Tuesday, 12 July 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Supplementary Estimate for Public Services [Vote 29] (back from Committee) (without debate)
- Motion re Sixteenth Report of the Committee of Selection (without debate)
- Motion re Orders of Reference of Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach (without debate)
- Motion re Membership of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders (Private Business) (without debate)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands on Bere Island (without debate)
- Motion re Confidence in the Government (to conclude within 145 minutes and any division claimed to be taken immediately and by means of roll-call)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No. 514/2014 laying down general provisions on the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund amending Regulation (EU) 514/2014 (to conclude within 55 minutes)
- Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (to conclude within 55 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be the Motion re Raise the Roof, selected by Sinn Féin.
Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad] (to conclude within 60 minutes and any division claimed to be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill)
- Statements and Questions and Answers post European Council meeting of 23rd-24th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124 (not to exceed 125 minutes, including 20 minutes questions and answers)
- Sick Leave Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to conclude within 30 minutes)
- Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to conclude within 30 minutes)
- Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to conclude within 30 minutes)
- Electoral Reform Bill 2022 (Amendments from the Seanad) (to conclude within 45 minutes)
- Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad] (deferred division on Second Stage, followed by Committee and remaining Stages) (Committee and remaining Stages to conclude within 2 hours and 30 minutes)
- Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Bill 2022 [Seanad] (Committee and remaining Stages) (to conclude within 45 minutes) Private Members' Business shall be Second Stage of the Rent Reduction Bill 2022, selected by People-Before-Profit Solidarity.
Thursday's business shall be Statements on Summer Economic Statement (not to exceed 210 minutes). Thursday evening business shall be Second Stage of the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill 2022.
Proposed Arrangements for this week's business:
In relation to Tuesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders is modified to the following extent:(i) private members' business may be taken later than 6.12 p.m. and shall, in any event, be taken on the conclusion of the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, with consequential effect on the commencement time for Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Health and on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 10.30 p.m.; and2. the Motion re Supplementary Estimate for Public Services [Vote 29] shall be taken without debate;
(ii) notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 37, topical issues shall not be taken and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Health pursuant to Standing Order 46(1);
3. the Motion re Sixteenth Report of the Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate;
4. the Motion re Orders of Reference of Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach shall be taken without debate;
5. the Motion re Membership of the Joint Committee on Standing Orders (Private Business) shall be taken without debate;
6. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands on Bere Island shall be taken without debate;
7. the Motion re Confidence in the Government shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 145 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 135 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time;
8. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No. 514/2014 laying down general provisions on the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund amending Regulation (EU) 514/2014 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply:(i) the order of speaking and the allocation of speaking times shall be as follows:9. the Motion re Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the terms of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes, and the following arrangements shall apply:- opening speech by a Minister or Minister of State - 10 minutes;(ii) members may share time; and
- speech by a representative of Sinn Féin - 10 minutes;
- speeches by representatives of the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People-Before-Profit-Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group and the Independent Group - 5 minutes per party or group; and
- a speech in response by a Minister or Minister of State - 5 minutes; and(i) the order of speaking and the allocation of speaking times shall be as follows:In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:- opening speech by a Minister or Minister of State - 10 minutes;(ii) members may share time.
- speech by a representative of Sinn Féin - 10 minutes;
- speeches by representatives of the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People-Before-Profit-Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group and the Independent Group - 5 minutes per party or group; and
- a speech in response by a Minister or Minister of State - 5 minutes; and(i) the Dáil shall meet at 9.00 a.m. to take the Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad];2. the Motion re Instruction to Committee on the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 60 minutes, and shall be confined to a single speaking round, with the contributions of a Minister and of a spokesperson for Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Social Democrats, People-Before-Profit Solidarity, the Regional Group, the Rural Independent Group, and the Independent Group (which shall be taken in that order) not exceeding 7.5 minutes each, and members may share time: Provided that any division claimed thereon shall be taken immediately prior to Committee Stage of the Bill;
(ii) the SOS shall be taken on the conclusion of the Statements and Questions and Answers post European Council meeting of 23rd-24th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124, which shall be taken on the conclusion of Parliamentary Questions to the Taoiseach pursuant to Standing Order 46(1), with consequential effect on the time for the commencement of Government business;
(iii) the weekly division time may be taken later than 8.45 p.m. and shall, in any event, be taken on the conclusion of proceedings on the Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Bill 2022 [Seanad], with consequential effect on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 9.30 p.m.;
(iv) topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37 shall not be taken as the first item of business but shall instead be taken as the last item of business and the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion thereof; and
(v) notwithstanding the Order of the Dáil of 6th May, 2021, the deadline for submission of topical issues on Wednesday shall be 10.00 a.m.;
3. notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 170, the proceedings on the Second Stage of the Rent Reduction Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after two hours;
4. the following arrangements shall apply in relation to the Statements and Questions and Answers post European Council meeting of 23rd-24th June, pursuant to Standing Order 124:(i) the statements shall consist of a single round, which shall not exceed 100 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for that time, immediately followed by questions and answers which shall not exceed 20 minutes;5. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Sick Leave Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment;
(ii) following the questions and answers, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; and
(iii) members may share time;
6. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one Question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform;
7. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Circular Economy, Waste Management (Amendment) and Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications;
8. the proceedings on the amendments from the Seanad to the Electoral Reform Bill 2022 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, in relation to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage;
9. the proceedings on the Committee and remaining Stages of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 2 hours and 30 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and
10. the proceedings on the Committee and remaining Stages of the Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Bill 2022 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 45 minutes by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. In relation to Thursday’s business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:(i) topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37 may be taken earlier than 7.24 p.m., and shall, in any event, be taken on the conclusion of the Statements on the Summer Economic Statement, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill 2022; and2. the Dáil, on its rising, shall adjourn until 2.00 p.m. on Wednesday, 14th September, 2022; and
(ii) notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 37, eight topical issues shall be taken;
3. the Statements on the Summer Economic Statement shall not exceed 210 minutes, with arrangements in accordance with those agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 200 minutes, following which a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time.
It is not agreed. The House has been given two and a half hours tomorrow to deal with the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which is controversial legislation to which many Members have tabled detailed amendments. Late on Thursday, the Government submitted 48 pages of non-consequential amendments to what is an 18-page Bill. There has been no Dáil scrutiny of many of the provisions. Some of them are not controversial; others, relating to judicial reviews, are deeply controversial. The idea that the Government would try to ram through 48 pages of technical legislation through amendments, many of which will not even be dealt with in the limited time allotted, is wholly unacceptable. In addition, the deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanála resigned on Friday, with all the implications that has for public confidence in that important body, and the fact that there is no mention of that being discussed this week is problematic. On that basis, I am opposing the Order of Business.
I too have serious concerns regarding the way the Order of Business has been scheduled. Last week, I criticised the Government for having shoehorned five Bills into five hours on Wednesday afternoon. It is now proposing that six Bills be shoehorned into six hours tomorrow. Even worse, there are significant numbers of amendments to some of those Bills, including significant numbers of Government amendments. There are 73 amendments to the Electoral Reform Bill alone, yet only 45 minutes of debate planned.
Most seriously, six major new sections have been added to the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which will more than double the length of the Bill, from 18 pages to nearly 50, with 48 pages of amendments from the Minister. The Department of Housing under Fine Gael, supported by Fianna Fáil, created this crisis in An Bord Pleanála and the avalanche of judicial reviews when the strategic housing development process was brought in. Now, without pre-legislative scrutiny or the opportunity for Second Stage debate on these significant amendments to the judicial review process, we see all of these amendments coming into tomorrow's schedule when we have not had a chance for any scrutiny of these amendments in advance. We have serious questions about the process by which this Bill and these amendments in particular are being pushed through in tomorrow's schedule. We cannot support the Order of Business-----
I advise Deputy Bacik that the Government Business tomorrow will include a motion regarding an instruction to committee on the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022. That might provide-----
At committee meetings I have been raising the plight of pig farmers. It seems Deputies do not want to discuss this. This beat all, however, introducing 67 new amendments to the planning and development Bill, which will change the whole type of the Bill. It is now a seriously different Bill from what we thought it was at first. We debated it here and the Minister told me he would have five different sets of amendments. He has six different sets of amendments, actually - 67 in total - and he is going to ram it through tomorrow in little more than two hours. This is shockingly bad. Rushed legislation is always bad but this is terrible. It will destroy the input of the local authorities into the legislation. It is a takeover, a power grab by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. There is no democracy anymore, not in this House nor in our local authorities. It is shocking. We in the Rural Independent Group are totally opposed to it.
The Government is seeking to ram through amendments to the planning Bill this week that will severely curtail and restrict the ability of people to hold An Bord Pleanála to account. That is what the Government is doing this week. If these changes go through, they will severely restrict and curtail the ability of people to hold An Bord Pleanála to account. These changes amount effectively to a get out of jail free card for An Bord Pleanála if it is found to have broken processes or indeed broken the law in making planning decisions. It is incredible that the Government is seeking to do that right now when An Bord Pleanála is under investigation regarding multiple allegations. Reports on those investigations have not yet been published. Will the Government not withdraw these amendments that seek to curtail people’s ability to hold An Bord Pleanála to account and await the publication of those reports and indeed the publication of the review into planning?
I agree with the points that have been made. The Government's approach in regard to the planning Bill is an absolute scandal. It is an abuse of the most basic processes in terms of how Parliament should operate.
I also wish to make a more fundamental point. It is proposed that we rise on Thursday, 14 July and the Dáil will not sit again until Wednesday 14 September. That is more than eight weeks at a time when people's incomes are effectively being eroded, day after day, by inflation running at close to 10%, when one in three people now live in energy poverty with obscene profiteering by the energy companies and the big food companies. The Dáil should not rise until it addresses this crisis, until it imposes price controls on the essentials such as diesel, gas and electricity, until it imposes a windfall tax on the profiteering that is happening, and until it acts to protect people from this crisis.
First, in terms of the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022 and the amendments the Minister is bringing in, we heard during Leader's Questions demands to increase housing supply, reduce the pressure on renters and so on. That is the full purpose of the amendments, essentially, in regard to short-term lettings, which I would have thought many people were calling for in this House. Many people were looking for this and the Minister is now endeavouring to provide for that. They are positive amendments that will provide greater supply. We just had people complaining about the absence of supply and the need for more supply.
I have, indeed, in terms of the short-term lettings.
In addition, I would make the point that the Government has made it clear that there will be a very substantial cost-of-living package in tandem with the budget. A lot of work has to go into that and into the budget in terms of getting that right.
We have already, last week, introduced measures in terms of increasing the back-to-school allowance by €100. That will take effect in the next week or so. In addition, we are providing extensive meals to children in DEIS schools, particularly the new schools. We had the largest increase in DEIS schools ever this year, which was an outstanding measure taken by the Minister for Education. Now the school meals programme will be applied as a cost-of-living measure but also because it is the right thing to do for those attending those DEIS schools. School transport fees have been waived for the coming September period, again to reduce costs families would face as the children go back to school. These are reasonable measures.
We need a more comprehensive package at the end of September in terms of the cost of living. There is no doubt about that. We have to do it in a way that is not inflationary as best we can and we have to alleviate the pressures on households.
I understand there were briefings of the committee by Department officials yesterday in relation to these amendments. We need to continue to streamline our system to make sure we can increase supply of all forms of housing units.
Certainly, there is no grab for power. In response to Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, I would take exception to the assertion that we are somehow resiling from holding An Bord Pleanála to account. The Minister has appointed a senior counsel on that core issue. That is a very serious review. Additional time was sought. It is important when we create a process that it is given time. As the Deputy will be aware, An Bord Pleanála is doing its review. The planning regulator is doing a review as well. There are three.
Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, 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, Cathal Berry, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Peter Fitzpatrick, 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, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore.
We move on now to questions on promised legislation. We have just 20 minutes remaining. I ask those leaving the Chamber to do so quietly. Given the short time we have, would Members be agreeable to 30 seconds for questions and 30 seconds for answers?
I have raised with the Taoiseach many times the real stress on families now with the costs of getting children back to school in September. I have also acknowledged that it is welcome that the back to school allowance has been increased by €100. We also ask that this allowance be extended. Many middle-income families are struggling badly, and they will not qualify for one red cent. I want the Taoiseach to reconsider this and to make the allowance available to those households. We reckon that 500,000 additional children ought to be covered. They come from middle-income families and they need a break.
The back to school allowance being increased is a good thing, as are the expansion of the schools meals programme and the elimination of school transport fees for the coming academic year for primary and second-level schools. Regarding the broader issues mentioned by the Deputy, €2.5 billion has so far been implemented in respect of cost-of-living measures. The forthcoming cost-of-living package at the end of September will deal with the group she referred to. It will have greater breadth altogether in helping them and reducing the stress.
Since this Government took office, rents have increased by 15%. Media reports last weekend showed that a legislative loophole in rent pressure zone laws has enabled cuckoo funds to contribute to this problem, charging exorbitant rents, for example, €2,140 per month for a one-bed apartment and up to €5,220 per month for a three-bed.
Until the Government reins these funds in, it is difficult to see the situation resolving itself. While we are due to rise for the summer recess this week, struggling renters cannot afford to wait. Will the Government bring forward legislation to close this loophole and ensure some measures are taken to address the power of cuckoo funds in the market?
The Government is doing everything it possibly can to protect renters. They need to be protected and rent pressure zones are doing that. Some of the measures in the Bill to be taken tomorrow, which people have been objecting to, will also help facilitate the provision of more units for longer-term renters as opposed to short-term lets.
The Dáil is about to rise for the summer and as it does, the Government leaves a trail of housing misery in its wake. The Government has earned the dubious distinction of breaking a number of housing records. A record number of people are now homeless, including an increase of nearly 50% in the number of children who have become homeless in the past year. Rents are at record high and extortionate levels. House prices are at record high levels and are unaffordable for the vast majority of workers. Homeownership rates are at record low levels. Last year, a report by the ESRI stated that the current generation of young people would be the first to be worse off than their parents. This year, an ESRI report stated that Generation Rent faces an age of poverty going into old age. What exactly does treating the housing emergency like an emergency mean to the Government, because we are not seeing it at the minute?
There is another side to the story, which the Deputy did not articulate, in that 43,000 planning permission applications were granted in 2021 and 30,000 new homes had commenced in the year up to May 2022. As I said earlier, Ireland has gone from the third lowest level of completions per capitain 2011 to the fifth highest in 2020. Some 31,000 homes commenced in 2021, but we need to do more. There will be a record number of social houses in 2022 but we need to continue that trend for the next ten years.
The Government likes to talk the talk when it comes to the climate crisis but it repeatedly fails to walk the walk. The 51% reduction in emissions target by 2030 does not match the science regarding what is required of developed countries, but we are already off track with that inadequate target. The Environmental Protection Agency stated: "The current pace of implementation will not achieve the change required." We were meant to have sectoral ceilings by the end of June, according to the climate action plan. Clearly, we do not have them because of lobbying by big agribusiness and Ministers representing their interests within the Government.
Will the Government again bow down to the lobbying of big agribusiness with the consequence of more reductions for the rest of society or, more likely, simply missing the target, or will it implement the just transition, including for small farmers who would benefit from a transition based on the principles of food sovereignty?
-----and ignored farmers across the length and breadth of the country, be they suckler herd farmers or whatever. The bottom line is this: the Government is walking the walk in respect of climate change. The most comprehensive active travel funding and plans were put in place by this Government in the past two years, and we passed a climate action law we. Discussions on the sectoral emission targets and limits are under way between the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and the line Ministers for each sector. We have also brought in a carbon tax, the revenue from which will go towards environmental farming, retrofitting, and fuel poverty, but of course the Deputy opposes that.
Will the Taoiseach outline the Government's plan to deliver the infrastructure necessary to develop the Atlantic economic corridor as a counterbalance to the over development on the east coast? The provision of wastewater facilities, new modes of transport, broadband, and health facilities need to be planned and delivered so that we can cope with the existing and projected increases in population. They would also offer the opportunities for offshore energy development off the west coast. We must be ready to maximise the potential of further foreign direct investment. What does the Government plan to do in the short term?
I support the Deputy's basic view about developing the Atlantic economic corridor, rebalancing economic development and ensuring that the western seaboard benefits from this, particularly in terms of offshore wind and infrastructure developments, such as the western rail corridor, which is part of the national strategic rail review.
In my view, rail will play a very important part in underpinning economic development in the west in the future. We are marketing the west, Galway and Mayo in particular, very strongly in respect of industrial development right down to Clare. The combination of energy, industry and infrastructure means we are within reach of achieving the transformational shift required in rebalancing the economy of the island.
With water outages now a daily occurrence in many rural towns and areas in Tipperary, will the Taoiseach's Government continue the folly of bringing a pipe from the Shannon right up to Dublin when almost 50% of the water will leak out of those pipes? It is a matter not only of what leaks out but also of what leaks and seeps back in when the pipes are burst and open. Will the Government reconsider this daft plan? I cannot get over the Taoiseach's Green Party colleagues who will allow for this huge construction and devastation of land and flora and fauna and everything else through our Premier County and all the other counties.
That is not a facetious question I ask; it is a very serious one. We met with Irish Water yesterday. Going back to Deputy Canney's point, Irish Water is looking at wastewater treatment plants in towns and villages across the country. Irish Water also made the point to us that there is a real crisis facing us if we do not plan appropriately. That Shannon project is essential-----
Last week, during Leaders' Questions to the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, I raised the issue of the continuation of notices to quit. The difference now is that the family support unit of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive states that it is at capacity, there are no available hub spaces and hotels and bed and breakfasts have little availability. I gave the Minister the example of a couple being charged €460 for one room. At the weekend the Simon Communities came out with its Locked out of the Market report, which states that there is not a single property to rent for a family with one child identified anywhere in the country under the standard HAP rate and that just 12 were available within the discretionary rate. We need to move immediately to a reinstatement of the eviction ban and to a rent freeze.
There are huge pressures on the rental sector. That is why the Minister's amendments tomorrow is not the full story but it is part of the agenda to try to create greater opportunities for supply.
I know, and I have read the summary of the Simon report and that is exactly why the Minister will do what he will do tomorrow in legislation and amendments.
We all know somebody with Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, in County Cork many people have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease but, incredibly, we have zero Parkinson's nurses in Cork. That cannot continue. It has been proven with Parkinson's disease that early intervention is key. The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, in fairness, met campaigners last week outside the gates of the Dáil. Their ask is simple. In the last budget we promised 20 neurology nurses. All we ask is that six of those neurology nurses go to Cork and that two of those nurses are Parkinson's disease nurses. It is a small ask and would make a massive difference to people with the disease.
I thank the Deputy for raising what is a very important issue. I will work with the Minister for Health and the HSE nationally and regionally to see if we can improve the availability of Parkinson's nurses in the Cork region.
The programme for Government commits to delivering insurance reform to reduce premiums and to increase the availability of insurance in Ireland. While I welcome the Government's ongoing efforts on the implementation of the action plan for insurance reform, I was contacted recently by Delphi Resort and the Health Hub gym, in Swinford, which have excellent safety records but have seen their premiums increase by 300% since 2019. Insurers are simply not passing on the benefits of recent reform to liability insurance policyholders. To restore faith in the process, we need to do everything in our power to ensure that incumbent insurers pass on the benefits and, ultimately, drive liability insurance premiums down to an affordable level.
I think the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, announced something recently that may impact positively the situation to which Deputy Dillon referred and the people to whom he referred. That should help. According to the CSO consumer price index data for May 2022, the price of motor insurance is 10.9% lower than in May 2021. No one in the Dáil has raised that. Members have raised all the increases, but no one has raised that fact. The last time motor insurance prices were at that level was in October-November 2013. There we are.
Nitrous oxide is a gas that has medical and industrial uses. Increasingly, however, it is used as a recreational drug. It is known colloquially as hippy crack. Doctors see young people present to emergency departments showing progressive disorders affecting nerves in their arms and legs related to the illicit use of nitrous oxide. Doctors now warn that the use of nitrous oxide canisters has become a public health issue. Is the Taoiseach aware that large piles of discarded canisters of this gas are being found in our parks, on our roads and streets and around our estates? Will the Government consider introducing a law to regulate the sale, distribution and use of nitrous oxide gas canisters?
The Deputy raises a very serious issue that is potentially very damaging to many people, in particular young people. We will certainly work with the Deputy on any proposal. I will talk to the relevant Ministers and get feedback from the Garda Síochána as to what legislative template might be the most optimal to deal with this very serious issue.
The Taoiseach will be aware of the recent HIQA report on University Hospital Limerick, which makes for grim reading. The bad news is that the situation has deteriorated further since the report was published. The Taoiseach did indicate to me here, on 1 February, that he was in principle very much in favour of the idea of an elective-only hospital in the region to alleviate the situation. Has the Government taken any decision on that yet? If not, when will a decision be taken? We are suffering from discrimination in the mid-west. The medical facilities and the bed capacity available are insufficient to cater to the needs of the population.
Immediate work is needed in University Hospital Limerick, and it needs to continue. I know that certain governance measures are being taken and that a team from the HSE has visited the hospital. A formal decision has not yet come to the Cabinet, but we are positively orientated towards it. The new Government, when coming into office, inherited proposals in respect of Cork and Galway, which had not really been advanced to any great degree. They are now being advanced. The elective route is an essential one, particularly where acute hospitals like UHL are under unacceptable pressures and cannot cope.
The programme for Government commits to a pensions solution for carers. The Taoiseach will know that the Commission on Pensions in its report put forward a number of recommendations as to how that can be done. While I appreciate there are different views on the pension age, there should be no delay in providing a full State pension to family carers, and that needs to include foster carers. I ask that this be looked at ahead of the budget, the plan being to introduce it in the budget. Family carers have waited this long for a State pension; they deserve no less and it should be included in this year's budget.
The report of the Commission on Pensions is being considered by the Government. There is a broad range of proposals in that regard. Any improvements in respect of carer's allowance or broader supports for carers will be considered in the context of the budget.
Yesterday the Taoiseach will have seen that the futures price of natural gas hit its highest, at €175 per megawatt hour, since the start of the war in Ukraine. Germany is talking about potential rationing and emergency gas storage. France is talking about a massive efficiency drive. Where is our energy security review, which is now long overdue? Will we address some of these challenges now clearly emerging in the rest of Europe?
Yes. That work is still on the way. I do not have an exact timeline yet, but I will engage again with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications on that. A comprehensive review is due this year, but I think we need a more focused and immediate assessment of the situation because of the war on Ukraine and Russian actions. Russia, clearly, has weaponised energy, weaponised food and weaponised migration-----
The Unplanned Pregnancy and Abortion Care, UnPAC, study commissioned by the HSE is welcome and confirms concerns that many of us have about abortion access in this country. In particular, UnPAC states, "Conditions put in place ... are anything but compassionate." This has to be of particular concern regarding fatal foetal anomalies. Here we have a problem in that abortion is criminalised. Does the Taoiseach agree that abortion care is a health issue and not a crime?
The review is an important one. It will feed into the broader review under way regarding the termination of pregnancy legislation. We should have it completed by the end of this year. That will then inform our approach to the Act, and we will see where we take it from there.
Listry Bridge. It was built more than 200 years ago for horses and cars. It is now unable to carry single-lane traffic. Indeed, Deputy Griffin goes over this bridge. I do not know whether he knows the name of it or not. It is very unfair on all the people of mid-Kerry, and on Deputy Griffin, that the bridge is reduced to a single lane. There are plans on file somewhere-----
It is indeed. In fairness to Deputy Griffin, we should do everything we possibly can to identify the issues here. I presume it is a matter for the county council.
I would have thought the Deputy, as a public representative, would have persuaded the council at this stage to get it done. Anyway, we will dust down the digital files and see where the bridge is.
The day Deputy Micheál Martin was elected as Taoiseach, I raised the issue of Shannon Heritage sites with him and the need to take them out of Shannon Group, which does not want them, and give them a new lease of life. I have raised it several times since. The last time, the Taoiseach said Clare County Council just needs to get on with it. I understand the council very much wants to get on with it but the proposal is being bounced around Government Buildings. At the moment, it is between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Transport and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Can the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, tell me when a decision will be made? If he cannot tell me today, will he tell me in writing before the Dáil rises?
He tends to be decisive, which could mean it is bouncing back somewhere again. The Government made a decision to take Shannon Heritage out of Shannon Group. It was to go to local authorities.
No doubt the Taoiseach is aware that the Fleadh Cheoil will return to Mullingar at the end of July. There is great excitement, and preparations are under way the length and breadth of the town and beyond. One of the issues that arises relates specifically to the first responders and the ask that will be placed on them for the duration of the event. For almost a year, the Order of Malta in Mullingar has repeatedly sought engagement with the HSE and Department of Health. Applications have been sent, calls have been made and emails have been sent but not a single one of them has been responded to. The Order of Malta will have 36 units in Mullingar and 80 volunteers will provide 24-hour coverage across four medical posts. Those involved will be sleeping on the floor of a hall, with no access to showers and bathrooms. I ask for the Taoiseach’s personal intervention. It is not too late for something to be put in place to ensure the individuals have a proper base to work out of, somewhere safe-----
That would appear to be something that the county council, with the organisers of the fleadh and the local HSE officials, should resolve. I was not aware of this. Normally, those kinds of operational issues are sorted out and organised in advance of such a big event. It will be a very big event. We are always very grateful to the Order of Malta and other such organisations for the work they do voluntarily to enable these festivals to take place, so they should be looked after. I will follow it up.