Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2024

3:00 pm

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

Tuesday's business shall be: - Motion re Thirtieth Report of the Committee of Selection (without debate)

- Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024 (Second Stage) (if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 5.30 p.m. or after 1 hr 41 mins, whichever is the later) Tuesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, selected by Sinn Féin.

Wednesday's business shall be: - Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform on Rota for Leaders' Questions (without debate)

- Statements on Delivering Universal Healthcare (not to exceed 2 hrs 27 mins)

- Future Ireland Fund and Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund Bill 2024 (Report and Final Stages) (to commence no earlier than 4.30 p.m. and if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 7.30 p.m. or after 3 hrs 1 min, whichever is the later) Wednesday's private members' business shall be the Motion re Road Safety and Maintenance, selected by the Labour Party.

Thursday's business shall be the resumed Second Stage, if not previously concluded, of Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024 (if not previously concluded, to adjourn either at 4.30 p.m. or after 2 hrs 46 mins whichever is the later).

Thursday evening business shall be the Second Stage of the Neighbour Disputes (Vegetation) Bill 2017.

Proposed Arrangements for this week’s business:

In relation to Tuesday’s business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that private members’ business may be taken earlier than 6.12 p.m. and shall in any event be taken on the adjournment of the proceedings on Second Stage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024, or where those proceedings conclude within the available time, on the conclusion thereof, with consequential effect on the commencement times for the items following in the ordinary routine of business, namely, oral Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, and topical issues, and on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;

2. the proceedings on the Motion re Thirtieth Report of the Committee of Selection shall be taken without debate; and

3. the proceedings on Second Stage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned either at 5.30 p.m. or after 1 hour and 41 minutes, whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Tuesday. In relation to Wednesday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the following extent:
(i)in the event the Taoiseach is unable to attend for questions pursuant to Standing Order 46(1), the SOS pursuant to Standing Order 25(1) may take place earlier than 1.49 p.m., with consequential effect on the commencement time for Government business; and

(ii) the weekly division time may be taken earlier than 8.45 p.m., and shall in any event be taken on the adjournment of the proceedings on Report and Final Stages of the Future Ireland Fund and Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund Bill 2024, or where those proceedings conclude within the available time, on the conclusion thereof, with consequential effect on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil;
2. the proceedings on the Motion re Report of the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform on Rota for Leaders' Questions shall be taken without debate;

3. the Statements on Delivering Universal Healthcare shall not exceed 2 hours and 27 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply thereto:
(i)the arrangements for the statements, not including the Ministerial response, shall be in accordance with the arrangements agreed by Order of the Dáil of 30th July, 2020, for 135 minutes, and the Resolution of the Dáil of 20th September, 2023, providing for two minutes for non-aligned members;

(ii) following the statements, a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed 10 minutes; and

(iii) members may share time; and
4. the proceedings on the Report and Final Stages of the Future Ireland Fund and Infrastructure, Climate and Nature Fund Bill 2024 shall commence no earlier than 4.30 p.m. and shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned either at 7.30 p.m. or after 2 hours and 16 minutes 3 hours and 1 minute, whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Wednesday. In relation to Thursday's business, it is proposed that: 1. the ordinary routine of business as contained in Schedule 3 to Standing Orders shall be modified to the extent that topical issues may be taken earlier than 7.24 p.m. and shall in any event be taken on the adjournment of any resumed proceedings on Second Stage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024, or where those proceedings conclude within the available time, on the conclusion thereof, with consequential effect on the commencement time for the Second Stage of the Neighbour Disputes (Vegetation) Bill 2017, and on the time for the adjournment of the Dáil: Provided that where Second Stage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024 concludes before Thursday, topical issues shall be taken on the conclusion of the SOS; and

2. any resumed proceedings on Second Stage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 2024 shall, if not previously concluded, be interrupted and stand adjourned at 4.30 p.m. or after 2 hours and 46 minutes, whichever is the later, and shall not be resumed on Thursday.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is not agreed. For the second week now, I ask that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, present themselves and make a statement to the House on their handling of the immigration issue, particularly the situation as pertains today on the Grand Canal in Dublin, where there are now 40 tents with unfortunate, vulnerable people living in them at the side of the canal. If ever there were an image for the Government's abject failure in this area, it is that there is a situation where, on the one hand, the State pays money to distribute tents to these vulnerable people, and then, at the far end, commits money to have these tents removed, only for more to appear. This is utterly scandalous. It is causing huge unease, not just across the city of Dublin but far beyond. We need answers and accountability from the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and McEntee, and from the Government.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I, too, would like to see an urgent debate this week on the Government's plan to provide sustainable accommodation for those who come here seeking international protection. I just came from the canal earlier. Along Baggot Street Bridge, there are now 48 tents. Last week, I welcomed the multi-agency operation. I was down there to observe it. It was inhumane and unsustainable to see so many people who were then camped along the canal at Wilton Place and Percy Place. I was glad to see the Government provide alternative accommodation. Over the few days since then, we have seen more people left in the same inhumane conditions. We have seen attacks on people sleeping in tents and on volunteers helping them. I commend the amazing volunteers. We have seen the State fence off large tracts of public space along the canal. This is not sustainable. We need to hear from the Taoiseach and Ministers as to how they plan to address the issue of accommodation for those seeking international protection as a matter of urgency. We cannot see this revolving door approach in which we see week-to-week solutions that are quick fixes that fix nothing for those forced to sleep in these inhumane and unsustainable conditions.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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Has the Taoiseach taken a walk along the Grand Canal lately? I did earlier today and over the weekend.

What is usually a public amenity for the citizens of Dublin, where you would see people on a day like today having a picnic or a jog along the canal, has seen fencing erected by this Government. The Taoiseach should not shake his head. He orchestrated a multi-agency task force. I argue strongly that rather than the tents, which are an equal failure, those hoardings are a reflection of the Government's failure. It is State-sponsored vandalism that is desecrating this city.

3:10 pm

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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We want them removed.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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Do we get the opportunity or does the Taoiseach have the good grace to tell us what exactly the plan is? Will the Government keep fencing off the city of Dublin? That we do not have statements or the Minister for Justice answering questions this week is a poor reflection of the Government's commitment to the citizens of Dublin and the vulnerable people in those tents. As a matter of urgency, I would like to be updated on the plan for my city.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Taoiseach boasted earlier about the increased construction of housing under his Government. What he is not acknowledging is that the majority of what is being delivered is completely unaffordable. We get 10% social housing on private developments. The rest is unaffordable rents and unaffordable house prices and the result is record homelessness, particularly egregiously for families and children. If the Government was buying houses instead of leasing them and getting a higher proportion, as well as building the social and affordable housing we need, we might see an impact. I have been asking for weeks now, and got agreement in principle, that there would be statements from the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, giving an update on Housing for All. There was a commitment that there would be four progress reports per year about Housing for All. They disappeared from the agenda. That perhaps suits the Government. Let us now point the finger at migrants but not talk about the Government's record on delivering social and affordable housing. When will we have the statements as promised, by the Minister, on Housing for All and addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in this country?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am addressing the Taoiseach but I address my remarks to all of the party leaders, who have eventually and finally woken up. They were part and parcel of the problem all along for the past 12 months by not allowing debate, not wanting debate and shutting down debate. They were name calling people looking for debate, like me and my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group. However, now that it has arrived in the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4, the Government is putting up tents and fencing to keep people out. When ordinary people in Roscrea, County Tipperary, Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow, and all over the country, including now in Clonmel, attempted to have a peaceful protest and put up small barricades - not barricades as such, like the power of the State has - they were demonised, blackguarded and condemned by everybody here and their mouthpieces in RTÉ and other places. Now they have it, they will not have a debate. I want the Minister for Justice in here. The Taoiseach can shake his head all he likes. It is a fact, and he has the support of all the parties here - every one of them. Now they are getting it in the face with the local and European elections and they do not want it. It is now a topic they have to deal with because it is hurting them. They would not deal with it all along. They would not even have a debate in this Chamber, so a plague on all their houses.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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There have been so many debates.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I support the call for a debate in this House. As of today, the figures for international protection applicants not offered accommodation is 1,780, which is 65 more than last Friday. I ask for that debate to take place because what is happening in our name is shocking. It is shocking for those living in tents, as has been described, and particularly dangerous for public discourse. I see posters going up in Galway that are absolutely shocking. I know the Taoiseach is nodding his head in agreement but I am afraid the Government has left a vacuum. It has let this happen by doing this. It was told direct provision was inadequate. It was told to change that and the narrative emanating at the moment from the Government and on the right is dangerous, appalling and against our international obligations. I see the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is there. He was left on his own for a long time and there was no joined-up thinking from the Government on this. We are utterly failing in our obligations under international treaties and conventions and all of the time a horrible, horrible discourse is prevailing.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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There are many legitimate requests for a debate on migration. What is not legitimate is when Members of this House say things that are completely offensive and Trumpian in fact such as things like "mouthpieces in the media" or that there has not been a debate. I am telling the Deputy that is untrue. The Ceann Comhairle can check the record of this House. There have been many, many debates. For the old social media clip, the Deputy stands up, slurs the media and calls them mouthpieces. That is kind of Trumpian and he will get a few likes and retweets in America.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Taoiseach is very good at that himself.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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He then says there have been no debates.

3:20 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Seven spin doctors.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Many Members of the Opposition have asked for a debate on migration. I am happy for there to be a debate in the House on migration. It is a matter for the Business Committee to decide when best to schedule that. We have our business schedule this week. Sinn Féin has had many Private Members' Business motions. Are there three this week?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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We made the request and you knocked us back.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Sinn Féin also has two Private Members' motions in this House this week. One is on a very important topic indeed. There are options for people in terms of how they wish to use their proportion of Dáil time. We are happy to have a debate on migration in this House and we are happy to engage with the Business Committee as to how best to go about that and the appropriate time for that.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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You knocked us back.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Two weeks ago.

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

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Let us also have a degree of context and fairness when we have that debate. The Government met today and considered ten actions on how we can look at a variety of ways to make our migration system more sustainable. This is not a question of abject failure. It is a question of looking at how the numbers have gone from about 3,500 people a year to one where we saw 106,000 people fleeing war in Ukraine since 2022 come to these shores and where we have seen international protection numbers rise significantly and we are having to build systems in real time to respond to that situation. I am very satisfied that a number of the actions we have taken today are very much that whole-of-government joined-up approach that we want.

I have no difficulty in having a debate on Housing for All being scheduled for the appropriate time. In fact the Government has an awful lot that it wishes to say on the progress being made on housing.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It has been promised for weeks. Can we have it soon?

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

The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 53; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hildegarde Naughton and Cormac Devlin; Níl, Deputies Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Mattie McGrath.

Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Paschal Donohoe, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Helen McEntee, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Níl

Chris Andrews, Ivana Bacik, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Martin Browne, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mary Lou McDonald, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Thomas Pringle, Patricia Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore.

Question declared carried.

3:35 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Thirteen-year-old Liam Dennehy Quinn has rapidly deteriorating scoliosis. Liam has been hospital bound for the past five and a half weeks. His curvature was at 85o in November but has had no spinal review during his five weeks in hospital. Liam has been given a surgery date of 30 May but his mother Pamela says he is deteriorating by the day and running out of time. Liam has to use oxygen and has lost the ability to use his chair. His mother cannot understand him now when he speaks because his spine is pressing so hard against his lungs. Pamela says that 30 May may seem like it is just around the corner but it is too far away when you are in Liam's dire situation. She is on a knife-edge trying to keep Liam stable for surgery, fearing that he will pick up an infection that could prevent that surgery. Liam cannot wait any longer. Every day counts. He needs his emergency surgery now. I ask the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, to intervene.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising the very important case of Liam. It is one with which I am very familiar because I have heard from many of Liam's family and friends. Many of them have written to me, as have many people in his community. Of course, it is a case that case has garnered, quite rightly, much public attention. While I am reluctant to talk too much about any individual patient on the record of the Dáil, I do know that Liam was admitted to hospital while he awaits spinal surgery. This course of action was recommended by the doctors and nurses who are caring for him and who are due to operate on him later this month. This is an extraordinarily anxious time for his parents, his family and for him and I wish them the very best. Liam had a consultation with his consultant in April and as the Deputy rightly said, his surgery is scheduled for two weeks' time. The spinal assistant director of nursing has been in contact with Liam's mum this month and has explained the preoperative pathway.

I have been assured that the spinal team, comprising the doctors and nurses, will support Pam and Liam through the surgery. They continue to closely clinically monitor Liam's situation.

3:40 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Yesterday, the high court in Belfast made a ruling that parts of the Tories' Rwanda Act cannot be applied in Northern Ireland as they undermine human rights protections under the post-Brexit Windsor Framework and, indeed, that some parts are also incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR. The judgment is under appeal but it confirms the concerns Deputy Ó Ríordáin and I in this House, and the British Labour Party MP, Stella Creasy, in Westminster, have been raising for some months. Our concerns were that the Rwanda Act would undermine the equivalence of human rights protections under the Good Friday Agreement. We have been repeatedly raising these issues.

Now that the judgment has been handed down, how does the Taoiseach propose to deal with the issues it raises? The Minister for Finance said earlier that Ireland would address concerns at political and diplomatic level with the British Government. How does the Taoiseach propose to follow up on the matter? Has he received legal advice from the Attorney General on whether the Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, can still designate the UK as a safe country?

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

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Where is the emergency legislation on this that was promised by the Minister for Justice two weeks ago?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The timeline for that legislation remains as was, namely, later this month. I thank the Bacik for raising this important matter. I note the judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Humphreys yesterday in the Northern Ireland High Court, which found that certain provisions of the UK's Illegal Migration Act 2023 are incompatible with the Windsor Framework and the ECHR. We are studying the judgment carefully. The Attorney General is studying it on behalf of the Government. The judgment disapplies the provisions of the 2023 Act in Northern Ireland. It is important to recall that the legislation that determines the status of the Windsor Framework in regard to other UK laws was voted on and accepted by the UK Houses of Parliament. I understand the UK Government is likely to appeal the decision and, therefore, it is not appropriate for me to comment further at this time. We are studying the judgment.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I raise the issue of services being rationed by the HSE. The executive will only provide one therapy at a time. Let us take, for example, a child who is neurodivergent and requires several therapies, such as occupational and speech and language therapies. That child will not get parallel services even if they are vital to his or her needs. If a child goes onto a children's disability network team, CDNT, list, the HSE takes that child off its list and he or she is denied services. The CDNTs currently have 16,500 children on waiting lists, with 10,500 on those lists for more than a year. Will the Taoiseach address the policy of rationing vital services, and the absence of services, with the CDNTs? It is impacting really seriously on children who need multiple services.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I certainly will take a look at the specific scenario the Deputy has outlined to the House. I had a meeting relating to CDNTs yesterday, with the Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Naughton, and others, at the Cabinet committee on disability. I received some encouraging numbers on recruitment numbers into the teams. Certainly, the word "rationing", if that is what is happening, is not one I would like to stand over in any way. If the Deputy gives me the specific details of the case she raised, I will revert to her.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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In March this year, the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying published its report. It included 38 key recommendations, the main one being a recommendation for legislative change. Has the Taoiseach read the report? What is his personal view on assisted dying? Would he give his party colleagues a free vote if any legislation on the matter were to be submitted to the Dáil in the future?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is allowed one question on one matter.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I will do my best to give one helpful answer. I have read the report but, as Taoiseach, I wish to give it proper and thorough consideration and have the Government consider the matter. In general, my party's position has been for many years, and will continue under my leadership, to have a free vote on matters of conscience.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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A little ripple of excitement went through Waterford and the south east last weekend when the Taoiseach and Tánaiste visited. Expectations remain sky-high, mainly built up by the Taoiseach, that South East Technological University, SETU, will meet the need of the south-east region for a university by adding new capacity and programmes. The past three programmes for Government, in 2011, 2016 and 2020, specifically prioritised the development of higher education in the south east. It is troubling and surprising that no new teaching buildings have commenced construction in Waterford this millennium. As the Taoiseach knows, the planning permission for SETU's engineering building, which is in bundle 2, expires this summer. That will create obvious difficulties.

This project, which was first announced in 2008, has been announced and re-announced periodically, not least by the Taoiseach. Is the engineering PPP going to go ahead this summer, and before the Government calls time, or is it dead in the water?

3:50 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I assure the Deputy there is a while to go in this Government yet, so he should not get too excited. I believe the Tánaiste may have been in Waterford at a private function, possibly even a wedding. I was in Dungarvan.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Like the Taoiseach, he was canvassing.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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No, I think he was at a private event. I was canvassing, and people were asking for the Deputy. I was also in Dungarvan. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out and we were talking about the launch of the traditional Irish music festival. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, knows about it. I was also in Tramore meeting young guys and girls in the surfing school there. I very much enjoyed my visit and I will be back shortly.

In regard to the PPP, it is my intention and that of the Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, Senator Cummins, and all Waterford Deputies that it would go ahead. That was my commitment when I was Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and it remains my commitment as Taoiseach.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I acknowledge that in his previous portfolio as Minister before he became Taoiseach, he did some good work in the area of higher education and diverting people towards trades. The haulage and agriculture industries and many others, including the hospitality, are desperately crying out for staff and people to work in them. The whole situation with work visas is too slow and cumbersome. We also need to have more apprenticeship programmes for lorry drivers and machine operators in agriculture and industry because they are badly needed. We need a whole-of-government approach because people are crying out for help. They are trying to survive in business and when the weather is fine and they need to work they are under a lot of pressure but they cannot do it without staff. Most of us have very good staff but we need a dedicated chain of employees who would come into those industries and make careers out of them. However, they need to be directed there from the schools, colleges and technological universities.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I fully agree. That is why when I was Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science - I thank the Deputy for his kind words - we set up a number of apprenticeships specifically in partnership with the haulage industry. We remain open for business in terms of doing more.

It is also why migrants are good in this country, because when we talk to the representatives of that sector, it very much relies on work permits and the like as well. It is about making sure we have a work permit system because immigrants bring positive benefits to so many sectors of the economy and society; I am sure Deputy McGrath would welcome that. It is also why we need an apprenticeship system that continues to work with industry.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Faraor géar, tá orm ospidéal an Chlocháin a ardú arís. Tá an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Butler, sa Teach. D'ardaigh mé an tseachtain seo caite é, ardeoidh mé an tseachtain seo chugainn é agus gach seachtain toisc nach féidir glacadh leis go bhfuil ospidéal an Chlocháin fós dúnta.

I just cannot accept that the hospital in Clifden remains closed. There is something really odd about this whole story. We have a hospital and the GPs have called for it to reopen. They have pointed out the essential nature of the services provided there. I just cannot accept that it still remains closed. On the previous occasion I asked the Taoiseach to take a personal interest. I put my hands up: I am happy for either the Taoiseach or the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, to answer but could they please agree with me that it is an unacceptable situation for a hospital to be closed for this length of time?

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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We need to put a little bit of context on it for people who might not understand what Clifden hospital is. There are two hospitals on the same site: one is a community nursing unit, CNU, where there are people under the fair deal scheme. The hospital also has a respite and rehab ward for six to seven people.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It is a district hospital.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I understand it is a district hospital. To be very clear, in case anyone thinks there are 20, 30 or 40 people in it - there is a ward for seven people. We were solely dependent on agency staff and we were not able to get them. I secured a derogation from the HSE to secure three full-time, permanent members of staff. Recruitment is currently under way for them. A panel is in place, but it takes time. Our full objective is to reopen the hospital. A respite-rehab ward is vital in the area. As the Deputy knows, when I was in Clifden last year I announced the building of a new CNU at a cost of €35 million to the State. A planning application has been submitted for it. I want those beds open and I will not stop until they are open.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Some years ago, Maynooth, County Kildare was scheduled to have a brand new swimming pool and various contributions were raised between the local authority, the local community and St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. Recently, I heard voices in the long grass to the extent that the proposal was not as warm as it had been in the past. The town has a population of 20,000 with approximately 20,000 students as well, and it is growing rapidly. I have been told that a swimming pool there would be in competition with Lucan, but Lucan is miles away and has its own catchment area and its own necessity for a swimming pool because it also has a big population. Will the Taoiseach bear in mind and use his good offices to ensure that where there is a population of that nature and that importance in a vital, pivotal and growing area that it would receive favourable consideration?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy very much for raising the important issue of the need for a swimming pool in Maynooth. I will certainly raise the matter with the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Thomas Byrne, and ask that he and I would revert directly to the Deputy.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I want to raise the summer programme in schools. As the Taoiseach knows, there has been a reduction in capitation rates this year. I have been in contact with the Department of Education and other Departments in recent weeks. They told me the summer programme has significantly expanded over the past three years. The problem is that the capitation rate in mainstream schools, which was originally €45 per week in 2023, has now gone down to €30 per week for 2024 which is a reduction of €15. Loads of schools in County Carlow have been in touch with me in regard to that. They tell me the same as the Minister has told me. The full funding of €40 million, as in previous years, is available. I welcome that the priority is children with the most complex special educational needs but we must give the €45 per week. We cannot have a reduction of €15 per week this year compared to last year. I ask the Taoiseach to work with the Minister and to try to help me with this.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for her question. As she said, the summer programme has gone from strength to strength over the years. One of the key barriers to the participation of schools previously has been the availability of staff, particularly experienced staff already working in the schools. In 2023, to maximise the budget, teachers and SNAs working on the school-based programme were paid a higher personal rate of pay so that more schools would take part.

As the Deputy indicated, the capitation rate in mainstream schools was €45 per week in 2023 and the rate in 2024 is €30. We wanted to focus on those areas with the most complex needs. The capitation rate for special schools remains at €60 per week to reflect the unique circumstances of running the programme in those settings.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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The Government's current target for apprentices in 2025 is 10,000, but he has not even reached the 2020 target of 9,000. There is no specific target for craft apprentices, which is absolutely crucial because these are the people we want to build the homes we so desperately need. The Taoiseach constantly says that the apprenticeship system is employer-led and demand driven. However, he always seems to overlook the largest employer in the State, which is the public service. We can directly create apprenticeships through our local authorities, but the reality is that very few local authorities have been enabled to lead the delivery of craft apprenticeships. They can meet targets by increasing supply. This is despite housing maintenance being in an absolute state of crisis, between mould, dampness, cracked chimneys, damaged doors and broken windows. Will the Government finally set a target for new craft registrations and will it work with the local authorities to achieve it?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is a sensible idea relating to craft apprenticeships and the composition of the 10,000 new registrations a year that will be in this space. I will talk to the Minister, Deputy O'Donovan, about that.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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They are not all craft apprenticeships.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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No. I agree with the Deputy's point about craft apprenticeships among the 10,000. There is a public sector target. The Deputy mentioned local authorities. It is to reach 750 apprenticeships a year by 2025.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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They are not craft apprenticeships.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The overall total of 750 apprenticeships are not craft apprenticeships, but it is the public sector target. I will come back to her specifically on the craft composition of the 10,000 target.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Health recently announced a HIQA inquiry into emergency care capacity in the mid-west but a lack of capacity would be a more accurate description. I ask for an assurance that the review will be time limited. We cannot allow this to drag on interminably. People are suffering. The trolley figures last week were again outrageous. In that regard, a year has elapsed since we got a commitment that the injury clinics in the three satellite hospitals, St. John's, Ennis and Nenagh, would be open on a 24-7 basis. That has not happened yet. When is it going to happen?

4:00 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. I will raise the opening times of the injury clinics with the Minister for Health and ask him to revert.

HIQA is now carrying out a review into urgent and emergency care capacity in the mid-west region to determine whether a second ED is required. Terms of reference will be finalised shortly. The Minister rightly wants to wait for the Mr. Justice Frank Clarke report to conclude, which is expected to happen this month. Smaller emergency departments in the region, as the Deputy knows, closed 15 years ago. This was based on clear clinical advice at the time but we do know there are significant pressures in the mid-west region. The actions the Minister has taken are correct. I will get a timeline for the Deputy.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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At least 13 families in Dublin 15 have no school place for September for autistic children. Ellis, aged 5, has no school place. He has applied for 24 schools and received 24 refusals. What is required? His parents need to fill in the school application, give two proofs of address via bills, give his original birth cert and baptismal cert and give proof of his PPS number, along with all relevant reports, such as private speech and language assessment, full autism assessment, two private OTs and public autism assessment. All these reports add up to around 100 pages. That is 24 packs of 100 pages to get 24 refusals. The State should not be putting this and other families in this place. What commitment can the Taoiseach give that Ellis and the other children will have a school place for September in Dublin 15?

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for his question. I am aware many parents are concerned about where their children will be in September. To reassure the Deputy, the Department is spending one third of the education budget on special education. This September, we have 400 new special classes coming onstream. Of those, 300 are already allocated and a further 100 locations are being identified by the Department of Education, working closely with boards of management and schools. I appreciate the pressure parents are under. I am in constant contact with the Department and National Council for Special Education, NCSE. I would like to see a system where parents get advance notice and are not waiting so long. We are ramping up resources around the NCSE, putting special educational needs organisers, SENOs, on the ground, working directly with parents and schools and ensuring they are visible on the ground. That is why we are increasing the number of SENOs from 70-odd to 120 and they will all be in place by the end of August.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Alexander is a ten-year-old boy in County Louth. He is autistic, non-verbal and he has an intellectual disability and development delays. His parents very much welcome the statement of the Taoiseach on bringing real and meaningful reform to services for people with disabilities. They believe him and I believe him too. It is the first time he has been made aware of this. The problem is this family sought respite first in 2022. It was discussed by the HSE in late November 2022 and approved by the board. 2022 and 2023 passed. It is now 2024. What is happening? They got a letter saying they are wait-listed for respite for mid- to late 2025. That is an appalling vista for the young child whose development is severely impacted by this. His parents are extremely worried they cannot get a weekend, day or hour of respite. I appreciate the Taoiseach's commitment to this issue but it is essential that this case be dealt with now. The parents cannot wait, nor can the child.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising the case. I have a note I could read out but I do not want to insult the parents by reading it. It is clearly a very serious situation the family faces. I am aware of Mo Shaol, which provides services in Louth. I will take on board the case the Deputy has raised if he gives me the details and I will link with him directly.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I raise nicotine pouches. A nicotine pouch rests up against a person's gum. They are five times stronger than a cigarette. Children are using these in schools. Teachers do not know they have them under their gum. They are highly addictive. They are marketed to teens and come in mint or berry flavours. We currently do not regulate them. In January, I sent a parliamentary question to the Minister for Health. There is no regulation for them in Ireland. That needs to happen. The chair of the national association of principals has called for the HSE to issue guidance to enable schools to deal with the issue. We need to get ahead of nicotine companies and be proactive in regulating before the problem becomes too big.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Horticulture is a vital industry and one with great potential. We import 90%-plus of the fruit and vegetables we consume in Ireland. In west Cork, we have a thriving organic sustainable food industry from dairy to vegetable and soft fruit growers. The industry depends on an educated workforce from further education, levels 4 to 6, and higher education, levels 7, 8 and above. It has come to my attention the horticulture course in Skibbereen at the west Cork education and training board campus level 5 is going to be shelved. Students cannot afford to travel to Kinsale or Cork city for two hours every day. It is also vital for a degree in Munster Technological University, MTU, that further education is supported. Will the Taoiseach explain why the course is being discontinued when numbers for the course are normally only finalised in September each year? To some who have spoken to me, it sounds like another hatchet job on west Cork, the same as NLN last week. People are up in arms and in disbelief. There are, I am told, at least 100 jobs for every graduate. Surely we should be expanding the sector, especially considering sustainability and low carbon footprint.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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At the start of April, the Minister for Health announced the new nursing unit built in Nenagh to replace St. Conlon's would be instead used for step-down beds. Families were expecting to go in there from across north Tipperary and east Clare. At the same time, the Minister announced Cahercalla nursing home would take 20 step-down beds. When Cahercalla's representatives were asked about that, they said they knew nothing about it. It is almost as if there was no forward planning in the Department of Health by the previous health Minister, whoever that was; wait a minute, that was the Taoiseach. Is there forward planning? Both units are being told this is a short-term measure for 18 months but what will happen in 18 months? Where are the plans to develop units people will go to in 18 months? The reality is these beds are being taken out of the community care sector. Where is the plan for our health service? What will replace St. Conlon's in 18 months? What will replace the beds in Cahercalla in 18 months?

Photo of Pa DalyPa Daly (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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It makes no sense that where an existing court building is in need of updated facilities, every opportunity to refurbish it is not used. The plan in Tralee for years was to take the plans for Letterkenny courthouse, which cost €19 million, and use them in the Denny site which was gifted to Tralee town council ten years ago and on which nothing has happened. Now an opportunity has arisen. The An Post site is for sale. All along the excuse was the existing building was shoehorned in. There is an opportunity to purchase another site. Because no money is available for other court buildings for the next two or three years, why does the Taoiseach not use this opportunity to refurbish the existing building? If there is a report which says it would be cheaper to do otherwise, I would love to see it. I cannot see how it could be cheaper to go the other way with it. Will the Taoiseach commit to refurbishing the existing courthouse and not move it to another part of town?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank my colleague in Wicklow, Deputy Whitmore, for raising the important issue of nicotine pouches and bringing it to my attention. That sounds like an alarming and concerning situation for parents, teachers and principals. I undertake to speak with the Minister for Health on the matter and pass on the Deputy's serious concerns, which I share.

I will follow up with Deputy Collins on Skibbereen. I am pleased we have seen more of these courses made available and would be concerned to see their withdrawal. I am not familiar with the rationale behind it but I will get an answer and come back to the Deputy.

I assure Deputy McNamara there is plenty of forward planning but the mid-west region needs particular attention when it comes to health capacity and other issues relating to governance and management of health services. I will ask the Minister for Health to come back to him on the two issues he raised regarding step-down facilities.

Deputy Daly referred to Tralee courthouse. These decisions are made by the Courts Service, as distinct from the Department, but the point he made on value for money in refurbishment versus new building is one I will seek its view on and revert to him.