Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had bilateral discussions or meetings with any EU leaders regarding when Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty should be activated; and his response in this regard. [19356/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett


2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach to report on any issues he raised and any bilateral meetings he attended at the European Council meeting. [19428/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the European leaders he has talked to or met since the result of the UK exit referendum. [19429/16]

Mick Barry


4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach to report on the meetings he had with other EU leaders in Brussels during the recent two-day summit on Brexit. [19474/16]

Micheál Martin


5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the detail of any bilateral meetings he had at the European Council meetings on 28 and 29 June 2016; and the items discussed at them. [19831/16]

Micheál Martin


6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met directly or spoke to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, before, around or after the European Council meeting on 28 and 29 June 2016; the items that were discussed; and if free movement, free trade and borders were mentioned. [19832/16]

Gerry Adams


7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach to report on discussions he had with European leaders on the margins of the European Council meeting of 28 and 29 June 2016 and has had since then. [20700/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

I had a short telephone call with Prime Minister Cameron on Friday, 24 June last. I indicated my regret at the outcome of the UK referendum and my respect for the democratic decision of the UK electorate. I expressed my appreciation for the close working relationship we shared over a period of unprecedented warmth in relations between our two countries. He echoed these sentiments and agreed that the bilateral relationship will remain a joint priority for both Governments, with a special focus on Northern Ireland. Obviously, Mr. Cameron is leaving office today. In this regard, on Monday, 27 June last, I spoke to First Minister Foster and Deputy First Minister McGuinness to underline that issues likely to affect Northern Ireland and the North-South relationship will be top priorities for the Government in future negotiations. I also spoke to First Minister Sturgeon of Scotland.

While I did not have any formal bilateral meetings with other European leaders at the European Council on 28 June or at the informal meeting of 27 member states the following day, I spoke specifically to Prime Minister Cameron about the common travel area, the peace process and the open Border situation. I had short exchanges with a number of other leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Tusk and President Juncker. The issues we discussed were mostly those addressed in the 29 June statement, about which I addressed the House on 5 July in my report on the European Council meeting.

I took every opportunity at the European Council and in the other discussions, to underline our unique relationship with the UK and our concerns regarding Northern Ireland, North-South relations, the common travel area and trade between the UK and Ireland. At the European Council and since then, Prime Minister Cameron has spoken along exactly the same lines. We have been emphasising these points to our EU partners for some time. They are widely understood and appreciated. I reiterated these concerns when I travelled to Berlin yesterday to meet Chancellor Merkel. She fully acknowledges and is understanding of our perspective. She has assured me that we share the objective of constructive negotiations towards a close future relationship between the EU and the UK. I also took the opportunity to highlight Ireland's strong commitment to EU membership, as I have in my discussions with all our counterparts. We agreed that we must use the period of reflection before Article 50 of the EU treaties is triggered to address how the difficulties facing the EU can be overcome and the confidence of citizens can be increased.

President Hollande is planning to visit Ireland on 21 July next for a Somme commemorative event and a bilateral meeting. I am sure the EU-UK question will be the major issue for discussion at our meeting. With regard to events in the UK over recent days, I hope to have an early opportunity to speak to David Cameron's successor as Prime Minister, Theresa May, once the formalities of her appointment are confirmed.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. With a new Prime Minister taking office today, we should be moving forward with a greater degree of certainty in the relationship with Britain and on the Brexit question. There has been much uncertainty in the past three weeks, but matters have moved much faster than originally anticipated. Some of the coverage of yesterday's meeting in Berlin with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is reading too much into what she said. Nobody could reasonably object to the idea that we need to know what the United Kingdom is seeking before we can agree a way to respond to it. There appears to be an idea developing in certain sections of the Tory Party that the timing for triggering Article 50 is to be used as a negotiating weapon. That is of no help to anybody. We cannot all be held to ransom, particularly by those who demanded Brexit, while they try to figure out what they meant and what they want. The uncertainty can cause economic harm and damage the global economic situation, particularly in Europe. Article 50 should be triggered sooner rather than later. We all had accepted the September timeline as being reasonable to give the London Government time to arrive at its basic position and then trigger Article 50. What is the Taoiseach's view? Has he made this point to the UK Government and will he make it when he meets and speaks to the new Prime Minister?

Mr. David Cameron leaves office having, unfortunately, presided over the debacle of the Brexit referendum which was poorly planned. It was poor judgment to call a referendum in the first instance. I realise the Taoiseach had a reasonably good personal relationship with Mr. Cameron, although I am not sure how that was reflected in substantial policy outcomes. Mr. Cameron neglected Northern Ireland to an excessive degree and probably indulged anti-European Union rhetoric too much. In the last while he probably took this on board to an excessive degree and I believe it had an impact on the subsequent result. The referendum result has and will continue to have an enormous impact. It was an enormous risk to take without any plan B or thought being given to what would happen if the Brexit vote was won. It is now too late to stop it. It is going to happen, but we must ensure British policy changes. The Taoiseach has indicated that he envisages speaking to the new Prime Minister shortly. Will he indicate when he expects a meeting to take place? Will he seek an early summit on Northern Ireland? Obviously, it would include a discussion on the Brexit negotiations, but it would also cover the need to restore political faith in the political process and ensure greater momentum.

The Taoiseach indicated previously to the House that officials of the State were to meet British officials for preparatory discussions on the common travel area and to prepare the ground for the Brexit talks. Have the officials met? Is there an acceptance on the British side of the need to deal with the Border issue? Are there signs of flexibility in how they envisage this unfolding? What new full-time resources have been assigned in the Taoiseach's Department to work on Brexit and have staff been delegated from other Departments to work on it?

Given the worrying rise of political forces in Britain who have traded on anti-immigrant sentiment which is dangerous and, frankly, racist, will the Taoiseach join me in wishing Mr. Jeremy Corbyn the best of luck in the Labour Party leadership battle? A victory for him is the best hope some politics might emerge in Britain that will move in a more progressive direction, particularly in view of his unconditional support for the rights of migrants and immigrants in Britain. He is thoroughly anti-racist and in the aftermath of the Chilcot report, anti-war, unlike the discredited Blairite rump that is now trying to stab him in the back. Perhaps the Taoiseach might respond to that brief question.

My main question relates to the European Union and the debate and controversy into which it has been thrown, particularly in the light of Brexit. When there have been questions raised and criticisms made of the European Union, it has presented itself as the benign and progressive force in European politics. Does the Taoiseach think there is a supreme irony and hypocrisy in the fact that it is the European Union which claims it supports the free movement of people which might be the obstacle in the way of the free movement of people between Britain and Ireland? It demonstrates that the European Union's commitment to the free movement of people and internationalism stops at the borders of Europe, at frontier Europe, even in so far as it may affect us and our relationship with our nearest neighbour, Britain. Does the Taoiseach agree that he must be steadfast in pointing out to the European Union that if it claims to be committed to the free movement of people, that free movement should extend beyond the borders of fortress Europe, be it between Britain and Ireland or to poor Syrian refugees who are trying to get into the European Union?

Did the Taoiseach raise at the European Council the recommendations made by the Committee on Housing and Homelessness? The committee urged the Government to urgently seek flexibility from the European Commission in the application of EU fiscal rules to the financing of social housing. That is what the all-party committee established by the Dáil to deal with the social housing emergency asked the Government to raise with the European Union. Will the Union give us flexibility under these crazy fiscal rules that are preventing us from spending even our own money to provide the social housing we urgently need? Did the Taoiseach raise that issue? Will he insist on us being given such flexibility or will he only insist on what I heard the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, say, that Ireland might leave the European Union if it dares to do anything about corporation tax? That appears to be a red line issue for the Government. Is it a red line issue for the Taoiseach to go to the European Council to demand flexibility under EU fiscal rules to deal with the biggest crisis facing the country in order that we can make the investment required in the provision of urgently needed council housing?

I could call Deputies Mick Barry and Gerry Adams to ask more questions, but the Taoiseach would not have a chance to respond.

My question is short. The Foreign Ministers of the six nations that founded the European Union met separately on at least three occasions before the Brexit referendum and again afterwards. Representatives of this state were not invited to attend those meetings. That is very strange. I can only imagine what the reaction might be if Irish representatives met representatives of five other EU member states without German representatives being invited. During his visit did the Taoiseach mention this exclusive meeting to EU leaders?

In particular, did the Taoiseach raise it with Chancellor Merkel?

I know that the new arrangements for taking Taoiseach's Questions will be reviewed, but I note that the leader of Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach took half the time.

So I now have a minute and a half to speak.

I had three questions on that section and Deputy Adams had none.

No, I had a question.

You take half the time when you have one down.

The Deputy did the same to me the other day.

Address it through the Chair.

Deputy Adams has one question.

Deputy Martin is at it again. Will you ask him to please let me have my say uninterrupted?

Yes, go ahead Deputy Adams.

I really would not have expected Chancellor Merkel to say anything different from what she said yesterday, but as a number of people acknowledged, things have moved on since then. Theresa May, MP, becomes British Prime Minister today. That change in Downing Street has moved more quickly than expected. She has said she will not consider triggering Article 50 until next year.

This is vitally important, in that as Prime Minister she is equal co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. That is an international Agreement. We have been advocating for some time for the Taoiseach to enlist international support for it. Mrs. May has said that she wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, which is a fundamental cornerstone of the Agreement. She has also indicated that she wants to do away with other human rights aspects of it. Did the Taoiseach raise this with Chancellor Merkel? If he did, did he make it clear that the Irish Government will not countenance or tolerate any action by the British Government if it undermines the integrity of these international Agreements?

On Brexit, I met members of the East Border Region Group last week, which covers six council areas each side of the Border. All those involved, who secured almost €50 million in the last 16 years, are very concerned about up to 19 projects that are now threatened. When I raised this with the Taoiseach last week, he said it was a stalled process.

I have to ask the Deputy to conclude now.

Okay. There are scores of programmes, jobs and communities trapped by this stalled process. Did the Taoiseach raise this issue with Chancellor Merkel and encourage her to press the EU to agree quickly to honour all the projects currently under development? Will he encourage the EU to lift the real sense of fear surrounding these projects?

I have to ask the Taoiseach to correspond with the Deputies on these matters because the time for the questions has elapsed.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Eamon Ryan


8. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach his strategy for Ireland in the event that the United Kingdom fails to negotiate access to the European Economic Area post invocation of Article 50. [19473/16]

At the informal meeting of 27 EU Heads of State and Government on 28 June there was a preliminary discussion about next steps, further to the outcome of the recent referendum. I should emphasise that a large degree of uncertainty persists on the UK side in regard to a number of key issues. These in turn will have a significant bearing on the process in the months ahead. To a great extent therefore, it is not possible to speculate on negotiation outcomes at this point.

Partner countries accept that UK politics has been going through a turbulent phase and we will have to wait until new Prime Minister May outlines her Government's approach and her strategy regarding its future relationship with the EU. Of particular note will be clarity around the timing of the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, as well as the separate question of what type of relationship the UK will seek with the EU. Access to the European Economic Area is one of a number of options that might be considered by the UK in terms of its future relationship with the EU, but this will be a decision for the British Prime Minister to take in due course.

In the meantime, a number of important matters have been clarified. The 27 EU leaders agreed that there can be no negotiations until Article 50 is triggered, and that, while this will not happen immediately, it should take place as soon as possible. In addition, it was agreed that the European Council, that is, the Heads of State and Government, will direct the process. The European Commission and the European Parliament will also play important roles. Indications are that the negotiations could take at least two years. In the interim, the UK remains a full member of the EU.

Regarding Ireland’s strategic approach to negotiations, our overall interest lies in a stable, prosperous and outward-looking UK. The closer its future relationship is with the EU, the better from our perspective. We will need to make sure in due course that the negotiating mandate, which has to be given by the Member States, including Ireland, reflects our particular concerns. We have been emphasising our unique perspective, especially in regard to Northern Ireland, North-South relations, the common travel area and trade, to our EU partners for some time and I am confident that this is now widely understood by them.

Will the Taoiseach consider establishing a forum on Anglo-Irish relations outside the North-South Ministerial Council and outside any veto that any party might have within it? It is the sort of forum we need, like the Forum for Europe, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation or the New Ireland Forum. It is vital we have some sort of place where we can think about this in a certain way. Will the Taoiseach proceed with that idea outside the North-South Ministerial Council or any of the confines of the Good Friday Agreement?

Will the Taoiseach also make certain in the negotiations that there is recognition of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the possibility of the reunification of Ireland in any future agreement between the EU and the UK? In other words, we cannot have an agreement that might preclude the possibility of a reunification of Ireland. That would obviously have real consequences for whatever deal would have to go through.

Will the Taoiseach consider establishing an advisory council similar to what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, MSA, established in Scotland, which is bringing in international, academic and other national experts outside the public service system, and which would advise our Government in the approach it needs to take? First Minister Sturgeon set that up within days of the Brexit vote. Such is the scale and the implications of this issue, it is vital for us to set up a similar advisory council. We have a meeting tomorrow and we might be able to consider the details of it, but I would be interested to know the Taoiseach's views in the House as to whether such an advisory council might be set up.

A number of existing entities deal with some of this, such as the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the British-Irish Council and, as the Deputy said, the North-South Ministerial Council. It is important to say that I want to restructure the Department of the Taoiseach in the sense of forming a new Cabinet committee, which will be chaired by me with principal Ministers to attend and those, if necessary, beyond that; to strengthen the numbers in the different missions we have abroad in Rome, London, Berlin, Paris and so on; and to take in extra staff to the relevant Departments, either by contract or by moving from one Department to the other. We will transfer some staff from the Department of the Taoiseach back to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in order to have a more specific focus in the Department of the Taoiseach, assisted by a second Secretary General and staff to focus on Brexit and related issues.

The Deputy mentioned an Anglo-Irish forum. This is worth considering, but we have a lot of contact at the moment. Senior officials are meeting. Deputy Martin raised this question already. I will look for an early meeting with new Prime Minister May. In respect of a Northern Ireland summit, these are important issues. It is becoming very clear to Northern Ireland representatives what the implications of Brexit might mean, depending on the eventual outcome.

On the question of the implications in terms of the reunification of Ireland, we are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. That contains the elements for consideration of whether that might be given consideration, triggered by a future Secretary of State if it was felt there was a majority in favour in that regard. The meetings that have now taken place with some Ministers here on a cross-Border basis are beginning to be understood by many of the MLAs. The costs could be quite considerable, as will the deficit in infrastructure and planning for future years. If, for instance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform needs to provide moneys for project X or Y, if there will be a decline or withdrawal of European moneys we cannot front-load it from here with no compensation coming from the other side. These are all things that will have to be teased out.

Clearly we will have to wait and see first what the British want. Do they want a Norwegian, Swiss, Canadian or Singaporean strategy?

What is the intent of the new Prime Minister? I hope to be able to get an early meeting with her to discuss some of this.

It is important that we should have the capacity to draw on some of the experience that exists here on Europe and the United Kingdom. I would not want to set up a statutory council, but there are people around who have had great experience in Europe over the years and have dealt with Britain and Europe. They have a lot of experience on which we can draw. There were some discussions about a consultation process on an all-island basis, and while particular parties can have different points of view I have worked very well with First Minister Foster. I was in Enniskillen in each of the past five years for Remembrance Sunday. It is necessary that I, on behalf of the Government, understand the feelings and challenges of Northern Ireland business and how people are looking at the outcome of the vote and the consequence of Brexit for them. While we do not have a negotiating mandate down here, it is important for them to understand that we have an interest, obviously, because of the Good Friday Agreement and North-South association. These matters will have to be teased out in great detail.

If we have a situation where we have a country remaining in the EU, which is Ireland, and the United Kingdom leaves, we will have some capacity to monitor goods travelling through from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland, that is from an EU country to a country that is not in the EU. I do not want to see any hard border or the checkpoints that were there for many years. We do not want to see that.

There is a range of issues, and I will brief Members on them tomorrow, in respect of the changes we will make to the structure in the Department of the Taoiseach to deal with Brexit and its consequences and beefing up those things. In that sense, I know First Minister Sturgeon put together a capacity for international advice. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has already brought back all of the ambassadors and we have a lot of contact and a lot of connection there. We do not need too many entities, but it is important that the wide range and spectrum of advice and information is available to us and it will be. All of this is moving and the next step is for the Prime Minister to say-----

Get Jeremy Corbyn in.

-----what they want and what is the strategy and intent.

Join the British Labour Party.

I wish Jeremy and the other two candidates well, of course, and I thank the Deputy.

He is our best hope over there.

In that sense all of those entities are in play. A real driving focus from a specific committee here with capacity to call in Ministers and deal with all of those different agencies and get the information will all come to heel whenever Prime Minister May triggers article 50. I tend to agree with Deputy Martin that it should not be delayed too long. The Prime Minister was not to be elected until October, then it was September and now it is today, so there would be a view across Europe that if this were to be delayed too long into the new year it would cause a lot of confusion, uncertainty and angst, particularly in financial sectors. It is the right of the country which wishes to leave to trigger article 50 and we will have to wait and see what she actually says.

Deputy Martin is right. Things have moved at a quicker pace than we expected even last week, regarding the formation of the new British Government and potentially the triggering of article 50 of the treaty. The point we were discussing here on how to formulate an agreed basis for an approach from Ireland that would impact well for the people North and South is something that now has new urgency. I will not make any comment about how this has been handled to date, other than to say I do not think it should derail the need to do it still. I do not think anybody has a veto on that.

I have had discussions with some colleagues. I was at a Party of European Socialists leaders' conference last week, and Deputy Boyd Barrett will be delighted that I had discussions with Jeremy Corbyn there. I and Colum Eastwood made a joint presentation to all colleagues on the unique impact of the British vote on Northern Ireland. Perhaps tomorrow is the time to discuss this, but we need to put on the table the proposal of many people here for some type of forum to know what is the optimum end game for the people of this island so that we can condition the ground rules that will be set by the Council for the negotiations once the article is triggered.

Deputy Ryan made a very valid point on broadening the scope of people. I do not want to sound in any way critical, but many of the very fine civil servants we have engaged in these matters, who are some of the finest public servants in Europe, come from a mindset that is very eurocentric. We need to broaden this debate now because we are in very changed times. The point made by Deputy Adams, which the Taoiseach answered last week by stating structural fund issues were in abeyance or on hold - I cannot remember the exact phrase used - is that people are depending on these funds to plan not only the infrastructure matters the Taoiseach has discussed but also community initiatives and PEACE IV, and we need to have very much sooner than later a clear timeline on how these matters will be funded and resolved.

I want to caution against any additional structure between this State and Britain. Of course the State has a duty and responsibility to engage with the British Government on matters relating to this State, but the virtue of the arrangements we have with the British-Irish Council and the North-South Ministerial Council is that we have an all-island North-South joined up position despite the difficulties and differences of opinion.

And a Unionist veto on anything we do.

We do not have a Unionist veto if we do not concede, and this brings me to my next point, which is that the idea of a national forum needs to be advanced. I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks today about getting the opinions of the business sector in the North. I can tell him it is not just clear-cut; many people now understand this will not be good for the economy or for harmony in the North or for the people in Border counties. We will have the chance to talk tomorrow and once again argue for the need to have all-island inclusive involvement of as many people as are prepared to be part of it. The three leaders here have all agreed on this idea and the Taoiseach has said it is a good idea, so one leader saying "No" should not stop us.

It is not the first time a Unionist party has disagreed with a party down here. Back in the 1980s, the late Garret FitzGerald invited the parties to talk at the New Ireland Forum. The Unionist party did not participate formally, but the two McGimpsey brothers did. Irrespective of the difference of opinion about it, it is important in an all-island sense that we have a fix on this because people involved in Northern business are making contact stating they would like to put forward their views on what they think are the challenges. It will be very important when discussions take place about the future relationship. Ireland is at the elbow of the journey to the UK and Europe and, clearly, our association with Northern Ireland is critical to this. When the projects and proposals are being looked at, we will have a resource problem unless we can get agreement on how these things can be dealt with.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Gerry Adams


9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate change has met. [18145/16]

The Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate change had its first meeting on Thursday, 7 July. It is an important committee which will focus on the implementation of the infrastructure commitments of A Programme for Partnership Government and the capital investment plan. It will also address the climate change challenge in terms of domestic policy and measures as well as in relation to our EU and international obligations.

Was the Cabinet's decision to adopt a commercial stimulus model as its ownership model for broadband and to leave our communications infrastructure in the hands of the private sector discussed by the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate change? If it was, it reinforces what I think is a serious mistake because rural Ireland, as the Taoiseach knows, has been denied essential services which many urban areas take for granted.

That is especially the case for broadband. The former Minister for Communications, Alex White, told me in a response to a parliamentary question last December that there are still 15,000 households and premises in my constituency of Louth to be covered. He said that he hoped - this was six months ago - that 85% of the addresses in this State would have access to high-speed services by 2018, with all addresses covered by 2020. Now the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has said this will not happen until 2022, so I do not know how we can believe the Government on matters of timeframes. In the meantime, rural Ireland suffers.

Ba mhaith liom ceist amháin eile a ardú go gasta, the issue of climate change and climate justice. I am conscious that, in the case of those families, businesses and rural communities which suffered so badly from the flooding, roads and buildings are still not fixed and a total of 300 locations across the State are being assessed. These locations have been designated in the draft flood mapping, which has not been finalised. I ask the Taoiseach when the draft plan to provide flood defences will be published. May we get a report on the draft Shannon catchment flood risk assessment and management plan? Can the Taoiseach give us some sense of the work of the Shannon flood State agency co-ordination working group to tackle flooding along the Shannon?

The Deputy has raised a number of questions. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, had meetings with the different groups about the response to flooding and what should be done, both in regard to the more long-term situations arising from the Shannon and other locations where serious money has been invested, and in regard to smaller areas where there has been flash flooding, such as in areas around south Galway where individual houses were flooded. I am sure he would be happy to give Deputy Adams a detailed account of the progress made in that regard.

The Government decided on 5 July on the ownership model for broadband. The next stage of the procurement process is the commencement of the detailed technical and financial negotiations with qualified bidders. This competitive dialogue phase is scheduled to commence in July and is anticipated to take at least ten to 12 weeks. I dealt with Deputy Howlin on this matter last week. This is not a situation like that of Eircom, where there was a nationally owned public system, but rather an extension of private facilities. Two models were considered. First, the commercial stimulus or, as I said, gap funding, where the private sector finances, designs, builds, owns and operates the network, with contractual obligations to the Department in respect of users and people. Second, the full concession, which means the private sector finances, designs, builds and operates the network, with contractual obligations to the Department and the asset being handed back to the State after 25 years. Therefore, while the Government recognises the long-term value of the State's owning any networks built, the advice received was that under a full concession model, the entire cost of the project, which is very significant, would be placed on the Government's balance sheet, with serious implications as a consequence for the available capital funding over the next five to six years.

Not if one has growth rates of 26%.

If that rate were real in terms of employment on the ground, perhaps. However, given that both models would deliver the same service and be governed by almost an identical contract, the concession model would have reduced the amount of money available to Government for other critical priorities, such as climate change, housing or health, over the next five to six years. Those technical negotiations are now ongoing and I hope that when the contract is awarded, it can then be rolled out by the task forces in the different local authority areas and bring the broadband situation to a head.

Did the Deputy ask me about another matter?

No. Is iad sin mo dhá cheist.

Last year's capital plan was widely viewed as just another example of the repackaging of existing plans which so defined the last Government. The Cabinet committee that is the subject matter of this discussion is reviewing this because we need urgent and ambitious plans to address our infrastructure. There was an announcement during the week that, for example, the Macroom bypass, the N28 and other road projects will now not be completed until 2022. I know there has been a tendency in recent times that pre-election promises tend to be two-election promises; in other words, they are never meant to be implemented in the immediate aftermath of the election but will come on stream after the following election. Is it envisaged that a revised capital investment plan be produced this year? There is a need for strategically important investment to include broadband, road infrastructure and other issues.

In terms of the climate change aspect of this committee, not enough has been made of the dramatic news in recent weeks about the hole in the ozone layer narrowing and closing. The great story there is that it illustrates corrective action works. One of the great difficulties for climate change has been a lack of acceptance of the phenomenon by key policy-makers and political leaders for too long and a sense that there is nothing we can do, that it is inevitable and so on. The example of what is happening to the ozone layer and the corrective action, legislatively and that parliaments and governments around the world have taken, has apparently had a very significant impact, according to scientists. There is a need for the Government to drive that message home in a national programme in terms of climate change so that we get the whole of society to embrace the idea of action to mitigate the impact of climate change.

This is already happening, as the Taoiseach is aware, globally, in Africa. We talk about migration in the context of the Syrian conflict but there will also be very significant migration out of Africa because of climate change. There therefore needs to be an understanding of this among our society. It was a missed opportunity by many governments - not just our own - and states and societies not to use that example of what is happening to the ozone layer as a catalyst for greater urgency and momentum behind climate change action.

It is very appropriate that there is a presentation in the audiovisual room given by the officials involved in the national planning framework. It has been timed very well for us to start showing leadership on climate change. If we can lead with that planning framework, thinking long-term, and if we think to, say, 2030, 2040 or 2050, we know one thing for certain. We know very little about what will happen in 2050 but we know we have to completely decarbonise our entire energy system, transport system and heat system. The planning framework gives real opportunity to be the centre of our leadership. The timing is also good in that the planning framework could lead on or influence the review of the capital plan which, I understand, will be available early next year.

The Chief Whip was at a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, a number of weeks ago at which we talked about this issue. One thing we agreed on, I think, at that meeting was that, more than anything else, we need to ask our people for help rather than all the time having a top-down approach, choosing which town or city will progress, which town will get the money and which one will not. We need to start asking our people and our communities, as part of this planning process, what are their ideas as to how they can develop their home as a sustainable, prosperous place. It seems to me that the forces are aligning in a certain way that allows us to set and show leadership on climate, which I believe we have to do and which will benefit our country in every way.

I know this will come up later but there is an opportunity to include the issue of climate change in the citizens' convention so that at that top, central level we also consider how we lead on this. There is a sense of something positive but the forces are aligned for this committee to use those structural elements within Government to really change our approach to the climate issue.

Regarding the capital review, it is clear that we have very significant built-up infrastructural demand. There has been a significant change in ECB monetary policy from the period of Mr. Trichet to that of Mr. Draghi. Money is now available virtually at zero interest to states, which is all well and good if states could spend it.

On the fiscal side the structural rules are still very rigid. For example, the €400 million raised from the sale of Bord Gáis Energy, BGE, assets that was and still is available to the State to invest immediately in social housing cannot be deployed because it would break the fiscal rules on expenditure. Last week I talked to a number of colleagues across Europe and there was a great deal of support for considering amending the fiscal rules. The European Union needs to show that it is capable of dealing with crises. We cannot always learn in looking backwards. We must also learn in looking forwards at people's needs. We must show, in a prudent manner - God knows, I would not be arguing for profligacy - that we can use resources and the cheap money being made available by the European Central Bank to address real infrastructural deficiencies, including broadband provision, completion of the road network, schools, hospitals and health care systems. Will the Taoiseach take up the issue with colleagues to see if he can build, as we tried to do in the past, a consensus among member states to exempt infrastructural investment, to some degree, from the fiscal rules?

Regarding the Macroom bypass, the design has been completed, planning permission is in place and land has been purchased. The mid-term review will offer an opportunity to engage in some consideration of it. The Minister will have some extra funding available. The project has moved a long way and the Deputy knows the road very well.

It was meant to happen sooner. People said things before the general election-----

It is a pity it did not happen - zero - when the Deputy was Minister.

I delivered what we said we would deliver.

Fianna Fáil included it in the capital programme; everybody should be happy.

Regarding Deputy Eamon Ryan's question about climate change, the other day I was speaking to the former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson. She had just returned from Ethiopia, where, she told me, a population of 80 million would increase to 200 million by 2050, 50% of whom would be under 17 years of age. They are extraordinary demographics. Climate change is challenging on the African continent. I take Deputy Eamon Ryan's point about asking people to help. The Chief Whip has informed me that she wanted an amendment in respect of the citizens' assembly to deal with the issue of climate action. I am happy about this and I am sure the citizens' assembly will be very happy to consider it.

I suppose Deputy Brendan Howlin was talking about EUROSTAT.

I was speaking about the fiscal rules which applied. Some countries asked for leeway in dealing with defence issues after the invasion of Ukraine. We need to have some leeway in providing infrastructure.

Money is available at very low rates. A couple of months ago I wrote to President Juncker about the matter and he sent back a very good reply, offering an opening. I spoke to the European Council about it and other countries have followed suit. I met one of the chief directors of EUROSTAT, which categorises these matters in a particular way, and I have put officials here in touch with her. I expect that we will make some headway. Social housing has been ruled out for PPPs in a number of countries by EUROSTAT categorisation. I am not seeking a change in the rules but a method of accommodating the fact that people should be able to spend their own money and borrow money cheaply to provide houses. That is one instance. I will send the Deputy and the other leaders a copy of Mr. Tusk's letter and the response. I hope we can make some headway on it, given that it applies not only in Ireland but also in a number of countries which are concerned about it.