Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north east inner city initiative. [15758/20]
Vol. 994 No. 8
1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north east inner city initiative. [15758/20]
The Mulvey report, Dublin North East Inner City - Creating a Brighter Future, commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017, contained recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north-east inner city, NEIC. This report has been further supplemented by the publication of the NEIC strategic plan 2020 to 2022, which is available on www.neic.ie
In June 2017, the Government appointed an independent chairperson to the NEIC programme implementation board. Members of the board include representatives from relevant Departments and agencies, business and the local community. The board is assisted in its work by six subgroups: enhancing policing; maximising education, training and employment opportunities; family well-being; enhancing community well-being and the physical landscape; substance use, misuse, inclusion and health; and alignment of services.
The board and its subgroups continue to meet on a monthly basis to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report and the next strategic plan for 2020 to 2022. Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based on Sean McDermott Street. The chairperson of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. This group, which has met 11 times, ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and agencies and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the board. The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality will provide political oversight of the NEIC initiative.
The Government is committed to supporting and investing in the north-east inner city community and ensuring that the board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfil its ambition. To this end, the Government made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2020. Some highlights of what the board has delivered to date include an increased Garda presence in the area, with the Garda community support van, supporting a focus on community policing, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; funding provided for establishing a Garda project focused on drug-related intimidation, which commenced in the area, continues to have positive effects; a full-time intercultural development co-ordinator was employed for the NEIC; continued operation of Ireland's first social inclusion hub in the NEIC; funding provided for the homeless case management team and a residential stabilisation programme. Funding was also provided to a career local employment action partnership, LEAP, which supports young jobseekers into work placements and employment, as well to establish the City Connects programme and a local early learning initiative. A green ribbon project was rolled out for environmental clean-up and litter prevention in partnership with local residents, and a comprehensive programme of sport and well-being activities has continued to support local people even throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Progress reports on the NEIC initiative are available on www.neic.ie for 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Government remains committed to supporting and investing in the north-east inner city community and in ensuring that the chairperson and programme implementation board have the necessary resources to help make the area a better place in which to work and live.
In addition to everything the Taoiseach has recalled regarding the setting up of this inner city initiative, it should also be recalled that the north-east inner city was caught in the grip of what was referred to as a "gangland feud" at the time. He will recall that lives had been lost, the community, including children, was traumatised by the incidents they had been witnessed and at the time there, was an understanding that there had to be an intervention that was wider than a policing or criminal justice response. That response had to be holistic, progressive and recognise the history and the reality of intergenerational poverty and the very specific social circumstances of the north-east inner city. By the way, I do not argue that the inner city of Dublin is unique in that regard; sadly, it is not.
I argue at this stage for a review of this initiative. I had hoped to hear more energy and commitment in the Taoiseach's response to this issue. This should never turn into a box-ticking exercise or something on which there is routine reporting. If we get this initiative right in the inner city of Dublin, then we will have the potential to get it right elsewhere as well. First, we have to establish if the approach being adopted is working. Is the project making a substantive difference to the lives and generations of the people who live in the inner city?
I was struck last week when I was listening to the Taoiseach talking about drug use and misuse. He very correctly spoke of things such as resilience, self-confidence and respect, all those things to which we all subscribe. What was missing from his analysis, however, was any real appreciation or recognition that poverty is systemic, that inequality is toxic and that communities in which generation after generation suffer deprivation and marginalisation will experience real consequences. One of the consequences that can be measured is drug addiction and drug misuse. We, therefore, need to review this initiative. The boundaries of the project need to encapsulate the north-west inner city as well the north-east inner city. Critically, we need to go to the community, measure and ask if this project is making a difference and what needs to change and what needs to be enhanced.
The Government is commited to supporting and investing in the north east inner city community and in ensuring that the board has the necessary resources to achieve its targets and fulfill its ambitions. To this end, the Governmetn has made available €6.5 million in funding for the initiative in 2020. Some highlights of what the board has delivered to date in 2020 include: increased Garda presence in the area, the Garda community support van supporting a focus on community policing, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; funding was provided to establish a Garda project focused on drugs-related intimidation, which commenced in the area and continues to have positive benefits; a full-time intercultural development co-ordinator employed for the NEC; continued operation in the NEC of Ireland's first social inclusion hub; funding provided for the homeless case management team; funding provided for residential stablilisation programme; funding provided to local career leap supporting young jobseeker's into work placements and in employemtn; and funding provided to establish the city connects programmes; funding provided to the local early learning initiative; a green ribbon project rolling out environmental clean-up and litter prevention, in partnership with local residents; and a comprehensive programme of sport and well-being activities that has continued to support local -
First of all, I would never see something like this as a box-ticking exercise. All my life I have been committed to the idea of dealing with the vulnerable, those living in poor conditions and those in disadvantaged communities. For example, I believe the RAPID programme of earlier years was an effective multisectoral multidepartmental approach to dealing with urban disadvantage and urban issues. The forerunner of that programme, the drugs task force areas programme, likewise took a holistic approach to development within particular communities with some success. Education and early intervention at childcare level and in the early years of primary education were the key with higher resources being allocated to the pupil-teacher ratio in schools in such areas. Now the DEIS programme has replaced all of that. Our party introduced DEIS some time ago to target resources where they were most needed and most effective.
I will talk to the board about the idea of commissioning a review. In addition, the new Minister with responsibility for community affairs will be looking at this in terms of the broader application of this model to other areas.
One area we need to integrate into this programme is housing. I remember touring the area with Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and meeting all the groups. There is a need to look at the housing part of this to assist the local community as part of the wider level of supports that are available. The Secretary General of my Department chairs the oversight group. The chairperson and the board report on a regular basis to the Secretary General, so we are keeping a close eye on this with a view to ensuring the 54 actions are implemented.
I welcome that the Taoiseach is open to a review. I am keen to acknowledge the substantial amount of work done by the board and I commend those involved on it. Nevertheless, this review has to be about the community. It has to be about the people who live in the kind of atrocious housing conditions that the Taoiseach has himself witnessed. Should the Taoiseach go into any of these blocks of flats and ask himself whether this is how our citizens should be living in 2020, the clear answer would be "No". Poor housing is not only a consequence of disadvantage and poverty, but it is also a driver of further inequality and marginalisation. I have lost count of the number of homes and flats I have been in that do not have room for a kitchen table or a place for the children to do their homework or for the family to eat a meal. That is scandalous in 2020. That needs to be wired in.
I wish to draw the Taoiseach's attention to another thing that should concern him - it certainly concerns me. Goal 4 of the national drug and alcohol strategy sets out the importance of enabling communities to participate in the shaping of decisions that affect them. Community participation is critical to driving interventions and solutions. In the north inner city the HSE is actively undermining this. In fact, the HSE is acting to remove participation workers from the north-east and north-west inner city. I cannot overstate how wrong this decision is and I ask the Taoiseach to examine it. I will write to him on the specifics of it. Will the Taoiseach intervene and prevent that from happening?
Deputy McDonald should write to me on that. I will talk to the Minister for Health on the point she has made and on what she was saying. I am unsure of the background. Deputy McDonald is suggesting that the HSE is undermining community participation. We will get that looked at.
I have gone into some of the flat complexes with Senator Mary Fitzpatrick. I agree with Deputy McDonald that the conditions were poor and tight with no space. There were significant levels of respiratory conditions. I remember coming out of the Greek Street flats one day and looking across at modern student accommodation. The contrast was stark although some of that is historical. I will talk to the Minister with responsibility for housing on that and to Dublin City Council to discuss the various programmes on refurbishing and improving the quality of living conditions in some of the complexes that I visited. Without question there is room for improvement there. I will talk to the Secretary General about a review of the overall plan for the north-eastern inner city and how we can add to it.
The Greek Street flats are in the north-west inner city. They are not captured by the catchment area. I am not saying this to catch out the Taoiseach at all. I am simply raising it to reiterate the point about the catchment area for the north-east and north-west inner city. A line was arbitrarily drawn. I hope that as part of the review which I hope will be commissioned, those responsible look at the boundaries and accept a north inner city area of Dublin without artificial distinctions that are not helpful to landing on the right solutions.
2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach to set out the number of staff in the policy and programme implementation unit of his Department. [15759/20]
3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach to set out the number of advisers who will be employed by the Government; the number of advisers he will be employing in his Department; and the process for the selection of these advisers. [15770/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.
As outlined in the programme for Government, several reforms will be implemented to ensure openness and constructive co-operation within the Government. The details of the roles and staffing of these offices have not been finalised to date. Appointments to these offices will be made in line with the Public Service Management Act 1997 and will be published in due course. These include the establishment of an office of the Tánaiste and an office of the leader of the Green Party within the Department of the Taoiseach to be located in Government Buildings. The office of the Tánaiste will consist of a private office and a policy and programme implementation unit. The purpose of these offices is to support both the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party in the co-ordination and implementation of policy within the Government. In particular, the policy and programme implementation unit will assist the Tánaiste in work relating to the Cabinet, Cabinet committees and oversight of the implementation of the programme for Government.
Under the terms of the Public Service Management Act 1997, Ministers and Ministers of State who regularly attend Cabinet meetings may appoint special advisers. The Act also provides that other Ministers of State may also appoint a special adviser. The requirement for specialist policy input and advice is a matter for each Minister to consider having regard to the area of responsibility and the support in place in the relevant Departments.
Having appointed Ministers and Ministers of State to their various portfolios across the Government, I am also considering the advisory supports I might need in my role as Taoiseach and Head of Government. While I have not yet fully finalised the make-up of my team, it currently consists of a chief of staff at deputy secretary level, a deputy chief of staff at assistant secretary level and three special advisers at principal officer level. It is also my intention to appoint an adviser shortly with relevant expertise on economic policy. While not finalised, I anticipate that, in addition to Civil Service support, the office of the Tánaiste will consist of approximately five or six special advisers and the office of the leader of the Green Party will consist of approximately four or five special advisers. In line with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act 1997 there will be two special advisers assigned to the Office of the Government Chief Whip. It should be noted that all of the above appointments are subject to Government approval and relevant contracts. Statements of qualifications and statements of relationship will be laid before the Oireachtas in due course.
I applaud the Taoiseach's commitment to coherence and openness across the Government. However, I would caution that too many cooks can spoil the broth, as they say. It strikes me that this is a most irregular arrangement. Not alone will the Tánaiste have an office within the Department of An Taoiseach, but we will now have an office of the leader of the Green Party within the Department of An Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach has set out considerable resources. He referred to five or six special advisers for the Tánaiste. I presume that is by way of addition to whatever resources the Tánaiste will have in his line Department. The Taoiseach might clarify that. It is similar for the leader of the Green Party. Is that additional to the resources afforded to him as a senior Minister? Are there additional press resources for the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party as well?
Critically, what is all of this costing? How does this compare with previous Administrations?
The Taoiseach has appointed 20 Ministers of State, three of whom will sit at Cabinet. I understand, however, there are only two salaries. How will that particular loaves-and-fishes exercise work out? Who is going to lose out in that scenario? The Taoiseach might make that clear for us. By way of final comment, I understand that responsibility for the coherence and overseeing of the implementation of the programme for Government falls to the Cabinet as a whole. I am very concerned that we now have a holy trinity of taoisigh, or at least a holy trinity of very senior actors, located in the Department of the Taoiseach at considerable expense to the taxpayer.
The Taoiseach was not getting off that lightly.
I was going to come back to the Deputy.
I thank the Taoiseach for his response. However, there is no transparency. I respect the fact that he has not yet made some decisions, but there seems to be an incredible number of advisers. There will be three people in the Office of the Taoiseach and in the Tánaiste's office as well.
It is, frankly, a joke that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will cost the taxpayer €200,000 because he wants, of all things, a head of protocol and a Garda car and driver. We are going through a pandemic and an economic crash, the likes of which we have never seen. I was part of a Government that picked up the pieces of what happened in 2011. The Taoiseach could look back on some of the comments he made during that time on Ministers, advisers etc.
None of the 20 Ministers of State can have advisers. It would be wrong to put taxpayers through that. I do not have an issue with Ministers of State who will sit at Cabinet having advisers. As Deputy Howlin pointed out in the last Dáil, unless the Taoiseach introduces new legislation, which I am sure he will not do, only two Ministers of State can get the extra €16,288.
How many advisers will there be for the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Green Party leader? Will the Taoiseach cut the extra €200,000 that is going to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade? Will he commit that Ministers of State who do not sit at Cabinet will not have advisers, given that they are totally unnecessary in the current economic climate?
I will deal with Deputy McDonald's queries. This is a tripartite Government. In fact, the model for it goes back to when the Labour Party was in government between 1992 and 1994 when Dick Spring-----
The Taoiseach was there, I was not.
I was a humble backbench Deputy at the time. The Labour Party pioneered the idea of policy people coming in from the political world, which I happen to agree with, to ensure the implementation of a programme for Government.
That is not the debate.
People want the programme for Government to be implemented. They want to see through the political commitments that have been made. That was a major turning point in how Government works in terms of the use of special advisers. In the Northern Ireland Executive, the role of special advisers is strong and I have no difficulty with that. We know that special advisers in Northern Ireland play a key role in advising Ministers and working the machinery of government.
Not all of the advisers will be political. Some of them will have expertise in economics or other specific areas. My advisers have been allocated based on particular policy areas. One innovation of the new Government is the reintroduction of some substantive Cabinet committees to work through key areas and objectives of Government, including housing, health and climate change.
Other Cabinet sub-committees, such as that dealing with economic recovery, will meet on a monthly basis to bring a more cross-sectoral and cross-departmental approach to the business of Government. That is why there will be advisers for each party. This approach is to ensure cohesion, genuine partnership and parity of esteem within Government. It is not about one party lording it over another. I have made that very clear from the beginning.
The last Government had, for example, advisers for the Independent Alliance and for an Independent Minister. It had 19 Ministers of State, and this Government has one more. That is hardly earth-shattering.
The previous Government had no advisers for Ministers of State.
I do not agree with that. There is a need and Government is becoming wide-ranging. There are areas, such as insurance, that need specialist attention. As we heard on the Order of Business, it is a key area and it is a good idea to have a Minister of State, together with senior Ministers, specifically charged with trying to deal with that area.
That is the position. When we get further details we will put them out transparently. All of this information will be in the public domain. I will have further details on how advisers will overlap in terms of the line Departments for which the Tánaiste and the Minister with responsibility for climate action and Environment have responsibility.
I seek clarity on that point. The Tánaiste having, in addition to his departmental advisers, five or six additional advisers in order that he can fulfil his duties as Tánaiste strikes me as absolutely extraordinary. For the leader of the Green Party to have four or five additional advisers, as the Taoiseach said, is similarly extraordinary. Nobody is against bringing expertise to the table; on the contrary. We have to be very sure that things are not being over-egged and that this is not a case of sharing the spoils between the three parties in this tripartite Government.
Can the Taoiseach explain to me why the Tánaiste needs an aide-de-camp? What is the thinking behind that? As the Tánaiste is not the Taoiseach, or at least not yet, why would he require that? I do not understand it and the Taoiseach should give an explanation.
Deputy Kelly has correctly raised issues concerning the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Where there is this kind of additionality in terms of resources, Members and, more importantly, the taxpayer need an explanation as to why all of this is happening. The Taoiseach might answer my question on the Ministers of State who will sit at Cabinet. There are two salaries, but three such Ministers of State. The maths of that does not really add up. Is the Taoiseach going to bring in a third €16,000 allowance?
If the Taoiseach is going to do that, he will have to bring it to the floor of the House and I doubt he will do so. Will Ministers of State have advisers? They did not when the economy collapsed in 2011, and we are probably in a worse situation now. The Taoiseach does not agree with that now because it does not suit him. However, we can go back through the record if he wants to do that.
A sum of €80,000 multiplied by 20 is not a good use of taxpayers' money. How are we to vet the advisers for Ministers and the Ministers of State who will sit at Cabinet, something I do not have an issue with? They are meant to be specialist advisers. How will we know they are qualified? How can we vet them to ensure they are not political appointees and are instead specialists in insurance and various different disciplines?
I have raised the issue of the aide-de-camp for the Tánaiste. It is a joke. It is an extra cost. Why is it necessary? We still do not know the total number of advisers for the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party. We will get to that.
The Taoiseach has to answer my question on Ministers of State who will sit at Cabinet. Why is the Minister for Foreign and Affairs and Trade getting a Garda driver and car? Why is this extra cost to the taxpayer, along with the aide-de-camp for the Tánaiste, being tolerated by the Taoiseach given the current economic situation? I do not believe we can have either of those or advisers to Ministers of State.
If the Taoiseach wants to show example and show leadership he will not have any of them. Their total cost is a serious amount, coming to a seven figure sum, and the Taoiseach cannot justify it.
The architect of this model of government was the Labour Party.
It is not rubbish. I recall Deputy Howlin and the then Tánaiste, Mr. Dick Spring, won a substantial number of seats. They no longer wanted to play second fiddle to the Fine Gael party and did not go into coalition with them. They entered into coalition with Fianna Fáil and developed this idea. We are political parties, and I do not mean political in the sense that one is just making appointments; we are parties that want to get policies implemented. There must be proper respectful demarcation lines between full-time permanent civil servants and full-time political programmes and political input. That was the idea at the time and it worked. Sinn Féin are no strangers to special advisers in Northern Ireland. We saw that in the RHI report.
The Taoiseach is reaching.
I am not even criticising it; I just note it. The emails were flying to and fro on that between all the special advisers of all parties so let us not pretend that this is something new. Ministers of State either mean something or they do not mean. In my view, they mean something in terms of the policy areas that are under their responsibility. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability will transfer to the Department of Justice and Equality. That is a substantive Minister of State portfolio because all of the relevant areas in health to do with disability are being delegated to that Minister of State.
Let us see the order.
That is the whole idea. The Deputy must accept in that situation there has to be a need for policy input to drive things on and get things done.
The security issue has surfaced with regard to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in terms of travel.
That is a laugh.
The Deputy may say that. Ordinarily, Ministers outside of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality hire drivers that are paid for by the taxpayer and travel-related costs are also associated with that. I am not sure where the Deputy got the figure of €200,000 net. I have no figures on that.
The Taoiseach can tell us the figures.
My understanding is that there was a security aspect to it.
It is my understanding that the Tánaiste sought an aide-de-camp to assist him in his duties in terms of public occasions and events he will attend.
In terms of equality, there are three super junior Ministers, as they are called, or super Ministers of State, at the Cabinet table, and there should be equality between all three. I will not mince around or do the popular thing and say we are afraid to bring anything to the table or to the House. If they are at the table as Ministers of State there should be equality between all three. I will not tiptoe around that.
4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his plans for a high-level review of the economy to be led by his Department. [15760/20]
5. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach his plans for a special Cabinet committee on restoring jobs lost in the pandemic. [15903/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.
As committed to in the programme for Government, a national economic plan will be developed in the coming months to chart our longer-term, jobs-led recovery. The plan will put sustainability at the heart of our fiscal, enterprise, innovation and environmental policies. As part of the development of the new national economic plan, my Department will lead a high-level review of the economy. This review will seek to identify the sectors that have the greatest opportunity to grow and sustain quality employment in the future. It will be an opportunity to consider, along with relevant Departments and sectors, how Ireland can adapt to a very changed global economy.
The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment has been established and first met on Wednesday, 8 July. The terms of reference of the committee are to oversee the implementation of programme for Government commitments aimed at sustainable economic recovery, investment and job creation. The committee will operate in accordance with established guidelines for Cabinet committees and substantive issues will be referred to Government for discussion and approval. The Cabinet committee’s immediate focus is the development of proposals for a July jobs initiative in line with the commitments in the programme for Government. This will have a short-term focus on jobs as a first step towards the longer-term national economic plan to follow in the autumn.
The Taoiseach might set out for us the arrangements for chairing each of the Cabinet committees. If I understand it correctly, there will be a rotation between the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party. Will the Taoiseach set that out, and the basis upon which these committees were allocated to each of them?
I refer to the high-level review of the economy. This is to be led by the Taoiseach’s Department, yet the Tánaiste is chairing the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment. I would like to know how those meet and marry. I would also like to know who is in charge when it comes to the economy, economic planning and all of that lift that needs to be made. The Tánaiste has the line Ministry. He chairs this Cabinet committee, his party colleague is in the Department of Finance and so on. Is the Taoiseach answerable to them or is he, as Head of Government, in charge of this critical part of policy and this initiative?
The July stimulus will be announced next Monday, which will be a key component in the initiation of this committee. As regards the make-up of the committee, the Taoiseach might give further detail as to who will be involved. He keeps talking about specialists. Will he bring in specialists to sit on this committee? When I sat on Cabinet committees, specialists were brought in. The Taoiseach seems to have a new thematic analysis of everything so I presume he will bring in people all the time. Will he supply us with the details in this regard?
The July stimulus will be the key deliverable from this committee from day one. What quantum will be spent on that? I do not expect the Taoiseach to go into the detail of the stimulus now but it would be rather unfortunate and it would not look good if he did not know the quantum he will spend on it. Covid-19 has been a disruptor across a range of areas but that can deliver some positive change despite everything. What is the Taoiseach’s feeling on new economic modelling that we can be generated from this? How will hope be given to young people, in particular, and how will economic inequality be reduced? How will it be ensured that as part of this process, through that restructuring and that disruptor effect, those who get a stimulus from this will respect the industrial architecture of the State and the various processes and the decisions we have made in regard to protecting people’s incomes, in particular those in low-paid jobs or in the gig economy?
Regarding the Government and its formation, when we published the programme for Government we attached a document on the functioning of Government. I emphasise again that three parties came together. My overall objective is to ensure the three parties work seamlessly and in co-operation in getting the work of the nation done, and I take that very seriously. My ego is not going to get in the way of doing the right thing. We agreed we would share the chairing of various Cabinet committees. I am keen to have Cabinet committees established to follow through on the implementation of the programme for Government. I have been in government previously and if committees are well organised, they can work very effectively in pulling different Departments together to get things done. My Department tends to be the Department in government that pulls the different Departments together, in particular its economic division.
The Tánaiste, as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, will chair the Cabinet committee on economic recovery. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, will chair the Cabinet committee on environment and climate change. I am chairing a range of other committees dealing with Covid, housing, health, social affairs and equality committee, education and European affairs. The European committee will meet before every EU Council to bring a cross-departmental approach to it, and in relation to Brexit and Northern Ireland. There is a Government co-ordination committee involving myself, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, leader of the Green Party. The structure is designed to enable Government to work with respect to the three parties in a seamless and effective way. That is the objective of the exercise.
Regarding the economy generally and the July jobs stimulus, the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance have key roles and will do much of the running in taking ideas from other Departments in respect of the July stimulus. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, will have the difficult task of making decisions on what will make the cut - one will excuse the word "cut" as it is the wrong word in this case because this is-----
It is, because this is a significant expenditure stimulus of the economy. I refer to the projects that will be identified and prioritised, the key as well being the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy on which the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has ideas.
I will not give Deputy Kelly the final quantum today because that will be announced on the day and work is still under way. There will be a further Cabinet committee meeting tomorrow evening, specifically in respect of the July stimulus. Various ideas and submissions have come in from different Departments. The focus is on trying to get shovel-ready projects and endeavouring to get credit and funding to the SME sector in particular. That is why much of the legislation this month will work in tandem with the July stimulus. A great deal of good legislation is getting done this month thanks to the co-operation of everybody in the House, which we appreciate. That will underpin much work that is contained within the July stimulus as well.
If I have heard the Taoiseach correctly, he will have housing, health, education, Europe, Brexit and the North, the Green Party will have environment and climate change, social affairs and equality, and the Tánaiste and Fine Gael have economic recovery and investment.
They do not have the Chairs. We chair it.
I mean by way of chairing. We are discussing the Chairs of the committee. That is implicit.
That is a strange tripartite division of labour. It seems that Fine Gael will have its fingerprints all over the economic strategy and approach of this Government. That is not something I welcome. That certainly is not something that working people across this State will welcome because they all know from bitter experience what that will amount to. Whatever about the initial flurry and rhetoric about stimulus, we know ultimately who Fine Gael will protect and whose interests it will advance when things get tight, and I assure the Taoiseach it is not the working families the length and breadth of this land.
This Government co-ordination committee brings the three wise men, or otherwise, together. It strikes me that the Taoiseach has an awful lot of apparatus of government. I accept the need for expertise, but this looks clumsy. It looks like perhaps the Taoiseach's partners in government cannot accept that he is, in fact, the Head of Government and he is in charge. I say this because we need somebody to be in charge. The job of Taoiseach cannot be contracted or subdivided between different political actors. That, I say in all seriousness, is not an approach that will bring cohesion; that is an approach that will bring confusion and that, it strikes me, is born of rivalry rather than any strong co-operation. The body charged with good governance and overseeing the programme for Government is the Cabinet as a unit in a collective fashion.
I concur, as somebody who has served in government, not as long as the Taoiseach but more recently. This will not work. There will be confusion all over the place. There is no consistency. The Taoiseach will have competition between committees in respect of funding and actions and it is a recipe for disaster.
I asked a number of questions which the Taoiseach ignored regarding young people and economic models, particularly in relation to stimulus funding being given out and the quid pro quo being respecting the architecture of the State, sectoral agreements on wages, etc. The Taoiseach will not answer regarding the size of the stimulus package. I do not know whether he knows. Is a quantum agreed at this point or not? The Taoiseach might confirm that a quantum is agreed, if he will not tell me the amount.
With regard to capital funding under the stimulus package, in addition to shovel-ready projects, I encourage the Taoiseach to support tourism projects because in my experience this worked. Tourism is taking a massive hit this year. This is a way of getting funding into the regions and the tourism areas. I refer to small capital projects where funding is being spent to improve products and facilities which, hopefully, will help them to come back next year. There are a raft of them left over that should be used.
There is much talk about targeted VAT cuts. I have a different opinion on this. What is the Government's current thinking on that? If there were changes, there would have to be some form of finance Bill in conjunction with it.
It is not clumsy at all; I think it will work as a structure. Having been in previous Governments, I know that co-ordination is key. In coalition Governments - this is a three-party Government - where one has regular engagement, particularly between the three leaders and also to avoid issues that may be disruptive or may cause difficulties, it will require hard work but that is needed to maintain cohesion.
The Cabinet co-ordination committee is a good idea. It does not only comprise the three leaders. It involves the Secretary General of my Department and the three advisers to each party leader. The idea is to review the programme for Government, make sure it is being implemented, identify any issues that are causing difficulties and see whether a resolution can be found. It is not the dominant committee in the work of the Cabinet. It is there to prevent issues from festering and becoming bigger issues than they should and to develop trust between the three parties, and that is working. It worked during the negotiations and it will continue.
I take Deputy Kelly's point on the architecture of workers' rights. We will be cognisant of that, as well as the climate. In fairness, the July stimulus arises quickly but there is much work done. We will publish it next week. I refer to Deputy's point on tourism. I would like to hear his ideas on tourism in terms of the tax measures that might be optimal for the industry.
It is interesting that many people are saving at present. There are a lot of savings in the banks and elsewhere. One of the issues is, can we engineer greater expenditure over the next while domestically to give an impetus to the economy. The key areas of the wage subsidy and the pandemic unemployment payment are important but other initiatives can be taken as well that could lead to jobs in the short term to deal with the disruptive impact that Covid represents. One of the dangers is that Covid is not going away. It could be with us for the next 12 months or more unless a vaccine arrives. Even then, that will take time too. We must try and fine-tune our economy and our model to meet the realities of living with Covid.
That impacts on tourism, travel and the more global side of our economy, without mentioning Brexit, which is coming around the corner.
Was the Government co-ordination committee convened to deal with the issues regarding the Minister, Deputy Cowen? Is that the mechanism the Taoiseach uses to brief his partners in Government on all of the serious issues arising, including the contested Garda PULSE records that suggest the Minister sought to evade a Garda checkpoint? The Taoiseach has said the co-ordination committee involves not only the leaders but the Secretary Generals of their Departments. I understand the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach is the only Secretary General present, although the other leaders' advisers attend. The Taoiseach says it is a mechanism by which to sort out problems and to ensure that things do not get overly contentious or overheated. Will the Taoiseach talk us through that committee? I presume its first task, as the Taoiseach has only just entered government, was to deal with the situation regarding the Minister, Deputy Cowen. How did that work?
There is a bit of confusion about the co-ordination committee. Will the Taoiseach tell us exactly who is on it and who can be on it? Is that decided on a case-by-case basis? Who are the defined people who will definitely attend all meetings?
It is my understanding that it is in the functioning document.
That has not changed and will not change at all.
Anything can change over time.
If the Taoiseach is considering changes, will he tell us so now?
The committee has not been convened to deal with any one issue, including the situation pertaining to the Minister, Deputy Cowen. It will meet in advance of every Cabinet meeting to discuss the Cabinet agenda, including legislation which may be on the agenda on which agreement may not yet have been arrived. Ordinarily, agreement will have been arrived at. Someone may say his party wants to consider an issue further or to push a memorandum back by a week pending resolution of some issue which has arisen. That is the essential purpose of the committee. Any issue can be raised at a meeting, however. Separately, there are other mechanisms whereby the leaders can discuss issues. The three leaders can meet at any stage, outside of the Cabinet co-ordination committee, to discuss any issue.
Deputy Kelly also mentioned young people. The July stimulus is very much focused on the needs of young people in particular.