Dáil debates

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

2:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call the Taoiseach for Leaders' Questions, please. I am sorry-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Ceann Comhairle got it right.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am definitely out of practice.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach will not answer the questions anyway so you might as well ask Deputy McDonald. He will not answer them anyway.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Freud would be delighted.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for that unparalleled vote of confidence; I am very touched.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Deputy McDonald has been promoted.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry; I call Deputy McDonald.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Go raibh maith agat. I first acknowledge the presence of the British ambassador to Ireland. Cuirim fáilte roimhe. I extend again our profound sympathies on the loss of Queen Elizabeth II for the British people, in particular for Irish unionists for whom she has been a very significant figure of great affinity and affection. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

As the Taoiseach knows, workers and families are being hammered by unprecedented surges in energy bills. Households have been hit by more than 50 price hikes since the beginning of last year with more to come. To underscore the seriousness of the situation, a Government memo seen by the media last week states that 1 million households could face annual energy bills of €6,000 if prices keep rising at the current rate. This prediction will have sent a shiver down the spines of people who are already struggling to light and heat their homes.

We now head into the winter. We have darker days and longer nights, and households’ use of energy will increase significantly at a time when prices are through the roof, which will only add to the unbearable pressure people are under. The hard truth is that many households will go under trying to pay these extortionate bills unless the Government makes the right intervention.

There has been much kite-flying from the Government, mainly centred around further energy credits. While energy credits are well and good, they do not provide certainty. They do not protect people from the continuous barrage of hikes. In fact, when the Government introduced its initial energy credit, it was too slow. It was wiped out by further price hikes before it even landed into people’s accounts. Therefore, this is clearly a flawed approach. Households need a Government response that matches the scale of the crisis. I believe the Government must take action to cut electricity prices to pre-crisis levels and apply a cap to freeze them at that level until the end of February of next year. The benefit of this measure is twofold. First, it ensures that electricity bills are more affordable, and, additionally and crucially, it provides households with the certainty they need at these difficult times. It provides certainty that their electricity bills will be brought down, that the relief provided will not be swallowed up by future price hikes and that they can get through the winter months. Cutting electricity bills and freezing them at pre-crisis levels will deliver that assurance. It simply makes sense and yet speaking on radio yesterday, the Taoiseach ruled this out. His colleague, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, echoed this, suggesting that things should simply be worked out at an EU Level. I know that people have heard that line before. They have heard that line used as an alibi for the slow response of the Government to this crisis that left households struggling for months.

Tá sé in am billí leictreachais a ghearradh agus caidhp a chur ar bhillí chun iad a choinneáil ag an méid a bhí siad roimh an ngéarchéim. Thabharfadh sé sin faoiseamh agus cinnteacht do theaghlaigh atá ag streachailt agus thabharfadh sé cosaint dóibh ó arduithe breise sna míonna amach romhainn.

It is all about choices. In the budget, the Government must choose to cut electricity bills and to cap them at pre-crisis levels. It is the right thing to do.

It is the only measure that can provide some level of certainty for households. It would prevent future price hikes and ease the burden on hard-pressed workers and families. By cutting and then capping electricity bills, the Government could choose to protect households. I am asking and urging the Government to make that choice.

2:10 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In the first instance, on behalf of the Government and on my own behalf, I again would like to convey my deepest sympathy to King Charles, the royal household, the United Kingdom Government and the British people on the loss of their beloved monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. There are many on this island who saw Queen Elizabeth as their queen. We sympathise with them on this very sad moment in history, having witnessed an incredible reign in terms of duration, duty and service.

I will long remember her visit in 2011 - it marked a crucial step in the normalisation of British-Irish relationships - particularly when it culminated in the visit to Cork and during her walkabout at the English Market. In that classic Cork manner, everything eased and calmed, there was a bit of banter with the people and the visit was much more gregarious than perhaps at other locations across the country.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is one that will always endure in the folklore of our city and, indeed, the country at large.

In respect of the energy and cost of living crisis, we are facing the worst global energy crisis since the 1970s at least, and probably worse than that of the 1970s because it also applies to gas and other fuel types, not just oil. Clearly, it emanates from a deadly war-----

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Not all of it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----in terms of Putin's war on the people of Ukraine and his weaponisation of war. We need to be very clear about that at all times in assessing and in how we respond to this issue. It is having massive consequences for the entirety of Europe, so it makes sense that Ireland respond as part of the wider European Union framework. We are not just relying on EU measures alone, as the Deputy wrongly suggested in remarking on the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath's comments yesterday, but the European Union framework is extremely important.

We import from the United Kingdom three quarters of the natural gas that we use, but half of our electricity is generated using gas, so spiralling gas prices feed through to higher electricity bills. The price for UK natural gas on wholesale markets today is £3.92 per therm. This day two years ago, the price was 32p per therm. We are talking about a more than tenfold increase, more than 1,000%, in international gas prices. Future markets are pointing to even higher prices in the coming months. A therm of gas to be delivered in December will cost £5.74. A February delivery is priced at £5.43. Importantly, non-energy prices are also now surging, with food and other grocery prices rising rapidly and putting severe pressure on household budgets. That is the context.

My second point is that the need to intervene in a very significant manner is not questioned. There is no debate about that - the Government is very clear that we have to intervene, as we did last year with the €2.5 billion package on the cost of living. Just like we did during Covid, the Government will intervene again to protect households and jobs.

The issue that the Deputy has put forward is one of methodology, of mechanism, that is, what is the best way of intervening to protect people. The Deputy's view is, and the Sinn Féin position is, that we should give a blank cheque to energy companies in a kind of singular, almost isolated approached to this crisis, which is now much more than an energy crisis for many households. The Government's view is that, for the time being, we want to get people through the winter to the end of March, not the end of February. We have got to do it using a range of measures in terms of reducing electricity bills but also in giving flexibility to people in the form of payments that we give them either through the welfare system, through energy credits, through cost reductions or through investment in public services in the budget, which will also reduce costs for parents and families. There is a range of mechanisms that we can use.

I would ask the Deputy for a fully costed paper from her in terms of her proposals. If she does not mind me saying so, I was less than convinced by her presentation on "Morning Ireland" yesterday. I genuinely would like a fully costed proposal from her in respect of her chosen method of intervention in the electricity price market.

I believe we have to target measures to those who need them the most, but also, universally, people will need support. We need to focus on protecting jobs because, clearly, many jobs could be at risk if enterprises become unviable because of the extraordinary increase in energy costs I have just outlined and that is, obviously, a global phenomenon. However, because of the sound management of the economy, we have resources we can allocate to reduce pressures on people and protect jobs, and that is what we intend to do.

2:20 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Not for the first time but once again, the Taoiseach is totally and utterly wrong in his response here. Our proposal is about helping families. It is about providing certainty so they can get through what will be very difficult winter months. Our proposals are time limited. Interventions at European level are, of course, necessary and welcome, but they should not be used again as an excuse for the Government to delay and dither and sit on its hands. In fact, our proposal would work in tandem with the proposed EU measures. Our proposals are similar to price certainty measures that have been introduced elsewhere, for example, in France and Romania. Other emergency measures, as the Taoiseach knows, have been introduced in Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The only blank cheque in question here is the one the Taoiseach is asking families to give to energy companies. His failure to act in the way I have described will allow prices to continue to rise. One thing is absolutely certain: families cannot cope with that and they are depending on the Taoiseach to act definitively. I will ask the Taoiseach again to move to cut electricity bills back to pre-crisis levels and to cap them at that level for the winter months until the end of February. That is what is required here.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy said her proposals are time limited. I would say to the Deputy the crisis may not be time limited. She may need to think beyond the end of February.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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So may the Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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We are.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Winter is not-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is the point. That is the very point that I am making. The Deputy’s proposal is vague, it is not costed and it is one-dimensional. It does not have the breadth or depth of what the Government is considering in alleviating and reducing pressures on households, protecting jobs, helping out schools with capitation grants, and helping out various State entities that provide services to the public whose energy costs are going through the roof as well. They will also need protection and supports. There is also the non-energy inflation, which is now running at approximately 6% and is a serious worry in terms of the inflationary cycle we are currently going through. That means supports have to be given to people on a broader basis in addition to the supports on the energy front. The Deputy said I was completely wrong. I do not know what she is saying about that-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I asked the Taoiseach about energy. He will not give people certainty.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----because we are going to intervene. We are going to reduce the burden of electricity prices on people. However, we are going to do more in the budget and in pay. We have concluded the public service pay talks. We will have tax proposals in the budget as well. We will be reducing costs more broadly.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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First, on behalf of the Labour Party I extend a welcome to the British ambassador, who is here, and I extend our condolences to the British people and to all those on this island who have been impacted by the sad loss of their Head of State. I also note the very positive contribution their queen made to relations between Britain and Ireland on her visit here, not just to Cork but also to Dublin and other parts of the country in 2011. We all remember that visit with great affection. I pay tribute again to the contribution that state visit alone made to improving relations between our islands.

As the Dáil and Seanad resume today, we face into a bleak winter with dark clouds gathering on the horizon, and I think all of us are very conscious of that, as we see energy bills increasing dramatically for so many struggling households and families. Households are facing the dreadful prospect of energy bills that could reach €6,000 per annum next year.

Small businesses are telling us that their energy bills are now as much as their rent and it is like paying a second rent for many SMEs. People and small business owners are really scared. They are facing into this very frightening period ahead, and they want to see some certainty, security and reassurance and also a sense of urgency from this Government. There is one way in which we believe the Government can and should act with greater urgency. We want to see a really clear signal that the exorbitant profits being made by energy companies will be targeted, and that we are not going to see those take precedence over the real prospect of energy poverty for so many households, families and businesses. We know that many of our EU partners have already taken action on energy bills. We know that in the budget to be published in the coming weeks, it will mean the difference for so many families between being able to get by or having to choose between heating and eating as they see bills for food as well as fuel skyrocketing. We know also there are jobs at risk here.

Can the Taoiseach's Government act swiftly on this issue to introduce a range of measures, but in particular, a windfall tax to target profits and to fund the other measures that will be needed to alleviate hardship for families? In January of this year, we, in the Labour Party, first called for a tax on the profits of energy companies. The best time for Government to have introduced that measure would have been then, but clearly now it is still extremely important that it be done. Indeed, the British Government did it in July, the Italian Government did something similar, and we are seeing moves at EU level. We need that immediate introduction of a windfall tax alongside an immediate maximum price cap on energy bills and the third prong for which we have called, namely, the extension of eligibility for the fuel allowance to more households, including low- and middle-income households. We have the costings. We know it would cost €15 million to raise the threshold to €250 per week. That would bring quite a number of households back into the eligibility criteria and alleviate significant hardship. We need to bring in these measures to ensure that the excessive profits of energy companies are harnessed by this State.

2:30 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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First of all, I agree with the Deputy in her analysis. It is going to be a difficult winter, but it is our responsibility to do everything we possibly can to reduce the pressures on households in respect of energy costs, and also to protect jobs in society. I appreciate the fact that the Deputy is clear about the need to work through the European framework in terms of carbon tax or a mechanism to take the windfall gains made by energy companies, and particularly non-gas generation, which is getting a revenue that it would never have dreamt of because of this crisis. As the President of the Commission said this morning, it is not fair that companies would make exorbitant profits on the back of a war and a people, in the exploitation of a crisis. That is why we are supportive of EU measures to intervene so that those windfall revenues would accrue to the State and to member states. The precise mechanism is still being worked out at EU level. There was a meeting last week of the EU energy ministers, and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications was there. The Commission is due to publish a proposal this week to include measures aimed at addressing windfall gains by non-gas generation and the electricity sector, and in fossil fuel extraction and production. These proposals will raise additional revenues which will be used to reduce the cost of energy for society. They may not come immediately, but they will be an important stream of revenue in terms of the duration of this crisis. We have a surplus to the end of the year. We will use that as effectively and efficiently as we can to alleviate pressures on people, but we also need a more ongoing revenue stream to deal with perhaps a prolongation of this crisis, which we do not want to see. The EU is keen to do everything it can to try to stabilise and reform the market, but that will take a bit longer.

I do not disagree with the Deputy at all on the need to make sure that those exorbitant revenues and the type of extraordinary increases that companies have benefited from are dealt with. The Sinn Féin leader criticised the Government for wanting to go through the EU framework on this matter. We are members of the EU. We believe we should work through the EU on matters of this kind. Sinn Féin may have a different view on being a member of the EU. That is its prerogative. I take the Deputy's point. This is complex stuff. The Deputy mentioned the UK. The UK had a 95% offset for investment, so how real was that tax?

The European Union is focusing on the excessive revenue being generated, which cannot be justified or maintained, and we are supportive of that. More broadly and as I said earlier, we need to help people as best we can across the different areas, from education to childcare and the cost of energy, including electricity.

2:40 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Taoiseach. That is important and we welcome the moves made at EU level on a windfall tax but there are things the Government could do here too that should be done. Let us look at it in the following way. We have significant levels of gas consumption coming from our own Corrib gas field on this island and we know that Vermilion's revenues last year increased by 267%. The cost of production for that gas has not increased but the price of gas supplies is now costing multiples of what it did one year ago.

Will the Taoiseach examine the idea of nationalising the Corrib gas field and bringing it under State ownership, even on a temporary basis, to ensure that we can bring greater certainty to families, households and businesses struggling with fuel bills? The State has the power to do so under legislation introduced by Fianna Fáil, namely, the Fuels (Control of Supplies) Acts 1971 and 1982. These were powers invoked during the oil shortages which followed the Middle East conflict of the 1970s. We know these powers exist and we have used them before. In parallel with the welcome measures at EU level, we need to see this Government doing more in Ireland to ensure that excessive profits are harnessed from the energy companies to alleviate the real hardship faced by so many struggling individuals, families and businesses as they see their energy bills skyrocketing.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We do not envisage or advocate the nationalisation of the Corrib gas field. The European Union measure deals with the Corrib gas field and other gas fields in terms of fossil fuel extraction or production. Before any domestic measures are taken, it makes sense for us to have clarity and a decision from the European Union on the operation of the gas market and the mechanisms it would deploy. That is also important for fossil fuel extraction. We are focusing as much as we can on the immediate, including this year, the early part of next year and the entirety of 2023. There are wider issues around the Corrib gas field in the future by the way. That company has plans for what will happen after fossil fuel extraction, including what will happen to the plant that is there, which could be used for renewable energy or variations of that into the future. We want to make sure that any measures we take now are sustainable in the medium and longer term as well.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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On 6 October last year, just one week before the budget, People Before Profit brought the first motion into this Dáil calling for price controls on energy and the renationalisation of the energy supply sector to run it on a not-for-profit basis, to protect people against a cost of living crisis that was only in its infancy at that point. At that stage it was being warned that people may be facing increases of about €500 per year in energy costs. Needless to say, the Government completely dismissed and voted against the proposals for price controls and the renationalisation of the energy sector. Ordinary families, working people, pensioners, people with disabilities and those on low and middle incomes have suffered the bitter fruits of the Government’s failure to support those measures one year ago. Since then, the crisis has got very much worse. We are not looking at €500 per year increases but at energy costs doubling and trebling. Some estimates suggest they will go from an average of €2,000 per year to €6,000 per year.

People are being crucified. These hikes are simply not affordable for huge numbers of people and on Saturday, 24 September at 2.30 p.m. in Parnell Square, I expect there to be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of angry and frightened workers, pensioners, students, people with disabilities and ordinary people appealing to the Government once again to take decisive measures to protect them against a cost-of-living crisis that is crucifying them and against an ongoing housing crisis.

It is very simple. Heating your home is not an optional extra. Having a shower and hot water are not optional extras. Having an affordable roof over your head is not an optional extra. Having the money to pay bills and put food on the table for your family are not optional extras but necessities. The Government has to guarantee that those needs of ordinary people, families and vulnerable people are met this year.

The people will march for energy price controls and controls on the price of food. They will call for controls on rent, to make housing affordable and to keep incomes, whether pensions or wages, in line with inflation costs. It is long past time that we took the companies profiteering from this cost-of-living crisis back into public ownership. Nationalise the energy sector and run it on a not-for-profit basis because heating, hot water and electricity are needs and not optional extras.

2:45 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will make two points to the Deputy. He said the problem has got much worse, which I outlined earlier. It was striking that he did not elaborate on why it has got much worse. It is because of Putin's war on Ukraine. The Deputy seems incapable of articulating that in the context of this energy crisis, as do many on the left, for some strange reason. The bottom line is Putin's war in Ukraine and his weaponisation of energy constitute a major factor in the extraordinary price hikes we are witnessing. That said, we have to intervene, will intervene and did intervene since the Deputy raised it 12 months ago. Some €2.5 billion worth of cost-of-living measures were taken last year by this Government across the board to deal with the energy issue, the excise duty on petrol, diesel and so on. We reduced all of that last year.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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You put on taxes as well.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We also increased the fuel allowance by 55%. That was a massive increase last year. Measures taken related to school transport fees, the school meals programme being extended and the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. The student maintenance grant payments went up by €200 per year. There was the holiday earnings disregard and so on for students. We did a range of measures. We cut public transport fare by 20% with an additional 50% cut in fares for young people, reduced VAT from 13.5% to 9% on gas and electricity bills until the end of October and gave a €200 energy credit to all households. The PSO was cut. The national retrofitting scheme, with free energy upgrades for those at risk of energy poverty, was initiated. We lowered the threshold for the drug payment scheme to €80 per month, benefitting over 70,000 families, and brought forward the working family payment budget increase announced on budget day. We abolished inpatient charges for children and much more. The point is we did not stand still throughout last year. We took measures.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You put on carbon tax.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Prior to that, during Covid, we took extraordinary measures to protect workers and the economy, which resulted in the fastest economic growth of any European member state since Covid. That gives us the resources to enable us to intervene again in a significant way on Tuesday two weeks with the budget and the cost-of-living package we will announce. If we had taken Deputy Boyd Barrett's measure and spent billions nationalising energy we would have very little left to allocate to anything right now. We have a significant surplus, some of which we will use to alleviate the pressures on households and protect jobs.

We will intervene because we realise people are under extraordinary pressures and are worried and concerned by the extraordinary price increases. We are in a dangerous moment globally, with a major war on the continent of Europe that has created the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since Second World War with millions of people displaced. There are huge problems with energy and migration because of that, and now with food in other parts of the world. That is the scale of what we are dealing with but we will intervene.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Of course the war in Ukraine has worsened the situation but that war does not explain wind energy companies making super profits even though their costs have not changed a bit.

Nor does it explain the profiteering of energy companies, which has been mentioned already, in respect of gas from the Corrib field, gas from the UK, from where we get most of it, or from Norway. It also does not explain the failure of the Taoiseach’s Government and other governments, although it is worth saying that countries like Spain have introduced price controls. France capped the level of increases that could be imposed but the Taoiseach’s Government, before the war in Ukraine started and when this cost-of-living crisis was in its infancy, refused to impose price controls when it was asked to do so in this Dáil through a motion we put forward. It also refused to extend eligibility for the fuel allowance or to take the energy sector back into public ownership. People are suffering a terrible cost while those same energy companies’ profits increase. By the way, while the war has made the situation worse, we have the highest utility costs of almost anywhere in Europe. We also have the highest childcare costs. We have seen the biggest increases in rents and house prices of anywhere in Europe. That is a specific Government failure in this country and alibis based on what is happening internationally do not justify the Government’s failure to act comprehensively to defend people against this dire crisis.

2:50 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We acted comprehensively to help people over the last 12 months and we will continue to do so. We will intervene again to take people through this winter period. We have to help people right through to the end of March. We also have to protect jobs, just as we did during the Covid pandemic. Whatever the Deputy’s views and although he will never accept this, we took the economy through the pandemic and we protected jobs during that time. An unprecedented recession occurred in the first year of the Covid pandemic and, because of unprecedented and innovative responses from Government, enterprises and jobs were protected. We also protected incomes to such a degree that people were able to re-engage in the economy once the recovery started. Our targets were exceeded. We support measures to reduce the exorbitant revenues companies are gaining. I refer particularly to wind generation but also to fossil fuel generation. That will be dealt with. At the end of this month, in two weeks’ time, the European Union will make a decision on that, which I think is important. We will follow that and we support measures such as those that have been identified.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We should lead not follow.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I believe that in the years to come this Government will be known as the “coalition of crisis”. The cost-of-living crisis is hammering people’s ability to live and the housing crisis is threatening hundreds of thousands of families with homelessness and spiking rack rents. Despite all the Taoiseach said, the response of this Government has been stifling inertia in the face of these crises. Going by the rate of action of this Government, the only thing that will remain warm this winter is its own hands because it has been sitting on them all of this time. Such is the degree of the cluster of crises in our country that the massive health crisis we face is being eclipsed. However, it is still a life and death issue that is looming large in millions of people’s lives. Some 1.3 million people are on hospital waiting lists at this moment in time. According to the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, mental health services are in crisis due to the lack of investment and soaring demand. The GP system, which was one of the few remaining functioning elements of the health service, is now broken. People are waiting up to two weeks to get an appointment. Hundreds of GPs are emigrating and moving to Australia every year. Accident and emergency departments are dealing with record waiting times. People are waiting 24 hours in Tallaght. University Hospital Limerick is like a warzone. Over the summer, every hospital in the Meath area at some stage advised patients not to come near them because of the pressure they were under. It is now stated that 360 people a year die in the State due to delays in accident and emergency departments. A figure equivalent to twice the number of elected Deputies in this State are dying every year due to dysfunction and waiting times in accident and emergency departments around the country. In the middle of all of this and just before we face a new wave of Covid and flu, the HSE has decided to close key capacity in the accident and emergency department in Meath. So removed is the HSE that 23 consultants in Drogheda hospital had to write a letter to the Minister for Health stating that if this action was to proceed, it would present a threat to people’s health.

The decision was paused by the Minister. We welcome that. The CEO of the HSE, Paul Reid, then resigned and a so-called review was started. However, the Minister for Health said the review of the closure of Navan accident and emergency department would have the closure built into it. The HSE would simply proceed with the original decision.

3:00 pm

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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False.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I have seen letters the Minister has written, obtained through freedom of information requests, where he said the review was to be carried out under the understanding of reconfiguration. It is written in black and white. It is also in the terms of reference of the review. The Minister of State, Deputy English, said it will include a review of a functioning potential future for Navan to make it safe. Who is telling the truth? Both cannot be correct at the same time. Both cannot be in contradiction with each other and telling the truth to the people.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Are you telling the truth on Navan?

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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The Taoiseach is answering me with a question.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am answering the Deputy rhetorically. Is he telling the truth? I have been through this over 30 years.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach set up the HSE - a monstrosity.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will say this much: we need balance. This debate the Deputy is having now has been waged across many locations in this country over the last 30 years.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Limerick, Nenagh, and Ennis.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy can go through them all.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Monaghan.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Hospital action committees-----

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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That was a disaster.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Disasters, each one.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It was not.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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An absolute disaster.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No, it was not.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach is defending the removal of services again.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is Deputy Tóibín's question, please.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There was one gynaecologist, if the Deputy is talking about the maternity unit.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Accident and emergency services-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am talking about the first stance of the Deputy's party, which elected its first Deputy.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Drogheda------

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Gabh mo leithscéal, a Cheann Chomhairle. An féidir leis an Taoiseach an cheist a freagairt?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Its modus operandihas been to exploit a crisis, get the marches going, get it simplified-----

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach is still defending the removal of services.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It gets the issue to be "they are for it, we are agin it, and we will get elected". That is what is happening. It happened for a long time in health-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach set up the HSE.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----until we got sense as a country. The Minister has intervened. There is a review under way in respect of Navan involving James Connolly and Our Lady of Lourdes hospitals and the clinicians, in order to get an informed view.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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There are more reviews than hot dinners.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Let us not undermine the motivations of other people who have different views, such as medics in Meath. There are different views between the medics in Meath. Some are genuinely concerned about safety issues, which have to be dealt with. I sometimes worry about the manner in which Deputies reduce things to just the electoral and political issue. That is why I have to say this. I have said this already on the record of the House. There are legitimate concerns with moving ahead in the absence of any proper provisions or additional capacity in terms of the needs of the people of the area. That has to happen. There has to be engagement and consultation with local stakeholders. I would have thought we had moved on. This decision was taken in 2013.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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It is nine years out of date.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It was taken in 2013. I have been here since 2013. At this stage it is manifesting itself. Equally, I would say we need a more balanced approach in terms of health. Yes, there are huge challenges. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our hospitals, negatively. There is no question about that with regard to waiting times. We have to focus very strongly on getting waiting times down because Covid negatively impacted them. There are other parts of health as well. I was at the support centre for stroke in Cork last Saturday morning. The two consultants said there has been a revolution in how we deal with stroke in this country. Mortality has gone from 18% to 8%. Is it too much, given the need for balance in this debate, to at least acknowledge that? Survival rates for cardiovascular disease have improved dramatically because of repeated and successive investment and interventions, and centralisation of cardiac care. The same has happened with cancer and oncology.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Cataracts.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Centres of excellence were opposed the length and breadth of the country at the time but have resulted in greater survival rates for the vast majority of cancers. We need balance in the debate. I appeal to the Deputy for that balance.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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We do not have centres of excellence in this country; we have centres of trolleys. That is the case for anybody who has actually been in those hospitals. In the last ten months, 20,000 people have marched on the streets of Meath to protect the accident and emergency department, the most important piece of health infrastructure we have in the county. I delivered a petition to the Minister's office just two weeks ago, signed by 15,164 people. The vast majority of the 220,000 people who live in Meath at the moment are absolutely opposed to the HSE plan to close down the accident and emergency department. We will resist any efforts to make our region a University Hospital Limerick mark II. The Taoiseach should mark my words. On Friday at 1 p.m., the people of Meath will march again in Kells.

It is the constituency of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. This march will be led by a number of funeral hearses to make sure that the Government knows that this is a life or death issue for the people of Meath. Thousands of people are alive in this county because of that emergency department. What we are asking is reasonable. We ask that the review include a feasibility study on what it would take to make Navan functional and safe for the people of Meath in the future. We want that to be fully included in the terms of reference-----

3:10 pm

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

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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-----in black and white, not just as a Minister's promise.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy brought it back to the march.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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People power is the only thing that is saving it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is about having an honest, frank discussion and consultation between all involved about the right care for patients at the right time. Patients and their families want the best outcomes. What is the best location for that? The Minister has made clear that there will not be a change to the service provided at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, until such time as the HSE can establish that Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda and Connolly Hospital have the extra capacity to deal with the inevitable increase in presenting patients.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Could the Taoiseach confirm that?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There have been significant improvements in Navan hospital. The State wants to invest in Navan. There has been an increase in employment in the hospital and of the day surgery capacity. As the Deputy knows, a second theatre has been completed, which will increase capacity from around 2,500 elective surgical procedures each year to 5,000 procedures. A day ward, an expanded recovery room, a new laboratory, a new rehabilitation unit and a new psychiatric day ward have all-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Will the Taoiseach broaden the review?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----been completed in Navan recently.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Will the Taoiseach broaden the review? Yes or no?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The future development plans include a new rheumatology day centre and a new endoscopy suite with four endoscopy rooms.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Yes or no?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are also plans to spend €1.3 million on upgrades to the medical assessment unit and local injuries unit.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is important for the people of the region.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Will the Taoiseach broaden the review? That is the question I asked.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is significant investment, which will continue.