An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report on the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. Therefore, in that context, there are just four proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. I understand that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Cowen, is due to give a personal statement today on his drink-driving offence. It is not acceptable for us that he would be able to give a statement and there would not be opportunities for questions from the Opposition and answers from the Minister, as was the case and became the precedent on numerous occasions in the previous Dáil. There are, as the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said on the radio this morning, numerous questions outstanding relating to the offence itself, the status of Deputy Cowen's driving licence and whether he was repeatedly in breach of the law in terms of learner driver plates, accompanying drivers and so on. The most important question, however, is that of precedent.

This is the first test of the Government and whether it will establish a precedent of using its majority to ensure there are no questions asked when Ministers are involved in controversy and that a statement will be the end of the matter.

To be clear, the Minister in question, Deputy Barry Cowen, made a request to me in accordance with Standing Order 56, which relates to providing a personal explanation to the Dáil. I have acceded to the request and provided time for the Minister to do this later this evening. Standing Order 56 specifically precludes a debate or questions. This is not unprecedented and in the history of this Chamber there have been numerous statements made in this way. This method was chosen by the Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the request was acceded to by me. That is the end of that particular matter.

It is not, as we have the right to reject the Order of Business today.

Yes, of course.

That is based on the precedent that when there was controversy involving Ministers in the previous Dáil, there was, very regularly, an opportunity for questions and answers. If the Minister makes a statement and then leaves before we can ask questions or get answers, that is quite problematic. If the Business Committee could come back with a proposal to include time for questions and answers, that would be excellent.

The device being used does not provide for questions and answers. The Deputy is quite entitled to vote against the Order of Business as proposed. If the proposal for dealing with today's business is not agreed, I ask na Teachtaí-----

Could we get a response from the Chief Whip or somebody from the Government as to whether we can agree to change the order?

I understand the Minister, Deputy Cowen, made a request to the Ceann Comhairle under the specific Standing Orders. I have no role in the request.

We can change the order for today in order to facilitate questions and answers.

A specific request has been made under a specific Standing Order which does not apply to Government business.

The Chief Whip knows we can change the Order of Business for today to facilitate questions and answers. Please do not be obstinate about this. He can make a decision now and say the Government will accede to the request and change the agenda to facilitate questions and answers. We need that for some accountability in this House.

The Deputy is correct but the reality is we are all aware that between now and the end of July, critical legislation must be enacted. We can take time away from the work on that legislation if we choose. It is entirely a matter for the House or we can focus on the legislation. It is a matter for Members.

I attended the Business Committee meeting yesterday and there was no request from Deputy Cowen or any other group for time in this regard. This is just showboating and shenanigans. The correct procedure is being used for the Minister's statement and we will all wait to hear it.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 30; Níl, 14; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Browne, James.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Stanton, David.

Níl

  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Shortall, Róisín.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Dara Calleary and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies Paul Murphy and Thomas Pringle.
Question declared carried.

Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Friday's business of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response agreed to? Agreed.

I call Deputy McDonald. I remind Members that there is one minute per question and one minute per answer.

The programme for Government commits to reducing the waiting time for assessment of need under the Disability Act 2005. The Taoiseach is aware that parents of children with additional needs are currently before the courts in a bid to obtain this assessment of need for their children within the legally set timeframe, which, as he is also aware, is three months. I will not comment on individual cases, but the Taoiseach will know that any child who is thought to have additional needs is legally entitled to this assessment within three months under the Disability Act.

This timeframe is crucial because it recognises the importance of early intervention and support. It is scandalous that nine out of ten children who apply for an assessment do not have that assessment completed within the statutory timeframe and some wait for up to two years. The State forces parents into lengthy, stressful and expensive battles in the courts. This is not new. The State has behaved this way before. Brigid McCole, Louise O'Keeffe and Emma Mhic Mhathúna faced this. This attitude and approach need to change. As Head of Government, will the Taoiseach act immediately to ensure that no other parent has to go to the courts to get the assessment of needs that his or her child is entitled to within three months?

I am of a view that parents should not have to go to court to get the most basic rights for their children. There have been issues ever since that Act was introduced in 2005. I understand that some sections of that Act remain to be commenced regarding children with special needs. The allocation of resources in education does not always depend on that assessment of need having taken place but it is nonetheless obviously desirable for parents to have an assessment of need carried out so that the best health and education provision can be made for the child. The Ministers with specific responsibility for this in the new Government will work to get the waiting times down significantly, both for assessment of need and for allocation of places in special schools and mainstream education, as well as access to healthcare facilities. That will be an objective of the Government.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to prioritise the consolidation of the existing road traffic legislation to rectify anomalies. I would like the Taoiseach to deal with the issue I am about to raise fairly quickly because there is a significant anomaly as a result of Covid. All driver licences and learner permits which expire before 30 June have been extended by a further four months but full licences that expire from 1 July onwards have not been extended. All learner driver permits that expire between 1 July and 30 October have also been extended by four months. This is an anomaly. People with full licences cannot renew the licences. As a temporary measure, will the Taoiseach extend that period as he did with other licences? I am sorry for bringing up licences again. The period should be extended at least until the date on which people get their appointment, which may be up to six weeks away.

I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

It is an anomaly. A former Member of this House raised it.

The Deputy has helpfully highlighted the anomaly and asked for it to be addressed and resolved. From what he is saying here, it would make sense to do so but I will have to defer to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in this regard to take the necessary measures to deal with the anomaly.

I thank the Taoiseach.

I too raise the issue of extending maternity leave for new mothers. I acknowledge that the Taoiseach said earlier that three Ministers are looking at the issue. In light of the fact that it is so urgent and that mothers have had to give up jobs because they cannot access childcare, what timescale are Ministers working to? Will the Taoiseach give a time by which he expects a decision to be made because new mothers need to know where they stand?

As I said earlier, the Ministers with responsibility for various aspects of this are engaging about the matter. It is somewhat more complex than has been presented, with regard to both policy and legal implications. I appreciate that there is a time issue. The Government will come back with a response as soon as possible.

Yesterday, off Parnell Place in Cork, there was an eight hour stand-off between Debenhams workers and drivers of trucks and vans who were trying to remove stock. A similar stand-off is taking place right now in Blanchardstown. New legislation to protect workers' rights in cases of company liquidation is referred to on page 23 of the programme for Government. My colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett, raised points about the Duffy Cahill report. The experience of the Debenhams workers shows, however, that new legislation needs to go further than Duffy Cahill in two urgent respects and I ask the Taoiseach to comment. The first is that the 30 day consultation period has to be meaningful. Workers affected and their representatives need to have full sight of the company books and prompt responses. Second, in anticipation of further waves of Covid and the possible reversion to lockdown, legislation needs to provide for a suspension of liquidations that arise or ostensibly arise from the impact of Covid in order to permit time and space to examine the option of saving jobs. I would like the Taoiseach to comment on that.

The legal framework relating to the experience of Debenhams workers and the behaviour of the company involved will be examined. The Deputy said that consultation has to be meaningful and it does have to be meaningful. We will look at the other aspects that the Deputy highlighted, such as full access to the books and all relevant material for workers concerned, as the Deputy articulated.

Coming from a Border town, Dundalk, I know the devastating effects that Brexit will have if we do not put in place the necessary measures to deal with it. There are many unanswered questions and a lack of information available to businesses. Will there be a hard border? Will there be customs checks on the Border? What will be the situation with tariffs? How will workers travel from Dundalk to the North and vice versa? Will people be stopped at the Border? Will driving licences and car insurance still be valid in both jurisdictions? People in Border areas are concerned. What preparation have the Taoiseach and his Government made to help combat this? There will be a hard border.

All efforts will be made to avoid a no-deal Brexit. The situation with negotiations between the European Union and British Government is difficult. I spoke to the British Prime Minister and we both agreed that there was a need to comprehensively deal with the issue in a way that would involve a comprehensive free trade agreement and would be of benefit to Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and that it was not desirable to have a poor Brexit or a no-deal Brexit. We also emphasised the need to implement the protocol as it pertains to Northern Ireland, and for what has been agreed to date to be adhered to in any subsequent agreement and in the operation of any post-Brexit scenario. The Government will prepare for a number of scenarios, including a no-deal Brexit. We will work with all the stakeholders and companies in that regard to ensure that people are properly prepared at all levels and in all sectors for such an eventuality, which we do not desire and do not want to happen.

Many people have been affected by the Covid lockdown. We referred to some of them today. There is a cohort of young men and women with intellectual disabilities. There are a couple in my parish. One story about little Jack was shared on Facebook on Sunday. It is heart-rending. I welcome the July provision but this cohort of people does not have anything, even trips to their special schools on the bus with their carers. I salute everybody involved on boards of management, workers and teaching staff. Can the Government or the Minister with responsibility for disability do something for this cohort of people who are profoundly affected? They are incarcerated in their houses and need to be able to get out to interact with others who go to those special schools. They are severely impacted. We see self-harm and a significant regression of the progress that they have made in those special schools and with special tuition. They need support immediately. They have been incarcerated for too long and they are trapped.

I share the Deputy's distress and concern about this situation. I would like if he could forward to me the example of the schools or the cohort of students in question. This year's July provision has been expanded significantly compared with previous years, including school-based provision, home-based provision and the extension and expansion of DEIS schools.

Yesterday the Minister for Education and Skills got sanction from Cabinet to provide for post-primary children with Down's syndrome, who previously had been outside the scheme, to participate. We are anxious to respond to any cohort of children who for one reason or another, as the Deputy has articulated, do not have access to the July provision. I would appreciate if the Deputy could send me on the details.

The programme for Government recognises the value of our aviation sector in supporting economic development, international connectivity and tourism via our airports. On 18 June, the Taoiseach said of Shane Ross, the former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, "I don't think he gets the regions ... both Shannon and Cork have huge roles to play [if we are to be serious about] rebalancing the [State]." Today Shannon Airport is seeking redundancies. Some Shannon Heritage sites are closed, and others are closing at the end of August. There is no balanced regional development. The same company is keeping sites open in Dublin. When will the Taoiseach introduce legislation to rebalance our aviation sector and ensure we have balanced development across that sector?

Specific legislation in the aviation sector is not on the agenda in the short term. The Deputy's point about regional balance in economic development is part and parcel and at the centre of the programme for Government. We need to reorder the economic balance in the country in my view.

Aviation is in difficulty because of Covid-19, and there is no getting away from that. Travel advisories relating to Covid and the advice that one should not travel will have an impact-----

Shannon Heritage sites are staying closed.

We cannot have a debate.

-----but public safety comes first. There should be capacity to deal with the Shannon Heritage sites, particularly since we are encouraging people to holiday at home - staycation and so forth. Therefore, I would have thought quite a number of facilities can be made available for people to enjoy, as the Deputy outlined.

Page 61 of the programme for Government states that access to high-quality broadband across Ireland is essential to the development of all parts of our country. The Taoiseach may have seen national television and newspaper reports in recent weeks that Gaggan, west of Bandon, has little or no broadband. Areas in Kinsale, Bandon and Clonakilty all the way back to the three peninsulas in west Cork have similar nightmares. Owing to Covid, the previous Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment allowed extra capacity to broadband and mobile phone companies to help people who live in rural communities to access broadband and phone services. Strangely enough, not one area that had issues in west Cork that I am aware of got extra services due to this extra capacity being given, leading to the question: where in rural Ireland was the extra capacity rolled out?

Many people who could work from home are unable to do so. The people of Gaggan, like many more in west Cork, are subject to spending their day in a church car park so that they can work. What can I tell the people of Gaggan, Bandon and other parts of west Cork? Will they get a broadband service immediately or will they have to continue to go to the church car park for broadband?

Historically, broadband has been underprovided in rural areas. That said, the programme for Government is committed to rolling out the national broadband contract as agreed by the previous Government. The indications are that the company may be in a position to accelerate some dimensions of that plan. The objective is to get broadband rolled out as quickly as possible. The Minister will be looking at hubs, for example, in certain locations that may facilitate people in rural areas to get quicker and more effective access and greater connectivity. To answer the Deputy's question, I cannot promise him something immediately, but it is very high on the Government's agenda to roll out the broadband plan as fast as possible and to do so in a way that would give communities quicker access than may have been previously envisaged.

The programme for Government commits to working with the banking industry to support customers during and after the Covid crisis. The Taoiseach will be well aware that the banks are charging a Covid penalty where mortgage holders who avail of this break will have to pay thousands of euro more. He will also probably be aware that on 11 May the then Taoiseach, and Ministers for Finance, and Business, Enterprise and Innovation met the heads of the five retail banks. I have the minutes of that meeting here. At that meeting the CEO of Bank of Ireland claimed that the charging of interest accrued during mortgage payment breaks was required by the regulator. The CEO of AIB said that unless the additional interest was charged, loans would go into default and the credit ratings of customers would be impacted. Jeremy Masding of Permanent TSB said that the approach that was being taken was required to prevent the loans from being considered as going into default.

This morning at the Special Committee on Covid-19 response, I questioned the Governor of the Central Bank. All those claims are false, untrue and misinformation. That has been clarified by the Governor of the Central Bank. I knew that at the time. What surprises me is that the Minister for Finance, the then Taoiseach and the then Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation did not know. What will the Taoiseach do about State-owned banks that misinformed the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach of the time? Will he take steps to support ordinary customers and prevent them from being ripped off, as has happened in Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium and other areas where legislation was introduced?

This morning's statement by the Central Bank Governor is very revealing and important, and will have to inform future interactions with the pillar banks. I understand the Minister for Finance will be assessing that statement of the Governor of the Central Bank and will determine policy after that in terms of his interaction with the banks.

Yesterday the Taoiseach spoke on Cork radio about a letter he, the former Taoiseach and now Tánaiste, and the former Minister for Education and Skills received from Louise O'Keeffe about the ex gratia scheme for survivors of abuse in day schools. Two years ago, the Taoiseach led a debate in this Chamber where we voted by 2:1 to change that scheme to ensure the survivors would get redress. In recent comments the Taoiseach mentioned that progress had been made with a view to reopening the ex gratia scheme. Will he outline what progress has been made? Like me, the Taoiseach has met a number of these groups. I know he met the Creagh Lane group from Limerick on a number of occasions. When does he anticipate the matter being resolved?

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. Since we raised this issue the last time, the outgoing Taoiseach outlined that there would be a redesign or a review of the redress scheme and that it would be changed. That work is under way. I understand that since the judge's determination at the time and the review, offers of compensation have been made to 13 survivors as a result of that report and review. I will meet the Department of Education and Skills on Friday. I hope to be in a position to get more specific detail and a report on the issue. I hope to give the Deputy a timeline then for rolling out the new redress scheme.

Yet again I raise the issue of funding for the port access northern cross route in Drogheda, which was rejected by the previous Government. Louth County Council has made another application under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, for this vital and badly needed piece of infrastructure. It would also open up lands to provide homes in the depths of a housing crisis. Just over a year ago the new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, was in Drogheda with Fianna Fáil councillors in the run-up to the local elections. He called for the funding to be provided for the northern cross route. Little did he know that just over a year later he would be Minister in that Department with the ability to ensure that that funding can be given for the northern cross route. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to deliver that funding? Can we take as genuine the Minister's word that funding should be provided? Will he deliver? Will the Taoiseach reassure me and the people of Drogheda that he will deliver that funding for the northern cross route?

The relevant Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Housing, Planning and Local Government-----

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has a clear role and responsibility here. Obviously, he will examine this now as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. Certainly, we will see what we can do on it. I will not make any off-the-cuff commitments today. Given the opportunity to increase the building of housing, it is obviously something we will look at very carefully.

Page 51 of the programme for Government states that the Government will: "Ensure the best possible safeguards are in place to protect our friends and family in nursing homes." Yesterday we heard the harrowing account of the treatment of one nursing home resident in County Meath, Ultan Meehan, and the condition in which he was transferred to Connolly Hospital where he later passed away.

In early June, I raised the case with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, HIQA and the HSE. It is very apparent that the monitoring of private nursing homes falls between the cracks and that the system is totally inadequate. A full independent investigation is needed in this case. In the sector more broadly, we need robust safeguarding legislation and legislation to improve clinical governance. I think that is agreed across the board. What are the Taoiseach's plans for this matter? Do they involve expanding the role of HIQA and the HSE?

I think that matter has already been dealt with today.

I dealt with the issue earlier. HIQA is the regulating authority and it should compile a report on the matter. It should ensure that the family of Mr. Ultan Meehan get a comprehensive account of what happened to deal with the terrible anguish they have experienced to date, particularly Mrs. Meehan.

I raise an issue relating to a small category of people who are facing a significant injustice. The Irish Times yesterday reported the case of Mr. Finn Robertson, a 17 year old from Dungarvan, who will not receive an estimated grade for politics in the leaving certificate because he is self-taught. He now believes he will not get the points he needs to study politics and journalism in the University of Limerick. I also give the example of Kinga Szalaj who wants to study medicine. She completed her leaving certificate last year and while she received good points, it was not enough to get her into a medical degree. She taught herself at home with the help of homeschool.ie and themathstutor.ie because she could not afford grinds. Her health professions admission test, HPAT, results were excellent - in the 92nd percentile - but because she does not qualify for a calculated grade, she will miss out on the opportunity to study medicine despite those excellent results. Does the Taoiseach accept that those students are facing an injustice? Will he engage with them to try to find a solution for them so that they do not miss out on places in third level through no fault of their own?

I will engage with the relevant Department. One must be balanced about the leaving certificate and the allocation of third level places because there are many competing rights. What is done to affirm and help people in one area could have the unintended consequence of undermining the rights of others and their access to places in medicine or other courses. I make that general point.

When estimated grades emerged as a solution, it was clear that problems would emerge. That said, mechanisms exist within the third level sector to facilitate access for students from specific backgrounds and contexts through the disability access route to education, DARE, project and others. I will have to engage with the Department to see if some resolution can be found.

Will the Taoiseach ensure that the relevant Minister engages with this category of student?

The Deputy is talking about students who have been taught at home. I know from experience that there is no easy answer.

I ask the Taoiseach to ensure engagement with the Minister.

Of course we can engage, but I am talking about the allocation of third level places.

I thank the Taoiseach. We cannot have a further debate on the matter.

In the programme for Government, there is a promise to continue to resource harm reduction education awareness programmes to increase awareness of the risks associated with drug use and the contribution of drugs to criminality. I have worked in that area for the past 20 years and there has been a massive increase in drug use and criminality. The people involved are younger and younger. Will the Taoiseach indicate if there will be a structured link between schools and local youth drug services? There is no such link at the moment. Arrangements are ad hoc and a matter for individual principals and schools. They need to be more structured.

Will the community sector be involved in a public awareness programme? We, the people who are involved in tackling drugs and crime in the community, are on the ground. We understand what is happening and when it is happening.

I will work to see can we develop a structured link between schools and youth drug services. The more critical point is that there are very strong self-esteem and self-respect modules of learning within school curricula and programmes to enable young people to be strong enough within their peer groups to resist temptation and being lured into behaviour which is injurious and damaging to them. I am a great believer in inculcating self-respect and self-esteem in young people from the earliest age. That is the best protection we can give our children.

Equally, I am conscious of what the Deputy is saying and it is a serious issue for society. There are measures to deal with the issue in the programme for Government. I am anxious that the school completion programme will come back within the Department of Education and Skills and integrate better with our educational structures. If we maintain children in school longer, we will have a better chance of keeping them from harm.

The forestry sector has a significant part to play in our climate change strategy. The sector has been bedevilled with trouble in the past number of years. We are only meeting approximately 50% of our targets for planting and face difficulties in obtaining licences for thinning, felling and plantation. The Mackinnon report has been commissioned and I would like to know the timeframe for delivery on the findings of that report to hopefully rectify some of the problems in the sector.

I thank the Deputy for raising this challenging and urgent issue. Without question, it is having an impact on construction in terms of the supply of timber. The delays in licence applications for felling and planting are simply unacceptable and not sustainable into the future. I have asked the relevant Minister to expedite action in this regard and to see what measures are required to get rid of the logjams that are there at the moment.

I ask the remaining Deputies to take 30 seconds rather than a minute in order that everyone can contribute. Deputy Nash is next.

The July stimulus package is eagerly awaited by working people and businesses across the country. They are anxious to see the colour of this Government's money. Will the Taoiseach state when precisely he intends to present the July stimulus? Will he also commit to present the package to this Chamber? It is important to do that, rather than to launch such a significant State investment initiative outside this House. It is important that the contents of the package are debated in this House. Which legislation will require amendment and which new legislation will be required to give effect to the Taoiseach's ambitions under the July stimulus?

I hope we will have the July stimulus within the next three weeks, maybe within the next fortnight. The Tánaiste, the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, I and others are working on the package and a special Cabinet committee will meet this week to go through the detail of the package. It will obviously have to be debated in the House and there will be legislation to underpin it. The financial provisions (Covid-19) Bill does not relate specifically to the stimulus package but will obviously underpin it. The Microenterprise Loan Fund (Amendment) Bill and the credit guarantee (amendment) Bill will be of assistance. We are also looking at a companies (amendment) Bill to deal with some immediate problems and acute issues arising from Covid that companies are facing.

In order to expedite matters, I will take the final three questions and then go to the Taoiseach for a response.

To build further on the exchange between the Taoiseach and Deputy Fitzpatrick, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade previously indicated in this House that a new Brexit omnibus Bill will be needed in light of the current state of negotiations. When can we expect that Bill and what communication, if any, will be had between the Government and our friends in the Northern Ireland Executive?

Page 10 of the programme for Government states, "We will complete the review of the School Transport Scheme to seek better outcomes and reduce car journeys." It appears that, while that review is ongoing, a widespread cut of Dublin Bus contracted school buses is taking place. I know at least three schools in my constituency are being affected. Four buses are being cut from one school and seven from another. These cuts appear to be Dublin-wide and will therefore affect thousands of students and their parents. They will leave students having either to take regular buses and transfer, which is not ideal in the context of Covid-19, or their parents having to drive them to school, thereby defeating the point of the school bus system.

Arising from the issue raised by Deputy Pearse Doherty and I previously regarding the manner in which various lenders treat their customers, I ask the Taoiseach if it might be possible at this stage to establish some kind of common ground whereby all the lending institutions treat their customers equally under the same rules. At the same time, might it be possible to try to get parity with our European colleagues in respect of the interest rates charged?

I presume the Deputy means "equally well".

I refer to nursing homes and the shocking case that happened to a constituent of mine, who died in a nursing home in Meath quite recently. The facts of the death are quite shocking. The Taoiseach might have read them in the paper. The individual had an open wound due to tumours on his face-----

The matter has already been raised.

-----and had to be brought into hospital. There needs to be an investigation into what has happened in nursing homes in general during this Covid crisis. So far in respect of this individual, the family has not got an investigation from HIQA, the HSE or the Department of Health. Will the Taoiseach commit to having an investigation?

On the same matter, will the Taoiseach consider appointing a consultant geriatrician to investigate that nursing home, as further and new cases have now been brought to light which are very concerning? An investigation is needed urgently and as soon as possible notwithstanding the HIQA investigation.

I congratulate the Taoiseach on attaining his new office. He will be aware that the commuter belt requires significant investment in rail carriages, rolling stock and commuter services. The new programme for Government has much along those lines. Perhaps the Taoiseach might outline the plans to bring the Kildare route project and other projects into the commuter belt.

As we are over time, I ask the Taoiseach to correspond with the Deputies by way of a response.