Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Confidence in Government: Motion
That Dáil Éireann reaffirms its confidence in the Government.
I welcome the opportunity to move the motion that Dáil Éireann has confidence in the Government and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Government’s record and our plans for the rest of our mandate.
This is a good time to take stock of the past two years. More importantly, it is also a good time to start having an honest debate between two very different views about how we can serve the people and address their concerns. Fundamentally, this is a debate between those who believe in tackling problems and those who believe in exploiting them. It is between those who have an honest and ambitious programme based on what can be achieved and those who have taken cynical and populist politics to a new level in our country. It is a debate between those who understand and respect diversity in politics and those who have introduced legal threats and online abuse as weapons to silence other Members of the Oireachtas and the media.
Today we are being told the Government has supposedly failed because it has not implemented its full programme in just two years. In contrast, last week Deputy McDonald insisted that Sinn Féin should only be judged after ten years and two full terms of office. As always, double standards are the watchword of this cynical Opposition. Ireland is a modern, diverse and dynamic country. It has problems and challenges to overcome of course, but those who deny its successes are simply showing they have no interest in honest debate. They are proving that the progress of our country and the future of our people is not actually their core concern. Shouting "Not enough", "More" and "What about" represents an approach to politics that is, at its heart, deeply dishonest.
In my first speech after being nominated by this House for appointment as Taoiseach, I explained both how I intended to approach the task of holding this office and the priorities of the then new Government. The two most urgent crises we faced were an historic pandemic and the fastest moving recession ever recorded. It was a time of deep uncertainty and much fear. I promised then that I, as Taoiseach, and we, as a Government, would do everything possible to mitigate the terrible toll of the pandemic and to work to achieve as fast a recovery as possible.
By any fair judgement of our performance on these measures this Government has served the people well on these critical challenges. The truth is Ireland has been assessed as one of the top three in the world for the resilience of its Covid response. We have the second highest vaccination rate in Europe. Most importantly, the fact is this Government’s actions in responding to the greatest public health crisis of our times protected public health and saved lives. Of course, we did not get everything right, but we got more right than the great majority of governments. If Ireland had performed simply at the average level of the European Union, there would have been over 4,500 more deaths. If we had performed at the same level as the United Kingdom, there would have been 5,500 more deaths. How often did we have to read and listen to attacks on our vaccine roll-out as being supposedly a shambles? It was the largest public health mobilisation in Irish history and, frankly, the glitches it had were minor.
In attacking the Government, the Opposition likes to ignore or dismiss actions that dramatically reduced the impact of Covid here versus other countries, reinforcing the equally strong fact of its cynicism. So too, it will ignore the fact that sustained Government action has helped our country emerge from recession faster and more successfully than most countries. Within weeks of taking office, we published new policies to limit job losses, help companies and help families. Initiatives were designed, agreed and implemented at a record speed and with very clear success.
The hard yards of working to ensure high levels of employment and a strong economy is something which appears to bore the Opposition. These issues have basically disappeared from its daily agenda, and every time a journalist has the temerity to report good news, they get accused of being a hack. However, Ireland today has the lowest youth unemployment in Europe. The economy is strong and it is not just supporting employment; it is providing the resources to deliver essential social investments.
This Government understands the fact that a strong economy is needed to support social services and investment. We are proud of the fact that we have led Ireland so quickly out of recession and that this enables us to help people when world affairs are having such a direct impact. That gives us capacity. The economic recovery enables us to be in a position to help people going through the cost-of-living situation arising from the war in Ukraine.
Two years ago, I told the Dáil that the three parties that had agreed to form a Government understood that we had to work constructively together. The members of Fianna Fáil participated in the largest party vote ever recorded in Ireland and expressed clearly their desire to take on a daunting agenda. As a Government, we have disagreements but we work hard to overcome them and to honour the ambitious and achievable programme. We each have our priorities and remain separate parties. This is how successful coalition governments across Europe work. I thank members of each of the parties for their work and their constructive approach. While the Opposition acts as if the pandemic had no impact on the Government, it was in fact profound in placing great pressure on individuals.
Due to the limited time available, I cannot cover all of the areas of the Government's work but I want to address broadly what we have been working to achieve in the past two years and what we aim to achieve in the next two. I have been determined that we address the great unmet challenge of the Good Friday Agreement to build stronger links and understanding on this island. I immediately launched the first sustained effort to develop these links through the shared island initiative. This is supporting a wide agenda of investments, dialogues and essential studies. For the first time, we are preparing vital, rigorous and independent work on key services and policies on both sides of the Border. I thank the National Economic and Social Council and the Economic and Social Research Institute for the extensive systematic research they have undertaken in terms of the services economy on the island, education outcomes on the island and the climate opportunities on the island. That is very important work in underpinning, in an evidence-based way, our approach to the all-island economy and developing strong linkages, as manifested in the extraordinary research programmes that we have already funded and that are now under way between third level institutions in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. It is a striking fact that the party that is today telling us how our country is a basket case where everything has been wrong for 100 years is, at the same time, claiming that country is so successful that it should be irresistible to the North. As a Government, we continue to work to force all who have responsibility for the agreement to make it work and we have been resolute in demanding that both the text and the spirit of the agreement be honoured, and also that the outcome of the recent elections be fulfilled and realised.
The strength of our relations with other European countries and with the Commission has been a vital support for Ireland in opposing the legal and political vandalism directed against the Northern Ireland protocol and the progress it protects. In contrast to the Opposition's consistent anti-European Union stands, we see the European Union as a forum for enabling countries to prosper, protecting democracy from the extremes and solidarity such as the recovery funding which we negotiated. We took a clear leadership position in terms of advocating for that breakthrough fund to enable European recovery from Covid-19. There is a significant difference in terms of the Government's approach to the European Union and the approach of most of the Opposition to the European Union. I identified Deputy Paul Murphy earlier in this regard but Sinn Féin has a similar attitude of never-ending criticism and anti-European Union positions.
My party went into this Government eager to embrace the hardest challenges. We understood that they were never going to be areas which could be solved quickly but we were determined to deliver sustained action that would show real results over the full course of the mandate of the Dáil and the Government. Part of that, and part of the approach Fianna Fáil brings into Government, is a strong pro-European approach. We led Ireland into the European Union. We are proud of our record of support for democracy, particularly now in the context of the cause of Ukraine, something that we promoted actively with our government colleagues in Europe and at the United Nations Security Council.
The challenge of ensuring housing for a rapidly rising population is one of the most important facing Irish politics. Of all areas, this is one of those that is least open to overnight change. However, it can be done a lot faster than the target of 15 years set out in a proposed housing strategy for Northern Ireland published by Deputy McDonald’s hand-picked housing Minister in Belfast. There is now in place an ambitious, funded and comprehensive plan for expanding housing provision for the benefit of all sectors. Housing for All is still in its early stages but the facts show that planning applications are up, housing construction is up and housing completion is up, and this is in spite of the thousands of homes that one party has sought to block - more interested in talking about a crisis then allowing it to be addressed. Most important, however, this Government has in two years put in place the largest social housing programme in our history.
Home ownership matters as well. The new affordable housing scheme launched last week is an example of a plan directed at those most in need. In its first 24 hours, nearly 400 pre-applications were received and thousands more looked for information. The sustainable way of controlling prices and rents is to increase supply. The latest 12-monthly figures recorded 35,000 commencements, the highest figure since records began. Only the most cynical could claim that is a failure. There is no doubt that when our mandate finishes, we will have delivered a sustained and significant increase in housing of all types, especially social housing.
We will also deliver a sustained improvement in key health services and, in particular, those where the pressures are being felt the most. The pandemic was a dramatic challenge for health services and everyone who works within them. It led to many thousands of treatments being cancelled and lengthened nearly all waiting lists and waiting times. However, in spite of the pandemic and the recession, the past two years have seen vital improvements. Lessons will be learned from our experiences during the pandemic and we will embed some of those lessons in terms of the reform programme in respect of health. I pay tribute to all in our health services for the work they did throughout the pandemic and continue to do. The pandemic has not gone away and the aftershocks are still to be seen in our health service and other sectors of our economy in terms of isolation protocols, waiting times and so forth. That said, there are already an extra 850 permanent new hospital beds. New diagnostic facilities are being put in place. A major increase in staff and investment in the ambulance service is under way. Mental health services are expanding and a range of initiatives are under way to support wider mental health challenges. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on her extraordinarily diligent and dedicated work in that area. New services are being rolled out. A comprehensive women’s health programme led by the Minister for Health and including the first national programmes on endometritis and menopause has been developed and funded and is now under way. Access and fairness are being extended with an extension of medical cards, the abolition of hospital charges for under-16s and other measures. Yes, there are many more issues to tackle. There are many who do not have access to the services they need when they need them, but one helps these people by delivering credible, sustained and secure services, not by the cynical politics of refusing to acknowledge any progress. This year, 469,000 people currently on waiting lists will benefit from this progress and many more will benefit during the rest of our term.
Education has been and remains a core priority for us. A new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is in place. That has been overseen by the Minister, Deputy Harris. That is a significant policy development that is already having an impact in terms of education policy. For our schools, I am proud that in the past two years we have begun an ambitious programme to increase resources, reform provision and develop facilities. As a result of this Government, Irish children are benefitting from smaller class sizes, with disadvantaged schools benefiting the most. Guidance provision is available in every school. There are 300 new school building projects on site and many more being advanced. The most significant reform of the senior cycle in 50 years has begun.
Having been the Minister who gave the first recognition to special needs as a national concern, supporting students with special needs has always been a deep priority for me and it is a priority for this Government. The number of special needs teachers and assistants is up 10% in only two years and action is being taken on a range of support issues. When we have finished our mandate, we will deliver a significant and sustained improvement in special needs education, and this will take a lot less time than the ten years Deputy McDonald has promised. We will do more in respect of disability in the coming period, particularly in the context of therapies and supports for special schools.
We have also ensured with our colleagues in government that the budgets we have implemented support an expansion of public services, have helped our country through a recession, underpin a new national development programme and have given the most help to those most in need. Every single analysis has confirmed that our budgets have been progressive and have given the greatest benefit to those on lowest and fixed incomes such as pensioners and families facing back to school costs. Over the past year we have faced a new international challenge, dramatic pressures on prices, and the impact of these pressures on people. It is fair to say that the Irish people have led in regard to our response to Ukraine and the Government has led in terms of the first major war on our Continent since the Second World War and the worst humanitarian crisis on the European Continent since 1942. We have led from the front on the humanitarian side of that but it has had an impact on the cost of living and on inflation.
We cannot start chasing our tails on inflation, making things ever worse with massive compensation for everyone. We can and we are prioritising those under the most pressure. We will prepare and implement a budget that does as much as possible to protect the economy, protect public services and above all reduce and relieve the cost-of-living pressures on working families and those on low incomes. We will also continue to focus on the existential challenge of climate change and the loss of our island’s biodiversity. We reject the posturing of those who claim they want to save the planet but oppose everything difficult required to achieve this objective. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, developed, published and has brought into law is both transformative and challenging and it has the support of the entire Government. Let there be no doubt that it will leave a lasting legacy. There is no going back from that legislation. It will govern future Governments as well.
In this and in every element of government, in spite of unprecedented challenges because of the pandemic, the Government has worked to implement the programme that will over our full mandate deliver real and sustained progress for the Irish people. When we hear the loud and aggressive speeches of the Opposition that nothing is being done, that the people are being ignored, that everything is miserable, that we live in a failed State, it is not hard to understand what is going on. It is the same aggressive populist politics we are seeing in much of the world at the moment. I am proud of what my party and our partners in government have together helped our country to overcome in the past two years and the policies we have put in place for sustained, long-term progress. We believe in a politics that works for the long-term interests of our country, not one that looks for issues to exploit.
As we gather here in our national Parliament today, we have war in Europe, resulting in the largest forced-displacement of people since the Second World War, levels of inflation not seen in four decades and concerns that Europe could be facing an energy crisis. The outlook for the global economy is being downgraded, we have no government in Northern Ireland and we have witnessed political turmoil in London. The full impact of Brexit on our island remains unresolved and Covid-19 is on the rise again.
Sinn Féin's answer is to call for a general election. Sinn Féin's approach to opposition is very simple: promise everything to everyone, say whatever has to be said to get into government and worry about the consequences afterwards. Delivering the promises being made by Sinn Féin would amount to billions and billions of euro. Sinn Féin is building a level of expectation of what it can deliver in government that is utterly unrealistic and unrealisable. In its heart of hearts it must know this and it is a deeply cynical approach to politics. Some of those who will support Sinn Féin today have had not one, but two, opportunities to enter government in recent years but chose the safe and comfortable Opposition benches where it is easy to have all the answers and none of the responsibility. No one on this side of the House has denied that our country faces many challenges, not least the imperative to build more homes quickly, to reform our health service and to address the cost-of-living pressures that many face. The Government has managed our economy and our public finances well. Our economy is now close to full employment. At times the House and certainly the Opposition seem to take those fundamental achievements for granted but it is a successful economy with well-managed public finances that give us the resources to intervene and support people who are genuinely under pressure from the rising cost of living. Our focus now is on the budget. It will be a cost-of-living budget with €6.7 billion and a separate package of one-off measures to help people who face real challenges.
We have a strong and stable Government that does not claim to get everything right. It is a Government of three parties that accepted the responsibility of office-----
-----and that are working well together. With the support of this House, which I hope is affirmed today, the Government will continue to be honest and do our best for the people of this country.
As it was partly my fault, if the Minister for Education wants a minute, she is in this slot but the time is up. I will give her one minute because there was a misunderstanding. I did not make it clear.
As Minister for Education, I welcome the opportunity to provide a brief outline of the key initiatives that have marked two years in education and indeed two years in government. In that time my Department has presided over an ambitious programme of delivery across myriad areas, including more than €1.5 billion invested in a proactive schools building programme; in excess of €600 million in funding to support schools through Covid-19; an overall budget in excess of €2 billion per year on special education for the first time; the most significant expansion of the DEIS programme which seeks to deliver equality of opportunity in schools at an additional cost of €32 million, bringing the total investment to more than €180 million; a reduction in the primary school pupil-teacher ratio in every budget since the formation of this Government to 24:1, which is the lowest in the history of the State; an historic, innovative and student-centred reform of senior cycle that will empower students to meet the challenges of the 21st century-----
It is a 15-minute slot. Sinn Féin tabled its motion of no confidence in the Government opposite because we believe that change is needed now more than ever. The Government in those benches is out of touch, clearly out of ideas and now out of time - a Government that is unravelling before our very eyes, which has lost the support of the people, if indeed it ever had it. Last week it lost its Dáil majority. Now the Taoiseach scrambles to get the votes to win a confidence motion. The writing is on the wall for him. This failed Government should go, it should go now and make way for a Government that will finally put workers and families first. Tá an Rialtas ag titim as a chéile díreach os ár gcomhair. Theip air tabhairt faoi na rudaí atá fíorthábhachtach do dhaoine. Tá tacaíocht na ndaoine caillte agus tá tromlach na Dála caillte. Tá sé in am ag an Rialtas neamhchúiseach seo an bealach a fhágáil. It is not hard to see why this coalition is coming apart at the seams. It is a Government that has presided over two years of utter and abject failure. Not only has the Government failed to make improvements in the areas that really matter to people, but it has, in fact, managed to make a bad situation so much worse. This is especially true in housing, in healthcare and in dealing with the cost-of-living crisis that has literally pushed households to the brink. The Government has no urgency, no vision and no capacity to grasp the severity of these problems in the lives of ordinary people. By any fair judgment, the Taoiseach is failing.
Far too often the message from Government to the people looking to it for solutions has been, "Suck it up, get on with it, shop around, you are on your own". Well, that is just not good enough. People expect so much more from those they elect and those who they pay very handsomely to get the job done. Strike one against this failed Government is without question housing. Let us not forget the coalition came to office declaring that it would fix housing. This was a very bold statement that has not aged well. On its watch, the housing crisis has escalated to a housing disaster. So many of our people now struggle to put and keep a secure roof over their heads.
House prices continue to soar beyond the reach of ordinary workers and families. The dream of owning a home has become an impossibility for an entire generation. Rents keep going up and up. Renters are being ripped off every month, robbed of their money but also robbed of their futures. Young people, in particular, watch on as international funds build fancy apartment blocks in their neighbourhoods and they get to look at them because they never will be able to afford to live in them. Generation Rent is exploited in the here and now and they face a difficult and uncertain future. A new Government on the side of renters would take action now to cut rents through a tax credit and legislate to ban rent increases for three years but the Taoiseach's do-nothing Government sits on its hands and turns a blind eye; worse than that, and he is at it again this afternoon, the Taoiseach bragged about the Government's new shared equity scheme. It is a vintage Fianna Fáil move if ever there was one.
It is one designed to prop up extortionate house prices and to saddle people with additional debt, and the Taoiseach boasts that people in desperation will reach for that measure. That is nauseating.
The scourge of homelessness is back to record levels. People in families who never thought that they would ever be in such an horrific situation find themselves in emergency accommodation, if they can get emergency accommodation. Children still grow up in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation robbed of a decent childhood. For any state that calls itself a republic, one child in homelessness is a scandal but hundreds of children homeless is a damning indictment of those in power. All the while, thousands of households continue to languish on social housing waiting lists desperate for the home in which they can build their lives and they watch on as thousands of homes are left vacant throughout the State.
This housing disaster is an affront to the message of equality contained in the Proclamation that hangs outside this Chamber. Rather than lining up to vote confidence in themselves, Government Members might, for once, do some self-reflection because this housing disaster was created by them and it is sustained by them, and yet they remain wedded to the housing policies that created this mess in the first place and feathered the nests of well-got developers, wealthy investors and big landlords at the expense of ordinary people in housing need. The dogs on the street know and can see that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has failed abysmally.
Let me suggest that the Minister be at the front of the queue when this Government packs its bags to go. It is time now for a housing Minister who will implement policies that turn the tide with a housing strategy that really matches the scale of the challenge because housing can be fixed. There is no doubt about that-----
Strike two against this failed Government relates to health. Under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so many are denied the medical care that they badly need. Our hospitals are chronically overcrowded and we have a never-ending trolley crisis. Waiting lists have ballooned to record levels. Children with conditions, such as scoliosis or spina bifida, wait years for life-changing surgery. Mental health and disability services are on the floor as families and communities cry out for help. Despite all the promises of change, our front-line health staff continue to endure unacceptable working conditions. The message from the Government to ordinary people is clear: "Do not get sick, do not need an operation or a treatment, and, for God's sake, do not need support services." Bad Government policy ensures that they are not guaranteed the care they need when they need it. When so many are denied vital healthcare and when a government, indeed, asks so many to live in agony and stress, how can anybody come into the Dáil and argue that the Government is doing a good job, let alone vote confidence in it? The truth is that the Government persists with policies that hollow out our public health system and prop up an at times inefficient, inequitable, unjust two-tier health service.
People are sick and tired, by the way, of Government telling them that healthcare cannot be fixed or solved. I do not accept that for a second and I never will. A new Government can deliver a health service that works for everyone - a single-tier national public health service where treatment is accessed based on medical need, not on how much you earn. That is what people deserve. That is worth working for; that is worth fighting for.
Strike three against the Government is on the cost-of-living crisis. Households across the country are at breaking point and the threat of poverty is now very real, not only for those on low and fixed incomes, but for middle-income households too. People simply do not know where they will find the money to pay soaring energy bills and put food on the table and fuel in the car, and the massive cost involved in getting children back to school in September has become a household crisis for many. Families struggle to afford the basics but the Government refuses to do what needs to be done. With a bull-headed stubbornness, it refused to introduce an emergency budget with measures to bring relief. It seems one-upmanship and facing down the Opposition were more important to the Government than helping people.
The Government will instead wait for 12 weeks before intervening. Ministers are quick to homilise and to tell those of us in opposition that we do not have a monopoly on empathy for people who are suffering.
I agree with that, but a government does not get to stop at empathy. The Government does not get to empathise and then do nothing for people who are overwhelmed by a cost-of-living crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1980s. It is the responsibility of Government to act because empathy without help or action is pity. Workers and families do not want the pity of Government; they want solutions and relief. They want a government that is fit and capable of doing its job.
Individually, each of these failures - a housing disaster, a never-ending health crisis and a refusal to fully tackle the unprecedented cost-of-living crisis - would warrant the sacking of the lot of them but these are three serious strikes against the Government. Three strikes and you are out - done, dusted, time to go.
I speak directly to the Independent Deputies whose support keeps this week an ineffective Government in power. We have all had ringside seats to witness the repeated incompetence of this coalition. These parties have failed the people of the Independent Deputies' constituencies and all they get from them are shrugs of the shoulders, excuses, alibis and heckling - they are good at that. Let me ask the Independent Deputies in all sincerity: is that good enough for the people they represent? Can they honestly look their constituents in the eye and say to them that this confused directionless Government is the one to lead the country over the next two years? That is the question. Independent Deputies have a chance to stand up and make a difference, and the ball is in their court. Will they stand with the workers and families they represent or will they back a Government that consistently lets them down?
-----and they wanted a party and people at Cabinet who would speak for them and govern for them, but Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens could not stomach that and could not stand the thought of a Government led by a party that would prioritise the well-being of ordinary people-----
What did they do? They clubbed together to stop change. In doing that, they planted the seeds of their own demise and the Government's failure because, make no mistake about it: this is a Government that was born out of necessity, not ambition; formed out of a self-serving desire to keep things the same, rather than to drive progress-----
-----and cobbled together to defend the interests of those at the top, rather than ordinary people, the very definition of cynicism, cynical politics and a cynical Government.
And so, it is farcical that the Taoiseach proposes to hand the keys of his office back to the Tánaiste in December to carry on as normal, because it is very clear that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in power for far too long and, by God, families and workers throughout the land have paid a heavy price for that.
More and more people see that we need a change of Government, not just a change of Taoiseach. The coalition is stuck in the past, a Government that is unable to respond to the progressive, positive, modern demand for change that is sweeping across Ireland. I am an optimist. I do not believe that Ireland is a basket case; far from it.
I will finish on this. Here is what I know for sure and without a shadow of a doubt. A Government led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will never allow that fair and equal Ireland to be born.
It was at my discretion to increase the time because there was a misunderstanding, partly on my part and partly on the Government side. That was not a precedent for going over time. Táim ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí an Páirtí an Lucht Oibre agus Teachta Bacik.
This afternoon, the Government is asking us to vote confidence in it. We in Labour cannot do that. We have never had confidence in the Government to address the housing disaster, the childcare crisis, the spiralling cost of living or the climate catastrophe. In 2020, we did not support the election of the Taoiseach and we now believe in the need for a change of Government. We believe the project of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party has been unsuccessful. Despite their stated aims, they are simply not delivering the desired and necessary outcomes or results.
Fianna Fáil has long professed itself the party of home ownership and of house building. Yet, since the Government took office, the housing crisis has deteriorated, rents have increased by 15%, house prices by 22% and homelessness by 19%, with more than 3,000 children and 1,300 families now homeless. That is without mentioning those who have homes but fear they will collapse due to mica, pyrite or construction defects. As the Fianna Fáil Minister for Health grapples with the two-tier health system his party ushered in alongside the Progressive Democrats, the promise of Sláintecare remains distant and, indeed, waiting lists remain unforgivably long for many basic services for many adults and children.
Fine Gael finds itself similarly unequipped to deal with the challenges of its own portfolios. In the midst of an enormous cost-of-living crisis, the best the party can promise is a five-year wait for a living wage. After the trauma of the pandemic, it has produced a sick pay scheme that will cost lower-income workers money, and so-called flexible working legislation that empowers employers to say “No” - a right to refuse, not a right to remote work.
The Green Party, a party that shares many policies and aspirations of my own, has managed to pass some climate legislation, which we have supported, but it appears it is incapable of pushing its Government colleagues to meet those legally-binding targets. We, therefore, see a stand-off on agriculture emissions and on peat and, all the while, the countdown to climate catastrophe keeps ticking.
On childcare, the Government is bound to examine the introduction of a universal public scheme by the First 5 funding model, which is welcome, but that does not appear to be on the horizon, despite ongoing poverty wages for those working in the sector and exorbitant costs for parents. Inequality in Ireland starts the day a baby is born and that should not be how it is in a republic.
This country deserves a Government with the imagination to do better; a Government that can be relied on to act in the common good for all its people, that will build affordable homes on public land, lead the charge on climate justice and a just transition, and bring about a new Donogh O’Malley moment to ensure universal public childcare and early years education for our youngest citizens and people; a Government that will ensure that nobody languishes on waiting lists for CAMHS, medical intervention, special classes or autism assessments; and a Government that treats care work with the respect it deserves and that will work for the unity of the island in the spirit of John and Pat Hume. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that the Government can deliver on any of that.
We acknowledge the many challenges that the Government has and that we all have - the brutal war in Ukraine, the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic and, of course, the spiralling cost of living. As inflation has skyrocketed, we know that individuals and families are struggling to put food in their mouths and roofs over their heads, but we also know that there are solutions to these complex problems and there is a way to address these challenges. We believe in a Labour vision, a constructive and alternative vision for change based on a centre-left, social democratic philosophy and set of principles, based on the introduction of key measures, such as genuinely free education, genuinely free childcare and early years education, windfall profit taxes on energy companies, immediate increases in the minimum wage and social welfare rates, a rent freeze and new measures to drastically reduce rents, and ensuring the building of more homes as a matter of urgency.
We offer that alternative vision and we also offer a vision on climate justice and on just transition. Something that is notably absent from the no-confidence motion tabled by Sinn Féin is a mention of climate, and it is a strange omission. As climate spokesperson, I have certainly given the Green Party its due for the measures it has sought to introduce in government but we know its coalition partners are simply not willing to do what is necessary to ensure we address the real, existential climate crisis in climate and in biodiversity.
We need a Government that will integrate economic planning with a stronger climate response to take us to net zero as quickly as possible, to make Ireland the renewables superpower that it can be and to support the creation of decent jobs through a just transition.
There is a pressing case for change. The reality is that younger generations in Ireland are now growing up worse off than their parents who came before them. Young people are locked out, with no prospect of secure, affordable homes. Workers on low pay and in precarious conditions are struggling to get by, rather than getting on. We know Ireland needs a pay rise and we know the State can and must deliver a new social contract, with real change offered on housing, care, climate and more. We need to build an equal, sustainable island, contributing proudly to our European and international future, but we can only do this if those holding the levers of power understand that change cannot wait and if they are an ambitious enough to do more and do better in delivering tangible results.
The tone of too much of this debate has been one of mock outrage and mock anger, which is not helpful. We in the Labour Party have sought to bring a constructive approach to Opposition and to put forward genuine alternatives to try to address the real challenges that all of us hear every day from our own constituents and from people across this island. We meet people struggling to make ends meet.
We meet parents forced to become full-time campaigners for the basic rights of their children, particularly autistic children and those with a disability. Week in and week out, the sand is running out as we fail to tackle the climate disaster.
My conviction is that the government we need is a government of the left - a government that understands the purpose of the State is to deliver for the common good of all and to harness State action to deliver on housing, childcare, early years education, healthcare and climate. That is not this Government.
Táim ag bogadh ar aghaidh go dtí an Rialtas. There are 11 and a half minutes in this slot and six speakers. Five speakers will have two minutes each, with the final speaker having one and a half minutes.
The Government has done more for farm families, coastal communities and rural Ireland than any previous Government. Despite Sinn Féin having access to its magic money tree before the most recent general election, its manifesto for rural Ireland and agriculture was by far the weakest of those of any of the political parties. Since we have entered government, there has not been a single original thought on this sector from that party or, indeed, from the Opposition benches as a whole.
Building on that, we have created a new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, that will deliver €10 billion for the farm families of Ireland. We have delivered a 50% increase in Pillar 2 funding for CAP supports. We are delivering an agri-environmental scheme that will give farmers €10,500. We have increased the supports to our suckler sector to €250 per cow, compared with €90 under the previous scheme. We have increased fivefold the support for our organic sector, while also delivering support for the tillage and sheep sectors. In the face of Brexit, we have worked tirelessly to support our fishing sector and are investing in it like never before.
Meanwhile, we have seen little to no evidence of any policy innovation from the Opposition. Deputy McDonald has spoken today about what her party would do in regard to housing, for example, an area in which the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Government are doing massive work. Just two miles from where I live, there is a Sinn Féin housing Minister and a Sinn Féin finance Minister in government. Despite that, house prices in Northern Ireland rose by £18,000 on average last year, which was a 12% increase. The Sinn Féin Ministers there obviously have not been reading or seeing the marketing material for Deputy Ó Broin's textbooks on this matter. Again, it is evidence of Sinn Féin's bluster and lack of delivery.
We would need NASA's Webb telescope to be able to track it.
Housing is a key political issue of our time. We know people stuck in a rent trap or on social housing waiting lists are desperate for somewhere to secure and afford.
Parents and grandparents want to see their children buying a decent home, like they did at a similar age. The Government is committed to tackling this as our number one priority. After a decade of undersupply, as the Taoiseach said, the numbers of new builds, commencements and planning permissions are up. More and more people are drawing down mortgages and buying new homes. The first affordable purchase homes in a generation will be delivered this year. The first cost rental homes have been built and the largest social housing building programme in our history is under way. There will be more new-build social homes this year than ever before, regardless of the continued objections to them by Deputy McDonald's party.
We have delivered policies like the first home scheme, to which there have already been hundreds of applicants. That was opposed by Sinn Féin. A new vacancy grant is being launched this week. The expanded help to buy scheme was, again, opposed by Sinn Féin. All of these measures put home ownership back at the centre of housing solutions and Sinn Féin opposed them all. They are all part of our Housing for All plan, under which 300,000 new homes will be delivered by 2030. We are investing €4 billion a year, which is €1.2 billion more than Sinn Féin put forward in its 16-page housing plan, eight pages of which were taken up by pictures of Deputy Ó Broin and others.
I was astounded but not surprised by the level of arrogance of Sinn Féin frontbenchers as they took to national media in the past week to justify their latest political stunt. None of us should be shocked, however, as this opportunistic manoeuvre is straight out of the Sinn Féin playbook. It is a party that is there to delay and disrupt at every turn for political advantage. It even sought to influence the right of Independent Deputies to vote with their free will and according to their conscience.
The Deputies from that party who have gone on radio and television in recent days apparently believe they are Ministers-elect and want to force an election as soon as possible. It is a pity they were not so eager to act in the immediate wake of the most recent election. They chose instead to prioritise political opportunism over the national interest. Those of us on this side of the House acted and worked in collaboration, in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, to form the stable Government the country needed.
Sinn Féin Deputies lambast our housing policy but vote against projects all over the country that will deliver social and affordable housing to people. Deputy McDonald referred to the clothing and footwear increases announced by the Government last week as half measures. Under the scheme, we are paying a rate of €260 to the parents of eligible primary pupils and €385 in the case of post-primary pupils. Meanwhile, in the North, where her party sets the rate, having been in power in 2007, it is giving out less than half measures, with payments of £42.90 for primary school pupils and a maximum of £67.20 for a post-primary pupil.
This is a cohesive and hard-working Government. As Government Chief Whip, I can announce that by the end of this session, more than 100 pieces of legislation will have been passed since the Government took office. Each and every one of those pieces of legislation has been enacted to deliver for families and make progress across many areas of policy.
More generally, we are committed to focusing on the key issues. As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, outlined, home completions are at their highest level in a decade and we are committed to delivering social and affordable housing for people. A total of €2.4 billion has been invested in cost-of-living measures and a further €6 billion will be delivered in September this year to support families. We must not take our economy for granted, which we would see under Sinn Féin in government. A total of 275,000 jobs have been created, with the strong Exchequer returns allowing us to deliver for people and make progress across areas.
In sport, we have provided €150 million, which is the highest investment in the history of the State, at grassroots level, including to clubs, communities and schools. We have delivered record funding for high-performance programmes, promoting the participation of women in sports and provision for disadvantaged communities from the Dormant Accounts Fund.
Maidir leis an nGaeltacht, tá Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla á achtú againn chun úsáid na Gaeilge a athrú go hiomlán agus go radacach agus chun soláthar seirbhísí poiblí trí Ghaeilge a chinntiú. Chuireamar deireadh leis an maolú ar an nGaeilge atá anois mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpach agus chuireamar 400 scoláireacht ar fáil do pháistí scoileanna DEIS chun go mbeadh siad in ann freastal ar choláistí samhraidh sa Ghaeltacht.
By tabling a motion of no confidence last week, Sinn Féin is telling people its only goal is a general election. It is not prioritising housing, dealing with the cost of living, achieving progress on our health services and delivering the constructive politics that are needed in the national interest.
This is a cynical move to exploit issues, not solve them, and to drown out every positive measure in a consistently negative and divisive approach. This is just about pursuing a path to power at any cost.
Last week, people in Sinn Féin looked across the water to the Parliament in Westminster from which they take their expenses but in which they do not take their seats. They saw mayhem, chaos and dysfunction and they said, "How can we get some of that over here?"
It is true that our country and our citizens are facing many challenges. The best way to address those challenges is to ensure we have a strong economy with the necessary resources to enable us to make interventions when they are needed, just as we did during the pandemic.
It is because of the policies this Government has pursued that we are in a position to introduce a progressive budget and further supports to address the cost-of-living crisis. We now have 2.5 million people employed, more than were employed before the pandemic. Just today, Enterprise Ireland announced the highest-ever recorded growth. Irish businesses are creating jobs in every county. Our policies are working. We are in a three-party Government. There are differences-----
-----and there are times when we must compromise, but what we are not compromising on is in our collective determination to address the challenges facing society today. Deputy McDonald said her party needs ten years. Tonight, with others, others who ran away from the opportunity to serve in government-----
-----to tell us what we already know, which is that the Opposition does not support the Government. We have known that, however, for two years. When this country faced its greatest crisis, they ran for the hills and they ran for their rallies. They were nowhere to be seen when this country needed TDs to put the country’s interest ahead of their parties’ interest and when this country needed politicians who were going to be climate-brave. Politics is not about the game. It is about the work and this is just cynical posturing.
We see that cynicism when voters are told that it will take a decade to deliver, but then the Opposition cries foul after just two years of Fianna Fáil being back in government after a decade. We see that cynicism when public housing on public land is called for, but the progress of the council-led affordable purchase scheme and the affordable rental scheme is ignored. Some Deputies in the Opposition had their chance in government. They never legislated for either of these aspects; we have. After a decade of undersupply and a reliance on the market, the State is back building and developing public homes, including 1,700 in my constituency. That is real change.
When I am listening to the Taoiseach talking about housing, I genuinely wonder if he is in the same country as I am. He tells us that progress is being made. I must say that is a deeply disingenuous statement. There are times when I wonder if the Taoiseach is in denial and if he actually believes the things he is saying. In fact, what is clear is that he, just like his other colleagues, including Deputy Brophy, is wilfully misleading the House and the public, not only about his record, but about the record of those of us on this side of the House.
The reason why is because the Government does not want an election. That is the very definition of cynical.
Therefore, let us just look at the progress this Government has made under the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. Homelessness has increased in the last two years by 19%, and child homelessness by a staggering 40% in the last 12 months. There are now 5,000 single adults in emergency accommodation funded by the Department of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. This is the highest level of single-person homelessness ever recorded in modern times. More than 3,000 children, because of the policies of this Government, will be sleeping tonight in emergency accommodation. We are only days away from breaching the October 2019 peak of the highest level of officially-recognised homelessness in the history of the State.
Rents are sky high. The average for a rental property in this city is €24,000 annually. In the Taoiseach’s constituency, it is €19,000 a year for a standard rental property. Contrary to what the Taoiseach said, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, has not increased protections for renters. Last April, he stripped the single most important intervention that led to reductions in family homelessness, namely the ban on evictions. That has led to almost a month-on-month increase. The crisis in the private rental sector is continuing. Not only is that sector shrinking month-on-month because of the Government’s failed policies, but the new rental supply that is coming in, because of the building and planning regulations introduced by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, is locking in high-cost rental in perpetuity. This is why the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, rightly highlighted in a report last week that this Government’s policies, like those of the Governments before, are subjecting an entire generation to the risk of pensioner poverty.
Contrary as well to the claim made by the Minister and Taoiseach their party is about homeownership, every time Fianna Fáil has been in government, with the Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, home ownership has plummeted. People's dependence on insecure high-cost rentals has continued. With respect to social housing, we are told that it is going to be the biggest social housing programme in the history of the State. Yet the Minister’s own report at the end of the first quarter of this year stated that the total number of new social homes delivered under the Government's programme is 639, which is just 7% of the total. We are at about the same level as we were last year during Covid-19, when there was a lockdown. Therefore, I do not believe that these targets are going to be met. Even if they are met, that will be 1,000 less than what was promised by the last Government and therefore nowhere near enough. Turning to affordable housing, 65 affordable rentals were provided last year. We may get a couple of hundred affordable purchases this year. That is not a serious commitment to tackling this crisis.
I heard loud heckling from several Deputies from counties in which properties have been affected by defective blocks. They were not so loud last week when the Government-----
One of the greatest misrepresentations of this Government regarding all the Opposition parties, but particularly regarding ours, is that we have no alternatives. With our Private Members' time today, along with other colleagues and the entire Raise the Roof civil society and trade union movement, we will outline those alternatives to the Government yet again.
It is impossible to vote confidence in this Government based on any objective analysis of its performance to date. This is a Government that is happy to acknowledge the vast number of people enduring serious financial pressure from an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, yet it has consistently refused to introduce an emergency budget to provide workers and their families with interim relief in advance of the budget in the autumn. The Government is also blind to the havoc it is causing in housing, which has long morphed from a crisis into a disaster. One of the most basic requirements of any functioning society is the provision of secure and affordable housing. It is supposed to be the biggest priority for the Government, but it is also its biggest failure. The housing crisis did not happen by accident. It was caused by a collection of policy choices by successive Governments, all of which have included Fine Gael.
It is now, as I said, a housing disaster. We are told that record amounts are being spent and we have been told, and repeatedly told, about the €4 billion. Let us, however, have a look at this figure. When we take out the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the financial cost of homelessness-----
-----and the continued long leasing of housing, which is a very expensive way of delivering housing, without there being an asset at the end, it has turned social housing into an attractive and profitable product.
The €4 billion shrinks to nearly €2 billion when we make allowances for all of this. The direct builds of local authorities are in many cases turnkeys rather than direct builds and are not an addition to housing completion numbers.
Last week's ESRI report is very sobering. The report states that one in three people aged between 35 and 44 years will not own a home by retirement age. The new research suggests that a future cohort of retirees will likely have substantially lower rates of homeownership than current retirees, with only 65% of those currently aged 35 to 44 years estimated to become homeowners by retirement age. It gets worse. We are told that it is even more stark for the age cohort between 25 and 34 years, of which one in two households are likely to become homeowners by retirement age. The report finds that such drastic changes in homeownership patterns could raise the proportion of people aged 65 years and over in income poverty due to housing costs from the current rate of 14% to 31%. That is some legacy and it is being created as we speak as a result of deliberate housing policies that make housing completely unaffordable. It is not just an issue of delivery. There is an affordability crisis at the heart of the housing crisis.
We are spending approximately €22 billion on our health service, yet it is in perpetual crisis. One quarter of the population, some 1.3 million people, are now on waiting lists for health services. That is a truly shocking figure. It has become much more difficult to retain our excellent healthcare workers because the system also fails them. There has been a rush to the door and it hardly fills one with confidence that people like Professor Tom Keane and Ms Laura McGahey left the health service last year partly because they did not believe there was a real commitment to reform through Sláintecare. We have watched senior officials head to the door in recent weeks and months and it does not fill one with confidence that the Department of Health is in control or can reform the healthcare system to the extent required to tackle that problem.
This is supposed to be a cohesive Government and it cannot even agree climate targets. The Green Party must ask itself what the key issue is in this Government, if it is not about delivering sectoral climate targets.
The tone of any parliament is always set by government, but the change in tone of this Parliament was like the flicking of a light switch when this Government took up office as opposed to the tone of a minority government when the Dáil was in control of the agenda and there was a more collegiate approach.
Once the Government had the numbers, the tone completely changed in terms of the Business Committee, guillotines, and how we do business in the House. It matters because that changed the nature of the debate in the House and was, I believe, a big mistake. The Dáil does not have control of the agenda; the Government has taken control of it.
It is for those and a myriad of other reasons that it seems as if many of our public services are stuck together with sellotape. There are a myriad of failures and by no objective analysis could one say the Government is doing a good job. I wonder whether the country can afford this Government, considering some of the decisions currently being made. The waste is appalling.
As a Government, we acknowledge there is much to do. We acknowledge there is much progress that we need to make in the rest of our mandate. However, in putting forward the motion, we also make the case for what we have achieved and delivered during two years of unprecedented challenge.
Our country faced record levels of unemployment at a time when the world was grappling with a pandemic. Where are we now? We are now in a position where we have never had more people at work in our country than we have today. At the start of our mandate, we had to borrow huge amounts of money to put in place economic supports, which worked, saved our economy and created jobs. Where are we today? National finances are approaching balance, with health and resilience back in our national finances.
When the Government took up office, health services were confronted with a pandemic without precedent. Now, 800 more beds are being built and opened in our health services to help us provide the care we know our country needs. When this Government took up office, the construction sector closed as part of the measures needed to keep our country safe from a pandemic. Where are we now? We have 30,000 homes commenced which will provide roofs over the heads of families, renters and tenants who need and deserve the homes the Government is committed to delivering.
I listened very carefully to the Leader of the Opposition's speech. Rarely have I heard a speech that was so full of attacks and so lacking in content.
It was tax credit. Anyone in this country looking for change and radical reform will not find it in the speech delivered by Deputy McDonald.
What was also conspicuously lacking in that speech was what was not mentioned. There was no mention of Covid, the war in Ukraine, the economy and the value of jobs, and, shamefully, Brexit. That kind of approach might work when leading an Opposition and when one is more interested in the content of a social media video than the content of policy, but it will not work if one is looking to lead a country. It points to the greater void at the heart of Sinn Féin policies. Sinn Féin wants more rental accommodation to be built, yet it demonises landlords and anyone who seeks to provide it. It wants to make progress on climate change, yet it is against any measure, particularly difficult measures, that are needed to achieve it. It wants to abolish the local property tax in Ireland, yet it wants to hike the tax in the North. Sinn Féin wants to make progress on the cost-of-living challenge. One week it is in favour of targeted measures and the next week it is in favour of broad measures.
Has there ever been a darker act of humour in recent Irish politics than Sinn Féin publishing a Private Members' Bill to control social media trolls? Has there even been a darker moment of irony when the party brought that measure forward? Amid the odd hint of a policy we hear from Sinn Féin, it points to the darker and more difficult truth. It is a party that is negative on Europe, indifferent to investment and always sees income in our country as something to be spent and never earned. Deputy McDonald showed an awareness that it might work for making a speech when putting forward a case in a Private Members' motion, but her speech showed no recognition of the challenges this country faces. It ended with a claim of optimism.
How hollow a note to end on.
The Government knows there is much to do. We know we have much to achieve. This is an historic Government composed of different politicians and three different parties, but we are united in our view as to how we can make progress, progress that we will make.
The reason we are describing this as an exercise in cynicism is as follows. There was a legitimate debate in the House a couple of weeks ago as to when we should have the budget and on the size of the budget package. The Government responded, moved the date of the budget forward and will now deliver a budget package bigger than previously planned. However, instead of now allowing the Government to knuckle down and get on with that job, the motion Sinn Féin has tabled would result in the dissolution of the Dáil, the hanging up of posters and a paralysis in Irish politics for the weeks and months ahead. It would result in a delay in delivering help to hard-working families at a time when, as Sinn Féin rightly highlights, they so need it. In many ways it is a mini-version of the very difficult situation in Northern Ireland that it rightly castigates. It wants to plunge this jurisdiction into paralysis, just like Northern Ireland now sees paralysis as well.
Unfortunately, it is more sinister than that. As my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, rightly outlined, we hear very eloquent speeches that prey on people's legitimate fears and concerns and offer beautiful sound bites, very well articulated, but no solutions. The people do not need that. What the people need now is a Government that will, in the face of massive global challenges, get on with progressing an agenda that will deliver for them, their families and their futures, and that is what we are doing.
We are doing it in the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, where we see massive increases in student grants coming, changes to adjacency and income thresholds, and five technological universities now bringing higher education into the regions, not just the cities. We are launching our apprenticeship action plan, delivering record numbers of apprentices to build the homes we need and to retrofit our buildings. We are determined to reduce the cost of education. Sinn Féin criticises the cost of education here, but a fact it does not talk about much is that students in Northern Ireland are charged over €2,000 more just to go to college every year than they are charged here. Shame on Sinn Féin. We are reforming the CAO process. We are giving out free laptops to more than 17,000 students. We have introduced funding streams to help autistic students to get into college and to have pathways and programmes for students with intellectual disabilities. We have abolished fees for post-leaving certificate courses. We will deliver 200 more medicine places over the next five years and new pathways and structures for our PhD students.
That is what we are doing to try to make a real and tangible difference in an important area of people's lives and the education system of our country. All of that is happening at a time when Sinn Féin offers division, a menu of empty rhetoric and stagnation and a proactive policy of paralysis. Of course Sinn Féin has a right to table a no-confidence motion, but that does not mean tabling one is the right thing to do. Shortly, a very significant majority of the people's representatives in this House will give Sinn Féin its answer.
On 9 February this year, in a post still visible on its website, Sinn Féin made a series of uncosted promises in respect of the cost of living. This is a pattern that has become all too familiar for the Sinn Féin Party. In its alternative budget last October, it committed to spending €3.2 billion over and above what the Government committed to spending. Again, more uncosted voodoo economics.
Last February, Sinn Féin promised that every individual with an income of up to €30,000 would receive a cash payment of €200 and those earning between €30,000 and €60,000 would receive a cash payment of €100. I have costed that measure using 2020 Revenue figures. It is a promise of €310 million. Nowhere was that promise costed or an explanation given as to where the money would come from. Sinn Féin also promised to put one month's rent back into renters' pockets, another slogan without any substance. I have also costed that promise using ESRI figures. It is a promise worth €854 million. Again, it is not costed. No explanation is given as to where the money will come from. Sinn Féin would abolish carbon tax, which raises approximately €500 million per year. That revenue goes towards the retrofitting of homes and helps farmers to decarbonise, helps with a just transition, not only for the midlands but throughout the country, and helps alleviate fuel poverty. In total, in a series of promises, there is uncosted and unexplained spending of more than €1.6 billion in one press release alone.
Being in government is about having discipline, making tough decisions and telling the public what is possible as opposed to what is popular. Government cannot run on slogans or irresponsible spending commitments. Sinn Féin Deputies are like the Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, heckling from their balcony and offering absolutely no viable solutions for the people.
The great Kerry philosopher and writer John B. Keane once said a Kerry footballer with an inferiority complex is one who thinks he is just as good as everybody else. Now a Sinn Féin Deputy with an inferiority complex is one who thinks he will only top the poll and bring in one running mate. The polls and Sinn Féin's suggested popularity have gone to the heads of its Deputies. They crave an election. We can see it. They are mad to get out there and mad for power. It has gone to their heads. They have even introduced the McDonald's Happy Meal at $2,000 a place, but you do not even get a toy at the end of it. It is clear from the way they are carrying on they think they are in government already.
This evening is about more theatre. Last week they wanted an emergency budget. This week they want a general election. Of course, that would put back an emergency budget by months and months, but they do not care because it is all about the theatre and all about putting party before country. We are different and have always put the country before our parties, and that is the way we will carry on. Sinn Féin constantly talks down this country and the Irish people. When it does that, it does a disservice and dishonours our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents who fought to build this country into one of the strongest democracies in the world. That is the way it will remain. We will not bow down to, bend to or back off from Sinn Féin. The party of Gerry Adams will never defeat the party of Michael Collins. I commend the motion to the House.
Four of the previous seven Ministers for Health sit in this Government, with nothing to show for it but a record of failure, and most, if not all, of those failures predate Covid. Let us not look back on those failures just over the past two years, because the truth is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in government since the foundation of the State. The only reason they came together after the previous general election to act as one was to keep Sinn Féin out of government.
Let us look at their failures. The trolley crisis gets worse year on year. Emergency department waiting times are more than 12 hours on average, and what has this Government served up? A damning report from HIQA on the danger of University Hospital Limerick's emergency department, with patients left waiting up to 116 hours. The Government has run down the emergency department at Navan, and the ambulance service is stretched thin, with no plan in sight. We have wholesale cancellation of elective surgeries, which is now routine, with more than 16,000 hospital appointments cancelled in May alone. Children with scoliosis and spina bifida face cancellation after cancellation and get treatment only when they and their families have to take to the media to beg for care.
Disability services are completely unfit for purpose. We have more than 700 vacancies on children's disability network teams. That means 480,000 lost therapy hours while 50,000 children are on waiting lists for care. The State and the HSE were taken to court for denying rights to children with disabilities. I say to the Minister, Deputy Harris, that that is shameful.
In mental health, more than 240 children were exposed to risk of significant harm under south Kerry CAMHS. GPs are retiring without replacements, with waiting lists for GPs growing. The dental treatment service scheme for children and medical card holders is collapsing and has been for the best part of two years. The Government's plan for waiting lists has been wholesale outsourcing to the private sector. The Government relies on the National Treatment Purchase Fund to purchase private care. The Government invests in private diagnostic capacity instead of the public system. Home care is entirely reliant on private agencies. Outsource, outsource, outsource is the Government's plan, rather than building capacity in the public system. The Government is building a new national maternity hospital on land the State does not own.
Front-line healthcare workers are exhausted and burnt out, yet there is no joined-up workforce plan and no plan to stem the tide of emigration of those in healthcare. No training targets of substance have been set by the Minister or the Government, and a range of healthcare contracts are out of date. Non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, work more than 60 hours a week. The new consultant contract is years behind and there has been no resolution to pay inequality. The GP contract does not work. Medical scientists were forced to go on strike, junior doctors are now planning to strike, nurses are considering going on strike and student nurses have told me and my party leader in droves that they will leave because they were told by this Fianna Fáil Government they do not do real work.
Many front-line workers are still waiting for the pandemic bonus, which has still not been paid, and there is no long-term sick pay for long Covid for those on the front line. Is it any wonder healthcare professionals leave and emigrate or do not work in the public system in the numbers they should?
We have an absolute failure of accountability in healthcare. There is no accountability for Grace, no accountability in the Brandon case and no inquiry into injury from sodium valproate or mesh implants. We have a CervicalCheck tribunal that is not supported by the survivors or families who lost loved ones and organs of deceased children incinerated without the parents' knowledge or consent. Where is the reform? There is no plan of substance to end the two-tier health service.
Key Sláintecare figures resigned because they were frustrated at every step. The Government served up weak regional health areas.
This Government is out of ideas, out of touch and out of time. A new Sinn Féin Government would produce a multi-annual waiting list plan. We would invest in capacity and workforce planning. We would train enough healthcare workers to staff the health service safely. We would engage with young people to encourage them to train and stay in work in the Irish public health service. We would modernise contracts for GPs, consultants, junior doctors, dentists and others to deliver care at the highest level. We would end the two-tier health service and deliver universal healthcare as quickly as we could.
The longer the current Government stays in place, the further we get from real change. I have no confidence in the Minister for Health and have no confidence in the Government to deliver the single-tier health service where people would be treated with dignity, without old-age pensioners left lying on hospital trolleys. One was left on a trolley in Limerick for 116 hours while his wife had to say goodbye. That is not the Ireland I want to live in, and that is not the health service I want to see.
I have to say the Government is doing a great job for those it represents. The big five energy companies announced increased profits of €280 million in the past year. The big five food companies saw increased profits of €174 million in the past year. Irish Residential Properties REIT, the largest landlord in this country, saw profits increase to €67.5 million, representing a 16% increase. All the other corporate landlords are the same, as are the electricity companies. Collectively, the billionaires in this country increased their wealth by €15.5 billion since 2020.
The Government represents those who are profiting from the cost-of-living and housing crises. Those people are doing extremely well. The crisis for ordinary people is an opportunity to profit for those the Government represents. Very clearly, the Government does not represent the interest of renters, who face 10% rent increases year on year. The Government does not represent the one in three people who are now living in energy poverty. It does not represent low- and middle-income workers who are seeing their income effectively eroded day after day, with prices out of control. It is doing absolutely nothing to tackle it.
I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, on the radio this morning talking about this motion. He said everyone he speaks to is terrified of an election.
I suggest the Minister of State try speaking to some people who are not Ministers or Government backbenchers. It might help the perspective of the Government if he spoke to some ordinary people. The people I speak to are not terrified of an election — not at all. They would like to see an election and an historic opportunity to kick out Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to establish, for the first time ever in this country, a Government that is not run by one of the two traditional, capitalist establishment parties on the basis the conservative ideas they represent.
If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are part of the Government, they will continue to represent the same interests: the developers, corporate landlords and big corporations. What we need to have and fight for is a left Government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. All those parties that say they are on the left should commit to that to rule out a coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and fight for a left Government, a Government with eco-socialist policies that would actually represent the interests of renters and workers and tackle the climate crisis and not represent the interests of the rich, as the current Government does.
The Government has trotted out a completely false narrative. Its members are all on message in saying they are the people with solutions and we are the people who are just being critical, but that is not the truth. Tomorrow we will have a Bill seeking to reduce the rents in this country to affordable levels and the Government will vote against it. That is the truth.
The truth is that 10,300 households will be really suffering over the coming weeks. Record numbers of people and their children are in emergency homeless accommodation. Some have been in it for three to three and a half years. I have raised their cases in this House. They have no prospect of getting out of the accommodation. The Government has not solved this. Meanwhile, we have 160,000 empty properties. In my area, flats and apartments in the hands of vulture funds have been sitting for three and four years. I have raised this repeatedly. What does the Government do about it? It does nothing but these investors are making a fortune just sitting on empty properties. They are making record profits. Energy companies are making record profits. Corporate profits have gone up by 300% in the past ten years. Those concerned are doing well, however. According to ICTU, housing and accommodation costs in this country are 78% higher than the EU average. Therefore, the Government should not hide behind the Ukraine war. Rents in Europe increased by 13% over a decade. In the same period they went up by 63% here. Those figures are from 2020. Now the increases in rent are more than 100%. I am referring to the past 12 years. The corporate landlords, speculators and investors are creaming it with profits while tens of thousands of people in this country can find nowhere to live or are being absolutely crushed with the costs of rent and accommodation and, on top of those, the cost of living.
This week in my office, I talked to a former postal worker who is now a pensioner. The individual is on a pension from the post office that is below the official Central Statistics Office poverty line. When he goes down to get the household benefits package, fuel allowance and telephone allowance, he is deemed to be earning too much. He is over the threshold so he gets no support in facing the cost-of-living crisis. The Minister responsible for housing and the Taoiseach promised us repeatedly this year in the Dáil that the income eligibility thresholds for social housing would be raised to stop people being hammered off the housing list. They broke that promise, and that is why I am voting to express no confidence in this Government.
The tabling of a motion of no confidence in the Government at this time says more about the party opposite than the Government. This is a cynical political tactic to raise Sinn Féin's profile in the last week of a Dáil session, taking up valuable time when so many issues needs this Parliament's focus. What makes this stunt even more cynical is the reality that it will not succeed. There was never a realistic expectation in Sinn Féin that it would. This is about disruption. It is about reinforcing negative messaging to damage the Government before a recess, at a time when stability and solution-focused politics are so badly demanded of us all.
I was in London yesterday meeting Opposition parties and my counterparts in the UK Government to discuss Anglo-Irish relations, which are not in good shape, and the ongoing instability in Northern Ireland. At a time when there is no functioning Government in Westminster because of a leadership challenge, no functioning political institutions in Northern Ireland, no North–South bodies and no devolved government, and at a time when we are approaching the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, what is Sinn Féin's primary focus?
It is to collapse the Government in Dublin along with all of the other challenges we face on this island right now. This is what Sinn Féin does. This is its sixth motion of no confidence in five years. Fortunately, this House has had the wisdom to see through the motivation behind Sinn Féin's disruption tactics. It is a party whose record in collapsing governments on this island is nothing to be proud of. It is a party that continues to focus on reinforcing difference, division and what divides us rather than focusing on what needs to unite us at a time of instability.
These are not normal times. They are exceptional times in terms of international and domestic challenges for this country and its people. We are living on a continent at war. We are living through a global pandemic. We are living with all that flows from both of these things. The Government is facing these headwinds with resolve, unity and purpose. On the issue of housing, which will probably be the biggest challenge for the Government in the years ahead, we continue to increase our investment and focus to improve life for many who feel under pressure because of housing. This is despite Sinn Féin constantly opposing every new initiative we take. Sinn Féin opposed the Land Development Agency building homes. It opposed the help to buy and shared equity schemes. It is against financial interventions to get apartments built. In Dublin, Sinn Féin local authority members have opposed 6,000 homes on council land because they are not being built in the way Sinn Féin decides rather than being based on the democratic decisions of those councils.
Despite all of this, because of the Government's priorities, 30,000 homes have been commenced in the past year and close to 10,000 social homes will be delivered this year. We have much more to do. Unfortunately, we will have to do it in spite of those opposite.
We will continue to protect a strong economy from Sinn Féin ideology and disruption, keeping people in work and growth intact to pay for the social change that is desperately needed in terms of investment. This is a Government that understands that the public investments needed are only possible in a strong economy managed responsibly. This is a message we never hear from the parties opposite. They promise the world spending somebody else's money. This is a Government that will put together one of the most significant budgets in living memory, responding comprehensively to the cost-of-living pressures that so many families throughout the country will face this autumn, while Sinn Féin will continue to call for elections and emergency budgets every second month for populist political gain. There may come a time when its populist disruption brings down the Government but it will not be today. The House sees through its tactics and so do the public.
The motion is another example of Sinn Féin speaking out of both sides of its mouth. It criticises the Government but wastes valuable time with a charade of a motion that was never going to succeed, using its time to criticise the Government with no clear direction of its own insight. Its only purpose is to cause a pointless drama and an unwelcome distraction when there are so many issues at hand.
As a member of the Government I am proud to stand on our record of working for the people. Nobody on these benches is denying there are challenges but we are determined to tackle these challenges and build a better future. Working with the people, we have come through Covid. We have more than 2.5 million people at work. We are working to tackle the cost of living because we know people are working hard for themselves and their families. We are working to build more homes. We are working to improve our health service.
In my brief I have placed domestic, sexual and gender-based violence at the top of the agenda, recently publishing the zero tolerance plan. It outlines a whole-of-society approach to create an Ireland where gender-based violence, sexual violence and child abuse are not tolerated. I have also introduced new laws to criminalise the distribution of intimate images without consent and to introduce preliminary trial hearings to make the court process less stressful for victims. We have introduced personal injury guidelines to tackle the cost of insurance. Templemore is now open, and with a new recruitment campaign we will see 200 more gardaí coming out of the Garda college and into our communities every 12 weeks. We are working on progress to make new laws on stalking and non-fatal strangulation. There is a new sex offenders Bill to strengthen the monitoring arrangements of convicted sex offenders. There is a family court Bill to put families at the centre of the family justice system. There is a hate crime Bill with tougher sentences for crimes motivated by hate and prejudice. There is a digital recording Bill to improve the use of CCTV. We will introduce body-worn cameras for An Garda Síochána and a new sale of alcohol Bill to modernise our antiquated licensing laws.
This is a Government that is working. Our actions are clear. We will be judged by them. We can only judge Sinn Féin by its actions and let us look at them on one of the most serious issues we could face. As Minister for Justice I take my responsibility towards the security and safety of our State and our people very seriously. Weeks ago, once again, Sinn Féin failed to support the renewal of the Offences Against the State Act and the Special Criminal Court. It was another reminder that Sinn Féin cannot be trusted to protect national security and the institutions of the State. It told us it is willing to ignore very clear security advice from An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner whose unambiguous view, and I put this on the record of the House, is that the Offences Against the State Act and the Special Criminal court are vital in the continued fight against terrorism and organised crime. Sinn Féin ignores these views and prefers to help its own. What other advice from the Garda Commissioner would it ignore if it were in office? What other security and intelligence briefings would it disregard? The truth is it cannot be trusted to protect our people and our State. We in government will continue to work on behalf of the people and we will not be deterred from doing so. I have no doubt we will have the support of the House this evening.
Everyone realises we are in the grips of a series of crises that have rocked the world. Anyone who went to the photographic exhibition the Ceann Comhairle put on today of the damage being done to lives in Ukraine would not doubt this is the reality. Mercifully, we are far from that reality but we are feeling the brunt of it. The evidence shows the Government has been caring and innovative in its response to the crisis. It is undertaking deep-seated reform in many areas that had been left untouched for many years. It is doing so with the caution required by what these underlying crises imply for our country. We need to proceed with caution and not with rashly jumping on every bandwagon that comes by our door.
There are many people bearing the scars of the multiple crises we have been through. There are many whose expectations have been far from fulfilled. What I find disconcerting about the Sinn Féin response to this is that its response is simple and cynical. It seeks to portray the Ministers in the Government as uncaring, out of touch and trying to line their own pockets or the pockets of so-called developers or wealthy interests. This portrayal is an entire fantasy. I have worked in Cabinet with Ministers from the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Independent Members. I can say with absolute confidence that none have spared themselves. None have pursued special interests. They have sought to provide government for a country that is trying to grapple with what are worldwide problems.
No matter how often the Sinn Féin communications juggernaut repeats these charges in scripts that come off its wonderful word processors, elevating it now to theatre, the truth is that those who hitch their wagon to this juggernaut today should not for one minute think it will not shortly reverse over them and the parties supporting this. Most people enter politics to resolve conflict. Unfortunately, we see too much of politics that is all about generating conflict. Twice in my lifetime I have seen the sort of situation where faith placed in the triumph of political hope over expectation has destroyed opportunity. It has been the weakest who have been damaged by this failure. Unfortunately, I see the seeds of this same approach being sown today and many days previously. We are asked to consider a change of government to Sinn Féin. I do not have the time to do it now but look at the policies and plans it is offering. There is no solution to the multiple challenges we face from the strategies offered by Sinn Féin.
Faoin Rialtas seo, tá an ghéarchéim tithíochta tar éis éirí ina tubaiste sóisialta. Tá na liostaí feithimh ospidéil ag éirí níos faide ná mar a bhí riamh agus tá an caighdeán maireachtála ag titim. Is é ceann de na fáthanna go mbeidh mise ag vótáil mímhuiníne sa Rialtas seo ná go bhfuil á teip iomlán air. Tá sé in am don athrú. An Taoiseach was right when he walked outside this House a number of years ago and declared to the world that the best interests of the Irish people were not served by a Government made up of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. How right he was, unfortunately, because we have seen over the past two years how those words have rung loud and true for workers and families throughout the State.
Since the election, we have seen rents increase and spiral out of control. The average rent in this State is now €18,000 per year while, in Dublin, it is more than €24,000. Since the election, house prices have continued to spiral, with the average price now almost €312,000. A whole generation has been locked out of home ownership. Under the Government, the housing crisis has got worse and worse. Today, there are 1.3 million people on hospital waiting lists. Many of them are waiting 12 hours and longer in emergency departments up and down this State. Healthcare has become less accessible, not more, to patients and families who are struggling.
Some children with additional needs still do not even know what schools they will be in, come August and September. We saw last week when families, whose homes are crumbling before their eyes, watched as the Government rammed a defective scheme through the Dáil that leaves them with tens of thousands of euro to come out of their own pockets. Many of them will be locked out of this scheme and locked into a future of despair.
We need a strong and inclusive economy that supports workers and families, but the failures of the Government in housing and childcare are damaging our economy and the workers who have built it. Under the Government, living standards have fallen faster than at any time since the financial crash that was brought on by a Fianna Fáil-led Government. Ireland is now the most expensive country in the EU for housing costs, including rent, mortgage rates and electricity. The Ireland of today, under Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens is an Ireland in which one in three are living in energy poverty. It is an Ireland where one in three are struggling to make ends meet and too many, struggling on low pay, struggle to build a future. They live in an Ireland where they feel they have no future.
The living standard of Irish households is below the European average; that is a fact. Under this Government, workers and families face mounting energy builds, transport costs and food prices, with many of them at breaking point. Struggling under a cost-of-living crisis, workers and families deserve a Government that hears them, listens to them and is willing to respond for them. Workers and families deserve a Government that is in touch with their concerns and that will take decisive action but, instead, they are faced with a Government that refuses to take action or bring forward an emergency budget. The message to them is to sit tight and buckle up because they are on their own, but a very different message is there for the vulture funds and the investment funds because this is a Government that is only all too quick to roll out the red carpet for those who want to exploit the housing crisis to the detriment of renters and home buyers.
This is a Government that has allowed the most vulnerable to wither on the vine and has only responded when it has been shamed into action. This is a Government that is out of touch, a Government that is out of ideas and a Government that is out of time. Today, the Dáil faces a simple question: are we heading in the right direction or the wrong direction under this Government? The answer is plainly clear for anybody to see in housing, health, the cost of living, mica and many other issues. Things are getting worse for far too many people. The Irish people have big ambitions for their country, their communities and their families, but they are stuck in a rut, because they are with a Government that has created more problems that it solves. This is a Government that is big on promises, but weak on delivery.
I have no confidence in a Government that has turned a housing crisis into a social disaster; I have no confidence in a Government that has brought our healthcare system to a standstill for so many patients; and I have no confidence in a Government that has failed to protect lower- and middle-income households from the sharp edge of the cost-of-living crisis. Members of this House should not either. That is why I am voting no confidence in this Government. It is time for change; it is time to replace this Government.
I stated many times in the Chamber that the people of Ireland need help and they need help now. The main issues that are continuously being raised in my constituency office are the cost of living, housing and health. I have raised these issues with the Government and expressed my disappointment. On the cost of living, we need to cut taxes for those on middle and low incomes and increase social welfare in the upcoming budget. We need to continue the supports and reductions on the cost of energy by reducing VAT on gas and electricity and the public service obligation levy; cutting the cost of public transport and children's school transport, and the cost of putting food on the table; do and much more on top of the extra €75 lump sum for recipients of fuel allowance.
As I said in the Chamber last week, I welcome the €2.4 billion in cost-of-living measures, but help is needed and it is needed now. On housing, we need to build more houses and make them more affordable. We need more rental accommodation and to get unoccupied and vacant properties back into the housing stock. The Government has a housing plan, Housing for All, which sets out to deliver 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, including 90,000 social houses, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost-rental homes. Families, at present, are working just to pay for their mortgage or rent. We need to help them, and we need to help them now.
We must make the Government keep its promises and we must follow up on the allocation of €165 billion towards housing, climate change and balanced regional development. Families need a home and stability, and children need a home. I look at all these vacant houses lying idle beside schools and medical centres. It is very important to give a few euro to the local authorities to put families in these houses, as soon as we can.
On the issue of health, we must not forget that Ireland had one of the most successful Covid vaccination programmes in the world. In fairness, the Government provided €48 billion to the economy and society, which was very welcome, and we all worked together. However, with the largest budget in the history of the State in 2022, it is still disappointing that we see so many patients on waiting lists. Some €350 million has been provided to deliver additional activities under the Government's waiting-list action plans and I will chase after it to see how this money is spent. With an additional 847 permanent beds in the past three years, we do not seem to see their impact, but I welcome the reduction of the drugs payment scheme threshold from €124 to €80 and a successful vaccination roll-out.
I have spoken to many constituents and businesses in my area who are concerned that Sinn Féin will get into power. They say Sinn Féin is full of promises and is always throwing the toys out of the pram when it does not get its own way. Its record in the North on housing, health, homelessness and the cost of living speaks for itself and, again, no Assembly has been elected.
The Government parties have to show me that they are fully aware of the impact of the rise in prices on households and businesses and I will work closely with them over the coming months to make sure they gets the help they need. I have represented the people of Louth and east Meath for nearly 12 years. I have always been open and transparent. Since I became an Independent three years ago, I always take into consideration my constituency and I am not just here to push buttons. I will do my best for them.
It is important that we all work together like we did during the pandemic and put this wonderful country first. The last thing we need is for the Government to collapse and a general election be called, which will mean no budget until 27 December and a lengthy election similar to the last one. People need help and they need it now. I will vote confidence in this Government. I will hold it to account and make sure that it keeps its promises. I will always stand up and be counted. It is my duty, as an elected representative, to represent my constituency as best I can.
We have a record-breaking Government but for all the wrong reasons. We have record housing prices. Some 15 years after Fianna Fáil generated the last property bubble, we have the same Celtic tiger house prices. The price of a three-bedroom home is increasing by €100 every day in this State. We have record rents. Rents are more than €254 per month higher than they were during the Celtic tiger era. People in their twenties and thirties are paying a record share of their income on accommodation. In real terms, their spending power is falling.
We also have record homelessness. More than 10,000 people are in emergency accommodation, 3,000 of whom are children. We have record hospital waiting lists. Some 1.3 million people are on health waiting lists in the State, 100,000 of whom are children. We have record overcrowding in emergency departments, with patients in some hospitals waiting for 24 hours on average. GP services are collapsing throughout the country.
So far this year, 400 GPs have emigrated to Australia, which is incredible. A constituent of mine rang a doctor for an appointment and was given a date in September. At the same time we have the Government cutting emergency department and ICU capacities. There are more than 600 patients on trolleys in the middle of summer. University Hospital Limerick is like a war zone and senior management in the heath service are in open revolt against the Minister for Health. He has paused the closure of the Navan emergency department but they are proceeding with it right now.
We have record fuel prices in this State. Incredibly, the Government is taking more in fuel taxes today than it did before the cost-of-living crisis. We have an incredible situation where 29% of the population is in fuel poverty and it is estimated 40% will be by the time autumn comes. Semi-State companies such as Electric Ireland are gouging citizens by increasing prices for electricity and gas while making profits of €679 million.
It is not the only semi-State company gouging citizens. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, is charging the highest airport car parking prices in Europe at the moment. In the airport we have people waiting for their luggage longer than the duration of their flights. Donna O'Connor arrived into Dublin Airport and could not locate her suitcase upon arrival. Her heart is broken as her luggage contained her parents' ashes.
We have a spiralling cost-of-living crisis. Ireland is one of the most expensive places to live in Europe and people are lying awake at night-time wondering what bill they are going to be able to pay.
We also had one of the longest, most severe and costly lockdowns in Europe. It cost the citizens of the State more than €30 billion. The national debt, which no Member has discussed so far, is one of the highest in the world. It stands at €237 billion at a time interest rates internationally are about to take off.
We have also got phenomenal Government nepotism. We should not forget the selection of Katherine Zappone for an appointment that was supposed to be critical, though a year later it is still open. Dr. Tony Holohan was selected for a secondment worth more than €20 million in direct contravention of the Government's own rules and Government Teachtaí Dála have enjoyed all-expenses-paid races gifted by the gambling lobby. We had the leaking of a confidential document by the Tánaiste, the leaking of the mother and baby homes report, the plucking of Robert Watt's salary out of the air, the refusal to publish details on the selection of Martin Fraser for the job of ambassador to the UK, the mushrooming of the capital costs of projects such as the children's hospital, the glacial roll-out of broadband and Government parties pretending to be charities while selling national draw tickets. We have the refusal to investigate 10,000 people who were moved from hospitals to nursing homes during Covid, many of whom were not tested, and we have nearly 300 women forced through the courts to get justice on CervicalCheck after a promise from the Tánaiste this would not happen.
Like the Minister for Finance, I listened with real intent to the Leader of the Opposition's speech. What I heard as the key, core, central message was that politics is framed at the moment between the ordinary people and the insiders. That is the very cornerstone of the populist playbook that has been incredibly successful in the world in the past ten years in many different countries. It tends to be quick to anger. It foments dissent and division.
It thrills in being outspoken on social media but in the cold light of day it tends to be humourless and mean. It is hugely successful until it meets the reality of being in government. Let us consider what Donald Trump did and the nationalist populism in the US and look at the nationalist populism Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered. The cold reality of the real world shows it cannot deliver the false promises it presents.
It is important because we live in extraordinary times where all of us as ordinary people are going to have to manage the most challenging situation. The cost of living is an issue because energy and food are being used as weapons of war and rhetoric about simplistic solutions is not going to heat a single home. All of us in every party, and Independents and others, have a desire that our children should be able to raise a family and have a home in this country in a way that is affordable. That desire does not belong to anyone but, again, the reality is in our country it is going to be building the builders. There will be a real change in our country with apprenticeships coming back. That is the way you actually achieve and deliver what is in the title. It says it on the tin. It is "Housing for All". We work for all in government - for the people who vote for the Opposition and those who vote for us, not for some and playing it as a division.
If it comes to change, trust me, there is so much change coming to meet our climate and biodiversity restoration plans that it is going to be beyond compare, and I am proud of what our party is doing in that regard. It would take me too long to list the changes but I want to mention some of my colleagues. There is what the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, is doing to deliver a basic income for artists. That is radical change in a Green way. There is what Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, is about to do, and did last year, in helping provide childcare for all. We have three Ministers of State. Deputy Ossian Smyth was a cool and competent person when our country was under cyberattack. Deputy Joe O'Brien is responsible for social inclusion and community activation while Deputy Malcolm Noonan is trying to restore nature. In our backbenches, when we vote now as a Government, we vote from the top bench to the floor and through our chairpersons of the climate, housing and budget oversight committees. Every member of Government is part of this team, and has to be, to make it work.
-----saying in the convention centre two years ago that Deputy Micheál Martin had all the right characteristics to be a good Taoiseach. The past years have proven that to be right. He took the baton from the Tánaiste who managed the Covid------
-----crisis in a way we can be proud of and it did not drop and it will not drop again as it is handed back this year and we go the full term delivering for our people. All three parties have differences but understand that politics is the art of the possible and we will serve our people to the end, to the very best of our abilities-----
The past two years have provided unprecedented challenges for this country and the coalition Government has risen to these challenges and lead the country through these turbulent times.
An extensive range of funding streams and measures to support the sector overseen by my Department have been introduced. The tourism and hospitality sectors felt the brunt of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, record levels of financial supports for those sectors have been provided, as well as the extension of the reduced 9% VAT rate into 2023. This has kept businesses afloat, kept people in jobs and maintained vibrancy in our communities. New measures to promote a thriving night-time economy are now being implemented, including more late night openings and new funding for acts in cafes and bars across Ireland. This and more will breathe life into our communities.
The basic income for the arts pilot scheme has been launched. It is a landmark initiative that recognises the intrinsic value of our artistic and creative sectors. I look forward to continuing to oversee the implementation of the scheme, with first payments to go out to the 2,000 selected recipients in the coming weeks.
The Official Languages Act 2021 to provide Irish was signed into law by the President late last year. Tá ullmhú an phlean náisiúnta ag teacht le cuspóir foriomlán an Achta a bhaint amach; is é sin gur cainteoirí Gaeilge a bheas in 20% de na hearcaigh nua chun na seirbhíse poiblí, tráth nach déanaí ná deireadh mhí na Nollag 2030.
More than €150 million was allocated to the sports capital and equipment programme to support 1,900 groups, large and small, across the country. This was the most funding ever allocated under the scheme.
Last night, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 passed Report Stage in the Seanad. Huge work has gone into this significant legislation to reduce harmful content online and bring an end to the era of self-regulation. Just earlier today we launched the report of the Future of Media Commission and announced a major Government initiative to support Ireland's media sector.
This Government is making incredible progress on climate action, equality, transport, integration, biodiversity and in many other areas. We absolutely must keep our focus on implementing the climate action plan, setting the country on a pathway to halve our emissions by 2030. Now is not the time to risk putting all this progress into jeopardy. Now is the time to knuckle down and continue to make the real, transformational change this coalition Government is making to improve the lives of people. Families and communities across the country do not want instability after a pandemic and during a time of war. People want stability. They want progress. This coalition will continue to deliver on its promises. Tá mo mhuinín agus mo thacaíocht ag an Rialtas
As the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has said, Ireland has been profoundly challenged over the past two years with the global pandemic, a war in Europe and a once-in-a-generation spike in inflation. This Government has managed those enormous challenges and at the same time has delivered new and reforming policies that improve life for people and families across this country. It is on the basis of that track record that I will vote confidence in this Government.
Within my own Department, we are investing €221 million in reforming the childcare sector so it works for everybody, including parents, children, providers and staff. We have targeted support for the most vulnerable children and families through significant additional funding for Tusla in the two most recent budgets. We have responded to the legacy of our institutional past, passing historic legislation to provide adopted people with their birth and early life information and allowing the exhumation at the site in Tuam. We are creating fairer, more equal workplaces with legislation to make firms publish details of their gender pay gap and providing parents with new rights to more flexible working. We have made family life easier by extending parent's leave from two weeks to seven weeks paid leave per parent. Recognising the positive impact that youth services had for young people during the pandemic, we have provided additional funding for youth services in each of the two most recent budgets. We have halved transport costs for young people, providing much-needed support at a time of cost of living pressure.
We have accommodated more than 30,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled here and we have worked to improve conditions for international applicants in the face of a major migration crisis. Too many issues, including our country's institutional legacy, childcare, direct provision and inequality, have gone unresolved for too long. This Government is addressing omissions of the past. It is supporting families, children and young people. It has prioritised our international humanitarian obligations. It is making Ireland a more equal place. It is delivering, and that is why it deserves the support of this House.
I pay tribute to our healthcare workers all over the country. One would be forgiven when listening to the relentless negativity from Sinn Féin for not knowing that our men and women in healthcare around this country will deliver care to tens of thousands of men, women and children today. They will deliver care to millions of our countrymen and countrywomen this year. Sinn Féin did not talk about Covid-19. Its representatives did not say that while the waiting lists in this country are too long, they are between a half and a third of the length they are in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin representatives did not say that while we have added five years worth of new hospital beds in two years, the number of hospital beds in Northern Ireland has fallen every year for the past ten years. The Sinn Féin representatives did not mention Covid-19. The truth is that this Government and this nation is regarded as having one of the best responses on earth. Our vaccine levels are some of the highest in the world. Our Covid excess mortality rates are some of the lowest. In fact, our excess mortality rate during this pandemic is ten times lower than that of the UK. There was not a word from the Opposition about any of that.
I salute the women and men who deliver healthcare in this country. We will continue to invest.
This Government has made a ground-breaking investment of €221 million in core funding for the early learning and childcare sector. Some €173 million of that is new funding. Every week I come into this Chamber and hear Sinn Féin representatives say that the Government does not know what is happening on the ground and that it is not listening to parents or providers. I can tell them that we are on the ground and listening to the parents and providers. We will continue to work with them to deliver practical and proper solutions.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, aided and abetted by the Green Party, are not only degrading the national Parliament on issues of serious public concern but they are also turning their backs on the ordinary public at a time of the greatest need with the cost of living so high. Instead of introducing an emergency budget, something for which we called last February, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party wish to cruise into the summer and forget about the people. Their actions are unforgivable.
The Rural Independent Group has zero confidence in this Government for numerous reasons but its continuous engagement in evasion, spin and outright deception is now damaging the very fabric of our entire democracy. Ireland deserves better. The Irish people deserve better. In no other modern state would this be accepted but it is under the watch of the two parties that have dominated politics here since partition, with the full support of the Green Party and oftentimes that of some regional so-called Independents who are not independent. One must ask oneself why. It is because between them, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are responsible for a culture of insiders and jobs for the boys. They have appointed record numbers of advisors. They keep global elites outside. There are strokes being pulled. There is cronyism, corruption, cute hoorism and brown envelopes, scratched backs, dig-outs and whatever you are having yourself. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the whole gang of them are at that. They are a disgrace.
It is simply due to the failure to protect the ordinary people of this country that I will not be supporting the Government today. There are hard-working mothers and fathers who have little or nothing in their pockets after a hard week's work as fuel costs rise and rise. Families are being fleeced with the massive Government fuel tax take and carbon tax robbery as electric bills rise. At the same time, the Government takes millions in profits from its ownership of Electric Ireland. I do not have confidence in a Government that stands idly by and watches the great demise of Irish farmers. With the fuel and fertiliser costs going out of control, the Government is asleep at the wheel. This crisis, coupled with the nitrate targets being rammed through, will further cripple farmers. Consider the fishing sector with its trawlers tied up at the piers because fishermen cannot afford to fuel their boats. The Government was asleep at the wheel during the Brexit negotiations. Those fishermen are telling me to get the Government out of office because it has ruined their businesses.
Over 1 million people are on the health waiting lists of this country and thousands, young and old, are homeless while the Government squanders billions on dream pet projects in Dublin at a time when the roads in west Cork continue to be starved of money. It is because of those and many other genuine concerns that I will not be supporting the Government.
Some 900,000 people are waiting for operations, including 100,000 children and cancer patients. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. Patients are having to go to Belfast every month to save their eyesight. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. People, including young people, and families in Kerry are having to go into, or are already in, homeless accommodation. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. The Government did a massive U-turn on a promise it gave before the election on Shannon LNG. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. Coal is going to cost €40 per bag. The Government's answer is stop people purchasing turf that they might be able to afford. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. Farmers are facing emission restrictions that will detrimentally affect their farm incomes and practices. I have no confidence in the Government because of that. Fishermen's boats are tied up because they cannot afford to go to sea. I have no confidence in the Government because of that.
The city-based Cabinet has taken €6 billion from people in this country and there are no alternatives. They are backed up by career politicians from the county. An 18-year-old girl, Jessica Sheedy, died in University Hospital Limerick because management did not do due diligence and put many more people at risk. The Minister was in the hospital and found nothing wrong.
We were told to invest in white gold in 2011. Farmers are now being told to reduce the herd by 30% by a city-based Government. No infrastructure has been put into the towns and villages around County Limerick and around this country because the Government does not want people to live in the counties in which they grew up. It is a city-based Government backed up by career politicians from the county. It is putting everything into the major city, that is, Dublin. Shame on all of them.
If we talk to anyone in Kerry today about football, they are all happy about that. They thank the great Kerry team for that. However, if we talk to them about health and the regional hospital, they will not thank the Government for that. If we talk to them about the cost of fuel, diesel and petrol, they will not thank the Government for the extra tax it is taking from them for that without giving back hardly anything. If we talk to the people about turf, they will not thank the Government for what it is trying to do to stop them and ensure that they will be cold for the winter. They will not thank the Government for that because they are very hurt about it. If we are talking about waiting for housing in Kerry, young people who are on the list cannot even build their own homes and they will not thank the Government for that. They certainly will not thank the Government for the cost of living.
I will be supporting my constituents in Laois-Offaly and voting no confidence in this Government. I am beholden to no party here, but I serve my constituents to the best of my ability. We tabled a motion in February, leading the way in opposition, calling for an emergency budget. That was shot down. We also called for a number of emergency measures to be put in place. Again, there was no collaboration and that call was shot down. We have tried to collaborate but there appears to be no open door or political willingness.
It would serve the Minister, Deputy Ryan, much better to stop attacking rural Ireland on a daily basis. Will he just stop this crazy carry-on with the ban on online commercial sales of turf? He should cop on and engage with Electric Ireland, which will increase electricity bills by 29% for gas customers and 10.9% for electricity from next month. That is not right. Why is the Minister not engaging with Electric Ireland and using his time and energy in that way to serve the people, instead of attacking the culture and heritage of rural people all of the time? He does not have a clue. The Green Party has this country run into the ground. There are 12 Deputies running the show.
The question that I must answer to my electorate is whether I support this Government to continue with its current policies on health, housing, support for carers and, crucially, a delivery of a fair share to the regions, and the north west in particular. My answer has to be “No”.
The Taoiseach earlier asked us to be fair. Therefore, I will stick to the facts. The European Commission has downgraded the northern and western region from a developed region because our GDP, the measure of our wealth, is collapsing around our ears. IDA Ireland backed jobs from 2010 to 2020 for Sligo show an increase of 16% and for Leitrim, a 10% decrease. Nationally, we see an 85% increase. We are not even at the races.
Nationally, reports tell us that only one in two young people can hope to own their own home. That is a tragedy. Finding a place to rent is impossible, yet virtually nobody in County Leitrim can build a one-off house.
The non-implementation of the regionalisation of Sláintecare means the closure in Sligo University Hospital of the only cath lab north of a line from Dublin to Galway. When we take the bed capacity in Sligo and Letterkenny hospitals into account, Trolley Watch figures show they are comparatively almost as bad as University Hospital Limerick, yet there is no emergency response in our region.
The announcement of a €7 billion, or perhaps it is €20 billion, MetroLink project while regional and national roads are being stalled is hard to take.
Before I finish, I will say that I do not appreciate being told by the leader of Sinn Féin about standing with people. Her words show disrespect for my mandate, all Independent Deputies and the people who elected us.
The Government has had some success, and that is good for the country. However, the overall direction on the issues that matter most to my constituents has not been sufficient. There has not been enough done and there is an awful lot more to do.
The programme for Government contains 66 headings. After two years, it has failed under most, if not all, of them. For my constituents in Donegal, it has failed on mica, farming, fishing, protecting the vulnerable, transport, broadband, homelessness, public housing, affordable housing, energy and emissions targets. It has failed family carers, mother and baby home survivors, people with disabilities and people with mental health issues. It has failed on Sláintecare and it has failed pensioners. It has failed to end direct provision and it has failed on equality. It is failing the children and women of this State in so many ways. As I have seen in this House over the past fortnight especially, it fails on basic democracy and parliamentary principles consistently. However, the people it does represent are doing very well. It is serving cuckoo funds that crucify renters, developers and billionaires all very well.
I will be brief. The motion on the confidence in the Government reads that Dáil Éireann reaffirms it confidence in the Government. In the 30 seconds available to me, I will put on the record that I have absolutely no confidence in this Government now and never had confidence in it from day one. I will never have any confidence in any government formation that includes Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. I stand with my constituents who absolutely rejected Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the last general election by not voting in a single Deputy from either of those parties. I support the no confidence motion put forward by Sinn Féin.
Tá dhá nóiméad agam le cur in iúl nach bhfuil mé sásta mo thacaíocht a thabhairt don Rialtas. Níl sé sin bunaithe ar chúiseanna pearsanta. Tá a fhios agam go n-oibríonn an Rialtas agus gach Aire agus Teachta Dála go crua. Tá sé bunaithe ar na polasaithe a chuireann siad chun cinn. Is polasaithe iad atá ag cothú tuilleadh fadhbanna agus atá bunaithe ar pholasaithe nualiobrálachais.
I have 1 minute and 55 seconds to say I will not be supporting the Government in this motion of confidence. I have absolutely no confidence in this Government and I had none in the previous Government. This is not based on any personal reasons - I realise all Government Deputies work very hard - but on the policies the Government is pushing, which is one of neoliberalism that further intensifies the problems. The Government twists language and spins it to make nonsense of it. What is happening in terms of language is the greatest threat to democracy. I will not use my words on its housing policy. I refer to Simon’s latest snapshot study, Locked Out of the Market, which states there are no properties available in Galway city or county under HAP - not even with the new discretionary schemes that are coming in. We have no houses available whatsoever. We have now 10,325 people homeless. We are almost approaching the peak. Can one imagine a peak of 10,514 homeless in 2019? Yet, the Government is telling us its policies are working.
I live in a city where last week somebody was on a trolley for seven days before being given a room. That may happen and if I was part of the system, I would be apologising profusely and saying it was most unusual. Unfortunately, however, it is not unusual. I failed to understand the answer. The person who spent seven days on a trolley is almost blind and on a catheter. That case was in the city I come from and it is repeated in Limerick hospital and all of the other hospitals.
I am voting against the Government because I believe it is not for the common good. We need a fundamental change in policy demanded by Covid and climate change. We cannot persist with the way we are idealising the market. It is creating more and more problems.
Just over two years ago, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party formed a Government. It was not easy, but we did it for one overriding reason. We believe that people enter politics to improve people’s lives. Putting people first was our number one interest during the Covid-19 crisis. The priority of this Government now is to protect families against the unprecedented increase in the cost of living.
This evening, once again, Sinn Féin is playing politics. The Sinn Féin motion is an absolute waste of time and pure nonsense. What does one expect from an Opposition party that just two years ago ran to the hills at the very thought of going into government? When duty and responsibility called, Sinn Féin hid in the bunkers.
For a while, Sinn Féin Deputies thought they were Donald Trump. They were going around the country telling people they should be in power instead of sitting down and trying to form a government. They are great at telling everyone how to spend money but they are not so good at telling us where to find it. Their policies would bankrupt this country and plunge it into recession. We create employment; they would create unemployment. To hear Sinn Féin Deputies talking about the squeezed middle, well, I have heard it all. The truth is that if Sinn Féin was in government, it would not be worth anyone's while doing a day's work because it would tax them to the hilt.
This Government increased the back-to-school allowance to support low-income families with a grant of €260 and €385 to help families pay for school uniforms and shoes. What is Sinn Féin doing in Northern Ireland? It announced a €7 increase in school uniform allowance, bringing it to the grand total of £42.
As usual with Sinn Féin, it is a case of "Do as we say, not as we do." It is the flip-flop party. During Covid, when the Government closed the pubs, it wanted them open. When we opened the pubs, it wanted them closed. When we do universal measures, it wants targeted measures. When we do targeted measures, it wants universal measures. Last week, it wanted an emergency budget. This week, it wants a general election. It does not know what it wants. Its policy is very simple: whatever way the wind blows, Sinn Féin goes. It is a hurler on the ditch, with answers for everything but solutions for nothing. The Sinn Féin motion is the greatest load of codology I have seen in a long time. The people will see it for what it is - pure political opportunism.
It has been a long debate - I have been here for almost all of it - and it has been a good one. In the limited time I have, I wish to make three points. First, the motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin is a deeply cynical and nakedly political one. It is pointless. The Government has a clear working majority and that will be evident from the vote tonight. Those in Sinn Féin, often master tacticians, have made a tactical error here-----
-----because their motion has allowed us to demonstrate tonight that we have a clear working majority, we will be able to pass a budget and that this Government can and will last full term. We will prove by the vote tonight that there is no prospect of a Sinn Féin-led government-----
This is a show motion. It is a publicity stunt designed to get coverage and air time for Sinn Féin politicians who have no real solutions to the problems our country face - just snappy soundbites that tested well with their expensive focus groups. It is a waste of parliamentary time as well. Let us not forget that only last week, Sinn Féin wasted 45 minutes of parliamentary time calling the same vote twice while complaining that we did not have enough time to discuss important legislation such as that on mica.
Last week, it demanded an early budget to tackle the cost of living, but Sinn Féin is not sincere about that. It is not really on the side of hard-working Irish families. If its motion of no confidence had been passed, we would have been faced with an election in August and, with it taking several months to form a government, the budget would be pushed back and people would not get the help they need this winter.
My second point is that this is a good Government, one that I believe is doing good work.
We have done a lot in two years and, yes, we have a lot more to do in the next two or three years. Allow me to put on record just a few examples of the good things this Government is doing. We have invested €40 billion to help businesses and workers get through Covid, doing so through the pandemic unemployment payment and the employment wage subsidy scheme. We have the highest number of people at work in the history of the State, at 2.5 million people, with jobs growth in every region and full employment now within grasp. I refer to the biggest job increases in the south east and the south west, as well as the lowest unemployment now down the western seaboard, including the north-west region. There have been record levels of foreign direct investment, FDI. Trade with other countries has never been higher. That underpins living standards breaking all records.
We are introducing paid sick leave for all workers because nobody should feel under pressure to go to work when unwell. The sick leave that we will pay will be more in a day than Sinn Féin gives in a week in Northern Ireland. We have increased the minimum wage and are moving towards a living wage. We have a new law planned on the right to request remote working. We are building infrastructure, with 400 hubs nationwide. There will be a new public holiday in February. New laws to protect workers' tips and service charges will be passed this week. We are introducing a basic income scheme for artists and have doubled spending on the arts, ahead of schedule. We have an auto-enrolment scheme so that everybody who is at work has an occupational pension on top of the State pension. There are new laws to protect consumers from being taken advantage of, as well as an insurance plan that is bringing down motor premiums and has outlawed the loyalty penalty. There is a new retrofitting scheme for warmer homes that are cheaper to heat. There is a new corporate enforcement agency to crack down on corporate crime. We are helping businesses to restructure and survive, such as through the small company administrative rescue process, for example, which offers a cheaper and much quicker alternative to examinership. We are providing funding for businesses to go digital and funding to help them reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Low cost loans to help businesses with Covid, Brexit and future expansion are being made available.
For children and families, there is seven weeks of paid parent's leave, an increased back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, five new technological universities, an increase in the student grant, expansion of the school meals programme, no charge for school transport and an increase in grants for postgraduates. There has been significant investment in special education, with record numbers of special needs assistants in classrooms and more special education teachers. There are more special classes than ever before. There are more pathways for people to get the career they want, with 10,000 new apprentices a year by 2025 alone. I could go on but, in so doing, in many ways I would be repeating what was said earlier.
I will come to my third point. We have heard a lot about change from the Members opposite tonight, but all change is not good. Brexit, Trump, Chavez and Lenin all promised radical change. The change happened but that change made things worse for most people.
Yes, Sinn Féin would mean radical change - radical change for the worse for the majority of people. Instated of being at the heart of Europe, where we are now, we would be on the periphery, led by a self-declared euro-critical party that opposed the euro, European citizenship and the Single Market, today opposes EU free trade agreements and only last week opposed European defence and security co-operation, known as PESCO. Our influence in Europe would be diminished. Our economy would go into reverse, maybe not immediately but certainly within three or four years. There would be fewer jobs, fewer successful businesses, less FDI, reduced trade flows and reduced exports. Why? Because Sinn Féin takes the economy for granted. It simply does not understand how it works. I never hear anyone from Sinn Féin talk about job creation, enterprise policy, industrial policy or how we can help businesses establish themselves, scale up and be successful.
That is because they take our economy for granted. They do not understand that before one can apportion or redistribute wealth, one has to create it, and one has to create it again and again. Under Sinn Féin, the cake would be smaller and that would mean less for everyone in due course.
Finally, with regard to climate, it was significant that, as Deputy Bacik rightly pointed out, climate was not referred to in the Sinn Féin motion and was barely mentioned, if at all, in Deputy McDonald's speech. That is because Sinn Féin is a climate-sceptic party.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, 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, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Joe McHugh, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.
Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, 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, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore.