Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

3:05 pm

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Consumer Rights Bill 2022 (without debate) (any division claimed to be taken immediately prior to Report Stage of the Bill on Wednesday)

- Motion re Membership of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders relative to Private Business (without debate)

- Motion re Fifteenth Report of the Committee of Selection (without debate)

- Motion re Referral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Isle of Man) Order 2022 and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Guernsey) Order 2022 (without debate)

- EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (to conclude within 220 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Emergency Budget, selected by Sinn Féin.

Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion re Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and Motion re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 (to be debated together and to conclude within 110 minutes)

- Motion re Opt-in to add the violation of EU restrictive measures (sanctions) to the list of EU crimes (to conclude within 55 minutes)

- EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Committee and remaining Stages) (to be taken no earlier than 4.49 p.m. and to conclude within 90 minutes)

- Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 30 minutes)

- Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to conclude within 30 minutes)

- Consumer Rights Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 45 minutes)

- Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Report and Final Stages) (to conclude within 90 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be Second Stage of the Autism Bill 2022, selected by the Labour Party.

Thursday's business shall be the Second Stage of the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022. Thursday evening's business shall be the Motion re Report entitled ‘Examination of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board 2019 Financial Statements and Related Financial Matters’.

Friday’s business shall be:

- Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (to conclude within 220 minutes)

- Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (to conclude within 220 minutes)

- Health (Exemptions from Charges for Acute In-Patient Services) Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (to conclude within 220 minutes)

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 Government business may continue after 6.12 p.m. in order to allow for the debate on Second Stage of the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Bill 2022 to conclude, with consequential effect on the commencement time of the items of business following, as well as on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 10.30 p.m.;

2. notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 187, the Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Consumer Rights Bill 2022 shall be taken without debate and any division claimed thereon shall be taken immediately prior to Report Stage of the Bill on Wednesday;

3. notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 39, the Motion re Membership of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders relative to Private Business shall be taken without debate immediately following the Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Consumer Rights Bill 2022;

4. the Motion re Fifteenth Report of the Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate;

5. the Motion re Referral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Isle of Man) Order 2022 and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Guernsey) Order 2022 shall be taken without debate; and

6. the proceedings on Second Stage of the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 220 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) debate shall be confined to a single round in accordance with the arrangements agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for the first round of debate on Second Stage of a Government Bill, not exceeding 210 minutes;

(ii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes;

(iii) members may share time; and

(iv) in the event a division is demanded on the Second Stage proceedings, it shall be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill on Wednesday.
In relation to Wednesday'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 following extent:
(i) oral Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) shall not be taken;

(ii) Government business may continue after 8.45 p.m. in order to allow the proceedings on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 to conclude; and

(iii) the weekly division time may be taken later than 8.45 p.m. and shall, in any event, to be taken on the conclusion of proceedings on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022, with consequential effect on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 9.30 p.m;
2. notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 170, the proceedings on Second Stage of the Autism Bill shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours;

3. in relation to the Motion re Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Motion re Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) the motions shall be moved and considered together in one debate;

(ii) the arrangements for the debate shall be in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30 July, 2020, for 100 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes;

(iii) members may share time; and

(iv) the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 110 minutes, with a separate question on each motion and on any amendments thereto;
4. the proceedings on the Motion re Opt-in to add the violation of EU restrictive measures (sanctions) to the list of EU crimes shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) the order of speaking and the allocation of speaking times shall be as follows:
- opening speech by a Minister or Minister of State - 10 minutes;

- speech by a representative of Sinn Féin - 10 minutes;

- speeches by representatives of the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People Before Profit-Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group, and the Independent Group - 5 minutes per party or group; and

- a speech in response by a Minister or Minister of State - 5 minutes; and
(ii) members may share time;
5. proceedings on the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall be resumed no earlier than 4.49 p.m.; provided that the proceedings on Committee and Remaining Stages 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 the Environment, Climate and Communications;

6. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Judicial Appointments Commission 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 Justice;

7. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad on the Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage;

8. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Consumer Rights Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 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 Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and

9. the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (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 Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. 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 following extent:
(i) Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Social Protection shall be deferred to 14 July, 2022, in place of questions to the Minister for Rural and Community Development, and topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37 shall not be taken on the conclusion of Government business but shall instead be taken on the conclusion of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Education;

(ii) if not previously concluded, Government business shall be interrupted at 7.30 p.m.; and

(iii) the Motion re Report entitled "Examination of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board 2019 Financial Statements and Related Financial Matters" shall be taken on the interruption or the conclusion of Government business, whichever is the earlier, and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of the motion.
In relation to Friday’s business, it is proposed that: 1. notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, or the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders, the Dáil shall meet on Friday 1st July, 2022, at 9 a.m. and shall adjourn on the conclusion of Government business, and the following arrangements shall apply:
(i) the proceedings on the Second Stage of any Bill to be taken shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 220 minutes, and speaking arrangements shall be as follows:
- debate shall be confined to a single round in accordance with the arrangements agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for the first round of debate on Second Stage of a Government Bill, not exceeding 210 minutes;

- a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes; and

- members may share time;
(ii) in the event a division is demanded on the Second Stage proceedings of any Bill to be taken, it shall be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill; and

(iii) the sitting shall be suspended for 30 minutes immediately prior to taking the last Bill.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is not agreed. At the Business Committee meeting, People Before Profit requested as a matter of urgency that we have an emergency debate before the Dáil goes into summer recess on the housing and homelessness crisis, in particular, family and child homelessness, which has now reached utterly disastrous proportions. I am not exaggerating in saying, if the Taoiseach does not know this already, it has never been this bad; never. Last and this week, families are coming into my clinic where, for the first time ever, the local authority cannot even offer families and children an emergency place, never mind a council house or somewhere near where the kids go to school. They cannot even offer them an emergency hostel. That is how bad it is and it is getting worse. The Government is refusing even to debate it, even though we are due a review of Housing for All. Will the Taoiseach ensure there is an emergency debate on this crisis before the summer recess?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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We need an emergency debate on homelessness and the housing crisis. I spoke earlier about just the enormous pressure on people trying to find a new home when they have been evicted. We are seeing evictions at a record high. That is a very serious concern.

I would also raise another concern about the ordering of business, which is just the huge number of Bills before this House and the other House. There are nine Bills in each House this week alone. This is a year after President Michael D. Higgins reportedly wrote to the you, a Cheann Comhairle, that there were too many Bills being put by Government in the last few weeks of each term. He said that having this vital work concentrated into four weeks of the year struck him as being less than ideal and unnecessary and called for a more orderly approach to the ordering of legislation. We absolutely will support the waiver of pre-legislative scrutiny on important Bills and we have worked with Government on that but it is still not a good way to conduct legislative business. We need to see an end to this practice of last-minute legislation. We need to take account of the President’s concerns about rushed legislation.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I agree with both Deputies. There is an issue that councils are turning people who are homeless away from emergency accommodation now in different parts of the country.

We have been asking for several weeks now for statements on An Bord Pleanála. The Remy Farrell report that has been ordered has been extended, but there is not clarity as to why it has been extended or exactly what it is covering. We do not know, in terms of the long list of allegations that have been made and are in the public domain, which are being investigated and which are not. Many of them relate to two particular board members. We know that one of those is under investigation, but we do not know about the other board member.

We should at the very least have statements from the Minister in the House to clarify all of this and clarify what is happening.

3:15 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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In regard to Dr. Niall Muldoon’s damning report last week on children with special needs, it is scandalous that 4,000 children are waiting for diagnostic assessments to get school places, 15,500 are going to schools outside their own community and 1,500 are receiving home tuition because they cannot get school places. It is only a few months ago that the decision was made by the Government to close an excellently-run intervention unit in Kilbrittain until I interceded and it was stopped. We need a proper debate on this very serious issue. The children of this country cannot be left to continue the way they are in regard to schooling for children with special needs. We need to have a proper debate for the week, not just have it crammed into a Friday evening Dáil debate. I ask the Taoiseach to give a proper debate on this very serious issue.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I fully support the Members who have spoken. Since the Business Committee meeting last week, we have had four or five changes to the business. It makes a mockery of the fact we supposedly have a say in what actually goes on in the House. For that reason, I oppose what is happening today.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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My sense is that Members want this to be a debating chamber, not a legislative chamber. If we look at what has happened-----

A Deputy:

They want statements on this, that or the other.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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So might a backbencher or two.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach without interruption.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have request after request for statements on this and statements on that, debate on this, debate on that, but to hell with the legislation, we do not want legislation. Deputy Collins does not want to be crammed in on a Friday afternoon.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Not at all. I am talking about children with special needs getting the respect they need.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We have offered three hours on Friday, not about debating endlessly about something-----

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Have respect for the children. There is no respect.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----but about doing something in legislation to improve the admission situation for children with special needs.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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The Taoiseach is a commentator.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is what we want to do. I know Deputy Collins-----

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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What are we here for? This is outrageous.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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If Members do not behave themselves, we are going to suspend the House. Please have a little manners.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Through the Chair, I am making the point that this is a legislative assembly, first and foremost.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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We would have to be reminded sometimes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Its objective is to pass laws. On the idea of nine Bills being appalling, to me, that is a sign of production, productivity, getting work done and getting legislation through.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Let us have some emergency legislation to keep children out of homelessness.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Some emergency legislation is required. That is nothing new. It has happened from time immemorial in terms of emergency legislation being required. However, instead of just having endless debates, we want action as well. We need action in terms of admissions to schools, for fully inclusive principles around children with special needs being admitted to schools, so we do not have a situation where certain schools are doing all the heavy lifting in respect of special needs admissions to our schools.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Stop blaming the DEIS principals.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We need to make up our minds. Deputy Pringle talks about the Business Committee. Invariably, on the Order of Business, there are calls for statements, statements, debates, debates, debates in a very precious timeframe because we do not have an expanded timeframe. This week, we have Friday.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We are supposed to have quarterly reviews of Housing for All but we have not had them.

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

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We do not normally sit on a Friday but it seems that the preference is debate, debate, debate, and we push back legislation all of the time.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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That is not true.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That balance has to be readjusted. I am saying that from the Government side of the House. I have always consistently, since I was elected to this House, seen it primarily as a legislative assembly. That means we get things done, as opposed to just playing to the gallery all of the time. I am not saying that is what you are all doing from time to time, but there is an element of it, I am afraid. Deputy Collins wins first prize in that regard.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Are the proposed arrangements agreed to?

Deputies:

No.

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

The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 55; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Jack Chambers and Marc Ó Cathasaigh; Níl, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Michael Collins.

Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Darragh O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Níl

Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Holly Cairns, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Johnny Guirke, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore.

Question declared carried.

3:25 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I suggest that Deputies keep their questions to 30 seconds each so that we can try to get everyone in. There will be a maximum of 30 seconds for each question and 30 seconds for each answer.

3:30 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Last night, Boris Johnson's Bill to override unilaterally parts of the protocol passed its Second Stage vote in the British House of Commons. This legislation is in breach of international law. It potentially has devastating consequences for Ireland's economy and, indeed, for the Good Friday Agreement. What is the Government's response to last night's vote and what steps does the Taoiseach propose to take in response to this Tory belligerence?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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First, as I said earlier this morning and have said consistently, I find this legislation, and the decision by the UK Government to legislate unilaterally in regard to the protocol, to be regrettable and unacceptable. This is a trend within the current British Government towards aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, be it the protocol, legacy issues or, most recently, its action on human rights. There is an unacceptable trend towards unilateralism.

The steps we intend to take are to work absolutely in consort with our European partners. We have agreed a co-ordinated approach. I have spoken to the President of the Commission, the President of the European Council and Vice-President Šefčovič to ensure we pursue a co-ordinated, step-by-step, measured and firm response from the European Union.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Following the awful decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in overturning Roe v. Wade on Friday, we know hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the US have been plunged into crisis. We need to ensure, here in Ireland, that we are addressing the real needs of women and girls in crisis pregnancy by ensuring adequate access to abortion healthcare, particularly given the 66.4% majority of the people who voted for repeal of the eighth amendment in 2018. We have learned that 206 women had to travel from Ireland to Britain last year because they could not get an abortion here. We know half of the counties in Ireland have fewer than ten GPs providing abortion, with some having none. Yet, the Minister for Health, in response to a question by Deputy Duncan Smith, said he was satisfied with the geographical spread of abortion provision. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that the review of the abortion legislation will ensure adequate access to abortion care for women in this country who need it?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, the law of the land must be applied, and it must be applied evenly and uniformly across the country. In my view, individual hospitals cannot exclude themselves from the operation of the Act and need to take all actions to ensure it is fulfilled. What has happened in Roe v. Wade cannot happen here, in my view, given the fact we had a referendum and, through the mechanism of that referendum, we decided as a people to amend our Constitution and subsequently to bring in legislation on foot of that decision by the Irish people. It may seem abstract to some, although I know the Deputy will not see it as abstract, but I stress that the idea of the separation of powers is really a lesson we should take from the experience in the United States.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The legislation coming through the House should reflect that. We have seen what has happened in other European countries. I think the Chief Justice was correct in saying that many aspects we consider fundamental can, at times, be fragile. We are witnessing that now in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom as well-----

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

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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The Joint Committee on International Surrogacy is due to complete its work over the coming weeks. I have been contacted by a number of concerned families, including some in my constituency, who are worried about recent comments by the Minister for Health in which he stated that it was agreed there would be amendments to the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022 ready to go within 12 weeks. This is obviously concerning as neither that committee nor any committee has been tasked with drawing up amendments. The surrogacy committee was tasked with making recommendations and it is the Minister's job to draft amendments to give effect to those recommendations. May I have a commitment from the Taoiseach that the recommendations coming from the committee will be considered as part of amendments to the Bill?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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To clarify, the recommendations are not amendments, as the Deputy noted.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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The Minister said he would bring forward amendments. Obviously, the committee cannot draw up amendments.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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However, the recommendations will obviously be considered, as would normally be done.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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That was not specified by the Minister.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The recommendations have to be put into the form of amendments. If the recommendations were accepted by the Government and the Minister, they then have to be legalesed, so to speak, and put into the required amendments. I will pursue that with the Minister.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Aughinish Alumina in Limerick said today it is beginning rock blasting to build yet another massive pit for storing toxic red mud. The new pond will be 8 m deep and 4.5 ha large, storing 40 million tonnes of waste right by the River Shannon. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Last month, I raised with the Taoiseach new evidence showing there was IDA Ireland interference in the previous investigation of the health impacts. Sitting in the Gallery that day were Pat and Nuala Geoghegan, whose farm animals died and whose personal health suffered greatly.

They are protesting outside the Dáil now and calling for a fresh investigation that is truly independent and without interference. Last month, I did not get a straight answer. Will the Taoiseach, at the very least, give a straight answer as to whether he will support the call for a new investigation into the health and environmental impacts of Aughinish Alumina?

3:40 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We have the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and various mechanisms to oversee any application of the kind the Deputy referred to. We cannot arbitrate for that on the floor of the House. Again, regarding any fresh investigation, there has been a whole series of reviews and I am not going to give an off-the-cuff response to the Deputy's request either. I will talk to the Tánaiste and others regarding the agencies under the wing of his Department and those of other Ministers to get their assessment of the situation.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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I received an email from someone looking for some advice. The email stated that a Ukrainian lady who had been staying with this person since 7 March had given birth on 8 May 2022 to a baby boy in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Continuing, the email stated that the Ukrainian lady was making plans for her 12-year-old daughter and mother-in-law to travel to Ireland and that my correspondent was looking for a long-term option to provide accommodation for this family, as there was no space available to accommodate the extended family. The email further continued that a family member had an apartment coming up soon in Ardee, at the end of the month. The author of the email wishes to secure a more permanent home for this lady, her baby and her extended family, and felt that her family member's apartment would be suitable because it is close to shops, public nurses, doctors, etc.

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

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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The email went on to state that the author had spoken Louth County Council housing assistance payment, HAP, officials, was told they were not providing rent support for Ukrainians and was then asked to contact the International Protection Accommodation Services, IPAS.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy, the time is up.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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An email was received from the IPAS stating that it was only dealing with requests for emergency accommodation. Is any other organisation supporting Ukrainians with their long-term accommodation needs, especially where a newborn baby is involved?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate the Ukrainian mother on the birth of her baby boy in the midst of the obvious trauma that family has gone through in fleeing a terrible war on the Ukrainian people. This is a moment of joy for the mother and the family. I ask the Deputy to give me the details. Many people have pledged homes, not for the long term but for relatively good timeframes, where I am sure accommodation could be arranged to facilitate that family.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach might have heard that yesterday there was a suspension of standing orders at a meeting of a county council to discuss another fishing crisis that has emerged under his Government. The fishing trawlers in Castletownbere, Union Hall and other piers in County Cork are staying tied up at those piers as trawler and boat owners cannot afford to go out due to the astronomical fuel prices. One boat owner told councillors that it cost him €42,000 to go out for just one run for his catch. He is not going. The Spanish and French fishing trawlers fishing in Irish waters are getting a 30 cent a litre subsidy during the fuel crisis from their understanding governments. This is the same situation for farm owners and contractors. Is this Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and power-controlling extreme Green Party Government going to sit blindly through this unprecedented crisis or will it step in immediately to aid these struggling fishermen and farmers?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did not get the full gist of everything the Deputy said. I do not pick up on the adjournments of every county council in the country. Was it Cork County Council that adjourned yesterday?

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Again, regarding cost-of-living issues, we have taken measures in respect of hauliers, farmers, including tillage farmers, and various groups to try to alleviate the pressures on them in respect of the cost of fuels. We also took certain measures under the Brexit adjustment reserve and funding has been made available for decommissioning schemes and so on. I accept those measures relate to the Brexit issue but they are fairly significant for the fishing sector. I have not heard the presentations made at Cork County Council but I know the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, is working with the fishing organisations.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health are fully aware of the crisis concerning home care hours. I raise this issue again in the context of a reply I just received. At this stage, figures mean nothing. People are waiting up to four years for home care hours. It is now over three months since a strategic workforce group was set up. Have there been any interim reports or recommendations concerning the recruitment and retention of home care staff?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will speak to the Minister and come back to the Deputy regarding the interim measures. Four years seems a bit long.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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People are waiting up to four years for-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There has been a huge acceleration in home care. Over 1 million extra hours have been provided in the last year and a half. However, because of that extra provision the skills issue or the availability of workers became a big issue. The Deputy is right that the task force was set up to see if something could be done in respect of upskilling, etc. I will come back to the Deputy on whether the Minister has interim recommendations from that work.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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This Government made a promise to tackle the cost of childcare, and we will do that. In doing so, however, we must ensure there is an early childhood care and education, ECCE, sector there to provide the service. If the current core funding model was fit for purpose, we would not have had a situation where hundreds of our early educators and childcare providers descended on Leinster House last week to express their dissatisfaction with the new model outside the gates. It is going to impact, in particular, on those smaller ECCE operators that, in many instances, are in rural constituencies like mine. It is wrong that these childcare providers have to go on social welfare during the summer months. I ask that the core funding model be amended and that we invest in these ECCE providers so we can keep them open and save them.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the Deputy's concerns. Core funding is worth up to €221 million to the sector, so it is a significant provision. To access the new funding, services must guarantee to maintain fees at or below September 2021 levels. It is based on operating hours, the number of places offered by services, the age group of the children to whom places are offered and the number of graduate lead educators. The Department has issued a funding guarantee that all services will receive at least the same level of funding and core funding as they received in the 2021-22 programme. Approximately 1% of services will see the same income from core funding as they received this year. A large majority of services will see substantial increases in funding. I will talk to the Deputy about this issue because there is obviously a mismatch between what is being said-----

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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There is correspondence-----

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

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Government recently announced a €32 million expansion of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, schools programme, bringing in about 310 schools and 60,000 students. I understand, however, that the school meals programme for those DEIS schools is not currently funded and will not be until we pass the budget in October. I ask the Taoiseach to consider how we can fund those schools in the weeks until we pass the budget. He knows how important this schools meals programme is for our students going to school.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy acknowledged that this has been the largest ever increase in the DEIS programme. We will work with the Minister regarding other aspects of supports for those schools, particularly in terms of meals, etc. It was interesting to see that the systemic study undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, of the education systems North and South, that we funded under the shared island programme, identified the DEIS programme as being a key factor in better school completion rates in the Republic and in progression to third level. That is illustrative of the value of this funding. I will come back to the Deputy on this issue.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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My constituent, David Duignan, is sitting in his home in Moate today when he should be under the specialist care of the Medical University of Vienna hospital. Mr. Duignan suffered horrific injuries following a road crash three years ago and he urgently needs muscle transfer surgery. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, his treatment abroad scheme application has been rejected. Last week, he received a letter stating that the appeals officer is not in a position to provide a decision on when Mr. Duignan's appeal will be granted or when information will be provided and also cannot advise regarding the date that a response will even issue. Mr. Duignan's consultant has been explicitly clear that this treatment is not available here. However, because Mr. Duignan may, at some potential point in the future, have prosthetics surgery, this seems to be impacting the decision to direct him towards an alternative that is not suitable to his needs at the situation stands today. This man needs this operation urgently. His consultant has had previous applications for the same type of surgery approved-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy; she has made her point.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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-----yet Mr. Duignan is sitting at home in Moate.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is difficult to comment on each individual case that comes up on the floor of the House, particularly regarding a treatment abroad application.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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Something has gone wrong-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, just let me finish. I take it from what the Deputy is saying that the consultant has unequivocally recommended treatment.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy will send on the details to us, we can pursue it.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I raise the case of a lady facing eviction and homelessness. She dealt with a dreadful circumstance of suffering terrible domestic violence. This created a situation where arrears arose in respect of her HAP tenancy. Payment of approximately €3,000 is being sought straight away. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

I was told that it is with the HAP officials in the local authority. The local authority says it has no wriggle room. HAP officials stated they are not offering payment plans. Since I received an official response, HAP officials have been back in touch with the lady but we still do not have a solution. At present, we are looking at applying for an additional needs payment. It would be absolute madness that one part of the Government would pay for another part. It is absolutely crazy.

3:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I do not think the Taoiseach can adjudicate on HAP applications.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the concerns of the Deputy but-----

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The payment plan is the problem.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Two matters have been raised involving individual applications to State services. I can certainly comment on policy frameworks but I am not clear that I can arbitrate without having any details.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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People cannot get the payment plan and that will put them into homelessness.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy will have to take the matter up with the Minister.

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Many Members of the House have asked for action to be taken on the issue of special educational needs places and therapies over the past year or so. As the Taoiseach is aware, many members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party have been calling for legislation in this area for a long time. I welcome progress on emergency legislation and I understand that a presentation was made at this morning's Cabinet meeting. Will the Taoiseach outline how exactly we have arrived at this situation and explain how it is proposed to deal with this substantive issue?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Legislation will be brought forward to shorten the legislation that was previously introduced in the House some years ago in respect of giving directions to schools to accept children with special needs. We want to move quickly so that we can deal with an outstanding number of cases where children do not have access to school places next September. More fundamentally, I want to see a legislative framework that has inclusion as a core principle, that all schools have to accept, within reason, children with special needs. Resources will be provided. We know that certain schools at post-primary level have taken on the heavy load in recent years. Some schools have taken children in but some have not and that is not acceptable. I know Deputy O'Sullivan has been advocating for this for quite a while. We had a cross-government meeting, to which I invited both Ministers with responsibility for education, the Minister for Health and all the agencies, to deal once and for all with a whole range of issues pertaining to special needs children. This is one of those issues that is very important to fulfil a constitutional entitlement to education for children with special needs.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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In light of comments made by the Taoiseach in Woodfield last November at the handing over to the State of the diaries of Michael Collins by representatives of the Collins family, what action has been taken with regard to the erection of a permanent memorial to General Collins in Dublin, which is what he commented on the day in question? Furthermore, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War today, does the Taoiseach agree it is beyond time that a national memorial for all those who lost their lives in that conflict, amounting to nearly 2,000 people, should be erected in the capital city? Regarding my first question, what actions have been taken by the Department and, on my second question, what actions does the Taoiseach propose to take?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy is aware, the overall commemoration and the decade of centenaries programme have been advised by an expert advisory committee. Dr. Maurice Manning, Dr. Martin Mansergh and other historians have been involved and they have done a very good job overall in advising successive Governments and the Oireachtas on the decade of centenaries programme. They did not recommend memorials and statues, although they said that it was up to local groups and so on and that they could, by all means, receive supports. There has not been a collective or centralised view on how best to go about doing this. I have an open mind on memorials for the Civil War. There has been fantastic work done by the academic community. I recently attended a conference in University College Cork on the Civil War. There was a conference in Trinity College Dublin last year on the treaty. Yesterday, we had a fantastic celebration of the Virtual Record Treasury and the restoration of all the records that were burned in the Four Courts, all of which have now been restored virtually. It is a superb achievement by all concerned-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----which merits mentioning.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It certainly does.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We know that 20,000 people were refused fuel allowance up to February and now more vulnerable people are being kicked off the scheme for being slightly over the income thresholds. Let us consider Angela who is 81 years old. She got an €8 increase from her husband's small private pension. That was enough to kick her off the fuel allowance scheme but it does not take her out of energy poverty. The bigger issue here, apart from Angela, is that the fuel allowance scheme does not capture all those in danger of energy poverty. Will the Government ensure that the Department does not remove anyone else from the scheme in cases where small income increases do nothing to remove people from the trap of energy poverty?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In the context of the budget, income thresholds in respect of the fuel allowance will certainly be looked at. We are very conscious of the constraints from an income threshold perspective.

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach will be aware of the thousands of organisations in our communities that are supported by and rely on the rural social scheme. Of the 2,969 participants on the scheme today, nearly half of them will be forced to leave next year should the six-year rule go ahead. This is on top of 380 current vacancies. Galway Rural Development provided us with a list of 172 organisations in County Galway alone, from schools to the parish council in Ahascragh and from GAA clubs to Brothers of Charity services across Galway, that have either insufficient support, are going to lose support or have no support at all. That figure relates to just one county. When existing places cannot be filled, we are going to let 1,400 people go next year, thereby creating 1,400 vacancies when they cannot be filled in the first place. Will the Government abolish the six-year rule?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We can thank Deputy Ó Cuív, the Minister who brought in the rural social scheme, which has proven to be a very effective scheme across rural Ireland. The Government is aware of the issues the Deputy has raised and has, in fact, reviewed this scheme and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will make an announcement on this shortly. We will be responsive to the needs and supportive of the organisations on the ground that depend on the rural social scheme. I do not envisage 1,400 people being laid off from the scheme.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Government on their record-breaking performance since it took office two years ago yesterday. To celebrate, this week the Government set the dubious record of ramming five Bills through the House on Second Stage for which the Committee Stage deadline for amendments will have passed prior to the beginning of Second Stage. It displays breathtaking arrogance and contempt for parliamentary procedure and principle. It is blatantly anti-democratic and is the kind of sharp practice Boris Johnson or Mitch McConnell would be proud of. Will the Taoiseach confirm that this is now de facto Government policy? I know many people in Donegal will be watching this week as the House considers the defective block legislation. They are currently poring over the Bill, writing amendments. The Minister for State should be honest with them as to whether they will be given any proper consideration.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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To be fair, there has been exhaustive and ongoing consultation with representatives of those who have houses affected by mica. The Government has provided very substantial resources, now amounting to billions, to deal with this over a prolonged period of time. There has been a lot of engagement and it is not correct to say that there has not been engagement. In fact, many people are looking for a faster response from the Government on getting houses either repaired or demolished and rebuilt. A balance must always be struck between prolongation, where the issue keeps getting put back, and taking some action. Let us get some houses repaired and refurbished.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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In Kerry, we are waiting for the upgrade of several treatment plants and towns and villages are waiting for new treatment plants. We cannot build houses. The building of houses is stymied. The Government needs to talk to and work together with Irish Water to ensure the treatment plants are brought up to standard so that we can build houses.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I must raise the issue of what is happening in our accident and emergency department in University Hospital Kerry. It has been under massive, sustained pressure in recent weeks. The Minister for Health visited the hospital recently and I appreciate and recognise that fact, but we need help in University Hospital Kerry. Staff are under savage pressure and are doing their best. I want to highlight that on the floor of the Dáil.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In response to both Deputies, I had a successful trip to Kerry recently and the announcement of 300 jobs in Tralee was well received. By the way, the work done by Kerry County Council on the pavements in Tralee is fantastic, including the pedestrianisation. The money allocated through the urban regeneration and development fund has been well spent by the council. I then went to Killarney where there are also big plans to enhance Killarney even further, if that is possible.

4:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You did not go to Kilgarvan, a Thaoisigh, did you?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did not make it to Kilgarvan, a Cheann Comhairle. I will talk to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about Irish Water. I hope to meet Irish Water myself at some stage to discuss the water treatment plants.

I acknowledge the pressure on University Hospital Kerry, as on all hospitals. The impact of Covid-19 is very serious still and is causing significant disruption. We have not really got over the full impacts of Covid.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That concludes questions on policy and legislation - and lots of other things.