Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

I raise the issue of the sacking of the former Minister, Deputy Cowen. Many were left scratching their heads as to what changed between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. yesterday. The Taoiseach moved very swiftly from fully backing his man to sacking him. People wonder whether the Taoiseach learned something new and whether there is another twist in the tale or another piece of information. The truth, however, is that the Taoiseach knew this whole sorry story from the very beginning, unlike the rest of us who learned of it piecemeal. Did the Taoiseach share the full story with the Tánaiste and with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on 4 July, when he learned the full story, or did he feed it to them piecemeal?

He had the full story and he failed to act. That is the truth and that is the problem. He accepted an apology from the then Minister, Deputy Cowen, which we all, including myself, believe was absolutely genuine. The Taoiseach, however, also chose to stand by someone who was challenging a Garda record and account and who had sought to avoid a Garda checkpoint according to that account. He allowed him to give an incomplete statement to the Dáil and he failed to act for a week before it all unravelled yesterday on the floor of the Dáil. This raises very serious questions about the Taoiseach as Head of Government because it was only when his lack of judgment was exposed that he chose to act. In a very short period, he went from backing the then Minister, Deputy Cowen, to sacking him. Tá ceisteanna don Taoiseach mar cheannaire an Rialtais. Laistigh de tamall gearr chuaigh sé ó chosaint Teachta Cowen go dtí é a chur as a phost.

I have a series of questions for the Taoiseach. He said in the Dáil yesterday that he had seen the document, the PULSE record, that morning and that "having seen it, I can say that it is not quite as it has been portrayed." The Taoiseach therefore actively moved to play down the content of the Garda PULSE record. However, by 9 p.m. last night, he said that the issues in that same record were so serious and raised such fundamental questions that they had to be addressed and that he had moved to sack Deputy Cowen because he would not deal with these issues before the Dáil. This raises two questions. Did the Taoiseach mislead the Dáil by playing down the content of that PULSE record? If that is not the case, what did he learn after 2 p.m. yesterday? When he sacked the then Minister, Deputy Cowen, he said that he had asked or instructed him to answer the legitimate and serious questions arising from the Garda PULSE record in the Dáil, yet only hours earlier he had voted against bringing Deputy Cowen before the Dáil to do just that.

The Taoiseach confirmed yesterday that he had been made aware of the allegation that Deputy Cowen avoided a Garda checkpoint and that he spoke to him the weekend before last on this matter. That was prior to Deputy Cowen making what was to be a full statement to the Dáil. The Taoiseach let that go. He allowed an incomplete statement to stand on the record of the Dáil. The Taoiseach seems to have sacked Deputy Cowen for his failure or refusal to answer questions. I hope he will now, as Head of Government, answer questions on the issues he needs to clarify.

Ar dtús báire, ní aontaím leis an Teachta. Níl an ceart aici sa mhéid atá ráite aici go dtí seo. I strongly disagree with the Deputy's assertion that I knew about this on 3 or 4 July. Allegations, assertions and media questions are not facts. Deputy Cowen is still, as he was at the time, adamant with regard to the accuracy of the report from his PULSE file. At that stage, he did not have access to that file and I certainly did not. I did not see it until yesterday morning. I sought it on Monday night but Deputy Cowen was not in a position to bring it with him at that time. I told him I needed to see the file. I had a long discussion with him on Monday night regarding his account of what transpired. At approximately 7.30 a.m. the following morning, a copy of the file itself was sent to my phone. I had discussions with him on Monday night and read the actual, factual account in the report for the first time yesterday morning. The Deputy should not assert that I knew what I knew yesterday morning a week ago because I did not. I read it myself in what the garda put on the file.

I also had a difficulty insofar as Deputy Cowen questions the accuracy of that report on the file and is going through a legal process to get it changed. In addition, the matter of the release of his data is being examined and investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. I was, however, fully satisfied yesterday that the Deputy should come before the Dáil. That was Deputy McDonald's assertion yesterday; she demanded that he come before the Dáil to make a statement. We voted for the Order of Business as agreed by the Business Committee yesterday. The Order of Business, however, did not preclude Deputy Cowen making a statement. I made it clear to Deputy Cowen yesterday morning that he should come before the House. He said he would not, and I told him I wanted him to reflect on that. As soon as Leaders' Questions was over, I contacted the Deputy and told him that his position in refusing to come before the Dáil was not acceptable or tenable and that he would have to come before the Dáil. He still refused to take that route.

The fundamental difference between myself and Deputy Cowen on this issue is that he took a legal route and a legalistic approach to defend his rights, in his words, as a citizen and as a public representative. In my view, this issue could only be resolved through the political route, that is, by coming before Dáil Éireann. It did not have to be yesterday, it could have been today or tomorrow, but a comprehensive statement on this issue from the Deputy was required in this House. I accept what Deputies in this House have said. I believe that office holders, and Ministers in particular, should come before the House to answer questions on issues of public interest.

I have the record of what the Taoiseach said yesterday. He made clear that he was fully aware of all aspects of the story regarding Deputy Cowen from the beginning. That is not an assertion of mine; it has been clarified by the Taoiseach. He said:

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Cowen, the weekend before last and he adamantly denied any suggestion or implication that he would have evaded or attempted to avoid a checkpoint.

The Taoiseach had that information. Did he share it with the Tánaiste or the leader of the Green Party? I ask the Taoiseach to please answer that question. He had that information and therefore knew full well that Deputy Cowen's statement to the Dáil was incomplete. He did not, however, challenge Deputy Cowen on it. Above all else, the Taoiseach stood behind, and today has continued to stand behind, an assertion by a former senior Minister and senior member of the Taoiseach's party which contradicts a Garda record. I am sure the Taoiseach will appreciate that is a very serious matter. I believe it is unprecedented for the Head of Government to side with a party colleague in contradicting a Garda record, using the cover of legal processes to so do. The Taoiseach's judgment in all of this is very much in question. He had the information. Did he share it with his partners in government? He allowed his colleague to make an incomplete statement.

It was the Taoiseach and his colleagues in government who prevented Deputy Cowen from coming yesterday, today or any other day to give an account of himself and to answer what the Taoiseach concedes are very legitimate questions.

The Deputy is again making false assertions.

I am not standing by any assertion by Deputy Cowen in respect of the Garda statement. Does Deputy McDonald understand that? I am not standing by the assertion in relation to the Garda record on the file. That is the point. I read the file yesterday. I spoke to Deputy Cowen the night before. There is a process in place and I do not want to prejudice it, but I have my own view on it. I did not have that perspective a week ago. The Deputy needs to understand that it is great to be making the assertions but I am deeply conscious that it is a very difficult day for the Cowen family and for Barry and his family. I have to put that on the record. I have never sought in any shape or form to undermine any garda or to undermine the accuracy or the credibility of any garda statement on the file. I only saw it for the first time yesterday morning. I had a discussion with Deputy Cowen the evening before that. I drew my own conclusions and that is why I felt it needed a Dáil statement.

Which the Taoiseach prevented.

I did not prevent-----

The Taoiseach should please be allowed to speak without interruption.

There was a tactical device to force a vote on the issue. The issue was on the Order of Business. I had come into the House after having asked Deputy Cowen to consider his position and reflect on his decision not to come into the House. In my view, he should have come into the House.

I thank the Taoiseach. His time is up.

I was giving him time and space to reflect on that. In my view, he should have come into the House. In the afternoon, when he still refused to respond to my view that he should come into the House, I was left with no alternative then-----

The Taoiseach's time is up.

-----but to seek the termination of his appointment. We both disagreed in terms of the route. He wanted to go the legal route but for me that was not tenable in the context of being an officeholder.

I do not wish the former Minister, Deputy Cowen, any ill will. It is a very difficult day for him and his family but the Taoiseach has set a record as regards firing a Minister in the quickest time ever - 17 days. It is quite confusing listening to the Taoiseach's contribution now and what he has said over the past week or two because not an awful lot has changed since 3 July when the story broke and the Taoiseach's awareness of "issues". He should not mind the semantics. The issues surrounding what was in the public domain have not changed dramatically. I feel what has changed is the political consequences for the Taoiseach, and that is worrying. The information regarding what happened and the Taoiseach's awareness of it at some level has not changed; what has changed is the Taoiseach's interpretation of this. The executive summary is that as long as it was not going to cause a huge issue for the Taoiseach politically, then the Minister, Deputy Cowen, could stay, but if it was, he could not. It was fine, as long as the additional information that came out over the weekend in The Sunday Times and then in the Irish Independent was not in the public domain and as long as it was secret but then once it all came out, it was not. I am sad to say it raises questions about the Taoiseach's judgment; it really does. It raises questions also about what the Taoiseach said. He stated: "I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Cowen, the weekend before last and he adamantly denied any suggestion or implication that he evaded or attempted to avoid a checkpoint." To the Taoiseach's knowledge, nothing has changed.

I have a number of questions about how we got to this point, and some of them go deeper than the Taoiseach or the former Minister, Deputy Cowen, in respect of the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. How did the Minister, Deputy Cowen, receive the data from An Garda Síochána? The Taoiseach referred to it as a Garda report or record but he refers to it as a PULSE file. Which is it?

I am holding a subject access request form in my hand. This is how one gets information about oneself from An Garda Síochána. It usually takes between one and three months. I respect the data protection issues here but how was the information provided to the then Minister, Deputy Cowen? Was it expedited for some reason and how is that justified in the case of a Minister? Citizens do not get PULSE files. It is really worrying in terms of the information that has been provided, the process by which this information was provided to a Minister, the channels by which that was asked for and how that was delivered. Many people in An Garda Síochána and their families are watching this and wondering about it. How was the information provided? We need to know if the information that has been provided included any details outside of raw personal data. For instance, are gardaí named? If they are, thousands of gardaí around the country who are doing their job today are deeply worried and concerned that what they put into the system in a PULSE file will be identified as being from them, not necessarily their raw data-----

The Deputy’s time is up.

-----is going to be presentable to a Minister at some future date.

The first point I would make is that it now seems to be the case on the Opposition side that the assertion by a journalist, who is entitled to make assertions and points, is fact, and that one should act immediately on it. That seems to be the import of what is being said here this afternoon.

I never said that.

I cannot act on that, nor should I. In terms of the acquisition of the file, Deputy Cowen was faced with a situation where he was being presented with private material about himself from journalistic sources. In other words, they had information about him relating to a PULSE file on him that he himself did not have. His point was that he was very taken aback by any assertions in respect of certain details. He was very clear. He acknowledged in the Dáil that he was guilty of a drink-driving offence, but seems to have been completely taken aback and shocked at any other implications. That is the language he used. Then information was coming out about speeding fines. Deputy Cowen related to me that he then rang the Garda directly to seek access to his own information, given that others in the media had it. I am just telling the Deputy what happened. I think a person has an entitlement to their own personal data if others have it and are putting questions in relation to it.

That is a bigger question that everyone in this House should be concerned about as well in terms of data and the release of data. That is a wider more fundamental policy question that we all have to be conscious of. On another day in this House we will go on about companies and multinationals and citizens' rights, which is important too and is valid.

Deputy Cowen then got access to his file in the middle of last week, I think. He challenged that and he then wanted to correct the record. Apparently, one is entitled to seek a correction of a record about oneself and he has undertaken that particular process. Likewise, we know the Garda Commissioner has asked GSOC to investigate the wider issue of the protection of the Deputy's personal data.

At all stages I wanted to be fair to the person and that is why I sought the report on Monday night. It is not my record and I do not necessarily have an entitlement to it. Deputy Cowen did not bring it along with him on Monday night as it was with his solicitor. I said I needed to see it following our discussion. There is material on the file relating to the Deputy, which I must be careful about as I am not in a position to release it. My understanding is that it is a PULSE file.

The Taoiseach has not given us much clarity on anything. I accept there are data protection issues at play. I also accept that the Data Protection Commission and GSOC will have to undertake serious investigations and there are wider issues concerning a citizen of the State, in this case, Deputy Cowen, but there is a process by which anyone gets information and it takes time. The Taoiseach never answered the question on whether it is an actual printout of a PULSE file. Is there information about An Garda Síochána being made available to Ministers? These are serious questions about precedent and the Taoiseach has not answered any of them.

The Taoiseach was aware that there were issues around this situation and about what happened with the former Minister, Deputy Cowen. He was aware of this on 3 July. Nothing changed in relation to the Taoiseach's information. Am I to understand that the Taoiseach was happy that Deputy Cowen did not address it when he made his statement but was not happy yesterday evening? No information has been given on what changed the Taoiseach's mind and that is the crux of the issue.

I have raised a whole range of questions here which have a broader consequence for An Garda Síochána, the administration of justice and the protection of Garda personnel in the performance of their duty. Where the hell is the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy McEntee, in all of this? She has been tweeting about greenways. There are serious issues at the heart of An Garda Síochána and-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----the Department of Justice and Equality, and how justice is administered, but we have not heard a peep out of the Minister. In fairness to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Flanagan, with whom I had many run-ins, he would certainly-----

I thank the Deputy. Can the Taoiseach deal with the question, please?

-----have been out making it very clear that he was the Minister for Justice and Equality, that some of the actions here-----

I thank Deputy Kelly but his time is up.

-----were not acceptable and that members of An Garda Síochána should be protected in their actions.

Again, I have to be very clear. I made it very clear in my speech to the House yesterday evening, and again today and also to Deputy Cowen on Monday evening and yesterday morning, that he had an obligation to speak to the House to clarify issues that had emerged. Particularly since I saw the PULSE file itself, I felt he should because there was a demand that he come-----

Has the Taoiseach seen the PULSE file?

I am sorry, but this is an issue of grave public controversy.

Has the Taoiseach seen the PULSE file?

I asked Deputy Cowen to share his personal data with me. To be fair to him, he did so in the end. I felt I needed that because I am here now accounting to the House. One moment it is being said that I know everything without seeing any PULSE file, the next moment when I do seek access to the PULSE file that is something that is terribly wrong as well. That is not fair or balanced. It is an issue of huge public controversy involving a Government Minister. Information pertaining to him was in the public domain that he did not have access to. If one accepts that, it logically follows that he should have access to it because other people are commenting on it and writing about it.

Is it a PULSE file or a report?

I cannot be definitive about that. My understanding is that it is a PULSE file, but I do not know. I was given information. From my understanding, it is a PULSE file.

I thank the Taoiseach, his time is up.

The provenance of it is this: it relates to the drink-driving incident and it relates to two other issues, one of which is a speeding fine, which the Deputy knows about because it was published in the newspaper. Deputy Cowen was in a situation where people had more information about what was on his file than he himself might have had-----

The Taoiseach's time is up.

-----and that is a very difficult position for anybody to be in. To be fair to him, he then sought access in that context. I think that was fair enough, given the gravity of what was being said and given the issues.

The fallout from the sacking of Deputy Cowen as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine inevitably switches the spotlight to the Taoiseach himself. The obvious question involves what occurred between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. yesterday, because there was certainly no indication in the Taoiseach's responses at Leaders' Questions that it would transpire as it did. While the incident took place in 2016 it is recent news to most of us, including the Taoiseach. It originally came into the public domain on 3 July. It may well have been in the Irish Independent before John Mooney's first story in The Sunday Times. Not only was it in the former Minister's interest and in the public interest that he fully address the outstanding issues, but it was also in the new Government's interest that he did so. There is no doubt that this has been a bad start for the Government at a time when the focus of attention should be on the risks from Covid, on safely restarting our society and economy and on building leadership and trust. It is early days but it is difficult to know what to make of the new Government that the Taoiseach leads. There is no doubt that people are busy, as our new Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, has told us, but does that mean the schools will reopen in September? The Government is busy with the July stimulus and hopefully it will be well targeted. It has also been busy limiting Opposition voices with the new arrangements in this House.

The indecision around flights into this country from areas where Covid-19 is reproducing rapidly, particularly the US, is the biggest cause of public concern at the moment. Quite frankly, it is being viewed with disbelief. I have heard several Ministers minimising the risk by telling us that just 250 people are coming into the country from the US on a daily basis and some are self-isolating. However, 250 people per day is 2,500 people over ten days. They are coming from what is the epicentre of the virus at the moment. The people of the US are free to choose whoever they wish to lead them but we can all see how the virus is being handled there. As I have said, it is the epicentre of the pandemic. The seriousness of it is being minimised there with tragic consequences. We have to factor that into the public's understanding of this matter. That is why the US is such a high-risk country. On several occasions, our people have been ahead of us on this issue and they are ahead of us again. Despite the huge Ryanair marketing campaign for cheap flights, people have largely heeded the warning to restrict themselves to essential travel and are choosing to holiday at home.

I thank the Deputy.

We know the Cabinet will consider a green list of safe countries to travel to. Will it consider a red list where the epicentre of the virus is located? Will the Taoiseach tell us what is happening in practice when people arrive into the country at the moment?

The Deputy's time is up.

People do not want to be made fools of by adhering to the rules and then worrying that if they holiday here they will be mingling with people coming in from high-risk areas without self-isolating. That needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The Deputy began by asking a number of questions about the events of yesterday evening. Again, the fundamental issue yesterday was Deputy Cowen's refusal to respond to my request that he address Dáil Éireann on the issue. I felt he needed to come into the House to clarify the issues that had arisen, particularly following my reading of the file and my discussions with him the evening before. He felt that would prejudice his rights in respect of the two processes that are under way concerning the data. That is the fundamental point. Prior to 2 p.m. he had not agreed to do so. When I went back to my office I contacted him immediately and made the point that it was not tenable if he was not prepared to come into the House at some stage to clarify matters. That is the essence of it.

On the Government's focus, the legislative output from the Government this month is probably the largest volume of legislation in any one month for quite some time. It needs to be said that it is designed to underpin our response to Covid and the economic recovery. The preparations are well advanced for the jobs stimulus which will be launched at some stage next week. Again, it is critical for the support of small to medium-sized companies and indeed people's livelihoods and incomes, particularly through the two pillars of the pandemic unemployment payment and the wage subsidy scheme.

On Covid-19 and travel, I met the acting CMO last evening. NPHET has provided advice to the Government. There will be a Cabinet meeting this evening on phase 4 of the roadmap and we will be responding to the advice that NPHET has provided to us. There is concern about increased numbers. They are not attributed to last week or the week before. There were some issues from mid-June onwards about behaviour and so on that we need to be very conscious of. The figures are still relatively low in Ireland.

We need to be very cautious and careful about how we proceed from now on in respect of this. My immediate priorities are to facilitate the reopening of schools, which is the number one national objective, and to maintain capacity in our health services to treat non-Covid conditions and illnesses. That is my approach.

I thank the Taoiseach, the time is up.

On the travel issue, the decision in terms of the green list will be taken next Monday but along with that will be issues pertaining to stronger defences and a stronger presence at airports, and further issues to which the Deputy has alluded will be examined.

The Taoiseach dealt with the issue relating to Deputy Cowen and what he knew. He went on to talk about the legislative programme. We all understand that there is a high degree of co-operation from the Opposition on this but it will be all at nought if we end up with a second wave similar to the one we have already had and we have to lock down a second time. This is why people are so concerned about travel from the United States in particular at present, or other countries at the epicentre. There is no confidence. We have seen on the television that restaurateurs have become those who vet people and ask them whether they have recently arrived and self-isolated. This tells us there is no confidence in the systems in place. We know that it is an offence not to fill out the locator form correctly but people do not have confidence regarding the arrival of flights or the follow up.

The time is up Deputy, please.

That is the issue that needs urgent attention today.

The Taoiseach to conclude on this matter, please.

I accept the Deputy's well-articulated concerns and she is correct that people are very concerned about the fact there is travelling from what we might call hot spot areas or areas that, to me, appear to be out of control with regard to the virus. I accept the Deputy's point on this. Since the start of the pandemic, travel has never been banned. The Deputy's point about follow-up is equally true and accepted. In our announcement some weeks ago, we indicated that this dimension had to be improved upon, in terms of follow-up and engagement with those who have arrived into the country. I watched a report on "Prime Time" last night in which quite a number of people who had come into the country were interviewed. Some are citizens here and some work here and they were coming back from these hot spot areas. All said they were committed to quarantining, staying in isolation for two weeks and obeying the guidelines. I accept the Deputy's point that more needs to be done-----

Thank you, Taoiseach, the time is up.

-----in terms of the other areas the Deputy has highlighted.

As they marched to the Dáil today, Debenhams workers chanted, "Apple got sorted out. We got sold out." The Taoiseach supported the successful appeal against Apple paying the State €13 billion. The Debenhams workers are campaigning for the far smaller sum of €13 million but the Government is taking no action on their behalf. This €13 million is the sum necessary to provide almost 1,000 Debenhams workers with two weeks' statutory redundancy and two weeks per year of service to top it up. To try to win this modest sum, these workers are forced to resort to picketing the 11 Debenhams stores in the Republic of Ireland. It might be more accurate for me to say these shops are being blockaded. They are being picketed around the clock with a view to blocking any attempt to remove stock. The workers understand that liquidation law, framed by the Taoiseach's party and Fine Gael, leaves them way down the pecking order and that they are very unlikely to have their redundancy pay topped up by the liquidator. As the dispute approaches its 100th day this Saturday, blockading the stock in the stores is the one bargaining chip left to these workers and they intend to use it.

I have listened carefully to the Taoiseach's comments on this issue over the past eight days. He offers sympathy on the workers' plight. He downplays the possibility of workers receiving more than the statutory redundancy. He promises the possibility of law reform to improve workers' rights in liquidation situations but only after a review and, implicitly, quite some time later in the lifetime of the Government. To be blunt, this is not going to cut it with these workers. As the acting shop steward for the Blanchardstown store, Ann Peppard, said outside the Dáil less than an hour ago, Micheál Martin's sympathy will not pay her mortgage.

They know that Debenhams can afford to make a just settlement. They know Debenhams has 122 stores currently trading in the UK and that the UK parent company has profited from online sales sourced in the Republic of Ireland every day since the Irish stores closed. They are digging in for a better deal. I honestly do not see how the liquidator will get that stock out. I am certain sure that the threat of arrest will not work. I cannot see court injunctions working either. Sooner or later, the Government will have to intervene here. The Taoiseach was part of a Government that introduced emergency legislation in 2008 when it rushed through the bank guarantee, which ended up costing the taxpayer €64 billion. Is he telling us that whereas emergency legislation for bankers was introduced in 2008 he cannot introduce it for workers in 2020?

A total of €5 million is owed to the Revenue by Debenhams. Is the Taoiseach prepared to say this €5 million should be used towards providing these workers with that basic decent redundancy settlement of two weeks plus two?

On the Deputy's opening statement on Apple getting sorted and so on, Apple did not get sorted. Apple is also about workers. Apple has been in Ireland since 1980 and the court decision is that there was no state aid to Apple. This is the essential point that the court decided. Apple now employs 6,000 people throughout the country. This is important. There has been an ongoing view from the Deputy and others consistently undermining the role of multinational companies in Ireland. I want to put on the record that it is an important role. It underpins the work of many small to medium sized companies that also create thousands of jobs. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs involved in companies such as Apple. It was important in terms of protecting the industrial policy of the past 30 or 40 years, in my view, to identify the State's credibility and reputation whereby we do things within the law.

That said, with regard to Debenhams workers I will not commit to something I cannot legally deliver. I will not do that in the House. I have said before that the treatment of the workers by Debenhams was unacceptable and wrong and that the law does need to change. This in itself will not benefit the workers themselves. The State has to do everything it possibly can through its various schemes and mechanisms to support the workers. Ideally, we can secure alternative employment and provide a range of other supports over and above income supports to help the workers. There is a long-established position in terms of statutory redundancy being the State's mechanism to support workers in this situation. This still holds. That said, this does not in itself provide satisfaction for the workers because they are being denied justice by the company. The company's behaviour has been disreputable and wrong. It has not treated workers with the dignity or respect they deserve or given them supports..

This dispute is now an historic dispute, as it is the first dispute of the coronavirus lockdown. The flagship store for Debenhams is on Henry Street in Dublin, the scene of another historic strike, the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike in the mid-1980s. That dispute was resolved by a Government introducing legislation that in name may not have been emergency legislation but effectively was special legislation, taking apartheid South African goods off the shelves. There is a deadlock in this dispute. There is a risk of arrest and court injunctions facing these workers. The Government will have to intervene.

Legislation must be introduced to resolve it. The Taoiseach said that he hoped alternative employment could be secured for the workers. That is an interesting point, but it has just been thrown out and left hanging. Can he be a little more specific about what he means and what actions he is prepared to take in that regard?

Finally, next Saturday will be the 100th day of this dispute, but in that 100 days the Taoiseach has yet to meet a delegation of Debenhams workers. The workers would like him to meet them. Is the Taoiseach prepared to meet a delegation of Debenhams workers to discuss the issues they are facing?

First, I did participate in a Zoom meeting with Debenhams workers, and the Deputy should know that. Of course, I will meet a delegation of the workers. There is no difficulty whatsoever. I have communicated with workers in my constituency in that regard. The difficulty I have is that in situations such as this I am very reluctant to create false expectations and false hopes for people who are going through a traumatic time after losing their work in such unacceptable circumstances. The Deputy can stand here and say that we should introduce emergency legislation without specifying what he has in mind or whether it is tenable or sustainable.

In terms of my remarks about the State using all its apparatus to support workers, I recall being Minister with responsibility for enterprise when Motorola closed in Cork resulting in the loss of 400 to 500 jobs. We marshalled all the agencies ranging from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to what was then FÁS to work with the workers collectively and individually to make a new start and get people jobs. That was an interesting study in itself because many new companies were born out of that experience. However, it took a fair degree of collaboration between State agencies working with the workers in that tech sector, and there were good outcomes in that respect. I am always of the view that the State should work with workers who have been made redundant to ensure it can secure alternative employment and give whatever supports the State has available to help workers to reskill, retrain or gain employment elsewhere.