Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

1:20 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I move:

Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion reReferral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (without debate)

- Statements on Climate Action Plan 2023 (not to exceed 145 minutes)

- Oil Emergency Contingency and Transfer of Renewable Transport Fuels Functions Bill 2023 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn at 5 p.m.)

- Statement by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (to be taken at 5 p.m. and at the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle, to be followed by statements by Opposition parties and groups, not exceeding 5 minutes per party or group)

Private members' business shall be the Motion reMeasures to Increase Capacity in the Health Service, selected by Sinn Féin. Thursday's business shall be: - Oil Emergency Contingency and Transfer of Renewable Transport Fuels Functions Bill 2023 (Second Stage, resumed, if not previously concluded) (if not previously concluded, to stand adjourned at 7 p.m.)

- Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022 (Second Stage) (if reached, and if not previously concluded, to stand adjourned at 7 p.m.)

Private members' business shall be taken in place of Thursday evening business, and shall be the Motion rePublic Dental Services, selected by the Regional Group. Proposed arrangements for this week's business: In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that:
1. notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 34A, or in the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders, the following arrangements shall apply in relation to Wednesday's business:
(i) the order in which Business shall be taken immediately following Questions on Policy or Legislation pursuant to Standing Order 35A(3) shall be as follows—
- any motions for introduction of Bills pursuant to Standing Order 174(2),

- motions without debate,

- Government business,

- private members’ business pursuant to Standing Order 159(1) and Standing Order 169, and

- topical issues pursuant to Standing Order 37;
(ii) there shall be no suspension of sitting pursuant to Standing Order 25(1);

(iii) oral Parliamentary Questions pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) to the Taoiseach or to any other Minister shall not be taken;

(iv) the weekly division time pursuant to Standing Order 80(2) shall not be taken; and

(v) the Dáil shall adjourn on the conclusion of topical issues;
2. the Motion reReferral to Select Committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity shall be taken without debate;

3. the Statements on Climate Action Plan 2023 shall not exceed 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 statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes, and members may share time; and

4. the proceedings on the second reading motion on the Oil Emergency Contingency and Transfer of Renewable Transport Fuels Functions Bill 2023 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned at 5 p.m., and shall not be resumed on Wednesday.
In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:
(i) topical issues shall be taken either at 7 p.m., or on the conclusion of Government business, whichever is earlier, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the Motion rePublic Dental Services and on the adjournment of the Dáil, which may be later than 9.27 p.m.; and

(ii) no private member's Bill pursuant to Standing Order 102 or motion for a Committee report pursuant to Standing Order 160 shall be taken, and private members' business pursuant to Standing Order 159(1) and Standing Order 169 shall be taken for two hours on the conclusion of topical issues.

Notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, in relation to oral Parliamentary Questions pursuant to Standing Order 46(1) to the Minister for Finance on Tuesday, 24th January, 2023, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on Thursday, 26th January, 2023, the following arrangements shall apply:

(i) the number of Questions nominated for priority pursuant to Standing Order 49 that may be taken on each day shall be increased to six;

(ii) the sixth question on Tuesday shall be allocated to Social Democrats; and

(iii) the sixth question on Thursday shall be allocated to People-Before-Profit-Solidarity.

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

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is not agreed. First, the obvious farce of a Minister who has recused himself from SIPO responsibilities presenting to answer questions on SIPO tomorrow is self-evident and it points to the seriousness of the situation in respect of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. I raise the issue in that regard on "statements", it seems: a statement from the Minister followed by statements or reaction from other parties or groups. That is not satisfactory. What is required is for the Minister to present himself, set out his case and then take questions and answer questions from the Opposition parties and groups.

We must insist that that is the form this exchange takes.

I also raise the issue of former Minister of State, Deputy Damien English. We have not yet had any word of when Deputy English will present himself, make a statement and take questions from the Opposition. The idea that a choreographed statement from the Minister would suffice is utterly unacceptable.

1:30 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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As I said, I welcome that we will have a statement by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform at 5 p.m. I reiterate that there does not seem to be any facility for a response to questions raised by us in opposition. They are valid questions that many of us have already asked the Taoiseach on the floor of this House. There is precedent for having a statement of this nature where there is an opportunity for a response to be provided. I think the Taoiseach provided a response of that sort himself previously in this House and a back-and-forth was enabled. It was far better as a way to clarify outstanding issues. We also need a statement from former Minister of State, Deputy Damien English. We do not see that listed on this week's schedule. It is important to have the opportunity to clarify these issues relating to two Fine Gael Ministers in this House this week.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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The Taoiseach said twice earlier that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, would be answering questions. The Order of Business as the Ceann Comhairle circulated this morning does not allow for that. It allows for five-minute statements from each of the Opposition parties. Can we get clarification on whether each of those five-minute slots can be used for back-and-forth questions and answers from each of the Opposition parties and the Minister? It is important for that to happen. There is no reason, as I understand it, that could not happen. Will the Taoiseach clarify that, please?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I also think there should be a question and answer session. I want to raise what I believe is a scandal. That is the planned deal between Coillte and the UK investment fund, Gresham House. It is essentially the State facilitating and financing a corporate grab by a for-profit investment fund of tens of thousands of hectares of land and forestry in this country. I asked the Chief Whip at the Business Committee last Thursday for an urgent debate in the Dáil about this plan. Small farmers, environmentalists and anybody who cares about the forestry, heritage and land of this country are horrified by this deal, which is a repeat of the disgraceful plan to try to privatise the harvesting rights of Coillte back in 2013, which we protested against and gladly overturned. This deal has to be stopped. At a minimum, I ask for a commitment to an urgent debate in the Dáil about this outrageous plan to privatise Irish forestry.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I too am not satisfied with not having questions and answers regarding the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

We have statements before European Council meetings and post European Council meetings. When will we have pre-visit to Davos statements? The Taoiseach said he will only be there for a day and a half and that he would like to be there for a week. Frankly, I do not care how long he stays there. Professor Schwab said that it has penetrated many cabinets around the world. I know the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, is going to Davos. I do not know how many more Ministers and how many hangers-on are going. What the hell is going on over there? Why is the Taoiseach not responsible for telling this House what the agenda is and, when he comes back, for informing us about it and about whatever bit of Ireland he has sold off or powers he has given to these mighty people? I want to have pre-World Economic Forum statements and post-World Economic Forum statements. We have a precedent with the European Council. We must have one for this.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy McGrath. He might go himself to see what is going on.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I have no interest in going.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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Get them to hold it in Tipperary.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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A collection might be made for that flight.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Very funny. It is a great laugh.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I want to raise an important issue which has been spoken about in every community across the country. It is the deal between Coillte and Gresham House, the venture capital fund, on the acquisition of 100,000 ha of forestry across this country.

It is raising huge concerns among members of the public. They want to know what is going on, what has been agreed, what the Government was aware of, whether this was signed off by Cabinet and when the Cabinet was made aware of these particular proposals. We need not only a full debate in the House on the provisions of this arrangement but also that the agreement of the House and the Oireachtas as a whole is sought for it and gained before it is progressed any further because it causes huge concern to every single citizen in the State.

1:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. Before I ask the Taoiseach to respond, yesterday I received a request from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, under Standing Order 55, to make a statement to the House. As has been set out already, the provision is a matter for my discretion. I decided I would facilitate the making of a statement. It is further at my discretion as to whether Opposition parties' spokespersons could also make statements. I agreed they should. In light of what I am hearing, we might augment the proposal a little later by asking the Minister if he would respond at the end of the contributions-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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No, that is not what is required.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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-----to the points made by Members. Insofar as this has been brought to me and is a matter for my discretion, my approach is to evaluate that request against the competing business of the House that falls to be taken. It would be my view that if we were to allocate an hour or so for this, we should be able to deal adequately with it. If that is not acceptable to the House, then other arrangements can be made.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is not acceptable.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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On a point of order-----

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

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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The proposal the Ceann Comhairle has set out is entirely unsatisfactory.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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All right.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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The idea of aggregating the questions and then giving replies or otherwise in the wrap is just not acceptable. The time is scheduled. We are asking that each of the Opposition slots allow for a back and forth or statements, whichever the Member chooses. If we are serious about accountability, we have to have those sessions.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let us not confuse two separate issues. I have been asked for time under Standing Order 55, which I have acceded to in order to facilitate the Minister and the Opposition parties. The tabling of other proposals is not a matter for me. I hope Members understand that. I ask the Taoiseach to respond to the points raised.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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On the matter of Coillte and the Irish Strategic Forestry Fund, I am aware it is of concern up and down the country. I have heard what farmers, the Irish Wildlife Trust and others have to say about it and I am sure we can make time available through the Business Committee, whether here in the Chamber or in the relevant committee, to discuss this matter. I confirm it was not signed off by Cabinet. Coillte is a State-owned enterprise and its board makes its own decisions. There was no memo for information to Cabinet at any point.

Deputy English has resigned as a Minister of State. There is no requirement for him to make a statement, as I understand it. Ministers who have resigned in this Dáil have not made statements. It is at their discretion to do so and there is no requirement that Deputy English do so.

As to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, the Ceann Comhairle's proposal is a reasonable one. The Minister will make an opening statement, the different parties' representatives can then make statements and ask questions and he will respond to the questions at the end of that. I do not think we should turn this Chamber-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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No.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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That is not what the Taoiseach did.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----which is ultimately a political body, into a court of law-----

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----nor should we try to take away the powers of the Standards in Public Office Commission-----

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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It was good enough for you, Taoiseach.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----which is the body that is tasked with making the decisions in this regard.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we let the Taoiseach speak without interruption?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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To make one final point, accountability is important. It should apply to all of us - the Government, the Opposition and Independents. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and I invite Deputy McDonald to make a statement on the Dowdall donation. Was it a personal donation, as she reported it, or was it a donation to her party as she now claims? Will she also explain, and perhaps her party treasurer might want to make a statement to the House on this, why-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Your Minister of State lied for a planning application and you will not even invite him to make a statement. Come on.

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

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----there was a two-year gap in accounting for a €7,000 payment to a British polling firm?

1 o’clock

I would like to invite Deputy Doherty and Deputy McDonald to make statements to the House with regard to those matters.

1:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Okay, I am now putting the question-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What about the statements on Davos?

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Do you want to go, Mattie?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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On Davos-----

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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You are not going with him.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Secret societies.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does the Taoiseach have anything to say about Davos?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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No. There will be no statements on Davos.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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He has nothing to say on that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we have quiet please? I call Deputy McDonald.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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If there was any doubt as to the Taoiseach's ambiguity, shall we say, around the need for accountability among his members and his ministerial team, he has certainly played his hand now.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The very idea that members of the Government - members of the Cabinet - would not present themselves here and make themselves amenable to reasonable questions from the Opposition is absolutely unacceptable. Try as the Taoiseach may to muddy the waters or distract, he will fail because ultimately he is in government. Members of the Government are the decision-makers and they are answerable to and accountable to this House and to the Opposition. We ask again that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, take questions, as Deputy Shortall has very reasonably set out, deal with the matters at hand and clarify matters. That is a responsibility he has-----

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

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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-----as a member of Government.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let us not all start-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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No, there is no-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Six or seven minutes per Opposition speaker-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Yes.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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-----would allow time for questions and answers from the Minister.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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If the proposal from Deputy Shortall was to be taken, it would require an order of the House to be made.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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So make it.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Make the order.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please let the Taoiseach respond.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I saw plenty of Members in the Opposition nodding when I said I believe that accountability applies to everyone - Government and Opposition and Independents - but it is clear that Deputy McDonald does not think so.

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

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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She should be willing to make a statement in this House-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I have broken no rules.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Come on. This is a total distraction.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----to explain the Dowdall donation - the €1,000 that she declared to be a personal donation and now claims was a donation to the party but has still not returned, even though she should.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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They are as bad as each other.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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We do not have a statement in the House from Sinn Féin in relation to the two-year gap-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Wow.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----between a payment it made to a UK polling company of €7,000-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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That was not a political donation.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----that was only accounted for when prompted by media query. Why should accountability not apply to all of us equally when it comes to these matters?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It does. We are fully compliant with the rules.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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When it comes to matters of ethics and standards, it should apply equally.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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What are you hiding from? Why will the Minister not take questions?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy Doherty.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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Who paid for the UK polling?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Would Members please be aware that we are returning, that this is our first day back, and that the public are watching this? Will you please behave with a little bit of decorum? There is a business proposal put before us. I am going to put the business proposal to the House now and you are either for it or against it. What is Deputy Shortall's point?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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Can we take a reasonable approach to this?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am trying to do that.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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I understand the Ceann Comhairle was asked about that particular Standing Order. Can we set aside the ongoing spat between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin?

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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That is their business. It is nothing to do with the rest of us here. We are talking about the session this evening at 5 o'clock and the need for accountability on the part of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. The Taoiseach knows that what he is proposing is not satisfactory. Let us try to avoid dividing the House on this-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Sorry; it is not the Taoiseach who is proposing anything on this. I have been asked in accordance with my discretion. What is being proposed is what I am proposing.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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It was a Government request; a Minister's request from the Government.

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

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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We have put a reasonable request to the Taoiseach to allow for that accountability so that we have back-and-forth and it is not a case of banking questions where the Minister may or may not answer them in the wrap-up. That is entirely unsatisfactory. I think the Taoiseach would accept that if he was on this side of the House. To avoid dividing the House, can we be reasonable about this? Can the Government show it is serious about accountability and agree this? It may need a change in the order but let us do that. It can be done fairly quickly. I suggest that here could be reasonable sessions, say seven or eight minutes, for each Opposition party to use its slot for a back-and-forth with the Minister.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I proposed five minutes. There does not seem to be a whole lot of difference.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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It is the back-and-forth.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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A Cheann Comhairle-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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It is the back-and-forth that is required, not the banking of questions. In all fairness, I would ask the Taoiseach to consider that reasonable proposal from the Opposition.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Boyd Barrett, very briefly.

2:00 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Will the Taoiseach confirm he is willing to allow a debate on the Coillte issue? I asked at the Business Committee and the members of the Opposition all agreed that they want a Dáil debate next week.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is clear.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Will the Taoiseach confirm that he will facilitate that debate?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I have confirmed with the Whip that we can commit to a Dáil debate on the issue of Coillte. It has to be scheduled but we can do that. I am happy for that to take place.

On the other matter, I think the proposal of the Ceann Comhairle is a reasonable one. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, will make a statement. Members can then ask questions and he will reply to those questions. I do not think that a politically charged Chamber such as this is the place for-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Accountability.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----cross-examination and doing the work that is rightfully the work of an independent body such as the standards commission.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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The Taoiseach did it himself. When he leaked the document, he took questions.

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

The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 55; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hildegarde Naughton and Cormac Devlin; Níl, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

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, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Micheál Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, 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, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Níl

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

Question declared carried.

2:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call Deputy McDonald, who has up to one minute.

2:15 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Across the State, tens of thousands of homeowners and tenants impacted by Celtic tiger building defects have been waiting to hear the Government plans for a redress scheme. They are living in apartments, duplexes and houses that have very serious fire safety and other structural defects. The cost of remediating defects for these homeowners and tenants, defects that they did not cause, can be up to €80,000 per home. I understand that a memo went to the Cabinet on this today. Can the Taoiseach confirm if a redress scheme for these homeowners and tenants will be in place this year? Can he confirm that it will provide 100% redress? Will it be retrospective? What immediate funding will the Government put in place for interim emergency fire safety works?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I can confirm that the Government decided today that we will fund a scheme to carry out necessary fire safety, water ingress and structural safety works to apartments and duplexes that need that work done. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced the scheme only in the last couple of hours. It will benefit tens of thousands of people. It is not just about the financial distress and there is also enormous emotional distress for people if they live in a building and the alarm goes off when the fire safety works have not been done. I believe this decision will be a huge relief to tens of thousands of people around the country.

To answer the Deputy’s questions, we expect the legislation will take until the end of the year, the scheme will be up and running next year and there will be retrospection for people who have already carried out works.

As I am talking about this matter, I should declare a potential interest. I own an apartment in Castleknock. It is the only property I own but it is in a building with defects. While I will not be claiming from the scheme personally, the owners' management company might, and I could be an indirect beneficiary in that regard.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Since I first raised the issue of construction defects in this House last summer, I have been inundated with dreadful personal stories from individuals whose homes are not safe. In many cases, they have paid thousands of euro to remedy the defects and are in dire financial straits as a result. The Taoiseach said he is affected personally by this as well. Following the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, today, I would like to know whether the redress will amount to 100%. Will owners get back 100% of what they have already spent on remedying defects? We know many people have already spent thousands of euro. Therefore, we need a firm commitment that the scheme will be inclusive and will apply retrospectively to that full extent for those who have already taken the advice of the Government and have already begun or concluded repair works. It is vital that this scheme also marks a definitive end to the arm’s length approach to dodgy developers and builders. We need to hear from the Government its plans to tighten up the planning regulations so that those responsible for putting households at risk will not be put in a position where they can do so again, and so that owners' management companies will be reformed to give residents surety that the same builders will not be in charge of repair works.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge that the Deputy raised this matter on a number of occasions in the House last year and previously. I can confirm that it will be 100% redress, that there will be retrospection and that we will be establishing a new independent building regulator to try to make sure this does not happen again. That said, there will be checks and balances. It will not just be a case of people or management companies putting in a claim. It will have to be certified work, legitimately done, and all the rest of it, so there will be checks and balances in the scheme. I think this news will come as an enormous relief to tens of thousands of people and families around the country. I represent a suburban constituency with a lot of apartments and duplexes, and many of them need work done, particularly when it comes to fire safety, but also with regard to water ingress and security. The financial worry of this is huge and the emotional worry is huge, and that will be eased for a lot of people today.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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Coillte’s plans to partner with a private investment fund are causing huge concern across the country. Under the plans, Coillte will source tens of thousands of acres in rural Ireland, plant the trees and manage the forests. The State entity will do all the work with regard to this project - it will do all the heavy lifting - but private international investors will reap the rewards. This is a very lucrative investment for them: it is secure, low risk and profitable. Why is the Government facilitating this land grab by international investors, subsidising this through forestry grant schemes and tax incentives, and pushing up land prices across Ireland? Fine Gael has a track record of putting corporates before community and large investors before community, whether it is on housing or health, and now it appears to be happening on climate action. Why is the State not using some of its €5 billion surplus this year to invest in forestry for the benefit of rural Ireland, for the benefit of our climate targets and for the benefit of biodiversity? The Taoiseach needs to knock this deal on the head now.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Coillte is a State-owned enterprise. It is independent and its board makes its own commercial decisions. This decision was made by Coillte, not by the Government or by the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. The Deputy asked why we do not use some of our own funds to invest in a project like this and the answer is that we are. Coillte is partnering with our own sovereign wealth fund, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, and also Gresham House to establish this fund, so we are also investing in this fund.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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To subsidise investors.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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The Government is subsidising these investors. They are using the same money to subsidise UK investors.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It is very much to the credit of many of the tens of thousands of people who are affected by defective apartments and the consequences of cowboy builders who were allowed to run amok in this country that, finally, we have a redress scheme. I welcome that fact, that assurances are being given it will be 100% redress and that it will be retrospective. However, the devil is always in the detail in these things. I would like and, more importantly, tens of thousands affected by this would like to see the details of the new scheme and also that those responsible for these defective buildings will be chased down, held responsible and forced to contribute to the redress scheme. Also, will the State consider developing its own construction capacity so there is capacity to do the remediation of these dangerously defective buildings?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Today is a very significant day. We committed in the programme for Government of the three parties that we would grasp this nettle and that we would deal with the issue of defects in apartments and duplexes.

A significant Government decision was taken today to provide 100% redress. Costs already incurred will be covered by the scheme. It is important to say that those who have contracted work, which is either due to start or who are in the middle of that work – approximately 32% of the properties affected are in that category – will also be covered by the scheme.

The Deputy can have no doubt that any avenue this Government can use to seek recompense or recourse from those who have created this problem will be taken. We do not want to leave residents in the lurch. We said we would do this, and we are doing it. We have had excellent engagement with homeowner representative groups, which have strongly welcomed the announcement by the Government today.

2:25 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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There must be an opportunity to question the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, in the Dáil. This goes to the very heart of the functioning of the political system in this country. The reason we have declarations of donations is because we need transparency to see what influence businesses and developers can have on the political system. For decades, this country was hammered by the fact that a golden circle bought influence through donations to Ministers. This created incredible damage that we are still paying for now.

In the case of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, it is reported that the donor in question was nominated to the board of the Land Development Agency shortly after the donation was given, and that the Minister himself named that individual as the chair of the north east inner city initiative. I do not say that individual has gained in any manner, financially, as a result of that, but we need to make sure there is transparency. We need to be able to tease this out. Is it not important that the Taoiseach would facilitate a debate on this issue now?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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We dealt with this matter earlier, and there was a vote on it. The reason we have the Ethics in Public Office Act is precisely because there should be independent oversight of ethics and standards in this State. That is why the Standards in Public Office Commission was set up. It is not appropriate for us to turn our Parliament into a Star Chamber or to try to take on the role or the work of SIPO. The commission has received a complaint and it will decide whether to carry out a preliminary inquiry. We should not seek to take its role. In my view, that would not be the right thing to do as a Parliament.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The HIQA report on St. Brigid's Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir was very good. The Government decided to use it as a Covid step-down facility during the early months of the pandemic. It is in the back yard of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, who is present. The Save St. Brigid's Hospital committee is coming to Dublin tomorrow to present to the Committee on Public Petitions. It is the final effort in trying to get the hospital reopened.

We saw how badly needed step-down facilities and beds were in the recent crisis at Christmas, which is ongoing in January. St. Brigid's is a functioning hospital with an excellent staff and a good report from HIQA. The report has been twisted and turned to suit the narrative. Hospitals should not be closed. Will the Government reopen St. Brigid's without further ado to ensure that the patients of east Waterford, south Tipperary and south Kilkenny will have a place to go for respite and, above all, access to the hospice cancer care beds?

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I have spoken with the Deputy across the floor of the Dáil many times about the closure of St. Brigid's Hospital in 2020. As he is aware, the building is more than 200 years old and the HIQA report deemed it was no longer fit for purpose. Issues were raised relating to health and safety, especially in terms of fire.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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That is not true.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy also knows, St. Brigid's Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir has now been reconfigured as a community healthcare network. There are seven new jobs involved. The hospital offers support to people with long-term illness, pain management and diabetes. The facility is working well, and it is still offering healthcare to the people of Carrick-on-Suir and the surrounding areas.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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Over the past number of years, in dealing with mica-affected homeowners, both the Minister for Finance, as he was then, now Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, continuously said that they were going to talk to the banks about their treatment of the affected homeowners to get their support for them in the difficulties that they are in. Many mica-affected homeowners are being put under severe pressure by banks in respect of worthless homes on which they have mortgages. Many homeowners are still mortgage holders who will not be able to remortgage to repair their homes. To date, mica-affected homeowners have not heard any response regarding those contacts and what progress was made. Could the Minister update the House in this regard?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy will be aware, the new revised and updated scheme the Government introduced through legislation passed last year is the basis for how we move forward on 100% redress for families affected by defective concrete blocks. We are doing that. We have been engaging with the local authorities on the draft regulations and we will receive feedback from them. I expect to meet with the homeowner representatives within the next two weeks.

How mortgage lenders are dealing with some homeowners is an issue that has been raised with me, which we will continue to address with the banks. I will address this directly with the residents.

I am pleased to note that we are seeing applications, particularly from counties Donegal and Mayo, being processed effectively and efficiently through the system. We have a lot more to do in that space, but all those homeowners will receive the benefit of the revised 100% redress scheme. I will keep the Deputy informed of our engagement with regard to the banks on the mortgage issues.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Unfortunately, we have run out of time. I know Deputies are disappointed, but I have to move on.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Could your office, a Leas-Ceann Comhairle, facilitate the Members who are on the list in the round next week instead of using the lottery system?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am afraid it does not work like that, but I will revert to the Ceann Comhairle on it. It is unfortunate that they were not reached today. We do our best, but we are very late today and there is little scope for discretion.