1. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach the main new risks identified in the 2018 draft national risk assessment compared with those in the 2017 assessment. [23590/18]
1. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach the main new risks identified in the 2018 draft national risk assessment compared with those in the 2017 assessment. [23590/18]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recently published draft national risk assessment 2018. [24673/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
The national risk assessment is an annual exercise which aims to ensure a broad-based and inclusive debate on the strategic risks facing the country.
One of the lessons of the recent crisis is that Government did not pay enough attention to dissenting opinions and the national risk assessment provides an opportunity for an open and inclusive conversation on risks. It focuses on the identification of risks and is not intended to replicate or displace the detailed risk management and mitigation that happens across Departments and agencies in regard to individual risks.
This is the fifth year the Government has produced the national risk assessment and it has highlighted important issues since first published in 2014, including one of the earliest official acknowledgments of the risks arising from a potential Brexit if the British people decided to vote "Yes" in the referendum.
As with previous years, my Department, working with the cross-departmental steering group, prepares the initial draft. It also reflects feedback from an open debate in April where representatives from business, media, research and education institutions, civil society groups and the public sector were invited to discuss a draft list of risks.
Following approval by the Government on 22 May, the draft was laid before the Oireachtas and published for public consultation.
The draft includes some new risks this year including the impact of social media on public debate, and the risk of overheating the economy.
Existing risks have also evolved. For example, the risks arising from Brexit have developed significantly and remain very prominent, while other risks include international uncertainties on tax and trade, climate change, access to secure energy supplies and our capacity to meet skills needs.
The increasing pace of change means that disruptive technological trends are a risk to many sectors of the economy, while infrastructure constraints and housing supply and affordability issues are risks despite policy responses being implemented.
The draft national risk assessment is available on my Department’s website and the deadline for submissions is 20 June. There has been a very encouraging response to the draft, and the Department would welcome all feedback including from Members of the Oireachtas.
Following this public consultation, the list of strategic risks and the report will be finalised and published in July.
I thank the Taoiseach for outlining the process relating to the 2018 draft national risk assessment. I would like to concentrate on one of the new risks that has been identified, namely, that of the economy overheating. I am a member of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and we have discussed that matter at length. I get a sense sometimes that economists who missed predicting the previous economic crash want to make sure they do not get caught out again and that they are getting ready to predict the next one. As we ramp up our spending on construction significantly, there is no doubt there is a risk that this can have an impact in terms of overheating. Will the Taoiseach indicate how much analysis has been done on the risk of not investing in the housing sector, where such investment is so badly needed, and in key infrastructure projects such as those outlined in Project Ireland 2040, including in respect of roads, hospitals and schools? We have had the lost decade and we have to restore investment levels. We will be taking a big risk if we do not make the necessary vital investment in key infrastructure in order to allow people to work and live well into the future.
The economists to whom I refer also presume that we will continue the boom-to-bust cycle. It would be a major risk if the spending decisions that are made have more to do with short-term spending strategies rather than key infrastructure projects. We want to move away from that boom-to-bust cycle. I would be concerned about commitments and promises from the Opposition. We have examined Fianna Fáil's proposals and discovered that they will cost €1.5 billion for 2018 alone in terms of extra Government spending. We must look to see how we can mitigate all these risks to stop us returning to the boom-to-bust cycle. We do not want to return to the mistakes of the past, we want to ensure that we invest in key infrastructure.
Are Questions Nos. 1 and 2 grouped?
They are grouped.
The recently published draft national risk assessment is a comprehensive document. We will not have time to discuss it at length but I would like to focus on one particular aspect, which rightly identifies the supply of housing as one of the most immediate domestic challenges facing the State. Sinn Féin acknowledges that there is no easy-fix solution. Unfortunately, we are dealing with legacy issues of past Fianna Fáil Governments and the previous Fine Gael-Labour Government, which failed in terms of housing, and the absolute determination of the more conservative parties to stop building social housing and outsource it to the private sector. The reality is that, by any yardstick, this Government has failed in the context of housing. The Minister was asked about that earlier and he became very defensive when discussing the facts. He might be able to throw figures out in terms of some modest improvements in home building but nobody can argue that the Government has not done anything near what is necessary in order to deal with the housing crisis. Will the Taoiseach indicate the additional measures that will be taken by the Government in this regard?
When we look at the documentation, we see that there are two very different national risk assessments. The first is a general and quite political assessment drawn up under the supervision of Ministers and the second is a very focused and expert one drawn up by the emergency management services. The striking thing about the risks identified in the general document is how often there is an attempt to say that everything is in hand or to avoid specifics. For example, there is no proper quantification of fiscal risks and all we have to go upon are the anonymous briefings the Minister for Finance has been giving to journalists about how he is saving the nation from a reckless Opposition.
In the context of Brexit, surprisingly, the draft does not mention the impact of the current stated objective of the European Union in the negotiations. Michel Barnier has stated that the European Union is offering a comprehensive free trade agreement but not continued membership of the customs union and the Single Market because these cannot be accommodated within the British red lines. According to the Copenhagen study, this will represent a permanent loss of 4.3% of our GDP. Can the Taoiseach confirm that according to the information available to him, the current offer of the European Union to the United Kingdom is in line with that and will therefore cost €2,693 per person? That is the impact using last year's figures so the impact will be bigger.
Regarding the other risk assessment by the Office of Emergency Planning, again, it is a clear representation of the threats. It has been drawn up in line with the guidelines put in place by Deputy O'Dea over a decade ago and this format has been very effective to date. Can the Taoiseach tell us if he has examined this risk assessment, which was completed last year, to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to meet the highest priority threats? The overall emergency management plan created by Deputy O'Dea has been effective and the only change in recent times has been the increased prominence of politicians in press conferences. Can the Taoiseach tell us what happened to the new emergency planning document? I was informed two and a half years ago that it was ready for Government approval.
I support the national risk assessment process, which we introduced when in government in 2014. It is a very broad canvas and it is difficult to ask specific questions on so many strategic issues. We have other opportunities to deal with issues like Brexit and so on but I want to ask about two. First, an area I am increasingly more concerned about relates to our commitments in regard to climate change, not only the physical impact - we have had two status red storms in Ireland during the past winter with very significant damage to us - but also because we will be subject to very serious fines due to not meeting our international commitments on greenhouse gas abatement. We need to get serious about that now. We have no prospect of meeting the targets unless we set out a clear strategy. I am interested in the Taoiseach's views on how that matter is to be addressed.
Second, external interference in our democratic process is an issue we raised yesterday but is one we should not let go off our agenda. We need to have a robust mechanism to ensure that external forces do not manipulate any elections we have into the future.
I will deal first with Deputy Heydon's question on the risk of overheating of our economy. This is a very real risk but one which we should not over-exaggerate.
The enormous political challenge over the next couple of months, or perhaps the next year, is to break the cycle of boom and bust that we have had in Ireland for generations, the procyclical economic policies that slash taxes and increase welfare and spending when things are going well only to take it all away again when things are going badly. We should do the reverse. We should balance the books, start running a small surplus into the future and start paying down our debt so that when the economy slows down, as it inevitably will, or when there is another recession - that might be far away but it might happen - we will be in a position to increase spending and cut taxes, which is what should be done during a recession. That was not possible in the past because of irresponsible economic policies and I am determined that it should not happen again.
There were two features to the overheating that occurred previously. There was a credit bubble, with excessive lending by the banks to the construction industry, in particular, and to people buying homes. That does not appear to be the case currently. I do not see evidence of a credit bubble. Second, extra day-to-day spending was funded with windfall taxation from stamp duty. It was a huge mistake by previous Governments to commit to extra current, ongoing spending across the board that was funded by a temporary windfall in taxation from stamp duty. We must bear in mind the vulnerability of corporation tax receipts and not allow ourselves to repeat that mistake. We are nowhere near that yet, but corporation tax revenues are buoyant and we should not make the mistake of using them, as they might not always be available, to fund long-term commitments.
We should use the buoyant receipts from corporation tax for items such as investment in infrastructure, as Deputy Heydon mentioned. He is spot-on in that regard. We must increase infrastructure spending in transport, housing, schools, universities, healthcare facilities and climate change. That makes both economic and social sense. Our spending on public infrastructure is up 18% so far this year, and it will increase by another 25% next year. We are tackling some deep social problems, for example, the social housing shortage and the general housing shortage. We are also removing bottlenecks to future growth by investing in transport. That makes good economic sense. Continuing to increase our spend on public infrastructure, road projects and school projects will not cause overheating. Other errors may cause that.
In terms of the facts about housing that were mentioned by Deputy Cullinane, I will not go over the debate we had earlier. We all acknowledge the housing shortage and the crisis that exists with homelessness. I acknowledge that there are more people in emergency accommodation today than there were a year ago. I am not in denial about the challenge we face in that regard. However, one fact the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did not mention in the debate earlier is the figures that have just been released on rents. They show that rents increased by just 1% in the last quarter and by 1.1% in the previous quarter. That is two quarters in which rent has increased by approximately 1% as compared with a year-on-year increase of approximately 7%-----
Rents are out of control.
They are unaffordable.
That indicates rents are stabilising and that the policy of rent pressure zones is working. The 600,000 tenants who have not experienced a significant rent increase in the past year or so know that.
The risk assessments on Brexit are real and serious. It all depends on the type of Brexit, whether it is a hard Brexit or one where the UK stays in the customs union and is aligned with the Single Market. There are many different scenarios and the period of transition, if there is one, will be important in that regard. None of the many analyses I have seen to date indicates that even a hard Brexit would put Ireland into recession. They indicate that in all the scenarios for Brexit our economy will grow more slowly than it might have otherwise and employment growth will be less than it might otherwise have been. The issue is the opportunity cost as opposed to triggering a recession or a downturn. However, we must be wise to even that possibility because it represents a major change in our economy and our trading relations. That is the reason the Government is working so hard to ensure we continue to have the closest possible relationship with the UK after Brexit - that there is a transition period and that things change as little as possible after it. That is where we are at the moment in the negotiations, but they are not easy negotiations.
The office of emergency planning has worked very well. I have no difficulty crediting the former Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, with establishing it. A great deal has been learned from the various emergencies it has handled. The chairperson, Mr. Sean Hogan, and his staff have done a good job. I noted a slightly snide remark from the Leader of the Opposition about Ministers being more prominent at press conferences and so forth.
Deputy Micheál Martin said that.
Ministers are more prominent at press conferences. We are also more prominent at the meetings. What has been different over the past year or two is that during a weather emergency Ministers have been involved by attending the meetings and the press conferences.
They pushed the professionals aside to be in the photograph.
While one inevitably comes in for criticism for this let us not forget the alternative, which was provided by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party during the major snow event of 2010. The then Minister for Transport, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, was away in Malta and the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the Custom House decided he was not responsible at all and that he was not the Minister for snow. Any reasonable person would prefer the type of engagement they get from the Ministers in this Government to the absence and lack of engagement they had from the previous one.
The Taoiseach picks his moments.
There was no answer on climate change.
Overheating is important as well.
3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagement with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Mr. Charles Michel. [23615/18]
4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Belgian Prime Minister. [23789/18]
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium on 24 May 2018 and his comments on the issues discussed such as Brexit, the proposed new customs partnership with the UK, the future of Europe and international issues. [23791/18]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to Prime Minister Sanchez of Spain since his appointment. [25357/18]
7. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Belgian Prime Minister with a view to Belgian-Irish relations. [25590/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 7, inclusive, together.
I was pleased to welcome the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Charles Michel, to Government Buildings on Thursday, 24 May, where we had a constructive and friendly meeting.
Belgium and Ireland have excellent bilateral relations, including strong trade relations. We are also like-minded on many EU issues and we discussed how to further intensify our co-operation across the EU agenda.
This is particularly important in light of the debate on the future of Europe, where both of us are positive and ambitious. We both believe that we should implement agreed measures in areas that directly benefit our citizens' daily lives. For example, we wish to complete the Single Market, the capital markets union and the banking union. We want to rapidly progress the digital Single Market. We also want to develop our relations with other parts of the world.
Prime Minister Michel and I discussed the Brexit negotiations in advance of the June European Council and the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and all that flows from it - peace in Britain and Ireland, power sharing in the North and ever closer North-South co-operation.
I thanked the Prime Minister for his strong, ongoing support regarding our unique concerns and highlighted the need to ensure the commitments and principles agreed between the EU and the UK last December are translated into legal text of the withdrawal agreement.
After Ireland, Belgium is one of the countries most likely to be adversely affected by Brexit due to its strong trading relationship with the UK. We both agreed that we want the future relationship between the EU and the UK to be as deep, close and comprehensive as possible, while insisting that there be a level playing field, fair competition and that the integrity of the Single Market be protected.
The Prime Minister and I discussed a range of other EU issues, including the EU budget. We agreed on the need to ensure continued funding for agriculture, cohesion and research and development, and to be open to looking at other areas if they bring additional European value. We both support the EU enlargement process.
We exchanged views on transatlantic relations, where we agreed on the need for a strong EU response to US tariffs. We also acknowledged the long-term importance of the relationship. We have a united front on relations with Russia.
We agreed that the EU should reinvigorate its relations with Africa to develop a dynamic and political relationship that produces results.
Prime Minister Michel had some other engagements during his visit to Ireland. I was pleased that he took the time to visit the Border region, where he was accompanied by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, and where he had the opportunity to speak with people and see the Border at first hand.
My meeting with Prime Minister Michel was part of my ongoing bilateral engagement with EU and international counterparts, which remains crucial on Brexit and other important EU issues. In this context, I look forward to meeting the new Prime Minister of Spain, Mr. Pedro Sanchez, tomorrow in Madrid.
I am also scheduled to meet the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Dublin on 21 June and the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, in Dublin on 9 July. In addition to such scheduled bilateral meetings, I meet and speak regularly with my EU counterparts at formal and informal meetings of the European Council and also of the EPP, where I use every opportunity to advance Ireland's interests.
I attended the most recent EU summit on 17 May, the week before my meeting with the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Michel. I will, of course, attend the next meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 28 and 29 June.
The main issue of discussion with the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Michel, was Brexit and the other EU matters that will arise at the June Council. Most of us are now deeply concerned about the way the negotiations on Brexit with the United Kingdom are unfolding. Did the Taoiseach raise the following matter which might have had some consideration with the Belgian Prime Minister and will he raise it with the new Socialist Prime Minister of Spain when he meets him tomorrow? I refer to the potential of extending the period of time for the completion of Article 50, in other words to move beyond the 29 March 2019 deadline if it was felt there was an advantage to having further time. Has that been given any consideration?
In terms of the strategic importance of trade with the United Kingdom, as the Taoiseach has rightly said, Belgium will be one of the member states that is significantly impacted. Up to now we have maintained a very strong sense of solidarity across the EU 27. Many of us were concerned that when we reached the trade section of talks, if we had not got the Irish Border matter resolved, there would be pressure put on us to ensure that the final settlement would be agreed because trade would be so important. Was that matter broached with the Belgian Prime Minister and was there a clear sense of that continued solidarity?
On the discussions on Africa, migration is a highly significant issue. It has caused political upheaval and the rise of nationalism and populism in many countries. Did the Taoiseach discuss with the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Michel, and will he discuss with other EU leaders the notion of an EU Marshall-type plan for Africa to ensure people have economic prospects in their own home countries?
As the Taoiseach said, the core of his discussion with other governments has rightly been on the issue of Brexit and Ireland has benefited from significant solidarity from our European partners. When we look back over transcripts and reports of the Taoiseach's words in recent days, it is striking how far he is willing to go to avoid admitting how a critical deadline set by him is being missed. It is unfortunately the way of these things that the Taoiseach will probably respond by saying that this is somehow the Opposition's fault.
For six months we have been told in this House and recently in Dundalk that we needed substantial progress on a backstop legal text by the end of June, and that this was, according to both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, "a very important date from an Irish perspective". We were supposed to have locked down the bulletproof, concrete and ironclad backstop text by 22 June. We were told that continuing the negotiations would require significant progress on the backstop text. Is the Taoiseach standing over the claim that the backstop as interpreted by him is bulletproof, concrete and ironclad? Can the Taoiseach confirm that it is his position that the talks will proceed without any significant progress on the backstop text?
Given that Michel Barnier has formally ruled out the UK proposals, which the Taoiseach welcomed and clearly preferred, does he accept that a new approach is required? In particular will he support a Northern Ireland-specific permanent proposal rather than continuing to focus solely on the overall deal? We were told last year that delinking Ireland from the final negotiations on the withdrawal text was vital. The Taoiseach can keep claiming that it does not matter, but he cannot keep claiming that it has not happened.
Further to the questions on trade, in rural Ireland agriculture and food providers will be most at risk from Brexit. In his discussions with the Belgian Prime Minister did the Taoiseach get into details of how best to protect Ireland's interests? What synergies do we have with Belgium on that? I understand that Belgium may have a different demographic with more of an urbanised culture. I ask the Taoiseach to update us on that.
Was trade with Asia discussed as part of the briefing, given the success of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, with Irish beef now going into China? The Asian population of 4.5 billion represents 60% of the world's population. While we may compete with countries in selling products to that market, smaller countries with significant economic relationships with the UK and which are facing risk may have some synergy regarding trade with Asia. If that has been discussed, I ask the Taoiseach to update us on that and if not, perhaps he might propose to do so.
Did the Taoiseach discuss the issue of multinational tax evasion with the Belgian Prime Minister? I say that because it was reported late last year that $221 billion worth of profits were shifted offshore from Belgium to tax havens around the world, which is obviously a matter of very serious concern to the tax authorities. That equates to about half of Belgium's GDP. We might be discussing it with Belgium this week as yet more evidence has been uncovered showing Ireland's role in the international network of tax havens. US and Danish economists have pointed out that more profits are shifted to Ireland because our tax code is riddled with loopholes than to all the tax havens in the Caribbean combined. This is further evidence that Ireland is a tax haven and is part of an international architecture of tax avoidance and tax evasion which is costing tax authorities around the world about €200 billion annually, which is absolutely starving tax authorities of revenue needed for vital public services.
Deputy Howlin asked whether it would be possible to extend the Article 50 deadline beyond 29 March 2019. I understand that is possible under the treaties, but could only be done by unanimity - it would require all 27 member states to agree to it. Currently the United Kingdom has not asked for it and I do not see any benefit in offering it at this stage. I believe the UK needs to make decisions and choices. The British continually seem to have internal debates among each other. While there has been some improvement in recent months, very often the policy of "having your cake and eating it" seems to be at the centre of the UK's requests of the European Union. Some decisions need to be made by the United Kingdom Government. Putting off a decision does not make it any easier. I would rather not talk about extending that deadline at the moment. As I have said, the UK has not requested it and so I do not think we should even consider it at this stage.
We did have a conversation about an EU Marshall-type plan for Africa. I have an interest in the matter and I discussed it in my speech to the European Parliament earlier in the year. Chancellor Merkel is also very enthusiastic about it. Belgium has history in central Africa, as do we but coming from a very different perspective and history. Both of us are very much of the view that part of Europe's external efforts in the future should be focused on Africa, in order to build up Africa as a trading partner and also to remove some of the push factors that cause mass migration from Africa to the European Union. We spoke about how if we get it right, the Africa of the future could be a little bit like Asia now, a continent where 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty and a continent with which we now want to cut trade deals rather than provide aid to. That will require not just aid but assistance with governance, democratisation and so on.
As is always the case on European issues, there can often by agreement on sentiment and policy but when it comes to agreeing to increase budget contributions people are less enthusiastic. Ireland is one of the countries that is willing to increase its budget contribution to the European Union.
Deputy Neville asked if agriculture and trade was one of the issues discussed at the meeting. We discussed the impact potentially on the ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp which receive a lot of trade from Britain and Ireland as well. We are very much aligned in our wishes that countries neighbouring the United Kingdom retain trading arrangements that are as close to what they are now. We also discussed Mercusor. The House will be aware that Ireland and France have expressed real concerns about the impact a free trade agreement with the Mercusor countries could have on our beef industry. What I did not know until the meeting was that this concern is shared by the Belgian Government because Belgium also has a large agriculture sector and a very important and sensitive beef sector. These talks are ongoing. We do have allies in taking the view that a free trade agreement with the Mercusor countries would benefit all economies in Europe but we must also protect sensitive sectors such as the beef sector. We had that discussion and agreement over a working lunch.
I reiterate that the deadline for the withdrawal agreement, including the Irish protocol is and always has been October. I said this last March when the European guidelines were issued. We do need to see real and substantial progress by the June summit. The European leaders - the prime ministers and presidents - will determine at that meeting whether they believe real and substantial progress has been made. While the UK's proposal last week is welcome and is a small step forward, it falls short. Without more from London, as things stand today, I cannot say that we have achieved real and substantial progress but there is still two weeks between now and the summit.
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's legislative priorities. [23790/18]
9. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the status of Bills under preparation in his Department. [24671/18]
10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department's legislative priorities. [25390/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, together.
My Department has responsibility for the National Economic and Social Council, NESC.
The National Economic and Social Council statutory basis is as a body under the framework of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006. This framework is no longer necessary and Government has agreed that it should be dissolved and the NESC itself placed on a statutory footing.
This work is ongoing and is the only legislation being prepared in my Department.
The role of NESC is to analyse and report on strategic policy matters relevant to Ireland's economic, social, environmental and sustainable development.
It is a little like Groundhog Day in that there is only one piece of legislation on the Department of the Taoiseach's list and we are again rehearsing the progress of the legislation to put the NESC on a statutory footing. I am interested in hearing if that legislation is going ahead and, if so, when it will be published.
More importantly, the Taoiseach told us some time ago that there are a number of contingency plans across all Departments in the event of a hard Brexit. Obviously, these contingency plans have not been published as of yet. Presumably, the Taoiseach's Department has such contingency plans. Do they include specific legislation that might need to be enacted in that eventuality? The Taoiseach previously offered a briefing on the contingency planning across Government. What is the status of that briefing such that those of us in opposition might know specifically what is being planned in the event of a hard Brexit?
On the NESC, a number of the appointments to that body have not yet been filled. Are they to be filled and does the Taoiseach know by whom they will be filled? I particularly urge the appointment to those vacant positions of people who have ideas on how to deal with the current housing and homelessness crisis.
The NESC recently published a report on the property sector. Is there anything in that report which the Government is considering responding to from a legislative point of view? The NESC report proposals on how we might begin to address the current housing and homelessness disaster are good. Is the Government taking any cognisance of them?
The Government has agreed to hold referendums to remove blasphemy and on the woman in the home articles of the Constitution and it is proposed that these will take place on the same day as the presidential election in the autumn. Can the Taoiseach say whether his Department has any role in ensuring priority is given across Departments to legislation? For example, can he say whether he is frustrated with delays in producing legislation in the health area? It has taken eight months to draft the home building finance Ireland Bill, an initiative in respect of which €750 million was allocated in last October's budget. Not one penny of that funding has been spent despite that we are experiencing a major housing crisis. The vulture fund Bill brought forward by Deputy Michael McGrath is still outstanding, as is the parole Bill brought forward by Deputy Jim O'Callaghan. These are Bills that have all-party support yet they are being continuously delayed. Is there a plan to increase the number of skilled drafters available for necessary legislation? By any yardstick, performance over the last three years in terms of the drafting and passage of legislation has been very poor.
Some 200 Bills have passed Second Stage.
There needs to be an analysis of this area. I am speaking in this regard not only of Bills published by the Opposition but Bills in general. The House did not sit in the week following the bank holiday, the reason for which I do not know. We could have been in here on Wednesday and Thursday last legislating. As the House proposes to adjourn on 12 July - which I propose to challenge with the Business Committee - a lot of important legislation will not be passed prior to the summer recess.
There are inquiries under the remit of the Taoiseach's Department. I presume work in that regard is ongoing and that there are no issues arising in regard to the IBRC inquiry of which the House needs to be informed.
On the question raised earlier by Deputy Boyd Barrett in regard to multinational tax evasion, I did not discuss that issue at my meeting with Prime Minister Michel but we did discuss the issue of digital taxation and the EU Commission's proposal for a digital levy, of which Belgium is a supporter and Ireland is not because we take the view that corporation tax should be applied where value is created and profits are made and sales taxes should apply where a product or service is sold. We have a very firm position in that regard. Also, as such a levy would reduce the corporation tax revenues coming to Ireland, it is a proposal we cannot support.
On the NESC legislation, it is going ahead but it is not a legislative priority. The NESC is functioning well without that legislative change. We will do it but other Bills are taking higher priority, including, for example, the legislation around abortion and also the House Building Finance Ireland Bill, which was mentioned by Deputy Martin and which was passed at Cabinet yesterday. I am not sure if it has been published yet but it is ready for publication.
On the vacancies on the NESC, I think they have been filled. There are two sets of appointees, namely, the sectoral appointees and the independent experts who I appoint. I signed off on appointments in both regards some weeks ago. The independent experts are in the main people from an academic background. Two of them are from Ireland, one is from Northern Ireland and the other is from outside of Ireland. On the report on the property sector, I think it is a good piece of work. It is worth reading. The areas in respect of which I think it speaks most clearly are the need for a new approach to land use and land management. Government will take that on board. We propose to establish a land development agency.
The Government should support the Private Members' motion today.
If it was amended such that some of the nonsense was taken out of it, we would.
The Taoiseach might point me to the nonsense.
We will not use NAMA because that would require EU Commission clearance and that would set the process back a year or two.
That is why we will set up an agency de novo, which will take control of public landbanks to make them available for development and buy up private land if appropriate and do the same with that. That is perhaps something we should have done decades ago but we will do it now.
It was done a few years ago.
It has been done in the past on a certain scale with Grangegorman and the docklands but this needs to be done in all our big cities if not nationwide.
There is a lot of work done on contingency planning for Brexit. We should be in a position to publish some of that, probably in the next couple of weeks. As is always the case we would be happy to offer a briefing to party leaders on that.
On the delays in producing legislation the record should show that 70 Bills have been enacted by this Oireachtas since this Government came into office, which is not bad for two years. It is important to recognise that. For the first time we are seeing a decent number of Private Members' Bills becoming law, not as many as I would like but six have become law in this Oireachtas, which is probably more than in the past five or six Oireachtais combined, so we are seeing a trickle of them coming through. That is not bad for a minority Government and one that does not have the ability to use the guillotine. That slows business up quite a lot because legislation that is being filibustered is causing other legislation to be delayed. Members of the Opposition who are involved in delaying legislation have to take responsibility not just for the legislation they are trying to slow down or block but also all the other legislation behind it that is being slowed down as a result.
I am frustrated just as other Deputies are with the slow pace of legislation. There are several issues. There is a need for more parliamentary draftspeople. That is being examined. There is also a need to streamline the way we manage Private Members' Bills and the Ceann Comhairle is working on that with my office and others. Departments, which should be producing good legislation that will become law and make a difference in people's lives, are now spending a huge amount of time responding to Private Members' Bills that everyone knows will not become law and that have been put down largely for the purposes of calling a press conference or making a press statement. Poor quality legislation coming from the Opposition------
That is certainly not universally the case.
-----is gluing up the system. It is legislation which, to quote Senator Nash, could have been written "on the back of a receipt". Officials having to deal with that sort of stuff is causing problems and we should be honest about that.
We should also be honest about the way we manage our time in the House in respect of the Dáil sitting for another week to get important legislation passed. I am absolutely up for that as long as that is the purpose, that we will use that extra time to get legislation passed and not for endless debates, questions and statements about the same stuff. If we are going to have extra time we should use it to get important legislation passed to which we agreed.
Not exclusively, the Dáil should carry on and the Taoiseach should be held to account at Leaders' Questions and so on. There were some proposals that would not happen at all but it is not on.