked about the legislation. We tabled an amendment to that legislation, stating that the appointments would be through an open, transparent process. It was rejected by the Minister because, he said, he has to abide by the guidelines of the Government, which is the public appointments process. Section 8 of those guidelines applies to all boards, commercial and non-commercial. Will the Minister tell me and the public why he decided to ignore those guidelines and to appoint his special adviser and a Green Party candidate to a position on a State board without a transparent, open and fair process? That has pulled them into this discussion. They may be the best people for that job but there was no process. The Minister decided to evade the guidelines which have been laid down since 2014.

Why does the Minister believe he was correct to not have an open, transparent and fair process with regard to these public appointments? Why does he believe that this council did not come under that?

12:10 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I said in that process that the way that we had previously appointed the Climate Change Advisory Council was the correct way. There are some instances-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The guidelines are the guidelines.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----wherein a Government Department and a Minister are best placed to be able to set up this advisory board. It is a very specific board, very different to any of the other commercial or semi-State boards all being appointed at the one time, and it required that a chair and a board be put in place very quickly in order for us to be able to meet our climate advisory targets. To my mind, the process that had been followed previously had worked and should be followed again, which is what we did. It was a process where, with my Government colleagues, there was a full-sharing of all the names in the correct timelines according to the Cabinet handbook, done to the letter of the law. The outcome shows that this was the correct approach.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Against the guidelines.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I work with the Public Appointments Service all of the time.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It was against the guidelines.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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In this particular instance, the way we legislated for this was the right way to do it. It was about getting the right mix and blend of talent. I believe we have done that as, I think, the Deputy has recognised. Let us sit down and work with them now and deal with the real issue. This is not a stroke; this is to the letter of the law under the Cabinet handbook. This was done with all due, proper timelines.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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No. It was not open, not transparent, not fair and against the guidelines. The Minister had an option. He could have done it openly.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Doherty, you are out of order.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Okay.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It absolutely was within the-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are over time too, Minister.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I will conclude.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Ó Ríordáin.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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The Labour Party is determined to work with the Government to ensure that our schools remain open. We know, as the Government knows, how profoundly damaging it was for children and young people when our schools were closed, particularly those children and young people who are disadvantaged and those who have additional needs. I know that the Minister agrees with me on that, but he will have to accept that there is a huge amount of confusion and lack of leadership. School communities and principals are contacting every Deputy in this House about that level of confusion. They are saying daily that the system is at the brink of collapse. I spoke to a principal in the mid-west today who told me that he had a close contact issue with a member of staff, he contacted the helpline, as he is required to do, and he was told that the advice issued on Tuesday, even though it is on the website, is not yet active. That situation has changed between this morning and this afternoon. As the Minister will appreciate, there is a huge amount of confusion.

Yesterday, the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, was on the radio telling the country that antigen tests will be rolled out in schools by the end of this week. This morning, The Irish Timesreported that it will be the week after next, which is December. In April, the Government was told by the expert group chaired by Professor Mark Ferguson that antigen testing should be rolled out in primary and post-primary schools. The Minister, Deputy Foley, had the audacity to accuse me of being disingenuous. Professor Orla Hegarty of UCD said it would cost €12 million to have air purifiers installed in every classroom in the State. These are practical suggestions that the Labour Party has for the Government.

Yesterday, we raised with the Taoiseach if it is not reasonable, when justifiably it is the focus of Government to keep all of our schools open, that once those who are most vulnerable have been vaccinated, we would prioritise those working in our school sector, including teachers, SNAs and school principals, for booster vaccines. Is it not reasonable at this point to stop all of the unnecessary inspections in our schools given so many school leaders are dealing with nothing else but Covid?

Will the Government please stop coming out with the mantra that schools are safe? It is completely reasonable for Government to say that schools are no safer than any other working environment, but that it is really important that we keep them open. When the Government comes out with the one-liner that schools are safe, school communities do not think it is in touch with what they are experiencing day-to-day.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The Deputy is correct that it is best when we have worked collectively and collegially. That is recognised. It has helped us in the last year and ten months of managing this Covid pandemic and we should keep doing that. The Deputy is also correct that it is important that we keep all of our education establishments open, including at third level as well as primary and post-primary levels because they all have a critical role. The Deputy is correct in saying that our schools are under pressure, particularly in terms of availability of staff. I have been briefed by my colleague, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, a former primary school teacher, that there is a real stress in terms of availability in that regard. The Department of Education recognises that and in response it has increased the substitute panel, which I know is under pressure, to 480 places. The Department has written to 111,000 teachers via the Teaching Council to see if there are teachers who are out of work for a variety of reasons, including retirement, who might be willing and able to return. It has also written to the higher level education colleges to see if those studying primary school teaching, without getting in the way of their important studies, could help to close that gap. Last but not least, it is waiving the rules and restrictions around job-sharing and career breaks in order to get those people back into the system. All of this is being done because there is real pressure on the schools and we recognise that. That will, and has to be, managed.

Similarly, I agree with the Deputy with regard to the need for antigen testing within schools. There will be an announcement this week. It has been complex and difficult. We all know that we have had to follow public health advice on this throughout this crisis. There are concerns that people may use antigen tests in the wrong way in that they may be taking them when symptomatic. We need to be identifying those who are not symptomatic, but test positive. We need to get that right such that it does not get in the way of public health guidance. There will be an announcement this week, followed by delivery of that system to our schools.

On the booster vaccines, this goes back to a certain extent to earlier discussions at the first roll-out of the vaccines. My view is that the approach NIAC has advised in terms of the ordering of delivery of boosters has been the correct one. NIAC has shown really clear evidence that boosters do work, that vaccines work. Those in our hospitals, in particular those in the ICU, are typically people who are either unvaccinated or they have an underlying condition. The vaccines are keeping people out of hospital and out of ICU. The boosters will do that even more. We should follow the advice of NIAC on the ordering of boosters in terms of best protection of public health. I do not think we should make any variation or deviation from that advice. If NIAC revises it, so be it, but I do not expect it will do so. The approach that NIAC has taken, and we have taken, to follow public health advice has been the right one.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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We appreciate the Minister's engagement, but he will appreciate that if the school system collapses and schools have to close, which we absolutely do not want to happen, society will not be able to function. That would be profoundly damaging for children and young people, but society will not be able to function. If schools have to close, a lot of questions will be asked about the leaving certificate. None of us wants to go return to that cycle of last January and February in terms of the level of anxiety in Irish society.

The Minister answered my question on antigen testing. I might not like his answer, be he answered it. He has also given me an answer on booster vaccines. I impress on him again that if the school system is that important to the Government, as I believe it is, surely the focus should be on keeping our SNAs and our teachers and our school communities functioning and our school system open. Even as a gesture of solidarity with that sector, who are listening to the "schools are safe" mantra from the Government which grates on them, a prioritisation of our school sector - the Labour Party will be unpopular for suggesting it because other front-line workers will suggest they are more deserving - if we feel education is that important, as we do, and a reassessment of the booster roll-out for those front-line workers in our education system is something the Government should reconsider.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We cannot go back to that situation where our schools were closed for a prolonged time and our leaving cert students were in a state of uncertainty. I do not believe we will. We are in a very different place now. As difficult as the situation is at the moment, it is completely different to where we were last January, last October or any other period where our hospital system really was exposed. It is less so now because of the vaccination programme. The addition of a booster programme will give us real ability to avoid the sort of lockdown measures that were required at the early stages in this Covid pandemic.

I see no reason or expectation that we should have to revert back to that level of restrictions or those sorts of concerns.

Regarding the booster programme, without any disrespect and with real recognition of the critical work our schools, front-line teachers and pupils have done, I do not believe it would be appropriate to start diverting from the strategy our vaccination programme has followed. It has been hugely successful and has maintained public support. We might risk losing some of that if we started to divide between professions regarding who will get boosters next. I do not think that would make sense.

12:20 pm

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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I welcome confirmation that the much anticipated motor link between Cahir and Limerick Junction has been included in the national development plan, NDP. The provision of this vital link not only makes sense but is crucial to providing safe road infrastructure. Equally important at this time is the provision of a bypass for Tipperary town. The Minister has acknowledged this need and is on record as being in favour of an early resolution to the menace of traffic in the town. As he knows, it is in an area of high traffic, with massive congestion. The current level of traffic through the narrow Main Street in the town is measured at approximately 85,000 vehicles a week, including heavy goods vehicles. This level of traffic through the centre of any town would prove detrimental to quality of life and business activity.

In March this year, the Minister agreed with my statement in the House that Tipperary should be liberated from the scourge of traffic congestion. Having listened to the details of the misery and nuisance being suffered by businesses and residents, he acknowledged that constructing a bypass of the town, ahead of any planned major works on the N24, would provide a solution. Having listened to the points I raised and due to his familiarity with the town, the Minister stated that the provision of a 6 km to 7 km stretch of roadway would form a bypass of Tipperary town and its construction should be a priority. He concurred with my assessment that traffic in the town exceeds efficient operational capacity and it needs rescuing from unacceptable levels of traffic and pollution. He referred to the national policy and strategy he is pursuing as Minister and, in that context, stated that a Tipperary town bypass is an example of a project that should be prioritised under the town centres first strategy. He agreed that a bypass for the town could be incorporated as a priority in an upgrade of the Cahir to Limerick Junction road.

Since the revised NDP was announced, we have had contradictory statements leading to uncertainty as to when road projects will be sanctioned and delivered. Where does the Minister stand on this issue now? Will funding be provided for the project and a bypass of Tipperary town built? What is the timeline for its provision? Will he publicly reiterate that the people of the town can look forward to clean air and freedom from fumes? The time for talking about freeing up their town from chaotic congestion and poisonous pollution is over. The time for sympathising with the people who are subjected to these conditions has come and gone. The time for rhetoric has passed. It is now time to tackle the problem and we are looking to the Minister for decisive action.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I am aware that the Deputy attended the meeting of the transport committee yesterday at which we looked at some of these issues, but he was not able to ask these particular questions. I am glad he can avail of the chance to do so today. As he heard yesterday, we have some €5.1 billion allocated to national roads under the NDP between now and 2030. The reality is that a large proportion of that, amounting to some €4 billion, will be spent in the latter half of the decade. A large number of public transport projects are coming through, including the Connecting Ireland rural public bus service, BusConnects and rail projects across the country, which require a large upfront capital investment in the next four to five years. This means there will be a tight constraint on the roads budget in the immediate coming years. Within those circumstances, we have to prioritise and give a clear signal on what should come first. I am saying to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which has responsibility for this, that priority should back up the national planning framework, which is about balanced regional development, compact development and low-carbon development, and should particularly complement the Government's town centres first strategy, which is about bringing life back into the beautiful 19th century market towns all over the country.

Tipperary town is a perfect example. It is a beautiful town with great people but it is suffering from really heavy volumes of traffic, particularly freight traffic, going right through its centre on Main Street. If I recall correctly from a survey carried out in the town, some 30% of retail businesses are not working because the town is dominated by that through traffic. I am glad to put on the record of the Dáil what I have often said to TII and will say again, namely, that in looking at the upgrade of the Cahir to Limerick Junction roadway, which is what is has been commissioned to do, it should, first and foremost, look at, and proceed with, the option of a bypass of Tipperary town, which could, as the road is later developed, be part of a wider upgrade. First things first, we must rescue Tipperary town from the excess domination of through traffic, particularly heavy freight.

It is a perfect example of what we can do, with a fairly small budget allocation, to advance the town centres first policy. It is perfect in terms of balanced regional development and it helps compact development and low-carbon development, which are the centre points of our transport strategy. Tipperary Town Council will have an opportunity to transform the centre of the town by taking as much through traffic out as possible and really improving the public realm. We have seen what happens in towns where that is done. There are examples across the country but I always pick Clonakilty because, in our family, it was a case of, "Clonakilty, God help us", and now it is an incredibly thriving town. That came about partly because the through traffic was taken out of the town, pedestrianisation was introduced and a really high-quality public realm was created. We can do the same in Tipperary town and that is what I will be saying to TII. We must make sure we get the design of the bypass right and get it built first. That is the priority for roads investment, as an example.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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This will be music to Deputy Lowry's ears.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is not usual for me to get good news, a Cheann Comhairle, so I certainly welcome the Minister's commitment to the project. I acknowledge that support, from the time I made the proposal to him and to the House that a bypass for Tipperary town be prioritised and should happen as the start of any project to upgrade the N24. It makes sense and I am glad he still agrees with the proposal. I welcome that he has informed TII of his priority in that regard. The commitment he has given today makes it a good day for Tipperary. It is time to give the town back to the people who live there.

I want to raise a point in the context of the Minister's position as one of the leaders of the Government. At my request, a task force was established with cross-agency reach to address a multitude of problems in Tipperary town. The group has received a huge level of engagement and co-operation from the community. To date, it has completed a substantial body of work and published a detailed plan. For it to retain the trust and confidence of the public, it is necessary for the Government to deliver a fully funded and tangible action plan. The most appropriate way to start this process is to have the Minister's confirmation today that he is in favour of a bypass for the town. I very much welcome it.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Engagement with the task force could be timed in a number of different ways. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is involved in developing the town centres first strategy, which I understand is close to being ready for publication. The task force could work with him on that. It could also build on what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has done in implementing an historic change in terms of identifying vacant sites and lands that are not being developed and including them in the zoned land tax proposal he has brought forward. That should, more than anything, give a clear signal as to how we can bring life back into our towns and put buildings and accommodation back into town centres. The great advantage of this is that it uses existing resources. People can walk or cycle to the school, church or pub. It avoids having to constantly build out and spend a huge amount of resources on an ever more dispersed population model. The establishment of a Tipperary town task force is very timely and it could work with what the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, is doing on the town centres first policy and in conjunction with transport developments.

12:30 pm

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have always said and I am sure of the fact that the Minister is a nice and sincere man. However, he and the late Michael Jackson hold one thing in common and that is the two of them lived in never never land. I would like to welcome the Minister today into the real world where people are struggling to pay for their electricity, home heating oil and children's education and to carry on with the basic day-to-day living. I am not a climate change denier; I will never be accused of being any such thing. I know we have to make changes, but there are changes we can afford to make and others we might want, but are not able, to do.

If the Green Party is so worried about everything, why has it not used its opportunity in government? Why has the Minister done nothing for the forestry sector? He has done nothing for people who want to plant or thin trees or for people who want to build access roads to forestries to take out timber. He has ensured people in the horticultural sector now have to import 4,000 tonnes of peat from Latvia. Some 200 lorries bring it to and from the port every time. The Minister should think of the carbon footprint, because he thought it was a good idea to run out of here one day and shut down Bord na Móna.

What does the Minister have to say about the importation of peat briquettes from Germany? What is the carbon footprint there, instead of having our own production of peat briquettes here in Ireland, because he shut it down? He has done nothing for those people. What has the Minister done in government to bring in zero-rate VAT on insulation products? He has done absolutely nothing.

What has the Minister done, only offer grants to people that they cannot get? What does he have to say to the 72-year-old man who asked me to stand up in the Dáil and ask the Minister a question. He is 72 years of age, he wants a grant to insulate my house and he has been told he has to wait at least two years. What does the Minister have to say to that man? He need not start telling me about the millions of euro he is pumping into insulation when, at the stroke of pen, the Government could have changed the VAT rate which would have been meaningful, real and attainable there and then. The Minister is forcing the people in Ireland to endure the highest electricity and heating bills in the EU. He is failing to safeguard the interest of the Irish consumer.

The price of petrol and diesel has gone up 30% or 40% since March. I recently met with the Irish Road Haulage Association. What has the Minister done for those people? He has done nothing. He is failing to recognise we are an island. Things have to be imported into this country. They do not fall out of the sky. The things we use every day are delivered by road. What has the Minister done for those people? He has done nothing. Again, he is failing to safeguard the interest of the Irish consumers. Myself and my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group were seeking a cut on the VAT rate for diesel and petrol, gas, home heating oil and electricity; a reversal of the increase to the carbon tax; a once-off energy voucher for low-income families; and a 50% cut on excise duty on motor fuel. It is hypocritical for the Government to lecture the public on the using of green energy sources, while benefiting enormously from the increased tax revenues from traditional fuels.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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This climate challenge belongs to everyone. I do not believe there are deniers in this House. The science is so clear. However, we need to become climate supporters. I was thinking in advance about what the Deputy might ask today. I thought about that issue of being close to the ground. I spent most of my time, prior to coming in here, working with the good people down in County Kerry. In going green, Kerry could be the lead on and centre of this. Rather than just not being deniers, it could be the top and the best at approaching the climate challenge.

I bet the Deputy, if he went to the likes of Fexco and asked where the financial industry and modern technology is going and whether Kerry would benefit from going green, they would say, "Yes". If he went to the likes of Kerry Group or the farming organisations and asked them whether going green will be part of what they have to do, I am convinced they would say "Yes". If the Deputy asked the good people in the tourism industry in Kerry, whom I know well and with whom I worked for years, whether they think Kerry would benefit or not from going green, I bet they would say "Yes". The Deputy could go down to Valentia Island to listen to some of the visionary thinking going on in places such as that on how we could tap into hydrogen power, the same way it was the first place of contact for cables between Ireland and America 150 years ago. Kerry will be at the front line and benefit from being good at this.

The climate challenge belongs to everyone. It will not work as a fight or if we play this as a divisive political game. That 72-year-old is rightly concerned about how he can get his house insulated. It is true there is a backlog, because it is 100% grant support. It is an incredible benefit to a home to get it up to a B2 standard. People's health benefits, which is the main thing, and not just the climate, as well as their pocket because they will not have to pay the big, extortionate bills, which are all due to the reliance on international fossil fuels. Weaning ourselves off those is good for Kerry and the whole country.

To answer the Deputy's question, I am looking at getting additional funding to reduce that backlog. It is not finally confirmed, but I might be able to come in the next week or two and show it as another of the additional measures we are doing to protect our people from fuel poverty at this time.

Does the Deputy not agree that going green will be good for Kerry and that to try to cling on to the old ways of over-reliance on imported fossil fuels from far-distant shores, where they are hugely expensive, makes no sense, when the seas off Kerry are full of very strong winds? We could tap into that energy and bring it ashore at the likes of Tarbert and help power industries in Kerry, as well as throughout the rest of the country. Does the Deputy agree that is the way to go? We all understand and accept the science. What is the solution? It is Kerry renewables. It is Kerry being good at high quality and getting a premium price for a premium system such as pastoral, family farming. That is the way forward. We should not divide on this, because it would not be good for Kerry or anyone else.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The real worry is the Minister believes what he is just after saying. I have 60 seconds to take apart his argument and I will do so. The first thing businesses in Kerry will mention to me is the high energy cost and the costs associated with carrying out their businesses. What has the Minister done to help them? Nothing. With regard to tourism, the Minister neglects the fact that people have to fly and drive to arrive in Kerry to enjoy it. We cannot fall out of the sky. What has the Minister done for those people? He has done nothing.

He should not talk to me about agriculture. He has this new phrase: the "stabilisation" of the national herd. The very good man on his other side, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, told people to get into milk. What is the Minister, Deputy Ryan, telling them now? He is telling them they will have to reduce their herds after working so hard and borrowing money to improve their milking parlours and to buy and lease more land. What are they being told now? They are being told to reduce their herd.

The Minister should not talk to me about what he has done for horticulture. I have already covered how businesses have to import the peat now that is so important to what they do everyday. The Minister should not talk to me about energy. We have seen what he has done in the programme in the Government has done with regard to Shannon LNG. He shut that project down. It was in the previous programme for Government in 2016. He is telling everybody to use more and more electricity. What has he done about providing it? He has shut down the God damn power stations we had to make electricity. We are bordering on outages now. In 60 seconds, I have put the Minister back and I would like for him to now answer me back. He need not be talking gobbledegook. I will again only liken him to Michael Jackson in Neverland.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has used nearly 80 seconds now and is doing well. His time is up.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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In 60 seconds, I will give the Deputy three reasons the farmers of Kerry will be better off by going green. Critically, it is about getting paid, which is what they are really concerned about, for the key role they will have in forestry. We will introduce new agroforestry systems. Farmers can keep farming. They do not have to blanket the whole hill with coniferous, single species, clearfell forest, but agroforestry, where the skill of the farmer is used to know how to put the right trees in the right place and get paid properly for it. It is tricky. The Deputy's brother, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, said in committee that we have been told for 50 years to keep on draining land and now we will have to pay farmers to re-wet land, which is true. They can do that using their skills and knowledge of the land. The Deputy's head is in his hand, but that is where the money is. That is where the supports will be. That is where the European Investment Bank, EIB, the Common Agricultural Policy reform and the world are going. I mentioned Kerry Group, because I believe this has to be a just transition. The small farmers are not being paid properly. Kerry Group will have to account for the emissions its suppliers are creating. That gives us an opportunity to say to Kerry Group, it will have to pay those farmers better. That is where this will be good for farming, in Kerry, as elsewhere. That is real money, that is the real world and that is the real change happening, because climate change is real.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are really over time now. That concludes Leaders' Questions. We move to Questions on Promised Legislation