Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Constitutional Amendments

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach his plans to hold referendums in 2020 and 2021. [18559/20]

Under the programme for Government, the Government is committed to holding constitutional referenda on the following matters: extending the franchise at presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the State; housing; and Article 41.2 of the Constitution, concerning women in the home.

In addition, the programme for Government also commits to refer the issue of environment, including water, and its place in the Constitution, to a relevant joint Oireachtas committee for consideration. 

A citizen's assembly on gender equality was approved by Dáil Éireann on 9 July and Seanad Éireann on 11 July 2019. Ms Catherine Day was appointed chair of the assembly and the inaugural meeting was held on 25 January 2020. It operates independently of the Government and it will report directly to the Houses of the Oireachtas. 

Before any referendum would be scheduled, the relevant legislation would have to be passed and, in light of Covid-19, all public health requirements taken into consideration.

 I thank the Taoiseach. We are aware of what the Taoiseach has committed to and what is on the schedule. We are also aware of the Covid situation.

I will focus on the referendum on housing. The Taoiseach has listed what he intends to do and what is proposed in the programme for Government but I want to get more detail on projections and timelines for where the Government is going on the referendum on housing. We know of the increase in homeless figures and that the ban on evictions is gone. Rent will be a big issue coming down the line as rent debt crystallises for many people across the State. Will the Taoiseach provide details on what his thinking here is regarding timelines for the referendum? It is particularly important.

The Sunday Business Post reported in April that there would be a referendum to cap land prices. This is something the Labour Party has advocated for decades. Interestingly, the framework document from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael stated that "through bold action, we will tackle land costs". Has that been scrapped? Deputy Barry Cowen, who was one of the negotiators, in fairness to him, was quoted as saying that a referendum to curtail the price of land for housing would have to be held as soon as possible. This was given the electorate's clear desire for that. There is no mention of that in the programme for Government. Why did it disappear? We all talk about the Kenny report. Why did that commitment from Fianna Fáil from the framework document disappear from the programme for Government? Will the Taoiseach outline in detail what he is proposing as regards a referendum on the right to housing? What is the Government's position in relation to a referendum or changes in relation to land prices, land costs and the implementation of the Kenny report? I think this has gotten to a position, politically, where a majority - particularly in opposition - want to see this happen. Deputy Martin, before he became Taoiseach, went a long distance towards supporting that but his thinking on it seems to have changed and been sullied since he entered Government.

I would like the Taoiseach to clarify the nature of the referendum on housing. Will the Taoiseach clarify that it is a referendum on the right to housing? That matter was clouded and fudged by the Government. It is fair to say that the record of this Government and the previous Government that the Taoiseach was part of through confidence and supply has been nothing short of disastrous. It has left an entire generation locked out of home ownership and many people struggling with exorbitant, outrageous levels of rent. There has been no plan for really affordable accommodation and that remains the case, despite the huffing and puffing of the new Minister.

I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the proposed referendum on voting rights in presidential elections. This matter was voted on in 2013, that is, seven years ago, at the Constitutional Convention. It was 78% in favour of the extension of that right to vote. Yet we still have no date for the referendum. Will the Taoiseach set out a timetable for when this proposition will be brought forward, the legislation published and the date for the referendum?

We need a referendum on the right to housing. I submitted a Bill to that effect, looking to change Article 43 of the Constitution to delimit the rights of private property in order to vindicate the right to affordable, dignified and appropriate housing for all in the last couple of weeks. The Taoiseach should support that Bill and fast-track the move towards a referendum.

The scandal of land hoarding and sitting on empty buildings was an outrage prior to Covid but now it is absolutely unjustifiable. I will give an example of why this is important. I met a woman who I would say was in her 80s on South Great George's Street. This was during the height of the lockdown. She pulled me aside and said she wanted me to walk up Aungier Street and look at a block on that street to see the disgrace of a line of buildings sitting empty for a decade at least that could be used to house people in the south inner city where there is desperate overcrowding and many people on housing lists.

I met a social worker who works in that area on the street on the way in today and he told me there has been a Covid-19 outbreak there today. He pointed out that his community centre, where social distancing was possible, will close down because property developers want to develop the site. The problem is evident in that little microcosm. Private property ownership by landlords, developers or speculators is preventing the development of sites that could be used for housing in an area where there is chronic overcrowding in the social housing sector and where there is a lack of social housing. That property should just be taken by the State to provide the housing people need in the area. Instead, it is sitting there taunting people who are now suffering Covid-19 outbreaks. What are they supposed to do if they are in overcrowded housing where two or three generations - as is happening all over the place - are living cheek by jowl? How do they socially distance or self-isolate where there is Covid-19? We need aggressive action and the Constitution needs to be amended to say that private property rights cannot trump the need for immediate action to take property, refurbish it and provide housing for people who need it so they do not have to live in overcrowded, dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

Immediate action is needed in housing to get more people housed, to get more houses built and, particularly, to get homelessness numbers down. Covid-19 is having an impact and we should be clear that it will have an impact on the timing of referendums. It has also had an impact in the early part of this year on house completions nationally because of the lockdown and so on. That said, in the July stimulus programme, for example, we provided additional resources to get 2,500 voids repaired to get them back into operation for people on the waiting lists. That is an example of the type of proactive and quick measures that are designed to get things moving in housing. We believe we need an affordable housing scheme to enable people who have a genuine aspiration to buy a house to be in a position to do so, and that is being worked on in detail by the Minister. He is working actively on the homeless issue and is in constant contact with all of the non-Government agencies and organisations that work so hard and diligently on the homeless issue. That work will continue.

The Government is pursuing a constitutional referendum on housing but greater detail and consideration are needed for such a proposal before it can be put to the electorate and specific timelines outlined but the programme for Government commits to holding a referendum on housing.

On land prices, a number of measures can be taken, short of a constitutional referendum in the first instance, to penalise land hoarding and to make it-----

I brought in the legislation.

Yes, but the Deputy did not bring in any proposals for a referendum on housing. By the way, we are committed to holding a referendum.

There are Bills everywhere. There is an ongoing debate on whether we can get things done through legislation and various taxation measures to reduce the incentive to hoard land, to create a punitive environment for the hoarding of land and to reduce the acceleration of land prices. That is the objective of Government. The programme for Government is the outcome of negotiations between three political parties, which is clear in its commitments. We are committed to dealing with the land cost issue and the Land Development Agency legislation is under consideration by the Government with a view to publication later in the year.

I also want to respond to the issue of a referendum on presidential voting rights for those living outside the State. The Government recently restored the Thirty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Presidential Elections) Bill to the Order Paper. The date for holding a referendum will be decided once that legislation is approved by the Oireachtas. As I said earlier, the public health implications of Covid-19 may impact on the timelines for such a referendum. The Deputy is correct that the fifth report of the Convention on the Constitution supports an extension of the right to vote at presidential elections to citizens resident outside of the State, including citizens resident in Northern Ireland, and it recommended that a referendum be held to amend the Constitution to provide for that extended franchise. The programme for Government agrees with that. As the Deputy will be aware, there was the publication of an options paper in 2017, which was comprehensive and set out a broad range of options for the extension of voting rights, international comparisons, the estimated costs involved, related resource issues and many of the legal policy, administrative and logistic challenges associated with extending voting rights to Irish citizens resident outside of the State.

A referendum commission was established by order of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in September 2019 to inform the electorate about the subject matter of the Bill, subject to it passing through both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Deputy will be familiar with the Bill. It provides for the replacement of Articles 12.2.2° and 12.3.3° of the Constitution as well as for the insertion of a new Article 12A in the Constitution. Those amendments would extend the right to vote for the office of President to all citizens, not solely to those who are ordinarily resident in the State, as is currently the case, for elections held on or after January 2025, which is the beginning of the year in which the next scheduled election for the office of President falls due.

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland will next meet. [18560/20]

The Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland was formally established by Government decision on 6 July and the first meeting will be scheduled to take place over the course of the autumn. Brexit matters have, of course, remained firmly on the agenda of Cabinet. The Government has taken a number of decisions recently on Brexit, including to intensify work across government to ensure that we are ready for the end of the transition period. The Cabinet committee on Brexit and Northern Ireland will oversee implementation of relevant programme for Government commitments and ongoing developments and negotiations. In addition to myself, its membership comprises the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Ministers for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Justice and Equality, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Finance. Other Ministers or Ministers of State will participate as required.

I thank the Taoiseach.

Britain does not renounce treaties. Indeed, to do so would damage our integrity as well as international relations.

I hope that is the first and last time I ever have to quote the former UK Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher. We are in a difficult situation, given what the British Government has stated. I was interested in the Taoiseach's tweet yesterday:

Any negotiation process can only proceed on the basis of trust. When one party to a negotiation decides that they can change what's already agreed and incorporated into law, it really undermines trust. This is a critical time in the Brexit process and the stakes are very high.

I agree with the Taoiseach and I support him because, as a country, we have to pull together. There is a critical issue here. The country has to take this in a certain direction because we are being critically impacted. I listened carefully to the Taoiseach's comments in response to the leader of Sinn Féin earlier but this is a time, from an international point of view, that the Taoiseach needs to stand up and call this out for what it is. This is a critical juncture but I do not trust Boris Johnson. I know the Taoiseach cannot say that but he more or less has to say so in diplomatic language because this is unprecedented.

Never before has a government, that of our closest neighbour, treated an Irish Government - the Taoiseach's comments reflect this as well - the way that the British Government has treated Ireland in the last 48 hours, by letting this news seep out, then doing what it did in the House of Commons yesterday and continuing today. It needs to be called out as part of this process and the Taoiseach should do that quickly and publically. I state that because what will work with Boris Johnson is what will have the biggest impact on him domestically. We need to call this action out for what it is. This is not trustworthy. This is not the standard of behaviour that we expect from a sovereign country, our closest neighbour. This is not the appropriate way to treat anybody, let alone one's nearest neighbours. This is especially the case given what was agreed regarding the Northern Ireland protocol. Dare I say it, but even the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, which may not like the agreement, came out and stated that we have to work within what was agreed.

The Taoiseach is speaking to the Prime Minister this afternoon. Given the type of character he is, however, I think he will only react to one thing and that is being called out quite publicly. The Taoiseach needs to say that and we will support him. This is a seminal moment for the Taoiseach personally. We have been through much in this country since he became Taoiseach but this is possibly the most important moment, in some ways. The Taoiseach needs to call out this action. I ask him to do that. The only pressure that works on this Prime Minister, given his behaviour, is pressure that will impact him domestically. The Taoiseach will be doing the whole world, and definitely the whole of Europe, a favour.

The Taoiseach might, therefore, outline his thinking regarding this issue. Has the Taoiseach spoken to Michel Barnier this week regarding this matter? The Taoiseach might also outline what other diplomatic channels he is using. We do not need to know the full details, just that the exhaustive list of diplomatic channels is being used. Furthermore, if the British Government pursues this line and if it intends to behave with this brinkmanship, what actions is the Taoiseach pushing to put forward in the coming days, subsequent to his telephone call?

My real request to the Taoiseach, however, is for him to call out this behaviour during that call and to tell him straight up that he is going to do Europe and the world a favour by publicly calling out that the British Prime Minister is behaving in a way that is reprehensible. He is not going to honour international treaties and he is breaking a tradition of the nation and of the British Government that has gone on for so long; about which they have made such grandiose claims and for which behaviour they have claimed such respect. Hitting him domestically is the only way the Taoiseach will be able to get him into the line of where we believe he has to go, which is to honour the commitments that he made as part of this agreement.

I thank Deputy Kelly. We will now have two brief supplementary questions from Deputies McDonald and Boyd Barrett.

This is not, in fact, a new departure for a British Government. Departing from agreements struck and made is pretty common practice but what makes this different is the public way in which it has been presented. The Secretary of State came to the House of Commons and said that the British Government would breach international law. It is not so much that the British state has never breached international law - for goodness sake we know its track record in this country - but that it is doing so openly and brazenly in clear sight and with eyes wide open. That does need to be called out.

It must also be stated, however, that news of this broke on Sunday. The Secretary of State met Michelle O'Neill and the First Minister on Monday and said there was nothing to worry about. He then went onto the floor of the House of Commons on Tuesday and stated that the British Government was going to breach international law. It is now Wednesday, we await this legislation and the Taoiseach has still not had a conversation with the British Prime Minister. It is just staggering that the Taoiseach's first instinct was not to lift the phone and go looking for Boris Johnson.

I rang and tried to make contact on Monday, but I am not the Head of Government. The Taoiseach is and that is his job, his role and his responsibility, and he has not given an explanation as to why he has dragged his feet on this issue. To be clear, if the Tories believe they can behave in this manner, if they believe that Dublin will be soft or that the criticism will be couched in diplomatic language for fear of giving offence, then that is simply egging them on. They will take that as a green light to continue in this manner. I do not have to tell the Taoiseach this; because he knows it. Word of this legislation has caused absolute shock across the island, but particularly north of the Border, where people are fearful for their livelihoods, their jobs and their rights. Critically and above and beyond all else, they are fearful for the Good Friday Agreement and all the other agreements we have entered into. This is because if Boris Johnson feels emboldened to walk away from the Irish protocol, then make no mistake, if he gets away with that, he will feel emboldened to walk away from the whole lot. That is the fact and the unpleasant truth.

Imperial arrogance is the stock in trade of the British Tory establishment. Johnson's announcement of his intention to breach international law is very much in line with that rotten and arrogant tradition but it is also a direct snub and insult to the Taoiseach and to the people of this country. It is a reckless and dangerous assertion by Boris Johnson. It endangers peace and stability in this country and once again summons up the prospect of hard borders and all the conflict that can ensue. The Taoiseach needs to be very clear and very tough with Mr. Johnson in stating that he is not accepting this and that his recklessness is not going to lead to hard borders.

I believe this is further evidence of the need to start talking openly about the need to end partition, for a Border poll and about the unsustainability of partition. There has never been a better time to make that case, when there is such a rotten Prime Minister as Boris Johnson, who embodies the worst of British imperial arrogance.

I thank the Deputy. We need to give the Taoiseach time to reply.

I have been very clear in this regard. This is a unilateral action. It fundamentally undermines trust and trust is the foundation stone upon which agreements are made and negotiations conducted. I could not be any clearer than that. I think Deputy Kelly is right. The British Government, via legislation, today is unilaterally seeking to undermine or alter an international agreement. Regarding the conduct of international relations, that is unprecedented in the middle of negotiations. The type of comment made by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons yesterday, to the effect that he was openly declaring that he was going to break the law or to bring in legislation to breach the law, was something to behold in itself.

We are, however, in the middle of very serious negotiations. People can speculate as to the timing and motivation for this action. I do not, however, agree with Deputy McDonald's assertions. We were not prepared to jump in. If the United Kingdom Government has issues with the protocol, then the proper forum to discuss that is in the joint committee and in the negotiations process itself. We do not have a problem with the protocol. Ireland does not have a problem with the withdrawal treaty or the protocol. I will, therefore, exercise judgment concerning how I intervene, when I intervene and the manner of my intervention.

Sometimes it is not all about lifting the phone. What is at stake is adherence to an international treaty that Ireland has agreed to, is satisfied with and is getting on with. If the British Government has an issue or problem, the only place to resolve it is within the agreement, through the joint and specialised committee. It is not for Ireland to get embroiled in whatever issues the UK has or to become a party to whatever machinations are ongoing in terms of these negotiations or where they will end. I will say no more than that.

Is that the Taoiseach's answer?

It is a straightforward answer. I have significant experience of negotiations.

That response makes no sense.

It makes a lot of sense.

The UK is publishing the legislation today.

They are, that is their decision and they have done it unilaterally.

The Taoiseach is taking a very laissez-faire approach.

The Deputy should let the Taoiseach respond.

We will work with the European Union. I spoke last night to the President of the European Commission who is viewing this very seriously. The stakes are high. This is about the manner in which the UK is going to leave the EU. That will have a profound impact for ordinary people on the streets of Ireland, the UK and Europe. The stakes cannot get any higher. Brexit is bad and a no-deal Brexit will be much worse.

Today we launched a Brexit readiness plan which seriously takes on board the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and the alternative of a limited free trade agreement which is now the optimal outcome. Those are the two options. The action of the British Government is unacceptable, undermines trust and raises the question as to how one continues to conduct negotiations with that type of action.

I will again be in touch with President von der Leyen today. We have been in touch on a regular basis with the negotiating task force which is of a similar view on the unprecedented nature of this and the manner in which this has happened and they are clearly not satisfied. Up to now, progress has been very limited. In the three overall areas, namely, the level playing pitch, governance of any subsequent agreement and fisheries, progress has been limited, not to mention aviation, transport and so on. At a late juncture in the negotiations, this unilateral action in which the UK Government has engaged causes real issues for the European negotiating team of which we are a part. We will work with the European Union in our response to the UK.

Cabinet Committees

Alan Kelly

Question:

3. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet Committee on Europe last met; and when it is next expected to meet. [18561/20]

The Cabinet committee on Europe was established by the Government on 6 July 2020 to oversee implementation of programme for Government commitments in relation to the European Union and related issues. It met on 16 July 2020, in advance of the special meeting of the European Council held in Brussels from 17 to 21 July, when it discussed negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework, the seven-year budget for the EU and on the next generation EU recovery package. It will continue to meet as appropriate, including to discuss issues on the agenda of the European Council. The date of its next meeting has not yet been fixed.

The Cabinet committee on Europe is obviously important and should be meeting pretty regularly, possibly at short notice, given current dynamics. It has been a difficult few weeks for Ireland on the European stage, culminating in the events that led to our previous discussion. All of us in this House need to work together to fight for the best interests of our country. We have lost a commissioner and I wish my former MEP colleague, Mairéad McGuinness, the very best in her new role. I am sure she will do very well in an important brief.

Can the Taoiseach confirm that the Government backs the European deposit insurance scheme that was announced in 2015 and part of the proposals to complete banking union? A deal was done on a €750 billion Covid-19 recovery plan as part of the EU budget that was agreed in July. We do not have much detail about the plan or what the Government is doing. Will the Taoiseach provide some of that detail? We do not know, for instance, how much of a contribution Ireland has made. What were our contributions? Is it known yet what we can expect to receive? This will be critical money. What can we expect to receive? What are the Government's projections in that regard and for what will we use that funding?

We are expected to receive €1.3 billion in grants to help with Covid recovery along with access to approximately €1.4 billion in loans. Does that remain the case?

What were the amounts the Deputy mentioned?

Are the figures still around €1.3 billion in grants and €1.4 billion in loans? We have not much information or clarity in that area. Have we any details about conditions attaching to such money? It would be helpful to know that, particularly the conditions that might apply to loans.

I understand that under the recovery and resilience facility, of which approximately €853 million is available to Ireland, member states must submit draft plans along with a national budget in October. Where are we on that? What stage is that at and how is it complementing budget preparation? Are they being done in tandem because the timelines are similar? Will the Taoiseach give us detail about that?

What did the Deputy say about timelines?

The timelines are similar.

To which timelines is the Deputy referring?

The timelines for applications to the recovery and resilience facility and the announcement of the budget are the same. Are we preparing our submission in tandem with the budget? Where do they cross over? Will the Taoiseach give detail about that?

The potential funding from that facility will cross over a range of areas. Who is in charge of making the submission? Was it discussed at the Cabinet committee on Europe or where has it been discussed? Where is it being drilled through in terms of Cabinet committees? The Taoiseach might confirm if it has been discussed at all because I have a suspicion it may not have been. The Taoiseach might discuss that and detail how we could potentially use the money, what projects are being proposed etc. Quite a lot of detail is required and not much of it is in the public domain, albeit the Dáil has not been sitting. We need to fill in the gaps.

I want to raise two issues with the Taoiseach that I believe need to be top of the agendas of the committee on Europe and the Government. The first relates to the cost of insurance in Ireland compared to its European neighbours. The Taoiseach will know that, for the past two years, my colleague, an Teachta Pearse Doherty, has challenged the insurance industry for its rip-off practices. It is fair to say that he has been a thorn in its side. The report published today by the Central Bank is absolutely damning in its assessment of differential pricing. It verifies all of the criticisms that Deputy Doherty has levelled at the industry and the challenges put by him to the industry. What is the Taoiseach going to do about this? Is he prepared to step up and end the insurance rip-off and the strategy of dual pricing?

I also raise the Council of Europe Lanzarote convention on preventing child abuse. Armenia has now completed the process of ratifying the agreement which means that Ireland is the only member state of the Council of Europe yet to ratify it. The Taoiseach knows this is a vital convention and leads the way internationally in outlining key measures to protect children against many forms of abuse. This State and former Governments of which the Taoiseach was a member do not have a good record of protecting children. I must mention those who were abused as children at Creagh Lane school in Limerick who will be outside the Dáil seeking justice already granted to them by the European Court of Human Rights and the Irish courts.

The Taoiseach will recall that he correctly took a very firm stand against the previous Government in terms of its delay in enabling victims to access the State redress scheme established for the survivors of abuse in national schools. Today, the Creagh Lane men are calling on him to take direct responsibility to ensure that their claims are accepted by the scheme and that they are offered compensation. I invite the Taoiseach to respond to those men very directly today and confirm that he will back them up and ensure that they are recognised and receive the compensation they are rightfully due.

The Cabinet EU committee will primarily deal with the EU Council issues and EU issues more generally. There is a separate Brexit and Northern Ireland committee. We met before the latest EU Council meeting, which was successful. From the Irish perspective, we took a very honest broker approach, believing it was important that the EU worked in a collective fashion to borrow money to assist Europe's recovery and particular member states who will be in greater difficulty than others because of their fiscal and economic capacity and environment.

There was a fairly strong and robust debate on that initiative around the amount that would be allocated in grants and loans and the division between the two. Eventually, a compromise was arrived at - €390 billion in grants and €360 billion in loans. Ireland was always clear that we were going to be a net contributor. The Union published material in advance that suggested that between now and 2058, we would have to repay billions of euro. That has since been revisited. Rather than providing speculative figures today, I will come back to the Deputy with detailed figures as best as we can get them on repayments over that length of time.

There are various estimates as to whether the figure will be €1.3 billion or €1.5 billion for Ireland. Ireland could do better in those areas where we do not get a direct proportionate allocation but there are various competitions for funds. Over recent years, we did well in the Horizon 2020 fund or the research funds where we competed with colleges, SMEs and businesses. As the Minister at the time, I was involved in setting up Enterprise Ireland to have a lead Irish person to co-ordinate everybody to go after funding under research and it worked. Our levels of funding went up. There are quite a number of other funds that we should be competing more practically for, over and above what we might get in the form of grants.

In respect of loans, we are entitled to borrow from this fund, but the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have been in touch with the NTMA and others. We are borrowing at very low rates at the moment. That is a decision that will be made technically and we will take technical advice on the optimal route to borrow. Nonetheless, there will be a facility there for us. We have to now prepare a plan for the recovery and resilience fund, and we are doing that. The Cabinet economic committee will assess that.

The Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform are centre stage in the submission that will be made to Brussels. It will have to be in line with the key themes that have been published, including the green and digital strands of the recovery plan that has been published at a European level. The responses of member states have to reflect the published objectives. That dovetails quite neatly with the programme for Government's commitment on the environment and climate change. I do not have any doubts about our capacity to have a robust plan to submit to the Commission to get the maximum funding to which we would be entitled.

A formula was devised at the Council, which was revised following the negotiations and discussions. Significant funding will be front-loaded in respect of criteria relating to the pre-Covid position of the various economies. The agreement was amended so that consideration will be given to the impact of Covid from 2022 onwards on unemployment levels and the economies of all member states. That was agreed to try to give a greater equilibrium in the allocation of resources to member states across the board. I can get the Deputy more detailed documentation on that and will forward it to her.

I want to take this opportunity to wish the new Commissioner, Ms Mairead McGuinness MEP, every success. She has a very important portfolio. Throughout this, I have had the best of relations with the President of the Commission and they have not been harmed in any way. We have had, and will continue to have, good, constructive engagement on a range of issues. The portfolio that Ms Mairead McGuinness MEP has received reflects the continuing good relationship between Ireland and the Commission, contrary to what people were speculating on. I also want to pay tribute to the former Commissioner, Phil Hogan, who gave distinguished service to the country in his roles as agriculture and trade Commissioner.

On the insurance issue, I believe Europe has a stronger role to play in liberalising the industry and creating greater competition so that consumers can benefit from such competition. The Government will establish a special sub-committee of the economic committee to deal specifically with the insurance issue, which will bring in different Departments and make sure there is a cross-cutting departmental approach to tackling the costs of insurance to reduce the negative impact on businesses, enterprises and people more generally in their daily lives.

I will check out the process of ratification of the Lanzarote Convention.

In respect of the survivors of primary school sexual abuse, the Department of Education and Skills is currently undergoing a comprehensive review, which the Minister and I are awaiting. I raised this issue at a very high profile level and fought for those affected for quite some time. I got results for some, including raising the profile of the issue. The Iarfhlaith O'Neill report yielded results for some, but not all, victims. The Deputy mentioned a remaining issue in respect of the Creagh Lane survivors. I will contain to pursue the issue. We await the outcome of the review the Department of Education and Skills is currently carrying out following the outcome of Iarfhlaith O'Neill's report.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.