Leaders' Questions

Business people from Border regions came to the Oireachtas yesterday to tell us how Brexit is affecting them. One tourism company in Wicklow said it has cut its UK visitor forecasts in half and believes that Brexit has already cost several thousand jobs in the industry. A sheep and beef farmer from Fermanagh told us that by the time the UK leaves the EU, he will have relocated his business to within the EU. A transport operator from Antrim said that if the talks proceed to phase two, which is on the future relationship, without the Border being sorted, he will have to pull his business out of Northern Ireland.

We are all aware that these negotiations are delicate and ongoing and we welcome agreement in principle on areas like the common travel area. However, there has been little progress on the question of Northern Ireland and the Border. It has been agreed by all of us, the Taoiseach, Prime Minister May and Michel Barnier that there cannot under any circumstances be a return to the Border of the past yet the UK Government insists that Northern Ireland will leave the Single Market and the customs union, will not have a unique or special status and will not have equivalence of regulations for all products. As the Minister is aware, a European Commission paper leaked just a few days ago stated that in the opinion of the Commission, what the UK Government is insisting on for Northern Ireland will lead inevitably to border controls and a hard border. Many other experts have reached the same conclusion.

The greatest influence Ireland has in the Brexit talks is on whether sufficient progress has been made on the question of Ireland and the Border to allow the Brexit talks move to phase two, which involves talks about a future trading relationship. At the European Council meeting in October, the Irish Government's position was that insufficient progress had been made on the Irish question to allow the talks to proceed. However, just last week, the Taoiseach stated that he now believes that the talks can move to phase two in December. It is unclear what additional progress has been made on the Border to change the Government's position on this critical issue - so much so that just a few days after the Taoiseach made his statement, Michel Barnier warned that EU member states need to start preparing for a collapse of the Brexit talks.

For many business people preparing for Brexit on both sides of the Border, the Irish Government's position is unclear. Does the Irish Government still believe that the Brexit talks are likely to move to phase two in December? If that is the position of the Irish Government, could the Minister for Education and Skills let us know the progress that has been made since the October summit that has changed the Government's position? If that is no longer the position, could the Minister outline for us even at a high level what sufficient progress on the Border would look like for the Government to accept that sufficient progress has been made?

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. The Taoiseach is flying to Sweden today for an EU summit. He will be meeting with other European colleagues and will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister May. The position of the Irish Government remains unchanged. We believe that there must a clear roadmap to achieve what has been announced as the objective of all parties, which is no return to a hard border, before we can proceed to the next stage. This has been an agreed approach by the UK, the EU and ourselves so there is clearly a view of what we need to achieve here. The Irish Government's view is very clear. We need to see a roadmap to deliver that. As the Deputy rightly said, a number of the pronouncements by politicians in the UK are inconsistent with achieving that so, clearly, the Irish Government's position is that we need a clear roadmap before we move to the next stage.

Of course, we are conscious that the next stage is vitally important to the very businesses described by the Deputy in his initial comments. We need long-term stable trading arrangements with the UK but we are very clear that before we move to the next stage, which would be to enter into the detailed negotiations on what form those trading relations should take, it is important that a satisfactory roadmap is put in place for the Border issue, which is one of the three issues that must be dealt with before progressing to the next stage. That remains the Irish Government's position. Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have been very clear in articulating that to colleagues.

Part of the concern businesses have is that this statement that we need to see a road map is very vague. While I take the Minister at his word that the Irish Government's position has not changed, to the businesses and to many of us looking on at the negotiations, it appears that the Irish Government's position did change because in October, the position was that insufficient progress had been made but just last week the Taoiseach said he now expected the talks to move on to phase two in December, which suggests that he believes sufficient progress would be made. Does the Minister agree with the European Commission's position that should the UK insist on leaving the customs union and the Single Market, it is inevitable that there would be border controls and as such, on the basis that we are all agreed that there can be no border controls, is it the Irish Government's position that if the UK in December insists that it is still going to leave the Single Market and the customs union, the Irish Government will at that point deem that insufficient progress has been made?

The Deputy will be aware that if the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or I sought to answer a set of hypothetical questions about what the British might do and what we might do in return, it would not be to our advantage in a very delicate situation like this. It is not for us to play with scenarios and suggest that we would settle for something less than what has been set out from the outset. This is very clear. This is one of the issues that needs to be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides before we move to the next stage. I do not think it would serve those very business interests for which the Deputy rightly expressed concern if Ireland was to outline a set of possible solutions or insist that the UK has this or that piece in its jigsaw. We need to see what the British come forward with. They have pledged very clearly that they want no return to the Border and we clearly want no return to a Border. We must show that the approach that the UK and the EU will be taking before we move to the next stage is consistent with that. While I can understand that people would like to see what would happen if this or that happened, I do not think it is in our interests to articulate alternatives of that nature in public.

Precarious work and if-and-when contracts are a problem for many workers in this State. They create uncertainty in terms of pay and how many hours a worker will work from week to week. They lead to exploitation in the workplace, a hollowing out of workers' rights and deep anxiety and stress for the workers involved. We know, and the Minister knows from his previous brief, that many of these workers actually work 30 hours per week for years and yet are left on low-hour 15-hour contracts. This has an impact on access to social welfare payments and the ability of these workers to get a mortgage and provide for their families.

They are workers who do get up early in the morning but they do so with uncertainty hanging over their heads. On Monday the Mandate trade union launched a "Secure Hours - Better Future" charter. Is the Minister aware of that charter? Mandate has called on all Deputies to sign it. Will the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and other Ministers sign the charter? Yesterday the Taoiseach accused my party of playing politics with people's misery and of not being solution-focused. The Minister knows that is absolute nonsense. It is a desperate attempt by the Taoiseach to avoid responsibility for problems created by the Government.

Let us look at the issue. Last July I brought forward a Bill to address the issue of if-and-when contracts and to bring about fairness. The essence of the Bill was to ensure that a worker's contract reflects the hours he or she actually works. These are workers in the hospitality, retail and other sectors. The Bill was an earnest attempt to provide a solution. What was the response of the Government? It was to oppose the Bill and pretend the problem does not exist. However, the Bill passed and was fully scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The committee spent 13 hours over six sessions hearing from 44 witnesses. In the end, it produced a report that made 23 amendments and recommendations. What was the Government's response? It was to produce a Bill of its own. The Bill is woefully inadequate. It will not ban zero-hour contracts; the bands are too broad; and the look-back period is too long.

Does the Minister accept the report from the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the amendments it suggested? I do and I will support it. Will the Minister ensure once and for all that exploitation in the workplace in terms of if-and-when contracts becomes a thing of the past? Will he support the Sinn Féin Bill? Will the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and his fellow Ministers and Deputies from his party sign the Mandate charter for secure hours and a better future for workers?

I roundly reject the suggestion that we are pretending the problem does not exist. It was our Government - the former Minister of State, now Senator Ged Nash, and I - who commissioned the work by the University of Limerick on zero-hour contracts. It was on the back of that work that we held consultations with the trade union movement and employers to ensure we can bring forward legislation. The heads of that Bill have already been announced and we are moving into the proper legislative phase. As a result of the recovery in the economy, we have seen a very considerable reduction in involuntary part-time working, which was a very serious problem but is thankfully reducing. We are seeing progress in this. We are seeing fewer self-employed contracts being put in place. We want to make sure we protect precarious workers and we will bring forward legislation in this area. We also will bring forward protections for people who are in self-employed situations. Many people entered into self-employment in the course of the recession but not out of choice. We will introduce new protections for such people, including protection of an invalidity pension, access to treatment benefit and access to paternity leave. It is clear the Government is keen to extend further protections both to those who are in precarious work under employers and to those who find themselves in self-employed positions. We want to make sure that hard work is rewarded and that people are protected. We want to see improvement in living standards. I recognise, like others, that the gig economy and those changes that are taking place in our economic framework call for better protections both from a social insurance perspective and in respect of employment law. I was part of a Government that brought in significant improvements to protect temporary agency workers, to improve the minimum wage and to protect people in situations where the courts had struck down the registered employment agreements. We have refurbished employment law in order that workers can be protected. I recognise this is an area on which the Government must move. It was our Government - I acknowledge Senator Ged Nash's role in this - that took the initiative to put us in a position to implement legislation now.

It is no surprise that the Minister has not answered my questions at all. The Minister mentioned the University of Limerick study. The Bill the Government is proposing is not in line with that report and its recommendations. That report committed to a six-month look-back whereby the hours in a person's contract would reflect the hours they work over a six-month period. The Government is looking at an 18-month period. The bands the Government suggests are also so broad as to make the Bill almost insignificant. The Government is not dealing with the problem at all. To my astonishment, the Minister says that bogus self-employment is not an issue. A report from a reporter in RTÉ says it is even an issue in RTÉ. It is rampant across many sectors. The Minister's head is in the sand. The question I asked the Minister is whether he will sign Mandate's pledge and charter to ensure we have secure hours. I am afraid if the Government's Bill passes, it will not be any comfort to those workers who are being exploited. There is already a Bill. We will debate it tonight in the context of a report that comes from a sectoral committee. Why not do that? Why not support, progress and implement that Bill and ensure workers have full protection and not partial protection, which is what the Minister and his Government want to provide.

It is the responsibility of Government to bring in legislation that is practical and which can be applied and is feasible for all concerned. That is what we are doing. Our legislation will ban zero-hour contracts. It will introduce protection for people who are on short-hour contracts and give them recognition for the fact they often work longer periods than are specified in their contracts. This will allow people to get recognition for those longer hours so when they are going to get mortgages, as the Deputy rightly says, they have a contract that reflects the actuality of the hours they work.

Eighteen months is too long.

We are also ensuring there will be a system of banded hours.

They are too broad.

Mandate or any other group can put forward possible amendments to the committee that will be considering that legislation.

It represents those workers.

It is for the House-----

It represents those workers.

-----to consider-----

The Deputy should allow the Minister to answer.

The way in which we legislate is not by signing the requests of various outside bodies. We are elected to represent people. We come here-----

The Government is representing IBEC.

-----and we make the decisions on the merits of the case as put forward. The merits of a case put forward by Mandate will be examined by the House when the Bill is presented to the House for debate and adopted.

This is the third time in three months that I have used my slot on Leaders' Questions to raise the urgent need for a Sexual Assault and Violence in Ireland, SAVI, report. I raised it in June or July and I raised it again in October. Such is the seriousness and significance of the issue that it has been raised by many Deputies on Leaders' Questions, including Deputies McDonald, Coppinger and Shortall, as well as in a number of parliamentary questions tabled by Deputies, including Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Rabbitte. Almost every political grouping in the Dáil has asked for a second SAVI report.

Deputy Martin launched the original SAVI report when he was Minister for Health and Children in 2002. One of the essential recommendations in that report is that there would be follow-up research. The Tánaiste's positive work on the ground has been recognised by the organisations. In September 2016, which is more than a year ago, she confirmed to Deputy Coppinger that she had an open mind on commissioning a second report. She said, "If the money can be found, I will ensure it is done." It also seems that the Ministers, Deputies Zappone and Regina Doherty - and I am sure all female Fine Gael Deputies - are behind it, yet 15 and a half years later, there has not been a second SAVI report. One has to ask why. It seems the responses from the Taoiseach and the Department of Justice and Equality provide a clue. It was welcome that the Taoiseach confirmed he had an open mind about a second SAVI report. He went on to give other responses. He said the existing statistical evidence was perhaps sufficient while ignoring the limitations of that European research. It is limited to women only, which is a very small group of people. There are many other deficits in that research. The Taoiseach referred to Garda reports which, we all know, cannot be relied on. He referred to existing organisations coming up with information.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland announced on 19 October this year that it was not in a position to publish statistics on its clients' experiences of sexual violence, because it no longer has the capacity to do so.

I am asking the Government to listen to the majority of parties in this Dáil, who are asking that another Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report be carried out. The problem here is the failure on the part of the Department of Justice and Equality to understand what is required. Shortly after the Minister indicated that he had an open mind on the matter, his Department, according to reports in the newspapers, said that no new report would be undertaken. There is a fundamental failure to recognise that the SAVI reports amounted to a qualitative job of research that was absolutely necessary to be undertaken and that it is necessary now to follow up that work in order to inform debate on the types of services we provide.

I fully acknowledge the sincerity with which the Deputy is putting forward her argument. There is no doubt that legislation and policy in this area must be informed by the best possible research. I understand there is a task force in place that is scoping out this area of research to see whether it would be appropriate and necessary to conduct the sort of review the Deputy is proposing. There are discussions ongoing between Departments in this regard and a review of the information from within Departments and from the Central Statistics Office and other agencies to establish the existing research base. In addition, I understand consultations are taking place with non-governmental organisations to assess the situation.

If, at the end of this process, it is clear that we need to undertake additional research to ensure policy is as well informed as possible, then a decision will be made by Government in the normal way. In such a circumstance, it would be remiss if Government did not make sure to assess all the available evidence to date and ensure that in making a decision on commissioning further work, we have narrowed down exactly where the gaps are and the issues on which we need additional and new information. I understand that is the approach being taken. I confess I am not an expert in this particular field but I will alert my colleagues to the Deputy's concerns and emphasise the need to ensure the ongoing work is brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

I do not expect the Minister to be an expert on these matters but I do expect him to take on board the concerns I have highlighted. That so many Deputies and leaders of the various political groupings have raised this matter consistently shows there is clearly a problem. We are learning about that problem from the experts working in the area. I welcome the indication that the Government is in consultation with those experts but, at this point, there must be a clear admission that a SAVI-type report is absolutely necessary, more than 15 years since the last such report, so that we can develop policy and proper legislation to deal with the problem. The SAVI researchers spoke to both men and women and its findings are absolutely frightening, with 47% of the 3,200 or so persons who participated confirming they had never mentioned the abuse they experienced to anybody in their lives. I do not have time to go into the other statistics. The only obstacle to carrying out new research is money. When we have a Government that puts €4 million or €5 million into a propaganda unit, it is hard to take the Tánaiste seriously when she says another SAVI report is necessary, if she can find the money to do it. I would like to hear a deadline for action today.

I am not in a position to offer deadlines but, having worked in the research field, I know the first thing one does is make sure one surveys what is already available before commissioning further work to identify the gaps in provision. It is prudent for any government to take the approach we are taking and it is not holding back important investment of real resources. Organisations dealing with domestic and sexual violence are receiving funding of €22.1 million in 2017, which represents an increase on the provision for last year. In addition, the Minister for Justice and Equality is proceeding with legislation in the field of domestic violence. That work is ongoing while the need for a new study is evaluated.

I wish to highlight several infrastructural projects in County Kerry that require attention and funding. The last time I spoke during Leaders' Questions, I referred to the need for a new Killarney outer bypass which would start in Farranfore and finish up in Lissyviggeen. On that occasion I pointed out the various junctions where there is mayhem and slaughter on a regular basis, including the junction on the Lewis Road, which is the road coming up out of the town and which accesses the existing N22 bypass. There are accidents there on a daily basis, including one involving a vehicle of ours some weeks ago. Kerry County Council is progressing plans to do something with that junction, but I am asking the Government to ensure it is done. In particular, I am asking the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, who is from Kerry, to put his shoulder to the wheel to ensure money is forthcoming to deal with this junction as soon as possible.

I also wish to highlight the problems with Listry Bridge, which was built some 200 years ago and now is reduced to one lane of traffic. It is located on the R563 Road from Killarney to Dingle, a heavily trafficked road with cars, buses and lorries passing through in high volumes. All of that traffic is stalled at the bridge because of the one-way flow. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, has to go over that bridge whenever he goes home.

Leaders' Questions is not the time to put a specific question to a particular Minister or Minister of State.

I am asking the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to take the question to the Minister of State. The latter was critical of my father at different times for money he took down to Kerry and for money he did not take down to Kerry. The ball is now in the Minister of State's court and I am asking him to provide funding for the bridge he travels over himself every day. I ask, too, that he ensures funding is provided to deal with the bends on the N72 at Gortahanboy, with 1.2 km of road there to be realigned. Also on the N72, will the Minister of State ensure funding is provided in the coming months for widening and realignment work on the Ballinadeega Bridge? The Behy Bridge to the west of Glenbeigh on the N71 is another bridge that was built 200 years ago and, like Listry Bridge, can accommodate only one lane of traffic. That is not satisfactory on the Ring of Kerry Road.

I am not sure whether the Deputy has set out a shopping list or a bucket list.

I congratulate Deputy Danny Healy-Rae on his excellent grasp of what someone described as "retail politics". My answers will be more in the wholesale area, telling him what we can do on a national level to ameliorate the types of problems he listed. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, because of the progress we have made in advancing the economic recovery and as we find ourselves in a position to balance the books for 2018, has announced a 73% increase in funding for capital programmes over the next four years. That will allow for a significant increase in capital expenditure in the coming years. We effectively had a lost decade where many badly needed investments could not be made, including in roads, bridges and other infrastructural projects as well as in health, education and housing. We are now in a position to make those investments, but their selection will not be made on the basis of the political hue of a particular Minister or Minister of State. It will be done on the basis of each programme being evaluated in a fair and reasonable way, in comparison with similar cases throughout the country. That is the approach that must be taken in prioritising expenditure which, fortunately, will be much increased in the years ahead. We will have to weigh up all our various obligations in making decisions.

Deputy Eamon Ryan alerted us yesterday to the obligations in respect of climate change, which also must inform the selections we make in respect of capital. I believe I can say that we are looking at a period when there will be increased resources for many of the causes that the Deputy put forward. I cannot make commitments to the individual projects, meritorious and all as they may be, and I am sure the Deputy can understand that.

The Minister said that the Government will have money to spend but my concern is that it will be spent in Dublin.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, signalled he was spending €135 million on a footpath in Dublin. I want Ministers to go beyond the Red Cow Roundabout and travel to Kerry to see where slaughter has been occurring at junctions due to them being inadequate. Buses and lorries have been held up and lives are being placed in danger because of inadequate junctions and roads that cannot cope with the serious increase in the volume of traffic. I will make my request again. Money is needed for the junction at the top of the Listry Road and for the junction at the top of the Lewis Road. Money is also needed for works to be carried out on Listry Bridge to make it a bridge as it is not a bridge, as such, at present. I ask for funding for the 1.2 km realignment at Gortahanboy on the N72. I also ask for funding for Ballinakilla Bridge to the west of Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry road, and I make no apologies for doing so. I ask the Minister to make sure that the Minister of the State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, is made aware of my request. I am putting pressure on him now because he was putting pressure on us when the ball was in our court. It is his turn now. Let him prove what he can do in terms of what he can bring down to Kerry. He will be measured on that.

Thank you, Deputy. I call the Minister to conclude on this matter.

We will all be looking to the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, in respect of our hopes for sports capital grants.

Never mind sport-----

That is an area for which he has responsibility. We will look forward to him showing his prowess there, and I have no doubt that he will. The assurance I can give the Deputy is that, in the context of the national planning framework that has been published, it is the intention of the Government that half of all the population growth that would occur will be outside of the major cities. The major cities outside of Dublin will be growing at twice the rate of Dublin. There is a very clear commitment that the infrastructural spines in which we will invest in the coming ten years will be to support much more rapid growth outside of Dublin than we have seen in the previous years. For the first time ever, we are underpinning a national planning framework with a ten-year capital programme. We are tying our infrastructural investments to the spatial and regional strategies. That is the crucial decision that has been made by this Government. It was never done before and we have seen the consequences of not having a clear connection between a Government's capital decisions and its ambitions for spatial planning. That is fundamentally changing on this occasion.

I hope it is but we will have to wait and see if it is.