Dáil debates

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

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

 

12:27 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Coillte's proposed joint venture with a British investment fund must be stopped. The Taoiseach has stated that the Coillte deal was not the Government's preferred model. Of course, the Taoiseach has been aware since 2021 that Coillte was exploring such a joint venture. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, confirmed that on 2 June 2022 a shareholder letter of expectation was issued to Coillte, directing it to develop initiatives precisely such as this joint venture. As the Taoiseach gave the green light for this approach I ask the Taoiseach now to put a stop to this outrageous proposal.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am not sure if it is entirely accurate to say we gave it the green light. Coillte is a State-owned enterprise and its own board makes its own commercial decisions. I can absolutely guarantee the Deputy that if I or any other Minister tried to interfere in a commercial or contractual matter such as this the Deputy would be accusing us of interference as well. It cannot work both ways. State-owned enterprises are autonomous, have their own boards and make their own commercial decisions, subject to statute.

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

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The standing in relation to this particular joint venture is that the contracts are signed. They are signed for the first five years. I have said, the Tánaiste has said, and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has said, this is not our preferred model going forward. Our preferred model is Coillte planting trees on State land and especially farmers. I was at the Irish Farmers' Association AGM dinner last night and had the chance to discuss this with them, and particularly around encouraging farmers to plant all or some of their own land. That is why the new forestry programme is so pro-farmer and is much more attractive than what was there in the past.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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When does the Taoiseach propose to bring in Deputy Brendan Howlin's public sector standards Bill to ensure that the necessary reforms to SIPO will be enacted? In that context, last week I raised with the Taoiseach the issue pertaining to Deputy Damien English, the Taoiseach's party colleague, who resigned from his ministerial post due to the revelations that he had submitted incorrect information on a planning application to Meath County Council in 2008. During Leaders' Questions last week I asked the Taoiseach if the Government and his party tolerated behaviour, because we know that false information resulted in him being granted planning permission for a once-off dwelling, to which he was not entitled. I want to follow up with the Taoiseach. What further action does the Taoiseach propose to take, and particularly at a time when thousands of couples and families have been refused planning permission to build homes across rural Ireland and at a time when 40% of people under the age of 35 continue to live with their parents because they cannot find homes due to the housing crisis? What further action does the Taoiseach propose to take-----

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

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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-----in respect of a Minister of State who appears to have benefitted-----

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

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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-----from a false planning application, and who has quietly resigned as the Minister of State, with no further action?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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On the legislative question, our plan is to bring forward our own legislation to reform the ethics Acts and to strengthen SIPO. We hope to do that, and expect to do that, during the course of this year. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, is working on that at the moment.

Deputy English resigned and is no longer a Minister of State. Any further action would be a matter for Meath County Council and not for the Government to take.

12:37 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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He is still a Fine Gael Deputy.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I want to ask the Taoiseach about investment funds and the tax they pay. In 2021, the effective tax rate paid by Irish real estate funds fell from almost 18% to less than 6%. This is an incredible drop in the amount of tax they contribute. The Government has not done anything to tackle this. Why is the Government letting investment funds get away with paying so little tax?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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My understanding is the Revenue Commissioners are examining this issue and intend to close any loopholes that may exist or that are being abused. There have been some changes in the Finance Act but the Revenue Commissioners are examining this at the moment.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The programme for Government states that a national director for mental health would be reinstated and would directly report to the CEO of the HSE. Given the gravity of the Mental Health Commission's report, the lack of clinical oversight and the repercussions for children, will the Minister of State consider reinstating this position in our health service?

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for his question. It has been agreed with the HSE that there will be an assistant national director specifically for the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, and that recruitment will be under way in the next two weeks. I am very pleased to have agreed that. It is very important, after the report and as a result of the Maskey report last year as well, that we have this post. The post is not just going to be one person; there will be four and a half whole-time equivalents working with this person. Recruitment will be under way in the next two weeks.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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There has been much talk in the House in recent days of the use of State assets, how Irish interests are being protected and such, and the use of financial investment vehicles to create additional resourcing. At present we are embarking on a multi-billion euro strategy to delivery offshore wind energy and again we will have to utilise foreign investment houses. The Taoiseach may not be able to answer my questions now but he might come back to me in writing. I have a couple of questions about State protections. Have we protected ourselves in terms of the future spot rate of electricity to the Irish consumer versus what will be exported from the Irish wind energy grid? Have we proposed any options within the contracts that would allow the Irish State to buy out those contracts at any time during the 25-year licensing period. Has Government looked at any real options to provide community participation? In Scotland, wind farms can attract up to 50% community involvement.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. They are quite detailed questions that I am not in a position to answer now. They do deserve a response. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Ryan to come back to the Deputy directly.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I have been trying to ascertain the number of children awaiting autism spectrum disorder, ASD, places in schools in Tipperary. I salute the schools, boards of management, special needs assistants and teachers who have set up units. The Minister has said to me she has no records and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has them. The NCSE says it is up to the boards of management to have the figures. If the NCSE and the Department do not know how many children are waiting for these special needs places, how are we going to plan for the future as to how many units we need? There are massive anomalies in the system. We need to know how many children, unfortunately, need these special places. We need to know for the projected building programme for new units where we have boards of management and school communities that are willing to have the units and provide extra supports for children with special needs. There is a whole passing of the parcel here. Boards of management cannot be expected to know anything outside their own area and the NCSE should know. The Department will have to get records as to how many people are waiting. We need to have a train of thought here that we know how many people we need to service.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The National Council for Special Education should have those figures or I would expect it to. I will ask my office to make the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan aware that the Deputy has raised this matter and ask her to come back to him directly.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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A constituent contacted me yesterday. He applied for a primary medical certificate last April to provide relief from vehicle registration tax and VAT on the purchase of an adapted car as he has CIDP, a disorder which is characterised by progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the arms and legs. He was turned down and appealed this in September. He is still waiting for that appeal. On investigation, it appears all the board members resigned from the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal last year. In a reply to a parliamentary question last June, the Minister for Finance advised at that stage that there were 382 appeals outstanding from 2021 and 175 appeals to date from 2022. I have been advised that figure is now up to 700. The Minister advised that an expression of interest seeking suitable candidates for the board closed on 21 April last year and a panel had been convened. This board is still not set up as far as I am aware. I am seeking an update on the situation. I am sure the Taoiseach would agree that it is not satisfactory or acceptable that 700 disabled people have been left in limbo waiting for their appeal to be heard. What can they do about?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I agree it is not acceptable and I am sorry for the experience the Deputy's constituent has had to endure. The difficulty is that the board is not quorate. There are a number of board members missing. Recruitment is now under way to fill the board so that it can resume its work.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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It has been nearly a year.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I will certainly raise the matter again with the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I am hoping the Minister for Finance can answer this question. There are a lot of smart people in this House but I think the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister, Deputy McGrath are two of the smartest. Their combined efforts in the financial ministries have us in a strong position as a country. My question is about vehicle registration tax, VRT, for people with disabilities. Before conversion of vans, VRT averages around €22,000 to €40,000. On top of that, it typically costs €22,000 plus VAT to kit out the van afterwards. This is a cost many people simply cannot bear. I am aware some submissions have come in to the Minister's Department. Essentially we are looking to have adapted vans reclassified so that the cost is not as high and some of the VRT benefits pass on, whereby they would be treated equally to commercial vans and drivers would not pay on the double for this. I urge the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to keep up the good work and I hope he can give us some positive news on this front.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am afraid the Minister for Finance is not here. The former one probably knows the answer but cannot answer the question because he is not the Minister for Finance anymore.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry. That was a slip. I apologise.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am aware of the issue and perhaps the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, will speak to the Deputy about it directly afterwards. If not, we will make sure the Minister for Finance, Deputy McGrath does. I understand the issue the Deputy is raising. We want to make sure we use the tax system and give tax concessions to people who have disabilities and need these vehicles as they have no other way of getting around. There are concessions in place. I know the Minister is keen to make them as successful as possible.

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to correct the record. I meant to refer to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Government recently announced the installation of solar panels on secondary and primary schools. The Government has made great strides in solar at utility scale and domestic scale, with feed-in tariffs, substantial grants and planning exemptions. It makes a lot of sense to expand this to our schools to help them with their energy bills and in our climate challenge. I understand it is to be funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and is to be run out by the Department of Education. Will the Taoiseach provide us with an update on that proposal?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is quite correct. Budget 2023 provided funding from the climate action fund in respect of the provision of solar panels for schools up to 6 kW output. The provision of solar panels for schools will be fully funded. The national development plan provides for capital funding of more than €4.4 billion for investment in school infrastructure during the period through to 2025. Schools designed and built in accordance with the Department's technical guidance documents have been achieving A3 building energy ratings since 2009, with current schools typically achieving up to 20% higher energy performance and 25% better carbon performance than required by the current building regulations. In addition to this, 10% of primary school energy is provided via solar panels. There is infrastructure provision for electric vehicle charging. I am not sure this fully answers the Deputy's question. In short, perhaps this is something we want to get done. We will fully pay the cost of the panels. Certainly I want to see solar panels on every school in Ireland sooner rather than later.

12:47 pm

Photo of Pauline TullyPauline Tully (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I was contacted by a constituent who had applied for planning permission to build 25 houses in Cavan town. He made the application last January and it was approved by the council in July, but it was appealed by a third party to An Bord Pleanála. The board was due to make a decision on Monday, 12 December, but the man was told that day that the decision would be delayed by three months. I have been told by a planner in Cavan County Council that some decisions take up to a year because of a lack of staff. If the Government is serious about providing additional housing, why has An Bord Pleanála not been resourced properly to deal with appeals so that they are not delayed any longer than they should be? This man's financing will run out within that three months, so he may not be in a position to proceed with the development. We need a properly resourced An Bord Pleanála and designated timeframes for decisions, similar to local authorities, within which decisions must be made.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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We are experiencing some problems with An Bord Pleanála, of which I know the Deputy is aware. The medium-term plan is to replace An Bord Pleanála with a new coimisiún pleanála and also to introduce a new planning and development Bill, which I think has been published, that puts in place statutory timelines for decisions, like the Deputy suggested. In the meantime, we are backfilling An Bord Pleanála with additional staff. An interim chairperson has been appointed. The idea is to try to get through those decisions as quickly as possible because, as the Deputy rightly says, it is holding up housing developments and the development of schools, businesses and things that we really need.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Alejandro Miszan, a nine-year-old boy from Enniscorthy, as the Taoiseach well knows, was attacked by a pit bull terrier in November. I will not say he has fully recovered - he will never fully recover - but, gladly, he is back home with his parents in Enniscorthy.

Quite a number of constituents have raised this issue with me and reckon that the Government is not moving quickly enough on dangerous dogs. A dog warden stated on national radio this morning that, once upon a time, dog wardens only dealt with vicious dogs, but now they are also dealing with vicious owners. Aggression towards dog wardens has increased dramatically over the years, so them having body cams should be considered. Having dangerous dogs is now being used for social status, one directed towards aggression and intimidation. Swift action is needed. That action should be led by politicians and the Department should be directed and told what to do on the issue.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Kehoe for raising this important issue. I was really sorry to hear and see what happened to Alejandro, a very brave boy who has suffered life-changing injuries. Indeed, we are all aware of the tragic case of a young baby killed by a dog, a matter that was recently before the Coroner's Court. Quite a number of farmers have been devastated by the destruction produced by marauding dogs. A working group on dog control has been established. It involves the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and also the Department of Rural and Community Development. The terms of reference are being finalised. The group will meet on Thursday, 26 January. It will look at issues relating to dog control and make recommendations quickly. We can then act on them.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I was sent a letter by Claire, a grandmother and constituent. Her daughter has a beautiful five-year-old autistic son who attends a unit in Kilsaran school. After begging schools, it was the only one his mother could get a place in even though they live in Dundalk. Thankfully, the unit is brilliant. Mason is over the average height for his age and strong. In addition, he is a flight risk and constantly trying to run away. He is volatile and, in a temper, will hurt his mother and brother on occasion. She is not looking for respite, but she struggles with caring for him and does her best as a single mother. She is now a prisoner in her own home, as is her other son, a ten-year-old. She lives in a two-bedroom terraced house with a small garden. It is heartbreaking. As a grandmother, Claire can only do a certain amount. She is not able to bring him out or, even if she is with her daughter, Mason will still run away. He has no sense of danger.

The child psychologist recommended that he attend occupational therapy service, but there is a two-year waiting list in Louth. Even private services have been closed to waiting lists due to demand.

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

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The answer she got was that occupational therapy waiting lists-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Does the Deputy have a question?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Yes.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Then will he ask it?

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The occupational therapy waiting lists are closed. We do not have the services required. The HSE has large gaps-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy, but we are way over time.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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-----but we need short-, medium- and long-term plans that deliver for children like Mason and his mother, Aisling.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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The occupational therapy waiting lists are too long in many parts of the country. Other waiting lists in children's disability services in Progressing Disability Services are far too long. There is a new draft strategy. My focus and that of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is on recruitment. Models of care are being examined. The most serious issue we have is recruitment. Many hundreds of posts have been sanctioned and funded by the Government, but the HSE has struggled to recruit into them for too long. The Minister of State and I are engaging with the Department and the HSE on finding new ways to fill those posts urgently to meet the pressing needs the Deputy outlined.

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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I want to raise the issue of Borrisoleigh national school, a successful school with a constantly increasing enrolment. It needs more special needs assistant, SNA, hours as well as building work to deliver extra space as quickly as possible. It also needs an additional teacher. There are 37 students in a classroom of 60 sq. m, which is not acceptable. There is a general acceptance by the Department of Education that extra resources are required for the school, but I wish to discuss the length of time it is taking the school's applications for the building works and additional teacher to be processed. We would like to see the process streamlined and decisions reached much more quickly than is the case currently.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Cahill for making me aware of the challenges being faced by Borrisoleigh national school. I appreciate that it is the experience of a lot of us and a lot of schools around the country that decisions on additional teachers and the extension of buildings take far too long. Unfortunately, the Minister for Education is not here at the moment, but I will let her know that the matter was raised in the Dáil and ask her to speak to Deputy Cahill directly.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I want to ask the Government, particularly the Minister for Foreign Affairs even though he is not present, about the proposal that is still on the cards to reopen the embassy in Iran in 2023. Almost 560 people have lost their lives since the outbreak of the most recent protests last September and over 20,000 people have been arrested. Four or five Iranians have been executed for having the temerity to protest against their government. The previous Minister for Foreign Affairs was adamant that the reopening should go ahead. I fully accept the bona fides of the Irish Government and others as regards the importance of having diplomatic relations with all regimes, but how can we justify what is effectively tacit support for what has been happening in Iran for the past five or six months by continuing with the plan to reopen the embassy in 2023?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Phelan for raising this important issue. On behalf of the Government, I want to reiterate our unreserved condemnation of what is happening in Iran, particularly the execution of people who are protesting against the regime there. We stand with the people of Iran in their demands for women's equality, for LGBT rights, for democracy and also for religious freedom.

It is the view of the Government that diplomatic channels should remain open in order to relay these concerns and deal with other important regional issues. In 2021, the Government decided to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Iran. This is now in the form of a chargé d'affaires, who is present in Tehran. For now anyway, the Irish Embassy in Ankara remains accredited to Iran. We have no date at the moment for the establishment of a permanent embassy.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I want to raise the issue of the time it is taking for social housing applications to be processed by Galway County Council.

Obviously, it is supposed to be a 12-week period, but it has come to my attention that it has taken far longer for a number of people. It seems to be an issue of resources. Could that be looked at specifically for those councils where the process is taking a longer time? These days, unfortunately, when people are applying for housing supports, it is often because they are in a crisis. I have dealt with people who have had housing assistance payment, HAP, rental properties secured but have not been able to get their applications processed in time to get the HAP and keep the property.

12:57 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am afraid that is probably a question that Galway County Council can answer better than me, but it is important that our council housing and planning departments are adequately staffed for the reasons the Deputy has outlined. I will certainly make the Minster of State, Deputy O'Donnell, aware that the issue was raised today.

Photo of Patrick CostelloPatrick Costello (Dublin South Central, Green Party)
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In December last year, Noteworthy produced a series of reports investigating the exploitation and abuse of migrant fisherman in the Irish fishing industry. This morning in the audiovisual room, I hosted Maria Delaney, the journalist who undertook that investigation, along with Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to provide a wider context of the exploitation of migrant fishers. There are very clear and quick reforms we can do to try to improve the situation and address the exploitation. While we may be addressing the national referral mechanism for victims of human trafficking, it is important we amend the Workplace Relations Act to improve the jurisdiction of the Workplace Relations Commission to look at the issue of improved enforcement around automatic identification systems and, ultimately, to ratify the Work in Fishing Convention of the International Labour Organization, ILO.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is clear some, if not many, migrant fishermen are being exploited. That is not acceptable and not something we want to be a feature of our marine economy or the fishing industry in Ireland. I have heard and read about some appalling examples of abuse that are not far off modern day slavery. I know, before his resignation, the former Minister of State, Deputy English, was working on this issue. Responsibility for that now falls to the Minister of State, Deputy Richmond. I will certainly make sure that it is on his agenda for this year.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I want to ask the Taoiseach about the incredible decision that people coming from Syria or refugees from elsewhere in the world other than Ukraine will have to sleep on the streets when Ukrainians, correctly, but it should be the case for everybody, will have emergency accommodation available to them. How can the Government justify such discrimination? Is it because the Ukrainians are European? Is it because they are white? Why is it okay for anybody to have to sleep on the street? Does the Taoiseach not accept that is not necessary for anybody - Irish, Syrian, Ukrainian - to be on the street in a situation where we have 50,000 homes that have been vacant for six years or more.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It is important to put this into context. We are facing an unprecedented situation, a refugee crisis the likes of which Europe has not seen since the Second World War and the likes of which we have never seen in Ireland. In the past year we have taken in about 100,000 people, mostly from Ukraine but also from other parts of the world. We have provided them with shelter, heat, light, education, healthcare and, in many cases, employment. There is no shortage of care or compassion when it comes to this Government and this country, but there is a shortage of capacity. We are running out of accommodation for people who come to Ireland. People who come to Ireland from Ukraine have a different legal status. They are beneficiaries of temporary protection and are legally entitled to be here. When it comes to people who come here seeking international protection, it is less clear. They may or may not be genuine refugees. It does put them in a different category than those coming from Ukraine.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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That is scandalous. The Government is bowing to the far right.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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That is the legal position.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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You have to take a stand against it. It is scandalous.

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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In the past year, over 16% of the population of the mid-west went to University Hospital Limerick, UHL, for unscheduled urgent care. We have all read and heard the horror stories. Unfortunately, a lot of them are true. I am sure the Taoiseach saw the thousands of angry people who took to the streets of Limerick on Saturday. We know the hospital is stretched far beyond capacity and the staff are stretched beyond breaking point. It is the only emergency department that serves more than 470,000 people. The mid-west has a disproportionately ageing and disadvantaged population in comparison with the rest of the Republic. It is the only region where there is one stand-alone model 4 hospital with no model 3 facility to support it. Under the Taoiseach's previous two Governments, people have died on the road in Loop Head and Liscannor waiting for an ambulance to reach them in time. Is this our rural future? The Taoiseach is a trained doctor. He cannot seriously look me in the eye and say this is acceptable. The case has never been stronger to reinstate emergency department services at Ennis. The people of the mid-west, particularly in Clare, want the Government to see sense on this issue and to put a task force in place to start the process.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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There is no consideration, at the moment, of opening more emergency departments. However, in my view the reconfiguration that happened some time ago was not done in the right way. There is a very strong clinical view for the consolidation of emergency departments. However, the resources needed to be put in place before such a reconfiguration. That is why I intervened, for example, in the reconfiguration in Navan. UHL is under significant pressure. I turned the sod recently on an additional 96 beds. There are two more plans that will provide a further 200 beds. We are also putting in a surgical hub. There is an awful lot of investment going in. We will be investing in Nenagh, Ennis and further in St. John's Hospital and other hospitals. This is the way to do it.

I would also say, however, that there have to be changes to working practices and the effectiveness of patient flow through those hospitals. We saw recently that when weekend discharge and late evening discharge were put in place and the community sector and the hospital teams worked together, there was an immediate and important reduction in the number of patients on trolleys. The Government will continue to invest. We will prioritise those projects, but that must be met with changes to working practices, how patients are seen, when they are seen and when they are discharged both in the acute sector and in the community sector.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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Last night a constituent brought a prescription for antibiotics to an out-of-hours chemist. The family has a medical card but because the prescribed medicine was out of stock, she was charged €17. This was for the very same medicine, amoxicillin. To add insult to injury, the medicine she received was made by an Irish company, Athlone Laboratories, in Roscommon. If that was not bad enough, the lady in front of her was also charged for her prescription. She was charged €54 with a medical card. People with medical cards can barely afford the reduced prescription charges let alone the actual cost. When will the Government act and ensure medicine shortages are addressed and the generic substitutes are covered under the General Medical Services, GMS? People are going without medication.

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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This is an issue on which the Department has been engaged closely with the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA. The authority is broadly satisfied that where there are shortages, there are substitutes available, as per the two examples the Deputy just provided. If the Deputy would like to send me on the details with regard to medical cards covering what the doctor has prescribed as well as generic substitutes, I will certainly ask the Department to get back to her with a detailed response.