1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the number of times Cabinet committee A, economy, has met to date in 2019. [27940/19]
Vol. 986 No. 1
1. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the number of times Cabinet committee A, economy, has met to date in 2019. [27940/19]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the number of times Cabinet committee A, economy, has met to date in 2019. [28111/19]
3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee at which agricultural issues are discussed; and when it last met. [37278/19]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy will next meet. [37385/19]
5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that discusses agricultural matters; and when it last met. [37692/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on the economy met on Wednesday, 4 September. It had been scheduled to have a meeting on Monday, 1 July, but that had to be postponed because of an extended European Council meeting. The next meeting is not yet scheduled but will most likely happen next month.
The Cabinet committee on the economy is responsible for all issues relating to the economy, including one of the Government's key strategies, Future Jobs Ireland, which was officially launched earlier this year. Progress is being monitored by my Department. Implementation is progressing and the first six-monthly report was published in July. Development of Future Jobs Ireland 2020 is now under way.
Issues relevant to the agriculture sector were discussed at a number of Cabinet committees, including the Cabinet committee on the economy, which covers rural affairs, the Cabinet committee on foreign and European affairs, which covers Brexit, and the Cabinet committee on the environment, which covers issues relating to the environment, including the implementation of the climate action plan. Issues relating to the economy and to agriculture are, of course, regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings, at which all formal decisions are made, including this week and last week.
I welcome the Taoiseach back.
I thank the Deputy.
Last week's report by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, is one of the strongest savagings I have seen by the council of any Government since the council came into being. It cited, in particular, the total disaster in terms of budget management, particularly in respect of health, as with projects such as the national children's hospital, and of housing. One point the Minister for Finance made last week was that there would be no income tax cuts this year - in other words, no increase in allowances or credits - at a time when wages are expected to rise by 3%. I have it directly from the chairman of IFAC that this will result in an additional €600 million for the Government. This is because workers will be earning more but not getting any tax reductions in terms of PAYE.
Can the Taoiseach state what the situation will be for the hundreds of thousands of people affected, particularly pensioners, carers, those on long-term disability benefit, lone parents and others who rely on social welfare, social protection and retirement income? Will the Taoiseach tell us whether the indications of the Minister for Finance to the effect that there may be no improvements in social protection payments and retirement payments are true? There is to be an extra €600 million, coming in the main from PAYE workers, who would like to see people such as pensioners protected in the budget. This is also a really important point for the rural economy because we now have very large numbers of pensioners and young children. Inevitably, therefore, our costs are high as a country. Is the Government really talking about no social welfare increases? I welcome that the Minister for Finance seemed to confirm the Christmas bonus is unaffected, but that money is already in place for this year. Can the Taoiseach really say to the pensioners and carers that there will be no room in the budget for them?
This week, the European Union's second highest court will hear the Government appeal over the €14.3 billion in Apple tax. I accept it is necessary to assert our tax sovereignty and demonstrate the impartiality of our own Revenue Commissioners. What is occurring, however, does outline that Ireland has become completely overdependent on multinationals for tax income. We are now in a position in which just 100 companies pay almost three quarters of the corporation tax collected. It is even questionable how much of this foreign direct investment actually benefits the real economy. The IMF has published some data on that. Like Fianna Fáil during the boom, the Government has used undependable corporation tax receipts to plug holes in the financial mismanagement of recent times. I refer to the over-expenditure we know about. In light of so many international economic uncertainties, does the Taoiseach agree it is now vital that we refocus our business and economic model on indigenous industries? Has the Taoiseach thoughts on this? How does he plan to ensure the indigenous economy is nurtured and grown so we can actually break away from overdependency on foreign direct investment, which represents a model that will probably not be sustained into the future?
I want to return to the issue of the open letter of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which was issued on social media and addressed to farmers at picket lines across the country. I do not believe the Minister's intervention was helpful. It does not represent the kind of leadership required at this very sensitive point in this dispute. Those who are on the picket lines are women and men whose families in many cases have farmed for generations. The Minister's essential message, which is to shape up or ship out, was really quite disgraceful. Having delayed intervening in this dispute, which is a decade in the making, it really does not make any sense for the Government to further polarise the positions. No farmer wants to be on the picket line. They have a product to sell. Without sales, they have no income. Small farmers are no different from any other small business or micro-business; they need a minimum income. Our island is one of small indigenous businesses and micro-businesses. Small businesses are the beating heart of our economy. This includes our small farmers, our family farmers. As I acknowledged earlier, progress was made during the discussions but the very root of the dispute has not been addressed. Even within the restrictions of competition law, the matter of baseline price will need to be addressed and advanced. This is not a new issue. It is an issue that is resolvable.
I ask the Taoiseach to consider supporting Sinn Féin's legislation to establish a beef market observatory to ensure full price transparency through the beef supply chain. This would provide a long-term solution to the very deep-rooted mistrust among small farmers of the processors. It is not controversial. It is deliverable even in the short time left under the confidence and supply agreement of the Fianna Fáil–Fine Gael Government. We need to get workers back to work and into the factories, and we need to get farmers back farming. This is a serious business that requires serious leadership. Social media do not represent an appropriate space for the Minister to conduct discussions, give advice or engage in negotiations. I hope he will reflect on that. I hope the Taoiseach will finally agree with me that now is the time for a new round of talks. There is no point in criticising farmers on the picket lines and lamenting the laying off of thousands of workers; we need to sit down and sort this out rationally and constructively. The core issue is baseline price. If we are not talking about that and if the Government is not prepared to resolve this, it is not serious about arriving at a solution.
In recent weeks, there has been a series of leaks and anonymous briefings concerning the Government's approach to a range of economic issues, most of which are related to Brexit. People are calling the budget a no-deal Brexit budget. In reality, it is not. Brexit is providing good cover for a situation that is problematic in the sense that IFAC and the independent Parliamentary Budget Office and others have all signalled they are worried about the sustainability of our finances because of the corporation tax issue.
Some recent articles, including a number published last weekend, were quite revealing in the context of the uncertainty surrounding these tax receipts. We could do with more detailed briefing on the source of the increase over the past two or three years, on its sustainability or fragility and on whether it is subject to all of the transfers that go on within multinationals regarding where intellectual property is booked, etc. This is a complex issue but, nonetheless, the Oireachtas requires some sense of what will happen over the next five years in respect of that revenue stream because - regardless of how one looks at the matter - it has been embedded into the base of expenditure in recent years. Lower interest rates than were thought likely three or four years ago have offset half of the potential interest that was, in 2015, forecast to accrue in 2018. On the other hand, there has been a substantial increase in corporation tax receipts over and above what was forecast.
Will the Taoiseach confirm that his promise of a tax cut, which he announced at his party's Ard-Fheis and then promoted with a social media campaign, has been abandoned for this year? On the previous occasion on which this issue was raised with the Taoiseach, he confirmed his commitment to cuts next year and, in light of reasonable forecasts at the time in respect of 2020, attacked us for suggesting that such cuts were not affordable. Did the Minister for Finance talk to the Taoiseach before briefing to the effect that his tax cuts were unaffordable?
I was also struck by comments made by the Minister for Health during a rare media appearance. The Minister was asked about the core management of and budget relating to the health service on Sean O'Rourke's radio programme. He stated that he is aware of the likely final spending figure for health this year - he actually said that - but he then essentially indicated that he is not willing to tell the public. Again, we are being denied basic information about the public finances and the amount of money available for critical public services. It appears that the actual figure for health expenditure in 2019 will not be available when the budget is introduced. We need more transparency on that because, as Mr. Tony O'Brien has stated, health expenditure has become a dark art. This is somewhat farcical in light of the disconnect between the demands or instructions given to the health service by Government and the funding being provided, particularly regarding demographic issues in respect of the elderly and all of the extra demands that come with a population that is ageing and living longer.
On agriculture, we welcome the deal. There should be an opportunity to debate the agreement, which has come about belatedly. The Government was asleep at the wheel for far too long in the context of the beef sector and beef farmers. On the beef industry, many of the basic issues - such as the 30-month age restriction, four-movement rule, weight restrictions on cattle and the 70-day residency provision - could have been tackled much earlier, as could the establishment of a task force and dealing with other matters that are now encompassed within the agreement. In the overall interest of farmers, workers and all involved generally, space should be given to enable the deal to be taken on board.
I thank the Deputies very much for their questions. I will speak first on the most recent report of IFAC. It is essential that Government take on board the advice of IFAC. The Opposition should also do so. Among the recommendations and findings the council put to us is a concern about the surge in corporation profit tax. We were only taking in approximately €3 billion a few years ago. That figure has risen to €10 billion. Some of that money may be unsustainable. I will come to that a little later. The council also expressed concern about in-year increases in spending, particularly in the area of health. We are doing our best to work with the new CEO and board of the HSE to rein in such spending this year in order that any overrun will be much lower than in previous years. When we talk about reining in health spending, it is important to explain what that means. It means only spending €1 billion more this year than last year. It means keeping the increase in spending to between 5% and 6%. That is what we are trying to do. It is often represented as cutbacks, but that is not what is happening at all.
The council also recommended that we run a bigger budget surplus. As we all know, that would mean higher taxes, less spending, or a combination of the two. The Government does not agree with that recommendation. We believe that our projected surplus for this year, which is approximately 0.3% or 0.4% of GDP, strikes the right balance between what is needed in extra spending on infrastructure and public services and the goal of running a surplus. Ireland is one of the few countries in the western world that is running a surplus. I am not sure which parties in the House are advocating higher taxes, less spending, or both, so I am not sure if any party agrees with that particular recommendation from IFAC.
The chairman of IFAC expressed an interest in reviewing the fiscal plans of Opposition parties, which is something similar councils in other countries do. That is a very good idea. I welcome confirmation from the leaders of the Opposition parties that they would like to have their budgetary plans examined-----
Will we be given the same resources to prepare them as the Government?
-----by IFAC so that we can get an opinion from it on those plans.
The Taoiseach should not politicise IFAC.
It is done in Britain, for example, so I do not see why it could not be done here.
Enormous resources are given to the Opposition there.
Deputy Burton made a very good point about the non-indexation of income tax. Every year an extra €600 million comes in as a consequence of not indexing rates and bands. A tax package of €600 million a year would be entirely reasonable and far from reckless if this was a normal budget. This is not a normal budget, however, it is being developed on the basis of planning for the possibility of no Brexit deal being reached. The latter will mean higher unemployment and, unfortunately, money will have to be found to pay the increased costs that will arise. It will mean growth and income growth moderating, which will unfortunately wipe out the €600 million very quickly. We need to focus the resources we have on saving jobs and businesses and making sure that as many people as possible get through the worst of a no-deal Brexit.
There will be a tax package in the budget but, as the Minister for Finance has stated, it will be minimal. There will also be a social welfare package in the budget but, as the Minister for Finance has indicated, it will be modest and focused on those most in need. The Minister for Finance and I jointly made the decision, with the approval of Cabinet thereafter, that the budget should be developed on the basis of no deal and that we would not be able to proceed with the kind of tax package or welfare package that we were able to deliver in previous years. We made that decision jointly, just as we made a decision on Fine Gael's tax policy jointly. Notwithstanding the efforts to suggest the contrary-----
It clearly was not grounded in reality.
-----there is not a cigarette paper between myself and the Minister for Finance when it comes to our economic policy, nor is there a cigarette paper between myself and Deputy Coveney when it comes to Brexit. In demonstrating that €600 million a year arises from non-indexation, Deputy Burton demonstrated exactly why a tax package of approximately €600 million is entirely reasonable and deliverable in a normal year.
6. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on cybersecurity policy in his Department. [29288/19]
Cybersecurity is not a new concept, nor are the threats associated with it.
However, digital technology now encompasses so many aspects of our day-to-day lives that anything which could disrupt our use of these technologies must be taken more seriously than may have been necessary a few years ago.
This is reflected in the sixth national risk assessment, which was published earlier this year, in which the significance of the risk associated with cybersecurity has been increased since last year.
The introduction of the general data protection regulation a little over a year ago also requires that personal data are "processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data".
As is common to many types of business, regardless of their size or the industry within which they operate, my Department is hugely reliant on its information and communications systems. These underpin much of our work.
When IT systems are being designed or considered for use in the Department of the Taoiseach, they are designed and considered in the context of minimising any interruption to the service which they will provide.
This is with a view towards business continuity, disaster recovery and the security of the system.
My Department works with several suppliers that specialise in the areas of cybersecurity and information security. There is also ongoing contact with the computer security incident response team in the National Cyber Security Centre, which provides regular guidance and advice relating to current Internet security alerts and threats.
Preventative measures recommended by the response team are taken seriously and are reviewed when they are received with appropriate action then being taken.
Cybersecurity should not be seen as solely a technical discipline. Building resilience to cyber-based attacks continues to be a challenge for businesses, individuals, the public sector, and society in general.
My Department provides advice and guidance to all staff on reasonably common cybersecurity threats such as phishing and ransomware which may be received through email or through other digital channels.
This is intended to offer guidance while in work but can be applied equally at home, where digital technologies and Internet-connected devices can be just as common, if not more common.
The response to cyber threats continues to be a whole-of-Government challenge with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment leading on the development of a new national cybersecurity strategy. A public consultation took place recently on the development of the new strategy, which will seek to take account of heightened threats, new responsibilities and the need to develop new skills and wider engagement internationally.
Cybersecurity is a major issue for every citizen as well as for the State itself. The Taoiseach indicated to the House previously that the report of the Data Protection Commission on the public services card would be published today despite calls by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection during the summer for it to be suppressed. I am glad that this decision has been arrived at.
The public services card contains highly personal data relating to health information, educational records and, we understand, interactions between State bodies. We also understand from the leaks of the report that the commission has stated that retained documents with personal data must be destroyed. The public has an absolute right to know whether this is actually happening and to have personal data protected.
The determination by the Data Protection Commission must be respected by the Government. This is the important matter that I wish to discuss. We have a Data Protection Commission that will regulate important data, not only for the citizens of this State, but for citizens across the EU, given that so many multinational companies are based in Ireland. It is an important signal that the determination of the commission is fully respected. If it is the point of view - I understand that it might well be - that the broadening of the use of the public services card is a legitimate objective of the Government, surely the right way to move forward is, if it is not covered by current legislation, to introduce amending legislation and seek the sanction of the Houses. That would be a much better way to go than giving encouragement to others who might not like future decisions of the Data Protection Commission and would then be able to cite the Government as a body that took legal challenges.
Instead of simply appealing a report that the Government disagrees with, which would be fine, will it address the essence of the report, that being the lack of a legal underpinning for what the Government is doing, and introduce amending legislation in the House in order to seek the authority of this and the Upper House to achieve the Government's objective?
In a submission to the Committee on Justice and Equality this month, Women's Aid again highlighted the absence of specific cyberharassment or cyberstalking legislation. As the Taoiseach knows, various avenues of criminal and civil law can be used to a limited degree, but they fall well short of what is needed to deal with cyberharassment. Women's Aid suggests that a specific all-encompassing law is needed that enables the courts to assess the various types of cyber offences as a pattern as opposed to having different tactics prosecuted under different Acts.
The Opposition has constructively engaged in this broad area of protecting women and children from online harassment and violence. There are a number of Opposition Bills stuck in the legislative process because Ministers have promised legislation that has yet to appear. Sinn Féin introduced legislation to promote and encourage measures to improve digital safety for all persons, with a specific focus on so-called revenge pornography. My colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, has introduced legislation that provides for a stand-alone office of digital safety commissioner with online safety as its key area of work. Critically, the office would be responsive to the ever-changing landscape of digital safety.
The Taoiseach knows that the Opposition benches will work with the Government on legislation where we share common cause. Cybercrime legislation is needed to give effect to the provisions of the 2001 Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which is not currently provided for in legislation. This legislation has long been promised by the Government and is much needed. We want legislative solutions in place that protect all from online harassment, violence and crime. When will the Minister for Justice and Equality publish the Government's cybercrime Bill?
On the cybersecurity issue, it seems to me from all I have heard from various interests and observations from other countries that Ireland is vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Will the Taoiseach indicate to the House the strength within our Defence Forces in terms of cybersecurity and their capacity, given their retention and recruitment crisis, to deal with a cybersecurity threat? My information is that there has been some migration of personnel from the military to the civilian departments because the pay there is higher and that, to a certain extent, the capacity within our Defence Forces has been reduced and diluted on a consistent basis in this and other areas of specific expertise that the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps require. Will the Taoiseach comment on this matter and the particular strengths that our Defence Forces have in terms of contributing to Ireland's protections against cybersecurity attacks?
I raised a matter relating to the Data Protection Commission on the Order of Business. There has been an unhealthy response to the commission's report. First, there was a reluctance to publish it early enough during the summer. Second, it was suppressed, although it is being published today. We in this House, including the Executive, need to understand and reflect more on the reasons the Data Protection Commission would issue the kind of report that was issued. Whereas the public services card may be desired and something with which people agree, the Government cannot dictate to the citizens of this country that, just because it thinks the card is a good idea and it will harvest and collect all of their data, their use of the card must be mandatory or compulsory if they want to avail of other services outside of those provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
On the face of it, it seems that the Government and the Department have acted illegally. Of course, they can challenge that and say that they did not, but I would have preferred a more intelligent discussion around the Data Protection Commission's report instead of a knee-jerk reaction that was more about trying to undermine the commission's judgment and the conclusions of the report and to pour scorn on that office, which raises major concerns in the broader perspective. The modern economy and society are about data and the harvesting of same. We must be extremely careful with the rulebook and legal and regulatory framework that we create for it. The Government cannot just lecture and hector those in the private sector about data. It must also be seen to be acting in accordance with best principles.
I thank the Deputy, but we must give the Taoiseach a chance to respond.
As I informed the House on several occasions in the past hour or two, the report will be published today. The report is being published on the direction of the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, notwithstanding the concerns of some of the officials in her Department. It is being published alongside a response from the Department. I think that is a good thing because people only heard one side of the story in August. Being able to see the report as well as the Department's response will, I hope, allow for an intelligent and reasoned discussion about the content of the report and also the Department's response to it. I hope that both will be read and considered together.
To the best of my knowledge, the public services card does not contain any health information, and I do not think it contains any educational information either. The data sent forward are actually quite limited.
It is used for Tusla.
I have always been of the view that the public services card is a good idea. It is a success. It is very popular. We know from surveys of people who have one - I have one - that over 80% of people like it, particularly those who now use it as a free travel pass, elderly people in particular. It is designed to make public services more accessible, for greater efficiency and for removing duplication. It is also designed to reduce fraud, but that was only ever a small part of the project.
In terms of accessing public services more easily, it means that people only have to fill in a form, go to the chemist and get photographs, which need to be signed and stamped by a garda once every seven or eight years.
It has also brought about efficiencies. One does not need a separate travel pass, pension book and social welfare services card because all those things can now be replaced with one card, which is much more efficient. It has been helpful with fraud - not so much detecting fraud but certainly deterring it. We know that the instances of confiscation of false travel passes has gone down dramatically since the public services card travel pass was introduced.
I acknowledge the role of the Labour Party, which ran the project for five years, Deputy Burton having introduced the card and Fianna Fáil having introduced legislation before that.
It has evolved since then.
There is a certain narrative at the moment that this is some sort of Fine Gael, Big Brother-style police state conspiracy. It is not, because Fine Gael has only had control of that Department for approximately three years. The public services card was an all-party effort and debates in the past show that all parties were very much in favour of it.
The concept of the public services card was first launched in 1998. It does exactly what it says on the tin - it is a public services card. It is not only for social welfare services but for public services in general. It is absolutely not an identification card. It is prohibited in law for the gardaí to ask somebody to produce it. The whole point of a national identification card is that police can ask one for it. That has been prohibited in law and neither the Garda nor any private sector body can ask for it. The law contains a schedule of the exact public sector bodies that can ask for and use the card.
What about someone who is trying to get a passport?
It is all in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. The passport legislation is also covered in the specific legislation. It was always intended to be a public services card and that is why it is called that. That is why the legislation lists all the public service bodies that can use it.
What about if one is trying to get a passport or a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant?
The legal advice from the Attorney General and a third party is very strong but if it has to be tested in the courts, so be it. I do not think appealing a judgment or a finding is somehow wrong.
The Government should bring in legislation to deal with the issue.
We do not need to bring in legislation because it is the view of the Attorney General and third party legal advice that the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, covers the matter.
The statutory authority says otherwise.
To pick up on one other thing, it is not possible for us to appeal the report because it has no legal status or standing. We can only appeal an enforcement order and one has not issued from the Data Protection Commissioner; only a press release has issued.
Did the Attorney General or the Department seek third party legal advice?
The Department did. There was advice from the Department's counsel, the Attorney General and a third party, all of which was in agreement.
7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if the policy of his Department with respect to social media has been updated. [28220/19]
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the social media policy of his Department. [29751/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together.
It is important to communicate across a variety of platforms, including social media, to ensure transparency and clarity for all citizens. The Government information service is now required to provide 24-7 services to media organisations on all topics of public interest and with short response times. The social media channels for my Department are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
The central objective of these channels is to report objectively on the work of Government and, over time, to provide a valuable archive of information. The social media activity in the Department is governed by strict operating principles. The main operating principles governing the use of these social channels are that the content consists of news stories and press releases, speeches from me and from Ministers, photos and videos from Government events and my engagements, the live tweeting of Government events and other content as deemed appropriate.
The use of social media platforms is not intended as a means of contacting me or the Department directly, or for the submission of press queries. Those activities are handled by other means. Following or retweeting another account does not imply an endorsement of any kind.
All staff in my Department who update social media channels are bound by the Civil Service code and standards of behaviour.
I firstly thank the Taoiseach for his comments on the previous issue, particularly the recognition that, for older people who have a retirement pension, the free travel allowance through the personal services card provides total privacy for people getting on and off buses, trains and other forms of transport on which the card can be used. People should not scare older people into feeling they may lose that because it is a valuable improvement to public services.
I am getting tired and weary of the constant advertisements from Government stating that a particular thing is an initiative of the Government of Ireland. What is an initiative of the Government of Ireland? There was a time when we had a health service that could tell us the number of people it was going to treat and so on. We could feel that things were running along but we are now plagued with these rather soporific advertisements.
There have been ugly scenes this week, unfortunately, in the lovely town of Oughterard. A Deputy of this House made comments about people of African origin who are in this country which have been deeply upsetting to many of our citizens and the Taoiseach has rightly called that out. Why is the Government doing so much social media communication but no communication with people in Oughterard about a potentially significant development in the town and one which does require communication? My fear about the social media profile of this Government is that it amounts to casual social media and advertising but no real communication, which means reaching out to people and communities and explaining what exactly is the thinking behind what the Government is doing, or not doing, and having discussions with people over proposed changes that will significantly affect people's lives.
The BusConnects proposal is another example. Thousands of trees have been felled in Dublin's most tree-lined avenues. I attended a communication event last week with representatives from BusConnects. There was a map sitting above the heads of the three men who were representing BusConnects which was hard to work out. Those men were the team which was meant to advise and communicate with the public in the Taoiseach's constituency and mine and it made me wonder why this Government is so sharp in social media and advertising initiatives while it totally fails in real communication with citizens on things that affect their lives.
Social media policy is obviously an important part of everyday life now. There is a consensus in this House and across the country that the business of policing harmful content on social media cannot be left up to the platform providers and that the days of self-regulation by social media are well past. The consensus in this House is that we urgently need an online safety commissioner to act in the public interest and it is essential that such a commissioner would be adequately resourced. Currently, at least one third of the EU's data are being managed in Ireland and yet the Data Protection Commissioner has only €15 million of funding. We must have the confidence of all of Europe that Ireland can do this job effectively on behalf of all Europe's citizens.
Can the Taoiseach now provide an update on the progress of the two proposed pieces of legislation, one from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the online safety commissioner and one from the Department of Justice and Equality, namely, the legislation introduced by the Labour Party and accepted by the Government earlier this year? We thought the element which does not include the Data Protection Commissioner might be enacted. When will those two pieces of legislation be advanced and brought before the House?
I will address the ramping up of information campaigns relating to Brexit. People throughout the country are asking why all this activity was not in place at the start of this year. We have heard commentary that the advertising spend for this campaign appears to be heavily focused on telling the public that Ireland will be ready, rather than concentrating on the concrete targeting of the businesses which need the most help. Can the Taoiseach outline the basis upon which spending in this campaign was allocated between different approaches? Was any of the advertising reviewed with target groups to check that it was meeting their needs rather than promoting a generic Government message?
We know that in March we were not ready. As it subsequently turned out, no deal could have happened at the end of March. We need full openness and honesty about the impact of Brexit generally. People should not be attacked just for asking questions about the state of preparedness for Brexit or calling for details of Border arrangements if a no-deal outcome were to emerge. I am hopeful that a no-deal outcome will not happen and that minds will concentrate because I believe a no-deal outcome is very bad news all around for the United Kingdom, the island of Ireland and Europe. It would be a collective failure all around if that were to materialise because many livelihoods would be affected.
Could the Taoiseach answer the question as to the reason we still do not have an online safety commissioner? It has been two years. All parties in the House have supported that in various motions, including our party.
We have just four minutes remaining and we need to hear the Taoiseach's answer.
Briefly, two very important matters of communication now pertain to Brexit. The first is to make it absolutely clear to the British Government that the backstop is the bottom line that is not negotiable. Second, contrary to the position adopted by Deputy Micheál Martin, it ought to be remembered that Fianna Fáil in the early days of Brexit passed a proposal at its Ard-Fheis that we adopt Canada-style customs and Border regulations-----
Stop being silly.
-----which was an incredibly daft and dangerous proposition. The Deputy persists in advising the Taoiseach to think out loud about customs and checks and where they should be located. Can I offer the Taoiseach absolutely contrary advice? I believe that is dangerous.
We have agreed on a collective position that there can be no hardening of the Border and no damage to the Good Friday Agreement. I advise the Taoiseach that as the clock ticks down and the pressure mounts, and as Boris Johnson and the British system are desperately fishing for an out, this is not the moment for the Head of Government in this State to think out loud or to make any proposition around customs and checks. There can be no customs or checks. It is academic where they would be located. There can be no hardening of the Border and no damage to the Good Friday Agreement. That is the strong negotiating position for this State and it is one we should collectively persist with. We should not approach this in a party political manner. The stakes are too high.
The Deputy has just done so.
Counselling the Taoiseach in the way Deputy Martin has done is enormously dangerous. The message to Boris Johnson, the Tories and the British state needs to be much more clear-cut.
Let us hear the Taoiseach's response.
On a point of order, the absence of an Assembly and the Executive is far more damaging to the Good Friday Agreement.
That happened long before Brexit. Deputy McDonald has some neck.
Thank you, Deputy.
Deputy Martin was calling for it to be pulled down long before the scandal that brought it down.
Sinn Féin pulled it down.
He should go away and stop being silly.
That is a silly response.
Briefly, regarding Oughterard, I agree with Deputy Burton that there should be communication between the Department of Justice and Equality and residents-----
-----on what plans, if any, there are to accommodate asylum seekers there.
Would the Taoiseach ever tell the Department that?
There are good examples of where there have been good communications. Wicklow town is one example and Lisdoonvarna is another where communities were engaged with. Some fears were allayed and some scare stories corrected. I am told that has not happened yet in Oughterard because any plans or proposals to accommodate asylum seekers in that particular town are only at the initial stages and are not developed to the point where the Department is in a position to consult residents. If the plans get to that point, I am sure it will happen. Wicklow town and Lisdoonvarna are very good examples of where there may have been an initial reaction which was negative but now people have come around and welcomed people from other countries into their towns.
The information campaigns around BusConnects have been run by the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. I know from my constituency work that there has been a deficit in public communications in that regard but I believe both those transport bodies will take on the concerns of the general public and will make changes to BusConnects, in the same way that they made changes to the metro alignment.
It is Government policy to establish an Internet safety commissioner. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is working on the legislation. If I recall correctly, in the legislative programme we approved at Cabinet this morning the Bill is down for publication in this parliamentary session and before Christmas.
In terms of the Labour Party legislation - Deputy Howlin's legislation - the Government very much supports it and we will co-operate with the Labour Party in getting it through. I am not sure exactly what stage it is at.
It is on Committee Stage.
I know the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is dealing with it. I will check with him to see if we can get it done in this session also.
On the public information campaign on Brexit, that is run through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Until now, it has been largely business-focused. People have heard the business-focused advertisements on radio and online. In addition, the extra Revenue staff have been ringing businesses individually. More than 90% of businesses, by volume of trade, now have EORI numbers. They have been written to and there have been follow-up phone calls. Just the other day, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, through the Companies Registration Office, CRO, contacted 220,000 businesses. We now need to shift the focus to more citizen-focused information. What do I do with my driving licence and my insurance? What happens when I arrive at an airport? Do I go through the blue, green or red channel? Those are the practical issues people need to know about. That will be ramped up in the next few weeks.
I believe March is different from October. I do not believe one can ever be 100% ready for Brexit but we were as ready as we could be back in March and we are as ready as we can be now. The difference in March was that Prime Minister May always expressed her intention to seek an extension if we could not get a deal ratified. Indeed, the Cooper-Boles law passed by parliament required the Prime Minister to seek an extension. Prime Minister Johnson's approach is very different. He is saying that he will not seek an extension and that the UK will leave with or without a deal. He is also suggesting that in some way the British Government may be able to get around the Benn legislation passed in recent weeks. I think the position is different now.