Ceisteanna - Questions

Programme for Government

Joan Burton

Question:

1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if there are understandings rather than agreements with any of the Independent Deputies. [4572/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the agreements in place to support the Government and the role of his Department in overseeing them. [6037/17]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the agreements in place with parties and Independents to support the Government. [7355/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

There are no understandings of the nature suggested by the Deputy with any particular Independent Deputy. A Programme for a Partnership Government sets out the agreement between the party groups and Deputies who are participating in or supporting the Government.

The parliamentary liaison unit, which is based in my Department, was set up to perform a liaison function to help ensure that Ministers and Departments are properly informed of their responsibilities and procedures in the Thirty-second Dáil.

We read in the papers today in the context of today's discussions that Independent Deputies Michael Harty and Michael Lowry appear to have an understanding with the Government in the sense that they are considering supporting it in the context of Sinn Féin's motion of no confidence in the Government. In the context of the extraordinary Kafkaesque accusations which were made in respect of Sergeant Maurice McCabe via Tusla and those Deputies who as indicated in the media will perhaps be supporting the Government - Deputy Harty says he makes up his mind on a case-by-case basis and Deputy Lowry says he has not decided which way he will vote but he is likely to back the Government - has the Taoiseach had any discussions with those Deputies or other Deputies from whom he may possibly gain support about Tusla and what, in effect, through their agency and offices has been done whether against the internal rules of the agency or against the law? Has the Taoiseach had any discussion with the Deputies mentioned or with anybody else because they are indicating that they propose to back the Government, presumably based on reason and context and the understanding as indicated by Deputy Lowry on a previous occasion unspecified he has with the Government?

No, I have not had any discussions with the Deputies Deputy Burton mentions are considering supporting the Government or with any other Deputies about the matter she raised.

The Constitution is clear that the Cabinet acts as a collective in terms of responsibility for all Departments. It is reasonable to state that collective Cabinet responsibility has broken down in recent times in terms of Ministers flatly contradicting one another. I understand the Taoiseach had a meeting this morning with the leader of Fianna Fáil in advance of Cabinet. Are there regular meetings between the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil in relation to the confidence and supply arrangements or how are the confidence and supply arrangements supported at leadership level between the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil?

In regard to the question raised by my colleague, Deputy Burton, on the Government's maintained support of Deputy Lowry, the Chief Whip was reported as saying that she provided weekly briefings to him but information obtained under a freedom of information request indicated that there was no available material in that regard. Are weekly briefings provided to Deputy Lowry or any other Deputy outside of Government?

In regard to the Deputy's second question the answer is, not that I know of. It may well be that a Deputy may not read his or her notification of business and may contact the Whip's Office about the business of the House but as far as I understand it there are no individual briefings of the nature mentioned by Deputy Howlin. I have often said that in terms of party leadership there are occasions when it is necessary to talk to all of the party leaders. I have not met individually with Deputy Martin for some time.

It is Valentine's Day.

It might have been better if the Taoiseach had done so.

This is a matter of particular importance. Deputy Martin had a meeting yesterday with Sergeant McCabe and he requested that we might meet this morning to discuss that and I was happy to oblige. If Deputy Howlin made a similar request, I would be happy to meet him, as leader of the Labour Party.

In regard to the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, that is a matter that is reviewed. If Deputy Martin or other Deputies on the far side wish to make a comment about an element of the confidence and supply agreement, which is published, then they do so. There are not regular meetings about it to the effect of whether we have addressed No. 5 or No. 6. Meetings between leaders take place as necessary. It has been a while since I had an individual meeting with Deputy Martin. The meeting today was in response to a particular request that I was happy to accede to.

As everybody knows, last week we had a series of contradictory statements from a number of Ministers, including in the Dáil Chamber. Contradictory accounts have been given by Ministers and by the Taoiseach in terms of his contradiction earlier of what the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said.

It appears from what the Taoiseach said that the Fianna Fáil arrangement with the Government stands. As the Taoiseach said, he met this morning with Deputy Martin. Perhaps he would brief the Dáil on whether the Fianna Fáil leader committed his party's continued support for the Government and what commitments, if any, he gave in return for that support. Will he also brief the Dáil on what discussions or contacts the Government has had with any Deputy about the upcoming vote of no confidence in the Government?

The discussion this morning between Deputy Martin and I followed on from Deputy Martin's meeting with Sergeant McCabe in terms of his reflections on that meeting and the view of the McCabe family and on behalf of his own party. It was important to have those views made known and articulated. The Government has not been talking to other individual Deputies. I am aware that Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government and that it wants to collapse the system.

I want you to go, Taoiseach.

Many people want Deputy Adams to go.

As far as I am concerned this is far too serious a matter to be playing politics with. There is an issue that needs to be addressed and, as agreed today at Cabinet, a formal tribunal of inquiry to determine the truth will be established. We now need to work on the terms of reference for that inquiry.

I would like to confirm that it is okay for party leaders to seek a meeting with the Taoiseach and to meet him. I have heard Deputy Adams frequently request meetings with the Taoiseach over the last six or seven years, particularly when he had some campaign or other going on.

What is Deputy Martin's point?

My point is that there is nothing wrong with anybody meeting the Taoiseach.

Nobody is objecting to that.

What is important in the context of the question is that such meetings are transparent and are not secret. In terms of this morning's meeting, it was indicated prior to the meeting that a meeting was to be held and it was acknowledged following the meeting that a meeting had taken place. The purpose of that meeting was to convey the view of the McCabe family that a public tribunal of inquiry was necessary.

My concern this week is not to play politics or play political games in terms of a vote of confidence just like Sinn Féin brought down the institutions in Northern Ireland at the very time when the North needed a coherent voice on Brexit.

It did not have it.

There was, actually. The parties were forming something together but Sinn Féin broke it up. It is extremely important right now in the Republic that, in response to the crisis, we have meetings to obtain answers on a core public issue that is convulsing the nation and that goes to the heart of the administration of justice. It is important that we meet and convey the views and emotion of the family at the heart of this. That is important and that manifests itself in a public policy which has now broken away from the idea of a commission of investigation, with all the perils a tribunal can involve.

Deputy Michael Lowry is very clear that he has an understanding with the Government. He says it puts him in a privileged position when it comes to having meetings with Ministers and influencing the allocation of funds to the constituency. I acknowledge the Taoiseach differs with him in that regard. Is the Taoiseach saying the Deputy is not telling the truth in this matter? Does the Deputy have an arrangement with the Taoiseach?

Could the Taoiseach indicate when Deputy "Boxer" Moran will be taking over from Deputy Seán Canney as Minister of State? When is the exchange, the toss-of-the-coin job as to who will be Minister of State for a year? When is the decision due?

Deputy Lowry plays the high ball. There is no favouritism shown here. People who have their ear to the ground might know that things are going to happen. I know there was a case recently which had been announced quite some time ago and which seemed as if it had fallen into the lap of Deputy Lowry but there is no agreement, formal or informal. Any Deputy is entitled to have access to Ministers; that is the way it is.

What was the second question about?

The swap-over. When will Deputy Moran assume high office?

That agreement is to be worked out among themselves. There is no specific date for it. I am sure they will come to a conclusion on it in the next period ahead.

The Taoiseach's Cabinet comprises a large number Fine Gael Ministers, Ministers from a number of Independent groupings and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who is an Independent alone. Has the Cabinet reached an understanding yet with its constituent groupings and its Independents on the matters relating to the formation of the tribunal and, more important, as I said on the last occasion, relating to the grave wrong that was done, the Kafkaesque experience of Sergeant McCabe and his family regarding the complaint made against them via Tusla? Has the Cabinet reached any understanding or agreement in that regard?

Deputy Bruton is aware that Mr. Justice O'Neill considered two protected disclosures over a period of some time. He determined that he was unable to say what the truth was. As a consequence, he recommended that there be a commission of investigation and suggested terms of reference to cover all the relevant matters. Clearly, we have moved on from that because there is no point in having a commission of investigation if there will not be participation by one of the central elements, the McCabe family. Therefore, the Government reached agreement in principle this morning to have a public inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. The issue now is to draft the terms of reference for that inquiry and determine its structure, range and how it is to be set up. I hope that can be done today and tomorrow and that the matter can go through the House on Thursday, and also the Seanad, so the commission of inquiry can start its work.

I asked whether the Cabinet had reached agreement in regard to the Tusla matter and what happened to Sergeant McCabe.

The indication is that Tusla will be included as part of the inquiry. The Minister is to organise a root-and-branch analysis by HIQA of Tusla and the way it does its work.

Urban Renewal Schemes

Joan Burton

Question:

4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach his plans to provide an update on the Dublin north inner city task force; and the terms of reference, chair and timescale. [4574/17]

Gerry Adams

Question:

5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the north inner city ministerial task force, which he chairs. [5744/17]

Micheál Martin

Question:

6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the task force on Dublin inner city. [5819/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the status of the interim report from the Dublin north inner city task force. [6038/17]

Seán Haughey

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach when the Dublin city task force report will be published. [7133/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, together.

Last July, the Government launched a major initiative for the Dublin north inner city with the establishment of a ministerial task force to oversee the long-term social and economic regeneration of the area. To support the work of the ministerial task force, Mr Kieran Mulvey was appointed to engage with the local community groups, representatives and other interests and to report back with specific recommendations. The terms of reference for this work were published in July and these include making recommendations on specific measures to support the long-term economic and social regeneration of the area, including in the areas of community safety and policing; early intervention programmes for children; education and training; employment opportunities; housing; improving the physical environment; tackling the impact of drugs; and community development, including family, youth and recreation activity. Part of the work involves reviewing and making recommendations on structures and procedures to ensure better co-ordination of statutory and non-statutory programmes in the area. A number of short-term measures were announced to help the community address some of the immediate challenges facing it, and these have been progressed by the responsible Departments and agencies.

Those Members close to the area will know that Mr. Kieran Mulvey has spent a lot of time in the area since he started his work last September. He has walked the area many times, visiting projects and residents, and he has engaged with the business community, local community and political representatives. Throughout this extensive period of consultation, he has formed his views on what is needed to regenerate the area and help the community of the north inner city. He briefed the ministerial task force in late December, setting out the main areas of recommendations. As promised, he met with members of the community on 1 February and set out the broad outline of the report, including the main areas of recommendations, providing time and space for the community to respond. I understand that was a very positive engagement and was well attended, with strong contributions covering a broad range of issues of importance to the community. Mr. Mulvey has finalised his report, which will be published later this week. I expect the Government to move quickly to respond to the report's recommendations and it will work with all the people involved to ensure a properly resourced implementation plan is put in place.

There are five questions. I suggest that Members pose their questions and that the Taoiseach give a composite response. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I understand Mr. Kieran Mulvey presented the interim report to members of the local community just very recently. I have been told by quite a number of people that while people very much welcome the fact that the report has been issued at all, they have serious concerns over the fact that no mention was made of the investment of money to implement the various proposals, some of which are very good. Can the Taoiseach give an undertaking to the House that these proposals will be fully funded? There were not even any costs in regard to most of them. We know there was about €1 million extra allocated last year and carried over into this year for much-needed sports facilities, for instance. Can the Taoiseach state what will happen to the many iconic buildings in the area, particularly the old Rutland Street school, which is now standing empty for a long time? There seemed to be a difficulty with the task force accepting that historic buildings with a very prominent history in community life may not be restored. Will the Taoiseach commit to addressing these issues?

The other issue is that Mr. Kieran Mulvey suggested very strongly - I support his suggestion - that the employers in the IFSC should become responsible for providing employment opportunities, training and education to local people. Despite agreement on this, there is no mechanism in the report by which to follow it up.

The Taoiseach will recall that the task force was set up after a spate of shootings in the north inner city but, of course, the social and other difficulties facing people in the area date back decades. We welcome the setting up of the task force and Mr. Kieran Mulvey's recommendation of initiatives and interventions needed immediately in the north inner city. The Taoiseach will recall that in July 2016, he met the community representatives and stakeholders. I understand he made a commitment on the refurbishment of Rutland Street school. Apparently, that is not now being delivered on. The Taoiseach also made a commitment that this would be a community-led initiative.

The community came together and developed a substantive submission that was presented to Mr. Mulvey. The community was under the impression, or at least believed, that it would have access to this report, but it has not had that. Community members have been told that it was with the task force or was going to the Cabinet. There is a rumour going around - maybe it is a false one - that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, met the business community about the Mulvey report, but did not meet the community group that made the substantive submission. Will the Taoiseach provide some clarity on this matter?

I am familiar with the inner city area. It is a community that has been let down by politicians and the elites for a long time.

By criminals and thugs.

There is generational poverty, neglect-----

Criminal activity.

-----and so on. When will the Mulvey report be given to the community, will there be a period of consultation and will there be a timelined and funded implementation plan?

I have a question, but I thought that was classic from Deputy Adams, to make the allegation - "There is a rumour going around" about the Minister, Deputy Donohoe - and then ask the Taoiseach to clarify.

Deputy Adams did.

Many people are concerned and anxious that this initiative is more about giving the appearance of doing something than being a step change in engagement with the local community. To a certain extent, we have seen evidence of planned-for spending being repackaged and the main reports have been delayed.

I wish to address two aspects. First, the one consistent demand from the community has been for the development of a new community facility in the old Rutland Street school buildings. It is an historic location and its development would be symbolic of faith in the long-term spirit of the community, yet Dublin City Council has announced that the likely cost is too high. Will the Taoiseach agree to step in and ensure that the project can go ahead?

Second, many areas need systematic planning and support. It should not require high-profile murders before the State pays attention. In 2011, the Taoiseach abolished the role of the Minister of State for local development and the Government got rid of the many area-based schemes targeted at the most disadvantaged communities. The schemes had an excellent record and delivered substantial improvements. When I met the local community, the constant criticism was that many of the community supports that it had enjoyed for more than a decade had been whittled away in recent years. That was a mistake and the community suffered as a result. In particular, the RAPID programme has been undermined. There was much behind it. It was a yardstick by which Government investment was allocated. It should be properly restored nationally.

Will the Taoiseach assure the House that none of the funding for the inner city allocations will come from reducing allocations to other areas of the city?

Although the catalyst for this process, which had cross-party support in the House, was probably the spate of gangland killings that blighted and gave a negative view of this remarkable area, given the day that is in it and in the teeth of the controversy about An Garda Síochána, it is an appropriate moment to say that the Garda has done terrific work on this issue. This is coming directly from the community. We should say it on the day that Garda morale has been impacted by other developments. There are exemplary gardaí doing work on the ground.

I am interested in asking the Taoiseach about the implementation of the plan. He stated that it would be published at the end of the week. What will the Government do with it then? What is the implementation strategy? When we discussed this at the beginning, the idea was that we would have all-party buy-in and a commitment to fixed resources over time so that the plan would be an exemplar to be replicated in other socially disadvantaged areas. What is the Government going to do once the plan is published? What is the implementation procedure? Does it involve the House debating, deciding and committing ourselves over a number of Dáileanna to ensure that the proposals are implemented?

I understand that Mr. Mulvey updated the local community on 1 February and that it made 150 submissions. The community is anxious to get a response to those submissions, but my information is that the commitments given at that meeting were vague and uncosted, there was a rehearsing of old themes and no new real commitments were made. There was nothing tangible on housing, community facilities, the integration of new communities, youth services or supports for the elderly, all of the issues that need to be addressed, and there was a reliance on previous commitments. Most importantly, no commitment on additional funding in 2017 was given. If there are to be new projects and initiatives, new funding is needed. The Government must be conscious of this.

There has been a suggestion about renaming the north inner city. That is a matter for the local community, but I am unsure as to whether it is a good idea.

"Seán O'Casey".

The north inner city is an historic place, and the north inner city is just that, the north inner city. I will leave that up to the local community, but it is not a good idea.

The report will be published at the end of this week. The November 2016 deadline has already been missed, but I am glad that the report will be published.

I am long enough around here to know how these things work. There is a crisis, the Government has to be seen to be doing something, there is a media frenzy, a task force is set up, and once the media frenzy ends, the interest from and commitment by Government wanes. I hope that is not the case in this instance and that there is a serious programme of implementation. I appreciate the Taoiseach's commitment to the project and I hope that he will be there to implement it.

The report will be published on Thursday. It is very comprehensive. The outline that was given by Mr. Mulvey to the community on 1 February was not for it to have all of the detail, but to reflect generally on the improvements that were being recommended. For instance, there is €5 million being spent there on smaller issues like the multi-use games pitch on Sheriff Street and the resurfacing of the existing pitches at the-----

That is the road to-----

-----Sheriff youth club and the Larkin community college. These are works that have been going on since 2016 since we went down there before. As Deputy Burton is aware, there is quite a number of communities that have been receiving moneys of smaller amounts over the years. That work continues, of course.

The initial estimate for Rutland Street was €2 million. It is now-----

€2 million. It is now at €12 million. It is a very substantial difference. Obviously, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is looking to see how we can deal with this.

The Taoiseach was defending the rise in the estimate of the children's hospital.

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

The projections for the project have grown from an initial estimate of under €2 million to over €12 million now. It is an important building. It is owned by DCC, which does not intend to dispose of it. We are working to see how best we can accommodate that and deal with it, but it is a substantial increase in the estimates, as the Deputy is aware.

Deputy Haughey mentioned the renaming of the area. It is a rebranding, as it were. Okay, the Deputy does not agree with it. It is to rebrand it without losing its identity and it is to be carried out by the community itself. It may wish to do this, it may not wish to do it.

Deputy Howlin is right in talking about the Garda superintendent involved there. He has done a superb job with his members, both in dealing with understanding who the people are - their names, their families, their involvement in the community - and also dealing, of course, with the more serious issue of crime and gangland crime. That is one of the reasons why the Fitzgibbon Street station is an iconic building just up the road from Croke Park. The intention is to re-open Fitzgibbon Street station as a really central Garda station within a stone's throw of half a dozen murders. There is some preparatory work to be done on that. The board of works has carried out its estimates and I expect that to move ahead shortly.

There is a whole list of smaller things that are important. Examples include the improvement works at the swimming pool, the public lighting upgrade, the painting of public lighting, signposts and all of these things to improve the general look of the area. This has been a central feature of what communities have said - broken footpaths, windows smashed, places that are overgrown and derelict - in terms of making an improvement in all of those things.

I refer, for example, to the Mountjoy Square railings, the restoration and the improvements, the public domain improvements, including roads resurfacing and realignment, vacant sites, hoardings, the Sheriff Street recreation centre equipment upgrade and sporting facilities for many of the communities such as indoor pitches, all-weather pitches, boxing clubs and all of the various measures. It will all be published on Thursday. Deputy Martin inquired about how it will be implemented. The intention is that it will be done by Dublin City Council, DCC, and some of the groups themselves. The implementation plan will be followed faithfully. There is money involved and sizeable allocations will be made to improve the general lot of the area in the coming years.

Will it be additional to the existing allocation of the city council?

Additional moneys are being allocated but the funding will not all be additional because some moneys have been allocated to existing programmes. We will proceed with the development of Rutland Street school and Fitzgibbon Street Garda station, which are two major iconic buildings. There is involvement with the corporates from the IFSC and interest has been expressed by the National College of Ireland in working with disadvantaged children through its schools programme. Quite a deal of activity has taken place recently to give everybody an opportunity, from Grangegorman on one side to the National College of Ireland on the other, flanked by the IFSC, together with the improvements throughout the area. The streets are quite wide in the area and they were well built initially but many of them have fallen into disrepair. That is all part of the general improvement of the environment and presentation of the locality. The schools are working very hard to bring about a situation where every child in the north inner city gets a real opportunity.

National Economic and Social Development Office

Brendan Howlin

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach his plans to transfer responsibility for the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006 from his Department to another Department of State; if the National Economic and Social Development Office (Amendment) Bill under preparation and referenced in the Government legislation programme proposes to effect such a transfer of responsibilities to another Department; if not, if his statutory responsibilities in relation to social partnership, as set out in that Act, will remain with him; if questions regarding social partnership are accordingly properly addressed to him; and his plans to further develop relations with the social partners in the context of his statutory responsibilities. [5690/17]

The National Economic and Social Development Office, NESDO, comes under the aegis of my Department and there are no plans to change this. The NESDO is the corporate body of the National Economic and Social Council. The function of the council is to analyse and report to the Taoiseach on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy and the achievement of social justice and the development of a strategic framework for the conduct of relations and the negotiation of agreements between the Government and social partners. NESC has offered a valuable combination of economic, social, environmental and institutional perspectives that are necessary for good policy making.

I last appointed the council in 2011 and the five-year term has expired. At the moment my Department is assessing the arrangements that will work best for a new council. As part of the considerations the Secretary General of my Department wrote to members of the outgoing council seeking views and suggestions on the future role and work programme of a council in advance of a plenary discussion held on 17 November last. The meeting provided the opportunity for the council to reflect on its work to date, and to discuss its views on the best arrangements for the council and its future work programme in a changing policy landscape. It is important that we have the best arrangements in place and I expect that these will be finalised shortly.

From the Taoiseach's reply and one I received to a similar question previously I am not sure his heart is in this process. Perhaps it hearkens back to a different time and while the idea of social partnership might be a loaded concept now but it is a relevant one and an important one still.

We have already reached a period of some considerable industrial disputes. Tesco workers are on strike today. In the public sector nurses and teachers are about to go on strike and in the semi-State sector there is the possibility of bus drivers going on strike, and there are others. In that context does the Taoiseach think we need to have some restoration of a mechanism for social dialogue? I refer in particular to the old employer-labour conference concept, which was a final appeal mechanism when intractable disputes could not be resolved and representatives of labour and employers could knock heads together, as it were. The mechanism has worked very effectively in the past. When people run out of space sometimes one needs a third-party mechanism to enable intervention. In the context of what we are probably facing into in the coming months in both the public and private spheres we need to be alert to the need for mechanisms that can defuse disputes before they do serious damage to the well-being of our people and to our economic well-being.

Deputy Howlin has raised a very important point. He knows from his own experience the importance of being able to deal with issues in advance. Clearly there are concerns in respect of rail workers, bus workers, some teachers, nurses and staff in the medical profession other than nurses. The business of public pay in general is being considered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

We have had a number of interventions both from unions and business to have discussions about the perspective that lies ahead. Without returning to social partnership, as was, or the employer-labour conference, we are putting in place a mechanism by which people can come and discuss forthcoming issues in a forum that is not a decision-making process but would give the Government a clear indication of their views so that issues do not become siloed. One can have a general discussion about the issues that affect people and the impact they will have on them. As Deputy Howlin is well aware, discussions are about to begin in respect of Brexit and the negotiations that will take place once Article 50 is moved. Unions and employers across a range of sectors have turned up at meetings on the issue around the country to give their views, both North and South. The second all-island forum is on Friday of this week in Dublin Castle. I suppose Deputy Howlin will attend it. That is the facility we have in place now and I hope it will continue to prove beneficial without going back to the old social partnership concept of the past.

There is a clear need to restructure various bodies that grew up along with the previous approach to social partnership. What is not clear is where in government leadership will come from in this area because we are seeing more and more examples of strife and conflict in the public service concerning both service provision and remuneration. The Government is making it up as it goes along, and that is taking a charitable view. Before Christmas there was the Garda dispute and the Labour Court intervention was a catalyst for bringing forward the Lansdowne Road pay agreement. There is the transport dispute with Bus Éireann. There is also the health dispute involving nurses and now general care staff are looking for concessions. That is a huge worry for people given the prospect of industrial action in hospitals.

In previous times there was a social partnership framework and since the crash it is a concept that dare not speak its name. When one talks to people either in the public service or elsewhere there seems to be a general lament and longing for some framework, forum or dialogue on a consistent and ongoing basis so as to have a greater vision and sense of a collective approach to the future of the country and society. It seems that the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, so to speak, in terms of the concept of social partnership. I do not say we should go back to it, as it is clear there were errors and mistakes made in previous iterations of it, but given what Deputy Howlin raised in his question on the NESDO it seems there is relevance in terms of what structures we have nationally to facilitate the pursuit of common ideals between partners in society, namely, the trade union movement, farmers, the community and voluntary pillar and the Oireachtas. That absence is contributing to a vacuum which, in turn, is lending itself to periodic and episodic bouts of conflict and industrial disputes, one leapfrogging another and there is a real danger the situation will spin out of control in terms of the public service. The Taoiseach might indicate what he intends to do in the coming weeks to try to prevent the escalation of industrial conflict.

There was a review of NESC and NESDO in 2012. The review concluded that NESC continued to provide an important forum for discussing social, economic and environmental issues on a multilateral basis across a number of sectors. A number of other fora exist for engagement such as the National Economic Dialogue, the new Labour Employer Economic Forum, the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Social Inclusion Forum. NESC remains the only forum where national economic, social, environmental and institutional views can engage and interact. These other fora or opportunities are also important. In particular, I hope that the Labour Employer Economic Forum will prove to be somewhat beneficial for discussions of this nature.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has been very careful in his assessment of the range of services for public service for the time ahead in order to put in place a successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement. I regret that the ASTI executive was not in a position to recommend acceptance of the improved offer in respect of Lansdowne Road to teachers. The Garda dispute went before the Labour Court and that matter has been attended to. Clearly, there are issues about whether capacity to strike will be considered in terms of the legislation. These are important elements.

This all boils down to how we engage with the social partners. Our little discussion about the north inner city shows the merits of proper engagement with the community and voluntary sector based on equality. We have the same thing in terms of our farmers and rural communities. The Taoiseach has acknowledged the economic crisis presented by Brexit and the fact we are facing major strikes, one of which is in the health service. There is a strike at Tesco where the employer is trying to force a section of the workforce to accept a new contract which would give these workers inferior terms and conditions. There is a threatened strike at Bus Éireann. God knows what might present. We know these workers only take up this action because they feel they have no other options. The statutory responsibility for social partnership rests with the Taoiseach. How does he manage? How does he structure these relations with the social partners? The issue of demolishing NESDO goes back to 2013. To my knowledge, we do not even have a date for when these matters will be debated here. Could the Taoiseach tell us how he manages relationships with these sectors in a structural way and when the process of scrapping NESDO will be completed?

The NESDO legislation is in draft form. It is on the legislative programme. Is it intended to transfer responsibility for answering questions on social partnership to another Minister or will the Taoiseach retain it?

The Deputy will recall that the Government decided in 2012 to dissolve NESDO and place NESC on a statutory footing. All Ministers engage in dialogue on these matters. Formal structures in place include the National Economic Dialogue, the Labour Employer Economic Forum, the Climate Change Advisory Council and the Social Inclusion Forum. The role of NESC needs to be assessed in light of these arrangements. In addition to these structures, we now have the national risk assessment process. We have just published the national risk assessment for 2016, which identifies the strategic risks in the economic, environmental, geopolitical, social and technological areas. The programme for Government also points to the need for longer term planning, specifically citing areas like housing, broadband, climate change, pensions and long-term funding models in higher education and health. The question of pensions was raised earlier today. We need to find a way to bring all these elements together in a coherent fashion and to tap into the knowledge and expertise that is out there regardless of whether it lies with academic experience or other experience. I did not set a specific timeline for the completion of the assessment process. A great deal of work is being carried out by the Department and this work will, hopefully, come to a conclusion soon. I will return to the House in respect of this issue.