Ceisteanna — Questions.

State Visits

Derek Keating

Question:

1 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Taoiseach his views on the benefit, both economically and politically, of the recent visit by the President of the United States of America to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17162/11]

Derek Keating

Question:

2 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Taoiseach his view on the benefits, both economically and politically, of the State visit to this country of Queen Elizabeth II; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17163/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The visits by Queen Elizabeth II, followed so shortly afterwards by that of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, were remarkable and memorable events for Ireland.

The visit by Queen Elizabeth was a truly historic occasion which marked a further strengthening and maturing of the bilateral relationship between our two countries. As the first visit by a British monarch to this State, the visit by the Queen and the warm welcome she received illustrate just how far we have come as a country at peace in the past number of years. The visit was a major success and was a hugely significant and memorable occasion for all parties.

The visit by the US President, Barack Obama, and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, was a very tangible expression of the warmth and strength of the relationship between our two countries. It allowed us to reaffirm these strong links and to commit ourselves to further strengthening that relationship. It was also a great opportunity to show a positive image of Ireland to the world, building on the images from the historic visit by Queen Elizabeth the previous week.

While it is very hard to quantify in financial terms the full value of these visits, Fáilte Ireland found that the combined visits generated almost 38,000 print and broadcast pieces, worth nearly €300 million in terms of their advertising equivalent and generating positive global exposure for Ireland. the country will benefit long into the future from both visits.

Britain continues to be our largest trading partner, our most important export market and the most important source of tourists to Ireland. There are significant flows of investments in both directions. The continued strength of our relationship is hugely important as we both seek to overcome challenging economic times and look for new opportunities for co-operation to support development and growth across our islands. The historic visit of the queen provided us with a significant opportunity to focus on economic, trade, investment and tourism opportunities with Britain. There was, of course, great international interest in the visit, which sent out very positive messages to the world that Ireland is dealing with its economic difficulties with determination and is open for business.

The visit of the US President underlined the significance of Ireland's ties with the United States, particularly the economic relationship, to our mutual benefit. That relationship supports tens of thousands of jobs, with some 95,000 Irish people employed by US companies in Ireland. Our consistent message to corporate America has been that we are open for further business and investment and working to our particular strengths. The president's visit to Ireland greatly enhanced that message. Ireland could not have received a better endorsement for its future well-being.

I thank the Taoiseach for his comprehensive reply to my questions on what were historical, successful and quite remarkable events of the particular week when Queen Elizabeth and the President of America visited Ireland.

The president's visit reinforced the close bonds and historical links between our two countries now and into the future. More importantly, his visit, though short and not a state visit, gave us global exposure. It was a remarkable occasion in which the Taoiseach played a pivotal and vital role. He said then that Ireland punches above its weight, and he is right. Did the Taoiseach take the opportunity to raise what is for many the sensitive issue of the undocumented Irish in America? Many people and families have struggled for years because of the difficulty with regard to being undocumented and they find themselves trapped because of their circumstances.

With regard to the visit of the queen, the Taoiseach has outlined the positive spin-offs of her visit in promoting our country. The abiding memory I have of her visit is one I did not attend, her visit to the English Market in Cork. That was a remarkable occasion. The Minister for Justice and Equality outlined in the House last week that it is anticipated the cost of the visit will be in the region of €20 million. That cost would not have been quite so high if not for the carry-on of some so-called democratic people who sit in this House.

May we have a question?

Some of these take the queen's shilling when it suits them. The Mayor of Cashel, Councillor Michael Browne——

Could the Deputy ask his question, please?

May I just have ten more seconds? The mayor said that Tourism Ireland has embarked on a massive marketing campaign in Britain to entice more UK visitors to the Rock of Cashel, on the back of the massive success of the queen's visit.

May we have a question. We are on Question Time.

The Taoiseach said that the visit symbolised a healing of the past and a recognition of the two countries having grown together.

I have been very liberal Deputy. Please adhere to the rulings of the Chair.

The Taoiseach has given a clear indication with regard to the reversal of the travel tax. Has he a timescale on that and when is it proposed to reverse it?

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I raised the question of the undocumented Irish with President Obama. This issue was discussed at Question Time previously. The president is still hopeful of comprehensive legislation on immigration to the United States. He made the point that it was not purely a Hispanic problem and by travelling to both Ireland and Poland he indicated his wish and desire that the matter of undocumented Irish and other persons would be dealt with. Obviously, there are political difficulties in respect of Capitol Hill and how the balance of political power has changed so much during his tenure of office. In so far as the Government is concerned, we will continue to engage with the American representatives on this sensitive matter which is a growing concern for those Irish directly affected.

The effective date for implementation of the change regarding the travel tax is 1 July. As the Deputy is aware, the Government has decided there will be a zero travel tax. There was much comment from airlines about the possibility of bringing in many extra tourists and visitors to Ireland if the tax was abolished. The tax is zero from 1 July and I hope the airlines and all the agencies will make every effort to get as many people as possible to travel to Ireland for a quality, enjoyable experience. This will be further evidence of the beneficial consequence of the visits of both the Queen of England and the American President. The real benefit will not accrue this year, but in years hence, because the message has gone out that Ireland is a land of 100,000 welcomes, a land where a quality and different experience can be had by tourists and where real value in respect of the hard earned money of taxpayers' from other countries which brings them here to enjoy that experience.

There is no doubt that both visits were a success and will bring long-term benefits to the country. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that his predecessor, Brian Cowen, was correct in his decision to move ahead with both visits. Deputy Keating commented on the English Market in Cork. That visit revealed, if revelation was necessary, the unique warmth, conviviality and hospitality of the Cork people. I suggest that any further state visits should include Cork on the itinerary.

I was not slow when Minister for Foreign Affairs to point out the obvious success that would ensue on foot of Queen Elizabeth's visit to the City of Cork. Deputy Keating is welcome to the English Market. It caters for all tastes.

I go there regularly.

With regard to the political benefit of President Obama's visit, will the Taoiseach or any member of his Government use some of the goodwill to ask the American Administration about lifting its apparent veto on burning bondholders? Perhaps the Taoiseach can explain the extraordinary reluctance among our political leaders to question anyone in the American Administration about this issue. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, when in New York and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, when he met Secretary of State Clinton, all refrained from asking what I would call the Geithner question. Did Timothy Geithner veto the decision to burn the bondholders?

I am restrained a bit here.

It would be of great political and economic benefit to the country if that veto was lifted. The Taoiseach should at least ascertain whether the veto exists. I am amazed that no one asks the Geithner question when they meet their counterparts in the American Administration. Did the Taoiseach ask the US Administration about the apparent veto on burning bondholders?

We dealt with this before. The ECB is an independent organisation and is not subject to the veto of any country. As the Deputy is aware, it is made up of the governors of the central banks of the various countries, and many of these have very different views. The bank is not subject to a veto by the United States or any other country. It is not a matter of a view by Mr. Geithner or by anyone else. The ECB is completely independent in its role and Ireland will begin discussions with it in respect of the sharing of responsibility — I do not like to use the term "burning" — with it in respect of bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank in the autumn, as clearly outlined by the Minister for Finance.

Why do we not ask the question?

I am telling the Deputy the answer.

Why do we not ask the American Administration?

The Deputy should speak through the Chair.

I want an answer to the question.

No. We are not going to spend all day on this question.

Deputy Martin should not worry.

These are supplementary questions. Deputy Keating asked the questions. We are not to have a long debate on the economy again.

Mine is a supplementary question. Could the Taoiseach explain how we can seriously be expected to believe that the rather vague and ill-defined benefits arising from the visit of President Obama, as outlined by the Taoiseach, outweigh the cost of €20 billion to the Irish people, referred to in this connection, which cost the people are bearing through the closure of hospitals and cuts to special educational needs resources?

The Deputy should ask a supplementary question.

The Deputy must not make a statement.

I am nearly finished.

Others want to contribute and there are more questions.

I am asking the Taoiseach to explain how the ill-defined benefits of the visit outweigh the alleged cost of €20 billion to the Irish people on foot of US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's intervention on the question of the bondholders. In the Taoiseach's response to Deputy Martin, he stated the ECB makes the relevant decisions and that the question regarding the intervention by Mr. Geithner is irrelevant. However, the Taoiseach knows——

He does not know; I am going to ask him to reply.

——that if Mr. Timothy Geithner lets his opinion be known on this matter, it carries weight. Is the House not interested in the answer?

First, the figure is not €20 billion but €20 million.

It is €20 billion.

It is €20 million.

No, no. The Geithner——

The Deputy should speak through the Chair.

The cost of the visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama is approximately €20 million. When the precise figures become available, we will let the Deputy know what they are conclusively. As I pointed out in the reply to Deputy Keating, the extent of coverage would be in the order of €300 million were one to buy it. The point is that if one does not promote one's country, it will not be to the fore in people's minds. The evidence of the value of the visits of both global personalities will be seen in time to come.

I share Deputy Martin's view on the English Market in Cork. It is a place of vibrant energy. The picture from the market was outstanding and I am sure it is iconic in many ways in that it demonstrates the warmth, hospitality and vigour of the people who work there. They are not afraid to promote the English Market in the rebel county. I commend the Deputy on that.

I was in Cork myself at the weekend.

That beats answering the Geithner question.

Does Deputy Adams know about the English Market?

I know a lot; I get my black and white pudding there, but sin scéal eile.

Deputy Keating referred to the political benefits arising from the English Queen's visit. I have a question on this because it concerns the job of the Government. I was in Cork at a united Ireland conference, which was very successful and at which we had a very good discussion. Has the Government raised or has it any plans to raise any of these issues with the British Government beyond the Good Friday Agreement? Particularly on the vexed question of legacy issues, could the Taoiseach report on the progress, if any, on the issue of the British Government's failure thus far to allow access to files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings?

As I told the Deputy privately and during Question Time in the House, there were a number of very good meetings recently. The North-South Ministerial Council, at which the Deputy's party was represented, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the British-Irish Council all showed enthusiasm and willingness to continue to work in every way possible towards the development of the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement.

I do not have any update for the Deputy on access to files other than what we discussed on the last occasion. As I said to Deputy Martin, I will continue to pursue this matter on every occasion that I can.

I asked Deputy Higgins to be brief in asking his supplementary question. We have spent 16 minutes on these questions.

I will be very brief but the lengthy statement that the Ceann Comhairle allowed Deputy Keating calls for supplementary questions.

He had two questions tabled so I decided I had to allow him appropriate time.

I had six yesterday.

The Taoiseach said the 38,000 articles and other items of publicity concerning the recent visits equated with €300 million in advertising for this State. This amounts to €7,894 per item of publicity. Does the Taoiseach concur that the statement made by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, that caused panic among the sharks in the financial markets and was carried 2,500 times around the world would, on the Taoiseach's figures, equate to €20 million in advertising damaging to his Government?

I do not know how the Taoiseach can answer that.

I have no control over the headlines that are carried around the world. All I can say is that coverage of the equivalent of the estimated 30,000 articles covering both visits to this State would cost €300 million were one to acquire it by advertising.

The Taoiseach should have seen some of the articles.

I am not sure what the Deputy is driving at.

Cabinet Sub-committees

Gerry Adams

Question:

3 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times that the Cabinet sub-Committee on Health has met; the members of this sub committee; and the regularity with which it is envisaged that this sub committee will meet. [17198/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

4 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has formalised the Cabinet Sub-Committee on health as promised during last week’s Taoiseach questions. [17276/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.

The Government has formally agreed to the establishment of a Cabinet committee on health. The members of the committee will be the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister and Minister of State at the Department of Health, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I. Other Ministers, Ministers of State and the Attorney General may attend as required.

A group of senior officials drawn from the relevant Departments, co-ordinated and chaired by my Department, will support the work of the committee. The committee will determine its own work programme and working arrangements. I anticipate that it will hold its first meeting in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the information I was seeking was contained in the Taoiseach's answer but I missed it. Could the Taoiseach clarify the remit of the sub-committee? There is frustration over the fact that we can only ask how often such committees are allowed to meet and the identity of the members. We cannot ask about their work because of Cabinet confidentiality. I note from looking through the records that when the Taoiseach was in opposition, bhíodh sé ag tabhairt amach faoi sin agus bhíodh an ceart aige. He was giving out about Deputies not being able to obtain clarity on work delegated to committees. Are there any plans to change this?

Deputy Ó Caoláin and I have been raising pertinent issues concerning health but we cannot obtain clarity on the sub-committee on health because of the way the protocols work. Will the Taoiseach give us a notion of the committee's remit? Does he have plans, as part of his plans to reform the Dáil, to change the way the system works?

It will not be discussing the football results anyway. The reason we established a sub-committee to deal with health is because the health area is so broad and complex that it would take up too much time to cover both social protection and health together so we established a separate sub-committee.

The remit of the sub-committee will be decided by it, but the Deputy can take it that by and large it will focus on the areas which, in so far as the programme for Government is concerned, refer to the health and well-being of the Irish people.

At its first meeting, the sub-committee will determine an agenda of work in this regard. On many occasions, the Minister for Health has pointed out his desire to change the structure to one where the delivery of a universal health insurance scheme can be introduced to end the two-tier system and provide a better quality health service for everybody in the country. In this general area, the sub-committee on health will decide on its work programme and matters concluded at the sub-committee will be brought to the Government for decision by the Minister.

In recent weeks, Ministers have been quoted on the record giving briefings about proposals they are bringing to Cabinet sub-committees. For example, the Minister, Deputy O'Dowd, did an interview at the weekend where he told the country about proposals he had with regard to the sub-committee dealing with infrastructure and its agenda. This is fair enough and I hope restrictions will not be imposed on us discussing issues with regard to the Cabinet sub-committee on health if others are doing so. The Taoiseach stated he would deal with this issue, but so far he has failed to do so.

With regard to the sub-committee on health, the Taoiseach stated its first meeting will be in the coming weeks. I find it extraordinary that it has not met already given the very serious issues on the agenda, such as Roscommon, the junior doctor crisis, the fair deal issue, the row with the VHI and the firing of the board of the HSE. Has the sub-committee been presented with a detailed plan with regard to compulsory health insurance proposals? Has it been given an outline plan on this? Does such an outline plan exist with regard to this fundamental question that is in the programme for Government? It will fall due to be considered by the Cabinet sub-committee on health.

Deputy Martin is aware that the Government has established the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children which will also deal with a range of issues that are considered important and urgent. The sub-committee has not yet been given a detailed plan for health insurance. The sub-committee has not met. When it does meet, it will decide its agenda. As I pointed out to the Deputy, it will be serviced by senior officials, and named Ministers and others for whom it might be appropriate to attend will attend. On the first occasion the sub-committee meets, it will decide on a body of work and whatever relevant information is necessary to complete that body of work will be provided, including background information on health insurance schemes.

Does such a detailed plan exist to be put the sub-committee?

The Government has a plan and programme for the development of universal health insurance, and over the period ahead work on that plan and its implementation will be a central focus of the Government in so far as health and the well-being of the people are concerned.

Will the Government publish this plan?

We will announce the decisions as they are made in respect of the development of the plan.

The Taoiseach stated a detailed plan exists for the implementation of compulsory health insurance. If it exists, will he publish it now?

It is published in so far as the programme for Government is concerned.

That is not a detailed plan.

As the Deputy is aware, one of the central issues in respect of health is to introduce a universal health scheme over a period of years to change the structure from what we have to one which we believe has far more potential for better delivery of service to a higher standard for everybody in the country. This is where the work of the Government will be. As decisions are made they will be announced as part of the structure, strategy and progress to implement the programme.

Will the Taoiseach discuss at the health committee as urgently as possible the plans to close accident and emergency services at Loughlinstown and other hospitals and to revisit, reconsider and reverse these decisions and remove the huge anxiety and distress that people are facing as a result?

Sorry Deputy, put the question. We are moving on.

Will the Taoiseach consider how the——

We are not having a debate.

——-hospitals that will remain will be overrun——

No, sit down please.

These hospitals, which are already overrun, will be even more overrun if these accident and emergency units are closed.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is here long enough to know that he can raise this matter by way of parliamentary question——

——or in an Adjournment debate if the Ceann Comhairle gives authorisation.

Which I have already done.

There are queues for both.

The agenda for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children is determined by the Chairman of that committee. As the Deputy is also aware, any Deputy is entitled to attend at any committee he or she so wishes.

What is in the programme for Government is setting out the objective, agenda and ideas on certain issues. There is no plan in the programme for Government on compulsory health insurance. For the record, will the Taoiseach clarify his previous answer? Does a detailed plan exist on the introduction of compulsory health insurance? If it exists, will the Taoiseach publish it?

If I recall correctly, the Deputy published approximately 900 documents in respect of the area of health.

I am asking you about this scheme.

The plan as published in the programme for Government is to introduce a universal health insurance system in the country to end the two-tier system. The Government in its work ahead will give effect to this strategy. The Minister for Health has already indicated the timescale he envisages to achieve this and this is where the focus of the Government will be. The background work and detail will be decided upon by the Government as we make progress.

There is no plan.

There is no plan.

Northern Ireland Issues

Gerry Adams

Question:

5 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to the North; and the persons that he met there. [17256/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

6 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has been in contact with the First and Deputy First Minister in relation to recent violence in East Belfast. [17257/11]

Gerry Adams

Question:

7 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when he next plans to travel to the North; and the persons that he will meet. [17258/11]

Joe Higgins

Question:

8 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans to visit Northern Ireland. [17273/11]

Joe Higgins

Question:

9 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he has received a report on the sectarian clashes in the Short Strand area of Belfast on 21 and 22 June 2011. [17274/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

10 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the contacts he has had with the Northern Ireland First Minister and Deputy First Minister to discuss last week’s rioting by loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast. [17277/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

11 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will detail his approach to the number and timings of North/South meetings at Cabinet level. [17284/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

12 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will outline in more detail the more proactive role he intends taking in relation to recent events in Northern Ireland. [17672/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

13 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will provide further details on his visit to Northern Ireland at the weekend; the persons whom he met and the discussions he held. [17673/11]

Micheál Martin

Question:

14 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his priorities for his first official visit to Northern Ireland; and the arrangements that have been made. [17674/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 14, inclusive, together.

I travelled to Derry on Saturday, 25 June, to participate at the official opening of the new peace bridge. Also in attendance at the bridge opening were the North's First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness; European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn; the Lord Mayor of Derry, Maurice Devenney, as well as representatives of ILEX and the special EU programmes body.

The peace bridge in Derry is a modern and potent symbol of all that has been achieved in overcoming adversity and division and the potential of what can be achieved in the future. It is a hugely encouraging milestone to all those who are working to sustain peace and create a thriving economy in which to live. It also underlines in a tangible way what can be achieved when we all work together towards a vision of the future.

While in attendance at this event I took the opportunity to have informal discussions with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on recent developments in Northern Ireland.

The events of last week were regrettable and serve to remind us that we can never afford to be complacent about peace in the North, a point I made in my speech at the opening of the peace bridge on Saturday. We must continue to work with communities to tackle the issues of sectarianism.

The Garda will, of course, continue to provide every assistance and co-operation to the PSNI in tackling criminality on both sides of the Border.

I have received regular updates from officials and will continue to be kept up to date. Reconciliation work with communities on the ground will continue to be supported by the Government through the reconciliation and anti-sectarianism fund which is administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

After the opening of the peace bridge I paid a visit to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry where the Government is collaborating with our Northern colleagues to provide a new radiotherapy unit which will provide services to patients from Donegal.

I am personally committed to seeing further co-operation between North and South such as the Altnagelvin project and intend visiting Northern Ireland on a regular basis.

As I reported in the House last week, at the last plenary meeting of the North South Ministerial Council we approved a schedule of future North South Ministerial Council sectoral meetings which will take place before the end of this year.

Tá mé an-sásta go raibh an Taoiseach ann ag oscailt an droichid nua i nDoire. Bhí lá galánta ann sa chathair stairiúil sin. Bhí mé ag caint le Martin McGuinness faoi sin agus bhí seisean ag labhairt faoi "brand, bright new day" — níl a fhios agam an raibh sé ag labhairt nó ag canadh. Tá áthas orm fosta go raibh an Taoiseach in ann dul chuig Otharlann Altnagelvin, tá obair iontach déanta ansin ag na húdaráis anseo agus ag daoine sa Tionól. Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá faoi na rudaí dona a tharla i mBéal Feirste agus is cúis sásaimh é go raibh an Taoiseach ag caint leis an Phríomh Aire agus Leas-Phríomh Aire faoi sin. Rinne an tArd-Mhéara, Níall Ó Donnghaile, an-obair fosta, chomh maith le daoine eile ar an taobh eile. Tá mé sásta fosta gur thug an t-Úachtarán cuairt ar an cheantar lena fear céile, cuairt an-tábhachtach a bhí ann ar an Trá Gearr agus ar cheantar na ndílseoirí fosta. Obair mhaith í sin atá ina céim eile chun cinn sa phróiseas síochána.

I will round off by referring to the Taoiseach's comment that the Government continues to be committed to funding or assisting projects which are of benefit to people across the island. Does he agree that more such joint projects are needed to continue the peace process and help people? While the decisions on Altnagelvin Hospital and the bridge building, both figurative and literal, were good, it is ridiculous that we have two different education systems. Magee College and Letterkenny are a good example. These types of issues could be easily sorted out by Ministers working with their counterparts not only on health and education but also on the economy, energy and so forth. Will the Taoiseach give us some sense of the Government's intentions on these matters?

I share the Deputy's view. There are unique opportunities for continued development in an all-island, cross-Border sense. The area of tourism and trade has always been central to this. The peace bridge, with its iconic symbol, is symbolic of the distance people have travelled in Northern Ireland in general and Derry in particular. The opening of the bridge also symbolises the extent of co-operation and assistance provided by our European colleagues. It was great that Commissioner Hahn was present at the opening to see at first hand the enthusiasm of people and the distance Derry has travelled. The city is now a centre of energetic vibrancy and is looking forward to fulfilling its role as city of culture 2013. The arrangements being made in this regard are first class.

Developments at Altnagelvin Hospital, where I met many cancer patients, have brought a conclusion to a very long saga. The Government intends to follow through on the commitment made by the previous Government on this matter. The statement from the Minister, Edwin Poots, confirming that Altnagelvin Hospital will have a radiotherapy unit has been sealed, as it were, by a commitment made by the Irish Government. The allocation provided for completion of the radiotherapy unit is of the order of €19 million. It is important to note that staff at Altnagelvin Hospital point out that the unit is not only for Derry but for the north west as a whole as up to 30% of those who will attend the unit will be from County Donegal, as is right and proper.

I see huge scope for further interaction in a cross-Border sense. I hope Ministers here and from the Executive, both in their informal connections and in the sectoral areas they will pursue between this and the next formal meeting, will start to focus on areas where co-operation is possible and there will be cost savings and mutual benefits as a consequence. Education is clearly one such area, although there are different certification and qualification standards in place and these are always difficult to level out between professionals, as the Deputy will understand. There are myriad things that can happen in everybody's interest and I support that.

I object again to the Taoiseach treating every Northern Ireland issue as related, as had been done by taking Questions Nos. 5 to 14, inclusive, together. This is a disappointing attitude which denies Deputies the opportunity to obtain real and specific information on the questions we have asked. I tabled five of the questions in the group.

I welcome the progress made on the radiotherapy unit for Altnagelvin Hospital. The previous Government was committed to the unit and it is good to note that progress is continuing to be made in this regard.

On the economic side, the north-west spatial strategy requires further development, engagement and agreement on all sides. There has been at times on the Northern side a reluctance on all sides to engage in what is a logical approach to economic and social development in the north west as a special economic zone. There are many significant complementarities. I ask the Taoiseach to pursue this matter in his contacts.

On the Short Strand issue, I pay tribute, as I am sure will the Taoiseach, to President and Senator McAleese who visited the lower Newtownards Road and Short Strand yesterday. While the visit was arranged before the recent trouble, the timing was excellent and served as a reminder of the need for us to continue to take an active role and encourage community development and reconciliation. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to ensure the supports provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the reconciliation and anti-sectarian funds are ring-fenced and maintained? While the sums involved are not very large, they play a significant role in providing seed funding to many community groups and organisations which work to enhance reconciliation and community development in interface areas.

Has the Taoiseach been given a briefing on what took place during the recent trouble, who the PSNI believes was responsible and what is being done to avoid a repeat of the attacks we saw on the Short Strand? Will he continue the spirit of cross-party co-operation on these issues and share these briefings with me and my party's spokesperson on foreign affairs?

I share the Deputy's view in this regard. We cannot call for others to provide funding if we are not prepared to provide some ourselves. Deputy Martin and I have discussed this matter previously. Sensitive areas and fragile communities need to have the agencies of both Governments constantly working with them. Funding of €3 million was allocated for 2011 for the reconciliation and anti-sectarianism funds. This figure matches the funding provided from 2008 to 2010. Two allocations of funding were made this year and a further round of funding allocations is expected to take place in the autumn. To date in 2011, a total of €2.194 million has been allocated to 80 groups and organisations. More than ten groups and organisations working in the Derry region received grant allocations in 2011 and many of these work with young people who are at risk of involvement in interface violence and anti-social activity. I support this funding which we will keep under review.

Everybody has a valid part to play and from that perspective the Government and agencies it supports will continue to work with our colleagues politically and at community level in the interests of everybody so as to ensure the peace process continues.

The PSNI made clear its view on who was responsible for the riots. They achieve nothing and give a bad name to the good work being done by many people in Northern Ireland on all sides of the community. It is this work that we want to continue. The focus of the Government will be on co-operation with the Executive and between the Garda and PSNI as well as providing support for communities both here and abroad. I will continue to work as we have always supported all Government activity in this area for the past 25 years.

While there is no question that the UVF was responsible for the recent attack on the Short Strand area, is the Taoiseach aware that the traffic is not all one-way, so to speak? Ongoing sectarian clashes are taking place in areas of the North with individuals and groups in both communities responsible for fomenting the trouble. Unfortunately, the individuals and groups in question are able to use mass unemployment and a sense of hopelessness among a cohort of youth who do not see much future for themselves against the economic background.

That is a breeding ground for the sectarian clashes. Will the Taoiseach now review the Good Friday Agreement, 13 years after it was reached? When I spoke on it in the Dáil I said it was an institutionalisation of sectarian division and, unfortunately, that has proved to be the case politically. The political parties in the Executive, for example, are still largely almost exclusively on one or other side of the sectarian divide.

Real action, rather than symbolism, is needed to address the crises and issues that are a breeding ground for sectarianism. Does the Taoiseach agree that the horrific cuts being planned by the British Government for health and other areas, including community areas, will further complicate and add difficulty to the situation and that they should be resisted?

Symbolism is important. It is not just the symbolism of the new peace bridge in Derry but the fact that people and cyclists can now cross the Foyle over the peace bridge and visit Ebrington Barracks, which has been transformed into a public facility, speaks of the journey the people of Derry, in particular, have made arising from this. That symbolism also gives young people a sense of hope that the future will be very different from the past.

The discussions we had in respect of the North South Ministerial Council reflected, to some extent, the changes that are coming in Northern Ireland because of the budgetary situation and the views of the British Government. This Government is committed to a number of projects to continue to demonstrate that we believe economic activity on both sides of the Border helps the entire island. Obviously, I cannot speak for the British Government but the period ahead for Northern Ireland will not involve elections next year or the year after, so there is a clear space politically for the new Executive and the Members of the Assembly to do their work. I am aware from our conversations that they are discussing a range of objectives and problems with the British Government. It is a matter for them to decide.

As far as this Government is concerned, we will continue to involve ourselves closely. As the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has often pointed out, in loyalist areas, in particular, young working class men have a sense of fragility and they must be shown that change and hope can lead to a better future and life for them. That requires involvement, agencies to work with people, communities to work with each other and it requires investment. We will continue to provide that assistance in so far as we can.

On the broader issue of contacts with the Northern Ireland Executive, we need evidence of a more active engagement with the North from across the Government. It is surprising that four months into the term of the new Government there has been no formal series of meetings between the Taoiseach and Northern leaders. I would have expected that to have happened at this stage. It is important that an Irish Government step up its engagement, as opposed to stepping away from the North. There is a sense in some quarters that perhaps the issue is closed and that we should just let people get on with things. That is a wrong approach and I am concerned it might be the approach taken by members of the Government. I ask the Taoiseach to ensure that all levels of the Government undertake a proactive engagement with issues in the North. Will he agree to increase his direct contacts with Northern leaders? Does he envisage doing so? Will he ensure that we will not have to wait until the next North South Ministerial Council to progress the issues that were discussed at the last one in Farmleigh?

Deputy Adams got the mood right in this case. There has been a strong and positive reaction to my attendance at the opening of the peace bridge. I have encouraged every member of the Government to involve themselves informally with their counterparts in the Executive. I hope that by the time the next North South Ministerial Council takes place a range of sectoral meetings will have taken place with interests on either side. Beyond that, I hope there will be regular contact between our Ministers and those in the Executive. For my part, it is a case of structuring my time in a better way so I can make regular contact with the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and the leaders of the other parties. I will continue to do that and will be happy to report regularly to the House on what we are doing. I do not object to the House having an opportunity to discuss continuing issues in respect of co-operation between the Republic and Northern Ireland or issues as they arise. This is in everybody's interest.