1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the status of the language scheme in his Department. [9379/19]
Vol. 980 No. 9
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the status of the language scheme in his Department. [9379/19]
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the status of the Irish language scheme of his Department. [10477/19]
3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the status of the language scheme in his Department. [10679/19]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the status of the Irish language scheme in his Department. [14253/19]
Tairgim Uimh. 1 go 4 a ghlacadh le chéile.
Faomhadh scéim teangacha oifigiúil mo Roinne faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 in 2016. Cumhdaíonn sí an tréimhse trí bliana ó 2016 go 2019. Cuimsítear sa scéim reatha, atá ar fáil ar gov.ie, roinnt gealltanas atá in ainm is a chinntiú gur féidir le haon chustaiméirí de chuid Roinn an Taoisigh, ar mian leo tabhairt faoina ngnó trí Ghaeilge, é sin a dhéanamh.
Tá obair ar siúl faoi láthair chun scéim teangacha oifigiúla nua a fhorbairt. D’fhoilsigh an Roinn a fógra rúin chun scéim nua a ullmhú ar an 28 Samhain 2018 agus thug sí cuireadh d’aighneachtaí ó gach páirtí leasmhar ar spéis leo maidir leis an scéim nua a ullmhú. I ndiaidh comhairliúchán laistigh den Roinn, tá obair ar an scéim nua beagnach i gcrích. Leagfar amach sa scéim na seirbhísí a sholáthraímid trí Ghaeilge agus na bearta a bheartaímid a ghlacadh lena chinntiú go gcuirfear aon sheirbhísí nach bhfuil á gcur ar fáil trí Ghaeilge faoi láthair, ar fáil trí Ghaeilge le himeacht ama.
Fad a bhíonn an scéim seo á hullmhú, tugtar an aird mar is cuí ar na treoirlínte a d’eisigh an Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta. Cé nach dtugann mo Roinn leibhéal suntasach d’éileamh ón bpobal ar sheirbhísí i nGaeilge faoi deara, aithníonn sí an tábhacht a bhaineann le foireann a bheith aici atá líofa sa Ghaeilge agus in ann seirbhísí a sholáthar trí Ghaeilge agus leanfaidh sí le hamhlaidh a dhéanamh.
Chuir mé an cheist seo síos ar 20 Feabhra. Is olc an scéal go bhfuilimid anseo inniu i mí an Mhárta ag déileáil léi. Mar is eol don Taoiseach, tá dualgas air scéim faoi leith ó thaobh an teanga a chur chun cinn laistigh don Roinn. Ba é an spriocdháta i gcomhair submissions 1 Eanáir. Cathain a bheidh an plean sin críochnaithe agus foilsithe ag an Roinn? Maidir le hoifigigh na Roinne, cé mhéad dóibh a bhfuil cumas sa Ghaeilge acu agus atá in ann a gcuid ghnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge? An bhfuil an figiúr sin maidir le hoifigigh a Roinne féin ag an Taoiseach? Mar is eol don Taoiseach, cháin Conradh na Gaeilge cáináisnéis 2019 - an budget - de réir an mhéid airgid a fuair an Ghaeilge. Bhí Conradh na Gaeilge ag lorg €10 milliún breise le linn 2019 ach ní bhfuair sé ach €5 milliún. Bhí muintir na Gaeltachta míshásta leis an méid a cuireadh ar fáil do na Gaeltachtaí sa bhuiséad chomh maith. Tá deacrachtaí ag baint leis na Gaeltachtaí. Tá dúshláin an-mhór amach rompu, go háirithe i dtaobh na meán cumarsáide agus i dtaobh labhairt na Gaeilge. Tá deacrachatí ann sa chóras oideachais chomh maith. An bhfuil an Rialtas sásta níos mó tacaíochta a thabhairt do na múinteoirí atá ag múineadh trí mheán na Gaeilge sna Gaelscoileanna agus sna meánscoileanna lán-Ghaeilge chomh maith? An bhfuil aon phlean ag an Rialtas chun déileáil leis an easpa múinteoirí Gaeilge faoi láthair? Tá easpa ann anois. Tá deacrachtaí ag na meánscoileanna múinteoirí Gaeilge a fháil agus a fhostú. Is ceist phráinneach í seo. An bhfuil aon phlean ag an Rialtas chun an fhadhb sin a réiteach?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach as ucht a chuid fhreagra. Tá súil agam gur bhain gach éinne sonas agus sásamh as Seachtain - nó coicís - na Gaeilge. An mbeidh tuairisc nua maidir le dul chun cinn Roinn an Taoisigh faoin straitéis 20 bliain ar fáil go luath? Baineann an tuairisc is déanaí le dul chun cinn na Roinne faoin straitéis ón mbliain 2015. Sin beagnach ceithre bliana ó shin. Impím ar an Taoiseach é sin a réiteach láithreach. Ba mhaith liom ceist dhíreach a chur ar an Taoiseach; cathain a bheidh Bille na dteangacha oifigiúla (leasú) foilsithe? Bhí sé le déanamh an bhliain seo caite. An féidir leis an Taoiseach dáta a thabhairt dom inniu?
Mar is eol do chách, bhí ráitis againn sa Teach seo i rith Sheachtain na Gaeilge. Sa díospóireacht sin, dúirt mé gur cúis díomá dúinn é nach bhfuil sé ar chumas fhormhór na ndaltaí an Ghaeilge a labhairt go líofa tar éis na blianta a chaitheamh inár scoileanna ag foghlaim na teanga. Tá dualgas faoi leith orainn aire a thabhairt dóibh siúd a bhfuil an Ghaeilge acu agus atá ag lorg an teanga a úsáid ina gcuid ghnó leis an Rialtas, go háirithe le Roinn an Taoisigh féin. Ón méid atá ráite ag an Taoiseach inniu, níl sé soiléir dom go bhfuil deis á tabhairt do chuile shaoránach agus chuile dhuine an Ghaeilge a úsáid agus iad ag déanamh a gcuid ghnó lena Roinn féin. Más sin an scéal, an bhfuil an Taoiseach sásta leis? Cathain a mbeidh an fhadhb sin réitithe?
Níl mé ullmhaithe le haghaidh gach ceist; therefore, with the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence, I will reply in both English and Irish.
Deputy Micheál Martin asked about an buiséad, an cáinaisnéis don Ghaeilge, faoi Chonradh na Gaeilge, faoi Fhoras na Gaeilge agus faoi Údarás na Gaeltachta. In the last budget which, of course, was for this year there was an increase in funding of 12% for the Gaeltacht and the Irish language more broadly, which was in line with the increases we provided across the board for the arts, culture and sport. Providing the economy allows it, I anticipate that we will continue to increase funding by about 10% to 12% a year, thus meeting the target of doubling funding for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht by 2025. Some of the money has gone to Údarás na Gaeltachta to invest in job creation, while other moneys have gone to Foras na Gaeilge for language promotion and so on.
On the support given to teachers to teach Irish, it is an area in which there is a real difficulty in recruiting teachers. There is a shortage of teachers with degrees in Irish, largely because of the number of people graduating and the number of other job opportunities in places such as the European Commission-----
Tá sé ró-chostasach, it is too expensive.
To do what? To study Irish.
To study teaching in Ireland at second level.
I understand there were schemes under which teachers received funding or bursaries to take a master's degree in education, for example. I know that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is examining whether we can restore any of those measures.
To respond to Deputy Howlin's comments, what we fundamentally need to do is provide more opportunities to use the language in a more normal environment. The Deputy is correct in saying children learn it and that students leave school after ten to 13 years without being fluent. Many of us fall into that category. It comes down to having more everyday opportunities to use the language, practise it and be exposed to it. That is why it is really important that Government bodies provide services in the language.
5. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B (Social Policy and Public Services) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [9423/19]
6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B (Social Policy and Public Services) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [10479/19]
7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B (Social Policy and Public Services) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [10480/19]
8. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee B (Social Policy and Public Services) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [10926/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.
Cabinet committee B last met on 21 February. The date of the next Cabinet committee meeting has not yet been finalised. Cabinet committee B covers social policy and public services, including education, children, the Irish language, arts and culture, and also monitors continued improvements and reform of public services. More broadly, the Government has sought to introduce reforms through Cabinet committee B which ensures the gains from recent economic growth are shared fairly with all citizens to create a socially inclusive and fair society, with opportunities for everyone to flourish. Among the matters that have received attention and scrutiny by the Cabinet committee are the new affordable childcare arrangements; the recently launched national childcare scheme; child protection and welfare issues, particularly those related to Tusla; social enterprise and the new social enterprise strategy; immigration and direct provision issues; the publication of the LGBTI+ national youth strategy; the action plan for online safety; the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and a range of gender equality actions. In addition to meetings of the full Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I often meet Ministers on a bilateral basis to focus on particular issues, including those related to social policy and public services.
Last week the Fund the Future campaign was launched by the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education. The Taoiseach will be aware of same. It is seeking a commitment to the funding of higher education. Michael Brennan reported in the Sunday Business Post that the extra revenue raised through the national training fund increases had been used to reduce the core contribution of the Government to third level institutions. Is that correct? In effect, there was a €15 million cut in Government funding, which was offset by €51 million in additional revenue from the national training fund. Some €36 million covered the cost of additional pay under the public sector agreement, while there was €16 million to meet the cost of increased student numbers. There was, however, no additional funding for new initiatives, which is not right. I ask the Taoiseach to address that issue. It is three years since the Cassells report was published in March 2016 on the funding of third level education. There are big issues to be dealt with, but there are really important issues to be dealt with related to the future of third level education in Ireland. I specifically ask the Taoiseach when the Government will make a decision on how the critically important area of third level education will be funded into the future?
Last Friday the HSE published Dr. Gabriel Scally's progress report on the implementation of recommendations made in the CervicalCheck scoping inquiry. It should be acknowledged that Dr. Scally has said he is encouraged by the progress made to date. However, there are a number of issues raised in his report that warrant our attention. He notes that a significant number of actions are due for completion in the second quarter of this year and that they need to be managed closely to ensure the timeframes set will not slip. I was very alarmed to learn that there were few, if any, departmental staff for whom the implementation of the recommendations was their dedicated task. Dr. Scally has warned that as the recommendations impact across divisions and units, careful monitoring will be needed. Surely, given the scale of the challenges and the nature of the crisis and for the 1.2 million women who rely on cervical screening programmes, the Minister for Health should appoint staff full time within his Department to ensure the inquiry's recommendations will be implemented. It should also be noted that the issue of open disclosure continues to present a problem. Dr. Scally's inquiry described the policy and practice on open disclosure as contradictory and wholly unsatisfactory. The Taoiseach might recall his commitment when Minister for Health over three years ago to enshrine open disclosure in legislation. The inquiry found that there was no compelling requirement for clinicians to disclose. Dr. Scally's latest report finds that the deeply flawed policy on open disclosure remains in place, which is not good enough. It is unacceptable that the paternalistic model of relationship between women and their clinicians continues in the health service and that there appears to be absolutely no sense of urgency on the part of the Government to fix it. When will the long-awaited patient safety Bill be introduced in order that women can be confident that all information will be disclosed to them?
This morning I attended the latest meeting of the Raise the Roof housing campaign. It was agreed that there would be another major demonstration on 18 May because of the failure of the Government to address the housing crisis and provide the desperately needed public and affordable housing required to address the housing emergency. I have to say one aspect of the Government's policy commitments has been talking about the social mix and affordable housing. On Friday there were promises to provide 6,000 affordable homes with no fanfare and I am not terribly surprised when the contents are looked at. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, published the regulations on affordable housing. We have been promised 6,000 affordable homes, but not a single one has been delivered. We have been waiting for two years for the regulations, but what is in them? There is absolutely nothing in them that will do anything to provide affordable housing. They talk about 40% of the market price being the discount that will be offered. In south Dublin the average house price is €590,000. A 40% discount will not help to provide affordable housing for those on low and average incomes. As it does not even include income eligibility criteria, we do not know who will actually be able to apply and, most importantly, there are no affordable houses planned to be delivered. Could the Taoiseach blame us for thinking we have to get out on the streets again in advance of the local elections to say the Government has failed, that it is not delivering on the promises it made, that there is not a single affordable home being delivered and that the affordable home scheme the Government is offering will not actually deliver affordable homes?
I congratulate the Taoiseach on the fact that in less than six months he has managed to reduce the claimed cost of his tax cut promise in half without changing anything about it. At the weekend he claimed that there were clear plans in place for public services and social policies and that they all could be implemented and still leave room for a tax cut which supposedly is so significant that it is the only new budget policy announced since the budget. People will be aware of a detailed and costed proposal that the Taoiseach developed in opposition before the last general election when he said he would abolish the universal social charge. He said in an interview at the weekend that the Government had given very detailed consideration to the proposals and that it proposed to abolish USC at the cost of billions of euro.
Of course, it was abandoned as soon as the election came in afterwards. On this proposal, has the Government prepared any particular study or is it still relying on the documents published with the budget last year? We still do not have full transparency on the budgetary figures for next year in terms of what is available next year to spend. What is the amount that the Government will have at its disposal within the fiscal framework and rules to allocate to services and to tax issues?
In recent days the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has said once again she believes the pension increases for old age pensioners, which we insisted on in the last budget and the one before, should be reduced and kept in line with lower benchmarks. The Taoiseach will remember that in August 2017, the Minister announced that Fine Gael was not committed to a pension increase of €5 and that the money should go elsewhere. After that bit of honesty, there was an attempt at a massive clean-up operation, which ended in the ridiculous sight of Fine Gael Ministers issuing press releases claiming credit for pension increases they had actually opposed. The clear implication of the Minister's words is that this determination to reduce pension increases below levels received by other groups remains as strong as ever and is core Fine Gael policy. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the Minister is not going rogue and that she has the right to speak on behalf of her party and the Government on pension matters? If, on the other hand, she is going rogue and the Taoiseach does not support her statements, will he be taking any action to correct the record?
There have been increases of funding for the third level sector for the past couple of years running. There is funding in Project Ireland 2040 for a building programme. Anyone who visits our third level institutions regularly will see the number of new buildings that have been constructed in our universities and institutes of technology, ITs. I acknowledge that it is not all public money but some of it is. There is a lot of building under way across our universities and ITs. We have also established the first technological university in Ireland, TU Dublin, and I hope Munster and the south east will also come through this year. There has been funding for pay restoration and pay increases for staff. There has also been funding for extra students.
I will have to check into the specific issue Deputy Howlin raises in respect of the National Training Fund money. My understanding was that a 0.1% increase in the national training levy raises about €50 million, which would be additionality and would not be offset by a cut in funding from central Exchequer, but I will double check that. I do not think it is so, but if it is, I had better know about it. I will check it out. We have also identified a super surplus in the National Training Fund of €300 million, which will be available as part of a human capital initiative for third level institutions to bid for.
In terms of future funding, the model of increasing the National Training Fund by 0.1% has been largely accepted by employers. I thank employers for accepting that small increase in the contributions and payroll taxes they pay every year. It provides an extra €50 million a year for higher education.
The Exchequer took it back.
In fairness to employers, they recognise that this is an investment in their future workforce among other things. Provided we continue to have economic growth, we will be able to provide additional funding from central taxation as well. In terms of student contributions, as I have said before in the House, I am very reluctant to see student contributions being raised. I am very reluctant to go down the model of a student loan system because I see in other countries how that leaves students graduating from college with very large debts. To a certain extent that is true in England and it is very true in the United States. That has long-term consequences. One of the reasons healthcare is so expensive in the United States is that people graduate from medical and nursing school with such high debts. That gets reflected on in terms of the cost of healthcare.
None of them could afford to go into politics.
I am not enthusiastic about or inclined to go down the road of increased student contributions or a student loan system for that reason. On the Scally report, I thank Dr. Scally for the work he did in preparing it in the first instance and the ongoing work he is doing for Government in monitoring its implementation. We want to make sure it gets implemented and that is why we have asked him to come back every three to six months to do a progress report. People who have seen his progress report will know that a lot of progress has been made in some areas while a lot more needs to be made in others.
On open disclosure, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act has been commenced so the protection of open disclosure is provided for in legislation now. The next step is the patient safety Bill, which is to make it mandatory in certain circumstances, particularly for serious events but more broadly than that. I understand the heads are at committee for scrutiny at the moment and we anticipate having it in the House later in the year.
The delivery of affordable housing is of course a Government priority. The best way to make housing affordable is supply because supply will help to moderate and bring down the cost of housing. There were 18,000 new homes built last year, more than any year this decade-----
The crisis is still going on.
-----and we are aiming for about 25,000 this year and 30,000 the year after. We are seeing evidence now of house prices stabilising. There is even evidence that they are falling in the Dublin area. That is what the latest results say. It is too early to read too much into that and there are other factors at play. I acknowledge that. There is very strong evidence now of a slowdown in house prices and maybe even a fall in house prices in Dublin, and a lot of that is connected to the additional supply. It is not true to say there is not a single affordable home. The average price of a house outside the Dublin area is €250,000 and in many counties it is possible to buy a home for €100,000 to €150,000. I acknowledge that this is not the case in all parts of the country and that is why we need special affordability schemes in places like the Dublin area. They are under way. Other things are available too, of course, like the help to buy scheme, which has helped 10,000 first-time buyers to put together a deposit for their home, and the Rebuilding Ireland loan, which has helped hundreds of people to afford a home they otherwise would not have been able to afford.
On the projections for the budget for this year and next, we intend to have a summer economic statement as normal in the next couple of months, probably in April or May. That should allow us to set out the budget parameters for 2020, but obviously Brexit does affect that.
The Minister was saying he was going to change those parameters. Every year up until now we have had what we call the fiscal space figure. It has been conspicuously absent and has not been provided. The Taoiseach might check that.
I do not think we had that last year. I think we are trying to move away from the idea.
Why not have the information anyway? It is up to the people to decide what to do with it.
The data the Minister will make available will be available in the summer economic statement, which should happen in April or May. On the issue of pensions, if I recall correctly, the Fine Gael general election manifesto included a commitment to increase the pension by €5 a year, which is exactly what we have done. I think the Fianna Fáil one tried to outbid us by going for €6 a year. I may be mistaken but that is my recollection.
The Taoiseach is mistaken there.
We have implemented that commitment by increasing it by €5 a year.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has announced she wants increases just to be at the cost of living.
The pension has been increased by almost €1,000 a year since this Government of Fine Gael and Independents took up office. What the Minister is talking about is indexation. I spoke about it myself when I was Minister for Social Protection. It is broadly supported by the charities and the NGO sector. It is done with the purpose of it being a floor, not a cap.
Not last year.
One would index pensions and social welfare. They could be indexed to inflation or to wages or lots of other things. If they were indexed to inflation, increases would be much less than they have been.
The Minister wanted it to be the increase last year.
If they were indexed to wages, they would be greater than they have been. Indexation would never predetermine the outcome. It would just set a floor. The Government could and should do better if it can afford to do so.
9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (national security) last met. [9513/19]
10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans to establish a strategic threat analysis centre. [13947/19]
11. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee F (national security) last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [12014/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, together.
The committee last met on 8 February. The meeting was attended by Ministers and senior officials from the Departments of Finance; Public Expenditure and Reform; Foreign Affairs and Trade; Justice and Equality; Health; Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Transport, Tourism and Sport; Housing, Planning and Local Government; and Defence. The next meeting of Cabinet committee F will be held next week. The role of Cabinet committee F is "to keep the State's systems for the analysis of, preparation for, and response to, threats to national security under review and to provide high-level [and political] coordination [among] relevant Departments and agencies on related matters".
In December 2018, Government published A Policing Service for the Future, the implementation plan of the report on the Commission on the Future of Policing. This is an ambitious but realistic four-year plan set out across four key phases, which will deliver a modern, highly professional, human rights-based police service.
Cabinet committee G provides political oversight of this programme of reform.
The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland published its report in September 2018 outlining a clear vision and roadmap for strengthening An Garda Síochána and the broader national framework for policing, security and community safety. The commission’s recommendations include the establishment of a strategic threat analysis centre, STAC. In December 2018, the Government published A Policing Service for the Future, a four-year plan covering the years 2019 to 2022, to implement the commission’s report, including the establishment of the new centre. We have decided that the new centre will be renamed the national security analysis centre, but its role and functions will be based on the recommendations of the commission. Work is under way on the identification and securing of premises, the procurement of IT systems, and the staffing of the centre. I expect the post of director to be advertised this week.
An Irish citizen, Ms Lisa Smith, is in a camp in north-eastern Syria, with her two year old daughter, Ruqayya. The 37 year old Dundalk woman has obviously made very poor personal choices and is responsible for the situation in which she finds herself. However, there is a two year old girl, an Irish citizen, involved in this who deserves a future. The Tánaiste has said that there is a duty of care. We understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Defence, and the Department of Justice and Equality have had meetings and are co-ordinating the State's response to this matter. Has this been discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee? What specific efforts are being made to return Lisa and her daughter to Ireland? It is reported that aid workers from the Red Cross have been approached directly and asked to get her home. When Ms Smith arrives home has it been determined how she will be treated?
In a related matter, recently shocking attacks were carried out in New Zealand by a far-right terrorist group. Such attacks have caused great concern, particularly among the Muslim community across the globe, but also in this State. Has An Garda Síochána consulted with the Muslim community in Ireland about its security? Have any concerns it has expressed been addressed, and are particular measures being put in place to give security and confidence to that community?
Where will the strategic threat analysis centre be located? Will it be a part of the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Defence or the Department of Justice and Equality? Will the Taoiseach explain the reasons it will be located in a specific Department?
One of the strategic threats I am most aware of, as a member of a family with many members who served in our Defence Forces, including my father, is that people are walking out of the Army at the moment. They are buying themselves out where they can afford to. The same is true of the Air Corps, which I know the Taoiseach is very familiar with, given that it was once in our joint constituency but is now in Dublin Mid-West. The personnel shortage crisis developing in the Army requires an urgent response. It is also the case that a three-star private in the Army cannot, on his or her current salary scale, afford to buy an affordable home. Most of those privates do not qualify for social housing, although a number of members of the Defence Forces qualify for a working family payment if they have a number of children. Does the Government have any proposals to ensure that serving members of the Defence Forces who do one or two contracts or perhaps serve three or four times overseas can be housed? They should have access to affordable housing. Those who are not ready to buy a house should have access to an affordable social rent. At the moment these things are not possible. Every week people who have retired from the ranks stand before the gates of Leinster House and seek to explain the situation to us in detail. It is the most fundamental threat our Defence Forces have faced in a long time.
In spite of months of denials it appears that there have been very substantial discussions with the European Union on how cross-Border trade will be handled in the event of a no-deal situation. Will the Taoiseach explain how these discussions match with the countless assertions he has made to the effect that nothing will be discussed until a no-deal Brexit actually happens? Will he confirm that Chancellor Merkel asked Commission officials to get on with making arrangements for the Border in the context of a no-deal situation arising?
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, got into some trouble a few months ago when he said that plans were being drawn up and that there would be checks at the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. He was immediately slapped down by the Tánaiste at the time on the grounds that we did not want it to appear that Ireland was bringing in any checks. The suggestion was that the Minister, Deputy Ross, did not know anything and the notion that he was a bit of an ignoramus was put out by Fine Gael spin doctors.
Do not give a dog a bad name.
We are now three days ahead of what was due to be Brexit day, and it is two weeks until the next possible no-deal deadline on 12 April. It is being reported again that there were discussions around this matter at the weekend. Any contingency planning required should have been completed by now. Will the Taoiseach be open with the people and detail exactly what will happen in the likely Brexit scenarios, in particular if no deal is reached? What is his sense of what will happen with the Border now? What has been proposed and what has been discussed with the Commission? When will the Taoiseach's office finally supply the information on our levels of Brexit preparedness which he promised to forward to me three weeks ago? We hope we do not arrive at a no-deal situation and that the UK will develop a coherent pathway out of this. That is significantly at risk at the moment, however, considering everything else going on there.
I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.
Deputy McDonald was supposed to speak before both me and Deputy Micheál Martin.
My deepest apologies. I have just taken over from the Ceann Comhairle.
It is all right. I want to place on the record, on my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, our sincere and heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured during the horrific attack in Christchurch and to offer the people of New Zealand our condolences at what is an incredibly difficult time.
My questions relate to the strategic threat assessment centre and when it will be fully operational. Previous speakers have raised the issue as well. In the event of a no-deal, crash-out scenario, as outlined by Deputy Micheál Martin, there cannot be a hardening of the Border on the island. Will the Taoiseach tell us, very directly, what he will do in the event of a crash to ensure there is no hardening of the Border? What steps will he take to avoid not only the apparatus of a border but also the legal and real hardening of the Border? The paraphernalia is just one aspect of the issue. I have raised this matter with the Taoiseach many times and would appreciate a direct answer. I sincerely do not wish to see a crash, but if there is no deal, there is no backstop, and so there is potential for the hardening of the Border. How will the Taoiseach avoid that? Will he set out the actions he will take?
I thank the Deputy and apologise again.
The atrocity that took place in New Zealand should absolutely shock us all, but it should also make us consider how such a hate-filled racist and Islamophobic massacre could take place.
How did it happen? New Zealand is not the sort of country one would associate with this kind of thing. When I witnessed that horror and just a couple of days before I witnessed the Taoiseach meeting Donald Trump, I thought that whatever debates we may have had about Donald Trump, meeting him, inviting him here and so on, does the Taoiseach not now recognise that the anti-Muslim, nakedly racist rhetoric of Donald Trump directly legitimises, encourages and promotes the sort of horror we saw in New Zealand? He has given licence to the sorts of people who would carry that out. I am making a serious assertion. Considering the horror of what is going on and considering the growth of the far right and racism, I do not believe anybody could honestly draw any other conclusion but that Donald Trump has given licence, as the most powerful leader in the world, to the politics of hate, of the sort of hate that drove that massacre. I ask seriously in that context, if it is not a strategic threat to invite him here.
I was in the mosque in Clonskeagh over the weekend at the multicultural day. I am not exaggerating when I say that the worshippers there were really afraid. They were thinking about having to impose security around the mosque, something they never wanted to do before because when Muslim people pray, they pray with their backs to the entrances. They thought they are seriously vulnerable now and it only takes a few maniacs with that hate-filled politics to consider that sort of action. One would never have thought it would happen in New Zealand, but Mr. Trump legitimises that stuff. The sorts of people who share that sick ideology would be encouraged if he comes to this country. I seriously ask the Taoiseach to reconsider his invitation to Donald Trump to come to this country because it will give licence and encouragement to the sort of sick mentality that carried out that massacre in New Zealand.
It is my general practice to answer the questions in the sequence in which they are asked. As I do not want to be accused of not answering some important questions, I might slightly divert from that.
Are they not all important?
I have been asked several times by Deputy Micheál Martin and others to disclose what was said by whom at a European Council meeting. I cannot do that. The European Council operates under similar rules to a cabinet.
One would be able to read it on Twitter anyway.
It is not right nor is it possible for me to come in here and say that Chancellor Merkel said that or President Macron said this. It is not how the European Council works nor is it how it should work. If it has been reported that Chancellor Merkel said, "Get on with it", I can say that is not the case. On a no-deal Brexit, the fact that I neither confirm nor affirm something that somebody is alleged to have said at a European Council meeting does not mean that I did not did not deny it.
That is what the Taoiseach mentioned on Sunday.
I am not at liberty to say who said what at a European Council meeting any more than I am at liberty to say who said what at a Cabinet meeting. For anyone who does follow this session of a chamber, if anybody goes on the radio or television and tries to assert that a non-denial of something that somebody is alleged to have said at a European Council by me is confirmation, it is not. Those meetings are confidential.
I have been asked a few times what would happen in the hypothetical scenario of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union without a deal. Of course, I do not know for sure - nobody knows for sure - what would happen in that scenario. It will depend on various factors other than that. However, I can say that we have made no preparations for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and no preparations for physical infrastructure, checks or customs controls between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Even in the event of no deal, we believe the United Kingdom continues to have obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. We have obligations under the Good Friday Agreement as co-guarantors. We also recognise that the UK will have obligations under WTO rules and we will have obligations to protect our Single Market and our customs union, which obviously creates a problem. It creates a dilemma. Those are the conversations we have to have as to what might be done in different hypothetical scenarios.
However, you have had discussions with the Commission.
I have not.
The Government has.
I do not think any Minister has, but at official level-----
I did not say Ministers, I mean officials acting on behalf of Government.
Let the Taoiseach-----
-----I am sure there have been discussions about what might be done in different hypothetical scenarios.
The Taoiseach said at the Fine Gael Ard-Fheis there was a rough plan already.
The Taoiseach without interruption, please.
They are absolutely on that level. I get accused of not answering questions.
I have been trying for three months to get answers.
When I refuse to affirm the many conspiracy theories of the Leader of the Opposition, I am accused of not answering any questions.
The Taoiseach, himself, said at the weekend there was a rough plan.
Can we have the Taoiseach without interruption, please?
I did not say "rough plan".
He did say that; I watched the press conference.
The Deputy is hearing things and by hearing things it feeds his conspiracy theories. I said there were rough preliminary discussions.
Discussions are not a plan.
It is a matter of concern to me that the Deputy actually hears things and by hearing things they feed his conspiracy theories.
What were the preliminary discussions about?
The Taoiseach to answer the questions, please.
Going on to-----
The Taoiseach owes it to the Dáil to be upfront, give straight answers and not dodge.
The Taoiseach without interruption, please.
I was asked about a consular case, the case being that of Lisa Marie Smith. That has not been discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee, but it was discussed at Cabinet today and previously. I am conscious that while nobody can condone the choices she has made and the actions she took in aligning herself with ISIS, a terrorist regime that is hell-bent on the destruction of the West and Christendom, she has a two year old child who is an Irish citizen. That child is an innocent child. As is the case with all Irish citizens they will be permitted to re-enter the State should they try to do so. Of course, a security assessment will need to be carried out to ensure that Lisa Marie Smith is not a threat to any of us. We are working out how that best can be done to ensure she does not become a threat to life and limb here in Ireland. That does not apply, obviously, to a two year old child.
I heard some suggestions that the Government jet might be used. That is absolutely without foundation. First, we do not use the Government jet to repatriate citizens. Second, it does not fly as far as Syria or even as far as Turkey. I do not know where that comes from, but it is absolutely not the case.
I am aware of reports that she is in an annex to the Al Hol camp in the area of northern Syria controlled by Kurdish forces. Another televised interview with the person in question was broadcast over the weekend. Efforts are continuing to verify the details and make direct contact with her. Consular assistance is provided to all Irish citizens abroad when requested, but our capacity to do so in an active war zone is limited.
Nonetheless I am aware of the vulnerability of the two year old child in these circumstances. The safety and welfare of Irish citizens is a priority for the consular service and the Government. This applies to the case in question where two Irish citizens are in high-risk locations and wish to leave. Officials from across Departments and Government services have been meeting this weekend to identify options to provide consular assistance to children such as these in Syria. We will step up these efforts and work with international partners, including international organisations, to ensure that decent humanitarian treatment is afforded. We will do what can and should be done to assist Irish citizens in distress or danger overseas, including by helping them return home.
I was asked about the Garda and its engagement with the Muslim community. I cannot speak for the Garda, but I know from my visits to the mosque and conversations with gardaí that Garda liaison officers are appointed to the Muslim community. They do very effective work, or at least that is the impression I have.
Deputy Burton asked about the national security advisory centre. That will form part of my Department but it will not be on-site as we do not have any room. We are looking for off-site accommodation for it. The reason it will form part of my Department follows on from the O'Toole commission, but more relevant than that it is co-ordinating three other Departments - Defence Forces intelligence, Garda intelligence and the National Cyber Security Centre, which falls under the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As it is co-ordinating the work of three bodies under three other Departments, it made sense to have it in the Department of the Taoiseach, rather than in one of those three Departments for obvious reasons.
Obviously, the Government acknowledges that Defence Forces pay is a major issue. While we have been very successful at recruiting people to the Defence Forces, with record recruitment levels in recent times, there is a very high turnover. The Defence Forces turnover rate is about 8%.
In the past it would have been more like 5% or 6% leaving every year, which would be closer to what one would expect than would be 8%. As to what is being done about it, instead of having bursts of recruitment, there will be year-around recruitment. For the first time, people can now re-enter the Defence Forces. In the past if they left they could not come back. Many want to come back and they will now be able to re-enter.
Pay restoration is very much under way under the agreements we have with the trade unions. The Public Service Pay Commission is doing a discrete piece of work on allowances that could be increased or restored if it recommends that this should be done and that it would be successful. Also, I have asked the Chief of Staff to examine the issue of housing. In the past, subsidised housing was provided on barracks and bases for members of the Defence Forces. Often when they were saving up for a deposit they would avail of that. I want them to consider that and see if we can do something similar on some of the bases where there is land in terms of providing low-cost subsidised housing for members of our Defence Forces, thus allowing them to save some money and build up a deposit.
What about my question about Trump? The Taoiseach does not want to answer that question.
The Taoiseach will not answer that question.
My answer to the Deputy's question is: no, I do not agree.
I thank the Taoiseach, Members and staff for their assistance and co-operation.