Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Ceisteanna ar Pholasaí nó ar Reachtaíocht - Questions on Policy or Legislation

 

12:40 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Before I ask about promised legislation, I want to raise an issue on a point of order.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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There are no points of order here on these matters.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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This is a genuine point of order relating to the ordering of the House. It is important that Deputies know what is before us. I understand all Opposition parties requested a question-and-answer session with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, later this afternoon. It is appropriate that Deputies would be informed whether the Order of the House is going to be altered and whether what was unanimously agreed by the Opposition and put forward - a question-and-answer session - will be facilitated today. I think that would be fair.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That will be dealt with by the Business Committee as soon as a communication is had from the Minister in relation to this matter.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Do we take it that the Minister has not requested that?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister has been here all morning answering questions from Members. He has not managed to bilocate yet.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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In fairness, with respect we all have staff, and the Minister has more staff than many of us to send an email looking to make a statement before the House. It is appropriate that this is facilitated today and that there is a question-and-answer session.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the Tánaiste in a position to clarify what is going to happen in terms of the proposed statement to which the Deputy has referred? Somebody might clarify this.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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My understanding is that the Minister has offered to come before the House at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Would that include today?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I am not in a position to come in front of the House this afternoon, but I am going to come in front of the House at the earliest possible opportunity. I gave an indication in the Dáil, under repeated questioning this morning, that I did want to come back and update the House. I have looked to fulfil my commitments to this House as well as I can. I am committed to continuing to do so.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you. That makes that very clear. Can we move on to questions on promised legislation?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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It may be clear, but it is completely and utterly unacceptable.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are not getting into a debate.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is completely and utterly unacceptable that the Minister is saying that he will not come before the House until next week. That is absolutely unacceptable.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Resume your seat. We are moving on to questions on promised legislation. Do you have a question on promised legislation?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I note that the Minister has still not said whether he will answer questions. I note that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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No. Please respect the Orders of the House and proper precedent.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I do, but I want to make the point that the Minister has said he will not come before the House until next week. The Opposition has requested that he answer questions in a question-and-answer session, but he still has not indicated that he is willing to do that. In the middle of a scandal, that is a valid point to make.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That matter will be dealt with by the Business Committee in proper fashion.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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With respect, our party has written to the Business Committee and asked for you to convene the Business Committee to facilitate today a question-and-answer session with the Minister who is in the middle of an almighty controversy and is in serious trouble. I ask you, as Ceann Comhairle, to facilitate that request today.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I have no problem convening a meeting of the Business Committee today, none whatsoever. Do you have a question on promised legislation?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I do have a question on promised legislation.

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

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Following on from some of the questions from other colleagues, the programme for Government commits to a target of 8,000 ha of afforestation per year. The Minister is nowhere near achieving that. In fact, the Government reached just 30% of the target last year. The crisis in the sector has become worse since the Government came into office. As we have learned, Coillte now intends to join a joint venture with a British investment fund, with the first step being a massive sell-off of thousands of hectares of land across rural communities. The Tánaiste has said he wants to explore alternatives, something he repeated today. As he knows, Coillte is State owned and the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Public Expenditure and Reform hold shares in trust for the Irish people. Will he ensure that his Ministers instruct Coillte to halt the sale while the alternatives he suggested are explored?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There is no massive sale of land by Coillte.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Of private land.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Coillte is not selling land. The Deputy referred to a massive sell-off. That type of language creates polemics around this. There is no sell-off of Coillte land, and I said that in an earlier response. As I said earlier, it has entered into a partnership with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, which is an Irish State fund, with a view to purchasing land or existing forest. My understanding is that the bulk will be existing forest. There will be no sale of any Coillte-owned forests or publicly owned land. Any other agency will not be selling any publicly owned land to this fund.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Yesterday, I spoke about the need to implement urgent ethical reform to counteract the sowing of distrust in politics by agents of the far right. It is also vitally important that we provide wraparound supports for those who stand for election. In the last number of weeks we have seen multiple instances of intimidation and violence against Deputies, Senators and councillors. Jennifer Bray’s startling article in The Irish Timesshowed the gendered nature of that intimidation. We have heard the harrowing experiences of many colleagues in this House, some of whom are present today, and elsewhere who have had similar experiences. We know others are not prepared to speak publicly. Most members of my party, and those across other parties, have been targeted in recent weeks and years. The Government owes it to representatives today and potential future candidates to act on this. What plans does the Government have to ensure not just that we crack down on intimidating behaviour towards public representatives but also that we ensure supports are available to public representatives?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You are out of time.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Will it establish a dedicated and resourced office in Leinster House to provide support to public representatives at local and national level who are subject to intimidation?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy. The matter is very serious. There were further revelations this morning about Deputies in the House, in particular Deputy Cairns. This behaviour is becoming more frequent. The Ceann Comhairle has endeavoured to raise this issue in terms of a fund and so on. I will speak to my Government colleagues in respect of this in terms of wraparound supports. I understand there is a desire to create a security fund which would assist Members in taking precautionary measures. That would at least give some protections to Members who may be coming under attack or potential assault. There has been ongoing liaison with the Garda. I know the Minister, Deputy Harris, has had discussions with the Garda Commissioner in respect of this. Perhaps, collectively, we should form an informal group in the House-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Cross-party.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----on a cross-party basis to work up a comprehensive approach to this issue. I am venturing this as an idea. I am as guilty as anyone else who has been here in that I have absorbed a lot, but things have reached a new level. Collectively, we need to come to grips with this issue in a comprehensive way.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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A detailed and comprehensive plan has been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to deal with these matters.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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Vessels over 18 m continue to pair-trawl in inshore waters. They are allowed to do so due to the High Court overturning the policy directive in October 2020. We know this type of fishing is highly inappropriate. It not only damages the marine environment, but it also directly impacts on inshore fishers' livelihoods and tourism activities due to the reduction in stocks. Over two years later, this matter remains with the court.

I have previously called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to restart the process and establish another policy directive which, at this stage, would have taken less time than the legal route. I ask the Tánaiste to initiate that policy directive in order to address the matter urgently. In the meantime, I encourage the Tánaiste and Minister to look at existing instruments which could be used to restrict these harmful practices. It has come to my attention that the port of Bantry Bay bylaws prohibit trawling in the bay. If that law was enforced, it could make a significant impact in that particular bay in west Cork. Perhaps we could look at other things in the interim. Over the past week there has been damaging trawling in our waters in west Cork.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy. What is going on is shocking and its impacts are very damaging. It should not be happening. We have to await the outcome of the High Court case, not least to inform the best direction of travel in terms of legislation and the policy that prohibits this.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The court case was lost on a technicality.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let the Tánaiste respond.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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There is nothing wrong with the policy.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I know.

In my view, and I have spoken to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine about this, it is too long. It has gone on for a long time - too long, from our perspective. I will engage with the Minister to see if there is anything we can do in the interim, given the legal context.

12:50 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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On Tuesday last, the HSE addressed the Joint Committee on Health on the ongoing crisis in our emergency departments. As we know, hundreds of people have been left on trolleys in public hospitals. This is a perpetual crisis that happens every year and it is completely unacceptable in a country that is quite wealthy. This is obviously a legacy issue related to capacity, given that 40 years ago there were more beds in the public health system than there are now. This is why the crisis has been brewing. Emergency department consultants have said that people will die because of the trolley crisis. People will continue to die because of the lack of a plan. The winter plan is out the door; it is crisis management in relation to the HSE. Where does this lead us? It is not acceptable that those who have paid taxes throughout their lives and who rely on the public health system are left for days on trolleys. It is just not acceptable.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The first point I would make is that 40 years ago the world of health was vastly different from today. We have had far more productivity in the health service in the intervening years, particularly in terms of the revolution in day-case activity, day-case procedures, length of stay in hospitals and so forth. All of this has radically changed the capacity issue. One cannot compare the number of beds we had 15 or 20 years ago to the number of beds we have today and draw simplistic conclusions. That does not stand up to any scrutiny at all. We are treating far more people today than we ever would have and are doing so far faster, in terms of time spent in hospital. The massive, exponential growth over the last two decades in day-case diagnostics and surgical procedures has revolutionised health productivity. That has to be said.

The Deputy is correct regarding trolleys but it is a combination of capacity and human resource management, which is key. Governance is also key in terms of the health service, in respect of dealing with the huge increase in disease this year.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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One of the health priorities of this Government is to tackle hospital waiting lists. When I raised the issue of capacity and resources in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda last year, the Minister for Health agreed that the required resources have not been in place for a long time. He sanctioned a doubling of the number of emergency medical consultants in Drogheda and launched phase 2 of the safe staffing framework. Regarding capacity, the Minister spoke of the use of step-down facilities so that there would be more capacity in the hospital for emergency medicine. However, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is currently dealing with a deficit in medical staffing and is bursting to capacity. On top of this, the decision to close the accident and emergency department in Navan will have a significant knock-on effect on Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, which is of huge concern. The plan to downgrade and close Navan accident and emergency department needs to be abandoned and funding needs to be allocated to the acute services in counties Louth and Meath. The reopening of Louth County Hospital in Dundalk should be seriously considered. There is infrastructure and capacity available immediately there, and this would alleviate pressure at a time of a capacity crisis. I always come to the House with solutions and now is the right time to reopen services at Louth County Hospital.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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First of all, on the issues relating to the north east in particular, clinical protocols have already been adopted in terms of patients going to the right hospital location for the right outcome.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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They are being sent back from Dublin now.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is the fundamental principle that governs how doctors respond to a particular emergency. There is an issue in terms of pressures on hospitals, and of that there is no doubt. The proper utilisation of Navan in the context of medical emergencies, or indeed the pressure in medical assessment units and so on, is critical. The utilisation of hospitals in the most effective way is the key issue here in the context of safety and the best outcome for patients, which must be uppermost at all times.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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It is about capacity. There is not enough capacity.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The Cope Foundation runs a residential centre in Carrigbeg, Bandon, that accommodates 13 special needs adults four nights a week but these adults have to return home every Friday evening until Monday evening. In some cases, they are returning home to elderly parents who are finding it very challenging to care for them every weekend. In a growing number of cases, these people have no family to care for them at weekends and they have to go to another Cope Foundation house for the weekend. The simple and very obvious solution is for the house at Carrigbeg to remain open seven days a week for these residents. Mr. Denis Mulcahy, a manager at the Cope Foundation, has said that the HSE needs to sign off on a decision to open the house at Carrigbeg in Bandon on a full-time basis. I urge the Tánaiste to work with the Minister for Health, who is already considering this issue, to speed up the signing-off on this decision to open the centre at Carrigbeg seven days a week.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I appreciate the issue the Deputy raises. I understand the point he makes in terms of the value for residents of the centre being open seven days a week, on a continuous basis, so they would not be disrupted. I will ask the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities to engage with the HSE to resolve this issue, or at least to understand the background to it.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I wish to return to the Coillte scheme that involves international funds buying up tracts of private land and Coillte planting and managing those lands. The Tánaiste spoke about the environmental benefits but the type of forestry that Coillte specialises in is not necessarily environmentally beneficial, at least not by international standards. There is a lot of monoculture rather than broadleaf planting going on and that is mainly what Coillte has done to date. My question is simple. The Tánaiste seemed to support a review. Will such a review take place and will Coillte desist from any further engagement with the fund until such time as this review takes place? Is the review happening or not? Will Coillte stop its engagement with this until it the review is complete?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In terms of the specific fund itself, Coillte has legally entered into an arrangement and had the powers to do so. The review I am talking about relates to broader policy, looking at the development of alternative models. We have to avoid a monocultural approach but there will be a need for commercial forestry to underpin the timber industry itself. In the future, both Coillte and the Government are saying that 50% of all new forests will have to be native woodlands. That is the approach.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Is the Tánaiste saying there will be no change to this scheme?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Not to this specific arrangement but the Ministers are meeting.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I have raised this issue previously. In fact, I raised it three times in the Dáil before Christmas and I am going to keep pursuing it until I get a resolution. It relates to Travellers who are living in very old caravans that are totally beyond their replacement date. One can imagine what it is like to sleep in one of these caravans on nights like those we have had in recent times. After the Ombudsman raised an issue with the Department, a pilot scheme was brought in but it was totally inadequate. A total of 75 caravans were allocated for the whole country. These caravans are on local authority sites. In Galway city, the allocation was four but there was a demand, need or requirement for 24 caravans. I know that Travellers will not get media coverage or too much sympathy but they are exactly as human as the rest of us. I want to know when this scandal will end.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy and acknowledge that he has raised this before. I met with Pavee Point before Christmas as well and we discussed a particular pilot project. I will be taking this up again with the Minister to see if we can get the pilot project expanded. I am not clear why the limits are there at all, particularly as we go through a very harsh winter.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I want to ask about the 2,000 community pharmacies across the country. They are playing a massive role at the moment in the current health crisis and they played a huge role during Covid. They are under real pressure but are still bearing the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts and there is still no long-term strategy for the new role they could play. It is estimated that they could keep one in ten patients out of accident and emergency departments if their role was developed. How is the work of the working group on community pharmacies progressing and when will we see some long-term vision for the sector?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has made a very good point. We saw during Covid that the role of community pharmacies was quite effective and that is still the case in respect of the Covid-19 vaccination programme. That has worked well.

I do not have an up-to-date position in terms of the outcome of the working group but I will speak to the Minister in that regard and seek to have further information provided to the Deputy.

1:00 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The Government states that the average wait for a national car test, NCT, should be 12 days. In reality, 60% of NCT test centres have no appointment available within the next five months. As of two weeks ago, nine testing centres had no appointment available until August. Drogheda is one of those centres. As a result of the long wait, the certificates of roadworthiness of motorists' vehicles will be out of date. A constituent told me she booked her test on 30 October 2022 and got an appointment on 29 May 2023. Her insurance company told her she will not be covered in every scenario because she does not have a certificate of roadworthiness. She, along with everyone else who does not have that certificate because of the waiting times, will face a €60 fine or three points on her licence. On top of that, to add insult to injury, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has stated that no customers have received the free test in accordance with the commitment given in the NCT customer charter.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Time is up, Deputy. Thank you.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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When will the NCT centres be resourced? Will the RSA adhere to the commitment it has given in its NCT customer charter for free tests for those who face delays?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have discussed the issue of the delays with the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. He is working proactively with the RSA in respect of the NCT. Progress has been made, with 33,500 tests having been conducted last week. That is a significant increase on the pre-Christmas period, when tests were averaging approximately 25,000 per week. The backlog is simply too long, however. As the Deputy is aware, Deputy James O'Connor raised on Sunday the point she made in respect of the charter. He has effectively highlighted that discrepancy in respect of-----

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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What is being done?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----the fulfilment of the charter. My understanding is there is now a commitment to fulfil the charter and the obligations within the charter in respect of those whose tests are delayed.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Resources.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The National Car Testing Service, NCTS, has recruited 110 vehicle inspectors, including 44 testers, bringing the total number of vehicle inspectors to 595 by the end of last year.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are over time. I thank the Tánaiste.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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All parties in the Oireachtas support the development of the climate action plan which, in turn, provides for the development of renewable energy sources. I refer to two technologies in particular, namely, wind energy and anaerobic digestion or biogas energy. We readily acknowledge that incorrectly or poorly sited wind energy developments can be seriously injurious to people's health and quality of life and indeed to the environment, and consequently we have developed guidelines in respect of the siting of wind energy projects. There are no guidelines in respect of the siting of biogas or anaerobic digestion facilities, however. We urgently need similar guidelines to be developed for these facilities. It is sound technology but, for example, I refer to the recent proposal for an industrial 25 acre biogas facility to be sited at the edge of Gort, a rural town in the Burren lowlands.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Time is up, Deputy.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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In refusing planning permission, Galway County Council stated the development runs completely contrary to the proper planning and development of this rural area, yet it has been granted permission. We urgently need guidelines to be put in place to prevent this kind of development happening in future.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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We need to update the guidelines in terms of wind energy also. The Minister is seeking to bring those forward. The Deputy's point is made in respect of biogas and anaerobic digestion. There will have to be significantly more progress in respect of anaerobic digestion into the future, given the climate action plan and the commitment therein for far more anaerobic digestion plants, but I take the Deputy's point in terms of location. One would have thought the planning guidelines and local development plans would have some sway here in respect of location. I will follow that up with the Minister.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Yesterday the Government announced a multi-billion euro scheme for the victims of the cowboys who built defective apartments. The measures, such as 100% redress, victims being fully supported by the Housing Agency, financial assistance for those who already carried out work, remediation works based on up-to-date regulations and whole apartments being done, are all very welcome but there is a significant hurt, as the Tánaiste must be aware. In counties Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Clare and Limerick, people who live in defective concrete block homes have legislation that is not giving any of that. Will the Government urgently amend the Remediation of Dwellings Damaged By the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Act 2022 to make sure all these schemes give the victims 100% redress and the same fairness and treatment by the State?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In fairness to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, he has raised this with the relevant Minister, namely, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien. It is almost equivalence. There is a small issue around retrospection, potentially, but I do not see an issue arising in the context of the regulations the Minister will be issuing in respect of mica. The agreement and the legislation for mica is very comprehensive. The real issue, as I am sure the Deputy will agree, is to get on with it now and try to get as many houses done as possible.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We need 100% redress for everybody.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is there.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is not there.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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This week, a 90-year-old woman was left waiting four hours in severe pain for an X-ray in the emergency department of St. Luke's General Hospital, Kilkenny. The X-ray unit in Carlow does not operate fully. This 90-year-old woman could not stick the pain, so she had to leave the emergency department and go home. Her doctor cannot treat her because he does not know the extent of the issue. When her own doctor in Carlow requested an X-ray in Carlow - we have an excellent X-ray facility in Carlow but it only opens part time - the response was that there is a three-to-four week waiting list to get an X-ray. This is an urgent issue. People, particularly older people, are going to the emergency department but they could be staying in Carlow and getting an X-ray there. This is important. A man phoned me yesterday regarding his daughter, who was in the emergency department in Kilkenny from early morning until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. We need these facilities to be open. I ask the Tánaiste to consider these facilities and seek to keep them open. I will also be looking for an injury clinic in Carlow.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has made a very fair point. There has been exponential growth in diagnostic access for GPs across the country in the past two years. I will ask the Minister to examine the situation in Carlow to see if that can be expanded. I am not clear about the reasons which it has not been. There may be personnel issues. I just do not know. I will follow that up. I have no doubt the Deputy will be seeking additional facilities as well.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I will. I thank the Tánaiste.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland's increased reliance on tourist accommodation to cater for those fleeing war-torn Ukraine and elsewhere has had a disproportionate impact on areas largely dependent on the tourist economy. Bundoran, Strandhill, Rosses Point and Drumshanbo are a few such in my constituency but, obviously, there are locations nationwide. Given the interdependency of other local business and seasonal employment in these areas on the tourist economy, what is the Government prepared to do to compensate and support business in the wider tourism ecosystem and those dependent on seasonal employment in these businesses who will clearly be at a very substantial loss due to the reduced level of tourist accommodation?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The point is well made in respect of the impact of migration on tourism. It is a real challenge in terms of accommodation. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, is working with the industry and met a confederation recently in respect of endeavouring to find solutions and create options. We have a real challenge in the country. We are in a war-time situation and that has impacts. Alternative accommodation is being developed in terms of reconfiguration of other buildings, as well as rapid-build housing being on the way, but there will remain challenges. There is no magic solution to this, unfortunately.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Compensation.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No, I do not think compensation is------

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Nothing, so.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No, it is not nothing.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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Nothing. Thanks; that is clear.

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

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I again raise the issue of the long-awaited strategic development zone, SDZ, at Ireland West Airport Knock. It has real potential and will provide for a new business and economic hub with the potential to deliver future employment for more than 4,000 people. I note that the west regional enterprise plan includes an objective to advance the development of a regional enterprise and innovation ecosystem in the region, with action 5 of this objective referring to strengthening the enterprise strategy for the SDZ at Knock airport.

The designation presents a great opportunity for the west, the airport and County Mayo, but this project is limping on and needs an injection of funding by the Government to progress plans for the development.

1:10 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I understand the designation was made in May 2017. Mayo County Council drafted a planning scheme for the SDZ, which it signed off in 2019. The board of IWAK has been engaging with key stakeholders on the matter, primarily on enterprise development. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment allocated €50,000 in 2022 for a feasibility study under the regional enterprise innovation scoping scheme for the development of the SDZ and, therefore, it would be desirable if work proceeded quickly on realising the potential of the zone, particularly regarding its proximity to the airport, which has been such a success story ever since it was established many decades ago. I will not go into that story.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Like others, I have raised on several occasions in the House this week what I believe to be a shameful proposed partnership between Coillte, the State forestry company, and Gresham House, a UK for-profit fund with a plan to buy up huge swaths of forestry and land in this country to make money. Last week, I met environmental and small farmer groups that have established a campaign using the slogans "Save our land", "Save our forests" and "Stop this deal". The Tánaiste is saying the deal that has been made is a done deal and that the Government might look at things in the future. He is saying it is all to do with Coillte. The House and the Government set, and should set, the mandate of Coillte. We have a dysfunctional forestry model that has failed on environmental and afforestation grounds, and on just about every level. Will the Tánaiste, to prevent the protests planned for next week, commit that the deal will be abandoned and that the mandate of Coillte will be changed?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Again, the Deputy chooses to dismiss anything said on this side of the House. What I said, of course, was that the State is investing significantly in forestry through the increased premiums, which will largely benefit farmers who wish to use existing farmland for forestry. The premiums have been increased dramatically by 46%, and by 66% in certain cases. That is a State allocation that is funding forestry. We badly need new forestry. We are incentivising farmers, in particular, and others who have land to utilise the new incentives to increase the plantation of new forests dramatically. The fund the Deputy talked about, with which Coillte did a deal, represents approximately 1% of the existing forest estate. Everything has to have a context and perspective attached to it as well. I favour the State buying more land for native woodland and rewilding. Coillte is clear that 50% of all new forests will be native woodland.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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This Saturday, there will be 17 protests outside 17 hospitals around the country owing to the major overcrowding crisis in accident and emergency departments. These will take at Cork University Hospital and in Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Letterkenny, the Causeway Coast, Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, Monaghan, Cavan, Mullingar, Drogheda, Blanchardstown, Naas and Wexford. People will come out in their thousands and start the protests with a minute's silence for the hundreds who die annually due to overcrowding in our hospitals. It is happening because the HSE has reduced the capacity-----

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

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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-----of eight accident and emergency departments over the past 15 years. It is still wedded to the closure of Navan accident and emergency department.

Photo of James O'ConnorJames O'Connor (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to Moorepark Technology, a company within Teagasc in Fermoy that does wonderful work, 18 employees have been locked out of public pay restoration because the company is semi-owned by the State. This is a very new situation that has not occurred in the past. The employees had pay cuts through previous pay deals and were not subject to pay restoration this year or late last year. They are on public sector pensions. I would appreciate it if the Tánaiste raised this with the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is very important to the 18 employees.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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The emerging news that Argos is to close its stores across the State is an incredible blow to the more than 400 workers, their families and communities, and the retail sector in Ireland. Will the Tánaiste or relevant Minister use the 30-day consultation period to meet representatives of Mandate Trade Union and Argos to determine whether there is any prospect of saving the jobs and stores? Failing that, could he ensure the company will engage with Mandate so the best redundancy deal possible can be achieved for the workers?

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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The Iveagh Markets in my constituency is an important historic monument that many of my constituents are concerned about. The rot and ruin of the markets at the hands of developer Martin Keane are a cultural and historic crime. While Dublin City Council is doing its best to get the markets back, the ruin and neglect are beyond what it will be able to address. I would like the Government to commit to the restoration of the historic monument and the important cultural restoration of these essential markets for the people of Dublin 8.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On Deputy Tóibín's remarks, my focus is on solutions to these issues. He referred to all the accident and emergency departments that were closed through the years. I am very clear that there were clinical decisions-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Consultants have admitted it was a mistake-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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What the Deputy is reversing-----

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

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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That is what they said.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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You could not get anaesthetists or the correct medically qualified people.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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On the terms and conditions.

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

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It has nothing to do terms and conditions at all.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Terms and conditions-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I have been through it all for 20 years. I see the politicisation of health when I see it, nakedly so in the case of the Deputy.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Hundreds are dying in the country.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would like a debate with the Deputy on these issues.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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But the idea that somehow this was all done out of malice or something----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I am saying it was a political fashion at the time to close accident and emergency departments.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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A political fashion. Does the Deputy believe that?

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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I do not believe it was evidence-based.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please. The Deputy has asked his question. Will he let the Tánaiste answer?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's assertion is incredible.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Where are-----

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

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Connor raised the issue of Moorepark Technology. I will have to explore it more. It sounds like there is an anomaly. I will certainly talk to the Minister in respect of the 18 workers.

Deputy Quinlivan raised the announcement earlier by Argos to close all its Irish stores. Our hearts go out to the employees in the first instance. It is shocking news for them. I will talk to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about engagement with the union to ensure everything we can do for the workers is done in the event of redundancies. This involves using the 30-day consultation period to determine whether the company can be rescued and, if not, determining whether we can secure alternative employment or provide whatever other supports are required, through training, for the workers.

Deputy Costello raised the issue of Iveagh Markets. I will talk to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, in respect of the heritage aspect of the question raised. The Deputy's objective sounds very laudable. I will certainly pursue it with the Minister.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 1.18 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 2.04 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 1.18 p.m. and resumed at 2.04 p.m.