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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Mar 2019

Vol. 980 No. 8

Ceisteanna ar Reachtaíocht a Gealladh - Questions on Promised Legislation

This week, Ministers are travelling the globe promoting Ireland and, in particular, promoting Irish tourism. I want to bring to the Tánaiste's attention a contradiction in that Dublin Port Company is developing a policy that will substantially reduce the number of cruise liners coming into the country. The cruise liner business is worth €50 million in revenue. It brings revenue to the retail and hospitality sectors, particularly in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. Other areas, such as Galway, are also anxious to develop it. If the capital is not on the itinerary these other locations will lose out significantly. Dublin Port has said it intends to reduce the number of ships allowed into Dublin from 160 this year to 80 in 2021. It is not good enough for the Government to say it is a matter for the port company. There has to be a cross-sectoral approach to policy for promoting tourism. We have Ministers all over the world asking people to come to Ireland but at the very same time a company of the State-----

Thank you, Deputy.

-----is saying essentially it will not happen and it is going to undermine it. There is a way out of this-----

The time is up, Deputy.

-----but the Government must take a hand in it.

I call the Tánaiste.

I am asking, in the context of the programme for Government, what the Government's response to this will be.

I am very familiar with this issue. It has been raised with me by multiple sources. We have managed to build a cruise liner tourism product in Ireland that has resulted in significant expansion in recent years. We have invested in smaller harbours, such as Killybegs and Dingle, and have attracted a lot of interest from cruise liner traffic in recent years. As Deputy Martin knows, Cork will probably have more than 100 cruise liners this year. Last year, I believe 167,000 people visited the Cork area from cruise liners and we had all the crew on top of this. The figure last year was approximately 80 ships. It is true to say other ports, whether Belfast, Cork, Killybegs, Dingle or wherever, are reliant on Dublin being a significant draw as a capital city and the cruise liners then move to other cities and ports around the island of Ireland. The indication from Dublin Port that it is looking to limit cruise liner traffic in the years ahead is a big worry in terms of the overall strategy on cruise liner tourism. It is something I will raise with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Does he know where Dublin Port is?

I do not want to speak for Dublin Port Company because it needs to make commercial decisions itself.

I thank the Tánaiste. The time is up.

It has pressures it is responding to and, in the context of Brexit, doing so in an extraordinarily efficient way. It had capacity issues it needs to take into account.

Sorry Tánaiste, the time is up.

In this context, as a shareholder of Dublin Port Company, there does need to be a conversation.

More than a conversation.

Earlier, I asked whether the Government is considering establishing a Brexit stabilisation fund and I want to ask the question again. It is important that we use all available resources of the State to ensure we protect the Irish economy and ensure businesses, exporters and farmers are protected. We have called for a €2 billion Brexit stabilisation fund and we state it should come from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund and the rainy day fund. Some trade unions and others have called for a similar fund. It is necessary to ensure additional financial supports are put in place to support sectors of the economy that are vulnerable to Brexit. Two things are needed. The Government must step up to the plate financially with a Brexit stabilisation fund and the European Union needs to complement this with additional financial supports and an easing of state aid rules. The Tánaiste did not answer these questions earlier. Will he commit to the establishment of such a fund in the State? Will he outline to the House precisely what the European Commission is looking at with regard to additional supports and state aid?

The question probably needs a more detailed answer than I will be allowed to give now. At the start of the week, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, gave a very detailed statement on the predicted financial impact on the Irish Exchequer of a no-deal Brexit. What he clearly indicated is we will need to borrow money in that instance. We may well have to dip into a rainy day fund and we will have to work in partnership with the European Commission to protect vulnerable sectors that are exposed in the context of a no-deal Brexit and the type of tariff regime that could be imposed, as we saw this morning.

To simplify this into a Brexit stabilisation fund out of which all of those sectors will pull is probably to oversimplify it. What will happen instead is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will negotiate with the key Departments packages that are necessary for their sectors, particularly agriculture. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is sitting beside me and I know the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has, for a number of weeks, been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on how this would work.

I thank the Tánaiste.

I reassure the Deputy and many of the vulnerable sectors this is something the Government has put a lot of thought into and we will turn it into action. It will cost money and it may well result in Ireland going back into deficit rather than staying in surplus should that be necessary but it would be wrong at this stage to raise expectations in terms of the amount of money we are speaking about.

I thank the Tánaiste.

It is a significant challenge but a challenge it will be necessary to follow through on.

We will not get through everyone if we do not stick to the one minute allowed.

In the past, I advised the establishment of a retired pensioners' alliance that would feed into public sector pay talks. This would bring together retired pensioners from throughout the Civil Service and public service. When public sector pay talks and negotiations take place there is no formal input by retired pensioners. In fact, trade unions do not normally represent them. Anomalies have arisen for various public sector pensioners in the context of the round of pay restoration and the most recent FEMPI legislation and this inequity needs to be addressed. In the context of the public sector pay stability agreement expiring at the end of next year, will the Government give access to the Alliance of Retired Public Servants to future pay talks? More pressingly, will the Tánaiste raise with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the need to address now with the alliance anomalies that most people in the House would like to see addressed?

I hear what the Deputy is saying but because there is no trade union representation it is difficult to facilitate a structured engagement that would be equivalent to that which existing recognised trade unions have. There are other mechanisms to allow sectors that do not have trade union representation to input into the process in parallel with the formal negotiations that go on. Whether this is a way to facilitate what the Deputy is looking for I am not quite sure. I would like the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to address this in a bit more detail rather than me winging it here. Having been in the Department of Defence I know there are other mechanisms through which interests can be represented in the context of public sector pay negotiations and considerations.

I will ask the Minister to revert to the Deputy with more detail in that regard.

I understand that the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill which will soon move to Committee Stage has the aim of affording extra protection to tenants in private rental accommodation. In Inchicore today, up to 32 families are facing eviction from Emmet House and Emmet Manor, two apartment blocks that are being refurbished. These are very vulnerable and frightened families. They have been told they must leave their homes but they are not being provided with an alternative place to reside while the refurbishment takes place. They have nowhere to go. The Tánaiste will acknowledge that the current legislation does not afford sufficient protection to tenants in private rental properties. Will he ensure that the Government amends the legislation stringently and sufficiently to protect tenants? Will the Government accept amendments to the Bill that would allow extension of the Tyrrellstown amendment to cover refurbishment and force landlords to guarantee alternatives in such cases?

The legislation is due to be progressed shortly and there will be an opportunity to debate these issues with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, on Committee Stage of the Bill.

Income received from carer's allowance is disregarded in medical card applications. However, the issue is that if a person applies for carer's allowance and a medical card at the same time, a decision is not made on the medical card until a decision is made on the carer's allowance even though that income is disregarded. As the Tánaiste is aware, a decision on carer's allowance takes up to five months. Therefore, a person must wait up to five months before a decision on a medical card can be made even though the income from carer's allowance is disregarded. This is causing big problems. It is a very straightforward issue. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to, please, deal with it because it is a big problem for constituents of every Member of the House.

Although I do not doubt the Deputy's bona fides, I would be surprised if the Department makes a judgment based on-----

That is the case.

The Minister of State can hear the echoes. It is the case.

I will look into the matter because it is difficult to understand how a judgment or assessment would be made based on something that might happen in the future. I would have thought applications would be assessed based on the situation here and now, rather than on something that may be granted in the future. I will look into the matter and revert to the Deputy. I thank him for highlighting it.

The programme for Government makes reference to the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. Are the relevant Ministers aware that demolition works were carried out on the Bessborough site in Cork this week without the knowledge of Cork City Council? A building known as the little folly has been used as a place of reflection and commemoration by survivors in recent years. I discovered this morning that an enforcement order has been put on that building. My information is that the commission was informed that repair works would be carried out on it. It may seem a minor issue, but the survivors of the mother and baby home in Bessborough are angered and anguished that developers have moved onto the site and begun knocking buildings without it being public knowledge or a geophysical radar scan having been carried out. These events are atrocious. I would love to get an answer on this issue.

It is difficult for me to comment without knowing the detail of what is happening. If the Deputy sends me a file on this issue, I will make sure it gets to the right person.

I certainly will.

There is uproar in County Kerry about new regulations or laws being brought in by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government relating to short-term lettings. The Minister stated that it will not affect County Kerry. The local authority there has been given no direction. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, was asked on Kerry radio what was happening and stated that he was waiting for instructions from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

He does nothing anyway.

People need clarity. They are very concerned. This could adversely affect the self-catering industry in Kerry, which is a tourist county. What is happening? What is the Department doing to people? People are very upset and anxious. There will be a meeting tonight in Listowel on this issue and another in the coming days in Killarney. All around the county, people are organising and asking what is happening. Will the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Tánaiste tell us what is happening and what the Government is doing on this issue?

I might ask the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, who knows County Kerry better than anybody, to revert to the Deputy on this issue.

I seek clarification from the Tánaiste on the issue of driving licences in the event of a Brexit scenario. I acknowledge I have raised this issue previously. There seems to be some confusion. I understand that people driving on British licences may change to Irish licences. However, some people driving a commercial vehicle or minibus are being told that they will not be covered and may have to resit a test. I am unsure of the position and am urgently seeking clarification. This matter is of concern. I am sure the Tánaiste realises that thousands of people in the State drive on British licences. I have received two different answers on this issue and do not know which to believe. I ask the Tánaiste to clarify the issue or ask one of his officials to so do.

I ask the Deputy to send me any specific question he has regarding different categories of licences and I will ensure that I get a detailed and accurate answer for him.

Following on from the contribution of the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, on Leaders' Questions, I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, for clarity regarding the plans he has in place, if any, to properly support the agriculture sector in the event of a hard Brexit. Yesterday, the British Government published the types of tariffs it will put in place in the event of a hard Brexit. With two weeks to go to Brexit, it is time for clarity from the Minister regarding the supports that will be available to the agriculture sector. As the Minister is aware, the sector is currently under significant pressure and in crisis. It is simply unacceptable that it is totally in the dark as to what the response and support from the Government and the European Commission will be if the worst comes to pass in terms of a hard Brexit in two weeks.

I call Deputy Martin Kenny on the same matter.

This morning, the British Government announced tariffs relating to a range of agricultural produce. Although most Members recognise that much of this is play-acting and that the British Government is not really serious about this, with it being regarded as a temporary tariff situation, if there is a crash-out at some point, as is likely in the coming three or four months if not within the next two weeks, we will have to deal with those tariffs. The only workable option I can see is for the European Union to provide a fund to assist to pay the tariffs. I refer to Irish beef in particular, a significant proportion of which is sent to the UK and which simply cannot be put into intervention or stored. There is no option other than to provide it to the market that wants it and try to cover the tariffs until alternative markets can be found. Is the Minister looking at that option?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. As they will be aware, some time ago my Department quantified that the additional cost to our exports to the UK if it decided to apply the full WTO tariff would be in the region of €1.7 billion. The UK Government this morning proposed a unique and bespoke approach to tariffs, as it is entitled to do in the context of its trade with the European Union. We are carrying out a detailed analysis of those proposals. For example, the equivalent of the full WTO tariff is proposed for some commodities, whereas for other commodities it is half or less than half the full WTO tariff. A broad selection of options has been laid out by the UK. As the Deputies are aware, the Government has been engaged with the Commission. In fact, even today a senior team from my Department is in negotiations with the Commission on all of these issues and the interventions that may be necessary. However, we can only respond when an action is implemented. The British Government has put forward a proposal regarding what would happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, as the Deputies are aware, there will be a vote this evening in the House of Commons which could take a no-deal Brexit off the agenda. I assure the Deputies, farmers and the agrifood industry generally that there is a commitment to intervene at Commission or Exchequer level to provide the supports that may be necessary in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

This morning in the AV room, Dementia Ireland gave an in-depth presentation and provided very thoughtful insight into living with dementia. This issue is being dealt with right across the country. Dementia Ireland stated there are but eight dementia advisers in the country who liaise with dementia sufferers and their families. It stated the service is completely under-resourced. What intention has the Government to consider the real issues facing people with dementia? A considerable number of individuals have dementia. Dementia advisers comprise an important part of allowing them to live lives that are as normal as possible. Has the Government any intention to appoint additional dementia advisers to help to address these issues?

There is a clear national dementia strategy and the Government is seeking to implement it. This has involved increased resources. With regard to the specific questions asked by the Deputy, I would like to obtain more accurate answers. If he writes to me with the questions or directly to the Minister concerned, he will get a more accurate answer than I can give him now.

The previous Government established Irish Water. Since its establishment, the quality of the service has diminished in certain locations. In Athlone, there has been a considerable increase in the frequency of water outages in the past 12 months, quite often without any notification and sometimes with inadequate notification. Are there protocols to ensure adequate notification when scheduled works are to take place and contingency arrangements to assist businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, when there is an emergency outage? Could the Tánaiste revert to me at a later stage on when the planned upgrade of water infrastructure in Athlone will be carried out? Ultimately, this will be the best solution to prevent water outages.

On the same issue, in the south Sligo area there is cryptosporidium in the water. A boil-water notice has been in force for practically 18 months. This is very difficult for businesses and families. Irish Water has applied for planning permission. The application is in the planning process but unfortunately it has to be sanctioned under IROPI legislation. I do not believe this legislation has been enforced in this country before but the application is complete and has been sent to the office of the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan. Will the Tánaiste speak to her to have this matter resolved so the necessary works on the water supply may be carried out immediately?

Irish Water has been asked to upgrade the water network across the country and has been doing so in a very efficient way. It has been investing considerable funds in making our supply safer and to understand what exactly is in it. There used to be 35 local authorities doing their own thing and that resulted in a significant and very dangerous deterioration in water infrastructure across the country. Irish Water has exposed a lot of that ugliness and danger but, in doing so, it has created a lot of inconvenience because once a problem is exposed, it has to be fixed. Irish Water is setting about doing that.

From my experience, while there are some exceptions, Irish Water has been pretty good about notifying not only local businesses but also local public representatives.

If there are issues in Athlone, as there clearly are, I will try to obtain specific answers. With regard to Sligo, I was there recently and this issue was raised with me directly. Reference was made to the length of time for which boil-water notices have been in force and the number of people affected. To be fair, planning delays are as frustrating to Irish Water as to those involved in any other project being developed.

On page 47 of the programme for Government, under the heading of tourism, the Government promised to work towards achieving ambitious tourism policy goals by 2025. In Kinsale, which is one of Ireland's main tourism destinations, there is a planning application for a 65-acre mussel farm, requiring bottom dredging, off Kinsale Harbour. The people of Kinsale and I have serious environmental and tourism-related concerns. Kinsale is the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Minister will say he cannot comment on planning issues but the Government can wake up and draw up new planning guidelines immediately to prevent the development of a 65-acre mussel farm off Kinsale Harbour or hundreds of acres of kelp harvesting off Bantry. This would protect sensitive areas that depend so much on tourism.

It is quite an interesting point to raise in the context of the representations made by Deputy Danny Healy-Rae on the planning process. Deputy Michael Collins is objecting to the possible granting of planning permission and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae is objecting to the-----

I asked about a mussel farm off Kinsale.

-----development. I hear the Deputy. I am not aware of the specific project but in light of the fact there is a planning application under consideration by my Department, it would not be appropriate to comment further.

Planning guidelines.

I have been asked by the family of a constituent, Ms Ruth Morrissey, to raise her case. Unfortunately, she has cervical cancer and was failed by the State and HSE in the cervical cancer screening programme. Last May, the Taoiseach said the following on "Six One News" regarding people who have to go to court to seek damages and all the trauma that goes with that: "What we propose to do is to offer mediation in every case so that women can avoid having to go to court and the trauma of a court hearing." He went on to say:

What we will do in this situation is the State will settle and pursue the lab later. So, essentially the State will be on the side of the plaintiff, on the side of the woman.

Late on Monday, Ruth Morrissey was summoned to the High Court for a hearing yesterday, at which point she was subjected to a pretty robust and traumatising cross-examination by counsel for the HSE. Her family is quite upset about it. It calls into question the commitment given to the women by the Taoiseach, namely, that mediation would be offered. Is the Tánaiste happy that the mediation process that the Attorney General was supposed to counsel the State Claims Agency to enter into in a meaningful way is being engaged in? Is he satisfied the women who have been failed are being treated sensitively and properly by the State Claims Agency and that a proper mediation processes is being engaged in?

I acknowledge the difficulty and heartache Ruth Morrissey and her family have had to go through in the context of the CervicalCheck scandal. There are many other victims and families in this category also. The State's only objective is to try to support those affected as best it can, to try to keep people out of court and to ensure fair settlements for the women and families involved. That is why I announced yesterday during Leader's Questions the detail of the ex gratia scheme that is now being set up under the chairmanship of a retired High Court judge. The scheme is to ensure families and victims get the support the State wants to make available to them.

I do not have the exact details on the legal arguments associated with the case in question. I am slow to comment on a court case. I know, however, that the policy direction of the Government to the State Claims Agency is very clear: we want to try to keep these cases out of court so people do not have to go through an adversarial court system in regard to assessing the extent of claims and compensation.

Irish fishing vessels cannot fish within 12 miles of the Isle of Man and are excluded from fishing inside the six-mile exclusion zone around the entire British coast but the Minister wants to allow UK vessels access to Ireland's six-mile fisheries exclusion zone. This is unacceptable to the Irish fishing industry.

The Minister also stated that all Irish-registered fishing vessels of 18 m and over will be excluded from fishing inside Ireland's six-mile fishery limit from 2021 onwards, yet the Government is attempting to fast-track legislation that will allow vessels from Northern Ireland to fish inside Ireland's six-mile fishery zone. The UK has already stated that it is leaving the London Fisheries Convention, severing the existing arrangements which allow for access to inshore waters between neighbouring member states. Irish fishing organisations and fishermen are totally frustrated. It is hoped that the Bill is at least delayed until the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is known, and there is time for proper consultation with stakeholders.

It is important to put on record what exactly we propose to do, which is to reinstate a reciprocal arrangement that existed long before the London convention was agreed in the early 1960s, which recognised that there were established fishing patterns in play. What happened in October 2016 is the Supreme Court found that our arrangements were struck down in that context. Fishermen in the Republic of Ireland still enjoy a right and entitlement to fish in the Northern Ireland inshore sector. We are merely proposing to reinstate by legislation an arrangement that existed up to then.

There are three Deputies offering. I will take 30 second questions from each of them.

There are more than 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in County Louth. The Rebuilding Ireland targets are to deliver just 1,074 homes between now and 2021. That leaves a shortfall of more than 75% without even taking into account those families who will come onto the housing list between now and 2021. Despite the Government's protestations, Rebuilding Ireland is clearly not working because the figures are there to prove that. Does the Tánaiste accept that only the roll-out of a policy to provide public housing on public lands with public finances will solve this crisis?

I wish to raise a separate issue.

My question relates to page 3 of the programme for Government, which relates to reducing waiting lists in emergency departments to less than six hours. I wish to raise that in the context of Portlaoise hospital. A consultation process was announced for the hospital at the end of 2017. When we met the Minister for Health he said there would be a consultation process with local stakeholders, which he promised would be speedy but the process has not started yet. At the time I asked if it would be used to just to kick the can down the road and 16 months later that is exactly what has happened. I asked the Minister numerous times in this Chamber when the consultation process would start and I was told before Christmas that a facilitator would be appointed soon. Then, hey presto, I got an answer this morning from the Minister which said consideration is being given to appointing an independent external facilitator for the consultation process.

Does the Deputy have a question?

This is a step backwards.

Does the Deputy have a question?

This is causing major uncertainty about the emergency department in Portlaoise hospital.

Does the Deputy have a question?

It is causing problems for the recruitment of staff because the hospital is over dependent on temporary staff.

Does the Deputy have a question?

The issue is going around in circles.

Deputy Stanley is going around in circles.

When will the consultation process on Portlaoise hospital start?

Will the Deputy resume his seat?

When will the facilitator for the consultation process be put in place?

In the programme for Government a commitment was made that within the first three months an application would be made by the Government to the EU for the western arc to be included in TEN-T funding. The commitment has not been honoured by the Government. I do not know where the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has gone but he does not seem to realise that with Brexit going on it is now more important than ever for counties along the west coast, from Donegal down, to be included in core TEN-T funding. Will the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade take an interest in the matter and get it delivered, in conjunction with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because he does not seem to have an interest in it?

I will give three fairly concise answers. First, in response to Deputy Munster, her party, along with other parties on the all-party committee that was set up to look at housing and social housing, set targets with which Rebuilding Ireland is consistent, in terms of delivering an extra 50,000 social housing units.

The targets are not working.

That is because this is a five-year strategy. It will not work in year one or year two on its own. One can only measure the delivery of social housing on the basis of increasing output over a five-year period, which is exactly what is happening.

The Tánaiste is eight years in government.

We are meeting the figures to which Deputy Munster's party signed up in the context of the original Rebuilding Ireland document and the all-party committee. In fact, the figures from the point of view of Rebuilding Ireland have been upgraded since then to 50,000 from approximately 47,000 extra social housing units.

I will get the Minister to respond directly to Deputy Stanley. I will raise the issue with him and outline the frustrations expressed by the Deputy today.

In relation to TEN-T funding, I do not think the Government could be accused of not investing in transport infrastructure in the west given some of the recent announcements in terms of road developments there. I will raise the question Deputy Fitzmaurice asked about TEN-T funding with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and ask him where that specific issue is at, and the qualification criteria.