Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 April 2022

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Tá géarchéim costas maireachtála ar fud na tíre. Tá billí fuinnimh ag dul in airde agus ag cur fíor-bhrú ar oibrithe agus ar theaghlaigh ar fud an Stáit. Aréir, vótáil an Rialtas in éadan moladh de chuid Shinn Féin a thabharfadh faoiseamh dáiríre do theaghlaigh trí chostas ola teasa baile a laghdú agus cosc a chur ar an gcáin charbóin a mhéadú ón tseachtain seo chugainn. Mar pháirt den mholadh a chuir muid chun tosaigh, d’iarr muid ar an Rialtas deireadh a chur leis an gcosc atá molta ag an Aire é féin ar dhíol móna ón 1 Meán Fómhair. In ainneoin an tabhairt amach ó Theachtaí Fhianna Fáil agus Fine Gael, vótáil siad leis an Aire agus lena pháirtí aréir. Tá siad sásta dul ar an raidió agus labhairt leis na nuachtáin áitiúla ach nuair a thagann sé go dtí an pointe agus go dtí an vóta, titeann siad ar chúl polasaithe an Aire agus polasaithe an Chomhaontais Ghlas le cosc a chur ar cheannach móna.

There is a real cost-of-living crisis all across the country, as energy bills have skyrocketed. It is putting real pressure on workers and families throughout this State. Last night, the Government rejected a Sinn Féin motion that would have given real relief to households. It would have reduced the cost of home heating oil and prevented the Government from increasing it by imposing additional carbon taxes, as it plans to do on Sunday. We also sought to prevent the Government’s proposed ban on selling turf from 1 September. Despite the huffing and puffing from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Ministers and backbenchers, they dutifully rolled in behind the Minister and his party last night to prevent sense prevailing. I must say there is a notable absence of those huffing and puffing Deputies in the Chamber this morning. They are happy to go on local radio and give quotes to local newspapers but when push comes to shove they fall into line with the Green Party and its out-of-touch proposals in respect of home heating oil and carbon tax. It is political cowardice of the highest order.

Turf has been one of the only forms of heating not to see prices spiral in recent months, yet the Government still plans to punish individuals and communities who rely on turf from September. Instead of introducing measures to support communities in transitioning away from this form of heating in a way that is fair and sustainable, the Minister plans a ban. Ill thought-out policies like this proposal damage environmental protection because they alienate communities. We know that the days of fossil fuels are coming to an end. All of us in this House recognise the need for climate action. However, the way the Government is doing it is causing deep anger, upset and resentment in communities right across the State.

The Minister should not naively believe that a ban on turf is a solution because it is not. Across the State, 4% of households rely on burning turf as the main energy source to heat their homes. That figure rises to 9% in rural communities and in some counties it is over 30%. These communities need to be supported instead of facing the punishment the Minister is dishing out when there is no realistic alternative for them to heat their homes and keep their families warm and safe. Where is the just transition in telling these households who rely on burning turf as the main source of heating their homes that it is to be banned from September of this year? After weeks of chaos, confusion and contradiction, what is the Minister's position on the turf ban? Does he now accept that the turf ban idea was daft and needs to be ditched?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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My view is we must stop the 1,300 deaths that occur every year. From the European Environmental Agency's assessment, that is the level of excess mortality because of the severe problem that we have with air pollution.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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That is a red herring.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Deputy McGrath thinks it is a red herring.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It is not a red herring for the 1,300 families who lose a loved one.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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There are 1.3 million people on waiting lists.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We know from the past that we can tackle this. When we introduced the ban on smoky coal in Dublin, we saved about 350 lives a year. We need to do that all over the country. This is not coming from us. The Asthma Society of Ireland makes it clear that the burning of solid smoky fuels is central to the problems that many of our children have with asthma. Are we to do nothing about asthma? Are we to ignore the heart surgeons, cardiologists and respiratory disease experts across the country who say this has to be tackled? It would be so easy to walk away and say we will not do that because it is difficult but what number of deaths should we tolerate? What should we do in ignoring that reality across the country? I do not believe we should ignore it and we will not do so. This Government will act and will deliver practical measures that are not there to punish anyone. They are part of a way of managing this so that we can protect people from fuel poverty and protect lives at the same time. I am very confident we can and will do that.

Deputy Doherty asked about the vote last night. There was another vote last night that I think was fundamental and important. What happened last night is that Sinn Féin changed its policy. To date, it has said it would not accept the increase in the carbon tax but it would retain the revenue that is already coming from it. Last night, Sinn Féin voted with Deputy Mattie McGrath and his colleagues in saying it wants to scrap it altogether.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We voted against the Government amendment.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please. Allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Sinn Féin voted with the rural Deputies and voted-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We voted against the amendment.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Does Sinn Féin disagree with the rural Deputies?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Of course. Yes, we do.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Sinn Féin will, therefore, retain the carbon tax.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We are not going to increase it. It is clear.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Sinn Féin supports retaining the carbon tax we have because it recognises that what this Government is doing is correct and right-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----in using the revenues from that-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The Deputy just said Sinn Féin would retain the carbon tax.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We will not increase it.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Sinn Féin was not saying that in public and on radios across the country yesterday.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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We have.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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People should know that Sinn Féin is standing up for the carbon tax.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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On heating oil too.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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And on heating oil. That is Sinn Féin's position. It is in favour of the carbon tax because it recognises, I presume, as we do, that the revenue it brings is the best way of protecting our people from fuel poverty.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is not going back to it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I do not think Deputy Mattie McGrath speaks for Sinn Féin.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Thank God I do not. I speak for myself.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Answer the question about turf.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The question is that I, like Sinn Féin, believe we should have a carbon tax because it helps us to raise the revenue to make the switch.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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There is no carbon tax on turf. Answer the question about turf.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We need to tackle smoky fuels. The only way we can tackle smoky fuels - the coal, wet wood, peat and other products - that are causing these deaths is to have a regulatory system, as recommended by the Attorney General, in which we tackle all the smoky fuels. In doing that, we recognise it is not an outright ban because there are issues and a tradition in our country where people have had access to their own bog, cutting turf and sharing with neighbours. Of course, we will provide for that but what we will do is start saving those 1,300 lives. We will not walk away, as two previous Governments and a series of Ministers have done. We will do what needs to be done, while maintaining and helping our people through fuel poverty but not ignoring the health issue or the loss of life. That would be reckless and disregard our duty.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I am aware the Minister has never spent a day on the bog. I hear that from media reports. However, if he understood families who rely on burning turf, it is the cheapest form of fuel at this time. The Minister talks about excess deaths. Every excess death is one too many but let me tell the Minister about excess deaths. Every year, 2,800 people in this State die of fuel poverty.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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Where are those figures from?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister wants to ban people from rural communities - people in my community, my neighbour - from being able to purchase a load of turf come September. They do not have any other source of heating. Will the Minister tell me, if he applauds a just transition, where is the justice in that? This is a daft idea and that has been recognised across the political divide. The Minister is out of touch with the realities of people at this time. If the Government wants to ban smoky coal, it should ban coal. There is no opposition to that. Let us be clear, however. Do not ban turf until alternatives are there for the people who rely on it. We know fossil fuels are coming to an end. We know that people going to the bog is coming to an end. It is a practice that will phase out.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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When?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy should come to my parish and ask my neighbours how they are going to heat their homes come September and in winter-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Time is up, Deputy, please.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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-----and how they will get hot water and keep their families safe. That is what the Minister wants to do.

I ask that he clarify in detail what the proposal on the turf ban is at this point in time.

12:10 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I understand the Deputy's statistics are from some 25 years ago but taking-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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No.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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That is not true.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Taking them, there is a correlation. Some of those figures include the very same people I am concerned about. The deaths due to air quality are also connected to poverty. It tends to be the same people, so the two issues go together.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You are playing with lives now.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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This is greenwashing.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Does Sinn Féin accept the legal advice we have received-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Please answer the question on turf. Does the Government know what it is planning on turf?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Does Sinn Féin accept the legal advice-----

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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What is happening in September?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----and, if not, what is its solution to the problem?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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What are you planning to do?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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One thing I would love to do-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Do you know what you are planning to do?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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What I am planning to do-----

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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You do not know which way you are going.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----is try to work with Sinn Féin to convince-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Do you have a plan?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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----it in the North to introduce the same regulations-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Are people going to be banned from buying turf or not?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputies, please.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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If I can finish the point-----

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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If the Minister does not know, he should just say so.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Sit down. You do not have a clue what your own policy is.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please do not shout down the Minister.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I have to be able to speak.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You need to try it in your grandfather's village near Cahir.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry, Minister.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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This is an embarrassment to the House.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we have a little silence and show a little respect for each other? Let us hear the Minister out.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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He does not know what he is talking about.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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One of the things we need is an all-Ireland approach. One of the problems we have with coal is it is coming across the Border. There are no regulations of the type we are looking at here in the North. The Sinn Féin manifesto for the Assembly elections in the next few weeks says nothing about air quality. It is as if is not an issue.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The House wants to know what the Minister's plan is on turf, with respect.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Sinn Féin is the party that talked in the last election about change.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister's time is up.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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That is ridiculous. Sit down.

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

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Why is it any time we talk about environmental change Sinn Féin says no?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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What is the plan?

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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If you do not know the answer, just sit down.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Why is the change to treat these public health issues is the critical problem?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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What is your plan? Do you have a plan?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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My plan is to work on an all-Ireland basis and to stop having this North-South disconnect-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Are you banning turf or not?

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Let us have a unity referendum.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----so the pollution from smoky fuels coming across the Border stops being something that kills people on both sides of the Border.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Minister, please. This sort of the behaviour is unseemly. Can we please conduct ourselves with a little bit of order? I call Deputy Bacik.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I ask about a matter related to the serious and urgent question of how we in Ireland can best manage our collective response in offering support to those who have come here fleeing Russian brutality in Ukraine. This morning, Labour Party Deputies and Senators wrote to the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, who is taking overall responsibility for co-ordinating the national response. We wrote to offer our support in assisting with that national response and effort and to offer constructive engagement in highlighting issues that have arisen in cities, towns and communities around the country. We have copied that letter to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and also to the Taoiseach. We did so because we believe that in the face of war and barbarism and this brutal Russian aggression, our best outcomes will come from co-operation, constructive engagement and not from the sort of macho posturing and shouting that sometimes passes for democratic debate in this Chamber and about which the Ceann Comhairle has rightly been critical.

In the spirit of constructive engagement we have welcomed the initiative of the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, seeking support from Opposition parties in offering suggestions for vacant housing sites that could be used to house those coming here from Ukraine on a temporary basis. We have welcomed that call and are compiling a list of sites in conjunction with our network of local councillors around the country. We will be sending that list to the Minister. In my and the Minister's constituency of Dublin Bay South we will be proposing Baggot Street hospital, which has been mooted by my colleague, Councillor Dermot Lacey, and others, be utilised and that other vacant institutions such as, for example, the Avalon hostel on Aungier Street, could also be utilised for accommodation.

There has been a really strong response in Ireland and the awful war has shown the people's generosity of spirit. However, issues have arisen that are not trivial and require a co-ordinated response. In particular, we want to know what format the newly announced Cabinet subcommittee on co-ordinating the Ukraine response will take. With respect to accommodation, what is the role of International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS, compared with the role of local councils, in co-ordinating the accommodation of our Ukrainian guests? We have heard concerns at local level about access to safeguarding measures for women and children in congregated settings and access to primary healthcare, GPs and mental health supports.

I am also hearing from local council officials of the need for a clear funding stream to enable councils to work with local and community voluntary groups to offer supports to Ukrainian guests and those who are hosting them here. I am thinking of the sort of networking events we have seen so successfully carried out in the Swan leisure centre in Rathmines and in other settings across the country where groups have come together on a voluntary basis to assist and support Ukrainian families and individuals coming here. We need that clear funding stream. As such, I would welcome a response from the Minister on that co-ordination of an approach to welcoming and showing support to Ukrainians.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy. I agree with her comments on the need for a co-ordinated response to how we welcome, look after, care for and get back on their feet the people displaced by the war in Ukraine. I also agree with her on the form of politics that is going to work best to deliver that and very much welcome her willingness to work with the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and Darragh O'Brien, in coming forward with practical solutions because we must be practical and quick here to provide housing, shelter and a whole range of other different supports.

I also agree with the Deputy regarding the example of the Baggot Street hospital. It is a perfect example of such a facility. In the Cabinet's discussion on Tuesday it was included as one of the projects we are looking to refurbish and bring back into use. The Deputy knows Baggot Street hospital. While there has been some work going on it for the last decade or two, it has been lying idle and empty in the middle of a city-centre village. I support bringing it back to life, initially for displaced Ukrainian people, but also then getting over this inertia that seems to be in our system that allows buildings to lie derelict and has allowed vacancy to exist during a housing crisis. In some ways, one of the advantages we can take out of this crisis is that we then develop and open up buildings that have been shut for so long and refurbish them quickly.

The role of IPAS is critical because it has the expertise. This is a very complex and difficult issue. We have experience from the Syrian refugees and the Afghan refugees more recently. Going back over the years, IPAS has the best expertise on how we integrate and bring a welcome. However, it cannot shoulder the burden on its own. It cannot be responsible for the long-term assimilation of people. The whole discussion at Cabinet and the paper the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, brought to us this week, which was agreed, was to ensure the Department with responsibility for housing really steps up now, as well as local authorities. They have a critical role. We must designate key individuals within local authorities who work with community groups and other agencies of the State and accommodation providers, so this matter is not just left to IPAS. The service will not be able to manage the numbers, scale and long-term work that needs to be done. Its expertise is in managing immediate crises. It is about a co-ordinated approach between the local authorities, the Department with responsibility for housing and a range of other Government bodies, including the Departments of Social Protection, Health and Education. Central and critical to that will be a new Cabinet subcommittee being established so we as Ministers can ensure the system is responding. That door is open for co-operation with Opposition parties of every colour and hue to help make it work.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Minister for the response and the constructive engagement. My colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, has raised a number of practical ways we can ensure a more co-ordinated national response because that is the issue. It is about co-ordinating the response and co-ordinating the national effort.

The point the Minister made about IPAS is welcome. It is clear local authorities are stepping up in a huge way. They and council officials are dealing and will deal with a large number of front-line measures to support Ukrainian families and individuals coming here. However, they need clear funding streams to enable them to do that. They need flexibility in working with community and voluntary groups that have also stepped up.

We also need to see supports in place for the Red Cross, which has taken on a huge responsibility in assessing the suitability of accommodation and has already reached out to other entities and agencies for support in that. There is, for example, a way in which current or retired community welfare officers could be engaged to help those seeking to access supports. Visiting the Ukraine support centre in Cork Street, I saw just how many civil and public servants are already doing that and offering that support. However, in recent weeks I visited a community hall in my and the Minister's constituency where families were sleeping on mats on the floor. Clearly, that is not ideal and it was only short-term but there is a real uncertainty about the national co-ordination of what should be a national and collective effort.

12:20 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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There has been and is, and the fact is that we have been able to manage 25,000 is unprecedented. There has never been a case of such numbers coming so quickly and we will manage the further numbers to come.

It is not only Government. It is coming from the bottom up. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, has informed me that in Waterford there are 20 people in the local authority working in terms of providing exactly that sort of response. Scouting Ireland, up in Larch Hill in the old hills of Dublin, is converting accommodation. An old convent in Templemore will come online in the next few days and it will provide a welcome home for people. There are further convents, in Loughrea and in Gort. There are numerous examples across the country. Those measures, combined with almost 2,000 houses under the pledge scheme which are coming on stream, are becoming available to the local authorities to place people in addition to the hotels, the other City West accommodation-----

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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Student accommodation.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----and student accommodation. There is a plethora of different facilities being provided. It is difficult but my sense is it is working. We have no choice. It has to work. We have to provide an open door.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Let me, first, put my green credentials on the record. I have sold commercial green energy solutions. I was part of a consortium that successfully lobbied in Brussels for changes to alternative fuel feedstock specifications. I am no climate denier.

The Minister has warned us on many occasions about the urgent need to address climate change and I have a warning of sorts for him. I have outlined in this House to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste the lack of funding that is being directed to the south-east region and its population. As a partner in government, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, bears responsibility for this also.

The Minister is almost half-way through his Government term and the pattern is now set. We have seen the Minister in action. We have seen what the Minister really cares about. At this point, it is my view that the Minister has lost the south-east region and that at the next election, the voters of the south-east will turn away from him and, more importantly, from his green agenda.

The Green movement received a mandate from the south-east. Ten per cent of the country has given the Greens two of its Dáil seats. That is the same mandate given to Fine Gael. If the south-east turns on the Minister, it will not be because of climate change denial but because of the Minister's failure to deliver on the mandate entrusted to him.

Job number one of this Government and Deputy Eamon Ryan's Department was the Dunkettle interchange signed off with undue haste. Deputy Eamon Ryan bent to the Cork cabal with what, in percentage terms, is a project further out of budgetary control than the national children's hospital. Meanwhile, the M24 Limerick-Cork-Wexford pivotal route infrastructure for the south-east was binned. An entirely preventable blood price continues to be paid on the N24 and N25 for spending decisions made in this House by the Department, and now by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Waterford Airport is fighting for its life, closed off from regional airport funding of €160 million which is being bunged largely into dysfunctional DAA outfits and disproportionately into Cork Airport in what was the fastest capital project completed in the State. At the same time, Deputy Eamon Ryan's Department withdrew all support funding previously committed to at Waterford Airport which is now threatening its very existence. In University Hospital Waterford, the south-east regional trauma and cardiac centre continues to be starved of capital resources and head count and continues to have one of the highest outpatient lists in the country and there is still no relief in sight coming for the most underfunded model 4 hospital in the State. This is what the voters of the south-east see when they think, "Want Green, Vote Green".

We also see the Minister's partners in government strategy of waiting him out on the M20, the Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and other multiple initiatives. Failure to deliver for the south-east these things that are commonly being delivered elsewhere will, in my opinion, implode Green politics in the region. Mark my words, the south-east is not at Cabinet and yet, day by day, we look on appalled by Deputy Eamon Ryan's Government's decision-making and the inequity around it. My question to the Minister is, in the remaining time of the Government, what will he deliver for this region, a region that has given him his mandate.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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No Deputy in this House needs to explain, burnish or think one is better than the other in terms of green credentials. Like in our country, there is broad consensus and understanding that the science is real on the likes of climate change and we must act. I read in detail, as well as attending, some of the debates yesterday, and while there was heated debate and discussion on some of the policy solutions, on the underlying problem everyone, including Deputies from the Rural Independent Group when I read their debate contribution yesterday, agreed that we must address this environmental challenge in front of us. Not a single Deputy, in reading the full extracts yesterday, did I read stating we do not have to act.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Leave the people who cut their turf alone.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's brother yesterday, in his contribution, as I recall reading it, recognised that electric vehicles are the better cars and that we need to make this switch.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I would say the Minister must get glasses because that is not what he said.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Deputy Danny Healy-Rae can read "the blacks".

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we go back to Deputy Shanahan?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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To make the point, this does not belong to any one party, Independent or otherwise.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It belongs to Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It will not work if we are pointing the finger at one person versus the other.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The tail wagging the dog.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Deputy Shanahan will recall I met him when we visited WIT a few months ago and I visited the local authority. My sense of Waterford City and County Council is it is absolutely up for it. They are committed. They were all talking about how we put in the resources to make this happen.

There was an the event in Rosslare last week on the development of the port for offshore renewables. I do not know whether Deputy Shanahan attended but there were 150 people there. My sense is the community is right behind the opportunity that exists in the south-east as well as in other parts of the country to tap into that resource.

I remember, after meeting Deputy Shanahan in the Waterford local authority, we went down to the river with the county manager and we were looking at the site where we will put the new pedestrian and public transport bridge across the Suir. That is going to tender now. That is real. I could go on.

We will not work on the scale of the just transition jump we will have to make if any place is left behind. It has to belong to everyone and be involved everywhere. Waterford city, in mind, more than anywhere else, if I were to pick on the city, has a huge opportunity to become the capital of the south-east and to grow, particularly on the north quays and into Ferrybank. If there are Kilkenny Deputies here, I will be running into trouble but I see Waterford as a city that is primed-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Do not forget Tipperary.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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----- to develop as a sustainable centre. It is already happening. I note the amount of jobs that have been delivered in Waterford in the past year and they are the type of jobs, the type of people and the type of companies that want to be part of this green transition.

I fundamentally disagree with the analysis that we are not looking to the south-east as part of this transition. My Department and, certainly, my party will do everything to get the jobs, the investment and the good local environment in the south-east for the good of the people as well as the wider global challenge we must face.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Minister would try to sell sand in the Sahara.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I thank the Minister. Indeed, I accompanied the Minister on those initiatives that he discussed, but I say to him: resources, resources, resources. I have seen more reports about the south-east at this stage; I could walk on the paper of them from Waterford to Dublin.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is across the river to Deputy Shanahan.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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There is no delivery. The Minister confuses the green agenda with a Government agenda of delivery. The only boots that we have on the ground in the south-east is a chain of chemists and although all of the projects that the Minister has outlined are laudable, none of them is under way as yet. We are being promised, promised, promised. Funding to our airport has not occurred. Funding to our hospital has not occurred. Funding to the IT has not yet occurred. Funding for the north quays, although promised, has not yet been released.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Where is the Minister of State, Deputy Butler?

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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The Minister has two-and-a-half years done in this Government. I have asked the Minister if he will commit to the delivery not only of the green agenda but to the social and economic agenda of Waterford that it has been crying out for and it has deserved. It has been denied for the past 20 years.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Some of colleagues words are ringing in my ears to point out the truth, as I understand it, that the emergency department in Waterford Hospital is the top-rated in the country.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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And the most underfunded.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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But, if I am a patient, what I want is to be in the very best centre.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What about 24-hour cardiac care?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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What I hear told is that Waterford is the best.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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We have the longest waiting list of any in the country.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The best. I am also told-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Minister cannot believe all he is told.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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It is the most underfunded model 4 hospital in the country. It is patently obvious we are very efficient but we are totally under resourced.

12:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow the Minister to respond.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I am also told that second cath lab is under construction as we speak. That is an example of resources being deployed. Does the Deputy agree?

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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The commitment for that cath lab was given in 2010.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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It is an example of resources being deployed. It is being built as speak. A third example is something that was requested for a long time. Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, has university status. Has that not been delivered during the lifetime of this Government?

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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That facility did not receive investment for 20 years.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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This Government delivered it.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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The sense I got when we were at that meeting in the boardroom of WIT with the directors of services of the university - there is now a university in Waterford - is that they are good people with real skills. I agree with the Deputy that funding ought to have been provided for the resources referred to. We agree on that point. However, the Deputy should not underestimate the skills in that institution. He should not underestimate the rise of Waterford-----

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I do not underestimate Waterford at all.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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-----under this green agenda. That is the story of our future.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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The programme for Government committed to support family carers. We have also been told that a home care package will be in place by the end of the year. In that context, I ask the Minister about the Government and the Green Party position on the important issues relating to carer's allowance. Carer's allowance is means-tested. That means any household with a total gross income, before tax, USC etc., of less than €37,000 is entitled to full carer's allowance. That is a minimal amount of income. If the total gross income of a household is between €37,000 and €62,000, there is a sliding scale and a successful application for those earning €62,000 would mean approximately €10 per week in carer's allowance. Anybody earning €62,000 in gross income pays at least €20,000 in tax and USC. That shows how low the income disregards are. A person with a second property or savings of more than €20,000 starts to lose the carer's allowance. The Government has stated that will increase to €50,000 by June, which is positive and I am not minimising that change. However, it is still not enough. It is estimated that 25% of carers get carer's allowance. I know they are not all giving care full time but the Government needs to review those income disregards and get rid of the means test, which I have heard described as a "mean test" over many years.

It is also important to remember that to get carer's allowance, the person cared for must be medically assessed to be in need of full-time care. Crucially, carer's allowance is taxable, which means those who benefit most get the most income from carer's allowance.

However, this issue is not just about money. The Citizens' Assembly has said that care must be recognised in the Constitution and that Article 41 should be replaced by an article on care. That would mean the State would be obliged to support carers. The assembly also suggested the Government should increase the disregards on carer's allowance.

We are all aware of the cost of caring. Just a week or two ago, I was happy to launch, with Family Carers Ireland and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, another report on the cost of caring. The main costs are around energy and transport. In that context, will the Minister commit to working to ensure carer's allowance is a qualifying payment for the fuel allowance?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I agree with the points the Deputy has made. It is important we recognise it when we increase payments because otherwise the political support for further increases will not be there. As the Deputy said, as part of the most recent budget, the capital disregard for carers increased from €20,000 to €50,000. That was not insignificant. The improvements in the income disregard went from €332.50 per year to €350. That is not as much of an improvement as we might want but it is still a significant increase.

I will record what has been done with regard to the carer's support grant in the past year because it is important to record things with which we might want to go further so they are not just ignored and forgotten about. The grant was increased to €1,850. The qualified child allowance also increased and there was an underlying increase of €5. There are a number of ways in which this Government has recognised that what the Deputy has said is true. We need to support caring and the whole variety of roles that carers play. This is not just about the economy and getting everyone working. There is critical value in caring work we need to recognise and support.

I agree about the potential involved. If I heard the Deputy correctly, what might be called the woman's place in the home referendum will give us an opportunity to redefine the Constitution not only to remove some of its sexist aspects but also to retain what was intended by the original wording, as I understand it, and value caring work. I agree with the Deputy. That is an opportunity the Oireachtas needs to grasp to ensure we get the right wording so that we do, in our Constitution, support caring work in the home and elsewhere.

The Deputy referred to the energy and food price crisis. There will be increases in the cost of food and other materials as a result of the war in Ukraine. We have introduced a range of measures. We are going to have to think about what we do in next year's budget. It will take time and we need to talk to our social partners and others, and think about how to address this cost-of-living crisis. My sense is that we should be targeted in what we do because those on the lowest incomes or facing certain circumstances may be caught out most.

I had a meeting yesterday with the team in my Department that is looking at the issues of energy security and our response to the crisis. Mr. Alan Barrett from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, is helping to co-ordinate work we are doing with the modelling from the ESRI, University College Cork and University College Dublin to try, in the period as we approach the budget, to target areas where there is the most need in the context of the cost-of-living increase. That might provide the opportunity for what I sense the Deputy is looking for, that is, detailed modelling to target those most at risk, which may be those in the role of carer. That modelling work may help us to target them and design a solution to protect them most in any response.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank the Minister. I have heard what he has said about targeting. Whether the Government gets rid of the means test or increases further the income disregards, we will see the outcome when the modelling is done. The Government needs to take one of those measures because that is what the Citizens' Assembly has asked it to do. The Citizens' Assembly also made another important point. Gross income is taken into consideration. This means family carers, male or female, are relying on their partner's income to support them and to support care in the home. The assembly also asked for social welfare payments to be individualised. That is an important point. Men and women who are carers find themselves at a significant disadvantage because of the way this legislation is put in place.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act will come into being in June this year. That means family members will have a formal role to play. It is an extra commitment and an extra administrative burden on all family carers. The Government also needs to take that into consideration.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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We will take that into consideration. I understand the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, last year published a cost of disability report that might help to back up some of the Deputy's argument. I believe the Deputy is looking at a wider and important budget issue. Over the years, Social Justice Ireland has made a case similar to that the Deputy is making, that is, we could look at the use of refundable tax credits or other mechanisms to recognise we individualised the tax system but did not the social welfare system. That is a broad issue that goes back some 20 years. There is a real case for such a further evolution, because if we do everything on the assumption that it is all about people in work and leave behind and do not recognise the work of people who are outside the paid workforce, that would be a real injustice. This is not a small change and is not easy to make. It might have to be done on a step-by-step process.

I agree with the broad premise. It is about valuing, perhaps in a universal way, everyone's contribution and giving people freedom and flexibility to make their choice as to what is best for their life, be that caring or other roles.