Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet committees he has established; the membership of each; and the role and function of each. [15771/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his plans for a reformed structure of Cabinet committees. [15949/20]

Mick Barry

Question:

3. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the convening of Cabinet committees. [16087/20]

I will take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The Government has established the following Cabinet committees: Covid-19; economic recovery and investment; housing; health; environment and climate change; social affairs and equality; education; Europe; Brexit and Northern Ireland; and Government co-ordination. I am a member of all committees, along with the Tánaiste and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I am circulating with the Official Report for the information of Deputies a list of Cabinet committees, their role and membership. In addition to the membership of committees, other Ministers and Ministers of State may attend meetings as required. The Cabinet committee on Covid-19 met on 3 July and the committee on economic recovery and investment held its first meeting on 8 July. Further Cabinet committee meetings are scheduled in the coming weeks.

Cabinet Committee

Membership

COVID-19 - to assess the social and economic impacts of the potential spread of COVID-19 and oversee the cross-government response

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Health

Minister for Finance

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

Economic Recovery and Investment - to oversee the implementation of Programme for Government commitments aimed at sustainable economic recovery, investment and job creation

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Taoiseach

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Finance

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Housing - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in relation to housing

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action, and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Minister for Finance

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection; and for Rural and Community Development

Health - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in relation to health

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Health

Minister for Finance

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Environment and Climate Change - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in relation to the environment and climate change

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Finance

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection; and for Rural and Community Development

Social Affairs and Equality - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in the areas of social policy, equality and public services

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Finance

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection; and for Rural and Community Development

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Minister for Health

Minister for Justice and Equality

Minister for Education and Skills

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Education - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in the area of Education

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Education and Skills

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Finance

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

Europe - to oversee implementation of Programme for Government commitments in relation to the European Union and related issues

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade; and for Defence

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Finance

Brexit and Northern Ireland - to oversee implementation of relevant Programme for Government commitments and ongoing developments and negotiations

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade; and for Defence

Minister for Justice and Equality

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Minister for Finance

Government Co-ordination - to co-ordinate and oversee the implementation of the Programme for Government

Taoiseach

Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment; and for Transport, Tourism and Sport

I thank the Taoiseach for the rundown on the number and variety of Cabinet committees. Can he confirm which committee will discuss the implications of the Apple judgment? I assume it will be dealt with by the committee on economic recovery and investment.

The programme for Government commits to a commission on taxation and welfare. We in the Labour Party have repeatedly called for the establishment of a standing committee on taxation. We have also repeatedly called for a minimum effective corporation tax rate in the interests of tax and economic justice and fairness more generally. There are commitments in the programme for Government relating to tax reform, but many of them are, quite frankly, very weak on specifics. Can the Taoiseach confirm that a commission will be established that will identify in real time some of the abuses of the Irish tax system?

The truth is that many multinational corporations are way ahead of this Government and other governments internationally in the way in which they aggressively plan their tax affairs. Will the Taoiseach consider establishing a commission on taxation on a statutory standing basis to ensure that, in real time, we can understand the operations of large companies that aggressively plan their tax affairs? It is critical that is done in the interests of Irish taxpayers and citizens, as well as in the interests of fairness in this country and economy. It would ensure that we could respond in real time to some of the aggressive tax planning that goes on.

We discussed some of these matters yesterday and the Taoiseach again set out for us the committee structure, for which I thank him. Yesterday I asked him about the Government co-ordination committee and he explained that this was the forum in which the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party would meet and discuss matters.

I asked the Taoiseach yesterday if that was the mechanism by which he briefed his Government colleagues on the full story in respect of the former Minister, Deputy Cowen, and he said that was not the case. This morning the Minister, Deputy Ryan, leader of the Green Party, said he had been fully informed of all facts in respect of the former Minister, Deputy Cowen, in what he called "a timely fashion". I simply want the Taoiseach, when he gets to his feet, to place on the record of the Dáil when it was he gave the full information in his possession from the weekend of 3 and 4 July. When did he inform the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party and fully brief them on the full facts?

Can the Taoiseach tell us when the Cabinet's education sub-committee is due to have its first meeting? The Irish Times reported on Monday that the National Educational Psychological Service presented a report to the Department of Education and Skills regarding stress and anxiety levels among Irish second level students. The report is said to have found much higher levels of anxiety over school work and exam-related stress than is the case in other developed countries. The report apparently finds that 50% of second level students feel nervous and stressed and 25% feel physically unwell when thinking about exams.

Interestingly, the report in the newspaper said the report was a key factor in the then Minister, Deputy McHugh's, decision to cancel the leaving certificate. Actually, when one thinks about it those are not just arguments for cancelling leaving certificate 2020 but for cancelling the leaving certificate, full stop, and replacing it with a more student-friendly and less stressful way to measure a student's level of educational attainment.

The report goes on to say that, separately, education authorities are said to have drawn up options to give students more choice in next year's State exams to help make up for lost teaching time. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, and the State Examinations Commission, SEC, have reported to the Minister for Education and Skills on that and there is to be consultation between stakeholders between here and the end of July.

I give a cautious welcome to this news, which is positive if the proposed changes genuinely make up for lost teaching time; a big issue for the forgotten fifth years, as I call them. It would be the opposite if they were to fall significantly short of genuinely making up for lost teaching time. We will soon see. I hope the information can be presented to this House before we rise at the end of July. Perhaps the Taoiseach could informs us when the first meeting of the education Cabinet sub-committee will be and whether these issues will feature on the agenda of that meeting.

First, with regard to the Apple judgment, obviously we have the committee on economic recovery but the Cabinet as a whole will consider it this evening and will have a report on it. It is important to make the point that Ireland is only entitled to revenue within the law and legal framework. The essential judgment is that the Commission's decision is being annulled and so Ireland was not in a position to get any of that revenue because it was not entitled to it. That is the decision of the courts.

I also make that point that we need to look at the broader issue of global companies and multinationals and how their tax treatment is organised. Equally, it must be said that Ireland's industrial policy for more than 40 years now has been to attract foreign direct investment. It is founded on a basic strong relationship with those companies be they in life sciences, technology, financial services or in other sectors.

Tax certainty has been critical to that success, and it has been a success story. For far too long people on the far-left, in particular, and I am not going to put those in that bracket, have been niggardly in any acknowledgment of the central role of foreign direct investment in terms of the creation of modern Ireland as being a country of manufacturing excellence that creates good synergies with small to medium-sized indigenous companies and a sector that has created significant employment. I rarely hear that being said when this debate happens. It is a debate that has been fought on populist and simplistic grounds. The other key part of that agenda has been Ireland's reputation and credibility, in particular, the credibility of our revenue, because it is not just about one company, it is about a broader approach.

In essence, the court is saying that no special aid was given. No State aid was given in this respect. This may be appealed and if Apple had appealed it on its own it would have been the same decision of the court. That must be said. The Cabinet as a whole will assess it in the first instance. The Government's position is that we prefer the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, approach to dealing with it. I take the Deputy's point that there are issues. Global companies are bigger than states now. This is happening at European Union level as well and there is much vigorous debate internationally on this.

With regard to Deputy McDonald's question, I did answer that question yesterday. The Deputy has a habit of suggesting that I never answered a question. I did answer the question, which was if this was the mechanism by which issues around the Deputy Cowen controversy would be organised, in other words, the Cabinet co-ordination committee. The Cabinet co-ordination committee is a Cabinet committee. Discussions held there are, like all Cabinet committees, subject to the framework of confidentiality. I said to Deputy McDonald yesterday it is possible that at such a committee issues of that kind would be discussed, and also that outside of that committee there had been discussions. As Deputy Ryan said, he was fully informed on a timely basis. I was not fully informed on 3 or 4 July.

I want to know when.

I was not fully informed on 3 July.

The Deputy says when in the context of her assertion as to when I had full knowledge and I disagree with her.

I just want a date.

I had a number of discussions over the last while. Yesterday, following my meeting with Deputy Cowen - there were others during the week - I apprised both the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in terms of the outcome of my discussions with Deputy Cowen and also of the fact I had seen what I took to be the PULSE file yesterday morning. I gave them my view and my intentions, by the way, in terms of full accountability to the House being necessary. Following that I had subsequent discussions but I have kept them apprised of any knowledge that I had on this.

Acting Chairman-----

There are more Deputies in the House, Deputy.

In terms of the leaving certificate and the National Educational Psychological Service, it is important to point out that there have been significant reforms to the leaving certificate over the last 20 years with a greater reduction on the emphasis on written exams. That is a good thing. The benefit of the leaving certificate has been its anonymity, the fact that it is fair and that it avoids any subjective correction of results. I favour a greater use of continuous assessment and project-based work and I look forward to the fact that other options are now being considered to give students greater choice. There have been better reforms in recent years on the oral competence in the leaving certificate, which is a good thing. It needs to be tested and assessed in terms of languages. The Irish language now is a much more significant part of the exam than the written part. Students taking the history curriculum have the opportunity to do a history project which accounts for approximately 20% of the results.

That is the kind of initiative I would like to see more of because it enables students to learn and develop a lot more.

I take the Deputy's point about the stress on students. That needs to be eased. I value the work of the education psychological service. I was the Minister responsible for establishing it in the late 1990s and it does valuable work.

What about fifth years?

As I am a trained historian, as is the Taoiseach, I hope he will recognise the role that my party, the Labour Party, has played in opening Ireland up to the investment of multinational corporations. The view has always been that this was an initiative of Seán Lemass and the late T. K. Whitaker, a good friend of mine from my alma mater in Drogheda, St. Joseph's CBS, but of course, it was William Norton, then Tánaiste and Minister for Industry and Commerce and leader of the Labour Party, who first opened Ireland up to investment and moved us away from the isolationist perspective. We owe a debt of gratitude to William Norton, and, indeed, those who followed, in terms of modernising our economy.

I stress a generous competitive corporation tax offering does not a national industrial strategy make. Of course, we have a considerable focus on the issue of corporation tax - that needs to be a minimum effective rate of corporation tax in the interest of fairness, decency and tax justice - but we also need to focus on the skills gaps that are emerging and the fact that, for example, we have one of the lowest levels of in-work training in the OECD, at 5.5%, as compared to Denmark, that is up at 33%. In the July stimulus under the national economic recovery plan, we need to focus on that, making sure that people are ready for the jobs of the future.

Finally, we need to be mindful of the advice from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, published today. It has drawn attention to the fact that the international corporation tax regime will change over the next few years. Ireland needs to lead that and work with the OECD. I was one of the Ministers in the mid-2010s who signed up to the OECD base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, process in the interests of tax justice and fairness. We need to be conscious and mindful that IFAC has stated there will be a diminution of corporation tax receipts over the next few years in the context of both the BEPS process and changes to the international corporation tax system. The people of this country are entitled to expect decent public services. We need to be able to pay for them with a tax system that is objectively fair to everybody, and by "fair", I mean that multinational corporations should pay their fair share, as well as the hardworking people of Ireland and small businesses across the country.

We are running out of time rapidly but we will finish as much as we can.

My ask is straightforward. On the weekend of 3 and 4 July, the Taoiseach discussed all aspects of the Cowen case with the former Minister, Deputy Cowen. On what date did the Taoiseach give full information or have a full discussion with the Tánaiste and with the leader of the Green Party? On what date did the Taoiseach make them fully conversant with all of the facts? That is all I want.

I call Deputy Barry, to finish.

In one sentence, could the Taoiseach comment on the second half of the question I raised about the idea of tapering next year's leaving certificate in order to give more choice and options to students who have lost a significant amount of teaching time and give his view on that?

I would take on board what Deputy Nash has said. I do not disagree with the Deputy's point. The participation in the BEPS process is an important process. Initially, the corporation tax rate was very important. There is no point in pretending it was not. The Deputy does not suggest that but, as a former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, particularly on the life sciences front, many companies wanted certainty around our tax proposition and it was a competitive world in terms of tax offerings. The Deputy is absolutely correct that skills are equally important now in my view; the level and quality of our education system. I always remember Craig Barrett of Intel saying in his speech that three things are critical for any government: education, education, education. Fourth level, in terms of research, is vital now as well.

The BEPS process is key. There is a global issue around this in terms of governments having the wherewithal to fund services and underpin the social contract. That is key. That said, in Ireland, the corporation tax yield is going up and up, although there is a vulnerability in terms of the limited number of companies that account for a very large volume of the corporation tax receipts that come in. I certainly take the Deputy's point in relation to William Norton's historic role - a good man who made a good contribution to Irish public life.

In response to Deputy McDonald, the question is phrased in such a way as if I had full knowledge on 3 and 4 July, and I did not have full knowledge. I have stated repeatedly that Deputy Cowen was of a view and he took his own actions in relation to that. He did not have any document that weekend and I think it took the following week for him to get access to the document. I had a number of conversations throughout the period with the Deputies concerned and, as I said, this week I had a comprehensive engagement on the issue as well.

In terms of the fifth years, it is a fair point. Arrangements should be made to try to facilitate those students who have lost out so much this year in terms of their preparation for the leaving certificate next year. That will have to be kept under constant review as well because the possibility is that we will be living with Covid for quite some time; maybe not at the levels that occasioned the shutdown of the schools but we can never be too sure. We have to constantly devise new ways of helping and facilitating students through this difficult process.

Taoiseach's Communications

Alan Kelly

Question:

4. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the UK Prime Minister. [15772/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

5. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone call with the German Chancellor. [15905/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with the President of the EU Commission. [15906/20]

Mick Barry

Question:

7. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the discussions he has had with other heads of government since he assumed his position. [16088/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

47. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with the President of the EU Council. [15907/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, and 47 together.

Since taking office, I have spoken with leaders, including the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission,Ursula von der Leyen, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, the Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, and the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausda. I also spoke with the European Union's chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, and with the Commission Vice-President, Maroš Šefovi.

I had a video conference with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on 1 July, ahead of this week's meeting of the European Council. President Michel set out his approach to negotiations on the next generation European Union recovery proposal and on the multi-annual financial framework for 2021 to 2027 and suggested where compromise will be necessary to make agreement possible. I set out Ireland's support for an ambitious European Union recovery fund and emphasised that the fund should be targeted at those regions and sectors most affected by the Covid crisis. On the multi-annual financial framework, I reiterated Ireland's strong position on the importance of an adequately resourced Common Agricultural Policy. I also stated that the European Union should be in a position to offer support to those member states most affected by Brexit, including Ireland.

I spoke to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on 30 June. I noted the strong alignment between the programme for Government and European Union priorities, including climate action and the digital agenda. We also agreed that it was important to reach early agreement on the recovery fund and the multi-annual financial framework. On Brexit, I expressed my appreciation for the support Ireland has received from the Commission and for the excellent co-operation with the Commission team led by Michel Barnier. I expressed my appreciation directly to Michel Barnier in my call with him.

I spoke with the German Chancellor, Dr. Merkel, on 2 July, when we discussed Brexit and the European Union's response to Covid-19. I took the opportunity to wish the Chancellor well with Germany's European Union Presidency.

My calls with the Prime Ministers, Mr. Rutte and Mr. Costa, and President Nausda of Lithuania, covered current European Union issues, including the recovery fund and the multi-annual financial framework, as well as the Covid crisis.

Where appropriate, in my calls I sought support for the Minister for Finance's successful candidacy for the presidency of the Eurogroup. I congratulate him on his success. I spoke with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on 30 June. Our discussion covered Covid-19 and our respective plans to deal with its impact on the economy, employment and society. We also discussed Brexit. We agreed to work closely with regard to Northern Ireland as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and on strengthening bilateral relations, especially in the post-Brexit era. We look forward to meeting in the near future.

I thank the Taoiseach. As he will know, I come from and represent a Border constituency. It is no exaggeration to say that Brexit is a massive concern. It is always in the background. Those concerns have only been compounded by the current public health and economic crises caused by Covid-19. What precisely did the UK Prime Minister say to the Taoiseach about the prospect of a deal during their phone call? Did the Taoiseach raise with the German Chancellor Irish concerns about the size of the EU financial package and the prospect of a special €5 billion fund for the countries, such as Ireland, which will be most adversely affected by Brexit? Does the Taoiseach expect that the EU budget and recovery package will be agreed at the next European Council meeting?

The Taoiseach mentioned the discussion he had with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Did the issue of the Apple tax judgment come up in that discussion? He mentioned in the previous round that he felt the left has been niggardly in acknowledging the role of foreign direct investment. I would argue that the right has been niggardly in accepting and acknowledging that the level of tax paid by the Apple corporation in this State was unacceptable. I understand that the General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg today ruled that Ireland did not give Apple illegal state aid. I do not believe the court challenged the level of tax Apple paid in the period from 2003 to 2014 in particular. The Taoiseach can correct me if I am wrong. It paid corporation tax at 1% in 2003 and at 0.005% in 2014. In fact, the court seems to say that, rather than being illegal, that completely, totally and absolutely unacceptable level of tax was legal. That would say something about the law in this country and the way in which it is fixed in favour of big multinational corporations at the expense of society. This tax, even if paid at the low rate of 12.5%, would represent a serious sum of money which could and should be used for our health service, our education service and to reduce inequality within society. Did that feature in the Taoiseach's discussion?

For the record, I wish to reflect on the fact that the Taoiseach has not answered the very straightforward question I put to him. From the record of the Dáil, we now know the Taoiseach knew that Deputy Cowen had made an incomplete statement to the Dáil. We will therefore have to ask the Tánaiste and the leader of the Green Party, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, whether they also knew that the statement made was incomplete. I will pursue that matter with them since the Taoiseach will not answer.

I raise the issue of the failure to include workers in the North, by which I mean Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone, from the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment. This matter was raised repeatedly by many Deputies on the last Government's watch. Every time it was raised, the former Minister hid behind EU regulations. I fear that the new Minister will take the same tack. The position of the former Government was that EU rules relating to cross-Border workers determine that the member state of the resident is competent for the payment of unemployment benefits. Of course, this is not the case. In response to questions put to the Commission by my colleague, Chris MacManus MEP, it has been confirmed that EU regulations do not provide for a harmonised social security system in the EU. It was also confirmed that, under EU regulations, workers living in the North should have access to the same social and tax advantages granted by the member state in which they work as are granted to workers resident in the South.

Is the Taoiseach concerned about this matter? Did he or will he raise this matter with the European Commission? Does it not concern the Taoiseach that, contrary to EU regulations, residents of the North who work in the South have been significantly disadvantaged financially by not receiving the €350 pandemic payment to which they are entitled? Will the Government now reverse this decision and ensure that these workers receive the full unemployment payment to which they are and have been entitled? Will his shared island unit tackle the deeply embedded partitionist approach to public administration evident in the previous Government? I hope this approach will be rooted out within this Government.

Does Deputy Boyd Barrett wish to speak?

The Deputy should not take too long. We only have six minutes left.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I challenge what the Taoiseach said earlier about the Apple tax ruling. The ruling clearly states that the tax rulings made by Revenue were ineffective and inconsistent. The court does not contest that the level of tax on chargeable profits was totally out of line with the amount of tax that would be paid anywhere else under normal market conditions. In other words, the court accepted that Apple was involved in aggressive tax avoidance here. It only said that it could not quite prove that the inconsistent, ineffective and incredibly low tax rate Apple enjoyed through tax avoidance strategies represented an advantage deliberately conferred on that company, because that is a difficult thing to prove. The point is that we were being used as a tax haven and that Revenue's rulings were inconsistent and ineffective. Unless we think Revenue is stupid, which I do not believe it is, it is clear that we were colluding with these tax avoidance strategies. It is shameful that we did so because it means we have put the interests of a super-wealthy corporation ahead of the interests of the ordinary people who could badly do with that €13 billion in cash.

Deputy Nash's question was first. During my conversation with the British Prime Minister, on Brexit he said and we both agreed that it was in the best interests of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe that a comprehensive trade deal be agreed. We also agreed that we needed to get moving and introduce momentum to the talks. In my earlier conversation with Michel Barnier, there was a sense that momentum had not yet been injected into the talks and that it was necessary to make more rapid progress than has been made thus far. The British Prime Minister was very much taken with the idea of getting a deal done that would be comprehensive, good for the future relationship between the UK and Europe and that would be tariff free and quota free. I made the point that it would have to be subject to access to the Single Market and a level playing pitch. That was the nature of the discussion. It remains to be seen what will happen. The talks are still slow enough. There has been some progress with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol. More progress is needed on the other key issues that have held up talks to date.

With regard to my conversations with Angela Merkel and the size of the overall package, the Chancellor was very anxious that a deal be done at this meeting of the Council.

I said we supported the overall size of the package, that we felt that Europe needed to make a significant response given the crisis we are in and that that was important for confidence across Europe. We export to countries all over Europe and it is important that there is a strong eurozone and European recovery because that would benefit Ireland.

I think there is a 50:50 chance of success. It is not going to be easy. Some countries are very much against the size of the package. Some are against the nature of what has been proposed but progress has been made and the most recent negotiating box put forward by Charles Michel is reflective of some of our concerns, in particular the Brexit compensatory fund but also the idea of changing the allocation key in respect of the 70% to 30% split so that now 30% will be used later to deal with the impact of Covid. It will take some time.

In response to Deputy Barry's question, no I did not raise the Apple judgment with the President of the Commission, nor did he raise it with me. Obviously, that was a matter for the courts. The court has ruled and we either have regard for the rule of law and the courts or we do not. I heard Deputy Boyd Barrett's remarks as well. It is as if the court did not rule at all. The court annulled the decision of the Commission and essentially stated that Ireland did not collect any tax to which it was not entitled, nor could we collect tax to which we are not legally entitled.

I also make the point that 6,000 people work in Apple now. That matters. They are ordinary people. They never get mentioned. The relationship between Ireland and Apple from 1980 onwards has been a strong one. Ireland has to live in the real world. Approximately 245,000 jobs in this country have been created by multinational companies. That is not insignificant. Those are ordinary people working in those companies. We have had to compete for those industries.

I do take the overall point, as I stated in response to Deputy Nash earlier, in respect of the global framework and the necessity to work with the BEPS process and to get a fairer system globally in respect of the revenue of multinational corporations. However, we have to be sensible as a country too in the sense that we have to retain jobs here. These are subjects that rarely get discussed in this House. The debate is always in one direction. That is the basic argument I make to Deputy Barry and to Deputy Boyd Barrett. The other side of the story never gets discussed. Ireland is a much different country now than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago. We are very good at manufacturing – high level and high-end manufacturing. We are very good at technology and software. We have a good indigenous sector. We have an emerging entrepreneurial sector. I put a significant amount of that down to the fact that there has been a significant spin-off from the presence of multinationals here, more than just money, funding and corporation tax. Many of our companies have grown on the back of that and are now themselves major companies as a result.

It very often depends on whether one believes in an enterprise economy or not. I believe we do need to change. We need to increase the level of focus on indigenous companies and try to grow them and help them more but, equally, we must be conscious that we are in a mobile, global world where other countries are competing. We have to keep our eyes open in that regard and not be naive about it either. I agree with what Deputy Nash said earlier, that there are other issues such as skills, education and research that can help to attract people in and embed them here as well.

I do not accept the assertions made. The Deputies are now changing the goalposts in terms of what the court did or did not do. The court was asked to assess whether illegal state aid had been provided in a deal done by Ireland with Apple and the court has annulled the conclusion that the Commission came to some time ago. In essence, that is what has happened. It is open to the Commission to appeal that. I think it has up to two years to appeal the decision and the funding will stay in the escrow account.

In response to Deputy McDonald's questions on the pandemic unemployment payment, I will pursue the issue with the Minister concerned. Things are never as simple as they are presented in terms of issues of this kind. To be fair to the outgoing Government, the pandemic unemployment payment, with which party leaders in the Opposition all agreed, was an important intervention to protect livelihoods. It does involve significant resources, as did the wage subsidy scheme. It got refined over time as anomalies emerged in the application of both schemes. I will have the matter examined.

Cabinet Committees

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on health will next meet. [15950/20]

The Cabinet committee on health was established by Government decision on 6 July last. The first meeting has been scheduled for 23 July. It will oversee implementation of programme for Government commitments on health and will receive detailed reports and identify policy areas and consider the implementation of health reforms, including Sláintecare, and the development of mental health services. Its membership will comprise the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for enterprise, employment and trade, the Minister for climate action, communications networks and transport, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Other Ministers or Ministers of State shall participate as required.

The Cabinet committee on the Government response to Covid-19 has met once under the new Government on 3 July. In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet Ministers on an individual basis to focus on particular issues. I met the Minister for Health and the Secretary General on 6 July to discuss priorities in the area of health.

One of the driving rationales for the Cabinet sub-committees that we have discussed is to achieve what the Taoiseach called a coherence in government and cross-departmental working. That is important and it is very challenging for public administration to reach that point. In the case of health, a number of immediacies need to be recognised. The first is the reality that because of the public health crisis, the Covid emergency, many services were compromised and therefore, people's needs, necessarily in many cases, got put on the long finger. There is a shared concern across the Oireachtas regarding the morbidity effects of that and we need to have a really concerted effort not just to get service provision back to where it was but to invest more heavily. I believe that means investment in the public system. I do not believe that the route of privatisation or putting public money into private provision is the way forward. I think we have had that for too long.

Many of the section 39 organisations that provide essential services, albeit at arm's length from the State, have really felt the pinch and pressure in these times of emergency. We need to look again at the entire model of provision, as to how those services are supported. I raise with the Taoiseach the stark reality that for many section 38 and 39 organisations, their ability to independently fundraise has been very seriously compromised because of the emergency provisions and this needs to be taken into account.

The protections and rights as employees of those who work within those organisations providing services also need to be comprehensively reviewed. We must be absolutely sure that in every respect, including pension entitlements, these workers are fully respected, recognised and protected.

The Taoiseach knows, as I do, that this is not currently the case.

On health, I suggest the Taoiseach start taking French lessons. In recognition of the heroic work of healthcare workers, the French Government have just announced an €8 billion package of pay increases for them because of their tremendous work in protecting people and French society in the face of Covid-19. Healthcare workers in this country have done work every bit as heroic to protect us all, to protect our society, and to prevent our health system from being overrun. As a consequence, they have suffered from some of the highest infection rates, in percentage terms, of healthcare workers anywhere in the world. Are we going to follow the example of France and reward them for that fact? They deserve it themselves for what they have done, but if the Government is going to establish the permanent increases in capacity that we have to have to do Covid and non-Covid care - to be able to deal with a second wave and to do all the non-Covid healthcare - we need permanent increases in capacity and that means large-scale recruitment. The big impediments to recruiting healthcare workers are the pay inequalities for new entrants and the low pay generally that nurses, midwives and some healthcare workers have to put up with. There is a double advantage in pay increases and pay equality for healthcare workers. First, it will record the heroes and, second, it will help us establish the permanent increases in healthcare capacity that we need to deal with the post-Covid world.

Deputy McDonald's question referenced section 38 and section 39 organisations; I understand the previous Government did make an allocation from the Dormant Accounts Fund to try to ease the pressure that many of them are under. That said, it is clear that their capacity to fundraise has been significantly reduced. Others have developed novel ways of trying to raise funding but it is not at the level it was for them. In addition, there will be a review of that sector. It is a long-standing model whereby the organisations have considerable autonomy but essentially perform services as agents of the State in terms of contracts and so on. They look after very vulnerable people and people in need in our community and society.

We are concentrating and focusing on the other key issue I mentioned earlier, namely the resumption of services for the treatment of non-Covid illnesses and the development of diagnostics and so on. Last Friday, the Minister for Health and I met HSE officials with a specific focus on the winter initiative and the need to deal with the resumption of services for non-Covid illnesses and that strand of services. It will be challenging, of that there is no doubt. Emergency attendance bed capacity is back at 94%, which is too high, particularly in the context of any resurgence in Covid or the arrival of the flu season. That is why I wanted to meet with the HSE, to drive home early the need for early measures to try to ward off the challenges that will undoubtedly be faced by the health service over the next number of weeks and months.

On Deputy Boyd-Barrett's questions, at that meeting I was connected to health service workers all over the country via teleconference. I thanked all of them for the outstanding contribution that our front-line healthcare workers and those working in administration behind the scenes have made to the country in addressing the Covid-19 emergency. I acknowledge the innovation and the commitment they showed as well as the trauma many workers endured when communicating with families who lost loved ones and could not be with them at the time of their passing. Anyone who saw the "RTÉ Investigates" programme about the impact of Covid-19 in one hospital would have been very struck by the emotional experiences of the front-line workers, apart altogether from their professional contribution, so we are very conscious of that.

The French package is perhaps in a different context as well. There were other issues in terms of the wider package. As a country we have had to deal with an enormous issue here. We will have a deficit of approximately €30 billion at the end of the year. These are issues that we continue to examine, and there are continuing pressures. The July stimulus is about trying to help people get back to work and supporting livelihoods of those who have no job at all at the moment and whose prospects are uncertain because of the continued prevalence of Covid-19 in our community. This is a step-by-step approach. Covid is not over. Where financial and economic planning is concerned, we have to plan not just for the next three months but for the next 12 months. We must plan also how we allocate resources now to try to deal with the range of impacts that Covid is having on different sectors of our society and our economy.

The previous Government allowed the HSE to implement a cut of 1% to the 2020 budget for disability services. I raised this matter on behalf of the Disability Action Coalition during the lockdown and the HSE insisted that these so-called efficiencies, which amount to €20 million, had to be found. Far from trying to cushion the blow or give additional support they insisted on this very miserly cut. More recently, the Minister for Health conceded that the cut to disability services was now considered problematic given the huge pressures on the sector and services because to Covid. However, he has not yet clearly stated that the €20 million cut will be reversed, nor has he informed the organisations affected that their budgets will not be cut. I would be very grateful if the Taoiseach clarified this situation for the Disability Action Coalition and the many organisations that they represent.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett. There are only three minutes left.

We should not set the need to recruit health workers to increase the capacity of the health service against the need to stimulate other parts of the economy. Recruiting health workers should be part of the stimulus for two reasons. First, if our health service is overwhelmed, then we can forget everything else. The stimulus will mean nothing if we have to lock down our economy again. A precondition, therefore, for the reopening of the economy is to get the public health service up to capacity levels that will allow us to continue to function economically. The two go hand in hand.

Second, paying health workers properly and recruiting more of them will in itself be a stimulus to the economy and to every part of the country that has health service facilities or hospitals. In Dún Laoghaire, St. Michael's Hospital holds the local economy together. I am sure that is true for Tallaght and many other parts of the country where there are hospitals, so the two are not set against one another; they are intimately connected. It is very important that the Government recognises that in the July stimulus from both an economic point of view and from the imperative of getting our health service up to the capacity levels we need to be able to function alongside Covid-19.

To respond to both Deputies, we are no longer talking about amounts of €20 million where health is concerned. We are talking about billions of euro being required by the Department of Health.

The Estimates for the next 12 months will be quite staggering relative to what was spent prior to the emergence of the virus and issues to do with personal protective equipment and a variety of other measures to support hospitals and staff. Deputy Boyd Barrett is correct; I did not mean to juxtapose the two. Of course, recruitment to health is very important and we need not only to continue to recruit but also to make conditions better and enhance our human resource service and performance in the health service in general so that not only do we recruit people but we retain them. This is something on which I will be particularly strong.

With regard to disability services and the cut, I will again engage with the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, on this. There will be substantial increases in health funding. We have already seen the Supplementary Estimate but more will be needed to deal with many of the issues that Covid is bringing on board.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.