1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the forthcoming national development plan. [5704/18]
Vol. 965 No. 5
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the forthcoming national development plan. [5704/18]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in the forthcoming national development plan. [6884/18]
3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in developing the new national development plan. [6899/18]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the forthcoming national development plan. [6962/18]
5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach his Department's role in the national development plan. [7297/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
The national development plan will be published on Friday alongside the new national planning framework.
The national development plan will set out the Government's intentions for investment in public infrastructure out to 2027, grounded in the strategic investment priorities identified by each Minister and in line with the strategic outcomes developed in the national planning framework.
At the core of both the national development plan and the national planning framework is the need to secure balanced economic growth and social progress on a regional basis and between urban and rural Ireland.
The new national development plan builds on the evidence provided by the review of the existing capital plan and detailed assessment of the quality of Ireland’s existing public infrastructure and future demand, which was published in September.
Given its size and role, my Department does not have any capital expenditure allocation. However, as with other national strategies, my Department contributes to the overall approach and priorities which will be contained in the forthcoming plan.
Cabinet Committee D has provided a forum in which the preparation of the national planning framework and the national development plan were discussed in addition to a number of dedicated Cabinet meetings.
It has been clear since the middle of the Fine Gael leadership campaign that the long delayed capital plan is central to the Taoiseach's political programme. At that time, he gave the media sight of what he said was his plan, but it bore a remarkable similarity to the plan which had been before a Cabinet committee for some time. Since then there have been two major developments. First, the length of the plan has been extended to an unprecedented ten years and, second, the Taoiseach has taken control in his Department of an unprecedented marketing campaign, which, as stated by him, is due to commence in Sligo on Friday. Since Christmas I have been trying, and failing, to get simple answers from the Taoiseach about the plan. Unless he starts responding directly and without spin it will confirm that there is an element of this being a political advertising stunt and not a real and soundly based plan for the future. Can the Taoiseach give a direct assurance that no Minister has informed a State agency that its urgent priorities are to be put aside in favour of higher profile and longer term projects imposed by Cabinet?
Will he assure us Ministers are not intervening to ask that certain projects be put ahead of others without any sound due diligence appraisal of those projects?
Since the plan has been ready for some time and given the number of staff deployed to provide what the Taoiseach has claimed will be unbiased information, will he commit to announcing on Friday the number of projects that are being re-announced? I have asked this on a number of occasions. How many of the projects will have money spent on them if the Government remains in office for the maximum possible term? What I am getting at is the position on a project touted in Cork, involving a second hospital. I know that the local Minister rang the HSE to ask it to get its plan in quickly. I was contacted. In fairness, apparently the submission was made within two months. There was no comprehensive assessment of future health care needs or other needs. Not only that, the location was dictated also, although people might have different views on it. Interestingly, when I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Harris about this, I suggested it might be a ten-year project. He said it will be a 15-year project. I take it that means a 20-year project. Meanwhile, we have a theatre that caters for approximately half the population of patients with neck and throat cancers that is about to be condemned by HIQA.
Part of me is saying to the Taoiseach that, on the roads in Cork, we would love to get to the Dunkettle roundabout. We want the Cork-Limerick route. The Taoiseach stopped that three years ago. He mothballed it. Now there is a big hurrah over re-announcing it but I have no timelines. I have asked TII but it cannot give me any timeline or schedule. Everyone in Cork would love to get to the Dunkettle roundabout and have it updated. There really needs to be a focus on the here and now, that is, on the period between now and 2020, regarding what exactly will happen with key imperatives across the board in so many areas.
As we now know, both the national planning framework and national development plan will be published on Friday. I have already asked the Taoiseach a number of questions on the legislative underpinning of the planning framework. I wish to ask him a few more specific questions. As part of the development of the framework, there was an economic and demographic steering group put in place. Has it met to consider the major changes made to the plan in recent weeks? Have new population and investment figures been prepared? Will they be published on Friday? Has the national development plan for capital investment been adjusted in recent weeks to take account of these changes? What evidence base is being used to decide where the capital investments will take place? Will all the data be published on Friday in tandem with the publication of both plans?
Will the Taoiseach, after a little more reflection, talk about the statutory underpinning of the national planning framework? Is it his Government's proposal to continue to enact the Bill that is currently before the Seanad and let it become law, having already made it ineffective in that its requirement for pre-publication of authorisation by these Houses will already have been subverted? Will the Government rely on the 2010 Act to give statutory underpinning, or will there be a different type of underpinning for the new spatial strategy which is to be published on Friday?
I have a number of questions on this. The national planning framework has got a lot of airing in the past week. The issue I want to emphasise, in particular, concerns infrastructure and our rail network. If provided for properly and correctly, rail transport is a solution to many of our transport problems. A proper, adequate rail network is critical if we are to reduce commuter times, reduce carbon emissions and bolster our public transport system. I would like the Taoiseach to confirm that the revised proposal reported yesterday, that is, that more of the metro north will go underground to alleviate traffic congestion, will feature as part of the national planning framework to be announced on Friday? Will the Taoiseach set out the plans being put in place to expand and improve DART services? Will they include they expansion and electrification of the Maynooth and Drogheda lines? Will the Taoiseach also confirm that the DART underground has effectively been scrapped at this stage?
I welcome the visit of the Taoiseach and his colleagues to Sligo in my constituency on Friday. I hope he recognises that the western rail corridor is meant to start in Sligo, as committed to in the programme for Government. That commitment ought to be upheld. Will the Taoiseach inform us that it is not the case that the extension to the national rail corridor will not be included in the national development plan? The western rail corridor is critical, not just for transport but also in the context of Brexit. Bearing in mind the volume of exports from this country to Europe, it should be noted that the western rail corridor extends from Sligo to Galway to Limerick, and then across to Waterford port. The latter could be critical in the context of exporting many of our goods. If Brexit goes ahead in the way the British Government seems to be pushing it, going through its jurisdiction to have our goods exported to Europe would be a major problem. The western rail corridor could be a critical part of our plan to address this. I would like to hear the Taoiseach's reassurances in respect of this.
What can we expect in terms of the provision of housing under the capital plan? Today, we have had further evidence of the failure of the Government's policy to deal with spiralling house prices. An increase of 12.7% has just been reported. This is on top of the news yesterday of an 81% increase in rent since 2010. It seems as if the Government's solution to all this is to say that, at some point, the private sector will ramp up supply to the point that prices will fall. This is such a fantasy but it is never scrutinised.
With the exception of disastrous economic crashes of the kind we had in 2008, prices and rents never fall. They are not going to fall over the medium or longer term, yet the Government's whole housing strategy is based on the fantasy that the market will at some point lead to a reduction in the price of property. I put it to the Government that the only way this could happen is if there were a very dramatic ramping up of State provision of housing. What can we expect in terms of not-for-profit housing whose price and rent we control? What plan can we expect for the State provision of housing to deal with the needs of our country over the period of the plan?
The Taoiseach attended the opening of the new Luas line to Broombridge, and he was very happy to take credit for it. It involves a significant public investment. We will possibly see more in the plan on Friday. On average, people's journey time on Dublin Bus is now 30 minutes longer because of the confusion and chaos associated with the testing of the new trams. For people making a 1.5 hour journey into town from the western suburbs, this is an enormous imposition.
The Taoiseach was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the project was agreed. The Minister for Finance was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the project was being substantially completed. Deputy Shane Ross is now the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Where is the whole-of-Government approach? With regard to the chaos on the quays and in the city centre, it is fine for the Taoiseach to say that in a couple of months when we have eight long trams, the problems will somehow melt away.
The reason anybody is a Minister or Taoiseach is he or she has executive powers to address problems and this problem is not being addressed. The public transport provision included in the national development plan is beginning to slip away. It looks like the reference to the electrification of the rail line to Maynooth is gone, although there will be electrification of the line to Balbriggan. The Government has made it a ten-year plan. That adds a couple of years to big up the total amount of money the Government is proposing to spend in the message the Taoiseach and his 34 Ministers will launch on Friday. Thirty four Ministers plus the Taoiseach is 35. We will have this parade of 20 Ministers of State and 15 Cabinet Ministers, including the Taoiseach. It is a case of it taking 35 Ministers to fix a light bulb - in this case to launch a development plan which has been going around the houses. I for one am confused about what is the real commitment to public transport initiatives that will start and be built within a five-year timescale. We will then be able to see what the carryover is for the next five years.
A shiver ran down my spine this morning. I heard the Taoiseach say the Opposition was jealous because he had €115 billion to spend. I closed my eyes and felt I was 39 years old again and that I was listening to Bertie Ahern who said the same thing when he was Taoiseach in 2002. The Taoiseach went on to say the Opposition had approved the draft plan. I fundamentally disagree. I opposed the draft national planning framework. I agree with Mr. Edgar Morgenroth who is an expert in this area. He was correct in what he said the other day on "Morning Ireland", that it was a recipe for ongoing sprawl. The Government's emphasis is on having motorways everywhere and pretending that that improves urban life, but that is a complete fallacy which it seems the Taoiseach has inherited from the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.
I hear there is no reference in the plan to a DART interconnector. Is that true? Can one possibly make this city work without connecting up the rail lines which we should have done ten years ago, as well as a metro system? In the provisional plan there were no public transport projects in Cork, Galway, Limerick or Waterford. There is no sustainability and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport does not seem to have a care in the world on that issue.
The key question I have is whether the Government has climate proofed the plan. Can it show and prove to us that it will do something different from what is in the national mitigation plan which the Taoiseach himself said in Strasbourg was not good enough. He said we were a climate change laggard. If the Government was drawing up the national development plan in a climate proofed way, it would be helping the country to move towards a different planning system and doing what it was meant to do, namely, bringing life back to the centre and making it efficient and the country work. I do not hear that but the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.
The batch of questions we are discussing relate to the role of my Department in the new national development plan. While my Department has a role in it, we did not write the plan or anything like it.
The Taoiseach is just going to market it.
Members have asked quite a number of detailed questions about process and procedure which would best be addressed to line Ministers such as the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. There were many detailed questions on transport which would best be addressed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross.
He does not answer questions.
Good luck with that.
I will answer questions on the extent to which my Department has a role in the forthcoming national development plan, but I will not be able to answer questions on behalf of three other Ministers in detail. It is not correct to say the plan has been long delayed. When I contested the leadership of my party in June, I committed to the publication by the end of 2016 of a ten-year infrastructure investment plan. Therefore, it is about six weeks late.
No; it was promised before that.
It was promised for 2017.
In the greater scheme of things I do not think it is very late. The nature of a ten-year plan is that it includes all sorts of project in the pipeline for construction. Infrastructure takes time to provide. It has to be planned, designed, go through the planning process and be built. It then has to be opened. Perhaps, therefore, the ten-year plan will include anything that will incur costs during the ten-year period. That will include projects under construction. Members will know that after many decades in which no new hospitals were built in Ireland-----
What about Tullamore?
-----we now have three under construction. Of course, they will be included because the cost will arise in the period of the plan.
That is pathetic stuff. The Taoiseach should stop being so childish.
It will also include others that have yet to go through the planning process and still others that will start in the course of the plan. The nature of a ten-year plan is that it will include projects at all points in the pipeline of construction and development.
I reassure Deputy Micheál Martin that I have not taken charge of any marketing or PR exercise, with which I know that he is obsessed. Any marketing of the plan will be directed by the director of the communications unit, not by me.
The Taoiseach appointed him.
There will be a very good-----
Come off it.
He does not talk to the Taoiseach at all.
The Taoiseach is just a commentator.
Does the Taoiseach ever meet the director of the communications unit?
There will be a very good health package involving a multibillion euro investment that is much needed in ICT, which is the game changer for the health service in new hospitals. The hospitals in Tullamore and Tallaght were probably the last to be built in this country, probably more than ten years ago, possibly even in the last century; therefore, it is great that we are now building hospitals again. There are three under construction and another is due to go to tender this year. A couple of more are likely to be included in the plan.
They have all been announced already.
There will also be investment in primary care centres and to implement the maternity strategy and the trauma strategy. It is a very good package. While we have high levels of spending on health services in Ireland, historically we have underspent in capital investment. A lot of our buildings, equipment and information technology is out of date. We can really change the health service by investing in them.
Deputy Micheál Martin is correct that I did defer the N20 project. I also deferred projects in my constituency, including metro north and metro west. I will never forget the decisions that had to be made in those early years after my party came to office in 2011.
The Taoiseach did not have to make that decision.
The metro project was included in an earlier plan.
I refer to the decisions we had to make to pare back budgets and we know why those decisions were made.
No; provision had been made.
It was because a different party and Government had driven the country over the cliff and bankrupted the State. As a result, major reductions had to be made in capital spending.
We now have an opportunity to put that right and re-initiate some of the projects.
I was interested to hear Deputy Eamon Ryan tell us what should have been done ten years ago. I wonder who was in government ten years ago.
We had the metro project which we guaranteed, but the Government killed it. It was the perfect countercyclical project.
Your economic planning killed it.
All of those things could have been done. Deputy Eamon Ryan also indicated that I had said people were jealous. I did not say anyone was jealous. He also misquoted Mr. Edgar Morgenroth. It may be that he is once again hearing things and forgetting the fact that he was a member of the Government ten years ago.
Deputy Brendan Howlin asked about legislation. The legislation to which he referred has to be brought back to the Dáil, even after it has been debated in the Seanad; therefore, it may be some time before it is enacted by both Houses and becomes law.
Does the Government plan to amend it?
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government tells me that the new national planning framework, NPF, can be placed on a statutory footing and that a motion on it was sent to the Oireachtas joint committee where it was not opposed and no vote was called on it. The committee made a submission which is being considered by the Minister. Much of it has been taken on board and integrated into the plan.
Has it been brought back to the House?
On rail services, I am not in a position to make announcements today. Decisions will be made on Friday and then announced. Speaking as a former transport Minister and somebody who is interested in the issue, especially railways, heavy railways, in particular, are very expensive to build and once they are built, if they do not carry significant passenger numbers, they are very expensive to operate. When one is prioritising spending on rail services, the first thing one needs to prioritise is safety. A lot of the investment needs to go into existing rail lines to improve safety. The second thing one needs to do is deal with congestion. Some train lines are very heavily used, while others are not. We need to reduce congestion and increase frequency and line speeds on the heavily congested lines. If one is to build new additional train lines, they need to be subjected to a proper appraisal. I refer to such things as a net present value and a benefit to cost ratio. The commitment on the western rail corridor in the programme for Government is not to build or complete it but to carry out such an appraisal of such a benefit to cost ratio. The last time it was done it came out negatively at a cost of 100 against six - 100 being the cost and six the benefit.
Most rail projects come out around 100 to 80. It did not come out of that well and had a negative net present value over 30 years. Indeed, that turned out to be optimistic. Passenger numbers are now half what they were projected to be at this point. They were supposed to be 200,000 after five years. Moreover, the cost of building came in higher.
However, that is not to say that we cannot examine it again or examine doing further sections of it, but we would of course have to do full and proper appraisal and cost-benefit analysis. It would not be justifiable to proceed with a project in full knowledge of how the assessment came out. I imagine Deputies will agree that is the right approach to proper planning and use of taxpayers' money.
Reference was made to social housing. Housing is of course going to be comprehended by the ten-year investment package. Among the things committed to are things that already exist to a certain extent. These include a major ramp-up in the amount of social housing and the amount of public housing owned by local authorities or on behalf of local authorities. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, through his leadership and that of his Department, increased the social housing stock by 7,000 last year through several methods. There were three times as many direct builds last year than in the year before it. Other measures include acquiring properties from developers and other private owners, bringing voids back into operation and long-term leasing. Obviously, that will have to continue and escalate. The Minister has also made a proposal relating to cost rental whereby the State or State actors can build apartments and houses and offer them for rent.
We will have to leave it there, Taoiseach, because there are other questions.
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the programme for Government progress report published in December 2017. [5928/18]
7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [5978/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 7 together.
The Government published its latest progress report on A Programme for a Partnership Government on 19 December. The report sets out the most recent progress made across all of government in implementing the commitments in the programme and includes measures that were announced in budget 2018 as well. Some of the main areas of progress since the last report include the opening of Luas cross city, which was completed on time and within budget. General practitioner visit cards are being extended to carers. Legislation is pending on this and additional funding for respite care is being provided as well. There is a reduction in prescription charges for patients with medical cards and for those who do not have them. A total of 29 of 34 projects approved under the local infrastructure housing activation fund will activate supply of approximately 17,500 housing units. The draft national planning framework has been published for the final round of public consultations. The national mitigation plan has been published and the national dialogue on climate action advisory group has been established. Ireland's work to secure a successful outcome in phase 1 of Brexit negotiations is another mark of progress, as is an agreed programme of referendums to be held during 2018 and 2019.
My Department has responsibility for certain commitments in the programme, including the areas of Dáil reform, relations with Britain and Northern Ireland, managing the new partnership approach between Government and Parliament and the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly as well. Officials in my Department are working to progress these issues over the lifetime of the Government. Recent work advanced includes supporting the Citizens' Assembly, which has submitted its reports and recommendations on the eighth amendment and the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. Since 2017, a number of Dáil reforms have been introduced that provide more proportionate speaking time for all Deputies, additional time for Government business and legislation and the staffing for the new parliamentary budget office.
My Department is ensuring a whole-of-government response to Brexit, including contingency planning and Brexit negotiations, supporting the resumption of power-sharing in Northern Ireland and support for a whole-of-government response on policy objectives. This is reflected in the dedicated action plans on jobs, housing and homelessness, rural development and creative Ireland.
The Government has had a number of significant priorities for the immediate period ahead. My Department will assist in advancing these together with other relevant Departments. These include the publication of the national planning framework, developing the Government's response to the Sláintecare report, reform of the justice and health sectors, doubling Ireland's global footprint, Seanad reform, climate change, pensions reform and housing. The annual report on the programme for Government will be published in May. It will set out the progress made on these and other areas in more detail.
A key issue in the programme for Government and the Department of the Taoiseach is Brexit. The progress report in December contained several achievements claimed by the Government in respect of Brexit negotiations. I believe many of these were premature achievements. This morning, the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said that Brexit is a reason for hope and not fear. I believe it is only the hope of a small minority, even in Britain, at this stage. It is certainly swinging in that direction. I have spoken to many in the business and farming communities, people in the agrifood business as well as many people from Britain who have moved over here and who are now living in this country. They are absolutely terrified of the consequences of Brexit for themselves and their families.
On Monday, Copenhagen Economics produced a report forecasting a disastrous impact on our economy from Brexit. The report states that Brexit has the potential to turn back the Irish economy to the economic crash of 2007 and 2008. This follows the British Government report on Brexit indicating the withdrawal will be bad for the economy in the North. Regardless of the outcome reached in the negotiations - we wish those involved all the best - I expect a positive outcome. However, in December those of us in Sinn Féin said that we did not accept what the Taoiseach welcomed as a cast-iron guarantee from the British Government. We took the view that it was not enough. We warned that duplicity would kick in and that is exactly what we are now witnessing. The British Government is attempting to renege on these so-called guarantees. We believe that the Taoiseach needs to stand over the December commitments at this point. The best way to do that is for the Government to join everyone in the House and others in the European Union to seek to have special designated status for the North within the European Union as a means of moving forward. I believe this is a crisis situation that will come at us. My suggestion is clearly the way forward to try to resolve this issue.
We are tight on time.
The programme for Government said that the Government approach to governing would be crucially tested on the issue of housing and how it dealt with the housing crisis. I understand the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on Monday and was a little put out because I was outside protesting.
I apologised on behalf of Deputy Boyd Barrett.
So I believe, but I did not apologise on behalf of the Minister. I was there with people who come to my clinic and who represent the human evidence of the failure of the Government's policies. I will offer some examples of some of the people who were there. Two young women who are pregnant were there. They are homeless. They are being told by the council that they have to go to Brú Aimsir Hostel, where there are many active drug users. They have letters from social workers saying the suggestion is completely unsuitable for pregnant women. The latest response we have received is that when they are seven months pregnant, perhaps the council will be able to get them out. Most pregnancies fail in the first few months. These young pregnant vulnerable women are being put into a dangerous situation for people in their condition. This is the sort of carry-on that is going on.
I received an answer to a parliamentary question on housing assistant payment tenancies last year. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government claimed in the answer that the figure was 17,000. I asked how many HAP tenancies failed last year. The figure was 2,250. Some 15% of the Government's HAPs last year failed, and they were the low-hanging fruit in the support scheme. A total of two thirds of the Government plan for 2021 is dependent on these tenancies, which are already failing in spectacular numbers. Does the Government not believe it is time to revisit the entire plan?
We need to be brief. Deputy Micheál Martin is next.
For the record, probably the largest and most effective health capital programme began in 1997 or 1998 and went through to 2010. It meant a new hospital in Tullamore but also the transformation of St. Vincent's University Hospital, St. James's Hospital and the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. Essentially, they were new developments of significant scale.
It is silly and childish for the Taoiseach to say that the Government will build three new hospitals in the next ten years and so the Government is great. It is far more comprehensive than that. Far more is needed in areas like disability services, chronic illness treatment and so on. This may not mean new buildings but certainly a better and more effective targeting, not to mention the significant infrastructural improvements that materialised from the late 1990s onwards.
While there is more to be done, the completion of the motorway network was effective in terms of connectivity and quality of life for many people living in different cities.
On the programme for Government, the commitments on mental health are still not being realised. Deputy Browne has been informed that only half of the 350 posts approved for mental health services in 2015 have been filled and only one third of the 317 posts approved in 2016 have been filled. The Government is falling far short of the objectives set in A Vision for Change. The House was assured more posts would be filled but that has not occurred. All Deputies are aware of the difficulties in accessing child and mental health service units and consultant posts. We need a more coherent and better response from the Government to meet the needs of mental health patients.
I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware of the remark made by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson, this morning that regulatory divergence is an objective of the British Government. Mr. Johnson's speech is one in a series of speeches by British Ministers that are meant to be part of government policy. In the context of the British Prime Minister enlisting him to help to negotiate the overall final status agreement, does the Taoiseach agree that this is very bad news and a doubling down by the British Government in terms of where it wants to go with this?
The Taoiseach stated that one of the achievements of last year's programme for Government was the opening of the Luas cross-city light rail line. I return to this issue because the Taoiseach did not address it in his reply. The addition of approximately 30 minutes' travel time for commuters travelling from the west of Dublin into and out of the city centre on buses, the workhorses of the public transport system, is a significant disimprovement in the lives of people who, as we know, are buying houses far out of the city. Without a viable public transport system, we will not be able to solve the housing crisis.
The Taoiseach was the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and knew, therefore, that this crisis would occur and chaos would ensue. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, as a former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, also knew it would occur, as did the current Minister, Deputy Ross. In terms of joined-up Government and any confidence that people might have in the organisational ability of the Government to do anything, why should we have much faith in what the Government will announce on Friday when we will have a grandiose plan stretching out to ten years or more and bigged up in terms of volume of money, presumably to feature on posters come an election? While that is fine, if the position of the country is to improve, we must have a viable public transport system. I cannot understand the reason the Taoiseach and his Ministers are not addressing the traffic chaos being caused for commuters, particularly in the central Dublin area, as a consequence of a very good, strong investment in Luas, for which I campaigned for years. The Government has not addressed the problems for which the Taoiseach, his Minister for Finance and the current Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport were responsible. Where is the whole-of-Government approach to the issue?
On Brexit, while I do not like to state the obvious, sometimes it may be necessary to do so. Brexit is not our policy. We opposed it at the time and we are still opposed to it. It is a decision of the British people and their Government and it is not under the control of this Government, any future Government or the House to tell the British Government and people what to do. However, we need to manage the consequences of their decision and always put the interests of our people first. We will navigate our way through Brexit.
I stand over the commitments and guarantees made in the joint report in December. I use the term "commitments and guarantees" because that is the language used in the joint report. What we are now doing in phase two is seeking to ensure these guarantees, particularly the backstop, are written into the legal agreement - the withdrawal agreement - which will be legally binding. I read out earlier the guidelines agreed by the European Council or EU 27 only two or three weeks ago. Deputies will see that the European Union is totally behind Ireland in the demand that the guarantees and commitments written in black and white in the joint report in December be in the withdrawal agreement, the legally binding agreement that will allow the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and have a transition period. While one cannot rule out the possibility that the UK will decide to leave the EU without such an agreement, I do not believe it would be in its interests to do so and I sincerely hope it will not do so. I ask for the support of the House in our efforts to ensure the commitments and guarantees contained in black and white in the joint report - the agreement reached in December - are now written into the text of the withdrawal agreement. I ask people to use their networks and sister parties across Europe to emphasise that, rather than making alternative proposals at this stage, which are not helpful.
On a point of order, no one made any alternative proposals.
Sinn Féin just did if Deputy Martin wants to check the blacks.
I ask the Taoiseach to conclude, please.
In terms of the Copenhagen Economics report, it does not quite say what Deputy Martin Kenny indicated it says. It tells us that Brexit will be bad for Ireland and the economy. I do not believe we needed another report to tell us that but this report helps to quantify the issue. It does not say there will be a new recession or economic crisis or that anyone's pay will be cut. What it says is that Brexit will have a dampening effect on growth into the future. Instead of the economy growing by approximately 22% over the next decade, it will grow by approximately 19% in the best case scenario or 15% in the worst case scenario. When one views the issue from that perspective, as laid out in the report, it presents quite a different picture. It identifies the particular sectors that would be worst affected by Brexit. It will not surprise people to learn that agriculture and agrifood is one such sector, as is aviation, but they may be less aware that they also include the electrical-machinery sector.
The report also assumes that the Government will not introduce mitigating measures or do anything to mitigate the consequences of Brexit. We asked the authors to make that assumption and the report was done based on a scenario of no policy changes. However, the Government is making efforts to mitigate the effects of Brexit and I will give three small examples. We have established a €300 million loan scheme to assist small businesses to secure access to credit in order that they can adapt to Brexit and seek new markets. A second example is investment in infrastructure in our airports and ports to prepare for Brexit. Finally, and perhaps most significant, we are doubling Ireland's global footprint by ensuring we have more embassies and consulates around the world and Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have more suits on the ground and bigger budgets in order that we can diversify and decouple our economy even more from the British market. To take one of the most sensitive sectors, namely, agriculture, the proportion of agriculture exports to the United Kingdom has already fallen from 40% to 35%. This is an example of the good work being done by Bord Bia, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and others in diversifying our exports.
There are four minutes remaining. Do Members wish to continue to address this group of questions or move to the final group?
I am in the hands of Deputies.
The Taoiseach should continue his response.
The questions come so quickly, I do not have time to write all of them down but I take a note of as many as I can. To respond to some of the questions on housing, the Minister seated beside me, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has indicated that if there are particularly sensitive individual cases specifically involving pregnant women, there is flexibility in that regard. If Deputies wish to give him information on such cases, he will do whatever he can to assist, as I understand he has done in the past.
I have not yet heard the speech made by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson, nor have I seen the script. However, I will certainly look at it when I receive it. We have had a pattern now for many months of different messages coming from different Ministers in the British Government. When the Prime Minister speaks, I listen because she speaks definitively for the British. I met her only this week and I am sure we will meet again.
Did she tell the Taoiseach about Boris's forthcoming speech?
No, nor did she tell me about any of the other speeches.
She should have done so.
As I said, it is undoubtedly the case that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union involves divergence.
It would not be leaving the European Union otherwise. We want to focus on ensuring we have as much convergence as possible, or maintaining alignment on economic issues and issues relating to trade.
I thought we were getting full alignment.
The full alignment refers to Northern Ireland and it does not refer to the entire United Kingdom. I suspect that when Mr. Johnson was making his speech, he had the United Kingdom and perhaps only England in mind rather than Northern Ireland. Maintaining full alignment in the backstop in paragraphs 49 and 50 only refers to-----
The backstop goes both ways.
It only refers to Northern Ireland from our perspective. Even when it refers to both ways, it is between Northern Ireland and Britain; it is alignment between Northern Ireland and the European Union, of which Ireland is part, and alignment between Northern Ireland and Britain. It is a reference to Northern Ireland and not the entire United Kingdom.
On the Luas cross city project, it is absolutely the case that there are problems causing increased congestion on some days in Dublin, worsening bus times. It will require some changes, such as the re-routing of buses, which is now under consideration. There will possibly be re-routing of taxis as well. There will be signal changes and the Luas service will be made more frequent, with longer carriages. Much of that is under way. It is a long time since I was Minister with responsibility for transport but I know the project very well and I am really glad it has proceeded and is up and running. It happened on time and within budget. Certainly, the scale of the traffic problems that have arisen were not projected at the time, but it was projected that there would need to be changes to bus routes. Some of that has been done and more will need to be done.