^ Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) ^

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality will next meet. [16888/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

2. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his plans for public services reform to be driven from his Department. [17249/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee which addresses matters relating to justice. [17250/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

4. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality will meet. [18476/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality was established by Government decision on 6 July last. The first meeting will take place on 31 July. It will oversee implementation of the programme for Government commitments in the areas of social policy, equality and public services, including matters relating to justice and public service reform. It will receive detailed reports on identified policy areas and consider the implementation of commitments and reforms.

Membership of the committee comprises the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for business, enterprise and innovation, the Minister for climate action, communication networks and transport, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for media, tourism, arts, culture, sport and the Gaeltacht, the Minister for social protection, community and rural development and the islands, the Minister for children, disability, equality and integration, the Minister for Health, the Minister for justice, the Minister for education, the Minister for further and higher education, research, innovation and science, and the Minister for housing, local government and heritage. Other Ministers and Ministers of State will participate as required.

In addition to the meetings of the full Cabinet and of Cabinet committees, I meet with Ministers on an individual basis to focus on particular issues. The Department of the Taoiseach has had a direct involvement in a range of public service reform initiatives over the recent period and this will continue under the new programme for Government. Major public reform initiatives will continue to be informed by external inputs and overseen by the Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality, supported by the Department.

I am sure the Taoiseach shares my view that all children in need of ASD special classes should be able to attend their local school, yet that is not the case despite many years of campaigning by parents. The provision of ASD education supports to children is patchy right across the State at best, with many parts, in particular in the capital city with little or no provision. Our party leader has recently been out meeting parents in south Dublin where certain areas have become a no-go zone for children with ASD to attend, as a result of the lack of provision elsewhere in the city. There is a particular lack of ASD units in Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 6W, with only one school adequately equipped to deliver equality in education for children with ASD, and only at primary level. It is not the case that other areas have too many spaces but there has been a failure by consecutive Governments to deliver on local ASD services for children.

One primary school with early intervention and an ASD unit provides the bulk of educational need for children in south-east Dublin. Parents in that area are left with no option but to enrol their children in schools outside their communities or areas, often on the other side of the city, to enable their children access an education that meets their needs. The families we have been in contact with recently have discovered that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, does not have accurate data and it does not know that some children have ASD in the first instance. As a result, it cannot plan for the needs of the area. That is a very important issue which is replicated right across the State. After an audit of the Dublin south area, the NCSE has only sought to compel two schools in Dublin 4, 6 and 6W, which have both said they are not in a position to set up a class or unit due to space concerns, yet other schools identified in the audit said they would be interested in providing a class, if they had the space but no space has been provided. The process of ensuring local access to appropriate education needs to be reviewed and schools that wish to set up ASD classes and units should be supported to do so. Those who do not comply with the requirements must be made to do so and adequately resourced and trained, as recommended by the NCSE, because every child deserves to go to his or her local school and every family should be supported to that end, but it is clearly not happening in many areas right across the State.

The fundamental principle in supporting children and families with special needs should be that they get support based on their needs, but that is not what is happening. What is actually happening is the rationing of resources, and then inadequate resources that are not based on the actual needs of children in schools are stretched to the point that they do not provide the support that is necessary. It is not acceptable to treat SNAs with the contempt they have been shown during the period of the pandemic. At one point, SNAs were just informed they were going to work in nursing homes. It was as if the virtual supports they were giving to children with special needs were somehow irrelevant and then there was back-tracking on that plan. The pay is pathetic. We need to treat SNAs with respect and we need to have supports for children with special needs that are based not on the rationing of inadequate resources but on the needs of children and providing schools with supports, and of course to address the shocking backlogs in assessment, which are especially acute in particular areas. The people who are protesting outside would like to know that the Taoiseach is taking seriously their issues and the hardships they are suffering.

I thank both Deputies for the points that they have raised in respect of special education. I speak as someone who back in 1998 when I was Minister for Education and Science brought in the first ASD unit in mainstream schools. At that time autism was not even recognised as a category deserving of special educational provision in the form of special pupil-teacher ratios or as a category of disability. I also introduced SNAs for the first time into mainstream education. I have kept a long-term interest in this area. The key agenda then was to create an automatic entitlement to a school place for children with special needs.

I am not satisfied with the current situation. I think that last year, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, was given the power to recommend that the Minister direct a school to provide for special education in the form of a class or ASD unit at second level. As Deputy Doherty said that has been used sparingly. So far I think there have been two cases. We need to review that legislation. In my view, there has to be a cultural shift as well, particularly at second level. All schools have to be open to having units for children with special needs if they are required in the context of ASD or indeed general provision. Of course they have to be resourced in order to do that.

In the early days when all of this started, there was tremendous momentum behind it and principals took it on board and got resources. They did not get those resources immediately but they did get them. That said, there is a particular problem at second level. I would like intervention to be earlier, with the Minister and the Department, on foot of recommendations from the NCSE, moving to ensure that units are provided in schools and that resources are provided. There should be greater advocacy for the child within the system. Under the current legislative framework, parents are applying to different schools and get support from the special educational needs organiser, SENO, on the ground but very often, it is the parents who are chasing schools to see if they can get a place for their child. The system should be coming to the family, having identified a suitable, optimal place for their child. That is what I would like to see in place and I am working with the Minister and Ministers of State at the Department of Education and Skills and with the NCSE who have known my views on this for a long time prior to my coming into government. Those two measures would help to broaden access and participation but above all, to ensure that children can get access to places in their own schools in their own communities. That will require a shift in approach on all fronts, within schools, the Department and the NCSE. That is the direction of travel, as I see it.

Cabinet Committees

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment is set to next meet. [17243/20]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will next meet. [17251/20]

Alan Kelly

Question:

7. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment will next meet. [18556/20]

I propose to take Question Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment was established and first met on Wednesday, 8 July. It subsequently met on 15 July and again on 21 July. The committee's terms of reference are to oversee the implementation of the programme for Government commitments aimed at sustainable economic recovery, investment and job creation. The committee will operate in accordance with established guidelines for Cabinet committees and substantive issues will be referred to Government for discussion and approval. The Cabinet committee's immediate focus has been the development of proposals for a July jobs stimulus in line with the commitments in the programme for Government. The July jobs stimulus, a package of over €7 billion worth of measures, was announced by the Government on 23 July. It is designed to stimulate a jobs-led recovery and to build economic confidence, while continuing to manage the impact of Covid-19. It includes measure to extend income and employment supports to affected individuals and companies, to help people get back into work, training or education, to build confidence among businesses and support them through the months ahead, to invest in job-rich infrastructure projects in every part of the country and to invest in areas of future growth like the green economy.

The July jobs stimulus is a further step in the Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and will be followed later this year by a national economic plan to chart a long-term jobs-led recovery. In accordance with the programme for Government, the Cabinet committee will meet at least once every four weeks. The next date is to be confirmed.

Notwithstanding the U-turn the Government was forced into on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and travel I do not think the Government really gets the anger that is being felt by the economic victims of the Covid-19 measures. I have been trying to explain to the Taoiseach and to other Government spokespeople for weeks now that there are particular cohorts of people who have been savaged, decimated and put on their knees because of the economic consequences of public health measures. These people are likely to face the devastation of their livelihoods for the foreseeable future through no fault of their own. They are taxi drivers, people in the arts, music and live entertainment, as well as the crews behind the scenes in those areas. To that list one might add people in the bar sector. The Government has completely shafted those people, who faced the same hardship as everybody else and who are still facing it.

Let us start with taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are now being whipped back to work because of the cuts the Government has imposed on the PUP via the new conditions. The work available to them is about 20% of what was available pre-Covid because their livelihoods are linked to tourism, music, live entertainment, theatres and so on. This will be the case for the foreseeable future. What has the Government given them in the Bill debated last night or in the Bill before the Dáil today? I am trying to get in an amendment in respect of the latter but apparently I cannot. My amendment deals with a question, namely, whether the Government give taxi drivers access to the wage subsidy scheme as a step-down payment in the same way it has given companies access. The answer is "No". The Government has given taxi drivers nothing. Did it give them access to the restart grant? The answer is "No". Did it give them measures that would not even have costed the Exchequer anything, such as the ten-year expiry date on their vehicles being extended to 15 years? The answer is "No".

The Government has given taxi drivers nothing; it has shafted them. They are suffering through no fault of their own. The same is true for arts workers. Musicians have been shafted as well. They do not get the grants, they do not get an income subsidy and now they have had their pandemic unemployment payments cut. What is the Government doing for these people who are suffering and are likely to suffer as a result of the economic fallout of measures the Taoiseach's Government has imposed? The answer so far has been nothing. It is not fair and it is not right. I can tell the Taoiseach that the Government is storing up a big revolt among these sectors of society unless some supports are offered to them this week. They are angry. A lot of them are people who used to vote for Fianna Fáil and they are angry. There are going to be protests unless the Government does something. It is driving a coach and horses through the principle that we are all in it together. Unless the Government gives these groups some support, it is stabbing them in the back. So far they have got nothing.

When I have asked about this in the Dáil over the past few weeks, the Taoiseach and other Government spokespeople have wittered on and said that these groups would get some of the business grants. This morning their representatives called both the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation asking whether they could access the business grants. The answer was "No". Why are they being refused? Why are companies getting these grants and a taxi driver cannot? It is not fair.

I wish to raise the absence of the arts from the July stimulus strategy with the Taoiseach. The Government's treatment of people in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment in recent times has been well voiced by all of us in opposition. The Government's decision yesterday evening to oppose the Sinn Féin amendment to the Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020, which recognised the unique situation of workers unable to return to work due to the public health emergency was very disappointing. The Taoiseach now finds himself in the incredible situation that both the Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, have raised the legality of his Government's decision to financially penalise PUP recipients for travelling. As is the Taoiseach's wont, he has sought to muddy both organisations' core issues as he responds to these questions.

As the Taoiseach is aware, one of the sectors unable to return to work is the arts. It is worth noting that 72% of artists earn less than the minimum wage. I recently met representatives of the sector in Dublin and in Galway last Friday. I had the pleasure of visiting the Town Hall Theatre but sadly had to enjoy it as an empty space that will not be in use for quite some time. The Taoiseach pushed legislation last night which told musicians, actors, stage producers and set designers that they must be actively seeking work to retain their PUP. Where and from whom are these workers to seek employment in a sector that is shut down?

What is the Government's plan for the arts sector? What is the specific investment the Government intends to make? Where will the money be spent? How much will be provided over the next 24 months? In the one mention of the arts in the stimulus plan, the Government lobs the sector in with a range of heritage, arts, tourism and Gaeltacht-related projects. How much of the €40 million allocated to these various sectors will the arts actually receive? Prior to Covid, the National Campaign for the Arts had called for a doubling of investment in the arts. This figure post-Covid will need to be revisited. Is this the Taoiseach's intention?

To answer Deputy Boyd Barrett's points on the taxi drivers, the pub sector, entertainment and the arts, the PUP covered a lot of those sectors as, indeed, did the wage subsidy scheme, which covered quite a number of pubs. In fact, there was an enormous intervention by the State, which just gets dismissed and ignored and the Deputy uses language such as that people were shafted. A total of 1.1 million people were on State supports at one stage during Covid-19 because it has been an extraordinary and unprecedented pandemic that has negatively impacted on people and jobs. I get it. Of course, it has been devastating for many sectors, particularly the collapse of the travel trade, tourism and people travelling in and out of the country, which has had a huge impact on hospitality and tourism in general and, consequently, on taxi drivers, pubs and the arts and entertainment more generally. I understand this.

With regard to Deputy McDonald's point, prior to this Government coming in, the interim Government provided substantial funding to the arts in response to the campaign by the National Campaign for the Arts at the time. In the July stimulus, provision has been made for the arts in respect of a new drama and TV fund of €3 million and €2 million for a sound and vision fund.

I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on this and on the need to create employment opportunities for artists in sectors where they may be under-represented, such as in education, for example. We should increase the number of artists in residence in schools or give greater supports to theatre and education companies and create new employment alternatives and performance supports for artists online. All of this will never replace what was there prior to Covid but our objective will be to work with the artistic community to try to create meaningful supports for them. We understand that as a specific group they require a specific response, given the nature of the employment and the fact Covid-19 has dramatically impacted on their way of life, particularly with regard to the audiences on whom many artists depend. We are very aware of this and the various supports, from the employment wage subsidy to the PUP, have made a telling and important impact. They will never replace what was there for many people but at least they have helped people to get through this period.

Other measures include the restart grants, which apply to those paying rates. There are challenges once we go outside this as to how we structure and validate them and how we can give additional supports to those who do not have rateable premises. Other taxation measures may be of assistance to taxi owners and drivers but in some cases they may not. There is a combination of measures which, if we add them all up, can be of assistance.

I am very conscious of the need to work on these specific sectors. More broadly, there will be continued focus on the childcare sector, and on the hospitality and tourism sector in general. With regard to pubs we had to take the decision we took to defer the reopening of phase 4. That will come up for examination in the coming weeks, with regard to 10 August, and we will be guided by public health advice. Last week, I met the publicans' representative bodies in this regard and I am acutely aware of the very difficult situation that many publicans throughout the country-----

Can we have a brief supplementary question?

I am asking the Taoiseach in advance of the Bill tonight, and I know it is late but-----

The Bill tonight. I ask that the Government amend it to make the income subsidies available to employers available to the self-employed in sectors such as the arts, music, live entertainment and taxi drivers. They are having their pandemic unemployment payments cut but, unlike other people, whom Government is trying to encourage to maintain their relationship with employment, there is no step-down subsidy for them. They want to work but no work is available for them or there is very little work.

The Deputy has made the point. Can we hear the Taoiseach's response?

I am just asking this because it is very important. Will the Taoiseach please give them an income subsidy scheme or a step-down scheme?

The Deputy does not have to repeat himself. He has asked the question. Can the Taoiseach help?

To be fair, the Tánaiste has looked at all of this, and in the context of the July stimulus, we all collectively looked at it. It is not as simple or as easy as the Deputy has put forward. There are real issues with regard to its administration and validation throughout the economy. I take the general point he made and we will continue to work on this with regard to how supports can meaningfully be given to people in the situations he has outlined. I am not so sure whether the amendment to tonight's legislation is the appropriate vehicular mechanism to do it because the broader question is the restart grant and its application.

They are not getting it.

I know that and there is a reason. It is very straightforward in terms of businesses that are valued for rates purposes. There were significant logistical difficulties with it.

Departmental Offices

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

8. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Taoiseach the timeframe for the establishment of the shared island unit; and the status of the process to date. [17264/20]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

9. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the establishment of a unit within his Department to work towards a consensus on a shared island. [17957/20]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 9 together.

As set out in the programme for Government, a new shared island unit will be established in the Department of the Taoiseach, which will use the potential of the Good Friday Agreement to deliver sustained progress for all communities. This unit will work towards a consensus on a shared island and will examine the political, social, economic and cultural considerations underpinning a future in which all traditions are mutually respected. Work on its structure, staffing and work programme is under way and I hope the unit will start this work in the coming weeks.

The sooner we have some sense of the shape and direction of this new unit, the better. The objective of working towards a shared Ireland and an Ireland in which we have agreement and consensus where that is possible - and we are not going to have consensus on all matters - is worthy. However, there is a need that must also be met in preparing for the reality and prospect of constitutional change on the island. I look forward to a dialogue through which we figure out exactly how that is done in a staged fashion.

I suppose the notion of a shared island and shared Ireland has been at no time more acute than in the times we live, when we are going through a public health emergency. We have had many conversations across the floor on the issue of travel, international travel, lists, green lists and the presence or absence of adequate protections at our ports and airports. The North-South Ministerial Council will meet on Friday. I very much hope there will be a substantive conversation on a single approach to managing travel onto and off the island, and there will be a conversation on a common standard for checks and balances for those coming onto the island.

Can the Taoiseach confirm that he will pursue this matter and that he is committed to an all-island approach on these important questions? Can the Taoiseach also confirm that he is in favour of, and will advance the case for, a meeting of the British-Irish Council, as called for by the Northern Executive, to have another and complementary conversation on the common travel area for island-to-island travel between Ireland and Britain and on how to ensure there are the required safeguards and precautions? The objective in all of this is to keep people well and safe.

First, I welcome the Taoiseach's pledge to work towards a consensus on a shared island and the establishment of the unit in his Department. A key part of the work ahead will be to undo the damage done by Brexit over the past four years. I know it will be a priority for the Taoiseach to protect the peace process and the all-island economy in the context of the future UK and EU Brexit agreement. Will the Taoiseach outline the status of the shared island unit and how he intends to move forward? The Border region must ensure and maintain a seamless border and nurture a shared island by consensus. In the past 20 years local authorities in the Border region such as Cavan County Council and Monaghan County Council have worked tirelessly on the delivery of projects that have nurtured a shared Ireland and shared communities and have ensured that polarised views do not take hold in those areas. It is vital that this mantra is continued. I look forward to hearing the Taoiseach's vision for this new unit in his Department.

People Before Profit is one of a minority of political parties in the Dáil that have elected representatives in the North and the South. We have representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in councils in the North. The reason is that we believe in ending partition and uniting this island, not because we are bleary eyed nationalists but because we are internationalists and oppose partition in the tradition of James Connolly. James Connolly understood how one developed a tradition of a shared island and why partition was about dividing people and setting them against each other, which would lead, as he correctly predicted, to a carnival of reaction with green and orange at each other's throat. He argued, and it is as relevant today as it was he first made the argument, that one must unite working people on the things they have in common to break the shackles of partition and empire.

What does that mean today? I will give two concrete examples. We will never convince people in the North to be part of a united Ireland unless we have a national health service. We must move immediately to a national health service, not back to the two-tier system as the Government is doing currently. Why on earth would people in the North join a dysfunctional two-tier health system? They will not do it, so we must move immediately to a national health service. Second, we must immediately separate church and State. Why on earth would people in the North join a state where 90% of the schools are controlled by the Roman Catholic Church? There is no chance they will do it. We still tolerate a situation where the Religious Sisters of Charity are closing down nursing homes on the Merrion Road because, for some reason, a religious organisation controls nursing homes and can close them down even though they are funded by the State. Why on earth would people join a state that allows that to happen?

These are the things we must do if we want to share the island and convince people that overcoming historical divisions is in their interest. That is how we will do it. People in the North are angry about the state of their health service. They would like to fight for a new and better National Health Service where people get access to healthcare on the basis of their need, not on the size of their wallets or the austerity that has been imposed on the service. They would also like to be in an education system in which everybody is treated equally. We could share that education system and have integration of our children. If we lead the way in progressive, radical change such as that, in the tradition of James Connolly, we will become an attractive option for the idea of ending partition and uniting this island.

First, in response to Deputy McDonald's questions, I welcome the fact that we are having a North-South Ministerial Council on Friday, the first in three and a half years. I look forward to it. I hope it can create a structure that will help us deal with the undoubted difficulties, as Deputy Niamh Smyth pointed out, that Brexit has brought about in respect of relations on the island and in terms of its economic and social impact. We must navigate and manage the island in a post Brexit situation and the North-South Ministerial Council gives us a structure to manage the issue as best we can, notwithstanding different perspectives on it from different participants at the council.

On the issue of the public health emergency that Deputy McDonald correctly raised, there is a memorandum of understanding between the Chief Medical Officers of the North of Ireland and the Republic. We need to flesh out what we mean by a single approach. One of the challenges here is that there are, de facto, two jurisdictions. There is an Executive and Assembly that are linked into the wider UK medical advice system. The CMO in Northern Ireland works with the Scottish, English and Welsh CMOs and has a good relationship with our CMO as well. However, we must have a reality check of what is possible and what is not possible, and be honest with people in that regard. In terms of a common standard of checks and balances, if we are honest about the evolution of this, and I must make this point, what has transpired is that the Republic has had a much stricter travel guidance than anywhere else. It is certainly stricter than what is in the North at present as well as what is in the UK. The UK is now beginning to change with regard to Spain because of the spike in the numbers there. It is important that we collectively recognise the dangers that travel can present by creating spikes in the number of cases on the island. I believe we must try to work towards a joint approach in that regard.

I received a letter from the First Minister and deputy First Minister in respect of the British-Irish Council meeting. We have no difficulty with or objection to that but, again, that might not resolve all the issues in respect of the common travel area or different travel guidance issuing from different de facto jurisdictions. That is the position we are in. We share common advice with Northern Ireland in that we are telling people that the safest option is not to travel during Covid-19, and that will remain the case. On the operational issues with, for example, people using Dublin Airport and so forth, we have to build up a stronger presence there. That work is under way in terms of an electronic passenger location mechanism, the Department of Health working on randomised testing at airports and other measures designed to limit and reduce travel in and out of the country. That work is ongoing.

The position with the reopening of society is how to live with Covid-19 while at the same time having a reasonable quality of life for people and reasonable, sustainable economic activity. The CSO figures for May and June are interesting. They show that in June, in particular, there was a dramatic increase in retail activity over the previous month. It is the highest on record. The quarter is not comparable to the same quarter last year yet, but it shows what is the balance. As we reopen the economy we can see some benefits from it, but we must be clear that the fastest way to damage the economy again is to have a re-emergence of the virus in a significant form. In terms of the all-island approach, there are challenges in getting a common standard. It is not as simple as saying it. That is the point. That has been the story, but there has been much closer engagement between the two CMOs.

I take Deputy Niamh Smyth's point about the polarisation that has occurred. We want to try to create an approach that will constructively enable people who have come from different perspectives on the Brexit question to work to make this work for the island of Ireland. There is an opportunity through the protocol being adhered to, in particular for Northern Ireland, to get the best of both worlds, with access to the Single Market into the future. We will work towards that.

Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to the vision of James Connolly, which was a noble vision. I take the Deputy's point about the National Health Service and the disparity between the two health services. One of the ideas behind the shared unit is to work on the principles of the Good Friday Agreement around the set of three relationships, the British-Irish relationship, the North-South relationship and the relationship between the two communities in the North. Another of the ideas is to work out practical issues such as how we share health services on the island of Ireland. At the meeting I had last week with the First Minister and deputy First Minister, we discussed issues such as access to Altnagelvin Hospital for people from the Republic and cardiac surgery for children on an all-island basis. I am in to making the incremental progress that we need on a lot of these issues.

As for education, we have made progress in terms of patrons of education, Educate Together, Gaelscoileanna and the Church of Ireland. We have different systems here. The North of Ireland has not developed integrated education to the degree people would have hoped.

Will the Taoiseach give way to Deputy McDonald?

I am glad to hear that news about the British-Irish Council. I am, however, disappointed that the Taoiseach is maintaining what I regard as a fairly passive stance towards the absolute necessity for an all-Ireland approach to human health. We have such an approach to animal health. Why on earth would we not have one for human health? The Taoiseach will recall from leaders' meetings before he was Taoiseach that I have raised from the beginning the absolutely essential nature of the island as a single epidemiological unit and the fact that to keep us safe the Government has to keep all of us safe. The Taoiseach is at times critical of positions and stances taken by the Northern Executive. That is his entitlement. He regularly hangs those positions and stances around the neck of Sinn Féin uniquely, even though the Northern Executive is a five-partner Government, as he knows.

We are out of time now.

The North-South Ministerial Council is the Taoiseach's opportunity to bring his critique of the Northern position on international travel to the table, to debate it with our colleagues and to press for a solution. We will support him in that because that is our view as to what must happen. We need a single island system of protection. That is the only way we will get ahead and stay ahead of this virus. That is the truth.

We are way over time.

Deputy McDonald seeks to politicise this all the time. She uses language such as "a passive approach". I am not adopting a passive approach to all-island health - not at all. She knows this but it does not stop her from saying the contrary for political reasons.

I was describing the Taoiseach's passive-----

The Deputy's presentation is always about politics, not the substance of the issue. She keeps going on about the all-island approach. I did not open up Northern Ireland to 57 countries.

No. This is about an all-island approach.

You are attacking the Government here.

I did not attack the Government.

We are not getting anywhere.

The Deputy is attacking the Government non-stop. I understand that the Northern Executive involves a wider engagement with others. My main approach when I met the First Minister and deputy First Minister was to say travel is a problem and that it is a problem that many will come back through Dublin Airport from about 56 countries. The Republic has a restricted list whereby it is stated that people coming back from 11 countries do not need to restrict their movements. I want to work in good faith with people. I do not want to roil all this in endless political positioning, which is what Deputy McDonald is at, and she has been at it for quite a long time. That is what the Sinn Féin approach has always been. It has been politics first and the substance of the issue second on a whole range of issues.

We need to conclude. We are over time.

It is about sloganeering, ascribing base motives to everyone and so on. That is what Sinn Féin is about. I regret to have to say that.

Sitting suspended at 1.55 p.m. and resumed at 2.55 p.m.