Tuesday, 17 May 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re referral of Consumer Rights Bill 2022 to Select Committee (without debate)
- Motion re Thirteenth Report of the Committee of Selection (without debate)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Street Furniture Fees) Regulations 2022 (back from Committee) (without debate)
- Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform on Amendments to Standing Orders correcting cross-references and other drafting amendments (without debate)
- Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to be interrupted at 4.50 p.m. or after one hour, whichever is the later)
Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re National Maternity Services, selected by Sinn Féin. Wednesday's business shall be: - Statements on Just Transition (not to exceed 145 minutes)
- Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] (Second stage, resumed) (if not previously concluded, to be interrupted at 6.45 p.m. or after 90 minutes, whichever is the later)
- Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 (Report and Final Stages) (to be taken no earlier than 6.45 p.m.)
- Sick Leave Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (if not previously concluded, to conclude at 8.30 p.m.)
Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Subsidies for Developers, selected by the Social Democrats. Thursday's business shall be: - Motion re withdrawal of Planning and Development (Strategic Housing Developments) (Amendment) Bill 2021 (without debate)
- Statements on the Strategic Plan for the renewal of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (not to exceed 145 minutes)
- Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] (Second stage, resumed, if not previously concluded) (to be interrupted at 6.09 p.m., if not previously concluded)
Thursday evening business shall be the Motion re Report entitled 'Report on the Detailed Scrutiny of the Education (Admissions to School) Bill 2020’.
Proposed Arrangements for this week's business:
In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the MotionreThirteenth Report of the Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate;
2. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development (Street Furniture Fees) Regulations 2022 shall be taken without debate;
3. the Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform on Amendments to Standing Orders correcting cross-references and other drafting amendments shall be taken without debate; and
4. notwithstanding the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders, the proceedings on Second Stage of the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021
[Seanad] shall be interrupted earlier than 6.12 p.m. to take private members' business, either at 4.50 p.m. or one hour after the conclusion of Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1)(a), whichever is the later. In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the Statements on Just Transition shall not exceed 145 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 135 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time;
2. the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted either at 6.45 p.m. or 90 minutes after the conclusion of the Statements on Just Transition, whichever is the later, in order to take Report and Final Stages of the Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019, which shall, in any event, be taken no earlier than 6.45 p.m.; and
3. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Sick Leave Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 8.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the Statements on the Strategic Plan for the renewal of the National Parks and Wildlife Service shall not exceed 145 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 135 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time; and
2. notwithstanding the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders, the proceedings on the resumed Second Stage of the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Bill 2021 [Seanad] shall be interrupted earlier than 7.24 p.m. to take topical issues; if not previously concluded, the proceedings on the Bill shall be interrupted at 6.09 p.m.
They are not agreed. We had really shocking and devastating news from Westminster this morning for families and communities that have spent decades fighting for truth and justice for their loved ones who were lost in the conflict. The British Government proposes by close of business this evening to legislate for an end to families being able to take any civil actions or litigation and by the end of the year it will have blocked families from accessing inquests. Furthermore, it is proceeding with an amnesty for its troops.
This is an outrage. It is totally outside of international law. I have to say, it means definitively now the shredding of the Stormont House Agreement. It is to me akin to the actions of a rogue state.
The British Government again acts unilaterally and refuses to implement that which is agreed. It refuses to work in partnership with anybody or with the Irish Government. Above all else, it treats families and survivors with utter contempt. I ask the Taoiseach to stand with the families today and to call out the actions of the British administration.
In addition, I seek a facility for statements in this House this week on this pressing issue.
My four colleagues from People Before Profit and I have just come from the Palestinian embassy, where we signed the book of condolences for Shireen Abu Akleh, who was assassinated in cold blood by Israeli snipers during a criminal raid by Israeli forces on Jenin last week. Over the weekend, this new low by the apartheid State of Israel was surpassed with the absolutely bestial behaviour of Israeli forces attacking the coffin of Shireen Abu Akleh at her funeral and attacking the pallbearers, an act of such savagery that it is difficult to describe. This was a journalist doing her job, who was cut down and whose funeral was attacked.
At last week’s meeting of the Business Committee, it was asked that there would be statements about this shocking murder and we thought we had Government agreement that there would be statements, because we need action to be taken to make Israel accountable for this murderous action and its actions over the weekend at Shireen's funeral.
I certainly support that call, which is very important.
I seek statements over the course of the next few days in this House on delays in the processing of passport applications. I am not the only Deputy who has been inundated with calls, emails and other forms of contact from distressed constituents because of lengthy delays in the processing of passports, in many cases for urgent travel in the context of family bereavement abroad. It has become a matter of immense concern to us. We have corresponded with the Business Committee seeking statements on this issue. While we are conscious there are many other demands on the Dáil schedule, I ask that we might facilitate statements on this to see if we can find a way to resolve the issue. It is causing immense distress daily for many people across the country. It is not confined to any one constituency. There is a serious issue with the processing of passports.
The World Health Assembly is meeting from 22 to 28 May, which is next week. If it amends the regulations, all the powers of this Parliament and other parliaments in respect of when a pandemic is called or when there is a national crisis will be signed away. If this happens, one unelected person at the World Health Organization will be able to decide there is a pandemic in a country without that country even knowing it. Will the Taoiseach or other members of the Government be attending the meeting? Can we have a debate on this most serious situation in this House of Parliament, which purports to be accountable to the people who elect us? Are we going to sign away all our rights to the WHO?
To clarify, the Business Committee, in considering the brutal murder of the Al Jazeera journalist and the assault on her funeral, agreed we would also include, in any debate we would have, the murder in Ukraine of the Irish citizen journalist.
I thank the Deputies for raising the various concerns regarding the Order of Business as outlined this week. On the announcement today by the British Government, as I said earlier at the remembrance ceremony for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the 48th anniversary of the worst atrocity of that time, the Stormont House Agreement remains the agreed position of the two Governments and all the political parties. This unilateral departure by the United Kingdom is not welcome and I have made it consistently clear to the British Prime Minister on an ongoing basis that unilateralism does not work in respect of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. People may have issues but I do not believe any serious effort has been made to implement the Stormont House Agreement. From that perspective, I have met quite a number of victims' organisations over recent months and I stand with the victims of all atrocities, not just those perpetrated by the British armed forces but all of them.
Some terrible atrocities were committed and we need full accountability for all of them. That needs to happen as well. There were discussions between the British and Irish Governments through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Again, it is regrettable that this move has been made, apparently in the context of a domestic party political agenda, as opposed to the context of the broader issues. To be fair, I do not underestimate the challenges all around but, when you meet the victims and the different victims' organisations in respect of different atrocities, they are very clear that they want no amnesty. They want full accountability and for people to be brought before the courts, if possible, and to be prosecuted. That is the least they deserve.
To respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett, my understanding is that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is not available for a debate this week. The Government is absolutely determined to hold such a debate in line with what the Ceann Comhairle has said. I share the Deputy's abhorrence of the aggression at the funeral. I could not comprehend that. It is important that we have such a debate to uphold the importance of a free and independent media in bringing honest and objective accounts of conflict situations to the world. We have witnessed this importance in Ukraine, where an Irish journalist lost his life endeavouring to bring the truth to the Irish public and the wider world through his work.
To be helpful to the House, I would be very happy to have such a debate but I would like to be here for it, if that is possible. As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have made some quite strong statements on both the killing and what happened at the funeral, which was disgraceful and should be condemned. I have no problem in doing that but I would like to be here for the debate. I believe it would be helpful to the House. I happen to be in Turin on Thursday and Friday of this week because Ireland is taking the chair of the Council of Europe. That is unavoidable for me but I would be happy to attend a debate early next week, if the House agrees.
Deputy Bacik raised the issue of passports. We could have a debate, perhaps next week, but there will not be time this week. An additional €10 million has been provided in budget 2022. Passport Service staff numbers have increased by more than 300 since June 2021. There is a recruitment campaign ongoing for temporary clerical officers. The competition is under way and, once complete, we will see staffing numbers of over 900 in the Passport Service, which represents a doubling of staff numbers since last summer. Some 460,000 passports have been issued in 2022 to date. In the same period in 2019, 355,000 were issued.
Deputy Mattie McGrath raised the issue of the World Health Organization, WHO. I am a strong supporter of the organisation and believe we should increase and enhance its capacity to deal with pandemics. The World Health Organization is the body that calls pandemics, rather than national governments. There is a very good reason for that. Some governments in the world would never call a pandemic even if one was blowing right through their countries. I know that from previous experience. To put it another way, some are more tardy than others when it comes to admitting what is going on.
I am not shy at all with regard to pandemics. To be serious, one risk is that during the last pandemic, the previous President of the United States, Donald Trump, made efforts to undermine the WHO. That did not serve the world well.
The housing crisis is crippling my generation. Thanks to the Government's policies, the possibility of owning a home or renting an affordable apartment has become a pipe dream rather than a legitimate aspiration. Young people in Galway, like those in most other counties in Ireland, are bearing the brunt of the crisis. The figures do not lie. According to research published by The Times, Ireland edition, the number of Airbnb listings in Galway is 1,574. This compares with the number of rentals available on daft.ie, which stands at just 44. Rents in Galway city and county have increased by 14% and 18%, respectively. It now costs €1,585 per month, on average, to rent a home in Galway city. The average house price in Galway is €335,000, with house prices having increased by 21%.
Already, we have had the largest commencement in terms of new housing, of 35,000 units from March to March. It is the largest number of commencements since 2008.
Without doubt, housing is the biggest crisis facing the country. We had two lockdowns during the Covid crisis, which was a significant factor. However, I think the Deputy's party will have to stop objecting left, right and centre to developments here.
I am struck, for example, by how her party opposes every build-to-rent development in the Republic. It makes it a kind of issue of principle, whereas in Northern Ireland, the party has no difficulty in supporting the largest build-to-rent proposal put forward. The party supports build-to-rent housing in Northern Ireland but opposes it down here.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I want to say how disappointed we are by, and, indeed, how much we deplore, the Cabinet decision taken today to proceed with the new National Maternity Hospital despite the real and substantial ongoing concerns around ownership, control and governance that we and others have expressed to the Taoiseach and the Government. We have engaged with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I, along with many of my party colleagues, attended the rally on Saturday and saw the immense concern, distress and worry that many people feel about the fact the hospital is to be built on land that is not ultimately going to be in public ownership.
We in the Labour Party first raised the question of compulsory purchase five years ago, in 2017. Just today, I received clear figures from An Bord Pleanála as to the period for determining compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. In 2021, the average number of weeks to dispose all CPO cases was 24.72. From the beginning of January to the end of April this year, the average time to dispose all CPO cases was 20 weeks, which is just under five months.
The Taoiseach would have had the Opposition united with him in delaying further to ensure better negotiation, that the land would be publicly owned, that the public National Maternity Hospital would be built on land that is in public ownership and that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Does she deplore the building of a modern maternity facility with state-of-the-art facilities for women in the 21st century? I hope she withdraws those words in the future, when what emerges will be the very opposite of what she is suggesting. There are no issues around the public ownership of this hospital. It is a tenner a week for 300 years. There also is no issue in terms of its governance. The advice the Government has received is watertight in respect of guarantees around all services being provided.
The current structure of the summer programme for children with complex needs is not working and only a minority of schools are running it. This leaves children who desperately need it without educational and developmental support for two months, which we know is detrimental to their progress and well-being.
Despite pleas from parents, the Minister has been unwilling to change the programme so far. Responsibility for organising it is put on overstretched principals and teachers, while special needs assistants, SNAs, are disgracefully underpaid for this essential work. Last year, many of them were not paid until January for the July provision. Disgracefully, deeply worried parents have already given up on accessing the programme at all this year. Families are desperately asking for reform to ensure it is available in schools next year. I know this is a matter the Taoiseach fully supports, but will he commit to developing a new approach to ensure that all children who need it have access to a school-based summer programme?
This is a programme that the Minister is very committed to, so much so that up to €40 million is being made available to fund the programme. Forty million euro is a very significant sum of money-----
-----which indicates a very significant degree of capacity as well. It will also address the needs of migrant students by addressing English language skills and integration. The funding provision enables schools to hire a co-ordinator or overseer for the programme, which means that principals do not have to take this role if they do not wish to do so. This position is paid at a higher rate for special schools in recognition of the greater complexity of organising the programme in the special school setting. The administrative burden for schools has been reduced by the creation of a centralised application system and by putting in place arrangements to pay staff sooner, with an online payments portal for schools. The Department has worked with schools to create better guidance documents for schools, explainer videos, webinars for schools and so forth.
Like me and most Members of the House, the Taoiseach will have been horrified by the cold-blooded murder of Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. To compound that misery, the Israeli Defence Force attacked sympathisers just for waving the Palestinian flag. Some 50 Palestinian journalists have been systematically murdered by the Israeli Defence Force over the past 20 years. Many people in this country will say that we have to go beyond condemnation and sanction the Israeli state on the basis of systematic murder, occupation and brutality. While the world looks on, lip service is paid in that regard. What is the Government going to do? We did it in the 1980s in respect of apartheid South Africa. Why can we not do it to apartheid Israel?
Again, I strongly condemn the killing of the Al Jazeera reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, in Jenin on 11 May last. As I have said time and again, media freedom and the safety of journalists must be paramount and must be protected. We have called for an immediate impartial, independent and effective investigation. Ireland's representative in Ramallah attended Shireen's funeral. The excessive use of force by the police at her funeral was disgraceful and totally unacceptable. Through the European Union, bilaterally and directly, Ireland will continue to raise these issues. We are concerned about a range of things that are taking place. We issued a statement on 13 May on the construction of more than 4,000 new housing units in the West Bank. We are endeavouring to accelerate funding from the EU to Palestine. The delay is unacceptable at present.
I do not have a question on promised legislation. Instead, I welcome the Ukrainian students, who are pupils of Galway Community College, in the Visitors Gallery today. They asked their teacher Mr. Philip Cribbin if they could visit the Irish Parliament and asked me to read out a short note of thanks to the Irish Government and the Irish people for the heartwarming welcome they have received since they arrived here. Their message is as follows:
We would like to thank Galway Community College, the Irish government and its ... people for [the] warmth, support and hospitality we have received since we arrived [in Ireland]. When we return home we believe that what we have learnt and experienced in Ireland will help us create a positive new chapter in the history of Ukraine where we will work to rebuild our country's economy, infrastructure and our lives. A piece of our hearts will always be Irish. Slava Ukrainiand Míle buíochas to the Irish people.
I thank the Deputy for so eloquently articulating the emotions and the message from the Ukrainian students at Galway Community College.
We thank the college and the people of Galway for welcoming the students so warmly, as they have articulated. On behalf of the Irish people, I also thank the students for bringing insights to us and for shining a light on what has happened to both their families and their people in Ukraine. Our students will be much the better for the experience of meeting with the Ukrainian students and sharing their classrooms and school with them. They have enriched us, and we thank them for that.
The Government’s Housing for All plan is inappropriately named. It estimates that 7,550 affordable houses will be built before 2026 using State-owned land. Not one single house will be built in Tipperary. We have an acute housing crisis in Tipperary, from Carrick-on-Suir right up to Moneygall. My office, like everyone else's, is inundated. The Rev. Fr. Michael Toomey was on the radio this morning. He has written to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I ask the Taoiseach to ask the Minister to meet a deputation of Oireachtas Members for Tipperary because what is happening is unfair and unjust. The Government calls the plan Housing for All, but it is a shambles. Even all the emergency accommodation is full. People will not be entertained by the council until they are evicted, and then there is a crisis, every hour of every day. That is simply unbelievable in a rural county, but that is the way it is. The Government should rename the plan because it is certainly not Housing for All. That is an inappropriate name. It is an insult to the people who are begging for housing.
-----that has been outlined in quite some time. It is backed up by resources of €4 billion per annum. The Deputy might check, and I will check, to see what the situation is in regard to Tipperary County Council-----
-----engaging with the Minister in respect of affordable housing in particular. There is a strong pipeline of social housing this year, because of the focus we have put on that, but there is also provision for a wide range of affordable home schemes as well. I have no issue in working with the Deputy and with other Deputies. The Minister is in touch with all of the Deputies in Tipperary on a consistent basis in respect of housing issues.
Last week, we heard of the terrible murder of well-respected international journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. This was a deliberate and targeted murder by Israeli occupation forces that violated international law. We did not see the opening of borders or the allocation of accommodation for Palestinian people fleeing conflict. We did not see Israel excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest along with Russia, despite its war crimes. We did not see the same media outcry regarding the Israeli occupation forces shocking attack at Shireen's funeral procession. This is not good enough. We need to do much more to assist and stand up for the people of Palestine, who are suffering under Israeli occupation.
Will the Taoiseach commit to treating all refugees fleeing war with the same compassion, and will he at least urge the United States' Government to end its $3.8 billion annual funding to the Israeli military and campaign against the EU support for the Israeli regime?
I just note the partisan management of the presentation in terms of the European Union. The European Union is the biggest donor to Palestine, and it strongly supports the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, as does the Government, which is the most effective and important relief organisation for Palestinians. That all gets forgotten in the presentation.
Equally, Ireland has continued to meet its obligations in respect of refugees from all conflict areas, as it has done in the past, including Syria. The war in Ukraine is the worst historical humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. I am not saying that; the United Nations is saying it. Hence, the unprecedented nature of the effort that is being made.
The Taoiseach will be aware that medical scientists in many HSE hospitals are due to strike tomorrow, which will have implications for patients and hospitals alike. Medical scientists provide 24-7 services in hospitals, and most of them have a science degree or a master's qualification. The action is in frustration over long-running pay and career development issues that are affecting recruitment and retention in the sector. The medical scientists will of course provide emergency cover, but elective surgeries will likely be impacted. Many of these patients have been waiting years for surgery.
One multiple sclerosis patient who is attending the National Orthopaedic Hospital Cappagh is terrified that he will lose a hip replacement appointment for tomorrow. I ask the Taoiseach to raise this issue as a matter of urgency with the Minister for Health, ask for a fair settlement for medical scientists and ensure that any patients who are impacted will have their procedures rescheduled to the earliest possible date.
I thank Deputy Devlin for raising this important issue. I recognise the hugely important work and role of medical scientists in the proper functioning of our health system. I pay tribute to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of all medical scientists throughout the country.
The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association, MLSA, has a long-standing concern regarding to the pay and career structure of the medical scientist grade. It wants pay parity between medical scientists and clinical biochemists. Health sector management has been engaging with the MLSA regarding these issues under the existing public service agreement. The important point here is that the public service agreement group, which comprises union and Civil Service representatives and which has an independent chair, met on 11 May to consider this matter. They recommended that matter would be immediately referred to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and that industrial-----
-----peace would be maintained in the meantime. While the MLSA has agreed to engage at WRC, it has not agreed to lift its strike action, which is in breach of Building Momentum. I would appreciate it if - and I ask again that - the strike action be lifted in order to allow the process take its course.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 commits Ireland to a legally binding target of climate neutrality or a climate-neutral economy by no later than 2050 and a reduction in emissions of 51% by 2030. The construction and built environment sector accounts for approximately 37% of Ireland’s carbon emissions. This equals the level of emissions from agriculture. Some 14% of this is attributed to embodied carbon emissions, namely, the emissions from mining, quarrying, transporting and manufacturing of building materials, as well as from repairing, renovating and disposing of those building materials at their end of life. In order to fulfil our obligations under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce the climate catastrophe that we have been warned about, the State needs to introduce carbon limits for our built environment. We are lagging behind other EU countries. They are far ahead of us in measuring embodied carbon and in introducing carbon limits-----
The wider Government agenda includes the setting of carbon emissions targets and sectoral carbon budgets. All sectors of the economy, including that relating to the built environment, will have to make a contribution in respect of the State’s overall obligation, under law, to reach those targets. Carbon that is embedded in the built environment will also have to be accounted for. That whole area has to respond, just like every other sector of the economy. It will prove challenging.
A Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was executed by apartheid Israel. Israel knew that the eyes of the world were on it. Yet, it still executed Shireen. The Government has condemned this act, but what is the point of condemnation without consequences? It is because of the reluctance of the Government and the EU to impose consequences on Israel for its terror, that the latter carries out acts like the execution of a journalist. The reality is that the Government is complicit in the murder of Shireen. That is because Ireland stands and watches. Ireland’s acts allow Israel to act with impunity in carrying out these acts of terror. What will the consequences be for apartheid Israel for executing a journalist?
Ireland, under successive Governments, has done more than most countries. I have been there, because I served as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Ireland has been one of the strongest European Union countries in condemning Israeli activity.
Not only that, we have challenged Israel at a variety of international fora, not least the United Nations Security Council. The Secretary General of the UN pulled me aside last year when he was addressing the European Council to thank me for Ireland’s role in holding Israel to account at the highest international level. It is just not good enough when Deputies come into the House and throw these statements around like confetti.
Just four months ago, an English career criminal, Logan Jackson, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of young man in Limerick. That young man had an outstanding sporting background and had a great future ahead of him.
It now transpires Mr. Jackson has sought permission to be relocated to the United Kingdom to serve the balance of his sentence. The family of the victim are traumatised and scandalised by this development and the very thought this request could be acceded to, when the guy is only four months into his sentence. Their outrage is shared by thousands of people throughout the Limerick region who have signed a petition to that effect.
I ask and implore the Taoiseach to speak to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to urge her to refuse this request. It is cruel and perverse to add to the suffering of a family that has already suffered so much. It is farcical that a benefit should be conferred on somebody who has committed a crime almost unparalleled in its viciousness and barbarism.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am conscious of the trauma that can be imposed on a family in situations like this, where those who have murdered their loved ones can get what could be seen as preferential treatment in being moved or relocated four months after sentencing. I will talk to the Minister for Justice regarding this because we have to bear in mind how families feel about these situations, and those relating to parole, especially those who have been victims of horrific crimes and whose loved ones have been taken from them in the most violent of manners.
The pandemic bonus payment has been announced and re-announced a number of times at this stage. When will the payment be made? Who will qualify? Will it be paid to employees of section 38 and section 39 organisations, and employees of groups operating under section 10 of the housing Act?
Many schools have enrolled students from Ukraine. They are happy to do so, but there are issues regarding the need for interpreters, the need for more hours for English as an additional language and more special needs assistants and special education teachers. Can anything be done to assist?
The medical scientist dispute is 21 years in the making. I noted the Taoiseach's earlier reply to Deputy Devlin. The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association, MLSA, has proposed some innovative solutions to this dispute at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, over the last period. It is in the WRC at present. In my view, the HSE and the Department of Health want to resolve this issue but those standing in the way are represented by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I ask the Taoiseach to send a clear message to the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to do all they can at this late hour to enable a resolution to this dispute because tomorrow's action is utterly avoidable.
Yes. My understanding is the pandemic bonus payment has commenced. I will follow up on the issuing of it more broadly with the Minister for Health.
On Deputy Stanton's issue, I thank all the schools for the work they have been doing in taking in so many children from Ukraine in so quick a time. Clearly, resources are required in respect of interpreters and English language teaching. To be fair, we are getting closer to the end of the school term. Certainly, we will need to have that situation organised more effectively by the autumn session. There has been an absorption period since Ukrainians arrived in the country but we have to make sure we have comprehensive provision in respect of that.
I believe a process is in place in which MLSA are participants. It is important all sides work with conviction to bring the matter to a conclusion. I ask for the strike action perhaps to be lifted pending the outcome of this particular phase of talks.
It is Bike Week. Can we expand the bike to work scheme to people who are not PAYE workers, to the self-employed, the unemployed, pensioners and students? A shift to a subsidy- or voucher-based scheme would bring in many people who currently are not eligible for it and it would be a very good thing to announce during Bike Week.
The programme for Government commits to maintaining the right of a social housing tenant to purchase his or her home. However, purchase of a Part V local authority home is not permitted under the tenant incremental purchase scheme, which came into operation on 1 January 2016 to allow tenants to buy their homes. Where tenancies predate the regulations, tenants were never informed they would never be able to purchase their homes. I ask that the current review taking place takes this particular cohort of individuals into account.
We still have ongoing challenges in the private forestry sector. The target for licences for private landowners was reached in only one month out of the past 11. The Social Economic Environmental Forestry Association of Ireland has highlighted the fact there is a queue of 400 licences, none of which has been approved in the past five weeks. I ask the Taoiseach to take urgent action because this is very unfair on the private forestry sector. We need urgent action. What actions will he take to improve this situation?
Deputy Costello's idea is excellent. I will talk to the Ministers with the purse strings but some innovation would be a good idea. We should expand that scheme, where possible.
On the matter raised by Deputy Naughten, I will talk to the Minister in respect of the review. We are anxious and are now adding to the additional social housing stock at a considerable scale to build up a sufficiency of stock so we will have enough into the future to make sure we do not have the emergency situation we had some years ago, where people were not in a position to access emergency accommodation.
Forestry licensing in 2021 was 56% higher than 2020, with 4,000 licences issued compared to 2,592 in 2020. That said, we want to get take-up. The allocation for forestry this year is approximately €100 million. We want to make sure as many trees as possible are planted. That is key. On commercial forestry, the availability of a significant volume of timber, approximately 8.5 million cu. m, stabilised supply to the processing sector in 2021. That was the highest volume ever issued in a single year but there is still work to be done. I will not be happy until I see much greater levels of plantation and afforestation.