Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

2:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Faoi cheannasaíocht Fhine Gael agus Fianna Fáil, tá deireadh tagtha le tithíocht inacmhainne. Léiríonn an phraiseach ar Bhóthar Oscair Mhic Thréinir nach bhfuil scéim tithíochta inacmhainne an Rialtais ag obair. Is í an eagla anois nach mbeidh na cíosanna san fhorbraíocht ar phraghas réasúnta do ghnáthdhaoine ach an oiread.

House prices continue to spiral beyond the reach of ordinary working people. A report by Myhome.ie this week shows house prices increasing at their fastest rate for almost two years, having increased by 7.3% in the past year. Only a dramatic increase in the supply of affordable homes will curb out-of-control house prices. The Government must provide affordable housing schemes that deliver homes to buy and to rent at prices that working people can actually afford.

Last night, Dublin City Council held an emergency meeting and backed a Sinn Féin motion on the Oscar Traynor Road scandal. At the meeting, it was unanimously agreed that the Minister for housing, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, must meet with councillors to explain why the homes being delivered on what was public land are so expensive. Councillors expressed their anger at the prices being charged for these so-called affordable homes. To remind the Taoiseach, three-bedroom homes are priced at between €400,000 and €475,000 while the prices of two-bedroom homes range from €335,000 to €427,000 and those of one-bedroom homes range from €264,000 to €308,000.

They do not believe these prices are affordable, but it seems the Government does. They accept that the policy of transferring valuable State-owned land to private developers is a disaster for housing affordability. The Government has got this badly wrong. The evidence is to be seen in Coolock and in my own constituency in O'Devaney Gardens, where the price of homes delivered through the Government's scheme is expected to be even higher than those at Oscar Traynor Road. In both cases, the promise was for affordable homes on these sites. In truth, the prices being charged are so high that the vast majority of local people will never have the chance to purchase these properties.

The second part of the scheme was meant to deliver affordable homes to rent. In order to force through the deals with developers at O'Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road, the Government promised affordable homes to rent on these sites. Another promise made, another promise to be broken. People are now deeply concerned that, just like the house prices, the rents will be sky-high too. At last night's council meeting, officials were asked whether these rents will be affordable but the question was not answered.

Does the Taoiseach know what the rents at Oscar Traynor Road and O'Devaney Gardens will be? New market rents in Dublin 5 and Dublin 7 are rising all the time. They are now so high that even with the Government's schemes' discount, the rent for a one-bedroom unit could be between €1,200 and €1,600 a month, the rent for a two-bedroom unit could be between €1,600 and €1,700 a month and the rent for a three-bedroom unit could be anything from €1,700 to €1,900 per month. Those are not affordable rents. More to the point, rip-off rents like those make a mockery of the so-called affordability scheme. Affordable homes to buy and rent can be delivered but the answer is to retain public land, to build on public land and for the Government to guarantee house prices and rents that working people can truly afford.

2:05 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to again discuss the important issue of housing and affordable housing in this House. Dublin City Council is perfectly entitled to seek a meeting with the Minister. I am sure he will be responding to that. In general, it is a good thing for local and national government personnel to have opportunities to meet and engage. As the Deputy points out, councillors from right across the political spectrum, including my own councillors for whom the Deputy does not speak, very much welcome the opportunity to have a meeting and engagement with the housing Minister.

We should not misrepresent the facts or conflate issues which are entirely separate. Right across Ireland, the price of an average affordable purchase home being delivered under Government schemes is €267,000. That is what Government schemes are delivering in terms an average price across Dublin in terms of affordable housing. Prices in Oscar Traynor Woods start at €264,000. A-rated new affordable purchase homes are at prices that are 19% to 21% lower than market prices. This is made possible by a subsidy through the local authority shared equity scheme and it is worth noting.

The Deputy brings this up on a regular basis, as is her right. She suggests that there seems to be very little interest in this. However, my understanding is that there have already been around 300 expressions of interest from members of the public looking to purchase these homes.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I do not need a chorus. There are many other examples of affordable housing schemes throughout the country. This is not just a meeting of Dublin City Council. In Waterford, for example, we are working to deliver affordable homes with a private developer for prices as low as €225,000. Of course it is more expensive to build an affordable home or a home in parts of Dublin than in other parts of the country. The Deputy probably found that out when she gave a commitment last December to construct and build houses in Dublin at an average price of €300,000 only to have to scrap that proposal - remarkably, live on air - 72 hours before the local elections.

This is a Government that is working to deliver all forms of housing, including affordable homes. It is not right or fair to suggest that one set of homes at one set of prices is in any way reflective of the broader set of schemes and supports that are available right across the country. Anybody can contrast our record as a Government with the Deputy's rhetoric, because we are presiding over a scenario where more than 300 homes are now being constructed every working day this year so far and 500 individuals or couples are buying their first home every week.

More than 600 homes are being built. We are seeing the highest number of homes being built in 15 years. We are building the most social homes since the 1970s. We are building the highest number of homes in Europe according to EUROCONSTRUCT and EY. Some 47,000 families have benefited from the help-to-buy scheme. Over 4,000 people have benefited from the first home scheme. As I said, affordable homes are being advertised around the country for an average price of €267,000. We know we have much more to do when it comes to housing. That is why we have approved a draft national planning framework today that will go out to consultation. That is why we intend to lift the scale of our ambition with new housing targets set in the autumn.

When it comes to affordable houses, it is not simply right to suggest that one set of homes the Deputy has found at one set of figures is reflective of broader affordable housing, nor is it genuine to suggest it is the same price to build an affordable home in Dublin as it is in other parts of the country. We very much look forward to the opportunity for engagement between national and local government. We want to work with local authorities right across this country to deliver affordable housing schemes. We absolutely do. We remain determined to do it and we are making good progress on it.

2:15 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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It does, in fact, cost the same amount to build the home, whether it is in Waterford or Dublin. The differential is the cost and the value of the land. That is the issue here, and that it is why it is all the more scandalous, particularly in the case of Dublin city, where land values and prices are so high, that the Government and the State would so thoughtlessly hand over public land into the hands of private developers. The Taoiseach has painted what he regards as a very rosy picture but he will know that people have said, and evidence has reflected, that it has never been more difficult for people to buy a home. Affordability has never been such an issue. The evidence and the trends demonstrate very clearly that handing over public land to private developers for development does not deliver affordability. I have given the Taoiseach the prices at Oscar Traynor Road. I have asked him a straightforward question: does he know the rental rates at Oscar Traynor Road and O'Devaney Gardens? If he has those figures, will he please share them with the House?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Those are figures that are clearly for Dublin City Council to provide. I presume that is where the Deputy is progressing it, and that is the right and appropriate place. However, the Deputy continues to misrepresent our position on housing. This is Government that is absolutely building and ensuring that homes are built on State-owned lands. We set up the LDA - I think the Deputy opposed it - and it is currently actively advancing development on 16 sites across Ireland capable of delivering around 6,000 homes, including on State lands. In Cork, we see that the first phase of a total expected delivery of 265 homes is now under construction at St. Kevin's Hospital. In Naas, 219 homes are being delivered at Devoy Barracks. We have a major project under way in County Dublin at Shanganagh with our local authority partnering as well. We are working in a whole variety of ways to provide housing solutions - public lands, private lands, public homes, private homes and social homes.

Sinn Féin leads the Government in Northern Ireland; I lead the Government in the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, 1,500 homes will be commenced this year. So far, we have commenced 33,000 homes in the Republic. We have delivered the highest number of social houses since the 1970s. Sinn Féin cut its targets-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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This is important.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Taoiseach know the specifics?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Sinn Féin cut its targets-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We are way over time.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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-----for council houses in the North. It was planning on delivering 2,050 and a Sinn Féin-led Government has had to slash its social housing targets to just 400.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Táimid thar am.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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There are 4,000 children homeless.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I want to start by expressing solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the wake of Russia's horrific attack on a children's hospital in Kyiv yesterday. I welcome the Taoiseach's calling out of that attack as a war crime because it was a war crime. It is another in a series of war crimes committed by Russia in its brutal invasion of Ukraine. It must be condemned by all of us and all of those across Europe.

I want to pay tribute again to the courageous advocacy of Natasha O'Brien and Bláthnaid Raleigh. In their powerful advocacy and their courage in coming forward, they shone a light on the reality of violence against women in Irish society. This week, we have seen more brave women and courageous advocates coming forward. We saw it on Sunday evening in the powerful programme broadcast by "RTÉ Investigates" following an investigation by Marie Crowe and Mark Tighe of the Sunday Independent, in which we heard from a number of very brave women who spoke about their past experience of abuse within the FAI.

But for the courage of those who have spoken out, the horrendous experiences of the women like those who spoke on the programme would never have come to light, because we know it takes courage. It is traumatising for those who have experienced harassment to speak up and speak out. Speaking truth to power carries risk for those who have been grievously wronged. These brave women have done the State some service, undoubtedly at a significant personal cost. Their testimony cannot be for nothing.

Irish society must reckon with the reason why so many women and children throughout so many organisations and institutions have endured horrific sexual abuse and violence over the years. We know the FAI is not the first organisation or indeed the first sports body to have come into the spotlight for this abuse. Our country is sadly no stranger to disclosures of horrific abuse of power in many different settings. I am thinking back to disclosures in the industrial schools, Magdalen institutions, schools, scouting organisations, the Defence Forces, sports and the arts and entertainment sector. It is just not good enough. Women should expect to be able to go about our lives free from harassment and fear of violence. Children should be able to take part in activities and sports without fear of harassment or abuse. Across Ireland, we have seen organisations and institutions stepping up, responding to the disclosures and putting in place appropriate safeguards. The change that has happened makes the account of the women who spoke to RTÉ and Aoife Hegarty's team so harrowing, because it reminds us that this abuse has gone on quite recently.

Players, ranging from former Republic of Ireland internationals to trainees, reported how the abuse they suffered had damaged careers and ruined lives. It included physical harassment, homophobic abuse and a suffocating power dynamic within an organisation. I welcome that the FAI has now responded but I ask that the Taoiseach and the Ministers, Deputies Catherine Martin and Thomas Byrne, take a lead. As Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said yesterday, they need to take a lead on unearthing experiences of abuse in sporting organisations. We need to uncover this and continue to shine a light on it.

2:25 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Bacik and join her in her comments on the war crimes that were carried out by targeting sick children in Ukraine yesterday. Imagine what that is like. The war in Ukraine has been going on for quite a long time but we can never allow ourselves to be in any way immune or accept what is happening, nor should we with the crimes against children happening in the Middle East. A state that commits war crimes targeting sick children and using hypersonic missiles is one that has no interest in peace. This attack and Russia's further efforts to escalate the conflict demonstrate that Russia is only intent on escalation. It has to be held to account for this.

I thank Deputy Bacik for bringing up the important issue relating to the documentary that was on at the weekend regarding the FAI and abuse. I join her in commending the former players and others who came forward, spoke up and spoke out. She is right that it seems, every week in this House, that we are discussing another example of abuse, attacks and assaults against women or girls, some in the here and now, some in the recent past, and some further back in the past. All that time, we are consistently having that conversation. That is a stark reminder that we are nowhere near where we wish to be as a country and that our work has to continue cross-party, as I know it does, on how we bring about complete cultural change and zero tolerance to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

I am aware of the specific issue the Deputy raised, which has been reported over the past few days. That investigation into alleged abuse in Irish football in the 1990s is under way. I know a Garda investigation is also under way and that the FAI, as the national governing body, is engaging fully with that investigation, as it must and should. As the matter is currently subject to a Garda investigation, I do not want to comment too much on the detail of it for fear of in any way cutting across that work. Of course, it is vital that allegations of this nature are taken seriously and that the FAI takes an athlete-centred approach to its handling of this matter.

It is important to make the point that in recent years, we have seen a number of steps taken by both Sport Ireland and national governing bodies to create a safe environment. We have seen safeguarding policies and procedures put in place. All national governing bodies now have Sport Ireland safeguarding guidance for children and young people in sport. There is a core document in this regard.

Sport Ireland has done an extensive suite of work around guidelines and codes of practice for the protection of children and young people in sport. Specifically on the issue raised by the Deputy, I understand Sport Ireland recently wrote to all 65 national governing bodies to remind them of their responsibilities, the policies and procedures regarding player welfare and that they must be up to date, fit for purpose and implemented.

2:35 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I thank the Taoiseach and agree that cultural change is needed to stamp out and make what we have called everyday sexism, harassment and gender-based violence a thing of the past in different institutions. I welcome that the Taoiseach said that, where appropriate, criminal investigations by the Garda are under way. The question is what the Government will do now about this. What practical steps can Government and all of us as legislators take to achieve real zero tolerance? What is concerning about the FAI programme is it took a tweet from Olivia O'Toole two years ago to shine the light that led to the disclosures of abuse. What was horrifying for me in watching the documentary was that the women involved did not know there was a collective experience. Until they came together because of the journalistic investigation , they thought they were the only ones who had been harassed and abused. Unfortunately, that is the reality in far too many settings. I call on the Government to establish a mechanism whereby those who have been abused within sporting organisations can come forward and tell their stories and ensures that their experiences can be addressed, criminal investigations commenced where appropriate and that we see proper accountability and safeguards put in place across all sporting organisations.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is an excellent idea. I will talk to the relevant Ministers as to how to take that forward. Based on what I have been told and what I read, a number of positive measures have been taken by sporting organisations in recent years, which I know the Deputy would accept and acknowledge. I do not suggest the 1990s was a very long time ago but many years have passed and a lot has happened, quite rightly, in safeguarding, policies and procedures. That is not in any way to take away from the horrific instances discussed and reported on in recent days. We now have our national governing bodies, which have standards to apply and codes of conduct and practice around the welfare of our players. Sport Ireland recently re-engaged with all 65 national governing bodies. The Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, is doing good work in this area, which I acknowledge. The Minister of State, the Minister and I will consider how best to take this forward because zero tolerance means zero tolerance for everyone. We were in the Chamber only recently talking about the Defence Forces and the Judiciary in as appropriate a way as we could. It seems every week we talk about a different aspect of the State or public or private and that whole issue of zero tolerance. That is why what we are trying to do at a whole-of-government level is work to use every policy lever at our disposal. The cultural change piece is also key, and that is why we will need wider societal support.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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As the Taoiseach and the Government contemplate the budget, which one way or another will be the last budget before we all face the people, I ask him again to attend to the parts of the country left behind. Reflecting on the French election, which has a kernel of learning for us in Ireland, like Macron's coalition of the centre ground, since 2016, we have effectively had the traditional parties of government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, sticking together to hold out what the centre perceives as the fringes. In France, it is the far right, and here it has been Sinn Féin and the hard left. In this political Faustian pact between old foes, parts of the country and society in France and in Ireland are left behind in their anger. I hear politicians in this House decrying hate speech and the coarsening of political life, wondering, gormlessly, where all this anger is coming from, without once considering their own part in whipping it up by leaving parts of the country and society to stew in their own juices without the hope and economic progress they so desire. Our farmers were told by Fine Gael Ministers to increase the herd, to drive on and scale up. They were also told new regulations would be brought forward so that rather than preparing, we now have a whole sector of the economy exposed to one bad year. Many farm families are questioning their economic futures.

In my region, just like every other region apart from Dublin and Cork, all strategic projects are stuck in departmental reviews. When the Taoiseach came into office, I asked him to advance three things promised by this Government which he now leads.

All I asked the Government to do was to provide funding to implement the 24-7 south-east cardiac care that was promised by the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, in that infamous photo. I asked for funding to be provided to deliver the long-promised runway extension at Waterford Airport, and to address the public private partnership engineering build at SETU, which has been promised since 2009. The Taoiseach reaffirmed, as others have for years, that these are priorities for him and the Government, but none are done despite four and a half years of promises to add to so many previous promises. To my mind, these are fundamental breaches of the Government's political compact with the people. Irish people want and deserve excellent public services such as schools, hospitals, childcare, airports, public transport, roads and accommodation. We see many countries with these things and wonder why we cannot have them. These are the things that make ordinary life so much better and more liveable.

As we face another giveaway budget, will the Taoiseach make an attempt to keep his promises and make sure that more than 70% of the capital allocation in the budget is spent outside Dublin and Cork? Will the Government address the places and the people it has ignored for a generation? Waterford and the south east expect delivery in the upcoming budget. Although the efforts to date have been laudable, they have fallen far and dismally short.

2:45 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I have to take a deep breath because the start of Deputy Shanahan's contribution was really out of order. It was fundamentally out of order because I do not ever think there is a justification for the hatred some Members of this House have experienced or for the intimidation and attacks they have experienced, online, off-line, at their homes and towards their families. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I defend the right of any Member of this House to not ever have to encounter that. Although it is the Deputy's right to say whatever he wants in this House, I do not ever want to hear in this House some attempt to justify the hate, bile and toxicity. The Deputy should call it out and I hope when he next stands to his feet he will condemn it. I know him to be a decent person and I do not believe he meant it, but that feeds the online anger. That is exactly what it feeds. The Deputy said we were coming in here and "gormlessly" calling it out. I hope the Deputy has never had to encounter what some of us have. I hope he never has to.

This is a Government that proudly supports Waterford. I look forward to taking that case to the people. I am looking forward to winning our seat back in Waterford too. We are a Government that is investing substantially in the south east, substantially in Waterford city and substantially in the county. A €30 million flood protection scheme has been put in place to protect businesses and residents along the city's quays. There is a new state-of-the-art fire station following an investment of €10 million. There has been investment of €30 million in the expansion for the court house. The old disused railway line between the picturesque town of Dungarvan, a beautiful place, and Waterford city is now a first-class greenway following investment of a further €25 million. There has been €37 million allocated in URDF and active travel funding for the city centre regeneration. A commitment of €170 million has been made by the Government for the North Quays enabling infrastructure. We have delivered a university for the south east, on which we continue to engage to make sure it reaches its full potential. The Minister, Deputy O'Donovan, will make progress in relation to advancing the Waterford Crystal site, the delivery of student accommodation and a PPP bundle as well. As the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, has outlined in this House on a number of occasions, we have provided significant additional funding in supporting the move towards 24-7 cardiac services at University Hospital Waterford. There is an awful lot of good stuff happening in Waterford. I know that when I go to Waterford. I was there only a couple of weeks ago and look forward to being back there again. I am proud of the Government's commitment. The Deputy will see in the draft national planning framework, which will be published in the coming days, that we want to go out and engage with communities and local authorities right across the country. The Deputy will see an ongoing level of commitment to the regions in terms of balanced regional development as well.

Please do not misrepresent our commitment in relation to Waterford. Yes, sometimes projects take time and the Deputy and I debate where they are at but I can tell him that we are going to deliver in cardiac care, deliver in respect of the university, and we are going to continue to deliver in relation to Waterford city and county.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I offered to the Taoiseach comments that I hear all the time and, instead of addressing them, the Taoiseach offered a deflection, saying that I am trying to talk about hate speech-----

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Please.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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It is not about that.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Withdraw what you said.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am reflecting to the Taoiseach what people around my constituency and in the regions are describing.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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So, you will not withdraw it.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Whether he wishes to, the Taoiseach can reach back into his notes there and discuss projects-----

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I do not have any notes.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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-----from two and three programmes for Government ago, which he did, including the courthouse, the fire station he mentioned in Waterford, and the greenway. They are all previous to this Government. I have asked about the €44 billion of capital expenditure in this programme for Government. Where is the relative percentage for Waterford and the south east?

I have met the Taoiseach umpteen times to discuss the South-East Technological University. Does the Taoiseach know what the Government's total capital investment in the college is in terms of the built infrastructure? It is for the acquisition of 20 acres of land. No public development is happening on the college campus at present. Despite all the promises we have had, it is all private development. I have also asked the Taoiseach about the runway extension at Waterford Airport, which has been caught up in a needless review for almost a year. This discussion is happening while we are looking at the money being spent. The Taoiseach might not take my word for it. I encourage him to come to Waterford.

2:55 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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He should absolutely come back and win the seat. He will only do so if he delivers.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy. The Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I exhort him to deliver in the next six months left to the Government and to win the seat back if he wishes. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for his political advice. I do not need any notes to debate the Deputy in relation to these matters. It is highly regrettable that I had to ask him to withdraw comments about politicians coming in here and gormlessly expressing views around hate and toxicity in Irish politics. We should all call that out. If it happened to the Deputy, I would call it out. If it happened to anyone over here, I would call it out. Most people would call it out if it happened to anybody in this House. However, the Deputy seems to be kind of trying to justify it and to give it an ould nod and a wink.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I told the Taoiseach I was reflecting what-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy refused to stand up and condemn hatred. Instead, he stated that he had a rationale and an understanding.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am sorry. Excuse me. Of course, I condemn hatred. I have never supported any kind of hatred against any person or any attacks against anyone in this House, not ever.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I am sorry.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Resume your seat Deputy, please.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Well, then-----

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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That was a complete misinterpretation.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy, resume your seat. Through the Chair, please, Taoiseach.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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When the Deputy stood back up, I asked simply if he would consider reflecting on what he said in his opening contribution. He chose not to. He tried to-----

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I did reflect. I told the Taoiseach that these were comments I was hearing on the streets. The Taoiseach may take or leave them as he wishes.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy. The Taoiseach to respond uninterrupted.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The people of Waterford will adjudicate on the Deputy in due course.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I will not mince my words about this issue. I will be very factual. I am going to call something out here today. I want to see what the Taoiseach, the Government and the rest of the people inside in this House think of it. Why is it becoming acceptable in the Ireland of today that people can go on social media platforms and say whatever they like about whomever they like? It can be about members of An Garda Síochána or national or local politicians. Just because a person sits in a car, puts a mobile phone - like this godforsaken stupid thing here - in front of them and goes online and says whatever they like, thousands of people will then come along and swallow up what is being said and believe it. People can say outrageous and hurtful things. They can attack people's families. They can attack individuals.

If the Taoiseach wants to know why I am cross today, I will tell him. People can say whatever the hell they like about me because it will not worry me or take one minute out of my head space. It will not bother me. I do not like it when they attack my family because they are my family. When they attack my friends, I do not like that. I am going to say this, however. It is not easy to say it, but I will say it. My late mother died in 2015. She was a highly respectable woman. She could speak seven languages. She never said anything bad about any human being. She supported all of us in every way she possibly could. She was a nice lady. When I saw one night her image being used in a derogatory way and in a political way, that pushed it over the line for me. Will the Taoiseach outline what is going to happen to social media platforms, including TikTok and all the others like it, that people can go on to? I am not going to say anything about any individual here, but there are people here who have had untruths told about them. Is it the case that just because people are Ministers, TDs or county councillors, they cannot say anything because it would look bad or would seem as if we are against free speech?

I am not in favour of the hate speech legislation. I voted against it. I am not for it, and I would never support it. I am against people coming out and telling barefaced lies. We had a situation in the local election campaign in Kerry, particularly in the Castleisland area. There are those who might have thought it was funny, but it was not because people's lives were affected. People's families, including wives and children, had horrible things being said about them every day. Is this supposed to be socially acceptable in Ireland today?

Well, I will not accept it.

3:05 pm

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

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am asking each and every one of you not to accept it. Just because the Taoiseach is a Minister and the leader of a party, does that mean he has to accept that there are lies about him and that people can say horrible things-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Thank you, Deputy.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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-----about people they really do not even know? It is ridiculous.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am asking the Taoiseach if he will please try to do something to bring about a bit of normality to this situation in order that people cannot be telling blatant lies about other people.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

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

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask the Taoiseach to respond within his time.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Well said, indeed, Deputy Healy-Rae. I thank you for saying it. I am really sorry, as I know everybody in this House is, to hear of the abuse that the Deputy and his family had to put up, particularly in the context of the comments about and images of his late mother. That is utterly despicable and reprehensible. There is not a Member on any side of this House who does not think that. You are not gormless when you come into this House and make those points.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is a seriously important issue. It is fair to say that impacts on nearly all of us in different ways, if we are being honest. It is an issue that impacts people right across our country. It is an issue that particularly impacts children and younger people. There is a level of misogyny and sexism, and there are really serious issues in the context of vile online abuse. People are being targeted by faceless online users who seek to intimate people, silence them, stop them from saying something, get inside their minds and knock them off their stride. I am really concerned about the impact, as I think we all are, that this is having, and not only people who are public representatives. It is okay for us to say it has an impact. Breaking news: politicians are humans. There is also the major impact it can have on young people who are bullied online. Bullying used to be something that took place, as it still can, in a physical way. That was and is horrific, but you would remove yourself from a situation. It is now something that can follow you around. It is something that kids can take home in their schoolbags and their pockets and it will be there with them.

I want to say that the level of nasty and negative comments online is alarming. There has been robust political debate in this country since the foundation of the State. We go at it hammer and tongs in here. I would like to think that we do so a couple of times a week. That is very different, though, from the hateful, nasty and negative comments online. I appeal to people in this country - I know the Deputy and everyone else here does as well - to stop and think before they hit that button to publish horrible comments about another human being. You just do not have to do it. Why are we doing it? Why has this become some sort of norm? We all need to check ourselves, myself included, from time to time. We all need to check ourselves in the context of our language and how we go about our debates. Language is important and words matter.

What is the Government going to do? That is a fair question. Online safety is a key priority. We now finally have a media regulator. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has done very good work in this area. The regulator is called Coimisiún na Meán. At the heart of it is a new online safety framework which can be used to hold platforms to account and which will ensure that we significantly reduce harmful content online. A draft online safety code was published by the commission in May. It is intended that the code will be formally adopted later this year. It is designed to work in conjunction with various laws to ensure that platform supervision and the enforcement of regulations are delivered effectively. In the very brief time available, I note that it sets out the actions that video-sharing platforms, some of which the Deputy has named, such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and others have to take to protect users. It also has the ability to hit people where it works, which is in their pockets.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Taoiseach. The editors of newspapers and producers of television programmes are held to account-----

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. Absolutely. Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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-----in that what comes out has to be truthful. It cannot be lies. There are legal implications. Why are we allowing a situation where the social media companies can broadcast whatever and there are no repercussions? That is wrong. That is what we have to get back to. We have to get back to telling the truth and being fair in our comments. We as a society have to say that we are not going to tolerate it. We are not going to put up any longer with faceless cowards. If these people want to take us on politically or if they want to be politicians, there is no problem in the world with that. Come along and tackle us in the same way that I will tackle the Taoiseach later on about policies. We will have our arguments, the Taoiseach will have his opinion, Sinn Féin will have its opinion and we will all do our own thing and fight our own cases, but we will do so in a fair, honest and direct way. We will not be cowardly in how we do it. A long time ago, I made the mistake of calling these people keyboard warriors.

They are not warriors; they are cowards. They are hiding behind this dirty rotten thing and they think they can say whatever they like to the nation. I am sending a clear message out today: that vile rubbish and bile will not be tolerated by normal people.

3:15 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Deputy. I call the Taoiseach to respond.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Whether it is the electorate or the proper media outlets, it cannot be tolerated.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Healy-Rae. We all knowledge that the advent of technology, online media and social media have brought benefits. We all see it in our own lives. Deputy Healy-Rae gets his message out to the people in Kerry that way as well. He is right, however; it cannot be the Wild West. There must be rules, laws, sanctions and regulations as to how that still relatively new structure works. What I am telling Deputy Healy-Rae and the people of this country today is that we are moving into a new era in relation to that. We now have our media regulator. We have a draft online safety code. It is not fluff - not that the Deputy suggested it is - because failure to comply with it can lead to significant financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of turnover. Continued non-compliance can lead to criminal sanctions for company directors. That is extremely important. There must be a link between a platform and an individual - a human being. That is important too. We have put significant resources into the commission to enable it to hit the ground running. There are now more than 100 people working for an coimisiún, with more being recruited. Now is the time to allow it to establish itself and to work very closely with the European Commission to establish this new regulatory structure that the Deputy, quite rightly, outlined is required.