An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

The House has agreed that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Order of Business shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. There are, therefore, three proposals to put to the House today. Is the proposal for dealing with Tuesday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. The Taoiseach knew that the statement the Minister, Deputy Cowen, made to the Dáil was incomplete. Astonishingly, he has attempted to justify the Minister's lack of candour before the House. It is now very clear that the Minister, Deputy Cowen, needs to come before the Dáil to make a statement and to take questions. A senior Cabinet Minister challenging the accuracy or truthfulness of the PULSE records of the Garda is a very serious matter. A senior Cabinet Minister attempting to evade a Garda checkpoint while behind the wheel of a car and having consumed alcohol is a very serious matter. These are matters of public concern. It is now imperative that the Minister come before the Dáil to make a full statement and to take questions.

Last week, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, was shielded from having to face questions by a vote in this House. That was a mistake. The consequence of this was a drip feed of information, which is precisely what the Minister said would be damaging. The information which emerged over the weekend is very serious for the two reasons. The first is that the record itself describes a supposed attempt to evade a checkpoint and the second is that the Minister has made the very serious assertion that this record is incorrect. Earlier, the Taoiseach seemed to imply that he was not aware of that record at the time of the Minister's statement last week. He was aware. He may not have seen the record but he had been informed of its existence.

I really do not think that is accurate. The Taoiseach was aware at the time of the statement by the Minister, Deputy Cowen. I hope that those who have made statements outside the House as to the need for the Minister to answer questions will vote in favour of him doing so now, in order that we can have questions and answers, rather than a continuing drip feed.

Time should be provided for the Minister to come to the House to deal with some of the outstanding issues including the issue of the driving licence, which is still outstanding. He had given a commitment to some groups that he would deal with that issue. It is in the public interest, and in his own interest, to do so.

The Minister has indicated that he wishes to proceed with the two inquiries or investigations by the Data Protection Commission and GSOC. He is of the view that those inquiries should be completed before he would publicly engage with the Dáil.

That is the worst type of evasion. As Head of Government, I appeal to the Taoiseach to do the right thing for the sake of the integrity of the Dáil. There is no conceivable reason that the Minister could not present himself to make a full and complete statement and to take questions from Deputies. It is entirely unacceptable to dance on the head of a pin in the way in which the Taoiseach is doing.

I would love to see the Minister, Deputy Cowen, come before the Dáil but, in fairness, he has served his punishment and there is an investigation going on at the moment. He should be given an opportunity to clear his name outside here and then he should come before the House. I would appreciate it if the Minister were to give a commitment to the Taoiseach that he will come before the House to answer questions after the investigation is over.

This is a transparent attempt to kick this off the agenda for a year. That is how long we are talking about. It is a question of accountability to the Dáil. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, has made very serious statements about the veracity of what is contained in the Garda record. He is currently a Minister and he has to be accountable to the Dáil. If he does not want to be accountable to the Dáil until these processes have concluded, then he cannot continue as a Minister until they have concluded and then he can come in, but the idea that he does not have to answer any questions for a year is clearly ridiculous.

The issue was debated last week and this now is grandstanding. The Minister admitted what he did was wrong and he paid the price. There is a very serious matter at issue that needs to be investigated regarding the information that is on the PULSE system and the leaking of same. It would be wrong of us to have a debate and questions and answers until such time as a thorough investigation is carried out by GSOC, the Garda Commissioner or whomever else and the record cleared.

Sinn Féin is very anxious to damage the Minister but is there any talk about their own colleague who sits in this House who was also arrested for drink-driving, and many other issues? It is funny how members of Sinn Féin are so interested in justice all of a sudden.

Let us not please go there.

Question put: "That the proposal for dealing with today's business be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 16; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ryan, Eamon.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Smith, Duncan.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Dara Calleary; Níl, Deputies Matt Carthy and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Question declared carried.

Today's business is agreed. Regarding No. 2, is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

It is not agreed. I wrote to the Business Committee this morning stating that tomorrow or on another day this week, there will need to be statements on foot of the ruling, which will come out tomorrow, of the General Court of the European Union on the Apple tax case. This is not a small matter. We will get a ruling tomorrow as to whether the decision of the European Commission to award Revenue €13 billion in unpaid taxes plus interest from Apple will be upheld. Regrettably, the previous Government, with the support of Fianna Fáil, appealed that decision and supported Apple rather than taking the €13 billion we need. Whatever about the previous Government, in the context of Covid and its costs, and when we are looking at a bill for this country of up to €20 billion, it would be nothing short of economic treason to appeal a decision that awards those tax revenues to this country when we need them desperately to cover the bill for the Covid crisis. We need to hear, as do the people of this country, from the Government this week, immediately after that ruling. I hope it will tell us it will not further support Apple in its efforts to avoid paying taxes of such magnitude owed to this country, taxes which could transform our economic and financial situation fundamentally. That is what I believe should happen, and the Government should agree because this is too serious a matter with implications too enormous for this country.

Standing Orders 29, 31 and 33 make it clear that the taking of this type of business is a matter for either Private Members' time or Government time. Do Members want us to convene the Business Committee on the matter? Is this likely? I understand that Government is under intense pressure to get through its business, but there is-----

There is time on Thursday.

Let us hear from the Taoiseach.

It is the Business Committee that orders the business of the House, trying to balance the need for Government and Private Members' time. There have been two attempts to change the business. I appreciate that Members are entitled to do that.

By the way, the €13 billion would not be available even if there were a decision to uphold the Commission's position. The Government's position is not to support anybody or any company other than to say this was not state aid and that the independence and credibility of our Revenue cannot be undermined. The idea that the €13 billion will be available next week is just not true and is a dishonest presentation of the situation. The Deputy can take it that whatever happens, and I do not know what will happen with the decision, the money is not readily available to Ireland. I think there will be others in the queue. Of course, nothing can be accessed until the full appeals mechanisms are exhausted. There is a potential appeal by another party to this that would basically mean that no one could access the funding.

That said, I would have no issue with a debate on the Apple ruling.

It should be an informed debate. I am not sure how lengthy the judgment will be tomorrow and how ready the Dáil will be to have a meaningful debate on it tomorrow or Thursday. We should have an informed debate on it. I would welcome that and I do not see any issue, but there is an exhaustive legislative programme here and the reason for that legislative programme is to underpin the economic recovery and to deal with Covid, particularly getting as much assistance as we can to small businesses and medium-sized companies in the economy through the Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2020 and other Bills.

Is it reasonable, having regard to Deputy Boyd Barrett's proposal, that the Business Committee would consult with a view to making some time available on Thursday or early next week for a discussion on this?

If the Business Committee wishes to consult, I can see what ministerial availability there is. The only time we have is late Thursday evening, from a quick look at the schedule. If you want to consult and advise me, I will see what ministerial availability we can organise.

As long as that is a commitment that the Government will facilitate statements.

I will not commit to Thursday night but I have no difficulty with statements.

No later than early next week.

It could be next week, yes.

Not "could". Will be.

I think next week is more sensible because one will be able to examine the judgment. That is my only point. In the immediacy of tomorrow and Thursday, people might not get the full-----

The probability is that the time will be available next week and the Business Committee should agree that.

If that is a commitment from the Government.

The Taoiseach is so committing. Can I take it that the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business is agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to? Agreed. On the Order of Business, I am conscious that we have only 18 minutes now. I call Deputy McDonald.

When I raised with the Taoiseach last week the need to extend maternity leave and benefit by 12 weeks for mothers and parents affected by the Covid-19 crisis, he said the matter was complicated and complex but that the Government would do the right thing. Yesterday, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced a three-week extension to parental leave to be brought in next year under budget 2021. I put it to the Taoiseach that that is too little and too late. Those new mothers and families that need the additional breathing space and support of 12 additional weeks of maternity leave and benefit need action now. They are not in a position to wait until next year for some of that relief. I appeal to the Taoiseach to support the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion that will be brought forward and more than that to act as a Government and live up to the Taoiseach's commitment to do the right thing. The right thing is to afford 12 extra weeks to these woman, their babies and their families.

I believe the Government's decision is a substantive and significant one in advancing the extension of parents' leave and benefits to five weeks for all parents of children born after 1 November 2019. That is to give parents who gave birth during the Covid period an opportunity to avail of the scheme. The pre-existing scheme was somewhat limited and could have excluded them. The proposal Deputy McDonald put forward in terms of paternity benefit would have required further social welfare and justice legislation and would have had to be retrospective, which would have been complex enough. Also, the benefit of this proposal is that it is consistent and in line with policy positions that Government had adopted and the Oireachtas had agreed to in respect of parents' leave.

There are other groups out there as well. If one takes the totality of the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy, there is a substantive range of supports helping people in different groupings and different situations.

There is a concern out there about the leadership of the new version of Government in issues relating to Covid, such as masks, testing, quarantine, the green list and so on. We also have real issues coming down the line regarding trolley numbers in acute hospitals. The numbers released today by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in relation to trolley numbers are scary. The total number is 166. In relation to University Hospital Limerick, the number is 56. The Minister is now silent on this issue despite making a range of huge commitments on it prior to being appointed. What is the Taoiseach going to do about this? We are in the middle of a pandemic. We need leadership as to how we ensure we can cope over the coming months with Covid and non-Covid illnesses, particularly in relation to acute settings and trolley numbers. Commitments have been made. The Minister seems to be missing. What will the Taoiseach do?

The Minister and I met the HSE on Friday. He certainly was not missing. He was in front of an entire press briefing.

He needs to honour his commitments.

He was there and the purpose of the visit was a winter initiative in the context of Covid and also a resumption of services for non-Covid treatments and the non-Covid strand of health services and medicine. It is going to be challenging in terms of capacity constraints in our acute hospitals.

He had loads of answers prior to his appointment.

It will also be challenging in terms of face masks. I have made it my business in the last week to knock heads together and get the regulations signed on Friday so masks would be compulsory on public transport. One can spend forever working out who will do that but the Irish people obey the law and they are compliant in relation to public health matters. There was a good degree of compliance by the public yesterday on buses and trains. That type of leadership did work.

That was not the question that I asked.

Which one-----

I thank the Taoiseach. Is Deputy O'Callaghan offering for the Social Democrats? Yes.

I have a question about commitments around the private rented residential sector and improving the security of tenure. The moratorium on evictions and rent increases is due to expire in six days time. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to extend that moratorium, which has been effective in helping prevent homelessness?

It has been effective and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has spent a lot of time in the last while meeting NGOs in relation to homelessness. It was brought in in the context of the emergency regulations and legislation relating to the pandemic. It is under active consideration by the Government. A decision has to be made by 20 July.

The Taoiseach spoke about the issue of access to medicinal cannabis numerous times in the last Dáil, to his credit. It is three and a half years since the Health Products Regulatory Authority recommended that a medical cannabis programme be set up. Last year, the law was changed in this country. For the first time, medical practitioners could legally prescribe medical cannabis. Since then, not one person has been prescribed medical cannabis unless they go through the licensing system. As the Taoiseach knows, this system is extremely bureaucratic and those people have to go to Holland and so forth. Can the Taoiseach give a commitment that this programme, which is in the programme for Government, will be commenced as soon as possible?

It is in the programme for Government. I am aware, as is the Deputy, of the finer details of this but there has been a lot of frustration in terms of the difficulties in rolling out the compassionate access programme. The Minister is aware of it, as well. I will come back to the Deputy with, hopefully, some timelines in relation to it.

The last two Ministers for Health, Deputies Harris and Stephen Donnelly, said they would come back to me and they have not. At the same time, people are going without, including vulnerable children.

The Deputy can ask one question. He cannot get two bites of the cherry.

It is a terrible injustice.

I thank Deputy Kenny and the Taoiseach. I call Deputy Fitzpatrick.

Last week I raised the issue of patients using private hospitals who are being charged fees for Covid-19 testing. I also told the Taoiseach about a constituent of mine whose daughter is getting chemotherapy and has to pay €250 per session. The Taoiseach gave a commitment that himself and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, would look into the situation. He used a very strong word and said that no private hospital should be profiteering. I agree with him. I got a phone call yesterday from another constituent of mine. She went to a private hospital which I will not name and she has to go for an operation on 27 July. The consultant told her yesterday she might need as many as three Covid tests. Can I go back to my constituent and tell her not to worry, that the fee will not be there on 27 July? The Taoiseach made a commitment last week. Did he or the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, or anybody tackle or visit the private hospitals to do away with this fee?

The first point I would make is that we do not control the private hospitals in terms of their fee structures. However, I reiterate what I said last week, namely, that there should be no profiteering out of the Covid situation in respect of any patients, be they private or public. Private hospitals should not be levying charges that are disproportionate to the costs of providing those services and which are basically unfair to patients. The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is communicating that view to the private hospitals.

Pubs that do not offer a substantial meal to customers are due, or may be due, to open next Monday. I note the comment by the deputy chief medical officer that there is a week to decide on this matter. The Civil Service can work for a while in splendid isolation from economic realities or at least until the economy cannot afford to pay their salaries. For small businesses, however, there are preparations to be made, including getting in new stock. Many of these pubs are family-run businesses and the owners have to make arrangements for their families. They need to know in advance what is happening. We cannot tell them on Monday morning that they can open at 10 a.m. that day.

When will the statutory instrument that will govern this issue be published? Thus far, we have had relevant statutory instruments published two or three days after they come into effect. That does not amount to the rule of law because one cannot regulate one's behaviour in accordance with something that is not published and we cannot prosecute somebody for not adhering to something they cannot even see. When will the statutory instrument be published so that people can have certainty as to what is happening?

Pubs are included in the reopening plan for next Monday. I have been contacted by numerous publicans expressing their frustration and worry concerning the lack of advice provided to them on what they must do to prepare or whether they will be opening at all. I understand that public safety is paramount and we must do everything in our power to safeguard it. However, we need a concrete plan for publicans setting out what they must do to reopen and what guidelines they must abide by to ensure public safety remains the top priority.

Publicans all over the country are at the end of their tether at the continuing uncertainty as to whether they can reopen next week. Stocks needed to be ordered yesterday if they are to open next Monday. Some publicans took the gamble by ordering but more did not because they do not know where they stand. We seem to have completely forgotten that there are 50,000 jobs on the line. Pub owners need clarity as to whether they can open their doors. That is what I am hearing from every publican in west Cork. I am pleading with the Taoiseach to give them that clarity and let them order their stock and reopen their businesses. We should bear in mind that if we have one or two pubs opening at one end of the street and none at the other end, we will have a congestion of people at the first end. If we instead allow all the pubs in a town to open, that will at least spread out the numbers.

I do not know whether the Government is serious about the pandemic. While pub and shop owners, families and everyone else have suffered, people continue to be allowed into the country from abroad. The Taoiseach said earlier that the people are law abiding and that is, of course, true. However, they are also furious at what is happening at the ports and airports. The Taoiseach knows, because he was there, that I have been asking NPHET, Dr. Holohan and others, from the very start, about the ports and airports remaining open. Deputy Shortall asked how many personnel had been assigned to those locations but she was not given an answer. The Government was trying to fool the Irish people. We are expected to take all the medicine while, at the same time, people from areas with scary Covid numbers are let into the country by aeroplane. The Taoiseach is saying that the number involved is limited but it is not fair to business people, publicans, shop owners and their families that they are being treated in this way. Pub owners need to know when they can open. Above all, if we do not seal the airports and stop people coming in from abroad, the results will be tragic.

To be fair, I recall the pub owners themselves, in tandem with the previous Government, saying that they needed to close at the time they did close. In terms of the reopening under phase 4 of the roadmap, there will be a Government meeting tomorrow to discuss it. NPHET is meeting today and will give us its up-to-date advice. I am taken by some of the points made by Deputies McNamara, Cahill, Michael Collins and Mattie McGrath in terms of a rules-based approach sometimes being far more effective. I said earlier that what is of more danger than anything is a situation where we have 30 or 60 people at a house party or parties taking place on certain roads in our cities, and we will have to do something about that. I am making the same point that Deputies Collins and Cahill were making that where there are rules, behaviour follows.

The Garda Síochána has indicated that while its members did have some challenging experiences the weekend before last in identifying breaches under Operation Navigation, the large majority of premises were compliant. The reports this weekend likewise suggest a large degree of compliance with the rules. That said, there are other issues arising in terms of the virus itself and its activity levels, and all of that has to be taken in the round. We will get the advice today and will make a decision tomorrow. I am taken by the point regarding the need to give people notice and allow them time to prepare. I accept that point.

The programme for Government includes a section on insurance reform and an acknowledgement of the massive costs of insurance and their impact on businesses and motorists. There is a specific reference on page 28 to the expected impact of increased premium levels. I want to tell the Taoiseach about a constituent of mine who contacted me over the weekend. He is 21 years of age and has a full driving licence with no penalties or associated convictions whatsoever. His insurance quote is a staggering €4,450. We are not talking about a Subaru Impreza or a high-powered car here; the insurance is for a van which the young man needs for his work, which is at a small business that is looking to expand. Unfortunately, that is the quote he has been given. Can the Taoiseach give an assurance to this young man and to the thousands of young people who are looking to the Government for help and support with their car insurance? The price my constituent is being asked to pay is absolutely appalling.

I agree with the Deputy that it is a shocking cost. It is not sustainable for a young man going into business to take a cost like that on board. Such costs militate against young people becoming entrepreneurs, getting into business and going out to work. The programme for Government sets out a multipronged approach to dealing with insurance, both on the personal injuries side and in terms of making sure there is fair competition. We will be tackling the insurance issue on a number of fronts.

My question relates to local government services and the maintenance of a fully functioning retained fire service. The case I want to talk about concerns a retained firefighter with 12 years' service, based in Dundalk, who has been working for the Revenue service. He has been told that from Monday, he can no longer engage in his life-saving work as a firefighter. Back in September 2017, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform facilitated a local arrangement that allowed firefighters to continue working for Revenue. While this individual was on call, he always made up his hours, worked both of his jobs perfectly and never let either side down. We cannot expect private employers to facilitate a necessary life-saving service like this when we have a public employer failing to facilitate it. We are talking about a firefighter who, with his colleagues, has dealt with some of the major fires in the Cooley Peninsula and some of the very serious arson attacks in Dundalk.

Will the Deputy forward me the background and details of the case? Is it because of his private working hours that this individual is not allowed to perform his firefighting role?

An arrangement was in place to facilitate his firefighting role. A new solution is required.

If the Deputy sends me on the details, I will follow up on the matter.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Taoiseach and his family on his appointment. Go n-éirí an t-ádh libh. The Taoiseach was previously Minister for Health and his legacy in my county of Monaghan is that he was one of a successive line of Ministers who oversaw the removal of services from our local hospital. In view of the Covid-19-related restrictive measures that will have to be applied at emergency departments in Drogheda and Cavan and in hospitals throughout the State, will the Taoiseach ensure that the Government reviews the services that are offered and services that have been removed at hospitals? We should be aiming for a restoration and development of services such as accident and emergency services at hospitals like Monaghan.

I am not going to go through the mythology the Deputy articulated at the commencement of his question. I remember the decisions made by the North Eastern Health Board and we have come a long way in medicine since then. Very often now, it is the colleges of the various clinical specialties which determine the critical mass that justifies and sustains, for example, a maternity unit or an emergency department.

Gone are the days when politicians claim we should have an emergency department without any reference to the medical wherewithal that is required to sustain it and make it safe. That is an ongoing battle between the political world and the medical world as medicine advances. That said, our aim for acute and emergency cover in the north west, particularly with Covid-19, is to do everything we possibly can to develop capacity within respective hospitals, and short-term capacity in particular, because there will be pressure on emergency departments. We cannot operate at 95% occupancy during the flu season with the potential of Covid with us as well and, therefore, the HSE is looking at how it can either procure or develop capacity quickly in certain locations to enable it to deal with the urgency of the next six to nine months.

That concludes Questions on Promised Legislation. Seven Deputies were not reached today and I will attempt to give them priority tomorrow.