Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cross-Border Co-operation

4:35 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative of his Department. [27947/24]

Photo of Cathal CroweCathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative. [27952/24]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative of his Department. [27975/24]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative of his Department. [28201/24]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative by his Department. [28204/24]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative. [29134/24]

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative of his Department. [29418/24]

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach for an update on the work of the shared island initiative of his Department. [29485/24]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 15, inclusive, together.

The Government continues to prioritise and progress the shared island initiative. Our commitment is to work with all communities and political traditions for a shared future, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. On 20 February, the Government announced the largest ever package of funding for cross-Border investments. This included a commitment of €600 million for the A5 north-west transport corridor and for progressing linked road projects in counties Donegal and Monaghan. The Government also made allocations this year from the shared island fund to contribute to the redevelopment of Casement Park in Belfast; to introduce from this autumn an hourly rail service between Dublin and Belfast; to move ahead with construction of the landmark Narrow Water bridge; to create a renewed visitor experience at the Battle of the Boyne site and; for new cross-Border co-operation schemes on enterprise development and tackling educational disadvantage.

I was delighted to be in Omeath, County Louth, on 4 June to mark the commencement of construction of the Narrow Water Bridge, a transformational project for tourism and the region, and to be in Clones, County Monaghan, on 19 June to visit the stunning new canal basin marina at an event to mark the completion of phase 2 of the Ulster Canal. The shared island fund is helping to facilitate the delivery of these landmark cross-Border infrastructure projects, both of which were commitments under the programme for Government and in the new decade, new approach agreement. These and the Government's other shared island investment commitments are taken forward by Ministers working with their Northern Ireland Executive and British Government counterparts and with local authority, education and civil society partners across the island. A full list of shared island funding projects is available on gov.ie.

The Government is also working to develop more investment opportunities with the Northern Ireland Executive, through the North-South Ministerial Council and with the British Government to deepen North-South and east-west relationships. I look forward to working with the new British Government in this regard, and, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, to further developing connections between people across these islands. My Department’s shared island unit co-ordinates a wide-ranging research programme, the output of which will be very interesting. We are fostering inclusive civic dialogue on people’s common concerns across the island for the future in the areas of our economy, society, culture and in political terms.

The most recent ESRI shared island research report was published on 10 April on gender and labour market inclusion in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Further work by the ESRI has been commissioned on income distribution levels and tackling child poverty across the island. Both are due to be published later this year. The shared island youth forum, which I launched last September, brings together 80 young civic representatives aged 18-25. The forum has met nine times to develop an overall statement of its vision and values for a shared island, to be published in the autumn. A brilliant group of young people will share with us their views for the future of the island. The shared island dialogue series will also continue in the autumn, with contributions from people from a range of different perspectives on what achieving a more reconciled island requires in societal terms in the time ahead.

Through the shared island initiative, the Government is investing in quality of life and opportunity for people, North and South, and interacting with all communities on how we can better share this island we all love, however it may be constituted, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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If you do not have the right bus ticket in Belfast, you will be fined £50 by Translink. Yesterday, a Belfast court ruled that a young man had to pay £50 to his former partner for repeated horrifying assaults that included punching, headbutting and holding a knife to her throat. The sentence was suspended and a two-year restraining order was put in place. Just weeks after thousands joined protests down here to stand with Natasha O'Brien and to oppose misogyny in the courts, a significant crowd joined an emergency stand out in Belfast, organised by ROSA social feminist movement. Unfortunately, part of the shared island heritage is a heritage of both male violence against women and misogyny in the courts systems. With Stormont up and running and a new Government in Westminster, will the Taoiseach agree that all governments have a great deal of catching up to do and that this needs to be done quickly?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Taoiseach uttered a jibe earlier around the issue of housing north of the Border, which causes me to raise and remind him that the North is grossly underfunded, which is now a recognised fact. The pressures will be felt most acutely in health and education. We have been clear with people from the get-go on that. I ask that rather than taking potshots at me or Michelle O'Neill indirectly, on the issue of funding, that the Taoiseach raises that issue with Keir Starmer. The British Government claims and has jurisdiction at this point - lamentably, in my view - and therefore has a duty to fund the place correctly. On a brighter note, there is a commitment to Casement Park and the delivery of that landmark project.

The British Government needs to make clear what its financial contribution will be. It is indicating that it might come back looking for a bit more from Dublin. Will the Taoiseach set out to the House his ongoing commitment to Casement Park and a willingness to fairly meet the share on behalf of the Dublin Government?

4:45 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Sadly, one of the things we share on this island, North and South, is a very severe housing crisis affecting tens of thousands of people who are on council housing waiting lists. Down here it is 57,000 officially but actually nearer to 100,000 when one takes into account the HAP and RAS transfer lists. In the North 47,000 people are waiting for social housing, 35,000 of whom are considered to be in serious housing stress. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, has just announced - Keir Starmer does not delay in disappointing - that the new Labour Party Government in the UK, faced with a very severe housing crisis there, is not going to directly build council housing anymore but is going to rely on the private sector to deliver housing. It is absolutely shocking. I suggest that the Taoiseach would point out to Keir Starmer that this policy has been a disastrous failure. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have pursued it for a couple of decades and it has left us with the worst housing crisis we have ever seen because they left it up to private developers to deliver housing rather than the State directly building council housing on public land. It would be a disaster if Starmer's new policy is the way they try to address the housing crisis in the North.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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What action has the Taoiseach taken to implement the all-island rail review? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, transport emissions increased again last year. To reach the legally binding target for transport, they must fall 12% this year and by 12% next year. It is very likely that this simply will not happen and then the cut from 2026 to 2030 will have to be even bigger. Radical transformative measures are needed to get people out of cars and onto public transport. A lot of measures were recommended to the Government a year ago in the all-island rail review. It recommended, for example, upgrading the intercity rail network to at least dual track. This would enable an increase in service frequencies to every hour or half hour between the major cities and would reduce journey times by up to 50%. The review also recommended more direct services between the east and south coasts, the reinstatement of the western rail corridor and the south Wexford railway, and the extension of rail into Tyrone, Derry and Donegal. What has the Government done to implement these recommendations?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I very much welcome the strong message that the shared island initiative will continue to identify more investment opportunities on a cross-Border and all-Ireland basis, and quite rightly. The Ulster Canal project would not have proceeded without funding from the shared island initiative. We have so much potential in the whole area of waterways development, allied to the Shannon-Erne Waterway.

About two years ago, the then Tánaiste launched a number of feasibility studies that are currently under way by local authorities North and South; for example, Cavan and Monaghan county councils are working with their counterparts north of the Border. Much of it is based on enterprise: the development of enterprise centres and the development of innovation hubs. I am very anxious that this particular study within the shared island initiative would be advanced. One thing we need in the Border counties, and particularly in the areas where local authorities have a very poor rates base and are not able to raise revenue themselves, is to get some assistance towards the development of workspaces in enterprise centres. Quite regularly enterprises talk to me about the need to get more space which they cannot afford to provide themselves. I would love to see the enterprise initiative advanced within the shared island initiative.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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We all welcome the plans for Narrow Water Bridge but we need to make sure it is built on time and within budget. I welcome a lot of the research from the shared island initiative but we need to look at research and modelling on a higher level. I do not believe I would shock anyone by saying that I believe the State has a responsibility to prepare for the possibility of constitutional change on the island. We have to look at the changed nature of the electoral map and demographics and all the other factors with regard to the North. I commend all of those who stood. I congratulate those who were successful, particularly my own party colleagues, but there is a huge body of work that needs to be done. I have spoken to the Taoiseach previously in relation to the issues affecting cross-Border workers that need to be addressed. At least we have an Executive up and running. Dr. Caoimhe Archibald as minister for the economy and Conor Murphy as minister for finance will not be found wanting. I apologise, I mean Dr. Caoimhe Archibald as Minister of Finance and Conor Murphy as Minister for the Economy. I have been corrected and rightfully so in this case and not for the first time.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is okay.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It is for accuracy.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Definitely. Either which way, they will not be found wanting, unlike myself who sometimes is found wanting. Remote working or working from home is not a possibility for people who are working cross-Border and there are other issues in relation to pensions, tax codes and such.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Time, Deputy.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I have a document that the Taoiseach had requested and I believe action that needs to be taken.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank colleagues for raising a number of issues. Without commenting on individual decisions of the courts, it is absolutely the case that the epidemic of violence by men against women and attacking women does not stop at any border. I say in the spirit of co-operation that there is more we can do on the island together. I know we will have willing interlocutors in the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to this matter.

I am not making jibes at Deputy McDonald, but we do engage in politics on occasion, which I respect. I also take very seriously the role that I currently have as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. I take that extremely seriously. I have said it to the First Minister of Northern Ireland. I had a very good meeting with her and with the deputy First Minister. I am very eager to continue to have that and am absolutely very eager to support the Northern Ireland Executive in each and every way we can. I will do that in all of my conversations with the new British Prime Minister.

I genuinely believe that in the Governments of Ireland and Britain and the Northern Ireland Executive, we now have leadership in place that wants to fulfil the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the changed approach that the British Government has indicated and I know the Deputy does too. It is a moment for reset, as I have heard the Deputy, Keir Starmer and the First Minister say too. Over the next period of time we must all show what we mean by that and show what that reset looks like in action. We must have the reset and show the people of these islands what such a reset actually looks like. Yes, I will continue to support the First Minister and deputy First Minister. We are engaging with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive and there is a very welcome programme of engagement between Ministers North and South. I have been looking at that list of those bilateral meetings that are taking place. We are due to have a plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Dublin in September.

On the issue of Casement Park, I welcome the comments in recent days by Hilary Benn, the new Northern Ireland Secretary of State, in which he said he is committed to the project. We are very committed to it as well. The Deputy will be aware that we have already indicated a financial commitment and we will not be found wanting in continuing to work with the British Government on this. I hope to have a chance to talk to the British Prime Minister about this when we meet formally next week. I still think we should keep the ambition alive of delivering this project in time for Euro 2028. It would be a terrible shame and a terrible pity for these islands to host the tournament and for a game not to be played in Northern Ireland. I will work with the Deputy constructively on that and with the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government.

On Deputy Boyd Barrett's point, I doubt the British Prime Minister wants my advice on policy measures outside of those relating to the Good Friday Agreement and our role as co-guarantor. I look forward to engaging with him on any topic. I thank the Deputy for his perspective.

Deputy Murphy asked about emissions. We saw very encouraging figures from the EPA today. I accept the point made by the Deputy that when we look at different sectors, we can show there is more work to be done in some areas than in others. We have seen a significant reduction in our emissions targets. I will get an update for the Deputy on the timeline for the all-island rail review. I am conscious that I am over time.

Deputy Brendan Smith raised a very good idea about workplace enterprise centres, which somewhat ties in with Deputy Ó Murchú's question on whether we can use the shared island initiative and the Northern Ireland Executive to look at issues around workers, enterprise, co-working spaces and cross-Border workers. I will engage with both Deputies on that.