Dáil debates

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

3:05 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move:

Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Fourteenth Report of Committee of Selection (without debate)

- Motion re Referral to Joint Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of title: Chiropodist) Regulations 2022 (without debate)

- Motion re Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions (without debate)

- Electoral Reform Bill 2022 — Motion to Instruct the Committee (to conclude within 60 minutes)

- Statements on Transport, Accelerating Sustainable Mobility (not to exceed 145 minutes)

Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Rising Food Prices, selected by Sinn Féin. Wednesday's business shall be: - Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (to be interrupted, if not previously concluded, either at 6.30 p.m., or 3 hours and 41 minutes after the conclusion of the SOS, whichever is the later)

- Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to be taken no earlier than 6.30 p.m. and to conclude within 90 minutes)

- Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 30 minutes)

Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Housing Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability, selected by the Regional Group. Thursday's business shall be: - Statements on Higher Education, Investment in Higher Education and Reducing the Cost for Families (not to exceed 145 minutes)

- Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded)

Thursday evening business shall be the Motion re Report entitled “Urban Regeneration”. Proposed Arrangements for this week's business In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that—
(i) oral Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) shall not be taken; and

(ii) Government business may continue after 6.12 p.m. in order to allow the Statements on Transport, Accelerating Sustainable Mobility to conclude, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the items of business following, as well as on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;
2. the Motion re Fourteenth Report of Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate;

3. the Motion re Referral to Joint Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (Section 95(3)) (Variation of title: Chiropodist) Regulations 2022 shall be taken without debate;

4. the Motion re Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions shall be taken without debate;

5. the Motion to instruct the Committee on the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) the order of speaking and allocation of time shall be as follows:
- opening speech by a Minister or Minister of State ‒ 7.5 minutes;

- speeches by representatives of Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People-Before-Profit-Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group, and the Independent Group

‒ 7.5 minutes per party or group; and
(ii) members may share time; and
6. the Statements on Transport, Accelerating Sustainable Mobility 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.
In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the proceedings on the second reading motion on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted either at 6.30 p.m., or three hours and 41 minutes after the conclusion of the SOS, whichever is the later, in order to take Report and Final Stages of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022: Provided that, in any event, Report and Final Stages of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall be taken no earlier than 6.30 p.m.;

2. the proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes 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 Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications;

3. the proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of the Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes 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 Minister for Finance; and

4. the weekly division time shall be taken on the conclusion of proceedings on the Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that:
1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that—
(i) topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37 shall be taken either at 6.30 p.m., or on the conclusion of Government business, whichever is the earlier, and

(ii) notwithstanding the Order of the Dáil of 10th September, 2020, the Motion re Report entitled "Urban Regeneration" may be taken for longer than 75 minutes;
2. the Dáil on its rising shall adjourn until 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday 14th June, 2022;

3. the Statements on Higher Education, Investment in Higher Education and Reducing the Cost for Families 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

4. the proceedings on the Motion re Report entitled "Urban Regeneration" shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 135 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by the Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for that time, and members may share time.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Are the arrangements for this week's business agreed to?

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Not agreed.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Not agreed. I listen to the Minister and I always wish him well but how can the Government sit by and allow 65% tax on every litre of fuel and diesel? The price of these goods is skyrocketing and it is driving inflation mad. We need an urgent debate on this in this House. The Minister talked about the €2 billion the Government spent but that is wiped away on a daily basis because people cannot afford to heat their homes and put fuel in their cars. They have to choose between heat, food and petrol or diesel. Unless the Government grasps the nettle and does something, facing into the late summer and autumn, we will have terrible problems, which we have already. We need an urgent debate on this issue.

The Rural Independent Group has written to the Minister's colleague to take action and he has refused point blank. The Government should take a leaf out of Poland's and other European countries' book. They have taken strong action to try to help their people, which this Government was elected to do.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Statements on higher education are planned for Thursday but we only had statements on an area of higher education last Thursday. We need statements on special education. We are not sitting next week and there is a crisis in special education school places across the country. It is the last day of May and SNA allocations have yet to be published. I understand the warehousing plan of the Minister of State at the Department of Education with responsibility for special education and inclusion has been scrapped. We do not need statements on higher education this Thursday; we need statements on special education and we have written to the Business Committee to seek that. It is important.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to add my voice to the call for statements on special education this week. It is a real shame that on the last day of May, SNA allocations still have not been announced. This is a sad indictment of how the Department treats those at the front line who are providing essential services to children in our schools. It is vital that we have statements on these issues towards the end of this week.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On Deputy Mattie McGrath's point, there is a Private Members' motion before the House today from Sinn Féin on the cost of living so that provides an opportunity for further debate on fuel costs and the costs that people are facing.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister is in government.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes and the Government is providing time every week to facilitate debate on all these issues.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Action.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On Deputy Ó Ríordáin's point, the debate last week was on apprenticeships and this week's debate is on third level education. On Deputy Gannon's point, my understanding is that the SNA allocations will be confirmed this afternoon by the Department of Education.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is that a "No"?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is not necessary. We stand over the proposed Order of Business.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

If the Ceann Comhairle was an SNA he would think it was damn necessary to have a debate on special education this week-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Or a parent.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----or a parent, or somebody seeking a school place. We will be calling a vote on this issue. We demand statements on special education this Thursday to replace the statements on higher education.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Chief Whip has indicated that statements on special education can be facilitated the week we come back.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Dáil is not sitting next week.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The debate can be facilitated the week we are back.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The week after next.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We will facilitate all the other requests in the order they come in.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to make it clear that at every meeting of the Business Committee statements are requested on a variety of issues. To give the Government its due, it has tried to facilitate all those requests over a period of time. If the Whip is saying he will do it the week after next, we can take him at his word.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I doubt there is a Deputy in this House who would suggest that statements on higher and further education this Thursday are more pressing than statements on special education.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would suspect that they are all pressing issues-----

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Exactly.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and that the people looking to go to higher education and wanting to know what their future is-----

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is a particular issue in the country that the Ceann Comhairle will appreciate. The issue is that SNA allocations have yet to be announced and I understand that may happen at 3 p.m. today. School places have still not been found and there is an issue around the Minister of State with responsibility for special education and inclusion's dealings with this issue. This week is the week for us to deal with it. There will be no sitting next week and waiting two weeks is just not acceptable to us.

3:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Bríd Smith is indicating.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No, a Cheann Comhairle. I was just asking for a glass of water. I have nothing to say.

A Deputy:

For the first time ever.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is most unusual, Deputy Smith. Is the proposal for dealing with this week's business agreed to?

Deputies:

No. Vótáil.

Question put: : "That the arrangements for dealing with this week's business be agreed to."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 51; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Brendan Griffin; Níl, Deputies Duncan Smith and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Colm Burke, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy.

Níl

Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Pat Buckley, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward.

Question declared carried.

3:25 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

3 o’clock

On Friday we had another very depressing sense of déjà vuin respect of family homelessness when the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage reported that we are now back to pre-pandemic levels of homelessness, with more than 10,000 people in emergency accommodation, nearly 3,000 of whom are children. This is the sharpest edge of the housing crisis that has been created, perpetuated and presided over by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Make no mistake, this scandal is of the Government's making. It consistently fails to provide an adequate level of real social housing, refuses to address the problems in the private rental sector and also refuses to introduce rigorous protections against eviction. It is now time to see sense. I do not know what will shame this Government into action, if these figures and almost children 3,000 children in homelessness do not. People are sick of kids growing up in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation. When will we see sense? When will we see the Government take the actions that will work to address this crisis?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Any increase in the level of homelessness is deeply regrettable and disappointing and warrants action from Government. That is why we are acting. This is the number one priority for the Government. We are investing a record amount of money to increase the supply of all forms of housing, including public and cost-rental housing as well as the introduction of new affordable schemes. We are also working with the private sector and the Land Development Agency. We are seeing progress in relation to supply and that is ultimately the solution here. Nearly 35,000 homes commenced construction in the year to March 2022 which is the highest rolling 12-month figure since records began. We will deliver close to 12,000 social homes this year, of which 9,000 will be new builds. The cost-rental model is now being rolled out. It is about delivering as much as we possibly can to address the homelessness challenge, which is growing and is of serious concern.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Truly shocking figures on homelessness were released over the weekend, with over 10,000 people without a home nationally, almost 3,000 of whom are children. There are more than 7,000 people in Dublin without a home, a shocking figure. We also have obligations to the Ukrainian community here. I welcome the Ukrainian Action in Ireland representatives who are in the Public Gallery. We are all very conscious of the need to deliver on housing and to deliver an effective housing policy.

Earlier I attended the re-launch of Raise the Roof and commend all those involved in this very broad-based coalition which has put forward very reasonable and sensible proposals to ensure that we see a supply of affordable homes coming on stream and that these affordable homes are delivered swiftly in order to address the really serious and chronic needs of so many communities across the country and in our capital city.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I also welcome the Ukrainian representatives to the House. I share Deputy Bacik's view about the level of priority that this must be afforded. The Government is investing a record amount of money and that has to be translated into the delivery of homes. Ultimately, what will make a difference here is the breadth of different types of tenure and making progress on that. This includes cost rental, which is a very welcome innovation in Ireland. It is good to see individual schemes coming on stream now. There will also be affordable purchase schemes, including in Cork city, coming on stream in the coming weeks. That is very welcome. Private supply is increasing as well. We are investing in tackling voids. We had over 5,200 exits from homelessness over 2021.

Additional local authority homes are being brought on stream, with more than 6,000 delivered across 2020 and 2021 via the voids programme. A further 2,000 homes will be remediated this year.

3:30 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want to ask about the Government's plans to give €450 million in subsidies to developers. These subsidies will be used to build apartments that, according to an analysis by the Business Post, will only be affordable for people on the top 15% of incomes. In the Dáil and the national media, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has repeatedly stated that the subsidies will be going directly to homeowners and not to developers. This is simply not true. Documents published by the Housing Agency state clearly and unambiguously that these subsidies will be paid straight into the accounts of developers' solicitors. When the Cabinet signed off on this, were Ministers aware that these subsidies would be paid directly to developers or were they given the same incorrect information that the Dáil has been given? Were the Minister and his colleagues misled and told that the subsidies would be given to homeowners?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy. This is one aspect of Housing For All. The starting point is to acknowledge that we have a problem in that we are not seeing build-for-sale apartments being built. We are not seeing them in Dublin to any great extent and we are not really seeing them elsewhere throughout the country to any extent at all. In my city of Cork, the last private sector development where apartments were built for sale was finished back in 2008. Since then, the only apartments built in the city were those built by local authorities or approved housing bodies, supported by the State. We have a problem. If we want to implement our national planning framework, if we want compact development and if we want all of these exciting, brownfield regeneration sites to be developed in our cities, we are going to have to do something. This initiative is designed to ensure that apartments are built for sale for owner-occupiers and will make the development of such apartments viable where that would otherwise not be the case.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Earlier, the National Traveller Mental Health Network held a protest outside the Dáil in respect of Traveller mental health. It held a similar protest five months ago. One of its main calls at the time was for a meeting with the Taoiseach. At today's protest, there was a sense of music and a sense of poetry but there was also a deep sense of hopelessness and despair within the Traveller community regarding Traveller mental health. It is an atrocious situation. On "Morning Ireland" earlier, a member of the Traveller community spoke about the 29 members of her extended family who have died by suicide. That is an absolutely atrocious situation. I have two questions. Will the Taoiseach meet with representatives from the network immediately? Will the action plan for Traveller mental health be implemented as soon as possible?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for raising this matter. I will not speak for the Taoiseach, but I do not believe he would be reluctant to have a meeting. This is an issue that we will refer to his office. I wish to reassure the Deputy that the finalisation and publication of the national Traveller health action plan is a priority issue for the Department of Health and the HSE. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, and the HSE expect to publish the Traveller health action plan in the coming weeks. We look forward to seeing that published and implemented.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Budget 2022 contained an announcement regarding free GP cards for the under-sevens. Some 80,000 children will be able to avail of the scheme. The problem for my constituents is that not all GPs are accepting these cards. People are being told that if GPs are not going to accept the card or are not taking on any more patients, they have to find other GPs who are doing so. Families are familiar with their own GPs. When can we expect these GP cards for the under-sevens? How will the parents of these children get GPs to accept the cards?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, is very keen to advance the extension of free GP care for children aged six and over. He has had ongoing dialogue with the representative bodies of GPs to ensure that this can be implemented as quickly as possible. I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy with the specific update as to the timeline involved.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There are many crises at present. I refer to those relating to housing, mental health, the Passport Office and other areas. I welcome Mr. Tom O'Callaghan, of the Independent Postmasters Group, to the Public Gallery.

Our post office network is forgotten about. Fianna Fáil supported the previous Government by means of the confidence and supply agreement. Now that it is in government, it is paying lip service - not even that - to the private contractors who are operating the post offices. Throughout the Covid situation, they dealt with everything. They ponied up as always. The Government has interfered with them now as regards passports. What is the Government going to do? Will it take any meaningful action to save these post offices? Hundreds of them will be lost to the service. Is mór an trua é sin. It is a great pity because these are the people who are in the communities looking after people daily and looking out for them. They provide that service for a pittance and the Government is paying lip service to them. They are not even being mentioned now. Hopefully, the Government will do something. We have had report after report. We need action.

3:40 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I too welcome Tom O'Callaghan to the Public Gallery. The Government strongly acknowledges the important role of post offices in urban and rural communities all over the country. Sometimes they are held up as being important only in rural areas but they are important in urban areas too. The Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, has been working on this issue and is about to bring a proposal to Government in respect it. We are conscious that the transformation payments that were in place are due to end at the end of this year. The Government is very anxious to support the post office network. I expect confirmation of a Government initiative with a view to safeguarding as many post offices as possible around the country very shortly.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I joined my colleague, Senator Eileen Flynn, earlier outside the gates of Leinster House, where the National Traveller Mental Health Network held a protest calling for accountability in relation to Government commitments. In particular, the programme for Government includes plans to publish a Traveller and Roma mental health action plan. That has not happened yet, halfway through the term of this Dáil. I understand that it is to be published in the next few weeks, and I welcome that. Will the Minister, who has responsibility for public expenditure, commit to funding that action plan when it is published?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The action plan will be published in the coming weeks. It will certainly be published by September, if not sooner. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, informs me that it will be September at the latest. Funding is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health when they set out their priorities in the Estimates process. That process will get under way in the next number of weeks. The Government policy in this regard is clear. If we are going to publish a health action plan for Travellers, it will need to be resourced and we will do the very best we can to make sure it is adequately resourced and can be implemented. We acknowledge the very serious health issues the Travelling community are facing with regard to life expectancy, mental health challenges, addiction challenges and so on. We will do the best we can to ensure the plan is properly funded.

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In the days ahead, secondary schools will be finishing up and primary schools will also finish their terms in the weeks ahead. School secretaries will be finishing work as well. A great deal of background work has been done in getting an agreed plan together, and I acknowledge everyone who has been involved in that. There are more than 3,000 schools involved across the country. Time is very tight. Is it envisaged that the new pay system for school secretaries will be in place for when they finish up? What kind of work is involved in that? Will some secretaries get it as soon as it is up and running or will all the schools come on together at the same time? I ask the Minister to give an indication on that. It is especially relevant for people who are retiring.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is an agreement in place and the focus is now on implementing it. Work is ongoing with Fórsa. It involves a complex process of assimilating information to capture accurate data in respect of each individual secretary and the application of these data to ensure each secretary is correctly assigned to the new terms and conditions if they so choose. Secretaries will also be provided with an opportunity to confirm whether they wish to move to the new terms and conditions or retain their current terms and conditions, as the benefits of either option will be determined by their individual circumstances. I am assured by the Minister for Education that additional resources are being put in place to provide capacity to manage this process. I cannot give an exact timeline but it is a priority to get this implemented as quickly as possible.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Given the volatile nature of oil and gas supplies in Europe at the moment, and given that we get more than 70% of our natural gas through a pipeline from the United Kingdom, has the Government any contingency plans in place in the event of a reduction or curtailment in the supply from the United Kingdom? If not, does it plan to put plans in place? It is a case of being ullamh and having other plans.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The answer is "Yes". This is a matter of ongoing consideration, led by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. His Department is working with my Department and other Departments to make sure the issue of energy security is fully addressed, particularly in the current climate where there is a greater question mark than before regarding the secure supply of energy. This issue underlines the need for us to accelerate the transition to renewables. As a Government, we passed legislation in respect of offshore wind and modernised the licensing and regulatory system. The straight answer to the Deputy's question is that contingency plans are in place and continue to be worked on by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in particular.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I too raise the National Traveller Mental Health Network, which is protesting outside Leinster House today and demanding urgent action from the Government on mental health. Senator Eileen Flynn has previously highlighted that the suicide rate is six times higher for Traveller women and seven times higher for Traveller men compared with the general population. Life expectancy for Travellers is 15 years lower than that of their settled counterparts. The protest is seeking accountability from the Government over the lack of culturally appropriate mental health services for the Traveller community. The programme for Government contains a commitment to publish a Traveller and Roma mental health action plan. What progress is being made and what can we expect in this regard? I am aware of what the Minister said in response to the other Deputies who raised this matter but we cannot leave these people waiting for months on end. The Minister stated that he is not responsible for the Taoiseach, but will the Taoiseach make a commitment, at the very least, to meet these people and talk about their concerns?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I reassure her that the Department of Health is fully committed to providing leadership and resources to ensure the implementation of the Traveller health action plan once it is agreed. The priority now is to get it finalised and publish it and then make sure it is resourced. As an initial step towards implementing the plan, the Department provided €270,000 to expand Traveller health units last year and further measures will be considered in the context of the budget. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, will be meeting with Pavee Point in the next number of weeks to further discuss how we can help and make sure this agenda is progressed as a priority.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Tomorrow, the wider Defence Forces community, including veterans, spouses, families and friends, will again campaign on behalf of serving members for the implementation of the working time directive. For well over a decade now, successive Governments have known they were in breach of employment rights legislation. There have been years of talking about implementing this directive and repeated commitments to doing so but very little in the way of action to actually do so. This denial of basic employment rights cannot continue. Is it the Government's intention to honour the recommendation of the Commission on the Defence Forces to end the free labour aspect of service? Will the Government act on its commitment in the programme for Government to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 in order to bring the Defence Forces within the scope of its provisions?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I assure the Deputy that the work of the Commission on the Defence Forces is being taken very seriously by the Government. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, and I are in dialogue on that issue. The Minister will be bringing a proposal to Government in the coming weeks in the context of its response to the commission's recommendations. That proposal will set out how we intend to move forward into the future. As the Deputy knows, it is the right of all workers to have their legal rights upheld. We will be responding to the commission in all respects when that memorandum is brought to the Government in the coming weeks.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yesterday, patients of the GP practice in my village of Stepaside became the latest to be subjected to an act of sheer obstruction and intimidation by so-called protesters, simply because that medical practice offers full maternal and reproductive care, as per the laws of this land.

I am by no means the first Deputy or Senator to raise this in these Houses and I fear I will not be the last. When will the Government bring forward genuine safe-access zone legislation to protect all the patients of this land? Will the Minister condemn those who engage in these acts of destruction and blatant intimidation?

3:50 pm

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I understand the legislation to provide for safe-access zones is being prioritised by the Minister for Health and is actively being worked on. It is a priority item of legislation and will be brought to Government and published and will commence its legislative journey shortly.

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I begin by congratulating Derry on its terrific win in the Ulster GAA final at the weekend and extend my commiserations to Donegal. It was a terrific game of football.

With the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, in the Chamber, I want to refer to the wonderful and buzzing weekend in Clones with the excitement of the Ulster final. There were almost 30,000 fans in St. Tiernach’s Park and that makes a huge difference to the local economy in a town such as Clones in a Border county such as Monaghan, which borders Cavan. A conservative estimate would be that this can bring about €3 million to the local economy.

While it will be really welcome when the redevelopment of Casement Park happens, the Ulster final will then be moved there. Will the Minister consider speaking to the Ulster Council and the wider GAA in regard to whether it would be possible to have a rotating Ulster final, whereby Clones would not completely lose its 100-year tradition of holding the Ulster final and, perhaps, as is the case in Cork and Kerry, a rotating final could be considered?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy. That is a novel question.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is, indeed. I say "fair play" to the Deputy and share her congratulations to Derry on a magnificent victory after extra time. I know the limits of my powers, but I am sure the Minister of State will have a discussion with the Deputy offline and see what can be done on that issue.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have been working with a variety of families who are facing the consequences of foetal valproate syndrome, caused by exposure to sodium valproate medication during pregnancy. This issue has been raised in the House numerous times and there are issues in the past that need to be looked into, but there are also issues that need to be addressed to prevent harm into the future. There are to be six specialist nurses to support people who take sodium valproate medication but only two have been appointed. The final four positions have been outstanding for some time. When will they be appointed?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy. I will be honest, I do not know the answer to his question about the appointment of the additional specialist nurses for people who are taking sodium valproate, but I will ask the Minister for Health to revert to him, having contacted the HSE.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are all aware of the many cheerleader Deputies who want to see liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals built, but I want to come at this from a different angle. The Taoiseach was recently lobbied by Wesley Edens of New Fortress Energy, and only last week the same company distributed leaflets in the Shannon and Clare area promoting the use of liquefied natural gas and quoting all three coalition party leaders as being supportive of it. Are we walking into the building of LNG terminals in this country, which will blow up any hopes of us reaching our climate targets or of staying within the Paris Agreement limits, and gives two fingers to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report and even to the International Energy Agency, which has stated that no new gas or oil infrastructure can be built if we are to have any hope of limiting the increase in temperatures? Will the Government recommit to the programme for Government and bring in legislation to ban the building of LNG terminals in this country?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Government policy on LNG is as set out in the programme for Government. An energy security review is under way, with which the Deputy will be familiar. She will no doubt have heard the Taoiseach earlier today emphasising the importance of the transition to renewable energy sources and the importance of us doing that in an accelerated fashion. That is where this country and the Government are going in regard to energy policy because that is where the future is. We want to reduce our dependence of fossil fuel quickly, although certain fossil fuels will continue to be there as a transition fuel and a back-up fuel. The position on LNG is as set out in the programme for Government.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

So the future is dependency on fossil fuels.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Deputy Naughten, please.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Quite a number of colleagues have raised the issue of the acceleration of the transition to a green economy over the course of the Order of Business. Last December, Dáil Éireann overwhelmingly passed a motion that, among other things, called on the Government to design a strategy in conjunction with the European Commission to fund and construct an Atlantic electricity interconnector that would plug west-coast renewable electricity directly into the European grid. This would provide large quantities of clean and green electricity to the EU and create tens of thousands of jobs along the western seaboard. This measure would also significantly reduce the cost of electricity for Irish homes, providing us with the cheapest electricity in Europe. To do this, we need to establish an offshore renewable development authority to drive the type of change and strategic thinking that is needed in this country to make this opportunity a reality. When will the Government implement the content of that motion?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputy is right to identify the area of offshore renewable as one of great potential. That is why the Government passed legislation in respect of, and is setting up, the new maritime area regulatory body, which will early next year assume the full suite of statutory functions, in essence to make sure we have a system that is fit for purpose in licensing and regulating this sector. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to revert to the Deputy in detail in regard to the Atlantic electricity interconnector the Deputy suggested.