Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Over the past number of years, budgets have reduced income tax and the universal social charge, USC, modestly by approximately €300 million per year. To do that and maintain increased spending, there had to be increases in taxes elsewhere. Last year, for example, commercial stamp duty went from 2% to 6%. That yielded approximately €400 million, which paid for the tax reductions on that occasion. In this year's budget, income tax and USC reductions of approximately €300 million, or €350 million in a full year, were paid for by a significant increase in VAT on food, accommodation and hotels, raising about €560 million from the hotel and food sector in a full year.

Last weekend, the Taoiseach promised to raise the income threshold at which people paid the higher rate from €35,000 to €50,000 over the next five years, amounting to approximately €3 billion in that time or anything from €500 million to €600 million per year. That is double the tax packages of the past two or three years. Clearly, other taxes will have to increase just like this year and last year.

We know that carbon tax was on the agenda this year, but the Government decided not to increase it. The ESRI in its study has stated that there will have to be dramatic increases in carbon tax to make up for our failure in terms of our climate change agenda. Currently, households are paying about €200 in carbon tax. According to the ESRI, that could go to €3,000 per year per household by 2024. That will happen over the next five or six years as income tax is reduced. All of the scenarios in the ESRI's study are stringent ones, with the figure I cited at the bottom end of the scale. There could potentially be higher carbon tax increases.

On 5 August, the Taoiseach said that, if we were going to meet our 2020 climate change targets, which we clearly will not, we would have to grasp the nettle in pricing carbon and increasing the carbon tax in the next couple of years. He stated that next year's budget, which is the one we have just passed, had to include an increased carbon tax - it did not for some reason - if Ireland was to meet its obligations on tackling climate change and that the Government was working on a set of proposals. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has also stated that carbon tax would have to be increased.

Can the Taoiseach give us the trajectory of how much carbon tax will rise each year over the next five years? Can he give the House the same precision on annual carbon tax increases over that time as he has given us regarding income tax reductions over the next five years?

Thanks very much, Deputy. I am a very strong supporter of reducing taxes on income and taxes on work. I know some people believe that, when one reduces income tax or USC, one is somehow giving people money. I do not see it that way. I believe it is allowing people to hold onto more of the money that they earned in the first place.

We know at the moment, when we need to continue to attract jobs and investment from overseas and so many people are getting increments and pay rises and are now able to work extra hours, that we want to incentivise people. That means reducing the amount of income taxes that they pay. Over the last couple of years since we have managed to get the economy working for people again, we have been able to reduce income taxes. We took hundreds of thousands of people out of the USC net entirely when we were in government with Labour. Now, one third of people who work do not pay any income tax at all. In more recent years, we have really focused on reducing the USC and reducing the point at which people pay that highest rate of income tax. Just in the past three budgets, including the one just gone by, for the average person earning about €45,000, those cuts in income tax and USC are worth about €750 in a full year. For a couple on an average income, those tax and USC reductions are worth about €1,500 in a full year. That is not a huge amount of money, but €1,500 a year is probably a month's rent, probably a month's mortgage, probably a month's childcare, or perhaps a bit more than that. I think we can do better in the years ahead if we keep the economy growing, if we make sure that we manage the public finances prudently.

The Deputy's assessment that income tax reductions have to be paid for by tax rises elsewhere is not entirely true. I would argue that most of the money that we are going to get from VAT next year and most of the money that we are getting from stamp duty this year is going into additional public spending. If one looks at the entire budget package of €2 billion to €3 billion, the amount of that that comes from tax increases or discretionary revenue measures is a couple of hundred million euro. It is not as straightforward as just offsetting one from the other. Someone could equally argue that that money is going into health or that money is going into housing, for example.

Pseudo-economics.

We have set out our projections in the years ahead. We are able to afford a tax package of about €620 million per year and still increase public spending from €66.5 billion next year to €68.7 billion the year after to €70.8 billion the year after that, €72.6 billion the year after that and €74.6 billion the year after that. I am happy to provide those costings, which indicate how we can continue to increase public spending and also afford modest tax reductions. That is, of course, contingent on managing the economy well, managing the public finances, making sure that people have jobs to go to and doing all of the things that are fundamental to having an economy working well.

Why did the Taoiseach not answer the question I asked? I asked whether he could give me a precise trajectory of the annual increases in carbon tax that will happen year by year over the next five years. The Minister for Finance has said that there will be carbon tax increases. The Taoiseach said in August that there will be carbon tax increases. It is all very well to make a specific pledge on one aspect of a budgetary package, that being income tax, but that has to be paid for. Explicitly, the Taoiseach came to us last year and said the Government would pay for last year's tax package via commercial stamp duty, a one-off windfall owing to an increase from 2% to 6%. This year, there is no question but that the Government could not have provided a €300 million tax package without deciding to increase VAT on the hotel and food sectors back to 13%. That is what paid for it. Otherwise, there would have been drastic cuts in services, for example, health and education, which the Taoiseach has not suggested will happen.

The bottom line that we are failing abysmally in terms of our climate change targets. There is no question or dispute about that. The ESRI has said that this will be the reality over the next number of years and that it will have to be paid for.

My question was simple. The Taoiseach has said on the record that carbon tax will and should be increased. Can he give me a precise trajectory as to how much it will increase by, or is the ESRI completely off the mark with the figure of €3,000 per household by 2024? It is a fair question. The Government will not be able to reduce-----

Time is up, Deputy, please.

-----income tax by €600 million per year without increasing taxes elsewhere. That is an honest position I am putting to the Taoiseach, and he needs to be honest with people and say that is what will have to happen in the coming years. He owes it to us to give us the same precision as he gave us on income tax reductions.

He is a straight talker.

Deputy Martin is actually wrong on that point. We could have done what Sinn Féin and the left wanted to do - we could have borrowed more. We decided, instead of borrowing, that we should balance the books.

And the Taoiseach calls us "fake news".

We could have had a €700 million increase-----

There could be more done for the health service.

-----in spending on health rather than a €1 billion increase in spending on health. The VAT increase-----

Will there be a carbon tax increase?

-----was as much about funding health and housing or balancing the books as it was about finding money for a tax package. Deputy Martin knows how budgets are done. There are always a number of moving parts. In terms of carbon tax, the ESRI is way off the mark. Certainly, this Government of Fine Gael and Independents does not intend to raise carbon tax to the kinds of level suggested in that report.

At what level will it be?

The Taoiseach would prefer to buy carbon credits.

In terms of the trajectory, we have not worked one out yet. That is something-----

Of course the Government has.

No, we have not. That is something that we are going to need to work on in the years ahead.

Has the Government not worked out the income tax reductions?

Deputy, please let the Taoiseach respond.

Why can the Government not work out the carbon tax increase?

It is entirely reasonable for a political party-----

The mask of the straight talker is starting to slip.

It is entirely reasonable for a political party to set out its policy on income tax over five years.

The Taoiseach said in August-----

Where is the policy on income tax and carbon tax from Fianna Fáil? I have not seen one. Where is the five year policy on income tax and carbon tax from Sinn Féin? It is entirely reasonable-----

The Government said in August it would increase carbon tax-----

(Interruptions).

We are probably the only party that is actually ahead in terms of setting out the trajectory.

Thank you, Taoiseach. Your time is up.

We are working on that at the moment and a time will come when we are willing-----

There is a lot less straight talking now.

-----and ready to put forward a trajectory for increases in carbon tax. As I said at the weekend, if we are going to increase carbon taxes, which we need to do if we are serious about reducing emissions, we should follow the model being pursued in Canada, where the money is given back to people in the form of tax credits and welfare.

The Taoiseach is more Trump than Trudeau now.

(Interruptions).

Please Deputies. Deputy McDonald is next.

This week, balloting for industrial action began among more than 40,000 nurses and midwives. This is a mark and a measure of the desperation and frustration of nurses and midwives. The Minister for Finance, by way of response to this ballot, is hard-balling nursing and midwifery staff by claiming that their pay demands would compromise budgetary policy. He made this claim just two days after the Taoiseach promised a €3 billion tax cut at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis. The threat of industrial action by nurses and midwives is the inevitable consequence of this Government's failure to deal with the recruitment and retention crisis in our health service and among nursing staff in particular. For years now nurses, midwives and their unions have highlighted this recruitment and retention crisis and have proposed reasonable and responsible solutions to address it but there has been complete disengagement from the Government on the issue.

Our nurses and midwives, as everyone will agree, provide an invaluable service to patients in our health system and we should expect that their jobs pay well. We should also expect high morale in their ranks but that is not the case. Nurses are justifiably frustrated at the current state of affairs. It is little wonder that there is just one application for every four nursing and midwifery vacancies in the health service. That in itself tells the story. All the while, the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Finance and Health do not want to talk about the issue of pay but they must. We have a very troubling situation now with desperate and frustrated nurses and midwives on one side and a Government that is happy to resort to megaphone diplomacy rather than direct engagement on the other.

In April, the Dáil passed a Sinn Féin motion calling for the introduction of recruitment and retention measures based on realistic proposals, with the prioritisation of pay. It called on the Government to work with the unions to draw up a roadmap to full pay equality for nurses and midwives, with an implementation plan to deliver that equality within a short timeframe and not the eight year period proposed by the Government. Will the Taoiseach now commit to acting on that motion? Will the Government engage with the unions to ensure that nurses and health professionals get a fair deal and we are not facing into industrial relations chaos?

I remind Deputy McDonald and the House that we have a public sector pay deal, not just with nurses but with all public servants. That pay deal was only negotiated and agreed a few months ago and its cost is €400 million this year, another €400 million next year and €650 million the year after that. The deal comes at considerable expense to the taxpayer, is about at the limit of what can be afforded and has cost a lot of money already. It is important to remind the House of what is in the pay deal agreed with all of our public servants. It includes a pay increase of approximately 7% over the period of the deal, with a pay increase next year for all staff and a special additional pay increase for low-paid staff earning less than €30,000. It also includes an extra pay increase in March for staff recruited after 2012 to bring their salary scales more in line with those of staff recruited before then. The deal provides an increment for the vast majority of public servants next year and in addition to that, €20 million has been set aside for targeted recruitment and retention measures for the nursing and midwifery professions. That is what has already been offered, agreed and promised and is on the table. We will honour that agreement in full.

We are happy to engage with the nursing unions, of which there are three - SIPTU, the PNA and the INMO. We are very happy to engage with all three of the unions that represent nurses and will do that in the way that we have always done in the past, namely, through the oversight group for the public service stability agreement, as agreed and, if necessary, through bodies such as the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. That is how industrial relations are handled and have been handled very well in this State for decades. That is what we will continue to do but we must bear in mind that this is an agreement that applies to all public servants and we will honour it.

This morning, there are 425 people on hospital trolleys, including 14 children. There are 63 people on trolleys in Limerick, for example, 34 in Cork University Hospital and 34 in Tallaght Hospital. I could go on and recite the litany right across the State. In my opening remarks I said that there is only one application for every four nursing and midwifery vacancies in the system. The Taoiseach has acknowledged and accepted that there is a crisis at the heart of our health system, yet he seems unprepared to do what is necessary to resolve it. The very last thing that we need now is industrial action by nurses and midwives. The HSE will only introduce its winter plan at the end of November. That is how far behind the curve the system is in dealing with the burden of health care. The nurses have a legitimate claim and grievance. The Taoiseach has said the Government will engage with all of the unions. What form will that engagement take? He cited the industrial relations apparatus, with which I am more than familiar, but it will take more than that. Will the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Finance and Health meet the unions? Will they sit down, face to face, around the table to seek a resolution to this crisis?

The Minister for Health regularly meets the trade unions, as do all Ministers in their respective briefs and-----

Not on the issue of pay-----

-----the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform engages with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. This is the system we have had for a very long time and it works very well. According to the HSE, the number of patients on trolleys is 289 today, a decrease of 14% on last year.

The HSE cannot count; it never could.

It is also a decrease on the year before. The count that is done by the INMO is different and includes patients on beds, patients on trolleys and patients who are not in emergency departments.

It includes patients waiting on chairs.

It is a wider measure of overcrowding but is not a trolley count anymore. It has been changed over the years to include many more categories of patients.

It is a chair count.

It is a bed count as well. That is on the INMO website so I am not telling any tales in that regard. Whether the figure is 300 or 400 does not really matter.

The numbers do not matter.

That is not the point. There are far too many patients waiting for admission to a proper hospital bed almost every day of the week, all year around. What can we do about that? Obviously better and proper management systems make a difference and we know that from the hospitals that are performing well. We also need more beds and better primary care so people do not end up in hospital in the first place. Additional beds cost money as does additional funding for primary care and general practice. Additional staff also costs money but if we put too much money into pay rises for existing staff, there will be less money available for more beds, more staff and for primary care and patients will lose out.

Before the Taoiseach became leader of the country, he spoke a lot about addressing white collar crime but we have not seen much progress on that yet.

We recently unearthed another example of NAMA breaking its own rules when, almost like magic, it sold loans belonging to Avestus, with €352 million owed on them, back to their original owners through a shell company in Luxembourg that was conveniently structured to facilitate the deal. How did the Government deal with it? It rewarded it. Avestus has been given €25 million to build and make more money.

The Comptroller and Auditor General announced last week that he had sought further information on this loan sale and he may begin an investigation. Why is his office the only one that seems to have any appetite to seriously hold NAMA to account. Sadly, I do not think the Government has done so and, sadly, the Garda has failed to do so.

I want to focus on a different area of white-collar crime today. The Taoiseach might remember back to May 2017 and the case of the former CEO of Anglo Irish Bank, Mr. Seán FitzPatrick, one of the most expensive cases in the history of the State. It collapsed due to the inadequate investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE. The ODCE was then asked to do a report explaining the collapse of the trial. The report has been with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, since June 2017, yet has not been published due to legal advice. I have seen the report. It is a whitewash and does not address the issues regarding the mistakes made by the ODCE during the case.

I have here the transcript of Judge John Aylmer's statement from 23 May 2017, when he had no choice but to acquit the former Anglo CEO due to the ODCE's botching of the investigation. The judge was scathing of the ODCE and, when one compares the judge's transcript with the internal investigation by the ODCE, it is clear that the ODCE is covering up its own mistakes. The white-collar crime agency, responsible for uncovering crime, is instead covering up itself. It would be hard to make it up.

On 23 October, the Law Reform Commission published an 800-plus page report into white-collar crime with more than 200 recommendations. One of its main recommendations was the establishment of a corporate crime agency and it even drafted the Bill. Will the Taoiseach bring forward this legislation immediately and start an immediate wind-down of the ODCE? Has the Taoiseach read the ODCE report? Is he concerned that the ODCE has submitted a report to Government that is, in essence, a cover-up of its own mistakes? How can we have confidence in this organisation?

I have not read the report, nor seen it, nor has it been brought to Cabinet, so I am impressed that Deputy Wallace has. I imagine the Deputy would have come to his conclusions about whether it was a whitewash or not before he read it. I will read it and form my own opinion on it once I have. I am advised by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, that the report will be brought to Cabinet this week or the week after and will be published thereafter.

Deputy Wallace will recall that, back in November of 2017, the Government published a package of actions that it is taking when it comes to cracking down on white-collar crime. It was entitled Measures to Enhance Ireland's Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework - Ireland combatting “white collar crime”. That was launched by me, the former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Justice, Deputy Flanagan, around this time last year. There are 28 actions we are taking to crack down on white-collar crime and they are very much under way. One of the key actions in the package is establishing the ODCE as a stand-alone company law, compliance and enforcement agency, and that is the direction of travel in terms of policy. We are taking it out of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and making it a stand-alone agency in its own right so that it would be better equipped to pursue cases such as this.

There has also been additional resourcing for the ODCE. An additional €1 million provided for it next year to strengthen the work it does. In terms of legislation, the Government, back in July, signed into law the Companies (Statutory Audits) Act and also the shareholders' rights directive will be transposed into law by 2019. Before the recess, we passed the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act. A lot of legislation that needed to be put in place has been put in place. Additional resourcing has been given to the ODCE and our plan is to establish it as a stand-alone agency to give it more teeth.

The Taoiseach can talk about legislation until the cows come home, but until the Government starts engaging in enforcement, it is a waste of time. The Taoiseach made an unfair comment that I would make a judgment before I actually read the report. No, I did not, and I would not accuse him of it. What I will ask the Taoiseach to do is that I will give him the judge's statement on the day and he should read that, then read the ODCE report, and he should then tell me if this is an organisation that the Government should be reinforcing, because that is what the Government is doing. The Government is ignoring what has happened. It is ignoring the fact that the ODCE has done a complete whitewash. It has covered up its own mistakes. What the ODCE has had to say in that whitewashed report bears no resemblance to what the judge had to say on that day back in May 2017. There is no comparison. I ask the Taoiseach to read it. Is he prepared to read it? I will give it to him, since he seems to have difficulty getting access to these reports.

I remember the Taoiseach saying he did think we needed an examination as to how the case went wrong and why those mistakes were made by the ODCE. That is a long time ago for a fellow who is interested in tackling white-collar crime.

The Deputy and I will agree that we need both legislation and enforcement because only the laws that exist can be enforced, and if the laws are deficient or do not exist, obviously they cannot be enforced. It requires a combination of actions. I have given the Deputy examples of some of the legislation that we have brought through just in the past year to crack down on white-collar crime, and we also need enforcement. We are doing that by beefing up and providing more resources for the ODCE.

I acknowledge that the ODCE, notwithstanding the fact that it has had a number of very successful prosecutions in recent years, should have done a lot better when it comes to other prosecutions, and that is why it is the Government's intention and policy to separate the ODCE from the Department. It is currently an office of the Department, but we will establish it as a stand-alone agency, a sort of national white-collar crime bureau or an Irish version of the FBI when it comes to white-collar crime. That is exactly what we intend to do.

I have not seen that report and it has not yet been brought to Cabinet. I obviously will read it before it goes to Cabinet and we will be happy to publish it and discuss it further with Deputy Wallace.

My leader's question is to Deputies Micheál Martin, McDonald and Howlin and any other leader or Deputy here-----

Is Deputy Ryan asking the question of himself?

-----and to the Taoiseach and myself.

Is Deputy Ryan talking to himself again?

I ask myself in the sense that we all have responsibility. The Taoiseach said the time will come some day when he is willing to say what he wants to do on climate. I believe that day is today. We cannot put it off any longer. It is today because we, in the Committee on Climate Action, can see the scale of the challenge in front of us. Under European law, we have to publish the first draft of a new national climate and energy plan by Christmas to be agreed by the end of next year. We need to know what we are going to do on carbon taxation in drafting that plan. Does anyone disagree with that? How can we work out all the other measures if that measure is not in place? It is one we have control over.

I have a proposal for Deputies Micheál Martin, McDonald and Howlin, and to be honest, if Fine Gael wishes to abstain from this issue, it would speak volumes. Let the Taoiseach make that decision himself. My proposal is similar to what the Taoiseach just said, that we would introduce an increase in carbon tax where every single cent would go straight back to the people in the form of a dividend, whether through the social welfare system, the tax system, or a cheque in the post. In the climate committee last week, we asked the Secretary General of the Department of Finance to come back to us by 30 November with an outline of how that could work. My proposal and question is whether we can agree in that committee the following measure, that next year we should introduce an increase of €20 in the level of carbon tax, and that, in each subsequent year, there would be an increase of €5 up to 2030 which would set the level at €90 per tonne by that time. It gives predictability, follows best policy advice and, critically, the money goes back to the people on any increased revenue.

We would use the existing carbon tax mechanisms in the way the Government has already planned, so there would be no additional costs or bureaucracy and this proposal would be relatively easy to introduce. Critically, it would also be progressive as the analysis shows that it would deliver a more significant return for those on lower incomes than for those on higher incomes because the latter tend to consume more.

What we learned from the ESRI yesterday is that the tax on its own would be nowhere near enough. There are massive projects we need to carry out. I would love if we started by commissioning Bord na Móna to do a major project of converting Irish homes from oil and gas-fired central heating to heat pumps and installing solar panels, insulation and electric vehicle charging points, particularly in the west, south west and north west and in rural areas. We would save further through that approach.

We need to know what the Taoiseach is going to do on carbon. If the other party leaders cannot answer, I hope they will be able to do so by 30 November when the joint committee will meet to consider the Department of Finance's note on the ESRI study. That is a question we all have to answer today, not at some time in the future.

We all agree that tackling climate change requires a suite of measures that must all tie in together and speak to each other. It has to be about tax and regulation, but also investment. We have set out a large part of the investment piece in Project Ireland 2040, but that will only bring us about one third of the way to meeting our targets for 2030. It will involve measures such as investment in renewable energy; taking coal out of Moneypoint in 2025; getting out of peat, and the Deputy will have seen what is happening in that regard already; retrofitting homes, schools and buildings; electric vehicles; investment in public transport measures such as MetroLink, BusConnects and other projects around the country; and big changes in agriculture, for example, much more forestry and investment in technologies such as beef genomics.

Tax has to be a part of this. It is an area we need to get right. I am conscious of what happened in Australia where the government tried and failed to bring in a carbon tax and the country has been set back by ten or 20 years as a result. It was a little like what happened here with water charges. I see what is now happening in France where President Macron is facing massive protests for increasing taxes on fuel. If we are going to do this, let us do it successfully. Let us get it right and learn from the mistakes of other countries and the mistakes we made in trying to introduce water charges, which was the right thing to do from an environmental point of view. The model I personally favour is that which Prime Minister Trudeau is pursuing in Canada. I had a chance to speak to him about it around two weeks ago.

The Taoiseach is closer to Trump than Trudeau.

The model proposed in Canada is very similar to the one Deputy Ryan is suggesting. The Deputy set out a trajectory for increasing carbon tax by certain increments up to 2030 to reach an agreed price, perhaps something like €80 per tonne, which is the amount suggested by the Climate Change Advisory Council.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is talking about €230 a tonne.

However, any revenues gained from the carbon tax would then be given back to the people in the form of tax credits and welfare. I think this is what the Deputy is suggesting and it is something to which I would be well disposed. We need to do the numbers.

There has been plenty of time to do the numbers.

The Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Bruton, are working on that now.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have the numbers done.

The Department said the carbon tax should be €230 a tonne.

The best way to get it done would be to agree it on a cross-party basis because that would take the politics out of the issue. Let us not be dishonest in any way about what a carbon tax means. It means that it will be more expensive for people to fill their cars with diesel or petrol. It will increase the cost of transport for the haulage industry, have impacts on agriculture and make it more expensive to buy electricity and gas. The adaptions that can be made to mitigate those effects will not happen in year one, two or three. Even with the best intentions, it will take time to make them happen and for some people that will never be possible, in many cases because of where they live. The best way to get this done, unlike in the case of water, would be on a cross-party basis and to agree on a trajectory over ten years. I would be up for that.

I take the Taoiseach's response as a "Yes", which puts the ball back on the Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour Party side of the court. That is a positive and welcome development. Regardless of whether the carbon tax is €80 or €90 per tonne by 2030, my suggestion is the appropriate way to reach our objective.

Yesterday, during Leaders' Questions, the Taoiseach stated he was confident we would achieve our 2030 targets. He also said the Government had experience as it had delivered the Action Plan for Jobs. That is like saying we climbed the Sugar Loaf so we will climb Mount Everest tomorrow. That is the scale of the change and challenge involved. The leap we have to make is huge. As Professor John Fitzgerald has said, we are rapidly moving in the wrong direction. As the Taoiseach now admits, the development plan will not work and will bring us one third of the way at most. The development plan says that by 2021 we will be deep retrofitting 45,000 houses a year. That is the best, most beneficial and economic way to tackle this issue but we do not have the workers or money in place. We have to set all of this up. I come back to my key point. The time is now. To do this new plan by Christmas, when we have to present it to the European Commission, we need agreement on a whole range of complex and difficult issues. I am glad the Taoiseach seems to be agreeing with what we are suggesting on the carbon tax. I put it to the other parties that if, in committee, they agree on that one element and any other elements on which we can get agreement-----

Deputy Ryan had four years in government to do it.

We introduced the carbon tax.

The Green Party did nothing.

We introduced the exact same approach.

I agree that it is and will be an enormous challenge to meet our 2030 targets. We are starting at a pretty bad point because we did not meet our 2020 targets. The economic challenges we faced seven, eight or nine years ago were also huge. People were talking then about endless austerity and saying Ireland would never get out of austerity. They were talking about defaulting on our debts and some even advocated doing so.

They included the Taoiseach if I remember correctly.

People were saying we would have long-term unemployment for very long periods. However, we are now in a very different place. We have full employment, balanced books, a national debt which is decreasing, and an economy that is resulting in increased living standards for great numbers of people. When I compared this issue with the unemployment crisis and the Action Plan for Jobs, I was acknowledging that it is a big deal. It is, however, a job that can be done. I do not often find that Leaders' Questions moves things on in policy terms, but perhaps it does today. Deputy Eamon Ryan and I are probably thinking along the same lines in terms of what should be done on the carbon tax.

The Taoiseach raised this issue last August and has done nothing since.

That was then.

Instead of the old politics of "he said, you said, she said", let me now join with Deputy Ryan-----

The Taoiseach is in the Executive and Government. He should do something about the issue. He is in la-la land about this stuff.

-----and ask the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin whether they will sign up to a price for carbon in 2030-----

Given that Trump changes his mind every day, what should we expect? As I said, it is more Trump than Trudeau.

-----whether they will agree to a trajectory to increase carbon taxes over that period and whether they will agree to the principle that it will all be paid back through tax credits and welfare.

The Taoiseach dodged the issue. He dodged it in the budget and he dodged it just half an hour ago.

(Interruptions).

Will Deputies please show a bit of decorum?