Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Sustainable Development Goals

1:32 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [52762/22]

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide an update on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [54582/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [54840/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [54843/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [55385/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the senior officials group chaired by his Department to provide a strategic overview of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. [56703/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 11, inclusive, together.

The sustainable development goals, SDGs, adopted in 2015, are the United Nations blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

Under the programme for Government, the Government is committed to continue work towards the 17 goals. This is a whole-of-government effort, led by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, who has lead responsibility for promoting and overseeing the coherent implementation of the SDGs. The implementation of measures associated with individual goals is the responsibility of relevant Ministers and Departments. Political oversight is provided through the Cabinet committee system and, where necessary, at Government level.

A senior officials group, chaired by my Department and supported by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, provides a mechanism to co-ordinate and monitor progress towards the goals. It brings together representatives of all Departments responsible for implementation.

In addition to monitoring implementation, it provides strategic input on tasks including development of Ireland's national implementation plan, the second iteration of which was published in October. It will also support preparation of Ireland's second voluntary national review of progress towards the goals, which is due for delivery at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in July 2023. The group's work is supported by an interdepartmental working group, chaired by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and by the Central Statistics Office's data governance board.

The Government's vision is for Ireland to fully implement the SDGs at home and to contribute to their achievement in order so that no one is left behind. I was pleased, therefore, to launch Ireland's second national implementation plan for the SDGs along with the Tánaiste, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and other Government Ministers on 5 October 2022. The plan sets out Ireland's implementation strategy until 2024 and is focused on ensuring that the goals are better integrated into our work across Government, and more widely across local government. It sets out five key strategic objectives and 51 actions, involving 119 individual measures, to significantly increase Ireland's ambition and strengthen our implementation. Implementation of the goals is both a domestic and international priority.

I was pleased to meet with the President of the General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, at the UN General Assembly high-level week in September and to agree to his request that Ireland take on the role of co-facilitator of the political declaration for a UN SDG summit to be held in New York in September 2024. Ireland is deeply engaged in the elaboration and adoption of the goals. In that context, I very much welcome this opportunity for Ireland to play an ongoing role as we approach the mid-point in the journey to implementation by 2030. As I highlighted in my address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, progress made in implementing the goals in previous years has stalled, or in some cases gone into reverse, more recently as we have grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic, increased natural disasters and the consequences of the war in Ukraine, including for food security. It is all the more important, therefore, that governments redouble their efforts ahead of the summit in 2024 and in the years remaining to 2030.

1:42 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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There are six Deputies, so each will have up to a minute.

Photo of Sorca ClarkeSorca Clarke (Longford-Westmeath, Sinn Fein)
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The Government's national implementation plan for the SDGs contains important principles and objectives shared with countries across the globe. The core commitment of Agenda 2030 is a pledge to leave no one behind. A focus is placed on ensuring the needs of the most vulnerable are met and quality and accessible services are to be enhanced. The Taoiseach has outlined the 51 actions involving 119 individual measures, but Ministers must deliver on outstanding Government commitments upon which these goals are built. An example is the transfer of disability services from the Department of Health to Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which has still not taken place despite there being a commitment in this regard in the programme for Government. I understand the blockage to the transfer lies with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but no clarity has been provided as to what the issue actually is. We now have a crazy situation where the Minister for Health will no longer answer questions on services and budgets he says he is no longer responsible for and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, will not address these matters until such time as the transfer has taken place.

Photo of Christopher O'SullivanChristopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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Goal 4 refers to quality education and goal 10 refers to reducing inequalities. Both apply to a developing situation at Scoil Eoin in Innishannon, which I recently visited. It is a fantastic school with amazing staff. It has children with a whole range of intellectual disabilities and it is crying out for extra special needs assistants, SNAs. Not only is the school having an issue securing an extra SNA allocation, it is struggling to get the special educational needs organiser, SENO, to visit the school to see the situation on the ground. The SENO was supposed to visit the school on October 26 but now it has been put back. This is not only impacting the education of the children at the school but also the school's ability to provide education to future pupils with intellectual disabilities. I ask the Taoiseach to use his offices to intervene and ensure that at the very least, the SENO visits Scoil Eoin as soon as possible.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The SDGs are an internationally agreed set of progressive goals and aspiration. Goal 16 relates to justice, strong institutions and access to same. I put it to the Taoiseach that the Government's commitment to CETA threatens access to justice. He should not throw sand in people's eyes with talk about who is for free trade or trade generally. I am for fair trade, by the way, rather than free trade for the sake of it with no regard to whether it is fair or not. I am absolutely for trade that is mutually beneficial. The issue with CETA is the investor court system, which has not been implemented. The Taoiseach says trade with Canada has improved.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is fine but we do not need this body standing above normal institutions for justice and favouring multinational companies and threaten access to justice for ordinary people.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I wish to pursue an issue Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach about yesterday but did not get anywhere with, namely, the corporate sustainability directive. This is a potentially important directive that would make corporations responsible for abuses of labour rights, environmental protection and consumer protection right through their supply chains. However, a massive corporate lobbying effort to water it down is happening. An important part of that effort is saying finance should be excluded. The Irish Coalition for Business and Human Rights met the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, last week and asked if the Government has taken a position on this. The coalition was told the Government has not done so. However, the next day Reuters reported:

Luxembourg, Ireland and Germany have indicated they want to exclude asset managers and institutional investors from scope [...] Ireland said in a submission it could not signal its agreement to including financial undertakings, and called for an assessment from the EU's securities, insurance and banking watchdogs ...

Is that the Government's position? How can the Taoiseach possibly justify it?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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It is welcome that the Government recently recommitted to the SDGs, as the Taoiseach outlined, with the launch of the new national implementation plan up to 2024. I wish to speak about two goals. Goal 6 concerns clean water and sanitation, which speaks to an issue in my constituency of Dublin Bay South. I welcomed the recent announcement by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, that water quality monitoring would now take place year-round, in response to an ongoing campaign I have been running along with Deputy Carroll MacNeill. It is very welcome. In the interest of public health and goal 6, will the Government now inform swimmers about how to ensure safety in water as we see more and more recreational use of our water? I am taken with the Taoiseach's reminiscence about the cinema. It has been a long time since I went to the cinema but we can see an advertising campaign "brought to you by the Government of Ireland", informing people about water safety. I met Water Safety Ireland recently in Galway and it has some great creative advertising campaigns that deserve more support.

I refer also to goal 7 on affordable and clean energy-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputy is out of time.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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-----and ask the Government to rule out the developments relating to liquefied natural gas, LNG, and the proposal to build LNG terminals.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It was not at the cinema but I was watching the Taoiseach over in Sharm El-Sheikh doing his best-boy-in-the-class routine again. While he was trotting out the hype in Egypt, the reality at home is very different. Take the well-being framework for example. The framework monitors 35 indicators of well-being and the 2022 report finds progress in some areas, a neutral, as-you-were situation in others and only one that was negative. Which indicator was negative? It was environment, climate and biodiversity. The report noted Ireland now has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in Europe after Luxembourg and scored poorly on water pollution, etc. Will the Taoiseach accept Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that were beholden to big business interests that put profit before the environment have failed, and are failing badly, on these crucial issues?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for raising the issues. The focus today is very domestic, whereas the SDGs have declined globally to a far more significant extent, especially with respect to nutrition. The World Food Programme is extremely alarmed at how, over the past five years, the numbers facing famine have grown exponentially and reversed the progress of the previous decade.

This is a big worry. That said, we need to keep a global focus on the SDGs.

In terms of the transfer of transfer of disability services from the Department of Health to Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, that was a decision the Government took at the beginning of its term. I am concerned at the length of time it is taking. I have told all Ministers that I want that brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is working away all the time, with the HSE and within her Department, in terms of advancing a range of issues pertaining to disabilities more generally. To be fair, she has secured pretty significant additional resources over two budgets in respect of children with special needs and disabilities. I want to get the issue of the transfer brought to a conclusion. I do not disagree on that. It is something we will pursue.

Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan raised the issue of Scoil Eoin in Innishannon. I will certainly follow that up with the National Council for Special Education in the context of the SENO visiting the school. That is important. There has been a dramatic increase in expenditure and investment in special needs education in the past two years. The increase is quite dramatic when we look at it nationally. We should be in the position to help out in terms of what the issues are in that regard.

Deputy Boyd Barrett again raised the issue of CETA. I do not believe CETA represents a threat to justice or access to justice. As I said to him, all trade agreements have dispute resolution mechanisms.

1:52 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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No, they do not. That is not true.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did not-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The Taoiseach should stop saying it. It is not true. He has been saying it non-stop.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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They are now standard practice and the Deputy knows that.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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No, they are not.

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

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I represented the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment at the European Parliament. They are not standard practice.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Let the Taoiseach respond, please.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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This is nonsense

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

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It is not true. You keep saying that.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry, Deputy; you have a view. You are anti-trade and anti-enterprise. That is your position. Deputy Boyd Barrett made his comments in terms of his preferred trade and trade that is of mutual interest. We never hear ringing declarations, however. Let us be honest. Deputy Paul Murphy should be honest. His political philosophy does not believe in a capitalist system.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Yes, but-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I believe in a social democratic system-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Sure you do.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----which is what we have in this country. We have much State ownership in this country. We own the railways. We own the water supply, unlike our neighbours, and so on.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is not compatible with the idea of investor courts.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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You guys do not believe in any enterprise at all. You ideologically do not believe in it, which is your entitlement.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is not true

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is why where you are coming from in respect of CETA and other trade agreements. You should be honest about it.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Answer the question.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is where you are coming from.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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We are honest.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The point is that the Supreme Court clarified what can be done here. Given where this country is coming from and the need to continue to create employment, we must be open and proactive with regard to accessing fair and accessible markets in terms of growing jobs in this country. I do not believe that is Deputy Boyd Barrett's position. He has an ideological perspective, which is his entitlement.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach is running out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should be honest about it and call it out. In the future, the Japanese and Singaporean agreements will have dispute resolution mechanisms. That will be a feature. There are protections we can build in. One of ours is that we have a written Constitution. We are also members of the European Union treaty. Europe is going Fit for 55. It is not entering into trade agreements to undermine its own policies on the environment-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are going to run out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----which are very strict policies. Let us get a bit real about all of this too.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Taoiseach, we are going to run out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Murphy Paul Murphy talked about the corporate sustainability directive. That has not passed. There is always-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Is the Taoiseach lobbying to get rid of finance?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry. There is always engagement between governments regarding a range of issues in terms of any directive. No one is passive when a directive is being negotiated at European level.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Are you lobbying to get rid of finance?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are not having a discussion.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am just making a point to you.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Will you answer the question? You are not here to make a point.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We do not lobby. We are members of the European Union.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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As a country, we have an entitlement----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----to seek amendments and give opinions and views-----

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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To remove what?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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---as a directive is being debated.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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If we could pause for a moment; the interaction has to stop. We are going to run out of time. I want to get to the next round. Members should please give responses through the Chair.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am doing it through the Chair but I am being interrupted all the time. That is fine too; I take it on the chin.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Please, let the Taoiseach respond.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Are you lobbying to get rid of finance or not? The Taoiseach will not answer me because that is what is happening.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Bacik raised the issue of water quality monitoring. I endorse what she said about some very imaginative advertisements around water safety. Her view is that we need to do more in terms of water quality monitoring. That is improving now. it is going to enhance for swimmers, in particular the quality of water in their bays. I read Mr. Mark Henry's chapter on this. There has been a dramatic improvement over 20 or 30 years in water quality. The lesson is that we could do more faster in the current era to get more water treatment plants done, and also flood protection schemes. They are being objected to left, right centre, however.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We have gone way over time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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People are very vulnerable. There always has to be a balance and trade-offs in terms of trying to get the vital infrastructure that protects water quality and protects people from being flooded on a continuing basis in place. There are always groups that want to get the optimum in different situations, and we have problems with infrastructure.

I can tell Deputy Barry that I was not doing the best-boy-in-the-class routine at Sharm El-Sheik. What you quoted from the well-being framework is what I quoted some weeks ago in this House in answering questions to your good selves.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Did the Taoiseach quote it in Sharm El-Sheik?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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No interruptions, please.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I highlighted it. I have been very modest about Ireland because Ireland has been a laggard for the last ten years of respect of climate change. We are now catching up but we have a long way to go and much to do. What I said at Sharm El-Sheik was that the carbon tax gave us very substantial funds to enable us to combat fuel poverty, provide for environmentally friendly farming and, above all, provide for a comprehensive sustainable retrofitting programme for the next ten years.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Taoiseach. We are way over time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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These are things the Deputy opposes all the time.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are way over time. Ten minutes have now gone on to the clock for the last round of questions.