Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Brendan Howlin


1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee E (health) will next meet. [47835/17]

Cabinet committee E met on 12 September and is scheduled to meet again on 23 November. Committee E covers issues related to the health service. As well as considering current issues and challenges faced by the health service, such as measures to improve access to scheduled and unscheduled care over the months ahead, the Cabinet committee will oversee the development of the Government's response to the Sláintecare report. As I previously stated, the Government agrees with the broad principles of the report, which align well with current policy direction in many cases. However, as recognised by the Oireachtas committee, further work is required on the costings and practical implementation challenges. Additionally, the Government needs to consider the phasing and sequencing of the recommendations, given budgetary and capacity constraints. The Government had a dedicated discussion on health reform on 13 October at our Cabinet meeting in Cork during which the Minister for Health updated the Cabinet on the ongoing considerations of the Sláintecare report. This work will be taken forward under the auspices of the Cabinet committee.

I welcome the discussions of Sláintecare, coming as they do after the absence of any resource allocation to the implementation of or any mention of Sláintecare in the budget. With regard to Cabinet discussions, I want to raise the provision of cardiac care across the country, in particular the provision of cardiac services in the south east. On Friday, I met with a number of groups in Waterford campaigning for 24-hour cardiac care support, including a second catheterisation laboratory on a permanent basis and the provision of a 24-7 emergency facility. The report commissioned by the Government, by Dr. Niall Herity, in July 2016, stated that any elective procedures would be carried out in the south east region, putting at risk people who live more than the 90 minute critical time space away from either the Dublin or Cork based hospitals. The Government promised to review the Herity report and the facilities to be made available in University Hospital Waterford.

More recently, the Minister for Health has announced a national review which, when it is put in place, will take 18 months to complete its work. That will be significantly resisted by people in the south east. They are working on the basis that they need facilities now. We absolutely support a national review of cardiac services but in the interim, we have to have a review of services currently available in the south east to make sure they are providing cardiac care for people who live in the south east that is on a par with the rest of the country. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that, pending the welcome establishment and conclusion of a national cardiac review, there will be, as promised, an immediate review of cardiac services in the south east to be based at University Hospital Waterford.

Will the Taoiseach clarify when the Cabinet committee on health last met? I did not pick up his opening reference. Did he say December?

12 September.

12 September. Pardon me - it was not clear and I was not sure. I was wondering at the gap between the last time and the next scheduled meeting later this month. I am sure the Taoiseach is aware that over the first ten months of this year, record levels of people have been left on trolleys in hospitals throughout the State. I am sure many colleagues here have particular instances reflected to them, as a very distressing case was reflected to me in the recent past. As we progress into the winter, these figures are set to continue to rise. Over the period I refer to, up to this particular point over 2017, some 82,000 patients admitted have experienced time on a trolley. Throughout the month of October, the figure reached 9,000. Any extrapolation of those figures could indicate that between this month and next, we could very well reach almost 100,000 people or more. This is a 15% increase in the October figures compared to the figure for the same month in the previous year. This is a very difficult issue not only for staff in our hospitals, but for families coping with loved ones in hospital care.

The Taoiseach is familiar with the problem, having formerly been a Minister for Health himself. At this late point, what steps are being seriously taken to address this matter? It was an issue the Taoiseach flagged up himself in the course of his own tenure in office. When he took over as leader of Fine Gael, I recall him indicating that he would take a special interest in health. What is being done to address this serious issue? When will we see a detailed, costed overall plan with a timeframe? A plan is needed to tackle this unacceptable situation across our public hospital network.

Whereas, in principle, the Government says that it is in favour of Sláintecare, reading between the lines, I do not get a sense that the Government is totally committed to Sláintecare at all. The Taoiseach's reply confirms that to me, since he says there is further work to be done on costings and implementation which is code for me for slowing down the implementation of Sláintecare. I have not had any sense of the Government deciding to hammer out the issues, whatever the issues are that the Department and Government seem concerned about. In the absence of Sláintecare, if that work is going to continue, there does not appear to be any real strategy governing health at the moment within the Government. There has been an absence of a strategy since universal health insurance was abandoned. It took five years to abandon a false promise that was made to the people in 2011. It was repeatedly promised that there would be universal health insurance and we got nowhere near implementing it. Senator James Reilly, then Minister for Health, abolished the board of the HSE and played politics with the whole thing, and then announced the establishment of hospital groups with no boards, just a chair and executive.

The governance of health has been in limbo for the past six years. I now learn the Government, belatedly, will reappoint an external board to the HSE. The situation has been unsatisfactory and incoherent in recent years with regard to the governance side; nobody is in a position to make up their mind, people were appointed not knowing what their mandate was and what the future held for them. Over the past year or so, hospital groups in particular have communicated to us about being in a limbo situation with regard to legislation.

I echo Deputy Howlin's comments on the south east. Prior to the Herity report, a reconfiguration report and an earlier national cardiac report recommended emergency heart care cover for the south east. I do not believe that Cork can deal with the patient cohort from the south-east area. University Hospital Waterford was left very short in respect of the reconfiguration report. Wexford and Kilkenny moved out of the south-east health area, became connected to the Dublin region and Waterford was on its own. Prior to that Waterford had been the main hospital in the south east, or was meant to be, in the South Eastern Health Board's original strategy. Now, once again, it is in a limbo situation and, as a result, is losing a lot of vital services such as the emergency cardiac care.

Deputy Howlin's remark that there are no allocations for Sláintecare in the budget is incorrect. There is an allocation to establish the health reform office. One of the recommendations in the Sláintecare report was that one of the first actions to be done is the establishment of such an office to work on the implementation plan for Sláintecare. Sláintecare is a plan for a plan, it is not a plan in itself. It requires an implementation plan and it recommends that a number of reviews be done. Those reviews have to be done, one of which is the review of the public-private mix in the public hospitals and how it might be eliminated. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has appointed a group to do that. This group is, I believe, led by Donal de Buitléir. The Sláintecare report also recommends that we begin, progressively over time, to reduce out-of-pocket expenses and costs for patients. There are two specific measures in the budget that do exactly that, namely, a reduction in the prescription charge for medical card holders under the age of 70 - having done it for the over-70s last year - and the reduction in the monthly charge for the drugs payment scheme, DPS, for those who do not have medical cards. That will be reduced by €10 per week-----

That was in all our manifestos. All parties had that.

-----from January.

On the emergency cardiology issue - specifically 24-7 primary percutaneous coronary intervention, PCI, which I believe is what the Deputies mean - a report was done on that matter by Dr. Herity, a Northern Ireland-based cardiologist and expert in the field. He determined that it would not be safe or sustainable to provide 24-7 primary PCI in University Hospital Waterford. I am aware that the report has been rejected by many of the campaigners there and the clinicians working in the cardiology service there. Nonetheless, I believe all in the House would agree that decisions on where national or regional specialist units should be located must be based on scientific advice, not on politics. The Minister for Health plans a national review, which will be different to previous reviews. It will not simply be an expert review. There will be much more room in it to hear other voices such as the voices of patients and others.

On a more positive note, the second cath lab is now in place. It is a mobile cath lab at University Hospital Waterford and is working on elective cases. It seems to be having some success in reducing waiting times for people who need cardiac procedures. In the interim, we will have to give consideration to whether that second cath lab should be kept in place. While it may not be providing 24-7 primary PCI, it appears to be reducing waiting lists and waiting times for patients who need cardiac procedures on an elective basis. That has to be a positive.

Reference was made to scheduling of Cabinet sub-committee meetings. I believe I have explained this before. The Cabinet meets each week, sometimes twice per week now, and that is where most business is done. The Cabinet sub-committees meet every six weeks, not to crisis-manage but to deal with strategic planning, strategies, reviews and long-term policy thinking. I meet bilaterally with Ministers all the time, more often than I am able to keep records of.

The Government is committed to the implementation of the Sláintecare report but we do understand what it is. As I have already said, it is a plan for a plan, not an implementation plan. We are committed to the principles such as public health and the need to improve our health as a nation and as individuals. We will not deal with any of the long-term problems in health care or ever get on top of the costs if we do not deal with that. On the investment in capital and ICT, there is an increase in capital spending for health happening already and into the future. There is also a great emphasis on primary and community care, reducing out-of-pocket expenses and reviewing the public-private split in our hospitals. Those principles are very much accepted by the Government.

There are, however, issues. Deputy Martin asked what these are. There are issues around the costings, which need to be interrogated. I had one costing looked at within recent days. I believe we would all agree that there should be a lower threshold for individuals on the DPS. It is currently assessed on a household basis and this does not properly recognise that individuals - single people - can lose out under such a system. The costings in the report suggest that the threshold could be halved and it would cost only €7 million. After interrogation, however, nobody is actually able to come up with an estimate as to what it would cost because there are no records of whether people live in single-person households. As a result, that costing is certainly wrong. That gives just one small example of how costings in the report are definitely wrong and need to be interrogated further.

The report leaves open the question as to where the money will come from for its implementation. The report does not say, for example, that the funding should come solely from general taxation. It suggests a number of different sources as to where money could come from, including co-payments and social insurance. That would need to be teased out.

The report does not deal with one of the big questions we face in health care, which is why we spend so much and not get value for money for it. I have often said that spending on health in Ireland is in the top tier per head in the western world. We do not, however, have top-tier access. Any report about reform of our health service would have to deal comprehensively with that question.

The report does not come to conclusions; it recommends a number of different reviews. It recommends that further reviews be done on certain areas such as the public-private mix, which we have started.

So it is back to normal.

The sense I get from members of the Opposition is that they are accusing the Government of somehow paying lip-service to supporting Sláintecare, even though we are actually taking it seriously and doing some of what is recommended in it.

But all the commentary-----

It seems to me that the Opposition parties are actually paying lip-service to it. If we look at the Opposition pre-budget plans we can see that they did not provide anywhere near enough in health-----

That is not true.

I have not even finished the sentence. I confirmed this with the academic authors of the report. They recommend that an extra €1 billion would need to be allocated for health in year one. For next year Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party certainly did not-----

That is wrong. We wanted to transfer to a HSE budget.

Secondary to that I have-----

This is unacceptable.

I have not heard members of any party saying that they accept the report hook, line and sinker because were they to so do, they would have to answer some of the follow-up questions, the most obvious of which being from where would all the money come. The report states it should come from a mix of measures such as co-payments and social insurance-----

Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

-----so a party that says it is signing up for this report hook, line and sinker should answer that question. What co-payments are wanted, how much would they be, what social insurance contributions would they agree-----

We do not agree with-----

I will take one supplementary question from Deputy Howlin and then we will move on.

I will be brief. The whole idea of-----

Everything is a negative-----

Deputies, please can we hear Deputy Howlin's supplementary question.

The Taoiseach is presenting all the negatives.

The impetus behind an all-party group perspective into which everyone could buy was the need to stop this bickering that is going on now with the Taoiseach accusing the Opposition.

In fairness, I have been accused as well. I am happy to stop it.

The Taoiseach said he wanted to embrace this. Obviously, we have to drill down and be granular. I understand the costings of health care reasonably well. However, we need to proceed on an all-party basis. Let us try and let us have momentum on this. From what the Taoiseach has said, it appears this will go the way of all other reports. We will have no overarching issue.

I asked about cardiac care. Is the Taoiseach saying it is now settled Government policy that there will not be primary PCI in the south east? The second mobile laboratory, which the Taoiseach lauded, is on a fixed contract which is about to conclude. Since the Taoiseach acknowledges its success, will a permanent laboratory be provided at Waterford University Hospital?

Will the Taoiseach be brief in response to those questions?

Can I ask a supplementary question because I received no reply from the Taoiseach?

We have to move on. Will the Taoiseach reply to Deputy Ó Caoláin's question?

I will do my best. I agree completely with Deputy Howlin on this matter. Let us stop the bickering around this.

I would absolutely love to stop the bickering around health care reform. Let us not forget that the first accusation was made against me and my Government that we were not committed to Sláintecare. I explained that we were but that a lot of work needs to be done, as the report itself acknowledges, including on detailed costings, the reviews the report proposes and the unanswered questions. Let us do that. If it can be done on an all-party basis, I welcome that. It means stopping the bickering, however.

The leadership in that regard must be shown by the Opposition because that is where the bickering almost always starts when it comes to these issues.

This is a Parliament, not North Korea. Come on.

Regarding the matter of 24-7 PCI in the south east, it is the settled policy of Government to decide the location of national specialist services on the basis of the best scientific advice. It is not a closed question. It depends on the best scientific advice. If that were to change, a different decision could be made. I ask the House to bear in mind that medical science changes also.

It is amazing how consultants-----

Services exist now which did not exist ten years ago. Services that exist now may not exist in ten years' time. Science changes as do population, demographics and lots of other things. One can never close the door on a decision like this. The second mobile cath lab is there on a temporary basis and the decision is that an analysis will be carried out towards the end of the contract on what has been achieved.

It is only a few months away.

A decision will be made at that point as to whether it should continue. I acknowledge the enormous distress hospital overcrowding causes to patients who are required to wait for long periods on hospital trolleys for admission to a regular ward. I acknowledge also the distress it causes for staff. Having worked in three emergency departments, I know a little about that. I also have had relatives waiting on hospital trolleys for beds and I know a little bit about that too. I understand very much the distress it causes. While we have seen the trends going in the wrong direction all of this year, the figures are down significantly for November. Compared to November 2016, the figures are down approximately 25% according to the HSE's "Trolley Gar" figures. I do not know why that is. While it might be a blip, I hope it will be a sustained trend. The Minister has already outlined some of the actions he will be taking over the next number of months, including, in particular, greater investment in home care to allow more people to get home, which is the best place for them, as quickly as possible, thereby freeing up hospital capacity.

There are a number of critical things to be done.

I point out to the House that we have already taken eight minutes from the second and third questions. The Members can continue to discuss this if they want, but it means we will not have the time for the other questions.

We will move on.

I want to set something out. There are four areas that dramatically impact in terms of trolley usage, the figures for which are catastrophic this year.

This is not good enough.

I thank the Deputy.

We need recruitment and retention of staff, the reopening of closed beds, adequate step-down facilities and proper primary and community care.

Deputy, please. Question No. 2 is in the name of Deputy Micheál Martin.

Brexit Staff

Micheál Martin


2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of staff in his Department that are working on Brexit specific issues. [47900/17]

The Department of the Taoiseach has an amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division headed by a second Secretary General, who also acts as the Irish sherpa for EU business, including Brexit issues. Staff resources vary from time to time but currently amount to approximately 25 full-time equivalent posts across the full range of policy areas.

The work of the division includes supporting the work of Cabinet committee C, which deals with EU affairs, including Brexit, and supporting me in my role as a member of the European Council. In particular, this Cabinet committee assists the Government in its ongoing consideration of Brexit issues, including input to the negotiation process on the issues that are of unique or particular concern to Ireland as well as more generally. The division prepares me for engagement on a wide range of EU issues, as well as the debate on the future of Europe, and supports efforts to develop our strategic alliances in a post-Brexit scenario. The division also supports me in my international role and in all of my international engagements, ensuring that they are strategically aligned with and effectively advance the Government's priorities, with a particular focus on driving job creation, sustainable economic development, trade, tourism and investment and on protecting and promoting our strategic interests internationally.

The division also provides advice to support me in relation to Northern Ireland affairs, British-Irish relations and Brexit issues in that context. Staff in other divisions also contribute to the work on Brexit. For example, the economic policy division advises me on economic policy aimed at supporting sustainable economic growth, with a particular focus on jobs and competitiveness, including the possible economic impacts of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. In all of its work across international, EU and British and Northern Ireland issues, my Department works closely with other relevant Departments including, in particular, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has lead responsibility for most policy matters in these areas.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. For the last year and a half, we have been arguing very strongly for a step change in the numbers we have working on the Brexit issue, in particular, and the future of the European Union. The Taoiseach has indicated that there are 25 full-time equivalent staff in the new amalgamated unit dealing with Northern Ireland, the European Union and, I take it, Brexit. Is that what the Taoiseach is saying? I received correspondence yesterday that there will be 11 staff working in the strategic communications unit.

Yes. There are seven already, in addition to an administrator and the director, with four more staff members to be recruited. It illustrates that this is a very rapidly growing unit whereas Brexit is the overriding issue which faces the country. Has the Taoiseach recruited any sectoral expertise to the Department to address Brexit issues of trade, customs, agrifood and economics? In an earlier reply to Deputy Stephen Donnelly, it was unclear whether the sectoral analysis undertaken by the Government will be published? Where is the sectoral analysis right now? It would be very useful for the debate if it was published. The Taoiseach might indicate the position in that regard.

There is a significant level of activity in the political realm in Britain relating to Brexit. Parliament is very clear now that it will have a say in the final Brexit deal. Can the Taoiseach indicate what the up-to-date position is now on a breakthrough or a breakdown? As I said yesterday, there was an announcement of a breakthrough this day last week which was followed by the announcement of a near collapse of the talks.

We have time constraints to be fair.

I understand it is fluid, but can the Taoiseach give an indication?

I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach spoke in the House about concerns relating to the agrifood sector in the wake of Brexit. Those are we all share, none more than those of us who have the privilege to represent Border constituencies. Last month, three reports were presented to the European Parliament's agriculture committee which exposed not only how badly Ireland's largest indigenous sector will be affected by Brexit, but also just how unprepared the authorities here and in Europe are to cope with the changing landscape. The reports make for very grim reading, especially for Ireland where the brunt of the economic shocks will unquestionably be felt.

Irish farmers are particularly vulnerable, not just because of their reliance on British markets to sell their produce but also as a result of consumer tastes and processing routes. Almost all of the processed foods that we deliver, even to the Continent of Europe, are transported across Britain at some point. When Britain leaves the EU, there is a possibility that Irish hauliers will be stopped up to four times in a single journey. This will have a very serious impact on their competitiveness and their ability to hold their share of the market. What is the Government's most up-to-date thinking on what I and many believe to be the best way of achieving the least worst scenario out of all this, namely, designated special status for the North of Ireland within the European Union? Where does the Taoiseach think that matter stands now?

There seems to have been no increase in the number of staff in the Department of the Taoiseach working on Brexit since September even though things have changed - probably for the worst - since then in light of the possibility of a hard Brexit. I asked yesterday what contingency planning is being done for that possible outcome. I would like the Taoiseach to answer that question. The Taoiseach said he is not afraid of a no-deal scenario. I do not know what "I am not afraid of it" means because all the analysis I have read indicates that the consequences would be disastrous for this country. Perhaps the Taoiseach could do two things. Last week, he indicated that he is confident and at the weekend that he is prepared for a hard Brexit. What is his analysis of the prospect of being able to move on - with a satisfactory conclusion for Ireland - to phase 2 at the December Council meeting? What specific preparations are being made in the event of a no-deal scenario?

Last week, the Taoiseach was very confident in his statement that sufficient progress had possibly already been made or could be made by the end of December that would allow us, in the appropriate circumstances, move forward to the next round. I am not saying he made a definitive statement. He indicated a degree of positivity or optimism about the possibility. I am concerned because we are up against an almost dysfunctional British Government that is conducting negotiations while there is an internal war over Brexit among the principal negotiators, the Tories. Have strategic risk assessments been carried out in the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Trade or Finance on the implications for the development of Irish tax policy, particularly corporation tax, post-Brexit?

Understandably, the Taoiseach also indicated last week, during his visit to the United States, that he is very excited at the developments in robotics and so on and that we should be at the cutting edge when it comes to the development of driverless vehicles. I believe he was referring to lorries in that regard. The tax and jobs implications of that, coming together with Brexit, are enormous. When Britain has left the EU, we will face a much more concentrated requirement from countries such as France to become much greater collaborators in the context of EU tax processes.

I will start by replying to Deputy Micheál Martin. I am not sure where the figure of 11 comes from. He may be double counting or counting two different units together. As I have often said, staffing within the Department is entirely a matter for the Secretary General. It would be inappropriate for me to get involved in it and I do not do so.

It is in a letter. On a point of clarification, the Secretary General wrote to me. I received the letter, which details the staffing arrangements for the special communications unit, SCU, yesterday.

I often see articles in the newspaper about me requesting staff, etc. That is never the case. Staffing-----

The Taoiseach picked and appointed the director.

Staffing in the Department, as is the case with every Department, is entirely a matter for the Secretary General. The Deputy was a Minister for 14 years or something like that and he well knows-----

What is the problem? I just said 11 and the Taoiseach seems to be-----

In respect of the 25 who are working in the international affairs unit, the Deputy should bear in mind that is 25 working in the Department of the Taoiseach. There are lots of other people -hundreds in fact - working on international affairs, on Brexit and on issues relating to Northern Ireland within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Additional people in the various agencies - IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and so on - area also engaged in this work. We do not need to replicate the work they do in the Department of the Taoiseach but we do need to oversee and coordinate it. That is the role of the Department of the Taoiseach and 25 people is an adequate number to do that at this stage.

In respect of Deputy Micheál Martin's reference to the announcement of a breakthrough or breakdown, I do not recall anyone making an announcement of a breakthrough or breakdown in the talks. That is an interpretation or misunderstanding on the Deputy's part. The situation is very fluid and is changing all the time. For that reason, I will not give a running commentary on the negotiations and I will not provide an analysis in respect of them because things change a lot from day to day. I will be in Gothenburg on Friday to meet other Heads of State and Government. I will have an assessment after that which may be different from one I might give now. I do not want to cause confusion or distress for other leaders or Deputies by being obliged to provide different analyses on different days.

As Deputy Ó Caolain knows, the proposal for designated special status has been rejected by the United Kingdom. It has not been sought by Northern Ireland because there is no Executive or Assembly to seek it. If they existed they probably would not seek it. A very unhelpful motion tabled by Sinn Féin MEPs and calling for special status for Northern Ireland was rejected by the European Parliament because, of course, using a term such as "special status" sets off alarm bells for other countries. It speaks to separatism within their own countries and to a view within the European Union that the acquis should apply and that there should not be exceptions created for other areas. This conversation about and demand for special status - and particularly the use of that term - is detrimental to our national interest. From time to time, we speak about unique or special arrangements. However, those are quite different.

On contingency planning, as I have said before, the kind of contingency planning we are doing is for different scenarios and there are many that could arise and that is the planning we are doing. It does not, however, extend to hiring border guards or training dogs or scoping out sites for border posts. Nor would it extend to designing information technology, IT, systems or customs forms or anything like that because trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union and anything done on that basis would have to be done on a European level not by a member state or domestic government.

On corporation tax, I do not know the details of any analyses carried out by the Department of Finance on these issues but I am sure it does carry them out from time to time. Our position on corporate tax is straightforward. We believe in tax sovereignty. Corporation and income taxes should be set by national parliaments and national taxes should fund national budgets. That could only ever be changed by unanimity in the European Union. There certainly is not unanimous support for any change to that. We do not need to do a lot of analysis in respect of it because our position on that is exactly as it is, namely, that there will be no change.

As for embracing new technologies, I can understand the fears Deputy Burton may have around future technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics and driverless vehicles, but history teaches us that there have always been people and political forces afraid of new technologies. Going back to the agricultural revolution-----

I did not say I was afraid of them. I have no fear of them.

-----and the industrial revolution people predicted that adopting new technologies-----

-----would result in unemployment and loss of jobs and actually something different has happened. Countries that have embraced new technologies have moved up the value chain and produced more jobs and better jobs.

I asked about publication of the sectoral analysis.

There is no date for that.

I do not have a date.

Only six minutes remain for the last question.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Micheál Martin


3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on Cabinet committee F on national security. [47898/17]

Brendan Howlin


4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F on national security last met; and when it will next meet. [48129/17]

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

The role of Cabinet committee F is to keep the State's systems for the analysis of, preparation for, and response to, threats to national security under review and to provide for high-level co-ordination between relevant Departments and agencies on related matters. The Cabinet committee will allow greater ministerial involvement in preparing for and managing major security threats.

The committee last met on 9 November 2017. It is expected that the committee will meet again early in the new year.

I presume the Taoiseach has heard the news that France has won the competition to host the world cup. President Macron or whoever managed to get in ahead of South Africa even with the recommendation. It has made a very difficult end to a disappointing 24 hours for Irish sport generally. We pay tribute to all of those who made an effort and put a huge effort into preparing our national bid for it.

With regard to the Cabinet committee on national security, does the Taoiseach think it will become a trend that prior to every meeting a photograph will be taken of the members who will attend and that it will be tweeted? I would appreciate the Taoiseach's thoughts on this because one might say a storm is not a security issue but sometimes the national security committee might have to meet because of a terrorist or ISIS threat. I am interested to hear what the security advice is on this. It may not be a huge issue but in some respects it is an interesting development.

For a number of years, the number one risk identified in the national risk assessment is cybersecurity, due to the probability of an incident and the likely scale of impact. The Minister for Health is adjacent to the Taoiseach, and perhaps due to some luck the health system escaped the last attack, which hit the National Health Service in the UK. It is fair to say our critical infrastructure remains exposed to a cyberattack. Will the Taoiseach indicate what has been done to address this recently? Has he agreed to support President Macron's reasonable proposals to promote the issue of cybersecurity?

I note the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government - and we all know who attended because of the tweet - attended the security meeting. It came a month after Storm Ophelia caused such devastation in our country. The Taoiseach will recall the day after the storm I raised with him in this House the matter of clear guidelines for employers on what they should do in the event of a status red warning. The widow of one of those tragically killed during the storm spoke last week. Pamela Goss called for no ambiguity on this issue. Has the Taoiseach reviewed the situation since? When will he be in a position to present guidelines? Because of climate change we do not know when the next disastrous storm will arrive on our shores. We need clarity on what every aspect of our society should do in the teeth of a red alert.

I call Deputy Ó Caoláin very briefly.

I would like to ask a couple of questions.

We have just two minutes left.

Does this new committee complement the role of the existing national security committee or is it replacing it? While there has been, probably understandably, the need for confidentiality in respect of the work of the national security committee, last week the Taoiseach, as Deputy Martin has referenced, tweeted a picture of those present at a meeting of the Cabinet committee. Surely this is unprecedented and an unwise thing to do in the circumstances. Certainly it suggests to me, with all respect, the Taoiseach is more Trump than Trudeau. Will the Taoiseach please outline the accountability and scrutiny mechanisms in place for overseeing the role of the committee?

From a justice and equality committee point of view, there has been some mention in recent times, in light of reform of the Garda, of the possibility of establishing an overarching more structured agency with responsibility for security. Will the Taoiseach outline his view on this?

I have heard the recent news that France has been successful in its bid to secure the Rugby World Cup for 2023. Obviously on behalf of Ireland I am very disappointed at the decision. I do not regret for a second putting forward the bid. Ireland put forward a very good bid and we would have hosted a really good tournament had we had the opportunity to do so. I particularly thank the IRFU, officials in Departments, the GAA and others for their work in putting the bid together. I congratulate France on winning the bid. It will put on a fabulous tournament. It has our congratulations.

The membership of the national security committee is separate to Cabinet committee F. Cabinet committee F involves politicians and the national security committee does not. The membership of Cabinet committee F is public knowledge and is not a secret and certainly not a national security issue. I recall the first meeting of Cabinet committee F had the RTÉ cameras in to pan a shot of the people at the table, which garnered no comment whatsoever at the time yet a tweet has garnered so much comment. It says a lot about some people's terror and fear of modern media that it is perfectly acceptable for the RTÉ cameras to come in and pan a shot of a Cabinet committee meeting, as they have done for decades, and yet a tweet is somehow a threat to national security. It really does demonstrate the terror some people have of modern communications. They just do not understand, do not know what it means, cannot cope and even think it is a threat to national security. Never have I seen a criticism scrape the bottom of the barrel more so than such nonsensical criticism.

The Taoiseach needs to relax a bit.

When the United States conducts or has just conducted a major military operation-----

Or foreign policy.

-----it sends photographs from it. I am subjected to plenty of ridiculous criticism-----

-----but that is the most ridiculous that I have seen. I thought, when I saw the initial tweet from Deputy Lisa Chambers, it was a joke and I laughed. I cannot believe people take it seriously.

The time is up now so we must conclude.

It is demonstrative of the terror that people have of modern communications.

It may be, but we are out of time.

The fact it is perfectly acceptable-----

Will the Taoiseach answer some of the questions?

At the risk of being repetitive-----

We have to conclude.

RTÉ cameras can come in and pan a Cabinet meeting or Cabinet sub-committee meeting and nobody comments but somebody uses modern technology and it is a threat to national security.

The Taoiseach is blazing a trail.