Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Michael Moynihan

Question:

1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he has met church leaders recently. [49133/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he has held recent meetings with representatives of churches and faith communities as part of the church-State structured dialogue process. [50346/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has recently met church leaders. [50390/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meetings with church leaders. [51852/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

On 25 August, I met with Pope Francis during his visit to Dublin Castle. The meeting provided an opportunity for us to discuss several issues, although, regrettably, not in any depth because it was of short duration.

On 22 January 2018, I met with representatives of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in a formal meeting under the structured dialogue process between the church and State. We discussed important social and economic issues facing Irish society as well as international issues. This was the second in a series of meetings that I will be holding with dialogue partners.

On 31 August 2017, I held a formal meeting under the structured dialogue process with representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Some of the issues we discussed at these meetings were challenging. They are issues on which people have deeply held views and which are matters of conscience. Our discussions were valuable, not just because they deal with important issues, but particularly because they were conducted in an atmosphere of respect for the views of others, where everyone sought to be constructive.

Like public representatives generally, I meet church leaders informally from time to time in the course of attending official or public events, including visits to the Jewish and Muslim communities. In particular, with the recent presidential inauguration and the visit of Pope Francis, I attended several events that were also attended by representatives from various religious groups, which enabled me to engage with them.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I reiterate that in the past few days the issue of the impact of historical ownership models within the health sector has come to light in the context of Holles Street. For the sake of moving forward with critical improvements to women's healthcare in Dublin in particular, but also throughout the country, I hope this will definitely be resolved immediately. I put this forward not from ideological perspective but from a governance and capacity perspective. It points to a failure in recent years to have a more structured and comprehensive approach to patronage and ownership in an era where religious groups no longer have the capacity to effectively manage institutions. Years were wasted on an adversarial approach where arbitrary targets were announced. Progress basically dried up as we know, particularly in education. We had all the talk of divestment and nothing happened as a result. Has the Taoiseach proposed any new systematic engagement with the churches about their roles within education and health and the wider social services?

As we talk about constructing new hospitals, where existing sites are sold, the funding should only go to new hospitals. We are in danger of losing many positive contributions if we do not have a more systematic approach. Furthermore, the churches, to be fair, were pillars of the peace process and were able to maintain a dialogue with the men and women of violence even when they were at their destructive and sectarian worst. Nothing could have been achieved without brave members of religious communities who worked night and day for peace. In this context, it has to be a deep concern that many religious leaders today are very worried about the direction of events in Northern Ireland. They believe that the political deadlock imposed by the DUP and Sinn Féin is dramatically escalating tensions and that a dangerous atmosphere is developing. Has the Taoiseach had any recent meetings with religious leaders about their concerns about Northern Ireland? Has he sought their co-operation to try to find a pathway forward to the restoration of democratic politics and a more energised civic dialogue within Northern Ireland, which has been suppressed for far too long?

The new National Maternity Hospital to be housed at St. Vincent's has been mired in controversy. Public opinion is clearly that it must be owned and operated by the State. Some 19 months have passed since the Sisters of Charity announced that they were to end their involvement in the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. Last week, the Minister for Health confirmed that the withdrawal of the order from St. Vincent's had yet to be finalised. Alarmingly, the Minister acknowledged that he has yet to ensure that the hospital will remain in public ownership or that its board will include a public interest director. Over the weekend, as the Taoiseach may know, hundreds of women gathered in Dublin to voice their concerns about the ownership and ethos of our new maternity hospital. Hours later, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin stated that citizens do not have to obey laws that are contrary to their Catholic faith, an assertion which I, as a Catholic, found alarming and extraordinary. The Taoiseach can understand the heightened concerns that women and their families have regarding their healthcare. It is clear that the January deadline, as committed to, for the provision of abortion services will not be met and we have the Archbishop of Dublin publicly encouraging a revolt by anti-choice medical professionals with regard to the referral provisions in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill. Dr. Rhona Mahony, as she ends her term as master of Holles Street, is concerned that the new maternity hospital project is in danger of falling apart. Will the new maternity hospital be owned in full by the State? Will the Taoiseach reassure women and their families that there will be no involvement at board, management or ownership level by the Sisters of Charity or any other religious order?

I am asking this question on behalf of Deputy Boyd Barrett. Last Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to ask the Minister for Health the same question about ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital and I got no answer. I do not think it is good enough that the public, especially women, are, until the 11th hour, when the deal was supposed to be signed off on on Friday, not being given information. Some 25 months ago, discussions commenced on the ownership of the hospital and we still do not have accurate information. I was one of the people at the protest on O'Connell Street. I was not there for the fun of it. It was a cold, wet day but I was there because the answers being given here by the Minister for Health are not acceptable. They are not answers. Women are genuinely concerned about the future of maternity care for many reasons, not least the legacy reasons of the role of the church in healthcare. The Taoiseach has said on many occasions, as has the Minister, Deputy Harris, that he wants to see the full separation of church and State in health and education. Now is an opportunity for him to ensure that happens. Will he guarantee here today that what will probably cost the State at least €350 million, not an untidy figure, will belong to the people and will be governed and run in a purely secular manner that can guarantee women in the post-repeal era 21st century maternity care? Can we see details of the deal? When will this new company be incorporated and the separation made?

I agree with the questions which have been posed so far about the new National Maternity Hospital. The Taoiseach talked about the visit of the Pope. There was an interaction during that visit when the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs presented the Pope with a letter. I understand there was follow-on communication. Was there ever a response from the Vatican to that correspondence, has it been discussed by Government and what is its nature?

Is there a structure for the Government's interaction with various religious groups and organisations in the State? There has been much recent controversy about the Church of Scientology and its expansion plans, particularly a Narconon centre in Ballivor in County Meath, which is apparently to be a rehabilitation and drug treatment centre. I understand that while planning permission is needed, there is no regulation or inspection of residential treatments for rehabilitation. Is this a matter that the Taoiseach has had any interactions with the Church of Scientology about? Have there been any interactions between the Taoiseach, the Department and the Church of Scientology?

Will the Taoiseach clarify where his Government stands with regard to the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street? It has a long tradition of care. As somebody who had a baby in Holles Street, I can personally testify to that. When we were in government, there was a strong understanding between the Labour Party and the Taoiseach's party, as the bigger party in that coalition, that this would be a fully independent maternity hospital whose ends and objectives would relate to women and babies irrespective of any kind of clerical or church control or influence. The Taoiseach and Minister for Health have consistently refused to come out completely clearly and show how that will be done by the State. The nuns have announced that they have stood back but none of us is clear as to whether or not the commitments they have given are adequate. The Taoiseach must have taken advice from the Attorney General. We know that the hospital project has to proceed. What is delaying the Government, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health in being clear about this?

There are quite a few things happening with regard to patronage and ownership. Many new schools are being built around the country. Many are community national schools, Educate Together schools or are under education and training boards, ETBs. Some are under relatively new religious patronage bodies such as Le Chéile or Edmund Rice Schools Trust. These new builds on new sites are publicly owned by the Department of Education and Skills. There is a divestment programme, which is slow but it is happening. That relates to a number of locations around the country where the parents of pre-school children are being surveyed and polled about what type of patronage they would like to have for their local school. In time, that will lead to quite a number of diocesan national schools being transferred to the patronage of the local ETB.

In healthcare, a former chief civil servant in the European Commission, Catherine Day, has prepared a report on patronage and voluntarism in our health service. I do not think many people in this House will dispute, with regard to voluntarism in the health service, that many hospitals around the country, including the Mater, St. Vincent's or the National Children's Hospital, formerly on Harcourt Street, or the Mercy in Cork, were founded by religious bodies or charities, often being paid for, built and staffed by them and they did the country a lot of service. We should not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

We need to modernise, but I do not believe that should involve abandoning or expelling voluntarism from our health services. The same would apply to Our Lady's Hospice and to St. Francis' Hospice as well. It is a case of making sure we have modern structures and governance in place, but that does not necessarily mean complete and absolute secularisation.

I am not saying that.

People who have had the experience of those hospices and so on will agree with that.

Does that apply to governance?

In terms of Holles Street specifically, as I understand it, it is intended that the site and building will be sold and that the proceeds will be used as a contribution towards the new hospital. It will be gifted to the State.

It is not going to be gifted.

On the national maternity hospital, it is important that we develop a practical solution in this instance. This is not a greenfield site or the establishment of a hospital de novo. Rather, it is the movement of a hospital that has been around for hundreds of years onto the site of another hospital that has been around for a long time, both of which are currently not in the ownership of the State. The Minister for Health is bringing together two existing hospitals on the same site. These are hospitals with their own legal personalities, boards and staff and, in some case, their own debts and various other liabilities. It is important to get the governance and ownership right. It is intended that the hospital will be owned by the Government and that any procedure or service that is legal in this State, including tubal ligation, abortion, IVF, will be available in that hospital, the law of the land will apply, and the ethical principles that will apply are those of the Medical Council and medical ethics not any other ethics. The hospital will also have its own board and governance separate from St. Vincent's Hospital but the hospitals will require a degree of integration. The purpose of co-location is to ensure that a woman who is pregnant and has a heart condition can avail of the cardiology services in St. Vincent's Hospital. Similarly, a woman who is pregnant and suffering from epilepsy will have access to the full suite of neurology services available in that hospital. These are the matters we need to get right.

The time for this group of questions has expired. We must move on.

The reason for the delay in providing clarity around this issue is that it has not yet been finalised or formally agreed. Once it is, clarity will be provided.

Will it be clarified by Friday?

I do not know.

May I ask a brief supplementary question?

The time for this group of questions is expired. If members wish to ask further supplementaries, the time will have to be taken from later questions.

I would appreciate it if we could do that.

I also have not finished my answers.

Do members wish to continue on this group of questions?

I have a lot more supplementary answers.

We will need only a few minutes to deal with the final question, so we could take some of the time allocated to it.

Let us take ten minutes and first allow the Taoiseach to continue his answers. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I was asked about the interaction between the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Pope during his visit. As members will be aware, they spoke briefly in Arás an Uachtaráin about Tuam and the Minister followed up that conversation with a letter. The Pope has provided a written response, although it is more of an acknowledgement than a substantive response. The Minister has engaged with the religious order that operated and owned the Tuam home and it has agreed to make a financial contribution towards the excavation and to work with her on helping the commission get to the facts of what happened in that particular mother and baby home.

On church-State dialogue, it is not a formal structure in the sense that it does not have a secretariat and there is no member of staff whose job it is to manage that dialogue, but it is structured in the sense that it occurs at least once a year. Everybody knows when it is going to happen, an agenda is prepared and delegations are put together, usually comprised of myself and a number of Ministers and representatives of the religious orders. Defined times are set aside to deal with each of the issues and during the year these are followed up by the line Ministers.

The Church of Scientology is not part of the church-State dialogue and I have not had any interactions with it.

I will allow brief supplementary questions as distinct from statements.

I am not talking about voluntarism in respect of St. Vincent's Hospital and Mercy hospital. These are systemic hospitals. They are big concerns in which there has been significant investment by the State. To all intents and purposes, they are tertiary hospitals and will remain so into the future. The religious orders have exited the governance of the hospitals. The danger with a lay trusteeship is that private concerns can enter into the realm over time. The State needs to be guarded in protecting the taxpayer and the citizen in terms of what have been identified as tertiary centres where acute care has to happen. As I said, I am not talking about fuzzy voluntarism; rather, I am talking about a fundamental aspect of capacity and governance in our health services into the future. As the new maternity hospital is being co-located on the site of St. Vincent's Hospital, which is a tertiary hospital, the former has to have a State-oriented future one way or the other.

Nobody is gainsaying the contribution of voluntarism in the past but we are now at a point where massive public investment is envisaged in a national maternity facility and people need clarity and certainty. The Taoiseach said that he cannot give that certainty because the matter has not yet been resolved. It was to have been resolved at this stage, but it still is not. When will it be resolved and when will we have the certainty we desire?

According to the media, construction of the national maternity hospital is due to commence on 14 December. We still do not know when a company, which 18 months ago we were promised would be established, will be incorporated. This company was to be established for the expressed purpose of separating the new national maternity hospital from the St. Vincent's Hospital Group. Until such time as this has been done and we have assurances in that regard, the doubt, concern and protests will continue. We need to see the colour of the Government's money, in particular of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, because our money is being used to build a hospital with no guarantees for the future of women's healthcare. There is ambiguity in the Taoiseach's response.

I remember well my visit to Holles Street hospital as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, following which I had discussions on the new national maternity hospital with the then Minister for Health, James Reilly, because I allocated the money for it. There was an understanding between us that the hospital would be a national maternity hospital built on a co-located site but totally independent. We need to have this clearly expressed now and doubly so in the context of the utterances of a senior church person during the week which urged Catholics to break the law or, at least, to not comply with laws that run contrary to church teaching. This is a worrying development in the context of a new national maternity hospital. I ask the Taoiseach to state that the intention of the Government, and of this House, is that the national maternity hospital will fully comply with every aspect of the law, its governance will be secular, and whatever legal means are required to achieve that will be pursued.

The Taoiseach cited examples of women in either hospital and what might happen to them. If a pregnant woman in St. Vincent's Hospital is in danger of dying due to a heart attack, will she be moved to the maternity hospital for a termination if that is what will save her life or could staff with conscientious objections on the general hospital side simply not offer her what should be available to her and her family by way of choice? It is important that the Taoiseach publishes draft governance arrangements such that we can work through the type of examples he set out earlier.

They are challenging examples so can the Taoiseach assist the Dáil in that way?

Hospitals such as St. Vincent's, the Mater and the Adelaide and Meath Hospital incorporating the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght are tertiary hospitals. They are also voluntary hospitals. There is nothing fuzzy about voluntarism.

There is no volunteerism in them at present.

It is serious. It is a particular model of governance, and it is certainly not unique to Ireland. The Mater Hospital in Belfast, for example, which has been part of the NHS since its foundation, has autonomy and an arrangement with the NHS. Many of the hospitals in Germany are owned by voluntary bodies or charities, some of which have religious foundations as well. However, Deputy Micheál Martin's point is valid. There is a difference. As religious orders diminish in number they are transferring patronage of schools and hospitals to lay people, who may or may not have religious views. We must bear in mind that a change is happening in that regard.

I was again asked about when the issue relating to the National Maternity Hospital will be resolved. I do not know. I cannot put a date on it because the Government is not the only party involved. It involves the Department of Health and the HSE, St. Vincent's and the National Maternity Hospital. When three parties are involved in a negotiation no single party can say when it will be resolved. It would be similar to me asking Deputy McDonald when an executive will be up and running in the North. It is not in the gift of any single actor in this-----

One would not think that normally given the commentary.

-----so it will be resolved when it is resolved. I will repeat what I said earlier, lest there be any doubt. The Government will be investing hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money in this new hospital and it will not be gifted to anybody. The entire investment will be protected by the State. The hospital will be independent of St. Vincent's and will have its own governance, board and staff, but there will have to be a degree of integration because that is the point of co-location in the first place. Regarding what laws will apply, they will be the laws enacted by the Oireachtas, not canon law or any other law. The ethics that will apply are the medical ethics laid down by the Medical Council, not any other ethical framework. As regards conscientious objections, the laws relating to conscientious objection will apply in the same way in every hospital.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Michael Moynihan

Question:

5. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A on the economy last met. [49135/18]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A on the economy last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [50347/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A on the economy last met. [50391/18]

Joan Burton

Question:

8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A on the economy last met. [50552/18]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

9. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee at which agricultural issues are discussed; and when it last met. [50822/18]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

10. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee A on the economy last met; and when it plans to meet next. [51853/18]

I propose to takes Questions Nos. 5 to 10, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committee A held its first meeting on 12 September 2017. This Cabinet committee covers issues relating to the economy, jobs, the labour market, competitiveness, productivity, trade, the Action Plan for Rural Development, the digital economy and pensions.

Issues relevant to the agriculture sector can arise, as required, in either Cabinet committee A which covers rural affairs, Cabinet committee C which covers Brexit or Cabinet committee D which covers climate action and the national planning framework.

Of course, as with all policy areas, agricultural issues are regularly discussed at full Government meetings-----

Is the Taoiseach replying to Questions Nos. 5 to 10, inclusive?

He is taking the economy and agriculture together.

Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, ask about Cabinet committee A, which deals with the economy, Question No. 9 asks at which committee agricultural issues are discussed and Question No. 10 asks specifically about Cabinet committee A.

As I said, as with all policy areas agriculture issues are regularly discussed at full Government meetings where all formal decisions are made.

The most recent meeting of Cabinet committee A took place on 12 November last.

Brexit represents by far the biggest economic risk our country faces in the short, medium and long terms. The Central Bank has said it is already impacting on key parts of the economy. The budget documentation issued by the Minister for Finance two months ago states that the fiscal situation is exposed to a failure to achieve an orderly Brexit. Nearly half of exports are to the United Kingdom and critical sectors have said they would face severe difficulties with the exchange rate that was reached yesterday. The Government's data show that the majority of firms are simply not ready for Brexit. Given the events of yesterday and the Taoiseach's statement that he has decided to ramp up preparations for a no deal scenario, something he has said many times previously but he has not done, can he tell us what the likely implications of a no deal scenario are for our economy next year? If there is a failure to have a deal which comes into force at the end of March, what are the working assumptions of the impact of this on our economic and fiscal situation? While the European Union has published a no deal guidance, as has the United Kingdom, there is no Irish specific guidance, or at least no such guidance that is publicly available.

There are 108 days left until the Brexit day set down in UK legislation. At what point will we see any of the no deal preparations which we are told are on their way and, in particular, the memorandum brought to the Cabinet today by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade? Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to publish the essence of that memorandum, which deals with the central case scenario? Will the Taoiseach outline the preparations for what we are likely to encounter in the context of no deal?

I too ask the Taoiseach to publish that memorandum. Perhaps in the first instance he would share it with the Opposition so we can get a sense of the sectoral preparations. However, the point I made on Leaders' Questions still stands - there must be a far more comprehensive and long lasting response in the event of a crash and that revolves around resolving the constitutional issue and removing the Border.

In respect of the economy, the Taoiseach was questioned earlier about climate change. The performance index published by the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland yesterday made grim reading. We are ranked as the worst state in the European Union when it comes to addressing climate change. According to that report we will miss our 2020 and 2030 climate change targets. This will cost us. It will cost the State in terms of environmental consequences, and missing our emissions and renewable energy target means the State will also face huge fines. This is not acceptable. We have moved beyond the point of taking small steps. We need vision and action. Ours is a small state in global terms but I believe this island can lead by example. This means action being pursued cross-departmentally to tackle climate change. A range of commitments have been made over the years to get to grips with our lacklustre performance but they have not been kept.

First, is the climate change agenda central to the work of the economic committee? Also, can the Taoiseach produce a progress report on the implementation of the climate change measures contained in the programme for Government?

I wish to discuss the announcement of new guidelines for maximum building heights in towns and cities. Restrictions have been lifted by order of the Minister. My question relates to planning and economics, because one cannot have one without the other. Did the Department of the Taoiseach have discussions with NAMA at any stage? Did it inform NAMA of the likely impact the lifting of height restrictions would have on any planning permission application that might be submitted by developers and, most importantly, on the value of sites that NAMA was selling? When it discussed how the remaining sites and loans could be important to deal with the housing crisis and be utilised directly by State agencies to build social and affordable homes, was this just an example of NAMA gobbling up very lucrative lands in advance of the restrictions being lifted? There are two sites where this took place. One of them is in Dublin north docklands near Mayor Street on Castleforbes Road.

One of the last remaining prime development sites in the docklands was sold for €110 million. The planning that was granted for that site could be scrapped and they could go back to issue new planning. If they had any sense they would. This would mean that developers have gobbled up public land owned by NAMA at a very giveaway price. I want to know if there were any discussions by the Minister or the Department with NAMA and with developers about this move to lift the restrictions on building height. It is quite a serious move and it would be very surprising if there had been no discussions.

Does the Taoiseach agree that a lot of people who are in mortgage difficulties, including those people whose mortgages were sold over their heads from PTSB to an investment vehicle administered by Pepper Finance with the agreement of the Taoiseach's Minister for Finance, must feel sick at the derisory level of penalties levelled on a former banking executive in the Irish Nationwide Building Society today? That information coincides with a report from the Economic Social Research Institute, ESRI, that says despite the Government pledging to cut taxes the Government's budget will actually leave households, and in particular the lower income households, paying more tax. Lower income households include large numbers of younger people who are being absolutely stung for rising rents and who are beginning to feel that they will never be able to afford a property. Through the budget the Government is essentially worsening their situation by some 0.7%, in terms of what the ESRI has to say on it.

I have two questions. The first concerns the worrying aspect of the recent inability of the Department of Finance to predict corporation taxes accurately. Will the Taoiseach indicate if there has been any analysis on this? France has announced recently that regardless of any European agreement it is going to introduce its own digital tax. This is likely to be followed by a number of other countries, as indicated by the Chancellor in the United Kingdom and by Spain. If they introduce the digital tax has there been any analysis of the impact of this measure on Ireland's tax base? I would be interested in hearing it. Is there any intention to have that sort of analysis?

My second question relates to the very worrying prospect of a hard Brexit and I want to focus on one tiny but very important aspect, that is the importation and exportation of goods to and from our island. In the event of a hard Brexit are there contingency plans to increase the capacity of our main exporting ports, especially the ports of Dublin and Rosslare? Will the Taoiseach clarify if the Government has plans to identify vessels that might be chartered in the event that the land bridge is so congested by the backlog in ports such as Dover that it would be useless to us? Have we looked at the international shipping market to see if Ireland can charter vessels to have direct access to the European markets in that eventuality?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. On the issue of a no-deal Brexit, it is of course difficult to predict the impact on our economy, on the British economy or the European economy because this situation where the UK leaves the European Union without a deal is unprecedented. No country has ever left the European Union before. There have, however, been a number of analyses and I refer Deputies to the Copenhagen Economics report that was published a few months ago, which gives at least an estimate of what the impact will be in different scenarios including a no-deal scenario.

No-deal preparations are not a big secret, nor are the central case plans. As I explained earlier, they happen at two levels; at European level and at national level. At the European level, 70 notices have been issued already and seminars are ongoing. The seminars will continue until mid-January. With regard to national level preparations we have had Brexit preparedness seminars also. The preparations involve a number of elements including the hiring of staff such as customs' staff, veterinary inspectors for sanitary and phytosanitary controls, SPC, environmental health inspectors and property professionals. The preparations include additional infrastructure at Dublin Port, Dublin Airport and Rosslare Port. It also involves a suite of legislation that we will have to put through the Houses of the Oireachtas in the first quarter of the year, some of which is very simple legislation and some very complicated. IT systems and customs' training for business are already under way. There are other planning measures too and we will be happy to publish those as we go along. We are not going to publish Government memos but we are happy to make public the information as we go along. It is essential that we make the information public because the public has to be involved in this. There are no preparations that do not involve the public and business. We will keep parties updated through the stakeholder forum. I am glad that many parties attend that.

We were told that we could not see what was put before the Cabinet. The Government is withholding stuff.

We are giving the information but not publishing a Government memo-----

The essence of what was in that-----

-----because that would be unconstitutional, but of course we will make information public. We have to. There is no way one could do these preparations in secret somehow. There are no means of passing secret legislation. There are no means of secretly hiring people. This will all be public and there will be less drama to it than the Deputy may think.

Deputy McDonald was not quite correct in her assertion. The league table was not published by the UN climate conference. It was published by a German NGO. This speaks to the point I made earlier about how often in this House, and more broadly, people do not make a distinction between the statistics produced by official bodies, be they the Central Statistics Office, the UN, the EU or the Environmental Protection Agency, and the statistics produced by NGOs or campaign or advocacy organisations. I have no bugbear with NGOs, or campaign and advocacy organisations but they do have a particular agenda. We need to make a distinction between statistics produced by independent bodies and those produced by campaigning bodies. There is quite a difference.

The question is "Is it true?"

I do not know because the table is not based on an index that is produced by a UN body or an environmental body. It has been produced by a campaign organisation. Is it true? I do not know and neither does Deputy Howlin. That is the point.

But you do know.

At least we know that if the figures come from the EPA or the CSO they are-----

The Taoiseach said that we were the laggards----

----statistically accurate.

----and that we are approximating the truth, unfortunately.

That is true but each of the Deputies is speaking about different things, I am afraid.

I am talking about our performance in trying to change the country, and it is very poor.

Could we please allow the Taoiseach to finish?

That particular league table had Ireland at a particular place in the world. One would have to go through the data-----

We might be better than Kazakhstan.

-----for each of those countries to analyse it objectively and have it peer reviewed to see if it actually stacks up. The answer is that none of us know whether that table is true. We can say, for example, that the EPA data is true. That data does not come from a campaigning organisation. It comes from a body that assesses these issues statistically and independently and has them peer reviewed. It is the difference between a fact and a claim. There is sometimes a big difference between fact and claims, and we should know the difference-----

That is why we do not believe the homeless statistics either with the-----

-----if other people do not.

Deputy Burton's assertion that loans were sold by the Minister for Finance is not correct. The Minister for Finance does not sell any loans and nor was agreement sought.

He has a 75% shareholding.

The Minister has no role in it and nor is there a shareholder vote on it.

He had approval so he had a role in it.

No. That is incorrect. For the record, the Minister for Finance did not have to approve it and did not.

Pepper is regulated and all mortgage holders whose mortgages have been sold on will continue to have the same consumer rights and protections as they did beforehand. We will make sure that this is the case.

I discussed the ESRI reports earlier. It is based on a wage index model. There are different models including an inflation index model and a low-index model and each one produces different results. The ESRI is saying that pensions are going up next year, welfare is going up next year, income tax is going down and USC is going down but because 1.5 million people are getting a pay increase of roughly 3% as well as all of that, everyone is worse off. It is a particular model based on a wage index. If one looks at it differently wages are going up: the minium wage, public sector wages and private sector wages. Pensions are going up, welfare is going up, income tax is going down and USC is going down. Everyone is better off in cash terms. Even when one adjusts for inflation, everyone is better off in cash terms.

Not according to the ESRI.

Yes according to the ESRI. The Deputies do not understand the difference between a wage index model and an inflation index model.

We bow before the Taoiseach.

The point that it validly makes-----

We bow before the Taoiseach.

------is that if we do not increase tax credits every year either in line with inflation or wages-----

-----if we do not widen tax bands every year, whether it is indexed to inflation or wages, we end up having more people paying more tax. That is why it is the right thing to do to increase tax credits every year. That is why it is the right thing to do to widen the index bands.

For the 25% who are on the higher rate.

People are being quite contradictory in what they are saying-----

What they are saying is what the ESRI says.

-----in that if we want to avoid a situation whereby people end up worse off on this index we must increase tax credits every year and we must widen the tax bands.

For the top 25%.

Parties that oppose that policy, which is my party's policy, are actually the ones that want to make people worse off.

It is the pensioners who will be worse off.

The Taoiseach did not answer my question on the height restrictions and NAMA.

I have run out of time. I am happy to add more time.

We have one minute left and I think we will have to move on.

Can we take that minute to answer the question on the height restrictions and NAMA?

Yes, that is fair enough.

I am answering the questions one by one.

Keep going, then.

Answer that one. There is one minute left.

Yes, the height restrictions.

The Taoiseach has one minute to conclude. We are not going on to question No. 11.

If there had been fewer interruptions while I was answering I would have been able to answer more questions. I do not interrupt the questions.

There should be no inviting of interruptions either.

The Taoiseach is never one to interrupt.

This is not the "Late Late Show".

I do not interrupt the questions ever but my answers are constantly interrupted. I do want to-----

Ryan Tubridy was a lot easier.

There are 50 seconds left. We will move on. Question No. 11 in the name of Deputy Michael Moynihan will be dealt with first the next time Taoiseach's Questions are being answered.