1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met; and when it will next meet. [16661/18]
Vol. 968 No. 1
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met; and when it will next meet. [16661/18]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [17609/18]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, last met. [17679/18]
4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee C, European Union, including Brexit, will next meet. [17811/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
Cabinet committee C supports the Government in its consideration of European Union matters, including the ongoing Brexit negotiations and their implications for Ireland. Given their significance, these matters are also regularly discussed at full meetings of the Cabinet. In addition, I regularly meet Ministers, on an individual basis or in groups, in order to focus on particular issues, including those relating to the EU. In particular, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy McEntee, and I meet senior officials on a regular basis to discuss European affairs and the Brexit negotiations.
Preparation for Brexit at official level, both in relation to the negotiations and in preparing for the potential consequences of the UK's withdrawal from the EU, is intensive, with interdepartmental and senior official groups meeting regularly.
Preparing for and dealing with Brexit in a way that delivers the best possible outcome for the country remains a top priority for the Government.
Cabinet committee C last met on 13 February. The date for the next meeting has not yet been confirmed but it will occur before the June European Council summit.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The Brexit stakeholders forum meets periodically is of very great use and is an important innovation to continue. I want to ask the Taoiseach about what I discern to be a slight difference of opinion between himself and the Tánaiste on the timetabling of critical decisions. The Tánaiste has repeatedly made it clear that June really is critical, in terms of the European Council, for a clear decision to be made on the Irish Border situation. The Taoiseach seems to be giving a view that we actually have until October. Legally, that is correct. However, there is a very strong view across the House that if we do not have a clear decision by June then we will have an awful lot less leverage in October when the final settlement issues are being addressed. I would like clarity on this. What will the Irish Government do if no progress on the Irish Border issue is available and clear by the June Council meeting?
The customs union is now the real issue. Obviously, the British Government has lost votes on this matter in the House of Lords. It will face a critical vote after the local elections in Britain in early May. I have said it is important for us to keep as much pressure as we can for the customs union arrangement between the United Kingdom and the European Union to be kept in place because the issues of importance for us are not only North-South in nature, they also have an east-west dimension. I do not want a hard border in the ports of Rosslare or Dublin no more than I want a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, was before the Brexit committee of the House of Commons this morning. He answered again, in respect of the Border, that most of the technology exists today to solve all of these issues. Nobody believes that. This is the line, as if there is some technological magical solution for having separate customs arrangements in the North of Ireland and the Republic. I am interested in the Taoiseach's views on this matter.
Nobody believes Mr. Davis's assertion because it is not true. It is the stuff of "Alice in Wonderland" and I really wish the British would desist from positing these non-starters. It is clearly part of their strategy to play for time in the hope that either Europe or the Government in Dublin will blink and they will get away with pushing the Irish question indefinitely down the pipe. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Will the Taoiseach comment on a report in yesterday's edition of The Times in which a document purporting to be an internal EU memo raises very serious questions about the efficacy of the backstop agreement reached last December? As we all know, this backstop represents the absolute minimum requirement in respect of Ireland and if it has flaws or potential flaws then we need to be conversant with them and we need to sort them out. I am concerned that something that was initially described as a cast-iron guarantee moved to a gentleman's agreement and then to a political promise, and now, if this report is right, some are questioning its viability. The Tánaiste is right to say that June is the deadline. That is the red letter time. I would like to hear the Taoiseach reiterate and clarify this matter. I would like him to tell us what he proposes to do to ensure the June deadline does not slip and that we do not allow matters to roll into the summertime and then into the autumn, because that would put us in an impossible position. Not only would our leverage be lessened, we could find ourselves without any leverage at all.
Before I put my specific question, I want to point out that it is now the Taoiseach's customary practice to completely ignore difficult questions by using up all of his time to answer less challenging ones. Yesterday, I asked very direct and relevant questions on exaggerated claims for the strategic communications unit and the admission of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that he does not understand homelessness figures. However, the Taoiseach did not even reference, let alone answer, those questions. This is a pattern that was repeated in previous sessions. We are used to a Taoiseach trying to avoid hard questions but it is a new approach simply to refuse to engage at all. I hope the Taoiseach will review this particular strategy.
With regard to Europe, significant confusion has been caused by the Taoiseach's statement at the European Council that he was okay with the final text concerning a backstop waiting until October. The Tánaiste has been trying to row this back since then and is insisting that any failure to reach a deal in June would be an enormous threat.
The informed the BBC that we would even have to question whether we could get a final settlement at all. Can the Taoiseach tell me which position is correct - his, as outlined in Brussels, or that of the Tánaiste? The situation in respect of negotiations is that there has been very little progress on the backstop text for the withdrawal treaty and no progress on a final status deal. In the event of the British Government reversing its position and agreeing to remain in the customs union, has the Government completed any study on the implications for this country of the UK being in the customs union but outside the Single Market? Every possible Irish solution requires regulatory alignment. Equally, no regulatory alignment is possible without working political institutions in Northern Ireland. Are there any backstop plans for how this regulatory alignment would be maintained if the assembly and the Executive remain suspended?
What, if anything, is the EU saying about the deaths of 41 unarmed Palestinians in recent weeks? These unarmed protestors were shot by Israeli snipers in acts of cold and calculated murder. The latest victims include Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, a deaf teenager aged 18 who was shot last Friday, and Abdullah Muhammad al-Shamali, another youth who has just died of his wounds. This brings the number of deaths to 41, which is shocking. These people are protesting to vindicate what is a right under international law. Is the Taoiseach saying anything to our European counterparts about what sanctions Europe should take and what pressure it should exert on Israel in respect of these shocking human rights violations against unarmed protesters? Israel has just announced that any member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, IPSC, who attempts to enter the Israel-Palestine area will not be allowed to do so. Four IPSC activists were deported by Israel recently. There has been no retaliation or action in response by the Government to this treatment of Irish citizens. The EU's position is that illegal settlements are wrong and should happen. People who live in those Israeli settlements can come here very easily while Palestinians who live in Palestinian territory designated for them under international law have more difficulty getting in here. Is that not somewhat bizarre? Why are we not levelling some diplomatic sanction at people living in what are designated illegal settlements in terms of their capacity to enter Europe or this country when one looks at what Israel is doing to our citizens who are just peaceful civil society activists?
I am sure that, like many people concerned with immigration in Europe, Ireland and the UK, the Taoiseach has been appalled by the story of what happened to members of the Windrush generation who were invited to live and work in the UK from countries like Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean after the Second World War and who have been effectively deprived of most their rights of residency in the UK in the past couple of years. The British Government has now promised to redress this for people from the Caribbean. However, Guy Verhofstadt, who is the European Parliament liaison person for Brexit, has expressed serious concerns on behalf of EU citizens who may be similarly affected by this type of development in UK immigration law, which is very complex and which I do not think anybody fully understands. In terms of the work being done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Taoiseach, has the Windrush issue been examined and followed? Has a report on it been prepared? There will be people living in Northern Ireland who have lived in the Republic of Ireland but who originally came from other parts of the EU or the wider world. In the UK, people in their 60s and 70s have been refused cancer treatment by the NHS and other people have been threatened with deportation. Has the Taoiseach had this matter examined as part of the fallout from the changes the UK is making?
My practice is to answer the questions as best I can in the order in which they are asked but because of the way this session is structured, it is not possible to even write down all the questions, let alone answer them. I think there are, on average, 26 or 27 questions and I am given two and a half minutes to answer them. The way this session is structured makes it quite impossible to answer all the questions and, very often, those that are asked are not germane to the actual main question. Obviously, I will prioritise ones that relate to the question rather than miscellaneous issues that do not relate to it. I agree that it is a matter for the Business Committee but if it is a day for asking and avoiding hard questions, I would be curious to know if the leader of the Opposition, Deputy Micheál Martin, agrees with the view of one of his Deputies that the Mahon tribunal has been discredited. The Mahon tribunal made a number of serious findings against members of Fianna Fáil who I will not mention in this House because they are not here to defend themselves. I would be very interested to know whether the leader of Fianna Fáil agrees with the view that the Mahon tribunal has been discredited.
On a point of order, my views on the Mahon tribunal are very well known. I am not so sure whether that is the case regarding the Taoiseach's views on it.
That is not a point of order.
To take the questions in order starting with the one from Deputy Howlin, there is a fashion at the moment to parse and analyse what I and the Tánaiste say - often on different days and in different contexts - and to look for differences. However, I am happy to allay the Deputy's fears. The Tánaiste and I are both of the view that there needs to be sufficient and substantial progress made by the time the European Council meeting is held in June. What I will not do is answer hypothetical questions in this House about what we will or will not do if there is insufficient or insubstantial progress by June. In the first instance, it is not in the interests of the Irish people or the State for us to outline our negotiating strategy in a public forum. I hope Members will understand that. Second, that is a decision which must be made there and then, in June, when we have all the facts. It is only the end of the April and a lot can happen between now and the Council meeting in June. It is our very strong view that we need to see sufficient and substantial progress on Irish issues by the time of the June Council meeting.
On the remarks by the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, there are many comments from him on many different dates. I have not read the particular comments today but I did see reports that the UK will put forward an alternative text to the Irish protocol to option C. We would certainly welcome seeing that alternative. That is exactly the kind of engagement we would like to see from the UK but we have yet to see an alternative text put forward by it. We would like to see such a thing if it exists. Once again, I reiterate that I am not aware of the existence of the technology that David Davis seems to believe exists. We have always said that there cannot be a technical solution to Irish Border challenge. It requires a political and legal solution and that is what we have been working towards.
With regard to the article in yesterday's Irish edition of The Times, I checked with my lead official, who is heading up the negotiations on our behalf - our sherpa. He told me that he did not recognise what was contained in the article. Many people will put across positions in newspapers, both Irish and British-owned, in the coming weeks so we need to take them as they come.
In the context of Israel and Palestine, I am not aware of an EU communiqué on the matters raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett but I assure him that we have a robust engagement with the Israeli authorities at political and diplomatic level and have outlined our rejection of the human rights abuses that occur in that particular state on many occasions.
My Department has not examined the Windrush issue but we would see it as being a very different matter. Obviously, it relates to immigrants from the Commonwealth who came to the UK prior to 1971. The situation we face is comprehended by the common travel area and is very different.
On a point of order, I asked the Taoiseach about whether the Government had completed a study as to what might happen if the UK decided to stay in the customs union and outside the Single Market. It is a very simple question. If he had concentrated on the questions I had asked, I might have got some specific answers.
I will allow the Taoiseach to answer that briefly.
It is very simple.
I did not quite understand the question.
I ask the Deputy to repeat the question.
In the event that the British Government reversed its decision and agreed to remain in the customs union, has the Government completed any study as to what the implications are for us of it being in the customs union and outside the Single Market?
Yes, that is the-----
Chairman, on a point of order, I asked a specific question about Irish-----
The Copenhagen study covers that.
----- citizens being thrown out of Israel.
No. It does not cover it.
I have to stress, before any answer to the question, that it takes from the next group, which is a smaller group.
We need a different attitude from the Taoiseach.
Does the Taoiseach wish to answer the question?
I could not hear it because two people were speaking.
There is a question about citizenship.
It is just about Irish citizens being expelled from Israel. Does the Taoiseach have any comment on that?
I would have to get a briefing on that. I do not have the details.
We will move on then.
The Deputy might submit a written question.
5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in the annual 1916 commemoration. [16664/18]
6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's role in the annual 1916 commemoration. [17611/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 and 6 together.
My Department is responsible for the co-ordination of the annual Easter commemoration ceremony which takes place at the GPO on Easter Sunday. Since the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2006 the commemoration has taken place annually.
The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces play a central part in the ceremonies. The detailed logistical elements of the programme are worked out in conjunction with the Office of Public Works events management unit, An Garda Síochána and other State agencies as appropriate.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He said his Department co-ordinates the 1916 commemoration. I think we can all agree that we had a wonderful centenary in 2016, but in a general sense the annual event needs more focus. Will the Taoiseach review the nature of it? I noted that the Taoiseach had Rahm Emanuel as a guest. Is there an official guest list? That might be a good idea and would enhance it. Could we do other things to enhance it?
We are in the decade of commemorations; many things happened in this period of time 100 years ago. Monday marked the centenary of the anti-conscription strike in 1918, an event marked by the Labour Party in Wicklow this week. Bray and Wicklow town were two centres of a very successful strike that ended Lloyd George's conscription plans for Ireland and had a momentous impact in saving thousands of lives. With many events that are not on the official list of commemorations, perhaps we could have some dialogue across parties about having a comprehensive list. I would welcome the Taoiseach's views.
Deputy Howlin has made a good proposal.
I have a number of questions on State commemorations generally. In the build up to the centenary of the 1916 Rising, one aspect that worked very well was the all-party consultative group on commemorations. It was first established in 2005 and reconstituted in 2011. It was envisaged that the group would look at a host of events over the course of the decade of significant centenary anniversaries. However, regrettably that committee has become moribund. I understand that the Minister is minded to reconstitute the committee, which is welcome.
I also welcome the commitment that this group will look at centenary events to the year 2023 which is beyond 2021 as originally intended. A full examination of the State's role and actions during the Civil War is essential. Regrettably parties have not had an input into a number of significant anniversaries, some which have passed without any State commemoration. The anti-conscription strike mentioned by Deputy Howlin is a case in point of an event that warrants recognition and remembrance.
The centenary of the 1918 election is nearly upon us.
The Deputy's time is up.
Thank you. Is that what the Acting Chairman's hand gesture meant?
He could have said, "Your time is up."
I did not want to interrupt the Deputy's train of thought.
The Deputy's time is up.
The 1918 general election agus an Céad Dáil freisin are certainly events that require State commemoration.
The work carried out by staff at the Department of the Taoiseach is always excellent and ensures they are dignified and focused on unifying elements, such as the institution of the Presidency and of course the Army, which is now, and always has been, the only legitimate Óglaigh na hÉireann. However, it is a great pity the Taoiseach chose to be so highly partisan last week at his party's event concerning the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. It is curious that he thinks we should have a national day to commemorate an Act of the Oireachtas and yet the Government saw no need to mark the 80th anniversary of the first constitution in the world adopted in a democratic referendum. I submitted a parliamentary question to the Taoiseach on his plans, but it was transferred out to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. It is curious that a constitution that made Ireland a republic should be ignored in favour of an Act that added it as a descriptor, which is used only in some circumstances.
My party welcomes the idea of having consultations about whether more events should be commemorated. However, the focus needs to be on ensuring that these are constructive non-partisan discussions. When does the Taoiseach intend following up on his speech? Does he accept in retrospect that the failure to mark last year's anniversary of our republican Constitution set a very bad precedent?
Since all the different strands of Irish politics are throwing in their particular slant on the revolutionary period, I will throw in something of importance. During the whole social revolution that took place in the 1916-21 period, it is a little known fact - the Taoiseach might be horrified at this - that 200 soviets were set up in Ireland between 1918 and 1921.
The Deputy is on dangerous ground now.
Some, at least, who were fighting in the revolution were not just looking to change the colour of the flag, but actually saw themselves as part of a wider international revolt against a system that put profit before people. Famously in the creamery in Charleville they put up a banner when they took it over saying "We make butter not profits", which was pretty brilliant. That was another dimension of the revolutionary period.
What happened to Charleville?
Indeed. That needs to be commemorated and remembered.
The Limerick Soviet, for example, was an extraordinary event over six weeks. Workers took over, printed their own currency and saw themselves as aligned with a big international movement. It was not just a parochial event, but part of a big international thing. The commemorations need to acknowledge the different strands of the revolutionary movement in this country.
I wish to bring one other item to the Taoiseach's attention on which I believe there would be broad agreement even from the previous speaker. The year 1919 saw the publication of the Democratic Programme. The author and inspiration for much of it was the leader of the Labour Party, Tom Johnson, who succeeded Connolly. The point is that the Democratic Programme is the basis of the agreement about social democracy in Ireland in the sense of provision of social welfare, universal education and universal access to health care. It is something that politically still lives very much in Ireland. Obviously there will be a Labour Party celebration of it, but I would like to have an all-party Dáil celebration of Tom Johnson's legacy.
I again record that the questions to which I am speaking relate to the annual 1916 commemoration. I appreciate that Deputies have taken the opportunity to raise matters other than the annual 1916 commemoration. When that is done, it will not be possible for me to answer all questions.
I will have to prioritise those that relate to the questions submitted. The cross-party dialogue is very fitting and appropriate when it comes to these matters. One of the successes of the decade of commemorations has been the fact that it has operated largely on a cross-party basis and everyone has been able to buy in to, and participate in, the commemorations and not feel they belong to one particular party. That is very much the vein in which the Government intends to continue.
The event I participated in last week to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Republic was a party event. Other parties have their events. Labour and Sinn Féin have their events. I imagine People Before Profit has its events too. I hope it did not upset Deputy Martin that Fine Gael might have an event-----
It is the Government.
-----but we did have an event to recognise the historical fact that the only internationally recognised Republic of Ireland was the one that began in 1949. Bunreacht na hÉireann fell a bit short of that and did not even describe the country as a republic. I have no difficulty recognising the historic importance of that particular document-----
But the Taoiseach has. He does not do it. He never does it.
-----and the significance of that new Constitution.
It is a very significant Constitution.
The Deputy's anger about the event that Fine Gael had last week and his frustration and upset at it-----
No. I just think the Constitution gets ignored.
-----probably explains why it is better that when we have these events, we make sure that any events that are State commemorations should be agreed on an all-party basis. The Deputy's view was that we did not commemorate his party's Constitution so he would not commemorate our Act. That is a little bit petulant.
It is not our Constitution. It is the people's Constitution.
It is important that when we do have State commemorations-----
Stop fighting. We heard you.
------that they are ones all parties can go into so as not to cause anyone to become upset or petulant, which of course I would not like to do.
There is nothing new in it to Deputy McDonald. For God's sake.
In respect of the all-party Oireachtas advisory committee in the lead up to the State’s commemoration of the centenary of events in 1916, an all-party consultative group on commemorations proved to be very constructive. In the years to 2023, with the various historical events falling to be remembered, such input will again be beneficial in informing the State commemorative programme for the remainder of the decade of centenaries.
Last September the then Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, wrote to the Ceann Comhairle requesting that the Business Committee nominate Deputies and Senators to the group. Parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly that are not represented in the Dáil or Seanad were also asked to make nominations. Some nominations from the Dáil, Seanad and Northern Ireland Assembly remain outstanding. The current Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, expects most of these to reach her shortly. The Minister will then be in a position to convene an early meeting of the group. It is noteworthy also that the public consultations process to assist the expert advisory group on commemorations in framing its advice to Government has recently concluded. The consultation covers the period 1918-23, which led to the foundation of the State, the War of Independence and the Civil War, and sought views on how the State might meaningfully and appropriately commemorate centenaries of the related significant historical events. The advice of the group is expected shortly and may help inform the discussions of the all-party group when convened.
There is also an expert advisory group, which was established by former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in 2011 and meets regularly in the Department of the Taoiseach. Its role is to advise the Government on historical matters relating to the decade of centenaries and to consult widely with academic, community and voluntary groups and members of the public to ensure that significant events are commemorated accurately, proportionately and appropriately in tone. The group is non-partisan and is composed of independent members, mainly academics, from around the country with Dr. Maurice Manning acting as chair of the group.
In regard to soviets, as Deputy Boyd Barrett may know, one of the more interesting ones historically was the Arigna soviet, where the red flag was raised over the mine. If anyone has not visited the Arigna visitors' centre I would encourage them to do so. I do, however, see something interesting in the slogan "we make butter not profit" because the most sustainable way for an industry to survive would be to make both butter and profit.
It was a hotbed of Bolshevism.
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the status of the improvements being made on the Dublin inner city forum. [16808/18]
8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's role in the North East Inner City Initiative. [17610/18]
9. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's work in relation to the Dublin inner city forum established on foot of his Department's Dublin inner city task force report. [17612/18]
10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the status of improvements being made on the Dublin inner city forum. [17616/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.
The actions contained in the Mulvey report for the social and economic regeneration of the north east inner city are being overseen and implemented by the programme implementation board, which meets on a monthly basis. It is chaired by Michael Stone and comprises representatives from the community and business sectors and the key Departments and agencies. My Department remains actively involved with the work of the board and the local programme office.
The chair of the board reports on a regular basis to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group ensures continued strong and active participation by all the relevant Departments and agencies, and deals with any structural barriers or issues highlighted by the board.
The board is working hard in several areas to ensure we achieve the desired change. During my recent visit to the area I witnessed at first hand the commitment of a wide range of community projects working hard to develop opportunities for the people of the north-east inner city.
I also launched the north-east inner city 2017 progress report when I visited the area with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on Monday, 26 February. A very positive start has been achieved since June 2017, with solid structures and initial funding measures put in place. The focus now shifts to making the fundamental changes required to transform the area over the long term. Community safety and local jobs are two critical areas.
The assignment of 40 new gardaí to the area earlier this month is a major breakthrough and a positive platform from which to deliver a strong and visible community policing service. The impact of drug addiction is fundamental to the challenges facing the community and is an issue which has been raised by various Deputies.
There is a new national drugs strategy with refreshed priorities and the board is working closely with the local drugs and alcohol task force. The first area of collaboration is on a drugs-related intimidation seminar to be held in Croke Park in late May to bring forward practical solutions to tackle this real problem.
The board continues to work with local employers to maximise employment opportunities for local people. The big win so far has been through the new local construction skills and work experience course, which has been run several times and has delivered about 50 jobs. The board is trying to build on that model and target other areas of high demand. The bigger companies are beginning to come forward with individual job offers and are continuing to engage well on structured work experience programmes in the area, such as CareerLEAP.
Thirty new jobs targeting childcare, youth work and care of the elderly services in the community have recently been advertised. These are being funded under the new pilot social employment fund for the area.
The board is working closely with Dublin City Council to drive forward the programme of works to help improve the look and feel of the area.
The Government will continue to support Michael Stone and the board in this work, which is seeing good collaboration between State services, community projects and local employers.
One of the most striking aspects of the report of the task force is that it involves very little more than the type of planning which was typical before the Government effectively closed down local development efforts in 2011 and 2012. When we meet community groups in the area, as I have, and I again visited there recently, we see there is a need to develop a new national commitment to partnership-based community development. The original drug task forces had a huge impact on many areas. That was not primarily a question of money, although it did involve additional funding. It was a question of whether there was a way to get all the State agencies working together in an integrated manner and positively discriminating in favour of such areas. Past initiatives did have a significant impact, when we consider school completion data or the numbers attending courses for early school leavers and at-risk youth. A community-based approach had a huge and very positive impact on many parts of the city of Dublin.
I am concerned by the fact that responsibility for early school leaving is with Tusla. It should not be there. That happened because of trying to beef up Tusla when the new Department of Children and Youth Affairs was established. The same applies to the National Educational Welfare Board, which is out of the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. Both are integral to education. We need to go back to community-based service planning. When I was in the north-east inner city a month ago I saw that housing is a very big issue which this task force is not dealing with. There is a concern that there is an unwritten, almost unspoken, policy of trying to change the profile of who resides in these areas.
The quality of local housing stock is shocking. I cannot see why there is not a proper, specific housing strategy for this area to provide new local authority houses but also facilitate the refurbishment of the existing stock, which is in a very bad way. It cannot all be about student accommodation and catering for employees who are coming in transiently. The local, as it were, native population must be looked after.
To take up that point, there is considerable local frustration regarding the fact that much of the construction in the area relates to student accommodation. I am not overstating things. I represent the area and know it very well. I am not overstating matters when I say that very many people in the inner city, in the old flats complexes, are living in conditions that are not fit for human habitation; they are slum conditions.
These are the finest of people and the finest of families and it is no reflection on them. They live in flats in which there is no room for a kitchen table or a dining-room table where a child would do his or her obair bhaile or where a family can eat a meal together. It is astonishing. In fact, when Kieran Mulvey was doing the groundwork for what would subsequently be his report, he stated very openly that he was shocked by the conditions in which people were living. This is not a superficial issue. It is not simply a matter of refurbishment, it one of root-and-branch, deep social regeneration. Housing is a big part of that but it is not addressed in this strategy and that is a mistake. It makes a mockery of the objectives of the whole exercise.
There would be no harm in having a seminar on drugs-related intimidation. However, we do not need another seminar. What we actually need is a dedicated resource in the area to deal with these issues. We have held seminars before. The Taoiseach talked on his visit about additional funding for the development of a pilot social employment scheme for the area. Can we have more details on that? Who will it target and for whom will it cater? Who are the scheme's partners from within the community?
People who pass the junction of Gardiner Street and Sean McDermott Street and see the magnificent new student accommodation that was built in under two years will find it hard to believe. I could refer to 12 other locations throughout the city where the same is happening. However, I want to ask the Taoiseach why so little progress is being made in respect of taking on young men and women as apprentices and trainees. I have the height of respect for Michael Stone, the chairman of the task force. He has great experience in employing apprentices and a great track record. He is known to people for that. In the context of the Taoiseach's office and its responsibility in the area of oversight, what is causing progress to be so slow? Very shortly, we will not have workers to build houses because we do not have apprentices. On the figures that the Minister for Education and Skills issued recently in respect of the additional carpenters entering training, can the Taoiseach guess what the figure is for the whole of Ireland? It is approximately 1,100. That is a joke.
I know the Taoiseach's background is very much a professional one but people get great careers and businesses out of taking the apprenticeship route. I cannot understand why the task force is not concentrating on this, with the support of the Taoiseach's Department. It will be necessary to put some kind of a rocket under the people who are organising apprenticeships in order that the kids in the area in question, including all the girls who are showing great interest in becoming electricians, get apprenticeships. The demand is there. People like Joe Costello, my former colleague in the north inner city, will tell the Taoiseach that because he has decades of experience of working particularly in education and training in the north inner city.
This is a broad canvas. Quite frankly, an awful lot of good has been done. I want to acknowledge that and the initiatives taken by the Taoiseach's predecessor. There is some transformative work being done. I just want to concentrate on one little aspect of that broad canvas, namely, the area of the national drugs strategy and its implications. I do not think we can actually tackle the really menacing, pervasive, destructive issue of drugs in the context of a tiny area. I spent an evening last week in north-west Dublin at one of the biggest youth clubs in the country. It was highlighted to me that the increased Garda presence in the inner city is actually dislodging some pushers out of the latter and into the area to which I refer. We need to have a joined-up approach in respect of the drugs strategy.
I ask the Taoiseach to also focus on a second issue. There is an enormous amount of groundbreaking, important community work being done in the north inner city and across the State. This needs to be funded in a predictable manner in order that people can make plans on a multi-annual basis. I ask that we collectively decide that this sort of community support not only works but is critical and that we provide whatever resources are needed to support community work and community intervention to ensure that all our citizens get a fair shot.
In respect of community-based development more generally, I think it is worth noting that a lot of that is very much in place. The local drugs task forces, for example, are funded by Government. We also have the reform of the area partnerships. I was very pleased last week to be able to officiate at the relaunch of the Blanchardstown area partnership, the community development partnership that covers my own constituency but now has expanded its remit to cover all of Fingal. It has been renamed Empower in recognition of that fact and it works, of course, in conjunction with the Fingal Leader Partnership and other groups with which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Alan Farrell, will be familiar.
My general sense, and this is just my opinion, is that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the right vehicle for school completion and is getting good results. I am not sure if I agree that something of that nature should be managed on a community development basis. Probably the best way to examine that is to look at school completion rates and see if they have improved since Tusla took over that role.
It should be the Department of Education and Skills.
I do not have those figures in front of me. If, however, we believe in evidence-based policy, probably the best thing for us to do would be to examine those figures.
In terms of student accommodation, I believe that the growth of student accommodation across this city and other cities is very welcome. It brings young people into the area and brings greater diversity into different parts of the city and also frees up accommodation for others. Accommodation that would otherwise be used by people in the private rented market now becomes available. It is welcome that offices and businesses are moving into the north-east inner city area as well. I very much welcome the work that Dublin Port is doing to integrate itself with the north-east inner city. I had the pleasure to visit the port on Friday last and to witness again some of the work that Dublin Port Company is doing to integrate its activities with the surrounding community, which, I think, is very welcome. I want to applaud the company for that. Of course, none of this is being done to the exclusion of new social housing or the refurbishment of existing social housing. There are a number of projects under way in that regard.
When it comes to apprenticeships, I do not have the figures in front of me although I did a couple of days ago. There has been a very significant increase in the number of apprentices in recent years, in the last year or so, and it is very much on an upward trend and will increase into the future as well. Under the leadership of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, there has been a modernisation of apprenticeships, with new, different types of apprenticeships being added to the more traditional types. I think that is very welcome and it is further evidence that the Government is very supportive of apprenticeships as an educational and career option for young men and women.
I would say that over the past two years we have seen a sea change in Government policy towards apprenticeships. When the Labour Party controlled that Department, the number of apprenticeships was going down and there was not really any innovation or any new apprenticeships brought in-----
That is shocking; it is not true. The Taoiseach knows that Deputy Jan O'Sullivan did remarkable work.
We have very much seen a change in that regard.
This is incredibly partisan.
It is a bit like Brexit; a bit of fantasy. It is wishful thinking.
All Deputies need do is look at the facts and figures regarding the numbers taking part, the number of people who actually are apprentices and the different types of apprenticeships and then compare the position today with that which obtained two or three years ago.
Why is the Taoiseach being so deliberately bitter?